The Miami Heat’s Derric Franklin is the first black leader in the very new history of the NBA 2K League With players Hotshot, MaJes7ic and 24K DropOff, has the guy in the violet Afro created the best big three since D-Wade, LeBron and Bosh?

Four years ago, when Derric Franklin returned from Afghanistan, where he’d been deployed by the U.S. Army, he picked up NBA 2K15 and began playing the game with a virtually created avatar. The only thing is, he didn’t know to change the avatar’s name, “Russ Snow,” or its physical appearance, a 7-foot-3 center with a massive purple Afro. But he let it rock, even as he became more well-versed in the game, and people took notice.

By 2016, he began operating under the persona “Famous Enough” as a way to embrace talented players whom the game cultivates worldwide. “ I wanted to let them know,” he said, “that they were famous enough to get the credit they deserve.” Via YouTube videos and a strong Twitter presence, Franklin became a fixture in the 2K community as “Famous” — a source of news and an evaluator of skill. But even as his profile expanded, Franklin continued to channel his inner Russ Snow. He dons a purple ’fro at every 2K event — and this one? It’s his biggest yet.


NEW YORK — It’s an uncharacteristically dreary spring morning in Manhattan, and Derric Franklin pulls up at Madison Square Garden earlier than most. In the sea of suits that begin to fill the arena, he stands out: button-down shirt, gray cardigan, dark blue jeans and freshly unboxed Game Royal Air Jordan 1s. The crown jewel of his ’fit is a custom Afro wig, dyed a faint violet and picked out in all its glory.

“This is me,” he says after climbing an MSG escalator that leads him to the lobby of the Hulu Theater. The ’fro is a trademark of Franklin’s swag in the NBA 2K community. And among tastemakers surrounding the most revered basketball video game in gaming history (and its most popular mode, the 5-on-5 Pro-Am gameplay), the 6-foot-4 Famous is something of a Don Corleone. Famous knows everyone — including players, streamers and league creators — and everyone knows Famous. This realm is his element, and in his element he commands the utmost respect.

“Today is the day,” he continued. “I had to tell myself, ‘Oh, s—, this is real.’ ” It’s April 4, 2018, and the draft of the inaugural season of the NBA 2K League has finally arrived. Professional gaming squads from 17 of the NBA’s 30 teams are gearing up to select from a crop of the best players on the planet. Beginning in May, the season will consist of weekly matchups and monthly showcases, all leading to the postseason in late August.

Miami Heat Check Gaming coach Derric “Famous” Franklin climbs the stairs to the war room during the first ever NBA2K League Draft on April 4, 2018 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

For those a part of this world, this moment has been a long time coming. Back in February 2017, the NBA announced a partnership with Take-Two Interactive, 2K’s publisher, to bring the league to life. Since then, the latest installment of the series, NBA 2K18, became 2017’s top-selling sports video game, despite being released in mid-September, and is ranked behind only Call of Duty: World War II in national sales. The game is a multicultural phenomenon, and it just got bigger.

“He got a lot of us to make Twitters. … He was just good for the community. We always played 2K, but there was no meaning to it. Derric came in and brought that.”

“From the NBA’s standpoint, this is our fourth league,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver says in a packed news conference. “Of course we have the NBA, the WNBA and the G League, and now this is the fourth league in our family — and that’s exactly as we’re treating it: one more professional league.”

Famous is running on the fumes of a mere three hours of sleep, though he doubts that anyone else in the building has studied the field of talent — which went from 72,000 gamers to 250 to a final pool of 102 — more than he has. As team operations coordinator (basically, general manager and coach) of the Miami Heat’s squad, he’s had full control of Heat Check Gaming’s draft strategy since he joined the organization in February.

The hire came after initial talks with Sacramento’s Kings Guard Gaming, Portland’s Blaze5 Gaming and Washington’s Wizards District Gaming. For some reason, he went 0-for-3 in each of those interviews. “It’s definitely something that isn’t going to be forgotten,” he says of the teams that passed on him. Of the 17 teams in the first season of the league, Franklin is the only black leader.

HotShot, MaJes7ic and 24K Dropoff are Miami’s best big three since D-Wade, LeBron and Bosh.

“We didn’t set out and say, ‘Hey, we wanna hire an African-American coordinator,’ ” said Michael McCullough, the Miami Heat’s chief marketing officer, who is also black. “But when we met Famous, and learned about his background and what he can bring to us, it was a no-brainer. … He understood that the bulk of the gamers in NBA 2K are African-American and Hispanic … so we felt like he was able to bring that diversity to life and be different than some of the other teams.”

After the draft, the six players whom Famous selects will put in two weeks’ notice at former day jobs and uproot their lives. They’ll sign contracts, which include medical insurance and retirement plans, with the Miami Heat organization, worth more money ($35,000 for the first-round pick and $32,000 for players taken afterward) than what the NBA’s G League players make. Heat Check gamers will then move into new apartments in Coral Gables, Florida, where the team’s gaming room is on its own level. And for the next five months, they’ll compete for a $1 million prize pool, spread out over three in-season tournaments and the playoffs, with one goal in mind: a championship.

Derric “Famous” Franklin meets with – and – before the start of the draft. during the first ever NBA2K League Draft on April 4, 2018 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. (Brent Lewis/The Undefeated)

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

T-minus one hour till the first team goes on the clock, and Famous spots and daps up Ivan Curtiss and Toijuin Fairley, co-founders of the popular MPBA2K league who were hired by Milwaukee’s Bucks Gaming as draft analysts. Together, the three influencers are the only black representatives from the 2K community calling the shots at the draft (Christopher Toussaint serves as a players manager for Orlando’s Magic Gaming, and Hall of Famer/Sacramento Kings co-owner Shaquille O’Neal was named general manager of Kings Guard Gaming but didn’t make the trip to New York). But even Curtiss and Fairley look up to Famous’ position. “He’s built solid relationships with thousands of players, from unknown to known, and knows what he’s talking about,” said Curtiss, whom Famous reached out to share the news of landing the Miami gig. “He’s our only competition.”

Famous embraces the pressure of being the head of a franchise and architect of a roster that needs six MyPlayers: a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center and sixth man. And his confidence is oozing. “I’m gonna control the draft,” he said. “Things are gonna go the way I want. No other way.” Imagine this is the game itself for Famous. He grabs the rebound off the glass and leads the break up the floor. Now, it’s just time to score.


Heat Check Gaming’s war room is a cramped dressing room, deep in the bowels of Madison Square Garden. Inside, Famous sits at his bulky Dell Alienware laptop, scrolling up and down a color-coated Excel spreadsheet that he spent countless hours perfecting. Ever since the 2K League finalized the very multicultural-appearing group of draft-eligible prospects, many who are attending the event in New York wearing new suits purchased on the league’s dime, Famous went through scenario after scenario, simulating selections.

Derric “Famous” Franklin goes through his draft order before the round begins.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

Although 2K is a point guard’s game, the league’s altered game mode (or “build,” as it’s called by gamers) allows for big men to thrive. So for weeks, the head of Heat Check focused his energy on taking a center with the team’s first pick at No. 7 overall. “I’m 99.9 percent sure,” Famous said over the phone from Miami, about a week before the draft, “that nobody else has this mindset.”

At 1:33 p.m., Silver calls the name of Artreyo Boyd, an e-point guard from Cleveland known as “Dimez,” as the No. 1 overall pick of Dallas’ Mavs Gaming. That’s right, the commissioner who announced Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz as top picks in the NBA sticks around to welcome the first player to be taken in the 2K League. That’s how real this thing is. “It’s a blessing, man. I’ve worked so hard,” Boyd says onstage. “I’ve been playing for a very long time.” Before Dimez became arguably the best 2K player in the world, with a massive multiplatform following, Famous encouraged him to expand his skill set and brand outside of GroupMe conversations with fellow players by marketing himself in relevant ways.

“He got a lot of us to make Twitters,” says Dimez, who has nearly 30,000 followers/subscribers between Twitter, Twitch and YouTube. “He was just good for the community. We always played 2K, but there was no meaning to it. He came in and brought that. I respect Famous.”

With Dimez off the board, the league’s first draft has officially begun. Famous doesn’t watch but simply listens to the 50-inch TV mounted above him as Boston’s Celtics Crossover Gaming and Utah’s Jazz Gaming make their decisions. And just as he prophesied, the top three teams take a point guard. By the seventh slot, no one has sniffed out Famous’ strategy, so he gets his guy: Juan Gonzalez, aka “Hotshot,” a Miami native who’s “definitely in the conversation for the best center of the game,” said draft commentator/league analyst Jamie “Dirk” Diaz Ruiz. Meanwhile, Heat Check’s top choice collects his draft cap and walks onstage to pose in front of flashing cameras with league managing director Brendan Donohue.

“Derric understood that the bulk of the gamers in NBA 2K are African-American and Hispanic. … We felt like he was able to bring that diversity to life, and be different than some of the other teams.”

“It’s such an honor,” says Gonzalez, his hands still shaking after a circuit of interviews, “that it doesn’t feel real. I wanted to go to the Heat. I wanted to play for my hometown team.” The vibe is nearly identical to what any real NBA player experiences after being drafted. Flashing cameras and nonstop interviews. Congratulatory handshakes and salutes from every direction. Brewing trash talk between fellow picks — who would fire up the game right then and there to go at it on the sticks.

