For many athletes on the hardwood, clear and concise instructional basketball is key to the fundamentals of the game. And it’s no different for Special Olympic athletes who participate in unified sports.
On Saturday, 12 of these players from all over the world revealed their talents in front of fans at the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game in Los Angeles. As part of the NBA’s All-Star community efforts, and joined by NBA and WNBA players and legends, the athletes were divided into two teams (orange and blue) made up of individuals with or without intellectual disabilities.
Showcasing the unifying power of sports since the first game held during the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game creates a diverse and inclusive environment. For more than 40 years, the NBA and Special Olympics have partnered to bring basketball to Special Olympics athletes and events across the globe.
NBA All-Star and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Andre Drummond, Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Lakers guard Larry Nance Jr., Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield, Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne, Dallas Wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, Chicago Sky center Stefanie Dolson and legends Dikembe Mutombo and Felipe Lopez participated in a basketball clinic, which took place before the game, and some even played in the game.
Drummond recently shared his struggles in school with bullying and why his support of Special Olympics is so meaningful, in an NBA film.
More than 1.2 million people worldwide take part in Special Olympics Unified Sports competitions.
Team member George Wanjiku of Kenya finished the game with six points. The 6-foot-8 center played on Saturday’s Orange Team and was the highest scorer in the 25-point team finish. The final score was 33-25, won by the Blue Team. Wanjiku was disappointed by the loss but ecstatic, saying the day was one of the “best days of his life.”
Translated by his coach James Okwiri, Wanjiku said he saw other athletes coming to play basketball and he got interested in playing basketball because of his height and new opportunities outside of his other favorite sport.
Wanjiku is an only child who lost both of his parents at the age of 10. He was raised by his grandmother, and he saved enough money to build a home for her after working at a construction company. Playing with Special Olympics for only four years, Wanjiku enjoys watching movies, traveling and meeting new people. In 2015, he participated in the World Summer Games in Los Angeles and since then, he has gained a lot of respect and admiration in his community.
Okwiri is looking forward to coaching Wanjiku more this year.
About 1.4 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way. ESPN has served as the Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports since 2013, supporting the growth and expansion of this program that empowers individuals with and without intellectual disabilities to engage through the power of sports.
Special Olympics athlete Jasmine Taylor finished with four points. The Florida native is a huge fan of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.
“It was good game,” she said. “I had fun playing.”
Phillipo Howery finished with four points and appreciated playing alongside one of his favorite players, Mutombo.
“It was pretty hard and crazy, but it was fun,” Howery said.
Howery is from one of the most inclusive high schools in the Arizona, if not all of the U.S. He will compete in the upcoming 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle from July 1-6.
Special Olympics coach Annette Lynch said the athletes were prepared.
“We’re only volunteer coaches. We can only come and volunteer over the weekend. So he only trains once a week,” Okwiri said. “It’s a high-performance situation. In Special Olympics, not always do the high-performing athletes become selected. I could not be more proud of them …”
The players were selected based on an application process, which included video interview submissions that included personal game highlights.
Lynch joined the Special Olympics in 1989.
“I was the first full-time woman in the sports department,” she said. “My background is certainly teaching and coaching, from junior high all the way up through Division I athletics. And I also had a three-year stint as a player on the U.S. team back in the ’60s. I brought together the player aspect, the teacher aspect, and the coaching aspect, and looking to professionalize what these athletes would get and certainly deserve. They deserve the best in coaching.
“Our goal was to showcase their skills, so that people would see what our athletes are capable of. Because they don’t, they many times speculate or they think they know, but they don’t know. We have such a range of ability level, from the superhigh level.”
According to its website, the Special Olympics is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences. Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability, allowing practices and games to diversify and become more fun than challenging.
Here at The Undefeated, we spent a trying 2017 attempting to cover the world through your eyes. We had the Colin Kaepernick saga on lock, the NFL protests covered. We learned from Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng that “the biggest misconception is people thinking Muslims are terrorists.” We reveled at Whitley Gilbert’s wardrobe and watched Tarik Cohen shine at North Carolina A&T before he was a rookie standout with the Chicago Bears. We showed you chic street style at Afropunk, brought back Drumline and demonstrated that love knows no color. 2017 was a tough year, but TU brought it to you, warts and all.
Hey, 2017, we’d hate to miss you but love to watch you leave.
The Undefeated 44 most influential black Americans in history A collection of dreamers and doers, noisy geniuses and quiet innovators, record-breakers and symbols of pride and aspiration.
- 50 Greatest Black Athletes – The people spoke, and the results sparked some serious debate.
- UNC vs. Villanova: 13.5 seconds oral history – “Jenkins, for the championship!”
- Drumline oral history – “In order for me to get the additional $5 million, I had to create a white character.”
