From ‘The Last O.G.’ to hosting The ESPYS, Tracy Morgan is back Returning from a horrific accident, the comic had to learn to be funny again

Tracy Morgan’s sharks don’t have names.

“Are you crazy?!” he asks me, jutting his head back in mock dramatic fashion at the idea of such a silly question. And then comes the isn’t-it-obvious? tone familiar to anyone who has heard Morgan’s deadpan delivery: “They’re sharks!”

Still, he’s enamored of them. Proud even. He smiles as he points out a hammerhead, a whitetip and a Japanese leopard shark. A puffer fish coexists in that same tank; he’s the first fish to greet us as Morgan uses a remote control to turn the security system off and open the doors to the pool house to reveal the shark tank in the backyard of his palatial, 31,000-square-foot estate in suburban Alpine, New Jersey.

He smiles as he looks over at me. Nearby, there’s a swingset and play area for Maven, his 6-year-old daughter, a barbecue grill area that only he can touch and a pool that would rival that of any five-star vacation compound.

“My babies swim in here,” he says of the house his fish live in, “and my family swims out here,” he says, pointing at his pool.

Morgan, who will host the 27th annual ESPYS show July 10 on ABC, smiles again.

It’s one of the last times he smiles during my time here. For much of our conversation this day, Morgan, who became famous for his ability to make people laugh, is reaching for tissues as we sit next to one another in matching leather recliners in his office, unapologetic about the tears that continually fall from his eyes.

We’re only a few weeks removed from the five-year anniversary of a crash that nearly took Morgan’s life. He had to learn how to walk again. He had to learn how to talk again.

He had to learn how to find, and be, funny again.

“My face was this big,” he says, measuring a space big enough for three Tracy Morgan-sized heads to fit inside.

The accident was horrific. But he’s been coping with trauma since he was a small child. Like many sports superstars, he understands what it takes to return from a devastating injury.


Tracy Morgan and Allen Maldonado of TBS’s “The Last O.G” attend the WarnerMedia Upfront 2019 arrivals on the red carpet at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on May 15, 2019 in New York City.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

2019 has been Morgan’s comeback year.

Yes, he’s been working steadily since a triumphant return 14 months after his accident to host Saturday Night Live, the show that made him famous.

But 2019 is where the payoff begins.

His TBS series The Last O.G., which he created with Jordan Peele, is some of his best work ever. Morgan plays Tray Baker, a recently sprung ex-con who is surprised to see how much Brooklyn has changed during his 15-year stint in prison, with chain coffee shops, yoga studios and white people inhabiting the old haunts where Baker once worked as a petty drug dealer.

The series launched as the network’s biggest original TV debut last year, came back for a successful second season and was recently renewed for a third. The funny wasn’t a surprise — this is Tracy Morgan, after all — but the show’s depth was revelatory.

“A lot of times as a writer you’re scared of playing with the tone too much because people, admittedly, tune in to a show because they want to laugh or they tune in to a show because they want to see dragons. Very few of us ever think consciously, ‘Oh, I’m going to tune in to that show because I want to laugh and cry,” says comedian and actor Diallo Riddle, who wrote on season one of The Last O.G. “But I think that Tracy had such a good relationship with his audience and such a good relationship with the truth. Even old white people in rural communities can watch that show and watch black men in Brooklyn and be like, ‘I love Tracy Morgan!’ ”

The good news doesn’t stop there. Later this year — Morgan beams every time he mentions this — he’ll begin filming his yet-to-be-announced role in the highly anticipated Coming to America sequel that is set to hit theaters sometime next year. Eddie Murphy is an idol, and now he’s also a friend.

And this week, of course, the 50-year-old Morgan will host the ESPYS, perhaps his biggest audience since the Saturday Night Live gig in October 2015, 16 months after a crash that nearly took his life.

“I still remember the time I saw Tracy after the accident and you just go, ‘I’m so happy he’s alive.’ That’s all you could say,” Riddle says. “I’m so happy he’s alive because he kept grinding, and then to go into a third season of the show and to be hosting the ESPYS? … The ESPYS is a beast of an undertaking. It’s not easy physically or mentally. And the fact that he’s hosting it, given where he was, is incredible.”


June 6, 2019: Tracy Morgan at his home in Alpine, New Jersey just a few weeks from the five-year anniversary of the traffic accident that nearly killed him.

Timothy Smith for The Undefeated

Back inside his home, Morgan is wiping away a fresh set of tears.

I ask if his ability to be emotionally open is a result of his accident or if this is who he was before June 7, 2014. We don’t generally give black men license to feel like this — not without it being some sort of indictment on their masculinity.

His life has been painful, far more than one person should have to deal with, really. And Morgan allows himself to be, well, human.

