Russell Westbrook leads NBPA Players Voice Awards Oklahoma City guard captures three awards, including best dressed

Russell Westbrook got a dap of appreciation from his NBA peers on Friday.

The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard and reigning NBA MVP earned three trophies in the annual National Basketball Players Association Players Voice Awards on Friday: “Most Valuable Player,” “Hardest to Guard” and, no surprise here, “Best Dressed.”

It has been a banner year for Brodie, the fearless fashion maverick who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated‘s “Fashionable 50” in June. Westbrook has become as famous for his daring off-the-court style choices as his jaw-dropping on-court athleticism. Unlike many of the NBA’s taller players, the former UCLA Bruin has used his relatively small frame (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) to wear off-the-rack clothing that is at times adventurous, trendsetting or just plain weird.

Over the years, Westbrook’s high-concept style has even coined a phrase: “Westbrookian.” Ever see an NBA star wearing skinny jeans with an oversized ripped-to-shreds T-shirt before a game? Or colorful sunglasses to a news conference, or bleached denim or capri-length pants with slide sandals? That’s all No. 0. And while other athletes have dared to wear harem pants or a full-length fur coat, only Westbrook can really make it look effortless.

Billed as “the only awards voted on BY the players, FOR the players,” the annual Players Voice Awards are voted on at the end of the regular season.

The winners were announced Friday morning on the NBPA’s Twitter feed in a series of short videos. Hosted by former Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh, the lively clips were tweeted out every five minutes for nearly an hour, with the award categories getting breezy explanatory assists from an All-Star roster of the league’s biggest players.

“The Player You Secretly Wish Was on Your Team” was awarded to LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers captain who also nabbed “Global Impact Player.”

Other awards went to:

  • “Best Rookie” – Malcolm Brogdon, the former Virginia shooting guard who had a standout year with the Milwaukee Bucks.
  • “Best Defender” – Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs forward and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
  • “Most Influential Veteran” – Vince Carter, the 40-year-old shooting guard currently signed with the Sacramento Kings, giving credence to his long-standing “half-man, half amazing” legend within pop culture.
  • “Comeback Player of the Year” and “Best Social Media Follow” – Joel Embiid, the Rihanna-loving, Lavar Ball-hating All-Star and Philadelphia 76ers center.
  • “Clutch Performer” – Isaiah Thomas, who led the Boston Celtics in the postseason despite personal tragedy.
  • “Best Home Court Advantage” – Golden State Warriors and the spirited fans who attend Dubs home games in Oracle Arena.
  • “Best off the Bench” – Lou Williams, the shooting guard who was traded last year from the Houston Rockets to the L.A. Clippers as part of the Chris Paul deal.
  • “Coach You Most Like to Play For” – San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has won this award three years in a row.

The decision to announce award winners via Twitter came from “not wanting to interrupt the NBA’s Awards,” which was televised in June, said Jordan Schlachter, president of National Basketball Players Inc. “We also didn’t want to get caught up in the busy news of free agency, so we pushed it to August.”

Schlachter noted that this year’s winners will receive trophies early in the 2017-18 NBA season during halftime ceremonies at home games around the league.

Daily Dose: 8/18/17 Tina Fey wants to let us all eat cake

The week is over for me at The Dan Le Batard Show. I’d like to thank everyone who tuned in and contributed, and if you didn’t catch it Friday, here’s the podcast.

Another one bites the dust. Steve Bannon, the man whom many people consider to be at the root of President Donald Trump’s plans for global destruction and domination, is out at the White House, which is not exactly stunning, but most certainly significant. Let’s not forget that he’s one of the founding members of Breitbart, which as far as the right wing is concerned, is a major media outlet. There are rumors that he’ll return to the company, which means he’ll have the platform to basically smear his former boss. Once again, what a mess.

Tina Fey means well. She also happened to go to the University of Virginia, so the situation that unfolded in Charlottesville last weekend is close to her, clearly. But when she went on Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update: Summer Edition for a bit about how to cope with the news of the week, her message came from a place of extreme privilege and tone deafness. Most of us cannot legitimately even think about ignoring neo-Nazis and eating sheetcake. This is a truly serious situation. Her message was not exactly well-received. Here’s a thread.

Now that we’re tearing down Confederate statues left and right, we’ve got some plans to make. What are we going to do with all of them? And should we be putting other things in their place? If you listened to Angela Rye last night on Desus & Mero, quoting a friend from NPR, we should put them all in a museum that speaks to their specific crimes and horrific acts so people can learn in real time how awful they were. There’s also a grass-roots movement to design new monuments, and some of them are incredible.

Kevin Durant on Twitter is the best. He was off for a while, but now that’s he’s got his ring and his Finals MVP trophy, my man is outchea breaking people off in a way that you have to love. He’s already spoken his mind regarding whether or not he wants to go to the White House as a team with his NBA champion Golden State Warriors, and he is in full clapback mode at this point. He took a shot at ESPN for that fantasy football auction bit, and now he’s turned his lens to a former ESPN employee. Slim ain’t playing.

Free Food

Coffee Break: If you’re of mixed race, specifically white and black, I could see how the situation in America right now could be more trying than ever. But those mixes come from somewhere. This story about how Trump ruined one son’s relationship with his white mother is truly fascinating.

Snack Time: Speaking of the president, The New Yorker has a new issue coming out soon, and the cover image is a definite doozy. Wow.

Dessert: Allure magazine is officially invited to the cookout.

Famous Nobodys is a fashion company making moves in the South Bronx Their gear has been worn by Allen Iverson, Chris Rock, DJ Khaled, Carmelo Anthony, others

Remember when fans went nuts when Carmelo Anthony rocked the hybrid New York Yankees and Mets hat at the Mets’ Citi Field stadium last year?

It did really well, according to one of the designers of the hat, Gary Gonzalez.

“I think it made it on every channel on ESPN, and they talked bad about it and it made it better. … The hat sells out every time we put it out,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez and Christian Vazquez run a fashion design and retail company, Famous Nobodys. Vazquez is La La Anthony’s brother and Carmelo Anthony’s brother-in-law. Earlier this week, they unveiled their new line or capsule: the “Ca77 God” collaboration. The store started out as an online hat business but expanded into a clothing company.

Gonzalez has been a designer for 12 years. He has worked with big names such as French Montana and The Game. Vazquez is a creative director for Motives Cosmetics and a public speaker, and he manages La La Anthony’s bookings and appearances.

They partnered with Starter, a premium athletic brand. Together they produced three NBA All-Star jackets, which received 109 million impressions (the number of times there is any interaction with the content) on social media and have been worn by Allen Iverson, Chris Rock, DJ Khaled, Carmelo Anthony, Jadakiss, Kenyon Martin, French Montana and others. Last month, they teamed up again to create the NBA Draft Day jackets.

Gear at the Famous Nobodys store in the South Bronx.

Gonzalez and Vazquez then teamed up with The Compound, a lifestyle branding and marketing company. Together, they produced a line that features the phrase “Ca77 God.” In some religions, the number “7” is a symbolic number. Both Gonzalez and Vazquez think God should be the first entity that one calls on in life.

“In life, no matter whether it’s good or bad or whatever you have going on, that always should be your moment to call God,” said Vazquez.

The Famous Nobodys refers to the owners’ belief that everyone is famous in their own right. The website lists Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner as examples — they are men who rose from obscurity in the Black Lives Matter movement because of their deaths. The storefront opened on April 20, and the symbol depicted on the storefront is a star with a line through it. This is the Nobody symbol, which represents nontraditional paths to achieve success.

