South African choreographer reinterprets ‘Giselle’ as a vehicle for female rage Dada Masilo’s ballet recalls Angela Bassett’s famous torching-the-Beemer scene in ‘Waiting to Exhale’

It’s the most recognizable scene from Waiting to Exhale: Angela Bassett, playing the wronged first wife Bernadine, decides to get herself some good old-fashioned revenge.

Upon learning that her husband is leaving her for his white assistant, Bernadine, clad in a white dressing gown and black negligee, gathers her husband’s collection of expensive executive wear and stuffs it through the doors, windows and sunroof of his BMW. Once the walk-in closet is bare, Bernadine douses the Beemer with lighter fluid. She sets fire to the car and watches the flames for a beat before lighting a cigarette.

Bernadine turns to walk back into her house and casually tosses the cigarette over her shoulder into the burning car without looking back. The entire emotional thrill ride is distilled into the flick of one cigarette: He had it coming. Which is why, more than 20 years after the movie was released, the scene lives on as internet shorthand for scorched-earth female rage.

South African dancer and choreographer Dada Masilo, 33, has brought the spirit of Bernadine to the ballet, and, boy, is she cold-blooded.

On Tuesday night, Masilo’s company, the Dance Factory, opened her reimagining of the classic romance Giselle at The Joyce Theater in New York. The show runs through April 8 before continuing at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Los Angeles (April 12-14) and the Quick Center in Fairfield, Connecticut (April 18). All of the dancers are black, and Masilo has choreographed a Giselle that’s a mix of ballet, modern dance and traditional South African dance.

He had it coming.

Albrecht is assaulted by the Wilis in an earlier production of “Giselle” staged in Johannesburg.

John Hogg

For this whole Giselle-inhabits-the-spirit-of-Bernadine metaphor to make sense, you should know something about this ballet. A two-act French ballet from 1841, the work takes its name from its tragic title character. Giselle (danced by Masilo) is a peasant girl who catches the eye of a nobleman named Albrecht. Albrecht is already engaged to a noblewoman named Bathilde, but he can’t help himself. He wants Giselle, and he poses as a peasant to woo her. She falls madly in love with him. Another peasant, Hilarion, who’s also in love with Giselle, recognizes Albrecht’s deception. But she only has eyes for Albrecht.

Soon enough, Albrecht’s true identity is revealed and he runs back to his noblewoman. Giselle dies of a broken heart.

In Act 2, both Hilarion and Albrecht visit Giselle’s grave. This is a terrible idea, thanks to a group of angry undead spirit ladies, called the Wilis, all of whom have been betrayed in some way by their lovers. They’re sort of like graveyard Sirens: If you’re a man, you don’t really want to cross them, and if you do, they’ll force you to dance until you die.

Hilarion is forced to dance to death. But Albrecht enjoys a different fate. The Wilis want Albrecht too, but thanks to the grace, love and forgiveness of Giselle, he is spared. The Wilis force Albrecht to dance until sunrise, but he lives. Albrecht gets to run back to his fiancée and remain rich. Giselle’s spirit gets to rest.

*Cue record scratch*

Masilo has remixed the second act of Giselle to allow her title character to tap her inner Bernadine. This is Masilo’s thing. Before Giselle, she was famous for deconstructing another classical ballet. In her version of Swan Lake, not only are the dancers black, but she makes the prince gay and everyone wears tutus, including the male characters.

Masilo makes radical changes, yes, but she’s not an agent of cheap provocation. She reconstructs the classics and infuses them with modern bodies and modern politics. Her Giselle is set in a South African village, and she sets it off with nods to South African culture. South African composer Philip Miller adds African rhythms and sounds to Adolphe Adam’s original score. Myrtha, queen of the Wilis (Llewellyn Mnguni), wields a traditional grass broom that resembles a cat-o’-nine-tails. When Bathilde (Liyabuya Gongo) leaves her high heels behind after a harvest party, Giselle’s mother (Khaya Ndlovu), who’s a drunk, decides to take them. She can’t fit in them but figures she can sell them and get some cash to get “lit.”

Masilo imagined the Wilis as a coven of wronged individuals led by the sadistic Myrtha. And just like she did with her gender-bent Swan Lake, Masilo complicates things further with the addition of two male Wilis. The inclusion of male Wilis prompts questions: Are they men who have come to see things the way the women do? Are they nonbinary? Have they experienced similar romantic betrayal? Regardless, they are just as enthusiastic about forcing Hilarion (Tshepo Zasekhaya) and Albrecht (Xola Willie) to dance to their deaths.

Myrtha persuades the heartbroken Giselle to see things her way, like a dungeon mistress tutoring a newly converted follower. And when Giselle allows herself to be angry with Albrecht, Myrtha gives her a whip to exact her revenge.

In an earlier production in Johannesburg, Albrecht is the sole character played by a white dancer, which adds another layer of revelation. I wish they’d kept Albrecht white for the current production, but Masilo’s Giselle works perfectly well focusing on gender politics and the power of untapped feminine rage. There are plenty of dastardly men of all races.

Masilo waits until the very end before she rewards us with her Bernadine moment. The Wilis exit one by one, walking into the heavenly light that beckons from stage right, until only Giselle is left with the crumpled, lifeless Albrecht. She walks across the stage to him and steps, rather unceremoniously, over Albrecht’s corpse and into the fading light.

He had it coming.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness. But Masilo’s Giselle doesn’t need her love for Albrecht to serve as her guiding light. Choosing herself will suffice.

‘Black Panther’ dominance: ‘A movie can’t get to $1 billion globally without tapping into some universal truths’ The superhero epic bests even ‘The Dark Night’

 

As of today, Marvel’s Black Panther has crossed the billion dollar box office mark globally. The film is the sixteenth Disney Studio film to reach this milestone — and it did so in less than a month — and it’s only the fifth Marvel film to achieve this accolade. Other films that have earned this amount include The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 3, and Captain America: Civil War. Black Panther continues to impress financially, as it also is now the No. 9 release of all time and after this weekend, it will be the No. 2 superhero release of all time, besting The Dark Knight, which earned $535 million domestically. Black Panther has already claimed the No. 1 February debut, among other achievements, and it’s one of only 4 films to surpass $100M mark in second weekend.

“This is the first time that a movie has opened in February and made $1 billion globally,” says Phil Contrino, the Director of Media & Research for the National Association of Theatre Owners. “The notion that moviegoers will only come out in droves during the summer and the holiday season is now officially dead. Compelling content will play well at any point in the year.” Overseas, Black Panther will shoot past the $500M mark this weekend, after its Friday opening in China – the last market for the film to open in — where it grabbed a first day estimate of $22M. That the film has been able to excel — and breakdown long-held theories that films with largely black casts don’t sell in overseas markets — is remarkable.

“A movie can’t get to $1 billion globally without tapping into some universal truths. Black Panther’s emphasis on the importance of family and identity helped it transcend race, and that’s why it’s had no problem playing so well around the world,” Contrino says. “Audiences are sending a clear message that they want to see more diversity on the big screen. I really hope that five years from now we can look back at Black Panther as the moment that permanent change began.”

Mia Wright has big plans as president of the National Basketball Wives Association ‘It is hugely important for those of us that have the resources to set the example’

“Managing our husbands’ brands is one thing that binds us together.”

So said Mia Wright as she welcomed hundreds of guests to the recent National Basketball Wives Association (NBWA) Women’s Empowerment Summit.

Attendees learned about the organization’s new vision and listened to a panel moderated by CBS anchor Gayle King that included Ayesha Curry, Cookie Johnson, Jada Paul, Elaine Baylor, Tracy Mourning and Adrienne Bosh. There was even a surprise visit by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters.

From left to right: Cookie Johnson, Ayesha Curry, Gayle King, Jada Paul, Mia Wright, Elaine Baylor, Adrienne Bosh and Tracy Wilson Mourning.

