‘Black Panther’ ticket presale is breaking all of the records It’s even beating ‘Captain America: Civil War’

It’s just as lit, and just as record-breaking, as so many always knew it would be. According to Deadline: “After tickets went on sale Monday night, Black Panther is already outstripping Captain America: Civil War as Fandango’s best-selling MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe] title in the first 24 hours of presales. Captain America: Civil War kicked off the opening of summer 2016 during the first weekend of May with $179M.” Oh. Yes. We are really coming down to the wire. Director Ryan Coogler is starting to talk about his Panther influences (among them 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2010’s A Prophet), and there’s the amazing Kendrick Lamar video/film trailer. Soon we’ll all know the answer to the question “You’re telling me the king of a Third World country runs around in a bulletproof catsuit?” Black Panther, starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Andy Serkis and Danai Gurira, opens Feb. 16.

A history of Christmas Day game debuts As Joel Embiid, Lonzo Ball and others make their first holiday appearances, a look back on how other stars played on Christmas

 

As it is with the NFL and Thanksgiving, the NBA is synonymous with Christmas Day. “It’s about what the fans wanna see,” says Tom Carelli, NBA senior vice president of broadcasting, “and our great storylines.”

For the past decade, the NBA has rolled out a five-game palette packed with the biggest, brightest and most talked-about names and teams. The 10 teams playing each other on Christmas Day are all playing each other on national television for the first time this season. This includes the Los Angeles Lakers, who will be playing for the 19th consecutive Christmas. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are the holiday’s main event, making them the first set of teams to play three consecutive Christmases since the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers from 2004-06. Steph Curry is out for the game because of an ankle injury.

Though Carelli has a dream gig — developing the schedule for all 30 teams and, in essence, serving as the NBA’s Santa Claus by selecting the Christmas agenda — there’s a science to devising a timeline conducive to all parties. “You want to make it so it works for the overall schedule, and team travel,” he says. “We made these games priority games. … It’s an opportunity for people to see them when a lot of people aren’t at work.”

The first Christmas Day game was played 70 years ago: an 89-75 victory for the New York Knicks over the Providence Steam Rollers. And 50 years ago, the first televised Christmas game took place when ABC aired a meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Diego Rockets.

Every year since, sans the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, the NBA has become an annual Dec. 25 tradition. The Knicks, taking on the Philadelphia 76ers in the first of five games, will be playing in their 52nd Christmas Day game. Both the Knicks and Lakers are tied with the most holiday wins, 22 apiece. And in one of the weirdest facts in all of sports, the Boston Celtics (taking on the Washington Wizards in a rematch of last year’s thrilling seven-game playoff series) will be playing their first ever Christmas game at home. Of their previous 30 holiday engagements, 28 were on the road and two were at neutral sites.

Speaking of debuts, Christmas 2017 brings its own set of holiday rookies in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball and even veteran All-Star swingman Paul George (who never played on Christmas as an Indiana Pacer). Meanwhile, stars such as New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo have to wait at least one more year. Which begs the question: How did some of the game’s all-time greats and stars of today fare on their first Christmas? Starting with the 11-time champ Bill Russell, we work our way up to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. How many do you remember?

 

Bill Russell, Boston Celtics

Christmas 1956 vs. Philadelphia Warriors (89-82, L)

Line: 6 points, 18 rebounds

Rookies (and future Hall of Famers) Russell and teammate Tommy Heinsohn didn’t have to wait long to play on Dec. 25. Russell didn’t shoot well, going 2-for-12 from the field, but his 18 rebounds were merely a preview of the dominating titan he’d become over the next decade-plus.

 

Elgin Baylor, Minneapolis Lakers

Getty Images

Christmas 1958 vs. Detroit Pistons (98-97, L)

Line: 12 points

Elgin Baylor, a rookie at the time, only mustered a dozen in his Christmas debut. The outing was an anomaly, though: Baylor finished his career averaging 27.36 points per game, the third-highest scoring average in NBA history.

 

Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors

Christmas 1959 vs. Syracuse Nationals (129-121, W)

Line: 45 points, 34 rebounds

Many of the feats Chamberlain pulled off will never be outshined. His 45-34 stat line during his rookie season on Christmas, however, isn’t one of them. Only because exactly two years later, in a one-point loss to the Knicks, Chamberlain put up even gaudier numbers with 59 points and 36 rebounds on Christmas. Yes, for those wondering, that is the season when he dropped 100 points in a game and averaged 50 points and 26 rebounds.

 

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals

Christmas 1960 vs. Detroit Pistons (126-119, W)

Line: 32 points, 15 rebounds, 16 assists

Seeing as how Oscar Robertson was 0.3 assists away from averaging a triple-double during his rookie season, it should come as no surprise that Rookie Oscar actually dropped a triple-double on his first holiday work trip. “The Big O” is the first of five players to register a Christmas triple-double, and he did it four times in the 1960s alone. The other four are John Havlicek (1967), Billy Cunningham (1970), LeBron James (2010) and Russell Westbrook (2013).

 

Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers

Christmas 1961 vs. Cincinnati Royals (141-127, W)

Line: 31 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists

In a game that featured Baylor and Robertson both going for 40 (and Robertson securing another triple-double, tacking on 12 rebounds and 17 assists), Jerry West’s first Christmas was a successful one.

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks

Christmas 1971 vs. Detroit Pistons (120-118, L in OT)

Line: 38 points

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was riding high on having won his first (of six) championships earlier that year. He kept that same energy heading into the very next season, despite taking a L on his very first Dec. 25 outing.

 

Julius Erving, Virginia Squires and Philadelphia 76ers

Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Christmas 1971 vs. Pittsburgh Condors (133-126, W) | Christmas 1976 vs. New York Knicks (105-104, W)

Line: 27 points | 16 points, 5 rebounds

Julius Erving is the only person on this list with two Christmas debuts for two different teams in two different leagues.

 

Bernard King, Utah Jazz

Christmas 1979 vs. Denver Nuggets (122-111, W)

Line: 7 points

Fun fact: Bernard King played one season with the Utah Jazz, his third year in the league. And while his 60-point classic on Christmas ’84 with the Knicks is the greatest Christmas Day performance of all time — one of only three 50-plus-point games on Christmas in league history — this was actually King’s first.

 

Larry Bird, Boston Celtics

Christmas 1980 vs. New York Knicks (117-108, W)

Line: 28 points

Cedric Maxwell, Larry Bird’s teammate on the 1981 and 1984 title teams, said the following a few months ago: “When I finally knew how great Larry Bird was as a player, when I finally realized how great he was as my teammate, it was the day I walked into a black barbershop and I saw his picture on the wall.” Needless to say, it didn’t take long to understand “The Hick from French Lick” was about that action.

 

Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers

Getty Images

Christmas 1981 vs. Phoenix Suns (104-101, W)

Line: 18 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals

Not only was this Magic Johnson’s holiday introduction, it was also Pat Riley’s as head coach. Riley accepted the position after Paul Westhead’s firing a month earlier.

 

Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta Hawks

Christmas 1982 vs. Washington Bullets (97-91, W)

Line: 7 points, 2 blocks

Only in his rookie season, Dominique Wilkins, the man known as The Human Highlight Reel, would have far better games than this in his Hall of Fame career. Hey, it happens.

 

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) and Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons)

Christmas 1984 vs. Detroit Pistons (109-108, W, Sixers)

Line: 25 points, 11 assists, 3 steals (Isiah Thomas); 8 points, 10 rebounds (Charles Barkley)

These two future Hall of Famers made their holiday introductions at the same time. Thomas was the standard of consistency and tenacity in Detroit basketball, traits that would etch him in history as one of the two best point guards to ever play (along with Magic). Sir Charles, then only a rookie, shot only 3-for-11 from the field. His first breakout Christmas Day performance came four years later. Also, long live the Pontiac Silverdome.