Heat Check Gaming’s first draft pick Juan Gonzalez aka ÒHotshotÓ calls his mother after being drafted while coach Derric “Framous” Franklin waits to welcome him during the first ever NBA2K League Draft on April 4, 2018 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

Famous claps after picking up MaJes7ic during the second round of the NBA2K League Draft.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

Famous appears and interrupts Gonzalez with a huge hug. “After the pick, I cried,” he says to Hotshot, who’s still beaming. The brief moment ends with Famous jogging back to his post, where he’s cracked open a fruit tray to fuel him through the next five picks. Next to his computer is the phone he uses to call in his selections to a league representative when it’s Heat Check’s turn to draft. Early on, he establishes a streamlined system for himself: pick up the phone, hit redial and say a name. No time wasted — that’s how certain he is of his choices. There’s quite a bit of time, though, until he must make another decision. A snake-style drafting format means Heat Check must wait 11 picks before its second selection. And as Donohue announces name after name, there’s one that, shockingly, remains uncalled.

Stanley Lebron (yes, that’s his real last name), known on 2K as MaJes7ic (pronounced Majestic), would’ve been the top-ranked shooting guard in the draft class but qualified as a point guard at the combine. Hotshot notices Lebron continuing to fall, pulls out his iPhone and dials Famous. “TAKE MAJES7IC!” he blurts out before his coach hangs up on him. Famous already knew what to do. With the No. 28 overall pick at the end of the second round, Heat Check lands the talented combo guard.

“This guy should’ve went in the first round,” says Famous, standing next to Lebron. “When he got there, I was, like, there’s no way I could pass on him.” Of the eight pre-draft interviews he conducted with gamers, Famous hadn’t even bothered wasting MaJes7ic’s time because it just didn’t seem feasible for him to still be there so deep in the draft. He continues raving about the second-round pick to members of the Heat staff: communications manager Lorenzo Butler, marketing manager Clara Stroude-Vazquez, videographer Edwin Jean and senior director of interactive media Lauren Cochran. They’re a dedicated crew who all made the trip up from Miami.

“I’m Dominican,” Lebron says with a smile. He’ll fit right in. The shooter hails from Queens, New York — but the Heat is his favorite NBA squad.


Basil Rose, the man from Montreal known in these NBA 2K streets as “24K DropOff,” looks deep into a SportsCenter camera and doesn’t hesitate. “Just like Lonzo Ball knew he was going to the Lakers, I knew I was going to the Heat.”

Famous had planned on taking a power forward in the third round, and the versatile DeMar Butler, who can essentially play every position on the floor under the gamer tag “OGDeedz,” sat atop his list. But Utah’s Jazz Gaming snagged OGDeedz four picks before Heat Check was in position. “Once Deedz was gone,” Rose said, “I could’ve just walked up before the three minutes on the draft clock started. I already knew.”

Derric “Famous” Franklin greets Basil “24k Dropoff” Rose after drafting him during the first ever NBA2K League Draft.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

Don’t get it twisted, though. 24K DropOff is no compromise for Heat Check. Famous interviewed him before the draft and placed Rose’s name high on his board. Of 72,000 players who participated in the combine, Rose emerged as the only one to average a triple-double (17 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists). Hotshot, MaJes7ic and 24K DropOff are Miami’s best big three since D-Wade, LeBron and Bosh. And DropOff is certainly the alpha of the bunch — outspoken and super wavy, as they say north of the U.S. border. As for how he feels about playing for the league’s only black coordinator?

“You go on a TV or reality show — for example, I like Big Brother — and you’re only going to see one black guy, one black girl. Everybody else is gonna be white,” said Rose, who’s half-Jamaican and half-Nova Scotian. He left Canada for the first time in his life to attend the draft in New York. “It’s how the world works, but Famous is going to succeed. We just had a black president. … Well, you guys did, not me.”


Stop it, Famous … just stop it.

These are the whispers in the room, but as the draft rages on, he keeps splashing jumpers with his selections.

In the fourth round, he takes “sharpshooterlos,” a skilled small forward from Reading, Pennsylvania. “I thought Miami was the last place on Earth I was gonna land,” said Carlos Zayas-Diaz. “But, man, this is a dream come true. I got the best team in the league.” The fifth round yields a shooting guard in “Jalen03303” Jones, who didn’t make the trip to the Big Apple from his hometown of Bossier City, Louisiana.

Famous makes one last call in the sixth round. This time, it’s for Rahmel Wilkins, another shooting guard, who calls himself “HyPeR iS Pro” on 2K. “I was just watching the picks unfold in front of me,” he says, “and I was the final piece.”

Derric “Famous” Franklin walks back to the war room after the third round of the first ever NBA2K League Draft on April 4, 2018 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

The new faces of Heat Check Gaming gather in the first two rows of the theater’s auditorium for their first team meeting. “We’re gonna run, we’re gonna score a lot of points and we’re gonna play tough defense,” says Famous, while his players listen intently as their fearless leader delivers an Any Given Sunday moment.

“We’re gonna go win a championship,” he continues, “because I feel like we got the best team.” Famous adds a little more weight to the statement.

“Easily.”

Our gaming expert unpacks ‘Ready Player One’ The female characters are tougher than the white guy in the lead, but it’s still candy for gamers

Ready Player One, the new Steven Spielberg movie based on Ernest Cline’s novel, is a love letter to gamers, geeks and game designers.

The movie, which is filled with pop culture references that will make any Gen Xer feel seen, tells the story of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who plays under the handle Parzival. It’s 2045 and Wade lives in a dystopian vision of America beset by extreme income inequality, where poor people live in communities called “The Stacks,” which are trailers piled on top of each other.

Wade’s hero is the creator of the virtual reality OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance). OASIS isn’t just a game. It’s an entire virtual world. When Halliday dies, he leaves behind a stake in the company he built that is worth half a trillion dollars and a virtual scavenger hunt to determine who will get it.

Practically every gamer is after the loot, and they’re competing with a company called Innovative Online Industries (IOI), whose CEO, Nolan Sorrento, wants to take over Halliday’s company and make over OASIS as his own branded paradise. Sorrento and IOI hire an army of gaming mercenaries, called sixers, to try to crack the hunt. He also hires experts who’ve dedicated their lives to understanding Halliday to chase clues that could lead to the ultimate Easter egg, Halliday’s fortune.

Sorrento’s pretty awful. He conscripts individuals into playing on his behalf and holds them as indentured servants to make them play off debt they’ve amassed in the game. That’s how another gamer, Samantha (Olivia Cooke), who plays under the gamer tag Art3mis, decides that anyone but IOI should get the egg. Her father died in IOI custody playing off his debt. When Parzival wins Halliday’s first challenge, the prospect of winning the egg becomes real, and he’s helped by his friends, including Art3mis, Aech (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao).

I discussed the movie with Latoya Peterson, The Undefeated’s deputy editor for digital innovation. She’s been gaming since she was 6, wrote about games for years, and has given talks on games and game theory at South by Southwest and the Game Developers Conference. She’s also a judge for the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Oh, and she paneled at MAGFest.

(Meanwhile, the only game I’ve ever successfully completed is Monument Valley.)

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity, and contains spoilers.

Latoya: I loved the movie! Waaaayyyyy better than the world of the book, and I attribute all of that to Spielberg. There are some issues, mind, but the movie is candy for gamers. And playing the OASIS before I watched made it so much more fun.

Soraya: Does it feel like the game that’s presented in the movie?

Oh, yes. When they enter the OASIS, I got so hype because they built that exact feeling into the VR [virtual reality] experience. The experience doesn’t put you in The Stacks like Wade, though. You start in a penthouse accessing the OASIS, which I guess places it toward the end of the movie? Or perhaps they felt like putting it in The Stacks was a little too real?

The geekier side of the world — gaming, fantasy, sci-fi — assumes that you will be the white boy who is going to save the world. And if you are a geek, this is what you are weaned on.

I was really stunned by the visuals. It really is this amazing feat of world creation. Especially Halliday’s journals, jeez.

Yes. I read some review that was negatively comparing the experience to “watching a video game over someone’s shoulder” and I wanted to ask if that reviewer had seen Twitch. Because this is the world now.

The journals should be the model for all future reference libraries.

We should explain! So, basically, rather than making people go and read Halliday’s journals, you go in and it’s almost like going to the Natural History Museum. Except you’re watching scenes from Halliday’s life.

That level of categorization and recall is amazing and so Silicon Valley. Halliday’s character is really interesting as well. It really valorizes that wistful boy genius trope.

One thing I kept wondering while I was watching is if it was odd that he’s making people spend all this time inside his head and analyzing his life to win his fortune? Part of me was like, isn’t this a bit narcissistic?

Yes, but also realistic. There are real-life Silicon Valley moguls who have that mentality, would set up a competition just like this.

I honestly prefer this narcissism to John Galt, so I’m good with it. There are some Silicon Valley types that worship Ayn Rand. They want to create a techno-utopia with no regulation for the rich, by the rich. I’d take Halliday any day.

I wonder if they would have been as introspective and sensitive about it as Halliday, though.

Game developers code their lives and experiences into games, so that part felt real. And people make games for all kinds of reasons: grief, regret, memorials. Last year’s Game Developers Conference was cloaked in grief because a major member of the community died, and it was interesting to watch people grapple with that through games.

Like That Dragon, Cancer.

Exactly. So an extensive cataloging of one’s life in a game isn’t odd. I mean, after all, isn’t Sinatra’s entire playlist doing the same thing?

Ha, ha! I suppose so.

And that tale of money and friendships broken and loves lost is also a very easy one. And the desire to go back before the thing you made was a business. In some ways, the movie is a love letter to artists. However, there were some things that were just ridiculous that I am still trying to wrap my head around. Like Wade’s characterization. I’ve been thinking hard about this since you asked to do this chat. This question of race and geekness and white boy narratives.

Drop that knowledge, Latoya!

You first, because it’s a lot.

So I didn’t find anything about this movie offensive. I think it’s … generous. It kind of papers over the more unsavory elements that we know exist within gaming communities.

