The NCAA doesn’t have a Rich Paul problem. It has a problem with black men. The move to regulate agents looks like yet another effort to police black mobility and freedom

The NCAA doesn’t have a Rich Paul problem. The problem is that its structure is designed to regulate the freedom of athletes to turn pro in primarily black sports but not in white ones.

And an entity that now preaches the importance of college graduation for agents doesn’t have the same righteous energy for black athletes at its most lucrative institutions.

Earlier this week, the NCAA implemented what was immediately labeled the “Rich Paul Rule,” after the man who represents NBA players LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, John Wall, Ben Simmons and 2019 first-round draft picks Darius Garland and Darius Bazley. The new regulations require that agents interested in representing players who are considering declaring for the NBA draft now must have a bachelor’s degree, be certified with the National Basketball Players Association for at least three years and take a comprehensive in-person exam at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. Paul, who never attended college, is one of many agents affected by this rule — but unquestionably the most prominent.

The NCAA’s move was instantly lambasted as hypocritical and vindictive. “The world is so afraid of ground breakers.…This is beyond sad & major B.S.,” tweeted comedian Kevin Hart. James, Paul’s biggest client, longtime friend and confidant, could only laugh at the NCAA’s energy, saying, “Nothing will stop this movement and culture over here.”

Chris Rock explained the context for the NCAA mandate years ago. “We’re only 10% of the population,” he said on 2004’s Never Scared. “We’re 90% of the Final Four!”

Only basketball must adhere to the new NCAA mandate. The actual text doesn’t mention race. Nevertheless, the writing is not just written on the wall, it’s been carved. It’s a “race-neutral” rule that isn’t race-neutral. This comes with historical precedence that the NCAA knows all too well.

One of the worst-kept secrets in sports is how top-tier college football and basketball programs directly benefited from desegregation. Before integration, the vast majority of top black athletes had no choice but to attend historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Once the larger and richer predominantly white schools began to integrate, HBCUs couldn’t compete. But there’s been a parallel development too: The graduation rates for black athletes at top sports programs remain consistently and embarrassingly low.

Agent Rich Paul (right), seen here with LeBron James (left), is a threat. To the status quo. To the hierarchy of power.

Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Klutch Sports Group

Shaun R. Harper, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, found that, overall, black male athletes graduate at higher percentages than black males who are not involved in sports. But that’s not true for the NCAA’s wealthiest leagues: the Power 5 of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.

“The [NCAA] has claimed in television commercials that black male student-athletes at Division I institutions graduate rates are higher than black men in the general student body,” the report says. “This is true across the entire division, but not for the five conferences whose member institutions routinely win football and basketball championships, play in multimillion-dollar bowl games and the annual basketball championship tournament, and produce the largest share of Heisman Trophy winners.”

And an entity that now preaches the importance of college graduation for agents doesn’t have the same righteous energy for black athletes at its most lucrative institutions.

Black men made up 2.4% of the Power 5 student population but 55% and 56%, respectively, of its football and basketball teams. Of those numbers, 55% of black male athletes graduated in under six years, compared with 60% of black men in the overall undergraduate population and 76% of all college graduates.

“Over the past two years, 40% of these universities have actually had black male student-athlete graduation rates that have declined,” Harper said. “We’re supposed to be getting better, but actually 40% of these places have gotten worse.”

Meanwhile, the debate over paying college athletes is sharply divided by race. Most whites are against “pay to play,” while most blacks strongly support it because the current system exploits a largely black athletic base.

In the NBA, the sport is still primarily black. (The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found that during the 2015-16 season, 81.7% of NBA players were people of color and 74.3% were black.) But black athletes have significant power and influence over everything from where they play to who coaches them to the structure of their contracts.

This shifting power dynamic is beginning earlier and earlier too. Bazley skipped college last year to become a million-dollar intern with New Balance. R.J. Hampton and LaMelo Ball, both touted as 2020 lottery picks, are taking their talents to Australia for a year before declaring for the NBA draft. Hampton has already inked a shoe deal with Li-Ning.

As Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel noted, the new rule’s standard doesn’t apply to college hockey players or baseball players, who can be drafted out of high school but can choose to attend college if their draft placement doesn’t appeal to them.

If this wasn’t about a young black man who achieved his success out of the mud and then empowered other black men to recognize their worth in spite of an organization that has for years manipulated their talents for the organization’s gain, if this wasn’t about yet another American institution attempting to police black mobility and freedom, then it’s difficult to see what the actual reasoning is.

This brings the discussion back to Paul and James. It’s often been said there is a Jay-Z lyric for any situation in life. Perhaps the most fitting here is a bar from Jay’s 2001 album The Blueprint, which entered the Library of Congress in March: All I need is the love of my crew / The whole industry can hate me, I thugged my way through, he pledged on “All I Need.” In essence, this has been the motto for Paul, James and the two other members of their inner circle, Maverick Carter and Randy Mims.

When James cut ties to agent Aaron Goodwin in 2005, eyebrows raised and many said that the young basketball phenom had risked his career before it truly tipped off. At the time, it was easy to understand why, given that Goodwin had helped the 2003 No. 1 overall draft pick obtain a bevy of endorsements, including Bubblicious chewing gum, Upper Deck trading cards, Sprite, Powerade and, most gaudy of them all, a seven-year, $90 million shoe deal with Nike. Few believed in James’ vision when he turned to three of his childhood friends to chart the course of his career on and off the court.

“James’ switcheroo a youthful mistake,” the Chicago Sun-Times wrote.

“I will promise you really ugly things will happen,” said former NFL player turned financial adviser Jim Corbett. “This is a big mistake, a bad decision that is going to cost LeBron.”

Which leads us to another Jay lyric, this one from 2009’s “Already Home”: And as for the critics, tell me I don’t get it / Everybody can tell you how to do it, they never did it. Thanks to the friends he entrusted with his career nearly 15 years ago, James is not only the most powerful player in basketball history but also a player in Hollywood, fashion, education and politics.

Money and power elicit respect, as elucidated by Kimberly Jones. But they also open the door for fear and angst. President Donald Trump took shots at LeBron on Twitter last August after the launch of his I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, saying it was hard to make “LeBron look smart” and weighed in on the NBA’s most contested debate, saying he preferred Michael Jordan over James — which Jordan quickly rebuffed. The two were labeled “mob bosses” by an unnamed Western Conference general manager last season after public attempts to move Anthony Davis to the Lakers (a move that eventually happened).

