Bernie Mac, his ‘Mr. 3000,’ and black baseball’s field of dreams On what would have been his 60th birthday, Mac is remembered for his love of all of Chicago’s games

Mitch Rosen walks into an elegantly furnished condo in Chicago’s South Loop. He doesn’t know what to expect. It’s the spring of 2008, and the longtime program director of influential local sports radio station 670 The Score is about to make a pitch.

Just a day earlier, Rosen had asked a friend for a contact for Bernie Mac, the beloved stand-up comedian, television icon (Fox’s The Bernie Mac Show, 2001-06) and big-screen scene-stealer (Friday, The Players Club and the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy). In 2004, Mac co-starred with Angela Bassett (as an ESPN reporter) in Mr. 3000, a film about a retired Milwaukee Brewer Stan Ross, who comes back to major league baseball to go for 3,000 hits. Even before Mac’s star-making 1994 national television debut on the first iteration of HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, Mac had taken the baton from Robin Harris (who died in 1990 at age 36) as the Windy City’s funniest homegrown talent.

It was well-known around Chicago that Mac, a chest-beating, born-and-raised South Sider, was a hard-core White Sox fan. “I always knew Bernie to be around the Sox’s ballpark,” said Rosen. “He’d rent a suite at [then U.S. Cellular Field] for a number of games. I knew he would be fun to have on the postgame show.”

When Rosen made the call, Mac’s daughter, Je’Niece McCullough, answered. “Hold on, please,” she said. Seconds later, a booming voice jumped on the line. “Mitch, this is Bernie. What are you doing tomorrow afternoon? Here’s my address. Come see me.” During their one-hour meeting, Rosen discovered that not only was Mac an unapologetic homer, he was also an animated listener of sports talk radio. Imagine the multimillionaire calling in to passionately debate why a random utility player on the Sox deserved more at-bats.

“Chicago was a different place in the late ’60s and ’70s. This was before the era of Michael Jordan. There was a Little League team in damn near every neighborhood. Bernie was a product of those times.”

“And he was a huge fan of Ozzie [Guillen],” Rosen said, referring to the outspoken White Sox shortstop and Gold Glover who in 2005 managed the team to World Series glory. “We left it at, ‘Hey, let’s follow up in a few weeks and see where the season goes.’ At the time I remember he had an oxygen tank … so it was obvious something was wrong. He told me he was doing a movie out west in California. But we never got the chance to do his segment because he became really sick.”

Mac’s creative work was often deeply rooted in sports fandom. He portrayed a homeless man in 1994’s Above The Rim. In Pride, the 2007 Jim Ellis biopic, Mac scored a role as assistant coach of the first all-black swimming team. The actor detailed his love of competitive sports during a 2007 ESPN SportsNation chat. “I wish I started playing golf earlier,” said the 6-foot-3 Mac, who possessed the frame of a tight end. “But I played baseball, basketball, football, volleyball, and I boxed. In high school,” he repeated wistfully, “I played baseball.”

On Aug. 9, 2008, Bernard Jeffrey McCullough died at the age of 50. He’d been secretly battling a rare immune disease called sarcoidosis. Today he would have been 60 years old.


Bernie Mac sings “Take me out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch of game six of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins on October 14, 2003 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.

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Bernie Mac made it out of the notorious Englewood neighborhood of Chicago to become one of the most successful comedians of the post-Eddie Murphy era. The onetime janitor, school bus driver and fast-food manager decided that comedy would be his family’s ticket out of the ’hood. During the day, Mac told jokes on the L train, where he often pulled in as much as $400 daily.

At night, he delivered those same routines in front of notoriously tough audiences — when he was even allowed to get onstage. It was only after winning a top prize of $3,000 at 1990’s Miller Genuine Draft Comedy Search that he decided to pursue stand-up full time. His popular Emmy- and Peabody-winning television series The Bernie Mac Show was a layered revelation that went beyond usual laugh-track-fueled sitcom high jinks.

Mac got to live out his high school dream of becoming a professional ballplayer when he starred in the family-friendly Mr. 3000. His comically arrogant character, Ross, finds out that because of a clerical error, he’d retired three hits shy of one of baseball’s most hallowed benchmarks. Only 31 real players are in the 3,000-hit club. Adrian Beltre is the most recently crowned member; Barry Bonds just missed the cut. Albert Pujols is currently closest, with 2,825 hits. Other players in the 3,000 community include Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ichiro Suzuki, Rickey Henderson, Alex Rodriguez, George Brett and Derek Jeter. Quite the list.

The film is fun, but it’s Mr. 3000’s on-field scenes, shot at New Orleans’ Zephyr Field and the Brewers’ Miller Park, that jump off the screen like a love letter to the emotional highs and lows of baseball and its idiosyncratic rituals. “Bernie and I would always talk about the MLB player that didn’t know when to retire,” said Charles Stone III, director of Mr. 3000, Paid In Full and the upcoming basketball comedy Uncle Drew, which features the Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, as well as Lisa Leslie, Nate Robinson, Reggie Miller and Chris Webber. “We even joked about doing an entire documentary about athletes who didn’t know when to walk away. It was obvious Bernie had a real passion for sports.”

Michael Wilbon, a Chicago native and co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, made a cameo appearance in Mr. 3000. He first met Mac in 2001, at a Chicago Bulls game. They bonded. “We both grew up watching the Bears’ Gale Sayers and Walter Payton, the Cubs’ Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, and the White Sox’s [Walt] ‘No Neck’ Williams,” Wilbon said. “Chicago was a different place in the late ’60s and ’70s. This was before the era of Michael Jordan. There was a Little League team in damn near every neighborhood. Bernie was a product of those times.”

Which is one of the reasons that, when Mac was asked by the Chicago Cubs to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field, just months after wrapping Mr. 3000, it was a surreal moment. The prominent Chicago White Sox fan is forever connected to the infamous “Bartman” Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series in which the North Siders suffered a monumental collapse. Some Cubs fans even blamed Mac for purposefully jinxing the team when, instead of singing, “Root, root, root for the Cubbies,” he sang, “Root, root, root for the champions!” Mac admitted to Wilbon that he grew up hating the Sox’s crosstown rivals.

Bernie Mac sings a “black version” of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

“This is how you came up as a South Sider,” Wilbon said. “You hated the Cubs because back in the days they were not very hospitable to people that looked like my father. Bernie and I come from that tradition. But a lot of those great black Cubs players like Ernie Banks lived on the South Side with us, so while he didn’t always root for the Cubs, Bernie was a civic person. He didn’t actively root against them. When it came to the [playoffs], he rooted for all teams that had Chicago on their chest.”

Mac of course understood the historical significance of Mr. 3000’s lead character being African-American. Jackie Robinson’s peerless legacy is rich with immortals such as Roy Campanella, Mays, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr., as well as current stars like Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen and Addison Russell. But African-American participation in professional baseball over the decades has steadily declined.

At its height in 1981, professional baseball boasted a robust 18.7 percentage of black players. Today that figure is 7.7 percent, according to MLB. “Blacks no longer being a huge part of baseball is something we’d always talk about,” said Chicago-based SportsCenter analyst Scoop Jackson. When Mac was cutting his teeth at local nightclubs such as All Jokes Aside in the early ’90s, the two would often discuss their mutual admiration for the underrated 1976 Negro Leagues baseball film The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.

“We both loved that film,” said Jackson. “How important Bingo Long was … you had James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor speaking on the importance of the Negro League. It wasn’t just black history … it was baseball history. I know what a film like Mr. 3000 was rooted in.”

And there’s even more to the legacy of Bernie Mac the sportsman. Mac frequently sent messages to Kenny Williams, then the White Sox’s general manager (now the team’s executive vice president), imploring him to improve the staff’s pitching. Mac also grew up idolizing aforementioned legendary Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente. Mac’s standing as the quintessential sports guy was so high that even before he was starring in films alongside the Oscar-winning likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Billy Bob Thornton, he was given the unofficial title of 13th Man by the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls during their historic six-title ’90s run.

The Bulls adopted Mac’s signature “Who You With?!!!” catchphrase as their championship battle cry. “When Bernie came into the locker room, that’s all Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the others would scream,” Jackson said. “That meant a lot to Bernie personally. He never really left Chicago, or his love of its teams. … Bernie was a true sports fan.”

At American Legion Hall, patriotism is complicated by the persistent realities of being black Discomfort with national anthem protests coupled with disgust over Trump’s denunciation of players

Old Glory flapped in the breeze outside American Legion Hall 263 near Baltimore Sunday as a group of black veterans and their relatives gathered inside to enjoy America’s game.

The Baltimore Ravens were getting roasted by the Jacksonville Jaguars on television, but much of the talk was about the groundswell of national anthem protests triggered by President Donald Trump’s angry outburst denouncing them. Dozens of Ravens and Jaguar players took a knee in defiance of Trump, and many others stood on the sidelines locking arms in a show of support.