“My dad survived Vietnam … he came home a junkie. He didn’t go there that way, [but he] came home that way. That was his terror, seeing babies dying in villages, and he expressed those to me,” Morgan says. “I didn’t understand it because I was a kid in [his] prime in high school, playing football, but I didn’t know what his struggles. … He had demons. You go to war, nobody wins.”

Certainly not Jimmy Morgan Sr., who died of AIDS when Tracy was 19. Morgan also talks about how much he looked up to his Uncle Alvin, the cool uncle who played college football and who died of the same syndrome.

That kind of trauma can be crippling. Somehow, Morgan discovered comedy.

“You find it in that pain,” he says softly. “Without no struggle there’s no progress. People don’t know. ‘How did he get that funny?!’ My father and my mother breaking up when I was 6. My oldest brother being born with cerebral palsy. … Him having 10 operations by the time I’m 5. My mom’s by herself, struggling to help my brother with them Forrest Gump braces on, him screaming, she trying to teach him … I seen all of that.”

Morgan pauses.

“You know why I became famous?” he asks quietly. “Because the kids of the playground could be mean. When they be mean, you go get your big brother, your big brother got your back. … I couldn’t do that. I go get my brother, he come, hey, he crippled. They start laughing. So I had to learn how to be funny to keep the bullies off my a–. All of my life, turned into business.”

Then, as if tossing it over in his head for a bit, he chases all of that heft with some lightness: “And plus, I learned in high school, when you funny, you get the girls. You might not score, but they be all, ‘Where Tracy’s stupid a– at?” he recalls. “They want you around, you make them laugh! My biggest audience is female. Same motivation. I’m married now, but I still want to make the girls laugh. Y’all got the world on your shoulders. At the end of the f—ing day, if you can make her forget about all that s— for an hour, you the man.”

“Great comedians — which Tracy is one of the great comedians — their comedy comes from pain,” says director David E. Talbert. “And the great ones allow themselves to access that, and then they share that.”

Morgan’s first taste of fame came in 1993 via HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, which was hosted by Martin Lawrence. Back then, it was a must-watch series, introducing and amplifying many now-famous black comics like Chris Tucker and Bernie Mac.

His childhood best friend Alan always told him how funny he was and that he should really make a go at pursuing comedy. Morgan, who was born in the Bronx and reared largely in Brooklyn, took workshops and eventually was working the local comedy club circuit. Comedy was his love, but he still had one foot in the hustle game.

“I was selling crack [when] my friend Alan got murdered, my best friend,” Morgan shares. Losing Alan made him focus.

“I come home, my youngest son is 2 years old. … Told him, ‘I’m gonna do comedy. …’ By all means, [my first wife, Sabina] could’ve said, ‘No you ain’t m—–f—-, we got three kids. What you going to do is go get a f—ing job.’ She never did that. She said, ‘Pull the trigger, Tracy.’ ”

“Four months later, I was on Def [Comedy] Jam.”

And then, another painful memory: “She passed away three years ago. Cancer.”


Comedians Chris Rock, left, and Amy Schumer, center, sit with actor Tracy Morgan and Morgan’s daughter Maven during the first half of an NBA basketball game between the New York Knicks and the Golden State Warriors, Feb. 26, 2018, in New York.

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Morgan was almost gone too.

On June 7, 2014, a Walmart truck driver who had been awake for more than 28 hours was going 20 mph over the 45 mph speed limit in a work zone on the New Jersey Turnpike. He crashed into a limousine bus carrying Morgan and a small group of friends and colleagues. Morgan’s friend James McNair died, and Harris Stanton and Ardie Fuqua were hospitalized. Morgan himself was listed in critical condition and was comatose for two weeks.

The driver, Kevin Roper, was indicted on charges of manslaughter, vehicular homicide and aggravated assault. He later accepted a plea deal that dismissed the charges in exchange for entering a pretrial intervention program. Walmart settled for an undisclosed amount of money.

Morgan’s life changed that day. He came out on the other side appreciative. Attentive. Spiritual, yet spirited.

“When bad things happen to you, that’s when you grow. It was painful at the time,” he said. “But now you look back on it and you go, ‘Wow.’ So this story is not just for me. It’ll be for the young people who want to achieve anything in their lives. You can’t give up. I got hit by a truck!”

But before he could do the work physically, Morgan’s road to recovery had to start with forgiveness.

“You have to learn to forgive yourself before you can forgive anybody. OK, you had a setback on the field. But a setback ain’t nothing but a setup. Because when you come back better, you going to do something that ain’t been done,” Morgan says. “Don’t you ever let no doctor, nobody, tell you you can’t. They said no, I broke every bone in my face. On this side of my skull you could see my brain. … I was scared. I didn’t know if I was ever going to walk. That’s when I had to put the work in. …”

Morgan begins to cry again.

“Ugh. Damn. Excuse me.”

I tell him to take his time. Soon, he begins to tell a story of sitting in his wheelchair and watching his infant daughter scoot around in her walker.