Kelley D. Evans/The Undefeated

“The purpose of the event is the coming out of the National Basketball Wives Association, and letting the public know and having the support of our NBA family to say, ‘Hey, we’re here, we have a mission, come join us,’ ” Wright said. “We’re not only here to break down stereotypes of women that are married to professional athletes, but we’re also here to show the importance of mentorship.”

Established in 1993, the organization was initially known as Women of the NBA, which later was changed to Behind the Bench, The National Basketball Wives Association. The nonprofit’s members include wives, significant others and life partners of current and retired players representing the American Basketball Association (ABA), the NBA, the NBA G League (minor league) and the Harlem Globetrotters.

Now the NBWA is entering the next stage of its evolution.

“I saw, along with my executive board members, that there was this need to regroup and to build the new entity that would be well representative of these women,” said Wright, who is the wife of NBA veteran Dorell Wright.

The current executive officers include Wright, vice president Tomi Rose Strickland (wife of Mark Strickland), secretary Renee Taplin-Jones (wife of Major Jones) and treasurer Donna M. Harris-Lewis (widow of Reggie Lewis).

“I found an opportunity to step into a leadership role with this organization and lead the charge on our membership and galvanizing women of influence to come together for our charitable mission,” Wright said. “I chose to take the position because I know that, being associated with professional athletes, there is a stage and this platform that comes along with that. And now more than ever in this era of social media, there’s millions of young girls that are looking up to us whether we like it or not. So … bringing women together for a charitable mission to raise awareness for underserved families and children, that’s really what it’s about.”

A Los Angeles native, Wright considers herself a “showbiz kid.” She appeared in her first commercial at 2 years old. She later became a member of the girl trio Before Dark, a rhythm and blues group signed to RCA Records.

Wright and her husband had a son, Devin, in 2008. Two years later, she became executive director of the couple’s first nonprofit organization, the D Wright Way Foundation, now known as the Wright Legacy Foundation (which includes Dorell Wright’s brother, Toronto Raptors guard Delon Wright). The organization helped inner-city communities in Miami; Oakland, California; Philadelphia; Portland, Oregon; and their hometown of Los Angeles. The two held events such as the Thanksgiving Festival, Adopt-A-Family at Christmas and KB3 Memorial Scholarship Fund. They also launched menswear line Scrapes & Gravel in February 2014, where she is CEO.

The Wrights welcomed their second son, Dash, in 2015, and Mia still finds herself balancing family, philanthropy and the many positions she holds.

“It is difficult because I think from the outside looking in, it looks like, ‘Oh, this is a fabulous life, you guys get to do this and that and fly here and there.’ But when you take on that spirit of entrepreneurship … it comes with a lot of responsibility,” Wright said.

“Being able to set the tone for future generations is critically important, especially now,” she added. “I think that it is hugely important for those of us that have the resources to set the example, and so that is what my balance comes from. It comes from purpose in knowing that the work that I’m doing is so much bigger than me, it’s bigger than my kids, it’s bigger than my husband. It’s literally we’re setting the tone for future generations and communities to survive and thrive.”

Wright says it’s important to have an identity as more than a basketball wife. She recalls being new to Miami at age 22 and meeting Tracy Wilson Mourning, wife of Alonzo Mourning.

“I remembered just seeing her and knowing that she had her own identity and all that she did in the community, and I said to myself, ‘I want to be like her. This is who I want to pattern my new life after.’ And it sounds a little crazy, but I think that is where the importance of mentorship comes in, because she embraced me. We were never super close, but we’ve maintained a relationship throughout the years, and her example from afar is one of the main inspirations that I had to use my husband’s platform, to create our foundations and to ensure that even though he wasn’t the franchise player, we had our footprints in those communities that he played in.”

Wright said the hardest part of her journey has been to remove fear from her spirit.

“When I say fear, that’s fear of judgment, that’s fear of failure, that’s fear in totality. Especially being in the public eye, being susceptible to the millions of opinions that you didn’t ask for, that can be quite difficult. So, yeah, that would be the most difficult thing. Kicking fear in the butt and getting it out of here.”

Here’s what’s on Ayesha Curry’s list of things she cares deeply about The mother, wife and self-made businesswoman is passionate about women’s empowerment and so much more

LOS ANGELES — Ayesha Curry loves bringing family together and creating memories. She’s a “family-first” woman who has created her own empire while balancing a family.

“I balance it all by realizing there is no such thing as balance,” Curry told The Undefeated.

But her passion often stretches far beyond her own household. She is passionate about sisterhood, forming lasting bonds and empowering women, families and children to live their best lives.

She recently shared her thoughts on encouraging women at the first National Basketball Wives Association (NBWA) Women’s Empowerment Summit as a panelist. The panel was moderated by CBS co-anchor Gayle King, and Curry joined Cookie Johnson, Jada Paul, Elaine Baylor, Tracy Mourning and Adrienne Bosh.

Born in Canada and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, Curry maintains her own identity while setting an example for her two daughters, Riley and Ryan. She is an author, restaurant owner and Food Network personality. She’s also a CoverGirl with her own cookware collection.

Married to Golden State Warriors star and two-time NBA champion Stephen Curry, Ayesha wants her daughters and young girls to see themselves in her work. According to her website, the “Ayesha Curry Kitchenware Collection continues Curry’s commitment to infusing her passion for food and family with personality and ease,” which can translate into her life as a role model.

After her panel, Curry sat down with The Undefeated and discussed the NBWA, women’s empowerment and family.


To what do you attribute the resurgence of the National Basketball Wives Association?

I attribute that to new people coming in, kind of the new wave of women, and kind of revamping it a little … because it too had stigmas attached, and now one of my personal best friends, Mia [Wright], is the president and she’s completely revamped the NBWA and it’s backed by the NBA now, and it’s an official 501(c)(3). To have that charitable aspect behind all of this makes it so worthwhile. It really makes it a sisterhood, so it’s kinda cool.

What would you like to see more of within the organization?

I think I’d like to see us coming together more, and to really listen to the women that are involved, going through each person, seeing what it is that they hope to change within their communities and trying to come together and help everyone with each of their causes.

You all have really seemed to create a sisterhood within the organization. Do you communicate about it, or is it just something that comes naturally?

I think it just happens, and from the outside looking in it probably looks like there’s cliques, but there’s not. Everybody is kind of reliant and dependent upon one another, and I think it’s a beautiful thing. We’re all there for each other; we all kind of go through the same things. So it’s nice to have sort of an official community for that.

How did it feel being on the panel with Cookie Johnson, Elaine Baylor and Tracy Mourning?

It’s really cool. You know, it’s nice just to listen to the people who came before you and hear what they have to say so that you can take any life lessons that they have to give, learn from their faults and take what they did right and do it on your own terms, and so I think that was really special. And they’re always there. One thing that a lot of people don’t know is that they’re always there as a resource. Nobody’s stuffy or uptight. Everybody’s always there as a resource and is more than willing to talk to you and give you guidance if you want it, and so I think that’s really special.

What would you tell a new wife just coming into the organization?

I would tell her to do her own thing and not believe the hype. There’s a lot of stigma, and what I have to say is that everybody’s different. You can’t put these men in a category; I don’t think that’s right. Just the same way we don’t want to be put in a category, they don’t want to either, and so it’s just remembering that everybody within the organization and within our realm of things is an individual person. And so to take your relationship and make it your relationship, and nobody else’s, and focus on that.

What do you have coming up next for you?

Well, I’m pregnant, so that is my main focus right now, just trying not to be sick every single day. But I have my home collection out, that’s available at retailers nationwide, and so it’s just expanding that brand. And I think for me, personally, it’s been really cool. It was daunting when it was first brought to me. I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to do because it’s a big task; my name is on the box, it’s there. Walking down the aisles of these stores, you only see one type of person and one thing. And so I said, even for my daughters — they’re 5 and 2 — when they grow up I want them to be able to walk down the aisle and say, ‘Oh, that girl looks like me.’ And so it’s been cool to kind of take over the kitchen space and have my collection on shelves in stores. I feel it’s been a great experience.