“This much is for sure, Trump only fueled the fire,” said Richard Smith, 71, who served with the 82nd Airborne during the Vietnam War before going on to a career as a butcher. “It is amazing that he had more to say about this than he did about those racists marching in Charlottesville.”

Smith is proud of his military service and proud of his imperfect country. Truth be told, he was ambivalent about the NFL players who took a knee or raised a fist during the national anthem. But once Trump weighed in — calling on NFL owners who see players “disrespecting the flag” to “get that son of a b—- off the field right now” — Smith felt disgust, not solidarity, with the commander in chief.

“I don’t agree with taking a knee when the Star-Spangled Banner is played,” Smith said. “I thought it was not the right way to protest real problems. But, that said, I know Trump never served in the military. Now, he is cursing and disrespecting these guys. It only makes their point.”

Many of the Legionnaires and their family members voiced similar sentiments as they came to the hall for an afternoon of football as they do every Sunday during the NFL season. On one hand, they know better than most the sacrifice of military service. They also believe deeply in the promise of America. They spoke proudly of leading happy, productive lives and having children and grandchildren living the American Dream, with good jobs, nice homes, and successful families.

Ronald E. Randall Sr., outside of Jackson and Johnson Memorial Post 263 during the Ravens game.

Reginald Thomas II for The Undefeated

But their sense of patriotism and reverence for the nation’s symbols are complicated by the persistent realities of being black. They salute the American flag that flies in front of their stucco-faced hall. They rise for the national anthem. But they also know firsthand that their allegiance to the flag has not always protected their rights. For them, the national anthem can come across as both a song of soaring inspiration and a hollow tune.

Ronald E. Randall Sr., 69, a retired school custodian whose father and brother served in the Navy, grew up not far from the legion hall in an enclave that has been all black since just after Emancipation. As a kid, he was barred from the white-only swimming pools during Baltimore’s sweltering summers. His mother could not shop along the local commercial strip. That was for whites only, too. He was in junior high when the public schools were integrated, and he remembers he and his black friends having to brawl with insult-hurling white students before they were left alone.

Legal segregation was struck from the books more than six decades ago, but the stretch of wood-frame homes in the neighborhood, now known as the Winters Lane Historic District, remains overwhelmingly black. Economics, it turns out, is as effective as the law when it comes to limiting mobility. Homes just a few blocks away in mostly white Catonsville sell for at least double the cost of those on Winters Lane.

“That’s the kind of thing that makes people say really nothing has changed,” Randall said. “The players see that and that is what they are protesting. I don’t carry hate in my heart, but I know a lot of white folks have no respect for us.”

They rise for the national anthem. But they also know firsthand that their allegiance to the flag has not always protected their rights.

Smith remembers family members telling stories from when housing segregation in Baltimore was enforced not just by compliant real estate agents, but also by the fists and bricks of whites who could not countenance black neighbors.

“People used to attack you if you went into certain neighborhoods, just for being black,” he said. “We’ve come a long way, but racism is going to be with us for a long time.”

Consuella Rheubottom, 77, who has two sons who served in the Army, tends bar at the hall. Fewer than a dozen people are in the dimly lit bar, a couple are playing on slot machines and others sit on their stools, watching the game on two flat screens.

Rheubottom said she felt some discomfort with the anthem protests. Yet, she felt repulsed — and scrambled to turn her television off — when she heard Trump insulting the players who chose to demonstrate.

“I was not sure what I thought about the protests. I can’t say that I firmly support them. I did not oppose them either,” she said, looking up as she mixed whiskey sours. “But I do know that what the president said is ignorant.”

Edward Neal, 85, a retired laboratory technician wearing a Ravens cap, slowly settled into a corner stool in the hall’s bar as conversation about the protests wore on. It was not long before he joined in.

Consuella Rheubottom makes whiskey sours at Jackson and Johnson Memorial Post 263 during the Ravens game.

Reginald Thomas II for The Undefeated

He has mixed feelings about it all, he said. Neal agreed that the protesters have a point. While race relations have improved during his lifetime, he said, there is still is a long way to go to achieve equality. At the same time, he has deep respect for those who choose to serve in the military, because has seen the physical costs of war up close. Serving as a medical corpsman during the Korean War, he helped treat troops with severed limbs and horrific burns. That kind of sacrifice, he said, should always be respected. The anthem protests can lead people to think that the sacrifice is not being honored, he said.

He added that teams should stand together. Unity is tested when some kneel and others stand for the anthem. And issues of social justice, he argued, are best debated in the halls of government and the courts.

Despite that, Neal took no comfort from Trump’s words. “What the president said was out of order,” he said. “If that is all he had to contribute, he should have said nothing.”

Black people don’t surf? This org proves that’s not true The Black Surfers Collective aims to dispel the myth by offering free surf lessons

Four years ago, Detroit native Mimi Miller had never been in the ocean. Now she’s a devoted bodyboarder, surfer and volunteer for the Black Surfers Collective — a group that, according to its mission, raises cultural awareness and promotes diversity in the sport of surfing through community activities, outreach and camaraderie.

On Aug. 12, you could find Miller standing on the shoreline of Los Angeles’ Santa Monica State Beach, clapping and cheering on newcomers who took part in the collective’s monthly free lessons to introduce black people to surfing, called Pan African Beach Days.

Being active in the L.A.-based collective, with its 799 members on Facebook, has allowed her to do something she enjoys in a supportive, vibrant atmosphere: “I love the community,” she explained in between chasing down stray boards and yelling “Good job!” to kids and adults alike.

About 111 people signed up for the Aug. 12 event, although the collective cannot safely accommodate such a large number. Still, a good 40 people, ranging from young kids to middle-aged participants, got training and coaching. Most did not have experience surfing.

Miller and the rest of the collective’s members are part of the proud if lesser-known tradition of black surfing, which some would argue goes back to native Hawaiians (descendants of Polynesians), who are credited with inventing the sport in the first place. Among the legendary surf icons are Montgomery “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani, a black Hawaiian whom Surfer magazine called “the father of modern day surfing.”

L.A. has its own lore, beginning with black surf pioneer Nick Gabaldon, who frequented the Inkwell Beach in Santa Monica in the 1940s, where black beachgoers congregated during segregation. Also, the late Dedon Kamathi, a radio host and onetime Black Panther, was a surfing devotee, as was police abuse victim Rodney King.

Founder and co-president of the Black Surfers Collective, Greg Rachal is a former skateboarder who found his way onto a longboard early on. “I’ve been in and out of the water all my life, since I was 13,” he said.

Rachal and his wife, Marie, are beach enthusiasts and a vital presence in the collective, which organizes camping and surf trips and takes a leadership role in an annual tribute to Gabaldon.

Rachal’s son, Greg Jr., 15, volunteers on the collective’s surf days because he likes giving back. He is on his school’s surf team, which sometimes comes as a surprise to his white classmates. Greg Jr. would like to see more African-Americans in surfing. Until then, he said, he enjoys defying stereotypes.

He’s not alone. Waterman Michael Brown Parlor has been surprising people with his prowess in lifeguarding, surfing and sailing since he was a college student in South Carolina in the 1970s. He’s retired from surfing and mentors female surfers in competitive events, believing girls don’t get the respect they deserve in the sport. He spent Pan African Beach Day encouraging newbie surfers and taking pictures for his Facebook page devoted to surfing.

Pan African Beach Day was launched a few years ago because too few black people in L.A. get to the beach, and they don’t always have a background in swimming to enjoy the water, Rachal explained. He credited the Surf Bus Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes ocean sports and safety in L.A., for helping make Beach Day a success by supplying the boards, instructing students and providing additional volunteers. Beach Days are open to anyone, although most participants are people of color.

Before they took to the waves Aug. 12, participants gathered on the beach for a talk about ocean safety and played some games that got them into the water. Then it was time to plop themselves on boards laid out in the sand, where they learned how to position their arms and feet and practice their “pop up,” the tricky move from prone to upright, ending in a stance with knees bent and arms extended.

After some popping up, volunteer instructors such as Rachal and other members of the collective took participants into the water, finding the right wave and giving them a push forward. Some newcomers rode the boards on their bellies, zooming into shore with their arms extended, while others proved agile enough to stand up, maintain balance and ride in — always an exhilarating moment for a student and instructor. Waves were small, and wipeouts were minor.

Participant Pierre Scott had attended a few Pan African Beach Days before and was having a good run, standing up and even angling into the barrel of the wave, not just riding into shore.

“I love it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Scott said.

“It’s a hype experience,” said Garry Maxwell, who chuckled about the language of surfing, explaining that “I’m stoked.”

Devin Waller was a beginner and felt a bit nervous. But she felt the stoke the first time she stood up on the board.

“It was awesome,” Waller said after the session ended, depositing her board on the sand. “Heck yeah, I’m going to do it again.”

