Beyoncé, Colin Kaepernick and the power of enigmatic resistance The singer and the quarterback have mastered the art of speaking volumes — while saying very little

As Beyoncé plans to “switch things up a bit” for her second Coachella set, the festival’s first weekend was a stark example of Beyoncé Knowles Carter’s and Colin Kaepernick’s very effective form of public yet enigmatic resistance. Both of them tend to eschew or push the boundaries of traditional media, and from the stage and from Instagram they each addressed societal issues.

Instagram Photo

Kaepernick has yet to grant a full-length interview; it is, without question, the most coveted interview in sports media. The former San Francisco 49er posted a picture of baseball icon Jackie Robinson with a quote that is rarely celebrated when discussing the baseball legend’s legacy. He’s not standing for the anthem. He’s not singing the anthem. Nor is he saluting the flag. Kaepernick’s upload put an entire league on notice and answered the question for any prospective team even remotely interested in Kaepernick’s talents under center.

The truth is, in lifelong NFL exile, Colin Kaepernick will be far more impactful than he was on the field. This includes the 49ers team he nearly led to its first non-Joe Montana or Steve Young Super Bowl. Had it not been for the concert quite literally heard around the world, it would have been the weekend’s biggest line in the sand.

Beyoncé at Coachella is already cultural curriculum: The two-hour moving montage of black history marked her return to the stage. With guest appearances from her sister, Solange, and husband, Jay-Z, and a Destiny’s Child reunion with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, the moment only further cemented her place among music’s all-time great performers.

The performance was a testament to the machine that is Beyoncé. She is a mother of three and is one-half of one of the highest-profile couples in the world. She put in 11-hour days and altered her diet. She then harnessed the leading role in a performance that celebrated some of the most authentic elements of black life, including historically black college and university (HBCU) culture, fraternity and sorority life, African royal garb, quotes from Nina Simone and Malcolm X and, for good measure, swag surfing. The only element missing was a random uncle in open-toe sandals grilling on the side of the stage with a red cup in hand. She also stepped up with a $100,000 donation to HBCUs, doubling down on her 2016 investment into women attending HBCUs via her Formation Scholars initiative. In 2018, it’s perplexing for Beyoncé or any black person to still be “the first” anything. And the distinction of being the first black woman to headline the famed festival seemed to both honor and perturb her.

Notoriously guarded, the Lemonade singer has never been the most media-available artist, especially in recent years. She’s never seemed totally comfortable with that job requirement — unlike, say, her husband, who is naturally personable and engaging in interviews. Even her Instagram pictures are largely without captions. She says very little outside of a recording booth or off the stage. Yet — through her music, increasingly more personal on 2014’s self-titled album and 2016’s Lemonade, and actions — she has carved out an image of a shadowy, even hooded figure very much in tune with the conversations and temperature of society. Her performance — coming on the heels of Stephon Clark’s killing by police in Sacramento, California, the Philadelphia Starbucks racial profiling incident and Brennan Walker, a 14-year-old shot at after asking for directions — was more coincidence than intention. But it felt fitting.

“I have worked very hard to get to the point where I have a true voice,” Beyoncé “said,” actually being paraphrased by her mom, Tina Knowles, on Instagram. “At this point in my life and my career, I have a responsibility to do what’s best for the world and not what is most popular.”

The performance resonated far more than a press release or exclusive interview ever could. She proved that at 36 she, like LeBron James in his craft, is only getting better with the wisdom that age brings and a work ethic that can only be defined as obsessive but unparalleled. She’s as comfortable musically as she has ever been. Her creativity is only getting sharper and more poignant as the stakes elevate — a telling sign as she prepares for a world tour this summer with her husband. Her performance April 14 became its own living, breathing and gyrating exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It not only moved the culture. It became part of the decade’s DNA.

When Beyoncé and Colin Kaepernick speak, the world listens. When they move, the world watches. When the weapons of societal perspective and human empathy are placed in an introverted person’s hands, the results are telling. They don’t feel the need to have to explain themselves.

All hail King Bey, queen of the desert and mistress of the internet #Beychella served up a panoply of blackness, from HBCUs to Wakanda and Fela Kuti to Nina Simone

The internet has been taking a hammering lately, especially from people who don’t quite understand it.

Earlier this week, a good portion of the chattering classes tuned their televisions to cable news to watch congressmen grill a tech billionaire using a booster seat about his creation, and how it and Vladimir Putin together might be responsible for the downfall of Western democracy. Or something. Earlier this month, the federal government seized the online classified site Backpage.com, shutting it down and putting sex workers at risk by moving their work further into the shadows, many argued. And the Cannes film festival banned Netflix from entering films in its competition, in part because French film purists argue that Netflix is destroying the communal aspect of consuming film.

If you pay attention to the news, the overwhelming conclusion is that the internet is a dangerous place full of lies, conspiracy theories, hate speech, free porn, and Russian trolls and it’s making us worse as human beings. And there’s some truth to that.

But it’s not the whole story of the internet. Leave it to Beyoncé to remind us.

The first lady of Tidal, Houston, fish fries, and — let’s just say the modern African diaspora — made history (again) late Saturday night as the first black woman to headline Coachella, the oovy-groovy, hippie-dippie, psychedelic-infused annual music festival in the California desert. Naturally, she used it to serve up a panoply of blackness, from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to Zamunda to Wakanda to Egypt to Fela Kuti to Nefertiti to Malcolm X to James Weldon Johnson to Nina Simone. But her decision to livestream her entire two-hour performance is what makes Beyoncé as astute as any tech billionaire about the power and possibility of the internet.

It’s not the first time she’s used the internet to vault herself into international conversation. She did it with the surprise release of BEYONCÉ, with the HBO debut of Lemonade, with the launch of her expertly curated website and Instagram account. Beyoncé knows how to create a moment.

But choosing to livestream her Coachella performance signals something more. Rather than limiting her audience to the tens of thousands of ticket-buying festival attendees in Indio, California, Beyoncé created an internet community around #Beychella, harnessing a Southern-fried When and Where I Enter moment to be exported, dissected, and re-created.

This was something everyone with an internet connection got to witness, too. For free.

It’s exactly the sort of democratizing act that used to give us hope in the internet. Because what is the simultaneous clattering of keyboards about #Beychella if not a moment of community, a mechanism for sharing our amens together as we all visit the sanctuary of Beysus?