For Vazquez, social media is one of these paths. “In this day and age, social media is so powerful, it’s almost like an anti-revolution where you don’t have to go through traditional chains of entertainment to be a star or be a celebrity to be successful to take on that large following,” he said.

Unlike most fashion companies, Famous Nobodys does not release lines according to the season. Within the intimate rectangle-shaped store, they also maintain a 2,500-pound embroidery machine in the back of the shop so they can embroider and then sell their products.

Instead, Vazquez’s strategy is to put out “pieces that are relevant to the time, what’s going on right now with the culture and what the mood of what the climate of the situation is.”

Customers look around at Famous Nobody’s store in the South Bronx

Gonzalez and Vazquez like to work with people who they consider as being “for the culture,” which they define as “what you add to the scene that is already producing greatness.” For example, Gonzalez partnered with Datwon Thomas, editor in chief of Vibe, in 2013 to produce a hat line: Twnty Two.

In January 2015, they all teamed up and created the Nobodys Famous brand, which is now the sister company to Twnty Two. A majority of the hats from Famous Nobodys, like the “Arabic successful” hat and the “Justice or else” hat, were so popular they sold out in less than 24 hours. All of the hats, shirts, camos, jackets and sweatshirts range from $25 to $200.

Working with minorities is a priority for the owners because that’s who they are. Gonzalez is Dominican and Vazquez is Puerto Rican. This is part of the reason they chose to locate the store in Mott Haven, a section of the South Bronx.

According to the last U.S. Census, the South Bronx is made up of mostly black, Latino and Asian communities. Gonzalez grew up in the Bronx, and Vazquez said the New York City borough took care of him when he was going through a low point. Because of these ties, they wanted to add a fashion-centered vibe to a low-income neighborhood that is seeing a rapid increase in rent.

Sinceré Armani came to the “CA77 God” line launch because she likes to stay current on all of the latest fashion brands and believes this brand speaks to artist/rappers. She has worked as a fashion stylist for Nicki Minaj.

“I think the urban world would love it [because] they have dope tag lines on their T-shirts. Its fly, and I think it’s going to take off,” said Armani.

The Famous Nobodys plan to start making book bags, custom hoodies and button-down shirts around September or early October.

Professional wrestler Booker T’s raw life An orphan, a dropout, a felon – and now a famous, married father running for mayor of Houston

They came out bug-eyed and angry, just like the promoter had instructed. Real-life brothers in a phony sport, mean-mugging in lavender tuxedo jackets, bow ties and shades.

“Ebony Experience!” the announcer boomed.

Just like the pro wrestling gods of their youth — Ron Simmons, Junkyard Dog and all those thickly muscled black men who used to enrage fans at ringside — Booker and Lash Huffman ticked off the crowd that night, too.

The 300 or so fans in the mostly empty Sportatorium, a dilapidated Dallas bandbox built in 1934, bent their torsos over the railing as the fledgling tag team made their way to the ring. They contorted their faces and screamed every racial epithet they could think of for a black man.

“C—!”

“N—–!”

“Go back to Africa, you f—– j——s!”

Booker wanted to jump the barrier and throw haymakers. Lash, six years older, laughed, camouflaging his anger. These bigots “are everyday stuff in America to us,” he told himself, widening the ring ropes for his little brother to slip through.

It was 1992, less than three years after Lash had told Booker he needed to come up with $3,000 to attend a pro wrestling school in Houston. And now, for $100 each, they had a tryout with the Global Wrestling Federation. The script called for them to go out as heels (villains) against two beefcakes called Brute Forcz. They would then emerge as faces (good guys), aiming to win the crowd’s affection by the end of the match. If the Huffmans were entertaining, they’d get more work.

But when the promoter told them, “You have to make the guys you’re working with look good,” Lash shook his head and pulled his brother aside.

“It looks like the fix is in,” he said. “Let’s just go out there and make these guys look better than they’ve ever looked in their life.”

They played the heels to the hilt at first, scowling and grunting as the N-bombs cascaded from the stands. But then Booker began quarterbacking the match. “OK, throw me into the ropes,” he whispered to one of his opponents as the match was going on. “Now duck.”

Incredibly, the crowd began to turn. “Same dude that just called us all that awful s— is now going crazy for us,” Booker said.

When it ended, Booker went to the middle of the ring and began break dancing, ending with his shoulders on the mat and his legs twirling in the air, a move the ringside announcer christened “The Spinaroonie.”

Within a week, Ebony Experience was the Sportatorium’s main attraction. The Huffman brothers — Booker at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Lash standing 6-5 and pushing 290 — a quarter-ton of bicep-flexin’, smack-talkin’ black ’tude, were packing all 4,500 seats.

After that night, the racist bile from one man’s mouth or an entire crowd wouldn’t faze Booker, because he came to understand an unsettling truth: The same people who N-bombed him were paying his rent, and some of them went on to become his most ardent fans. If he had to smell America’s bad breath, so what? It was the price of acceptance and ascendance in the squared-circle world, a world so much grander and greater than he had known before.


Twelve years later: Another arena, this one on Long Island, New York, another white opponent who needed to look good. Paul Michael Levesque, a stringy-haired behemoth known as Triple H, eyeballed Booker up and down within inches of his face, as if he had bought his opponent at auction.

By this time, Huffman, wrestling under the name Booker T, was no newbie. Propelled by a charismatic personality, the Spinaroonie and a trademark catchphrase purloined from the 1979 film The Warriors — “Can you dig it, sucka?” — he was one of the most popular figures on the pro circuit. That’s why it was so disturbing when, weeks before Triple H and Booker were to face off for the heavyweight championship at Wrestlemania XIX in Seattle, Levesque went to sinister places to sell the card.

“Somebody like you … doesn’t get to be a world champion,” Levesque told Booker at an event in the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, pausing between sneers for effect. “People like you don’t deserve it.”

People like you?

“You’re here to be an entertainer. … Go ahead, Book, why don’t ya entertain? Do a little dance for me, Book. Why don’t you give me one of them Spinaroonies? Come on, don’t be embarrassed. That’s your job, to make people like me laugh. You’re very good at it — with your nappy hair and your ‘suckas.’ ”

The payoff had to be revenge, right? Black good guy over white meanie? When faces absorb such abuse from heels, the story is supposed to end with the face getting vindication via pin — or something that felt like the karma gods had spoken.

In the match itself, Booker T nailed his routine, breaking out an arsenal of dropkicks and clotheslines. At one point, he flipped 360 degrees off one of the turnbuckles and landed perfectly flat, next to Triple H’s head, which he elbowed. It was a feat as skillful as anything Greg Louganis ever managed off a 3-meter diving platform.

When both men collapsed in exhaustion at the end, the crowd was waving handmade, pro-Booker T placards. But as Triple H feebly laid an arm on Booker T’s chest, the “referee” counted the face out instead of the heel.

Crestfallen adults and children could be seen in the crowd. These people had bought in. They were sure of the outcome, knowing it would be as sweet for Booker T. as for them.

And then … nothing. No silver lining.

Not that night.

“I found out about a week before the match that that’s how it was going to go down,” Huffman, 52, says now. “I had to make the crowd feel a certain way about a guy with a silver spoon in his mouth beating a guy who pretty much worked his way up from the trenches. I didn’t question it, argue it. I knew everyone wanted me to win. But I just went along with what they wanted.

“It was easier that way. If I didn’t go along, where would I really be now? Could I have done the things I’ve done, overcome the things I’ve overcome?”


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

There are no victims here, only volunteers. This is a story about a professional wrestler who used an artificial sport to build a real life.

