The Drake, Kelly Oubre ‘beef’ proves just how good the rapper really is Drizzy is firmly planting himself as a storyline in the NBA playoffs — and the Wizards star may just be a pawn

The Toronto Raptors are up 2-0 in their first round series against the Washington Wizards. And in those two games, Drake has finagled himself into the series’ storylines. Prior to Game 1, he engaged in Instagram comment warfare with John Wall. Exhibit A:

This led to the “God’s Plan” rapper taunting Wall from the sideline during last night’s Game 2. Exhibit B:

During the same game, Drake and third year forward Kelly Oubre crossed paths as the cameras caught the former calling the latter “a bum.” Exhibit C

Leave it to social media to recover an old Oubre tweet from 2011 where the Wizard star said the rapper had no swag—which was deleted almost immediately following Tuesday night’s game. Oubre downplayed the incident, saying the two were jawing back and forth all game. Exhibit D:

The trash talk compounds to a fascinating subplot in the playoffs that highlights court side celebrities involving themselves in the game—most recently evidenced by Dwyane Wade and comedian Kevin Hart in Game 2 of the Sixers/Heat series. But the dynamic isn’t new — the league’s greatest athlete-celebrity rivalry was Reggie Miller and Spike Lee. But let’s focus on Drake for a second. Whether you deem him a fair weather fan or not, there’s no denying his love for the NBA. There’s also no denying everything he does is with a purpose. Drake is either rap’s savviest director, an evil marketing genius or a lovechild of the two. Look no further than last week’s Atlanta episode appropriately titled “Champagne Papi.,” which even served as part of the rollout for his newest anthem “Nice For What”—which, this week, supplanted his previous No. 1 in “God’s Plan” for the top song in the country. And on Monday, he announced the title for his highly anticipated new album—Scorpion dropping in June. All the pieces matter.

His hometown Raptors are the top seed in the Eastern Conference. A potential second round matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers sits on the horizon pending both advance. And his album could very well drop dead square in the middle of the NBA Finals. From Fortnite to hit TV shows, Drake has firmly entrenched himself in several culturally relevant conversations. The NBA playoffs are just his latest muse.

James Harden is the front-runner for NBA MVP, but not in jersey sales The Houston Rockets superstar’s No. 13 only ranks ninth — and something isn’t adding up

The annual drop of the NBA’s top-selling jerseys has arrived, and there’s an especially glaring takeaway. For some reason, Houston Rockets superstar James Harden — the most gifted offensive player on the planet, whose name is essentially Sharpied in as this season’s league MVP — ranks ninth in sales.

Ahead of him (in descending order) are Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo and a top three of Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

Harden’s mark at No. 9, which he also notched in 2016, ties the highest spot he’s ever reached in his career. And this year — despite leading the league through the regular season in points per game (30.4), while ranking third in assists per game (8.8), on the best team in the NBA — the jerseys of four players younger than him (Embiid, Porzingis, Irving and Antetokounmpo) are flying off the racks at a higher rate than his Rockets jersey.

But maybe folks in Houston just don’t like jerseys like that. J.J. Watt, the leader of the Texans and a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, ranked 16th in NFL jersey sales from March 1, 2017, to Nov. 30, 2017.

You gotta think the Beard isn’t trippin’ though. He has a $200 million contract with Adidas to go along with the four-year, $228 million extension he signed with the Rockets last summer. And by June, Harden will be named league MVP. Maybe that’ll give more fans a reason to put his No. 13 on their backs.