From left to right: Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Rich Paul, Ben Simmons and Miles Bridges attend the Klutch 2019 All Star Weekend Dinner Presented by Remy Martin and hosted by Klutch Sports Group at 5Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Feb. 16.

Photo by Dominique Oliveto/Getty Images for Klutch Sports Group 2019 All Star Weekend

Rich Paul is a threat. To the status quo. To the hierarchy of power. And to the image of an industry that is still dominated by white males and has long exercised fiscal and moral authority over black athletes.

Basketball altered its rules to make it harder for three players who made the game look too easy (i.e., they dominated the white players too much): Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Maybe the NCAA didn’t implement this rule with Paul as its sole motivation. Just like maybe the NCAA wouldn’t be so open to criticism if it made the education of players a higher priority.

Unfortunately, the NCAA addressed a perceived problem while never addressing its own. Sometimes sports really is a reflection of life.

Kenan Thompson hosts NHL Awards show that doesn’t shy away from inclusion From the opening monologue to the Willie O’Ree Award winner, it was a big night for hockey

LAS VEGAS — When news was first announced that Kenan Thompson would be hosting the 2019 NHL Awards, it seemed a little too good to be true. The man whom one recent publication surprisingly called “underrated” would be coming to the stage to entertain the hockey world, something he’d been doing since he first appeared in The Mighty Ducks movie trilogy, a series that for many people is their lone avenue into or reference point to the sport, quite frankly.

There was a part of me that was hoping this event could serve as a yet another milestone moment that breaks down the psychological barrier that many still have between blackness and pucks. And while this night wasn’t exactly that from a comedy standpoint, there were a few moments that helped the cause overall.

The monologue was effective, but didn’t stray too far into deep water.

“Welcome to the 2019 NHL Awards. I will be your host this evening and, for the last time, no, I am not one of the Subbans.

“My name is Keenan Thompson. You might recognize me from SNL, All That, Kenan and Kel. … But, let’s be real! You don’t. This is a hockey room. So you only know me as the kid from The Mighty Ducks 2 and 3!”

“You know, I can’t really decide if my favorite player is Ryan Reaves or … I don’t know. Man, I don’t know, maybe even Malcolm Subban, you know, from the Golden Knights. I just … Hey, I don’t know. I feel a strong connection to the two of them. I don’t really know what it is. I can’t put my, can’t put my finger on it.”

See, that’s funny because Ryan Reaves and Malcolm Subban are both black and both play in Las Vegas. I’m still sort of wondering where that joke would have gone had those roster spots not been what they were, but who cares. Point is, that was about the extent of Thompson’s routine about being black in the hockey world, which in truth, is all that was needed because the realities are certainly still harsh enough to not make light of the subject.

Throughout the night, the league highlighted the nominees for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, given to “an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.” It’s named after the NHL’s first black player, Willie O’Ree, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year.

Willie O’Ree arrives at the 2019 NHL Awards at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on June 19 in Las Vegas.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

By sprinkling in vignettes of the nominees’ stories, the theme stayed top of mind during the broadcast that this is an enduring battle. So between Thompson appearing as Steve Harvey, LaVar Ball, Charles Barkley and some weird mad scientist character with white hair, you couldn’t lose track of the fact that diversity existed beyond Thompson’s well-known Saturday Night Live go-tos.

There was Anthony Benavides, who runs the Clark Park Coalition, which launched a youth hockey program in Detroit for black and Latino kids, after rebuilding an outdoor rink with the help of his community. Another nominee was Tammi Lynch, the mother of a hockey player, whose teammate, who is black, was racially taunted during a recent game. She didn’t just fight back, she formed an entire movement called Players Against Hate, which aims to educate everyone about racism on the ice.

The inclusionary theme wasn’t just about black folks. Robin Lehner talked at length about his battles with mental health. Laila Anderson, the St. Louis Blues superfan who is battling a life-threatening immune disease, was featured in the cold open with Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski. And Carey Price stole the show when he surprised a young fan on stage, whom he’d met before, following the death of his mother.

Not to be forgotten was the unveiling of the new NHL 20 cover, which features the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews. Matthews’ mother is Mexican, and one of his earliest coaches helped found Mexico’s national ice hockey program. There are rumors that the EA Sports game might even have an SAP option, which is tremendous.

“It’s the way they’re growing the game and, you know, different markets, different countries, and just encouraging everybody all over the world to play hockey,” Matthews said. “I hope it’s not my voice that’s going over it, because my Spanish isn’t very good. But I think that’s awesome.”

But the big winner of the night was Rico Phillips, who took home the Willie O’Ree Award. A firefighter in Flint, Michigan, he started playing hockey in high school. Then his journey took him to the world of refereeing. Now, with the Flint Inner City Youth Hockey Program, Phillips is doing everything he can to give back to the community that built him and he works in today.

“Yes, so when we first started the program, there was certainly a need. There is lack of cultural diversity in hockey all across North America, but specifically in Flint. And as I would look out as a referee, I would see that lack of diversity,” Phillips said Wednesday night, sitting in Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino with his award by his side. “And so when we put it together, I had to get with local community leaders, especially the business community, to be able to provide the funds and the equipment for the kids, because we knew we had to have this absolutely free.”

It isn’t just about getting kids out to play for all the obvious reasons that’s helpful. It’s about an exchange between communities that oftentimes goes beyond the ice, which is essentially the whole point.

“One of the best things about our program is the volunteers themselves. We host eight different high school hockey teams who come in on different weeks and adopt the program. So there are built-in on-ice instructors,” Phillips explained. “What’s great about that is these kids, the high school kids come from the suburbs and rural areas, and then they come into the inner city to work with our kids. And this complete cultural breakdown that happens to where they all become one and it’s magic to see. I didn’t know it was gonna be that way, but that is one of the magic parts to our program, is that it’s really community-connected.”

Afterward, Phillips flashed pics with various hockey players, including P.K. Subban — who, by the way, covered NHL 19, becoming the video game’s second consecutive spokesperson of color — and other greats. Earlier in the day, the NHL also approved the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to a Latino owner, California billionaire Alex Meruelo. One is topical, one is deep-rooted.

So while the NHL and hockey as a whole are doing their best to put people with brown faces in outward-facing positions, some who are in them know just how tricky that can be in a real-life application. Hockey is only as inaccessible as anyone makes it seem, although the structural problems do create obstacles.

