The untold story of wrestler Andrew Johnson’s dreadlocks How the high school athlete endured his infamous haircut

When Andrew Johnson walked into The Line Up barbershop last April, all eyes focused on him. Since that awful day in December when a referee had forced the 16-year-old Buena Regional High School wrestler to either cut his dreadlocks or forfeit his match, he felt as if the world was constantly watching him, especially in his small New Jersey town. Watching and whispering about things beyond his control.

Yo, that’s that kid who got his locs chopped by the white ref.

Andrew, who goes by Drew, sat down in Mikey Morales’ chair. Morales has tended Drew’s hair since middle school. After a video of Drew’s shearing attracted a massive social media audience last December, Morales had reshaped Drew’s hair into shorter dreadlocks that radiated from his head.

But now Drew had a new problem. The night before, he had grabbed a pair of scissors from the kitchen and hacked at what remained of his dreads, then asked his little sister to finish the job. Drew loved his hair but was tired of it causing so much trouble. Tired of being treated differently and made into something he was not. Tired of looking in the mirror and seeing the referee, Alan Maloney, looking back.

Since the incident last December, support for Andrew Johnson, seen here during a bout on Jan. 5, has poured in from celebrities, pro athletes and the governor of New Jersey. But others, including some of his schoolmates and other residents of his mostly white town, defended referee Alan Maloney as simply enforcing the rules.

ANDREW MILLS/NJ ADVANCE MEDIA/BARCROFT MEDIA

Maloney already had a racist incident in his past before telling Drew that his hair was “unnatural” and giving him 90 seconds to cut it. What resulted was far more than a humiliating haircut for one high school student. It became a shared and painful experience for many who see how issues of identity, subjugation, power and freedom are intertwined in African American hair.

Support for Drew poured in from celebrities, pro athletes and the governor of New Jersey. But others, including some of Drew’s schoolmates and other residents of his mostly white town, defended Maloney as simply enforcing the rules. Another local contingent believed that even if Maloney was wrong, Drew should have just shaken it off and moved on.

The shy, quiet teen was trapped in a suffocating bubble. Maybe those kitchen scissors were meant to let in some air.

The barber surveyed the damage and looked at Drew’s father, Charles Johnson III, who goes by his middle name of Sheridan. Sheridan and his three sons come to Morales once a week. Their hairstyles vary, but they always stay crisply edged and trimmed. The Johnsons are not a family who walks around looking jacked up.

The barbers and most of their clientele are Puerto Rican here at The Line Up, which is located in one of the strip malls dotting the South Jersey farmlands between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Drew, too, is more Puerto Rican than anything else, despite being widely portrayed as strictly African American when his haircut entered the viral pantheon of American racial injustice.

During several trips to Buena Vista Township, and while attending several of the wrestling team’s home and away matches, I had in-depth conversations with Drew, his parents and siblings, close friends of the Johnson family and their attorney. I talked to Drew’s schoolmates, coaches, other members of the Buena community, and wrestlers and coaches from around South Jersey. The Johnsons declined to be interviewed on the record. Some of the descriptions of Drew’s emotions come from his attorney; others from people in Buena who interacted with him. Maloney declined an interview request, and his attorney didn’t respond to phone messages.

What I saw in Buena was a close-knit, mixed-race family crushed by our country’s tectonic conflict over racial justice and demographic change. This took place in a small town with a rich wrestling tradition where people say sports brings them together, even as they are further apart than most want to believe.

Watching the video of the match, I saw Maloney give Drew 90 seconds to shatter either a pillar of his identity or his bond with his teammates and his home. Sitting in the barber chair beneath Morales’ buzzing clippers 3½ months later, Drew was still trying to reassemble the pieces of who he used to be.


Hair is Africa’s most enduring marker in America, the phenotype most likely to persist through generations of interracial children. Hair is what black folks look at when trying to determine who is one of us. Many mixed-race people are not permitted to fully determine their own identity because of how the world insists on defining them. That’s when hair can represent a manifesto of self.

Sheridan Johnson is the son of a black father and a Puerto Rican mother. He looks black, grew up with his black grandparents and has always identified himself as black. His hair is cut close but dark on top, with a fade melting into his thick, impeccably groomed beard.

Wrestler Andrew Johnson forced to cut hair before match

Sheridan’s wife, Rosa, has a Puerto Rican father and an Irish mother. Rosa has straight, shoulder-length brown hair and fair skin. She values her Puerto Rican heritage and maiden name of Santiago, but much of the world sees her as a white lady with black kids.

The four Johnson children are Drew, who is now 17, 13-year-old Cami, 15-year-old Nate and 19-year-old Matt. Each of their complexions is a different shade of brown. Their hair, too, varies in texture and degree of curl. Drew has the lightest skin, and freckles. He cultivated his dreadlocks in early 2018 by rubbing his hair nightly with a towel. Cami is the darkest, with caramel-colored skin and hair that, when I saw her, fell past her shoulders in cascading coils. Cami is the only sibling who sort of considers herself black. Her brothers never defined themselves that way. If pressed, the Johnson boys will break themselves down mathematically: 50% Puerto Rican, 25% black and 25% white.

Last December, Drew’s calculated identity went up in smoke. That’s when the world decided he was black.


Long, straight roads slice through the farms and woods of Buena Vista Township, 45 minutes southeast of Philly. Tractors creep through fields of tomatoes, peppers and corn. Farmers from Italy arrived in the mid-1850s because the sandy soil was good for grapes. The area remains heavily working-class Italian: Buena is pronounced “BYOO-nuh” because of how it was said by those from the old country. The census says 75% of the township’s 7,299 residents are white, 13% are Hispanic and 7.5% are black.

On Dec. 19, furrowed empty earth ran right up to the parking lot of Buena Regional High School, where the Johnson family gathered to watch Drew wrestle. It was not a special occasion. Where you see one Johnson, you often see them all.

The meet took place in the Charles Johnson Memorial Gymnasium, which is named after Sheridan’s grandfather, who was a beloved custodian at the school. The opponent was rival Oakcrest High. Buena had beaten Oakcrest eight years in a row, but this meet was expected to be close. They were the top two teams in the Cape Atlantic League’s National Division, so the division title was likely on the line. Every match would be crucial.

Wrestling has been part of the fabric of Buena since the early 1970s, when Mickey Caprese, who owned a greeting card store across from Buena’s junior high school, got a bunch of neighborhood kids together and started a youth program. Buena and wrestling are a good match. They’re both tough but not loud, small but proud. There’s no room for pretty boys. Scarred hands or cauliflowered ears are a mark of pride.

New Jersey’s rules prohibit a wrestler’s hair from falling past his earlobes, shirt collar or eyebrows. But that was not Alan Maloney’s issue with Drew. He cited a rule saying hair must be in its natural state.

ELIZABETH ROBERTSON/PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER/NEWSCOM

“We’re just a small community with values and work ethic,” said Doug Castellari, one of Caprese’s first recruits. He became an All-American at Temple University in 1984, coached the Buena team for almost three decades and is one of five Buena alumni in the South Jersey Wrestling Hall of Fame.

“Wrestling’s not a sport you can just go out there and play,” said Castellari, who is still fit from daily workouts and tanned from running his family’s farm. “You have to put a lot into it just to win one match. You have to get a kid to buy in. You have to dedicate yourself and put in the time.”

Castellari’s son Eric wrestled for his dad and now volunteers with the Buena wrestling team. “Buena is not a participation trophy kind of place,” Eric said. “Other sports, there’s somebody next to you. This is one-on-one. If you mentally break, if you give up, you will be abused. Nobody can save you. There’s no safety over the top.

“Nobody realizes how hard those six minutes are.”


Five minutes and 30 seconds into the December match, blood dripped down Drew’s bottom lip. Cramps wracked both calves. He was losing 2-1 and trapped on his stomach underneath his opponent. The shock of having his dreadlocks cut before the match had given way to the desperation of trying to survive.

Drew is not the most talented wrestler in his family. That would be his younger brother, Nate, who started varsity as a freshman at 113 pounds. Drew didn’t join the varsity until his sophomore year, when his record was 13-12 with six pins. In some of the losses, he hit a mental wall and couldn’t climb over, one of his coaches told me. Drew let himself think he could not win.

Drew had big goals last season, his junior year, in the 120-pound division. It was cool having his brother on the team. Nate wouldn’t have to learn by getting abused on the wrong side of the wall.

Referees are supposed to handle hair and other issues at the pre-meet weigh-ins, but on that day Maloney was late. He conducted the “skin check” about 6:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the 7 p.m. start, according to a statement submitted to the school district by Buena’s head wrestling coach, George Maxwell. Maloney told Drew he needed to shave. After Drew returned from the locker room with no stubble, Maloney said he had “concerns” about Drew’s and Nate’s hair, according to the statement and the Johnson family’s attorney, Dominic A. Speziali.

Drew returned to the locker room to get a cap. Maloney left because the meet was about to begin. In the first match, refereed by Maloney, Nate wrestled without a cap and lost. Drew’s match came second.

When Drew was on the mat about to shake hands with his opponent, Maloney stopped him and said his cap was illegal because it didn’t attach to his headgear. Drew and his team did not have an attachable cap because they didn’t think it was needed. Drew had wrestled earlier that season without one.

New Jersey’s rules prohibit a wrestler’s hair from falling past his earlobes, shirt collar or eyebrows. But that was not Maloney’s issue with Drew. He cited a rule saying hair must be in its natural state.

“It’s unnatural,” Maloney told Drew and his coaches, according to a letter sent by Speziali to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, which is investigating what happened.

Andrew Johnson (left) wrestles for Buena Regional High School against Cherokee High School’s Andrew Aromando (right) during a match in New Jersey on Jan. 11. Aromando won the match 4-2.

ELIZABETH ROBERTSON/PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER/NEWSCOM

Rosa and Sheridan sat in the bleachers, unable to hear what was going on.

Maxwell and his assistants argued Drew’s case. After less than two minutes of discussion, Maloney turned his back on them and twirled his finger to start the 90-second injury clock. When it ran out, Drew would forfeit.

It didn’t take Drew long to decide. Wrestlers make immense sacrifices — running in rubber suits to cut weight, starving themselves, vomit-inducing practices. The whole team had suffered to beat Oakcrest. If Drew didn’t wrestle, and win, they could lose the meet and the division title. He did what any Buena wrestler would have done. “I’m going to cry, but cut it,” he told his coach.

As a trainer began to hack off fistfuls of locs with a pair of tape scissors, a wave of anguished noise rolled down from the packed bleachers. Shouts of “Noooo!” can be heard on the video.

Rosa did not run down to the mat. Neither did Sheridan. Later, they would be flamed on social media for not stepping in. But the situation was out of their hands. Would it have been less humiliating for Drew if his parents made him forfeit the match? How much hair would Drew have had left by that point? What could Rosa and Sheridan have done as the clock ticked down to zero?

When about half of Drew’s dreadlocks were gone, Maloney deemed him acceptable. Drew walked onto the mat with tears in his eyes, his face a mask of hurt and anger, breathing so hard his cheeks puffed out from his face.

Oakcrest’s David Flippen bloodied Drew’s lip in the first period. Watching the video, there are moments where Flippen’s hair flops past his eyebrows, which is supposed to be illegal. Drew’s legs convulsed with cramps. With less than a minute to go in the match, Flippen was on top of Drew, leading 2-1. Drew escaped, earning one point to tie the match. He was poised on top of the wall. Sudden-death overtime: The first wrestler to score again would win.

Less than a minute into the overtime, Drew emerged from a tangle of limbs and took Flippen down. Maloney blew his whistle. Drew staggered upright, let Maloney briefly raise his right arm, then yanked it away and stumbled off the mat.

Buena won the meet and at the end of the season won the division with a 6-0 record. Oakcrest finished 5-1.

Forty-five minutes after the match, Drew sat in a hallway, tears streaming down his face. Rosa massaged his trembling legs. He had broken down the wall. But another was rising in its place.


In the days after the video detonated on social media, reporters circled the high school. TV trucks parked outside the Johnsons’ house, right up to Christmas Eve. Sheridan, a cable TV equipment installer, and Rosa, an elementary school teacher in the Buena district, were deluged with comments, ranging from well-intentioned to overbearing to hurtful.

Man, Drew is a trouper. Glad he’s done with all that stuff. … What’s the big deal? … It’s just hair, it’ll grow back. …

Drew sat in his classes in a daze. He walked the halls with his headphones clamped tight. With his new celebrity supporters and fame, he felt yanked from euphoria to anger to depression. One day he left the wrestling room and walked past a basketball game. He felt every eye in the gym on him as he left the building.

Buena’s next match was canceled, with no clear explanation given. The match after that, the referee called the school and said Drew’s hair was still illegal. That match was canceled too. Now the whole team was being penalized. Nobody wants to suffer through making weight for nothing. Drew struggled with whether the canceled matches were his fault, and whether he should quit the team.

