‘Black Duke’ takes flight After decades of resistance, black America embraces Blue Devils basketball

Once upon a time in college basketball, black fans had a special sort of hate for Duke.

This season is different. The Blue Devils are so good in the ‘hood, Jay-Z came to watch them play … in Pittsburgh. LeBron James witnessed the Zion Williamson mixtape in Charlottesville, Virginia. After every game, the internet is flooded with highlights of Williamson and Duke’s three other one-and-about-to-be-dones. The program has come so far from its so-called “Uncle Tom” days, Sacramento Kings rookie and recent Duke star Marvin Bagley III just laced the newest J. Cole beat with raps such as way back I was hated but they love me now.

And all that’s not even counting when Ken Griffey Jr., Todd Gurley, Spike Lee and former President Barack Obama came to Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium for the rivalry game with North Carolina.

Black fans now root for Duke at higher rates than the general population, according to the ESPN Sports Poll. In 2017, 12 percent of black college basketball enthusiasts identified as Duke fans, compared with 8 percent of all college basketball fans. So far this season, 24 percent of the audience for Duke games on ESPN is black, compared with 21 percent for all games.


How did Duke go from ashy to classy? From supposedly privileged punks who vanquished iconic black teams to having a hairstyle named after the 2015 championship squad? From featuring white stars who fizzled in the pros to Zion running through competition like a midnight locomotive?

Like everything pertaining to Duke basketball, it starts with coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Coach K changed with the times, gradually embracing the concept of recruiting players who would be at Duke for only a few months before jumping to the NBA. His credibility grew when he started coaching Olympic teams and building relationships with legends such as James and Kobe Bryant. The turning point was Duke’s 2015 title team, featuring three one-and-dones and the “Duke Starting Five” haircut trend.

Now Duke is an apex competitor, ready for the next “Nike check coming out the projects.” The freshmen Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones draw huge TV ratings. Duke has black fans like this dude, straight photobombing ESPN in Louisville’s arena after Duke came back from a 23-point deficit in the second half:

“I do think the success of the program, having a series of one-and-done players now, Coach K being fully embraced by the stars of the NBA with the Olympics, a confluence of things have contributed to changing that narrative,” said Grant Hill, the Hall of Famer and former Duke star who was unfairly saddled with much of the black community’s dislike of his team.

“It’s kind of funny why people didn’t like us back in the day. It’s even funnier now that people are big fans because of the haircut,” Hill continued.

“But the fact that Duke is now sort of embraced is interesting.”


Jay-Z laughs during the game between the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Duke Blue Devils at Petersen Events Center on January 22, 2019 in Pittsburgh.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Duke hired Krzyzewski from West Point in 1980, two years after losing the NCAA championship game to Kentucky. In 1982, Krzyzewski brought in Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, Dave Henderson and Jay Bilas. In 1986, that group and freshman Danny Ferry went to the championship game, which they lost to Louisville.

In that era, black America’s team was Georgetown, led by pioneering coach John Thompson. He took the Hoyas to three Final Fours, winning the 1984 national championship and the hearts of black folks with an attitude of uncompromising blackness.

Like Georgetown, Duke was an expensive, academically elite private school. Unlike Georgetown, Duke featured a high proportion of white stars, including Alarie, Ferry and, in the 1988-89 season, a bratty freshman named Christian Laettner. In the 1989 NCAA tournament, with Ferry and Laettner leading the way, Duke beat a Georgetown team featuring a young Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo to secure a spot in the Final Four. Thompson never got that close to a championship again.

The next two seasons, two players arrived who would put Duke over the top and set the Duke image for years to come. Point guard Bobby Hurley fit one type of Duke stereotype: scrappy, not overly talented, and white. Hill fit another: He was the privileged son of a former NFL star and a corporate executive, and black.

“In the ’80s, it was almost the more struggle you came from, the blacker you were,” Hill said.

Another factor contributing to black fans’ past disdain for Duke was that the team’s best white players — Alarie, Ferry, Hurley, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Kyle Singler, the Plumlee brothers — often had mediocre NBA careers. Laettner, the best white Duke player, whose arrogance and frat-boy looks inspired hate in whites and blacks alike, made one All-Star appearance and averaged 12.8 points per game over his 13-year career. J.J. Redick, twice the National Player of the Year at Duke, has a career average of 12.8 points per game in his 13th NBA season.

Laettner and Hurley got destroyed in the 1990 NCAA championship game, losing 103-73 to University of Nevada, Las Vegas, led by gold-toothed forward Larry Johnson. But in the 1991 Final Four, with Hill as a freshman, Duke took down undefeated UNLV, then went on to win Krzyzewski’s first title.

The following year, Laettner, Hill and Hurley smashed another set of black icons, Michigan’s legendary Fab Five freshmen, to capture a second straight championship.

“You had this idea about the kind of black players Coach K recruited,” said Duke professor Mark Anthony Neal, chair of the African and African-American studies department. “Kind of a cut-and-dried, clean-cut type of black player … a lot seemed to be mixed-race. When it came to color, they were often light-skinned. It seemed like he had a pattern.”

Neal hated Duke basketball for years, even after he became a professor there in 2004. “What framed my view of Duke was when they played UNLV and it was portrayed as these great student-athletes versus the thugs,” he said, then added: “Laettner didn’t help.”

The Fab Five, who injected hip-hop style and attitude into college basketball, were viewed as the antithesis of Duke. Michigan’s Jalen Rose crystallized those feelings in his Fab Five documentary, describing his feelings as a 17-year-old high schooler: “I hated everything I felt Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.”

That was a false label — Rose’s teammate Chris Webber was a middle-class kid, for example, and Krzyzewski recruited Webber hard — but it resonated.

“I said what people had been thinking for 30 years,” Rose, now an ESPN analyst, said in an interview.

Kyrie Irving (left), during his one-and-done year at Duke, gets second-half instructions from coach Mike Krzyzewski (right) against Michigan State at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, on Dec. 1, 2010.

Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/Getty Images

But with two championships, Duke could now recruit with anyone in the country. The Blue Devils won a third title in 2001 with Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer and Shane Battier. Their fourth title, in 2010, featured Nolan Smith and white players such as Singler, Miles and Mason Plumlee, and Jon Scheyer.

Black stars such as Hill, Williams and Boozer probably would have been one-and-done in today’s game. As the college basketball landscape shifted, Corey Maggette left Duke after one season. Elton Brand left after two and became an NBA All-Star.

Then came Kyrie Irving, whose spectacular 11-game Duke career in 2010-11 set the program on a new course. Irving went first in the NBA draft, won Rookie of the Year, is a perennial All-Star and became an NBA champion in 2016.

The next generation of young stars took notice.


From left to right: Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson and Justise Winslow of the Duke Blue Devils wait for player introductions before their game against the Miami Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 13, 2015.

Lance King/Getty Images

The Black Duke turning point came in 2015: the championship team featuring freshmen Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow, and senior Quinn Cook.

“My freshman year, it was different,” Cook said. “Me and Amile Jefferson talk about it all the time. Warming up, it’d be like Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber playing in the arena. And by my senior year, they were playing like Lil Durk and Shy Glizzy and Chief Keef and Meek Mill.”

Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” became the soundtrack to their championship run. The idea came from assistant coach Jeff Capel, the former Duke player whose jersey was spotted on Tupac Shakur back in the day.

“We play team basketball. Coach has a military background. We take charges. We get hype after little plays,” Cook said. “I think in the basketball community, it just looks like — I don’t want to say ‘corny,’ it’s just different. But coach lets you add your flair to it, add your little swagger, your team swagger.

“If we buy in and we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on the court and in the classroom, coach lets us be us.”

When Cook arrived on campus, he was surprised to find out that several teammates had tattoos. They wore sweatsuits on the road, not suits and ties. Krzyzewski was a Beyoncé fan and had a picture with Jay-Z on his phone. After a disappointing first-round loss in the 2014 tournament, Cook started growing his hair out to show his complete focus on basketball. Then the entire team said no clippers would touch their hair until they lost. That took 14 games. They left the tops of their ’dos long and shaped up the bottoms. By the time they won the 2015 tournament, the Duke haircut had trended nationally.

In 2016, Brandon Ingram wore that haircut in his one-and-done Duke season. Then came Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and Bagley. Next up is Williamson, one of the most electrifying college athletes ever and the obvious first choice in the 2019 NBA draft. Barrett is projected to be picked second, Reddish fourth and Jones later in the first round.

Today, “I just think Duke has a look to it,” Cook said. “If you look at the guys in the NBA, I don’t want to say it’s never been cool to go to Duke, but Duke is everywhere now.”

Said Rose: “Now, Coach K is recruiting the player. Before, they were recruiting the program. Before, Coach K wouldn’t even necessarily want four of the top 10 players because he wanted guys who he could mold them and culture them and bring them into the system. Just because you’re a top-flight player, that doesn’t mean you fit into what we’re trying to do.”

“Now, he fits Duke to the top-flight player.”


The roots of Black Duke run much deeper than Zion, Kyrie or Coach K.

In 1892, Trinity College relocated to Durham, North Carolina, with the generous assistance of a local tobacco baron named Washington Duke. That same year, Duke’s barber in Durham, an enterprising black man named John Merrick, expressed an interest in learning about real estate. Duke helped Merrick buy the barbershop, which he expanded into a chain of barbershops. Under Washington Duke’s tutelage, Merrick made more real estate purchases, which became Durham’s “Black Wall Street” district of businesses and homes owned by African-Americans.

Washington Duke also advised Merrick as he co-founded two pioneering black businesses, the North Carolina Mutual Provident Life Insurance Co. and the Mechanics and Farmers Bank. After Duke’s death, his son James Duke gave millions to Trinity College, which was renamed after the Duke patriarch in 1924. Duke family money also endowed historically black universities such as North Carolina Central and Johnson C. Smith, plus what once was the black hospital in Durham.

“There’s a reason I like Duke that’s deeper than basketball,” said rap producer and longtime Duke fan 9th Wonder, who also is a professor at Duke, Harvard and his alma mater, North Carolina Central. “The Dukes went on record saying we cannot empower black people without teaching them economic empowerment.”

Duke went on a building spree with its new endowment. The architect for many of the campus buildings still in use today, including Cameron Indoor Stadium, was a black man named Julian Abele.

This history casts a different light on the perception of Duke as a “white” school — especially since we now know that Georgetown sold 272 slaves in 1838 to ensure its survival.

“When I talk to my friends and start pulling all this history up, it’s a hard reality for them to face,” 9th Wonder said. “They’re like, ‘The black person in me should have been rooting for Duke all along.’ ”

Outside Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University as snow falls from Winter Storm Diego on December 9, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina.

Lance King/Getty Images

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

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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

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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.

