OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Golden State returned from a dominant road trip that might help shape its season and showed once more how important depth is to its success.
SACRAMENTO, California – What do you think about the Colin Kaepernick national anthem protest? How do you handle losing? How do you deal with adversity off the court?
Those were a few of the questions Sacramento Kings forward Garrett Temple fielded during his first day as a student-athlete mentor at Sacramento Charter High School.
“At first, they started asking about basketball,” Temple said before the Kings lost to the Toronto Raptors 102-87 on Sunday. “But then they started asking great questions, life questions. It was a good start. I want everyone to know this is not a one-time thing. This is something I want to continue to grow and I plan on building a relationship with that school and those athletes.”
Temple, who is African-American, said he began thinking about adopting a school during the offseason because of the race issues in America. He ultimately decided that he wanted to become a mentor to student-athletes as well as offer financial assistance to a local high school that primarily included underprivileged kids of color. Sacramento Charter High fit Temple’s criteria.
Sacramento Charter High is a predominantly black school that also includes Latino and mixed-race students. It is in Sacramento’s challenged Oak Park neighborhood, and the school’s alumni includes former NBA star and former Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson. Temple credited Galen Duncan, vice president of the Kings Academy and Professional Development, for doing research that identified Sacramento Charter High as a solid choice. Temple also plans to donate money to the school for computers, which he expects the Kings to match.
“Sacramento High felt like a place that could really use some help. That is why I chose it,” Temple said.
Temple’s town hall meeting at Sacramento Charter High on Dec. 6 was the first of several he plans to have with students playing basketball and other winter sports. He plans to attend a boys basketball tournament at the school to show his support and perhaps even talk to some teams individually.
During the first meeting with the Sacramento Charter High kids, Temple mostly answered questions about life off the court. He was impressed that he received strong attendance of about 100 enthusiastic student-athletes.
“With Colin kneeling and other things going on bringing awareness to police brutality of that nature, I thought about things I can do to actually help,” Temple said. “The education gap in this country is something that is not talked about anymore because there are so many other problems. I read a statistic that said we may be more segregated in schools now than we were in 1954 because of the private schools. All the white kids are going to private schools while the black kids are going to public schools that are very underserved.
“Education is important to me and my family. I wanted to try to help [make a] change.”
Temple said Kings veteran point guard George Hill also decided to choose a local school to mentor after he heard what Temple planned to do for Sacramento Charter High. Temple wasn’t surprised that Hill yearned to get involved, because of his previous charity work.
“George is basically a humanitarian,” Temple said. “Every game there is a veteran [military] crew that he talks to and takes a picture with. He went to Haiti right after the earthquake. He is just a great guy.”
Hill’s reasons for participation were similar to Temple’s.
“I have always been big on the community stuff, especially as crazy as the world is today,” Hill said. “More guys of our stature and more guys that are successful need to really try to give back and take some of these young men and women right underneath our wings and just guide them a little bit.”
Hill chose Sacramento’s Encina Preparatory High and is scheduled to meet with their student-athletes Monday in the first of what he hopes to be a monthly meeting this season.
Hill said it was important for him to be in a school environment that had black and Latino students because “most of those schools are looked over.” Hill’s fiancée, Samantha Garcia, is Latina, and he is African-American. Racially diverse Encina meets Hill’s criteria as it is 37 percent Latino, 29 percent black, 21 percent white and 6 percent Asian, according School-Ratings. Moreover, 93 percent of Encina’s students are eligible for free lunch.
Hill plans to talk to the students about his challenges growing up in a tough neighborhood in Indianapolis, leadership and working hard to meet their dreams and goals.
“I’m more about being a better person than a better athlete,” Hill said. “I’m going to touch base on helping others. Not judging anyone over the cover of their book. Get to know people, respect others, respect your classmates, your teachers and your peers. Teach the fundamentals and get the love back in the world, because that is something that we are missing.”
Hill and Temple also could offer kids motivation with their far-from-easy roads to the NBA.
Hill starred in college at little-known Division I mid-major Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) , which has made the NCAA tournament just once in school history. Despite scholarship offers from Temple and Indiana, he chose IUPUI to stay close to home with his ailing great-grandfather, Gilbert Edison, who died before getting a chance to see him play. The 10th-year NBA veteran was drafted 26th overall in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs.
“Anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” Hill said. “Believe. Hard work pays off. I wasn’t one of the nation’s top players coming out of high school. Everything we had to do had to be earned. It wasn’t given to us. With some of this new generation, people give them so much that when they have to go on their own, they are misguided. They don’t know how to work for it.
“I’m trying to touch a different audience saying, ‘You have to work for what you get. Don’t expect nothing. Have fun doing it.’ But at the same time, you being a better person on and off your sports life is the biggest thing that we want them to contribute to.”
Temple grew up in a stable home in the suburbs of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, led by his father, Collis, the first African-American to play basketball at Louisiana State University. Garett Temple, however, faced adversity when he went undrafted out of LSU in 2009 while his former teammates Brandon Bass, Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas were all selected in the first round. Eight years later, Temple is the only one of the four former Tigers still in the NBA.
Temple’s well-traveled basketball career has included four stops in the NBA’s G League, a season playing for Associazione Sportiva Junior Pallacanestro Casale Monferrato in Italy and time with the Kings, Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards. The National Basketball Players Association vice president is in the second year of a three-year deal with the Kings.
“I credit a lot of [my success] to my faith in Christ and my ability to withstand things,” Garrett said. “There have been times where I’ve been cut. Things have happened when there has been really no explanation for them. I just trust in the Lord and everything happens for a reason.”
The Kings’ roster includes nine players with two or fewer years of experience in the NBA, including standout rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox. Sacramento also has veterans in Temple, Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph, who have made it a point to mentor their younger teammates.