It’s about a kid who dropped out of high school before becoming a convicted felon, and the big brother who refused to let “Junior” throw his life away. He found a career and his second wife in the ring. And after vanquishing multiple fictional foes, he now wants to take on education and homelessness as the next mayor of Houston.

Booker T’s loss to Triple H that night crushed many fans because, perhaps more than anyone else in the wrestling business, his reality was so integrated with his ring character that it often was hard to distinguish between the man and the actor.

He grew up orphaned and poor. He caught no breaks early, got in his own way later and somehow still found a path to prosperity in a profession that mirrors and magnifies the best and worst in its heels, faces and audience.

His career blew up nearly 20 years ago after a seemingly innocuous visit with wrestler Diamond Dallas Page to a juvenile detention center. He debated that day whether to tell his actual life story or stick to clichés about hard work and keeping your head on straight. But when he noticed that some of the hard-knock kids were rolling their eyes at Page’s motivational speech, Huffman went all-in. He told those kids everything, down to the day he got out of prison.

Some teared up. Others sat there, wide-eyed. When he finished, they stood and applauded. Page was so moved he told Huffman he needed to tell his story through his character, that his odyssey was much better than anything wrestling’s scriptwriters could come up with.

“It’s funny, you know, they love to say how wrestling is so fake and made-up,” Lash Huffman said. “And the irony of the whole thing is, the best thing about my brother is his honesty. Junior is so honest.”

Booker T inside of the ring at his gym, Reality of Wrestling.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

The more his story was told, the more the lines blurred. Was this real or entertainment? Sport or theater? Is the scripted racism damaging or satire? Do the heels and faces of pro wrestling reflect the world, or are they a caricature of it?

In the end, those are false dichotomies: The answer is always yes.

It is sport and theater. It reflects society and is a caricature of it. The racism is harmless and hurtful.

Pro wrestling is entertainment and real — especially for a boy who lost his mom young.


Danny, Carolyn, Lula Gayle, Billie Jean, Donald, Lash, Bonita and the baby, Booker: Rosa Huffman had eight children by three different men. And every member of the family watched pro wrestling, including a 4-foot-6 grandmother who had an old mattress put in her backyard for her grandchildren to practice flapjack pins.

Booker’s father, said to be a serious man and a good provider, ran moonshine, gambled and worked legitimately at the local pool hall in Plain Dealing, Louisiana. Booker Jr. was just 10 months old when his father went to retrieve a block of ice for the pool hall and dropped dead of a stroke. He was 59.

Rosa Huffman couldn’t bear staying in Louisiana after her husband’s death. She moved the family to Houston, where she worked as a nurse and supported all eight children by herself.

But when she was just 49, Rosa fell through the ceiling onto her back and neck while trying to fix the kitchen fan. She kept telling her panicked children she would be OK. And she was, for a few months. But a second surgery to remove fluid from her spine left her in a coma.

After several weeks, she was taken off life support. Booker, 13, and Bonita, 16, lost the only responsible adult in their lives. The older siblings tried to play guardians for a while, but many were running the streets, bringing home drug people and others who left Booker and Bonita so afraid to go to sleep at night that they wedged a chair against the bedroom door handle. Lash, the third youngest, couldn’t take the madness. He moved to a friend’s house without telling his youngest siblings.

Soon, the chaos of their siblings’ lives scared Booker and Bonita into moving back into their mother’s crumbling apartment by themselves. When the water was shut off for lack of payment, they schlepped 5-gallon buckets to a service station up the street, filled them with water and lugged them back, the skin of both palms bloodied by the metal handles. Bonita says she and her brother used the water for drinking, bathing, dishwashing and “filling up the toilet so it would flush.”

“Lot of days we just ate one meal at school and went hungry at home,” Bonita recalled. “No social worker even knew we were there. I could see my brother upset about a lot of things at that point. He was angry.”

Booker took out his meager station in life on other neighborhood kids. Bonita never remembered her brother losing a fight. “He wasn’t a bully or anything like that. He just never backed down,” she said. “That was something I loved about him: You don’t run, you face it head-on.”

Booker T holds an old photo of himself and his brother Lash.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

At 17, he impregnated a 15-year-old girl, who kept the baby even though her high school beau stopped answering his phone when she called. Still, Booker got a job at Fiesta Mart to help support their boy and began lifting steaks and whatever else he could manage. He was fired soon after — not for stealing, but for trying to impersonate his sister Billie Jean, calling his manager in a comically high-pitched voice to say, “My brother isn’t feeling well and won’t be in today.”

Booker dropped out of school. Bonita had moved to Dallas for work, and none of his uncles or aunts wanted him staying with them. Every reservoir of familial goodwill had dried up, except for one.

He’d barely had a relationship with Lash in the four years since their mother had died. But Booker swallowed his pride and moved into the Willow Creek Apartments with his older brother, who told him he could stay if he got a job.

So working a mile and a half away, he began dropping frozen fries into hot oil, assembling burgers with cheese and filling cups of soft-serve ice cream. He didn’t exactly rock that red shirt and black cap. But with no diploma and a newborn son, Booker was happy to have a job at Wendy’s.


A few months later, he was transferred to a different Wendy’s across town, which meant he had to catch one bus, wait 30 minutes and transfer to another one to get to work each day. In no time, the job went from a needed employment opportunity to a dead-end gig.

Billie Jean hooked him up with her boyfriend, a prominent marijuana dealer, who routinely had pounds of cannabis on his dining room table. Booker began slinging $5 and $10 bags of marijuana on the side, often smoking most of his profit.

He saw less and less of Lash at home, falling in with a crew that included his childhood friend, Wendell Sylvester, and Zackery Claybourne, a streetwise brother who had been to prison for robbery. They began carousing the club scene, wearing matching Adidas suits and coming up with nicknames for themselves: Booker was Nature Boy (after wrestler Ric Flair), Zack was Z-Boy and Wendell became Mr. Big Stuff.

Booker and Zack both worked at the Gulfgate Mall Wendy’s off Telethon Road, where their manager kept riding them about overcooked fries, undercooked burgers and the need to scrub the rings of caked-on chili off the pots. Eventually, Zack quit and Booker was fired for not showing up.

One night as they all smoked up Booker’s sales, someone threw out an insane idea: “Why don’t we get some guns and rob Wendy’s?” It kept coming up over the next few weeks until they decided on the most wacked notion of all. Zack and Booker each had a few uniforms.

Let’s rob Wendy’s with our uniforms on.

Decades later, it’s still one of the city’s most brazen string of robberies. Pretty quickly, they stopped concealing their faces with stocking caps, walking into a restaurant with .38-caliber pistols and their work uniforms, often behind legitimate employees taking the trash out at closing time. Booker would wait outside in his aunt’s car.

Soon, the crime was less a rush than getting home in time to watch the local news — “Wendy’s Bandits Strike Again” at 11:01 p.m. Over the first three months of 1987, Booker and his friends had robbed 12 Wendy’s, stealing between $400 and $4,000 each time. In what would be their last holdup, Booker went into the restaurant with Zack and Wendell, pistols drawn.

Houston police issued a reward of $5,000 for information that would lead to their arrest. The ads began playing on a local “CrimeStoppers” segment, and one of the interested viewers was Zack’s girlfriend.

On what became his last day of freedom, Booker met Zack at McGregor Park, smoked and sold weed, and headed home around dusk. As he neared the front door of the unit he shared with Lash, he sensed an eerie quiet.

Police officers in SWAT gear had him on the ground and cuffed in seconds. Booker feigned ignorance at first, but he was picked from a police lineup by witnesses who remembered him from the night he went into the Wendy’s for the robbery.