Star Wright and the Philadelphia Phantomz make a place for hard-hitting women For this women’s football team and its founder, the motto is ‘I can play’


PHILADELPHIA — Sitting in her doctor’s office in early June, Star Wright didn’t know her football season was over, not yet.

But she had a feeling. The damage to her liver and spleen where the helmet had hit was too great, and the Women’s World Championship was too soon. She had bounced back from injuries before, though: a car accident that fractured her skull and crushed her ankle, a shoulder broken during her stint in the Lingerie League, a torn MCL.

The World Championship only comes around every four years, and at 34, this could be her last chance. “I feel like I can play,” she told the doctor.

Philadelphia Phantomz founder Star Wright waits nervously as a University of Pennsylvania doctor reviews her charts during an appointment in West Philadelphia.

“I can play.” It’s a phrase that sums up the determination and athleticism that define Wright’s life. It’s why she founded the Philadelphia Phantomz, a professional women’s tackle football team based in North Philadelphia.

Finishing their second season in June with a record of 4-4, the Phantomz are one of the newer additions to the Women’s Football Alliance, which now boasts 65 teams in the United States and Canada and is the largest of three women’s tackle leagues in the country, along with the Independent Women’s Football League and the United States Women’s Football League. They play their home games at Simon Gratz High School in North Philadelphia, where Wright lettered in swimming, basketball and track. Admission is $15, although the players aren’t paid.

Most of the women on the Phantomz were standout athletes in their youth. Some turned to football as a new opportunity for competitive play in their 20s and 30s. Others heard about the team from friends and decided to try out, seeking the camaraderie and motivational environment of the team. The 36 women on the Phantomz, who range in age from 18 to 51, often describe the team as a sisterhood.

“We teach women who’ve never played football, who know nothing about football,” said Wright, who plays linebacker and is the team’s president. “We teach them the ins and outs, how to compete and how to be players. And I think that contributes to becoming a family, too, like we’re friends where we care about each other.”

Many team members say that playing football is a chance for women to finally get the recognition they deserve, to prove they don’t need to play with men to compete at the highest level.

And let there be no doubt: These women hit hard.

“It’s very, very physical,” said running back Angie Wells, 30, who led the team in touchdowns this year despite constant knee pain from a previous surgery. “We don’t have a lot of subs. You get tired and it’s like the 12th round in a boxing match.”

“We’re trying to make a point here,” said linebacker Ebony Fowlkes, 30, an assistant basketball coach at Harcum College in nearby Bryn Mawr and its assistant director of residence life. “We’re trying to say that women can do anything.”

Members of the Philadelphia Phantoms women’s tackle football team practice in Hunting Park in Philadelphia, PA.

Members of the Philadelphia Phantoms women’s tackle football team practice in Hunting Park in Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia Phantomz coaches look on as defensive back Sade “Murda” Buie runs drills at Hunting Park in North Philadelphia, May 31, 2017.

Members of the Philadelphia Phantomz suit up for practice as family members and girlfriends hang out beside them at Hunting Park in North Philadelphia.

Teammates attend to Shantia Creech after she injured her foot during practice at Hunting Park in North Philadelphia.

Star Wright, her children Kyla, 10, Kion, 13, and team manager Robert “Bam” Flood grab slices of pizza for dinner before an administrative team meeting at Wright’s home in North Philadelphia.

Ebony Fowlkes, center, jokes around with Kia Ivery, right, and Angela Sherman, left, before piling into a rental van for a five-hour drive to Boston play the Boston Renegades, in Philadelphia, PA

The Philadelphia Phantomz practice offensive plays in the parking lot of their hotel shortly before an away game against the Boston Renegades in Boston, MA.

Sade “Murda” Buie applies green-colored eye black to her face before an away game against the Boston Renegades, in Boston, MA.

Star Wright, coaching instead of playing due to an injury, gives advice to her teammates before playing the top-rated Boston Renegades in Boston, MA.

Jacque Dorsey, center, makes a big tackle during an away game against the Boston Renegades, in Boston, MA.

Philadelphia Phantomz founder Star Wright drives to a doctors appointment from North Philly with downtown Philadelphia in the distance.

Philadelphia Phantomz quarterback Satoria Bell, center, and teammates during practice in Hunting Park in North Philadelphia.

Friends and family members meet members of the Phantomz at the gates to wish them luck before their game against the New York Sharks.

North Philadelphia residents watch the Philadelphia Phantomz play against the New York Sharks from a pavilion in Hunting Park in North Philadelphia.

Star Wright on the field before the start of the Philadelphia Phantomz game against the New York Sharks in Hunting Park in North Philadelphia.

Members of the Philadelphia Phantomz hold hands before the start of their game against the New York Sharks in North Philadelphia.

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‘Being Mary Jane’ star Richard Brooks is taking on more and starring in new show ‘The Rich and the Ruthless’ The ‘Law & Order’ vet is going beyond acting to writing, producing and directing

Actor and singer Richard Brooks can read over a legal document and break it right on down. He’s not a lawyer, but he played one on television as Assistant District Attorney Paul Robinette in the first three seasons (1990-93) of NBC’s hit drama Law & Order. And the research that went into preparing for the part gives him some expertise on the matter.

“Sometimes, I think of myself as a jailhouse lawyer now because I help people with their legal issues,” Brooks said as he chuckled. “It makes no sense. I’d read the contract, and people are like, ‘You read my contract?’ ‘Yes, I read the full contract.’ ”

Now, Brooks is in the fourth season of the hit show Being Mary Jane on BET and is a co-star in Victoria Rowell’s new dramedy The Rich and the Ruthless, which premieres July 28 on the Urban Movie Channel.

Alongside Gabrielle Union, Richard Roundtree, Margaret Avery and now Michael Ealy, Brooks plays Patrick Patterson, the older brother of Mary Jane (Union). Patrick is a recovering addict trying to get his life back on the right track while raising a young daughter and advising his older children, who now have children of their own. He plays a grandfather on the show who faces adversity of his own, but he is still helping the Patterson family through their separate personal issues.

In the fictional show The Rich and the Ruthless, Brooks plays self-made businessman and showrunner Augustus Barringer. After finding out his show, the first black soap opera on a big Hollywood network, has been booted, he decides to fight for his rightful place in Hollywood. He does what he has to do to keep the show going and moves the company to Jamaica, but his unpredictable wife, Kitty Barringer (Rowell), is not too happy about these changes.

Brooks said he met Rowell on the set of Diagnosis: Murder in 1994.

“I came in for a special guest star on that, and in the show we were paired off together, we had to break the case together,” Brooks said of his character on the nighttime drama. “I was a former heavyweight boxer who, I believe, was being swindled or something by my promoter, and she’s helping me break the case. We really had a great time just being together. There’s a little romantic spark in the police character. We’ve just been friends ever since then, looking for an opportunity to work together again.”

Brooks founded his own production company, Flat Top Entertainment, through which he released his first solo rhythm and blues album, Smooth Love. In 2013, he appeared on the public TV series The Abolitionists as Frederick Douglass. He spoke to The Undefeated about The Rich and the Ruthless, Being Mary Jane and his journey.


How do you feel that you’re entertaining us on one of the hottest TV shows right now, Being Mary Jane?

I love it. I feel like we helped start the whole trend of there being a lot of black dramas and shows like this, like Empire and Power. It’s great to still be pumping out great episodes and great drama, bringing that to BET. The character I play I really love, because he’s a fully dimensional black man. I feel like I get to portray the struggles I think that a lot of black men are going through, and we’re trying to rebound and rebuild our lives, and have a second chance to be the kind of men that we want to be. It’s a great production, great quality writing and acting, so I just love it. It’s really a joy.

Is it weird playing a grandfather?

I guess not really. I feel like I’m a young grandfather. I guess it’s amazing. I think that throughout my career, I’ve managed to sometimes snag these roles, like it’s just laying there or whatever, where I have a full family dynamic. What’s really challenging and satisfying about the part especially is that I’m a grandfather, I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a brother, you know? I have to play the dynamics of all of those relationships and those roles all at the same time. It’s just great to have a show where my parents are there, too, and I’m still dealing with my parents. My son also. And then try to be a good father, and I have grandkids who I’m trying to be a good grandfather to, and so it is kind of crazy. It’s crazy to get to that part of your life where that is your possibility because that’s who you are. Your kids can have kids, you know? I don’t think we get to see that that much in characters on television or on the movies who actually have that whole world, that whole experience, happening for them. It’s like I’m the emotional center of the show. I get so emotional, so fragile. It’s funny.

What inspires you to keep pouring into our lives through your craft?

It’s funny because I look back and then I realize I’ve been doing this since I was 10 or 11, when I first saw a school play, I think, in sixth grade, and I think they were doing Hansel and Gretel. I found myself going, ‘Why am I not Hansel?’ I was sitting in the audience, and then I started trying to plot my way into the drama department of my junior high school and found a way into a summer job program. They had a student program at the time. The kids were out there picking up garbage and helping do construction stuff and all that.