Kings rookie guard Frank Mason and injured rookie forward Harry Giles shadowed Temple at his first town hall meeting at Sacramento Charter High. Mason and Giles served the student-athletes a dinner that included chicken, jambalaya and greens. They also sat with the student-athletes as Temple addressed them, engaged with them on social media and took pictures. Temple hopes that Mason and Giles can do something similar for a school in the future. Kings rookies Bogdan Bogdanovic and Justin Jackson are expected to be on hand when Hill makes his first appearance on Monday.
“I was kind of looking at the bigger picture,” Mason said. “Garrett did a great job speaking about the future and the past, being a role model to those kids and telling them what he’s been through. With what we’ve been through at a young age, we just want to help them to not make those mistakes, take advantage of opportunities and work hard every day.”
Said Temple: “Mentoring [teammates] isn’t just on the court. It’s showing them off the court how to impact people.”
Temple’s and Hill’s meetings with the Sacramento high school student-athletes could offer life-changing inspiration. Temple isn’t underestimating the impact it can have on him, too.
“I probably will get more from it than the kids,” Temple said. “It continues to keep you grounded. It humbles you. It reminds you that at one point you were in the same shoes as these kids and had a dream of playing professional basketball. To get here, you need to understand that it’s a blessing and you’re very fortunate.
“But other people don’t have this chance. You have to pour in to the kids that won’t be [in professional sports] that athletics isn’t the only way to make it out.”
Back at it on television Wednesday, folks, so tune in to ESPN at 5 p.m. for Around The Horn. Going for my second win in a row, so we’ll see if it happens! But speaking of Around The Horn, our new Advent Calendar is out, and I got to be a part of it!
Our ATH Holiday Advent Calendar continues today, as @clintonyates shares a seasonal tradition that he hopes you will try this year.
— Around The Horn (@AroundtheHorn) December 6, 2017
Time magazine has named its Person of the Year. It’s the women of the #MeToo movement, the hashtag started to call attention to sexual harassment and assault across the globe. This has been the year that this country has apparently started to take this matter seriously, with men losing their jobs all over the place, for good reason. In a very weird way, though, this feels a bit disingenuous because last year’s person of the year was … Donald Trump, who has admitted to sexual assault on a few occasions.
Every once in a while, some people come up with really good ideas. Craig Melvin replacing Matt Lauer on the Today show would absolutely qualify as such. I’ve been a fan of Melvin ever since he was on NBC4 here in Washington, D.C., and his wife Lindsay Czarniak used to work for ESPN (as well as with him at the local station, where they met). If he makes this jump, it’ll be a great way to recover for NBC as Melvin is not only deserving, but also very well-liked. We’re really hoping this happens.
Right now, wildfires are destroying the greater Los Angeles area. These kinds of natural disasters happen with some regularity, but the pictures from today are truly mind-boggling. I’ve genuinely never seen anything like this in my life, and if I did, I don’t know how I’d just continue driving like nothing was wrong. This stuff is next-level scary and it feels like a movie just looking at it. Alas, those flames are on a path of damage and shutting down operations all over the area. Including the UCLA basketball game.
— ABC News (@ABC) December 6, 2017
The NFL is all over the place right now. They’re suspending dudes for head hits, then not suspending others and none of it seems to make much sense at all. If you’re going to say that hits to the head are a priority, but allow guys to get away with WWE moves after plays, the message you’re sending is that you, in fact, don’t care. Now, the guy responsible for handling a lot of this, the commissioner of the league, has signed a new contract to the tune of $40M a year. No word on the private plane or lifetime health care for his family.
Coffee Break: Jordan Peele has had an incredible year. After the success of Get Out, he’s basically become Hollywood’s go-to scary movie guy, which is cool. Now, he’s on board to reboot The Twilight Zone, which is a brilliant move for CBS.
Snack Time: Y’all gotta get your girl Rachel Dolezal. Homegirl has a new calendar out for 2018, with photos of her in various states of dress and some black history facts thrown in. What on earth??
Dessert: There are emergencies. Then there are EMERGENCIES.
Sometimes you need a bit of black tie glam to remember there’s beauty in the world, and that it’s worth celebrating.
Thank goodness for the Kennedy Center Honors.
On Sunday, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., held its 40th Honors ceremony to fete contributions to American culture. This year’s Honors were a celebration of Gloria Estefan, Norman Lear (at 95, the oldest person to be honored), LL Cool J (at 49, the youngest), Carmen de Lavallade and Lionel Richie. LL Cool J was also the first rapper to be recognized.
Certainly there’s plenty of darkness these days. Have you read a newspaper? Sunday, as journalists and spectators huddled around velvet ropes for a word with the night’s VIPs, CBS chairman Les Moonves and his wife, Julie Chen, quickly swooshed by and managed to avoid being harangued about the firing of CBS This Morning host Charlie Rose over allegations of sexual misconduct. Rapper Darryl McDaniels, better known as D.M.C. of Run-D.M.C., and LL Cool J were confronted about multiple allegations of sexual assault leveled against Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons. LL Cool J declined to discuss the allegations, while D.M.C. condemned Simmons’ actions. Both rappers were key players in the success of Def Jam, the record label Simmons founded.
But the Honors reminded us that the performing arts aren’t just a distraction from the serious, gloomy issues of the day but rather the thing that makes us able to persist through them.
Here are five magical highlights from the evening that you can see Dec. 26 at 9 p.m. EST on CBS.
Meryl Streep’s salute to Carmen de Lavallade
Meryl Streep is always fun to watch during awards shows. There’s a reason that her reactions turn into viral GIFs. She was on the list of expected guests for Sunday evening, as a former honoree, but it was a pleasant surprise to see her take the stage.
Streep was a student of de Lavallade’s at Yale School of Drama, and she lovingly described her dance teacher’s soft-spoken methods and teaching philosophies. Streep affected de Lavallade’s famous hand motions, which she’s executed for decades with an enviable and flawless seeming grace and natural ease, as she spoke about her admiration for de Lavallade as a role model and dance pioneer.
Replicating de Lavallade’s soft-spoken manner, she cooed, “No one is late on the second day of class.”