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots. Instead, she brought an HBCU-style halftime show and a probate exhibition, complete with a marching band and dancing dolls. She aggregates elements of black culture, high and low, American, African, Creole, and everything in between, and spits them back out into something new, craveable, and instantly consumable.

Honestly, how many people knew who the orisha Oshun was before Lemonade dropped? Don’t lie, either.

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots.

Ever since she released “Formation,” Beyoncé has been exploring ways to carry black people on her back via a series of high-profile, unapologetic salvos in the culture wars. There was the Super Bowl. There was the Grammys. And now there’s Beychella. Forget about Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress. We got Beyoncé in go-go boots.

Thanks to the internet, we bear witness to the way police are weaponized against innocent black people waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia Starbucks. And thanks to the internet, we can rightfully raise hell about it, too. And then, because the nonstop reminders of how black people aren’t fully recognized as people is exhausting and depressing, we can have a much-deserved moment to celebrate ourselves, even if that moment happens to be at 2 o’clock in the morning on the East Coast.

Some will skip over the art and jump straight to arguing that Beyoncé has commodified black liberation.

But I’d say Beyoncé has assessed her power in the world, the possibilities of the internet, and combined the two to march on as an evangelist of black feminism.

‘Atlanta’ recap: Season 2, Episode 2: ‘I got them vampire feet’ And please don’t test the ‘no chase’ policy at home

Season 2, episode 2 | “Sportin’ Waves” | March 8

While last week’s premiere benefited from Katt Williams’ cameo as Earn’s Uncle Willie, this week’s installment, “Sportin’ Waves,” is a return to multiple storylines. Yet, like the previous episode, this week’s begins with a jack move and Paper Boi is the victim. Not only do things kick off with him being held at gunpoint by his plug of 10 years — just when you think you know somebody, I tell you — but the crime is committed by the most polite, respectful and contrite robber in the history of robbers (who doesn’t how the child safety lock works on his car door). He didn’t want to hold such a veteran client at gunpoint, but as we know, it’s robbing season. And everybody has to eat.

Let’s run down 10 highlights from this week’s episode. …

  • The marketing firm. Earn said it best. “This place, um, has a vibe.” Earn’s still assuming the role of Paper Boi’s manager, because what other gig does he have lined up? And it’s hard to fault him for wanting to increase his cousin’s visibility as a rapper. They just happened to choose quite possibly the most socially awkward marketing agency in Atlanta. From Pete Savage calling himself “35 Savage” to the unidentified artist dancing on the table while people from the agency stared at him a la Bobby Shmurda to the live performance that never was from Paper Boi, the entire experience was a train wreck. Earn and Paper Boi were attempting to market their music via a collection of people who have no clue about the inspiration, the direction or impact of the music. Consider it a not-so-subtle jab to the nature of American economics and how hip-hop is constantly manipulated for financial gain while being stripped of the cultural circumstances under which it was created.
“Get some black people up in here! That’s ya muhf— problem, boy!”
  • Alone in a crowded space. That’s what happened to Earn. He’s looking through the glass as Al begrudgingly goes through with recording playlist drops. As he looks, the entire office (all white people) stare at him. When he turns to look at them, they return to work — making an awkward moment that much more awkward. Nearly every black person can attest to being the lone (or one of very few) people of color at a work event or get-together and having it be explicitly clear you’re the “different” one. Also familiar is when Earn is the odd man out in a conversation between the aforementioned Savage, the rapper Clark County and his manager: Clark County’s code switch game is nearing Kanye levels as the tone and demeanor do a complete 180 on call. More on this in future episodes.
  • Darius is a man of his word. One of the coolest moments of the show is when Darius — the show’s most reliable character, if we’re keeping it G — gives Earn $4,000 as payment for breeding the King Corso dog they sold at the end of last season’s episode four. “People love dogs!” exclaims Earn — immediately bringing back memories of yesterseason when Darius was kicked out of a gun range for using a dog sketch for target practice. The synergy between seasons was dope, and didn’t overpower.
  • Earn just doesn’t learn. Admit it, though — you knew the entire blessing was going straight to hell in a handbasket. Re-enter Tracy, Paper Boi’s homie whom we met at the end of episode one. Speaking of …
  • Tracy is a keeper. Maybe it’s the authenticity, how much he sounds like a dude straight out of Atlanta. Or maybe it’s that authenticity combined with the fact that Tracy is already one of the funnier characters on the show. I legit spit out my water when he said he needed a pedicure because he had “vampire feet.” And just like many a black man, he loves his waves, calling himself the “Prince of Tides” but not allowing anyone to see them until he’s ready for a job interview he’s been preparing for. More on that in a bit …
  • A good plug is hard to find. Because Paper Boi can’t go back to his original plug for aforementioned reasons, the search is on for a new connect. Paper Boi and Darius visit two connects, and both appear solid until both completely ruin their chances — by being thirsty. The first can’t help but to not-so-secretly snap a picture of Paper Boi perusing the product and posting it to Instagram. The second, a hippy-looking white guy, gets Paper Boi’s phone number, only to try and promote his girlfriend’s music (she has an acoustic cover of his local hit “Paper Boy”). As we all come to find out at some point, Paper Boi is seeing how some people only want to use him for who he is, and how his presence can benefit them.
  • The “No Chase” policy. Tracy says he can double Earn’s $4,000 with a foolproof gift card scam. Earn should’ve kept his money, but here we are at the mall. Tracy, still prepping for his job interview, is telling Earn about the shoe store they’re in, and its “no chase” policy. This prompts the hilarious exchange:

“Those gift cards. They work in here?” — Earn
“Ionno. I’m just gon’ take this s—.” — Tracy

Tracy runs from the store with shoes he never had a single intention of paying for, and they didn’t chase him. The alarm didn’t even set off. Tracy’s a legend already.

  • Paper Boi’s missed bag. Earn takes advantage of the gift card scam but ends up having to take the bus back because Tracy left him at the mall. At the house he promptly hits the blunt offered to him by Paper Boi. It’s here they see the aforementioned Clark County rapping (and Milly Rocking!) on a YooHoo commercial claiming to “drink YooHoo like it’s dirty Sprite.” He’s getting money, but at what cost? Paper Boi refuses to sell himself out for a check, but at what cost? “I hate this s—,” he says. The game is the game. And it’s not always pretty.
  • Tracy’s Half Baked moment. We finally get to see those waves Tracy has been hyping up all episode as he sits in his job interview at a marketing company. Does he have waves? Sure, but he looks to have the 2018 version of the conk Malcolm X talked about in his autobiography. Needless to say, to the surprise of no one, Tracy doesn’t get the job because the gentleman who interviews him (plot twist, an older white male) says they don’t have any openings at the moment. Which, of course, makes total sense — to conduct interviews for a position that isn’t even open (to someone who looks like Tracy, with Tracy’s background). This prompts Tracy to launch into one of the greatest exiting rants since Scarface’s legendary scene in 1998’s Half Baked. “Y’all racist as hell up in here, man! F— you want from me, man! Get some black people up in here! That’s ya muhf— problem, boy! I don’t wanna work for you anyway! Amerik-k-k-a, n—!” Never have I ever heard a more fitting final quote to a 30-minute weekly television event.
  • One final question. Uhhhhh, where is Van?