I was making money being paid actually to act, as a kid. It’s funny now to just look back and realize this was all I’ve done, all I’ve had to do pretty much my whole life, is to be an actor, and I’ve always wanted to be a great actor and really represent men, and black men. My mother always put it upon me to try to teach black men how to be men, or something like that. So that inspires me, and I am just so happy to have roles that may illuminate something about what we go through as men out here.

What’s been the most meaningful role you’ve ever played?

Well, I like to think of my current role, of course, as Patrick, and now Augustus Barringer on The Rich and the Ruthless, and all the roles that are to come. Of course, Law & Order in Paul Robinette had a more transformative role for me because I had to really grow as a man, as an intellect, as a scholar. I had to become more versed in current affairs, and law, and politics and things like that. Before then, I had been pretty much just an artist kind of mentality and just wanting to act, and that role forced me to learn contracts and laws, and my research for it actually influenced me as a person a lot, so that one was probably the biggest stretch at the time. To grow into that role, I think, has helped me with the rest of my career to take on more challenging parts and things like that.

But I have a theater background. I think that had a big effect on me, too, the work of August Wilson.

If you weren’t an actor and an artist, what do you think you’d be doing?

When I started going to a prep school I was acting, and I went right to another grad school, Circle in the Square. But my mom had wanted to get me a full scholarship to medical school actually in Cleveland. She spoke with someone, and he was like, ‘Wow, this is great. We really need black men as doctors. We could give him a full ride, eight years.’ He’d pay for it, you know? But I was committed to acting, and also, I never really liked dissecting. I didn’t like biology. I didn’t really like dissecting frogs and things like that.

I think that law would have probably been one that I were to find myself more practically thinking of. There’s a certain amount of performance to it, and there’s the intellect. I do like legalese and the complexities of law and stuff.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

Probably just surviving the process of the ups and downs of the industry, and dealing with the other people’s expectations, whether they are ahead of me or behind me. You start off and no one really believes you could do anything, they think it’s impossible, and so you have a lot of doubt. Then, as soon as you start to do something, then people are ahead of you, and then they might be like, ‘Well, how come you’re not a major superstar already? How come that movie didn’t … ‘ So it’s always good, just sort of gauging it and trying to keep a level head. You’ve got to keep a balance and continue to think positive.

What do you look forward to most in your future?

I’ve really been into directing a little bit. I was shadowing on Being Mary Jane this season. Right now I’m doing an intensive at New York Film Academy out here in L.A. for the summer. Trying to squeeze that in between acting parts and stuff, and so I really want to expand into writing, producing, directing and creating concepts. Sort of what Victoria [Rowell] is doing, which is why I really want to support her in anything she’s doing. Because I think it’s incredible, the way she’s managed to put this project together and carried it to this point where we’re premiering, and somebody thought of her. That’s what artists have to do sometimes. We can’t just sit around and wait for other people to create opportunities for us; we have to create the opportunities.

We’re the ones who have a lot of the experience. We know what works. We’ve read hundreds and hundreds of scripts, and been on hundreds and hundreds of sets, so it is our time to actually step up and create opportunities for the next generations. So, kind of where my mind is right now.

What would you tell an aspiring actor who came to you for advice?

I do believe in studying and emulating a trained actor. I believe in excellence, I believe in using the art form as a way for personal growth. So whether you succeed at it or not, I think it’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself while you’re exploring other characters. I would definitely tell them to persevere and also innovate, because everything is changing and there’s no right or wrong way to make it these days. Who knows what’s coming in the future? With social media and the new way that stars are coming up the internet now. But definitely, I would tell them to try to be the best, and study with the best, and supplement all their education with books and learning.

Are there any roles that you haven’t done that you’d like to do?

I’ve done so many roles. I definitely want to do some more movies. I wouldn’t mind getting into some new superhero comic book. I think that would be fun. And maybe something on the musical side, too, I wouldn’t mind. I haven’t really done a hit Broadway musical, or I haven’t gotten much singing out as much as I would like to. That would be fun. I think just to get my music out, or to be a part of something musical.

What are your hobbies?

My singing, music. Songwriting is one. Sports. I like basketball and swimming, reading, going out and partying. Still like to party.

Wale officiates a WWE rap battle and other news of the week The Week That Was July 3-7

Monday 07.3.17

President Donald Trump tweeted: “At some point the Fake News will be forced to discuss our great jobs numbers, strong economy, success with ISIS, the border & so much else!” An hour later, CNBC posted that General Motors’ June U.S. sales were “down 4.7% vs. estimate 1.8% decline.” Not even a person with zero front office experience wanted to work for Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. NBC News referred to Sally Hemings, President Thomas Jefferson’s slave and victim, as the former president’s “mistress.” A family carrying $93,000 in undeclared cash on their person through the Philadelphia International Airport were returned just $3,000 of the cash after being stopped by federal agents. The city of St. Louis has decided to push its minimum wage back from $10 per hour to $7.70; Gov. Eric Greitens (R-Missouri) said the previous wage, a 23 percent difference, would “take money out of people’s pockets.” Five alcohol companies have pledged over $67 million to study whether or not there are any scientific benefits to having a glass of alcohol a day. Oregon police killed an armed man trying to steal a helicopter from a local airport. Golden State Warriors forward and NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant took about $9 million less in salary for some reason. Hip-hop artist Azealia Banks, who once called fellow rapper Iggy Azalea “Igloo Australia” and threatened to “throw a jar of my piss at her,” will join Azalea on a future song. A spokesman for Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine) called assertions of the governor leaving the state for a 10-day vacation amid budget negotiations “fake news” despite two lawmakers from the same party claiming that the governor called and told them himself. Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking at his son’s graduation, told students, “I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice”; four days before, the Supreme Court partially allowed the banning of Muslims from six countries. A 73-year-old Colorado woman drove an SUV into the swimming pool of a local resort. Kato Kaelin, friend of O.J. Simpson and a witness in the former football player’s murder trial, won a $12,000 raffle at a Milwaukee Brewers game. The White House refused to comment on the origin of the WWE-inspired video that Trump tweeted out on Sunday, denying that the video came from an anti-Semitic Reddit user.

Tuesday 07.4.17

CNN identified the Reddit user who created the GIF of Trump pummeling a WWE performer with a CNN logo superimposed over the wrestler’s face, which the president subsequently posted to his personal Twitter account; the user also apologized for his other offensive posts, claiming, “One of my best friends is a homosexual and one of my best friends is Jewish and one of my best friends is Muslim.” In “who made the potato salad?” news, a Washington Post food editor added cauliflower and feta cheese to his recipe. Hall of Fame professional wrestler Ric Flair, 68, and rapper Waka Flocka Flame, 31, celebrated Independence Day together. The Youngstown State University Police Department warned travelers about not wearing their seat belts to the tune of rap trio Migos’ “Bad and Boujee”: “Rain drops. Drop tops. This Independence Day weekend don’t get caught with your seatbelt OFF OFF OFF. U know what we’re saying @Migos.” In unrelated news, last month a YSU police officer was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Hip-hop artist Wale officiated a rap battle between professional wrestlers New Day and the Usos during WWE’s Smackdown Live, with the latter mentioning the alleged sex tape of one of the members of the former. ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported that Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward agreed to sign with the Boston Celtics, other reporters confirmed the report, and then minutes later Hayward’s agent refuted the alleged deal; five hours later, Hayward announced that he had indeed signed with the Celtics. Boston guard Marcus Smart tweeted, “What a celebration on this 4th of July! @gordonhayward Congrats and welcome!” and minutes later, it was reported that the Celtics were trying to trade Smart. Jazz center Rudy Gobert, Hayward’s former teammate, posted a video on his social media account singing along to Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” which includes the lyrics: “These hoes ain’t loyal.” The heirs of a Florida man who hid his dead wife’s body in a freezer for eight years to continue collecting her Social Security checks have repaid the government over $15,000. The Minnesota judge who presided over the Philando Castile manslaughter case wrote a letter of support to the jury that was responsible for acquitting Saint Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez. A tennis website said No. 82-ranked Mandy Minella pulled “a Serena” by playing a Grand Slam match while pregnant, though, unlike Serena Williams at January’s Australian Open, Minella lost in the first round of Wimbledon. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid yelled, “F— LaVar Ball!” during an Instagram livestream.