- New Edition oral history – “That’s when I said, ‘I don’t know why Johnny’s here.’ ”
- The NFL’s racial divide – “I have a chip on my shoulder at all times. I’m constantly trying to prove myself.”
- The NBA rookie style quiz – Forget your jump shots, newbie. It’s time to get your design game on.
- CulturePlay 50 – From Cardi B to Samuel L. Jackson (and 48 more), we throw odd questions to the talented and famous every week.
- Seahawks’ Michael Bennett is an activist disguised as a football player – “Every day, a white quarterback throws the ball to a black receiver, but when it comes to Black Lives Matter issues, they won’t step up and be like, ‘There is an issue.’ ”
- Professional wrestler Booker T’s raw life – “It’s funny, you know, they love to say how wrestling is so fake and made-up. And the irony of the whole thing is, the best thing about my brother is his honesty.”
- The gentrification of college hoops – Most athletic scholarships are going to middle-class kids with college-educated parents, not to kids from poor families who need a scholarship to get anywhere close to a university campus.
- Frank Dowsing, Mississippi State’s first black football player, is almost unknown today – A state struggles to remember a racial pioneer — is it partly because of his sexuality?
- Deconstructing J.R. Smith – “He still teaches me so much stuff that I don’t know. His horizons are so broad and he’s so well-rounded in so many areas that I still learn so much from him when it comes to basketball or life in general or fatherhood.”
- How Colin Kaepernick became a cause for activists and civil rights group – “He’s a modern-day Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali all in one.”
- Nick Blakely came so close to playing Division I football – then tragedy struck – “I’m not much of a traveler, but I would sure love to go to heaven one day.”
- Chargers’ Brandon Mebane: ‘You could just tell they didn’t want us there.’ – “They were probably surprised that we were African-Americans, and they bought into all the negative stereotypes.”
- Being Muslim in the NBA – “The biggest misconception was people thinking Muslims are terrorists. That’s the way they see me nowadays.”
- The Marsalis brothers jazzed up a basketball conversation with Thunder coach Billy Donovan and GM Sam Presti –“In a jazz band, it’s very similar to basketball because you can have musicians who can really play their instrument really well. But they don’t have an understanding of what their function is to make the group succeed.”
- Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry carries brother’s memory into second NBA season – “It was evident from the very beginning that that wasn’t DeAndre’s brother. That was DeAndre’s best friend.”
- Best NBA throwbacks of all time – The very best throwback jerseys for all 30 NBA teams
- Are we entering the end times for the NFL? – Professional basketball offers the NFL a blueprint for success: embrace the black culture of the majority of your players
- Why Floyd Mayweather can still box after beating women – “I don’t support men putting their hands on women. … I believe he put his hands on you once, he gonna do it again. And again and again and again and after.”
- Derrick Rose hates fame but still hopes to be an NBA champion – “I picked the profession I’m in, so there’s no way I could whine about it.”
- The NBA’s 50 greatest players list: The remix – “You know, those guys were all sons of b—-es to deal with on the court. I can’t believe you took some of them off.”
- Lonzo Ball wouldn’t make the NBA All-Rookie team the way he’s playing now – If the vote for the NBA All-Rookie first team were taken today, Ball might not be on it. Indeed, Ball has not been the best rookie on his team.
Whitley’s World “You can’t unsee A Different World. You’ve seen it, it’s kind of engraved in your psyche.”
- The color of love – Dirk Nowitzki opens up on his interracial marriage
- Jamie Foxx is the best to ever do it – Foxx — not Will Smith, not Dave Chappelle, not even Beyoncé — is the supreme entertainer of our era, and it’s time to recognize him as such.
- Jay-Z is dead – Love, betrayal, shame, survival: Jay-Z hits the ball out of the park with intensely personal album
- The night Biggie was murdered – We catch up with a few of the 1996–97 Los Angeles Lakers — Shaquille O’Neal, Nick Van Exel and Corie Blount — as well as L.A.’s own Baron Davis and Marcellus Wiley to discuss what it was like living in Los Angeles at the time of Biggie Smalls’ murder.
- Dave Chappelle’s ‘Juke Joint’ – An impromptu Chance the Rapper set, and a Snapchat-free zone made it a golden ticket
- A veteran black police officer teaches police how not to kill people – “I was born black. I’m going to die black. I’m a black man before I’m anything else. The fact that I’m a police officer is a job that I do. It’s an oath that I took.”
- Ibram Kendi, one of the nation’s leading scholars of racism, says education and love are not the answer – “Black neighborhoods are not more dangerous than white neighborhoods and neither are black people.”
- Serena Williams, with or without a baby, has always been a ‘real woman’ – For as long as she’s been in the public eye, Williams has been asserting her femininity because for just as long, it’s been under attack.