It’s showtime: The Apollo welcomes the Grammys back to New York Fat Joe, Doug E. Fresh, Elle Varner — Harlem’s iconic theater hosts an artist-studded luncheon

 

One doesn’t just see Harlem, New York. You feel Harlem. You smell Harlem. You vibe with Harlem. From the backseat of a Lyft, you pass the stalwarts of the community — the Duane Reade pharmacies, General Grant Houses, the countless delis — many of which will sell you a delicious “chopped cheese” sandwich — if you’re hip on how to order them. Black Panther promotional posters adorn nearly every bus stop, it seems. Even as the gentrification of the Harlem becomes more and more entrenched, the spirit of Malcolm X lives on in the creative, cultural and social melting pot where he stood as a titan on its street corners, and died as an icon.

There’s not many things more authentically Harlem than West 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard — dubbed “the cultural heartbeat of the city.” And with the Grammys back in New York for the first time since 2003, the iconic Apollo Theater hosted a luncheon in celebration. “When you do something special in New York, you feel the vibration,” said pioneering hip-hop artist Doug E. Fresh said on the red carpet. “I’m glad they decided to do this at the Apollo. It’s Harlem. I am Harlem.”

Also in attendance is five-time Grammy-nominated Fat Joe, Rotimi, current Grammy nominees The Hamiltones, Dapper Dan, the Grammy-nominated Elle Varner and many more. These creative professionals understand the Apollo’s place in black culture, and know about the legends who stood on the stage – not 50 feet from the red carpet. “I wish I would’ve seen Lauryn Hill. They booed her,” said singer and Power cast member Rotimi. “Then 10-15 years later seeing she’s one of the greatest of all time, that’s the ultimate story.”

“Aretha,” Varner said without hesitation about who she wishes she’d seen, live at the Apollo. “Absolutely.”

An Apollo institution himself, Doug E. Fresh flips the script. “Me and Stevie Wonder was here one night. That was crazy!”

The energy was one of reverence. With celebrities and Harlem luminaries scattered through the stage and carpet, the collective perspective was one of privilege and respect. “The best night in the Apollo was when Ice Cube first came here,” Fat Joe said from the stage. “We gotta protect this. This our home.”

 

What if the Muhammad Ali we knew had never existed? From his brief kinship with Malcolm X to the ‘Thrilla In Manila,’ five alternative universes for Ali — and the world

From Michelle Obama, Dwyane Wade and Betty White to Steve Harvey, Jan. 17 offers an embarrassment of riches for celebrity birthday followers. One name in particular, however, towers above the others: Muhammad Ali. The self-proclaimed and globally anointed “Greatest” would have been 76 today. To say Muhammad Ali is an inspiration for Team Undefeated is an understatement.

Loved and feared, Ali was captivating and personable. Flawed and fearless. An unparalleled showman and a ruthless instigator. There are few stones left to turn over on Ali, a man whose life has been under the microscope since he burst onto the scene at the 1960 Olympics — the Summer Games that also introduced Oscar Robertson and Wilma Rudolph to the world. How Ali’s life played out is American scripture. But what if there’s an alternative universe in which certain things panned out differently? In some ways, thankfully, we’ll never know. But in others? Follow along …

What if young Cassius Clay’s bike had never been stolen?

If anyone represented the embodiment of the phrase “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” it’s Ali. This story has been told a million times, but it’s always fascinating because of the butterfly effect. A 12-year-old Cassius Clay sat on the steps of the Columbia Auditorium in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. He was angry and sobbing. Joe Martin approached young Clay. “If I find the guy who took my bike,” Clay told Martin, “I’m gonna whup him.” Martin ran a boxing gym and told the adolescent if he was going to fight, he’d better learn how to fight. Until that point, Clay had never given a thought to boxing.

The rest, as they say, is history. If his bike is never stolen, who’s to say he doesn’t go through life as a normal kid who doesn’t even care about boxing outside of the occasional fight? And what if that same kid one day gets drafted into the Vietnam War — a battle Cassius Clay from Kentucky would have had to fight because he wasn’t a heavyweight champion of the world with religious beliefs that forbade it? It’s wild how life can change in the blink of an eye. We’ll just leave it with this: Theft is a crime and should be treated as such. But bless the soul of the person who decided to steal this kid’s bike. That’s one time when doing bad actually did a world of good.

What if Malcolm X and Ali never had their falling-out?

In order to survive, as a great man once said, we all have to live with regrets. One regret for Ali was his all-too-brief bond with Malcolm X, a fellow product of the Muslim teachings of Elijah Muhammad. X fell out of favor with the teacher, and Ali chose to follow Muhammad’s lead. At the time of X’s assassination in February 1965, the two were not on speaking terms. Never apologizing to Malcolm haunted Ali for the rest of his life. “Turning my back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my life,” he wrote in his 2004 autobiography The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey. “I wish I’d been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry, that he was right about so many things. … I might never be a Muslim if it hadn’t been for Malcolm. If I could go back and do it over again, I would never have turned my back on him.” For a fascinating and detailed breakdown of their life and times, check out Johnny Smith and Randy Roberts’ Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.

What if Ali didn’t sacrifice the prime of his career by protesting the Vietnam War?

The better question is, what if the U.S. never involved itself in Vietnam? Whatever the case, Ali’s exile turned him into a larger-than-life figure. At one point in American history, world heavyweight champion was the most coveted title in all of sports. Here was Ali: a young, handsome, outspoken black man who not only dismantled opponents in the ring but also took on America’s ugliest parts in a verbal fashion that has not been seen or heard from an athlete since. And he did all of this while looking the federal government square in the eye, essentially saying, “Come and get me.” Although legions of critics took a carousel-like approach to demeaning him, Ali’s popularity had skyrocketed by the end of 1967. His stated reason for objecting, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” is tattooed in the fabric of American race relations. Ali’s most controversial fight, for his beliefs and for our dignity, reverberated worldwide. It cost him the years of 1967-70, when he would’ve been between the ages of 25 and 28 — a fighter’s peak years. As transcendent as his career was, even four decades after his final fight, we’re left to wonder how great it could have been if Prime Ali hadn’t been entangled with the U.S. government at that same time. Which bleeds into the next alternative universe …

What if Ali called it quits after the third Frazier fight?