Wednesday 07.5.17

Rapper Tupac Shakur once told singer Madonna, whom he dated in the early 1990s, that he could no longer date her because she was white, and “I would be letting down half of the people who made me what I thought I was.” Corona beer signed a marketing deal with the University of Texas; the school’s athletic director called the partnership an opportunity to “promote the excitement and pageantry of collegiate sports.” Flying ants took over courts at Wimbledon. Reality television star Rob Kardashian posted nude photos of his ex-fiancée Blac Chyna on his Instagram account, accusing her of cheating with multiple men and having a drug and alcohol problem. Loquacious rapper T.I. butted in, for some reason, telling Kardashian to “take this L” and not look like a “Ronald McDonald the Duck”; Kardashian, still not getting out of his own way, then responded by accusing T.I. of paying Blac Chyna to have a threesome with him and his estranged wife, Tameka “Tiny” Harris. A conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of a former Democratic National Committee staffer is now being used to sell anti-aging face cream. Hip-hop artist Lil Yachty does not eat fruit. Vatican police busted a drug-fueled gay orgy at the apartment of an aide to one of Pope Francis’s closest advisers. In the most anticipated matchup since Mitt Romney-Evander Holyfield, late-night TV host Chelsea Handler will debate recently fired TV host Tomi Lahren. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers plans to replace recently departed players Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford with 35-year-old guard Tony Allen. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson, entering his 17th season and owed $2.5 million next year, is surprisingly not expected to retire this offseason. Filming and producing virtual reality porn is apparently hard. The Amazing Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield, with the help of RuPaul’s Drag Race, came out as gay “just without the physical act.”

Thursday 07.6.17

Basketball prodigies Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball nabbed the cover of SLAM Magazine without father LaVar, who, not to be forgotten, wrote the cover story. Much like O.J. Simpson’s search for the real killer, President Donald Trump, seven months later, still hasn’t found the real hackers of the Democratic National Committee. Meanwhile, while speaking in Europe, the president pivoted between doubting Russia was involved in the 2016 election and blaming former President Barack Obama for not doing enough to stop Russia from meddling. Sports Illustrated found at least 40 people named after NBA Hall of Famer Shaquillle O’Neal — and two of them have younger brothers named Kobe. A female Capitol Hill reporter was barred from the House chamber because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine), best known for accusing “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” of selling drugs and impregnating white women in his state, told a local radio station that he makes up stories so the news media will “write these stupid stories because they are just so stupid, it’s awful”; LePage added that “the sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.” USA Today celebrated National Fried Chicken Day by tweeting out a GIF of actress Octavia Spencer in a scene from The Help; the tweet was later deleted. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who apparently fell asleep during the first day of Econ 101, lectured reporters at a coal plant: “Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there and the demand will follow.” The Cleveland Cavaliers, almost a week into NBA free agency and still without a general manager, lowballed general manager candidate Chauncey Billups by almost $2 million a year before the former NBA guard removed himself from consideration for the job on Monday. Nineteen-year Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, still not about his paper, will sign a two-year, $10 million deal to remain in the Lone Star State. Four Brazilian soccer players were kicked off their team after video of one of the players masturbating two others was released online; club president Gilmar Rosso said, “If they want to get drunk, [be] gay or not, that’s their business.” The famous “Boomshakalaka” play-by-play call from 1990s video game NBA Jam was a misquote of Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher.”

Friday 07.7.17

Blue Ivy Carter, the daughter of JAY-Z, freestyled on her father’s new album, at one point rapping, “Boom shakalaka, boom shakalaka,” even though NBA Jam debuted 19 years before she was born. The Washington Nationals-Atlanta Braves rain-delayed-despite-little-rain game ended at 1:20 a.m. EST; fans at National Park were rewarded with free soda, ice cream, water, a transit system that shut down an hour into the game — and a 5-2 Nationals loss. A U.S. Mint employee was placed on administrative leave after leaving a noose made out of the rope used to seal coin bags on the chair of an African-American colleague. Atlanta Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr., son of five-time All-Star Tim Hardaway Sr., received a $71 million offer sheet from the New York Knicks; the elder Hardaway made just $47.1 million in his entire 14-year career. At the book party for conservative author Milo Yiannopoulos, chants of “F— CNN” broke out while little people in yarmulkes dressed as conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who is Jewish, danced among the partygoers. All but settling the matter, the Russian foreign minister said Trump accepted Vladimir Putin’s “assurances that Russia didn’t meddle in the U.S. election.” A phallic-shaped rock formation in Norway that was intentionally damaged last month has been properly restored. Rob Kardashian, who posted nude photographs of his ex-fiancée Blac Chyna earlier in the week, was served with notice of a restraining order. Twenty-four-year-old rapper 21 Savage, who is dating 33-year-old model Amber Rose, said one of the benefits of dating older women is she makes him do things he doesn’t normally do, like “take vitamins and drink water.” Former college basketball coach Bobby Knight, who somehow wandered into the offices of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency back in 2015, was accused of groping four employees of the spy agency. Gonorrhea is becoming harder to treat with antibiotics. LaVar Ball shot back at Joel Embiid, saying that people who use cuss words like the 76ers center “don’t have no intellect”; Ball added that he had “three words for him: Can’t. Play. At. All,” which is actually four words.

NBA standout Serge Ibaka is a standout single father too ‘To me, to be a father, it’s a dream,’ says the forward as he celebrates his first Father’s Day with his 11-year-old daughter Ranie

The bond between a father and a daughter is unbreakable — even when it’s not one forged at birth. It’s seems like only a minute since NBA forward Serge Ibaka learned he had a daughter. Now, he and 11-year-old Ranie are living in Orlando, Florida, and celebrating their first Father’s Day.

But, Ibaka says, it’s a celebration with a learning curve here in the United States.

On a hot, rainy summer afternoon in his stucco home tucked away in a gated community in Orlando, Ibaka, Ranie and her nanny, Gail Goss, coordinate a day that includes swimming, homework and dinner, where they will discuss their Father’s Day plans.

“I’ve never done Father’s Day before,” Ibaka said. “You know, the funny thing is I never had to spend time on Father’s Day with my daughter, so this is going to be the first time. So, I don’t know what a father does on Father’s Day. When I was young, for me Father’s Day was like one of those days where you wake up in the morning and you say, ‘Hey, Happy Father’s Day!’ to your dad. And then, that’s it. And then he goes to work, and that’s it.

“But here it’s kind of different. You have to be with your kids and then do something. I don’t know what actually I have to do, but I’m just going to learn it. But I’m sure she knows already. She’s going to tell me.”

But Ranie admits to just as much confusion.

“I didn’t know that it was Father’s Day,” Ranie whispered to her dad.

“It’s OK,” Ibaka said. “She didn’t know it was for Father’s Day.”

“I can’t keep on schedule,” Ranie admitted.

NBA free agent Serge Ibabka is going to spend his first Father’s Day with his 11-year-old daughter Ranie.

Preston Mack for The Undefeated

Ibaka said raising Ranie has been the best experience and expression of love for which any person can ask.

“It’s a dream to me, to be a father,” he said. “Since I was young I always dreamed of myself traveling, envisioned at least three, four kids, five. And then, I’m living my dream right now and something I always love to do, and it’s fun. It’s really changed my life. It’s changed everything about me. The way I think and the way I live my life. It changed everything.”

Ranie, a 5-foot-5 fourth-grader, has known of her father since she was 5 years old, but she didn’t get fully acquainted with him until recently. Born in Congo, Ibaka left his family and his home to pursue a basketball career in Europe at the age of 17. But before he left, unbeknownst to him, he’d fathered a child. Ranie’s mother informed Ibaka’s father, Desire, of the news, and he decided to keep it a secret. It was Desire’s thought that Ibaka would not have pursued his basketball career if he knew he had a child back home. So Desire took on a paternal role and helped raise Ranie until it was decided that he come clean.

“I was young when I found out,” Ibaka said. “And I was shocked a little bit because it’s something new. And then I didn’t know what to do, what to say or how to react. And I was like, OK, I’m a dad now. But a couple of days I start feeling better, and like I said, it was something I used to dream about always. I want to have kids, and now I want to have more. So, it’s fun.”

Ibaka said what he looks forward to most in raising Ranie is her education and continuing to be there for her.

“I didn’t really have that opportunity when I was young,” he said. “I put her in a better school. I didn’t have the opportunity, so to me I want to make sure everything I didn’t have, I want her to have that. And it’s just like kind of my challenge. I’m trying myself to be there for her. Make sure even if I’m busy, because my dad was so busy when I was young. I really didn’t have a lot of opportunity to spend with my dad. But it is kind of normal for me now, but I don’t want that to happen with my daughter. And I try to be my best I can to be with her and spend time.”

Ibaka said his decision to move Ranie to the U.S. was difficult for her mother.

“You know, the funny thing is I never had to spend time on Father’s Day with my daughter, so this is going to be the first time. So, I don’t know what a father does on Father’s Day.”

“I had to explain to her, it’s best for our daughter to come here to the United States, where she can have a better education,” Ibaka explained. “The school system is a little better. And she’s going to be close with me and, like I said before, for a daughter, they need a dad. So it was a little harder, and she did not understand, but now everything’s going smoothly.”