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

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

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

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

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

TELEVISION

“Will Smith” (Will Smith)

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

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

Steve Urkel (Jaleel White)

Family Matters

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

Brandi (Kyla Pratt)

Smart Guy

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

Mark Cooper (Mark Curry)

Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper

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

Kevin Hart

Real Husbands of Hollywood

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

Sixth man: Martin Payne (Martin Lawrence)

Martin

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

Coach: Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris)

The Wire

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

FILM

Calvin Cambridge (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss)

Like Mike

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

Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan)

Love & Basketball

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

Kyle Lee Watson (Duane Martin)

Above the Rim

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

Clarence Withers, aka Coffee Black (Andre 3000)

Semi-Pro

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

Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs)

Cooley High

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

Sixth Man: Antoine Tyler (Kadeem Hardison)

The Sixth Man

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

Coach: Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson)

Coach Carter

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

Kobe Bryant is gearing up for the 2018 NBA playoffs ‘I feel like it’s part of my responsibility to give back to the next generation’

When future NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant walked away from the 2018 Academy Awards, he left with an Oscar for his animated feature Dear Basketball. As well as the satisfaction that following his passion had been the right move. There was no such certainty in 2016 when Bryant launched Granity Studios, a multimedia content creation company focused on helping athletes maximize their full potential through creative storytelling.

“Building a studio is no small task,” Bryant said Wednesday afternoon during a media conference call. “My passion is writing, creating, putting beautiful stories together, weaving them in the form of a narrative.”

Now you’ll be able to hear more of the Black Mamba through his new show, Detail, just in time for the 2018 NBA playoffs. The show, written, produced and hosted by Bryant, will feature his insights as he breaks down games throughout the postseason. He gives in-depth observations for games on ESPN and ABC. The first episode will debut Thursday on ESPN+. Through Granity Studios, he created a new 15-episode basketball analysis show “for the next generation.”

“I felt like it’s important for the next generation to learn how to watch film, how to study the game,” Bryant said. “I felt like if this show was around when I was 10 years old, 11 years old, I would have gained so much insight, so much value from it, that by the time I’m 22, 25, my knowledge of the game would be at a much, much higher level than my predecessors. I feel like it’s part of my responsibility to give back to the next generation, try to share and teach some of the things I have learned from some of the great players, great mentors, great coaches that I’ve had.”

Bryant’s career spanned two decades with the Los Angeles Lakers, with whom he won five NBA championships and became an 18-time All-Star, among many other equally stellar stats.

On this call, Bryant weighed in on his new endeavor, the NBA playoffs, Ben Simmons, Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets, Dirk Nowitzki, playing through injuries and more.


What are your thoughts on Dirk Nowitzki and bigs in the league?

When he first came in the league, he took a lot of 3s. The year they won championships he might have taken half the 3s than when he first came in the league. The idea of having a guy that was 7 feet, 7 feet 1 that could stretch the floor, that was revolutionary. I’m sure it inspired a lot of bigs to be able to say, ‘You know what, I want to be like Dirk Nowitzki.’ Dirk, he was looking at guys like Arvydas Sabonis, Vlade Divac, guys like that.

Dirk obviously took it to a different level because of his mobility, the ability to put the ball on the floor and spin. But, by and large, when Dirk won that championship that year, the biggest problem we had with him, that Miami and all the other teams had with him, wasn’t his picking and popping, it was his ability to play at the free throw line and below the free throw line. For him, that was his biggest growth as a player.

How do you see the playoffs shaking out? Who do you think is going to win the championship this year?

I try to stay out of the business of clairvoyancy. I kind of look at the raw picture of what I see in front of me from the execution standpoint. Obviously, a lot of it depends on the health of Golden State. Houston have put themselves in prime position with their length, versatility, their speed, their aggressiveness. They’re a very aggressive team. It’s a more aggressive team than [Mike] D’Antoni has had. Phoenix, they play with a lot of speed, but none of those guys are naturally physical. Houston has some real physical players, man. I like where they’re at.

Cleveland, obviously with LeBron, the shooting they have around him, some of the youth they infused that team with is obviously going to be dangerous. Curious to see what Toronto does. Kyrie going down makes a big difference in the Eastern Conference.

I like Houston and Golden State, pending their health, as being my top two favorites. Like I said, I kind of stay out of the business of predictions.

What is the one thing from an analysis standpoint that you are going to be most interested to see during these playoffs?

I’m just looking at it from the perspective if I was a player, right? If I was Harden in the series, I just played this game, I’m watching the film, what would I be looking at? It’s basically me going back to my old ways of watching film, how I was breaking down series when I was playing. That’s that.