“There isn’t that gap that people think,” Kevin Weekes, a former NHL goalie who is currently an analyst for the NHL Network, said after the show. “Hockey players and NHL players don’t live on Pluto. I feel like the game is a people game. It’s a family game, it’s a community game. … It’s nice to have them recognized. Community leaders need to be recognized.”

Thursday in Las Vegas, many were. But the scars of the realities of racism don’t go away just because a few trophies are handed out. Those rewards just serve as a reminder of the many things that not only the game has to overcome, but everyone else does too.

From left to right: P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators is revealed as the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 19 by Steve Campbell and Ryan Russell, known as Olly Postanin and Jacob Ardown from On the Bench, during the 2018 NHL Awards presented by Hulu at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 20 in Las Vegas.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“In the ’80s, it was a running joke. I was the only black guy on that team. In the whole, everywhere. All right? And I had to absorb that and laugh it off and joke with them,” Phillips recalled. “Otherwise I would have been sad and mad and all those other things. My mother taught me, ‘Well, that is their regular, it’s not yours. Change their minds about who you are. And that’s all that matters.’

“And as a result of that, over time, the cultural things have changed. Now, when I became a young official, the N-bomb got cast right at me. My first season, I was 17 years old. So to think I’d be sitting here today after that dude called me that. Gold, man. Gold.”

Golden Knights’ Pierre-Édouard Bellemare reflects on shaving his head for breast cancer awareness ‘I figured if I could shave my head, maybe they would see that as a less negative situation’

One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and many of them will undergo chemotherapy and shave their heads before enduring one of the treatment’s side effects: hair loss.

Vegas Golden Knights left winger Pierre-Édouard Bellemare elected to share that experience. To kick off this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, he joined patients and survivors at Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada by shaving his head. The act was also in memory of two family members who died of cancer.

Bellemare recently shared his thoughts on the Oct. 2 head-shaving, just before the start of the team’s season.

“I figured if I could shave my head, maybe they would see that as a less negative situation,” he told The Undefeated. “I’m just a normal person. The only difference is that I do a sport and work my entire life to be able to be a part of a team. And because of that it has put me in a position where I can do something as little as just shaving my head.”

Bellemare’s wife, Hannah, lost her grandmother to cancer two years ago. It was a battle that lasted for more than a decade — one that started off as breast cancer and ended in brain cancer. During her grandmother’s battle, her grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died one month later, shortly before her grandmother.

“For my wife, it was a tough moment,” he said. “I was a part of that, recovering and helping cope with one of her grandparents passing away. Her grandma’s been fighting for a lot of years, and then suddenly her grandpa had it. Then, boom — he was gone in a month.”

Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada has provided an array of oncology services since 1979. Bellemare first got involved with the organization as a spokesman. While shooting a series of commercials, he met with patients and survivors and learned about their journeys.

“To know what they had to go through every day for the entire cancer … it’s just a decent perspective that you get,” Bellemare said. “It’s something that is so devastating for a woman to have to shave their head. It’s like a big part of a woman.”

He’d always told Hannah that it would be an honor to participate in the cause.

“Because of my wife’s grandma being affected with first the breast cancer and obviously my wife, there is risk also for her to have it,” Bellemare said. “So it became something really close to us.”

Two days before the puck dropped on the Golden Knights’ 2018-19 season, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare joined patients from Comprehensive Cancer Centers for a head-shaving event outside of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Courtesy: Comprehensive Cancer Center of Nevada

As a member of the Vegas community, Bellemare believes it’s important to connect with places such as Comprehensive Cancer Centers.

“I was like, all right, let’s try to give a little bit back,” he said. “My hair will grow back, so it’s not the biggest gesture I can do. … There is already so much they have to fight to be able to survive. Having your head shaved shouldn’t be something to have any focus on.”

For Bellemare, 33, playing a rigorous sport day in and day out does not compare to the fight against cancer. Bellemare was born in a suburb of Paris. His father was born on the French Caribbean island of Martinique. He began playing hockey when he was 6 years old and was a professional player in France by age 17. He signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2014 and joined the Golden Knights expansion team in their first year. They made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and he finished the 2017-18 season playing in 72 games and compiling 16 points.

“They have to fight to be alive. What they do every day, it’s so much harder than what I’m doing,” Bellemare said. “I got there and I was a little stressed. I talked to two of those women and suddenly I’m realizing, like, what the heck am I scared of? It’s supersimple, I don’t have to deal with their stress. When you hear what they have to go through in the last few months, you’re like, all right, this is just really easy. Just do this half and we’ll make sure that the people enjoy it.

“They are the heroes of the story. They are the people that are inspiring me more than I am inspiring them,” he said.

Golden Knights’ Pierre-Édouard Bellemare reflects on shaving his head for breast cancer awareness ‘I figured if I could shave my head, maybe they would see that as a less negative situation’

One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and many of them will undergo chemotherapy and shave their heads before enduring one of the treatment’s side effects: hair loss.

Vegas Golden Knights left winger Pierre-Édouard Bellemare elected to share that experience. To kick off this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, he joined patients and survivors at Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada by shaving his head. The act was also in memory of two family members who died of cancer.

Bellemare recently shared his thoughts on the Oct. 2 head-shaving, just before the start of the team’s season.

“I figured if I could shave my head, maybe they would see that as a less negative situation,” he told The Undefeated. “I’m just a normal person. The only difference is that I do a sport and work my entire life to be able to be a part of a team. And because of that it has put me in a position where I can do something as little as just shaving my head.”

Bellemare’s wife, Hannah, lost her grandmother to cancer two years ago. It was a battle that lasted for more than a decade — one that started off as breast cancer and ended in brain cancer. During her grandmother’s battle, her grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died one month later, shortly before her grandmother.

“For my wife, it was a tough moment,” he said. “I was a part of that, recovering and helping cope with one of her grandparents passing away. Her grandma’s been fighting for a lot of years, and then suddenly her grandpa had it. Then, boom — he was gone in a month.”

Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada has provided an array of oncology services since 1979. Bellemare first got involved with the organization as a spokesman. While shooting a series of commercials, he met with patients and survivors and learned about their journeys.

“To know what they had to go through every day for the entire cancer … it’s just a decent perspective that you get,” Bellemare said. “It’s something that is so devastating for a woman to have to shave their head. It’s like a big part of a woman.”

He’d always told Hannah that it would be an honor to participate in the cause.

“Because of my wife’s grandma being affected with first the breast cancer and obviously my wife, there is risk also for her to have it,” Bellemare said. “So it became something really close to us.”