Maybe it was a subconscious thing, for Ali to make up for lost time in the ring as he continued to fight in his later years. Maybe it was financial. Maybe it was a combination of both. Whatever the reason, the cold reality is that his last iconic moment in the ring was 1975’s “Thrilla In Manila,” the end of the trilogy with Joe Frazier. The fights — Frazier handed Ali his first career loss shortly after he returned to boxing in 1971, and Ali won the 1974 rematch — define perhaps the greatest rivalry in sports history, with an extremely brutal and even more bitter feud spurred largely by Ali’s vicious and grossly disrespectful racial taunts toward Frazier. Their final clash proved a potluck of haymakers, blood and near-death premonitions. “It was next to death,” Ali said after the fight — a contest he actually won. “When a fight as hard as this one gets to the 14th round, you feel like dying. You feel like quitting. You want to throw up.” Frazier was never the same after that fight.

And it took decades for Ali and Frazier to quash their beef. By the time Ali called it quits in December 1981, Ali was a beaten and battered man and his Parkinson’s disease was imminent. Those closest to Ali’s former cornerman and doctor, Ferdie Pacheco ( who died in November 2017), say he lived with remorse for not having saved Ali from himself. He begged the boxer to quit after the third Frazier fight. Studies from Arizona State scientists discovered Ali’s speech slowed down 26 percent between the ages of 26 and 39 and he was visibly slurring his speech in 1978 — three years after the final battle with Frazier.

Would calling it a career after the Thrilla In Manila have saved Ali future medical concerns? Who knows. A trilogy with Ken Norton — one of the hardest punchers of all time, who broke Ali’s jaw in their first match and whom some feel Ali lost all three fights to — came with its own undeniable punishment. After his 1977 fight with power puncher Earnie Shavers, who landed a massive 266 punches, Ali’s speech reportedly slowed 16 percent from prefight calculations. “Ali did damage to himself, and he knew it and kept boxing too long,” says Jonathan Eig, author of last year’s Ali: Life, “but he didn’t have the information we now have about CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy].”

What if Parkinson’s had never robbed Ali of his most powerful punch — his voice?

America tried to emasculate the greats / Murder Malcolm, gave Cassius the shakes

— Jay-Z, “F.U.T.W.” (2013)

Ali’s decision to boycott the Vietnam War was supported by many black athletes and large pockets of the black community, but Ali was also media-blitzed from all corners. A May 2, 1967, New York Times editorial theorized that the support Ali was hoping to generate would never develop. The late political reporter and columnist Tom Wicker called Ali “… this strange, pathetic Negro boxer superbly gifted in body, painfully warped in spirit.” Less than a week later, the harsh attack on Ali’s character was rebuked by Boston University professor Theodore Brameld who said, “… because, with his warped spirit, he has the courage and integrity to refuse to participate in a war that millions of us with weaker courage and weaker integrity, and certainly far less to lose, continue to tolerate against our own consciences?”

Much like Martin Luther King, Ali’s legacy, in many ways, has been sanitized. Ali only became a truly lovable figure (to some) once he lost his ability to speak. When he no longer could use his actual voice to deliver knockouts, he was no longer a threat (again, to some) to the status quo. Ali’s political beliefs had always come under fire from both sides of the aisle. But the reality is that Americans 35 and under have no recollection of the charismatic ball of energy that earned him global acclaim and domestic scrutiny. Some prefer this image of the legendary boxer. Ali, the heavyweight champion who continued to vibrantly and verbally shake up the world into his latter decades on earth, is a bracing thought. Seeing Muhammad Ali minimized and marginalized by a handful of quotes and yearly tributes that fail to paint the full features of the man — that is beyond scary.

Behind the scenes of ‘Black Lightning’ reveals the intersection of race, social justice and culture Jefferson Pierce just might be DC Comics’ most complex character yet, and here’s why

The CW’s newest comic-book-turned-TV-series Black Lightning is the first African-American DC superhero to have his own stand-alone comic title and premieres Jan. 16 — the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The series follows Jefferson Pierce (played by Cress Williams), a retired superhero who is forced to return as Black Lightning after nine years when the rise of the local gang, The One Hundred, threatens his family and leads to increased crime and corruption in the community. The gang leader is Tobias Whale, played by Los Angeles rapper Marvin “Krondon” Jones III.

Jones best describes his villainous character as a mix between the former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who put the city through a corruption scandal so vast that it accelerated Detroit into bankruptcy, and Detroit drug kingpin Big Meech, who made an estimated $270 million in sales before his 30-year prison sentence.

Unlike other superhero shows, Black Lightning isn’t battling two-headed monsters and aliens, but the realistic and metaphorical villains who exist in the modern world — gangs, gun violence, drugs, sex trafficking, corrupt politicians, racism and racial profiling.

Black Lightning reopens the dialogue about the best approach to the fight for justice — mirroring King’s stance of nonviolent protest versus Malcolm X’s defense of justice achieved “by any means necessary.”

On one hand, Jefferson is a community hero as the principal of a charter high school that was a safe haven from violence and gangbangers. In the comic book, he is one of the athletes who raised a fist during the 1968 Olympics during the national anthem. But on the other hand, as Black Lighting, he is the vigilante whom the community rallies behind after they’ve lost faith in an ineffective law enforcement and justice system.

The Undefeated visited the set of Black Lightning in Atlanta and spoke with executive producer Salim Akil and several members of the main cast to talk about the show’s deeper meaning and impact they hope to spark in viewers.


Tracey Bonner as LaWanda and Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce

Richard Ducree/The CW

Why is it important to have a black superhero on TV fighting real-life issues happening in today’s world?

Cress Williams (Black Lightning/Jefferson Pierce): It’s definitely and desperately important to have everyone represented because superheroes are also role models [and we as a whole] need to learn more about different cultures and races. In order for this genre of superheroes to thrive, it has to diversify and evolve by exploring how it would be if we lived in a world where superheroes existed. How would they help with real-life problems and what challenges they face? It’s a way to see what’s really going on in the world and generate discussions around it.