 

Patrick Ewing, New York Knicks

Christmas 1985 vs. Boston Celtics (113-104, W 2OT)

Line: 32 points, 11 rebounds

Pat Riley is on record saying the biggest regret of his career is losing the 1994 Finals and not getting Patrick Ewing the title he so desperately sought. We forget how truly transcendent Ewing’s game was. In so many ways, he lived up to the unreal New York hype that met him when he was selected by the Knicks as the first pick in the 1985 draft out of Georgetown. For instance, as a rookie, he led a 25-point comeback against Bird and the Celtics, who would eventually capture their third title of the decade months later.

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls

Christmas 1986 vs. New York Knicks (86-85, L)

Line: 30 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 steals, 2 blocks

Michael Jordan’s first Christmas special is actually one of the holiday’s all-time great games. In a contest that went down to the wire, Ewing capped off his second consecutive Yuletide classic with a game-winning putback. Needless to say, Jordan would eventually extract revenge against the Knicks — over, and over. And over. And over again.

 

Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls

Christmas 1990 vs. Detroit Pistons (98-86, W)

Line: 14 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals

While you-know-who carried the bulk of the offense for the Bulls with 37 points and eight rebounds, Scottie Pippen’s first Christmas would be a sign of the immediate future for him and the Bulls. After three consecutive postseason defeats at the hands of the “Bad Boy” Pistons, the Bulls finally exorcised their Detroit demons months later when Chicago swept Motown en route to its first of six titles in the ’90s.

 

David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs

Christmas 1992 vs. Los Angeles Clippers (103-94, W)

Line: 21 points, 12 rebounds

What was going on in America around the time David “The Admiral” Robinson played on his first Christmas? Dr. Dre’s The Chronic was the new kid on the block. And Bill Clinton was less than a month away from his first presidential inauguration.

 

Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets

Christmas 1993 vs. Phoenix Suns (111-91, L)

Line: 27 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 4 blocks

Everything came together for The Dream in the 1993-94 season. He played in his first Christmas Day game. Despite the loss, Hakeem Olajuwon stamped himself as an all-time great by winning the 1994 MVP and his first of two titles in a series that would forever link Olajuwon and O.J. Simpson.

 

Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, Orlando Magic

Christmas 1993 vs. Chicago Bulls (95-93, L)

Line: 18 points, 5 assists (Hardaway) | 20 points, 11 rebounds (O’Neal)

Jordan was off pursuing his baseball dreams. Meanwhile, Pippen was in the midst of his finest individual season and showing that while he was, perhaps, the greatest co-pilot of all time, he could lead a team as well. Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway nearly walked away victorious — until Toni Kukoc’s floater put the game on ice.

Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, Seattle Supersonics

Christmas 1994 vs. Denver Nuggets (105-96, L)

Line: 16 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals (Payton) | 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks (Kemp)

The previous season, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and the Seattle SuperSonics won 63 games and lost in five games to Nuggets. The series’ defining image is Dikembe Mutumbo’s emotional celebration in the deciding Game 5. Seven months later on Christmas Day, the Nuggets again got the best of the Sonics.

Bonus: This was also our very own Jalen Rose’s first holiday as a working man. A rookie then and future member of the All-Rookie team, Rose came off the bench with eight points and three assists.

 

Grant Hill, Detroit Pistons

Christmas 1996 vs. Chicago Bulls (95-83, L)

Line: 27 points, 8 rebounds

Individually, Grant Hill’s Christmas debut went well. But his Pistons were no match for the Bulls, led by near triple-doubles from Pippen (27-8-8) and Dennis Rodman (11-22-7). The Bulls won 69 games and their fifth title of the decade six months later.

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Christmas 1996 vs. Phoenix Suns (108-87, W)

Line: 0 points, 1 rebound

Kobe Bryant’s playing time fluctuated during his rookie season. Sometimes he’d start. Sometimes he’d hardly play — like 21 Christmases ago, when he only logged five minutes. He more than made up for it, as he eventually became the all-time leading Christmas scorer with 395 points.

Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

Christmas 1999 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (99-93, L)

Line: 28 points, 9 rebounds

This was the Spurs and Lakers’ first meeting since San Antonio swept Los Angeles the summer before. The result of that postseason journey was Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich’s first title together. Mr. Consistent, who captured his first title in the strike-shortened ’98-’99 season, was as dependable as ever in his first Christmas game despite taking a loss. Current Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard was 8 years old at the time.

Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers

Christmas 1999 vs. New York Knicks (101-90, W)

Line: 26 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists

Speaking of reunions, Knicks-Pacers on Dec. 25, 1999, was the first time the two had seen each other since this happened. As a member of the 1987 draft, Reggie Miller didn’t play on Christmas until a full 12 years later. It’s only right that Miller’s first Christmas win, even on an off shooting night (6 of 16 field goals), came against his best friend Spike Lee’s favorite team.

Tracy McGrady, Orlando Magic

Christmas 2000 vs. Indiana Pacers (103-93, L)

Line: 43 points, 9 rebounds

An incredibly fascinating “what if” in NBA history is how differently careers would have panned out if Tim Duncan had signed with Orlando in the summer of 2000. Imagine a combo of Tracy McGrady and Timmy, both of whom hadn’t even hit their primes. Disgusting. McGrady’s time in Orlando was largely spent carrying teams on his back, but one thing’s for certain — he delivered more than Santa Claus on Christmas. In three Dec. 25 games, McGrady averaged 43.3 points.

Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers

Christmas 2001 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (88-82, L)

Line: 31 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists

It’s pretty crazy to realize this is the last Christmas Day game the Philadelphia Sixers had until Simmons’ and Embiid’s debuts this year. Especially when Allen Iverson still had a few good seasons (scoringwise) before leaving Philly in 2006.

 

Vince Carter, Toronto Raptors

Christmas 2001 vs. New York Knicks (102-94, L)

Line: 15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals

By the winter of 2001, Half Man-Half Amazing was widely accepted as one of the more must-see spectacles in all of sports. Months earlier, Vince Carter and Iverson squared off in an incredibly riveting seven-game shootout that has since gone down as one of the greatest playoff series in NBA history. Unfortunately, though, his inaugural Dec. 25 didn’t bring that same energy.

 

Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

Christmas 2002 vs. New Jersey Nets (117-81, L)

Line: 27 points, 6 rebounds

The truth is Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and the New Jersey Nets were The Grinch who stole Boston’s Christmas 15 years ago. They held Beantown to 32.4 percent shooting as a team. But at least The Truth did his thing.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

Christmas 2003 vs. Sacramento Kings (111-103, W)

Line: 31 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks

While we’re pretty sure he didn’t bring his patented “work plate” with him to the arena 14 years ago, our favorite German OG, Dirk Nowitzki, feasted on Chris Webber and the Kings.

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Christmas 2003 vs. Orlando Magic (113-101, L in OT)

Line: 34 points, 6 assists, 2 steals

Neither team was great, recordwise, but every game during LeBron James’ rookie season (much like for his entire career) was must-see TV. James’ first Christmas was an instant classic, as the young phenom battled one of the game’s best scorers in McGrady. James exhibited the all-around potential that would make him an international megastar, but he was no match that day for McGrady’s 41 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists.

Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

Christmas 2004 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (104-102, W in OT)

Line: 29 points, 10 assists

As you can see, Dwyane Wade’s first Christmas was fruitful and he played a significant part in the win. Yet, even the young superstar played a supporting role to the game’s unavoidable storyline — O’Neal’s first game back in Los Angeles since he and Bryant’s very ugly and public divorce in the summer of 2004. Wade, though, is the all-time leader in Christmas Day wins with 10 and is set to make his 13th holiday work outing, tying him for second-most ever behind Bryant’s 16.