- If you truly knew what the N-word meant to our ancestors, you’d NEVER use it – The decision for black people to include it in their vocabulary, nonetheless, remains personal, and I reject the criticism of black folk who continue to wield it.
- The message to NFL players: Dance for us, but don’t kneel – You can Milly Rock, Juju on that Beat or fake play pingpong in the end zone. But we can’t abide you kneeling on the sidelines. Dance to your heart’s content, but you best not raise a fist in protest.
- The NFL protests got white people to argue with white people – I credit the NFL protests for nudging this sort of healthy intraracial dialogue among white folk.
Alabama State Honey Beez bring positive plus-size attitude to HBCU dance scene “Where one of us lacks, the other one will pick up. We’re plus-size girls and we still go through bullying in college. But we’re more confident now, so it’s not as bad. But we have a real sisterhood, and this is our home away from home. The Honey Beez took me all the way out of my shell, and I love it.”
- Caylin Newton with Jay Walker: A convo with two Howard QBs – There’s a Bison stampede going on in Washington, D.C., and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s little brother is the main reason.
- For Tarik Cohen, his NFL dream has begun – “I’m going to get there. I’m telling you, I’m going to play.”
- We got the beat: HBCU Band Rankings, Undefeated style – Bands strive to put on their best performance every game, just like the football team.
- Female presidents are playing critical roles in the survival of HBCUs – “I was the bearer of bad news, but I provided the vision and strategy to move forward,” said Cynthia Warrick. “Some people even thanked me for being so transparent.”
NBA standout Serge Ibaka is a standout single father too “Since I was young I always dreamed of myself traveling, envisioned at least three, four kids, five. And then, I’m living my dream right now and something I always love to do, and it’s fun. It’s really changed my life. It’s changed everything about me. The way I think and the way I live my life. It changed everything.”
- Ray Allen talks about his passion for teaching others about the Holocaust – “For many years, it was almost like our country wouldn’t accept the bad things it did to black people. The oppression, the racism, just all the negative issues that we’ve dealt with as people, we’re still recovering.”
- Troy Mullins is long drive golf champion but she’s striving for the LPGA – “Black athletes and having to be the best in their sport just to be recognized, just to be out there. There’s something about us having to be No. 1 to be put in the spotlight, that we can’t be too mediocre. I’m working really hard to do my best in this sport. It’s tough.”
- Nazr Mohammed isn’t retired, just prepared for his next phase in life – “At the end of the day, knowing that you’re in a position that you can help others and you can give and the smiles that you put on people’s faces and the happiness that you bring to others — it makes me feel good.”
Leon Bridges sings his rendition of the national anthem The critically acclaimed soul singer explores the themes of the anthem, creating a beautiful rendition that feels like both a hymn and a benediction
- Eagles’ Torrey Smith on fatherhood and his dancing, Instagram-famous sons – The best thing about being a father, he says, is the responsibility he’s taken on to mold two little boys into “great young men.”
- Santana Moss on CTE fears – “I’m not ready to go.”
- Draft profile: De’Aaron Fox and his love for video games – “I really stay away from basketball games.”
- Dwyane Wade’s All-Star spades party – “My earliest memory of playing spades probably goes back to playing with my brothers, my dad, my stepmom, just sitting at the kitchen table, as a family, and they’re talking all kinds of junk.”
- NOLA Gotta Shine: Inside Jordan Brand’s space at All-Star Weekend – NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans was the place to see and be seen, and there’s no better place for sneakerheads than the Jordan Brand pop-up shop.
- The business behind Echo Fox, Rick Fox’s esports team – Vision Venture Partners Team, the private equity firm behind Echo Fox, is quietly reshaping esports.
- From ‘Moana’ to ‘Hamilton’ to ‘Dancing with the Stars’ winner: The rise of Jordan Fisher – Get a peek into a day in the life of this rising star.
Inside Afropunk “They’re just the ‘standard of beauty’ and here you can be what you want and THAT’S beauty.”
- Fred Whitfield and the Black Cowboys of Rodeo – The cowboy is an iconic American figure and in popular mythology almost always a white one.
- Star Wright and the Philadelphia Phantomz make a place for hard-hitting women – “We’re trying to say that women can do anything.”
- Howard Homecoming – in GIFs – It was lit
- At the Celebration Bowl, the drum majors led the way – For both Grambling and N.C. A&T, it was all about preparation, practice and precision.
The Plug It’s the debut of The Plug, hosted by Chiney Ogwumike, Kayla Johnson, Justin Tinsley and Tesfaye Negussie. In episode 1, the crew dives into current events, discuss LaVar Ball’s latest news, NFL social activism and more. Plus, hip-hop icons Jadakiss and Fabolous join.