French is Ranie’s first language, but it didn’t take her long to learn English, Ibaka said.

“I put her in American school since she was in Congo because I knew that at some point she had to come here. So, I wanted her to be ready when she’d come here.”

Raising a young daughter at a young age as a man does, however, presents a lot of challenges.

“But it’s kind of a good challenge, especially for a man like me,” Ibaka said. “I’m still young and having a little girl, and they just make you see a lot of things differently. The way you do things because you’ve got a daughter, and they really make you a better man. I love that.”

What he would tell his daughter about guys when it’s time to date?

“Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey. Take it easy,” he said with a shy smile. “It’s too early. When the time comes, I’m sure we’re going to sit down. We’re going to talk. But it’s too early. It makes me nervous now. But I know the time is going to come. Everything has a time. And when the time comes, we’re going to sit down. We’re going to talk.”

Ibaka’s journey includes leaving Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo to become an integral part of the Oklahoma City Thunder after being drafted in the first round by the then-Seattle SuperSonics with the 24th overall pick of the 2008 NBA draft. He went from dazzling with his defensive and offensive skills on the court with the Thunder to a brief stint with the Orlando Magic, and now his most recent stint is with the Toronto Raptors.

Ibaka founded the Serge Ibaka Foundation just after meeting his daughter, with the goal of furthering his humanitarian efforts in Africa. Ibaka desires to inspire children around the world to believe in themselves and in their chances no matter how hard their circumstances are.

With the help of NBA Cares and UNICEF, Ibaka has provided resources and hope for Congo natives in the past few years by bringing basketball, pro athletes, celebrities and charities together through his various philanthropic efforts, to provide support, spread awareness and open a dialogue about the issues and attributes of his homeland. In April, Ibaka was elected to the board of directors of the National Basketball Players Association Foundation.

Ibaka opened up about first setting sight on Ranie in the 2016 documentary Son of the Congo: This is Africa. He said he’s now getting used to being a single father, but it’s not that easy.

Ranie was born in Congo and was raised by his family unbeknownst to him until a few years ago.

Preston Mack for The Undefeated

“I have to spend time with her and make sure because she needs me. I want to be here for her and make sure we spend time together.”

While Ranie is quickly becoming acclimated to her new life, it wasn’t an easy transition.

“It was a little hard in the beginning for myself,” Ibaka said. “And with basketball at the same time, and then with her, she didn’t understand in the beginning because in the NBA we travel a lot. We’re always on the road. So she really didn’t understand, and she had to get used to and understand my daddy’s busy, and that’s how the things go. So, she’s getting better. She understands, and she’s getting used to now.”

Ibaka is the third youngest in a family of 18.

“The oldest, my sister, is 35,” Ibaka said. “It’s good to have a lot of brothers and sisters, you know? You got family. It’s always good to know you got family. That’s enough, because it’s kind of normal where I come from. It’s kind of normal. I always grow up in a family place, a house. That’s why I love kids.”

Ibaka is known for his fashion-forward style, and Ranie is following his lead. Described as equally stylish and one who takes pride in her wardrobe, the two often debate about who is the best dresser in the household.

“Well, she thinks she’s better than me,” Ibaka explained of Ranie’s wardrobe. “She thinks she’s better than me. So we always try to challenge each other, because she knows. But I’m sure she’s watching me all the time, how I dress, and then she kind of picks it up a little bit. So, she loves to dress too.”

Many teen fathers who are also the primary custodian sometimes have fears. But Ibaka said he’s not afraid.

“Well, yeah, I’m a very strict father,” he said. “But I don’t try to do too much. But I make sure I’m strict.”

“I don’t know why, but I’m not really afraid to be a father,” he said. “I try a lot to be a father. And, like I say again, I’m going to try to give her the best education I can. Sometimes we try, we do everything, but it ends up the way we don’t want. But that’s life, you know.

“But at least I know I’m going to try. I’m know I’m going to give my best. I’m going to make sure I’m here for her. Put her in the better position for her to grow up like a sweet little girl. And then everything is not really in my power too. But I just want to make sure, at least I want to tell myself in the next couple of years, you do the best you can.

“Well, yeah, I’m a very strict father,” he said. “But I don’t try to do too much. But I make sure I’m strict. I’m trying to raise my daughter the best way I can, you know? Maybe I didn’t have the opportunity. I didn’t have that chance. But I’m going to give my daughter that.”

Ibaka said he wouldn’t change anything about being a single father.

“So far I think I don’t want to change anything because everything’s going smoothly right now. And then, she’s smart. She’s doing great in school. She’s listening. She respects me. I always tell her, respect people. Thank God everything’s going smoothly.”

Ibaka enlisted the help of Goss, who has experience as a nanny to other Orlando-based NBA players. Goss, a mother of two and minister from Mississippi, has been Ranie’s caregiver for more than one year. She’s known around the league as “Miss Gail.”

Ibaka met Miss Gail when he first moved to Orlando, and she’s been like family ever since.

“I got here, I was looking for a nanny,” he explained. “Someone to take care of my daughter. So, my assistant, he was working on it. And then that’s how we found Miss Gail. And then because I kind of know her story a little bit. She used to work with all those players before, so I was, like, maybe she understands NBA life, how NBA life goes.”

Since Ranie is new to Father’s Day and the culture surrounding the celebration, she’s still figuring out her plans for her famous father.

“I really don’t know,” she said when asked what they were going to do.

On a normal day, they spend time doing various activities.

“We go to the movies. Go to Universal [Studios], swim, play Uno.”

She wants a cellphone, but Ibaka is against it.

“I want to raise her the way I’ve been raised,” he explained. “Like my mom, father, because the new generation is kind of different right now. Everything is going fast. Because I’m kinda person where I never forget where I come from. Even everything I want out of my life, I never want to change the way I think, the way I am. I want to stay the same person. You know, that’s why, and I have the kind of same mentality of raising my daughter too. Because now, everybody having iPhone, everybody having this, everything like that, I have to change the way I think. I would have to change the way I do my thing. You know? I don’t want to that, so that’s how I am.”

Ranie wants to be a doctor and a tennis player but her father said she keeps changing her mind, at first desiring to become a lawyer.

“No, I never wanted to be a lawyer,” Ranie said. “You told me you wanted me to be a lawyer.”

“It’s true love,” Ibaka admitted about fatherhood. “You never go wrong with true love. It’s easy and natural.”

Preston Mack for The Undefeated

A power ranking of Odell Beckham Jr.’s custom cleats from the 2016 NFL season The New York Giants wideout was determined to break out the heat on any given Sunday

Every NFL Sunday is a footwear fashion show for Odell Beckham Jr. Over the past few seasons, the New York Giants wide receiver has shown up and showed out on the field with the freshest cleats in all of football. His secret? Well, it’s not really a secret at all, because OBJ takes much pride in his custom-made creations, for which he entrusts the skill and creativity of Los Angeles-based sneaker artist Troy “Kickasso” Cole, who cranks out masterpieces inspired by every concept fathomable. From album covers to video games and movies to personal tributes, whatever Beckham Jr. dreams up in his imaginative mind, Kickasso can translate onto cleats.

Yet, as a result of the NFL’s enforcement of its strict in-game uniform and equipment policy, most of the kicks in OBJ’s one-of-a-kind collection are worn exclusively during pregame warm-ups before he changes to a more traditional pair for games. But every now and then, Beckham Jr. will risk a fine to ensure that his flashiest shoes find their way onto the field when the game clock starts rolling.

During the 2016 NFL season, the anthology of custom cleats that OBJ unveiled was second to no other player in the league. Throughout the regular season, playoffs and Pro Bowl, he truly became a titan in the sneaker world, which certainly contributed to Nike recently inking the 24-year-old to the biggest shoe deal in NFL history, estimated to be worth more than $29 million over five years.

Hopefully the huge new contract with Nike doesn’t prohibit Beckham Jr. from continuing his tradition come next season. As we anticipate what else OBJ and Kickasso have in store, let’s take a look at their creativity through this definitive, descending-order power ranking of 20 custom cleats they made pop last season.


20. WEEK 10 VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS — LSU

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s cleats before the NFL game between the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 14, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every NFL player deserves to rep his alma mater however he sees fit, but, man, these cleats in the signature purple and gold of Louisiana State University — the school the Giants drafted Beckham Jr. out of in 2014 with the 12th overall pick — are quite hideous. A more appropriate salute to LSU would’ve been cleats featuring detailed illustrations of tigers, the mascot of OBJ’s former school. As for these plaid concoctions — in the words of the illustrious 21st century musical talent scout Randy Darius Jackson, “yeah … that’s gonna be a no for me, dog.”