The musical tribute to LL Cool J
In person, the Honors can be a bit of a staid Washington event. Its attendees are not known for taking chances with fashion, and it’s the one night of the year there’s probably enough brocade in the building to make curtains for the center’s many windows. But this was the first time in the history of the event that a rapper was being honored.
The tribute to LL Cool J was loud, boisterous and funky, and some of the younger audience members, namely Becky G, a young singer who performed earlier in the evening for Estefan, could be seen bobbing their heads and rapping along to “Mama Said Knock You Out.” This wasn’t polite hip-hop, toned down for the opera house. This was the real deal, and the audience was treated to footage of an oiled-up, shirtless LL Cool J as Queen Latifah extolled his position as “rap’s first sex symbol.”
The elephant not in the room
Months ago, the president and first lady announced they would not be attending the ceremony. Richie, Lear and de Lavallade said they would boycott the annual White House reception that’s part of the weekend’s celebrations.
But the president’s absence was noticeable, especially during the tribute to Lear. You can argue that all art is political, but few make it as obvious as the storied television producer. In expressing gratitude for Lear’s cultural contributions, the video short about him focused on his decision in 2001 to buy one of the last remaining original copies of the Declaration of Independence, which he sent on tour around the country so Americans could see it up close.
Dave Chappelle was on hand for Lear’s tribute, and after expressing surprise that a copy of the country’s founding document could simply be purchased with enough money, he dropped the hammer: “I’m sure we’ll fetch a lot of rubles for that.”
Then, the U.S. Air Force band performed “America the Beautiful” while Lear’s copy of the Declaration sat center stage.
A surprise appearance by Stevie Wonder
The honorees have no idea who will be performing their work until they see them on stage, but those who keep an eye on the red carpet can guess. Leona Lewis, D.M.C., MC Lyte, Questlove, Kenya Barris, Anthony Anderson and Rachel Bloom were among the glitterati spotted in the center’s Hall of States early in the evening.
But the real magic takes place when the Kennedy Center sneaks in some unexpected cultural royalty, and Sunday it was Stevie Wonder. There was an audible gasp in the audience when he turned up on stage to honor Richie by singing “Hello,” one of Richie’s many solo hits.
Paquito D’Rivera’s national anthem
With Estefan in the mix, this year’s class of honorees included a Cuban immigrant who made Latin pop part of the fabric of the country. The Kennedy Center quietly thumbed its nose at nativism with the inclusion of Paquito D’Rivera, who got the evening started with a jazz saxophone rendition of the national anthem. He even worked in a couple of bars of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” in the middle of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The term “coach killer” is football jargon used to label a player, normally a quarterback, whose on-field performance is so bad that it routinely undermines his coach’s game plan and eventually leads to the firing of the coaching staff. But there isn’t a term for when the opposite happens, when a coaching staff’s game plans are so insufficient that they undermine the skills of their quarterback. Until now …
noun: fish·er \ ˈfi-shər \
- A coach who makes his quarterback worse.
Origin: It is a derivative of Jeff Fisher, the former NFL coach.
After 22 seasons as an NFL head coach, five leading the Los Angeles Rams, Jeff Fisher and his staff were fired last season. Like many failed staffs, Fisher’s crew probably convinced themselves that they would have succeeded if they had only found a decent quarterback. By bubble-wrapping their egos in that theory, most coaches enjoy peace of mind for many years. But poor Fisher wasn’t even afforded a year of self-delusion because Jared Goff and Case Keenum became very good NFL quarterbacks almost immediately after being freed from his tutelage.
This season, Goff is 8-3 as the Rams’ starter under the guidance of 31-year-old rookie head coach Sean McVay. Goff was 0-7 a season ago. Keenum ended up in Minnesota with the Vikings, where he assumed the starting role after Sam Bradford, another former Fisher quarterback, got hurt. Keenum has gone 7-2 for his new team. He went 4-5 with Fisher in 2016. But their records aren’t the only evidence of improvement. With a Total QBR of 18.3 last season, rookie Goff was being called the worst quarterback of all time. So far this season, his QBR is 55.2. That places him right at the league average, which is promising for a player in his second season, his first as a Week 1 starter. At the beginning of last season, Goff was deemed unfit to even be a backup by Fisher and crew. He was third on the depth chart.
All quarterbacks should improve from their first season to their second. The average QBR increase from year one to year two is +5.6. But Goff’s QBR increase of 36.9 is enormous. If he sustains his current QBR, it will be the largest increase from first to second season since the stat has been kept. However, it might not be the biggest year-to-year QBR increase regardless of level of experience. That distinction could go to Keenum, Fisher’s other 2016 quarterback. If Keenum can sustain his 77.2 QBR (second-best in the league), he will have increased his QBR by nearly 40. The Vikings are Keenum’s third team in his five-year career. The first two seasons he spent in Houston, where his QBR was 48.6 and 39.3. Then he went to Fisher’s Rams for a couple of seasons, where he had the two lowest QBRs of his career (34.8 and 37.5).
To be fair to Fisher, he is a defensive-minded coach, so maybe the quarterback failures are not a result of his poor game plans. But hiring a complementary staff is one of the chief responsibilities of a head coach. And Fisher went through three offensive coordinators in his time with the Rams, so it doesn’t seem that he knows how to find the right guy. Goff and Keenum are surrounded by more talent than they had under Fisher, so that could account for some of the quarterbacks’ improvement. That explanation, though, isn’t strong enough to restore Fisher’s reputation. Only winning could do that, and no franchise is going to give the 59-year-old anti-quarterback whisperer a chance now. Which is probably for the best.
The stats show this season’s Rams offense under McVay is more productive. Watching the video of games shows why. This season the Rams are taking big shots down the field on early downs, when the defense is most susceptible. They are using receiver motion, tight splits and receiver stacks to keep defenders from pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage and to create mismatches and angles for the receivers to get open. And every week, they run a few unique route combinations that almost guarantee that a receiver will be open down the field.
