Ice Cube’s BIG3 league is not novelty or nostalgia MVPs, a protester, misfits — these ballers have something to prove and are playing to win

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is 48 years old and he’s in an LA Fitness about 15 miles west of Atlanta. He’s getting frustrated. Abdul-Rauf is not happy with the way his jumper is falling. So he’s pushing, relentlessly, with the same behind-the-back dribble. Then two more dribbles to the baseline. And then a jumper about 15 feet from the basket. Abdul-Rauf drills for an hour and a half, shooting from midrange, from the 3-point line, from the corner. Shooting from the wrong foot, shooting off balance.

He’s made 23 of 25 shots. But Abdul-Rauf does a special kind of math: “Nope! It doesn’t count! Don’t count my shots if they hit rim!”

When he’s done shooting, he battles Deaundrae Ballard, a four-star recruit headed to the University of Florida this season. Abdul-Rauf, who has been training Ballard and prepping him for his college career, squares up with the novice, who’s at least 6 inches taller. Three-pointer. Wet. Repeat. The sounds of other basketballs hitting the gym floor disappear. The other ballers getting in morning workouts have stopped to watch. Another 3. Swish. His gray sweatpants and royal blue shirt are drenched in sweat. It’s also dripping from his salt-and-pepper goatee.

Former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who will play in the BIG3 league, works on his handles while training for the start of the league.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

Abdul-Rauf shoots for two more hours. He’s done some variation of this routine every weekday since he was a Louisiana State University standout. But he’s going harder now than he has in a long time. The former Denver Nugget scoring machine, who was Colin Kaepernick before Colin Kaepernick was Colin Kaepernick, is gearing up for another chance at the national stage. He’s got a new team, the 3-Headed Monsters, with teammates Jason Williams, Kwame Brown, Rashard Lewis and Eddie Basden. And he’s got a new league to conquer. Abdul-Rauf is getting ready for the BIG3.


The phrase “dog days of summer” originated more than 5,000 years ago as a way to describe the months when the Dog Star, Sirius, would make itself most visible. Some believed The Dog was the cause of July and August heat. For the past century, afternoon baseball games have been a hallmark of those hot and lazy summer days, as fans flock to fields across the country to pass time with the heroes of the diamond. Yet, over the past 20 years or so, baseball has had an ever-decreasing impact on American culture, especially for African-Americans, who as of 2013 make up only 9 percent of Major League Baseball fans, far behind the black fanship of professional basketball and football.

For black folks, the dog days of summer, the season between June’s end of the NBA and September’s beginning of the NFL, are even more dogged because of the lack of sports they care to watch. That’s where Ice Cube and his BIG3 come in.

“Summer is boring as s—,” Ice Cube said at a January news conference announcing the BIG3, billed as America’s 3-on-3 Professional Basketball League. The league features former NBA players, most notably Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, in half-court games. It’s set to tour over the summer and to culminate in a championship game at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 26. The league, which launches on June 25, comprises eight teams (with names such as “Power” and “3’s Company”) of five players each: three starters and two reserves. All are coached by legends such as Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Clyde Drexler.

“I feel great going into opening night,” Ice Cube said recently via mobile phone. “Fan interest is there. We have the teams and the talent to pull this league off. It feels good.”

From a distance, the BIG3 may seem like a novelty gig, a chance for nostalgia ballers to hit a few crossovers for YouTube and Instagram before retreating back into retirement. But a closer look at the league reveals passionate players, a brain trust and an organization that aims to be America’s second major pro basketball association.

Actor/rapper Ice Cube addresses the crowd at the 2017 BIG3 basketball league draft at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on April 30 in Las Vegas.

Sam Wasson/Getty Images

“We want this to be a viable [career] option for players who feel like they still got game and don’t want to go overseas, or who don’t want to do all that damn running up and down the court,” said Cube. “We hope to have an exciting season, and a championship game, with teams who deserve to be there.”

“I haven’t played against a lot of these guys, and they’re in their early 30s. By the grace and mercy of God, I didn’t have any problems.”

BIG3 is a real league. The competition is real. And the results are as unpredictable as they are exciting. Concepts for the BIG3 started on opposite sides of the country. On the East Coast there was Roger Mason Jr., a 2002 second-round draft pick for the Chicago Bulls who played for 10 years as a journeyman with teams such as the Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks. After his final stint with the league in 2014, Mason joined the National Basketball Players Association as deputy executive director. While there, he spearheaded efforts to ensure that retired players had access to adequate health care.

Mason also has a passion for entertainment and for evolving the NBA’s tech thumbprint. Mason was the mastermind behind the inaugural NBA Player Awards show in 2015. It aired on BET, was a huge success and is a precursor to next week’s Drake-hosted NBA Awards on TNT. The BET version was executive-produced by Jeff Kwatinetz (an interesting guy), founder of entertainment company The Firm. Kwatinetz is also COO of Ice Cube’s Cube Vision film production company.

Mason had an idea he wanted to run by Kwatinetz: The NBA was seemingly headed toward a 2017 lockout (that was avoided), and Mason wanted to give players and fans something during the downtime. “My vision was a 3-on-3 tournament with active players,” said Mason. “It would give them something to do and keep games going. Then I learned that Cube and Jeff had been working on a concept for an actual league for about a year.”

The BIG3 teams don’t represent particular cities. Instead, the league will travel from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to Los Angeles, eight cities in total before the Nevada championship. Each stop will feature four games so every player gets seen. Think And1 Tour meets NBA basketball meets Harlem Globetrotters.

“Obviously, Cube and Jeff had been in the entertainment world,” Mason said. “And the idea of a touring league, similar to a music tour, was brilliant. I was all in to jump in with them after that.”

It was up to Cube, Mason and Kwatinetz to make the league familiar to fans while embracing rules that would make the game different, and innovative. The first team to 60 points wins. Halftime starts after the first team scores 30 points. There’s a four-point shot spread out over different areas of the court beyond the 3-point line (Ice Cube’s idea). The BIG3 features the return of legalized hand-checking, taking the ball outside of the paint after defensive rebounds. Once the rules were set, the trio set out to find established names. Chief among them was Iverson.


