LeBron’s chess moves, Westbrook vs. Embiid: The 8 NBA All-Star storylines to follow Will Quavo be Celebrity Game MVP? Will Ric Flair be courtside?

Professional sports’ premier soap opera is the NBA, and it invades Charlotte, North Carolina, this weekend for its 68th All-Star Game. But narrowing things to just the game is a disservice to the infinite dramatic possibilities of the weekend: Thursday through Sunday is an amalgamation of the NBA and pop culture so thorough that no other major American sports league could ever hope to measure up. What makes the NBA the melodramatic provocateur it is are the dramas. Some are obvious. Some aren’t. Some are, at best, are truly just pipe dreams. The following eight stories could spice up an already very hot weekend.

One: The All-Star method to LeBron’s All-Star madness

For LeBron James, this year’s All-Star draft was a riveting moment in a career filled with them. As fate, and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s draft strategy would have it, James’ gang is chock-full of soon-to-be free agents — and Anthony Davis, who, unless you’ve been living under a rock the last two weeks or so, you’ve heard has requested a trade — preferably to Los Angeles. While the Lakers came up short in the Davis sweepstakes, Los Angeles, and in particular James and agent Rich Paul, received backlash for what many, including LaVar Ball, dubbed as destroying whatever chemistry the Lakers had left. An improbable Rajon Rondo game-winner in Boston has temporarily quelled critics, but a 23-point dump trucking in Philly brought L.A. back to earth and staring in the face of what will be a race to eighth after the All Star break — if they hope to make the playoffs. So best believe James is using All-Star Weekend for business far beyond just the next few weeks of this season. One would be safe to bet a lot of general managers around the league are none too happy about James’ public chess moves.

Bonus: Just like Dwyane Wade, we’re all looking forward to that final lob he tosses up to James. A fitting swan song to one of the game’s all-time great friendships.

Two: Westbrook and Embiid: reunited — and it doesn’t feel so good

Instagram Photo

By far the funniest moment of the entire All-Star draft was the trade that sent Russell Westbrook to Team Giannis and Ben Simmons to Team LeBron. On the surface, it’s James getting his fellow Klutch brethren in Simmons. But the trade really matters for one reason — and one reason only. Westbrook and Joel Embiid, two of the NBA’s most beloved personalities, are now forced to be teammates.

But, Westbrook and Embiid aren’t fond of each other. At all. The drama began in December 2017 during a triple overtime instant classic between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers. When the Sixers and Thunder squared off, Embiid waved goodbye to Steven Adams and Westbrook — after each fouled out. Oklahoma City ultimately won, leaving Westbrook to return the favor by waving at Embiid. Fast-forward to last month: In another Thunder win, Embiid landed on Westbrook following a blocked shot attempt. Embiid said it wasn’t on purpose. Westbrook believed otherwise. When asked if the two were cool off the court, Westbrook kept it funky. “F— no.” When asked what the issue between the two was, Embiid’s was sarcastic. “I don’t why he was so mad. I have no idea,” the Sixers superstar said. “But he’s always in his feelings, so I have no idea.” Seeing these two on the court at the same time should be absolute comedy. Will they play nice? Or will they freeze each other out? We won’t have to wait long to see them square off again as opponents, though. The Sixers travel to Oklahoma City on Feb. 28, where they hope to get a win versus the Thunder for the first time in 11 years.

Three: Ric Flair, Charlotte’s (Un]official Ambassador

To be the man, you gotta [honor the man at All-Star Weekend]…

OK, so that’s not exactly how the quote goes, but the truth remains the same. Of all the celebrities linked to Charlotte, there is but one who sits at the mountaintop. In a perfect world, Richard Morgan Fliehr, known to the world as Ric Flair, would be front and center at All-Star Weekend festivities. Flair’s wild life has been documented most recently with the critically acclaimed 30 for 30 Nature Boy. There will be many black music stars and fans in town for All-Star, most notably Meek Mill and J. Cole, who are headlining the official halftime show, and hip-hop loves Flair. Think 2012’s “We Ball” with Dom Kennedy and Kendrick Lamar. Think of 2018’s Offset, 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s “Ric Flair Drip” the video that actually starred the former world champion. There’s a possibility Offset could be in town — Charlotte’s just a stone’s throw from Atlanta — and a reunion of sorts could take place. Nevertheless, Flair is a prime candidate for unofficial All-Star Weekend ambassador. Hope he’ll rock a “Free 21 Savage” shirt.