Christine Adams (Lynn Stewart, Pierce’s ex-wife): These are stories that need to be told from the black perspective. But that doesn’t mean it’s only for the black audience; it’s for everyone, because the issues we address are coming straight out of today’s newspapers. Many times when we read stories on gun violence and gangs, we only see them as bad people. No one is just a bad person. People are complex, and it’s a series of events that leads them to the things they do. We easily look at people from a distance and make a judgment before really learning what shaped them to who they are today.

Damon Gupton (Inspector Henderson): It’s been time. We’re such an important fabric of popular culture that it only makes sense that we have a black superhero. As a child, I was a fan of Superman and X-Men, but if I had seen a superhero that looked like an uncle and was commenting on something that I had seen down the block from me, I’d feel like I’d have a voice and be empowered.

We see different approaches to fighting for change on the show. From Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and other approaches. What are the reasons behind your characters’ approaches?

Salim Akil (executive producer): It’s a debate that keeps going on inside of me, especially now that I have younger boys. I understand extreme violence, what a gunshot or a dead person on the street looks like, from my own life and friends’, so I know what violence is. It never leaves anyone … but in a certain way it leads to freedom. Nobody ever fought for freedom without adapting.

Williams: When Jefferson was younger, he flirted with the idea of just taking the Malcolm X way until his wife gave him the ultimatum after she couldn’t take another night of him putting his life on the line. So he went the Martin Luther King route for nine years as a school principal, not using his powers until he realized that although the school was thriving, everything around it wasn’t [and eventually the school would become affected too].

Yes, education, positivity and nonviolence need to be paramount, but sometimes you just gotta mess some things up, and Jefferson begins to realize that it takes both.

Nafessa Williams (Anissa Pierce): Anissa fights the Malcolm X fight all the way even before she has powers and becomes Thunder. Malcolm X is one of her heroes, which creates an ongoing back-and-forth with she and her dad [who wants to protect her from the dangers of taking that route]. [As Black Lighting inspires hope to the community], she sparks strength and boldness, knowing what your purpose is and literally walking in it every day.

Gupton: Henderson has the unfortunate position of being a law enforcer at a time when people are looking for results at seeing things get better. He’s telling the community that he’s trying, but they don’t believe him, so they call him names like ‘Uncle Tom’ or ‘Oreo.’ It puts him in a rock and a hard place because he truly believes he can make a difference in the community.

It’s got to mean something to him that the community has a sense of pride in Black Lightning as the guy who can fix their problems. Maybe a little bit of him wants that, or just a thank you, from time to time.

How will viewers relate to Lynn Stewart in not wanting her family to put themselves in danger?

Adams: It’s a push and pull for Lynn, which will be a very relatable concept for viewers. It’s hard when your children aspire to do good in the world, like serve in the military, but ultimately it is endangering their own lives. I’m sure for Lynn, she was hoping her loved ones would have gone about it as teachers or social activists but not superheroes.

How do you personally relate to these characters?

Akil: I’m definitely using a lot of my own life experiences. Jefferson and Tobias are both a part of me and the people I grew up with in Richmond [California]. My mom went to prison a few times and I was on my own for a bit, but one of the things she would always tell me is: ‘If I ever see you out here selling drugs, I will kill you.’

Young African-American men and women are self-motivated, so since my father wasn’t around and all of the men I knew were hustlers, I’d watch Johnny Carson and The Honeymooners and try to figure out what that world was. Then I turned to Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. I happened to pick those guys, but some of my friends picked gangsters.

Marvin Krondon Jones III (Tobias Whale): Life prepares us for every role, no matter what the character is calling for. If you are in tune with yourself and life, the work is there. While preparing for this role, it slowly revealed itself to me that Tobias was in me or I was in Tobias, so I had to do a lot of soul-searching.

As a gold medalist of the 1968 Olympics, Jefferson Pierce appears to be living a very modest life. Why didn’t he capitalize on fame like other athletes?

Akil: I asked [Black Lightning comic book creator] Tony Isabella and he told me how [he made] Jefferson one of the athletes who bowed his head and raised a black-gloved fist during the national anthem at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, just as real-life African-American Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos did then. [If you remember what happened back then, many Americans were outraged from what Tommie and Carlos did. They received death threats and were suspended from the U.S. team, but neither apologized for it, nor ever felt the need to.] Like them, Jefferson got hit with that. We may explore that in the series later down the line.

Gun violence is a common theme in most comic-book-turned-TV-series. How is Black Lightning addressing this issue differently?

Akil: Young people are being shot, and people are going into churches, schools and movie theaters killing people. Gun violence in this country is real, and I didn’t want to make it feel good when viewers watched it on the show. I didn’t want shootings of just aliens or faceless folks but people that viewers would become familiar with and begin to care about. It’s one thing to read it [in the comic book], but it’s another to watch it because it affects you in a different way [for both the cast and viewers]. And that’s what I wanted.

Early in the series, Jefferson is pulled over by a white cop for essentially being a black man. Why was it important for you to have this scene in the series?

Akil: A lot of my black police officer friends get pulled over by the police. Before they can say that they are officers too, they have to be black first and hope that the person coming to the window is not affected with the disease of racism to the point that they pull the trigger before asking questions.

What’s your thought process in playing a black police officer in a time when law enforcement doesn’t have the best stigma?

Gupton: It’s the first time in my life where I had to think of what a black law enforcer has to be feeling and thinking when they are confronted with yet another scene of something atrocious that has happened. What is going on in their mind and heart knowing that they probably got into the force wanting to protect and serve the things that are now on fire, but still have to represent this beast. Are they protecting people who are corrupt, or are they corrupt themselves? Obviously, not my character, but what’s their psyche like as a black law enforcement officer at a time where law enforcement is intriguing, to say the least.

With a combination of music from Kendrick Lamar and your son [Yasin or Nasir], why is music such a strong component in Black Lightning?

Akil: You can’t separate us [black people] from music. It got us through slavery, Jim Crow laws, [racism and inequality]. Music has always been a part of who we are as people and as a culture and inherently gave America its most original music. People get upset when I say this, but we are the American dream. James Brown and Miles Davis aren’t black music. They’re so much bigger than that. It originated in America, so it’s American music. It’s about how you want to characterize it, and I characterize it as a gift to America. It’s the most American thing that we have, so we need to take ownership of that.