 

Kevin Durant, Seattle Supersonics

Christmas 2007 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (89-79, L)

Line: 23 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks

It was supposed to be a holiday matchup between the top two picks in the 2007 NBA draft: Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. But Oden’s season-ending knee surgery three months earlier derailed those plans. Unfortunately, the theme would go on to define the two selections for the remainder of their careers — Oden as one of basketball’s greatest “what ifs” and Durant as one of the game’s greatest, period.

Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Boston Celtics

Christmas 2008 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (92-83, L)

Line: 22 points, 9 assists (Garnett); 14 points, 3 assists (Allen)

In their first meeting since Boston’s 2008 title, capped off with the Celtics’ 39-point destruction in Game 6, the two storied franchises resumed their rivalry nine Dec. 25s ago. The Lakers’ win was Phil Jackson’s 1,000th. But even more fascinating, after more than a decade in the league for both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Christmas 2008 was both The Big Ticket and Jesus Shuttlesworth’s first.

 

Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic) and Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets)

Christmas 2008 (88-68, Magic W)

Line: 12 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks (Howard); 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists (Paul)

CP3 and D12 earned gold medals months earlier in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics as members of the “Redeem Team.” But neither young superstar exactly made the grandest impression on his first Christmas. Don’t expect a similar outing from Paul this year, though.

 

Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets

Christmas 2009 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (107-96, L)

Line: 32 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists

Carmelo Anthony in a Nuggets uniform feels like a distant memory. His near double-double on Christmas would’ve been enough for a Denver win had it not been for Brandon Roy’s 41. ‘Melo is averaging 33.2 points in five Christmas games, the highest among all players who have played in four or more games on Dec. 25.

Chris Bosh, Miami Heat

Christmas 2010 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (96-80, W)

Line: 24 points, 13 rebounds

Bosh never played on Christmas while playing in Drake’s hometown. That quickly changed once he joined the Miami Heat. Bosh’s grown man double-double seven years ago helped lead the charge on the “Big Three’s” first Dec. 25 extravaganza. His other two superstar brothers put in work as well: Wade with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists and James with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

 

Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder

Christmas 2010 vs. Denver Nuggets (114-106, W)

Line: 19 points, 4 assists, 3 steals (Westbrook); 21 points (Harden)

Now is time for the occasional reminder that the Oklahoma City Thunder had three of the current top 10 players in the world on their team at one point. Two of them are MVPs — and James Harden could very well complete the trifecta this season. Oh, and Durant went for 44 in this game, in case you’re wondering.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Christmas 2010 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (109-102, W)

Line: 4 points (2 of 15 field goals, 0-for-5 on 3s), 11 assists

Despite this horrible day at the office, it’s safe to say that Stephen Curry guy turned out halfway decent at this professional basketball thing. A year later, his fellow “Splash Brother,” Klay Thompson, made his Christmas debut in a 105-86 opening-night loss (due to the shortened season) against the Clippers. Thompson had seven points off the bench.

 

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

Christmas 2014 vs. Miami Heat (101-91, L)

Line: 25 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists

It still feels weird to refer to Kyrie Irving as “the former Cav.” But that’s exactly what he was three years ago when the new-look Cavaliers traveled to Miami for James’ first trip back to South Beach since returning to Cleveland.

John Wall, Washington Wizards

Christmas 2014 vs. New York Knicks (102-91, W)

Line: 24 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists

Sure, the Knicks were absolutely pathetic headed into this game with a record of 5-26. But that doesn’t mean John Wall’s Christmas debut was any less nasty to watch.

 

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Christmas 2013 vs. Houston Rockets (111-98, L)

Line: 13 points, 7 rebounds

This has absolutely nothing to do anything, but the Leonardo DiCaprio classic The Wolf of Wall Street also hit theaters this same day. So that’s a perfectly good excuse if you happened to miss Kawhi Leonard’s first Christmas.

 

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Christmas 2015 vs. Miami Heat (94-88, L in OT)

Line: 29 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks

Anthony Davis did most of his damage in the first half with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks. Both teams barely shot 40 percent for the game, but it was Bosh and Wade, the remaining two of Miami’s “Big Three,” who’d ultimately leave a lump of coal in Davis’ Christmas stocking.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

Christmas 2016 vs. Boston Celtics (119-114, L)

Line: 22 points, 12 rebounds

With Anthony in Oklahoma City now, the stage is set for Kristaps Porzingis to cement his New York legacy more on Christmas as the main attraction in a city full of them.

 

Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Christmas 2016 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (112-100, L)

Line: 26 points, 8 rebounds (Towns); 23 points, 3 rebounds

The year 2017 marks the second consecutive year the Wolves work on Christmas, this time traveling to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers. While both of the team’s young stars played well in last year’s loss, the addition of All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler may just change the result this time around.

Daily Dose: 12/7/17 Finally, justice in the killing of an unarmed black person

What’s up, kiddos. We’re just a couple of weeks from the big day if you celebrate Christmas, which means that you’re getting down to the wire if gifts are of importance to you. Check out this site for the baseball fan in your life.

Michael Slager is going to prison, which in itself is news. The former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black motorist back in 2015 will serve 20 years in prison, which is incredible. Why? Because typically when this happens, the officer goes free, if charges are even brought. In some cases, the officer doesn’t even get fired and in the worst case, the officer even gets the matter scrubbed from his or her record. But, Slager was convicted and a video of the matter from a bystander definitely played a huge part. Justice.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken has resigned. The comedian-turned-politician who’s been accused of sexual misconduct by various women stood before Congress today and offered a speech that didn’t feel particularly apologetic. He basically said that every woman who came forward was lying and the only reason he was stepping down is because his reputation has been ruined and thus he could no longer be an effective lawmaker. Dudes gonna dude, I guess. He definitely made sure to mention President Donald Trump and Senate hopeful Roy Moore on the way out, though.

Every year, Sports Illustrated puts out a swimsuit issue. Its existence has been the source of much controversy over the years, mainly over the concept of its existence at all. But it’s also been the launching pad for quite a few models who have gone on to superstardom. Tyra Banks is one who comes to mind. But in general, we don’t always see a whole ton of women of color in those spaces. So, on a recent trip overseas, one sorority decided to do something about that. Presenting: Melanin Illustrated.

I’m not sure what LaVar Ball is doing anymore. When it came to his son Lonzo, he did his best to make him as well-known as possible, a situation that led to him being drafted No. 2 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. But with younger sons LiAngelo and LaMelo, things have gone awry, to be very honest. Gelo got caught stealing overseas. Melo stopped going to high school. Now, he’s signed them both to an agent, with the purpose of getting them to play on the same team. I’m not sure I understand why he’s so obsessed with this notion.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Ummm … apparently the United States is borderline considering not playing in the next Winter Games, for reasons that are loosely valid, politically. It feels extra weird that the White House would imply that we won’t play, considering what just happened to Russia, but hopefully this doesn’t come to fruition.

Snack Time: This NBA 2K eSports League is going to be awesome. Especially now that teams are unveiling their own facilities to field squads. The Sacramento Kings are the latest to join the bunch.

Dessert: Roland Martin’s TV One morning show was canceled. Definite bummer.

Muhammad Ali knew how to play the villain, but dodging the draft turned him into a pariah An excerpt from Leigh Montville’s ‘Sting Like a Bee’

The famous quote did not come until a day later. The interviews on the lawn at 4610 NW 15th Street were long finished when Ali took a phone call in the morning from Tom Fitzpatrick, a 39-year-old sportswriter for the Chicago Daily News. The fight with Ernie Terrell was scheduled to take place in less than six weeks, March 29, 1966, at the International Amphitheatre near the Union Stock Yards in Chicago. Tickets had to be sold. There were reasons to talk to sportswriters from Chicago.