In last week’s game against the New Orleans Saints, on one play the Rams overloaded the Saints’ zone coverage with four eligible pass catchers running routes to one side. Goff completed a pass to tight end Tyler Higbee for a gain of 38 yards.
McVay has taken the responsibility of scheming success for Goff. Fisher’s 2016 offense put the responsibility on Goff and the skill players to create success. The formations were traditional and stagnant, and the schemes were simple and predictable. On first down, they would run the ball or throw short, isolated passes. Fisher’s goal was probably to keep it simple for his rookie quarterback, but the game plan was obvious to the defenses. So opponents had a good idea of what the Rams were going to do, which meant that Goff had to be deadly accurate on every play or the receivers had to be spectacular. Fisher’s attempt to coddle Goff backfired.
Although Fisher is out of the league, it doesn’t mean that his way of thinking left with him. Goff and Keenum were fortunate to find situations that suit them. Not all young quarterbacks are that lucky. They get labeled as a bad quarterback before ever getting the opportunity to play for a creative and resourceful coach. Instead, they get stuck with a coach who is searching for a superstar quarterback to ride to glory rather than getting the best out of the players he has.
Tuesday marks the start of ESPN’s 2017 V Week. During the fundraiser for cancer research, The Undefeated will tell stories about early detection, clinical trial studies and research in minority communities. ESPN hopes to raise funds and awareness about the important cause championed by our friend, coach Jim Valvano. One hundred percent of all cash donations go directly to cancer research. Donate here today.
“Don’t give up … don’t ever give up.” These words were a staple for North Carolina State’s legendary basketball coach and ESPN commentator Jimmy Valvano. The V Foundation, formed in 1993 by ESPN and Valvano, raises money for cancer research. A huge part of the foundation’s mission is to build more opportunities for cancer research in minority communities.
There are more than 15.5 million cancer survivors today. Survival rates for many cancers continue to increase. New technology and a better understanding of genetics have allowed doctors to create individualized therapies, leading to more success. But according to the American Cancer Society, African-Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial/ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data, black men have the highest cancer incidence rates, and black men and women both have a higher cancer death rate than their white counterparts. Cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanics, accounting for 21 percent of deaths overall and 15 percent of deaths in children.
To combat the problem, the V Foundation, through the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund, is allocating dollars to minority researchers to fight cancer in minority communities. The funds will help continue Scott’s fight against cancer and assist some of the most vulnerable and disproportionately affected communities battling the disease.
The Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund was formed by the V Foundation and Scott’s family. Near the end of his life, Scott participated in a clinical trial. He was a passionate voice for improving outcomes for African-Americans and other minorities with cancer. The Scott Fund supports research designed to discover why some cancers are more aggressive and more fatal in African-Americans.
“It was not lost on Stuart that his diligence and education about cancer research helped extend his life,” said Susan Scott, Stuart Scott’s sister. “Stuart’s passion for education was unmatched. He researched every aspect of his treatment to live with and beat cancer. His research revealed cancer’s disparities and the inequities faced in the African-American and Hispanic cancer-fighting communities. I know that he would be proud that the V Foundation is setting up this fund in his name to accelerate research for all communities.”
Since its start, the V Foundation has granted more than $200 million nationwide and has become one of the premier supporters of cutting-edge research. Because of generous donors, the foundation has an endowment that covers administrative expenses so it can award 100 percent of all direct cash donations.
The V Foundation is committed to raising another $200 million between 2013 and 2020.
“Cancer is more than 100 individual diseases,” said Susan Braun, CEO of the V Foundation. “As research accelerates our knowledge, we recognize how varied each individual cancer is and how the same type of cancer can vary among different people. Many cancers pose more of a problem in different ethnic groups, and cancer overall affects diverse populations in complex ways.
“We also know that innovation happens with diversity of thought. Funding V Scholars, the brightest minds in cancer research, through supporting people who are part of disproportionately affected communities can make research stronger.”
A dedicated friend of the V Foundation and a committed participant in the Jimmy V Celebrity Golf Classic and other foundation events, Scott helped raise funds and awareness for the V Foundation for more than 20 years. Scott was first diagnosed with cancer in 2007. From that moment, sports fans, his peers and athletes from around the world supported him in his battle.
The V Foundation has a page on its website, www.jimmyv.org/stuartscott, for donations to the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund. ESPN made an initial $100,000 donation in his memory.
“Stuart inspired others by how courageously he battled cancer,” said ESPN president John Skipper. “He and I talked about this horrible disease and opportunities he saw to expand the scope of research being done. He was taken from us way too young, and given what he stood for and what he clearly meant to so many, this fund is a fitting way to honor his legacy and significantly add to what he did so valiantly — fight cancer.”
More funding means more research. More research means more lives saved. Join us in our campaign to raise $200 million by 2020 and donate today. You can contribute by visiting this link: www.jimmyv.org/stuartscott.
Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Mark Bryant was walking alongside the basketball court at the team’s practice facility when he passed a legendary face from the jazz world oddly hanging out. Bryant turned around on this September day to enthusiastically introduce himself to Branford Marsalis. The three-time Grammy Award-winning saxophonist was there to talk about the connection between jazz and basketball with Thunder general manager Sam Presti and head coach Billy Donovan.
“When I talk to people who are in a discipline outside of my discipline, talking to them kind of affirms to me what I know to already be true,” Marsalis said during a phone interview from Warsaw, Poland, after a recent performance. “That was that situation. Billy had a ton of questions. They know what they are doing. I really didn’t have a lot of questions. I just watched. But there was stuff I learned about the building, the organization and ownership being hands off. Just things that really matter.
“It was a great experience for me. I appreciate basketball. I appreciate the skill of it.”
Presti is a longtime jazz fan, while Donovan says he is not familiar with the genre of music. Both, however, have huge respect for superstar brothers Branford and Wynton Marsalis, who have combined to win 12 Grammys. Presti said that “nonbasketball learning” is important to the Thunder organization.