In the story of heroism, everyone doesn’t have superpowers but everyone plays a part. What is your advice to the average Jane and Joe who want to be part of the fight in making the world a better place?

China Anne McClain (daughter Jennifer Pierce): There’s always something that you in your own uniqueness can bring to the world. Find what that is and go for it. Don’t take no for an answer. Whatever is it that you want to tackle, do it because you can.

James Remar (Peter Gambi, Jefferson’s father figure, mentor and tailor): Stick by your truth and be guided by love. When we start to bend our personal truth and the truth out of mouths, that’s when we start to get into trouble.

Jones: Everyone has the power to fight for justice and change, whether you are a single parent, student, police officer or even the bad guy. What we’re seeing in the series is that everyone has a bit of superhero in them. It’s a choice.

Gupton: People can vote, volunteer, teach and connect. I consider those superpowers. My mom is a lawyer, and I see that as her superpower. Hopefully, we have the power to bring together the theme of family, community and togetherness to connect with this series.

Adams: Heroism doesn’t always get the thanks that it should. We have teachers who are working at schools with not a lot of funding and using their own [low] wages to buy supplies. And even the people who ran into strangers’ homes to help them get out during the recent California fires. These are the unsung heroes.

Meet the cast of the CW’s Black Lightning

28 black-owned businesses’ gift ideas to get you through Black Friday Shopping black means furthering your commitment to diversity, and these black businesses have all your shopping needs covered

Black Friday deals start earlier and earlier each year and have begun to spill into Thanksgiving Day festivities. After a full meal, some football and time with family, millions of Americans will flood stores and the cyber world for Black Friday and Cyber Monday must-have deals.

However, off the megaretailer path — on hosted online stores such as Etsy, or on individual websites — there are a multitude of black-owned businesses offering unique gift ideas for your entire list. Not to mention, supporting a black-owned business shows a commitment to diversity and a diversification of gifts under the tree.

Black businesses have rapidly increased over the past 40 years, with a big boom in the last decade. According to Black Demographics, black-owned businesses in the United States increased 34.5 percent between 2007 and 2012. On any given day, small-business owners, with the goal of selling products and services, compete for their fair share of shoppers in an inundated marketplace, and the competition is even greater during the holidays, when Big Retail makes a final profits push.

Check out The Undefeated’s online gift buying guide, featuring items for your holiday shopping. We’ve updated our prior list and combed the webosphere for our best finds, and here are a few that caught our eye. Discover these black entrepreneurs who offer a variety of gift ideas.

Art

Leah Lynnette

MarcusKwame

Tiare Smith Designs

Bags and Mugs

Urban Heirlooms

The February Store

Men’s tidbits

EdCentrik

Mo’s Bows

Stationery and Expressions

African American Expressions

Women’s tidbits

Originally Young

JeannePaulCreations

Demestik

ThreeLittleBirdsTees

Electronics

I Am Plus

Jewelry

Talley and Twine Watch Company

Mombasa

Spring Break Watches

Brave Chick

apparel

The Official Malcolm X Store

Bodied Sports

HGC Apparel

Sweet Knowledge

Beautiful in Every Shade

Household and Beauty

Don’t Sleep Interiors

Angels and Tomboys

Jacq’s Organics

Armani’s Aromas

Pets

Rose and Pheebs Co.

Picture Perfect Pup

Happy Shopping!!

Black female gun owners speak about Russian Facebook ads ‘I don’t want to be used as propaganda’

Black women who own guns don’t necessarily fit the common conceptions of gun owners. They’re rarely the picture of recreational shooting or gun classes. And some fear that even if they procure the proper training and licensing, they’re not protected by laws designed to shield gun owners from prosecution.

The distance between perception and reality surfaced this week when The Washington Post reported that imagery of a black woman firing a rifle was used in the Facebook ads that Russians bought to influence the 2016 presidential election. The image, which has not been publicly released, might have been intended to encourage African-American militancy and also fan fears among whites, according to the Post report.

Without context, a picture of a black woman firing a rifle is not a neutral image, said Kaitanya Bush, a 42-year-old paralegal in Austin, Texas, who recently bought a 9 mm pistol to protect herself and her family.

Bush said she immediately thought of the cartoon of Michelle Obama on the cover of The New Yorker before the 2008 election. Obama was depicted as a rifle-wielding radical sporting a bandolier and giving her secret-Muslim husband a “terrorist fist jab.” The cover was meant to be satirical — pointing out the ridiculousness of the worst fears of Obama opponents, given that the Obamas were moderate, well-to-do liberals, not the second coming of Assata Shakur and Fred Hampton.

“You can see how that imagery [in the Russian ads] can evoke the same feelings that those had about Michelle Obama bringing this militant side out of the nice and gentle Barack,” Bush said. The New Yorker cover depicted Michelle Obama as “threatening, and fearful, and manipulative, that there is an ulterior motive to this. That we are the temptress.”

Bush said the fear of black women’s radicalism reminded her of the reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Nessa Diab, after she tweeted an unflattering image comparing Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and Ray Lewis to characters from Django Unchained.

Lewis attributed the Ravens’ decision not to sign Kaepernick to the tweet, which he called a “racist gesture.”

Outside the context of law enforcement, military service, or criminality, images of black people with guns tend to be associated with political radicalism, whether it be the Black Panthers, the photo of Malcolm X holding a rifle and peering out of a window, which Nicki Minaj adopted for the album art of her 2014 single, “Lookin A– N—-,” or The New Yorker cover of the Obamas. Images of gun-wielding black people are metonyms for black militancy.

Black gun ownership is historically connected with defending oneself from state violence or lack of state protection, from Harriet Tubman to violent uprisings of enslaved people. And of course there’s a long history of black people who hunt, or shoot for sport, like the women in this 1937 image of the Howard University women’s rifle team. But such representations of black gun users aren’t as well-known.

Black women with guns don’t enjoy the same positive associations as someone such as Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde or Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, who made the empowered and unafraid gun-toting archetype a key part of their appeal as movie stars. That tide may shift slightly with the upcoming film Proud Mary, which stars Taraji P. Henson as a sexy, skilled hit woman. There’s also Lana Kane, the smart, sensible spy in Archer voiced by Aisha Tyler, whose biting comebacks and uniform of clingy sweater dresses set off by two TEC-9s made her a cult hero. But at the end of the day, Kane is a cartoon.

And so the limited context in which armed black women are seen may have provided an opportunity for Russia.