Allen Iverson was BIG3’s golden goose. Secure him and the league had its transcendent star. The 2001 NBA MVP and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer was a human cultural landmark at the turn of the 21st century. His cornrows, baggy shorts, tattoos and hip-hop swag made him an icon. His name still resonates with NBA fans who remember the time he stepped over (now Cleveland Cavaliers head coach) Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals and put Michael Jordan on skates in 1997. Even now, whenever Iverson shows up in public, whether it’s to retire his jersey in Philadelphia, or to conduct an interview, fans become enamored all over again. So grabbing The Answer was a major coup, even if he was reluctant to play at first. BIG3 is using his star power, producing a video series documenting his road back to basketball. Iverson obviously won’t be the same MVP he was in 2001, but any flashes of his previous greatness would make the BIG3 a must-watch spectacle.

“Iverson had some things going on overseas that didn’t go as well as he thought,” Mason said. “So I had to reassure him that this was as professional as it gets. And we let him know we’d work at his pace, so he can do what’s comfortable for him.”

Cube himself has been keeping tabs on Iverson’s preparedness. “I saw him in January and he looked good, but I saw him a few weeks ago and he looks more chiseled, and even more in shape,” he said. “His flavor and his style and what he brings to the league will be huge for us.”

Creating new pro leagues is hard. Vince McMahon’s XFL was set to be an offseason professional football league and flamed out after its first season. Donald Trump’s United States Football League was a disaster. The American Basketball Association, formed in 1967 and possibly the most renowned competitor to a major league, lasted nearly a decade, starred Dr. J, and helped revolutionize the way basketball was played. The ABA merged with the NBA in 1976.

Terry Pluto, columnist at The Cleveland Plain Dealer and author of 1990’s Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association, believes the era of leagues competing with the NBA is over. “The goal of the ABA was always to merge, never to exist on its own,” Pluto said. “And it came along at the right time. There will never be another ABA because of the timing. In 1967, there were only 10 [NBA] teams … 11 men on most rosters … 110 pro basketball players. The international game was nothing back then. Now, there’s basketball all over the world, and the U.S. has 30 teams and the D-League. I don’t see much future in anything new.”

For black folks, the dog days of summer, the season between June’s end of the NBA and September’s beginning of the NFL, are even more dogged because of the lack of sports they care to watch.

One reason it’s so difficult to battle established leagues is the fan bases that have followed teams for decades. Starting new franchises and getting fans to buy in is a major hurdle. That’s where the BIG3 has an advantage: It’s using players such as Iverson and former Sacramento Kings guard Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, a fan favorite. These guys are franchises in their own right, with their own followings. It’s more about them than the team, which has been at the heart of the NBA’s recent success and can be a driving force in BIG3’s longevity.

NBA legend Allen Iverson signs autographs before the NBA All-Star Game as part of the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend on Feb. 19 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

That’s the secret to BIG3. Former NBA players bring a level of expertise that surpasses leagues looking to use minor league players or former college stars. So while the BIG3 may not revolutionize basketball in the way the ABA did, it’ll remind fans of the NBA they loved in the ’90s and early 2000s, which is just as valuable. “It’s a good product because the basketball IQ is off the hook,” said Ice Cube. “These guys just knowing how to play the game is the draw.”

There’s also another important incentive for players to perform at their best: money. Yes, BIG3 is a real league with real contracts. Each player has signed a $100,000 contract for the year. The Basketball-Related Income is 52 percent of the league’s revenue, to be split at the end of the season. The championship team gets the lion’s share of the money. Each subsequent team gets a smaller cut. So players have the incentive to take the game seriously.

But the biggest reason to expect the games to be competitive and intense is that the BIG3 is full of players who are out to prove doubters wrong. For every Chauncey Billups or Mike Bibby who wants to play versus his peers, there’s a Ricky Davis or Rashad McCants whose off-the-court reputations led to the premature demise of their pro careers. “I’m not in the league now because of executive reasons,” said McCants, who will be playing on Trilogy with Kenyon Martin and Al Harrington.

McCants was drafted 14th in 2005 by the Minnesota Timberwolves after leading North Carolina to an NCAA championship the year before. By the ’07-’08 season, McCants was averaging just shy of 15 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the field. He was, however, outspoken and, fairly or not, had earned a reputation for being difficult to coach. And he was also the first athlete to publicly date a Kardashian, appearing as a guest in 2009 on Keeping Up With The Kardashians while dating Khloe.

Rashad McCants of the Minnesota Timberwolves goes up for a shot against Yao Ming (No. 11) and Chuck Hayes of the Houston Rockets during their game on Dec. 20, 2008, at Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

By 2009, just four years into his career, McCants was out of the NBA despite averaging 10 points a game. “Me being out of the league has nothing to do with my play. To not get calls for four years? Not even a meeting?” McCants also came under fire in 2014 for comments about the athletic program at UNC. He’s spent the last few years bouncing around international leagues and sees the BIG3 as a chance to show owners that they were wrong to pass on him — and to also give them a chance to rectify their mistake. There’s an outside chance that someone like McCants could put on a show good enough to land back in the NBA. It’s an outcome BIG3 leadership fully encourages.

“If players get looked at by an NBA GM,” Cube said, “our league isn’t going to do anything to stop anyone from going back to the NBA, or any other league for that matter. We want this to be for the players. Really, we just want them to have fun.”


“Let’s go! It’s great to be around you guys!”

For McCants and other former players interested in joining the league, the first step to a championship was a combine and draft that took place in Las Vegas in April. McCants took center stage by breaking the ice: “I’m out here killing!”

The combine was an invitational for former NBA players: to run a few scrimmages so that player-coaches for each team — Gary Payton (who is just coaching, unfortunately), the aforementioned Iverson, Billups among them — could get a glimpse of their options and draft accordingly. The combine started tentatively enough, with players engaging in some one-on-one games. But mostly they were just feeling each other out, trying to determine how hard they wanted to go. “[My comment] got everybody’s attention,” McCants recalled. “It stole the show of me being the head of the pack and ready to go.”

On the other side of the court, there was a graying, slim participant quietly nailing jumpers. He was also dominating his one-on-one matchups. As he played, players took notice. It’s really him? But …

People were surprised to see me out there,” said Abdul-Rauf. “More than anything, they were surprised to see how I look. My stamina is still up. I look like I can still go out there and do it.”

BIG3 is a real league. The competition is real. And the results are as unpredictable as they are exciting.