Within months, Booker, Zack and Wendell were in separate 6-by-8-foot cells at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville – Walls Unit. Named for its brick facade, Walls Unit was where all convicted felons were processed through the state’s penal system. It also housed the state’s execution chamber.

Huffman recalled something his mother once told him: “Junior, you know right from wrong. There’s no gray area in between. If you don’t stop, you’ll end up dead or in jail.”

At 22 years old, he was 1 for 2.


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

Good behavior allowed Booker to serve just 19 months of consecutive five-year sentences for armed robbery and aggravated assault. Sylvester, by contrast, said he served 9½ years of a 22-year sentence.

Though Booker’s lying killed much of the trust Lash had in him, Lash knew his younger brother wasn’t a career criminal. He told Booker, “I’ll help you get back on your feet. But whatever you do — sweeping floors, washing dishes, digging ditches — you gotta pay your dues and walk a straight line.”

He got a job at American Mini Storage, completing his parole and getting custody of his son, Brandon, 6, who had been turned over to child protective services because his mother was unable to care for him. A part of him missed his old life: the partying, the chaos, the sense he could go buck wild at any moment. But that world couldn’t compare with microwaving Ramen noodles, adding chicken, cheese and crumbled-up crackers, and sharing dinner with his son.

As a lark one afternoon in 1989, Lash went by a small wrestling school in Houston owned by Ivan Putski, the bodybuilder/wrestler whose duels with the Iron Sheik and Jesse Ventura fueled the sport in the 1970s and ’80s. He simply then said to Booker, “Let’s start rasslin’.”

Booker thought he was joking at first, but Lash kept going. “Man, we’ve been fans for so long, and we both need something more in our lives. We’ve both got size, we’re athletic and we’ve got personality off the f— charts!”

Lash said it would cost $3,000, and Booker sulked. He didn’t have that kind of money anymore. But his boss at the storage company, Bruce Gasarch, gave Booker a $3,000 bonus and told him to make him proud.


“Cowboy” Scott Casey, a former World Wrestling Federation star, mentored Booker at Putski’s school. He also came up with his first character at the time the Gulf War had begun: “G.I. Bro, America’s greatest hero.”

Lash was given the character name “Stevie Ray,” and within two years they were on their way to Dallas and the Sportatorium for their first tag team match. Booker wrestled on the Texas Independent Circuit for two more years and kept the job at the storage company until Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling signed him for $70,000. Booker left for Atlanta and a life he’d dreamed about as a kid.

“It was an escape for me,” he said. “I had been in prison. I had lost my parents at a young age. I had no high school diploma.

“I finally found something that I really did very, very well. It was like, ‘Wow, I’m better than everybody else at this.’ I’m serious. It was like that. I knew I was better than everybody else. I had done theater and been a drum major for a while in high school. Then when I found wrestling, it was like déjà vu. Like, ‘Man, I’ve done this before in another life.’ ”

In 2000, wrestling’s once-dominant organization, World Championship Wrestling, was in a no-holds-barred battle royal with its rising competitor, the World Wrestling Federation. The WCW decided to pit its world heavyweight champion Jeff Jarrett against Booker T at the end of the season’s tour in Daytona Beach, Florida, in a card titled “Bash at the Beach.”

For the first time in his solo career, it was decided Booker T would emerge with the belt — the exact one (sans a few missing gemstones) that his childhood hero, Flair, had once worn. But in a bizarre turn of events, Hulk Hogan went off script. He had creative control written into his contract. And on the evening of the event, he told the WCW brass he wanted to be champion.

A poster of Booker T wearing the WCW World Championship belt inside of his home gym.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

Organizers were furious. But they created a storyline where Jarrett lay down in the ring with the belt at his side. Hogan, looking equally angry, circled the ring with a microphone and called the WCW a “bulls— organization” before half-heartedly climbing atop Jarrett. The referee counted to three for the pin and the lights went down. This was all part of the show, but it was followed by an unusual turn: WCW head writer Vince Russo coming to the ring and launching into a five-minute tirade aimed at Hogan, calling the wrestling legend a “god damn politician,” among other epithets.

Later in the evening, Booker T’s music began playing and everything restarted. Jarrett came out as if he was still champion, and he and Booker T performed the heel-face dance to perfection. For the first time in his individual ring career, Booker T was a heavyweight champion of the world.

No pro wrestler actually wins his title in the ring, of course. The decision is made backstage or weeks before by company presidents and scriptwriters. But once the belt is bestowed on you, it means your employer believes you are ready to be its most important ambassador. WCW believed an African-American with a backstory better than any they could write would sell. And Booker T sold.

Although promoters often wanted him to play a stereotype, he made a conscious decision to try for crossover appeal. He refused suggestions that his walk-up music be gangsta rap. He enunciated all his words. The only from-the-’hood line he used was his trademark slogan, “Can you dig it, sucka?”

“If I was wrestling a white guy and he was a good guy, they would cheer for him and boo me if I was a stereotypical black guy,” he said. “But me not being the stereotypical black guy, I can get away with it and be cheered just as much as him.

“They were cheering for Booker T — not the black guy coming out from the curtain.”

It wasn’t exactly “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” But for many people in the crowd, he seemed like a good guy with a remarkable backstory, and they were happy to cheer for this black man.

Booker realized how famous he had become one night in 1995 at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. He was eating a steak dinner when an older gentleman interrupted him. “Are you Booker T? My kids love you. You mind if I take a picture with you?”

Booker did a double take. Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons knows who I am?

“You know why the fans were sad [about the Triple H loss]?” he said. “Because I touched them. And that doesn’t happen very often in this business, where someone of color can make them feel that way. I always worked on emotion. On telling my real story. My goal was to make them cry.”

A year after he was made champion, the WCW was taken over by the WWF and rechristened World Wrestling Entertainment. Huffman signed on. More than a decade after Putski’s wrestling school, he was now contractually obligated to WWE CEO Vince McMahon.


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

It’s been 14 years since his Wrestlemania loss to Triple H. You want Huffman to be angry, resentful even, that McMahon and his writers wouldn’t let his character win that night.

He’s not.

“I never lost a wink of sleep over that,” he said. “Let all the fans know because they ask me about it all the time. They wanted Booker T to win the title more than I wanted to win myself.”

Triple H, he said, “was just playing his part, however f—– up that part looked.” At the time, Triple H denied any bigotry on his part, saying, “Why would anybody think I am a racist? Did I ever mention the word ‘black’?

Asked for comment, a WWE spokesman responded with this statement: “WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide. Just like other TV shows and movies, our entertainment programming features fictional characters who play the role of protagonists and antagonists. Over the years, WWE storytelling has evolved along with the social landscape, and today WWE offers family-friendly, PG-rated programming.”

“They used me and I used them — that’s how I looked at it,” Huffman says now. “I was never down with being the stereotypical brother, and I made sure of that as my career went on.

“But at some point, you also realize white guys invented the sport and still control it. If you want to work, you gotta play by their rules and sometimes be who they want you to be.”

Perhaps that’s how you last in an entertainment genre that routinely traffics in ugly stereotypes about African-Americans.

One in which Rowdy Roddy Piper once pretended to feed bananas to a poster of Mr. T, saying he would “whip him like a slave.” And Ventura used to refer to black wrestler Koko B. Ware (James Ware) as “Buckwheat.” Kamala (Jim Harris) was billed as an almost-mute African savage. Tony Atlas was remade into Saba Simba, replete with shield, spear, headdress and a cringe-inducing “tribal” dance.

When Lash and Booker came to the WCW in 1993, their storyline called for them to play two convicts, won in a card game by cigar-chomping, seersucker-wearing manager/plantation owner Col. Robert Parker. At some of their first shows, the Huffmans dressed in prison jumpsuits and leg shackles because that’s what their white bosses thought would sell. Naming a modern tag team composed of two African-Americans Cryme Tyme seems almost benign in comparison.