What stories do you think you’re most interested in telling specifically about the Rockets, Chris Paul, James Harden, others on that team?

There aren’t really stories that I’m fascinated with telling in terms of like Chris’ performance in a playoff with Houston, how they’re meshing together, Golden State’s health. I don’t care anything about that.

The only thing I care about, I’m James Harden, we just played Game 1, what do I need to focus on and learn from Game 1 that will help us in Game 2? What could we do better in Game 1? What do we need to look for that our opposition could counter with in Game 2, right? It’s that level of detail that this show is about.

The name ‘Detail’ was pulled for a very specific reason. This is content that might not be for everyone, right? It’s really at the smallest, smallest level of basketball breakdown to try to advance in a series.

Where is your Oscar?

I have it in my house. It’s sitting right next to the Emmy Award we’ve won, as well. I look at them every morning before I go to work.

What inspires you to continue to reinvent yourself and stay on top of everything you decide to do?

I follow my passion, things that I love to do, like writing and storytelling, I enjoy that. I don’t find myself having to remind myself to work hard and push myself to stay on top of things, because I just love doing it. I don’t really look at it so much as reinvention, as my career as a basketball player was over. I loved storytelling, so here I am.

How did you manage your pain level throughout your injuries?

Sometimes you have injuries where you just have to deal with the pain. It’s not going to get any worse, but you have to deal with the pain. When I fractured my finger, there was nothing else that could be done … suck it up and play or sit out and get it fixed right then and there. That’s typically how I handled it.

During this time of year, is it hard for you to watch basketball?

No, not at all. I don’t have a hard time watching it at all. This is where me and Michael [Jordan] differ a lot. Where I was going through the process of retirement, I think people were kind of assuming Michael and I behave the same way from a competitive standpoint.

You hear a lot about a team like the Cavaliers, LeBron James flipping a switch when the playoffs come. In your experience, how do you prepare for that? How difficult is it to go to a new level in the playoffs?

Here is a thing about flipping the switch. Flipping the switch is just another word for you have one team that you’re focusing on, so you can really zero in on that team. That’s all that is. You’re still playing just as hard, you’re doing all the things, but playoffs means, if you have one team to focus on, that means you can study all your regular-season matchups against them, you can learn all the information you need to learn to prepare yourself for this playoff series. That’s flipping the switch.

Then, from the Cleveland standpoint, Cleveland seems to be executing a more democratic style of offense. I did a piece last year or a couple years ago, maybe last year, about the two-kings system that the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing with, LeBron and Kyrie, and contrast that with Golden State’s democracy. If you watch Cleveland play now, they’re starting to play with a more democratic system. See LeBron at the elbow at the top of the key being the Draymond Green of the Cavs, while the other players, whether it’s Jordan Clarkson or Kevin Love, are running corner split games, playing a rip action, doing stuff on the weak side where they’re moving off the ball. That makes them infinitely more dangerous.

What are your impressions of rookie Ben Simmons?

I think Ben played with a really great tempo. The time he’s had to watch the game has helped slow down the game for him. He’s had a chance to really observe the NBA game and be around it, pick it apart. Now that he’s playing, I think the game’s in slow motion for him, which is different than most rookies. He’s had a chance to view it a lot.

From a game perspective, his size gives him a clear advantage, his speed. He also knows how to use it. He knows his spots on the floor, he knows his strengths and weaknesses. He does a great job getting there. He’s been able to dominate and take that city of Philadelphia to a place where it hasn’t been in a very long time.

‘Art of a Champion’ exhibit celebrates best playoff sneakers from Nike, Jordan and Converse Ray Allen, Rasheed Wallace and Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving represented the three brands — and kicks they made iconic

NEW YORK — Back in 2012, a white mouthguard worn by LeBron James throughout one of his first playoff runs as a member of the Miami Heat featured one simple inscription: “XVI.” What those Roman numerals signify, 16, means a lot to the King, and should to every player in the NBA. That’s because 16 wins in the postseason are what it takes to earn the distinction of being called an NBA champion.