There’s also this: So much of Flair’s DNA is visible in current NBA All-Stars. James’ obsession for the dramatic is as must-see-TV as Flair. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s threat from 3 is as crippling as Flair’s figure-four leg-lock. Westbrook’s fashion sense — need more be said? Also Flair is an undeniable fan favorite on a lifetime victory lap akin to Dwayne Wade and Dirk Nowitzki. Charlotte shouldn’t just want Flair courtside for Sunday’s game. Charlotte needs Flair courtside for Sunday’s game.

Four: Can Quavo go back-to-back into the Celebrity Game record books?

Quavo, reigning Celebrity Game MVP, looks to join Terrell Owens and Kevin Hart as the only players to be named most valuable more than once. Hart, like Young Jeezy and trapping, won it four years in a row. Take away the actual professional basketball players (Ray Allen, A’ja Wilson, Jay Williams), and look at this year’s rosters. Famous Los has already set his sights on the crown, but Quavo will again be the best hooper on the court. Huncho’s silky lefty game is only enhanced by his ability to finish at the rim and get to the free throw line at will — a la James Harden. Also: former Carolina Panthers/future Hall of Fame wide receiver (and one of the all-time great trash talkers in any sport) Steve Smith is on the opposing squad. A Smith-Quavo back-and-forth could be the closest iteration of Harden vs. Draymond Green at All-Star.

Five: Stephen Curry’s Homecoming

The two-time MVP will be a huge part in this weekend’s festivities given his deep and direct ties to the Queen City. His father, Dell, was a sharpshooter for the Charlotte Hornets for 10 seasons. And while Stephen Curry was born in Akron, Ohio (making it one of the most unexpected birthplaces of basketball royalty), Charlotte is where Curry grew up. He attended high school in Charlotte. And because no big-time schools thought much of him, Curry attended Davidson College, about 30 minutes away from downtown Charlotte — and put the school on the basketball map with unparalleled March Madness performances a decade ago. He returns to the city he calls home as the greatest shooter of all time, nearly a surefire lock to obliterate Allen’s all-time 3-point record and future Hall of Famer with three championships (and counting) to his name. Curry and younger brother Seth are both in the 3-point contest, and Curry’s presence in Sunday’s big game has the running narrative of MVP.

Six: Bombs Over Charlotte: A 3-point contest for the ages

There’s reigning champion Devin Booker. There are the aforementioned Curry brothers. Damian Lillard is made for moments like these. Buddy Hield, Joe Harris and Danny Green can all catch fire at a moment’s notice. Khris Middleton, who almost assuredly will have teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo courtside cheering him on. All-Star starter Kemba Walker has home court advantage. And there wouldn’t be an angry person in the world if Nowitzki walked away with the crown. The point being is this: There is no wrong selection here. Just enjoy the light show.

Seven: Happy birthday, Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan turns 56 on Feb. 17, the day of the All-Star Game, and expect the greatest to ever do it to be treated like the royalty he is all weekend long. Jordan’s been waiting for this weekend since 2017, when Charlotte was originally supposed to host the midseason pilgrimage, but due to the discriminatory HB2, known as the “bathroom bill,” Charlotte’s look was postponed. But this year? Here are three Jordan dream scenarios in no particular order:

  1. Similar to James Davis above, I, too, receive an ultra exclusive invite to whatever Saturday night party Jordan is hosting. Bringing my own cigars, Mike and I chop it up about a variety of topics. About how I found the address to his fan club in an old Sports Illustrated Kids. About how I think his “Flu Game” is really his “Hangover Game” — which is no knock on him. It’s actually more impressive.
  2. Someone snaps a picture of Jordan and Bill “I don’t play defense” Murray. While Jordan did most of the work versus the Monstars in Space Jam, let the record show Murray has the most important assist in world history. It’s high time we acknowledge Murray for the hero he is.
  3. Like last year, the game comes down to its final possession. And James, with Jordan courtside, takes the final shot …

Eight: Charlotte ‘Going Bad’ on ’em anyway?