- All Day – The Undefeated Podcast: Clinton Yates spent a day in New York profiling various parts of the culture, when news broke that a legend had died. After spending the morning with the creators of Jopwell, a startup helping students of color in the tech industry, the the afternoon with Nike for a new shoe release, he ends up in Queens to talk with a family friend and musician about the life and influence of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy.
- America’s Black History Museum: 9/20/16 – Jill Hudson, Justin Tinsley and Clinton Yates talk about the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the 86th Emmy Awards. Plus, Mike Wise discusses his story about Joe Paterno.
- Morning Roast – The gang is all together, talking national anthem protests, possible NFL players strike, potential renaming of Yawkey Way and latest Bachelor in Paradise drama.
- The Morning Roast & Live at NABJ – Clinton Yates is in for Bomani, and in hour three he is joined by Marc Spears and Myron Medcalf to discuss all the happenings at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.
- Rhoden Fellows: HBCU 468: 5/11/17 – Stephen A. Smith praised Isaiah Thomas’ compelling effort in the playoffs and explained Kevin Durant’s impact on Golden State. He also talked about attending a historically black university.
- O.J.: Made in America: 6/11/16 – Domonique Foxworth is joined by guests Jason Reid, Raina Kelley, Ezra Edelman, Sarah Spain and Carl Douglas as they take a look at O.J.: Made in America.
Greenville, South Carolina, native Niya Brown Matthews was just 27 years old when she was first diagnosed with stage 2 cancer in her left breast. The outcome left her speechless.
“I didn’t even know anybody with it,” Matthews said. “It didn’t run in my family. I had just moved to Atlanta with my 4-year-old daughter.”
She’d also just recently buried her father, who died of lupus at the age of 50.
“I felt like I was being punked,” she said. “I couldn’t even fathom it. Seriously, why me?”
Matthews said she had no symptoms. She completed a breast self-examination in the shower and felt a knot under her arm. She thought it was a cyst from wearing deodorant that was too strong. She was experiencing no pain at all. So she pushed the idea of getting tested to the back of her mind.
“I’m pretty healthy, like I’ve been pretty healthy leading up to that,” Matthews thought at the time, trying to understand what was happening. She finally decided to see her doctor, mainly to put her mother’s concerns at ease. She got an appointment for a mammogram and felt completely out of place while waiting.
“I was just this black little girl in this waiting room with these older white women wearing robes, and it felt like a movie. It just didn’t feel real,” she said. “When I got the diagnosis and I was still grieving, I’m a daddy’s girl, and my daddy had just died, so I was in a spiral downward. I’m talking about the questioning, mad at God. I wasn’t eating. I didn’t even want to go get treatment at that time. I couldn’t believe that it was happening to me.”
After coming to grips with her diagnosis and accepting the call to battle, she underwent a lumpectomy and endured several rounds of radiation — so many that she can’t recall the number. She’d gotten down to about 110 pounds, and she said her body took the treatment “really, really hard.” But she maintained a strong immune system throughout the entire process.
In a search to find healing for her mind, body and spirit, Matthews took the advice of her oncologist and started a journal to help her through the process. She refused to go to any support groups.
“I felt ashamed,” Matthews admitted. “People know me as always having it together, and I felt like I was like the scarlet letter, red. It was a mess.”
She pulled herself together, fought her way through her treatments and beat cancer. She overcame the disease that claims the lives of thousands of women each year — until one day it resurfaced. Matthews got her second diagnosis years later.
“When it came back in the second breast, I opted to get that one cut off and just rebuild. My amazing husband was my rock, really, the second time around,” Matthews said. “It was about a year of my life. That whole process was about a year of my life, from treatments to appointments. The first time it felt like it went by so long, but the second time, and I don’t know if that’s my faith wasn’t wavering at that point, I had toughened up. When it came back again, I didn’t even tell my husband.”
In 2010, she married former NFL player Eric Matthews, a Super Bowl champion with the 1996-97 Green Bay Packers.
“It wasn’t that Eric wasn’t going to find out. He doesn’t like to see me sick. I know I’m a tough cookie, so I had to,” Matthews said. “I went ahead and told Eric, and we cried together and I was like, ‘This is not it. This isn’t going to be it. We’re going to make it work, and we’re going to get through it.’ And we did.”
Now 37, Matthews is encouraging others through her annual charity event Too Fabulous for Cancer. She is using her platform to inspire women and spread the notion that breast cancer is not a death sentence. The funds from the event, currently in its third year, are used to provide much-needed resources and comfort to cancer patients. She said she fully understands the “bureaucratic red tape and other systematic barriers that often prevent a lot of women from getting help from larger organizations.” So, through a small company, Matthews provides resources and other items to uplift and empower women during their personal breast cancer battle.
Her last event was on Oct. 21 in Atlanta during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Each year there is an open call from the organization for letters nominating a patient to be selected for a surprise glam makeover at the event. Funds also go directly to selected women for doctor visit co-pays, gas, food, baby sitters during their treatment if they have children, wigs and other out-of-pocket expenses that are not covered by even the best health insurance.