Yes. It focuses on the community, not the exclusion. That dynamic is always at play in gaming. There is “we” and there is “you,” and those sides tend to shift.

But I think Wade/Parzival is the kind of person everyone wants to see themselves as. He’s an underdog, he wants to play the game alone. (There’s a whole thing about how he doesn’t “clan.”) He’s sort of sweet and morally/ethically pure, but also scared of girls.

I did not read him as pure so much as naive. And I feel like the way Art3mis is constructed in the film gives him a great foil, until she falls into the love interest trap. But, yes, you are supposed to identify with Wade.

You have to be naive to think you’re going to battle a tech company with an army of gaming mercenaries and think you’re going to beat them.

I believe that faster than I believe some psycho corporate thug would have his little Grinch heart moved because of Wade’s love for the game.

It was kind of refreshing to see a boy who’s so comfortable with being in his feelings. And I wonder how he got that way, because it damn sure wasn’t from his aunt or her cavalcade of roughneck gentlemen callers.

Of all the eye-roll moments in that movie, that was a big one. He’s sensitive. Maybe it’s from the dead parents.

That’s what I wonder about Wade. How did he manage to avoid being full of anger?

I don’t think he did, necessarily. It’s just channeled. He also swings hard into NiceGuy territory a few times. But since he generally gets everything he wants in the narrative, there’s no need to let that side out.

Wade is supposed to be the character you identify with the most onscreen. That is generally the construction around these kinds of offerings. The geekier side of the world — gaming, fantasy, sci-fi — assumes that you will be the white boy who is going to save the world. And if you are a geek, this is what you are weaned on. I realized in prepping for our discussion that this is what I was raised on. It’s how we know how to define the world. I still love Marty McFly and Tom Swift and Paul Muad’Dib Atreides.

The white boy who is “the one” is canon, so I was expecting that in many ways. Now, Wade Watts is no Marty McFly, even with a tricked-out DeLorean. But I see what they wanted to do.

The thing is, though, the world has expanded a lot since the ’80s. Our construction of hero is broader, so it was fascinating to me to see some of the devices employed to keep Wade the hero. I thought I was going to have the most to say about Aech/Helen, but it’s really Art3mis/Samantha that captures my attention.

She’s clearly very smart.

Throughout the game, she proves herself to be a more strategic player. Wade outthinks her on the first challenge, she outthinks him on the second. She’s also markedly a better shooter. In all of her scenes with Wade, she’s lead and nice with the guns. So how does she end up sacrificing herself so Wade could play? And why does he make the [NICEGUY] move of taking her out the game for her own good?

She and Helen get sacrificed. That was infuriating.

Also, if she’s the leader of the rebellion, how did she kneel to a lesser shooter? I will accept zombies in The Shining before I accept a player of that level of skill would roll over for her less experienced love interest.

Also, can we sidebar on their romance?

You are telling me the same kid that almost creamed his pants being touched in through a virtual suit suddenly has game with a real girl in real life on a roof? And this grizzled young leader of the rebellion who watched her father die in debtors prison, who is giving off hella riot girl vibes in her ripped stockings and shorts, is going to roll over for a dude who she has awkward conversation with because he solved a really hard puzzle?

That’s how you can tell who wrote this. But I guess this is what happens when you are the anointed — it’s your narrative, whether you earned it or not. The sacrifice of the friends is a thing — I mean they did it in Sailor Moon! But it’s interesting that the women, who were both independent and rebellious, gave up their own journeys to boost Wade’s.

I will accept zombies in The Shining before I accept a player of that level of skill would roll over for her less experienced love interest.

Wade is very much like Charlie (of the Chocolate Factory), or the Narnia kids, or Harry Potter, even the book version of A Wrinkle in Time. But it still has to make sense!

Well, to be fair, you don’t want a perfect hero.

Right. He has to be relatable.

But there’s a big gap between “perfect” and “you’ve got to be kidding me.” I mean a lot of the fun in the hero’s journey is that process of discovery, of them becoming less of a brat. (You know I’m criticizing Wade hard, but people said the same stuff about Tidus in FFX.)

Wade is more like wish fulfillment.

Yeah, you’re right. Like Wade winning the first challenge got him money and gear, but did he really level up any skills in this narrative?

Which, again, makes him candy for gamers who look like him and will identify with him and who, in their heads, think it makes perfect sense that after getting felt up through a virtual suit he’s going to get his head together and have game.

The OASIS was way better developed as a space and character than many of the villains and side characters.

Exactly. Which brings us to this: The real world in this movie is a horrible dystopian crapfest. I can totally understand how someone could just live in OASIS and abandon their real life. Which is why it seems odd that [spoiler] Wade takes the game offline on Tuesdays and Thursdays in this noble quest to make people appreciate the real world around them.

You know what would make me not want to spend all my time in OASIS? Not living in a dystopian crapfest!

Hmm. Made sense to me. The whole point of the journey was to discover that Halliday’s life was full of games because he couldn’t grok the real world. Wade keeps pledging he won’t make the same mistakes.

Thoughts on Helen?

I wish we knew why she was playing as a dude. She’s kind of a classic black best friend in a lot of ways. I mean, she’s a very clever, amusing one.

Yes. She is leaps and bounds more than I expected but is still doing an amazing job with the traditional spot. Well cast, well executed, but Aech is a shadow character. Just like Daito and Sho.

It’s funny to me that Wade/Parzival has these supersmart friends who clearly have strengths that he does not, but he doesn’t want to clan up?

The OASIS is open world. You normally clan for battle games, but not necessarily others. RPGs [role-playing games], sure. But this is more of a quest game. And even though the OASIS was never meant to be single-player, most of the designed challenges were.

Link was generally solo in Zelda — it’s like that.

Ahh, OK. But let’s close on Helen.

Do I wish Helen had more to do, more characterization? Yes. Am I happy she was there at all? Yes! Do I wish I knew more about her? Yes. It’s the eternal black friend conundrum. Hopefully the box office is high enough that there’s a Ready Player Two (Shout-out to Shira Chess!) that can build out Samantha and Helen as more than plot devices. That said, I’m impressed. It is damn hard to get a good gamer movie, and we got one! I just always want more.

I did not expect to love it as much as I did. It’s a gamer’s movie, 5 out of 5, with all the flaws. Now I just want them to drop the full VR experience.

Trailblazing black journalist Les Payne showed no fear in pursuit of the truth He’ll be remembered as an NABJ founder and Pulitzer Prize winner, and a mentor and role model to many

My friend Les Payne is dead.

During his 38-year journalism career, Les had many close encounters with death. He once escaped the Mediterranean island of Corsica just minutes ahead of the thugs whom a drug dealer sent to his hotel to “turn out his lights.”

On another occasion, Les found himself staring down the barrels of guns when a car he was riding in was stopped by soldiers of a rival guerrilla army faction in the newly created African nation of Zimbabwe. Les was held for hours and threatened with execution by an officer who mistook him for a spy.

Then, while in California trying to make contact with the Symbionese Liberation Army, a black revolutionary group that kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst, Les was confronted by a gun-wielding SLA member who ordered him into a phone booth. Les had only minutes to live, the man said, if he couldn’t get someone on the phone at Newsday, the Long Island, New York, newspaper where he spent his entire career, to prove that he was a journalist.

And there was the late-night run-in that Les had with two of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s secret policemen that produced another life-threatening experience for him.

But when Les Payne died Monday night at age 76, it was a heart attack that quickly snatched the life from his body as he stood on the steps of his home in Harlem — not the wrath of those who hated his fearless brand of journalism.

I can’t think of a better ending for a man who was, arguably, the most consequential American journalist of the past 50 years.

Les didn’t just report the news; he often uncovered the story behind the headlines that many journalists missed. He was a bare-knuckles reporter who braved the dangers of journalism. More often than not he worked alone, far away from stampeding herds of journalists. “Wherever you see groups of journalists milling about, there is no news. All you’ll find in places like that is the stuff that people in power want you to know, not the stuff they’re hiding from you,” he once told me.

In four decades of reporting and editing, Les found a lot of what powerful people were hiding.

In 1970, he went undercover to get an up-close look at the mistreatment of black migrant workers on a potato farm on Long Island. A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Les was no stranger to that kind of labor. As a child, he picked cotton alongside his grandmother on an Alabama farm where the poorly paid black workers were expected to work from dawn to dusk — or, as the old-timers say, “from can’t see, to can’t see.” Les’ story brought improvements to the conditions under which Long Island’s migrant laborers worked.

When heroin deaths spiked in New York City during the early 1970s, Les and two fellow Newsday reporters tracked the flow of heroin, as he often said, “from the poppy fields of Turkey, through the French connection and into the veins of junkies in Harlem.” The 33-part series won them the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for public service.

The following year, Les came together with 43 other black journalists in Washington, D.C., to create the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). They wanted to use their collective muscle to push for the hiring of more black journalists and better coverage of black communities across the nation.

But when Chuck Stone, the group’s first president, called for the drafting of bylaws, Les, who questioned the need for such organizational structure in the fight for black rights, snapped, “We don’t need bylaws. We need to kick some behinds.”

Using his journalistic voice to kick butts was something Les delighted in doing. He did it as an investigative reporter in his coverage of the black liberation movement in Africa. In reporting on the murderous rule of Amin in Uganda, Les called it “a holocaust” — which caused his encounter with Amin’s heavies.

He kicked butt in his coverage of South Africa’s Soweto uprising when he visited funeral homes throughout that black township to prove that the death toll of blacks killed by the gendarmes of that pigmentocracy was substantially higher than what the white apartheid government was telling the world.

Les kicked butt in this country too. His reporting on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. poked holes in the government’s conclusion that James Earl Ray acted alone in taking the life of the civil rights leader. His coverage of the presidential campaign of Barack Obama also pummeled some behinds.