He decided against it. He was a varsity starter. The team needed him. Who knows what foolishness Nate would get into in practice without Drew. And if you mess around in practice, the matches will be hell.

Buena’s Andrew Johnson (left) has his 195-pound teammate Sammy Drogo (right) in his ear as they prepare to wrestle against Clayton at the Williamstown Duals in New Jersey on Jan. 5.

ANDREW MILLS/NJ ADVANCE MEDIA/BARCROFT MEDIA

Most of all, Drew just wanted to wrestle.

He got pinned in the two matches after his hair was cut, then recovered to win eight in a row at the end of January. He did well enough at the district meet to qualify for regionals but lost in the first round and ended his season with a 19-10 record and eight pins. Nate finished 21-7 with 15 pins.

The Johnson family has made no public comment since a statement six days after the December match.

“Wrestling has taught Andrew to be resilient in the face of adversity,” Rosa and Sheridan said in the statement. “As we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew’s character and the support he’s received from the community. We will do all that we can to make sure that no student-athlete is forced to endure what Andrew experienced.”


There is a long history of white people trying to legislate and regulate the gravity-defying, shape-shifting glory of black hair. White people may think their rules are neutral, but they come from a mindset that, consciously or not, defines white hair as normal and black hair as deviant. Black hair must be controlled, conform or cut down. Its mere existence is often seen as illegal, from a North Carolina pool banning swimmers with locs to a Texas junior high school coloring in a boy’s part with a Sharpie.

Maloney has a horseshoe of dark hair around the sides of a bald scalp. He is 63 years old, about 5 feet, 7 inches tall, with a paunch and an outsize reputation built on four decades of refereeing in South Jersey. He has held several offices in the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association, or NJWOA.

Maloney is an extremely knowledgeable official but also abrasive, frequently late to matches and a showboat, according to three wrestling coaches I spoke with and other coaches interviewed by NJ Advance Media. What the coaches didn’t need to tell me, because it received statewide media coverage, is that Maloney once called a black referee the N-word. Maloney was briefly suspended, but his punishment was overturned by the NJWOA.

All this history set the context for Maloney calling Drew’s hair “unnatural.”

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) follows the wrestling regulations of the National Federation of State High School Associations. The rulebook says that “the hair, in its natural state, shall not extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back; and on the sides, the hair shall not extend below earlobe level; in the front, the hair shall not extend below the eyebrows.” In a photo of Drew’s hair just before the match, he did not violate any of those restrictions.

The rulebook says that “the hair, in its natural state, shall not extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back; and on the sides, the hair shall not extend below earlobe level; in the front, the hair shall not extend below the eyebrows.” This is a photo of Drew Johnson’s hair just before the match.

SNJ Today via Johnson attorney’s Jan. 9 letter to the state Division on Civil Rights

Amid the postmatch outrage, the NJSIAA and NJWOA agreed not to assign Maloney to any more matches until an investigation was completed. Three weeks later, Roy Dragon, who holds offices with both organizations, sent an email to NJWOA chapters to clarify the hair rules.

Dragon’s email tried to outlaw the hair that Drew still had left. The email, which was obtained by NJ Advance Media, showed examples of what it called illegal hair that required a cap, including this photo.

But the hair in the photograph was actually legal, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Asked by local media about that contradiction, NJSIAA executive director Larry White sent out another email, which included this guidance from the national rules federation:

“There is a wide spectrum of modern hair styles that might give the appearance that they are in violation of the hair rule, but in actuality they are just creative expressions of today’s youth,” the guidance said. It defined hair in its natural state as “how your hair appears when you wake up in the morning.”

But that still leaves room for judgment about what is “natural.” Can you wrestle with hair dyed orange? With gelled hair?

Can the people who run South Jersey wrestling recognize their assumption that everything white is normal and anything else needs to conform or get cut down?


It’s false to say that mixed-race people are caught between two worlds, but it’s a fact that the reaction to Drew’s haircut placed the Johnsons in a bind.

The support Drew received, locally and beyond, helped him and his family get through the experience. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay tweeted, “I don’t just wear locs. They are a part of me … So to watch this young man’s ordeal, wrecked me. The criminalization of what grows from him. The theft of what was his.” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he was “deeply disturbed.”

But many supporters focused their outrage on Drew’s coaches, teammates, trainer, school and neighbors. “Why didn’t people as a group walk out of that room? It speaks to the culture that this is acceptable,” Rachel Green, a member of the civil rights group Action Together New Jersey, said at a public meeting called by the school district. Action Together called for racial bias training for the entire Buena district.

In a passionate Twitter video, four-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, who grew up 15 minutes from Buena and attended the same high school as Maloney, told Drew: “The fact that the parents and the coaches in that gymnasium allowed for you to be put in that position and didn’t protect you is absolutely shameful.

“The bottom line is this young man, especially a young black man in a traditionally and predominantly Caucasian sport, out there defenseless, you guys gotta help this young man. You gotta protect him,” Burroughs said. He criticized Maloney — “You gotta pay the consequences of your actions” — and later FaceTimed with Drew to offer more support.

Drew’s coaches did argue on his behalf. The trainer reluctantly did what Drew asked her to do. Drew wasn’t thinking about systemic racism when Maloney started that 90-second clock. He was thinking about a division title.

And yet …

Buena can be uncomfortable for people of color. It’s one of 53 New Jersey towns that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 after choosing Barack Obama in 2012. There is prejudice against Mexicans who come for agricultural work. Since Trump was elected president, a few Confederate flags have been spotted flying from pickup trucks at Buena high school football games.

“Buena is no different than most of the communities around here,” said the Rev. David Mallory, the black pastor of First Baptist Church in adjacent Richland. “There are still racial tensions in a lot of areas, but I also see more interracial activity that is favorable.”

Since Drew’s hair was cut, much of Buena has assumed a defensive crouch. Many residents don’t want to acknowledge the role of race in what happened to Drew.

“Ambivalence toward racism is a form of racism in itself,” Speziali told me.

Rosa and Sheridan grew up in Buena and enjoy living there, have meaningful friendships among people of all races and never told me anything negative about their home. But it was clear to me that Buena could become an inhospitable place if they spoke publicly about the toll Drew’s humiliation took on their family.

The uproar over Drew’s hair “upset me because it became a racial issue. Buena is a melting pot,” said one resident who is close to the Johnson family. The woman, who is white, did not want to be named in order to avoid upsetting the Johnsons. “My boys were brought up not to judge people based on color. We have all types of kids staying over at our house. We’re just a little town, as far from racist as possible.”

Well, maybe not that far.

“There’s a few racists, like anywhere else,” she continued. “But we’re family.”


A three-minute drive from The Line Up, inside the Sports Cuts barbershop, owner Frank Baldissero rings up haircuts on a 1950s-era R.C. Allen cash register. A 1932 photograph of Rockefeller Center skyscraper workers eating lunch in midair hangs on the wall. A grease board has customer appointments written into 15-minute time slots. “That’s my computer,” said Baldissero, who has been here 31 years.

The Johnson family, pictured from left to right: Matt, Rosa, Drew, Nate, Cami and Sheridan.

Johnson Family

At Sports Cuts, Maloney is the hero and the Johnsons are villains. “The kid got away with it for some number of matches and finally got a ref who followed the rules,” said Baldissero, whose head matches his name. “They didn’t enforce the rules until that point in time, and that’s it.”

“The media left out that no adults or coaches made him follow the rules,” chimed in Katrina D’Allessandro. Her son Will was getting his hair cut for the prom, a fade with bangs hanging down over the front.

“It was upsetting to a lot of people at school,” Will said. “Buena isn’t a racist school. We’re all diverse, we have different views. We’re all human. It’s just a matter of rules, I guess. The rules are that hair has to be a certain length. You can’t really have dreads.”

“The parents and the kid, they should step up and say this isn’t about race, it’s about rules. The kid didn’t follow the rules,” said Baldissero.

“The media is way out of whack,” the barber continued. “They turned it into a racial thing. It got to be a racial thing based on what the ref did years ago. People change. I’m sure he’s not the same person he was back then.”

What Maloney did “years ago” happened in 2016, during an informal gathering of referees after they worked a Jersey Shore tournament. During a disagreement about homemade wine, Maloney poked a black referee named Preston Hamilton in the chest and called him the N-word. Hamilton, a former wrestler, responded by body-slamming Maloney.

The NJWOA was asked to discipline Maloney, who was NJWOA membership chairman and training supervisor at the time. He apologized to Hamilton and volunteered to take alcohol awareness and sensitivity courses. The NJWOA ethics committee decided that Maloney should be suspended from refereeing for one year. The committee also suspended Hamilton for “assault.”

Both men appealed. Ethics appeals are handled by NJWOA officers, several of whom had been friends with Maloney for decades. They voted to rescind both suspensions, outraging a swath of the South Jersey wrestling community. Numerous schools told the NJWOA not to assign Maloney to their meets.

Maloney wasn’t interested in public contrition. “I really don’t think this should go any further than it’s gone anyhow. … It was two men, a group of guys, having fun and it was just a slip-up. If you can’t see past that, then I don’t know what to say. I made a mistake and I apologized for it,” he told the Courier-Post newspaper.

It was not his first mistake. In 2012, Maloney told a 6-year-old wrestler that he couldn’t compete with dreadlocks because “hair doesn’t naturally look like that,” according to a statement by a parent who came forward to state civil rights investigators after Drew’s haircut. Finally, “a younger referee, who was a person of color, told him that my son’s hair was natural and he was able to wrestle with it,” according to the statement, which was obtained by NJ Advance Media. Maloney also was accused of kicking an 11-year-old mixed-race wrestler after he wandered onto the mat during a match.

Maloney owns an auto repair garage in West Berlin, about 30 minutes north of Buena. I stopped by one afternoon in May and walked around the gray building with three car bays. A police car was up on one lift. I asked a mechanic if Maloney was around, and he went to get him.

I waited in the garage’s tiny office. Several NJWOA awards hung on the wall. “Presented in recognition for your outstanding achievements, leadership and contributions to New Jersey Scholastic Wrestling,” read one faded plaque. Nearby was a framed newspaper article from Maloney’s 1989 induction into the South Jersey Wrestling Hall of Fame. The pinnacle of his competitive career was finishing fourth in the state in 1974. He started reffing two years later.

A short white man with a cigar jammed into his mouth entered the office. He was not Maloney. “Who’s calling?” the man asked. I told him.

“You have to leave,” the man said, and pointed at the door.

Maloney has filed a legal notice preserving his right to sue the Buena school district and 11 other possible defendants, not including the Johnson family. He is claiming defamation of character and emotional distress.


Mikey Morales spun Drew around in his barber chair and went to work on what was left of Drew’s dreadlocks. Hair fell to the floor, just like on the mat four months earlier. Only this time, Drew was reclaiming his identity as a mixed-race, bighearted athlete in a small town that doesn’t fully understand what it means to be Drew Johnson.

Drew had played baseball as a sophomore but decided not to go out for the team this past spring. He did go to the prom. He got an after-school job busing tables. Last summer, he worked on a farm during tomato harvest and received an all-expenses-paid scholarship to attend Burroughs’ wrestling camp in Nebraska. Nate went to the camp too. Drew is looking forward to wrestling his senior year with Nate. Their bond is closer than ever.

The civil rights division of the state attorney general’s office is investigating the incident, along with the NJSIAA. Their findings will determine whether Maloney will referee again.

Thanks to the publicity over Drew’s hair, other dreadlocks will thrive. California just banned employers and schools from discriminating against people based on their hair. A similar bill is pending in New Jersey.

Maloney saw Drew as another black boy who should have followed the rules. Now rules are changing because of Drew.

Morales snapped off his clippers. Drew looked at himself in the mirror. The sides of his hair were faded close to his scalp. A low carpet of hair lay on top. From the crown grew one last dreadlock, uncut, in its natural state, with inseparable strands of Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States of America.

WNBA Kicks proving female players are sneakerheads too Meet the two visionaries behind the premier sneaker platform of the WNBA

The idea popped into Bria Janelle’s head in an unlikely place, but it didn’t come out of nowhere.

“I was in the shower one day and thought to myself, ‘WNBA Kicks,’ ” recalled Janelle, a former Division II college basketball player turned professional entertainment emcee and in-arena host. She envisioned a platform that, for some reason, had never been created — one dedicated to women, the WNBA and sneakers.