Abdul-Rauf’s story has become part of sports lore. He was drafted by the Nuggets in 1990 as the third overall pick and soon became known as one of the league’s most feared streak scorers, infamously dropping 51 points on John Stockton’s head on a frigid December Utah night. The Mississippi native’s scoring prowess was so legendary that Phil Jackson tweeted in February 2016 that Stephen Curry reminded him of a young Abdul-Rauf. Then in 1996, it all came crashing down.

Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stands with his teammates and prays during the national anthem before the game against the Chicago Bulls on March 15, 1996, in Chicago. Abdul-Rauf, saying that the U.S. flag was a symbol of “oppression and tyranny,” was suspended Tuesday for sitting down during the national anthem. Friday was Abdul-Rauf’s first game back.

AP Photo/Michael S. Green

That’s when the star point guard decided not to stand for the national anthem, citing that the flag and what it represents was in conflict with his Muslim faith. This prompted the NBA to suspend him for a game, costing him $32,000. The league eventually let him bow his head and pray during the anthem. By the end of that season, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings. He was out of the league by 2001, unable to even get meetings with other teams. There’s no question his protest caused his career to end — and that’s even more apparent by the fact he’s closing in on 50 and still giving buckets to players a generation younger than him.

“The [NBA] already knows the truth,” Abdul-Rauf said of his exile. “When I talk to people in the street, it’s common knowledge what was done to me. I can never get those contracts back. But God has blessed me to have my quickness and stamina.”

That quickness and stamina wowed his competition and coaches at the combine. “I was curious to see if I could get my shot off,” he recalled. “I haven’t played against a lot of these guys, and they’re in their early 30s. By the grace and mercy of God, I didn’t have any problems.” Abdul-Rauf is the oldest player in the BIG3.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf trains for the start of the BIG3 league at LA Fitness.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

While Abdul-Rauf was showcasing his skill and endurance on one side of the court, leading him to be drafted 17th (out of 24 players) by Payton’s 3 Headed Monsters, McCants was engaged in 3-on-3 scrimmages that were beginning to get heated. A referee made a questionable call in a game involving McCants, Corey Maggette, Stephen Jackson and others. Players got in the ref’s face, players got in each other’s faces, and the scrimmage deteriorated into a full-on scrum. The physicality and competitiveness set a tone for how the games might be played: physical NBA-style basketball that encourages trash-talking and ruggedness.

“A lot of times in [NBA] practices, players would play 3-on-3s,” said Mason Jr. “Some of those battles were the best battles no one ever saw. We’re unlocking these battles. … They’re competitive, high basketball IQ. It’s tough because you’re on an island defensively, so you have to step it up.”

What people may not realize is the fact that even though games are half-court and involve six players instead of 10, the cardiovascular toll can be greater than in a traditional game. For one, there’s a 14-second shot clock, which means attempts are going up rapidly and players are scrambling for rebounds. Also, no one can hide on defense. Defenders have to square up and create stops without much help. And with just six players on the court, everything is more spread out, so players have to cover more ground. Just shooting around? It won’t be enough. Players will have to show up to games in the best shape they’ve been in since they were in the NBA.

There’s definite potential for viral crazes, as Twitter videos are perfect for a league where a legendary point guard might end up face-first on the gym floor after a slick crossover. This works to the BIG3’s advantage, as the threat of embarrassment is going to pressure players to show up on June 25 ready to do business. “I don’t expect anyone to take this lightly, because they’re gonna get clowned if they do,” said Ice Cube. “Nobody wants to leave their legacy on the BIG3 court. Dudes are going to come out there and play with pride because that’s what I want to see.”

It’s impossible to predict the long-term success of a league like the BIG3. For Cube and Mason, if players get a chance to show off their talent and fans are entertained, then the BIG3 will find a winning formula. For Abdul-Rauf, the sustainability of the BIG3 means a chance to do something altruistic for members of the exclusive NBA fraternity — en route to making those summer days less dogged for fans.

Former NBA player and current BIG3 player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf trains at LA Fitness.

Kevin D. Liles for The Undefeated

“For some people, pay is important,” he said via phone while on his way to yet another workout — and with a sureness he’s gained as a public speaker over the past decade. “You don’t know who this will help down the road. This could … last four or five years. Taking it seriously could help someone who’s struggling … now they can make a little money and get back on their feet. At the least, people might say, ‘We didn’t know he still had it.’ ”

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

Daily Dose: 6/5/17 Bill Cosby trial begins outside of Philadelphia

I didn’t get to see it this weekend, but I can’t wait until I do. Reviews like this will definitely get me to the theater.

Bill Cosby’s trial has already gotten off to an awkward start. He arrived at the courtroom in Norristown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia on Monday with Keshia Knight Pulliam on his arm. You might remember her as the little girl who played Rudy on The Cosby Show, which is just uncomfortable on multiple levels. He doesn’t expect to testify at the trial, but the woman who accused him of sexual assault will, getting the ball rolling on so many others becoming willing to come out about encounters they had with the comedian. Here’s what to watch while this all unfolds.

Speaking of questionable characters named Bill, Mr. Maher is canceled. Not literally, but as far as I’m concerned he can go away and never come back. This dude, who hosts an HBO show, said during an interview in front of an audience that he was a “house n—–” without one bit of hesitation. Various people came to cape for him, which I’m never going to understand. The list includes Killer Mike, Donna Brazile, Michael Eric Dyson and his wife. Maher apologized, but the damage is done. It’s not like he’s got some great history when it comes to bigotry.

If you’re on Instagram, what you like is public. Meaning, if someone wants to know what it is you’re double-tapping on, all they have to do is go to the activity page and scroll to see that your co-worker is really into lemon trees, or your old high school baseball teammate is now seriously stalking models in Monaco. But what would you do if you saw your significant other like someone else’s butt selfie? Hurt, offended, angry, no big deal? Here’s one woman’s investigation into why her boyfriend hearts a model’s backside.

You might recall that Kobe Bryant once scored 81 points in a game. You might also remember that that game was against the Toronto Raptors. If you didn’t know, Jalen Rose was on that team and now is obviously an ESPN personality. I like Jalen a lot and always have since I was a middle schooler trying to emulate him and the Fab Five on the court. But when it comes to asking him about that fateful day, things can get awkward. Someone decided to lean all the way in on that and make a commercial out of it. It’s hilarious.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Graduation season is really fun. Particularly when school administrators aren’t being jerks and actually understand the ceremony is about the kids and not about keeping decorum or whatever nonsense they come up with to hate on fun. This is what graduation should look like.