Two days before the puck dropped on the Golden Knights’ 2018-19 season, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare joined patients from Comprehensive Cancer Centers for a head-shaving event outside of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Courtesy: Comprehensive Cancer Center of Nevada

As a member of the Vegas community, Bellemare believes it’s important to connect with places such as Comprehensive Cancer Centers.

“I was like, all right, let’s try to give a little bit back,” he said. “My hair will grow back, so it’s not the biggest gesture I can do. … There is already so much they have to fight to be able to survive. Having your head shaved shouldn’t be something to have any focus on.”

For Bellemare, 33, playing a rigorous sport day in and day out does not compare to the fight against cancer. Bellemare was born in a suburb of Paris. His father was born on the French Caribbean island of Martinique. He began playing hockey when he was 6 years old and was a professional player in France by age 17. He signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2014 and joined the Golden Knights expansion team in their first year. They made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and he finished the 2017-18 season playing in 72 games and compiling 16 points.

“They have to fight to be alive. What they do every day, it’s so much harder than what I’m doing,” Bellemare said. “I got there and I was a little stressed. I talked to two of those women and suddenly I’m realizing, like, what the heck am I scared of? It’s supersimple, I don’t have to deal with their stress. When you hear what they have to go through in the last few months, you’re like, all right, this is just really easy. Just do this half and we’ll make sure that the people enjoy it.

“They are the heroes of the story. They are the people that are inspiring me more than I am inspiring them,” he said.

Tristan Thompson is ready to right his wrongs — can he get right for Game 3? Let’s not forget: He’s one of the most consistent players on the Cavs and he knows how to defend against Steph Curry

Tristan Thompson knew the question was coming. So the Cavaliers forward was better prepared for it this time around. With the Cavs this season, especially their fourth consecutive Finals showdown with the Golden State Warriors, everything goes viral. Thompson walked out of a postgame interview after being asked following Game 2’s 122-103 loss whether he felt defenseless when guarding Stephen Curry.

“[That was] just a dumb question. It made no sense,” Thompson said during media availability Tuesday afternoon. “Do you feel helpless? I only feel helpless if you’re getting robbed at gunpoint — that’s helpless. This is basketball.”

It’s been a season filled with strange moments for Thompson. His personal and professional lives collided when his relationship with Khloe Kardashian hit tabloid and social media fans. But on Tuesday, Thompson left no question about the urgency of Wednesday night. “It’s not about pulling younger [less experienced] teammates aside,” said Thompson. He, by the way, is the Cavalier with the longest tenure (not counting LeBron James’ first stint).

“We know how important it is to get Game 3,” Thompson continued sternly. “This is the most important game of the series. We gotta go out and leave it all out there.”


A proverbial black cloud has followed Thompson. A string of misfortune and bad luck that can be traced back to the 2017 Finals.

The Warriors were hellbent on removing Thompson from the series after the former Texas Longhorn averaged a double-double in the 2016 Finals and anchored an exceptional interior defense that helped spur the Cavs to the 3-1 comeback that brought the city of Cleveland its first major pro title in 52 years. Last June, though, Golden State made Thompson a nonfactor in a five-game series in which Curry grabbed more rebounds than he did.

Thompson didn’t get much time to erase yester-June’s stain heading into this season. He suffered a right calf injury at the beginning of November. The injury sidelined him for a month, and when he did return he was the scapegoat for Cleveland’s bench issues.

Thompson’s return to the lineup did little to change Cleveland’s troubles in the new year. The Cavs couldn’t string together a series of wins if they tried. At one point, the possibility of the Cavaliers missing the playoffs altogether was a legitimate topic, as it became clear that the experiment that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston and brought in Isaiah Thomas had failed miserably. Midseason turmoil resulted in the Cavaliers gutting much of their roster to bring in guys like Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and George Hill.

If Thompson has never found a groove this year, it’s because he’s spent too much time away from the court. A model of consistency before this season, he played all 82 games for four consecutive seasons and played in 78 games last season. Injuries and a difficulty integrating into the rotation have limited Thompson to 53 games. And time on the inactive list came calling again in March after a right ankle sprain sidelined him for a month. By the time he returned to the lineup, his lack of production while there led to backlash about not just his production but also about him and Kardashian, with whom he has a daughter, True.

Instagram Photo

On the eve of the postseason, footage of Tristan and women who weren’t his then-pregnant girlfriend surfaced. The story, like any and everything Kardashian-related, became national fodder. His infidelity infiltrated the Cavaliers’ culture as the story broke around the time he was returning to the lineup. He became a social media pariah. Even when Thompson performed well on the court, the vitriol was there: “Everyone still hates you!!!!”-like comments were common. And an eventual focal point of fellow Kardashian clan member Kanye West who on his recently released “Yikes” rhymed, All these thots on Christian Mingle/ That’s what almost got Tristan single / If you don’t ball like him or Kobe / Guarantee that b— gon’ leave you.

The scandal was a low point in a season that couldn’t have gone any worse for Thompson. And it was just another scar on a squad in search of itself.

Yet despite the drama, Thompson’s once again in the same spot he’s been the last four Junes. Being down 0-2 in a series against a team he admits is an all-time great squad isn’t intimidating to him. If anything, the Finals represent an opportunity to right a ship that began to go off course nearly a year ago. Thompson’s still being outrebounded by Stephen Curry (13 to 10 through two games). “There’s no place like playing on your home court. Our crowd is one of the best in the league,” Thompson says. “We owe it to them to come out … and leave it on the line.” More importantly, Thompson owes that to himself.

 

After ‘Get Out’ and #MeToo, Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Unsane’ is all too unnerving Horror movies don’t need a monster in a hockey mask when real life is already so scary

This article contains spoilers.

Add Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Unsane, to the ranks of psychological horror-thrillers that double as documentaries. Those of us who’ve seen Get Out or read too many shiver-inducing tales of #MeToo can never consume horror the same way again.

Partly this is because what constitutes horror is being expanded by our broadening understanding of history. The Netflix series Mindhunter draws on the real-life story of FBI agents developing a framework to understand the motives of serial killers. (Hint: It’s misogyny. It’s always misogyny.) The Handmaid’s Tale draws on the fear of state control over women’s bodies. Get Out, a tale about white body snatchers, reminds you that George Washington used to wear his own slaves’ teeth. All of it is more frightening than dudes in hockey masks or sporting razor blades for fingernails.

The Boogie Monster isn’t It. It’s us.