19. Week 5 vs. green bay packers — Breast cancer awareness

Since 2009, the NFL has been committed to spreading breast cancer awareness. Every season in October, players take pride in wearing the color pink as a display of their dedication to finding a cure. Beckham Jr. didn’t disappoint last October. His breast cancer cleats were a simple but very classy tribute to every woman and family affected by the disease.

18 and 17. week 7 vs. Los angeles rams — Burberry and Rolling Stone

Instagram Photo

When the Giants traveled to London to face the Los Angeles Rams in October 2016, OBJ channeled his inner European designer by breaking out pregame cleats embossed with the beautiful pattern of British fashion house Burberry (the iconic brand of clothing that Jay Z rapped about swimming in on his 2002 track with his then-future wife Beyoncé, ” ’03 Bonnie & Clyde”). These cleats are uber-swaggy, but don’t hold a candle to when Beckham Jr. went full-on designer and commissioned a pair of Supreme x Louis Vuitton customs to be made after the season.

Instagram Photo

OBJ changed his kicks before kickoff, but remained authentic to the game being played across the pond by switching to red, white and blue cleats, and matching gloves, featuring the legendary logo of the English rock band the Rolling Stones.

16. week 12 vs. cleveland browns — Paint splatter

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. stands on the field during practice before a game against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 27, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

AP Photo/Ron Schwane

These are just really fun. Camouflage is always a good look, and the extra splash of color with the rainbow flecks and green and yellow shoestrings set them over the top. Stay tuned for more camo cleats from OBJ.

15. week 1 vs. Dallas Cowboys — sept. 11 tribute

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants wears cleats as a tribute to the 15th anniversary of 9/11 before a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sept. 11, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Giants’ 2016 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys happened to fall on the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 — one of the most infamous days in the history of the United States. Beckham Jr. illustrated his patriotism in the form of U.S. flag-themed cleats with bald eagles on the outer soles of each shoe. OBJ was certainly proud to be an American on the first night of football last season.

14. Week 6 vs. baltimore ravens — “Kirby”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike cleats during warm-ups before the game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

HUGE shout-out to OBJ for throwing it back to our childhoods by paying homage to the one and only Nintendo character Kirby. He unveiled these in the middle of October 2016, taking the NFL’s tradition of wearing pink to advocate for breast cancer awareness and running with it. Beckham Jr. chose a pink character and crafted an entire cleat design around it with the utmost detail, from the warp stars to the Whispy Woods (Kirby’s recurring foe in the video game series). On this NFL Sunday, OBJ represented the video game nerd that resides in every one of us.

13 and 12. week 13 vs. pittsburgh steelers — Make-a-wisH (Dora The EXplorer and The Simpsons)

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation during warm-ups before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Instagram Photo

For one week during the season, the NFL, aka the “No Fun League,” allowed players to wear their in-game cleats however they wanted, outrageous customization and all, without receiving fines in violation of the league’s uniform policy. The #MyCauseMyCleats initiative, which required players to commit to supporting a charitable cause, saw approximately a third of the league (around 500 players) participate. Beckham Jr. chose to represent the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, according to its website, has a “vision to grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.” And true to his cause, OBJ depicted the child within himself on two pairs of cleats he had designed. One pair was inspired by Homer and Bart Simpson, two of the main characters of the popular animated sitcom, The Simpsons. The other pair, which he wore during the Week 13 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, featured characters from the educational children’s series Dora the Explorer. Not the league, nor Swiper, could steal these cleats from Beckham Jr.’s feet on #MyCauseMyCleats Sunday. OBJ did it for the kids.

11. WEEK 2 VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS — “NOLA BOY”

New Orleans Native New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears Nike cleats with Nola Boy on them before the game between the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” Beckham Jr. has surely come across this legendary James Baldwin quote at least once in his life — or heard a variation of it from his grandma, aunties and uncles, or parents — while on his journey from growing up in Louisiana to becoming an NFL wide receiver in New York. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is OBJ’s hometown, but he also claims New Orleans. So when the Giants faced the Saints early in the 2016 season, Beckham Jr. made his allegiance to the city known with “NOLA BOY” custom cleats in Mardi Gras colors. These are pretty special.

10. week 9 vs. philadelphia eagles — “Salute to service”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats with a camouflage pattern while warming up before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 6, 2016, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

On the Sunday before Veteran’s Day, Beckham Jr. honored the nation’s armed forces with camouflage cleats reminiscent of the Japanese clothing brand A Bathing Ape’s fresh camo print. These are pretty sweet.

9. Week 14 vs. dallas cowboys — 300

Division matchups in the NFL are always battles. And no one went to war like the Spartans, whose combat skills were epically portrayed in the 2006 film 300. So when the Giants went up against their NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys in Week 14, OBJ imagined he was taking the battlefield for Leonidas I, unleashing these SUPER dope 300-inspired red, black and gold cleats.

8. wild-card playoff vs. green bay packers — “grab the cheese”

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In January, the Giants journeyed to the land of cheese for a wild-card matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Before the playoff game, Beckham Jr. countered Green Bay’s cheesehead fans with cheese feet. He donned a pair of yellow cleats that resembled blocks of cheese, with carefully drawn holes and images of Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Itchy the Mouse from The Simpsons. Like these two mice, OBJ was after the cheese. Too bad the Giants took that smooth L.

7. week 15 vs. detroit lions — craig sager tribute

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Craig Sager tribute cleats during the third quarter of the National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions on Dec. 18, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Beckham Jr. was fined only once last season for violating the NFL’s uniform and equipment policy with his flashy cleats. The penalty was issued following Week 15, when OBJ played against the Detroit Lions in a pair of multicolored, and multipatterned, cleats honoring longtime NBA broadcaster Craig Sager, who died at age 65 three days before the game. Known for his bright and brazen sideline outfits, Sager would’ve loved OBJ’s cleats, which he auctioned off following the game to benefit the Sager Strong Foundation for cancer research. Yet despite Beckham Jr.’s heartfelt gesture, the NFL still slapped him with an $18,000 fine, which didn’t sit too well with the superstar wide receiver.

Yet if you asked Beckham Jr., he’d probably tell you that, for Sager, the fine was worth every single penny.

6. WEEK 17 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — KANYE WEST “GRADUATION”

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Kanye West dropped out of college and became a 21-time Grammy Award-winning musician. Beckham Jr. never graduated from college, either, deciding to forgo his senior year at LSU and enter the NFL, where he is now an All-Pro wide receiver. So the only commencement the two have in common is OBJ’s cleats he had designed after the cover of West’s 2007 album Graduation. On these kicks, the colors morph from an orangish-pink to a drank purple, and illustrations of Kanye’s signature bears are beautifully done. Hot take: Graduation is one of the best, if not the best album of West’s career. Obviously, it’s up there in the ranks for OBJ, too.

5. week 4 vs. Minnesota vikings — OVO

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s OVO custom-made cleats are seen on the field during the first half of a game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 3, 2016, in Minneapolis.

AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King

If you didn’t know that Beckham Jr. and Drake are BFFs, you must have been living under a rock like Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants for the past year. Last NFL offseason, Beckham Jr. house-sat the hit-making musical artist’s Calabasas, California, mansion, known as the “YOLO (You Only Live Once) estate,” while he was on tour. Drake later shouted out his bro OBJ on his October 2016 track “Fake Love” with the seminal line, Just when s— look out of reach / I reach back like one, three / Like one, three, yeah — a reference to the most revered play of the NFL wide receiver’s young career, which also happens to be arguably the best catch in league history. And even this year, Drake stopped one of his shows to get Beckham Jr., who was in the audience, to sign a fan’s jersey. Yet, before all of these epic chapters of their friendship, OBJ paid tribute to his big homie during the 2016 NFL season with these simply gorgeous October’s Very Own (OVO)-themed cleats. The sky blue base of the shoes, with softly drawn white clouds, is a subtle nod to the cover of Drake’s 2013 album Nothing Was the Same, and the perfect complement to the metallic gold illustrations of Drake’s trademark owl on the outer soles of each shoe. Man, these cleats are a truly a work of art.

4. 2017 Pro Bowl — Toy Story

OBJ definitely “gotta friend” in Troy Cole, because the artist appropriately known as Kickasso absolutely did his thing with these Toy Story-themed cleats that the wide receiver sported in January’s Pro Bowl. What a beautiful touch to dedicate one shoe solely to Sheriff Woody Pride, and the other to space ranger Buzz Lightyear. Beckham Jr. is surely ready for 2019’s Toy Story 4, and so are we.

3. WEEK 16 VS. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES — GRINCH

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants warms up wearing Christmas cleats featuring the Grinch before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 22, 2016, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

There’s only one way to celebrate Christmas on your feet, and that’s with the Grinch. Basketball great Kobe Bryant did it with his signature Nikes in 2010, and Beckham Jr. continued the tradition in custom fashion last holiday season. The vibrant colors and details on these cleats are amazing. We wouldn’t be mad if Beckham Jr. rocked them all season long — they’re that nice to look at. Yo, OBJ, if you’re reading this, next Christmas you gotta go full Home Alone with your kicks. It’d be the perfect way to tell every D-back in the league, “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal! … and a Happy New Year.”