“People say out of frustration comes creation,” said Janelle, a native of Snellville, Georgia, which is about 35 minutes east of Atlanta. “I’ve always had an interest in shoes and the whole aspect of seeing what different outlets have done with sneakers. But I realized it was so saturated on the male side, and NBA side, of sneakers. I’m like, ‘Everybody is doing the same exact thing … how can I do something so far-fetched, so different that no one is even thinking about?’ ”

An injury ended Janelle’s playing career after three years at Mars Hill University in North Carolina, leading her to transfer to Georgia Southern University, where she graduated in 2011 with a degree in radio and television broadcasting. On-air campus appearances led to opportunities in Atlanta radio, and eventually a career. Over the past several years, Janelle has toured as emcee with WWE, worked with the Atlanta Hawks on a monthly web show and served as a host for the McDonald’s All American Game. Success in the field provided Janelle the means to grow her sneaker collection, which now checks in at about 130 pairs. Eventually, she wanted to find a way to represent a subculture of people like her: female sneakerheads.

Janelle was inspired by the WNBA’s biggest sneakerhead, Tamera “Ty” Young, who in 2008 became the first draft pick in the history of the Atlanta Dream franchise. Young, who now plays for the Las Vegas Aces but keeps her primary residence in Atlanta, has a massive sneaker collection that exceeds 600 pairs, even though she’s never had an endorsement deal with a sportswear brand.

“Ty Young being in Atlanta for years, you peep her at different events and it was like, ‘Yo, I’ve never seen her double up on a pair of sneakers,’ ” Janelle said. In the lead-up to the 2018 WNBA season, she ran into Young and told her she had something in the works. Janelle also hit up one of her close friends in the league, Alex Bentley, a member of the Connecticut Sun at the time who was playing overseas during the WNBA’s offseason.

“I never forget. It was like 3 o’clock in the morning in Russia and I said, ‘Hey, I got an idea. What do you think about this?’ ” Janelle recalled of her conversation with Bentley, who now plays for the Dream. “She said, ‘That’s dope. No one’s covered the WNBA’s sneaker culture. … Go for it. You’ve got my support.’ ”

But to make this thing work, Janelle needed help. So she reached out to Melani Carter, a sports producer who shared a similar frustration about the lack of WNBA coverage, having spent four years working at Turner Sports on NBA TV and NBA League Pass. The two friends remember meeting at a restaurant one night in Atlanta and talking for hours.

“As we started strategizing, I was saying, ‘This could be a segue into really showcasing women in another light,’ ” said Carter, who’s been collecting shoes since the early 2000s. “And what better way to start … than with sneaker culture?”

In February 2018, Janelle and Carter co-founded @WNBAKicks. And for the past year, the platform’s Instagram and Twitter accounts have served as the authoritative voice of sneakers in the WNBA despite not being officially affiliated with the league. Original video, interviews and, most notably, exclusive photos and videos of shoes players are copping and lacing up on and off the court — WNBA Kicks offers all this and more.

“We’ve never really had anything like WNBA Kicks,” said Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird, a 17-year veteran and three-time league champion, in April at the 2019 WNBA draft. “Yeah, the WNBA page can post our shoes, but sometimes you need people on the outside, different voices, to show people what’s what. To have this separate page that’s completely independent, showing the sneakers that we wear and really our personalities, it’s crucial.”

WNBA Kicks has amassed more than 20,000 followers on Instagram and another 2,300 on Twitter. It’s an operation that quickly transformed into a legit media outlet after establishing a network of contributors in WNBA markets across the country and expanding its staff to include a head of marketing and digital strategist. Now, the start of the 2019 WNBA season brings the launch of wnbakicks.com, marking the next chapter for a platform that’s evolved from the unique vision of its two co-founders.

“WNBA Kicks has become that safe haven for WNBA players,” Janelle said. “We told them, ‘Trust us to tell your story and show how dope you are, and we won’t steer you wrong.’ … It’s not about athletic ability, sexuality or the themes you always see talked about surrounding the WNBA. It’s about the fact that these players have sneaker collections just as good as some of the guys, if not better. And here’s a platform — just for them.”

What makes WNBA Kicks so authentic is players in the league support the platform 100% by providing daily content.

“Whenever they need a photo of my shoes, I’m always open to sending it to them,” said Phoenix Mercury guard Essence Carson. “The check-ins, they’re great, especially when a lot of players are gone and playing abroad in the offseason. It’s a good way to keep the fans’ attention and have them interact with the players.”

When Young uploads a picture of the sneakers she’s wearing to her Instagram Stories, she often tags @WNBAKicks. Janelle will then reach out for the original image to post on the page. Sometimes, Young even sends photos to the account via direct message so the platform can exclusively share the latest shoes she’s picked up.

“The cool thing is you have players taking pictures and videos of their own shoes or their teammates’ shoes to post on that page,” said retired WNBA Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo. “It’s not like they’re always posting themselves. The players are doing it for WNBA Kicks. I think that’s a really, really cool thing. It’s a partnership in a way.”

Sneaker culture in the WNBA has evolved quite a bit since Lobo played in the league from 1997 to 2003 and received her own signature shoe from Reebok, called The Lobo, during her rookie season.

“The only sneakers that were really covered back then were the Nike Air Swoopes, because Cheryl Swoopes was the first woman to have a signature shoe. That was a really big deal,” Lobo said. “In my generation, they didn’t even make women’s basketball sneakers. You figured out which men’s size you wore, because they didn’t even have them in women’s sizes. Sneakers in the WNBA weren’t really a thing. For the most part, everybody in the league wore the same style of shoe.”

The landscape has also changed since Carson and Young entered the WNBA more than a decade ago after being taken back-to-back with the seventh and eighth overall picks, respectively, in the 2008 draft. At the time, the WNBA was sponsored by Adidas, and strict uniform guidelines required players to wear league-approved shoes that were either predominantly white or black. Two years later in 2010, Instagram was founded as a social network that fostered creativity and expression while helping people transform into their own brands. And in the realm of style and fashion, Instagram became a place where both men and women could put on a display of their passion for sneakers.

“In previous years, women weren’t really looked at as sneakerheads,” Carson said. “But over the course of time, in the sneaker community, you’ve seen that change. As women move forward, so does the WNBA, because we’re women first and basketball players second. And now we have the platform to showcase that we can push sneaker culture even further.”

There’s a new era in the WNBA of players wearing whatever sneakers they want, whenever they want, due in large part to the emergence of WNBA Kicks in 2018.

@WNBAKicks co-founders Bria Janelle (left) and Melani Carter (right).

Simeon Kelley

“Last year, because of WNBA Kicks, people wanted to have more heat for games,” Young said. “They wanted to get that notoriety on social media. Like, ‘Oh, look what shoes she’s wearing!’ It made people who weren’t sneakerheads before want to bring out exclusive shoes or stuff that was more cool to show out. It became a popular trend, something to do.”

The latest and hottest releases, retros, customs, player exclusives. Basically, every shoe imaginable graced the hardwood of arenas across the league last season on the feet of WNBA players.

“The most unique thing we’ve did is attract the brands to the players,” Carter said. “So if brands said, ‘We don’t know if she has a following … we don’t know if she could help sell a product,’ we were showing them that they can. … It’s really about more than just sneakers.”

Janelle recalls a conversation she and Carter had with a sportswear company (the identity of which they chose not to disclose) in which they learned that the brand had sent out more pairs of sneakers to WNBA players last season than it did in the past 10 years. “Players were requesting shoes,” Janelle said, “because they wanted to be on the page.”

In the early days of the platform, Janelle and Carter wanted to ensure they acknowledged the players in the league with the hottest shoes. So last May, WNBA Kicks dropped its 2018 “Top 10 Sneakerheads List.”

“We really didn’t think it was going to be controversial,” Carter said. “It was more so like, ‘Let’s get this out there. Let’s let people know we’re here.’ When we released the list, people were like, ‘I didn’t make it? How am I No. 10? How am I No. 8? Why is she No. 1?’ Some players were mad. This was league news at this point. So it was like, ‘OK. This has to be our staple.’ That Top 10 list was the point that we can say the players really started paying attention, and the fans did too.”

The full list:

10. Monique Currie, Washington Mystics (now retired)

9. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics

8. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm

7. Alex Bentley, Connecticut Sun (now of the Atlanta Dream)

6. Sue Bird, Seattle Storm

5. Erica Wheeler, Indiana Fever

4. Seimone Augustus, Minnesota Lynx

3. Epiphanny Prince, New York Liberty

2. Cappie Pondexter, Los Angeles Sparks/Indiana Fever (now retired)

1. Tamera Young, Las Vegas Aces

“When it got to No. 1, a lot of people didn’t expect it to be me,” Young said. “People didn’t know at the time how many kicks I had or how much I was into this. But it was a great feeling to know that something I’ve always loved I got notoriety for — even without having a shoe deal. I did this on my own. This is a hobby. I love sneakers. And I’ve always been that way, even since I was a little girl. I’m not just a collector. I wear all my kicks. So I thought it was superdope.”

Will she defend her crown in 2019?

“Of course. Not much has really changed. People have been showing all of their sneakers, but I don’t think anybody is topping me,” said Young, who in 2018, for the first time in her career, was posted on mainstream sneaker platforms such as @brkicks and @slamkicks. “WNBA Kicks started bringing different attention to us. I’ve never been a signed athlete, so people didn’t even know the type of heat I had.”

Hoping to capitalize on the trend of viral online challenges, the platform launched the #WNBAKicksChallenge, which encouraged players, broadcasters, coaches, fans and others to take a video showing off their collections, then dare others to do the same. The Minnesota Lynx’s Seimone Augustus, Indiana Fever’s Erica Wheeler, Chicago Sky’s Diamond DeShields and more active players partook, while retired WNBA stars such as Lobo, Tina Thompson, Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie also got involved. ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe even did the challenge and showed off her favorite pair of sneakers, which were given to her by WNBA sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike when Rowe was first diagnosed with cancer.

“WNBA Kicks is showing we got sneakers like P.J. Tucker, James Harden or Kyrie Irving,” said Seattle Storm guard Shavonte Zellous. “To showcase what we have is a blessing, so everybody can stop putting us in a box and expand their brains a little bit.”

WNBA Kicks has even put the NBA on notice. Tucker, Harden and their Houston Rockets teammate Chris Paul have all been interviewed by the platform, and Irving has reposted one of its videos to his Instagram. Future NBA Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade posted a picture of Young after she became the first WNBA player to wear a pair of his signature Li-Ning Way of Wades, ending the caption with @wnbakicks.

On Christmas Day in 2018, under the familiar-sounding handle, the NBA debuted its own Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to the sneakers that players wear on the court.

“We randomly saw the page, and it was verified,” Carter said. “I was tryna figure out who made it, and if it was an independent site like ours.”

That’s right — @WNBAKicks launched nine months before @NBAKicks. “A coincidence? I don’t know,” Janelle said. “The NBA has been around for so long. We started WNBA Kicks, then NBA Kicks pops up. It was like, ‘All right, well, somebody’s paying attention.’ ”

Yet, Janelle and Carter truly knew they had created something special when Lobo showed WNBA Kicks some love live on air during the 2018 WNBA All-Star Game.

“I’d been following them for a while and really enjoyed their content,” Lobo said. “In a production meeting, we said we were gonna come out of a commercial break and show some of the players’ shoes … so I knew I was gonna give them a shout. It feels to me that they’re the ones leading the charge in terms of exposing the fans to what the WNBA women are wearing. It seemed fair and only right that we let people know about them.”

So, heading into season two, what’s next for WNBA Kicks? The strategy seems to revolve around the platform’s newly launched website.

“Being a social media page is only going to get you so far,” Janelle said. “For us, the dot-com is what everyone respects. It was about wanting to have that next level. We wanted to be able to explain that we’re not just a fan page. We’re a full-fledged, running site.”

WNBA sneakerheads such as Young and Wheeler hope to see a stronger backing of the platform from the league.

“I don’t think the WNBA shines a light on WNBA Kicks as much as they should. I don’t think they give them enough credit,” Wheeler said. “WNBA Kicks knows what they’re doing. They’re up to date, they’re with the times. And they’re with us as players.”

WNBA Kicks has come a long way since Janelle paired those two words.

“To this day, I tell Bria, ‘Keep this going,’ ” Zellous said. “It’s really helping us … and it’s crazy because it’s kicks that are helping people get in tune with our league.”

Yet, if there’s one thing that the two co-founders of WNBA Kicks have never seemed to lose sight of, it’s that the platform is about much more than sneakers.

“Our whole purpose is to leave the league better than we found it,” Janelle said. “If we do our part, then we’re on the right track. How do we get more fans into seats? How do we get arenas full? If sneakers is the way, or at least a starting point, I think we can feel like we did something right.”

Nipsey Hussle’s Puma partnership was strong and authentic He repped the iconic brand as an accomplishment for his city and its people


Nipsey Hussle wears Puma gear while hosting a party at Gold Room in Atlanta on April 7, 2018.