Family Feud?

Family Feud! We had so much fun. I’m not allowed to talk about the outcome. But it was so much fun.

What will you tell your children about social consciousness and female empowerment?

It’s one of those things where right now is such a sucky time. But at the same time, it’s a great time because we’re the ones that are making the shift and making the change. But it’s really hard, and so I hope that when they get to my age, that they don’t have to worry about these things. But the sad truth of the matter is, in one way or another, they probably will. I just want to make sure that I’m instilling that woman empowerment in them and letting them know that they’re no less than anybody else, and that they can do whatever the heck it is that they want to do, and do it with dignity and honor, and to the best of their abilities, but to make sure that everything they’re doing, they’re passionate about.

I just think with the social climate now, God knows what the social climate is going to be like when they’re older. I think about when I was 12 years old, these social media sites and stuff didn’t exist. I mean, cellphones barely existed, and so to think when they get to my age, what’s going to be around and available and accessible to them? It’s kind of crazy. I can do the best I can do right now and then see what happens in the future.

Finally, Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta’ is back The FX show’s L.A. premiere brought out the entire cast and celebrity fans

After making fans wait a wee bit longer for a new season of one of the hottest new shows, Donald Glover’s excellent Atlanta finally returns next month — and sports will play a major role.

The creator and star of FX’s hot show about a Princeton-educated dropout trying to boost his cousin’s would-be local rap career had to postpone the series’ return because Glover is also starring in the soon-coming hotly-anticipated Han Solo Star Wars prequel. But finally, he and his cast and crew were celebrated Monday night at the show’s Los Angeles’ premiere at the Ace Theater downtown.

And the latest installment of the Golden Globe-winning series — according to the robust applause and cheers from the celebrity-filled premiere — was for sure worth the wait.

“We kind of looked at it like a mixtape,” Donald Glover told The Undefeated before the event began. “You come up with a first good mixtape and people say you have your whole life to write a good album, and then the second one you got eight months! But you can’t think about it in those terms.”

Indie film star Lakeith Stanfield — who also as the comic-relief truth-teller Darius, was one of show’s biggest breakout characters last season — flew in directly from Germany, where he’s filming a new movie. Because he was wearing a black ski mask and a bedazzled black jacket, initially no one knew it was him as he walked the blue carpet.

“There were a lot of new challenges,” Stansfeld said, mask still on. “I think we were less concerned about the eyeballs watching and more with the material that was departing from what we had done before it was stepping into new terrain. It was a lot scary, a little bit.”

The event was peppered with famous folks such as Oscar-nominated director John Singleton, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown and Emmy winner Lena Waithe. They were part of a stream of celebrity and accomplished faces giving the cast kudos after seeing the first two episodes of the new season.

This new season is a bit of a sharp turn from the show’s inaugural season so far, vastly different from what the first season gave us.

“A lot more exploration of darker themes,” said co-star Zazie Beetz, who portrays Glover’s ex-girlfriend Van. “We explore death and major transitions within all of the characters — each character sort of has a bent. Within that, there’s still humor and comedy, but I think this season in general has a much more somber feel.”

The show’s break gave her the chance to come back to the table with a bit more confidence to help take Van to new terrain.

“I felt so happy to go back and at ease. The first season I was kind of a wreck. I was such a bundle of nerves and I felt so much pressure. For me at the time, it was the biggest thing I had done and I just wanted to do a good job and I was very, very nervous. And coming back, because we had established our characters, I felt much more room to play and improvise. I was like, ‘I’m going to have a good time.‘ And I did.”

The time off — in some ways — is reflected in the new season. This new season is called Robbin’ Season, and we’ll see that theme explored throughout this new offering.

“I think us having that time off was really important. We got to watch the world change and shift underneath us without our permission most times. I think it was great to go back at the time we went back because I feel like this year all of us feel like we’ve been robbed,” said show’s co-star Brian Tyree Henry, who portrays local rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles. “Things have lost value that we thought was valuable. Having that time off coming back when we did was absolutely what we needed. Sometimes you need a moment to really take it in. [The show is] very different. Our lives are in the same area, but it’s not in the same area. It’s become a dangerous place to have these relationships and be in the area we are. There’s an exposure that’s happened. There was a nervousness about ‘Where is Alfred? Will I know who Alfred is anymore?’ But that’s life. We don’t know who we are on a given day either. It was nice to figure that out with them. But it was good to do that together. Nobody was out there left astray on their own.”

The real trepidation comes from how the show’s loyal audience will take to the shift in direction (“My brother was like, we’re the ones who are our worst critics. We shouldn’t be sitting here trying to outdo the audience,” Glover said of his brother Stephen, the show’s head story editor and a writer on the series. “We should be trying to outdo ourselves. It’s really up to us. We put the boundaries on us. We tell ourselves what’s good and what we think is cool will translate. And if it didn’t, we did what we were supposed to do.”)

One thing that will develop in this new season is a sports theme — but how it comes about is shrouded in secrecy. It’d give too much away to talk about it, both Glover brothers insist. (Though Donald Glover hints that Serena Williams is referenced somehow in this new season.)

“Atlanta rappers and ballplayers — they call it Black Hollywood. Just being in the South in general, sports is a big part of black culture and Southern culture and identity,” Stephen Glover said. “You can’t really tell the story of Atlanta without talking a little bit about the ballplayers.”

And as for the time off? It’s only made the show that much better, Stephen Glover added.

“It was good that we had some extra time. I think there’s always the thing of topping yourself for next time. There was definitely the thought of we gotta come back and do better. People liked this first season, let’s try to top that,” he said. “But at the same time, we didn’t want to chase anything and try to get the easy win. We just approached it one day at a time and luckily we had some time on our side to help with that.”

Choreographer Camille A. Brown is free to nae nae and bop and juba around the country Her new work ‘ink’ explores the grace and democracy of African-American social dance

Alvin Ailey used to say that “dance is for everybody.”

Camille A. Brown, the tiny choreographer with big ideas, may be the living embodiment of that legacy. She’s the latest choreographer to marry social dance with concert dance, creating something that’s both sophisticated and familiar, evocative and unmistakably black.

You may know Brown’s work from a video that went viral and was turned into a TED explainer:

She’s an accomplished storyteller who began her career with Ronald K. Brown’s EVIDENCE company and danced for two years with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She did the choreography for the Broadway revival of Once on the Island. And she’s something of a dance evangelist, not just choreographing and performing but often staying for audience Q&A’s postperformance. She wants to make dance accessible.

Brown is now touring her newest work, ink, which she debuted in December at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. It’s the final chapter of a trilogy that began with Mr. TOL E. RAncE (2012), followed by Black Girl: Linguistic Play (2015). All three examine black identity, stereotypes and authenticity. Her company performed ink at the University of Iowa last week, moved to Alexander Kasser Theater in Montclair, New Jersey, this weekend and will take the work to St. Paul, Minnesota, in late March.


Brown, 38, grew up dancing in Queens, New York. From the time she was 3, she’d watch Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson videos. Her mother noticed that she was preternaturally good at recreating the Jacksons’ complex choreography and enrolled her in dance classes. Brown loved it. She had a knack for learning dances quickly under Carolyn DeVore. And then puberty — or, rather, the way the adults around her reacted to the changes in her body — momentarily wrecked everything.