The Daily News was an afternoon paper, so Fitzpatrick was looking for a different angle, different words from what everyone would read over breakfast. He was not disappointed.

“I am a member of the Muslims and we don’t go to no wars unless they are declared by Allah himself,” Ali said into the phone. “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

Bingo.

That second sentence, the one about the Viet Congs, would become the defining quote for all that followed for the heavyweight champion of the world. The initial rush of self-indulgent emotion recorded by Bob Halloran and the other reporters was enough to get America agitated about a man who talked too much, loved himself too much. The mention of the Viet Cong, first reported in the afternoon edition of the Daily News, then repeated on the wire services to newspapers across the country, brought a focus to that agitation, put all the anger into a convenient package.

“Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.”

Nothing against those Viet Congs? This was the hook. Was it dissent or was it treason? Common sense or sedition? No boldface or italics were needed. The words would jump off the page without help.

“We Muslims are taught to defend ourselves when we are attacked,” Ali further told Fitzpatrick. “Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.

“These Viet Congs are fighting a very nasty war over there,” he added. “There’s a lot of people getting killed. Why should we Muslims get involved?”

Variations of “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs” would be included in all future biographical stories about Ali. This would become his stand, his legacy: the ten words that changed his life. The quote would become part of American historical dialogue, stuff for schoolkids to remember. Who said “Give me liberty or give me death”? Patrick Henry. Who said “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs”?

An added quote would be assigned to him later: “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘n—–,’ ” but he did not say that. Not now, not for many, many years, if he ever did. The quote was said by other people — activist Stokely Carmichael, for one — but somehow was assigned to Ali in slippery history. His quote was, “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

He would try later to give the words context. He would claim in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story, that on his way back from the gym that day when he received the news, he had seen some kids throwing rocks at a little girl. He said he stopped and asked what was happening and the kids told him they were playing “army and Viet Cong” and the little girl was Viet Cong. The words made him flash to pictures he had seen in a magazine of a little girl walking among dead bodies outside Saigon. Troubled, he took this little neighborhood child in his arms and walked her home, away from the trouble. The incident was still in his head when he spoke later.

None of this happened. The autobiography would be filled with these little feel-good memories that were too good to be true, bedtime-story perfect, invented by the champ and ghostwriter Richard Durham. He never mentioned the little girl to any reporters on that day. He never even mentioned the Viet Cong until his late interview with Fitzpatrick. The quote that became remembered was another part of his daily torrent of words. Captain Sam Saxon, the man who first introduced Ali to the Nation of Islam in Miami, said he was with the champ at one point in the day and told him, “You got nothing against those Viet Cong,” and the champ agreed, yes, he had nothing against those Viet Cong. Ali perhaps remembered and repeated the phrase in the interview, nobody really conscious of the impact. There was no plan; the words came out with all the other words. The difference was that these words landed in the catch basin of the national mind.

Those Viet Cong were killing more than 18 American kids every day. The death total for 1965 had been 1,928 (double the casualties of any year in the Iraq War), and that would be tripled, to 6,350, in 1966 with the new escalation (more deaths in one year than in the entire Iraq War). In 1968, the height of the Vietnam War, 16,899 American kids would lose their lives. That would be 46 per day.

Not being upset with the Viet Cong seemed much worse than not submitting to the draft or not wanting to be involved in the war. Graphic pictures of these dying American boys had begun to appear on the nightly news. The enemy was supposed to be the enemy.

“I don’t want to scare anybody about it, but there are millions of Muslims around the world watching what is happening to me,” Ali said to Fitzpatrick. “I’m not making a threat [that they’ll get angry and do something]. I’m just saying maybe.”

This was heavy stuff.


Ali was familiar with the role of villain. He had chosen it in the early stages of his professional career, tried it on as if it were a black hat and a scowl discovered in the back of a family closet. He kept it when he found that it brought increased attention and larger paydays.

His marketing idea was that bad was much more interesting than good, an approach that newspapers, the television nightly news, and the gossipy woman next door had adopted long ago. People were more interested in paying money to see Sylvester the Cat than Tweety, Tom more than Jerry, Wile E. Coyote more than that beep-beep Road Runner.

This approach was adopted when Ali returned from the 1960 Olympics with his light-heavyweight gold medal and found himself back at the beginning in the professional side of the sport, no more than another low-watt attraction fighting unheralded opponents named Terry Hunsaker, Herb Siler, Tony Esperti, and Duke Sabedong. Where was the money, the instant payoff for those hundred-plus amateur fights? (His amateur record has been recorded in various places with various numbers, ranging from 99-8 to 137-7.) Where was that joy the country felt when he stood on that podium in Rome, the “Star-Spangled Banner” played for the world to hear? He was in a hurry. What would make people notice again? The answer appeared on his television screen.

“Soon after I turned pro, I discovered that even though I won the Olympic title, I wasn’t making any money,” Ali said to Alex Haley in Playboy. “I was the only champion who didn’t have no jack jangling in his jeans. . . . One night I was watching Gorgeous George on TV. He was jumping around making a lot of noise and threatening his opponents and I said to myself, ‘This guy’s on to something. I think I’ll put some of that into my act.’ ”

Gorgeous George, whose real name was George Raymond Wagner, was an eighth-grade dropout from Nebraska who had become one of television’s first stars in the Fifties, as notable as Lucille Ball or Milton Berle or Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He strutted into the ring in sequined robes and high-heeled shoes and had bleached-blond hair that looked as if it came from the same bottle Marilyn Monroe used. His personal “valet” preceded him, squirting perfume into the air. George was a sissified, exaggerated stereotype of a homosexual, effeminate to the ultimate, totally in love with himself. He also was a sneaky, dirty wrestler once the matches began. The combination was irresistible. People howled from the moment he was introduced. A ringside spectator named Hatpin Mary sometimes would stick said hatpin into George’s grand backside somewhere during the proceedings, to everyone’s amusement.

Ali, as Cassius Clay at the time, adopted pieces of this act — the villain was known as the “heel” in wrestling, the hero known as the “babyface” — and added some of his own. The adopted parts involved the self-important bluster, the constant confidence, the repeated declarations about how pretty he was, the demonization of every opponent. He became a shouter, eyes bugged out of his head, one of those people who always seemed to be ticking, ready to explode. The predictions, the rhymes, the nonsense were part of his act.

American boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in the ring after his defeat of Sonny Liston in their world heavyweight title fight at Miami Beach, Florida.

Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images

He was especially insufferable and comic in the buildup to the first fight with Liston. He called Liston “The Bear,” and wore a light blue jacket that said “Bear Huntin” on the back. He went to Las Vegas, screamed outside the champ’s house, confronted him in a casino, made his life miserable. He asked if that big bear was as “rangy and fast and pretty as me.” Gorgeous George couldn’t have done any better.

Ali was familiar with the role of villain.

“[Clay] is light-hearted and breezy and has just enough twinkle in his eyes to take most of the obnoxiousness from the wild words he utters,” Arthur Daley of the New York Times said before the fight. “When they are imprisoned in print, however, the twinkle is never captured and Cassius just becomes nauseous.”

The twinkle made its last unadulterated appearance in the moments after Ali won the title. He was outrageous, comical, as he shouted in triumph from the ring at the sportswriters who picked Liston to win easily. He boasted about his looks, his ability, his battle plan for the odd fight that he had won when Liston refused to come out for the seventh round. No doubt about it, the night the young challenger captured the title he was a hoot. He made even his worst detractors admit they had been wrong about what would happen.

The change came the next day with his announcement that he was a member of the Nation of Islam. The comedy of the past was overwhelmed by the message of the present. The bigmouthed character became a Black Muslim. This was not what most of the paying public wanted to hear. The villain’s words now meant something. The jokes took second place to personal philosophy.

“I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” Ali said at his press conference. “I’m free to be who I want.