Prince Williams/WireImage

“See my granny on a jet, some s— I’ll never forget / Next day we flew to Vegas, with my Puma connects”

Nipsey Hussle, “Racks in the Middle” (feat. Roddy Ricch & Hit-Boy)


On Christmas Day 2017, Nipsey Hussle pulled up to Staples Center in style. For a game between his beloved hometown Los Angeles Lakers and the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 6-foot-3-inch Hussle broke out a throwback Magic Johnson jersey that he paired with some fresh Puma Suedes in a Lakers purple colorway, with gold stripes and white laces. As he watched the game from courtside with partner Lauren London, cameras snapped photos of his kicks.

“It’s more of a realistic partnership outside of just cutting a check and supporting product. It’s a deeper, more dynamic relationship.” — Nipsey Hussle

Yet Hussle wasn’t just showing off a new pair of shoes. He was actually teasing a major move that he and Puma had been working on for the new year. In mid-January 2018, the West Coast MC arrived at L.A.’s Power 106 for an appearance on The Cruz Show. And with him, he brought a stack of paper and a pen. Before the interview began, Hussle had something huge to share.

“We announcing our partnership with Puma,” he said live on air. “It’s a big situation. We’re gonna be doing co-branding products with my company, The Marathon Clothing. Obviously, I’m gonna be an endorser of the brand … and, you know, it’s gonna be multilayered. So big shout-out to Puma! … I’m ’bout to ink this paperwork right now. Let me put my signature on here … don’t show the amount!”

The deal represented a strategy and willingness on the part of Puma to put on for the culture by embracing the most respected figures in music and entertainment. Hussle joined fellow brand ambassadors such as Rihanna, The Weeknd, Big Sean, Meek Mill and Jay-Z (who became the creative director of Puma basketball in June 2018). But truly, nobody repped Puma quite like Hussle. It was apparent how much pride he took in being a part of the iconic brand that had become a staple of lifestyle footwear and apparel.

Puma sweatsuits and sneakers became as essential to Hussle’s everyday swag as his straight-back braids, picked-out beard and body mural of tattoos.

Puma sweatsuits and sneakers became as essential to Hussle’s everyday swag as his straight-back braids, picked-out beard and body mural of tattoos. He rocked Puma during shows, on private jets and, of course, in photo shoots for the brand’s ads. But most importantly to Hussle, the partnership led to collaboration within the community he so tirelessly sought to positively impact. With his Puma partners, Hussle designed and sold special-edition Puma products, from T-shirts and hoodies to pairs of Clydes, at his The Marathon Clothing store on Slauson Avenue in the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles. It was outside of this store that Hussle was shot and killed on March 31 at the age of 33.

As the community of L.A. and the worlds of music and sports mourned the death of the man born Ermias Asghedom and known as Nipsey Hussle tha Great, so did Puma.

“We’re extremely saddened by the passing of Nipsey Hussle,” the Puma brand said in a statement. “Beyond being a part of the Puma family, Nipsey was a talented musician, father, entrepreneur, community leader and inspiration to us all.”

View this post on Instagram

Rest in Peace 🙏

A post shared by PUMA (@puma) on Mar 31, 2019 at 6:14pm PDT

Unlike some celebrity endorsers, Hussle had a genuine connection with Puma. The artist often made that known. “It’s not a one-way situation,” Hussle told brand consultant Ray Polanco Jr. during 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It’s … more authentic. … It’s more of a realistic partnership outside of just cutting a check and supporting product. It’s a deeper, more dynamic relationship.”

Hussle noted that the shoe wouldn’t be personally branded. Instead, it would represent his store, and by extension his city and its people.

Hussle’s deal with Puma came at a very pivotal time in his life and career. A month after signing with the brand, he delivered his first and only studio album: the long-awaited, Grammy-nominated and now classic Victory Lap, which dropped during NBA All-Star Weekend last year in his city of Los Angeles. On his Instagram throughout 2018, Hussle primarily posted about three things. He encouraged folks to cop his album, promoted Marathon Clothing and showed Puma love that the brand always reciprocated. Hussle also became the face of multiple brand campaigns, including one for a collab on a collection with COOGI and another for the relaunch of the 1980s-era Puma California. “An L.A. classic,” the ad on display at Foot Locker read, “reborn on Nipsey Hussle.”

View this post on Instagram

THE MARATHON X PUMA 🏁

A post shared by Nipsey Hussle (@nipseyhussle) on Jun 7, 2018 at 11:09am PDT

In October 2018, Hussle collaborated with Puma to refurbish and vividly repaint the basketball courts at 59th Street Elementary School, as well as donate $10,000 on behalf of the brand and The Marathon Clothing store, where Puma Clydes with “TMC” featured on the tongues first went on sale last summer.

“The various programs he founded and led in his neighborhood of Crenshaw will have a lasting impact on generations to come,” Puma continued in its statement after Hussle’s death. “He will be deeply missed, and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”


When DeMarcus Cousins returned to the court in January, nearly a year after rupturing his Achilles tendon, the four-time NBA All-Star played his first game back with the Golden State Warriors wearing a Nipsey Hussle-inspired player exclusive that included the phrase “The Marathon Continues” on the midsoles. The following day, Puma threw a party for Hussle to celebrate his 2019 Grammy nomination. The brand even commissioned sneaker customizer Mache to create 36 pairs of special Puma RS-X Trophies that Hussle could give to the people who helped the album come to life. The event was hosted almost a year to the day that Hussle signed with the brand.

That fruitful first year of partnership paved the way for even stronger commitment from Puma to the rapper turned brand ambassador, which he revealed (again on Power 106) in what is now one of his final recorded interviews, this time on the L.A. Leakers program. Hussle announced a new deal for 2019 that would yield multiple co-branded collections with The Marathon Clothing, the first of which was scheduled to drop this fall and include apparel, accessories and a sneaker. But Hussle also noted that the shoe wouldn’t be personally branded. Instead, it would represent his store, and by extension his city and its people.

“It won’t be no Nipsey Hussle Puma shoe,” he said. “It’ll be a Marathon Puma shoe.”

Hopefully, this marathon of a partnership continues. We need that collection, and that sneaker, in memory of the late, great Nipsey Hussle — one of the realest, ever.

Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ has a message for those who can hear above the screams Lupita Nyong’o is the two-faced queen come to warn us of what happens when we keep our own brethren out of sight and out of mind

This essay includes spoilers.

After seeing Jordan Peele’s new horror film, Us, I wondered if the director had created it as a warning to himself to resist the siren comforts of wealth, fame and his own id after the smashing reception he received for last year’s Get Out. Forget the voiceless and pay the price, Us seems to be croaking at its audience.

Allow me to explain: Us is about a middle-class black family, the Wilsons, who go on vacation to California only to find themselves at the center of a revenge plot 30 years in the making. The father, Gabe (Winston Duke), is a big, corny teddy bear of a man who is overcome by an almost pathological need to keep up with the family frenemies, the Tylers. The Tylers, who are white, have a nicer car, a bigger boat and a more modern, better-equipped vacation house. Gabe, much to the chagrin of his wife, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), wants to go to the beach to hang out with Josh Tyler (Tim Heidecker) and compare boat notes. Adelaide wants to stay home and read instead of making small talk while Kitty Tyler (Elisabeth Moss) sips her mommy juice. It turns out Adelaide’s nervousness is about way more than hanging out with a bickering white couple and their bratty twin daughters.

The Wilsons are soon visited by a family that is a twisted mirror of their own: a husband, a wife and two children, all clad in red jumpsuits and tan leather driving gloves on their right hands. Each of them is equipped with sharp brass shears that are useful for stabbing people and cutting the heads off of rabbits.

It turns out everyone, including the Tylers, have these red-clad doppelgängers, who refer to themselves as “shadows.” The shadows live underground, tethered to the whims of their sun-basking counterparts. They are a permaclass of the unseen, unheard and unacknowledged, and none of them has the ability to speak — except Red, who communicates with a creaking, disturbed hollowness, as if an animal had chewed halfway through her vocal cords. When Adelaide enjoys a Christmas of gifts, merriment and a hearty dinner, her shadow is forced to dine on raw rabbit. When Adelaide gets married, has sex and gives birth to two children, so too does Red. The shadows are crude copies of humans who experience pain, torture, madness and imprisonment from all the things that give their doubles pleasure.

Sick of their fate, the shadows emerge to conduct a massive, blood-soaked untethering. There are harbingers of disaster everywhere in the film that all point to the same Bible verse, Jeremiah 11:11: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”

Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson in Us, written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.

Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures

Us is a jagged allegory for the pitfalls of capitalism and the resentment that mounts when we pretend those whose labor we exploit for our happiness do not exist. As social commentary, it’s not as razor-sharp as Get Out. But it still feels like an exceptional accomplishment, mainly because Peele created a role that is a worthy showcase of Nyong’o’s talent. In Us, Nyong’o is the unforgettable two-faced queen come to warn us of what will happen when we keep our own brethren out of sight and out of mind. She makes Red’s movements just as studied, precise and creepy as her voice. It is a virtuosic performance and wickedly fun. You get the sense that Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?-era Bette Davis would hate Nyong’o if she were her awards season competition, before perhaps warming to her with grudging respect.

Peele has been explicit that Us is not a film about race, and yet it pulls off something that feels transcendent, both because of the unstudied blackness of its cast and because of Peele’s commitment to smartening up a genre typically defined by gore, monsters, cheap scares, or all of the above. In the history of the Oscars, only six horror films (The Exorcist, Jaws, Black Swan, The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense and Get Out) have been nominated for best picture.

In both Get Out and Us, Peele builds on a tradition of black horror as social commentary and pushback against white stereotypes of blackness that extends as far back as Duane Jones’ turn as Ben in Night of the Living Dead (1968). Ben, who is actually the hero of the film, ends up getting shot and tossed on a funeral pyre when white rescuers assume he’s an enemy. This, after he’s spent the movie saving a bunch of white people from marauding ghouls looking to eat live flesh.

Peele delights in playing with tropes and subverting them. In Get Out, the black protagonist actually gets to live. In Us, the white family is deemed inessential to the plot and gets offed by the second act. In Us, the clue to Adelaide’s status as a misfit lay in her inability to snap on beat to a rapper’s ode to the communal consumption of a dimebag. Later in the movie, that same song gets reinvented with heavy, spooky, sonorous strings, courtesy of composer Michael Abels, who also scored Get Out. He simultaneously celebrates the genre and critiques it. Peele offers something for everyone: winks and Easter eggs for fanboys who consume movies as though they’re video games to be figured out, highbrow allegory for those who need more than an imaginary monster to keep them up at night, and now a fantastically twisted antihero played by an Academy Award-winning queen.

Furthermore, he broadens appreciation for the genre. Peele managed to get Oprah Winfrey (who is on record as someone who avoids scary movies) and plenty of others who are horror-averse to not only sit through Get Out but marvel at it and then see it again. He’ll likely accomplish something similar with Us. Both are too zeitgeisty to miss.

In the context of horror history, in which films such as King Kong, The Spider and The Creature from the Black Lagoon used monsters as stand-ins for black people, Peele’s success feels like a multilayered triumph. It wasn’t that long ago that a thoughtful horror film by a black director was pooh-poohed by studio executives for being too ambitious. When Bill Gunn released Ganja & Hess in 1973, in which the need for blood functioned as a metaphor for drug addiction, it was a hit at the Cannes Film Festival. But American film executives were so turned off that it was recut and released as the hackneyed Blood Couple. If you wanted to see Ganja & Hess, it was nearly impossible. The Museum of Modern Art possesses the print.

Almost 50 years later, Peele is getting the recognition that bypassed directors such as Gunn, and he is slashing his own path through Hollywood with remakes of The Twilight Zone and Candyman. He’s said repeatedly that Us is about how we are our own worst enemies. Maybe Peele is also thinking about how to avoid becoming his.

Madison Curry as young Adelaide in Us, written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.

Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures

Embracing Black Mardi Gras keeps the culture alive for the next generation ‘We have to keep our culture going. It’s for the black streets, it’s for the black neighborhoods.’

It’s Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, and folks are ready to “Laissez les bons temps rouler.” That’s Cajun for “Let the good times roll.”

For some young African-Americans who call this city home, Mardi Gras is as much about entertaining the millions of visitors who come to party as it is about preserving community traditions. Mardi Gras is historically known as the last day for people who fast for Lent to eat rich, fatty foods. Black Mardi Gras celebrations honor the history, resilience and artistry of black and Native American New Orleanians.

“These traditions are important because they were born in a time when black people faced both legal, social and economic segregation,” said Kim Vaz-Deville, the editor of Walking Raddy: The Baby Dolls of New Orleans.

The Baby Dolls were established in 1912 by prostitutes who worked near the French Quarter in a section known as Black Storyville. The clientele who frequented the French Quarter provided a source of income for these women, who were then called “baby dolls.”