For anyone not familiar with All-Star Weekend, it’s a continuous barrage of parties, sponsored events and open bars. There is, of course, a vital need for music at these events. And if there’s one song most likely to become the unofficial anthem of the weekend, it’s Meek Mill and Drake’s “Going Bad” which officially dropped last week. Sitting at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of Feb. 9, don’t be surprised if it jumps a few slots with an expected All-Star push. Meek is of course one of the two headliners for Sunday’s All-Star Game, along with home state titan J. Cole. Meek will also serve as the MC of pregame introductions with his and Drake’s hit likely playing some role in the moment. It’s a nice setup too, for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), the nation’s oldest historically black college conference. The organization has held its annual basketball tournament in the Queen City since 2004. Because of its residency in Charlotte (which ends next year and is headed to Baltimore in 2021), the city is an annual mecca for celebrities such as 21 Savage, Cardi B, Odell Beckham Jr., Rick Ross, Bria Myles, Lil Wayne, DC Young Fly and more. Last year’s CIAA tournament netted north of $50 million, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. This year’s tournament kicks off Feb. 26.

The NBA rookie style quiz Forget your jump shots, newbie. It’s time to get your design game on.

.cls-1fill:#231f20Undefeated_HorizLogo_LThe NBA rookie style quiz Forget your jump shots, newbie. It’s time to get your design game on.

Whether you’re a rookie or a vet, a day-one fan, or someone who watches whatever NBA game is on in the background, you’re living the dream — the new season of professional basketball is here. And so is that undeniable NBA swag: pro hoopsmen have turned the stroll from the parking lot to the locker room into a runway as influential as any in New York, Paris, or Milan. And postgame looks? Those outfits make more statements than perturbed power forwards. But don’t worry. Upping your own style is not nearly as hard as you might think. Just follow this chart before you shoot your shot.

Complex flowchart detailing the various paths one could take in the search for his NBA style muse

You are Studied Elegance

You are Mr. Classic

You are All-American

You are Rock’n Baller

You are Iconoclast

Style Icon
Future Candidate
Designer Soulmates

Share your result:

Do you need to look good?

Go on with your pleated khaki self

What’s your restaurant vibe?

Your bag is …

If you were rebuilding your personal brand, you’d prefer to be …

Last night was rough. You want to hide your face with …

This isn’t the WWE

Your dream pet would be …

Your ideal jeans are …

You posterized Westbrook, celebrate on …

Your worst nightmare has come true. You have this on your face …

Your favorite head accessory is …

Your bae?

What’s on your wrist?

Your vacation hot spot is …

Guilty pleasure on your playlist would be …

Your fave shirt pattern is …

You represent …

Zendaya is …

Stop. Really. We can’t help you.

Your shorts are …

Your fave footwear is …

Shoulder pads are back, and you are …

Rocking pads that would also work in the NFL.

Do you care what people say about your style?

On every playlist?

All-Star Break. Your drink of choice is …

Your favorite shirt is a …

Hi, Jaden Smith.

James … Bond or Baldwin?

You’re presenting an award; you choose a …

If we are picturing you rolling, you’re in a …

My leather is a …

When you stream, it’s …

Fave hue?

Your style is Studied Elegance

Style Icon
LeBron James, Dwayne Wade
Future Candidate
Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks)
Designer Soulmates
Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford

NBA fashion royalty. Everything they wear, from red carpet to street style, is impeccable and often custom. No one just wakes up this level. It takes years of experimentation, confidence and a very good stylist to get here. The easiest way to start? Go bespoke.

Your style is Mr. Classic

Style Icon
Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant
Future Candidate
De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings)
Designer Soulmates
Giorgio Armani, Hermes, Louis Vuitton

Classic styling doesn’t have to mean you’re a square. You can jazz it up without tiptoeing into edgy. Cuff links, a pocket square, a bold watch or a scarf can illustrate your personality.