Snack Time: Pusha T is an anti-gun-violence advocate, and he’s been in these streets delivering his message for quite some time. Recently, he penned a letter to a 6-year-old on the topic, and it’s perfectly adorable.

Dessert: Rest in peace, Cheick Tioté. He will not be forgotten. Tioté, 30, died after collapsing during training in China.

NBA glamour is all about courtside From Rihanna to Jay Z; Beyoncé to Drake, sitting on the wood is its own red carpet

Rihanna just walked in front of me,” Jeff Van Gundy yelled during the first quarter of Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. He completely skipped over the vicious dunk LeBron James had just unleashed on JaVale McGee. “Are you kidding me?!”

Fellow commentators Mike Breen and Mark Jackson chided their longtime colleague, but Van Gundy’s brief moment of distraction was warranted — she’s one of the biggest pop stars and beautiful people in the world. But it wasn’t just Rihanna sitting courtside in the Oracle Arena in East Oakland, California. Maybe it’s the trilogy effect, but this may just be the most star-laden NBA Finals ever. Aside from Rihanna, Jay Z, Kevin Hart, Marshawn Lynch, Power’s Omari Hardwick and Bay Area legends Too $hort, Raphael Saadiq and E-40 were all in attendance — either courtside or a few rows back.

Yet, it was Rihanna, from her plush digs — on the announcers’ side just a few seats away from Jay Z — who made worldwide headlines by matching wits with Kevin Durant. The Grammy winner and 2014 NBA MVP locked eyes on more than one occasion as Rihanna used her multimillion-dollar voice to chastise Durant. Rihanna came up short, though. KD dropped 38 points in a Game 1 blowout victory.


Celebrities and sporting events, to quote the great Tracy “Hustle Man” Morgan, “go back like spinal cords and car seats.”

As Muhammad Ali’s fights were makeshift Met Galas for actors, actresses, musicians and hustlers, at 2015’s Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao bout, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Don Cheadle, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington, Antoine Fuqua and more piled in to Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. But what makes the professional basketball courtside experience different is that the attendee is sitting right on top of the game. Courtside is more intimate than ringside: One’s feet are literally on the field of play. Jay Z refers to himself in 2009’s “Empire State of Mind”: Sitting courtside / Knicks and Nets give me high fives / N—-, I be Spiked out, I can trip a referee.

This is far from Shawn Carter’s first courtside homage. On Cam’ron’s 2002 anthem, “Welcome To New York City,” Jay boasts: I ain’t hard to find/ You can catch me front and center / At the Knick game, big chain in all my splendor/ Next to Spike if you pan left to right/ I own Madison Square / Catch me at the fight. It makes sense that both these lyrical moments nod at the world’s most famous Knicks fan — and courtside royalty — director Spike Lee. It’s Lee — Rihanna’s courtside prophyte in a sense — who stars in basketball’s most well-known courtside beef. He and Reggie Miller’s infamous back-and-forth during the 1994 Game 5 of the Knicks vs. Pacers Eastern Conference finals was defined by Miller’s 25-point fourth quarter and capped off with Miller’s choking gesture to Lee. The tense moment is immortal, iconic NBA playoff lore.

For the Los Angeles Lakers, courtside culture can be dated to the legendary actress Doris Day, better known as “the Neil Armstrong of Lakers’ celebrities.” Day, the biggest female box office star of the late ’50s and early ’60s, opened the courtside door at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Fellow A-listers such as Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon, and Walter Matthau followed her in to watch future Hall of Famers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor lead the Lakers to multiple Finals appearances. The move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles made the Lakers the NBA’s first West Coast squad in 1960 — a move directly influenced by Lakers owner Bob Short noticing the financial gold mine the Dodgers found in L.A. following their move from Brooklyn, New York, two years earlier.

The appearance of celebrities courtside exploded in the era of the Magic Johnson-led “Showtime” Lakers. Johnson embodied 1980s Hollywood — the flashy play, the good looks and, of course, that 2,000-watt smile. Comedian Arsenio Hall was a regular at the Forum, as was singer Dionne Warwick, Michael J. Fox, Ted Danson, Jimmy Goldstein and, most famous of them all, Jack Nicholson. These were kings and queens of that era’s show business realm.

“If you’re an A-level person, and we know the fans are going to go bananas when your picture goes up on the scoreboard, then there’s a value having you there,” Barry Watkins has said. He’s the Madison Square Garden Co.’s executive vice president and chief communications officer. He’s the plug when it comes to courtside seats at the Garden. “It’s a big part of the brand. Win or lose, it’s one of the reasons people come to the games.” Entertainers want to be entertained, too. Plus, basketball and Hollywood were meant to be significant others off the rip: talent, egos, competition, drama, controversy, animosities and, all playing out under the bright, bright lights.

According to Shawn “Pecas” Costner, vice president of player relations at Roc Nation Sports, the continued charm of courtside seats has largely to do with the popularity and influence of hip-hop culture. “The flyest thing you can do at a basketball game — besides play in the game — is sit courtside,” he said from his New York City office.

And this is not solely due to the glamour and bravado associated with rap. Pecas believes that these days, the courtside thing is just as much about the hard-knock journeys associated with the music’s biggest stars. Pecas came to Roc Nation Sports in 2014, following 18 years in the music business, most notably as executive vice president at Def Jam Recordings. The Bronx, New York. native, who grew up with Big Pun, Lord Tariq and Jennifer Lopez, earned his stripes in several capacities at V2, Elektra and Arista Records before joining Def Jam in 2005. “When we were kids,” he said, “and used to go see the Knicks play the Bulls on Christmas Day, we were in the 300 section. You had to bring your binoculars to watch. You always wanted to see who was the one or two black guys sitting courtside because at that time, it was only one or two.”

While not quite a regular courtside fixture, Pecas has his share of memories. He and his longtime colleague Mike Kyser, president of black music at Atlantic Records, sat courtside for rookie game and dunk and 3-point contests at the 2012 All-Star Weekend in Orlando, Florida. Pecas would normally give his tickets away to artists in town for the big game on Sunday, but as destiny would have it, not as many came that year, and Pecas and Kyser received floor seat assignments for the actual All-Star contest. “You’re like, ‘Oh s—!’” he said, his voice getting higher as he takes a trip down memory lane. “ ‘Am I courtside for the NBA All-Star Game?’ You gotta make sure the outfit is right just in case. Make sure you wear the right sneakers.”