On Monday, Nike, Air Jordan and Converse honored the upcoming 2018 playoffs, as well as that coveted number James put on his mouthpiece several years ago as motivation, with the exclusive “Art of a Champion” exhibit at Nike’s New York headquarters in midtown Manhattan. It featured a collection of 16 different pairs of sneakers from the three brands, representing multiple generations of basketball. Each pair — from a revamped version of the black-and-white low-top Converse that Bill Russell sported in Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals, to the “Pass the Torch” Air Jordan 1s that celebrate Kawhi Leonard’s winning Finals MVP in 2014 — were put on display below unique portraits of the shoes, crafted by a group of artists.

Other sneakers in the collection included Kobe Bryant’s “Final Seconds” Nike Kobe 1 Protros, Kevin McHale’s “No Easy Buckets” Converse Fastbreak high-tops, Scottie Pippen’s “Trifecta” Nike Air Maestro IIs, Rasheed Wallace’s “Rude Awakening” Nike Air Force 1 High Retros, Maya Moore’s “Rook to Queen” Air Jordan 11 lows, Wes Unseld’s “Intangibles” Converse Star Player Oxes, Moses Malone’s “Fo’ Fi’ Fo” Nike Air Force 1 Low Retros, Kevin Durant’s “Battle Tested” Nike Zoom KD IVs, LeBron James’ “25 Straight” Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 1s, Julius “Dr. J” Erving’s “The Scoop” Converse Pro Leather mid-tops, Michael Jordan’s “Last Shot” Air Jordan 14s, Ray Allen’s “Locked and Loaded” Air Jordan 28s and “Gold Standard” Nike Air Force 270s. Every pair will be available at retail from April to June.

Before the gallery was unveiled, ESPN’s Cari Champion hosted a panel discussion with Allen, Wallace and Erving, who shared their favorite playoff memories from their careers and the shoes they wore at the time. Allen repped Air Jordan (he’s been signed to the brand since its inception in 1996). Wallace, an Air Force 1 aficionado during his 15-year career in the league, talked Nike. And Dr. J, the O.G. of the bunch, reminisced about the old-school swag of Converse.

“It’s a lot to be said about this shoe, as well as the history of Converse,” said Erving, pointing to the Converse on his feet. “Growing up in the ’50s and ’60, the inspiration came from Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson.”

With the reporters, influencers and sneakerheads in attendance, Allen, Erving and Wallace stuck around to detail the experiences they had playing in their signature shoes that the gallery featured. In the middle of the exhibit stood the WNBA’s silver championship trophy and NBA’s gold Larry O’Brien Trophy, which many of the 16 pairs on display helped players obtain.

A new Drake song is landing tonight? A new album can’t be far behind Reading social media tea leaves to predict the musical release dates of albums from Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kanye and Drizzy

Those on the East Coast might not believe it, but warmer weather is approaching. That means day parties, cookouts, summer vacations — and a tsunami of Instagram Stories and photos with oceans of song lyric captions. It’s not like there’s a shortage of options. This year alone has already produced a plethora of releases from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Jay Rock, Syd, 2 Chainz, Tinashe, Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Nipsey Hussle, Ty Dolla $ign, Wale, Arin Ray, Kehlani, Kali Uchis, Eric Bellinger, Tink, Future and DJ Esco, Phonte and others.

The list also includes Cardi B, the patron saint of badass ratchetness, whose anticipated debut, Invasion of Privacy, dropped Friday. Privacy, anchored by the Project Pat-inspired “Bickenhead,” is a collection of songs — past, present and future hits — that ensure Cardi will be one of the most talked-about people in culture for the second straight summer, and likely beyond.

Yet, hiding in plain sight is a game of cat-and-mouse being played by some of music’s most famous forces. While Barbz remain on the lookout for Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, as well as Kanye West and Drake, have all hinted at new music via obvious and not-so-obvious methods over the past several weeks. Although it’s impossible to determine exactly when any album will drop without insider-trading-type knowledge, it’s safe to surmise that music fans could be looking at an incredibly hot summer if (and when) the quartet pushes the button in the coming weeks and months.