“I don’t want her looking at me like this; she ain’t understand what’s going on. I’m working, I’m working hard, because I want to walk again, I want to play with my daughter, I want to chase my daughter. That was my motivation. I wanted to chase my daughter. I didn’t care about show business. I wanted to chase my daughter,” he says, wiping away fresh tears. “And I worked so hard for a year just to get back on my feet. And I don’t care what athlete you are, you better pick a motivation, something near and dear to you. Something that you would give the world for. And you better go for it, don’t let it be over. I put the work in for a year, and then the triumph, like we was talking about. I saw my daughter — she was 14 months — and I seen her take her first steps. It made me get out my wheelchair.”

I ask him to clarify: seeing his daughter take her first steps motivated him to attempt to take his own first steps?

He nods.

“She took her first steps and I got up, and my wife started screaming. She said I was going to hurt myself because my femur was crushed. And I was like, ‘F— that,’ and I stood up and I took a step to my daughter. I took a step with my daughter,” he says. “That was four months after I got hit. The rest of the year, I just started working. It wasn’t just physical, it was cognitive — I didn’t even know my name. I had to learn how to talk again.”

Drying up the last tears with a new piece of tissue, he says, “It was a bad accident.”


This is who Tracy Morgan has always been.

In 2008 he co-starred alongside Ice Cube in First Sunday, a comedy written and directed by Talbert, who was a top-grossing playwright before he directed Morgan in what was his directorial debut.

In that film, Morgan played LeeJohn Jackson, best friend to Cube’s Durell Washington. Together they were portraying petty thieves who concoct a rather desperate scheme to steal $17,000 from a neighborhood church in order to pay off a debt for Durell’s ex-girlfriend — to not do so would mean that she and their son would relocate to a different state.

“This story is not just for me. It’ll be for the young people who want to achieve anything in their lives. You can’t give up. I got hit by a truck!”

After Morgan auditioned for the role, he and Talbert went out for lunch.

“He started telling me about his relationship with his mother, which is a complicated relationship,” Talbert recalls. “I knew that if I could access that, then he could really dig into the character.”

“And I remember when he was about to do his big scene with Loretta Devine. And he says, ‘Today I’m going to cry because real actors cry! Richard Pryor cried!’ That’s all he was screaming all day! The scene singing ‘Happy Birthday’ with Loretta Devine, he was just telling everybody, ‘I’m going to cry! Real actors cry!’ ”

Talbert gave Morgan some advice before they dug into the scene: “I said, ‘Tracy, the thing about emotion is you have to try not to cry, but it moves you so much that you can’t help but to cry.’ And I said, ‘So I want you to try as hard as you can not to cry. And as she’s singing to you, I want you to think about all those birthdays that were missed.’ ”

That scene is one of Morgan’s favorites. By the time Devine gets to the last few notes of the song, she pulls Morgan in close for an embrace. The camera zooms in on his face, a mixture of bewilderment and sadness. Tears are streaming down the sides of his nose.

It wasn’t just good acting. It was real life. When Morgan was 13, he left his mother’s home to live with his dad in the Bronx. He and his mother went years without speaking.

“Loretta Devine started singing. And Tracy, I saw him. [He] wasn’t playing the character anymore. He was the little boy thinking about his own relationship with his mother. And slowly as Loretta started to sing, he was welling up and just the most genuine, authentic tear fell. I yelled, ‘Cut!’ I only had to do one take of that scene,” Talbert says. “It was beautiful. It was perfect. I only did one take, and he said, ‘D, excuse me for a moment.’ And he went to the back, and about 15 minutes later he came out and I said, ‘You OK?’ He said, ‘I just called my mother and I told her she missed out on a real actor.’ ”

Since the accident, Morgan and his mother have reconciled.


“I learned in high school, when you funny, you get the girls. You might not score, but they be all, ‘Where Tracy’s stupid a– at?”

Timothy Smith for The Undefeated

As we’re wrapping up, I remind Morgan of a joke I once heard his friend Chris Rock tell in a stand-up routine. Rock observed that he was the only black man in his tony neighborhood and shared all he had to accomplish to afford to live on the street. One of his neighbors is a dentist, Rock said, before landing the punchline: “Know what I had to do to afford this house? Host the Oscars!”

Morgan breaks into the hardest laugh I’ve heard from him this day. He has a similar story.

“Just last week I had some rich white man jogging in front of my gate. So I’m coming out my gate, and he’s looking at my house. And he’s looking at me …”

“So what do you do?” the jogger asked him.

“And I said, ‘About what?!’ ”

Morgan and I both break out laughing.

“I had to justify why the f— I live here … but you know I start f—ing with him,” Morgan says.

“You know the McDonald’s box the french fries come in?”

“Yeah.”

“I make those. You know the straw you drink the Coke [out of]? I make those.”

Morgan laughs at his own story.

“And he started laughing. … In your mind, you got to justify why I’m here.”