The game itself was one of the more entertaining All-Star Games in recent memory, the highlight being a LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant scoring barrage. Pecas and friends documented the memories on social media with the hashtags such as #OnTheWood, and #Woody Harrelson. In Pecas’ office hangs framed photo of himself in the New York Daily News. He looks on as Kevin Durant — now a Roc Nation client — flushes home a dunk with James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love looking on.

As for this year’s NBA Finals, Pecas said he can’t even begin to predict the number of celebrities who’ll be sitting courtside for however long the Warriors and Cavaliers do business. The possibilities are limitless because the NBA is more committed to its fans both domestically and abroad than any other American sports entity. While cries of superteams killing the product cause constant debates at social media and on sports talk shows, the NBA celebrated its third consecutive record-breaking year of fan attendance. And the NBA certainly loves the social status of having some of the world’s biggest celebrities taking in the game mere feet away from some of the world’s most popular athletes. The photos below showcase some of those personalities, from yesteryear to the present.

Pecas said it’s difficult to describe the feeling of sitting courtside, but he gives it a try: “Sitting courtside is like flying private for the first time,” he said. “You never wanna go back.”

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Jay Z and Kevin Hart share a laugh at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Time heals all wounds, so one can only hope they’re sharing a laugh about the time the comedian once spilled an entire bottle of pineapple juice on Jay Z and his wife, Beyoncé, in a nightclub.

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That’s Rihanna at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals probably yelling at Kevin Durant. Given her history with the Warriors these past few seasons, it’ll be interesting to see the reaction she gets the next time she has a concert in Oakland, California, or San Francisco. (Spoiler: She’ll still sell out the arena and be welcomed like a queen because her fan base really doesn’t care about her sports preferences.)

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Never, ever doubt Spike Lee’s loyalty to his New York Knicks. Here’s the famed director in January 2013 at London’s O2 Arena for a regular season game between the Knicks and Detroit Pistons. This won’t happen — but if the Knicks win an NBA title within the next 15-20 years, Lee needs to be the first person to hoist the trophy. That’s the least we can do after the powers that be robbed him (and Denzel Washington) of an Oscar for Malcolm X.

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While I did get to attend Dave Chappelle’s famous Juke Joint party this year in New Orleans, I’m greedy. This is the same reaction I have every time I think of the Chris Rock/Chappelle superset they did in The Big Easy in late March. In reality, it’s Rock gesturing at Will Smith at Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.

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On the bright side, Mary J. Blige got a chance to see Kobe Bryant drop 50 points on Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the 2006 opening round quarterfinals. On a not-so-bright side, it’s almost as if you can see the inevitable written on her face — the Los Angeles Lakers blowing a 3-1 series lead and Bryant having the most controversial game of his career in Game 7.

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Sean “Diddy” Combs and Snoop Dogg: Pictured at Game 6 of the 2010 Finals between the Celtics and Lakers, neither knew the series would shift that night when center Kendrick Perkins went down with a knee injury. There’s also no confirmation if the two spoke of their appearance on The Steve Harvey Show as they attempted to quell the simmering East Coast-West Coast tensions 13 years earlier.

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At this point, the New York Knicks need whatever residual prayers are left over from Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act series.

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LeBron James and Drake: There’s no rapper currently who enjoys the perks of sitting courtside more than Drake. Perhaps paying respects in The 6, that’s LeBron James taking a drink from Kevin Hart and giving it to the Toronto Raptors ambassador during the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto.

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Everyone wanted hottest ticket in America in the fall of 2010 to see the Miami Heat’s new “big three” of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Including the greatest of all time herself, Serena Jameka Williams.

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Jack Nicholson and Michael Jordan: The Joker and The Cold Blooded Killer post up at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles on Feb. 28, 1999, for a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. The night featured six Hall of Famers (Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Dennis Rodman and MJ, himself, courtside). Seven including future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant.

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Stuart Scott, Samuel L. Jackson and Allen Iverson — In one of the cooler sports pictures out there, we’ve got three legends. One in Samuel L. Jackson who, if he doesn’t by now, should have a trademark on the word “m—–f—–.” Two, we have Allen Ezail Iverson, 2016 Hall of Fame inductee and NBA living legend. And three, Stuart Scott doing what he always did best. R.I.Booyah, Stu. We still miss you.

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Murder Inc.’s two genius creative seen here in 2002 at a Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors game. That year — ironically the one before 50 Cent became global sensation — was a good one for the label. Ja Rule and Ashanti’s “Always On Time” and “Down 4 U” both made Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 Singles.

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Here we have Diana Ross at a Knicks and Charlotte Hornets playoff game with her sons. Fun fact: Ross’ No. 1 smash single “Touch Me In The Morning” was released on the same day the New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the 1973 NBA Finals — a series that would give the storied franchise its last NBA title.

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Barry Obama’s love of hoops is one of the most relatable and endearing parts of his legacy. He even had a court put in at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Here’s the 44th president sitting courtside at an October 2015 game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Obama’s hometown Chicago Bulls.

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John Legend, Benny The Bull, and Chrissy Teigen — Life was all good for the Bulls in 2011. Derrick Rose was a superstar en route to an MVP season. They were the top seed in the East. And Benny The Bull had model Chrissy Teigen sit on his lap while future husband John Legend snaps a picture.

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YG and Nipsey Hussle: When they’re not making anti-President Donald Trump anthems, two of L.A.’s finest young guns can be found supporting the hometown squad. This was also the game that birthed one of the funnier basketball memes of the season, too.

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Supporting her husband, Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union takes in the festivities of Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. The Miami Heat would, of course, go on to win that game and repeat as NBA champions. But not without its share of drama.

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Jay Z and Beyoncé Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers fell down 0-2 to the Warriors last year and won four of the last five. But that was last year before a 7-foot pterodactyl with range out of the gym joined the squad. If you’re Cleveland, it’s time to call in the secret weapon: Beyoncé. She look like she’s ready to give birth at any moment to the twins (if we’re lucky, they’re named Bad and Boujee Carter). But LeBron James always plays superhuman — and he’s going to have to play super, super, superhuman to beat the Seal Team 6 Warriors. That only happens if The Queen is courtside.