During the 2016 NABJ convention, Les tried to clear from Obama’s road to the White House one of black America’s political toll-takers: “Proving that he is as immune to irony as he is to shame, the Rev. Al Sharpton strutted onto the stage as a panelist for the annual W.E.B. DuBois Lecture. That most vital American scholar of the last century would likely have viewed Sharpton as a noisy answer for which there is no known question.” Ouch!

But Les was no sycophant for any politician. I remember standing with him in Denver’s Mile High Stadium on the night of Aug. 28, 2006, when Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. After allowing himself to smile broadly at the end of Obama’s speech, Les turned to me, and with a tilt of his head and a stare he said: “Just remember, the job of the black journalist is to be a watchdog, not a lap dog.”

I’m proud to have been his friend of 43 years. Les guarded his friends as much as he nurtured his friendships. When Bill O’Reilly linked Randall Pinkston to jihadist terrorists because he worked for Al-Jazeera, Les wrote an open letter to the then-Fox News talk show host.

“Randall Pinkston is too much of a gentleman to answer your on-air slander against him; so I will,” he said. “You have chosen … to question the patriotism of this black journalist born in apartheid Mississippi, who desegregated the local TV station with the assistance of Medgar Evers … I’m sure Randall’s long, patriotic family struggle as African-Americans up from slavery has no meaning whatsoever for you. As the son of Irish immigrants who were extended white privileges, albeit from the dredges, you have ascended the media feeding chain with a sense of fairness as meager as your talents.”

History should not be allowed to forget Les, as it has so many other blacks who championed the race. We owe it to him not only to thank him for his service but also to emulate his determination to be a truth-teller in a profession that more than ever before needs a Les Payne.

In ‘A Wrinkle In Time,’ Oprah appears as the earthly deity she’s been for years Guru, self-help maven and fabulously kitted angel

It’s pretty amusing that a science fiction film based on a book published in 1962 is the one that delivered a role in which Oprah basically plays … herself.¹

How much was this a factor in drawing people to the cineplex? Unclear. A Wrinkle in Time took in $33.3 million at the box office this weekend. But the imagery itself, and the context behind it, is still worth examining.

The first time Oprah appears on screen in A Wrinkle in Time, it’s a breathtaking stunt. She materializes in the backyard of the Murry house as the shimmering, larger-than-life Mrs Which, rising to a height of 30 feet, with a crown of curly, platinum blond hair and fabulously bejeweled eyebrows. Her bottom half never quite fully materializes, giving her an ethereal quality. Mrs Which is the oldest and wisest of the Mrs W’s, which include Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), by a billion or so years.

But upon meeting her, it’s impossible not to think, “Someone finally found a way to visually render Oprah’s role in our culture!”

Throughout her career as an actress, Oprah has brought empathy and dignity to the black women whom society actively overlooks, from Ms. Sofia in The Color Purple to Deborah Lacks in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to Sethe in Beloved.

Mrs Which is a guardian seraph to Meg Murry (Storm Reid), the girl who must travel through space and time to find and rescue her lost father, a famous NASA physicist who’s been missing for four years. Mrs Which is patient and firm with Meg, who’s having trouble loving herself and having faith in her own abilities. Where Mrs Whatsit grows impatient with Meg’s typical teen-age sullenness and doubt, Mrs Which offers realism and gentle reassurance. She repeatedly urges Meg to “be a warrior.” IRL, Oprah may not have an army of warriors for peace, but she does have an Angel Network. The movie isn’t explicit in labeling the Mrs W’s as angels, although that happens in the book, which was heavily influenced by author Madeleine L’Engle’s many years in the Episcopal Church.

Oprah’s role as a quasi-religious figure in America is legendary. She was ahead of many Americans in publicly declaring herself as spiritual rather than an adherent of a specific religious dogma. In doing so, she broadened Americans’ tolerance for religious practice that doesn’t rely on organized religion, and she may even be something of a prophet herself.

“I know some people have called Billy Graham America’s pastor, but in many ways, in a more realistic sense, Oprah is America’s pastor,” said the Rev. Broderick Greer, an Episcopal theologian at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver.

In attempting to parse Oprah’s role as The Oprah Winfrey Show was drawing to a close, The New York Times’ Mark Oppenheimer once called her a “child of poverty” who became “the leader of a worldwide cult.”

Greer said he thinks of her as more of a “guru.” He noted that, like L’Engle, fundamentalist Christians have seen Oprah as a threat, and sometimes that threat was due to Oprah’s race and gender. She was used as a “bogeyman” in sermons, he said, and church leaders would caution their audiences against listening to her.

“I know some people have called Billy Graham America’s pastor, but in many ways, in a more realistic sense, Oprah is America’s pastor.”

“She was seen as being too powerful. She had too much influence,” Greer said.

“Throughout Christian history, women had been very specifically and methodically marginalized by the church. They’ve been called crazy,” he continued. “That has been the struggle of a hyper kind of masculinized, Western Christian church culture: ‘I just can’t believe that this kind of lesser being is saying something that’s profound and life-changing. I need to do everything within my power to make sure that the least amount of people possible hear her.’ ”

So it’s notable that Oprah created a flock of her own, espousing love, generosity and compassion through television without the fire and brimstone of Pat Robertson or Jim Bakker. Oprah exposed people to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, Ed Bacon and Brené Brown. She’s helped remove the stigma associated with talk therapy.

“I do know how my mom and aunt and my deceased grandmother understood her, and it was a black woman with agency they could identify with,” Greer said. “Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, they watched Phil Donahue every day, and took his expertise and followed his taste. Sometime in the late ’80s, early ’90s, that shifted, and they were able to see someone who looked like them, who sounded like them, who came from a similar background, say, ‘I have agency. I’m the host. I’m not the sideshow or the sidekick. I am the host.’ ”

Those are good things, right? Well, yes. But with great power comes great responsibility, and when you consider Oprah’s grounding in journalism, maybe she let us down sometimes. Especially because as we’ve invested in her and her recommendations on our own roads to self-actualization, Oprah has led us down some dubious paths.

Remember The Secret?

The reason you don’t have the life you want is because you just haven’t visualized it hard enough!

Iyanla Vanzant?

Who needs to be licensed as a therapist when you can call yourself a “life coach” and do whatever you want?!

Dr. Phil?

He’s not even an MD, people!

OK, fine. Oprah’s track record as a spiritual leader is a mixed bag. But somehow, her ultimate message that it’s possible to transcend suffering, and even find beauty in that transcendence, that we’re all capable of doing good in the world and that spreading love and light is a worthwhile cause, has gotten through and made her a figure who inspires intense admiration.

And it’s because for decades, we sat in front of the television on weekday afternoons and took part in The Church of Oprah. She’s flawed, sure. But Mrs Which is a powerful visualization of the best Oprah has given us. I’m glad there’s an image that so fittingly captures her contributions with a swoosh of wind or a wrinkle of time.

Clarence Beavers, last surviving member of the first black paratroop unit, dies at 96 The groundbreaking WWII program helped end segregation in the military

Clarence Hylan Beavers, the last surviving member of a pioneering “test platoon” during World War II who helped end segregation in the military, died Dec. 4 at 96 at his home in Huntington, New York.

Beavers, who originally enlisted at 17 in the New York National Guard’s famous Harlem Hellfighters after working a series of odd jobs during the Great Depression, was later drafted after America’s entry into the war in 1941. He was eventually assigned to a maintenance unit before volunteering for a groundbreaking new program designed to test the feasibility of blacks as airborne soldiers: elite combat troops trained to parachute directly into battle whose courage and tenacious fighting spirit were second to none. Consisting of a group of 17 volunteer soldiers, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, known as the Triple Nickles, formed the core of America’s first black paratroop unit.

“It was hard,” Beavers told me in 2012 about the rigorous training and the racism the test platoon endured while vying to become the Army’s first black paratroopers. “Many white folks at the time, including some who were training us, were betting we wouldn’t make it, but we proved them wrong.”

Beavers, who was born in Harlem, New York, on June 12, 1921, was the 15th of 16 children to parents who fled the South before he was born in order to escape racism. His maternal grandfather was an escaped slave who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. His brother, Leo Beavers, also served in the Army during World War II.

Because of segregation, black soldiers were initially prohibited from serving in combat and often relegated to support units performing menial jobs. Yet, midway through the war, the military reversed itself and made plans to form an all-black, experimental infantry airborne unit. It was while serving as a maintenance supply sergeant that Beavers first learned of the Army’s plan when he came across a recruitment poster and became the Triple Nickles’ first volunteer.

“I was excited about the idea of becoming a paratrooper. It was a chance to prove I could do more than just work in a support role,” Beavers said.

However, black paratroopers at the time were so rare that when he reported for training at the Army’s Parachute School in Fort Benning, Georgia, his commanding officer and the white soldiers stationed there were shocked to see him. It would be nearly a year before there were enough soldiers to form a unit and begin training in December 1943.

As Beavers recalled, conditions were hardly equal between the two groups.

“They made us go through a side door at the mess hall at mealtime, and we had to sit at a separate table and wait for our food to be brought to us. We weren’t allowed to mix with the white soldiers even though we were all there for the same training.” And while white trainees lived in comfortable, well-heated, spacious barracks, Beavers added, “They crammed us all into a drafty little hut.”

Of the original 20 who volunteered, 17 successfully completed their training. Beavers told a Long Island newspaper in 2004 that the Nickles expected to be sent to combat in Europe afterward, but when the war suddenly ended there the unit was shipped to the West Coast on a classified mission.