“I go to a Black Muslim meeting and what do I see?” he said. “I see there’s no smoking and no drinking and their women wear dresses down to the floor,” he said. “And then I come out on the street and you tell me I shouldn’t go in there. Well, there must be something in there if you don’t want me to go in there.

“In the jungle, lions are with lions and tigers with tigers and redbirds stay with redbirds and bluebirds with bluebirds,” he said. “That’s human nature, too, to be with your own kind. I don’t want to go where I’m not wanted.”

The softness here was in contrast to the national image of the NOI and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. For the white folk who had paid attention, not a large group at the start, this was a cult more than a religion, a theology that talked about white devils and spaceships and a black scientist named Jakub, who had an enormous head and created the white devils 6,000 years ago to persecute the black man.

The Muslims had demands. What was it that Malcolm X always said? “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Most national stories about the faith mentioned the large number of convicted criminals who now were members.

At first, there was the thought that Ali’s conversion was a phase, a mistake by a 22-year-old guy — 22 years, 39 days at that — who had landed in a new situation with new levels of fame and economics. He had been brainwashed by some slick salesmen, sold this bill of curious religious goods. He would grow out of it soon enough. A Black Muslim? He would realize a heavyweight champ could have a much easier life.

“He’s always been such a good boy,” said his mother, Odessa Clay. “He’s been taken in by these Muslim people. We pray he’ll see the light — and we think he will.”

Muhammad Ali at the Howard university with the Muslim journal ‘Muhammad Speaks’ produced by an African American organization (Nation of Islam).

Henning Christoph/ullstein bild via Getty Images

“That Muslim stuff is a phony religion,” said his father, Cassius Clay Sr. “They brag that they don’t drink, smoke or fool around with women. That is only one commandment. There are Ten Commandments.”

The depth of Ali’s belief soon became established. If this was a brainwash, it was a very good one. Standing at the side of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad after Malcolm X’s death, the heavyweight champion of the world became a potential target for revenge. He never blinked.

As city after city rejected the idea that it should be the host for his rematch with Liston because of worries of Black Muslim violence, because of the potential for his assassination, his commitment never changed. As the fight finally landed in a hockey rink in Lewiston, Maine, and he trained in Chicopee, Massachusetts, trailed by five policemen every day as he went from his motel room to the converted banquet hall where he sparred, he laughed about the threat. As he was guarded by more than 200 policemen on the night of the fight, with hourly reports of Malcolm X Muslims coming north from New York to kill him, he laughed some more. He then dropped Liston in one round with one “anchor punch,” supposedly taught to him by old-time actor Stepin Fetchit, and as all of America wondered what the hell was going on, he exulted.

“Nobody wants to kill me,” he said. “If they shoot, the gun will explode in their hands, the bullets will turn, Allah will protect me.”

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play.

The Lewiston win was followed six months later with the 12th-round TKO embarrassment of Floyd Patterson. Poor Floyd, 31 years old, was a gentle man, a practicing Catholic, a two-time heavyweight champ who had been knocked out twice by Liston in the first round, causing him to disguise himself in shame when he walked the streets after the fights. He was cast here as a classic babyface by Ali, drawn for the fight as “The Rabbit,” as the white man’s version of a good black man, yessir, nosir, Uncle Tom. Ali cast himself, of course, as the heel. He was the belligerent black man the white man feared in the night.

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play. True Black Man pummels Fake Black Man. He would use this plotline often during his boxing career, no one ever sure if he was kidding to hype the crowd or was as serious as could be. The answer was left to the observer to decide. Ali simply laid out the story.

His domination of Patterson was obvious. The challenger, who claimed he hurt his back in the fourth, didn’t win a single round. Ali played with him, taunted him, called him “the white man’s black man,” said, “Come on, black man, fight for America.” He seemingly could have knocked him out in any round, finally dropped him in the sixth, then finished him in the 12th. Ali would claim that he was waiting for the referee to stop the fight all night, that he tried not to hurt Patterson, but the ringside view mostly was that he punished the challenger for insisting on calling him “Clay,” not his Muslim name, in the prefight publicity whirl. Fake or real, the villain was in charge all the way.

“He’s mean,” legendary retired champion Joe Louis said. “He worked that poor Floyd over good. He handled him like a baby and he gave him more than he had to give him. I think he could have knocked him out from the first round if he wanted to, but he didn’t want to. I think he just let him have it for fun.”

“While we were fighting, Clay said maybe once or twice in the earlier rounds, maybe like in the third or fourth, ‘What’s my name?’ and I said ‘Cassius,’ ” Patterson said years later. “And finally, in the latter part of the fight, I’d say in the ninth, tenth or eleventh round, and I was really taking a really bad beating, suffering, he said ‘Now what’s my name?’ I believe I said the same thing, ‘Cassius Clay and that’s what it’s always going to be, regardless of the results of this fight. Cassius Clay.’ ”

“Round one, I said, ‘What’s my name?’ ” Ali said, some number of years later. “He didn’t say nothing. So round two, round three, I hit him with my right hand. ‘What’s my name?’ He said, ‘Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali.’ ”

Either way, the fight was a showcase for Ali. This was how well he could box. The two bouts against Liston had been characterized by their strange conclusions. This fight was characterized by Ali’s abilities. He had dazzle, flash, incredible speed. There never had been a heavyweight champ like this young guy. He danced and moved like a middleweight, but had the size and power of a heavyweight. He had told everyone before the fight that Joe Louis would have been too slow to beat him. Rocky Marciano would have been too short. Jack Johnson would have been too ugly. Jack Dempsey would have been too light and couldn’t punch. That left him at the top. The Greatest. He looked the part against poor Patterson.

He said he didn’t need love. He had talent.

“I’m not worried about those boos,” he said. “Those were white people. I got all the black people, some white people, too, and the people of Africa and Asia.”

That theory would be tested with his remarks about the draft and the Viet Cong. The volume became louder. Starting now.

‘The Wire’ — Game Day A play-by-play of that afternoon when a basketball game was more important than the drug game

Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language. And some spoilers.

The goal was for the aggression to stay on the blacktop at Baltimore’s neighborhood-famous Cloverdale Courts. Proposition Joe’s Eastside squad was going up against Avon Barksdale’s Westside unit. The losing team would have to throw a party for both crews. And a six-figure dollar amount was on the line. Hell, ’hood reputation was on the line. Tension was high.

Avon clowned Prop Joe. “Ayo, wassup playboy? How come you wearing that suit, B? For real, it’s 85 fucking degrees … and you trying to be like Pat Riley!”

Joe’s retort: “Look the part, be the part, motherfucker!” Yet, the Eastside projects drug dealer hadn’t made any markings on his clipboard. Couldn’t read a playbook if he tried. This is a scene from “Game Day,” the ninth episode of the first season of David Simon’s and Ed Burns’ epic, intense and critically fantastic series The Wire.

In Episode 9, Baltimore detectives were finally able to identify notorious drug kingpin Avon Barksdale. The police knew he existed, but save for a childhood boxing photo, they had no idea what he looked like. Barksdale had evaded law enforcement for years, but they were able to identify him in this episode because he was coaching a neighborhood basketball game. “Game Day” is an essential chapter in The Wire. It sets the rest of the series in motion.

The Wire debuted on HBO on June 2, 2002. It was the same night of a gruff Western Conference finals Game 7 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings — the Lakers won in overtime, closing out perhaps the wildest series of the decade. A slow-moving, expository, 62-minute pilot episode was no match.

But The Wire ran for five seasons. It succeeded by giving us a deep, 360-degree view of life inside an urban American city — the politicians, the cops, the corner boys, drug kingpins, stickup men, addicts, families of the addicts, dock workers, the local media — and more. The Wire could have been Detroit. Or Oakland. Or Newark. But this series was set in Baltimore — and fans all over the country and around the world were rabid about it.