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Will Smith and Jada Pinkett — One of America’s longtime premier black power couples is no stranger to the courtside life. Here, the two TV stars turned movie stars share a smooch. The No. 1 all-time Will and Jada courtside story? Three days following the release of what became The Fresh Prince’s most commercially successful album in Big Willie Style and a month before their wedding, the couple attended the Sixers/Lakers game on Nov. 28, 1997. The matchup featured a pair of Hall of Famers dueling it out in Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant, who came off the bench. But more importantly, the couple got up close and personal with Jerry Stackhouse and Eddie Jones, who crashed into them.

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Wanda Durant and Marshawn Lynch — In the past year, Oakland, California, has welcomed Kevin Durant — and by proxy his mother, Wanda Durant — and its favorite football son, Marshawn Lynch, back to The Town’s fold. Both pictured here at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. While it wouldn’t be surprising if the Golden State Warriors held on to win two more games, the more fascinating plot twist is if they let Lynch party with them during a potential championship parade. Mic Lynch and Draymond Green up and show it on pay-per-view.

3 Reasons The Toronto Raptors Can Upset The Cleveland Cavaliers

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LeBron James and Rihanna: a timeline of the bad gal’s super fandom From Instagram or Twitter, from the beach or from courtside — RiRi is a super fan of The King

It must be nice being LeBron James. He has a beautiful family: three children and his stunning wife, Savannah. He’s one of the most beloved athletes in the world. He gives back. He’s the NBA’s foremost hip-hop tastemaker. He’s an adopted nephew of Barack and Michelle Obama. And he’s the best player in the world — with a growing resume worthy of the best player of all time.

He’s a member of the “one name fame” club — like Rihanna, who is, of course internationally known, revered and loved in her own right and has been so for over a decade. The “Work” singer is a woman of many talents and titles: the creator of 2016’s best album, Billboard royalty, Drake’s lifelong crush, Harvard Humanitarian, creative director and endorsement queenpin and self-professed “maneater.

In Rihanna and LeBron’s case, they’re superclose in terms of finances, influence and dominance. One can choose to believe gossipy headlines, or believe that the common thread between them is Jay Z, a friend of both since they were teenage phenoms as well as the guy who doesn’t seem to mind playing third wheel in hilarious Beyoncé/LeBron memes. But what’s undeniable is Rihanna’s love of sports and the athletes in them (and their love of her). She’s been described as everything from the ultimate sports fan to a bandwagoner. Whatever the case, her favorite sport appears to be basketball. And her favorite hooper is none other than LeBron Raymone James.

Yesterday, Rihanna reminded her 71 million Twitter followers who she’s riding with throughout NBA postseason: “King James.” How long has this mutual admiration society been a thing? Below is a timeline of the friendship between the two megastars. And yes, it includes provocative Instagram photos of suntan lotion designs, and even Rihanna making the owner of the Golden State Warriors move seats in his own arena because she wouldn’t stop cheering for The King.


June 16, 2009 — Business as usual

If it sounds odd that James would have free time in June, that’s because he wasn’t playing in the Finals in 2009 — one of only three years in the past decade in which his squad failed to advance to the league’s brightest stage. Nevertheless, ’Bron (a day after visiting then-President Obama at the White House, and rocking his Nike Zoom LeBron VI Low kicks) and RiRi grabbed lunch at Manhattan’s high-end Philippe Chow before heading to the grand opening of Carol’s Daughter Back Room Hand and Foot Spa.

Feb. 19, 2011 — Birthday festivities in Hollywood

Hating LeBron James was very, very, very popular in 2011 — it was his first season in Miami. But he wasn’t totally despised: He partied with Jay Z in Los Angeles during All-Star Weekend. Jay and LeBron’s charitable dinner, aptly titled Two Kings, was held in 2011 at Century City’s Craft, and earlier that day they unveiled a new Boys & Girls Club facility. The dinner though, essentially served as a 23rd birthday party for Rihanna. As for the guest list? Beyoncé, Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union, Drake, future Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, Floyd Mayweather, Gayle King, Cam Newton, Chris Rock, Janelle Monae, Jimmy Iovine and more. Not bad.

June 22, 2012 — Congratulations are in order

Once upon a time there was (daily) discussion about whether LeBron would ever win a ring. Five years ago, he removed the monkey from his back with the Heat’s 4-1 Finals victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder — led, at the time, by a “Big Three” you might remember of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Many people congratulated King James on the historic accomplishment. One of the loudest was Bad Gal RiRi.

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June 24, 2012 — Rihanna brings the love to the ’Gram

A day before the Heat took to the streets of Miami for their parade, Rihanna once again paid homage to LBJ. LeBron and the Larry O’Brien Trophy. ’Bout damn time, indeed.

April 21, 2013 — Rihanna brings the jersey to the game

The pop star is no stranger to courtside seats. But for Game 1 of the Heat’s opening round series versus the Milwaukee Bucks, the “We Found Love” singer — who, as seen above, created the theme song of the 2013 postseason — brought her own LeBron jersey to the American Airlines Arena for good luck. It worked, too. The Heat won by 23, with James putting up a near triple-double. The Heat, who went on to repeat as NBA champions, would’ve won with or without Rihanna sitting close enough to trip a referee. They were infinitely superior to the Brandon Jennings- and Monta Ellis-led Bucks. But that’s beside the point.

Jan. 30, 2014 — LeBron lets the thirst fly

In the event you may or may not remember Shakira and Rihanna’s collaboration “Can’t Remember To Forget You,” chances are you probably heard it a million times at H&M, Sephora and several other stores of its kind in 2014. To date, the video has more than 785 million YouTube views. How many of those came from an IP address in South Florida in LeBron’s Miami home is impossible to tell. Regardless, he saw the video and, like most other people, was left biting his fist like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. Rihanna was flattered by it, too.

May 8, 2014 — Rihanna in awe

It’s one thing to watch LeBron James on television. It’s another to watch LeBron in person. And it’s something totally different to watch one of the greatest athletes ever nearly run through five rows of people, with ease, from up close. And he did it without impaling anyone’s face with his size 15s. That’s exactly what Rihanna witnessed (no pun intended) during Game 2 of the Heat’s second-round matchup versus the Brooklyn Nets. She was impressed.