Is it even possible now to see a woman on screen being gaslit by a man without thinking about other women who have been silenced and discredited by being labeled as hysterical? #MeToo has unveiled a matrix of oppression obscured by a status quo in which women have been encouraged to second-guess ourselves, our abilities and our own perceptions of reality.

Now there’s a new movie about a woman going through the same thing.

Unsane follows Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) as she tries to escape her stalker, David Strine (Joshua Leonard). She’s moved hundreds of miles away from him, deleted her Facebook account, changed her phone number and found a new job. And yet, she cannot stop wondering if he’s still surreptitiously monitoring her every move, so she goes to see a therapist at a mental health facility. Once there, Sawyer falls into a trap, signing documents without fully reading them. Those documents allow the facility to hold her until its doctors decide she’s no longer a threat to herself or others. Against her will, Sawyer is thrown into a ward with people dealing with illnesses far more pronounced than her own post-traumatic stress disorder. She makes friends with another person in the ward, Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharoah), who’s checked himself in, supposedly to get treatment for an opioid addiction. Nate turns out to be an undercover journalist who rightly suspects that the hospital is trumping up violent symptoms of mental illness so that it can hold patients until their insurance runs out.

It’s like the for-profit prison industry, but for “crazy” people! Ain’t capitalism grand?

When Sawyer calls 911, the police show up but breezily dismiss her accusations without even talking to her. Sawyer’s reaction changes from impertinent “I was told by AppleCare” to full-on maniacal when she realizes that her stalker is working in the facility under an assumed name.

Everything gets worse from there.

The central question of Unsane is supposed to be whether Sawyer is actually being stalked or whether she’s a victim of her own paranoid delusions. But an America in which Harvey Weinstein gaslights Rose McGowan with ex-Mossad agents has rendered that question moot. I didn’t sit through Unsane wondering whether Sawyer was really experiencing what she said she was. I went straight to wondering how she was going to manage to escape it, or if she, and all of us, would be stuck in a padded cell until we learn to submit to white patriarchal hegemony.

It’s like the for-profit prison industry, but for “crazy” people! Ain’t capitalism grand?

There’s a lynching in Unsane. It’s no more literal than Get Out is literally a movie about American slavery. But a deconstructed lynching is a lynching all the same. David is a fragile white man who feels threatened by the rapport between Sawyer and Nate. She belongs to him, not anyone else. And certainly not a black man.

Pharoah didn’t audition for that part, he told me recently. Soderbergh reached out to his agent and said it was expressly for him. Which means Nate didn’t become black because Pharoah was cast to play him. His blackness is as essential to his character as Foy’s and Leonard’s whiteness is to theirs. Even without that nugget of information, it’s impossible to watch Unsane after seeing Get Out and not think about how its themes are complicated by race and gender.

But just to be sure, I watched Gaslight, the 1944 George Cukor thriller about a woman named Paula (Ingrid Bergman) whose husband systematically tries to convince her that she’s mentally unwell so that he can search for and steal some valuable jewels left to her by her aunt. It’s the film that’s responsible for why we now identify the act of trying to convince someone they’re crazy by continually denying what they know to be true as “gaslighting.”

Gaslight remains unnerving, but there’s a quaintness to it. The villain, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), is ultimately in pursuit of some high-priced baubles. Gaslighting is a means to an end. For Unsane’s David, gaslighting is the point. David is insecure, delusional and violent in a world that never assumes he might be any of those things because he has the good fortune of being straight, white, male and cunning. He is the ultimate benefactor of the suspension of doubt. David is fearsome because he walks freely among us — as a Proud Boy, a 4Chan-er, a disgruntled member of the manosphere.

Shot on an iPhone, often with a fisheye lens, Unsane turns its audience into voyeurs peeking in on the private hell of Sawyer’s life. We’re so busy trying to figure out whether this woman is actually crazy that we miss the ways we’re all silent bystanders, complicit and distracted, as one disturbed and empowered man slowly and methodically takes over his own little corner of the universe.

Oh, sure, he’s eventually discovered. But the damage he’s wrought before it happens is lasting and real.

Tristan Thompson: ‘Vince Carter was our Michael Jordan’ ‘The Carter Effect’ proves that without ‘Vinsanity’ there’s no Toronto basketball and no Drake

Many of us remember the high-flying, 6-foot-6 phenom who took the NBA by a storm that could only be known as “Vinsanity.” From his jaw-dropping dunks to his captivating energy, Vince Carter’s journey is one of epic proportions. And so much of it is captured in The Carter Effect.

The documentary, directed by Sean Menard and executive produced by LeBron James, catapults viewers back in time to explore how the eight-time NBA All-Star played a major role in solidifying the Toronto Raptors’ notoriety in the NBA and creating a basketball culture that put the city on the map.

Friday night, Uninterrupted teamed up with Beats by Dre for a screening of the film, followed by a panel discussion featuring Menard and executive producers Maverick Carter, Future The Prince and Tristan Thompson. Cleveland Cavaliers forward and Toronto native Thompson explained just how influential Carter was for both him and his city growing up.

“Vince was our Michael Jordan,” he said.

The film, which features Tracy McGrady, Thompson, Carter and Toronto native and rapper Drake (who is also one of the film’s executive producers), captures the intoxicating thrill Carter’s arrival brought to a hockey town whose basketball team was seen as a joke amid a league of popular teams in American cities.

Throughout the film, Carter discusses his arrival in Toronto, his legendary win in the 2000 slam dunk contest, his role in making the city a destination for athletes and celebrities and his heartbreaking departure. All of it is placed in the context of Toronto’s contributions to music, art and culture. The lesson: Carter is a large part of the reason that we take the city seriously today. Future The Prince truly drove that point home, telling the audience there might not be a Drake if Carter hadn’t come first.

“If you had told me 20 years ago that a half-white Jewish kid from Toronto who sings and raps would be as big as he is today,” he said. “I would say there’s no way.”

New York Fashion Week: Why your athlete and rapper faves are wearing Musika Frère You’ll see their bespoke suits at All-Star weekend

NEW YORK — If you’re a hockey player with thighs the width of your waist, a broad-shouldered linebacker, or a 7-foot-2 basketball star, shopping off-the-rack can be a pain. Especially if you want something that won’t leave you swimming in fabric.

Plenty of menswear labels such as Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford or Brioni provide services for hard-to-fit upscale clients. Musika Frère, a bespoke menswear line started in 2014 by Aleks Musika and Davidson Petit-Frère, is quietly trying to upend the business.