Tracy Morgan is here — and hosting the ESPYS.

“That’s going to be fun. Because everybody knows that Tracy Morgan thinks outside the f—ing box. … Buckle up, kids. It’s about to get wild and woolly.”

The ESPYS Collection Portraits of past and present stars set the stage for this year’s awards show, July 10 at 9 p.m. ET


Second-generation pro athletes are becoming a thing It’s not just Steph and Klay, it’s happening in so many sports

Last year, Justify won horse racing’s Triple Crown and retired undefeated. He is a descendant of previous Triple Crown winners, including Seattle Slew, Secretariat and War Admiral. And he is a four-legged reminder of a trend that’s racing through elite pro sports: Justify, like his two-legged counterparts, is a descendant of former stars in his sport.

More and more athletes are entering the family business: sports. If current trends continue, we may see favorite son or daughter categories in The ESPYS or publications that look back on the year in sports.

In April’s NFL draft, Nick Bosa joined his brother, Joey, and father, John, as football players who were first-round draft picks. Earlier this month, Bobby Witt Sr. and Jr. became the first father-and-son duo to be picked among the first three selections in the Major League Baseball draft when Bobby Jr. was selected second overall by the Kansas City Royals. Meanwhile, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors have led their team to its fifth consecutive NBA Finals. Both men’s fathers enjoyed long NBA careers.

Now it could be that sports scientists will discover a jump shot gene or pass rushing in the DNA of second-generation athletes. Perhaps the ability to hit major league pitching can be passed down too. Maybe there is something innate and inheritable that has led to multiple generations of Boones in baseball, the Mannings in football and the Unsers in auto racing.

But we know that Nick Bosa, Curry, baseball’s Vlad Guerrero Jr. (son of Hall of Famer Vlad Sr.) and other second-generation athletes had fathers who could show them the ropes in their chosen profession, which is to say that big-time sports, like other endeavors in our country, favor young people whose families can help them succeed and show them how.

At the same time, we see fathers — and it is mainly fathers — who seek to groom their sons or daughters for sports stardom: the Williams sisters in tennis or the Ball brothers in basketball, for example.

During the various pro drafts, we see such fathers give a special look to their drafted children, a look that should be familiar to parents who have attended their kids’ college graduations. It’s a look that says, “This is the end.” It’s a look that says, “This is the beginning.” It’s a look that says, “We did it.”

Of course, as society changes, so do our families: Would-be male sports stars such as Kevin Durant and Draymond Green are just two of many men inside and outside of sports who have been nurtured by strong, resourceful and resilient women, especially black women. And the NBA’s LeBron James continues to invent himself as a man, a father and a businessperson while withstanding the scrutiny and sometimes the scorn of the media. And, like legions of others outside of sports, he has done so without his biological father showing the way, a feat comparable to anything the Los Angeles Lakers forward pulls off on the basketball court.

The world of big-time sports appears so seductive and compelling that it is understandable when some fathers want a chance to see if they can endure the spotlight and not melt under its heat.

But fathers and others don’t have to resort to stunts such as catching a baseball in major league stands while holding a child (the stupid guy trick of sports fans) to get our attention. They can use sports and their ups and downs to give our children “the talk.” I’m talking about the one best delivered in a whispered but confident voice after our children lose a game. It is the one where the elders tell the children they can come back from defeat, they can withstand the end of the world and try again and again, that there can be triumph beyond numbers on the scoreboard.

Becoming good at delivering that talk might not land the elders on the sports highlight shows. But it could earn them a vote for most valuable dad, parent or guardian, at least in their households.

Happy Father’s Day.

Cardinals QB Kyler Murray might just be Nike’s next NFL superstar athlete Partnership with Nike offers endless marketing possibilities for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft

NEW YORK — Kyler Murray beat one of the best marketing departments in the world to the punch.

Last November, in the thick of his Heisman Trophy-winning season at the University of Oklahoma, the 21-year-old phenom quarterback posted a photo on his social media accounts so recognizable that it didn’t need a caption. Murray re-created Bo Jackson’s iconic 1989 Nike ad down to every detail — the marbled backdrop, flexed muscles, shoulder pads and a wooden baseball bat propped up on strong shoulders.

In a creative way, Murray illustrated the undeniable connection between him and Jackson, two generational dual-sport athletes. Jackson is the only player in history to be named an All-Star in football and baseball, having played in both the NFL and Major League Baseball from 1986 to 1994 (three years before Murray was born). Yet, unlike Jackson, who became the face of Nike’s cross-training division in the late 1980s surrounding the launch of the brand’s timeless “Just Do It” campaign, Murray decided to focus on one sport. “The young man from Oklahoma,” Jackson said in January, “should just go with his heart.”