“It makes complete sense to me that they would do that just to incite some sort of rise out of people,” said Marchelle Tigner, a 25-year-old firearms instructor in Savannah, Georgia, who calls herself the “Trigger Happy Panda.” “When articles came out about me or videos came out about me, I would read the comments. And a lot of the comments were extremely negative, like, ‘Oh, black women have guns now. They’re gonna start shooting people. They’re angry and irrational, and the crime rate in black neighborhoods is gonna go up now.’ They were really hurtful, really mean, and really racist comments coming out, so it makes sense that if Russia wanted to get a rise out of people or incite some kind of hateful feelings in a lot of people, they would post pictures of black women with firearms.”

Tigner is an Army veteran who began carrying a gun as part of her job as a military intelligence officer. It made her uncomfortable, but after she was sexually assaulted at age 19, shooting at the gun range became cathartic instead of anxiety-producing. She now travels the country instructing black women in gun safety. When Tigner saw the news that Russia may have used an ad featuring an image of a black woman firing a rifle as a way to sow division and disrupt the election, she was not pleased.

“Although I might not agree with a lot of people’s beliefs, I would never want to be used as propaganda,” Tigner said. “I never want to be a gimmick. That’s why I carry myself professionally when I’m teaching because I never want my words or my images to be twisted and used against me, or against people for making that decision.”


Nobody’s expecting me, this 25-year-old black woman, to have a firearm and to be able to draw and defend myself, and I like that. I like that I’m underestimated.

Courtesy of Marchelle Tigner

Black women interviewed for this story believe they will not necessarily be afforded equal protection under the law as licensed gun owners because of their blackness. As a result, there’s a cost-benefit analysis that takes place. On the one hand, they feel unsafe in America because of their blackness, and that includes experiences as a gun owner. But they have decided that it’s still worth having the gun to protect themselves from, among other things, racially-motivated violence.

Even though North Carolina is an open carry state, Dione Davis, a 32-year-old cosmetologist and mother, said that she chooses to conceal carry her Glock with a permit. The reason is because she’s black, Davis said.

“I guess I feel like I’m covered but I’m not covered,” Davis said. “I would say … there is a double standard as to how we’re viewed, black gun owners versus white gun owners. Nobody’s looking at my husband or myself as … college-educated … law-abiding citizens when we have a gun. Nobody’s thinking about whether I have four kids at home when you look at me at with a gun. Nobody’s thinking about those things. … White America always has the positive view: They’ve got a family at home, they’re always viewed with life behind them. Black Americans, we’re viewed with no life behind us.”

Philando Castile had a permit for his gun, but died in 2016 after the Minnesota police officer who pulled him over shot and killed him, citing fear that Castile, who disclosed that he had a weapon, would kill him. Marissa Alexander, a black woman from Jacksonville, was imprisoned for firing a warning shot in self-defense at her abusive husband after a judge rejected her defense under the state’s “stand your ground” law.

In every class she holds, Tigner said, black women voice their worries about not having their rights respected or acknowledged. “I’ve even had women say that they didn’t want to be in the photo that we take at the end of the class because they didn’t even want anyone to know that they were in a firearms class,” Tigner said. “It’s kind of scary to think that you can’t learn how to defend yourself without being a target or being looked at as a threat. Even Tamir Rice, he was a kid and had a toy. Not even a real firearm, being a child, and was killed in less than two seconds after [police] arrived on the scene. Things like that are why a lot of parents don’t even want their children to learn about firearms or to take a class, because they don’t want them to be seen as a target, like my parents didn’t. We talk about that in the class a lot.”

For Tigner, the decision not to open carry is a tactical one. “If I was a bank robber and I walk into a bank and you’re open carrying, I’m definitely gonna make sure I take you out first. It just makes you an immediate target and an immediate threat. That’s how criminals think. They look for the harder target. Nobody’s expecting me, this 25-year-old black woman, to have a firearm and to be able to draw and defend myself, and I like that. I like that I’m underestimated.”


With regard to the Russian Facebook ads, Tiffany Ware, the 44-year-old Cincinnati-based founder of The Brown Girls Project and founder of the Brown Girls With Guns workshop, didn’t think it was possible for racial tensions to get worse than they already are.

“My only thought was how could they think that would create more of a divide than what already exists?” Ware said. “From where I live, my view, my perspective, there’s always been this huge divide between African-American people and others. Now there’s even more of a divide. I don’t see how they thought seeing that image would create a greater divide, because I come from a very strong and proud background and all I’ve ever received was pushback for being that way.”

She first became interested in guns after a team she managed was harassed while canvassing for Hillary Clinton. Her team members told her they’d been called “n—–s” and that their campaign signs had been destroyed. Ware said she’s lived in Cincinnati for most of her life and before last fall had been called “n—-” twice. Since December, she’s been called the N-word four times.

Witnessing her children’s anxiety after President Donald Trump won the election spurred Ware to action to protect herself and her family.

“It just made me think and I was like, gosh, what if somebody did — anybody, not just some crazy racist person — but what if somebody did run up in this house, what would I do?” Ware said. “Like, how do I handle that? I need to figure it out.”

When Ware began organizing gun training for black women at a Cincinnati gun range, she said, she and the women in her group would draw stares and the owners made it clear they were not welcome. “They told us we couldn’t continue to come because there were so many of us that we were knocking out their Sunday regulars,” Ware said. “We knew what it was.” So they found another range.

“From white supremacists who terrorized that young child’s birthday party to the little boy who took the trash out for his mother and his neighbor shot him down on the side of the street, you know these are realities for us,” Bush said. “And I as a lawful citizen of this country, if I am going to come up against someone who may have a weapon on them, I am not going to be in that position where I have to fear for my life, where I’m unable to protect my family.”

NBA glamour is all about courtside From Rihanna to Jay Z; Beyoncé to Drake, sitting on the wood is its own red carpet

Rihanna just walked in front of me,” Jeff Van Gundy yelled during the first quarter of Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. He completely skipped over the vicious dunk LeBron James had just unleashed on JaVale McGee. “Are you kidding me?!”

Fellow commentators Mike Breen and Mark Jackson chided their longtime colleague, but Van Gundy’s brief moment of distraction was warranted — she’s one of the biggest pop stars and beautiful people in the world. But it wasn’t just Rihanna sitting courtside in the Oracle Arena in East Oakland, California. Maybe it’s the trilogy effect, but this may just be the most star-laden NBA Finals ever. Aside from Rihanna, Jay Z, Kevin Hart, Marshawn Lynch, Power’s Omari Hardwick and Bay Area legends Too $hort, Raphael Saadiq and E-40 were all in attendance — either courtside or a few rows back.