Presti and Donovan sat with Branford Marsalis hours before he performed with his quartet at the University of Central Oklahoma’s Mitchell Hall Theatre on Sept. 8. Donovan also had a long conversation with Wynton Marsalis this summer.
The reason? To pick the jazz legends’ minds about teamwork and philosophy in a jazz band as it relates to basketball.
“When I met Branford in person and talked to Wynton on the phone, I was blown away on their mentality in terms of sport, music and society and just how much it’s about making the people around you better,” Donovan said. “In team sports, it’s not necessarily about, ‘Hey, I want to play my music.’ Sometimes you have to listen to other people’s music and how to make the group better by listening. I thought their messaging, background and being basketball fans and sports fans, both were incredible.
“I just loved listening to those guys. Those guys, in their industry, they’re legends. I have not listened to a lot of jazz music, but I know those two names.”
Presti said he became a fan of jazz as a kid growing up in Boston when he took drum lessons. He was hooked on jazz after his music teacher gave him the album Miles Smiles from legendary trumpeter Miles Davis. Presti eventually became a huge fan of the Marsalis family’s influence on jazz, most notably Branford.
“He has been so well-known for so long because of how early he started,” Presti said. “All the different genres he has played within, The [Jazz] Messengers [group] to obviously working with Sting to his solo work. He’s touched so many different facets. From a production standpoint, he’s just been involved in so much music. It’s hard not to collide with something he has not touched.
“Obviously, that family in general has had such a huge influence on music. Not just in terms of their contributions in music themselves but as educators that share their experience and insights. They have a tremendous reach. It’s really interesting to hear them speak about how they interpret the art themselves.”
Branford Marsalis is a huge sports fan who lives and dies with his hometown New Orleans Saints and is optimistic about the New Orleans Pelicans. The former musical director for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Sting was introduced to Presti by a mutual friend after hearing that Presti was a big fan. The two kept in touch, and Branford Marsalis even sent music. Branford Marsalis texted Presti to let him know he was going to be in Oklahoma City on Sept. 8 to teach a master’s class on music at a local college and to perform a concert.
Branford Marsalis next accepted an invitation to hang out with Presti and Donovan at the Thunder’s training facility. The three men, along with other Thunder staff members, sat for about three hours talking jazz and basketball and how the two intertwine. Presti said he learned a lot from Branford Marsalis about how he challenges himself to continually improve as an artist even at his level, how he still learns from the jazz greats, the struggle of jazz artists and what some of the jazz greats were like as musicians and people.
“Music and sports are such a metaphor for so many things in the world,” Presti said. “They both involve having to listen and react and interpret different things. For the conversation in general, I asked him, ‘How do you continue to grow and learn? How do you know what is quality? How do you find that?’ And obviously, the art form itself with Branford and his craft, so much of it is about listening and really hearing what the other people are doing. It’s really fascinating to listen to him talk about that as well as his preparation and the way he has taken his career path. It was a pretty wide-ranging conversation, to be honest. It was interesting to hear him speak about that stuff.
“A couple things stood out to me. With him, the thing that was really cool was his respect and reverence for the people that he grew up listening to. He still listens to those records endlessly and learns from them. And the emphasis he placed on listening and hearing different things from the same recording. I thought that was really because he basically put such an emphasis on going back and listening to those specific artists, the greats, and there is so much knowledge wrapped up in there. The other thing that stuck out to me was never wanting to repeat yourself and stretching yourself to try new things.”
Branford Marsalis said Donovan and Presti asked him a “pile of questions” on alternative types of leadership. Branford Marsalis explained that jazz and basketball were similar since “very few people can do this s— on a very high level.” He also told Donovan and Presti that the evaluation of jazz artists should be the same as NBA free agents by looking beyond the statistics. Donovan also asked Branford Marsalis about finding personnel, adapting to playing in different venues, and more.
“I talked to [Donovan] about the parallels between music and sports in a way that he would have never thought about it because he’s never played music,” Branford Marsalis said. “For better or for worse, a lot of us have played sports. In a jazz band, it’s very similar to basketball because you can have musicians who can really play their instrument really well. But they don’t have an understanding of what their function is to make the group succeed.
“Many times in the history of basketball, you think of players who got [big] free-agent contracts based on their stats when what the s— would really be would be apparent if you were just looking at the person play with the kind of eyesight that you need to have. It’s like little things. I listen to musicians play and I look for little things. I don’t look for the big things. Is the musician that is playing a solo feeding off what the rhythm section is giving him or is he playing some s— that he just worked out? Does he play? Does he balance with the other musicians? Does he play louder than everyone else? Does he play softer? Does he make eye contact? Does he communicate? Can he hear the music?”
Branford Marsalis also was impressed by the Thunder’s development of players while watching some work on their game and play pickup ball during his time at the practice facility in the NBA offseason.
“I said, ‘Let’s talk about the team.’ [Presti] likes his job, so he was excited to talk about it. By that time, Carmelo [Anthony] and Paul George were coming,” Branford Marsalis said. “But we talked more about the philosophy of the team, the facility, the guys who are playing now, who are those guys. They have these development league guys, and those guys are playing with them. And sometimes the Thunder guys will ball with them. There were guys playing and being coached then. I was like, ‘Damn, it was year-round.’ ”
Presti and several staff members went on to attend Branford Marsalis’ concert later that night. While at the concert, Presti picked up more insight on the connection between jazz and basketball.
“It’s not every day that someone like that comes through town,” Presti said. “They were playing in what he felt was a really great acoustic venue. It was a really old auditorium locally. That was pretty cool that he really liked the environment. He also talked about the dynamics of the group. There was a new bass player that evening because someone had a travel issue or maybe was sick. They called a guy in from out of the country. Just watching the interplay, none of us would have picked up on the fact that this was someone relatively new for the evening that may spend a few weeks with him.
“With that knowledge, it was interesting to see it all work, the professionalism and the craft that goes into it. It was a really great experience, and he was really kind to us when he was there. And just to see him onstage where he was at his best was cool to see.”