Your style is All-American

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Chris Paul, Stephen Curry
Future Candidate
Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers)
Designer Soulmates
Tommy Hilfiger, Dsquared2, Junya Watanabe

European styling (read: tight) is never going to be for everyone. If you want to look good and be comfortable, here’s the only thing you need to know. Your top or your bottom can be loose. NEVER. BOTH.

Your style is Rock’n Baller

Style Icon
Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith
Future Candidate
Zach Collins (Portland Trail Blazers)
Designer Soulmates
Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Raf Simons

If you exhale swagger, don’t know why all clothes aren’t black, and dream of a second act as a multimedia mogul, this is you. Immediate must-have: biker jacket.

Your style is Iconoclast

Style Icon
Russell Westbrook, Nick Young
Future Candidate
Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers)
Designer Soulmates
Gucci, Haider Ackermann, Balenciaga

This is not fashion for people who skulk out of news conferences. For you, fashion needs to be an expression of just how exceptional you are or it’s pointless. If you’re worried about Twitter making fun of you, remember this: Nobody ever became fashion royalty without a stop here.

Share your style on

See all other styles

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Her Sister’s Keeper In Chicago, tragedy touches even the most celebrated families. But Dwyane Wade’s mother and aunt have learned that hope can follow despair

The sound of distant police sirens drowns out the first notes of gospel music as Jolinda Wade’s extended family hurries inside the church. There have been 19 shootings in Chicago this winter weekend, and the family’s chapel has become a safe haven on the city’s far southern edge. An usher guards the door, on the lookout for gang members. A sign near the entryway reads: put the guns down.

Jolinda, 62, steps to the pulpit and looks out at her small congregation of friends and family members, a group shaped in many ways by Chicago’s gun violence. There, offering a welcome prayer, is a great-nephew who survived being shot twice while buying a snack at a convenience store. There, asleep in the back, is a 5-month-old baby already orphaned by gunfire. And there, standing in the far corner of the church, is Jolinda’s sister Diann Aldridge, 64, whom Jolinda worries about most of all.

“It’s not like this violence just came knocking at our door,” Jolinda preaches. “It kicked our door down.”

The church was purchased for Jolinda by her famous son, Dwyane Wade, who left the Miami Heat in the summer of 2016 and returned to his native Chicago to find a family and a city in crisis. There were 787 homicides in Chicago last year, according to the Chicago Tribune, the most in two decades and far more than the total for New York and Los Angeles combined. No one is exempt from the gun epidemic here, not even members of one of the city’s most well-known families.

Pastor Wade preaching at New Creation Binding and Loosing Ministries in Chicago, IL.

Ryan Lowry for ESPN

Now Jolinda paces the aisles of the church as she preaches, bouncing on her toes with excitement, punching her hands against the air and stopping to wipe sweat off her forehead with a towel. She looks out often at older sister Diann, who stands still and quiet in the back. The two of them have always been tight, a bond that helps form the backbone of both their church and their close-knit extended family. Diann was the first person Jolinda had ever saved—“my pillar, my strength, my spiritual goddaughter,” Jolinda once called her—and now in some ways Jolinda feels as if she is trying to save Diann again.

Twice in the past 19 years, Diann has had to identify the body of a child killed by gunfire. After her first daughter was killed, in 1998, Diann left the morgue and ultimately went back to the trap houses of south Chicago, hoping to numb her pain with drugs and alcohol. She spent more than a decade getting high, she says, “searching for something that might make the hurt go away.” Then, last summer, she’d been called back to the morgue, and now she’s come to her sister’s church searching for answers to painful questions.

She sways in the back row with four grandchildren who are hers to raise, trying to quiet the baby as Jolinda preaches.

“This is our issue now,” Jolinda says, walking through the pews toward Diann. “All of us have been hurt. All of us will rebuild together.”