Although he never did come under direct enemy fire during his service with the 555th, Beavers became a smoke jumper, parachuting into remote, forested areas of the Pacific Northwest to fight wildfires as part of a highly secret mission known as Operation Firefly. The mission’s primary goal, which was kept secret from the public for fear of causing panic, was for the Nickles to work with the U.S. Forest Service to suppress any forest fires caused by large, incendiary balloon bombs launched from Japan against North America, and to recover and destroy any of the bombs they found. Of the estimated 10,000 balloon bombs that were dispatched from Asia, about 1,000 eventually reached the U.S. and Canada. In one instance one of the devices almost caused a major catastrophe when it damaged the Hanford Engineer Works reactor in Washington state, effectively shutting down power to the plant where plutonium was being processed for atomic weapons as part of the infamous Manhattan Project. In Oregon, one balloon bomb caused the only known WWII enemy-inflicted fatalities on mainland North America when it exploded at ground level, killing a minister’s pregnant wife and five children who were picnicking in the forest.

In all, the Triple Nickles — spelled in old English and so nicknamed because of the unit’s numerical designation and because the test platoon’s original volunteers were primarily selected from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division, derived from the 5-cent coin — participated in more than 36 fire missions involving more than 1,200 individual jumps from C-47 military transport planes. Their only protection from the heavily timbered areas they routinely parachuted into were converted football helmets. Over the course of the five-month-long mission the unit suffered hundreds of casualties, with one fatality when a young paratrooper fell to his death after landing in some trees. Beavers himself suffered a serious back injury during one jump that would end his tenure as a paratrooper and lead to his eventual discharge in 1945. He went on to work for the Veterans Administration and later the Defense Department, eventually retiring in 1978.

After a 1948 executive order from President Harry S. Truman to integrate the military, the 555th was deactivated and became part of the 82nd Airborne Division.

The Nickles received little recognition until 2010, when Beavers and two since-deceased members of the original test platoon were finally acknowledged for their service in a special ceremony at the Pentagon.

“Even though he never did get the chance to fight overseas, Clarence was proud of his time with the Nickles,” said Beavers’ wife of 59 years, Edolene. “He figured through his service, by doing his part, eventually things would change for the better for all black people.”

Who is the best Black Marvel character?

Who is the best Black Marvel character?

1 Black Panther

16 Nick Fury

7 Monica Rambeau

10 Cloak

3 Luke Cage

14 Shuri

5 War Machine

12 Moon Girl

Storm 2

Bishop 15

Blade 8

Misty Knight 9

Miles Morales 4

Doctor Voodoo 13

Sam Wilson 6

Riri Williams 11

UPDATED: FEB. 12 | 7:45 A.M.

UPDATED: FEB. 12 | 7:45 A.M.

The Competition

(top, left to right) Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, Miles Morales, War Machine, Sam Wilson, Monica Rambeau, Blade, Misty Knight, Cloak, Riri Williams, Moon Girl, Doctor Voodoo, Shuri, Bishop, Nick Fury

The heavens have opened, the choirs are singing and clapping, and the parade of happy black and brown faces is making its way from the cookout to the movie theater. It’s practically the modern-day version of The Wiz’s “Everybody Rejoice” out there.

What’s the cause for all of this celebration? Well, after waiting for what’s felt like eons and obsessing over every new teaser, trailer and GIF we could find, the release of Marvel’s Black Panther is finally here.

In preparation for what could be the blackest and nerdiest moment in the history of blacks and nerds, we got to thinking in the particular way that nerds do. Among the pantheon of black comic book characters, who could beat who in a fight? Instead of deciding for ourselves, we’re going to let you, the fans, decide in our Who is the best Black Marvel character? bracket. For the sake of staying on theme with Black Panther, all 16 of the bracket’s entrants come from the Marvel Universe and were seeded using a system based on their popularity, fighting abilities and prevalence in both comic books and film/television.

The power is yours from now through Thursday. Cast your vote on each round of matchups to help decide the ultimate Marvel bracket winner.

Biographies Ordered by seed

Black Panther (1)

Height:
6’0”
Weight:
200 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #52 (1996)
Powers:
Unarmed combat; vibranium-laced suit; catlike reflexes and senses
Backstory:
T’Challa, the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, is both Marvel’s first black superhero and the first American comic book hero of African descent. Black Panther, who predates the Black Panther Party, battled the Ku Klux Klan in 1975’s The Panther vs. the Klan.

Storm (2)

Height:
5’11”
Weight:
127 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975)
Powers:
Manipulation of weather; wind-assisted flight; skilled lock-breaking
Backstory:
Ororo Munroe, a descendant of African royalty and part-time leader of fabled group the X-Men, evolved from homeless thief to commander of weather and, through her marriage to Black Panther, the queen of Wakanda.

Luke Cage (3)

Height:
6’6”
Weight:
425 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Hero for Hire #1 (1972)
Powers:
Superhuman strength, unbreakable skin, expedited healing
Backstory:
Born Carl Lucas in Harlem, New York, Cage was arrested after police found planted heroin in his apartment. While in prison, Cage was the test subject of a botched cell regeneration science experiment that led to him accidentally being given enhanced strength and nearly impenetrable skin.

Miles Morales (4)

Height:
5’8”
Weight:
160 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Ultimate Fallout #4 (2011)
Powers:
Spider-senses; wall-crawling; super strength; web-shooters
Backstory:
Brooklyn-born Miles Morales, a 13-year-old child of African-American and Puerto Rican descent, assumed the mantle of Spider-Man in 2011 after being bitten by a radioactive spider and after the “death” of the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker.

War Machine (5)

Height:
6’1”
Weight:
210 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Iron Man #118 (1979)
Powers:
Iron Man armor, cybernetic limbs, unparalleled piloting skills
Backstory:
James “Rhodey” Rhodes, a U.S. Marine, is a close friend of Tony Stark’s — otherwise known as Iron Man. While Stark recovers from alcoholism, Rhodes takes on the Iron Man name before eventually being given a suit of armor of his own, named the War Machine.

Sam Wilson (6)

Height:
6’2”
Weight:
240 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Captain America #117 (1969)
Powers:
Telepathy; wing-assisted flight
Backstory:
Wilson, better known as the Falcon, regularly fought alongside Steve Rogers/Captain America to combat crime in New York City. Wilson took over the Captain America role on more than one occasion: once when Rogers was “killed” and the other when Rogers was aged to that of an elderly man.

Monica Rambeau (7)

Height:
5’10”
Weight:
130 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (1982)
Powers:
Exceptional gun skills, electromagnetic transformation, light-speed flight
Backstory:
A former New Orleans law enforcement lieutenant, Rambeau took over the Captain Marvel (also a Brie Larson-helmed movie slated for 2019) mantle in 1982’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, becoming the first woman and (only) African-American to use the Captain Marvel moniker.

Blade (8)

Height:
6’2”
Weight:
215 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1 #10 (1973)
Powers:
Ageless; superhuman strength and stamina; martial arts expertise
Backstory:
The London-born Eric Brooks is the son of a woman who, during childbirth, was bitten by a vampire, thus passing on the abilities and strengths of vampires with few of the weaknesses. Blade turned to fighting other vampires and the undead after the death of his close friend, musician Jamal Afari.

Misty Knight (9)

Height:
5’9”
Weight:
136 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Marvel Team-Up #1 (1972)
Powers:
Bionic arm; outstanding markswoman; skilled martial artist
Backstory:
Mercedes “Misty” Knight is a former member of the New York Police Department who, while trying to dispose of a bomb before it detonated, had her right arm amputated after the explosion. Through Tony Stark, Knight was given a new, bionic arm, which she used to fight crime with partner Colleen Wing.

Cloak (10)

Height:
5’9”
Weight:
155 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #64 (1982)
Powers:
Manipulation of darkness; teleportation; life force absorbance
Backstory:
Tyrone Johnson, a South Boston native who fled to New York City after the police-involved shooting death of a close friend, was, along with female friend Tandy Bowen, aka Dagger, injected with a synthetic drug, giving him the appearance of a shadowy darkness.

Riri Williams (11)

Height:
5’2”
Weight:
100 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Invincible Iron Man Vol. 2 #7 (2016)
Powers:
Iron Man armor; advanced intelligence
Backstory:
Williams grew up in Chicago, where, at a young age, she was determined to be a supergenius, allowing her to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at just 15 years old. In her spare time, Williams created her own version of Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor using material she could find. Eventually, Williams took over for Stark, becoming the Ironheart.

Moon Girl (12)

Height:
3’9”
Weight:
48 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1 (2016)
Powers:
Advanced intelligence; able to swap consciousness with Devil Dinosaur; enhanced strength
Backstory:
Lunella Lafayette, a 9-year-old elementary school student from Manhattan, is given the disparaging nickname “Moon Girl” by her classmates after a debate with her schoolteacher. Lafayette shares a bond with Tyrannosaurus rex-like mutant Devil Dinosaur.

Doctor Voodoo (13)

Height:
6’0”
Weight:
220 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Strange Tales #169 (1973)
Powers:
Control of fire; command over animals
Backstory:
Jericho Drumm, a Haitian who eventually immigrated to the United States, gained the powers of Doctor Voodoo, a powerful 17th-century lord, after the death of his brother, Daniel. A voodoo teacher fused the spirits of Jericho and Daniel, leading Doctor Voodoo to use his powers to help others, including Spider-Man and Black Panther.

Shuri (14)

Height:
5’9”
Weight:
150 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Black Panther Vol. 4 #2 (2005)
Powers:
Vibranium claws; transmorphic; skin that turns to stone
Backstory:
The younger sister of T’Challa, Shuri is the heiress to the Wakandan throne. During 2009’s Black Panther Vol. 5, a trained fighter like her older brother, took over as the Black Panther while T’Challa recovered from critical injuries suffered in a plane crash.