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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.


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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.”

Royce Da 5’9” on sobriety, boxing and why he stopped watching NBA games The Detroit rapper is at his best yet with a new album, ‘Book of Ryan’

In 2002, Ryan Montgomery — who you know better as Royce da 5’9” — unapologetically rapped, If you hate me, you hate the D on track two of his debut. He meant that. “Rock City,” which also featured his best friend and frequent collaborator Eminem, was a Detroit battle cry. It was an anthem for the gritty can’t-stop-won’t-stop hustle of Detroiters everywhere — or, as Royce so eloquently states, his hometown was “a city full of Tommy Hearns thumpers / Grant Hill hoopers / Barry Sanders runners, stunners.” All still true.

His new offering, Book Of Ryan, is a collection of honest and thought-provoking rhymes fresh off of Royce’s viral freestyle moment, during which he rapped for 10 minutes straight on Funk Flex’s show. This new project is his seventh studio album and features guest work from Eminem, J. Cole, Pusha T, Jadakiss, T-Pain, Logic, Robert Glasper, Marsha Ambrosius and others. And in case you’re wondering: 16 years and countless albums later, he’s still unapologetic as he delivers perhaps his best and most reflective album ever.


Who was your childhood hero growing up?

My dad. I watched him do great things. One of the greatest things I watched him do was overcome addiction. I watched that at a young age. I watched him be at that crossroads where he had to pick his family over drugs. And my Uncle Tony [Montgomery, or Dr. Detroit, as he was also known] was a pro boxer. Those two guys were my heroes.

How did watching your dad go through that struggle — and watching your uncle Tony, who quite literally was fighting for a living — inspire you as an artist?

My dad’s was a more mental thing, where my uncle’s was more of a physical thing. … You can do all the training you want. The pads don’t hit back. The bag don’t hit back. But when you get in the ring, whatever you’re naturally made of is gonna show. It’s the same thing as fighting a drug. I watched my dad exercise mind over matter.

“If anything, it’s easier to open up and let it flow like I’m in therapy than it is to try to come up with punchlines.”

Where does your courage come from?

My dad! It’s scary, sometimes I talk to my kids and I’m like, Jesus Christ, I just sounded exactly like my dad! You know, even if I’m just like yelling down the stairs.

What’s your favorite sport — and why do you love sports so much?

I grew up in a very athletic family. My dad was a quarterback in high school. He also played basketball, shooting guard. Basketball was my first passion. I like boxing. Obviously, my uncle taught me how to fight — early. And I follow boxing now more than any other sport. Boxing and basketball are very creative sports. You’ve gotta be visually talented, you’ve gotta be able to see it before you can do it. … It’s cerebral, especially when you’re playing point guard. Which probably explains why I traded in my basketball dreams for music dreams, because once I started writing raps, I let go of basketball … like, I don’t watch NBA games to this day.

What’s one album you think is a classic that not a lot of people think of as one?

Shyne — Shyne’s first album. He just dropped it at the right time. … I had just gotten my first car, my Lexus … that I bought when I got into the music business … a Lexus GS300. I got sounds put in the back of it, and the Shyne album is all I used to bump. This is before I started getting into a lot of trouble, and I just associate it with good times.

How do you find out about new music?

When I built my studio in Detroit, there’s a TV that’s in my room … I never turn it off. I keep it on [BET] Jams because they play videos all day. Nobody talking, it’s just videos — only videos. I just keep it on without the sound. … That’s how I found out about Budgie. Like I looked up, video was playing, I see two kids standing there holding a baby, rapping, with a bullet wound in his shirt. … I’m like, ‘What the heck is this?’ I hit the button on the speaker so I can hear the sound, and I’m like, ‘Yo, this is crazy.’ And that’s what made you reach out to him. So that’s how Budgie ended up on the album. And this was before he signed with Shady [Records].

“Boxing and basketball are creative sports. You’ve gotta be visually talented, you’ve gotta be able to see it before you can do it. It’s cerebral.”

What’s the first concert you ever went to?

One that I did, probably when I was opening up for Usher. I’d never been to a concert. … Kids from my generation, we didn’t go to concerts.

What’s the last concert you went to?

Probably one of Em’s shows. I didn’t go to Coachella. The last one that I went to that I didn’t perform at, was … Em and Rihanna. In Detroit. And the New York show.

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

Don’t be afraid to listen to generic advice. At that age, the stuff that we hear all the time — ‘Don’t do drugs, kids’ — it sounds so generic that you almost pay it no attention at all, and it’s like you feel like those [people] are just talking to hear themselves talk. Like, ‘Don’t drink.’ That probably could have been one of the most important things I could’ve beat. If I hadn’t done that, it would have been a completely different path, and that’s not even coming from a place of regret. You always wonder, ‘Damn, man, like everything is so great right now, I wonder what would it be [like] if I had been this sharp all through my 20s.’ All of my problems that I had … all roads led back to liquor somehow. I made my job so much harder. Don’t drink … don’t hesitate to listen to the generic advice.

“All of my problems that I had … all roads led back to liquor somehow. I made my job so much harder.”

How challenging was it for you to arrive at this place where you’re very comfortable talking about the demons?

I’ve arrived at a place where … whatever I’m writing down, if it comes from the heart, it really shouldn’t take me a lot of time to think about it. It shouldn’t take so much thought. If anything, it’s easier to just open up and let it flow like I’m in therapy than it is to sit and try to come up with punch lines. I’m at a point now where I’m comfortable in my skin. … I’m not afraid to anymore.

Sounds like this is your most personal album ever.

It’s real personal, but I think it was time. Every artist should have at least one album where you feel like you know the individual you’re listening to after listening to the music. Every artist should just have that, at least one time.

Above the rim: Best fictional starting 5s in the history of film + TV A completely impossible yet intriguing list of matchups only feasible in a basketball fantasyland

Who would win in a one-on-one between Michael Jordan and LeBron James? Could these Golden State Warriors beat the 72-10 Chicago Bulls? How many more titles could Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant have won if they actually liked each other? What if injuries never robbed the careers of Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Brandon Roy and Derrick Rose? There’s nothing quite like nostalgia. And when it comes to nostalgia in basketball, friendships are tested, battle lines are drawn and some of the hottest takes known to man fly off without a moment’s notice.

With the NBA playoffs set to take flight this weekend, we’ve decided to bring another completely impossible yet intriguing matchup only feasible in a basketball fantasy land.

The best to ever do it on television, vs. on film. We kept this to purely fictional players. NBA players in TV or film roles were not eligible, because what fun would that be? For example, no Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) from He Got Game, no Grandmama (Larry Johnson) from Family Matters or Neon Boudeaux and Butch McRae (O’Neal and Hardaway) from Blue Chips. Don’t trip, though, because there’s a melody of skill, charisma and enough comedy to give you flashbacks to the days of MTV Rock N’ Jock. This is a mini-draft equipped with a starting five, a sixth player and head coach. We’ll then let you decide who’d win this fictional Finals. Our own Justin Tinsley has television and Aaron Dodson has movies.

Those are the rules. We good? Good. Now let’s get to it …

TELEVISION

“Will Smith” (Will Smith)

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Scouting Report: We’re always left to wonder what would’ve become of the Will character had he landed the Georgetown scholarship, completing the most feared college backcourt ensemble in history with Allen Iverson, Victor Page and Kyle Lee Watson. Smith’s a big combo guard who can score at will (pun intended). There are very few holes in The Fresh Prince’s game — except for one. Several general managers have expressed concern for his decision-making in crunch time, evident in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Courting Disaster” (season one, episode 11) and My Brother’s Keeper (season two, episode 15). Is he the cold-blooded killer you need in the game’s tightest moments? Even with that, The Prince is a franchise-caliber talent.

Steve Urkel (Jaleel White)

Family Matters

Scouting Report: In the “Grandmama” episode — season five, episode seven — Eddie Winslow dumped Urkel to play with The Spider, which allowed Urkel to call in reinforcements with Larry Johnson as “Grandmama.” To Eddie’s credit, Spider was nice. But we’re not making the same mistake, as The Nerd’s game is both technically sound and visually appealing.

Brandi (Kyla Pratt)

Smart Guy

Scouting Report: The year 1998 was a rather definitive one for Kyla Pratt, basketballwise. Not only did she play a young Monica Wright in Love & Basketball, giving young Quincy McCall the business on the court, but months later in “She Got Game” — season three, episode one of Smart Guy — she did the same thing, minus TJ (Tahj Mowry) pushing her into the bushes. “Brandi,” after some persuading, joins TJ’s squad, instantly transforming the team and supplanting TJ as the squad’s best player. Instant offense. Instant culture change. Instant winner with a chip on her shoulder.

Mark Cooper (Mark Curry)

Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper

Scouting Report: The Mr. Cooper character has two things working for him that no one else on this squad does. One, he’s a former NBA player (for his hometown Golden State Warriors). And two, he brings a certain maturity level this team is going to need if we’re hoping to make any sort of noise.

Kevin Hart

Real Husbands of Hollywood

Scouting Report: Technically, Kevin wasn’t a hooper on Real Husbands of Hollywood. But as a four-time NBA Celebrity All-Star Game MVP (and co-star of a hilarious basketball game with Chris Brown), he’s my ringer. We’re going to be running a small-ball lineup much of the time, so we’re going to need as many ball handlers, shooters and comedians as possible. Basically, call it The Annexation of Puerto Rico 2.0.

Sixth man: Martin Payne (Martin Lawrence)

Martin

Scouting Report: He’s an undersized 2-guard whose confidence is nothing short of irrational. But that’s fine. Payne is a defibrillator jolt of energy off the bench. He’s never met a shot he didn’t like. He doesn’t mind mixing it and jawing with the competition. And since he’s the classic definition of a streaky shooter, you take the good with the bad. He’s basically J.R. Smith with Gary Payton’s mentality. The only question mark to his game is where his head’s at before tipoff. If he and Gina — or worse, he and Pam — got into an argument beforehand (which is like saying “if water is wet”) he can easily shoot you out of a game as quickly as he can hit three miracle buckets in a row.

Coach: Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris)

The Wire

Scouting Report: This squad is going to need a no-nonsense general on the sidelines who can occasionally verbally decapitate a referee who misses a call — as seen in the brilliant “Game Day” episode from season one. The reports are true, though. I nearly went with Prop Joe, whose commitment to being the dope-game Pat Riley wearing a suit in Baltimore heat was only superseded by the iconic line “Look the part, be the part, m—-f—–!” But then that’d mean Joe’s nephew, “Cheese” (Method Man), would be somewhere near the team. And I can’t have Cheese near my squad. Nope. No how. No way.