Donovan was honored to get time with Wynton Marsalis, who is the most decorated jazz legend living today.
The New Orleans native is the only artist to win Grammys for jazz and classical records. Time magazine celebrated Wynton Marsalis as one of America’s 25 most influential people in 1996. The first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize for music has sold approximately 7 million copies of his recordings worldwide, has toured every continent except Antarctica and received the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush in 2005. Wynton Marsalis also created a series of “I Love This Game” commercials for the NBA during the 1998 NBA season and appeared in the public service announcements for the NBA’s Team Up program.
“Wynton used to always say that jazz is like a fast break,” Branford Marsalis said.
Donovan became “fascinated” with Wynton Marsalis after watching an interview of him talking about jazz having a connection to basketball.
“He talked in the interview about the ability to be unselfish, how to make people around you better,” Donovan said. “It sounded so much like the game of basketball. There is a stylistic freelancing. Guys are playing instruments together and they are improvising. And a lot of times on the court, they have to improvise. So when I saw this interview after my assistant showed it to me, I was like, ‘Wow, this is really powerful.’ ”
Last offseason, Thunder assistant coach Billy Schmidt passed Wynton Marsalis’ book, Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life, on to Donovan’s coaching staff and the team’s front office. Wynton Marsalis wrote that he hopes the book reached “a new audience with the positive message of America’s greatest music, to show how great musicians demonstrate on the bandstand a mutual respect and trust that can alter your outlook on the world and enrich every aspect of your life — from individual creativity and personal relationships to conducting business and understanding what it means to be American in the most modern sense.”
Donovan, part of that new audience, would later have a phone conversation with Wynton Marsalis about the book.
“It was a really incredible book,” Donovan said. “You have a 50-team piece band. Everybody wants to be soloing. Everybody wants to be out in front. But sometimes the most important guy is the drummer because he is keeping everyone in rhythm and he is the guy in the background. You have to be OK with that egowise. And it was just how you make the group better. The biggest thing he talked about as a musician is you have to be willing to listen.
“In the interview, he told a guy, ‘You play what you want to play, and I’ll play what I want to play.’ And they both played what they wanted to play, and it was awful. Then he said, ‘You start playing and I will listen to what you’re playing and I know I will complement you to what you’re playing.’ And that stuff to me in terms of team sports with basketball really resonated.”
Donovan yearned to speak with Wynton Marsalis after hearing the interview and reading the book. One of the Thunder security guards was able to make it happen in early October thanks to a connection to Wynton Marsalis. Donovan said he sent notes on Wynton Marsalis’ book to him before the phone call.
“We talked for about an hour on the phone,” Donovan said. “We talked about life, jazz bands and what he goes into performing, and every show being completely different. Every game is completely different. Every team is different. And I hope that they can both speak to our team, because it was really powerful.
“And I didn’t know enough about jazz. I didn’t know that jazz was all improvised. I had no idea. He educated me on it and how they have to be a team, how they have to work together and sometimes how guys walk offstage and say, ‘You know what, I was really bad tonight.’ And they play great the next night. Not every player is going to play great every night. There was a lot of correlation and comparisons to be made.”
Wynton Marsalis said what he most recalls about his phone conversation with Donovan was how “very polite” he was, as well as his “focus and graciousness.” Wynton Marsalis, a self-described “midlevel scrub” as a basketball player, also agrees with the connection between jazz and basketball. He said most of Donovan’s questions were centered on refocusing individual goals to align with collective goals and ways to change “a value system so that the sacrificial decisions that undergird group success are as venerated as individual achievements.”
“Both require the different positions or instruments to understand and accept the unique requirements of their specific roles,” Wynton Marsalis said via e-mail. “Both encourage accurate decision-making and graceful execution under the pressure of time. Both have a tradition of transcendent geniuses who change the definition of greatness and a tradition of definitive groups or teams that demonstrate the superiority of collective emotion, intelligence and execution.”
Wynton Marsalis said a key to teamwork in a great band is finding members who believe in “the value of group expression and buy into the philosophy and practices of our group.” He said he evaluates talent by assessing “spiritual depth” at first before assessing desire, knowledge, intelligence, humility, charisma, execution under pressure and collegiality. When all those attributes are combined, Wynton Marsalis believes, a team can be great whether on the stage or the hardwood.
“In jazz, it means someone strives to understand the meaning and philosophies of the music across time and are equally as willing to meticulously repeat the smallest details of a given piece as long as is necessary,” Wynton Marsalis said. “In basketball, it means a person understands the meaning and history of the sport, the game plan from different positions, and is willing to do the most tedious and specific drills and studies every day until they achieve the desired mastery. Finally, the macro-micro type integrates both methods into one practice. Then, you have a lot of trouble beating them. A whole lot.”
When Ibtihaj Muhammad hit the scene at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, she immediately caught the attention of women everywhere. As the first Muslim-American woman to sport a hijab while competing for the United States, she was an instant hero. She went on to earn the bronze medal as part of Team USA.
Now the 31-year-old Olympian has her very own Barbie. Muhammad joins women such as Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, Selma director Ava DuVernay and dancer Misty Copeland in the Mattel Inc.’s Shero line, which honors women who break boundaries. Mattel Inc., the maker of Barbie, says the doll will be available online next fall.
“I’m excited and honored and humbled. I really look up to the women that have been part of the Shero program previous to me, and I think this is a wonderful list of women to join,” Muhammad told The Undefeated. “Barbie’s been a really big part of my life as a kid, so to now have my very own Barbie, I don’t know, it’s almost like an indescribable feeling. A lot of excitement.”
Muhammad agrees that Mattel’s efforts toward diversity are indicative of today’s times.
“I think, as a company, Mattel has decided to make a decision to be inclusive and to celebrate diversity,” she said. “So to have dolls of various sizes and different skin tones, and now to even have a doll that clearly wears hijabs and is modeled after an American Olympian, I think is revolutionary. I hope that other brands, especially in the toy industry, follow. It’s important for children to see themselves represented in the toys that they play with.”