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July 14, 2014 — Enter J.R. Smith

Back in 2013, Rihanna and then-New York Knick J.R. Smith weren’t on the most cordial of terms. They were rumored to be dating in 2012, and Rihanna shot back at fans who’d blamed her for Smith’s struggles in the postseason. The multiple Grammy winner said she didn’t want much of anything to do with Smith, whom she called a “desert thirsty n—-” in part because “his a– be hungover from clubbing every night during [the] playoffs.” Smith downplayed the situation, saying he was focused on the playoffs and not Instagram. But come summer 2014, shortly after LeBron decided to take his talents back to Cleveland, Smith posted this photo on IG taking a shot not only at Rihanna but also the thousands of migrating Miami fans who relocated back to Cleveland. As destiny would have it, Smith, along with Knicks teammate and J.R. loyalist Iman Shumpert, was traded to Cleveland at the request of James. The rest, as they say, is history.

July 2009 — World Cup super fans

Two of the biggest non-soccer storylines of the 2014 World Cup? Yep, Rihanna’s allegiance to Germany and The King’s videographer skills.

March 26, 2015 — Rihanna drops “B—- Better Have My Money”

Though it never made it onto her 2016 magnum opus ANTI, Rih dropped one of the biggest singles of the year with this aggressive anthem. In it she proudly boasted about Ballin’ bigger than LeBron.

June 4, 2015 — Ready for Cavs/Warriors I

Around this time, rumors popped off (they were never substantiated) about Rihanna flying on LeBron’s private jet to Oakland, California, for Game 1 of the 2015 Finals. The whispers stemmed from a lone Instagram video of RiRi beside an airplane proudly exclaiming, “LeBron, here we come baby!” Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob was originally sitting beside the pop superstar but eventually moved because Rih was “[rooting] for LeBron the whole game.” As for why she yelled LeBron’s name near the locker room after the Game 1 loss — who knows? Certainly it had something to do with him pulling up for a fadeaway jumper instead of driving to the basket in the waning seconds of regulation.

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May 20, 2016 — The most interesting use of suntan lotion in NBA history

For most fans of LeBron and the Cavs, life was great after Cleveland’s Game 2 victory over the Toronto Raptors in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. Some celebrated with tweets. Some celebrated with drinks at the bar. Rihanna posted the above photo to Instagram — with suntan lotion in the form of LeBron’s number on her stomach, and she tagged him in the photo. Soon, conspiracy theories ran amok. A secret scheme to distract The King for Drake, who sat courtside in support of his hometown Raptors? Or was it something more sinister? Whatever the case, having to explain that to the Mrs. — whom the internet wanted to retaliate, a la Gina with Ms. Trinidad on Martin — couldn’t have been enjoyable, especially in the middle of a playoff run. For what it’s worth: Cleveland lost the next two games before closing the Raptors out in six.

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June 17-20, 2016 — Rihanna’s redemption

The 2016 Finals are the crowning moment in LeBron’s career (thus far) and the best moment for Cleveland pop culturewise since Bone Thugs-N-Harmony dropped 1995’s classic E. 1999 Eternal. Rihanna partied like she’d been the one to block Andre Iguodala and drain the game-winning 3 in Stephen Curry’s grill. She stunted. She trash-talked in support of her “bae.” And she flexed on the ’Gram in a series of photos.

April 23 — Bring out the brooms

Rihanna was like the rest of us on April 23. Posted at the crib, or at a bar watching playoff basketball — or, in her case, probably on a remote island with projector-size high-definition screens by the pool as pals fed her grapes and rolled her weed. She watched the Cavs nearly cough up another double-digit fourth-quarter lead to the Indiana Pacers. Despite J.R. Smith nearly going Peak J.R. at the worst possible time, attempting a behind-the-back pass when running the clock out would have sufficed, Paul George bricked what would have been a game-tying 3 that would have forced overtime. The Cavs advanced nevertheless, giving LeBron his 11th consecutive first-round series victory, his 10th career sweep (most all time) and his 21st consecutive first-round victory. There were a lot of happy LeBron campers worldwide, but only a select few with the power to command nearly 10,000 retweets without breaking a sweat.

Should the Cavs advance to the Finals for a third consecutive season, and what would be LeBron’s seventh consecutive, don’t expect for this to be the last time we hear of Rihanna waving her No. 23 pompoms.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey and late, great Japanese basketball coach Mototaka Kohama were two of a kind Kohama and Casey had a long and fruitful friendship

It was perhaps an unlikely friendship.

Dwane Casey was the sixth black player to be a member of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team. He grew up during the segregation era in the American South, witnessed Ku Klux Klan rallies in his hometown of Morganfield, Kentucky, and spent countless hours working in coal mines and tobacco fields during the summertime. Mototaka Kohama was a basketball coach from Akita, Japan. He grew up during World War II — and was told to stop pursuing basketball because it was an American sport.

The two crossed paths in 1979, when Kohama spent a year in Lexington in order to study the champion Wildcats’ basketball program. Casey was then a graduate assistant with the team and often spoke with Kohama about basketball concepts after practices.

When asked about what drew Casey to Kohama, one particular word came to mind.

“Empathy,” Casey said. “[He was] different than I am, and was an outsider. I was attracted to him from that standpoint. He just had a great personality. It was a friendship that ignited and was easy. The more he learned English, which he did, and the more I learned Japanese, which I didn’t, it became easier to communicate.”

Despite the language barrier, Casey and Kohama started hanging out off the court and found other ways to connect. One was their shared interest in Nat King Cole.

“We used to go dancing,” Casey said. “I was young and single. I’d take him out. He loved music. We’d go to the disco. He was such an easy guy to be around and hang out with.”

Casey invited Kohama for dinner with his grandparents, where they had fried chicken and mashed potatoes. “He was very comfortable in my little country town,” Casey said. “I’m sure he didn’t know what he ate, though.”

“The more he learned English, which he did, and the more I learned Japanese, which I didn’t, it became easier to communicate.”

Jerry McKamey, a childhood friend of Casey’s, wasn’t surprised to hear about his friend’s generosity of spirit.

“Even as a child, his manners were impeccable,” McKamey said. “He’s a very genuine and kind-hearted person. That’s who he has always been.”

Casey, having introduced Kohama to his home cooking, decided to make his friend feel at home as well, surprising Kohama by driving him 60 miles from Lexington to Louisville, Kentucky, to eat at a Benihana of Tokyo. When they arrived, Kohama broke the news to Casey: This was not authentic Japanese food.

“My heart just dropped,” Casey said. “It broke my heart.”

Their year together though, forged a friendship that lasted almost 40 years.