FILM

Calvin Cambridge (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss)

Like Mike

Scouting Report: There’s one rule for my squad: no team sneakers. Every player has the free rein to break out whatever heat they so choose, especially the young god Calvin Cambridge. He’ll be wearing a pair of white and Carolina blue Nike Blazers, which used to belong to Michael Jordan when he was a kid, giving him the ability to ball out like the greatest of all time. The kicks even allow Calvin — at a modest 4 feet 8 inches — to dunk the ball (in Like Mike, he won the 2002 NBA Slam Dunk Contest). Who needs a point guard with fundamentals when you’ve got one with shoes that have magical powers zapped into them by lightning?

Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan)

Love & Basketball

Scouting Report: Sorry, Quincy McCall, but you didn’t make the team. That’s because his childhood sweetheart, Monica Wright, was without a doubt a better hooper in 2000’s Love & Basketball, one of the most iconic black films of all time. Remember the movie’s timeless line? “All’s fair in love and basketball.” Well, what isn’t there to love about Monica’s game? She’s an athletic point guard who plays with a whole lotta swag. Just look at her No. 32 jersey, which she wears in honor of her favorite player, Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson. Her character also earned a starting job at USC as a freshman, won a championship overseas and became one of the WNBA’s first players. We need that pedigree in our backcourt.

Kyle Lee Watson (Duane Martin)

Above the Rim

Scouting Report: Yup, we’re employing a three-guard offense — and we’re running it through the sharpshooting Kyle Lee Watson. The at-times hotheaded baller made it out of the ’hood of Harlem, New York, and all the way to the Hilltop in Washington, D.C., at Georgetown University, where he played in the 1990s for what was once known as black America’s basketball team, under John Thompson Jr., the first African-American head coach to win an NCAA title. We just gotta hope that when he gets the rock, he spreads his fingers and puts some rotation on his jumper.

Clarence Withers, aka Coffee Black (Andre 3000)

Semi-Pro

Scouting Report: Back in 1976, during an ABA game between the San Antonio Spurs and Flint Tropics, the first alley-oop in basketball history was recorded. “A very unusual series of moves just made the ball go in,” play-by-play announcer Dick Pepperfield uttered in awe that day. On the receiving end of the pass from the top of the key by Jackie Moon? None other than Clarence Withers (aka Coffee Black, aka Downtown “Funky Stuff” Malone, aka Sugar Dunkerton, aka “Jumping” Johnny Johnson), who’s listed at only 5 feet, 10 inches but has supreme bounce to go along with his picked-out Afro. Between Coffee Black and Calvin Cambridge, we might as well refer to the movie team from here on out as the new Lob City.

Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs)

Cooley High

Scouting Report: *Cues up G.C. Cameron’s original rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”* Long before the real-life deaths of star hoopers Benji Wilson and Len Bias, the basketball world lost a great one in Richard “Cochise” Morris, from the 1975 film Cooley High. Cochise received a scholarship to play at the historically black Grambling State University but was killed before he could graduate from high school. Let’s just say that his tragic death never happened, making him a valuable addition to our roster.

Sixth Man: Antoine Tyler (Kadeem Hardison)

The Sixth Man

Scouting Report: We’ve got skill, athleticism and, most importantly, a higher being on our side. There’s no better sixth man for our squad than Antoine Tyler, who in the 1997 film The Sixth Man helped lead his younger brother Kenny Tyler (Marlon Wayans) and the Washington Huskies basketball team to an NCAA championship as a guardian angel after suffering a heart attack on the court and dying. At the end of the movie, Antoine ascended to heaven to ball for God’s team, but hopefully he’ll return to help us out.

Coach: Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson)

Coach Carter

Scouting Report: If there’s one man who wouldn’t back down to the street savant-turned-basketball coach known as Avon Barksdale, it’s Ken Carter. Inspired by a real person, and depicted by Samuel L. Jackson in the 2005 film of the same name, Coach Carter barred his entire team (which was undefeated, mind you) from playing in games because his players were failing classes. The community turned against Carter, who nearly lost his job, when what he wanted was for every player to go to college, even if basketball was a casualty. Win or lose, Coach Carter would probably have Avon doing suicides and pushups, out of principle alone.

Grant Hill speaks out about the nation’s opioid crisis The NBA legend is on his way to the Hall of Fame, but he won’t let that overshadow his latest passion

On Sept. 7, millions of basketball fans will witness NBA playmaker Grant Hill’s induction into the 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Hill helped Duke win two NCAA titles (’91, ’92) and was the ACC Player of the Year. He boasts a 19-year NBA career, including seven All-Star selections, and he’s now part-owner of the Atlanta Hawks.

But his accolades do not overshadow his community work and his latest passion: fighting opioid addiction.

Hill has teamed up with Choices Matter, a campaign designed to empower and encourage surgery patients to proactively discuss postsurgical pain management, including non-opioid alternatives, with their doctors. He partnered with the campaign once he realized its goals were aligned with his.

“It’s been fun and it’s been consistent, and aligned with how I believe in terms of playing against pain and the campaign, and just really try to make people aware there’s an epidemic right now in our country and this is just a way to try to minimize that, and to try to prevent people from going down that road that we know so many have as a result of overprescription of opioid pain medications. So it’s important, it’s the right thing, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

During his NBA career, he underwent 10 surgical procedures and was prescribed painkillers. His short-lived brush with opioids ended when he asked his doctor for an alternative to the painkillers.

“I had so many surgeries during my playing days. And as you go through your pain management process, you are exposed to so much, so many opioids. I just never liked how I felt,” Hill said.

“So I’m given a bunch of pain meds to manage my pain,” he said. “And I just felt horrible and did not like how I felt, and could not wait to get off. At that point, you start investigating, talking to doctors, trying to get a sense and understanding of what it is you’re taking. And at that time, the internet was just sort of in its infancy. But you realize how dangerous and addictive these drugs are, but that was the only protocol that was around.”

He went through more surgeries, but before one of his final operations, he was exposed to an alternative, eliminating postsurgery pain meds.

“It’s like, wow, there’s another option,” Hill said. “Having that exposure, that experience, and also understanding that at the same time this opioid epidemic is occurring, [I’m] really just trying to make people aware as they go through their surgical procedures that there are options for pain meds, that there is an alternative.”

Hill describes his alternative as a block, “a numbing agent that they insert into your body and it lasts for three or four days, which is typically the time period where pain postsurgery can be where it intensifies and can be problematic. Once that block wears off, typically the pain has started to go away and you had no exposure to any opioids.”

A United States for Non-Dependence report, conducted by the QuintilesIMS Institute and issued in September 2017, found that enough opioids were prescribed in 2016 for every man, woman and child in America to have 36 pills each.

“Anytime you have surgery, and whether you’re an athlete, whether you’re a weekend warrior, whether you’re a stay-at-home mom … whatever it is or whatever you do, and whenever you’re considering having surgery, you want to be able to sit with your doctor and really understand what you’re about to embark upon, not just from a pain management standpoint but also just understanding what the surgery is, what they’re doing and what the recovery is,” Hill said. “And if anything I’ve learned through my 10 surgeries during my career is really to educate yourself. And I think the same thing goes in terms of what are my postsurgery pain management options.”

According to Choices Matter, 1 in 3 families in the United States is affected by addiction. Hill, who is the father of two daughters with his wife, singer-songwriter Tamia, takes his responsibility to educate his children about drug use very seriously.

“As a parent, that’s part of your responsibility, to try educate and inform, and then try to use your own experiences,” Hill said. “Dad’s had surgeries, Dad’s taken these things, Dad doesn’t like how they made him feel. And having this type of back-and-forth, I think as a parent, is healthy and important.”

In October, President Donald Trump declared the epidemic a public health emergency. On Nov. 4, 2017, Hill showed his support for ending the epidemic by appearing at the Atlanta 5K Run/Walk hosted by the nonprofit organization Shatterproof. He’s also part of the organization’s national campaign, Rise Up Against Addiction, which works to end the stigma of addiction. More than 58 teams participated in the event that raised more than $1.75 million for the crisis in which only 1 in 10 Americans seeks treatment and 141 people die of an overdose daily, according to Shatterproof.

“It was a great event. It was cool to see folks who are recovering, had been through it or maybe had a family member who had been through it, and sort of just coming together and bringing awareness, raising money. … There’s a real sort of community that it can really galvanize, and I saw that firsthand,” Hill said.

According to an article in The New York Times, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows studies that reveal the opioid drug death rate is rising among blacks between the ages of 45 and 64. “Drug deaths among blacks in urban counties rose by 41 percent in 2016, far outpacing any other racial or ethnic group. In those same counties, the drug death rate among whites rose by 19 percent,” the article reveals, finding that the drug fentanyl is one culprit.

“I’m not an expert when it comes to politics, but I think there needs to be a serious conversation,” Hill said. “I think we need to bring in folks who are experts, bring in people in the medical profession to have open and honest conversation, to discuss it.

“So much of this is the result of people being overprescribed from doctors and there being drugs left over, and people using them and becoming addicted,” Hill said. “You don’t need 50 pills for a surgery. Trust me. I’ve had 10 of them, I know. That’s when you have issues. That’s when stuff is hanging around and it gets in the hands of the wrong person … And next thing you know they have an issue. I do think the conversation needs to be had and there needs to be pressure put on our government officials to do something.”

A history of Christmas Day game debuts As Joel Embiid, Lonzo Ball and others make their first holiday appearances, a look back on how other stars played on Christmas

 

As it is with the NFL and Thanksgiving, the NBA is synonymous with Christmas Day. “It’s about what the fans wanna see,” says Tom Carelli, NBA senior vice president of broadcasting, “and our great storylines.”

For the past decade, the NBA has rolled out a five-game palette packed with the biggest, brightest and most talked-about names and teams. The 10 teams playing each other on Christmas Day are all playing each other on national television for the first time this season. This includes the Los Angeles Lakers, who will be playing for the 19th consecutive Christmas. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are the holiday’s main event, making them the first set of teams to play three consecutive Christmases since the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers from 2004-06. Steph Curry is out for the game because of an ankle injury.

Though Carelli has a dream gig — developing the schedule for all 30 teams and, in essence, serving as the NBA’s Santa Claus by selecting the Christmas agenda — there’s a science to devising a timeline conducive to all parties. “You want to make it so it works for the overall schedule, and team travel,” he says. “We made these games priority games. … It’s an opportunity for people to see them when a lot of people aren’t at work.”

The first Christmas Day game was played 70 years ago: an 89-75 victory for the New York Knicks over the Providence Steam Rollers. And 50 years ago, the first televised Christmas game took place when ABC aired a meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Diego Rockets.