Beyoncé and JAY-Z

Here are the four definites:

  1. Beyoncé’s headlining Coachella, which starts next weekend.
  2. Jay-Z is apparently growing his hair out — which, if you’ve followed him at any point over the past 15 years, you know is a dead giveaway that he’s in the studio. Either that or he received an advance screening of Atlanta’s “Barbershop” episode that shook him to his core.
  3. Jay-Z’s interview with David Letterman is a conversation starter — and puts us on notice with a big-look conversation that we’re stepping up to the blocks.
  4. Their On The Run 2 tour starts in June in the U.K. First U.S. date is in Cleveland, on July 25.

The couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary last week and have been photographed in Jamaica filming for their upcoming tour. Bey missed Coachella last year while she was pregnant, but now she’s reportedly rehearsing for 11 hours a day in a top-secret Los Angeles studio. Beyoncé could easily go onstage and perform from a setlist of greatest hits. But, like possibly no other performer on the planet, she understands the magnitude of the moment. Coachella is the official kickoff to festival season. What better way to throw gasoline on a fire of anticipation than with new music on the eve of her return to the stage? And if that were to happen, that means new music very soon. As in next week.

While it makes sense to throw out a loosie or two for Coachella, an entire pack of songs may be slightly further off. I don’t know Jay. I don’t know Bey. But what I do know is there is absolutely no chance ’03 Bonnie and Clyde span the globe with just their older work. Granted, that “older work” houses an embarrassment of riches. But somehow, that feels like settling. What if it’s 12-14 duets from music’s most famous couple? Or an OutKast-like, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below-type double album? All I know is something is dropping probably sooner than any of us realize. On TIDAL first, of course.

Kanye West

Of the superstars on this list, Kanye, quite fittingly, is the most difficult to predict. Regardless, the tea leaves from last month’s gathering of ’Ye, Kim, The-Dream, Nas, Travis Scott, KiD CuDi and several others at a Wyoming resort are enough to get the gossip engines running. And while the two just as easily could have discussed IKEA furniture or NBA MVP predictions, a sighting of Yeezy and Rick Rubin (executive producer of Yeezus and The Life of Pablo) is just another log for the fire.

Ever since his public meltdown in Sacramento and subsequent hospitalization two days later in 2016, Kanye’s been as quiet as he has at any point in his career. An eventual return brings no drought of topics to discuss — his brief kinship with Donald Trump, the birth of his third child, Jay-Z’s statements about him on 4:44 — and those barely scratch the surface. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for West to create a song detailing what it was like in the Kardashian household the day O.J. Simpson was released from prison. Pablo, as scattered as it was at times, was proof that West is still more than capable of producing a high-quality project.

Then there’s this: The last time Kanye went away amid the public’s ire — think 2009 after the Taylor Swift MTV VMA fiasco — and secluded himself in Hawaii, the self-imposed exile yielded magnificent results. If Kanye’s got another My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy in him, then maybe we should’ve trusted the process all along. Keyword being “maybe,” because Kanye be trippin’ sometimes, ya know?

Drake

To quote the great Lester Freamon (and Jonathan Abrams), “All the pieces matter.” Follow the timeline:

  1. March 18, 2017 — Drake’s final proclamation on More Life I’ll be back 2018 to give you the summary — has since become the thesis of a yearlong wait.
  2. Jan. 19, 2018 — The sabbatical ends and said summary begins with the drop of Scary Hours. The EP contains the lyrically poignant “Diplomatic Immunity” and the undeniable anthem in “God’s Plan” (more on the latter, shortly).
  3. March 9, 2018 — With good friends James Harden and Chris Paul in Toronto for Raptors vs. Rockets (held on “Drake Night”), Aubrey confirms he’s working on the new album “for the city.”
  4. March 20, 2018 — Drake hops in the comments during producer (and frequent collaborator) Murda Beatz’s Instagram Live to confirm that the release of a new single is on the way.
  5. April 2018 — With speculation running rampant about a possible move to Adidas, Drake is spotted wearing the “Cream White” Yeezy Boost 350 V2. To some, that was all the confirmation needed that Drizzy’s Jordan Brand days were in the past. But this only lasted until he was photographed in Nikes a few days later at this week’s Celtics at Raptors game. And then again in Adidas on several Instagram posts. The point? Only a very few know what, if anything, is going on. And those parties aren’t saying anything. Chaos is bliss, in this case.
  6. April 1, 2018 — In typical Drake fashion, Drake uploads a photo of himself with the cryptic caption “You can see the album hours under my eyes.”
  7. April 2, 2018 — “God’s Plan” spends its 10th consecutive week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The distinction makes him the only male artist in history with two songs to stay atop Billboard’s charts for that long — 2016’s “One Dance” being the other.
  8. April 5, 2018 — Per the man himself, the single is on the way. That would be tonight.