Casey built his coaching resume in the NCAA as an assistant coach at Western Kentucky. And then, while at Kentucky in the 1980s, he began visiting Japan regularly to assist with basketball programs and clinics overseas. In 1988, while working as an assistant coach at Kentucky, Casey mailed an envelope during the legal recruitment of Chris Mills, then a student-athlete at Los Angeles’ Fairfax High School.

An employee at Emery Worldwide claimed to have seen $1,000 in cash addressed to Mills’ father. The scandal resulted in Kentucky being placed on probation for three years for NCAA recruiting and academic violations and a five-year coaching ban for Casey. Casey sued Emery for $7 million and settled out of court for a seven-figure sum. The ban was rescinded, but Casey couldn’t land a coaching job after the scandal.

In 1989, Kohama called and asked Casey to come coach in Japan. “It was a lifeline,” Casey said.

While in Japan, Casey worked for the national team and was the head coach of two Japan Basketball League (JBL) teams: the Sekisui Chemical and Isuzu Motors Lynx. He discovered an appreciation for teaching the fundamentals of basketball to players who had different skill levels and size compared with players in the NCAA. Casey also reconnected with Kohama, who returned his friend’s Kentucky hospitality by introducing him to shabu shabu and by hanging out late at night at karaoke bars. Casey also came to appreciate why Kohama was known as the godfather of basketball in his country.

“He always had a vision,” Casey said, “of what he wanted basketball to be in Japan.”

Ed Odeven, a basketball writer for The Japan Times since 2006, remembers Kohama as someone who wanted to push the standard of basketball in Japan in the professional leagues and at the national team level. Kohama pushed for Japan to improve its youth development at the local level, with the purpose of giving Japanese players more of a chance to compete in the NCAA and NBA.

Kohama won seven titles in the JBL as the head coach of Isuzu. Odeven compares his resume to those of Casey Stengel and John Madden, coaches who were remembered for their sustained level of excellence.

“He was a great winner,” Odeven said. “He was demanding, but he knew how to win.”

“He just wanted basketball to be good in Japan. When you talked to him, you saw that shine through.”

Kohama was ultracompetitive as a head coach, recruiting the best available players from America and spending more than other teams in his pursuit of championships. If those tactics sometimes rubbed opposing coaches the wrong way, their impression of Kohama often changed when they met him in person, as it did for Bob Pierce, who coached 13 years in Japan.

“He just loved basketball and wanted everyone to succeed,” Pierce said. “I realized he wasn’t this evil genius who wanted to win all the time. He just wanted basketball to be good in Japan. When you talked to him, you saw that shine through.”

Casey played an integral role in turning Kohama’s vision into reality. It was Casey who placed a call to former New York Knicks first-round pick Kenny Walker in 1996 to persuade him to extend his basketball career in Japan with Isuzu. The team won the JBL championship and fondly recalls being coached by Kohama.

“He had a presence about him,” Walker said. “He was so revered. Whenever he walked in, it was like the president was walking in.”

Casey was also the assistant coach to Kohama for Japan’s men’s basketball team at the 1998 FIBA Basketball World Championships in Athens, Greece — the country’s first appearance in 31 years. Japan lost all three games in group play by 91 points, but Dan Weiss, a member of the team, remembers the impact Casey made.

“I saw a different approach,” Weiss said. “Japanese coaches get stuck in traditional basketball drills with passing and shooting that never relate to what you’re doing on the court. Dwane worked on a lot of rebounding drills, stepping in, screening out, things that we never did before he got there. He didn’t come in and try and change players as much as he made them more aware of what they could do.”

Casey has also helped groom local coaches in Japan. Toshi Sato, who coached the Hakuoh University women’s basketball team to the All Japan Intercollegiate Basketball Championship title last year and is currently head coach of the under-24 Japanese national team, credits Casey, with whom he worked in the JBL, for helping him with game preparation and improving his knowledge of defensive schemes.

“He’s my mentor,” Sato said. Sato has visited Casey at his various NBA stops, and the two remain close friends today.


In 1994, Casey returned to the United States, working as an assistant coach under George Karl with the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics. In 2005, he got his first head coaching job with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he went 53-69 over two seasons. In 2011, Casey won an NBA championship as an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks, and he was hired as a head coach by the Toronto Raptors that summer. After two losing seasons, Casey led Toronto to four consecutive playoff appearances, including the franchise’s first Eastern Conference finals appearance last season, which earned him a three-year extension with the team.

And through all of this, Casey and Kohama have regularly communicated via email. Casey kept up his visits to Japan, including a honeymoon trip in 2006 with his wife, Brenda, where they met Kohama for dinner at a shabu shabu restaurant. Last summer, before flying to Rio de Janeiro to watch Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan compete for Team USA at the Summer Games, Casey booked a two-day trip to Japan and flew alone to see Kohama, who was battling cancer, for the first time in nine years.

“I knew from what everyone was telling me the end was coming,” Casey said. “It was a very difficult trip to go see him because I knew it was probably the last time I’d get to see him. He was very frail and had lost a lot of his strength.”

Still, Casey and Kohama, along with Sato, Odeven and Japanese basketball agent Toshinori Koga gathered for dinner on the first evening to reminisce. What Odeven saw was a special friendship that went beyond just a shared passion for basketball.

“Their friendship extended decades, across different countries, different continents and different stages of their lives,” Odeven said. “They took their careers seriously, but they had a shared sense of humor. They both realized that this is sports. This is supposed to be fun. It was a genuine friendship. I don’t think there was any bulls— involved. They just genuinely liked each other.”

On his second day in Japan, Casey and Kohama participated in a basketball clinic at Hakuoh University, where approximately 100 coaches from around the country attended to learn practice drills and receive a speech from Kohama. Before leaving, Casey had one last message for his dear friend.

“I said thank you,” Casey said. “Thank you for bringing me over here when I went through some things.”

Kohama died in January at the age of 84, but his passing does not mean the end of Casey’s relationship with basketball in Japan. He still plans on visiting regularly and would like to take his two kids, Justine and Zachary, to see Japan one day.

“It’s like going home for him,” McKamey said. “He is respectful and grateful for the hand they extended to him. … There’s a debt of gratitude.”

For Casey, his lifelong friendship with Kohama and the years he spent in Japan mean the world, literally.

“It was the hospitality, and just how people invited you in with warmth,” Casey said. “There’s always been a connection. I just felt at peace and at home among my friends in Japan.”