“When I got to high school and college, all of the sudden I became aware of what the ideal body was, and I quickly learned that I was not the ideal person,” Brown said during an interview in Washington. “I had a butt. … When you think of a dancer, you think of someone that’s petite, and I just wasn’t that … so people would say, ‘Oh, you’re not going to fit the costume. Oh, you need to lose weight.’ ”

Brown began dieting when she was 16, and by the time she started studying dance in college at North Carolina School for the Arts, she’d become accustomed to getting sent to the school nutritionist. It was like being called to the principal’s office, but for food. She’s since shed 15-20 pounds, but that time and the way she felt about her body had a lasting impact.

“I had teachers that really saw my ability and really helped nurture that, and then I had teachers that just didn’t look at me, or just was like, ‘Oh, she’s not going to be a dancer.’ I just really had a struggle with that,” Brown said. “Me being a dancer, it was something that I wanted to achieve, but I didn’t necessarily think that I would be able to achieve it based on the things that I had been hearing about who I was.”

“I had a butt. … When you think of a dancer, you think of someone that’s petite, and I just wasn’t that.”

So after receiving her bachelor of fine arts degree from NCSA, Brown joined a dance company where it didn’t matter that she had a butt, or a chest size larger than an A cup: Ronald K. Brown’s Brooklyn-based EVIDENCE.

“Body image was one of the reasons why I got into choreography, because I don’t know if I was always considered the best or had the perfect body image,” Brown said. “Would I be a choreographer now? I don’t know. I just know how I got here.”

Ink incorporates dancers of various shapes and sizes, using African, modern, hip-hop and social dance to explore black identity and day-to-day life. Brown’s movements explode from her petite, muscled frame (she’s maybe 5 feet tall) to fill the stage. Another dancer in the company, Kendra Dennard, holds your attention as a long, lithe, seductive flirt. There are bald heads and locs, juicy booties and small ones. Brown’s dancers run the gamut.

Brown takes movements that are familiar — the way a black woman might pat her hair as if to say, “I’m feeling myself,” or the act of scrubbing a floor — and folds them into stories about romance and friendship. In ink, Brown is a consummate observer of male body language. Her dancers capture the hesitation that comes with meeting someone for the first time, the way men can outwardly show off and exaggerate themselves while concealing vulnerability and sensitivity. And Brown reveals what it’s like in the intimate, comfortable moments when that mask is dropped.

In a section of the performance called Balance, about the courtship between a man and a woman, Brown said she wanted to use the scene to “debunk patriarchy.” And so the audience sees the male partner following a woman’s lead. The relationship moves at her speed, not his.

“It’s not the romance that we might see in the movies, but it’s romance in the sense that I know what romance is,” Brown said. “I mean, it’s coming from what I see or what I’ve experienced, so in that way it’s what I know love to be.”

What comes through in Brown’s work is a philosophy that social dance is just as significant as its classical cousin, ballet, and that incorporating it on stages like those of the Kennedy Center doesn’t cheapen the work of George Balanchine, whose outsize influence on what’s considered the “ideal” dancer body type continues to loom large. It’s simply a different form of communicating, drawing on another set of traditions and skills, the same way choreographers like Ailey or Twyla Tharp or Katherine Dunham created their own styles too. What’s more, using a variety of bodies to communicate those traditions doesn’t cheapen anything either.

“If you go all the way back to when I was a kid, I’m [told], ‘You’re not the ideal dancer.’ To go from that to actually being at the Kennedy Center under my own name? It’s something that I would have never dreamed of, ever,” Brown said. “It’s really a powerful time, and especially because we’re doing work that is not, by some people, seen as valuable. We live in a very Eurocentric dance world, where ballet or contemporary is seen as the elite movement, and so I’m not doing that. I’m doing modern, and hip-hop, and tap, and African, and social dance. To have this kind of platform, knowing that other people, whoever those other people are, don’t view this as real dance, is tremendous.”

For Brown, a Kennedy Center debut wasn’t just a platform; it was a springboard. She is now free to nae nae and bop and juba around the country, and even the globe.

On this day in black history: Ida B. Wells gets a stamp, MLK arrested in Selma, and more Black History Month: The Undefeated edition Feb. 1

Thursday marks the beginning of Black History Month. For the next 28 days (and beyond), we will provide a daily dose of inspirational stories and videos to help explain the complex history of the black experience and black identity in America.

Historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, and 11 years later the organization created Negro History Week, which originally occurred the second week in February. During the 1960s, it was expanded into a month on many college campuses, and in 1976, President Gerald R. Ford designated February as Black History Month.

Below are a few notable things that have taken place on Feb. 1.


1865 – First African-American admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.

John Swett Rock was an American teacher, doctor, dentist, lawyer and abolitionist and one of the first African-American men to earn a medical degree. He was the first African-American to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

1865 – Ratification of the 13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery, was adopted by the 38th Congress. Ratification was completed on Dec. 6, 1865.

1960 – Sit-in movement in Greensboro, North Carolina

Four students from North Carolina A&T College started a sit-in movement in Greensboro, North Carolina. By Feb. 10, the movement had spread to 15 cities in five Southern states.

1965 – Selma demonstration ends in 700 arrests

More than 700 demonstrators, including Martin Luther King Jr., are arrested in Selma, Alabama.

1978 – The first Black Heritage USA Series stamp is issued

The first stamp of the U.S. Postal Service’s Black Heritage USA series honors Harriet Tubman, famed abolitionist and “conductor” on the Underground Railroad.

1990 – U.S. Postal Service celebrated Ida B. Wells as part of the Black Heritage Series

The commemorative 25-cent stamp, the 13th entry in the series, was released at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

1997 – First 24-hour black movie channel, BET/Starz, was launched

BET Holdings and Encore Media Corp. launched BET/Starz, the first 24-hour black movie channel.

Cam Newton confounds both his fans and his haters — but he’s not so different from the rest of us Award-winning essayist and poet Claudia Rankine explores the Panthers quarterback his brilliance, sullenness, fragility and resilience

Cam Newton is an incredibly talented human being who has a job white Americans see as a white man’s job, and apparently this is vexing to America. Cam Newton is sometimes reduced to his athleticism, as in “an athletic quarterback,” aka black, which is predictably comforting to America. Cam Newton wears a Superman T-shirt under his jersey, which is a wink to America. Cam Newton likes flashy clothes like NFL legend Joe Namath, which is scandalous to America. Cam Newton is arrogant, and that is outrageous and an oxymoron to America. Cam Newton has a shoe contract with Under Armour, whose CEO, Kevin Plank, once supported racist Donald Trump, and this is commonplace in America. Cam Newton has a son named Chosen and a daughter named Sovereign-Dior, which seems like freedom to America. Cam Newton is a typical male human holding misogynistic beliefs who says sexist things like “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” and this reveals something about him but not something about America? Cam Newton believes winning is everything, and that is reassuring to America. Cam Newton celebrates winning by dancing on the field, and that is distasteful to America. But mostly, Cam Newton is a young man growing up in the American public while being extraordinary and ordinary and disappointing and magnificent and resilient all at once. Cam Newton is no Colin Kaepernick, which means he still has a job, America.


The genius of Cam Newton’s father was not to shut down his son’s need for expression and attention but to compartmentalize it. When Cam wanted to be noticed, his father told him to dress up on Fridays. The message communicated was to play the game so you can do what you want one day a week. After his rise to quarterback fame for the Carolina Panthers, people took offense to his celebratory dances; Newton was advised to instead give the ball to a child when he was done. The implication was that he should play on American sentimentality around childhood innocence and all would be fine. Share the moment with the children and you will be able to have your moment, because the win, Cam Newton, was never about you. You are a means to an end that does not include you. Newton incorporated the advice into his celebratory routine.