Bishop (15)

Height:
6’6”
Weight:
275 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Uncanny X-Men #282 (1991)
Powers:
Energy absorption; exceptional marksman; energy-fused blaster
Backstory:
Lucas Bishop was born in Brooklyn, New York, in a “alternate future timeline” where virtually all of the X-Men have been destroyed. Along with his sister, Shard, Bishop joins a ragtag group of mutants named the Xavier Security Enforcers (X.S.E), who work to create harmony between mutants and humans.

Nick Fury (16)

Height:
6’1”
Weight:
221 lbs.
First Marvel Appearance:
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #1 (1963)
Powers:
Decelerated aging; Special Forces training; black belt in taekwondo
Backstory:
The original character of Nicholas Joseph Fury was a white World War II hero and leader of superhero intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D., but comic book duo Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch turned him into a Samuel L. Jackson lookalike in 2002’s The Ultimates’ limited run.

Sweet 16 Voting Ends Today at 6 p.m. EST

Matchup 1/8 Black Panther vs. Nick Fury

The likely favorite going into this historic first matchup would likely be T’Challa, king of Wakanda and the hero known far and wide as the Black Panther. Because of his prestigious titles, he has access to more resources than anyone can properly measure as ruler of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nation in the world. He just so happens to also have superhuman strength, speed and agility. Combining these with his superior intellect and money makes him a near-perfect superhero.

Not that T’Challa’s opponent this round should be taken lightly, though. Nick Fury may not be royalty, but he is the commander of an army all his own as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., a worldwide spy agency that protects the world from domestic, international and alien threats. Fury may not have the ability to run as fast as a car or jump from one skyscraper to the next, but he can likely find a soldier or two under his command who can and will gladly do it for him.

Take Our Poll
(function(d,c,j)if(!d.getElementById(j))var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=’http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js’;s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s); else if(typeof jQuery !==’undefined’)jQuery(d.body).trigger(‘pd-script-load’);(document,’script’,’pd-polldaddy-loader’));





Matchup 2/8 Storm vs. Bishop

This matchup pits two characters most commonly associated with X-Men titles against each other, as Storm faces Bishop.

Storm, aka Ororo Munroe, is considered by many to be a goddess. The child of an African priestess and an American journalist, Storm inherited an ability to control the weather, including the ability to wield lightning, bring down heavy rains and whip up winds to hurricane-level speeds. With the use of her own ingenuity and understanding of weather patterns, Storm has used these skills to become one of the most powerful members of any group she’s been a part of — X-Men or no.

While a hit from a quick bolt of lightning would be enough to leave most of Storm’s opponents incapacitated, if not worse, Bishop has a clear advantage: the ability to absorb and disseminate energy. Does that include lightning? We’ll have to wait and see.

It also doesn’t hurt that he was born 80 years in the future into a world where the X-Men are no more and most mutants live in concentration camps. His experiences in this postapocalyptic world, knowledge of warfare and ability to produce energy blasts could work in his favor as he battles his former teacher.

Take Our Poll
(function(d,c,j)if(!d.getElementById(j))var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=’http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js’;s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s); else if(typeof jQuery !==’undefined’)jQuery(d.body).trigger(‘pd-script-load’);(document,’script’,’pd-polldaddy-loader’));





Matchup 3/8 Luke Cage vs. Shuri

Despite what the rankings suggest, this matchup is extremely close on paper. Luke Cage is a household name after appearing in multiple Netflix’s Marvel television series, including his very own. It wasn’t hard in this day and age for fans to gravitate toward a hero who’s literally a bulletproof black man with super strength. He gives pretty much anyone a tough time in a fight because he’s basically a walking, talking tank. But his opponent in this round has a few tricks for him.

If you think T’Challa is something serious, wait until you find out about his sister, Shuri. Shuri was already just as capable as her brother as a fighter, technological genius and ruler (if not more so.) She even filled in as Black Panther for a brief period. But Shuri’s gotten a serious upgrade recently in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run after returning from an alternate realm called the Djalia. She now has the ability to turn herself into stone and a giant flock of crows whenever she pleases. So she could potentially make herself as hard as stone and hit Luke with weapons made from one of the hardest substances on the planet AT THE SAME TIME.

Take Our Poll
(function(d,c,j)if(!d.getElementById(j))var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=’http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js’;s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s); else if(typeof jQuery !==’undefined’)jQuery(d.body).trigger(‘pd-script-load’);(document,’script’,’pd-polldaddy-loader’));





Matchup 4/8 Miles Morales vs. Doctor Voodoo

This bout brings science and mysticism to blows. Miles Morales, much like his predecessor, Peter Parker, developed superpowers after being bitten by a scientifically modified spider. He has the same powers as Parker, including super strength, the ability to stick to walls and that trusty “spider-sense” that warns him of danger. But as the new and improved Spider-Man, Morales also has a venom blast that can shock and paralyze opponents and the ability to camouflage himself into invisibility.

Doctor Voodoo, formerly known as Brother Voodoo, may have what it takes to give Miles a run for his money, though. Jericho Drumm can possibly equalize most of Miles’ abilities with his manipulation of smoke and fire to both hinder his vision and prevent him from getting close enough for a finishing blow. There’s also that whole spiritual possession thing he can do for an unpredictable X-factor.

Take Our Poll
(function(d,c,j)if(!d.getElementById(j))var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=’http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js’;s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s); else if(typeof jQuery !==’undefined’)jQuery(d.body).trigger(‘pd-script-load’);(document,’script’,’pd-polldaddy-loader’));





Matchup 5/8 War Machine vs. Moon Girl

War Machine got a lot of flak for basically being Tony Stark’s sidekick who only got his start with Iron Man’s glorified hand-me-downs. This isn’t untrue, but it’s not completely fair to forget that these “hand-me-downs” are composed of some of the most advanced and capable weapons on the planet created by one of the world’s most genius geniuses. In other words, James “Rhodey” Rhodes is a walking arsenal with enough artillery to take out a medium-sized army on his own. Only questions are (1) Is he willing to use all firepower against a preteen? and (2) Will they work against a dinosaur?

These are questions Lunella Lafayette, aka Moon Girl, and her partner Devil Dinosaur are going to find the answers to in this matchup. While War Machine utilizes technology from one of the greatest minds the world has ever known, Lunella owns one of the greatest minds the world has ever known and a dinosaur she can move that mind into thanks to her inhuman DNA. Brawn, meet a highly superior intellect. Brain, meet a prehistoric killing machine.

Take Our Poll
(function(d,c,j)if(!d.getElementById(j))var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=’http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js’;s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s); else if(typeof jQuery !==’undefined’)jQuery(d.body).trigger(‘pd-script-load’);(document,’script’,’pd-polldaddy-loader’));





Matchup 6/8 Sam Wilson vs. Riri Williams

This matchup is likely to be the first time many readers are introduced to Riri Williams, the heir apparent to Tony Stark’s Iron Man technology after Rhodey’s passing and Tony being taken out of the picture for a while. Williams may be new to her role in the world of superheroes, but she’s definitely capable of holding her own.

Having a suit of armor is one thing. But having the genius-level intellect to use it and a built-in artificial intelligence based on Tony Stark himself could be just enough to give her an edge.

On the other hand, Sam Wilson is a seasoned veteran in the ways of superheroes and even spent a couple of years serving as the Captain America while Steve Rogers was out of commission. This battle is likely to take place in the sky, as both have no problem with flight, which could be costly for Riri given Sam’s ability to mentally connect with birds. The numbers could stack up against her in a matter of minutes if she isn’t careful.

Take Our Poll
(function(d,c,j)if(!d.getElementById(j))var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=’http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js’;s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s); else if(typeof jQuery !==’undefined’)jQuery(d.body).trigger(‘pd-script-load’);(document,’script’,’pd-polldaddy-loader’));





Matchup 7/8 Monica Rambeau vs. Cloak

This may be the battle we don’t deserve this soon. But we’re not going to complain because the idea of someone who can manipulate light and energy, Monica Rambeau, fighting someone who can control darkness, Cloak, is always welcome.

Monica Rambeau is a [constantly slept-on] hero who has a list of abilities longer than the Celtics’ win streak to start the 2017-18 season. She’s got your superhero basics like flight and super speed, but she also comes with the unique abilities to absorb, duplicate and fire energy and to make herself both invisible and intangible. Good luck trying to hit something you can’t see or, you know, hit.

Part of Monica’s abilities are a result of her connections to an alternate universe, which may work in the favor of her opponent, Cloak, who also gets his powers from a similar circumstance. Because of his connection to the Dark Dimension, Cloak can teleport, make himself intangible and completely flood his environment with darkness. Honestly, this matchup could end up in a stalemate and it would be entirely understandable.

Take Our Poll
(function(d,c,j)if(!d.getElementById(j))var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=’http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js’;s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s); else if(typeof jQuery !==’undefined’)jQuery(d.body).trigger(‘pd-script-load’);(document,’script’,’pd-polldaddy-loader’));





Matchup 8/8 Blade vs. Misty Knight

We have Ms. Mercedes “Misty” Knight versus the daywalker. One is a human-vampire hybrid who seemingly has the best assets from both worlds: super strength, an increased healing factor and the ability to live freely in the sunlight. The other is a skilled detective with a bionic arm.

Both are trained martial artists with the ability to land devastating blows because of their enhancements, whether they be vampiric or cybernetic. Comic book fans are more than likely familiar with Blade’s combat work (in other words, his tendency to hit professional wrestling moves and bring on Mortal Kombat fatalities with ease). But they may be surprised to know that Misty Knight is honestly just as capable as fan favorites like Black Widow, if not more so, when it comes to hand-to-hand combat and the use of weaponry.