Throughout her journey, Matthews witnessed a series of family members die after her own diagnosis. Watching and reliving their struggles fueled her passion for giving back even more.
“I had already buried 13 of my family members; even my sister was diagnosed at 31. And she said she never would have thought that she needed to go get checked. She was stage 0, which is great because she caught it early.”
Matthews is an author, motivational speaker, humanitarian, real estate professional, wife and mother. Her compassion for others has been the drive for her humanitarian outreach work. Her goals include helping to inspire, enrich and educate women. As president of the Eric Matthews Foundation, she pushes community outreach projects, feeds the homeless and hosts toy drives alongside her husband.
Her book, The Boss In You, empowers and inspires women and young girls to overcome their obstacles and find success in their lives and careers. “My daughter named that book. She says every time she would hear me on the phone talking to somebody, I was telling them to boss up and get it together.”
Matthews said the hardest part of her journey has been learning how to wind down and shut down her busy lifestyle.
“I have one of the biggest hearts,” she said. “My husband and I, we are philanthropists on every level, humanitarians. We give back. And sometimes you want to just be able to do more, but realistically, we’re not balling. We can’t just give it all, but sometimes we need to shut that off, because you’d be amazed at how many inbox messages and Facebook messages and emails I get from people wanting help, or to listen to them, or give them a resource. I go to bed with that. It’s very hard to shut that off. I want to help them all, I do.”
Matthews created a nationwide tour to help combat bullying and body image shaming. Her Finding Your Purpose Tour sets out to speak to female students at high schools, colleges, women’s organizations and corporations about building self-esteem, making positive life choices and the importance of women supporting other women. She recently kicked off her new project: Soulfood Sessions with Niya, set for Nov. 4. The daylong series is an intimate brunch that empowers, celebrates and uplifts women through Matthews’ golden nuggets of inspiration, and she also allows women to share their thoughts.
Thirty-five minutes before Russell Westbrook graces the stage with Fern Mallis, the celebrated creator of New York Fashion Week, there’s a line stretching down the street. The vibrant lot awaits Westbrook, standing underneath scaffolding that overhangs the 900-seat Kaufmann Concert Hall on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. This month, the six-time NBA All-Star releases his Russell Westbrook: Style Drivers (Rizzoli), a toast to the NBA All-Star’s style at work and in life.
Westbrook himself has on casual athletic gear — a far cry from the pink sweatpants and tucked-in Gucci T-shirt he wore for an earlier taped appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. During a wide-ranging conversation, he and Mallis even squeeze in talk about his very specific preparation of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches: “toasted wheat bread, strawberry jam and creamy peanut butter, before slicing it right down the middle.” He definitely has an appetite for going against the grain.
And his talk with Mallis is sold out.
It’s a balmy September evening, and the crowd reflects racial diversity, age diversity, gender diversity and style diversity. Black pants are splattered with polka dots. Blood-red sneakers paired with pristine suits. Button-down plaid shirts and tan chinos are set off by Air Jordan XXXIs. Rabid NBA fans? Meh. Perhaps. This crowd challenges the traditional in favor of originality. Because that’s Westbrook.
Westbrook the two-time NBA All-Star MVP. The triple-double machine. The expectation is that he’ll lead the Oklahoma City Thunder back to the playoffs this season with new teammate Paul George. But looming larger than the elite athleticism that makes him a superstar is his game-night runway flair. Westbrook turns heads as much with his style as he does through his one-man fast-breaking ability.
Westbrook engaged the folks who came to see him, if from a distance. One click-clacked through the concert hall in sky-high Louboutin stilettos — with a 10-year-old in tow, in an orange OKC jersey. One hilariously booed as if on cue at the one mention of Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s former teammate. Westbrook revealed that he loves the postmodern mix of high and low — Topshop with Gucci, a thrift store find with Louis Vuitton. And he said he has no fashion regrets; he loved that kilt-over-slacks look he sported at last year’s NBA opener. But he’ll never, ever wear a romper, he says before laughing. A jumpsuit, yes. But no romper, ever.
Mallis, an NBA fan, rattled off Westbrook’s stats and boasted about his triple-doubles before dragging her glasses down her nose in mock dramatic flair. Westbrook was happily slumped down in a cushy chair. She looked up from the podium and quipped, “How many of my fashion audience even knows what that means?”
It was fun high fashion meets NBA elite meets new basketball fans and the most forward of fashion looks. Because of Westbrook, it all converged nicely.
“I’ll always tell [my son], like I tell everyone else, to be who you are,” he said the next day. “Everybody’s different in their own way … be who you are, and own it. That’s the most important thing for me. I’m going to continue to be who I am and own it. And be a role model to my son. And to some people around the world, as well.”