They liken their suits to Ferraris: all-bespoke everything, in fine fabrics featuring traditional tailoring. But Musika Frère aspires to the upstart disruptive qualities of Harry’s Shave Club combined with the style and swagger of Ozwald Boateng. The company was born on Instagram, where Musika and Petit-Frère showcased custom dinner jackets on themselves. Interest in their designs grew through word of mouth, and into a business with an atelier in Manhattan. They’re young and hungry, offering the same services as their competitors, but with quicker turnaround and less markup. You can get a bespoke suit, made in Italy, from Musika Frère in four weeks, compared with the usual six to eight. Plenty of athletes and celebrities have noticed. Jay-Z wore Musika Frère to Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammys dinner.

Instagram Photo

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Chadwick Boseman, Sterling K. Brown, Omari Hardwick, Kevin Hart, and Alex Rodriguez have all sported their wares.

Musika and Petit-Frère like playing with color, shape, and scale and they encourage their clients to experiment. They recently dressed Nick Jonas in a windowpane check suit for the premiere of Jumanji, and they tend to push more shawl collars and broader lapels than most menswear labels. Their signature contrasting waistband has appeared in their designs from the beginning.

“The days of navy, black, and grey suits on the red carpet are kind of ancient,” Petit-Frère said. “Now it’s, ‘How can I outdo myself?’ ”

The past few years in red carpet menswear have been a parade of tiny suits and skinny lapels, popularized by stars such as Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne. But the style doesn’t work well for athletes.

“If you’re 5-8 and 120 pounds, that looks good,” Musika said. “But we make suits, especially for our bespoke clients, in proportion to their shoulder width. And the fit is not skinny. It’s made for them. It doesn’t matter how big you are. If you’re a football player that plays offensive line, we’re making a suit around your body. Stuff that’s fitted always looks better. It doesn’t matter how big you are.”

This weekend the duo is headed to Los Angeles for NBA All-Star Weekend as they work on raising their profile. They’ll be tending to clients including Russell Wilson and Travis Scott. The goal is for Musika Frère to blossom into a full-on luxury lifestyle brand, and Musika and Petit-Frère say they’re interested in bringing their model of bespoke suiting to women’s wear, too. Perhaps, one day, we’ll see Brittney Griner in one of their suits.

But for now, they’d love to dress a former president. They recalled the flak and endless memes Barack Obama got when he stepped out in a tan suit.

“He looked great!” Petit-Frère said.

“Yeah,” Musika chimed in. “We’re gonna put him in a red one.”

Pistons, Cavs, Jay-Z and the Red Wings: 72 hours in the New Detroit Three new arenas have changed the face of the D’s downtown, and a hometown girl wonders if it’s for the better

Digital images of perhaps the world’s most famous rapper flash across giant screens. The screens rise toward the ceiling of Little Caesars Arena, the most recent of three new sports venues to emerge in downtown Detroit. It’s where the Pistons play.

Near one side of Jay-Z’s 360-degree stage, LeBron James, perhaps the world’s most famous current NBA player, can barely control his fandom as Jay-Z delivers his 1999 hit with UGK, “Big Pimpin’.” James and the rest of his team are in town ahead of a Pistons game. For nearly two hours, the arena is roaring. And as the last few fans spill onto Woodward Avenue — the drag in downtown Detroit that also houses Comerica Park, where the Detroit Tigers play, and Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play — the party ain’t over. Far from it.

The sold-out Little Caesars Arena for the Jay-Z concert.

313 Presents

That’s because the area is a far cry from what it was 15 years ago, when the downtown landscape was practically bare. Empty and windowless brick buildings were the standard. Every now and again you could fall into a hidden gem — a teahouse in neighboring Corktown, near the old Tiger Stadium, served a good quiche, and crumpets with fresh preserves. But those kinds of places were few and far between.

But now? There are sports bars, dive bars, throwback juke joints and new late-night spaces thriving next to revived longtime staples. Taxis line the streets, and people are texting friends to find out where the after-after-parties are. The basketball, baseball and hockey arenas, which also host concerts and even Catholic masses, are central to this bustling scene, daytime as well as nighttime. It wasn’t until this new NBA season that all of the Detroit teams, finally, were playing within the city limits. Welcome, kindly, to the New Detroit.

Now where are all the black folks?

Women hold a coat to shelter themselves from the rain as they enter Little Caesars Arena for the Jay-Z concert.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated


In the fall of 1998, I was wrapping up an internship at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and heading to my first full-time job as a reporter for the Detroit Free Press. A roommate’s mom, who was white, asked about my plans. When I told her about Detroit, her reply was, “Ugh. Detroit. The armpit of the Midwest.”

The armpit. Insulting, of course. And, I think, racist. I say that because we’re talking about a majority-black city, and one that has been through so much — too much. In the fall of 1998, it seemed the city was only and absolutely declining, although around the dinner table we’d delight in announcing the city’s upswing, based on the smallest of developments. For me, though, the best development was that I was home.

“It’s like a phoenix all of a sudden. You see people enjoying being outside and you’re hearing great stuff about Detroit.” — Rick Mahorn

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, in Oakland County. In one of the white-flight townships to which so many families, white and black, moved after the ’67 riot. Yet I have many memories of my maternal grandparents’ home on Indiana Street between Lyndon and Eaton on Detroit’s West Side. They’d moved after the riots, so Mother actually grew up on Lawton Street. Her childhood home and the block it was on burned down decades ago, never to develop again. It looks now like too many Detroit neighborhoods do.

But downtown Detroit? Working at the Free Press, I drove in at least five days a week. And after the day was done, there wasn’t much to do. Near the newsroom was The Anchor Bar, a socially/racially integrated dive beloved by both Red Wings fans and newspaper reporters. I had more grilled cheese and steak fry lunches there than I care to recount. The Free Press’ offices were about a mile away from where the three new stadiums have sprouted. While cafes and chain restaurants abound now, a week before I started, the big news story was that a Starbucks was opening on East Jefferson. It’s right near Belle Isle, a 982-acre island park that functioned as a student hangout on summer weekends.

An abandoned building in June 2005.

JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

And the city of Detroit was nearly throwing a ticker-tape parade for the cappuccino outlet. Legendary Detroit Piston Rick Mahorn remembers with a laugh that Starbucks excitement. “When I first got to Detroit, in ’85, I was living downtown because I wanted to be close to water, and it was a beautiful view. Wasn’t a lot to do downtown. … I made that commute all the way up to the Silverdome and then the Palace.”

A Detroit native suggested we do a “hole tour” of Detroit: go to the spaces that used to be places.