And yet the one place Newton appears to be the least edited is in his body. Among his gifts is the ability to inhabit his emotions fully. Whether walking out of a news conference to sulk privately after a major loss or when celebrating exuberantly, Cam Newton is simply being himself. And that self is not defined by the scripts that are created in a country governed by anti-black racism: He is not a criminal, though he did steal a laptop in college; nor is he overtly political, though he did once raise his fist in the symbol of black power; nor is he an Uncle Tom, though he does understand how easily he could lose what he has earned, and he recently went on the record defending Panthers owner Jerry Richardson after racism and sexual assault allegations: “When you hear a report about Mr. Richardson, a person that we all, as an organization, have so much respect for and the people who did come out saying certain things about racial slurs, sexual assault … it’s still allegations.”

We Americans have difficulty facing our realities, and when confronted with someone who understands the precariousness of his status due to his identity as a black man, Americans interpret their difficulty with him to be solely his failure. Newton’s latest failure is his continued support of Richardson, which makes me wonder whether he understands that his talent is separate from Richardson.

Newton belongs to a league in which one owner, Houston’s Robert McNair, said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” If Newton understands he is being objectified, he has his own agenda within that understanding. Like Michael Jordan, Newton is a company man. He has come to work and to be paid. But Newton’s stance is messier and more flamboyant than Jordan’s. I can’t remember Jordan making untoward statements or dressing that differently from those we might encounter in corporate America.

Though Newton doesn’t overtly protest against company rules, he also refuses to conform entirely to the unspoken rules for the black professional in his dress and occasionally in his actions. In the run of protests that began with Kaepernick taking the knee and then grew into an NFL-wide confusion over whether the protests were against Trump, white supremacy, police violence against blacks, or the owners’ racist statements, Newton raised a fist in honor of black pride but in protest of nothing apparently. He told reporters: “I did it to show black pride because I am an African-American. But more or less, I want all people just to see when I play, I want them to see the joy that I go out there and play with.”

Cam Newton is a human being, and apparently this is troubling to America.

If the silent and beloved GOAT, Jordan, is on one end of the protest spectrum and the outspoken and beloved LeBron James, Serena Williams and Kaepernick are on the other end, then Newton lives between these legends with an eye on his owners: “For the two hours, three hours, whatever a time that a sporting event is on or your team is playing … people from different shapes, colors, creeds, ethnicities and cultures come together. At that moment, they’re rooting for the same thing. I feel as if we all stick together, if we all come together and listen, hear, speak, we can better help the situation,” Newton once said. “We get nowhere divided.” Despite all that has transpired in the U.S. since President Obama’s statement “There are no red states or blue states, just the United States,” Newton still lives by Obama’s edict.

In fact, all of us who are not on the streets protesting but doing our jobs and collecting our pay and health insurance and retirement are in Newton’s lane. The political and corporate structures that govern our lives know how to punish protesters, with “free agent” status, but this other way of being, this pragmatic if flamboyant way of being, where one tries not to bite the hand that feeds, this lane that Newton exemplifies, confounds owners, players and fans alike—even as we remain complicit with his positioning. Most of us sit behind our desks, doing what we do, trying to get paid, while all manner of shit goes down around us. Every single day, with troubling tweets coming out of the Oval Office, should be the day we as Americans risk something for the greater good of our democracy, but the traffic of our lives continues uninterrupted by those taking to the streets in protest of this administration. We didn’t sign up to be activists. And neither did some of the athletes who get paid millions to entertain us.

It is difficult to fault Newton for wanting to hold on to who he is, which includes what he has. Newton’s swagger suggests an independence and freedom we see unleashed on the field, but only on the field. All his millions come at the expense of not pointing out the racism and misogyny that exist inside the culture of his sport and the structure of our country. That’s the price of the ticket. Cam Newton can be Cam Newton as long as he throws touchdowns and keeps winning.

Last year’s encounter with sports writer Jourdan Rodrigue made all the headlines. Newton seemed genuinely surprised that Rodrigue came to a news conference prepared with the correct football terminology: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes. Like, it’s funny.” His sexism was apparent. It lives alongside Rodrigue’s own blatant racism (see the reports about her Twitter account). In listening to Newton’s subsequent apology, the part that stands out is the one that points to the lesson he has learned:

“The fact that during this whole process I’ve already lost sponsors and countless fans,” Newton said, “I realize that the joke is really on me.” If we imagine that the security of black stars’ economic status means they can risk disrupting or displeasing the American public, think again. Though he ends his apology with the statement “Don’t be like me. Be better than me,” which is in direct conversation with Jordan’s Gatorade ad “Be Like Mike,” Cam Newton is basically just like us, America.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!

Drake’s strategic silence and the task of a triumphant return The Toronto superstar appears to have recused himself from Grammys — but he’s still at Grammys

A Toronto to New York flight usually takes less than an hour. But don’t expect Drake to stand in line at customs to be in New York this weekend as the Grammys return to Manhattan for the first time in 15 years. For the first time since 2008 — the year before his genre-bending third mixtape, So Far Gone, altered hip-hop’s sound, structure and release pattern — Drake will not be an official part of Grammy festivities. In recent times, music’s biggest night and one of music’s biggest names haven’t exactly seen eye to eye.

Drake’s 2017 More Life was not submitted for 2018 Grammy consideration. According to Billboard’s anonymous source “close to the nomination process,” the decision was Drake’s.

The 35-time nominee has won (only) three times. Drake captured the last two for the huge sales/radio/video/streaming smash “Hotline Bling” and later took to his OVO Sound show on Apple’s Beats 1 to voice frustration. “Even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song, the only category they can manage to fit me in is a rap category. Maybe because I’ve rapped in the past, or because I’m black, I can’t figure out why,” he said. “I won two awards last night, but I don’t even want them. … It feels weird for some reason.”

There’s a possibility that he’s still in his feelings a year later. He kind of made his statement with the recent Scary Hours, a duo of songs. The bouncy, anthemic and A-side-ish “God’s Plan” is soon to be a No. 1 pop hit. It and “Diplomatic Immunity” — patented, introspective, sans hook — end Drake’s self-imposed musical sabbatical.

“Even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song, the only category they can manage to fit me in is a rap category. Maybe because I’ve rapped in the past, or because I’m black.”

In the nearly a year since “getting back to his regular life,” hip-hop continued to be music’s trendsetter. Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z were the authors of the year’s most analyzed and celebrated projects — records that dealt with self-atonement and generational and emotional dispositions. Migos and Cardi B dominated airwaves with monster records. Tyler, the Creator dropped a career-defining number. Bruno Mars cemented himself as pop culture’s king. And Toronto’s newest wunderkind, Daniel Caesar, emancipated another layer of The 6’s musical identity with Freudian. The timing of Hours’ release, a week to the day that Grammys weekend kicked off, wasn’t random. Nothing Drake does ever is.

“I’m not sure he’s trying to shake anybody at the Grammys, but I do think what he’s saying is, ‘I’m recharged,’ ” said longtime New York Times pop music critic Jon Caramanica, “Like, ‘That’s cool. Have your party. But I’m coming.’ I assume what he’s saying is ‘The summer is mine.’ ”

In the coming months, rumors of a new Drake album will become reality. He’s been dealing with whether to stay in constant pursuit of immortality, or to fall back and let music figure out how to operate without him. The clues to this tug of war are in his own music, hidden in plain sight.


In his decade-long drive to reach rap’s Mount Olympus, Drake has become the most successful post-808s & Heartbreaks artist. He has best synthesized the DNA of hip-hop and R&B to embody an unfiltered sense of emotion. After So Far Gone’s runaway success, Drake’s mesh of singing and rapping was diagnosed in influential circles as a detriment to rap’s brashness, and/or as a flavor of the moment — nothing sustainable. This made Drake not only an eternal brooder but also (even with his relentless success) an underdog attempting to plant his OVO flag in the center of hip-hop. “[Drake was] driven by feelings,” said Caramanica, “pioneering or popularizing a musical approach that not everybody at that time was on board with.”