Take Our Poll
(function(d,c,j)if(!d.getElementById(j))var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=’http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js’;s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s); else if(typeof jQuery !==’undefined’)jQuery(d.body).trigger(‘pd-script-load’);(document,’script’,’pd-polldaddy-loader’));





Come back tomorrow to vote in the Quarterfinals.

Come back to tomorrow to see Sweet 16 results

Kamara for the culture He grew up with the Migos, wears nose rings and a grill in games and is the front-runner for Rookie of the Year — but who really is Alvin Kamara?

Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language.


NEW ORLEANS — At the kitchen table of his split-level downtown condo, a hop and skip from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Alvin Kamara scrolls through the video call log in one of his two iPhones. “I can FaceTime him right now,” he says. “He’ll probably pick up.”

It’s Christmas Eve, and four hours have passed since the New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons, 23-13, to clinch the franchise’s first playoff appearance in four seasons. For Kamara, the Saints’ 22-year-old running back and the NFL’s runaway favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, the moment calls for some reminiscing about the journey.

Back to when he was juggling Division I offers and chasing league dreams. Back to when he was dominating on high school football fields in and around his hometown of Norcross, Georgia. After games, three of his childhood friends who aspired to be big-time rappers would show up at local clubs. “They’d come in with 100 people, perform and walk out,” Kamara remembers. “Just tryna make it.”

A music executive everyone calls “Coach K” is the man who gave the trio a chance, and to Kamara, Kevin “Coach K” Lee is his uncle. Coach K — who has managed the careers of Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, and who is credited by The New York Times as taking Southern U.S. black culture global — is about keeping family close, and keeping it winning.

Instagram Photo

Kamara is the first and only athlete to be represented by Solid Foundation, a sports management division of Coach K’s Quality Control record label. And with a strong and close-knit support system, Kamara, a Pro Bowler and seven-time league Player of the Week, has revitalized the culture of the Saints, the city of New Orleans — and perhaps, in a tough year, of the NFL itself.

And those high school homies? They’re now known around the world by their rap names — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff, aka the No. 1 hit-making, Grammy Award-nominated Migos. “It’s dope to see the growth,” Kamara says. “Seeing them come up from nothing.” In 2017, the Migos emerged as the world’s most influential rap group, perhaps the best since OutKast.

“I don’t just play football. I’m Alvin. Alvin Kamara. I happen to play football.”

“I was talking to Qua yesterday,” Kamara says before tapping on Quavo’s contact to initiate another FaceTime. “He was like, ‘Man, I’m proud of you. You just been ballin’. I remember when shit was bad and you stayed true to it.’ ”

Instagram Photo

True indeed. In his first season in the NFL, Kamara has averaged 7.7 yards per offensive touch, more than any player in league history (minimum of 200 touches). Not since Gale Sayers in 1965 has a rookie scored five rushing touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns in a single season — until Kamara. And Kamara’s ballsy, fake-kneel, 106-yard kick return for a touchdown in the regular-season finale is the longest play in Saints franchise history.

No other NFL player in the league is doing quite what he’s doing, and no other player looks quite like him either. In addition to wearing his hair in twists, he rocks two nose rings and a shiny gold grill in his mouth — on the field. And off of it, Kamara has plenty of gold around his neck, Louis Vuitton on his wrists and Alexander Wang on his feet. In a season polarized by protests, and missing star New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Kamara brought swag to the NFL. He might even mean as much to the culture as the Migos right now.

Nine long rings on the call to Quavo, and no answer.

“I don’t know what he doing,” Kamara says. “He might call back.”


The recruitment of Alvin Kamara resulted in offers from just about every powerhouse college football program. On national signing day in 2013, with his mother, Adama, and Coach K beside him, Kamara decided to roll with the Alabama Crimson Tide, the school that once sent him 105 letters in a single day. He made the announcement during a crowded news conference at Norcross High School.

“Of all the kids I’ve ever recruited, I probably got closer to him and his family than any kid,” says Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, the former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator who secured Kamara’s commitment. “I don’t know why. He took a liking to me, I took a liking to him. We respected each other.” The two keep in touch via text and FaceTime. Kamara ends those calls with, “Love you.”

Kamara was poised for playing time despite a loaded depth chart — future NFL backs Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake — at his position. But a knee injury requiring surgery forced him to redshirt. “Alvin got put down with the scout team,” Smart says. “I can remember Nick Saban having to kick him out of practice: Hey, if you’re not gonna run the ball with the scout team, get out of here. Alvin didn’t like the idea of that, and I think he’d be the first to admit he didn’t handle it well. We didn’t handle it well. He ended up saying, at the end of the semester, ‘I’m gonna transfer.’ ”

Kamara called Coach K to help him pack up his dorm room, and his uncle dropped everything he was doing — the Migos were just months from releasing their breakthrough hit, “Versace” — to be there. “Don’t even look back,” said Coach K. “We good. Whatever the next move is, we’re gonna execute it. We just gonna be A1.”

But on Feb. 13, 2014, at 19 years old, Kamara was arrested in Norcross for driving with a suspended license. “I’m sitting in the back of a cop car, like, What the f— am I doing?” He had enough pocket money to bail himself out, but police made him wait hours in a cell for his mother to come get him. “That was my sign,” he says. “Things had caught up to me.”

Kamara decided to stop dodging calls from Hutchinson Community College and boarded a plane to Kansas. He says he essentially “disappeared” for a year into his version of Last Chance U. It took one super productive, conference-offensive-player-of-the-year season — 1,469 total yards of offense and 21 touchdowns in only nine games — to make him a five-star junior college prospect. Kamara returned to the SEC, this time to Tennessee. “AK is a good dude,” says Hutchinson recruiting coordinator Thaddeus Brown. “He just had to figure it all out.”

And those high school homies? They’re now known around the world by their rap names — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff.

It may have helped that somewhere along the road from Tuscaloosa to Knoxville, Kamara embraced who he is, especially with regard to his personal style. His middle school classmates had called him, as Kamara puts it, “weird as f—.” But ever since, he’d run from himself. It was time to return.

It started with a stud in his left nostril that he’d always wanted. When Kamara noticed too many others with their noses pierced, he one-upped them with a septum piercing. At Tennessee, he began wearing both, and, instead of the usual plastic mouthguard, he wore a grill during games. Kamara: “I was just like, ‘Bruh, I’m about to be me.’ It’s gonna be real hard for y’all to make me not be me.”


“He’s so unassuming,” says David Raymond, Kamara’s day-to-day manager. “If you just see him on the street, you wouldn’t be like, ‘That’s a running back.’ ”

At the 2016 NFL scouting combine, Kamara, who had declared early, topped higher-profile running backs — Dalvin Cook now of the Minnesota Vikings, Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers — in both the vertical leap (39.5 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 11 inches). He ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash. Yet his history at ’Bama, coupled with his arrest, and even his choice to leave Tennessee early, made some skeptical. “You see the gold teeth,” says Raymond, “and the nose rings, but you don’t see the young man.”

Alvin Kamara runs the 40-yard dash during the 2017 NFL combine.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Kamara notched a 24 on the Wonderlic. It was the highest score posted by any Division I running back prospect. And Kamara says that while he was training in Miami with former Hurricanes strength coach Andreu Swasey, he “never took one m—–f—— practice Wonderlic. I don’t know if people look at me and think, ‘He just plays football.’ I can chop it up on anything you want to talk about — from football … fashion … current news … history. We can do all that. I don’t just play football. I’m Alvin. Alvin Kamara. I happen to play football.”

Kamara’s stylish singularity, he feels, caused him in many cases to be condescended to, and in other cases to be racially pigeonholed. Kamara chooses not to reveal the name of an NFL owner who talked to him through a sneer. “You like fashion,” the man said. “Your friends are rappers. You got the look. You got the nose rings. You look like you could probably do something else … like you don’t need football.”

Kamara pondered: Just because I know some people? I’ve not made one song. If I wanted to be a rapper, I would’ve been doing that a long time ago. After the interview, the team’s running backs coach approached Kamara and confirmed what the prospect already suspected: The owner didn’t believe Kamara “loved football.” And that it was unlikely Kamara would be listed on the team’s big board come draft night. The interaction begged questions: Does a person have to “need” football in order to love it and play at the highest level? And can one love football and possess a full identity outside of it?

“He didn’t handle it well. We didn’t handle it well. One thing led to another and he ended up saying at the end of the semester, ‘I’m gonna transfer.’ ”

Kamara says at least three other teams tossed up similar red flags. “If somebody feels a certain way about the way I carry myself, or the way I dress, the way I talk, I don’t know what to tell you … because I don’t hate nobody. But if you don’t like me? I’mma keep it moving.”


Kamara’s flair may have been lost on some owners and front-office executives, but not on JR Duperrier, a sports marketing manager for Adidas. He had gone to the combine to sign former Michigan star Jabrill Peppers. When he got to Indianapolis, he found Kamara.

“My first impression of Alvin,” says Duperrier, “was he’s kinda swaggy.He looked like he could dress a lil’ bit, and I could dig it.” Duperrier is quite fashion-forward himself, having been named by BET as one of the 25 most influential people in sneakers last October. “Given a platform, Alvin can excel. He’s his own person. He doesn’t follow what other people do.”

Adidas announced the signing of Kamara on Twitter, 17 minutes after the New Orleans Saints selected him in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft with the 67th overall pick (63 spots behind Fournette, 59 behind McCaffrey, 26 behind Cook and 19 behind Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon). For Kamara, his pre-draft gathering was a blur. Just a simple chat with head coach Sean Payton and running backs coach Joel Thomas. “They weren’t pressing me,” Kamara says matter-of-factly. Something about the Saints just felt right. When he reported to the team’s training facility for the first time, he noticed it again.