“Have your party. But I’m coming,” Jon Caramanica of The New York Times said in January with regard to what Scary Hours represented. “I assume what he’s saying is the summer is mine.

A perfect storm appears to sit on the very near horizon. The NBA playoffs are about to begin. A much-needed musical furlough has made way for one of the most anticipated albums of the year — I been gone since like July / N—as actin’ like I died, Drake rapped on BlocBoy JB’s “Look Alive.” And the annual debate about who runs the summer will soon commence. Unlike last summer, Drake will be tossing his name in that hat — in search of reclaiming a crown he snatched two summers ago.

About the only thing to do now is keep an eye and ear open to whenever the next couple of OVO Sound Radios are, or Drake’s IG. Those always hold the key to unlocking Aubrey mysteries.

(**Walks away craning neck at Rihanna and Travis Scott**)

Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III embraces himself fully as a rapper, a villain , and a black man with albinism The MC-turned-actor portrays Tobias Whale in the CW’s ‘Black Lightning’  

A supervillain who has the lyrical chops to keep up with your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper? That’s Marvin “Krondon” Jones III for ya. Hailing from South Central Los Angeles, he’s a longtime member of the California hip-hop collective Strong Arm Steady. Throughout his career has written for artists including Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Xzibit. And now he has a lead role in The CW’s Black Lightning, inspired by the DC Comics series.

Jones portrays politician-turned-crime boss Tobias Whale, who serves as the leader of a gang called The 100. In the made-up city of Freeland, Jefferson Pierce, aka Black Lightning, is the hero, and Whale is his antagonist — a character Jones brings to life via his powerful voice that bellows over top of his thick red beard. A characteristic Jones shares with the Whale is that both men are African-American with albinism, a rare genetic condition affecting 1 in 20,000 in the United States. Jones completely embraces his rareness. Before the wrap of season one of Black Lightning, The Undefeated spoke with Jones about the moment he got the call to audition for Tobias Whale, his favorite musical artists, past and present, the plight of Colin Kaepernick and the experience of being a black man in America with albinism.


How were you approached for the role of Tobias Whale?

I was working on a solo album with a friend of mine, Evidence of Dilated Peoples … Next thing you know, I get a call … and I have this role in my email. I’m asked to come in and audition for it. I was completely taken aback by the whole thing. I did some research on the comic book characters of Black Lightning and Tobias Whale. I went in and did what I was supposed to do. By the grace of the God, thankfully, I was called back … and told I got the part and that my life was gonna change. It’s true. My life has changed totally.

Were you aware that there was an African-American villain in DC Universe with albinism?

I wasn’t at all aware. I quickly became aware, once I was asked about the role, and was blown away. I didn’t think because the character had albinism that I was gonna just be handed the role. I know I looked the part. I know I was a slimmer, sexier version of the comic book character Tobias Whale. But I didn’t think it was a given.

“I was told I got the part and that my life was gonna change. And it’s true. My life has changed totally.”

What’s the most rewarding part about being an African-American man with albinism?