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An Undefeated Conversation: Athletes, Responsibility and Violence

For decades, it had been Diann who worked to rescue younger sister Jolinda. They had grown up sharing a bedroom in a small rental house on the South Side of Chicago, two of nine children raised by their mother during the ravages of the drug war. All nine siblings eventually became addicts, but none fell quite as fast as Jolinda: from cheap wine, on to marijuana, on to cocaine, on to heroin. Meanwhile, the youngest of her four children, Dwyane, was born in 1982, around the time Jolinda began selling drugs herself. By the time he turned 8, Jolinda was failing to pay rent and trading the family’s monthly food stamp allotment to support her drug habit. She sent Dwyane to live with his father across town, then began disappearing herself.

“There were whole months when she was kind of lost to the streets,” Diann says. “I didn’t know where she was or if she was dead or alive. I would get a tip and then go off searching.”

Sometimes Diann would find Jolinda in jail or in a halfway house. Other times she would find her sister living among addicts and prostitutes in the foreclosed homes their brother helped manage on behalf of a property company. When Jolinda was dope sick and in withdrawal, Diann gave her money for another $10 bag so she could function through the day. “That kept me from ever having to start prostituting for money,” Jolinda says. “She helped save me from all of that.”

Diann Wade

Ryan Lowry for ESPN

The two sisters would sit together, drink and talk about their problems. Jolinda was always cycling through her feelings of shame and regret over the ways in which she had failed Dwyane, whom she rarely saw as he moved into high school. He was becoming a basketball star, known throughout the city, and his successes only magnified her sense of failure and grief. “He was this great kid, and I didn’t even get to see how he grew into that,” she says. Diann, meanwhile, was a high-functioning addict, mostly a drinker, and she had managed to help look after her siblings and her own three daughters while holding jobs at a call center and as a home health aide. “She is a protector,” Jolinda says.“There were some feelings of, ‘If she can manage to help take care of her kids even as an addict, how come I can’t?’ It was a reminder of the love that other people had and I felt like I didn’t deserve.”

And then, in 1998, Diann got a phone call about her oldest daughter, LaTonda—beautiful, stylish, 27 years old and just recently married to a Chicago Housing Authority official named Marvin King. Neighbors had heard gunshots at LaTonda’s apartment, a noise so commonplace in that part of the city that nobody had bothered to call police until King failed to show up for work the next day. When officers came to investigate, they concluded that LaTonda had been shot by her husband, who had then turned the gun on himself in a murder-suicide. When Diann arrived at her daughter’s apartment, the crime scene was still so bloody she couldn’t bring herself to step inside. She asked a friend to sort through LaTonda’s belongings, then left most of the funeral arrangements to relatives.

“I got lost in my madness for a long while,” she says. “I would drink until I had little blackouts. I wanted that relief of just thinking about nothing.”

Something about seeing her older sister so broken made Jolinda want to get clean. She wanted to rebuild her relationships with her own children and help take care of Diann. Jolinda went into a rehab program in the late 1990s but relapsed. She turned herself in to police again in 2001, and this time she stayed clean of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes while in jail. She studied the Bible in her cell, devoted herself to ministry and then began pastoring to her earliest congregant, Diann. Jolinda gave her sister a Bible and taught her to pray. She brought Diann into the church that Dwyane paid for in 2008 and put her in charge of its charity programs. The two sisters began meeting regularly to talk about grief, religion, new beginnings and forgiveness.

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, left, and his mother Jolinda Wade, center, and pastor LaDell Jones cut of the ribbon during the Opening Day Celebration of their new church edifice at the Temple of Praise Church on Sunday, May 18, 2008 in Chicago.

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Eventually Diann began to feel a little less angry about LaTonda’s death, a little lighter, and with that clarity came a revelation: For her, a new beginning meant leaving Chicago. She moved to the suburb of Justice, Illinois, then began asking her two surviving daughters to move too.

“It’s just not safe around here anymore,” she remembers telling them.

Solutions are rarely so simple on the economic margins of Chicago. Diann’s youngest daughter, Nykea, was a single mother of three children, with a fourth on the way. Her health aide job paid minimum wage. She was stuck living with her family in the one place she could afford: Parkway Gardens, a housing project of 35 buildings where Michelle Obama had spent her earliest years.