The next night, Westbrook was the special guest at a private cocktail reception on the third level (men’s ready-to-wear) of Barneys New York Downtown flagship before a book signing on the marbled main floor: bags, caps, jewelry. There the line of fans wrapped snakelike among the Want Les Essentiels purses and Louboutin backpacks, and down the sidewalk as well, waiting while he talked to a small group of fashion insiders.
The people who congregated at Barneys and at the 92nd Street Y’s Kaufman were mostly of the fashionable ilk, although the number of OKC jerseys and those rocking athletic streetwear were ever-present, and many marveled at Westbrook’s progressive, fashion-forward sensibilities. He dares to wear bright pink or printed shirts and other items that aren’t exactly code for straight male who earns his livelihood in what reads as the most masculine of spaces.
“I definitely didn’t encounter any bullying or anything,” Westbrook told a fan of feedback he’s received from his fashion choices. “I’ve definitely encountered people talking about what I was wearing, and what it may look like. And honestly, how I’ve dealt with it is, I’ve stayed positive.”
To say the least. And he can pinpoint the moment people realized how forward the guard is. “I had an outfit I wore in the  playoffs,” he saids while his listeners sipped on champagne or white wine and munched on caviar Bellinis topped with creme fraiche, deconstructed BLTs and bite-sized kale Caesar salads, “a Lacoste fishing [lures] shirt, red glasses. From that moment, it became a thing. And it progressed into other things.” In 2014, Westbrook cut his fashion-savvy teeth via a partnership with the Barneys New York. For his Westbrook XO brand, he worked in tandem with Public School, Del Toro Shoes, Tumi luggage, jeweler Jennifer Fisher and even a fragrance with Byredo.
In conversation with Barneys CEO Daniella Vitale, who hosted the cocktail party, he said the first time he was able to flex his creative muscles was with Barneys. He learned a lot, and it upped his creative confidence. Westbrook also announced that “soon” he’ll launch a streetwear line. “I’m in the process of starting my own stuff, my own line. I’m looking forward to finishing that up,” he said. “That’s my next project.”
And this is aside from a new NBA season in which all eyes will be on Westbrook as he follows the spellbinding season he had last year, when he joined the legendary Oscar Robertson as the only two players in NBA history who have averaged a triple-double for a season. Hours after his book signing, ESPN reported that Westbrook inked a lucrative 10-year extension with Jordan Brand — news the star athlete was clearly trying to keep under wraps.
But he’s constantly watching and working on both of his crafts: basketball and fashion. “I like to sit back and … watch each individual piece,” he said, “and see what the designer was seeing, and try to embrace that and understand the fashion. … I like to … watch the models go by and understand [the designers’] vision, what they were seeing and how they wanted to see the show play out. That’s what I’m trying to understand.”
He also understands that his fashion choices aren’t necessarily for everyone. And that, to him, is the beauty of fashion.
“I have a ‘Why not?’ motto and mindset,” Westbrook said at Barneys. “It’s what I stand by and what I believe in. It’s the name of my foundation. That’s just how I am. Who you are and what you believe in, your confidence and your swagger. It’s about you, regardless of what other people say or what other people think. If you believe what you’re wearing is OK, then go ahead and do it.”
Chicago native and NBA veteran Nazr Mohammed has not officially retired after an 18-year stint in the league. And he doesn’t have much to say about when that announcement will come.
“I realized a long time ago, seeing other friends and teammates go through it. Only the great ones actually retire. The rest of us get retired,” he said. “I don’t feel like I need to officially retire, but I am retired. What I mean by that is, you know, there’s always a situation you would play for, but after a year has passed, I’m not really thinking in that mindset as far as playing again. I’m looking more into the business of basketball. There are things I want to do as far as looking for the right situation that can teach me the business of basketball and put me in a position where I have an opportunity to learn as much as I can. My dream is to one day run my own organization, whether it’s GM or as the president of an organization. I think I can manage and help build a championship team.”
But Mohammed is a multidimensional thinker whose skills have stretched far beyond the court. So for the next chapter of his career, he’s continuing to give back to others and teaching life skills to young girls and boys through his foundation. His off-the-court endeavors include the Nazr Mohammed Foundation, a fundraising organization that focuses on bringing awareness and money to a cause of his choice while hosting its own programs.
“You know how so many start a foundation and they have one particular cause? Just with me, it’s so many different things that I believe in and so many different causes that I’d like to support,” Mohammed said of his multilayered unit. “I decided that, you know what, one cause just isn’t enough, so I keep my foundation pretty broad.”
The University of Kentucky standout was selected in the first round of the 1998 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz right after his junior year. Utah traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers, with whom Mohammed spent the first two seasons of his NBA career. The 6-foot-10 center was an integral big man for the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats, Oklahoma City Thunder and his hometown Chicago Bulls. He played for the Thunder last season.