The ability to see the world through racial ambiguity. I’m a black man with albinism. I’m completely African-American, I’m completely African, I’m completely black — whatever you wanna call it. I grew up in the ghettos of South Central, Los Angeles. I have a black mother, father, grandmother and grandfather. But from afar — or even close up — I do not appear black at all in terms of physical features. My skin tone is that of a very pale Caucasian man, who cannot tan for the most part … So I see the world from both sides of the fence. I live in the black experience, but at the same time I understand the invalid idea that color decides who a man is … Another thing is, any room I walk in, 99.9 percent of the time, no one else looks like me. I’m a completely unique individual, able to create my own attention and attraction.

Aside from Tobias Whale, who are your top three most intimidating villains in history?

The Joker is one of my favorite all time villains by far … I would say Scarface, but he wasn’t a villain when I really think about his story. I have a human understanding of Scarface … Nino Brown from New Jack City, for sure … And then it’s a tie between Jules Winnfield and Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction. Who’s better than Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction when it comes to a villain? He created the blueprint.

Who were your biggest musical influences growing up in South Central?

Of course, Ice Cube. He was the Shakespeare of my era. Through his N.W.A. catalog and his first three albums, his writings were like plays. Metallica … I had an opportunity when I was touring with Xzibit to perform with them in Europe … That was a big highlight of my career because growing up in South Central in the ’80s crack era, which my family was affected by, Metallica’s music was like a babysitter to me — Master of Puppets, Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, … And Justice for All were like my nannies. I sent a lot of time in the house alone, watching television, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and eating cereal for dinner … And I say that proudly, because it made me who I am. Cube, N.W.A. and Metallica showed me much about myself and life, and gave me a voice as a writer. They gave me a dream … Also, Public Enemy, X-Clan, Boogie Down Productions, Gang Starr — that music and genre molded me into the artist I am today.

Colin Kaepernick should be respected as a leader and an activist, as well as a legendary player.

Which MCs would be in your dream cypher?

Dead or alive? Wow … I gotta start with Cube, for sure. Biggie, Jay-Z … in that order … Andre 3000, Black Thought, Kendrick Lamar and Nas. That’s it. Those are the only cats that would make me rise to the occasion that I wanna rise to.

Which artists do you currently listen to?

Kendrick is my favorite, for real. Of this era, of this generation, he’s the best to me. I’m very proud of him and all of TDE. I like Nipsey Hussle a lot. I’ve watched him come up … the Victory Lap album is like a West Coast classic to me. It’s one of those records where you learn about how the city of L.A. thinks by listening … There’s also a kid out of South Central that I’m working with right now named Bale… He was shot a year and a half ago 28 times and survived. Not a gangbanger. Not a thug. Actually went to college to play football, and while at home visiting he was shot. He’s an incredible talent and has an incredible story.

Who’s your favorite athlete of all time?

Muhammad Ali.

Speaking of Ali, what are your thoughts on Colin Kaepernick?

He’s leading by example … For us in the African-American community who are under so much oppression still, whether it be from politics or policing, I don’t care how much money or fame or influence you have, you are still affected by those things if you are a person of color. And Kaepernick is a shining example … I think we should all take a page from his book, and use our voice to affect change.

Do you think Kaep deserves another chance in the NFL?

Of course. He should be given another opportunity to play and should be respected as a leader and an activist, as well as a legendary player.

Have you ever been mistaken for Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones?

People have seen my name and thought I played in the NFL … I wanna meet him! I hope he watches the show. I hope he likes my music, too. Because I want a jersey. I think it’s only right I have one since we have the same name. Shout-out to Marvin Jones of the Detroit Lions. Shout-out to that brother, for sure.

Advice to your 15-year-old self?

Love God and be patient. All things work together for the good … and wear a condom [laughs]. I say that because I had a baby earlier. And don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter. She’s the light of my life, but she could’ve been the light of my life about five or 10 years later.

Advice to every kid with albinism reading this?

You are an angel from God. It is not a coincidence that you are unique. Your beauty comes once in 30,000 … and there is nothing that you can’t do, except sit in the sun. But in truth, the sun is the most powerful thing in the sky that no human being can.