Moralizing about it, expecting cultural enrichment and organic diversity is like expecting NASCAR fans to lower those LDL numbers. It’s the world of the Tonga Kid, the Mad Hungarian and an Asian-American man with perfect diction called Mr. Fugi, who practiced speaking broken English. Every minority is crudely stereotyped in the squared circle.

“Understand the only thing that has ever been real for me with wrestling is the entertainment and the performance in front of the crowd,” Huffman said. “In the end, it was all a show. … If it was real, I would have been one-time heavyweight champion because I would have beat up everybody.”

Late in his career, as a heel named King Booker, Huffman won the now-retired WWE World Heavyweight Championship, a belt the company created in 2002 for its Smackdown and Raw brands. But since the WWE’s origin in 1963, through 50 champions and more than 130 belt changes, no African-American has won its highest-profile title, the WWE World Championship. John Cena had 13 title reigns. Triple H had nine. The Rock (Dwayne Johnson, whose mother is Samoan and whose father is African-Canadian) held the title nine times.

“It’s still the one title that no [African-American] has ever won,” Booker said as we ate lunch at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, a few hundred yards from his Reality of Wrestling training gym. (He has another facility an hour south of town where wrestling shows are taped for TV, and he also promotes boxing and MMA cards.)

“Why I never won it? Look, it’s their company. It’s almost like, I went to play a pickup game at the park. The one kid who’s got the basketball, he may be an OK player but maybe not the best player. But he’s on the team. It’s his ball. If I’m not a big person about that, I’m going home.”

It’s worth noting that Booker still works for WWE, where Levesque is now an executive vice president, as an announcer on Monday Night Raw. Booker never slammed the WWE for its decades of race-baiting. But then, how could he when he never objected to playing his part in the wincing black-white bits?

He played Triple H’s victim during that racially loaded promo. A few years later, he and Sharmell, his stage partner and real-life wife, conveniently stood off to the side as McMahon called John Cena “my n—–.” (“Tell me … he didn’t just say that?” Booker responds in what he acknowledges is one of his worst acting jobs. “I got so much grief for that from the black community. Part of the show.”) One time, he used the N-word himself while talking about Hulk Hogan during a promo, although he later acknowledged it was a mistake.

He retired as a full-time wrestler in 2012 and officially in 2016. With distance comes perspective.

“Look at these poor cats, New Day,” he said, referring to a current black tag team, a three-person outfit allowed to keep the two-man title under the “Freebird rule.” (Because why wouldn’t you have three black men following a rule named for three whites who once showed up for a match at Comiskey Park in Chicago with their faces painted as Confederate flags?)

“They’re the new token black guys,” Huffman said. “It’s as racist as it’s always been, most black wrestlers still being put in the back seat. I just never spent too much energy on it, other than not getting my total just due as being a champion, which I deserved.

“I woulda been a great champion, great ambassador. I know I would have.”

Does he get to play both sides of this fence? On his way up, Booker permitted wrestling to use his race. Now that it’s over, he gets reflective.

Was he genuinely hurt by his profession’s racism or not? Again, it’s a false choice.

He cared and he didn’t care. He didn’t care what sold the product. But he did care that he had to play by rules that kept him in the box labeled “Black Guys.”


“I look forward to having a dialogue with the voters of Houston, and if I am so privileged to serve, I will fight for them as hard as I have fought for myself and my family over the last 30 years,

— Booker T. Huffman’s Twitter account, December 2016

“You’re a mess,” Booker says to his 6-year-old son, Kendrick.

“You’re a mess, Dad,” Kendrick says back.

“Yeah, Daddy, you’re a mess,” echoes his twin sister, Kennedy.

Booker never really retired from wrestling. He just went into business as a suburban father. His pectorals and arms are still Royal Rumble-ready. He does 400 pushups each morning, not out of vanity as much as to ensure a 52-year-old father of young twins remains on this side of the soil as long as possible. (Brandon, now 33, had his own trouble with the law growing up. He lives in Houston and works in marketing.)

Booker T speaks on the phone while his twins, Kennedy and Kendrick, play on his shoulders.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

The felony conviction from 30 years ago still follows him. When he began traveling for wrestling shows internationally, Booker was frequently questioned by immigration agents. He had trouble at first getting a liquor license for his venue that hosts wrestling shows and boxing cards. And he needs a pardon from the governor before he can legally be a candidate on the November 2019 ballot.

“The paperwork is already in,” Booker said. His three personal references: Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s daughter, Triple H’s wife and the chief brand officer of WWE; Joanne Herring, the Texas socialite who persuaded the U.S. government to train and arm the Afghan mujahedeen fighters during the Soviet war on U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson’s behalf; and Gasarch, his former boss who lent him the money for wrestling school.

Incumbent Sylvester Turner, an African-American Democrat, was a longtime member of the Texas Legislature before winning the mayor’s office in 2016 on his third attempt. Booker has yet to declare a political party, but he’s serious about his campaign. He’s hired an aide and an adviser to help formulate a platform.

Houston’s growing homeless problem, inspiring the city’s youth and fixing its educational system are his first priorities.

“You’ve got to go to the young people and look at it from their perspective,” he said. “We’ve heard forever, ‘Respect your elders,’ and it’s made us help little old ladies across the street and pay attention to our senior citizens. But I’ve never heard one time, throughout my 52 years, someone say, ‘Respect your young people.’

“We’ve got these classrooms of 40 kids, and it’s so disruptive the kids can’t learn anything. My mother-in-law works in the school district. She sees it daily. Something needs to be done about that. I’m not against public schooling, but I feel like the money that’s going into public schools needs to be appropriated properly.”

No Houston media outlet has taken the town’s temperature over the 2019 election, so it’s hard to say whether Booker’s candidacy will be received well. But he says with conviction, “I think I can win. I’ll get the young vote, the millennial vote.

“Sylvester Turner, Harvard [Law School] grad. He’s a very smart guy. But it’s not about him. It’s about my legacy, how many people I can help while I’m on this earth. Thing about it is, if I win I win, and if I lose I win. It’s not about just winning. It’s about getting off my couch and doing something.”

Maybe 20 years ago, the idea of a pro wrestler becoming mayor of a major American city might have been politically fraught. But we are in the post-Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger world now. A reality show host is our nation’s president. Why would we think Booker T can’t win? He’s already completed an apprenticeship of what it takes to move the masses in America.

“I pretty much made some dirt when I was a kid and made sure I got a big broom as an adult so I could sweep it,” he said, laughing. “I’m still sweeping to clean it up.”

Almost exactly 30 years after his robbery conviction, he still has nightmares of that swarm of police in riot gear. Strangely, there is also gratitude for those 19 months in prison, a reminder of the 336 months of freedom that followed.

A few years ago, he was contracted to give a speech to a group of wealthy Houston residents and wondered what he could say to motivate millionaires. “They’re already rich.”

He decided to tell the story of the Wendy’s Bandits feeling young and invincible before their fall. They gave him a standing ovation, unaware that Booker had a surprise for them.

“I want to introduce you to Wendell,” he said, pointing to a man immaculately dressed in fine Italian wool like many of the others in the room.

Booker had run into Sylvester at a gas station. He had no job, hadn’t shaved in weeks and looked hungry. Booker got him cleaned up and asked if he would accompany him to the speech.

Sylvester, who says he’s been straight since he got out of prison in 1995, now works as a driver for a trucking company. Although Booker says he wanted to keep helping him, the two men have since lost touch.