“They were locked out of mainstream Mardi Gras events, other than being asked to work as servants for such events,” Vaz-Deville said. “They had to set up a way to enjoy themselves, and they did this by forming these clubs with specific themes that were grounded in the popular culture of the early 20th century.”

One of the most popular aspects of Black Mardi Gras is the practice of creating elaborate suits traditionally worn by various Mardi Gras Indian tribes. Today, the historic art form has been especially embraced by post-Hurricane Katrina millennials dedicated to keeping Black Mardi Gras connected to its roots.

“This is way bigger than Christmas to me. This is the biggest event of the year; honestly, it’s bigger than my birthday,” said Joseph Boudreaux Jr., the second chief of the Mardi Gras Indians Golden Eagles tribe.

Joseph Boudreaux Jr. (center) prepared for Mardi Gras with stepsons Terrance Williams Jr. (left) and Simeon Israel Jr. (right).

Allana Barefield

Boudreaux is a third-generation Mardi Gras Indian, a group known for its ceremonial dress and resilience. He said the Golden Eagles honor Native Americans who helped slaves escape bondage. As a result, various Mardi Gras Indian tribes use masking as a way to commemorate their shared oppression with African-Americans.

“We have to keep our culture going,” he said. “It’s for the black streets, it’s for the black neighborhoods, for the people who were not allowed to go on Canal Street to see the floats.”

For Boudreaux, his father and his three stepsons, celebrating and passing down black Mardi Gras traditions are a major part of their lives.

Terrance Williams Jr., one of Boudreaux’s stepsons, has chosen to honor Mardi Gras Indian customs by starting his own tribe. He formed the Black Hawk Hunters last year at the age of 15.

“I’m carrying on a culture that’s been around for over 100 years, and my generation has to keep it going,” said Williams.

He said most Mardi Gras Indians won’t form new tribes until they are in their 20s. To do so, he had to get approval from other tribal chiefs. Now that he is chief of his own tribe, he will also honor the legacies of other tribes and teach masking to younger generations.

Mardi Gras Indians start making new suits the day after Mardi Gras of the previous year. The elaborate beadwork, feathers and other accessories involved make the process expensive and time-intensive. Suits designed for Mardi Gras 2019 will finally be unveiled Tuesday.

“They’re not a real Indian if they don’t have a bead collection,” said Tahj Williams, a 20-year-old suit designer and Tulane University student. Williams likes to make unique designs, from her gloves to her headdress. The compliments she receives from young girls help inspire her. Last year, she created a red Mardi Gras Indian suit that was featured in Vogue magazine.

“People would only come out to see the men. There’s started to be an evolution,” she said. “The biggest moment for me is that people are starting to pay more attention to the queens,” she said.

Queens refer to women involved in masking. Their contributions to the process were overlooked for generations, Williams said. Tahj Williams considers queens to be the backbone of each tribe and the reason that the tradition survives.

“I can’t wait to see what happens 20 years from now, for my kids and grandkids to start getting into the culture,” she said.

But in some ways, the culture has been stagnant, she said. Tahj Williams can’t form her own tribe like Terrance Williams Jr. can. Women are not allowed to do so because, throughout history, men were the ones looked at as leaders.

Anita Oubre’s Mahogany Blue organization at the Jung Hotel in New Orleans. They are Victoria Spotts (left), Christina Bragg (right), Trinette Pichon (upper left), Karena James (upper right) and Oubre (top of the staircase).

Allana Barefield

Still, the male-dominated culture has not deterred Williams from embracing it. She wants to show other women that they can get involved.

For Tahj Williams, this black Mardi Gras culture not only helps younger generations lay claim to their heritage, it gives them purpose and the structure and discipline needed to commit to their craft.

“I don’t think we shine a light on my generation enough and the positive things that we are doing,” she said. “They [society] don’t show you these young chiefs or young children who participate in Mardi Gras Indians to keep them out of trouble.”

Waldorf Gipson IV attends Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He’s part of the Young Men Jr. Olympian Benevolent Association Inc. (YMO), a masking group that works to increase access to health care for black communities. The 135-year-old organization is also the oldest “second line” social aid and pleasure club in New Orleans. A second line is a tradition in New Orleans in which members dance in a parade as they follow a brass band.

“We do this for everybody, not just for ourselves,” said Gipson.

YMO consists of six divisions, all of which were organized at different times. Gipson is a part of the Furious Five, which was founded in 1985. “This means everything to me. I’m 20 years old, and my daddy started this 34 years ago, so I was born into it,” he said.

Like Gipson, Victoria Spotts also had a parent who participated in Black Mardi Gras traditions. Spotts, 31, joined her mother’s organization last year. It’s called Mahogany Blue and is within the Baby Dolls sisterhood.

“I absolutely love it; it’s pretty much a natural high, parading through the streets of New Orleans, empowering other women to do the same,” Spotts said.

Black Mardi Gras events will come to a close Tuesday, as Mardi Gras marks the end of carnival season.

LeBron James stares down Michael Jordan’s scoring record at a crazy time in his career The victory coincides with James potentially missing the playoffs for the first time in 15 years

The old barber, “Georgia,” is fed up. Around the Northern Virginia barbershop, a friendly argument about money has turned into a heated discussion about respect. It feels as if a fight might erupt.

Georgia is never the loudest man in the shop, though he’ll talk your head off — if he likes you. The man’s tongue is slicker than a can of motor oil, too. On the day in question, anger is building inside Georgia, evident by the way he snatches blades from his clippers. Then he says something I’ll never forget. “How can I really care about this wedding,” he says, “when the church is on fire?”

“It was like meeting God for the first time. That’s what I felt like as a 16-year-old kid when I met MJ.” — LeBron James

It’s one of those classic, old-black-men phrases. No clue from where it originates. Maybe on the farms of Mississippi, or the jazz-filled speakeasies of Harlem. But it makes absolute sense the moment it leaves Georgia’s nicotine-stained lips. Can celebration coincide with chaos? Georgia has no idea he could be easily be talking about LeBron James. More specifically, James’ pursuit of Michael Jordan’s receipts, and the blazing situation of the 2018-19 Los Angeles Lakers.


Sometime between Tuesday night and Saturday — when the Lakers play three must-win home games against the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, and the Boston Celtics — James will pass Jordan for fourth all time in scoring with his 32,293rd point. History will be made. And with it perhaps a brief moment of joy and serenity in James’ season of chaos.

James is already looking back at Jordan in other scoring areas. Two years ago, he overtook Jordan in playoff points. And James also looks back at Jordan in consecutive double-digit scoring games. Only two players have surpassed Jordan in career points: Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the game’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, never surpassed Jordan, because in the NBA space-time continuum, he’s never had to.

This particular mark is deeply personal for James’ generation. It’s a generation born in the ’80s and who came of age in ’90s at the height of Jordan’s reign of dominance over not just basketball, but pop culture as a whole. This is personal —

  • for the kids who grew up eating Wheaties and drinking Gatorade — because Mike did so.
  • for the kids who wore sweat bands on their wrists, or their elbows or on their knees — because Mike did.
  • for the kids who really believed Air Jordans would make you fly — because they did for Mike (and who took that addiction into adulthood).
  • for the kids who did play ball and stuck their tongue out — because Mike did.
  • for the kids who both enjoyed and agonized running with “Player 99” in NBA Live ’95 — because Mike wouldn’t allow his likeness in video games.
  • for the kids whose favorite channel growing up was WGN — because you knew Mike and the Bulls would always be there even, if you weren’t a Chicago native.

LeBron James celebrates after he hits a 3-pointer to pass Michael Jordan in career playoff scoring during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on May 25, 2017, at TD Garden in Boston.

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

A classic marketing campaign suggested people “Be Like Mike” not “Better Than Mike,” and meeting Jordan, “was godly,” James said earlier this season. “It was like meeting God for the first time. That’s what I felt like as a 16-year-old kid when I met MJ.” So imagine how a 10-year-old LeBron felt about Mike. Imagine how he felt as a high school freshman. Imagine how robbed he felt as he entered the league only months after Jordan retired for good in 2003.

Yet, James is the rare talent who grew up not only to make a name for himself in the culture of basketball but to be the unicorn who looks Jordan in the eye. This week, James will surpass Jordan on the scoring list. It’s one of the most relevant individual titles in all of sports — in the rarefied air of career home runs in baseball, and career grand slams in tennis.

The James-Jordan debate is the debate. It dominates sports talk radio, podcasts, and television sports talk shows. The arguments — who is the greatest of all time, aka “the GOAT?” — takes over movies, barbershops and beauty salons, bars and churches, dinner tables and courtrooms. Ivy League debates have gotten heated as well. Yet even as James prepares to rise even higher in the annals of basketball immortality, the honor coincides with the hysteria of James potentially missing the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.

In the 70 days since Christmas Day, when James injured his groin, which caused him to miss a month of action, the Lakers have won only nine games. They haven’t won back-to-back games in more than six weeks.

On March 2, the Lakers suffered an embarrassing loss to the lowly Phoenix Suns. James had 27 points, nine rebounds and 16 assists, but did miss a pair of late free throws. So continued a trend of pathetic losses to some of the league’s most inept teams: New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers. Without James, the Lakers fell from fourth in the Western Conference to ninth. The chronology of this chaos is already loud in the public vernacular.


James and New Orleans Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis have been tight for a good while. The two met for a postgame dinner days before Christmas that sent league officials into a tizzy that included a charge of tampering. “People get caught up in bunches, sometimes when they wish you can control what they say, but they can’t control me at all,” James said then of the allegations levied against him. “And I play by the rules.” But it wasn’t until Davis made his trade demand public in late January that the Lakers drama took center stage.

On a weekend that was supposed to feature the NFL and the Super Bowl as the unrivaled sports story in America, a supposed megatrade between the Lakers and Pelicans dominated headlines. It was a trade that involved parts, if not all, of the Lakers young core including Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Brandon Ingram, who is currently playing his best basketball of the season — and several veterans. James and longtime agent and close friend Rich Paul (who also represents Davis via Klutch Sports Group) were seen as the ringleaders in this trade scenario.

LeBron James of the Miami Heat hugs Michael Jordan after defeating the Charlotte Bobcats, 109-98, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 28, 2014.

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

And now, with an unsuccessful trade deadline having passed, reports, rumors and sports talk shows are hot on the topic of a fractured Lakers locker room. James, fairly or not, sits in the crosshairs of a very public debacle. A season that began with pageantry and fanfare, with (vandalized) murals depicting James as the franchise’s savior, is suddenly primed for an epic collapse.

Without James, the Lakers fell from fourth in the Western Conference to ninth.

More than even the Celtics, the Lakers are this season’s train wreck. But limping, crawling or walking backward, the Celtics at least appear to be playoff-bound. Lakers controlling owner and team president Jeanie Buss attempted to quell the narrative of a blockbuster trade for Davis ever being on the table, calling the assertion “fake news.” But even if what Buss says is true, the organization allowed the angle to live far too long. There’s blood on the hands of every power player within the Lakers these days. No one, not Magic Johnson or anyone, is exempt. And with an impending free agency that will both dictate the immediate future of the Lakers and the sunset glimmer of James’ prime — this is the reality of what a marriage looks like between basketball’s biggest star and its most storied franchise.

The Lakers now sit at 10th in the Western Conference and are 4.5 games out of the eighth seed with 19 games left in the season. And the eighth seed essentially plays for the right to get embalmed by Golden State in the first round. While James’ offensive production on his way to breaking Jordan’s record, remains at an elite level, his defense has been lambasted as everything from lethargic to noncommittal. James, of course, refutes all of this, as his off-court activity remains in the fast lane.

He recently announced the 2021 launch of Space Jam 2 — the sequel to Jordan’s 1996 animated blockbuster. James has also A&Rd 2 Chainz’s soulfully stellar new project Rap or Go to the League, an album Complex has already dubbed 2 Chainz’s definitive body of work. James also recently dropped the third episode of his HBO talk-series The Shop, which featured Davis. This flurry of activity off the court has spurred questions.

But it’s hard to interrogate the work ethic of a man who has gone to eight consecutive Finals, a player who admits to chasing Jordan’s ghost, and who has logged more minutes than anyone over the past decade.

That being said, the last time a James-led team missed the playoffs was 2005. The same year Steve Nash won his first MVP with the Phoenix Suns. Bryant, in his first post-Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson campaign, missed the postseason, too. Kevin Durant was finishing his junior year in high school. James was but an infant. A postseason without James isn’t just unfathomable. It’s unnatural.

Following the crippling loss in Phoenix on March 2, head coach Luke Walton said, “We need to be a lot better.” Pockets of the Lakers fan base, including Snoop Dogg, have all but turned on the team. Bryant isn’t even paying attention to them these days.