He ultimately chose football despite being selected as an outfielder by the Oakland Athletics with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft. Murray agreed to a contract with the club that included a reported $4.66 million signing bonus and permission to play football at Oklahoma for one more year. During the 2018 college football season, he started at quarterback in all 14 games for the Sooners, hoisted the Heisman after throwing for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns and leading the team to the College Football Playoff. A month after declaring for the NFL draft, Murray took to Twitter to announce that he’d be “fully committing” his life and time to being a pro quarterback.

On the eve of the draft, before the Arizona Cardinals selected Murray with the top pick, Nike made it official, signing the dual-threat quarterback from Bedford, Texas, along with 26 players (and counting) as part of the brand’s 2019 class of NFL rookies. At Oklahoma, Murray wore Nike on both the baseball diamond and gridiron, before the school’s football program switched to Jordan Brand uniforms last year. In celebration of the new partnership, Murray rocked a Great Gatsby-themed 1-of-1 pair of Air Jordan 1 lows onstage at the draft, featuring “Nike K1″ on the tongues of each shoe.

“We admire the energy and commitment that Kyler Murray brings to the game on and off the field, and we’re excited to welcome him and the entire rookie class to the Nike family,” a brand spokesperson told The Undefeated. “We feel strongly that their dedication to the game will continue to inspire the next generation of athletes.”

Roughly 40 percent of the players in the NFL are endorsed by the multibillion-dollar sportswear company. And now Nike might just have its next superstar athlete in Murray. Within several hours after the announcement that he’d been signed, Murray appeared in his first Nike commercial — a one-minute spot depicting his journey from playing three sports as a kid to reaching the NFL.

“I think he’ll understand once he gets an opportunity to be on Nike’s campus, all the things that will be afforded to him,” free agent and five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh told The Undefeated at Nike’s New York headquarters ahead of the draft. “The most important thing I would tell him is, ‘Just go out there and focus on your task at hand with being a professional, and everything else will fall in line for you.’ ”

Suh’s evaluation of the young, highly touted quarterback? “He’s definitely elusive and very athletic,” Suh said. “I haven’t had a chance to truly watch him play. Maybe this year I’ll have an opportunity to hit him.”

Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay, another Nike athlete, has watched Murray quite a bit. And the two-time Pro Bowler and 2017 first-team All-Pro selection is already impressed.

“I think he’s gonna be a killer in this league,” Slay told The Undefeated. “I can just see his competitiveness — how he operates, how he carries himself … He’s a baseball guy, so you know he got a strong arm. And the thing about baseball players is they got great vision. To see that little ball, hit that little ball and catch that little ball at a fast pace. How this game is … I think it’s made for him.”

“Honestly, I want to be the best that ever played the game.” — Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray

The 5-foot-10, 207-pound Murray reminds Slay of two veteran NFL quarterbacks. “He’s a more athletic Drew Brees,” Slay said, “and you can see him as the next Russell Wilson.”

Wilson — who just became the highest-paid player in the NFL after signing a four-year, $140 million contract extension with the Seattle Seahawks — is also endorsed by Nike. He and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. are the only Nike athletes in the NFL to have their own cleats and signature lifestyle shoes. In 2017, after Beckham Jr. signed the richest NFL shoe deal in history, Nike delivered the Special Field Air Force-1 Mid “OBJ.” He also recently teased another signature sneaker that’s on the way. And on the red carpet at the 2018 ESPYS, the Seahawks star debuted his Nike Dangeruss Wilson 1. Maybe Murray will eventually join Beckham and Wilson and get the Nike signature treatment.

“He’s gonna have his own shoe,” Slay said, “sooner or later.”

Until then, the ads will keep coming — only now he has a brand behind him to do them. The marketing possibilities surrounding Murray already seem fruitful, especially if he lives up to the dream he shared in his debut Nike commercial.

“Honestly,” Murray said. “I want to be the best that ever played the game.”

Charlotte welcomes NBA’s Building Bridges program during All-Star Weekend Program aims to connect community and law enforcement through basketball

NBA legend Dell Curry didn’t see professional basketball as a career choice growing up. Instead, it was another field that captured his attention.

“I wanted to go into law enforcement,” Curry said. “I had no idea I’d be an NBA player. Basketball helped me bridge that gap. I wasn’t the best student in high school, but once I realized what I wanted to do, I had to have good grades to help get me focused, disciplined and dedicated to my craft.”

Curry was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1986, where he retired in 2002 as the team’s all-time leader in points. But the father of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry and Portland Trail Blazers guard Seth Curry still had thoughts of becoming involved in law enforcement.

More than three decades later, Dell Curry and the Curry Family Foundation are part of the seventh installment of Building Bridges Through Basketball, an NBA program designed to forge a relationship between police and youths in communities.

On Saturday, the program was launched at the Naomi Drenan Recreation Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, the same location where brothers Stephen and Seth Curry spent countless hours practicing. It’s one of the centers in the local area where the siblings started playing basketball. Children participated in skills drills and interacted with members of law enforcement.