We want a world of bright lines. Heels and faces. But that’s not real life. It’s not the wrestling world, either. Both are messy. Complicated. Good and bad are mixed together, and both can be profitable for anyone willing to play their part.

Can you dig it, sucka?

LeBron James makes plea for Americans to spread love ‘The only way for us to be able to get better as a society and us to get better as people is love’

LeBron James is one athlete who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

As one of the most notable advocates, outside of former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick, to speak out against police brutality and social injustices plaguing the country, James has made it his responsibility to use his platform for a greater good. On Tuesday, James called for peace during his annual We Are Family Reunion hosted by the LeBron James Family Foundation in Sandusky, Ohio.

“I know there’s a lot of tragic things happening in Charlottesville,” James said while addressing the crowd of more than 7,000 people. “I just want to speak on it right now. I have this platform and I’m somebody that has a voice of command, and the only way for us to be able to get better as a society and us to get better as people is love.

“And that’s the only way we’re going to be able to conquer something at the end of the day. It’s not about the guy that’s the so-called president of the United States, or whatever the case. It’s not about a teacher that you don’t feel like cares about what’s going on with you every day. It’s not about people that you just don’t feel like want to give the best energy and effort to you. It’s about us. It’s about us looking in the mirror. Kids all the way up to the adults. It’s about all of us looking in the mirror and saying, ‘What can we do better to help change?’ And if we can all do that and give 110 percent … then that’s all you can ask for.”

James was prompted to speak against hatred and bigotry after a rally led by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend turned deadly. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were injured when a car plowed through a group of counterprotesters. The driver, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., has been charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death. He was denied bond at his first court appearance on Monday.

James tweeted in response to the events:

Although the tweet was met with criticism by those believing President Donald Trump should not bear the brunt of the blame, it didn’t stop James from calling out Trump once again after the president’s news conference in which he held “many sides” accountable for the violence in Charlottesville and drew criticism for failing to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis. A few days later, James tweeted again.

James’ activism has been both lauded and criticized by some people since 2014, after the Cleveland Cavaliers star wore a T-shirt that read “I Can’t Breathe” while warming up before a game against the Brooklyn Nets. The words emblazoned on the front of James’ shirt were yelled 11 times by Eric Garner, a New York man who died after a confrontation with New York police. One sergeant was charged internally two years after Garner’s death.

Last year, James, along with fellow NBA players Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, opened the 2016 ESPYS with a powerful speech that addressed police brutality, racism and gun violence.

“We all feel helpless and frustrated by the violence,” James said. “We do. But that’s not acceptable. It’s time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what are we doing to create change. It’s not about being a role model. It’s not about our responsibility to the tradition of activism. … Let’s use this moment as a call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves. It’s for these issues. Speak up. Use our influence. And renounce all violence. And most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them. We all have to do better.”

In June, James fell victim to what had been deemed a hate crime when a racial slur was spray-painted on the front of his Los Angeles home. James, shaken by the incident, used a news conference to express his sentiments about being a black man in America.

“No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough,” James said. “We have a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African-Americans until we feel equal in America. But my family is safe, and that’s what’s important.”

Although there have been detractors urging James to abandon his activism and stick to basketball, James remains steadfast on his journey to make his community a better place for future leaders. Before wrapping up the event in Ohio, James addressed the crowd again, speaking specifically to a third-grade class who will be the first students to enroll in his foundation’s I Promise campaign.

“Without you guys, there’s no me, seriously,” James said. “You guys make me get up every day, be a role model, be a father and be a husband, friend, son. You guys make me be everything I can be and try to be as perfect as I can for you kids, because I can’t let you down. I refuse to let you down. Thank you for allowing me to be your inspiration. Thank you for allowing me to be a father figure at times, your superhero at times, your brother at times, and all the above. Thank you so much.”

Daily Dose: 8/16/17 Another day, another statue downed

On The Dan Le Batard Show on Wednesday, we tried to have some fun after a very sobering day in America. Pablo Torre joined the show, and we talked about fried chicken, MLS and Filipino baseball players. Take a listen.

The United States is different today. There’s no way to describe the hardened disappointment that nearly everyone in the country feels after President Donald Trump took to a podium to defend neo-Nazis and white supremacists after a speech that was supposed to be about infrastructure. You don’t need to take a political side to be appalled by that. As a result, people all over the place are bailing out of various links to the administration. There are not two sides, unless you’re legitimately going to call yourself a Nazi sympathizer.

Speaking of presidents, Barack Obama remains as popular as ever. While all this other nonsense and violence overtakes parts of our nation, 44 tweeted a picture of him talking to babies in a window. For one, the photograph is adorable on every level. Secondly, the caption is even better. It’s currently got more than 1 million retweets and 3.5 million likes. You gotta know that this drives Trump crazy, even though he should probably be concerned with more important things. Behold the most famous tweet ever.

Baltimore is about that action. Instead of waiting for a situation like the one in Durham, North Carolina, in which protesters toppled a Confederate monument on their own, Baltimore handled it discreetly. Under the cloak of night, the city removed four more. Of course, people started in with jokes about how the situation mirrored that of the Baltimore Colts, famous for leaving town overnight in 1984. Those jokes aren’t funny. Statues that salute white supremacy and football teams ain’t even close to the same thing.

I don’t normally turn to the NFL for progressive thinking. But the way the league has handled the Ezekiel Elliott situation has been rather forward-thinking, if only because of the fact that the basic concept of believing women when it comes to accusations against athletes is not something we normally see. And now that the National Football League Players Association is appealing the Dallas Cowboys running back’s suspension, the league has responded rather forcefully, issuing a statement pointing out that victim-blaming and shaming is not the move, at all. Good for them. Here’s the rebuttal.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Kicks magazine is doing the Lord’s work. The publication about sneakers recently put out an edition featuring the Top 20 basketball shoes of all time, and I have no idea how they managed to whittle this thing down. But they’ve also got 20 different covers, which is tremendous.

Snack Time: You know what happens when you antagonize people at a rally inspired by hate groups? Well, people don’t like you, because that’s not OK. And that antagonism can come back to haunt you, big time.

Dessert: This is guaranteed to make your day.

From Charlottesville to Kaepernick, white anger is all too familiar to my grandmother A little black girl who dared drink from the wrong water fountain has seen this all before

The cries of white men with the burning torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, were familiar to her. Their anger was, too.

The continuous news coverage over the weekend prompted her own highlight reel of memories that included racial taunts, attacks and fears she’s lived with since she was born in the thick of the Great Depression. She couldn’t erase them if she wanted. “You never forget that feeling of being preyed upon,” said my grandmother, Clemmie. “It’s something I’ve been experiencing my entire life. I’m far from alone.”

Clemmie, 86, isn’t surprised by the white nationalist march that made the hometown of the University of Virginia (UVA) a murder scene this past weekend. Her pain is ever-present. Charlottesville; Ferguson, Missouri; Little Rock, Arkansas; Selma, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; Detroit; Watts in Los Angeles — the scenes of prejudice, revolt and massacre stick with her. Racism has followed her since she was a little girl growing up in the Deep South, at the apex of Jim Crow segregation.

My great-grandmother, Juanita McCrowey.

There was 1956 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, when a white convenience store owner wouldn’t allow the woman who would become my grandmother to heat up a bottle for her infant daughter — my mom. Clemmie, born in 1931, experienced run-ins with the Klan so frequently it’s impossible to remember life without them. Their presence was a fear tactic. Anyone who stepped them was met with violence. At best, bruises and cuts. At worst, death. At her segregated grade school, young Clemmie and her friends received “new” textbooks with “n—–” written on nearly every page: They were hand-me-downs from all-white schools. During family trips from Rock Hill, South Carolina, to Philadelphia, bathroom breaks meant pulling over and crouching in the woods, because they couldn’t use restroom facilities at gas stations along the route.