Saints running back Alvin Kamara jumps over Darius Slay of the Detroit Lions.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Maybe it was how defensive end Cam Jordan, a three-time Pro Bowler, greeted him for the first time. “This man got a nose ring! You f—ing millennials!” And the first time he met Drew Brees, the future Hall of Famer knew about Kamara’s skills, and recognized the potential. “ ‘I wanna work with you,’ ” Kamara recalls Brees saying. “ ‘Let’s grow together.’ ” Brees and Kamara have found common ground and channeled it into a rejuvenated winning culture in New Orleans.

“He always seems like he’s having fun,” says Brees, “and he definitely has a swagger to him. He fits in great with our locker room.” Throughout his first months in that locker room, Kamara won the rookie Halloween costume contest. He treated his offensive line to surprise rib meals in their lockers for helping him win FedEx Ground Player of the Week. And he sat on a throne of Airheads, a candy partnership Kamara had in his sights on since the draft. He always carries a pack of the taffy with him, offering some to anyone who crosses his path.

Most notably, Kamara has established a playing and personal relationship with the veteran of the backfield, Mark Ingram. The rookie has become what New Orleans calls the “zoom” to Ingram’s “boom” in games, after which the pair conduct hilariously informative postgame interviews together in front of their adjacent lockers. This season, they became the first running back duo in NFL history to each record 1,500 yards from scrimmage.

“This guy has so much on his plate,” says Ingram, “where he has to line up, how many different ways we wanna get him the ball. It says a lot about him as a professional. He deserves all of the success that’s coming his way.” Ingram calls Kamara not just a special player but also a special human being. “Offensive Rookie of the Year … we got it.”

Alvin Kamara (right) and Mark Ingram talk during a game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

And contrary to popular belief, which Kamara dispels any chance he gets, there’s no animosity between him and Adrian Peterson, whom the Saints traded to the Arizona Cardinals before Week 6, just as Kamara’s stock began rising exponentially. The rookie soaked up as much knowledge as he could from the future Hall of Famer. “Keep playing,” Peterson told Kamara once in practice. “Keep being you.”

He took the advice to heart: 1,554 total yards from scrimmage through 16 regular-season games. He also owns the highest yards-per-carry average (6.1) for any first-year rusher in the Super Bowl era (minimum of 100 carries) and broke a 36-year-old franchise record for most touchdowns by a rookie, with 14. Simply put, Kamara got all he could ever ask for in his first NFL team. Because the Saints let Alvin be Alvin.


It’s a party in Suite 354 at the Superdome — jam-packed with Kamara’s people. “I just got here,” says Coach K, fresh off a private jet to see his nephew play. “All he had to do is play ball when he got here. Be young. Bring the swag. Do his thing.” Quality Control co-founder Pierre “Pee” Thomas is there, along with David Raymond and Duperrier. New Orleans rapper Young Greatness is rocking a custom Alvin Kamara hoodie, created by the designer/stylist Tvenchy, who’s responsible for many of the rookie’s day-to-day outfits and is in the suite vibing as well.

It’s hard to miss the boisterous Tonee, who played high school football with Kamara before becoming Atlanta singer 6lack’s official DJ. Or JAT, a friend from Tennessee who runs her own hair business. Saints superfan Jarrius Robertson even pops in. Along with his mother (who watched from home, although she hates to see her son take hits on-screen, or in person), this is Kamara’s foundation. “I kind of try to block it out when I’m playing because it’s distracting, but at the same time … my friends are here, so you wanna do good,” Kamara says later. “Not only for me, but for them.”

Alvin Kamara celebrates with fans after scoring a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

After the playoff-clinching win that Kamara finishes with a solid 21 touches for 162 yards, he and the crew partake in his season-long tradition. They make the 1.1-mile journey from the stadium exit back to his apartment — on foot. Along the way, he’s stopped every five steps by curious Saints fans, wondering, Is that really Alvin Kamara? Yes, it’s him. And he’ll take a picture with anyone who asks. “If I sign an autograph, somebody will be like, ‘Put Rookie of the Year,’ ” he says. “Do I want to be Rookie of the Year? Of course. … You can only do it once. But I can’t put it until I win it.”

“All he had to do is play ball. Be young. Bring the swag. And do his thing.”

Hours after the walk home, New Orleans is abnormally quiet, save for the few packed restaurants. A Kamara and Quavo FaceTime happens, as the Migos’ genius sits in a glowing Atlanta studio and chops it up about jewelry and such — “Show me the ice!” he says — with the NFL’s most explosive offensive weapon. After the call, not even the star rookie running back of the Saints can secure a last-minute reservation downtown on the night before Christmas.

So it’s into his black Audi S7 V8T and on to a chicken wing joint on the outskirts of the city, where he’s perhaps even more heralded as he places a food order fit for an army. It’s apparent that the stone-faced cashier sort of recognizes him, though she can’t fully put her finger on the exact identity of the nose-ringed, beanie-wearing figure before her.

“We need that Super Bowl!!!” a middle-aged man shouts.

“Off rip. I got you,” Kamara responds with a dap. “A hunnid.”

A moment of clarity overcomes the cashier, who looks at her customer with a warm smile. “Alvin Kamara?” she says. “I thought that was you.”

Rhyme by rhyme, a street cop slings his story

Patrol Officer Quincy Iverson The Man on the street 26 years in uniform (retired)

“I get that hate from both sides I can’t do no good. Too black for the badge, too blue for the hood.”“I get that hate from both sides, I can’t do no good. Too black for the badge, too blue for the hood.”

Black and Blue: A rap soundtrack for a young thug’s journey to the police force

When the lieutenant knocked on the door for the background check, Quincy Iverson was blasting N.W.A. through his stereo speakers and drinking his second 40-ounce of the day. He was four months out of the Army, a newlywed, working as a Sears carpet cleaner and in need of a better job. Iverson let the white cop in and turned down the music.

Three decades later, Iverson still isn’t sure how he got hired by the Akron Police Department. He had a juvenile record from teenage stunts like stealing from the mall. He flunked eighth grade after a house fire forced him to relocate to a hostile neighborhood and fight his way home most days. At 5-foot-5½, he worried about meeting the height requirement. He dreamed of becoming a famous rapper, not a cop. “But the grace of God, some way, somehow, they hired me,” Iverson said.

Before retiring in September, Iverson, 50, spent 26 years as a patrol officer on the same hardscrabble streets where he grew up, got married and raised his own three children. Akron’s population of 198,000 is 30 percent black and has been declining since tire manufacturers such as Goodyear and Firestone began moving factories elsewhere. The poverty rate (26 percent) and murders (30 in 2016) are rising. The police force of 450 officers is about 20 percent black. Despite Akron’s problems, Iverson reps his city as hard as native son LeBron James has. He can hardly walk a block without someone giving him some dap or a hug — and he’s not going anywhere.

Iverson spent his entire police career on the frontlines, riding in a patrol car, responding to trouble of all kinds. He’s grateful he never had to fire his weapon, although he was shot at several times. He’s arrested more young brothers than he can remember, including some who thanked him years later. Iverson often felt tugged in opposite directions by his loyalty to the black community and his responsibility to his job. It’s the same mix of emotions he felt over the police killing of Tamir Rice, 40 miles up the road in Cleveland. He was saddened by another black life snuffed out, and disagreed with how the white officer rushed up to 12-year-old Tamir in his patrol car, rather than checking out the situation more carefully. But Iverson also knew that if the only information he received on a call was black male with a handgun, and that suspect made one wrong move, “the kid probably would have got it. He reaches, I don’t have a split second to say, ‘Hopefully this gun ain’t real.’ How Scarface say, you only got a minute to pray and a second to die? It’s a bad get-down, bruh, either way.”

Rap has always been Iverson’s oxygen. He started performing in junior high school and was inspired by lyrical pioneers such as the Treacherous Three, Kool Moe Dee, Rakim, LL Cool J and Big Daddy Kane. His crew gained some local fame, but a rapper in Akron before the internet, and more than a decade before Cleveland’s Bone Thugs-N-Harmony put Ohio on the hip-hop map, had little chance of going national. And Iverson’s day job didn’t help matters, once N.W.A. F’d tha Police and rap became dominated by those who broke the law, not enforced it. Iverson concealed his identity behind a rap name, the Copley Road Bully, that combined his neighborhood and his childhood misbehavior, and he never stopped writing lyrics, making beats and recording songs.

The Undefeated asked Iverson to describe, through his music, his career on the police force. And we followed him with cameras through Akron’s streets, from his favorite breakfast diner to the family gathering spot of his sister’s house, to document Iverson’s story of being “too black for the badge, too blue for the ’hood.”

SportsCenter’s ‘Gear Up,’ Week 11: Teams honor armed forces for Veterans Day South Florida lets its ‘SoFlo,‘ and Colorado State shows off ‘State Pride‘

In Week 11 of Gear Up, SportsCenter’s weekly segment previewing the best uniforms in college football, The Undefeated’s Aaron Dodson breaks down the style combinations of Army, Navy, Air Force, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Arkansas State, South Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Marshall, South Florida and Colorado State.

Four of the five United States service academies — Army, Navy, Air Force and the Merchant Marines — pay tribute via Veterans Day uniform combinations. In a matchup between Arkansas State and South Alabama, the two teams partner to honor all five military branches with decals on their helmets. Missouri unveils a special American flag-themed helmet, while Mississippi State breaks out a Veterans Day alternate for the second consecutive season. Vanderbilt players will wear the names of fallen soldiers on the backs of their jerseys, and on the stripe across Marshall’s helmets are the names of all 75 people who lost their lives in the team’s tragic 1970 plane crash. The South Florida Bulls crank up the color with their “SoFlo” uniform. And, yes, we show off Colorado State’s social media favorite “State Pride” look.