LeBron James and Michael Jordan: the battle continues, in our imaginations Jordan and James are the only two players in NBA history with at least 800 consecutive games scoring in double figures

Michael Jordan squared off against Kobe Bryant. Allen Iverson. Vince Carter. Tim Duncan. Kevin Garnett. Same for Dirk Nowitzki. And Shaquille O’Neal. But as destiny would have it, Jordan missed out on playing LeBron James by one season. Seventy-two days, to be exact — Jordan’s last game was a 20-point loss to Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers on April 16, 2003. James’ NBA journey officially started June 26 when he became the No. 1 pick in the draft. Yet here’s The King, focused on keeping the Cleveland Cavaliers in the top three of the Eastern Conference in late March, once again linked to “the ghost [that played] in Chicago.”

Earlier this week, James joined Jordan and Karl Malone as the only players to score 2,000 points in at least 10 seasons. Last May, he passed Jordan in career postseason points. By hitting double figures in points Wednesday night (in Jordan’s Charlotte, North Carolina, no less), James tied Jordan’s legendary scoring mark of 866 consecutive games with at least 10 points. Jordan and James are the only two players in history to score double figures in at least 800 consecutive games. When was the last time James didn’t score in double figures? That would be 4,101 days ago, on Jan. 5, 2007 — he finished with eight in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Current Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was 12.

Jordan’s disciples point to their leader’s unimpeachable record in the Finals, his career scoring average and, of course, just the religion of Jordan that deifies him as eternally flawless. Followers of James point to his consistency, longevity, one-of-one athleticism and dominance. He’s still hooping at an unseen level at 33 years old and 15 years into his campaign toward basketball’s Mount Olympus. But Wednesday night — Jordan, eternally youthful at Instagram and YouTube every second of every day, likely sat someplace watching James play against a team that he owns. Jordan had to expect a loss, as history says that since 2010, when he became the only black majority owner in sports by acquiring the Charlotte Hornets, James is 25-1 against those teams.

There’s a Nas line in 2001’s “You Da Man” where he states Your arms too short to box with God. This is an obvious homage to the Broadway musical of the same name. But the lyrics apply to basketball and the multigenerational pursuit of the “next Jordan.” Kobe Bryant is the closest in terms of style of play, and hardware. But James is not only close, he looks Jordan eye to eye on a platform that means even more: They both changed the game. They both became the leaders of their generation. James is not only boxing with God, he’s delivering haymakers.

The closest Jordan and James came to squaring off face to face was when Jordan dropped 26 points and 10 rebounds in a 100-91 Washington Wizards victory over the Cavaliers at Gund Arena on April 8, 2003. An 18-year-old James sat in attendance admiring the man he idolized. So many others in his generation wanted “to be like Mike.” LeBron was just the one chosen to — pun intended. The Cavs were not so subtly losing every game possible to acquire the services of the high school phenom. The moment is immortalized in one postgame picture. The one where Jordan, in a suit and patented big hoop earring, shakes hands with a giddy 18-year-old James — in an oversize fitted, and velour suit. Hey, that was the style back in ’03. And that’s all we get.

It’s only right, actually, that the two never crouched into defensive stances and looked each other in the eye. We mortals couldn’t have handled it.

‘The Plug’ podcast: ‘The Madness Begins’ feat. Jenisha Watts (episode 14) All things March Madness, Odell Beckham Jr., LeBron Sr. playing with LeBron Jr., and more

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Thanks to Mother Nature making sure we felt the effects of winter one last time before spring, we had a delayed recording this week.

It’s no worries, though. The show was still lit. Jenisha Watts, an editor with espnW, joins Terrika, Kayla and me (and later Tes) to talk about Ryan Coogler’s letter to Ava DuVernay, Cam Newton and much more. From there, the crew chops it up on Odell Beckham Jr.’s recent video controversy, whether or not LeBron James Sr. will actually stay in the NBA long enough to play with LeBron Jr., the validity of Tiger Woods’ latest impressive showing and, of course, all things March Madness.

We’re back on our regular schedule next week — provided it doesn’t snow another 10 inches again next week, of course. Rain, sleet, ice, snow or heat wave, you can always subscribe to The Plug via the ESPN App. But you knew that already, didn’t you?