Baltimore’s illegal activity (for the afternoon of Episode 9) was on a kind of TV timeout. It was Game Day in a city that birthed real-life basketball stars such as Muggsy Bogues, Keith Booth, Reggie Williams and Carmelo Anthony. This is where a high school hoops legend like East Baltimore’s Aquille “The Crimestopper” Carr flourished — and slowed down crime for two hours in Baltimore every time he had a game. The Wire’s Eastside vs. Westside contest, and the drama around it, was one of the most authentic hours in one of the most authentic television series ever to hit the small screen.

Thing is, The Wire never got its propers while it was airing. It never won a single Emmy. And The Wire struggled to maintain an audience during the last three seasons. Yet, if you ask any true-blue fans, they’ll tell you the experience ended far too soon. One more season, they wanted. Just one more.

The show did, after all, introduce Idris Elba, whose sex appeal never overshadowed the treachery of Stringer Bell. The execution of Michael B. Jordan in season one remains one of the most gut-wrenching and heartbreaking scenes ever aired on television. And we got familiar with one of the most dynamic and complex characters ever written for TV, the Robin Hood of the ’hood, Omar, a role seemingly effortlessly executed by Michael K. Williams. Oh, indeed.

Those who wrote it, starred and co-starred in it, directed and produced it — and who love the episode — contribute to this play-by-play. This is the story of “Game Day.”

Everyone quoted is identified by the titles they held during The Wire era.

‘Look the part, be the part.’

Each season of The Wire focused “with sociological precision” on a different aspect of Baltimore’s state of affairs. Season one zeroed in on drug dealers and the police officers who were desperately trying to crack down on them. Consequent seasons centered on life on the docks of the Port of Baltimore, local politics, the local newspaper and the school system. This series didn’t feel fictional. “Game Day” felt like real life — language and all.

Shamit Choksey
Co-writer, “Game Day”

David Simon created a world. He [was] a beat reporter for The Baltimore Sun … so the entire show, the crux of all of it, is so entrenched … in reality.

Sonja Sohn
Detective Kima Greggs

By the time we got to the ninth episode, we knew that this was an authentic show.

Ed Burns
Producer, writer and co-creator of The Wire

I spent 20 years on the police force. I was engaged in the drug world. I love that world. I love how brave people were. I love the integrity of the corners, and the streets. [On The Wire] we weren’t too keen about ad libbing.

Wood Harris
Avon Barksdale, Westside Baltimore drug dealer

Ninety percent of the time — when you see me, Hassan Johnson, Michael K. Williams — we’re speaking to the script. David is a very smart writer, a smart guy. He’s a pro-cultural person.

Seth Gilliam
Narcotics Detective Ellis Carver

Simon is the blackest Jewish man I know. … I also appreciated that he never wrote ‘niggers’ or ‘fucking niggers’ in his script.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

The N-word was always written down. [But] sometimes it was thrown in by the actors. The actors felt the moment and did it without it being on the page, but sometimes it was very much on the page.

Seth Gilliam
Narcotics Detective Ellis Carver

[People] were ‘shitbirds’ or ‘hopheads.’ I changed them to ‘niggers’ and ‘fucking niggers’ as often as I could.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

It was the necessary word. I’m not going to lie and pretend. Now, if it’s gratuitous, it’s gratuitous.

Seth Gilliam
Narcotics Detective Ellis Carver

I was like, ‘Well, David, I’m going to let you in on a little something: Black people who play by the rules and follow the guidelines really resent black people who don’t.’ So there’s a lot of anger there. A black cop is not going to call a black kid that he sees selling drugs a ‘shitbird.’ He’s going to call him something really personal, and ugly.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

Maybe Ed knew better, or maybe just I’m not remembering right — but my sense of it was if there wasn’t an annual east-west basketball game sponsored by the pre-eminent drug crews, there ought to be.

Shamit Choksey
Co-writer, “Game Day”

[David] Melnick and I, we’re big sports fans. I don’t know if David assigned us this story because he knew that.

Members of the Barksdale Organization sit on the bench while intently watching a basketball game in HBO’s The Wire.

Photo by Paul Schiraldi/HBO

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

Basketball or boxing were the only two things that would have credibly created a moment for east to meet west. Baseball would have been absurd. Football would have been too complicated.

Shamit Choksey
Co-writer, “Game Day”

When we turned in our first draft, [Simon] really brought it more to life. We were just a couple young guys who were like, ‘Man, the basketball stuff is popping, and David’s loving it!’ We were excited.

Anthony Hemingway
First assistant director

I definitely praise David Simon … using [basketball] as the backdrop … [that] resonated globally.

Andre Royo
Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins, heroin addict and police informant

[In the episode], you got everybody breaking the drug game to watch this basketball game. I remember games [like that] in [New York]. Lots of people would come to those … on Fourth Street. It rang true.

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

I didn’t have the money for basketball camp back [in the day]. Camp was like 500 bucks. At the time, my coach was a gentleman who made good money in the streets. He said, ‘Look, Maurice, you want to go to this camp? Every dunk you make, I’ll give you $100.’ I finished the game with about eight dunks, and that’s how I had money for camp. Playing ball … it kept me off the streets, from trying to hustle. We needed something to eat? They’d go buy 20 french fries, 20 hamburgers, 20 chicken sandwiches and bring it back to the court. They’d buy us sneakers, uniforms, books. I’m not proud these guys had to hustle for a living and sell drugs, but I was impressed they didn’t want the same thing for us.

Wood Harris
Avon Barksdale, Westside Baltimore drug dealer

Basketball in the black culture is very important. It’s looked at almost as a refuge, as a way out. It gave us heroes.

‘Ain’t gon’ be no trouble over no ball.’

In “Game Day,” which originally aired on Aug. 4, 2002, Baltimore’s two biggest drug dealers have their annual streetball game. Simon and Burns say they weren’t aware whether such a game ever existed in Baltimore, but they wanted to have some sort of athletic competition. The rivalry basketball game is pivotal because it introduces new character Proposition Joe (Robert Chew, who died in 2013). Avon Barksdale (Harris) wants to beat Prop Joe’s team so badly that he and Stringer Bell (Elba) recruit a junior college player (Blanding) as a ringer. “Game Day” begins on the court, with Elba and Harris looking down on Blanding playing what looks to be pickup ball. The actual scene was shot at Baltimore’s historically black Coppin State University.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

We needed, for purposes of plot, to show that rivalry. We needed it because we were introducing the element of Prop Joe and his crew on the Eastside. We needed to frame that in some intelligent way. And the idea of competition naturally led to, ‘Is there a social function? Or a moment where these different crews would cross-pollinate? We came up with the basketball game.

Shamit Choksey
Co-writer, “Game Day”

David Melnick, who wrote that episode [with me], are just a couple of guys from the ’burbs of Baltimore; there’s nothing hardcore about us at all.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

It would be hard to avoid the extraordinary love affair that urban America has had with the game of basketball. Generations of it. You’d have to be willfully ignorant.

Show Creator David Simon on Capturing the essence of streetball

Footage from HBO

Ed Burns
Producer, writer and co-creator of The Wire

All the kids, that was their one ambition, even more so than football, was being a great basketball player. We had a couple guys come out of Baltimore, Skip Wise being one of them, who would have been a great basketball player if he didn’t succumb to drugs.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

Everybody in Baltimore knows the painful story of Skip Wise. He didn’t quite escape the street culture.

Ed Burns
Producer, writer and co-creator of The Wire

There are moments when — in the first year of World War I, in the trench warfare — when Christmas rolled around, Germans and the French and the British went into no man’s land to celebrate that holiday. And then they went back to killing each other. There were moments when you could give me the ball, or the rock or whatever. And you could have that truce.