The Silverdome, which was imploded on Dec. 5, was in Pontiac, about 31 miles from Detroit’s city limits. The Palace of Auburn Hills, which is soon to be flipped into a “high-tech research park,” is a good 35 miles away from the 313 — Detroit’s area code.

“We love [being back],” said Mahorn, who’s now a radio analyst for the Pistons. “It gives you a more up close and personal feeling. [Team owner] Tom Gores saw a vision to partner up with [Red Wings owners] the Ilitches and the Dan Gilberts [who has invested nearly $2 billion in downtown Detroit] and [current Lions owners] the Ford family. Those things used to be a competition, and now it’s a togetherness to develop the resurgence of Detroit.”

It’s also of course about business and jobs, this downtown sports district with both Comerica Park and Ford Field less than a mile away from the multipurpose arena. “When you look at what happened in the late ’60s, and how everybody started moving out, now [Detroit’s] like a phoenix all of a sudden. You see people enjoying being outside and you’re hearing great stuff about Detroit.”

Scenic view of downtown Detroit.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

But before downtown’s Woodward Avenue was filled with shiny new spots such as Nike Community Store, Lululemon and Under Armour Brand House, as well as line-out-the-door breakfast spots such as the Dime Store or Hudson Cafe — Detroit had not only decades of segregation and decline from which to rebound. It had what felt like a singular tragedy.

A new, fresh, black mayor was elected in 2001. Kwame Kilpatrick was 31 years old, had played on Florida A&M’s football team, was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and became the youngest mayor in the city’s history. Ridiculously long story short, he was a massive disappointment — it started with him using his city-issued credit card to rack up thousands of dollars in personal, luxurious charges, and it ended with an FBI felony corruption case that got him thrown in a federal prison for 28 years. The Kilpatrick case featured sex and money and race and captured big headlines just about everywhere. My old newspaper earned a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of his misdeeds.

But the story, the trajectory of Kilpatrick’s life, still makes me sad. And what makes me sadder is that Detroit was the biggest loser. Eventually, in 2013, the city filed for bankruptcy: the biggest “municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.” Even with some new crowds bringing money to Detroit’s casinos — and those came with much conflict and pushback — Detroit was officially broken.

Ben Wallace came to the Pistons in 2000. He remembers the first piece of advice he and his teammates were given. “People were encouraging us not to go downtown, not to hang out downtown. ‘Whatever you do, avoid going downtown,’ ” said Wallace, who led the Pistons to their third NBA championship in 2004.

The Pistons retired Wallace’s jersey last year; he’d returned to the team after stints in Chicago and Cleveland and finished his career in Detroit in 2012.

He lives in West Virginia now but finds himself periodically in Detroit, like last summer when he was hanging out downtown and marveling at the new arena, which wasn’t quite finished then.

“To see the city coming to life, and people actually walking downtown and enjoying themselves, having a great time. To see people, to see things going up, it was amazing,” Wallace said. “It was a proud moment for me to see the city breathing and finding the light again. It was great for me to actually … see the city thriving.”


At the Free Press, we used to have a weekly features meeting. All were welcome to attend and discuss story ideas. One attendee, a Detroit native, suggested that we do a “hole tour” of Detroit: go to the spaces that used to be places and talk about the history that used to be there. All over there was emptiness where grandeur used to exist. Detroit wasn’t 360 degrees of pretty. But it was home.

I sold my small suburban condo and moved to downtown Detroit to live with my college roommate Joy, a white woman who grew up in Brighton, Michigan. Brighton neighbors Howell, a town known as the KKK capital of Michigan. Robert Miles, grand dragon of the Michigan Ku Klux Klan, lived in a nearby township and hosted rallies there.

Joy and I both worked downtown, she for the rival Detroit News, and quite frankly, as girls from the ’burbs, we wanted that authentic Detroit experience. We saw things that were starting to happen and figured it was an ideal time to be part of building a community.

“When you look at what happened in the late ’60s, and how everybody started moving out, now [Detroit’s] like a phoenix all of a sudden.

Comerica Park had just opened, and with it came new life. Hockeytown Cafe was erected next to the historic Fox Theater — a place to grab grub and a brew and head to the rooftop lounge. I remember hanging out with some Detroit rappers and managers there for an open bar event, and you couldn’t have told us we weren’t Hollywood lite.

Downtown Detroit on an uptick? It seemed like it. Detroit hosted the Super Bowl in 2006, and everyone was amped to flex and show the sports world how we’d grown. As is the case in most Super Bowl host cities, empty spaces were quickly rented out, transformed into magical one-night-only party venues with the aid of corporate checkbooks. But daily conveniences were scarce.

Joy and I spent our weekends on Interstate 75, driving 22 miles north to a grocery store in Troy. The headlines back then were that the entire city of Detroit was a “food desert” with no major supermarket chains in the entire city. Joy and I lasted downtown a year. But now there’s a Whole Foods on Woodward, technically in midtown. It opened in 2013, a 21,000-square-foot location, and it’s apparently doing well.

Something Jay-Z rapped to the crowd on Saturday night resonated. See, Jay-Z is from the public housing projects of Brooklyn, New York, and knows about struggle, and about seeing your worn and torn neighborhood transformed into something greater than anyone could have imagined. All this happens as the black and brown people who kept that place alive aren’t able to benefit from the new richness: gentrification.

Paul’s Liquors next to Little Caesars Arena before the Pistons Game. The store has been there before the changes began downtown and is a stop for many of the regulars in downtown.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

There’s an area of Brooklyn called Dumbo, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. In his recent and Grammy-nominated “The Story of OJ,” he raps, I coulda bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo for like $2 million/ That same building today is worth $25 million/ Guess how I’m feeling? Dumbo.


Fans cheer after a goal is scored during the Red Wings game on Nov. 19 in Detroit.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

The next night, the crowd at Little Caesars Arena was different — as I expected. Twenty-four hours before, a hip-hop icon stood center stage and told a sold-out, mostly black audience that kneeling during the national anthem is an act of patriotism and not something for which athletes should be persecuted.

But on this night, there was a white crowd, a characterization that could very well be a stereotype of hockey fans. They were there to take in the Red Wings vs. the Colorado Avalanche. And it did seem like a lot of folks wondered why a lone black woman was roaming around, taking in Gordie Howe’s statue (one of three statues of Red Wings legends that were brought over from Joe Louis Arena, where the team played the season before).