Every year since, sans the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, the NBA has become an annual Dec. 25 tradition. The Knicks, taking on the Philadelphia 76ers in the first of five games, will be playing in their 52nd Christmas Day game. Both the Knicks and Lakers are tied with the most holiday wins, 22 apiece. And in one of the weirdest facts in all of sports, the Boston Celtics (taking on the Washington Wizards in a rematch of last year’s thrilling seven-game playoff series) will be playing their first ever Christmas game at home. Of their previous 30 holiday engagements, 28 were on the road and two were at neutral sites.

Speaking of debuts, Christmas 2017 brings its own set of holiday rookies in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball and even veteran All-Star swingman Paul George (who never played on Christmas as an Indiana Pacer). Meanwhile, stars such as New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo have to wait at least one more year. Which begs the question: How did some of the game’s all-time greats and stars of today fare on their first Christmas? Starting with the 11-time champ Bill Russell, we work our way up to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. How many do you remember?

 

Bill Russell, Boston Celtics

Christmas 1956 vs. Philadelphia Warriors (89-82, L)

Line: 6 points, 18 rebounds

Rookies (and future Hall of Famers) Russell and teammate Tommy Heinsohn didn’t have to wait long to play on Dec. 25. Russell didn’t shoot well, going 2-for-12 from the field, but his 18 rebounds were merely a preview of the dominating titan he’d become over the next decade-plus.

 

Elgin Baylor, Minneapolis Lakers

Getty Images

Christmas 1958 vs. Detroit Pistons (98-97, L)

Line: 12 points

Elgin Baylor, a rookie at the time, only mustered a dozen in his Christmas debut. The outing was an anomaly, though: Baylor finished his career averaging 27.36 points per game, the third-highest scoring average in NBA history.

 

Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors

Christmas 1959 vs. Syracuse Nationals (129-121, W)

Line: 45 points, 34 rebounds

Many of the feats Chamberlain pulled off will never be outshined. His 45-34 stat line during his rookie season on Christmas, however, isn’t one of them. Only because exactly two years later, in a one-point loss to the Knicks, Chamberlain put up even gaudier numbers with 59 points and 36 rebounds on Christmas. Yes, for those wondering, that is the season when he dropped 100 points in a game and averaged 50 points and 26 rebounds.

 

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals

Christmas 1960 vs. Detroit Pistons (126-119, W)

Line: 32 points, 15 rebounds, 16 assists

Seeing as how Oscar Robertson was 0.3 assists away from averaging a triple-double during his rookie season, it should come as no surprise that Rookie Oscar actually dropped a triple-double on his first holiday work trip. “The Big O” is the first of five players to register a Christmas triple-double, and he did it four times in the 1960s alone. The other four are John Havlicek (1967), Billy Cunningham (1970), LeBron James (2010) and Russell Westbrook (2013).

 

Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers

Christmas 1961 vs. Cincinnati Royals (141-127, W)

Line: 31 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists

In a game that featured Baylor and Robertson both going for 40 (and Robertson securing another triple-double, tacking on 12 rebounds and 17 assists), Jerry West’s first Christmas was a successful one.

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks

Christmas 1971 vs. Detroit Pistons (120-118, L in OT)

Line: 38 points

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was riding high on having won his first (of six) championships earlier that year. He kept that same energy heading into the very next season, despite taking a L on his very first Dec. 25 outing.

 

Julius Erving, Virginia Squires and Philadelphia 76ers

Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Christmas 1971 vs. Pittsburgh Condors (133-126, W) | Christmas 1976 vs. New York Knicks (105-104, W)

Line: 27 points | 16 points, 5 rebounds

Julius Erving is the only person on this list with two Christmas debuts for two different teams in two different leagues.

 

Bernard King, Utah Jazz

Christmas 1979 vs. Denver Nuggets (122-111, W)

Line: 7 points

Fun fact: Bernard King played one season with the Utah Jazz, his third year in the league. And while his 60-point classic on Christmas ’84 with the Knicks is the greatest Christmas Day performance of all time — one of only three 50-plus-point games on Christmas in league history — this was actually King’s first.

 

Larry Bird, Boston Celtics

Christmas 1980 vs. New York Knicks (117-108, W)

Line: 28 points

Cedric Maxwell, Larry Bird’s teammate on the 1981 and 1984 title teams, said the following a few months ago: “When I finally knew how great Larry Bird was as a player, when I finally realized how great he was as my teammate, it was the day I walked into a black barbershop and I saw his picture on the wall.” Needless to say, it didn’t take long to understand “The Hick from French Lick” was about that action.

 

Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers

Getty Images

Christmas 1981 vs. Phoenix Suns (104-101, W)

Line: 18 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals

Not only was this Magic Johnson’s holiday introduction, it was also Pat Riley’s as head coach. Riley accepted the position after Paul Westhead’s firing a month earlier.

 

Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta Hawks

Christmas 1982 vs. Washington Bullets (97-91, W)

Line: 7 points, 2 blocks

Only in his rookie season, Dominique Wilkins, the man known as The Human Highlight Reel, would have far better games than this in his Hall of Fame career. Hey, it happens.

 

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) and Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons)

Christmas 1984 vs. Detroit Pistons (109-108, W, Sixers)

Line: 25 points, 11 assists, 3 steals (Isiah Thomas); 8 points, 10 rebounds (Charles Barkley)

These two future Hall of Famers made their holiday introductions at the same time. Thomas was the standard of consistency and tenacity in Detroit basketball, traits that would etch him in history as one of the two best point guards to ever play (along with Magic). Sir Charles, then only a rookie, shot only 3-for-11 from the field. His first breakout Christmas Day performance came four years later. Also, long live the Pontiac Silverdome.

 

Patrick Ewing, New York Knicks

Christmas 1985 vs. Boston Celtics (113-104, W 2OT)

Line: 32 points, 11 rebounds

Pat Riley is on record saying the biggest regret of his career is losing the 1994 Finals and not getting Patrick Ewing the title he so desperately sought. We forget how truly transcendent Ewing’s game was. In so many ways, he lived up to the unreal New York hype that met him when he was selected by the Knicks as the first pick in the 1985 draft out of Georgetown. For instance, as a rookie, he led a 25-point comeback against Bird and the Celtics, who would eventually capture their third title of the decade months later.

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls

Christmas 1986 vs. New York Knicks (86-85, L)

Line: 30 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 steals, 2 blocks

Michael Jordan’s first Christmas special is actually one of the holiday’s all-time great games. In a contest that went down to the wire, Ewing capped off his second consecutive Yuletide classic with a game-winning putback. Needless to say, Jordan would eventually extract revenge against the Knicks — over, and over. And over. And over again.

 

Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls

Christmas 1990 vs. Detroit Pistons (98-86, W)

Line: 14 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals

While you-know-who carried the bulk of the offense for the Bulls with 37 points and eight rebounds, Scottie Pippen’s first Christmas would be a sign of the immediate future for him and the Bulls. After three consecutive postseason defeats at the hands of the “Bad Boy” Pistons, the Bulls finally exorcised their Detroit demons months later when Chicago swept Motown en route to its first of six titles in the ’90s.

 

David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs

Christmas 1992 vs. Los Angeles Clippers (103-94, W)

Line: 21 points, 12 rebounds

What was going on in America around the time David “The Admiral” Robinson played on his first Christmas? Dr. Dre’s The Chronic was the new kid on the block. And Bill Clinton was less than a month away from his first presidential inauguration.

 

Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets

Christmas 1993 vs. Phoenix Suns (111-91, L)

Line: 27 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 4 blocks

Everything came together for The Dream in the 1993-94 season. He played in his first Christmas Day game. Despite the loss, Hakeem Olajuwon stamped himself as an all-time great by winning the 1994 MVP and his first of two titles in a series that would forever link Olajuwon and O.J. Simpson.

 

Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, Orlando Magic

Christmas 1993 vs. Chicago Bulls (95-93, L)

Line: 18 points, 5 assists (Hardaway) | 20 points, 11 rebounds (O’Neal)

Jordan was off pursuing his baseball dreams. Meanwhile, Pippen was in the midst of his finest individual season and showing that while he was, perhaps, the greatest co-pilot of all time, he could lead a team as well. Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway nearly walked away victorious — until Toni Kukoc’s floater put the game on ice.

Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, Seattle Supersonics

Christmas 1994 vs. Denver Nuggets (105-96, L)

Line: 16 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals (Payton) | 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks (Kemp)

The previous season, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and the Seattle SuperSonics won 63 games and lost in five games to Nuggets. The series’ defining image is Dikembe Mutumbo’s emotional celebration in the deciding Game 5. Seven months later on Christmas Day, the Nuggets again got the best of the Sonics.

Bonus: This was also our very own Jalen Rose’s first holiday as a working man. A rookie then and future member of the All-Rookie team, Rose came off the bench with eight points and three assists.

 

Grant Hill, Detroit Pistons

Christmas 1996 vs. Chicago Bulls (95-83, L)

Line: 27 points, 8 rebounds

Individually, Grant Hill’s Christmas debut went well. But his Pistons were no match for the Bulls, led by near triple-doubles from Pippen (27-8-8) and Dennis Rodman (11-22-7). The Bulls won 69 games and their fifth title of the decade six months later.

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Christmas 1996 vs. Phoenix Suns (108-87, W)

Line: 0 points, 1 rebound

Kobe Bryant’s playing time fluctuated during his rookie season. Sometimes he’d start. Sometimes he’d hardly play — like 21 Christmases ago, when he only logged five minutes. He more than made up for it, as he eventually became the all-time leading Christmas scorer with 395 points.

Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

Christmas 1999 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (99-93, L)

Line: 28 points, 9 rebounds

This was the Spurs and Lakers’ first meeting since San Antonio swept Los Angeles the summer before. The result of that postseason journey was Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich’s first title together. Mr. Consistent, who captured his first title in the strike-shortened ’98-’99 season, was as dependable as ever in his first Christmas game despite taking a loss. Current Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard was 8 years old at the time.

Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers

Christmas 1999 vs. New York Knicks (101-90, W)

Line: 26 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists

Speaking of reunions, Knicks-Pacers on Dec. 25, 1999, was the first time the two had seen each other since this happened. As a member of the 1987 draft, Reggie Miller didn’t play on Christmas until a full 12 years later. It’s only right that Miller’s first Christmas win, even on an off shooting night (6 of 16 field goals), came against his best friend Spike Lee’s favorite team.

Tracy McGrady, Orlando Magic

Christmas 2000 vs. Indiana Pacers (103-93, L)

Line: 43 points, 9 rebounds

An incredibly fascinating “what if” in NBA history is how differently careers would have panned out if Tim Duncan had signed with Orlando in the summer of 2000. Imagine a combo of Tracy McGrady and Timmy, both of whom hadn’t even hit their primes. Disgusting. McGrady’s time in Orlando was largely spent carrying teams on his back, but one thing’s for certain — he delivered more than Santa Claus on Christmas. In three Dec. 25 games, McGrady averaged 43.3 points.

Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers

Christmas 2001 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (88-82, L)

Line: 31 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists

It’s pretty crazy to realize this is the last Christmas Day game the Philadelphia Sixers had until Simmons’ and Embiid’s debuts this year. Especially when Allen Iverson still had a few good seasons (scoringwise) before leaving Philly in 2006.

 

Vince Carter, Toronto Raptors

Christmas 2001 vs. New York Knicks (102-94, L)

Line: 15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals

By the winter of 2001, Half Man-Half Amazing was widely accepted as one of the more must-see spectacles in all of sports. Months earlier, Vince Carter and Iverson squared off in an incredibly riveting seven-game shootout that has since gone down as one of the greatest playoff series in NBA history. Unfortunately, though, his inaugural Dec. 25 didn’t bring that same energy.

 

Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

Christmas 2002 vs. New Jersey Nets (117-81, L)

Line: 27 points, 6 rebounds

The truth is Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and the New Jersey Nets were The Grinch who stole Boston’s Christmas 15 years ago. They held Beantown to 32.4 percent shooting as a team. But at least The Truth did his thing.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

Christmas 2003 vs. Sacramento Kings (111-103, W)

Line: 31 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks

While we’re pretty sure he didn’t bring his patented “work plate” with him to the arena 14 years ago, our favorite German OG, Dirk Nowitzki, feasted on Chris Webber and the Kings.

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Christmas 2003 vs. Orlando Magic (113-101, L in OT)

Line: 34 points, 6 assists, 2 steals

Neither team was great, recordwise, but every game during LeBron James’ rookie season (much like for his entire career) was must-see TV. James’ first Christmas was an instant classic, as the young phenom battled one of the game’s best scorers in McGrady. James exhibited the all-around potential that would make him an international megastar, but he was no match that day for McGrady’s 41 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists.

Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

Christmas 2004 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (104-102, W in OT)

Line: 29 points, 10 assists

As you can see, Dwyane Wade’s first Christmas was fruitful and he played a significant part in the win. Yet, even the young superstar played a supporting role to the game’s unavoidable storyline — O’Neal’s first game back in Los Angeles since he and Bryant’s very ugly and public divorce in the summer of 2004. Wade, though, is the all-time leader in Christmas Day wins with 10 and is set to make his 13th holiday work outing, tying him for second-most ever behind Bryant’s 16.

 

Kevin Durant, Seattle Supersonics

Christmas 2007 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (89-79, L)

Line: 23 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks

It was supposed to be a holiday matchup between the top two picks in the 2007 NBA draft: Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. But Oden’s season-ending knee surgery three months earlier derailed those plans. Unfortunately, the theme would go on to define the two selections for the remainder of their careers — Oden as one of basketball’s greatest “what ifs” and Durant as one of the game’s greatest, period.

Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Boston Celtics

Christmas 2008 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (92-83, L)

Line: 22 points, 9 assists (Garnett); 14 points, 3 assists (Allen)

In their first meeting since Boston’s 2008 title, capped off with the Celtics’ 39-point destruction in Game 6, the two storied franchises resumed their rivalry nine Dec. 25s ago. The Lakers’ win was Phil Jackson’s 1,000th. But even more fascinating, after more than a decade in the league for both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Christmas 2008 was both The Big Ticket and Jesus Shuttlesworth’s first.

 

Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic) and Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets)

Christmas 2008 (88-68, Magic W)

Line: 12 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks (Howard); 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists (Paul)

CP3 and D12 earned gold medals months earlier in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics as members of the “Redeem Team.” But neither young superstar exactly made the grandest impression on his first Christmas. Don’t expect a similar outing from Paul this year, though.

 

Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets

Christmas 2009 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (107-96, L)

Line: 32 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists

Carmelo Anthony in a Nuggets uniform feels like a distant memory. His near double-double on Christmas would’ve been enough for a Denver win had it not been for Brandon Roy’s 41. ‘Melo is averaging 33.2 points in five Christmas games, the highest among all players who have played in four or more games on Dec. 25.

Chris Bosh, Miami Heat

Christmas 2010 vs. Los Angeles Lakers (96-80, W)

Line: 24 points, 13 rebounds

Bosh never played on Christmas while playing in Drake’s hometown. That quickly changed once he joined the Miami Heat. Bosh’s grown man double-double seven years ago helped lead the charge on the “Big Three’s” first Dec. 25 extravaganza. His other two superstar brothers put in work as well: Wade with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists and James with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

 

Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder

Christmas 2010 vs. Denver Nuggets (114-106, W)

Line: 19 points, 4 assists, 3 steals (Westbrook); 21 points (Harden)

Now is time for the occasional reminder that the Oklahoma City Thunder had three of the current top 10 players in the world on their team at one point. Two of them are MVPs — and James Harden could very well complete the trifecta this season. Oh, and Durant went for 44 in this game, in case you’re wondering.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Christmas 2010 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (109-102, W)

Line: 4 points (2 of 15 field goals, 0-for-5 on 3s), 11 assists

Despite this horrible day at the office, it’s safe to say that Stephen Curry guy turned out halfway decent at this professional basketball thing. A year later, his fellow “Splash Brother,” Klay Thompson, made his Christmas debut in a 105-86 opening-night loss (due to the shortened season) against the Clippers. Thompson had seven points off the bench.

 

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

Christmas 2014 vs. Miami Heat (101-91, L)

Line: 25 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists

It still feels weird to refer to Kyrie Irving as “the former Cav.” But that’s exactly what he was three years ago when the new-look Cavaliers traveled to Miami for James’ first trip back to South Beach since returning to Cleveland.

John Wall, Washington Wizards

Christmas 2014 vs. New York Knicks (102-91, W)

Line: 24 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists

Sure, the Knicks were absolutely pathetic headed into this game with a record of 5-26. But that doesn’t mean John Wall’s Christmas debut was any less nasty to watch.

 

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Christmas 2013 vs. Houston Rockets (111-98, L)

Line: 13 points, 7 rebounds

This has absolutely nothing to do anything, but the Leonardo DiCaprio classic The Wolf of Wall Street also hit theaters this same day. So that’s a perfectly good excuse if you happened to miss Kawhi Leonard’s first Christmas.

 

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Christmas 2015 vs. Miami Heat (94-88, L in OT)

Line: 29 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks

Anthony Davis did most of his damage in the first half with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks. Both teams barely shot 40 percent for the game, but it was Bosh and Wade, the remaining two of Miami’s “Big Three,” who’d ultimately leave a lump of coal in Davis’ Christmas stocking.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

Christmas 2016 vs. Boston Celtics (119-114, L)

Line: 22 points, 12 rebounds

With Anthony in Oklahoma City now, the stage is set for Kristaps Porzingis to cement his New York legacy more on Christmas as the main attraction in a city full of them.

 

Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Christmas 2016 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (112-100, L)

Line: 26 points, 8 rebounds (Towns); 23 points, 3 rebounds

The year 2017 marks the second consecutive year the Wolves work on Christmas, this time traveling to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers. While both of the team’s young stars played well in last year’s loss, the addition of All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler may just change the result this time around.

Celebrating family: A few famous children and their famous parents Here are some you know, and others you might not

Many athletes, artists, actors and other superstars have followed in the footsteps of their parents. Some we see on the big screen, others we see on the field or basketball court. Others are behind the director’s chair making some of our favorite films. And we are all here for it.

In 2016 when the HBO hit series Ballers graced the scene, if you closed your eyes for about two seconds during scenes with break-out wide receiver Ricky, you’d think you were hearing actor Denzel Washington. That’s because the role is played by his son, John David Washington. Or when the role of director, actor and rapper Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton was played by his son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., who had an uncanny resemblance to his father. Many superstars fit the bill of the famous parent/child combo. Here are just a few, as The Undefeated continues to celebrate families.


Maya Rudolph/Minnie Riperton

Though Maya Rudolph experienced the pain of losing her mother, singer-songwriter Minnie Riperton to breast cancer two weeks before her seventh birthday, their time together was enough for the two to bond through their love for music. “… My mom was music,” Rudolph told NPR in 2012. “Music poured out of my mother, and I’m sure I heard it before I even got here when I was in her belly. … [My parents] were on the road a lot. My brother and I would go with them, I think when we were very little, because my mom did not want to be away from us.” Through Rudolph’s own career, her Riperton lives on. Rudolph, who has established herself as an exceptional actress and cast member on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, sometimes sprinkles subtle tributes in her performances to honor her late mother.

Mario Van Peebles/Melvin Van Peebles

Actor Mario Van Peebles (left) and director Melvin Van Peebles attend the 2011 Eye On Black — A Salute To Directors at California African American Museum on Feb. 25, 2011, in Los Angeles, California.

Neilson Barnard/FilmMagic

Actor and director Mario Van Peebles has been on the screen since 1971. He has directed several episodes of shows such as 21 Jump Street but he made his feature film directorial debut in the drug-filled crime movie New Jack City, for which he is best known. This was followed by Posse in 1993, Panther in 1995 and Love Kills in 1998. He gets his art chops from his famous father Melvin Van Peebles, who is most known for the iconic film and action thriller Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.

Rashida and kidada Jones/Quincy Jones

From left to right: Kidada Jones, Quincy Jones and Rashida Jones during Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party at Private Residence in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Donato Sardella/WireImage for Disney Consumer Products)

Actress and director Rashida Jones has spent her life in the celebrity world but she grew into the breakout star in the series Parks and Recreation. The daughter of writer and composer Quincy Jones, Rashida Jones’ turn into the spotlight does not come without her acknowledging her father. Her sister, designer Kidada Jones, was the best friend to entertainer Aaliyah and was engaged to Tupac Shakur. Their father was the producer, with Michael Jackson, of Jackson’s albums Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), and Bad. Rashida Jones’ new show Claws on FX has been catching waves. For Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday, Rashida Jones wrote a tribute to her father for Variety.com titled Billion-Dollar Maestro.

“Although we would like to reduce a lifetime of accomplishment to the 27 Grammy Awards, seven Oscar nominations and numerous lifetime achievement awards, we shouldn’t. No, the most important contribution my dad has given this world is the life he lives. My dad is an enormous beating heart. I am deeply honored to consider myself the daughter of the best role model on earth. Happy birthday, Daddy. I love you without end.”