Wood Harris
Avon Barksdale, Westside Baltimore drug dealer

I’ve played on basketball courts where gangsters are on the side and got money on it. You just want to play good. I knew what that feeling was like.

Shamit Choksey
Co-writer, “Game Day”

That ringer thing was eye-opening for Melnick and I. We didn’t know that that would even be feasible in that world, that somebody with influence on the street level would connect with the university to try and get a ringer. That blew our minds. That was the first or second beat on that beat sheet. We saw that, and we were like, ‘Wow, that’s the way it works?’

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

I grew up in Baltimore City, played everywhere in Baltimore City. Grew up with the real Avon Barksdale’s nephew. He played on my football team in high school.

Shamit Choksey
Co-writer, “Game Day”

I remember that moment where we just sat down and started pounding keys and going, ‘OK, let’s, uh …’ [but] there is no research for that. First of all, the internet — we’re talking early 2000s — was not as far-reaching.

Seth Gilliam
Narcotics Detective Ellis Carver

It seemed kind of strange to me, but David Simon said he had heard about something like that before when he was [at] The Baltimore Sun. I mostly was excited that I was having an episode that I had more than two scenes in. Me and Domenick Lombardozzi referred to it as my Taxi Driver episode, because it’s my favorite movie.

Domenick Lombardozzi
Narcotics Detective Thomas “Herc” Hauk

We were heavy in that episode.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

We were using it so that the detectives could naively try to get eyes on Avon Barksdale, and to try to follow him. We were doing it so we could also show Herc and Carver up on the roof, being forgotten about.

Seth Gilliam
Narcotics Detective Ellis Carver

A layer of the shade [was] pulled back on how these guys are human. These are people. We’re treating them like they’re scum of the earth and they don’t have any rights. But if there’s a common ground like basketball, where two opposing sides can come together and put their differences aside … they mostly want to unify, they don’t want to destroy.

Domenick Lombardozzi
Narcotics Detective Thomas “Herc” Hauk

It didn’t catch me by surprise because … it’s kind of tradition. It’s very similar to the Rucker, you know? In New York. It all made sense to me.

Seth Gilliam
Narcotics Detective Ellis Carver

[My character had] that revelation of, ‘Oh, these motherfuckers might have feelings.’ They care about shit.

Detectives Herc and Carver watch an annual neighborhood basketball game while they try to identify who Avon Barksdale is.

Photo by Paul Schiraldi/HBO

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

I was home on break from playing basketball overseas, and in South America. A buddy of mine was doing security for The Wire, and the director said, ‘Hey, do you know a guy that can play basketball, and can dunk?’ So I went up to Coppin … and I opened that episode up with Elba and Harris. Sometimes I look back and say, ‘Man, should I have started acting instead of continuing playing basketball in Europe?’ I made $2,500 in three days.

Wood Harris
Avon Barksdale, Westside Baltimore drug dealer

I love that episode. “Game Day” is one of my favorites. … That’s the one I had the most fun shooting.

Shamit Choksey
Co-writer, “Game Day”

The show was very urban, and gritty, but here we are shooting in a clean and pristine university gymnasium. That crossed grains with this show that we were getting to know. … It was outside of the element of the world that The Wire was [usually] taking place in.

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

I was overly impressed, even though Dunbar is Eastside and I [in real life] was Westside. So I had a little issue with that at first because, you know, the rivalry’s real!

Wood Harris
Avon Barksdale, Westside Baltimore drug dealer

Idris don’t really play basketball, but we still had a lot of fun.

Ed Burns
Producer, writer and co-creator of The Wire

He didn’t know anything about drug dealing, either, when he started out! Idris instinctively knew the value of a scene. You didn’t have to go to him and say, ‘This is the way things are done.’ There was no need for him to really love basketball.

‘The projects got a ball team?’

Baltimore basketball is serious business — in real life and on television. Detectives Herc and Carver finally figured out that everyone in the streets has suspended all drug trafficking to participate in or watch the basketball game. In a scene leading up to the end of the game, Lt. Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) announces that the drug dealer they’re looking for (Harris’ character) is over at the historic Cloverdale Courts.

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

They didn’t actually film that at Cloverdale. That was at Collington Square in East Baltimore.

Wood Harris
Avon Barksdale, Westside Baltimore drug dealer

There was one issue. That episode was being directed by this French director whose name I can’t remember.

Milcho Manchevski
Director

I was born in Macedonia. I came here for film school and then stayed.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

Milcho turned out to be a very good director. He was a good friend of [former executive producer] Bob Colesberry’s. Bob brought him in, very much admired his work. And there’s a lot to admire.

Milcho Manchevski
Director

It’s the only piece of episodic television I’ve done. I directed five features and wrote all of them. But this one was just so attractive because the writing was great. Colesberry was producing … so I knew it was going to be a creative enterprise.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

He was a feature director who had never done television. In features it’s, ‘Get the writer off the set. We have the script.’ But in television the writers are the producers, so we’re worried about continuity, we’re worried if it will make sense in all [of the] episodes. He wasn’t used to having a writer always on set. If not me, Ed or somebody. We struggled a little bit.

Anthony Hemingway
First assistant director

He was new to TV and just didn’t realize the concept of you can’t reinvent the wheel. You have to learn how to adapt and fall within a frame of what the show is … you have the ability to color it and put your name on it. You can’t come in and completely change it. It caused a lot of tension. Unfortunately, I was the middleman between him and our VP and also the actors.

Wood Harris
Avon Barksdale, Westside Baltimore drug dealer

After lunch — when you have lunch on the set or whatever, it’s like an hour long and you come back — no director. The director couldn’t be found. So what happened was … Anthony Hemingway … he was second A.D. for The Wire.

Tray Chaney
Malik “Poot” Carr, teen drug dealer

When everyone came back from lunch … Anthony was the man.

Anthony Hemingway
First assistant director

I had to rise to the occasion. It was very sensitive, only because the union obligations and all the legalities within that. I wasn’t technically directing, but … I was there for the show and had to step forward to protect the show.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

The basketball thing is obviously an intensely choreographed dynamic. And the A.D. would be influential in terms of placing everybody and … you’re coordinating between the actual athletic narrative within the game, what’s happening, where we’re placing all the extras, where we’re placing our characters among the extras. That was Anthony. And I think, in some respects, it’s where he really began to shine.

Show Creator David Simon on Developing iconic characters

Footage from HBO

Ed Burns
Producer, writer and co-creator of The Wire

We had a lot of faith in Anthony. He had been with us, particularly with [co-executive producer] Nina Noble, from the early ’90s. And he was extremely confident.

Domenick Lombardozzi
Narcotics Detective Thomas “Herc” Hauk

Hemingway was a big part of the show even when he wasn’t directing as a first A.D. He was very influential.

Anthony Hemingway
First assistant director

That day in particular was challenging because we needed crowds. We had open calls on the radio, getting people to come out. We had the turnout that we needed.

Seth Gilliam
Narcotics Detective Ellis Carver

I think the extras were hired right from the neighborhood.

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

And it was about 85 degrees. The humidity in Baltimore is ridiculous.

Anthony Hemingway
First assistant director

Insane and intense and crazy. I didn’t technically direct that episode. I had to make it, I had to be the Band-Aid and make the day flow. I was still assistant director. … I had to step in and keep the day flowing … but I didn’t, and will not ever, call myself as the director.

J.D. Williams
Preston “Bodie” Broadus, teen drug dealer

Wood Harris is the star of Above the Rim. … It was a basketball film; it had Tupac [Shakur] in it. It just took me there, like, ‘Wow, now I’m doing a basketball scene with Wood Harris? I must be making some type of progress. …’

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

I didn’t even know Idris Elba was from England. He spoke the Baltimore slang and language so much. He was that good.

Tray Chaney
Malik “Poot” Carr, teen drug dealer

I was a fan of J.D. [Williams] from him being on Oz.