Clemmie once drank from a whites-only water fountain.

“I wanted to see if their water tasted different than the colored ones,” she said recently. “It didn’t.” But she harbors a particular memory more than others.

“You know how traumatizing that is? To be cleaning their house and find those sheets? But you needed that $2 a week job.”

My grandmother watched the hatred on the faces of the white nationalist and neo-Nazi Charlottesville protesters. She watched the graphic video of the car plowing into the crowd of counterprotesters (Heather Heyer, 32, was killed). Clemmie had, of course, seen that kind of venom up close before.

She, her older brother, Sonny, and her mother, Juanita, were walking into town in Rock Hill to go grocery shopping. The trip took an abrupt change when the three of them began being taunted by a group of white kids from a nearby house.

My grandmother, circa 1934.

“They just kept saying, ‘Look at the n—–s!’ ” she recalls. Clemmie’s mom, my great-grandmother, who died in 1972, told them to ignore the calls. But Clemmie had had enough. On previous grocery trips, she’d dodged rocks from these same kids. In a fit of rage, she broke away and sprinted after the girl in the group, chasing her into the house. Clemmie beat her up. “I definitely hit her,” my grandmother said of the moment, over 70 years later. “It was worth the beating my mama gave me that night, too.”

But the delivery of a first-round knockout came with an emotional toll. “I put my mother in a bad position,” she said. South Carolina was home to intense Ku Klux Klan terrorism.

“Thankfully, the girl’s parents weren’t home. They could have pressed charges against my mother. The Klan could’ve come to our house and burned it down with us in there. The system could’ve broken my family apart and made me an orphan. My mother, I guess, was just trying to protect me from what later happened to Emmett Till,” she said solemnly. “That’s the thing about racism. The side that’s pushed to the edge is always the one who suffers the most.”


This past weekend, while Charlottesville commandeered the country’s attention, Clemmie, who lives in Virginia, was busy being a part-time dog sitter. Jordan is her dog, as hyper a Yorkie as there is in America — with a penchant for running counterclockwise when excited. Riley is my Aunt Cynt’s dog, named after Cynt’s all-time favorite basketball coach, Pat Riley.

Walking up and down the steps to feed Jordan and Riley and put them outside is a reprieve from the endless onslaught of Charlottesville media coverage. Clemmie made an effort to sidestep the news at times because, as she says, it’s so hard to find good. She’s had Young & The Restless since 1982, and you’d never guess how much of a Pinterest expert she is on her iPad.

Some of the most enlightening conversations I’ve ever had with my grandmother happened when I used to drive her back to South Carolina shortly after receiving my driver’s license. This was years ago, when she was going to see her younger brother, Gilbert, at the nursing home where he lived before his death in 2014. On the road, my grandmother and I never listened to music. Instead, we talked about how she found love, lost it and came to find peace again afterward. We talked about how the death of her son (my uncle) when he was just 42 forever changed her outlook on life.

I mentioned these chats to her on Sunday, when Charlottesville is the talk of the town. She brings up Colin Kaepernick. As the widow of a Division II college football coach, mother of three football-crazed kids and grandmother of an annually depressed and maniacal Dallas Cowboys fan (guilty as charged), she’s familiar with the game and the polarizing characters it creates. “It’s sad what they’re doing to [Kaepernick],” she said. “He’s lost his job forever because he stood up for what he believed in. Him not standing for the anthem didn’t make him unpatriotic.” For context: The Baltimore Ravens signed quarterback Thad Lewis on Monday. He hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2013.

She sees connections between the exiled former Super Bowl signal-caller and the carnage near UVA.

Clemmie doesn’t watch football as much as she used to. She gets updates from me on Monday mornings. But Clemmie knows the storyline. And she sees the connections between the exiled former Super Bowl signal-caller and the carnage near UVA. My grandmother is concerned for Marshawn Lynch, who sat for the national anthem this past weekend (although he’s been doing that for years). And she’s worried about players who will follow their leads, including the Seattle Seahawks’ outspoken defensive end Michael Bennett, who recently confirmed he’ll be seated for the national anthem the entire season. Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman said Monday on Twitter that more players will certainly follow suit — stemming from “league-wide outrage” over Charlottesville and President Donald Trump’s comments.

This isn’t Clemmie’s first rodeo. She remembers Muhammad Ali refusing induction into the Army in 1967, and how he lost the prime years of his career going toe-to-toe with the United States government. “I felt what he was saying,” she said. “All he was asking, ‘Why fight for a place that’s just gonna beat me up when I come back?’ ”

My grandmother is amazed but not shocked that this narrative is still playing out 50 years later. “If you love someone, or something, you tell them their flaws because you want to see them be the best person they can be. That’s all [Kaepernick] was doing for America. At least that’s how I saw it. And this country basically told him, ‘Shut up and stay in your place.’ They tried to do the same thing to Ali. Them speaking on America’s flaws doesn’t make them unpatriotic. America not living up to its promise — that’s unpatriotic. ”


Given all she’s seen, experienced and endured, Clemmie has never succumbed to hatred. Her heart goes out to the family of Heather Heyer, the legal assistant killed in Charlottesville whose last Facebook message read, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” And her heart still bleeds for James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, the three civil rights activists whose deaths made national news in 1964 when their bodies were found — murdered by the Klan — under an earthen dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi. My grandmother appreciates anyone with a heart because, as she says, she’s seen so many without one.

But she’s incensed about the president’s recent statement about “many sides” (which he awkwardly walked back). There’s just no debate, says my grandmother. For her, those tiki-torch-carrying protesters were a gut punch from the past. “The KKK would march on you in a minute,” she said. “You didn’t know who was under those sheets. It could be the mayor, or governor of South Carolina. Or it could be the people your parents work for. You know how traumatizing that is? To be cleaning their house and find those sheets? But you needed that $2 a week job. Everyone called you a n—–. We didn’t have any protection. We had to ignore it because if we fought back …” Her voice trails off.

It’s hard for Clemmie to hear “both sides” when hers has lost so much. The 1960s are difficult for her to speak about, even a half-century later. The thought of President John F. Kennedy’s murder still moves her to tears. His brother Robert’s, as well. Medgar Evers’ assassination was “proof we weren’t even safe in our own homes.” She recalls the fear that followed the death of Malcolm X, a man whose voice reflected the rage she and so many others were tormented with daily. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination ripped the soul of black America from its chest. And the countless other men and women who fought and ultimately lost their lives during the civil rights era who will never find their legacies in textbooks — this haunts my grandmother, a woman born just 66 years after Emancipation.

“You gotta understand. Every time we had someone, they took them from us. By the end of the ’60s, you were just mad. It seemed like we would be stuck behind the eight ball forever,” she said.

That fear and frustration, in part, didn’t allow her to enjoy the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. She campaigned locally for him in 2008 and 2012. She cried both times he won. “I’ve never been prouder of a president than I was of him. He’s a black man. Michelle’s a black woman. But I was scared from the day he was walking down that street [during his 2009 inauguration]. I just knew somebody was gonna get him, because that’s all I knew. When he and Michelle left on the helicopter this year, I just said, ‘Thank you, God.’ ”

These thoughts and more race through her brain when she thinks of Charlottesville. It’s impossible for her to isolate Charlottesville because the pain, and the forces that cause it, span generations. Her parents and grandparents were terrorized. She was terrorized. Her children were terrorized. And now, she’s scared because what happened near UVA’s campus, what’s happening to Colin Kaepernick, and what could happen to me, are merely new shades of paint on the same car she’s dodged for 86 years.