Mohammed attended high school at Kenwood Academy in Chicago and grew up in a big household led by his father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana.
“There’s 10 of us. Three brothers, six sisters. I’m like fourth from oldest,” he said.
In February, he shared information about his life, his childhood and growing up in a Muslim household in a blog post about religion and politics. He wrote about his experiences with online racism, and his story picked up national attention.
“It’s funny, when I do my blog, something happens that’s just constantly being talked about on TV, and I knew I had an opinion,” he said. “I do plan on doing the blog again. I don’t know when, I don’t know what it’ll be about. When there’s something to talk about, I just have some things I need to say about it, and I just start writing and put it out there.
“The funny part is I never thought I was a writer. I actually didn’t like writing a whole lot, but after I get started, I think I’m getting better. I enjoy it, and once I get started I can’t stop.”
Meanwhile, Mohammed is busy running The Village Project for boys and girls ages 14 to 18.
“What we do is we get up to 100 kids. We try to get about 50 girls and 50 boys. We go through different things and different situations that kids may be going through from bullying to etiquette, financial planning, etc. We create the curriculum according to the what we feel are tools they will need to excel. Then come in and talk to them about financial planning so they can get an understanding about how to handle money, how to save, what bills to expect. When you’re young, no one ever really talks to you about money and financial planning. I think that’s something, especially in the black community, we kind of have to learn on our own.”
Mohammed spoke with The Undefeated about his foundation, family and his overall journey.
What was the idea behind starting your foundation?
I was trying to do something for my high school. I wanted to do something where I help them out academically and athletically, so I decided it was time to start up my foundation. I can kind of use my platform, my name, to try and help to raise money or have fundraisers for them.
My first fundraiser we raised a total of $40,000 for my high school. It helped them upgrade a couple of academic areas. We were able to upgrade some things in their main gym. My second year, I decided to change it up. It was a couple of organizations that I felt that were doing some outstanding things in Chicago and I wanted to highlight them. One of them was Sue Duncan Children’s Center, a place I attended in elementary after the school day to play ball. Back when I attended it didn’t a have a name, so we called it Sue’s. It was at a church; Sue made us read then do a book report before we could play. The other option was to read to some of the younger kids. Sue’s son, Arne Duncan, later became the superintendent of Chicago schools. President [Barack] Obama later named him secretary of education. We donated money to Sue Duncan Children’s Center. Also a place called CircEsteem. It’s an organization that is an afterschool program that kind of keeps kids engaged. They are teaching them like circus tricks. And another one was called Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. In the third year, I switched it up again. This time I did a big fundraiser for Kovler Diabetes Center with the University of Chicago. And the reason I chose diabetes was because of a couple of people in my family suffer from Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. And I wanted to just kind of give back and bring awareness, because we all know how prevalent it is in the black community.
We would help them with the things they were doing as far as research, and they had programs where they were helping people pay for their medicine. In our fourth year, we decided to do something for autism. We did a big fundraiser to raise money for a couple of groups that were helping out in black communities, and communities everywhere. In the fifth year, we also donated to a couple of local organizations.
So that’s kind of what we do. We’re all over the place. If I see something where I feel like it’s a credible organization, or they’re doing great work and I can lend my name, or I could do something and raise money for them, I kind of just do it.
What’s been the hardest part of fundraising for you?
The hardest part is, it’s kind of sad. … You have so many people who say they want to help and they want to be part of what you’re doing, but they really want to help in certain ways. They only want to do certain things. So finding people who are willing to donate their time, or money, or their expertise, it’s been hard. There have been times where people have had their own agendas.
Which cause is the most like heart-tugging for you?
Honestly, all of them have been pretty equal. With autism, I had a friend who had two of his young children on the autistic spectrum. I had another friend whose son in high school was autistic. So that was something that was close to me. As far as diabetes in my immediate family, I have so many that are Type 1 and Type 2. Cancer, at the time I decided to do my fundraiser for cancer, I also had one friend pass from a form of cancer. I had another friend, his mom just found out she had cervical cancer, and I had two friends dealing with breast cancer, so that was something that was really close to me. With each fundraiser we did, there was definitely something that meant something dearly to me at the time and still does. I do have to admit, it is very rewarding doing The Village Project just because this is where we can help teenage kids, we can help young kids, and give them some directions.
As a ‘Windy City’ native, how do you feel about some of the community issues that have been plaguing the Chicago area?