Underdog Drake, though, opens the doors for King Drake. From February 2015 to March 2017, Drake released four projects: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, What A Time To Be Alive with Future, Views and More Life. He embarked on two marathon tours: Summer Sixteen, with Future, and his international leg, the Boy Meets World Tour. Drake was also involved in rap’s most publicized beef since the days of Jay-Z and Nas. Meek Mill vs. Drake was a battle the More Life rapper won, but its aftereffects haunt him.

Drake has been enjoying a tidal wave of success. His fingerprints are all over the musical spectrum, with a king’s ransom of hits: his first No. 1 as a lead artist in “One Dance”; its spiritual twin, “Controlla”; the Tyra Banks-assisted “Child’s Play”; DJ Khaled’s “For Free”; and Rihanna’s international smash “Work.” Statistically, Drake had no peers with his 2016 behemoth Views — he is the first to crack a billion streams on Apple Music.

By his own admission, life at the top of rap’s food chain is exhausting. Sorry if I’m way less friendly, he noted on “Work,” I got n—as trying to end me. “To be completely honest with you, I was having trouble figuring myself in rap at the time,” he said last year. “I was a very defensive individual just coming off the situations I’d come off of.”

I’m not a one-hit wonder, they know all my stuff/ You let me turn into the n—a that you almost was/ I done see a lot of s— and I done been in things/ And I never started nothin’, I just finish things — Drake on French Montana’s “No Shopping” (2016)

So, whether it’s due to Views’ lukewarm critical and social media reception, the anxieties of fame, the claims of his experimentation with ghostwriting or a potluck of the three, it can seem like Drake never had an opportunity to flourish in his global success — even as he’s all smiles courtside.

“Like, ‘That’s cool. Have your party. But I’m coming.’ I assume what he’s saying is, ‘The summer is mine.’ ”

This bellicose introspection has been noted by those closest to him. His producer/creative partner, Noah “40” Shebib, constantly reminded Drake of this moody, at times even messy persona during Views’ recording sessions. “[40] was like, ‘Man you really sound aggressive and defensive,’ ” Drake recalled. And Drake’s mother saw the change in her otherwise jovial only child. In her message at the end of 2017’s “Can’t Have Everything,” she wondered whether Drake’s new alienated attitude would “hold him back in life.”

Nowhere did his mental merry-go-round present itself in more contradictory terms than on More Life. With nearly 90 million global streams in its first 24 hours on Apple Music and 61.3 million global streams in the same time frame on Spotify, Life was more critically embraced than Views. Drake had seemingly entered a new chapter: applying pressure on rap’s jugular. N—-s see me in person/ First thing they say is, ‘I know you need a break,’ he rhymes on “Sacrifices.” Hell, nah, I feel great/ Ready now, why wait?

Between Jan. 21, 2017, when he recorded “Sacrifices,” and Life’s release on March 18, Drake’s mentality seemed to change. His breaking point arrived on Life’s melancholy “Do Not Disturb.” He reminisced on the Views era: Yeah, ducked a lot of spiteful moves/ I was an angry youth when I was writing Views, he confessed. Saw a side of myself that I just never knew/ I’ll probably self-destruct if I ever lose/ But I never do.

“Disturb” wasn’t just Life’s final song. It was the last song he recorded for the project — a bon voyage to rap, a la Jay-Z’s “Dear Summer.” More importantly, the curtain call held the album’s most important revelation. Take summer off, ’cause they tell me I need recovery/ Maybe gettin’ back to my regular life will humble me/ I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary … More Life.

“Everybody who has the throne loses the throne. That’s just the definition of the throne. It’s got nothing to do with Jay [Z], [Kanye West], Drake or any individual,” said Caramanica. “Rather than continue to pump out music and sort of be in perpetual competition, the healthiest thing to do was to step away.”

Drake, in essence, dropped More Life and went on about living his. There were no videos from the project, nor was there a need to rush out singles. As a result, Drake’s 430-week run of at least one song on the Billboard Hot 100 — a run, by context, that spanned all but 124 days of Barack Obama’s tenure as president — was snapped. He let go. Almost as if to say, “I’ve done this at such a high level for such a long time. I’m confident enough to walk away. I need to walk away.”

There was his short-lived fling with Jennifer Lopez, a romance Drake characteristically translated to his music. He paid homage to his Toronto superstar prophyte Vince Carter in a candid sit-down with basketball stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh. He further embedded himself with his hometown Toronto Raptors by co-designing the team’s City Edition jerseys. Drake donated $200,000 to Hurricane Harvey victims, and tragedy struck even closer to home as he served as pallbearer at the funeral of his friend Anthony “Fif” Soares.

Drake’s vow of a 2018 “summary” has interesting timing. He returns at a time when his two most high-profile associates-turned-competitors, Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z, are celebrated for projects (both of which released after More Life) that largely helped shape the conversation in hip-hop last year. Both DAMN. and 4:44 are nominated for album of the year at the Grammys. “The type of record that Jay made can only be made by someone who is middle-aged and reflective,” Caramanica said, “[whereas] Kendrick’s [project] is political, socially aware, religiously invested. It’s a much more earthy, grounded endeavor. It’s just not what Drake does.”

Maybe. At 31, Drake’s portfolio continues to expand. The most successful rapper 35 and under/ I’m assuming everybody’s 35 and under, he waxed on 2016’s “Weston Road Flows.” That’s when I plan to retire, man, it’s already funded. Whether 35 is a hard date is a question better left for the year 2021. For now, as he said last year, leaving music is off in the distance. “But,” he told The Hollywood Reporter, “I do plan on expanding — to take six months or a year and do some great films.”

Since the turn of the century, Pharrell, Kanye West and Drake represent the holy trinity of songcraft. While the (warranted) debate rages about whether, in fact, Drake has a classic album to his name, there is no debate about his ability to shift conversations and birth new dialogues. Drake’s credibility lives and dies on him being Drake: the emo, wickedly selfish yet fiercely loyal, boastful, successfully paranoid extroverted introvert and modern-day Billy Dee Williams who can’t seem to find love in any of the strip clubs he frequents.

“I think if you look at earlier artists who have some version of the throne, where they may have gone wrong is chasing a younger sound when they were trying to fit in a place where they didn’t naturally fit in,” said Caramanica. “My hope is that Drake will be astute enough to not do that.”

How the Warriors become the wokest team in pro sports It’s a combination of all that winning, Oakland’s place in the black power movement and these unusual times

There’s a moment during his conversation about athletes and activism at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government when Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green seems to shift his weight. Green, who was in town to face the Celtics later that November night, has altered his game day routine to be at the lunchtime event, which was initially scheduled for a classroom, but had to be moved to a conference center when more than 500 students signed up.

He takes the stage wearing high-top designer sneakers and a long-sleeved fishtail shirt. He folds his frame into a large wooden chair and fumbles with his microphone. “I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to be speaking at Harvard. It’s like a dream come true,” says Green, before settling into his talk: Athletes should only champion issues they’re passionate about, he says. He discusses the pervasive tensions between young people and police, and the need to continue to educate himself about social justice.

When a student asks for a response to those who say he should stick to basketball, Green leans forward, drawing closer to the crowd. It’s an opening for Green to issue a philosophical declaration, a Contemplation on the Nature of Athlete and Society, although more social media–friendly.
And he delivers.

“That’s funny,” Green says, after pausing a moment. “People say athletes shouldn’t speak politics. Well, I find that funny, because everyone thinks they can speak basketball.” The crowd erupts in applause. It’s an authoritative answer from a guy with a 7-foot wingspan, extending to his full proportions in a completely different arena. And it’s representative of what we’ve been watching the Warriors do over and over, in high-profile ways, during the past year.