Weekly sessions will begin at the center March 9, with 2.5-hour classes featuring basketball training and hands-on leadership activities developed by the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), to focus on identity, diversity and conflict resolution.

Two newly renovated outdoor basketball courts were also revealed on Saturday, courtesy of the Curry Family Foundation and Under Armour in partnership with Nancy Lieberman Charities.

Hornets legend Dell Curry and others unveiled a new outdoor court at Naomi Drenan Recreation Center as part of the NBA’s Building Bridges Through Basketball initiative on February 16, 2019.

Photo courtesy of Under Armour

Seth Curry, NBA Cares ambassadors Bob Lanier and Felipe Lopez, Lieberman, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and RISE CEO Diahann Billings-Burford all attended.

“We have to build relationships and it’s not just the relationships with our children,” Billings-Burford said. “Law enforcement officers have to see and understand our children just like our children have to see and understand law enforcement officers. We’re bridging that divide to make a difference every day like in the streets. Even as we protest and we fight injustice, we also just have to improve conditions everywhere we can.”

Cooper hosted a similar program in 2009 when he was North Carolina’s attorney general. Badges for Baseball in North Carolina served more than 1,500 youths in 17 communities across the state. Cooper used sports as a catalyst to enhance communication between police and the community.

“I think that many communities yearn for a voice and yearn for respect and I think there are a lot of law enforcement officers that really want to bridge that gap … ,” Cooper said. “Sports is an amazing way to do this.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, NBA legend Dell Curry, RISE CEO Diahann Billings-Burford and Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman attended the court unveiling and launch of Building Bridges Through Basketball program in Charlotte, NC.

Photo courtesy of Under Armour.

Building Bridges took off nearly a year after LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony used their platform to spread awareness on social injustice at The ESPYS in 2016. Their speech was delivered in the wake of fatal shootings by police and it soon began to take on a broader awareness.

The NBA launched the 10-week Building Bridges program to help build trust and bridge divides in the community. They partnered with Under Armour, then with RISE to facilitate the curriculum. According to the NBA, more than 11,500 youths and members of law enforcement since 2016 have come together in the initial six Building Bridges Through Basketball programs. With New Orleans as the inaugural site in 2016, other cities involved are Chicago (2), Detroit (2), Los Angeles and Charlotte.

Rashawn Ray, associate professor of sociology and director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland, said the program is a start in the right direction.

“I tend to think that the NBA is definitely doing something that’s proactive,” Ray said. “Obviously these cities have troubled histories, as well as troubled things that have happened in the present. … Particularly to have police departments at the table, when they’re not telling someone what to do on the street, but instead are simply having a conversation to see, particularly black and brown youth in cities, as simply another human being. I think part of what 10 weeks can do is it can start to form a new baseline. It is not the ending, instead it’s a big beginning.”

Dell Curry said he can see the benefit of 10 weeks of interaction.

“You can get a lot done in 10 weeks,” he said. “If everybody involved has the same focus, the same dedication, the same goal, definitely so.”

Jacoby Jackson, 14, is a member of the program in Charlotte. He says 10 weeks is enough but it could be more if you don’t have a fully formed relationship.

Jacoby Jackson (left) and his mother Tabitha Jackson (right) met some of the police officers that will participate in the seventh Building Bridges Through Basketball program in Charlotte, North Carolina, during the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend.

Kelley Evans/The Undefeated.

“It’s good to build relationships and communicate with them,” he said.

His mother, Tabitha, has been a social worker in Charlotte since before Jacoby was born and raised her children in the area. Like Ray, she believes 10 weeks is a start.

“You have to start somewhere,” she said. “It is an awesome experience. This is a great opportunity.”

For the mother of two honor students, law enforcement lacked cultural competency. Her eldest son, Cameron, is a sophomore at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“I think that both students and adults can improve in that area and this program gives them opportunity to do that.”

Today in black history: The NAACP is born, so is Bill Russell, we get a black national anthem, and more The Undefeated edition’s black facts for Feb. 12

1900 – The Negro national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is performed. To celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, James Weldon Johnson wrote the poem Lift Every Voice and Sing, which was turned into a song that was first performed by a group of 500 students in Jacksonville, Florida. It was later adopted by the NAACP as its official song.

1909 – NAACP is founded. Founded in 1909 in New York City by a group of black and white citizens committed to social justice, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is one of the nation’s largest civil rights organizations.

1934 – Happy birthday, Bill Russell. William Felton “Bill” Russell is one of the greatest NBA players of all time. He was player-coach of the Boston Celtics in 1968 and 1969. The five-time MVP won more championship rings than any other player. His Celtics won 11 NBA championships and went to 12 Finals during his 13 seasons. From 1959-66, they won eight straight.

1956 – Happy birthday, Arsenio Hall. Hall was the first black late-night talk show host. The Arsenio Hall Show ran from 1989-94.