2. WEEK 11 VS. CHICAGO BEARS — “BACK TO THE FUTURE”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike Cleats with “Mattel Hover Board” and “Back to the Future” on them before a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears on Nov. 20, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All three films of the Back to the Future trilogy were released before Beckham Jr. was born in 1992. But as we saw last season, OBJ is a young Marty McFly at heart. He and Kickasso put their creative minds together to give the people not one, but two pairs of Back to the Future-inspired cleats, incorporating multiple elements and moments from Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty and Doc Brown travel 30 years into the future from 1985 to 2015. Beckham Jr. wore the first pair during warm-ups before a Week 11 matchup with the Chicago Bears, which included illustrations of the Mattel hoverboard, Marty’s metallic hat and the DeLorean time machine, all featured in the film. These cleats are glorious, but Kickasso saved his best work for what OBJ wore during the game. The wide receiver took the field in a pair of remarkable silver-and-electric blue creations, designed after the self-lacing Nike Mags that debuted in the 1989 film. Nike released the shoes for the first time nearly three decades later, and again in 2016, making OBJ’s Back to the Future cleat idea timely and relevant in the world of sneakers.

1. WEEK 3 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — THE Joker

OBJ has a unique obsession with The Joker, which we’ve seen translated through his on-field apparel in the past few seasons. The wide receiver first made his infatuation known during a December 2015 Monday Night Football game, when he wore cleats and gloves illustrating the comic book supervillain’s chilling face. Last season, however, he took the obsession a huge step further. Everyone knows OBJ and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman aren’t too fond of each other. And, coincidentally, Norman’s favorite superhero is Batman, The Joker’s archnemesis. So, in all his pettiness, Beckham Jr. had two more pairs of Joker cleats made for a 2016 Week 3 matchup with Norman and the Redskins. The pregame pair featured graphic details in bold colors, from The Joker’s eyes on the tongue of each shoe and his stained teeth on each toe, to his tattoos and catchphrases such as Why So Serious?, on the inner and outer soles. The pair he wore during the game were more subtle — mostly white with speckles of lime green around the laces, and red ink circling each shoe to represent The Joker’s blood-stained smile. With 11 catches for 121 yards against Norman and the Redskins, Beckham Jr. became the fastest wide receiver in NFL history to reach 200 career receptions and 3,000 receiving yards. So, now, his in-game Joker cleats are displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. You know what that means, right? OBJ has a Hall of Fame cleat game.

FUBU CEO Daymond John advises students on how to swim with the sharks The ‘Shark Tank’ panelist says he’s learned that business success is not everything in life

Daymond John, FUBU CEO and one of the hosts of ABC’s Shark Tank, has a five-part business plan that works. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be on a network TV reality show or sharing it with students at North Carolina A&T University.

“I got a job at Red Lobster when it was the worst possible time in history, when they decided to introduce something called Cheddar Bay Biscuits,” John said during a talk on campus last week. “If you get paid 10 to 15 percent off the size of the check, but everybody keeps coming in asking for free biscuits and water and then bouncing on you … I thought, there has got to be a better way.”

John’s hourlong lecture was filled with humor, hip-hop references and talk of his personal and professional journey. He covered myriad topics, including his humble beginnings and his success in business.

John was inspired to co-create his clothing line FUBU, which stands for For Us By Us, with three partners after he heard about the reluctance of some clothing lines to sell to the urban community. The FUBU collection consists of T-shirts, sweat shirts, jerseys and hats. According to CNBC, the FUBU brand is worth $6 billion.

John opened his talk by trying to inspire students, saying that everyone has an inner “shark” and emphasizing that money and fame aren’t markers for success.

John said that when they created the idea for the brand, he identified an opportunity for himself to use his S.H.A.R.K. mentality. “Every person who I know that is successful, we have one thing in common: We love what we are doing,” John said.

His five S.H.A.R.K. points outline his approach to business development:

  • Set a goal: When John was still working eight-hour shifts at Red Lobster, he made sure he was dedicated to his goal of ensuring that FUBU became a multimillion-dollar company.
  • Homework: Research, long hours of preparation and analytics helped John notice the prime market for urban clothing when he helped create FUBU in 1992.
  • Adore: John spoke of the life lessons he learned after his wife left him and took his daughters. He explained that no matter what material things you might possess, love is a key component of true happiness in life.
  • Remember your brand: John alluded to the significance of self-knowledge and how vital it is to success.
  • Keep swimming: John emphasized the importance of persistence and determination in the working world.

“You must be able to accept the word ‘no’; you will hear that word the rest of your life,” he said. When John spoke about Shark Tank and the selection process for companies, the audience was rapt.

“We do not invest in companies, we invest in people,” he said. “We see people with some of the greatest numbers ever. We will go, ‘Oh, we love that company, but we are going to fire you tomorrow.’

“Then you see somebody there, blubbering and crying, but they’ve got the biggest heart. They have failed a bunch of times but still have a passion for this, and if we fail as a company, then we are going to start another company with them.”

John believes that if you fail to display a genuine passion for what you wish to pursue, then you are better off working with someone else.

He also offered advice on how young adults should ready themselves for the workforce.

“Don’t hide behind your headphones and your Twitter and all that kind of stuff,” John said. “Remember, you are the brand. Can you put yourself personally in two to five words?”

John was the second speaker in a town hall series on campus featuring prominent professionals and leaders.

“It’s a powerful message about success and, quite frankly, defining what success really means, because he suggested that success is not really about the glitz, the glitter, the money, the money, the buildings, the houses … but it is about doing things that you are passionate about and giving to those circumstances where you can make a contribution as well,” said N.C. A&T chancellor Harold Martin.

Freshman civil engineering major Christopher Lyles Jr. said he was pleased with John’s visit.

“I believe he was very inspirational, from his beginnings in New York how he came from a lower-income family to becoming one of the millionaires and billionaires in this world,” Lyles said.

John’s S.H.A.R.K. points and message will help him as a striving college student, he said.

“The biggest one I believe is love, because a lot of the time when people get big they forget their foundation in life,” Lyles said. “He really emphasized how he lost his connections with his ex-wife and children because he got so famous and was living the lavish life but forgot the people that put him there in the first place. I believe that is a lesson that many people could take for themselves.”

Simone Manuel, Stanford swim team win first championship title in 19 years The 20-year-old continues to make waves and break records

Since making a splash at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games seven months ago by becoming the first African-American woman to win Olympic gold in an individual event, Stanford University sophomore Simone Manuel has been lying low and off the radar after deciding to return to college, forgoing endorsement deals that she could have received as a professional swimmer.

For fans who only follow the sport during the Olympics, things have been relatively quiet for Manuel. That was until this weekend, when the 20-year-old helped her team win its first NCAA Swimming and Diving Championship since 1998.

Manuel, along with teammates Ella Eastin, Ally Howe, Janet Hu, Katie Ledecky, Lia Neal and Kim Williams, set a NCAA, U.S. Open and American record of 3:07.61 in the 400-yard freestyle relay, and finished with a combined 526.5 points, besting California (366) and Texas A&M (292.5) to take home the championship title during the four-day event at Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis.

Simone Manuel of the Stanford Cardinal warms up between events of an NCAA PAC-12 Women’s swim meet against the USC Trojans on January 28, 2017 at the Avery Aquatic Center of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

David Madison/Getty Images

After winning the 50-yard freestyle during the second day of the event, Manuel joined teammate and fellow Olympian Ledecky for the 200-yard freestyle, a race Manuel seemed to have until losing the lead after a slow push-off during the final turn. The following day, Manuel competed in the 100-yard freestyle, where seven of the eight swimmers are Olympians. Early on, Manuel found her pace during a tight race against University of Georgia senior Olivia Smoliga, who kept up with Manuel until the final turn of the event. After pulling ahead, it was Manuel racing against the clock in an attempt to beat the current NCAA, American, U.S. record of 46.09 that Manuel herself set in 2015.

Manuel won the 100-yard freestyle with a final time of 45.56 seconds, setting an NCAA, American and championship record and becoming the first swimmer to complete the event under 46 seconds.

As gratifying as the moment was for Manuel, Olympic medal-winning swimmer is no stranger to breaking records.

Last August, Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympics gold medal in swimming during the women’s 100-meter freestyle. Manuel would go on to rack up three more medals, another gold and two silver, before leaving Rio de Janeiro.

“The gold medal wasn’t just for me, it was for people who came before me and inspired me to stay in the sport,” Manuel said shortly after her Olympic win last August. “And for people who believe that they can’t do it, I hope that I’m an inspiration to others to get out there and try swimming.”