Black athlete-activists are not new, of course. Boxer Jack Johnson punched through racial barriers in the early 20th century, Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947, Althea Gibson was the first person of color to win a grand slam title in 1956, and a dozen years later, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved, black-power fists atop the medal stand in the Mexico City Olympics. In 2015, a protest by the Missouri football team over racism on campus forced the resignation of the university’s president, and the following year, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade took the stage at the ESPY awards to urge athletes to speak out against injustice. A host of WNBA players, including Maya Moore and Tina Charles, have worn T-shirts supporting Black Lives Matter.

But these were individual athletes fighting for a cause, or teams engaging on one issue over a limited period of time.

The Warriors are something else entirely: They’re the NBA’s winningest team, in possibly the country’s most progressive market, with the most politically outspoken players and coach, during the most racially polarized period in two generations. It’s an evolutionary development in the power and influence of the American citizen-athlete, with commensurate risks to their reputations and livelihoods. (See: Kaepernick, Colin R.) The Dubs are not simply basketball superstars, they might just be the most progressive—the most woke—team in the history of professional sports.


It was a morning in late September, one day after Warriors guard Steph Curry told reporters at the team’s media day that he’d vote to skip the traditional NBA champions White House visit, and Curry’s wife, Ayesha, was waking him up, laughing.

“Trump tweeted about you,” Ayesha said.

“I reached up to grab my phone,” Curry remembers now, “and I had about 20 text messages.” President Donald Trump had rescinded the yet-to-be-issued White House invitation, tweeting at Curry that since he was hesitating, “invitation is withdrawn!”

Suddenly, Curry, the family-friendly face of the franchise, was at the center of one of the year’s biggest sports and politics stories.

The team had planned to meet that day at its Oakland practice facility to decide collectively about whether to make the trip. Instead, the day unfolded in a mixture of both gravity and weirdness. Curry recalls the next several hours being “surreal.”

“I’m like, ‘He said he’s not inviting you. We can still go,’” Green says with a laugh. “We really, honestly made a joke of it.”

More than three months later, before an early-January practice, Curry seems unbruised by the incident—and no less supportive of his team: “When I talk about just being informed and thoughtful and passionate about what you believe in, we have guys all up and down this roster who kind of fall into that category.” His own thoughtfulness springs from a childhood during which his mother, Sonya, shared experiences of growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Radford, Virginia. “The family as a whole had a lot of run-ins with police and things like that in Radford and a lot of racism growing up there,” Curry says, “so she has a lot of stories around that.”

“But what if we don’t win? Do these stories get written? Do these things get said?”—Warriors GM Bob Myers

His father, Dell Curry, is the all-time leading scorer for the Hornets. And while the family was well-off, Steph says he was always conscious of being black—and his obligations to the black people around him. He attended a small Christian high school; of the 360 kids there, maybe 14 were African-American.

“We all sat at the same lunch table,” he says, “so we had a very tight community group that understood we were different in that space. I think we learned to protect that identity a little bit and celebrate it and have each other’s back.” And when he played AAU basketball with black kids from area public schools, he came to understand the differences in the worlds they inhabited—how some families struggled to put gas in the tank for an out-of-town tournament, but also that “we all had some common ground that we could appreciate about each other.” It was a figure-it-out-together quality, for the team, for the culture, that he took into adulthood.

And though last fall’s Twitter firestorm was unusual because it pitted Curry against the president of the United States, it was only an extreme example of what many players on the Warriors are doing.

Last summer Curry and forward Andre Iguodala, who have invested in tech start-ups, organized a technology summit for NBA players. “I’m trying to bust down a door” for my people, Iguodala says. In October, after ESPN reported that Houston Texans owner Bob McNair had likened pro football protesters to “inmates running the prison,” Green posted on Instagram that because of its historical freight, the NFL should “stop using the word owner.” Other players, including forwards David West and Kevin Durant, have found purpose or purchase to speak about history and their growing racial awareness. Coach Steve Kerr routinely talks about politics at his news conferences, and last February he tweeted, “I subscribed to The Washington Post today because facts matter.”

Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala high five during game.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

What gives them the cover and authority to stray so far and so publicly from the topics society typically wants to hear from people who play basketball for a living? One could say it’s their birthright as citizens to exercise the democratic mandates of civic participation and engagement in service of that foundational American imperative to form a more perfect union. But, sike nah. It’s all that winning they be doing.

Barring calamity, the Warriors are favored to advance to the Finals for the fourth consecutive year. And winning, Green says, strengthens them in a number of ways: “No. 1, you got so much attention at all times. No. 2, you’re a champion, they want to see what you got to say. You’re doing something so great that it gives you even more of a voice. … No one cares what a loser has to say.”

They’re a talented team, says general manager Bob Myers, “with a variety of leaders of high character,” and that affords them a degree of buy-in for their off-court views. “But at the same time, I think it’s something you have to protect. It seems to work for us because we win. But what if we don’t win? Do these stories get written? Do these things get said?”

America tells itself a story that success—in sports and elsewhere—is predicated upon competitiveness, discipline, hard work and character. Sports is as essential as religion to reinforcing those values to the nation, says Harry Edwards, an author, activist and consultant for the Warriors and 49ers, who organized the 1968 Olympic Project for Human Rights that ultimately led to the protest in Mexico City. It has scribes, departed saints (Vince Lombardi, Red Auerbach) and hallowed halls of fame. “It has sacred implements,” he says. “The ball that Hank [Aaron] hit over the fence when he broke Babe Ruth’s record, which people will pay millions for.”

When winning athletes—let alone winning black athletes—question the validity of mainstream definitions, it sets up an acute civic dissonance. Kaepernick or Carlos or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf become heretics and are punished as such. But the all-I-do-is-win-win-win Warriors have amassed so much cultural capital that they are not only worshipped, they’re widely heard.

All that discipline, smarts, true-grit stuff? Their winning proves it works, Edwards says. But their activism challenges whether it works for people in Oakland and East St. Louis and the South Side of Chicago.

The fact that they get to keep saying it is not only because they’re winning—it’s because winning in the Bay Area is a whole other thing.


Outside his DOPE ERA clothing shop (During Oppression People Evolve, Everyone Rises Above) in North Oakland, Mistah F.A.B. (aka Stanley Cox) muses about whether the Warriors are, in fact, the most politically progressive team ever. He’s a rap artist and community activist who once did a freestyle rap about the Warriors that foreclosed that option to anyone who has thought about trying it since. Now he recalls Smith and Carlos and cites the Clippers wearing their warm-up jerseys reversed to protest racist remarks by then-team owner Donald Sterling in 2014. But “I can’t even think of a team in contention for social relevance,” he says, “in the way the Warriors are demonstrating now.”

Some of that stems from Oakland itself. For more than half a century, Oakland and the Bay Area have been synonymous with the black consciousness movement, Angela Davis and the Black Panthers. They’ve welcomed the Free Speech Movement, anti-war protests and the Haight-Ashbury counterculture. The cities by the bay have been an incubator for gay rights, anti-fascism and Black Lives Matter.

Sitting behind the baseline of Court One at their Oakland practice facility, Durant recalls the poor D.C.-area neighborhood where he grew up, noting the ways his head has changed in the time he’s traveled from there to here. “You can feel that culture when you get here,” says Durant, who signed with the Warriors in 2016 and was last year’s Finals MVP. As a child, he lived off Pennsylvania Avenue, “so you could drive 10 miles from the front of the White House … and you’re gonna run into where I grew up.” He knew where that street in front of his house led, who was living there and what it meant to be the head of state, he says, though he often tuned out all of those civics lessons, along with anything else that was happening off the court.

Kevin Durant waves to fans while holding the NBA Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy through the community that he grew up in Prince George’s County in Maryland.

Ting Shen for The Undefeated

He calls his neighborhood 95 percent black with “80 percent of us living in poverty” and says he was so hell-bent on getting out that he turned a blind eye to the ways people were struggling to make it. It was a part of his soul he kept on ice, and he sometimes wishes he could tell his younger self to open his eyes and offer a little more hope and joy “to people who struggled, the way I struggled.” Because black joy is resistance.