2001 – Tiger Woods and Marion Jones are celebrated at the ninth ESPYS.

Draymond Green’s designer and stylist confirm he wasn’t trolling LeBron James with his shorts suit The Warriors star really did beat LeBron to the style

LeBron James vs. Draymond Green: the battle of the shorts suit. For Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, James arrived at Oracle Arena, rocking a gray version of the look from New York designer Thom Browne. By Game 2, three days later, James went at the look again — only this time, he was joined by Green, who donned a custom-made teal ensemble from a Los Angeles designer named Fresh. The outfit had been on Draymond Green’s mind, and in his closet, long before the fourth-straight heavyweight title matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers delivered an entertaining undercard of off-the-court style.

Contrary to popular belief, Green’s wardrobe decision was not rooted in pettiness, or a moment of swagger-jacking. “I started that trend a long time ago. Go check the pictures,” he said before Game 2. And he wasn’t lying. The versatile Warriors forward has a storied history, and deep connection, to the shorts suit.

“With him and LeBron, absolutely Draymond is the originator,” says Fresh. Four years ago, he founded his own brand RICHFRESH after quitting his job at the Beverly Hills retail location of Ermenegildo Zegna. “Who came up with the plane first? Fred Weick or the Wright Brothers? I don’t know. Fred Weick got a lot of attention, but the Wright Brothers did it first. Was there a day, before LeBron, that Draymond wore the shorts suit? Yes. That’s an easy myth to debunk.”

“It won’t be the last time you’ll see him in shorts.”

That day? The first annual NBA Awards show on June 26, 2017, when Green was presented with the league’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy while wearing a seafoam shawl-collared tuxedo jacket, accented by a Tom Ford bow tie, Yves Saint Laurent brooch and velvet Del Toro skull slippers. In the New York City sun, he sported shorts with the classy tuxedo top. It was a custom look that had been in the works for over a year.

“The NBA Awards shorts suit was originally supposed to be for the ESPYs in 2016, but that’s when the Warriors lost the Finals and Draymond didn’t want to go,” says Vick Michel, Green’s L.A.-based personal stylist. He met the 2012 second-round draft pick early in his career, but didn’t start working with him until 2016. “So we had it just laying in the arsenal.”

In preparation for this year’s Finals, the shorts suit was at the ready. While searching the internet for inspiration, Michel came across an image of a peacock feather and fell in love with the vibrant hues of green. He sent a screenshot to Fresh. Together, they locked in on a specific shade, and the designer began figuring it into one of his creations. The original plan was for Green to wear the shorts suit for Game 1, but final fitting tweaks took longer than anticipated.

“We didn’t get the tailoring right,” says Michel, whose other athlete clients include Deshaun Watson, Denzel Valentine, Giancarlo Stanton, Domantas Sabonis, Jahlil Okafor and Malik Jackson. “I told Fresh, It’s not ready. It’s not gonna be done. I don’t like to rush anything, because it’s all about fit with Draymond. He can wear anywhere from a 50 to a 56. Sometimes, it’ll be a 54, sometimes it’ll be a 52, sometimes it’ll be a 56. It just depends how certain garments feel on his body. We couldn’t wear it for the first game, so we said we’ll wait for the next opportunity. I’d rather pass the ball 10 times until we get the right shot. I’m not gonna rush just to shoot it.”

For his client’s series-opening outfit, Michel put Green in a Vivienne Westwood blazer with a custom pair of half-black and half-plaid paints, crafted by Fresh. Meanwhile, LeBron turned heads and broke the internet with his Game 1 shorts suit, which even garnered praise from NBA commissioner Adam Silver for being fashion-forward.

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“I was caught off-guard,” Fresh says of LeBron’s outfit. A designer for 15 years, he’s made pieces for everyone from Belly to DeAndre Jordan, The Weeknd, Joel Embiid, ASAP Rocky, Zendaya and more. “But I didn’t want it to sully or cast a shadow on the moment that I expected Draymond to have.”

Following Golden State’s 124-114 win in Game 1, Fresh flew into the Bay Area, where he, Michel and two tailors worked tirelessly to assure Green’s swaggy fit would be good to go. And as soon as he hopped out of his whip in the arena parking lot, cameras began snapping photos of the finished product: a teal hopsack shortsuit, loosely woven to feel like linen but fall like silk, with tuxedo panels on each side of the jacket and cuts on the thigh area of the bottoms to mimic actual basketball shorts. “It has a beautiful drape,” Fresh says. “I’m sure it felt amazing on him.” Michel paired the fit with a $350 t-shirt from Dolce & Gabbana (one of Green’s favorite brands because the name matches his initials), as well as a $602 brooch from Chanel and a pair of $1195 Christian Loubotin Aurelien sneakers. Fresh declined to disclose the amount Green paid for the shorts suit, but valued it at $3,300.