The new doll bears a striking resemblance to Muhammad, who says the likeness is uncanny.
“I wasn’t expecting the doll to look exactly like me,” she said. “I think that Mattel’s really nailed it, all the way down to the eyeliner, which was really important to me that the doll had, because I love a good winged liner.
“I guess Mattel is moving forward and changing this traditional way that Barbie has been made in the past. They have dolls now in different sizes. My Barbie doll isn’t tall and, like, really leggy. My doll has these more toned, athletic legs, which are more reflective to the body type of myself and other athletes. I hope that this creates a more positive image, especially in terms of the body image for young girls who play with the doll.”
The most important aspect in the Shero line of dolls for Muhammad is that young girls understand the message behind it.
“What we want to encourage little girls to believe is that they can be anything and anyone that they want,” she said. “One of the great things about doll play is that children are able to imagine themselves in any role, doing anything, being anyone and achieving whatever they want.”
Muhammad said the hardest part of her overall journey is the obstacles that she’s faced as an African-American, and as a Muslim female athlete, growing up and developing in the sport of fencing.
“A lot of them do have to do with being discriminated against,” she said. “I wanted to embrace those difficulties in my journey, especially like they’re notches in the belt, and it’s helped me achieve and get to where I am as an athlete. I would say that one of the most instrumental things in helping me achieve the success I have as an athlete is learning to believe in myself. That’s also part of the messaging that I would like to extend to little girls who purchase a Barbie from this Shero line, is that everything that they need is already inside. We’re all going to be faced with obstacles in our life, and it’s how we approach and how we handle these things that makes us, and that dictates our future and makes us who we are.”
The doll also is donning a dress from Muhammad’s clothing line, Louella, named after her grandmother.
“I was given, in addition to my doll made in my athletic apparel, I also had a second doll made in an evening dress, and they modeled it after a dress that I wore to The ESPYS.”
When Tonya Boyd took her first emergency medical technician (EMT) class in the mid-’90s, she had no idea that two decades later she’d be the first African-American female deputy chief of the New York Fire Department. At the time, Boyd was enrolled at Long Island University as a nursing student and decided to take a break from the program to tend to a family matter. Shortly afterward, Boyd says, she decided to take the EMT class as a favor to a friend.
“She asked me to take it with her so I could help drill her for the test, but I ended up really enjoying it,” Boyd said.
After the course, Boyd got a job with a private ambulance service. She applied for a position with the New York Fire Department in 1996 with the idea that it would be a brief pit stop before going back to nursing school.
“I intended to come to the department, work there for a year, then go back,” Boyd said. “My grandmother was a nurse, and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. But after getting into the work and bonding with the people in the Fire Department, I fell in love with it. And here I am, 21 years later.”
But getting “here” wasn’t easy. Boyd was an EMT for seven years, then was encouraged to go through the paramedic program. After having that role for a while, Boyd successfully took the test to become lieutenant, a position she would hold for four years before being appointed to captain. She was only the second female captain on the Emergency Medical Services side of the department. Now, as deputy chief of the Fire Department of the City of New York, Boyd is assigned to Queens, where her primary responsibility is to respond to mass casualty incidents in that borough and oversee two EMS stations that consist of about 160 members.
Boyd’s promotion has been a source of inspiration for women all over the country, and it’s a distinction that she doesn’t take lightly.
“I really believe this promotion means a lot to the minority women in this department for one, who believed that the highest they could go was lieutenant,” Boyd said. “An overwhelming amount of women in various fields, not just in fire, have reached out to me and told me how much this has inspired them and encouraged them to reach higher. For me, that has been the biggest reward, getting the feedback from other women and knowing I’ve inspired them.”
It’s no secret that fire departments all over the country are male-dominated. When asked whether she felt it was challenging being so outnumbered by men in the department, Boyd pointed out that there are challenges on every job.
“There’s no question that us women are outnumbered, probably about 70/30, but you can’t look at it that way,” Boyd said. “It’s about doing a good job and being credible and reliable. I wanted my work to show that I can work just as hard, if not harder than any man out there.
“My mother would tell me not to focus on the negative, and to never let someone else’s negative become mine. I choose to focus on the positive, and that’s what has helped me. If you take everything personally, you’ll get caught up in the moment, and I didn’t want to get caught in the moment. I wanted to always move forward.”
Boyd attributes a great deal of her success to the men and women who served as mentors to her. One in particular was her dear friend Carene Brown, a former instructor in the department who is now deceased. Boyd says Brown, who died seven years ago, encouraged her to keep going further, taking more courses and learning more.
Working in emergency response for many years in New York, Boyd has seen some hard days, but none as hard as 9/11.
“It was the worst day of my life,” she recalled. “I worked the evening shift that day, and I remember so many in my department were missing. Imagine the people that you work with every day, that have become your family, the people you discuss the most personal things with. These people are now unaccounted for. It’s a tearing feeling in your chest, not knowing where they are.
“I lost a dear friend of mine that day, Ricardo [Quinn]. And a few months after that, my EMT partner committed suicide. We all believe it was delayed impact from that day. For most years, on 9/11, I stay home and make it a quiet and disconnected day. I don’t get on social media and I don’t watch television. It’ll always be such a somber day.”
Boyd says the best piece of advice she’s received, and the advice she’d pass on to any woman out there with big goals, came from her mother. “My mother always told me to hold my head high. When it came to this job, she always reminded me how intelligent I am, and how I’m just as good as anyone else. She’d tell me to ‘show them your heart’ and ‘do good in your actions.’ I would give the same advice to anyone else.”
One thing that is certain about Boyd — the medical field is her passion. When asked what she’d be doing if she wasn’t working in this capacity, she responded, “I’ve always loved animals, so I could definitely see myself working as a veterinarian.”
Boyd is buckling up for the new road ahead and planning to serve the citizens of Queens well as deputy chief, all while planning her September 2018 wedding with her fiancé, Edwin Laing.