It was known as “O Block,” and it was the location of several shootings each year. But the violence also had its own sort of order, and Nykea had built a routine around keeping her children, ages 12, 11 and 9, safe. She made sure they stayed inside the apartment after dark, when drug dealers started roaming near the project’s playground. She took the children across town to stay at her sister’s house on the weekends, when gang violence was at its worst.

Diann herself didn’t like to visit O Block, and she kept asking Nykea to move. Eventually, Nykea agreed: “I’m done with this mess,” she told her mother early last summer.

Nykea had tried to apply for Section 8 housing in a safer neighborhood of Chicago, but the waitlist could sometimes stretch on for 15 years. So instead, Diann drove Nykea out of the city and continued three hours south, all the way to Indianapolis. They toured a Section 8 condo with new hardwood floors and a two-car garage. The city felt quiet. The neighborhood looked safe. Nykea took dozens of photos on her phone and filled out a Section 8 application. Then she came home to Chicago and waited for her clearance to move.

But the paperwork took time to process, and the move kept getting delayed. Nykea gave birth to her fourth child, daughter Da’Kota, in early August and later that month decided to re-enroll her kids in Chicago’s schools. One afternoon, she loaded the baby into the stroller and took a trip toward the school’s main office. Two convicted felons came running down the street with guns, chasing and allegedly firing at someone else in the neighborhood. A stray round hit Nykea in the arm. Another shot hit her in the head.

Diann got a phone call from a family member minutes after the shooting while at home in the suburbs. She started heading back toward the city but couldn’t maintain enough focus to drive. A friend met her at a gas station and took her the rest of the way. As they drove, Diann called Jolinda, who had been busy in recent weeks helping her own son, Dwyane, move back to Chicago into a 19th-century mansion on the city’s Gold Coast. Diann was confused and talking fast on the phone. She didn’t yet know whether Nykea was injured or dead, and Jolinda tried to calm her down.

Jolinda headed to the hospital and called her son from the road. Wade had already learned about the shooting on Twitter. Nykea was a year younger than Dwyane, and he had often listened to her read her poems or screenplays at the family’s annual reunion, during which everyone was required to perform.

“Another act of senseless gun violence,” Wade tweeted about his cousin as he made plans to return home. “4 kids lost their mom for NO REASON. Unreal.”

By late that afternoon, a few dozen family members had gathered in the hospital waiting room even though they suspected Nykea was dead. A doctor came out to confirm. Then two police officers asked Diann whether she wanted to go see her daughter. Diann began to follow them, then stopped. “Wait,” she said. She gestured back at Jolinda, then turned to the police. “I want her to come with me.”

The officers led the two sisters back to a small hospital room in a ritual that had become routine in Chicago, where 96 people had been killed that August, the highest monthly total for the city in two decades. The officers told Diann not to look at her daughter’s face, but she did anyway. They told her not to remove the bandage on her forehead, but Diann reached over and pushed the bandage back.

“All the weight in my legs went out from under me,” she says. “I couldn’t move. I just dropped.”

Jolinda tried to lift her off the floor, and soon a nurse came in to help load Diann into a wheelchair. Jolinda attempted to console her, whispering prayers into her ear about God’s plan, but Diann didn’t seem to hear. She was lost in her own head, disoriented and overwhelmed. She kept repeating the same phrase over and over as if in a trance.

“Please, not again,” she said.

Now it is five months and 355 homicides since Nykea’s death, but in some ways Diann is still every bit as overwhelmed and disoriented as she was at the hospital. She has taken over care of Nykea’s four children—“the only option and the best option,” Diann says—and together they’ve worked to forge new lives on the outskirts of Chicago. The children have squeezed into Diann’s two-bedroom house, into her creaky old Chevy sedan, into new schools in the suburbs. “Just jamming everybody in,” Diann says.

Diann shares a room with the baby, waking up to feed her four times each night and then sometimes lying awake as doubts crowd her head: Do the children need a grief counselor? Has she signed them up for the right summer camps? Is the baby doing OK on formula? And how, at 64, can she summon the emotional energy to raise four more children when two of her own are dead?