“We’re really part of something that was incredible and has become a part of the fabric of television.”Shamit Choksey

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

I’m a Tupac fan, and I’m also a Wood Harris fan. I asked while I was sitting there, ‘How was being around ’Pac?’ He said, ‘He’s the ultimate professional, he’s a perfectionist, but he’s a down-to-earth man, just like you and I.’ I was sitting here talking to Wood Harris about Tupac! This is crazy!

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

There was one cross, one vicious move that [Blanding] made from the top of the key. When we saw it we just fell down, we were laughing so hard. It was such a great inside move. You’ve got to remember, we’re only doing this with a few seconds of ball. We’re not filming the whole game … so whatever time we have to devote to actual basketball, you want the footage to feel real. You also want to get the in-your-face ballet of streetball.

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

That was scripted, but that’s how I play. The director was like, ‘Listen, don’t shoot the ball.’ [We] said, ‘Well, we just want to play!’ And that’s when we started playing a little bit more physical, and I played my real game and they stopped stripping the ball because they knew an elbow might come behind it. So the first part was scripted, the second part was like half-scripted, and then they made use of us really playing ball.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

I remember seeing that on film and thinking, if you ever went to Collington Square, if you ever went to Cloverdale and watched the best players, that’s the kind of shit where you saw a move like that and it laid everybody out for 30 seconds. Like, ‘Oh shit! What just happened?’ We got one of those on film. I was very proud of us.

Wood Harris
Avon Barksdale, Westside Baltimore drug dealer

I didn’t have to give them any technical advice. Everyone knew basketball. Everybody who was there was black.

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

I thought it was authentic. When we play ball [in real life], you had guys who probably didn’t get along … on the street level, they’re enemies. But on the basketball level, they never brought it to the court. You’d have some shootings sometimes, people would get into a fight, but I’d say 95 percent of the time it was strictly about basketball. It did lower the crime rate in that area where we played — everybody just wanted to watch us play. Everybody wanted to see me dunk because I had like a 45-inch vertical back then.

Anthony Hemingway
First assistant director

I was out there trying to find moments … where especially black men can come together and support each other. And put behind us all the negative drama that has been perpetuated over the years, and support one another and love one another. And be able to be in the same place together.

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

It was as authentic as I have seen anybody portray the streetball of Baltimore City, where they gettin’ in the referee’s face.

Wood Harris
Avon Barksdale, Westside Baltimore drug dealer

When you see me get up and I’m bantering and checking the referee, that guy was a really good actor — one of my fondest memories of The Wire.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

We [wanted to] demonstrate something about Avon Barksdale’s personality when he intimidates the ref on a bad call and then, in the next moment, becomes frustrated that the ref is about to cave. He wants to yell at the ref. He doesn’t want the ref to treat him like the winner because he’s feared. He wants to be right on the merits, and he no longer can be because he’s Avon Barksdale. And he realizes that.

Maurice Blanding
Actual professional player in European leagues, portrayed junior college ringer for the Barksdale Organization

The crowd, that was normal. A summer league in Baltimore will generate a crowd of at least 500 people sometimes. It was just awesome.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

We’re not thinking to ourselves, ‘We’re really making a statement here about basketball in the inner city.’ We were just using found material.

Maybe we won.

Fifteen years later, this series still resonates (and it’s available at HBO NOW). Major urban centers are still dealing with the problems that embattled fictional Baltimore for the duration of this series. The Wire, sadly, feels contemporary.

Anthony Hemingway
First assistant director

I actually get very giddy when I go on different jobs, and I smile real hard when so many people really praise the show. That makes me feel great to be a part of that. That was my start.

Shamit Choksey
Co-writer, “Game Day”

Five years out, when I started to hear, ‘Wait a second, he wrote for The Wire? I love that show.’ … I kind of scratched my head. It wasn’t those that are from that world. It was a white college girl who’d never spent any time in the city who was obsessed with the show.

Ed Burns
Producer, writer and co-creator of The Wire

I don’t think anything’s changed. Now the drugs embrace the white community, the working-class community, particularly. The language might change from rural America to city America, [but] it is the same. And the acting is so damn good.

“I have a problem with the glorification of a drug dealer and America is fascinated with that world. We’re celebrating the very … problem that America has in its ‘hood. But Stringer Bell was no role model. He ruled the people who worked for him through fear.”Idris Elba, 2009

Domenick Lombardozzi
Narcotics Detective Thomas “Herc” Hauk

Maybe people weren’t ready for a show like that, or maybe it was just kept in the shadows. It’s like a cult following now.

J.D. Williams
Preston “Bodie” Broadus, teen drug dealer

We blew everybody’s tops off, and they still didn’t give us whatever we deserved. That’s OK because that makes them look stupid. The most important thing is that the people who know, who love it, really love it.

Shamit Choksey
Co-writer, “Game Day”

I didn’t realize how big and iconic the show was when we were in the middle of it. We’re really part of something that was incredible and has become a part of the fabric of television.

Andre Royo
Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins, heroin addict and police informant

We knew what we were doing was real stuff. There was a certain pride and awe every time we got a script because we were like, ‘Are they telling our side or not?’ And we’re really telling this side of the story, and with such fairness, and in such a nonjudgmental way. It just kept us intrigued and happy to be a part of the show.

Sonja Sohn
Detective Kima Greggs

The Wire is timeless. We’ve been living in these conditions for decades now. It’s not a surprise to me that it resonates. Until we address the structural issues that exacerbate the criminal element that exists in underserved black communities, this story will always be relevant.

Tray Chaney
Malik “Poot” Carr, teen drug dealer

I think I can speak for all of us saying we didn’t know that the show was gonna be a part of history like it is now.

David Simon
Creator, executive producer, head writer and showrunner, The Wire

I would prefer to be living in [a] country where The Wire was less relevant 15 years later. I would have much preferred to think of the show as being anachronistic.

Seth Gilliam
Narcotics Detective Ellis Carver

I thought it was gold when we were doing it. I still get a little frothy when people are like, ‘Why did that show go off the air?’ And I’m like, ‘Did you watch it when it was on? Well, that’s why the shit went off the fucking air.’ They were] watching The Sopranos, which was old and tired by that point. The Wire is still the best show in the history of television. And if you reran it right now, it would be better than everything else on TV.

These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

Where they are now:

Maurice Blanding: Works at Baltimore’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

Ed Burns: Lives in West Virginia and is working on several television projects.

Tray Chaney: Is a rapper and also stars in Bounce TV’s Saints & Sinners.

Shamit Choksey: Currently working in automotive sports marketing for Kia; also working on a new TV project with his brother.

Seth Gilliam: Co-stars on AMC’s The Walking Dead, is set to co-star in feature film Change in the Air.

Wood Harris: Is set to co-star in feature films Once Upon a Time in Venice (with Bruce Willis and John Goodman) and 9/11 (with Charlie Sheen and Whoopi Goldberg).

Anthony Hemingway: Is producing and directing television series including WGN’s Underground and is set to direct the indie film Bury the Lead. He also served as an executive producer and director on ABC’s American Crime and was nominated for an Emmy for his work on FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.

Domenick Lombardozzi: Is part of the cast of Fox’s Rosewood and will next star in the feature films Frank and Ava (2017) and Hard Powder (2018).

Milcho Manchevski: Recently wrapped the feature film Bikini Moon, which stars Condola Rashad.

Andre Royo: Co-stars on Fox’s Empire and is set to co-star in Amazon Studios’ Beautiful Boy alongside Steve Carell, out in 2018.

David Simon: His next series, The Deuce, is set to premiere on HBO this fall; it features several The Wire alums.

Sonja Sohn: Is currently filming Showtime’s The Chi.

J.D. Williams: Stars in Bounce TV’s Saints & Sinners.