Charlottesville, in context, is another painful affirmation of a reality she’ll never truly escape. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” she said. “For some people, it’s nothing scarier than that.”

Daily Dose: 8/14/17 Trump finally speaks up about white nationalists

I just want to thank all the people I got to build and connect with at the 2017 National Association of Black Journalists convention last week. It was a great time, and doing the live ESPN Radio broadcast from the floor was fun. Speaking of which, I’m hosting from 10 a.m-1 p.m. every day this week.

President Trump finally denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. It only took the better part of three days, after violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, following a rally of white nationalists. On the surface, that’s scary because it genuinely empowered groups like these, who believe they have the support of the highest leader in the land. From a global standpoint, it doesn’t look good, either, when your commander in chief would rather tweet than help the nation heal at a time of crisis.

Speaking of that violent situation, there’s a lot to unpack. The private militias protecting marchers. The guy who killed Heather Heyer by running over a group of people with his car. The tiki torches on the University of Virginia lawn being carried by a bunch of guys who have no real understanding of what discrimination really is. People love to say, “This isn’t the America I know.” Well, that’s not quite true. And one website is specifically outing the people who were at said rally, because they look pretty much like everyday people to the rest of us.

When the level of discourse gets ratcheted up, things can become testy. Such was the case at CNN on Monday, when Ken Cuccinelli, former attorney general of Virginia, decided he was legitimately going to tell another guest to shut up live on air. Unfortunately, that person was Symone Sanders, and she does not play that nonsense. To host Chris Cuomo’s credit, he put Ken in his place, but the entire exchange was indicative of the kind of back-and-forth that black women deal with every day of the week.

You can add Jermichael Finley to the list of non-woke athletes. The Green Bay Packers tight end came out with the worst take ever, tweeting that “athletes are looked up to & serve as roll models, leave personal opinions about race and politics alone. Do what you get paid to do & play!” His typo aside, it’s incredible to think that even after this weekend, we’ve got guys out here who find it inappropriate to discuss what happens when hate groups take over towns.

Free Food

Coffee Break: There’s been a lot of talk about the national anthem recently. But, to that point, none of us had heard Quavo sing it. I don’t even know what to say afterward, as I’m in shock about how good this actually is. I’d definitely stand for this version.

Snack Time: In this time of crisis, we have to find a way to care for ourselves. This video of a bird feeding fish with seeds warms the heart.

Dessert: Don’t forget: On Monday night, we return to paradise. Hope you’re ready.

Daily Dose: 8/10/17 Diamond and Silk’s price tag is not particularly high

So, New Orleans is pretty wild, y’all. And on Wednesday, broadcasting The Right Time live from the National Association of Black Journalists convention floor was a really fun experience. I think I’m going to a baseball game on Thursday, so that makes me happy. Very happy.

So, this Guam situation is terrifying. Ever since President Donald Trump puffed his chest out and tough-talked North Korea regarding nuclear war, the situation has legitimately escalated. Guam, if you don’t know, is a United States territory with two military bases. It’s effectively an outpost designed to help control the Pacific, but of course, actual people live there. However, Kim Jong-un doesn’t care. He’s got a plan to launch rockets at the island, and no matter what, this will not end well.

Remember Diamond and Silk? The two black women who spent all sorts of time in their YouTube stardom caping for the president? Well, they basically sold their souls for an amount of money that, even if it pays your rent for three months, is not worth it. For $1,300 they touted the current president, even when the Trump campaign lied about it forever. Then they went to the U.S. Department of Commerce and had their picture taken and posted by the agency, only to have it removed. What a weird story.

I knew that MLB salaries were wild once they started reaching lottery jackpot numbers. But instead of having to handle 95 mph fastballs and even more exploding sliders, you can win hundreds of millions of dollars just by playing the numbers. What’s even more insane is that Mega Millions and Powerball are both above $350M, which means that if you win both, you’ll actually get that much money, instead of half, because of Uncle Sam. I have no clue what I’d do with that much money. That’s a lie. I’d buy an indoor soccer team.

Zach Randolph is the man in my book. But Z-Bo also had for some time been in Memphis, where his status as a cult hero, never mind an NBA star, is well-known. He takes no funny business, and if you got into a fight, Randolph is definitely someone you’d want on your side. But he recently got caught up on a weed charge in Los Angeles, which is an awful look for a dude who just got traded to Sacramento. Of course, he was all smiles coming out of the lockup, but his people apparently were super wilding and destroyed a couple of cop cars. Zach, get it together, fam.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I imagine that Kelly Rowland’s life is pretty dope. She probably makes all sorts of cash on old Destiny’s Child records and doesn’t have the pressure to produce all sorts of hits like, say, Beyoncé. Now she’s making new music, with Syd of The Internet of all people.

Snack Time: Boogie Cousins and Ndamukong Suh have pretty big reputations as players who pretty much don’t care about anything other than themselves. And this Foot Locker commercial pointing that out is hilarious.

Dessert: This will make your day. If it doesn’t, you should check to see if your cord’s unplugged.

 

Daily Dose: 8/9/17 Maya Rudolph’s coming home for Christmas

I’m in New Orleans for #NABJ2017 and very excited about it. I’ll also be broadcasting #TheRightTime on ESPN Radio live 4-7 p.m. EST from the convention floor for the rest of the week, which should be interesting. Tune in!

It was nice knowing everyone during our time here on Earth. We had a decent run as a human race, but ultimately greed and power are what tore us down, to the surprise of exactly zero people. President Donald Trump and North Korea have been trading threatening remarks, which is always a great way to spark a slow news week. Seriously, though, this is terrifying. Guam is now involved, and if we’re being honest, if POTUS wants to send a nuke, there’s no one that can really stop him.

We love Maya Rudolph. Ever since her days on Saturday Night Live, in which she was basically the only woman of color and thus forced to play nearly every parody role involving such, she’s been great. Since then, her career on-screen hasn’t exactly been fireworks, but certainly steady. Now she’s headed back to the live stage, which is exciting. She’ll be starring in Fox’s live version of A Christmas Story. Maybe it’s because I think this live musical format is really getting good, or because I just miss Maya, but I’m really excited for this.

If you had plans for the next year and a half, you might want to cancel them. Because in the past week, Donald Glover has revealed that not only does he have new music coming out, but he and the squad are also basically done with Season 2 of Atlanta, which is excellent news. He’s retired the Childish Gambino name, but that’s doesn’t mean it’s already gone. His legendary hot streak of fire content doesn’t appear to be letting up, so you can go ahead and clear him a space on the Hollywood Walk of Fame right now.

Unlike baseball, you don’t see a whole lot of left-handed throwers in football. On the rare occasion that you do, they’re typically pretty stellar. I can’t remember the last average southpaw I saw on the gridiron, Tim Tebow notwithstanding. Mark Brunell was a good one, Boomer Esiason was a better one and Michael Vick was certainly my favorite of all the lefties who played QB in the NFL. But last year, only one left-hander threw a touchdown pass in the league, leading to the question: Are lefty QBs going extinct?

Free Food

Coffee Break: A good bromance can be rather fruitful. And in the case of A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator, it’s been concerts and all sorts of things to come from it. But it wasn’t always that way, and the two titans of the coasts are now maturing to the next level in a refreshing way.

Snack Time: Do you like Insecure? Are you a fan of Raphael Saadiq? Then you might want to check out this interview with him and Issa Rae about the music of the hit HBO show.

Dessert: Speaking of, if you need a new soundtrack to your life, NBA Live 18 has got you super-covered.