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Following Golden State’s 122-103 Game 2 win, Green’s outfit was the subject of more than one question at the postgame press conference. He shouted out both Michel and Fresh — and even to share the swag of his shorts suit with one of the reporters in the audience. Quite literally. “You can have this one,” Green joked. He must’ve already been thinking about what he’d break out in Cleveland. For Green, Fresh, and Vick Michel, a new city with different weather doesn’t shift the focus.

If it’s Game 1 or Game 6, he has to look fly,” Michel says. “How you play is how you should look. If you wanna play well, you dress well.” Maybe not in the Finals — but can we expect to see the revisited trademark of Green’s style once again?

“I’ll tell you right now,” Michel continued, “it won’t be the last time you’ll see him in shorts.”

Ibtihaj Muhammad talks diversity, body image and, of course, Barbie The Olympian says she is honored and humbled to be part of Mattel’s Shero doll line

When Ibtihaj Muhammad hit the scene at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, she immediately caught the attention of women everywhere. As the first Muslim-American woman to sport a hijab while competing for the United States, she was an instant hero. She went on to earn the bronze medal as part of Team USA.

Now the 31-year-old Olympian has her very own Barbie. Muhammad joins women such as Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, Selma director Ava DuVernay and dancer Misty Copeland in the Mattel Inc.’s Shero line, which honors women who break boundaries. Mattel Inc., the maker of Barbie, says the doll will be available online next fall.

“I’m excited and honored and humbled. I really look up to the women that have been part of the Shero program previous to me, and I think this is a wonderful list of women to join,” Muhammad told The Undefeated. “Barbie’s been a really big part of my life as a kid, so to now have my very own Barbie, I don’t know, it’s almost like an indescribable feeling. A lot of excitement.”

Muhammad agrees that Mattel’s efforts toward diversity are indicative of today’s times.

“I think, as a company, Mattel has decided to make a decision to be inclusive and to celebrate diversity,” she said. “So to have dolls of various sizes and different skin tones, and now to even have a doll that clearly wears hijabs and is modeled after an American Olympian, I think is revolutionary. I hope that other brands, especially in the toy industry, follow. It’s important for children to see themselves represented in the toys that they play with.”

The new doll bears a striking resemblance to Muhammad, who says the likeness is uncanny.

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“I wasn’t expecting the doll to look exactly like me,” she said. “I think that Mattel’s really nailed it, all the way down to the eyeliner, which was really important to me that the doll had, because I love a good winged liner.

“I guess Mattel is moving forward and changing this traditional way that Barbie has been made in the past. They have dolls now in different sizes. My Barbie doll isn’t tall and, like, really leggy. My doll has these more toned, athletic legs, which are more reflective to the body type of myself and other athletes. I hope that this creates a more positive image, especially in terms of the body image for young girls who play with the doll.”

The most important aspect in the Shero line of dolls for Muhammad is that young girls understand the message behind it.

“What we want to encourage little girls to believe is that they can be anything and anyone that they want,” she said. “One of the great things about doll play is that children are able to imagine themselves in any role, doing anything, being anyone and achieving whatever they want.”

Muhammad said the hardest part of her overall journey is the obstacles that she’s faced as an African-American, and as a Muslim female athlete, growing up and developing in the sport of fencing.

“A lot of them do have to do with being discriminated against,” she said. “I wanted to embrace those difficulties in my journey, especially like they’re notches in the belt, and it’s helped me achieve and get to where I am as an athlete. I would say that one of the most instrumental things in helping me achieve the success I have as an athlete is learning to believe in myself. That’s also part of the messaging that I would like to extend to little girls who purchase a Barbie from this Shero line, is that everything that they need is already inside. We’re all going to be faced with obstacles in our life, and it’s how we approach and how we handle these things that makes us, and that dictates our future and makes us who we are.”

The doll also is donning a dress from Muhammad’s clothing line, Louella, named after her grandmother.

“I was given, in addition to my doll made in my athletic apparel, I also had a second doll made in an evening dress, and they modeled it after a dress that I wore to The ESPYS.”

NYFW: Catching up with Draya Michelle The reality star, entrepreneur and mom opens up about her life away from the bright lights

ESPN’s The Undefeated caught up with reality show standout and self-made millionaire Draya Michele, the designer of Mint Swim, while she got hair and makeup done to hit New York Fashion Week. Michele was at fashion week to attend the Philipp Plein show featuring Teyana Taylor, wife of Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Iman Shumpert. She also supported Jonathan Simkhai’s show. Simkhai recently designed the dress Michele rocked at the 2017’s ESPYS party. Michele shared how she’s grown in life with her fiancé and Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick. She revealed the sage advice singer/songwriter/actress Jill Scott gave her about acting. And she spoke passionately about raising her 16-month-old toddler as a vegan and why she tells critics, “Keep up the hatin’ and I’m gonna keep up the good work that’s gonna keep ya hatin’.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

James tweeted in response to the events:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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