Since I don’t live there full time, I can’t say it directly affects me. But being in Chicago, you just feel it. Growing up in Chicago and playing basketball, when I played, you almost had like an athlete pass, where if you’re doing good, you’re the good player, you are pretty much allowed to go play here and play there, and going to different neighborhoods and no one pretty much messed with you. The saddest part about the violence that’s going on in Chicago, you no longer see that pass. In the last couple of years, there’s been a couple of prominent high school athletes from Chicago who had been killed. When you talk about my city, I want you to talk about it for being a great city, it is. With all the violence that’s going on, the murder rate being so high in certain areas.
I think it’s time that I try and figure out what I can do. I’m as bashful about what exactly you can do with most people. There’s a lot of people working on it. I’m actually trying to find the right organization that I want to partner with, see where I can help.
How do you feel about rappers like Chance the Rapper and Common and others who are speaking out and taking a stand for what’s going on in the community there?
What Chance has been doing, it’s just been amazing. Just to be such a young guy. How intelligent and how passionate he is about the city, putting his money where his mouth is. It’s just been amazing. Some people forget Derrick [Rose] gave a million dollars to an after-school program in Chicago. It’s not talked about much; once it’s done, people forget quickly. Derrick put his money where his mouth was too. There’s people stepping up, people trying to support the city in whichever way they can, whether financially.
Are your children aware of and involved in your philanthropic efforts?
Yeah, definitely. I try to have them involved in little ways whenever we can. I definitely have them around when we do the big group stuff so they can just see what’s going on, letting them help fill gift bags, little things like that, just so they got a feel for what’s going on and kind of be part of it. I have a 14-year-old daughter who will be starting high school this year, 11-year-old son who will be in the sixth grade, and an 8-year-old daughter will be in third grade.
What’s been the most interesting part in being the giver?
I hate to say it, but one of the biggest reasons why I do it is when you give, that’s an opportunity to be selfish. What I mean by that is, when you give … I do it because it makes me feel good. At the end of the day, knowing that you’re in a position that you can help others and you can give and the smiles that you put on people’s faces and the happiness that you bring to others. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel good about myself, so if I can make myself feel a little bit better by giving to others, when I have the opportunity, I try to do it.
How has being a Ghanaian player in the NBA been for you?
It’s funny because I’m just doing my thing, and they’re so proud because I was the first Ghanaian in the NBA. So they’re so proud of it, but at the same time it’s one of those things, because I’m American-born, some people feel like, ‘We don’t know.’ Both my parents are from Ghana. I can’t pick where I was born. I feel like it just had a great impression on me. It’s a quality, and it’s something that is ingrained from different things for me. You know, growing up being the African kid in the neighborhood. You’re treated differently. People look at you differently. Your parents speak a different language but hear the accent.
My father, he really wanted us to understand the difference between being poor in America and Third World poor, how he grew up. We just got different culture and different view on things. Being included, once I became a good basketball player, having that background, my Ghanaian part and just being an African-American in America. I just got a chance to develop so many different views and be a part of so many different groups. That’s something I touched on in my blog about religion and politics.
How has your culture shaped you into the man you are now?
It’s in my DNA. My pops was a hardworking, smart, whatever it takes to be successful, whatever it takes to feed his family. It rubbed off on all of us, all the kids. It’s just part of our culture. You do whatever you have to do, especially being the man of the house. You feed your family, you keep a roof over their heads, you work hard, you try to achieve as much as you can, you learn as much as you can. It definitely shaped me into the man I am today. My father, he did it all first off. It’s kind of hard to explain what he did. During my lifetime, he owned gas stations, he’s done all types of things, but during my lifetime, he drove a cab first. He drove a cab in Chicago, then he wound up went into medallion. Medallion is the right to have a cab in Chicago. A friend of his wanted medallion, but he couldn’t afford to put it on the street, so my father bought his medallion. So now he had two cabs. He slowly put together where he at one point owned 11 cabs. He was a jack-of-all-trades, he did it all. We had a restaurant for a year or two. My pops, he would just work hard, get it out there, try to accomplish it.
If it fails, get backup. Try to figure out another way to accomplish another goal. He always told us, if you can, don’t work for anybody, work for yourself. I’ve always had that in my mind, but of course I haven’t been able to achieve considering it’s kind of hard to be on a team and work for yourself. I’m trying to figure that one out now.
Did you experience any racism growing up?
I feel like at some level, you can always question the way someone treated you, is it some form of racism or prejudice, but you don’t truly know. I found social media, that’s a wild experience. Most of my racism is through … I don’t really count that though. I haven’t experienced much racism that I can confirm in person. No one has called me out my name in person. It’s been more like you’ve had this feeling. And that this person could have been a racist or could have been prejudiced, prejudiced against tall people, black people, whatever it may be, Africans or in which box you want to check for me.
My God. That Bachelorette finale was too long. Your boy fell asleep on it, took a nap, woke up, AND IT WAS STILL ON. Congratulations, Bryan. I hope Rachel and your cheek implants live happily ever after in paradise.
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