Diann Wade and her grandchildren in her car at New Creation Binding and Loosing Ministries in Chicago, IL.

Ryan Lowry for ESPN

It is too much to process, and so late one wintry day she drops the children off at school and continues driving with the baby into Chicago, to her sister’s church. It is the place where she feels most at peace and where she finds the person who understands her best. Diann has never seen a professional counselor, but ever since Nykea’s death she has come a few times each week to talk to Jolinda at her church office.

“How you doing, sis?” Jolinda says now.

“I can’t get Nykea out of my mind some days,” Diann says. “When [LaTonda] died, it was a hazy blur. Now I feel everything.”

“It hurts, don’t it?” Jolinda says.

They sit down next to each other in the empty pews. The church is quiet as Diann rocks the baby against her chest.

“At least this time I can process it. I can forgive,” she says.

“That’s right!” Jolinda says, punching her hand against the air. “And we have the strength to do something.”

For the past few months, they’ve worked obsessively to make Nykea’s death into a turning point for Chicago. Her killing—and the subsequent indictment of two brothers for the crime, Darwin Jr. and Derren Sorrells—became one of the city’s biggest news stories of 2016, resulting in promises of greater police presence from the mayor and tweets from then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. “This could be our family’s biggest contribution right here,” Jolinda said in the weeks after Nykea’s death, and everyone in the family had taken on a role.

Jolinda had written a rap about gun violence and invited gang members into the church to discuss a neighborhood peace treaty. Wade had partnered with the Bulls during home games to honor Chicago students who had overcome the city’s violence. Diann had given an interview to CNN as Jolinda sat nearby for support. “I truly try,” Diann had said, between sobs, “from the bottom of my heart—I forgive them. They’ve taken a person’s life senselessly. And I just love them.”

The family’s most ambitious effort in memory of Nykea is to expand Jolinda’s church into a state-of-the-art community center for at-risk children. The building’s huge hallways lead to empty rooms and unfinished space, and architects have developed plans that reflect the vision the family has for the church. A few weeks after Nykea’s death, Jolinda invited the city to a “soft opening” of the center, hoping to generate some fundraising momentum. Hundreds of children were bused to the church. Nickelodeon provided waterslides and video games. Several politicians put on hard hats and followed Wade for a tour of the empty rooms, where loose wires still ran across the floor. One room was supposed to become a basketball court. Another would be a recording studio. Others would become theaters, culinary institutes and classrooms, Wade explained.

“In memory of Nykea,” Diann told the group.

“We can save lives here,” the mayor said.

“A model for Chicago,” a senator said.

“The turning point,” Jolinda said.

The obituary for Diann Alridge’s daughter, Nykea.

Ryan Lowry for ESPN

But now, as they sit in the pews four months later, the church looks just as it had before. Diann and Jolinda are still waiting on fundraising money, on architectural plans, on a callback from the mayor’s office. On some nights, lying alone in bed, Diann wonders: Would she ever experience any true form of relief from her pain? No matter how many ways she has tried to escape her grief—with blackout drinking, with prayer, with work and forgiveness—all that sadness waits on the edges, ready to come rushing back. “You can work ’til you’re tired and do as much as you can, but when you stop to catch your breath, the reality is still the same,” she tells her sister.

“For our family, it’s all about Romans 12:2,” Jolinda says. “‘Do not be conformed to this world but be … ’”

Diann interrupts: “‘ … transformed by the renewal of your mind.’”

“Yes!” Jolinda says. She reaches out and grabs her sister by the shoulder. “That’s our story.”

“It’s true,” Diann says, sounding more convinced.

They lean against each other in the pew, two sisters who’ve supported each other through one transformation after the next. Diann grabs the baby and stands up from the pew. “We’re going to be fine,” she says.

The two sisters make plans to meet back at the church in a few days, then hug goodbye. Jolinda heads downtown to see her son before a road trip. Diann packs the baby into the car and starts driving out of the South Side, back to her house, away from Chicago.