“Just walking around downtown Oakland, just driving around East Oakland, getting to the game every day, you could just tell that somebody fought and died for these streets that we were riding in,” Durant says. Once you know that, you can’t unknow it. Some wonder if that community connection will continue after the Warriors move to San Francisco’s Chase Center for the 2019-20 season. For now, though, Durant is focused on what’s before him: “You can appreciate the people that built this community. And it’s not because of the Warriors, but I think we do a really great job of adding onto something that was already incredible. The Warriors now, especially with the team we have, we are kind of carrying the torch for being the socially conscious team. There are a bunch of guys that just want to start a conversation about how we can be better as a nation, as a community.”


Before every practice or shootaround, the Warriors players gravitate to a group of 20 chairs in a corner of the gym near the weight room. Kerr stands in front of the group and talks about the practice plan, the upcoming schedule and other matters. Unlike most other NBA teams, “other matters” sometimes includes Trump’s latest tweets, the Alabama Senate election or the reign of the late Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

It’s a little Woke U in front of the TV where they watch game film, a spur-of-the-moment conversation guided by the events of the day and the passions of those who feel like speaking up. They share what they know and bookmark what they don’t for further reading after they change out of practice shorts and shirts.

Kerr is part of a small contingent of white coaches with a reputation for being thoughtful and outspoken about race, politics and social justice. The group includes Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and former Bulls coach Phil Jackson, both of whom Kerr played for, as well as the Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy.

“When I came here, I had a feeling that Coach Kerr was kind of open-minded about everything,” Durant says. “And I heard the organization was that way. But once you get into it and we talk about Trump winning the election before practice and before a game, and if we won a championship, what would happen—that stuff gets your mind thinking about what is going on outside the gym.

“And it has all our minds moving and working. And now I’m just caught up on everything that’s going on in the world. When you’re naive and when you just think about what you’re passionate about and what you love every day, you tend to forget about what is outside. Coming in here gives you a taste of both: your love and passion but also the real world. I love it.”

“There are a bunch of guys that just want to start a conversation about how we can be better as a nation, as a community.”—Kevin Durant

Says West, a two-time All-Star: “Steve and I, when we interact, basketball’s like the last thing we talk about.” For years, without media attention, West has been engaged in his own demonstration during the national anthem. He stands last in line and a foot behind the rest of his team, in silent protest over issues of race, education, infant mortality and black life expectancy.

Before coming to the Warriors as a free agent in 2016, West says, he expected Green to be outspoken and had heard Curry was well-read. But Kerr’s interest in politics and his support of players’ curiosity and engagement was, for West, a revelation. “He just blurts out, like, ‘Morning, fellas, look at this crazy s— going on in Alabama.’ You know what I mean? Just like that, he jumps right out there.”

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, left, talks with guard Stephen Curry during the second half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 4, 2017.

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

One day in mid-December, a reporter is sitting with Kerr along the Court One sideline and asks about Democrat Doug Jones’ win in the Alabama special election over Republican Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct with minors. Kerr starts cautiously, then builds momentum: “I think it’s interesting that it just felt like a moment that we could hold on to some hope. But I don’t want that to sound like a liberal/conservative issue, because it really is not for me. It’s character. And I don’t even know Doug Jones. I just know that he doesn’t molest young girls, and so that’s a victory.”

Against a background of bouncing balls and other ambient gym noise, Kerr begins a small tangent on the fall of the Roman Empire and the dangers of internal decay. The part of him not consumed by basketball is fixated on history and politics, and it’s a focus he encourages in others. “Not only is it important from the standpoint that we’re all citizens and human beings and we should know what’s going on in the world, but it’s also important for the players to have balance in their lives.”

Clearly, though, nothing animates him like gun control, some of which has to do with family history. His father, Malcolm Kerr, was president of the American University of Beirut when he was killed by gunmen in 1984. But Kerr says he’d feel passionately about the issue anyway. It’s insane, he says, “that we can’t come to a place where sensible gun control makes sense to people, that we can just live in a country where 500-plus people can be shot from a hotel room floor and yet the very next government measure is actually to loosen the gun measures.”

“Steve and I, when we interact, basketball’s like the last thing we talk about.”—David West on his relationship with his coach

Kerr says he’s guided by a Popovich expression—by an accident of birth—as in, “By an accident of birth, you’ve lived the life you’ve lived, I’ve lived the life I’ve lived. It’s important for all of us to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes.” He says his ability to empathize has been shaped by travel and the diversity he’s experienced as a teammate of black and Latino players. “It’s like you’re thrown into this locker room with people who have lived a totally different life and see the world differently from you. It’s incredibly healthy.”

And the guy who hired Kerr? He cosigns it all. “Who am I to tell them what to feel, how to think?” Myers says. “All I would say and what we tell our guys is, educate yourself, try to speak intelligently on something. Research it, try to look at both sides. Then, whatever you’ve gotta say, say it.”


The Warriors have just beaten the Mavericks 112-97 on a December evening, and Iguodala, who finished with two points but a game-high 10 assists, is standing at his locker. He’s talking not about the game but about the past, and the situational awareness he needs for the present and the future.

“I know about people who grew up the way I did, and I know about their struggle and I know about things that are set up for them not to succeed,” says Iguodala, a 14-year veteran who grew up in Springfield, Illinois. This is the way life is set up, he tells his 10-year-old son: “You’re black, you’re an African-American man,” so you’ve got to be aware of your surroundings.

And you have to choose the things you allow into your head. Iguodala has recently reread Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Beautiful Struggle and has just finished Things Fall Apart, the classic African novel by Chinua Achebe. “I curate everything that comes into my brain,” he says. “Though there’s still some BS in there, like some funny stuff. I’m still fighting that.”

It’s that determined curiosity that distinguishes the Warriors, says Edwards: “What is singular about the Golden State Warriors, and it’s the only thing that you can really ask and legitimately project about a team like Golden State, they’re the greatest, most informed, the most intelligent, the most critically and vitally political of their era.”

It’s an era shaped by images of police shooting citizens, a video canon watched by players, who recognize that their own privilege and relative immunity doesn’t extend to people who look like them, or to anyone else they love. It’s an era in which fundamental national questions we thought had been asked and answered about race and equality are being re-engaged.

It’s also an era in which athletes, especially in the NBA, have both financial power and the ability through social media to connect with millions worldwide. They can hit send without a coach’s or general manager’s permission, or third-party translation. Even Ali couldn’t spread his message without intermediaries.

The times have both framed the issues and compelled the responses. Like the men and women who came before them, the Warriors are responding to what the moment calls for.

Black-athlete activism began with the struggle for legitimacy, then access, then dignity and now power. And those struggles existed in a broader context. You can’t talk about Jackie Robinson and the integration of sports separate from the civil rights movement. You can’t talk about Jim Brown or Arthur Ashe without Black Power. And now you can’t talk about Kaepernick, the national anthem protests or the political levitation of the Golden State Warriors without the frame of the Black Lives Matter movement.

When Green tied a critique of the word “owner” to the history of white men and slave labor, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban called on him to apologize. Green responded by saying, “I don’t expect him to understand. … He don’t know the feeling I get when I turn on the TV and see an unarmed black man got shot by a white police officer.” Those comments instantly became part of the national race conversation.

But that, Kerr says, won’t always be the case. “The inevitable downturn will come,” Kerr says, “and when we’re not winning at such a high rate, maybe there will be a different reaction” to their words, to their positions on social issues and the athlete-activists publicly creating new forms of influence in America.

Kerr says the Warriors don’t spend time thinking about that future or their place in history. Instead, the most woke coach on the most thoughtful team in the history of pro sports encourages his players to meet this standard: Say what you feel, “as long as you’re true to your convictions.”

The history will take care of itself.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 5 State of the Black Athlete Issue. Subscribe today!