James passing Jordan in scoring this week is a milestone — an achievement James will take with him for the rest of his career, and certainly the rest of his life. Flash back to that kid from Akron, Ohio, who found peace and inspiration watching Jordan play basketball. See now the icon standing in a class all his own. The connection, the symbolism is far deeper than the jersey number they share, or the fictional, yet coveted title of GOAT neither will never solely possess. If only James’ ultimate moment with Jordan came under far sweeter circumstances. If only.

Georgia, the elder barber, would know how to put it.

The 1999 NBA All-Star Weekend that never was What if the lockout never happened?

Vince Carter’s 2000 All-Star Weekend in Oakland, California, is etched in NBA history thanks to his instantly iconic performance in the Slam Dunk Contest. In actuality, though, Oakland should have been his second All-Star trip. The 1999 NBA All-Star Game, booked in Philadelphia — on Valentine’s Day, at that — was the most high-profile casualty of an NBA lockout that threatened the entire 1998-99 season.

“That’s where it was supposed to be? In Philadelphia?” Carter says after a January practice in Sacramento, California. Even over the phone there’s genuine shock in his voice. “Wow,” he says. “I [really] had no idea.”

But what if the NBA hadn’t had to cancel the 1999 All-Star Game? What if, in a new, post-Michael Jordan NBA, there had been a huge Philly basketball celebration to help ease the pain of losing basketball’s biggest star?

What if there had been an All-Star Weekend in 1999? You’re in luck. There is.

But first, some backstory.


Noren Trotman/NBAE/Getty Images

It’s tough to fault Carter for not recalling. The 1998-99 season is a forgotten, or at least rarely discussed, chapter in NBA history. Owners locked out the players on July 1, and the NBA season was shortened to 50 games. There were “no trades, no player signings, no NBA-sanctioned summer leagues, or contact between players and team representatives.” There was no All-Star Game. Shortly after the 1998 NBA draft, which featured future Hall of Famers such as Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, labor negotiations came to a screeching halt as growing profits, and how those profits would be allocated in coming seasons, became the glaring issue.

Team owners, among other things, talked salary cap issues and blamed Kevin Garnett’s 1997 $126 million contract. “That … changed the landscape,” said former NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik after the lockout. “This was the one where owners said something had to be done.” Players talked about the NBA’s swelling revenues, especially from television, and the rookie salary scale, among other things.

Players unfairly shouldered much of the public blame for the lockout, though in fairness, some players didn’t make it easy on themselves from a public relations perspective. While attempting to organize a charity game in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to benefit UNICEF — and NBA players — then-union president Patrick Ewing said pro athletes “make a lot of money, but spend a lot, too.” The gesture of the game did anything but win the fans’ favor back to the players. The Boston Celtics’ Kenny Anderson joked about selling one of his eight cars. And Grant Hill took a temporary hit to his reputation for, in the eyes of many, not taking more of an assertive role during the lockout — and his Sprite commercial with Tim Duncan reportedly angered several players.

By mid-October, the NBA’s preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season had been canceled. “If the [NBA] isn’t back by Christmas,” said Neil Hernberg, then the sports marketing manager of apparel behemoth Pro Player, “we could lose 75 percent of our NBA business.” The effects of the lockout hit the pockets of other business partners as well. “The market is soft,” noted Steve Raab, vice president of marketing for Starter. “Retailers are reducing and canceling orders.”

Networks were forced to revamp programming, and shortly before Christmas, the NBA announced for the first time in its history — and, to date, still the only time since 1951 — that the league would cancel its annual midseason classic. The city of Philadelphia lost out on an estimated $40 million.

“[The lockout] didn’t set me back because I had nothing to be set back from,” says Carter. “I went back to [the University of North Carolina]. I did a semester … and had a chance to work out with Coach [Dean] Smith and the team while I was waiting for the lockout to end.”

The players approved a new deal 179-5 at 6 a.m. on Jan. 6, 1999, and the league’s Board of Governors unanimously agreed to ratify the compromise. The deal was widely viewed as a win for the owners, but the players did walk away with more money for non-franchise players, and for the superstars. “Did [the players] blink?” then-NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter asked rhetorically. “I guess we both blinked.”

JOHN ZICH/AFP/Getty Images

Less than a week after the return of pro basketball back, Jordan retired for a second time.

The announcement wasn’t much of a shock, but the impact was massive and multidimensional. Television networks, which for years profited from Jordan’s magnetism, were forced to adjust to an uncertain new reality. “It’s unique to have been in a partnership with the NBA for eight years, and to have had this fairy dust sprinkled on us,” said NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol. “Now we have to reintroduce this generation of stars … will we get Babe Ruth tomorrow? No.”

“I’m sad to see him go,” rhythm and blues singer/actress Aaliyah said. “But he’s had an incredible career and we will miss him. … He’s worked hard and he deserves to relax now.”


It’s Valentine’s Day weekend in Philadelphia. In real life, the 1998-99 season is just over a week old. Teams and players are working their way back into a groove.

Instead of the pageantry of an All-Star Game, the 76ers are hosting the Atlanta Hawks. Allen Iverson is his usual self — 32 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 steals and 2 blocks — helping Philly improve to 4-1 to start the season. He’s the game’s lone bright spot in a 78-70 Sixers victory. Unfortunately, the biggest news to hit the city that weekend is a fire that engulfed South Philly’s St. Barnabas United Methodist Church. And the biggest sports-related news? Wrestlemania XV invading the city in March, headlined by a no-disqualification title match between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.

But let’s imagine an alternative history

Philadelphia is abuzz with Hollywood’s elite, music’s biggest names and NBA legends — both established and in the making. West Philadelphia’s Will Smith, fresh off “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” and Enemy of the State, is one of the biggest stars on the planet — he’s down front. So is Lauryn Hill — she’s one of the biggest musical artists on the planet. And Iverson? He’s in his third season and already one of the league’s most prolific scorers. But more than that? He reaches and represents a generation fueled by counterculture and soundtracked by hip-hop. While Iverson’s cornrows and tattoos are to some a sign of basketball’s decaying morals, to a younger generation he’s a symbol of defiance, swagger and perseverance.

“It’s unfair, but it’s true,” Iverson told Chris Rock. “People look at the way I dress, who I hang around, [my] jewelry — people try to make me 34 years old and I’m only 24.” People hated Allen Iverson and people loved Allen Iverson. It’s that dichotomy and that polarization that make him the obvious de facto mayor of the 1999 NBA All-Star Weekend that never was.

Team owners, among other things, blamed Kevin Garnett’s 1997 $126 million contract.

Also at courtside for the game are hometown heroes such as Mike Schmidt and Moses Malone. There’s plenty of room also for the other stars ruling culture: Denzel Washington, Mariah Carey, Aaliyah, Spike Lee, Snoop Dogg, Jim Carrey, Djimon Hounsou, Kate Winslet. Bill Russell is there, along with Wilt Chamberlain, whose relationship with Philadelphia is both storybook and tragic. The meeting at the 1999 NBA All-Star Game (that never was) would be one of their final times together, as Chamberlain would die eight months later.

Muhammad Ali and Philly’s own Joe Frazier, in the imaginary weekend’s most touching moment, publicly end a bitter feud that had lasted nearly 30 years with vicious taunts from both men. In real life, the two boxing icons squashed their beef at the 2002 All-Star Game in Philadelphia. Places of honor go to Julius Erving, as well as Jordan, whose presence is impossible to avoid given that most fans have yet to accept his second retirement.

Jazzy Jeff is the weekend’s official DJ. Hometown daughter Patti LaBelle performs the national anthem — paying homage to the city’s soulful musical roots with the most soulful rendition since Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl. The aforementioned Hill, following the August 1998 release of her The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, is tapped to perform at halftime with a string of hits, including “Doo Wop (That Thing),” “Everything Is Everything” and “Lost Ones.” Less than two weeks later, Hill’s place in history is cemented with five Grammys, including album of the year.

Celebrities are a necessary part of All-Star Weekend. As are big-name performers. But the biggest celebrities and performers are the ones voted in by the fans to start the game. Unlike 2019, the teams were still separated by conferences in 1999. Yet, like 2019, the game’s starters will be selected via fan vote. Here are your 1999 NBA All-Stars, for a game that never was — current and future Hall of Famers each one.

Eastern Conference

Glen James/NBAE/Getty Images

G — Allen Iverson | Philadelphia 76ers

The weekend’s point person, if you will. Though if you’re in the mix, you’ll see Bubba Chuck at every party in the city. Iverson’s popping bottles, rocking jewelry bright enough to light up the nightclub and partying to DMX, Jay-Z, Cash Money. You’re probably wondering when he sleeps? It’s All-Star Weekend! No sleep! It’s Philly, and it’s Allen Ezail Iverson, and you know he’s bringing the city out. Iverson did eventually capture All-Star Game MVP in Washington, D.C., in 2001 — also a homecoming of sorts, given his Georgetown roots. So, needless to say, the league’s leader in points per game and minutes per game in the 1998-99 season would’ve put on a show before a crowd that treats him like a demigod to this day.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

G — Ray Allen | Milwaukee Bucks

Penny Hardaway really could’ve won a popular vote over Ray Allen, aka Jesus Shuttlesworth, in 1999. Penny started every game in ’98-’99 and led Orlando to the playoffs. But Hardaway’s injury history works against him here and is beginning to paint the picture of what could have been an all-time great NBA career derailed by factors beyond his control. Riding the wave of 1998’s He Got Game, the Milwaukee Bucks superstar-in-the-making gets the nod, and you best believe he’s rocking the HGG 12’s in the process — with Washington, Lee and Jordan all sitting courtside too. Hardaway was a magnificent shooter from the day he entered the league, and in his later years he became a marksman who nailed the 3 that saved the Miami Heat’s dynasty in 2013. But young Ray? Oh, young Ray could do it all. Including put you on a poster.

Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images

F — Vince Carter | Toronto Raptors

All the hoopla and hysteria we see around Luka Doncic now? That would’ve been Vince, the eventual Rookie of the Year, 20 seasons ago — had he actually had a real rookie season to lay ruin to. How massive was the Vince hype? Let his cousin and teammate, Tracy McGrady, tell it. “[Carter] lit the league on fire with his athleticism, his spectacular dunks,” he says with a smile you can almost see through the phone. “That momentum carrying into the ’99 All-Star break just would’ve been on fire.” Even in the abbreviated season, Carter’s athletic prowess became the theatrics of legend en route to a runaway Rookie of the Year campaign. Carter starts as a rookie in the All-Star Game because, why wouldn’t he?

Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images

F — Grant Hill | Detroit Pistons

One of the best (and most popular and marketable) stars in the league was set to be leaned on heavily in the post-Jordan era. His ability to do nearly any and everything on the court — Hill averaged 21.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6 assists and 1.6 steals on 47.9 percent shooting in ’98-’99 — made him an undeniable superstar with crossover appeal. Hill’s marriage to R&B star Tamia, whose brilliant 1998 self-titled album produced the hit “So Into You,” also made the former Duke Blue Devil a star far beyond the court. The sky is the limit for Grant Hill in February 1999. One question no one’s really asking at this point, though. Should we be talking about Hill’s impending summer 2000 free agency? Too early, right? Yeah, you’re right.

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

C — Alonzo Mourning | Miami Heat

When the center position actually counted in the All-Star Game, here is Mourning. Shaquille O’Neal had long defected to the Western Conference. And Patrick Ewing’s prime years are behind him. Mourning is, without question, the East’s best center on a team many believe will compete for a championship come June. His 20 points and 11 rebounds per night would’ve made him an All-Star in any season — but his league-leading 3.9 blocks per game make getting into Fort Knox easier than getting to the rim when Zo’s in the neighborhood.

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Coach: Pat Riley | Miami Heat

With Jordan retired and the Chicago Bulls team a shell of its former self, Pat Riley’s Heat had real-life title aspirations and the squad to do it. Just a hunch, though: They should probably try to avoid the New York Knicks in the first round.

Western Conference

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

G — Gary Payton | Seattle SuperSonics

With fellow Oakland native and future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd in Phoenix, there’s competition out west for the starting guard spot, but The Glove gets the nod because he’s still very much the floor general who led the SuperSonics to the NBA Finals three years earlier. The Sonics aren’t the dominant force in 1998-99 they were in the mid-’90s, but Payton’s output was still up there with the best point guards in the league: 21.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 2.2 steals. Plus, Payton’s a showman of the highest order, and being able to mic him up in-game is too much basketball trash-talk nirvana to pass up.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

G — Kobe Bryant | Los Angeles Lakers

It was pretty much written in stone that from the moment this teenager started his first All-Star Game in New York a year earlier, one of these guard spots would be his every February for the foreseeable future. In️ this alternate reality, Kobe Bryant returns to Philadelphia — the city he claimed, although it didn’t always reciprocate his love — and puts on an absolute clinic. Not many players have had a higher flair for the dramatic than the perpetually dramatic Bryant. With Ali, Frazier, Hill, Jordan, Will Smith and others at courtside, maybe, just maybe, Bean captures MVP honors in Philadelphia in 1999 — just like he did in 2002.

Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images

F — Kevin Garnett | Minnesota Timberwolves

The Big Ticket, like Bryant, is inked in here for as long as he can put up with Minnesota, largely accomplishing very little during his prime years. By the end of his third season in 1997-98, Garnett had become a one-of-one generational talent. He was a complete freak on the defensive end and was the only player in the league to put up 18 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per night. If that wasn’t enough, the now three-time All-Star had no problem talking an opponent’s ear off.

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F — Karl Malone | Utah Jazz

Quick question. Don’t use Google, either. And please don’t Ask Jeeves. Who won MVP in 1999? If you guessed Malone, buy yourself a drink. Because of the lockout, his ’99 MVP, won in his 14th year in the league at age 35, is relegated to obscurity, sandwiched as it is between Jordan’s final MVP in 1998 and O’Neal’s virtuoso 2000 campaign. Malone, the game’s future second-all-time leading scorer, gets the fan selection here, but it does come with a caveat. There’s a young phenom in his second season at San Antonio by the name of Tim Duncan who will make this spot his very, very soon.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

C — Shaquille O’Neal | Los Angeles Lakers

Like Iverson, if you’re in Philly for the 1999 All-Star Weekend that never was, it won’t be easy to miss Shaq. Sure, because of his stature. But more importantly because of his larger-than-life personality. O’Neal’s a megastar not just on the court but with a broad appeal similar to Jordan’s. And with Bryant in Philly too, there was the slight chance O’Neal and Bryant could’ve performed their long since forgotten rap collaboration “3X’s Dope” from O’Neal’s 1998 album Respect at some random party in the city.

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Coach: Gregg Popovich | San Antonio Spurs

Gregg Popovich’s Spurs, with a young Duncan and a wily vet in David Robinson, seem poised for something special in San Antonio. They might be on to something here.


Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

Bonus: Is the 1999 NBA All-Star Dunk contest the greatest dunk contest that never happened?

Aside from a few special moments — see Cedric Ceballos’ blindfold, Dee Brown’s no-look, Shawn Kemp’s double pump, Isaiah Rider’s Eastbay Funk Dunk or Brent Barry’s jump from the free throw line — the dunk contest lost steam in the ’90s. Bryant, as a rookie, won the contest in 1997. There was no contest at all in 1998 — and no dunk contest in Madison Square Garden spoke volumes. The contest returned in 2000 with a bang. At the Golden State Warriors’ home arena, Steve Francis, McGrady and Carter proved to be human defibrillators, reviving the contest with legendary swag.

“Bro, I’m trying to tell you. It was some highfliers with creativity and young legs! It would’ve been crazy!” — Tracy McGrady

Yet, McGrady still wonders what would have happened in Philly at the All-Star Game that never happened. Could the greatest field that never happened … have actually happened in 1999? “You had Kobe in [’97]. Then you got Vince come in. I mean, who knows?” McGrady says. “Kobe probably would’ve entered that Slam Dunk Contest that year with Vince. You just never know.”

Carter agrees, although the missed opportunity doesn’t hurt as much given the light show he and his cousin put on in Oakland. “As far as what could’ve been? Yeah, maybe that year — as far as a dunk contest,” Carter says.

A potential field of Bryant, McGrady and Carter? “Bro, I’m trying to tell you. It was some highfliers with creativity and young legs!” McGrady exclaims. “It would’ve been crazy!

Carter doesn’t want to play the “what if” game too much, though. But he realizes what those three could have brought to the floor in the 1999 NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest that never was. “Kobe and I played with each other in AAU … Tracy and Kobe were good friends. The friendly competition and the mutual respect we had for each other as athletes and dunkers would’ve brought the best out of each and every one of us,” Carter says. “That would’ve been legendary.”

Becoming a father is Bishop Marvin Sapp’s ‘greatest accomplishment’ His faith in God, his belief and his victories keep him afloat

Bishop Marvin Sapp needed prayer. His congregation and fans immediately responded to his plea, joining him. His wife of 17 years was battling stage 4 colon cancer. MaLinda Sapp died on Sept. 9, 2010. Sapp raised their three children while preserving her legacy and continuing to maintain a life of victory, peace and healing. Facing the death of his beloved wife and relying on his faith to persevere, he continued maintaining victory in peace and healing.

On of his greatest accomplishments in life was becoming a father to his children, Marvin II, Mikaila and Madisson.

“I’ve been blessed to be nominated for every award known to man,” he said. “And that’s been rare in this field of gospel music. But being a dad, to me it’s the greatest reward ever. Honestly, that actually means more to me than anything else.”

Sapp’s father and mother divorced when he was 9 years old.

“It was a real challenge,” he said. “So I made a commitment when Marvin [II] was born that I was going to try to be the best father that I could possibly be, because I didn’t have a father. The challenge with it was that I was learning on the fly, because I didn’t have a real example where the father is supposed to be about, what a father is supposed to be like. So thanks be to God, I had people around me that mentored me from afar …”

Sapp’s children attend historically black universities. Marvin II attends Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Mikaila and Madisson attend Alabama A&M.

“My kids went to predominantly white schools,” he said. “So they made up their minds to go to universities where they could see young people that looked like them. They’re doing very well. Both of my daughters are on the dean’s list, and I don’t know if I get to necessarily take credit for that aspect. Their mother was a wiz when it came to school and stuff.”

Sapp balances life through prioritizing.

“Before I’m anything else I’m a father. After being a father, I am a pastor [Lighthouse Full Life Center Church]. After being a pastor, I am a recording artist. After being a recording artist, I do all my other entrepreneurial responsibilities, from my day care to my full-service bar, be it a mani-pedi, a salon to a restaurant to all the real estate properties that we own, apartments and houses. What I’ve learned for me is that if I keep everything in proper order, it allows me to be able to be successful in each of those areas.”

A gospel music award-winning artist, Sapp transcends generations and first crossed over from gospel to secular in January 2007 when his hit song “Never Would’ve Made It” was released.

Bishop Marvin Sapp

Courtesy Worth Ink Public Relations

“I just think that my relevance is solely based upon me tapping into the culture as it pertains to where they were, and what they feel,” Sapp said. “When I wrote ‘Never Would’ve Made It’ … the reason why the song is timeless is because everybody has had a never-would’ve-made-it moment. And kids connect to it. Adults connect to it. Grandparents connect to it. So the message is universal … ”

The tune spent 46 weeks at the top of American gospel radio charts and became the longest-running No. 1 radio single of any format. The song topped The Associated Press list of Best Songs of 2008. The record-breaking tune was the first song by a gospel artist to sell more than 1 million ringtones.

He’s also a strong believer that “nobody can tell your story better than you.”

“If you get it out before other people, you’re going to win,” he said. “So, my goal has always been to just be as open and honest and transparent as I possibly can be. And it’s caused me to win, across musical genres as well as across age groups.”

Sapp is a testament to steadfastness in faith and remaining relevant in an ever-changing music landscape nearly three decades after he launched his career. In April, he won two Stellar Gospel Music Awards, bringing his total to 24. His latest CD, Close, has been atop the Billboard charts since it was released in September 2017. He is also featured on the Snoop Dogg Presents Bible of Love album.

One bit of important advice Sapp received was from Bishop T.D. Jakes.

“I did a concert at the Potter’s House [Jakes’ church in Dallas] maybe some eight years ago. And afterwards I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Bishop Jakes. After the concert, we went downstairs and he said, ‘Marvin, in this season, you have to learn how to friend up. What you need to do is you need to start trying to hang around people that’s not at your level but who have accomplished what you desire to accomplish. Connect with them …’ ”

Sapp recently lost more than 50 pounds through changing his diet and beginning to exercise while reclaiming his health.

“I kind of lost myself over the last eight years. I stepped on the scale and I was like, ‘My God, 310 pounds.’ I never would have thought that I was that big. So I changed my diet, found this app that taught me how to count calories, and I started going to the gym every day.”

Sapp often uses sports as his way to connect to hope, faith and victory.

His favorite player, LeBron James, had left the Cleveland Cavaliers in that same year for the Miami Heat, seeking a victorious situation in his own life: an NBA championship.

“I don’t necessarily have a favorite team,” Sapp said. “I’m like, wherever LeBron is. I used to fly to Miami like four or five, six times a month just to go to the games. I would get up in the morning and tell the kids, ‘Hey, I’m going go to Miami and going to the game. I see y’all tomorrow.’ I take my kids to, like, all the Christmas games. I honestly did think that LeBron was going to L.A.”

That time for Sapp is one example of how religion and sports intersect. The two held an unlikely and possibly unnoticed bond: desire for victory.

With the victory Sapp has embodied, there is nothing in his life he would change.

“I think that the challenges of life, the hills and valleys, they are the things that make you who you are,” he said. “I look at my life and I’ve gone through some crazy stuff over the last eight years. I know what it’s done for me. It caused me to really have a more deeper relationship with God, and to trust him like never before.”

The complete — and insane — list of P.J. Tucker’s 2018 NBA playoff sneakers All 22 pairs — from Cactus Jack Jordans, to custom OFF-Whites, and a trio of Oregon PEs — it’s all here

His reign is already solidified and virtually unchallenged. P.J. Tucker is the NBA’s sneaker king. He has shoes in his collection that hypebeasts can’t even cop, and he actually wears pairs that the biggest sneakerheads in the world wouldn’t even dare to unbox. “With playing basketball and sneakers, there’s no line,” Tucker told Joe La Puma on Complex’s Sneaker Shopping in early March. “If I have them, I’ll play in them.” And, on the huge stage of the NBA playoffs, Tucker didn’t hold back. In Houston’s 17 games during the 2018 postseason, Tucker broke out 22 different pairs of size 14s, while averaging 8.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range. He wore Jordans, LeBrons, Kobes, KDs, Kyries — you name it. He found sneakers that were only meant to be sported by high school players, and represented on his feet colleges the former University of Texas student never attended. This is the complete list of every shoe P.J. Tucker wore in every Rockets game during the 2018 playoffs.


WESTERn CONFERENCE Quarterfinals vs. MINnesota Timberwolves

Game 1, April 15: Nike LEbron Low “4 Horseman” & Air JOrdan 32 “Rossa Corsa”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 15 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 15 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Tucker walked through the tunnel of the Toyota Center before the Rockets’ postseason opener with a pair of “Flu Game” Air Jordan 12s in his left hand. He then warmed up in a pair of “Stealth” Air Jordan 3s. Come game time, he ran up and down the hardwood in two more pairs of kicks: the “4 Horseman” Nike LeBron 3 Lows during the first half and the “Rossa Corsa” Air Jordan 32s during the second half. What a way to start off the playoffs — with four different sneakers.

Game 2, April 18: Air Jordan 4 “Cactus Jack,” Air Jordan 13 “Playoffs”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 18 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 18 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Sitting courtside during Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, rapper and Rockets superfan Travis Scott, a native of Houston, donned a pair of his own signature shoes, the “Cactus Jack” Air Jordan 4s. On the court, Tucker wore them too. It’s worth noting: The shoes, inspired by the colors of the city’s former NFL franchise, the Houston Oilers, haven’t officially dropped yet — and won’t until late June. But Trav and Tucker debuted the heat, which the Rockets forward wore only briefly. In the second half against Minnesota, he played in a pair of “Playoffs” Air Jordan 13s.

Game 3, April 21: Custom Air Jordan 11 “ACES,” NikE Air Maestro II “Trifecta”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 3 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 21 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 3 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 21 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

It took only three games for Tucker to break out some custom kicks: a pair of white Air Jordan 11s dubbed the “Aces.” On the heel of the shoes, a red spade replaces the traditional Jumpman logo, and “PJ4” replaces Michael Jordan’s jersey number in the thinly lined, trademark script. Tucker switched his shoes in the locker room at halftime of the road Game 3. This time it was to a pair of “Trifecta” Air Maestro 2s (worn by Scottie Pippen in a triple-double performance in the 1993 NBA Finals) from Nike’s “Art of a Champion” collection.

Game 4, April 23: Nike LeBron 12 Low

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 4 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 23 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

In Game 4 against Minnesota, for the first time in the playoffs, Tucker wore only one pair of shoes: white, gray and red Nike LeBron 12 Lows. Perhaps he left his second-half sneaks in his hotel room. Or maybe he just got tired of spoiling us with a footwear fashion show.