Tracee Ellis Ross/Diana Ross

Recording artist Diana Ross (left) and daughter actress Tracee Ellis Ross attend the 42nd Annual American Music Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Nov. 23, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

Actress Tracee Ellis Ross and her mother, singer Diana Ross, have always been supportive of each other. And there’s nothing that expresses a mother’s love like taking out a full-page ad when your daughter receives an Emmy nod. For Ellis Ross, this is completely normal for their mother-daughter bond. And even when Diana Ross was in her prime, she found time to be the mother Ellis Ross hopes to be when she starts a family of her own. “My mom was very glamorous, but that was her work world,” Ellis Ross told the New York Times Magazine. “Our home was filled with beautiful things. My mom had beautiful clothes; my mom is elegant; my mom is glamorous. But my mom is also really real, and I grew up with a mother who had babies crawling on her head and spitting up on her when she was wearing gorgeous, expensive things, and it was never an issue.”

Zoe Kravitz/Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet

From left to right: Zoe Kravitz, Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet arrive at the Saint Laurent at The Palladium at Hollywood Palladium on Feb. 10 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Growing up with a Grammy-winning rock star father and a sultry film star mother, actress, singer and model Zoe Kravitz was bound to take advantage of her creative genes and follow in the footsteps of both parents. Kravitz’s father, Lenny, and mother, Lisa Bonet — best known as Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show — were in their 20s when they decided to elope in 1987. Yet, the pair, who divorced six years later, was sure to grant their daughter the opportunity to live as a regular kid. “[My mom] wanted to give me an opportunity to be a normal kid,” Kravitz told Complex magazine in a 2015 feature interview. “She wasn’t raised by nannies; she has a close relationship with her parents (whom she calls her “buddies”). I don’t think anyone knows how funny we are. It’s like this whole thing where people think we’re so cool and hippie and wear velvet, but we’re the nerdiest people.”

Lil’ Romeo/Master P

Master P (left) and Romeo Miller attend WE TV’s Growing Up Hip Hop premiere party at Haus on Dec. 10, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)

Percy Romeo Miller III, better known as Lil’ Romeo, was always told he could do whatever he wanted to in life. And so, he tried. Lil’ Romeo captured the hearts of preteen girls across America when he entered the rap scene in 2001. From there, he went on to star in his own Nickelodeon show, and even gave his hoop dreams a chance at the University of Southern California. Now, Lil’ Romeo is spending his time following in the footsteps of his music mogul father Master P, who created his multimillion-dollar No Limit Records empire back in the early 1990s. The New Orleans native has never lost focus of what’s really important in life. Even early on in his career, Lil’ Romeo knew there was always one thing that would remain consistent: “My family,” Lil’ Romeo said during a 2003 interview with CBS. “Family always gonna be there. The material things, they come and go.” As far as Lil’ Romeo’s successful career at such a young age, Master P couldn’t believe it himself. “I never expected Romeo to grow up and be a big superstar entertainer,” Master P said. “I was just, like, ‘Man, this is my child. I want him to have better things than I had.’ ”

Jaden and Willow Smith/Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith

From left to right: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Willow Smith attend the UK film premiere of The Karate Kid at Odeon Leicester Square on July 15, 2010, in London. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

When actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith got married in 1997, no one knew two superfamous children would come of their union. Jaden and Willow Smith have both made a name for themselves. Jaden has become a young actor whose first movie debut was with his father in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness and he later starred in 2010 remake of The Karate Kid. His younger sister Willow is triple-threat singer, actor and dancer who caught the world by storm in her when she launched her music career in 2010 with Whip My Hair. The two shared their first cover together for Interview magazine’s September 2016 issue.

Willow said: “Growing up, all I saw was my parents trying to be the best people they could be, and people coming to them for wisdom, coming to them for guidance, and them not putting themselves on a pedestal, but literally being face-to-face with these people and saying, ‘I’m no better than you, but the fact that you’re coming to me to reach some sort of enlightenment or to shine a light on something, that makes me feel love and gratitude for you.’

Said Jaden: “My parents are definitely my biggest role models. And that’s where me and Willow both pull all of our inspiration from to change the world. It all comes from a concept of affecting the world in a positive way and leaving it better than it was than when we came.”

Stephen Curry/Dell Curry

Stephen Curry (left) of the Golden State Warriors poses for a portrait with his father, Dell Curry, with the Larry O’Brien trophy after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals on June 16, 2015, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Golden State Warrior star Stephen Curry grew up in the basketball world under the wings of his famous father, NBA guard Dell Curry. He learned not only the game of basketball from his father but the game of life. He uses his parents as an example of how to care for his young family. Curry’s 2015 MVP acceptance speech brought all the tears and tissue as he spoke about his father.

“I remember a lot of your career. And to be able to follow in your footsteps, it means a lot to me. This is special. I’m really proud of what you were able to do in your career, and I don’t take that for granted at all. A lot of people thought I had it easy with Pops playing in the NBA, but — I’ll get to that part at the end of the road — but it was an interesting journey, and just who you are, you made it OK for me to have family at my age when I started it, and to know that if you take care of your business, you’ll be all right. So thank you so much.”

John David Washington/Denzel Washington

From left to right: John David Washington, Pauletta Washington and Denzel Washington arrive at The Book Of Eli Los Angeles premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Jan. 11, 2010, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)

John David Washington took it as a compliment when people didn’t know he was the son of arguably one of the best black actors in Hollywood, Denzel Washington. John David Washington feared having to prove himself to masses while creating his own lane, but after gaining a following during his role as Ricky Jerret on the HBO hit series, Ballers, the trepidation over not measuring up to his father’s legacy subsided. “If I try to act like him or make movie choices like him, I’m going to fail,” John David Washington told Men’s Journal. “I love him. He’s one of my favorite actors of all time, but I can’t do that. Nobody can do that.”

Laila Ali/Muhammad Ali

Laila Ali (left) and former boxing champion Muhammad Ali during the Liberty Medal ceremony at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall on Sept. 13, 2012, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Bill McCay/WireImage)

When Laila Ali mourned the passing of her father, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who died of septic shock last June, the world mourned along with her. After all, Laila Ali learned some of her best moves from her father’s cheat sheet although he wasn’t entirely the reason a career in boxing piqued her interest (she credits seeing women’s boxing for the first time on television as the main reason she became a fighter). Now, Laila Ali finds comfort in the small reminders that her father is still with her. “My son is a spitting image of my father when he was young and he has so many of his same similar characteristics and qualities,” Laila Ali told TODAY. “And he’s definitely going to live on through him. He’s learning more and more as he gets older how special papa actually was.”

Grant Hill/Calvin Hill

Grant Hill (left) and Calvin Hill attend the 29th Annual Great Sports Legends dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria on Sept. 29, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Manny Hernandez/WireImage)

Retired NBA standout and Duke-educated Grant Hill has sports in his blood. His famous Yale-educated father is retired NFL running back Calvin Hill, who spent 12 seasons in the league with the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns. Grant Hill found his talents in basketball and played in the NBA for almost two decades. In an excerpt written by Grant Hill for the book Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge by Etan Thomas with Nick Chiles, he talked about his love for his father.

“When I think about my dad, Calvin Hill, unconditional love and support are the first things that come to my mind. He has so much personal integrity in the way that he’s lived his life; he’s always been the perfect role model. From a genetic standpoint, in my mannerisms and things of that nature, I obviously got a lot from him. But now that I’m an adult with my own children, I’m getting even more from him: how to interact with my children, how to deal with adversity, how to be a role model myself. I now realize how fortunate and blessed I have been over the years to have him there.”

Barry Bonds/Bobby Bonds

Barry Bonds (center) and Bobby Bonds (right) during a ceremony honoring Barry Bonds’ 500th stolen base. (Photo by Jon Soohoo/Getty Images)

The late Bobby Lee Bonds was a speedy and powerful right fielder who spent most of his career with the San Francisco Giants. He became the second player to hit 300 career home runs and steal 300 bases along Willie Mays. So his son Barry followed in his footsteps. The left fielder spent his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants and received seven National League MVP awards and 14 All-Star selections. According to ESPN.com, in 2015 when Bonds was hired as the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach, he credited his father for the things he taught him.

“It was something I had no intention of doing,” Bonds said of taking the Marlins job. “And then I started thinking about my dad and everything he taught me … I need to try this. I’ll never know if I like it unless I try. Baseball, that’s my thing, that’s who I am. With everything I’ve done as a hitter, I’m the best at that … So I kind of want to honor my dad for what he did. Honor my godfather [Mays] for what he did.”

Ken Griffey Jr./Ken Griffey Sr.

Ken Griffey Sr. (left) and Ken Griffey Jr. during the Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders at the Great American Ball Park on July 13, 2015, in Cincinnati.

On Aug. 31, 1990, Ken Griffey Sr. and his son Ken Griffey Jr. made history when they both played for the Seattle Mariners in a game against the Kansas City Royals. This father-son baseball combo was one of the toughest. At the time, Griffey Sr. was 40 years old. Griffey Sr. played right field on the Reds teams that won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76. He was a three-time All-Star, and was named All-Star Game MVP in 1980. Griffey Jr. was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2016, where he talked about his father during his acceptance speech.

“To my dad, who taught me how to play this game, but more importantly he taught me how to be a man. How to work hard, how to look at yourself in the mirror each and every day, and not to worry about what other people are doing. See, baseball didn’t come easy for him. He was the 29th round pick and had to choose between football and baseball. And where he’s from in Donora, Pennsylvania, football is king. But I was born five months after his senior year and he made a decision to play baseball to provide for his family, because that’s what men do. And I love you for that.”

Ice Cube/O’Shea Jackson Jr.

Actors Ice Cube and O’Shea Jackson Jr. attend the All Def Movie Awards at Lure Nightclub on Feb. 24, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/WireImage)

If imitating your parent in front of millions seems stress-inducing, O’Shea Jackson Jr., son of rapper and actor Ice Cube, will tell you it’s every bit just as nerve-racking as it sounds. Luckily for Jackson Jr., who portrayed Ice Cube in the 2015 blockbuster Straight Outta Compton, his performance received rave reviews and struck up conversations about the similarities between the father and son. Although Jackson Jr.’s career is off the a great start, he said having his dad by his side and Ice Cube’s involvement in the movie made the process a lot smoother.

“Believe it or not, having my dad there on set calmed me down,” Jackson Jr. told NBC News. “It’s kind of like when you’re a kid and you’re doing the school plays and programs and you get that sense of relief when your parents walk in. There’s just this comfort in knowing that they’re there. My dad has been my coach my whole life, so it felt totally natural. When he’s there, I know I can’t get it wrong.”

The NBA Awards show scores a win for the league — and for fashion Players and stars go for the slam dunk on the red carpet

The first annual NBA Awards kicked off in Basketball City at Pier 36 in New York with a hosting assist from Drake and a seriously good style show from some of the best players in sports.