A man stretches on the escalator during intermission at the Little Caesars Arena.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

As happy as I am for all of the new development in downtown Detroit, it comes at a cost — a feeling that hit me as I was sitting perched high in the press box looking down as the Zamboni smoothed the ice rink where Jay-Z’s elaborate stage had been the night before. Culturally, as well as geographically, things just feel so segregated.

On one side of the coin is a pristine new district, one that should be celebrated, as it’s taken exactly 50 years for Detroit to rise from the dust of the 1967 riots. On the other, much of this has come at the expense of long-standing businesses such as Henry the Hatter, which couldn’t afford the 200 percent rent increase and was forced to shut down.

Hallie Desmet, 21, and Megan Elwart, 24, hold each other during a Red Wings game at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. The two traveled from Marquette, Michigan, to see the team play for Hallie’s 21st birthday.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

“I’ve lived all of my life in Detroit,” said David Rudolph. He’s a small-business owner who played outside linebacker on Michigan State University’s 1988 Rose Bowl-winning team. “What I’m used to is a city that basically lacked a lot of things, so it is kind of special to now live in a city that looks like and starts to feel like other places across the country. Now we have a cross-section of different types of restaurants. We now have all of our sporting [goods] in the area; you don’t have to travel.”

The flip side is there, though. “It’s always been a black town,” he said. “I was born in a time when the legislative body was African-American. Now you’re starting to see people who are non-African-American come to the city. … Their presence is way more noticeable. Boutique businesses, small businesses, entrepreneurs coming from all over the place. There seems to be a spirit that is attracting these folks to the city, which is great. I remember those bad jokes of ‘Can the last person please turn off the lights?’ [But] I never left Detroit. I was really keeping a seat warm … keeping warm whatever was viable about this city through my presence and my business, which has been here for 23 years, through my tax dollars.”


The Detroit Pistons play the Cleveland Cavaliers at Little Caesars Arena.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

The next night at the arena, the Pistons game hosted its biggest crowd of the season. The Cavaliers were in the building, and seeing King James live, even if you’re a diehard Pistons fan, is a moment. Fans mill about the newness of the arena loading up on Detroit-famous coney dogs, burrito bowls and Little Caesars pizza.

Pistons fan at Little Caesars Arena.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

This night, it’s a diverse group of people, an aesthetic that looks like what some pockets of greater Detroit look like. At a Detroit NBA game, there’s no one culture defining the fan base of Detroit’s newest and shiniest sports arena. It just feels like everyone.

I took my dad with me to see the Pistons. He came to Detroit after he graduated from Alabama State University, and he’s told people he’s from Detroit since forever — he arrived in ’71. He and my mom still live in Oakland County, about 15 miles from downtown, and don’t have a real reason to head downtown with any regularity. Dad marveled at the jam-packed traffic that hit about a mile before we got to the parking structure. There was never traffic on a Monday night in this part of downtown, not that either of us could recall.

Piston fans at Little Caesars Arena on Nov. 20 in Detroit.

Ali Lapetina for The Undefeated

“It’s good, in terms of what’s happening,” said Rudolph. “Revitalization. There’s so many good things that I see. I only live seven minutes from downtown. I’ve found over the last couple of years is that I actually travel less out of the city to do a lot of things. Which is what we’ve always wanted. Not always to have to go to metro Detroit to eat. Everything was always outside [downtown]. I slept in Detroit, but I spent all of my time outside of Detroit. So now things have changed. It’s kind of fly. … We’re rediscovering our own city.”


There’s nothing like summertime in Detroit. Nothing.

The downtown festivals gave us life. At Hart Plaza, every weekend there was something different to do. The African World Festival was the spot to go to and stock up on shea butter, black soap and incense for the year. Each summer there were gospel festivals: Detroit staples such as The Clark Sisters, Fred Hammond and the Winans family would perform. And the Electronic Music Festival featured some of the best house music and Detroit-based ghetto-tech music you’ll ever treat your ears to. There was one festival that was noticeably different: the downtown Hoedown, which was the country music festival that would take over Detroit’s downtown streets. It was the one weekend where you would see white people out on, say, Larned Street.

“You’re starting to see people who are non-African-American come to the city. There seems to be a spirit that is attracting these folks to the city, which is great. I remember those bad jokes: ‘Can the last person please turn off the lights?’ But I never left Detroit.” — David Rudolph

To be at Hoedown, metro Detroit white folks had to engage with the city. They probably felt it was “an armpit.” Homeless folks, with few exceptions, were black. In our minds, they gazed without context at the burned-out buildings and gutted areas — a painful reminder of what racism did to this city 50 years ago during the 1967 Detroit riots.

But today, downtown Detroit is filled with a sea of white folks. I barely counted anyone who looked like me as I dined two days in a row at The Townhouse for brunch. The second day, I took Jemele Hill with me and we sat in an atrium where a DJ played and where of all the patrons, there were four black folks — including us. This is the new Detroit.

On the Pistons team is former NBA player (and native Detroiter) Earl Cureton as Community Ambassador, a role he’s held since 2013. He’s helping the team embed in all kinds of Detroit’s neighborhoods.

Cureton, who played forward-center at Finney High School on Detroit’s east side back in the early ’70s, is charged with connecting the franchise to real Detroit. Cureton grew up in the infamous Mack and Bewick area.

“Tom Gores’ plan was [get] the team to be impactful for the city, not only to entertain basketballwise,” Cureton said at halftime of the Cavaliers game. “We made an attempt at doing that, out at the Palace of Auburn Hills, but now that we’re back — which makes me so happy — we have the opportunity to connect, [and] not just to the downtown area but to areas away from downtown that desperately need it.

“And by the players being right here, it gives them the opportunity to mingle and mix with the kids. The kids get a closer relationship, seeing them, just like I did when I was a kid.”

It’s all different, though. Soon, once the Pistons’ practice facilities are completed, many of those players will take a look at the plush residential lofts popping up on downtown Detroit’s landscape, and at some of the restored historic neighborhoods located not too far from where they punch in. There’s a side that says the white people are here, and so goodbye, poor people. And there’s a side that says wealth is needed to help ease inequality. The way forward likely is someplace in between.

Folks wanted the best for this city. So many black folks stuck around, through the riot, and then the recessions, in hopes of seeing this city rise again. It’s rising again now, and their place in it is uncertain. But it feels like some moves are being made, so that new Detroit is still theirs. Maybe, as the sign flashes when you’re on the escalator at Detroit Metro Airport, my hometown can be America’s Greatest Comeback City. Maybe it can be true for everyone. It’s time.