Game 5, April 25: AIr Jordan 32 “JBC,” Air Jordan 10 “Dark shadow”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 25 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 25 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

On April 8, Michael Jordan’s billion-dollar company hosted its annual showcase for the nation’s top high school prospects. While competing in the Jordan Brand Classic, young stars wore pairs of player-exclusive (PE) Air Jordan 32s, embossed with “JBC 2018” logos on the midsole and tongue. Tucker is 33 — a decade and a half removed from his prep days at William G. Enloe High in Raleigh, North Carolina. But, somehow, he landed all five pairs of shoes that every JBC player received, including the PE 32s, which he rocked a few weeks after the high school all-star game in a closeout Game 5 win over the Timberwolves. For the second half, he swapped out the 32s for a pair of “Dark Shadow” Air Jordan 10s, which were released on April 20.

Western Conference Semifinals vs. Utah Jazz

Game 1, April 29: Nike Kyrie 1 “WArHAWK”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz during the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 29 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Before Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz, a photo surfaced of Tucker sitting in his team’s dressing room as he sifted through a huge pile of sneakers and boxes that flowed out of his locker. For the series opener, he decided to throw it back with a pair of “Warhawk” Nike Kyrie 1s, which are inspired by the World War II-era Curtiss P-40 fighter aircraft. The shoes were released in 2015 and were given exclusively to high school and college players who participated in the Nike Basketball Academy in the Barker Hangar at Santa Monica, California’s airport. But of course Tucker got his hands on a pair — because the shoe term “limited edition” means absolutely nothing to him.

Game 2, May 2: Air Jordan 5 “OREGOn” PE, Air Jordan 10 “University REd”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 2 against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals of the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 2 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz wrestle for a rebound during Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals in the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 2 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The University of Oregon — located about two hours south of Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon — is the land of milk and honey when it comes to PEs. Tucker must have a reliable plug on campus, as he’s no stranger to whipping out pairs of shoes that only the university’s athletes, past and present, should have. In Game 2 against the Jazz, he wore a pair of “insanely rare” PE “Oregon” Air Jordan 5s, but only for the first two quarters. In the second half, he sported the “University Red” Air Jordan 10s, a collaboration between the Jordan Brand and famed NBA tattoo artist Steve Wiebe that dropped exclusively at House of Hoops in Harlem, New York, in December 2017. Two pairs of superuncommon shoes in one game. All in a day’s work for Tucker.

Game 3, May 4: Nike Kyrie 4 “Chinese New year”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on May 4 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, kicked off this year on Feb. 16 and lasted through March 2. But Tucker was still celebrating the Year of the Dog in early May, when he showed off the “Chinese New Year” Nike Kyrie 4s in Salt Lake City for Houston’s first road game of the Western Conference semis. Tucker is a mixologist with the colors of his on-court shoes, often choosing to turn heads instead of matching his uniform. But these kicks, which feature a beautiful red, black and gold floral design on the quarter panel of each shoe, perfectly complement Rockets team colors. Well done, P.J. Well done.

Game 4, May 6: Nike Kd 6 Supreme “D.C. Preheat”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on May 6 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

From the conservative “CNY” Kyrie 4s in Game 3 to the vibrant “D.C. Preheat” Nike KD 6 Supremes in Game 4. Tucker had to go deep in his closet for this pair of Kevin Durant signatures, which first hit the streets in 2013. More proof that his sneaker versatility is crazy.

Game 5, May 8: Nike LeBron 8

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 5 against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals on May 8 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Why not pay homage to the most dominant player of this year’s playoffs: LeBron Raymone James? With a pair of vintage red-and-black Nike LeBron 8s (which originally released in October 2010), that’s exactly what Tucker did when he and the Rockets sent Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz packing with a Game 5 win that advanced Houston to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2015.

Western Conference Finals vs. Golden State Warriors

Game 1, May 14: Nike Zoom Kobe 3 “Westchester” PE

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA’s Western Conference finals on May 14 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

In 2008, players on the basketball team at Los Angeles’ Westchester High received exclusive red, black and white Nike Kobe 3s. They were personalized for the school, with each shoe’s tongue featuring a “W.” So how did Tucker, who went to high school in North Carolina from 1999-2000, find a pair of these unique Kobes? Perhaps Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, a Westchester graduate, hooked his teammate up. But with Tucker, who really knows? The “Westchester” 3s he wore in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the Warriors might just be one of the original pairs. That’s how deep his shoe connections run.

Game 2, May 16: Nike LeBron 15 “Owwhio State” PE

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 2 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 16 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Tucker is a Longhorn at heart. But in Game 2 vs. Golden State, he was a Buckeye, repping THE Ohio State University in a pair of all-red, player-exclusive Nike LeBron 15s. They were presented to the OSU basketball team last fall as part of James’ everlasting dedication to the school he would’ve attended had he gone to college. Also, don’t forget: We’ve seen Tucker in another colorway of Ohio State LeBron 15 PEs. The first pair, primarily in white, was apparently just the warm-up.

Game 3, May 20: Nike Kyrie 4 “Yellow Lobster”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 20 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

In 2009, only 36 pairs of the “Yellow Lobster” Nike SB Dunk Lows were made. Nearly a decade later, Nike paid tribute to the iconic skateboarding sneaker with a bigger, yet still limited, release of the “Yellow Lobster” Kyrie 4s. Before lacing up the kicks in Game 3 against the Warriors, Tucker arrived to Oracle Arena in a magenta suit. He was really in his bag with his style choices that night.

Game 4, May 22: Custom Off-White Nike REact Hyperdunk

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 22 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Between Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals, Tucker took to Instagram, where he posted a photo of one-of-a-kind OFF-White Nike React Hyperdunks — the work of sneaker craftsman Dominic Chambrone, aka The Shoe Surgeon. Tucker teased the custom kicks in warm-ups, but they didn’t grace the court until Game 4. To really appreciate the collaboration between Tucker and Chambrone, you have to remember what a normal pair of the OFF-WHITE Hyperdunks look like. Moral of the story: They started out as white and ended up an intoxicating red. A true masterpiece.

Game 5, May 24: Nike LeBron 15 “OREGON” PE (Black)

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 5 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 22 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

From afar, Tucker’s Game 5 shoes appeared to be a simple pair of black LeBron 15s. Yet, up close you’ll notice the subtle “O” on the heel tab, which signifies one thing: Oregon. Somebody in the school’s equipment department must really love Tucker.

Game 6, May 26: Nike Lebron 15 “Oregon” pe (Green)

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 6 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 26 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

In the words of the one and only DJ Khaled, “Another one!” — Tucker’s third pair of Oregon player exclusives in the playoffs. Peep the yellow duck wings design on the midsole of these green beauties. The university might as well hire him to teach “PEs 101.” He’s as well-versed as they come on the topic.

Game 7, May 28: Nike Kobe 4 “Del Sol”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals of the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 28 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Tucker entered Houston’s home arena before a decisive Game 7 vs. Golden State on Memorial Day carrying a pair of “Grinch” Nike Kobe 6s (the best Christmas Day sneakers in NBA history — and don’t even think about @ing us). But when he and the Rockets stepped foot on the court, with a trip to the 2018 NBA Finals on the line, Tucker had pulled an okey-doke. Instead of the Grinches, he wore “Del Sol” Nike Kobe 4s. Yet he couldn’t quite channel his inner Black Mamba, as the Warriors closed out the 2017-18 season for the Rockets. There’s little doubt, however, that Tucker had the freshest shoes of the night — and of the entire playoffs.

 ‘Atlanta’ recap: season 2, episode 1: The family scars that bind Beware of ‘Florida Man’ — it’s not as crazy as it sounds

 

Season 2, episode 1 | “Alligator Man” | March 1

“Robbin’ season. Christmas approaches and everybody gotta eat.”

— Darius

It didn’t take long for Atlanta’s season two to live up to its theme: robbin’ season. Off the rip, you just knew the two young boys were ’bout to hit a lick. The way they were talking in the apartment, from the special order they gave at the drive-thru. But really, the most dead giveaway is Tay-K’s “The Race” lyrics, Pop a n—– then I go out my way, being played as they completed their order.

Darius is right, though. Everybody gotta eat. Hence the guy in the fast-food spot running a holiday hustle and the two young men sticking up the place. The distraught young lady in the back seat is presumably a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only unbelievable thing from the opening scene is that no one got hit with a bullet (that we know of).

Elsewhere, even Earn gets robbed: An employee at the storage unit he sleeps in — remember he’s homeless — tells him he has to vacate and then proceeds to take a handful of Earn’s personal belongings. That isn’t much of a shock to Earn. Sleeping in a storage unit doesn’t lend itself to a long shelf life. But what is a shock is seeing that his cousin Paper Boi (who is on house arrest) and Darius aren’t on speaking terms. Never mind that he has the most awkward exchange of the entire episode when he calls Paper Boi’s girl “Regina” when her name is Tara. Earn is more concerned about why the two friends “don’t wanna talk” than about why they’re, in fact, not talking.

“What I’m scared of is being you. Someone everybody knew was smart. But ended up being a knew-it-all, f— up that just let s— happen to him.”

Nevertheless, leave it to Earn and Darius to produce a classic car scene. Darius is taking Earn to meet with his parole officer; this stems from when he was caught with marijuana after Paper Boi shot the guy at the end of last season’s first episode (“The Big Bang”) and him spending all of episode two in jail (“Streets On Lock”). Their first classic conversation occurred in last season’s “The Streisand Effect” when Darius told Earn how AIDS was invented to keep Wilt Chamberlain from breaking the all-time sex record. And that black people didn’t know who (the white) Steve McQueen is. This time around, however, Darius ignores Earn, saying his parents are going to visit his dying uncle in Florida. Instead, the exchange about “Florida Man” being the “alt-right Johnny Appleseed” who shoots unarmed black teens, kills flamingos, eats people’s faces and beats up people in hospitals is an instant classic exchange in a series with plenty. “Florida Man” is, in Darius’ world, a ploy by the government to keep black people from moving to Florida and/or registering to vote in the state. But “Florida Man” is a representation of outrageous yet very real stories that have arisen out of the Sunshine State this decade. It’s such an Atlanta conversation that you’re forced to say, “Well, you know, he might be on to something.”

The episode takes a dark turn, but at the same time becomes more illuminating, when Earn promises Alfred he’s going to visit Willie, played by Katt Williams. Judging from context clues, Willie is Paper Boi’s dad and Earn’s uncle. His girlfriend/live-in-rival, Yvonne, claims to have been kidnapped by Willie and is actually locked in a bedroom. Willie claims Yvonne stole $50 from him while he was asleep. She claims she didn’t, saying that Willie must have drunk it (he’s later seen sniffing coke in the kitchen). It’s also here we learn why the episode is titled “Alligator Man” — because Willie keeps a pet alligator, Coach, in his house. Yes, you read that right.

The cops eventually arrive. Both Yvonne and Willie try to downplay the situation, although Willie (as we can already tell) takes it too far. Earn’s attempts to make peace are unsuccessful. Willie says Earn’ll soon learn that “family is business.” Earn’s clap back is the most sobering revelation of the entire episode. But Earn and his uncle’s eventual heart-to-heart reveals two men struggling to get a grasp on life. Pride weighs down both men. “What I’m scared of is being you,” Earn says. “Someone everybody knew was smart. But ended up being a know-it-all, f— up that just let s— happen to him.”

A subplot to this episode is the reality of the unknown. We don’t know (yet) why Darius and Paper Boi aren’t talking. We know Paper Boi’s mother died — but we don’t know how Willie may have played a role in that. And we don’t fully know why Earn is holding an emotional grudge toward his Uncle Willie with regard to his mother. It’s part of the larger arc of this season. We know these characters. We know their hopes and dreams. We know their fears. We even know Darius’ deep-rooted conspiracy theories. But we still don’t know their entire story.

Maybe those answers will arise over the course of season two, but Willie gives Earn a gold-plated handgun (is it Chekhov’s?) that looks straight out of Nintendo 64’s Goldeneye and a piece of advice: “If you don’t wanna end up like me, get rid of that ‘chip on your shoulder’ s—. It’s not worth the time.” It’s an OG comedian/actor who had the world in his palms, but self-inflicted mistakes ruptured the potential he had in his hands — giving a current comedian/actor with nothing but green pastures ahead of him game he needs to survive not just the game but his own pitfalls. Earn also takes a framed picture of his Uncle Willie and mother before he leaves. Williams absolutely shines in this episode, adding to a very impressive 2018 for the controversial comedian that also includes a standout comedy special in Great America.

The episode ends on three separate notes: hilarious, comforting and similar. Hilarious because eventually Coach the Alligator makes his appearance. This allows Uncle Willie to peel out the back door with the fastest speed known to man. Not Usain-Bolt-in-the-Olympics speed, but run-from-the-police speed. Comforting because Paper Boi and Darius move toward peace. And similar because Earn leaves Paper Boi’s house still homeless. It’s darker in Atlanta, just as many predicted.