It’s true that the biggest NBA stars were not there — no LeBron James, no Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, for example — but that will likely change next year. This awards show has plenty of room to grow into the “NBA Prom.” Besides, everyone knows how obsessed with fashion NBA players have become. Work that red carpet, boy! You know you want to. The fans want you to. And we will all watch anything — anything — that’s NBA-related in the postseason.

The top-of-the-line fashion appraisal of the night: A-plus for effort. Everyone pretty much brought their A game and were, as Dennis Green once said, exactly who we thought they would be (Draymond Green and John Wall). Actually, a few players did better than expected (we see you, JaVale McGee!), and the rest left the ridiculous style stuff to the Hollywood types (Nick Cannon and his ratty turban). Can’t wait for next year.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook won a few awards Monday night, including the NBA MVP and Game Winner of the Year. He also (rightly) won the best style award. Westbrook carried his suit jacket and let us luxuriate in his perfectly cut trousers, white shirt, tie and muscles.

Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green

Green won the Defensive Player of the Year award Monday night, and your boy came to the show wearing a seafoam tuxedo jacket, formal Bermuda shorts and velvet slippers. Jesus, be a fence!

James Harden

James Harden lost the MVP award to Westbrook, his former Thunder teammate, but the Houston Rockets point guard was in fine style form after his recent jaunt to men’s fashion week in Paris. A muted green/blue suit and patterned shirt with brown suede boots? Very fall 2017. The Beard never disappoints.

James Harden attends the 2017 NBA Awards at Basketball City – Pier 36 – South Street on June 26, 2017 in New York City.

Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

2 Chainz

The Atlanta hip-hop star is a huge NBA fan and was a constant courtside presence throughout the playoffs and Finals. He performed “Realize” with Nicki Minaj during the show. His pre-show outfit of capri pants and gold jewelry was a combo order of “dinner date at Cheesecake Factory” and “Saturday soccer dad.”

2 Chainz attends the 2017 NBA Awards at Basketball City – Pier 36 – South Street on June 26, 2017 in New York City.

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2 Chainz attends the 2017 NBA Awards at Basketball City – Pier 36 – South Street on June 26, 2017 in New York City.

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John Wall

Washington Wizards player John Wall was best dressed of the entire night in his custom three-piece suit by Jhoanna Alba and Christian Louboutin sneakers.

NBA player John Wall attends the 2017 NBA Awards at Basketball City – Pier 36 – South Street on June 26, 2017 in New York City.

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Ros Gold-Onwude and Drake

Ros Gold-Onwude, the Stanford-educated sideline reporter for the Golden State Warriors, walked the red carpet with Drake and legit sent Twitter into “Who’s that girl?” meltdown. The color of her red Jessica Rabbit dress (and figure) popped against Drake’s classic white dinner jacket and black tux pants.

Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and Drake arrive at the NBA Awards at Basketball City on June 26, 2017 in New York.

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Wanda Pratt

Kevin Durant’s mother, Wanda “the Real MVP” Pratt, wore a bright yellow Carolina Herrera gown, Christian Louboutin heels and loads of stylist-assisted jewels.

Wanda Durant attends the 2017 NBA Awards at Basketball City – Pier 36 – South Street on June 26, 2017 in New York City.

BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

Jada Pinkett Smith

Actress Jada Pinkett Smith was a presenter (with Grant Hill) at the awards in a sheer black-and-gold lace gown from Sophie Theallet’s spring/summer 2017 collection. Stunning.

Jada Pinkett Smith attends the 2017 NBA Awards at Basketball City – Pier 36 – South Street on June 26, 2017 in New York City.

Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Big-time college athletes should be paid with big-time educations Before we discuss paying college athletes, let’s make sure they get a real college education

Education should be the college athlete’s greatest compensation.

Not a slice of the billions of dollars paid for TV rights for their games. Not a pay-for-play contract like their NBA and NFL brethren. The biggest crime in college sports isn’t that the system is rigged against paying college athletes, it’s that money-worshipping American culture is set up against educating them.

The clamor to pay players arose anew this week when North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams earned $925,000 in bonuses after his team won the national championship. “The players got awesome T-shirts and hats,” observed Associated Press sports writer Tim Reynolds in a viral tweet.

The NCAA collects $1.1 billion per year from CBS and Turner for broadcast rights to the basketball tournament. ESPN pays $470 million annually for the College Football Playoff. Conferences and individual colleges make additional millions during the regular season. Many have compellingly argued for years that, morally and legally, the players deserve to pocket some of that windfall.

They do. But our Money Over Everything society is minimizing or ignoring what’s currently within its grasp, which should last far longer than a six-figure revenue-sharing check.

Right now, college players receive up to six figures’ worth of higher education, plus the life-changing opportunity to elevate intellect and character. Yes, athletes are too often pushed into fake classes to keep them eligible, as in the infamous North Carolina academic scandal that threatens the Tar Heels’ championship, or hindered from serious study by the 40-hour-per-week demands of their sport. But these athletes, and generations of their descendants, would benefit more from reforming their educational experiences than from extra cash.

Let’s look at what those North Carolina ballers receive from their athletic scholarships.

Start with four years of tuition, fees, room and board that total $80,208 for in-state students and $180,536 for those from outside North Carolina. Add the benefit of a diploma from a top institution with an influential and passionate alumni network. UNC is nationally ranked the No. 5 public university and the No. 30 college overall. The name “North Carolina” on LinkedIn or a resume opens doors and gets phone calls returned — and that’s without including “2017 NCAA champion.” And for the majority of UNC players who won’t make NBA millions, lifetime earnings for college graduates are 66 percent higher than those with just a high school diploma. That can be worth more than an additional $1 million.

Then there are the intangibles.

“People ask all the time why I’m one of the youngest college presidents in the country, and one of the only African-Americans leading a private national university,” said Chris Howard, 48, who leads Robert Morris University in suburban Pittsburgh and played football at the Air Force Academy. “I credit a big chunk of that to my experience playing college athletics. I know it sounds kind of cliché, but attention to detail, discipline, teamwork, resiliency, learning how to deal with others, deal with people that are of different backgrounds. It was just a melting pot. It was a leadership lab for me.”

After finishing college, Howard flew helicopters, served in Afghanistan and Liberia, became a Rhodes scholar and got a Harvard MBA. “All those intangibles kind of laid the path. The path was laid by playing D-I football first,” he said.

Rather than an unfair burden, Howard sees the demands placed on college athletes as a down payment on a successful future.

“You’ll be a better human being when you learn to handle that load,” he said. “You’ll be a better father, better husband, better brother, better sister. You’ll be a better professional as an engineer, a lawyer, a doctor, a business manager.”

The pay-for-play crowd loves to holler, “Intangibles don’t pay the bills.”

College athletes certainly should receive enough compensation to cover living expenses. Their families should travel free to games. Some sort of trust fund sounds fair. But the intangible value of higher education is worth more than pizza or gas money.

Martin Luther King Jr. described it while a student at Morehouse College:

“Most of the ‘brethren’ think that education should equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses,” King wrote in 1947 at age 21. “Still others think that education should furnish them with noble ends rather than means to an end.”

“Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education,” King wrote.

The real problem is, too many athletes are blocked from coming within a Hail Mary of that ideal.

“I would suggest that a lot of these kids aren’t getting an education. They’re just sitting in class,” said Leonard Moore, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who is founder of the Black Student-Athlete Summit.

Moore has tutored, counseled and mentored athletes while teaching at Ohio State, Louisiana State and now Texas. He says most big-time athletes are limited to easy majors and prevented from taking advantage of many educational benefits because “revenue-generating sports are now year-round enterprises.”

“You can’t take a class after 1 o’clock. You can’t study abroad in the summer. You can’t get an internship on Wall Street or Silicon Valley,” he said. “The question then becomes how do these student-athletes take advantage of everything that a place like Texas or UCLA has to offer? I would argue that it monopolizes all their time. The only thing they can do is go to class, go to work out and then go lift, and then go to the meeting and then go to class.”

“I never understood why a football team has to practice in February when their first game of the season is in September,” Moore said.

Money is the biggest reason.

The University of Texas football team generated $121 million in revenue and a staggering $92 million profit in 2015. The business of college sports is so entrenched, Moore doesn’t believe it’s possible to make the players real students again.

“Just because you value education doesn’t mean [the athlete] values it,” he said. “If it’s basketball that got me on an airplane, that’s taken me to another state, that’s taken me out of the country, you know what I’m saying? Basketball has definitely helped me move forward in life. You say a four-year education, that doesn’t mean anything. That’s important in your value system, but it ain’t important in mine.

“Right now, it seems like they value the money and that we all value the money,” Moore continued. “That’s the athletes. That’s the university. Our society values the money, and so we say, ‘Look, they need to be paid. We need to pay them, pay them, pay them.’ Instead of saying, ‘We need to educate, educate, educate.’ ”

Efforts are being made. Over the past 15 years, graduation rates have risen from 46 to 77 percent for all black NCAA basketball players, and from 76 to 94 percent for white players. The NCAA gave Division I schools $45 million last year for academic programs and services.

But ballplayers can still get a sociology degree in three years while reading just one book. The clamor for cash still prevails. Demanding short-term gratification feels better than pursuing long-term goals.

A starting point for reform would be guaranteeing athletic scholarships for four years, instead of one, and providing free tuition, room and board for as long as it takes ex-players to graduate. Freed from the demand to produce revenue, these young athletes could finally obtain the incalculable benefits of a real college education.

Capitalism dictates that college players be paid fairly for the entertainment they provide. If money is life’s ultimate goal, the buck stops there.

Or here: “Capitalism is always in danger,” King said, “of inspiring men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.”

How Martin Luther King Jr.’s death affected the NBA On the eve of Russell vs. Chamberlain, MLK Jr. was assassinated — could the game go on?

News didn’t travel as fast in 1968. Radio, evening news and morning papers were still decades away from being taken over by the internet. And the most effective form of social media was still word of mouth.

But it was a large crowd, mostly black, that gathered in a poor section of Indianapolis to hear Robert F. Kennedy speak. The night was April 4 — hours before the NBA’s Eastern and Western Division finals were set to tip off — and the crowd was upbeat, as many expected the senator to soon be the second Kennedy to call 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. home.

It was evident that no one in the crowd had yet heard of the assassination that had happened earlier that evening. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination would bring black America to its knees and the country at large to a crossroads. Kennedy’s police escort knew, of course, and refused to follow him into the neighborhood, fearing a volatile reaction from the crowd. Outrage had already sprouted in various pockets of the country. Why wouldn’t Indianapolis be next?

The Democratic presidential hopeful handed down the news from the back of a flatbed truck. King was dead.