“Just as a reminder to myself / I wear every single chain even when I’m in the house …” — Drake, 2013’s “Started From The Bottom”
Miami is hardly the first college team to rally around an inanimate object, the most recent high-profile example being Alabama’s “Ball Out Belt.” Much like Miami’s chain, the Crimson Tide’s belt was given for performance on the field. But unlike Miami’s chain, the belt didn’t have black South Florida roots. And it didn’t become anything like the cultural phenomenon the gaudy slab of diamonds and Cuban links so connected to brothers and sisters in the 305 area code.
The Miami Hurricanes’ chain was inspired by a quartet. First-year Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was looking to motivate his players. Cornerbacks coach and Canes alum Mike Rumph told famed jeweler Anthony John “AJ” Machado an idea he had for a necklace that defensive players could wear each time they forced a turnover. Super Bowl champion and former Canes standout Vince Wilfork was at Machado’s shop for an unrelated piece of custom jewelry and told Machado and Rumph the chain had to personally reflect who and what Miami stood for. Not just the campus, but the community’s culture. “In Miami, what are we famous for? We’re famous for the Cuban chains,” Machado told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in September. “But we need to add a little something to it.”
The chain’s true price remains a mystery, part of its ongoing fascination. But this 6.5-pound, 10-karat piece of jewelry — like so many trophy-esque watches, tennis bracelets and pearl chokers — is loud, boisterous, arrogant. And fun. Miami is famous for many things, and the swag of a Cuban link chain is one of them. The Miami Hurricanes’ turnover chain is Miami culture to its core. And it goes beyond — just ask Raekwon about his classic 1995 Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
The U’s ascension back into the ranks of the elite programs in the game is directly tied to the allure of its turnover chain. College football, fun but far from radical, needed Miami’s swagger again. The team — led by guys such as safety/leading tackler Jaquan Johnson, linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, defensive end Trent Lewis, quarterback Malik Rosier and running back Travis Homer — is as counterculture as Allen Iverson was to the Jordan years of the NBA. The team is a breath of fresh air in a landscape with dominant but less personable powerhouses like Alabama, Ohio State or Michigan. The NCAA — chided for years for its lockdown on celebrations, which is seen in many circles as the “Miami rule” — enforces the personality of teams over players. So watching a team not only revel in how good they are but also live up to the hype? It’s rich. And the turnover chain has galvanized a defense that’s as physical, violent and cocky as there is in the country — tied for fourth in the country in turnovers forced (24) in one fewer game. Their Sept. 9 game at Arkansas State was canceled as Hurricane Irma barreled toward South Florida.
At 9-0, and currently first in the ACC’s Coastal Division, the Canes are the No. 2 program in the country. They’re also sitting on a streak of four consecutive games of four turnovers, including Nov. 11’s dismemberment of No. 3 Notre Dame — much to the chagrin of Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who all but called the dogs on his own team with a peculiar pregame on-field rant. A recent poll, too, found that many believe the chain is the best story in sports. And even if it’s not, the financial implications and the marketing behind the chain have already paid dividends of hundreds of thousands of dollars for vendors capitalizing on the sudden nationwide appeal with various forms of apparel. It’s great, right? But is it?
“Do it for the culture / They gon’ bite like vultures …” – Quavo, from Migos’ 2017 “T-Shirt”
Because already, infatuation with the chain teeters on appropriation. There’s always this tension when something very black — like a big gold chain, being worn by black men — “catches on.” The success of a thing or a gesture or a style is great, but then suddenly it’s not “ours” anymore, the benefit of it is going to everyone else and it’s wrung out and dead before it can be fully enjoyed.
It’s a feel-good story until it isn’t, right? Take the dab for instance, popularized in 2015 by Migos and brought to the doorstep of middle America on Sundays by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Everyone did the dab. That includes candidates such as Hillary Clinton, as well as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s son.
The dab became a caricature of itself. A pure, fun creation of popular hip-hop was bastardized by an American culture that has always fed off its energy — and yet is so very often ultimately demonized. Comedian Paul Mooney talks about in a bit called “Ugly On Us But Cute On Them” in 2012’s The Godfather of Comedy.
He could well have added big jewelry. On black people: grotesque, over the top, showy. On others: bold, edgy, fancy, innovative.
The turnover chain is more talked about right now than the race for the Heisman Trophy. Everyone wants in on the most recent gold mine, the flavor of the moment. But however impossible, how about we try to let the players have this moment? And let’s not forget: Their spontaneously joyful on-field marketing of the chain has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, yet the guys on the field are entitled to none of the profits. The chain should be theirs.
The turnover chain is a flashback to “The U” that was the baddest, most intimidating and most threatening force in college football. But the rules changed, and the brand of bullying that made Miami nationwide goons (but neighborhood superstars) has been discontinued. So it begs the question, will this new we-the-best momentum of the chain soon feel the clip of new rules? Yes, because, as ESPN’s Dan Le Batard recently said, “This team is still black. And the people doing the ravaging on defense are still black. There will be a turning on that. Showboaty black guy rarely gets embraced. … To be honest with you, if we’re going deep into this, the chain is the only thing from those overtly black Miami teams that is allowed in 2017.”
“Don’t look down on the youngsters because they wanna have shiny things.” — Pimp C, 2013’s “F—WithMeYouKnowIGotIt”
How long The U’s undefeated season lasts is no guarantee, especially since there’s a date with No. 4 and defending national champion Clemson on the very near (Dec. 2) horizon. Yet, there’s history that shines brighter than the 900 orange and green sapphires swaying back and forth on the necks of players who have revived arguably the most culturally relevant college football program of all time.
The chain creates excitement on the field. The chain is useful because the players are motivated by that gleaming trophy. And the chain is important far beyond just the Instagram ops for celebrities and fly-by-night fans. Don’t let the University of Miami’s turnover chain die the same death as the dab. Don’t let the true essence of the chain be swept under the rug. Don’t allow the history of the chain and its place in Miami culture to be overlooked. Because it’s going to happen. If it hasn’t started already.