The crowd shrieked in horror. For black America, it was the bloody zenith of a decade sinister enough to rob it of every leader who seemingly had its best interests at heart: Robert Kennedy’s older brother, President John F. Kennedy, civil rights leaders Medgar Evers and Malcolm X — plus the countless men and women who sacrificed their lives in both the civil rights movement and what felt like a generational genocide thanks to the Vietnam War. King, of course, was the civil rights movement’s and, alongside Muhammad Ali, the anti-war movement’s most recognizable face. And the most prominent voice of a race that has seemed always behind the eight ball of equality.

His last words as the bullet — per CBS’ Walter Cronkite, describing the civil rights titan’s final moment — “exploded in his face” on the second floor of Memphis, Tennessee’s, Lorraine Motel, “Ohhh!” King collapsed.

A man stands on balcony of Lorraine Motel in the approximate place Martin Luther King Jr. stood when he was killed April 4, 1968. In the background is the rooming house from which the fatal bullet was fired. In the courtyard beneath the balcony are reporters, police officials and others.

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Robert Kennedy — who himself would die from an assassin’s bullet just 63 days later — delivered the defining speech of his career. As any savvy politician would, he preached peace in a time of carnage. Responding with violence isn’t what King would have wanted, he cautioned. But Kennedy also sympathized with the anger. The ’60s had robbed him of a piece of his soul as well.

“What was [Martin Luther King Jr.’s] title? Why should we call off the game?”

“For those of you who are black, and are tempted to … be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling,” Kennedy said in the unrehearsed speech. “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond and go beyond these rather difficult times.”

Indianapolis remained calm the evening of April 4 thanks in large part to Kennedy’s grace, humility and vulnerability. But Newark, New Jersey; Baltimore; Chicago; Boston; Detroit; Kansas City, Missouri; and Washington, D.C., were far less peaceful. The assassination had been announced at 8:19 p.m. in D.C. By 9:25, the first window was shattered. In Atlanta, Gov. Lester Maddox refused to lower the flag for King. He reportedly told state troopers to “shoot [protesters] down and stack them up” should they try to enter the state capitol. Maddox later lowered the flag only after being required by federal mandate.

King had spoken out against segregation, unfair housing, income and economic disparity. Now he was gone. Cities rioted out of hopelessness more than anger. Fear more than fury. And desperation more than enmity. Their pleas for justice had long gone unaddressed. America found itself involved in a war that millions opposed, barreling toward its most important presidential election in years, and the blood of the civil rights movement stained its streets. No one knew the direction the country was headed in — including the NBA. Its playoffs were set to resume the next day.


Boston Celtics player-coach Bill Russell was in shock Thursday night and all day Friday in his Philadelphia hotel room. He hadn’t slept. His mind raced. He was one of the most visible athletes involved in the civil rights movement, and for him King’s assassination was a kind of confirmation. “Stuff that I said 10 years ago, that everybody dismissed as an angry Negro talking, is coming out today,” Russell said in Aram Goudsouzian’s 2010 King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution.

King hadn’t been dead 24 hours and the NBA was in an awkward position: to play, or not to play? The equivalent of today’s conference finals were slated to tip off April 5. This wasn’t the first time a major sports league had been directly affected by a high-profile assassination. Five years earlier, the NFL played after President Kennedy’s assassination — a decision infamously dubbed “Black Sunday” and one former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle would define as “the worst decision I ever made.”

Even in 1968, the NBA was a majority-black league. Its biggest superstars — Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Nate Thurmond, Dave Bing, Elgin Baylor and more — were black. Jerry West was the league’s only bona fide white superstar. The black players, like black Americans as a whole, wrestled with grief, shock and rage. King was more than a civil rights leader. His work and his words were reflections of their stature. His murder was not only personal. It was affirmation of the value of black life. Or the lack thereof.

“Russell saw it as, black people continue to give to America. [Black people] were sort of the most loyal Americans of all,” Goudsouzian said. “And [King] gets taken away from us.”

In the final months of King’s life, his philosophies shifted. Tactics and philosophies had fractured the civil rights movement throughout the decade, and Black Power was usurping nonviolence as a popular resistance. King focused on the economic discrimination in America of poor people of all ethnicities. He openly opposed the Vietnam War. Exactly a year before he was killed, on April 4, 1967, King spoke in a manner very similar to Ali’s refusal to fight. “We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.”

The assassination had been announced at 8:19 p.m. in D.C. By 9:25, the first window was shattered.

King also openly praised Harry Edwards’ Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) platform. He saw eye to eye with the OPHR with regard to it reinstating Ali, restricting apartheid South Africa from Olympic participation, removing International Olympic Committee chairman Avery Brundage, the hiring of black coaches and administrators by the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the desegregation of the New York Athletic Club.

And so with all this in mind, Russell still had a game to play. His Celtics were set to square off against a familiar opponent, Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers. Russell vs. Chamberlain was the premier rivalry in basketball. Their statures made them larger than life, and their exploits made them hardwood gods. Russell and Chamberlain carried the league on their broad shoulders throughout the decade, although the image of both couldn’t have been any more different. Russell was the thoughtful and defiant sociopolitical defensive savant who participated in the March on Washington and led the Boston dynasty via actions and words. Chamberlain was the 7-foot freak of nature and dashing playboy who compiled stats with ease but could never eliminate Russell and the Celtics to cement his place as champion.

Wilt Chamberlain (No. 13) of the Philadelphia 76ers posts up against Bill Russell (No. 6) of the Boston Celtics during a game played in 1967 at the Boston Garden in Boston.

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The previous year, Chamberlain and the Sixers had finally defeated Boston en route to the ’67 championship. After defeating the Celtics, the crowd chanted, “Boston is dead!” and sparked dozens of cigars — mimicking the victory routine of Celtics coaching great Red Auerbach. Philly’s 68-13 record (then the best ever), along with the championship, earned that season’s team an eventual Hall of Fame nod as the best team of the NBA’s first 25 years.

The Sixers returned the following season with hopes of establishing a “mini-dynasty” of their own. Visions of the Celtics’ demise were all but etched in stone. Philly was the new Boston, and Chamberlain had finally dethroned Russell. Their 1968 East finals clash was to be a mere formality. Until the course of American history changed on the second floor of a Memphis motel balcony.

Russell called his longtime friend and rival Chamberlain in the early afternoon of April 5. Though never at the forefront of the civil rights movement, Chamberlain was distraught and shaken. Neither wanted to play in Game 1, but there was hesitation about postponing. Tip-off was only hours away, and neither team knew exactly what it wanted to do. Race had reared its head in the Boston meeting. Celtics forward Bailey Howell wondered why the idea was even being discussed. “What was [King’s] title? Why should we call off the game?” he asked, angering many black players.

For the Sixers’ part, Chamberlain and Wali Jones voted not to play. Chet Walker refused to vote, calling it a “dreary charade” on the heels of the league disrespecting its black players. The sentiment was common. NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson was at a University of Cincinnati banquet on the evening of April 4. “I don’t think the game should have been played [a day later], but that’s the NBA for you,” Robertson told The Undefeated. “There was not a regard for Dr. King. He was almost like an enemy to many in America. But he was a savior to a lot of us.”

Savior or not, the decision was made. Game 1 of the 1968 Eastern Division finals went on as scheduled. There were safety concerns around the city that if the teams did not play, Philadelphia would add its name to the growing list of cities in revolt.


Leonard Koppett covered Game 1 for The New York Times. The crowd of 14,412 filled the Philadelphia Spectrum, reacting in “normal fashion.” But “shock and despondency” was the mood of most of the players. Though the effort on the court was at its expected level, the image of King’s dying body in a pool of blood covered the arena like a layer of fog.

Similar to a performance by James Brown — ironically in Boston — that same night, Russell, Chamberlain, the Celtics and the Sixers were temporary bandages on an open wound. Boston defeated a dejected Philly squad 127-118. Chamberlain finished with 33 points and 25 rebounds, but fell short to Russell’s 22 rebounds and John Havlicek’s 35 points and 11 assists. All stats and no win — history was repeating itself with Chamberlain. The pair of NBA giants attended King’s funeral the following Tuesday, a moment that would spark Chamberlain’s brief stint in politics.

Bill Russell (No. 6) of the Boston Celtics posts up against Wilt Chamberlain (No. 13) of the Philadelphia 76ers during a game played in 1968 at the Boston Garden in Boston.

Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Sunday’s Game 2, however, was postponed, originally scheduled on what President Lyndon B. Johnson dubbed the national day of mourning. Major League Baseball followed suit, postponing its season openers between the Minnesota Twins and Washington Senators and Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros. But while athletes grieved with the rest of the country, they were also expected to play peacemaker in communities forced to deal with vitriol of America’s bigotry. Athletes involved in the Negro Industrial and Economic Union (NIEU), which Jim Brown helped organize in 1965, were asked to “move into the streets and ghettos and try to stem the tide of racial unrest,” an April 8 Associated Press report stated. Cleveland Browns guard John Wooten, the NIEU’s executive director, noted that 35 to 40 athletes would be involved in the initiative, including the Chicago Bears’ Gale Sayers and Russell.

The haze over black America hadn’t lifted by the start of Wednesday’s Game 2. “The whole day felt like a daze — like being underwater or in humid weather,” a volunteer at King’s funeral recalled to author Rebecca Burns in 2011’s Burial for a King. “You’re aware of the moment but not aware fully of all that is around you.”

 

After the funeral, the Eastern finals resumed. Boston, having stolen Game 1 on the road in Philadelphia, proceeded to lose the next three, giving the Sixers a 3-1 lead. Philly had resumed control of the series. They resembled the team that had become the king of the hill in the Eastern Conference, until Boston mounted an epic surge, rallying from 3-1 to win the series in seven.

“If they hadn’t stolen that first game when Philadelphia was kinda discombobulated, who knows what that series looks like?” said Goudsouzian. “Then the Celtics beat the Lakers and Russell’s legend is burnished. Then he wins again in 1969, giving him two titles as a player-coach. There’s a basketball dimension to the story that’s obviously not as important, of course. But it’s still sort of interesting from … a sports perspective.” Logic says if Philly were the better team, the series dictates as much. They would have won in five or six or, worst case, prevailed in seven. It is intoxicating to ponder the possibilities. With the Boston demon officially exorcised, would Philly have repeated? And if they repeat, does Chamberlain remain in his hometown of Philadelphia, thus giving rise to a new Eastern Conference powerhouse? It just wasn’t meant to be.

King’s assassination ruptured the future of civil and human rights. King was dead at 39, his legacy partially realized by the election and re-election of former President Barack Obama. Yet, despite the romanticization of his life and words, the bullet that shredded King’s neck and the fallout thereafter affected every fabric of society. Even the NBA and its most storied rivalry.