Yet, it was Rihanna, from her plush digs — on the announcers’ side just a few seats away from Jay Z — who made worldwide headlines by matching wits with Kevin Durant. The Grammy winner and 2014 NBA MVP locked eyes on more than one occasion as Rihanna used her multimillion-dollar voice to chastise Durant. Rihanna came up short, though. KD dropped 38 points in a Game 1 blowout victory.


Celebrities and sporting events, to quote the great Tracy “Hustle Man” Morgan, “go back like spinal cords and car seats.”

As Muhammad Ali’s fights were makeshift Met Galas for actors, actresses, musicians and hustlers, at 2015’s Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao bout, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Don Cheadle, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington, Antoine Fuqua and more piled in to Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. But what makes the professional basketball courtside experience different is that the attendee is sitting right on top of the game. Courtside is more intimate than ringside: One’s feet are literally on the field of play. Jay Z refers to himself in 2009’s “Empire State of Mind”: Sitting courtside / Knicks and Nets give me high fives / N—-, I be Spiked out, I can trip a referee.

This is far from Shawn Carter’s first courtside homage. On Cam’ron’s 2002 anthem, “Welcome To New York City,” Jay boasts: I ain’t hard to find/ You can catch me front and center / At the Knick game, big chain in all my splendor/ Next to Spike if you pan left to right/ I own Madison Square / Catch me at the fight. It makes sense that both these lyrical moments nod at the world’s most famous Knicks fan — and courtside royalty — director Spike Lee. It’s Lee — Rihanna’s courtside prophyte in a sense — who stars in basketball’s most well-known courtside beef. He and Reggie Miller’s infamous back-and-forth during the 1994 Game 5 of the Knicks vs. Pacers Eastern Conference finals was defined by Miller’s 25-point fourth quarter and capped off with Miller’s choking gesture to Lee. The tense moment is immortal, iconic NBA playoff lore.

For the Los Angeles Lakers, courtside culture can be dated to the legendary actress Doris Day, better known as “the Neil Armstrong of Lakers’ celebrities.” Day, the biggest female box office star of the late ’50s and early ’60s, opened the courtside door at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Fellow A-listers such as Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon, and Walter Matthau followed her in to watch future Hall of Famers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor lead the Lakers to multiple Finals appearances. The move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles made the Lakers the NBA’s first West Coast squad in 1960 — a move directly influenced by Lakers owner Bob Short noticing the financial gold mine the Dodgers found in L.A. following their move from Brooklyn, New York, two years earlier.

The appearance of celebrities courtside exploded in the era of the Magic Johnson-led “Showtime” Lakers. Johnson embodied 1980s Hollywood — the flashy play, the good looks and, of course, that 2,000-watt smile. Comedian Arsenio Hall was a regular at the Forum, as was singer Dionne Warwick, Michael J. Fox, Ted Danson, Jimmy Goldstein and, most famous of them all, Jack Nicholson. These were kings and queens of that era’s show business realm.

“If you’re an A-level person, and we know the fans are going to go bananas when your picture goes up on the scoreboard, then there’s a value having you there,” Barry Watkins has said. He’s the Madison Square Garden Co.’s executive vice president and chief communications officer. He’s the plug when it comes to courtside seats at the Garden. “It’s a big part of the brand. Win or lose, it’s one of the reasons people come to the games.” Entertainers want to be entertained, too. Plus, basketball and Hollywood were meant to be significant others off the rip: talent, egos, competition, drama, controversy, animosities and, all playing out under the bright, bright lights.

According to Shawn “Pecas” Costner, vice president of player relations at Roc Nation Sports, the continued charm of courtside seats has largely to do with the popularity and influence of hip-hop culture. “The flyest thing you can do at a basketball game — besides play in the game — is sit courtside,” he said from his New York City office.

And this is not solely due to the glamour and bravado associated with rap. Pecas believes that these days, the courtside thing is just as much about the hard-knock journeys associated with the music’s biggest stars. Pecas came to Roc Nation Sports in 2014, following 18 years in the music business, most notably as executive vice president at Def Jam Recordings. The Bronx, New York. native, who grew up with Big Pun, Lord Tariq and Jennifer Lopez, earned his stripes in several capacities at V2, Elektra and Arista Records before joining Def Jam in 2005. “When we were kids,” he said, “and used to go see the Knicks play the Bulls on Christmas Day, we were in the 300 section. You had to bring your binoculars to watch. You always wanted to see who was the one or two black guys sitting courtside because at that time, it was only one or two.”

While not quite a regular courtside fixture, Pecas has his share of memories. He and his longtime colleague Mike Kyser, president of black music at Atlantic Records, sat courtside for rookie game and dunk and 3-point contests at the 2012 All-Star Weekend in Orlando, Florida. Pecas would normally give his tickets away to artists in town for the big game on Sunday, but as destiny would have it, not as many came that year, and Pecas and Kyser received floor seat assignments for the actual All-Star contest. “You’re like, ‘Oh s—!’” he said, his voice getting higher as he takes a trip down memory lane. “ ‘Am I courtside for the NBA All-Star Game?’ You gotta make sure the outfit is right just in case. Make sure you wear the right sneakers.”

The game itself was one of the more entertaining All-Star Games in recent memory, the highlight being a LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant scoring barrage. Pecas and friends documented the memories on social media with the hashtags such as #OnTheWood, and #Woody Harrelson. In Pecas’ office hangs framed photo of himself in the New York Daily News. He looks on as Kevin Durant — now a Roc Nation client — flushes home a dunk with James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love looking on.

As for this year’s NBA Finals, Pecas said he can’t even begin to predict the number of celebrities who’ll be sitting courtside for however long the Warriors and Cavaliers do business. The possibilities are limitless because the NBA is more committed to its fans both domestically and abroad than any other American sports entity. While cries of superteams killing the product cause constant debates at social media and on sports talk shows, the NBA celebrated its third consecutive record-breaking year of fan attendance. And the NBA certainly loves the social status of having some of the world’s biggest celebrities taking in the game mere feet away from some of the world’s most popular athletes. The photos below showcase some of those personalities, from yesteryear to the present.

Pecas said it’s difficult to describe the feeling of sitting courtside, but he gives it a try: “Sitting courtside is like flying private for the first time,” he said. “You never wanna go back.”

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Jay Z and Kevin Hart share a laugh at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Time heals all wounds, so one can only hope they’re sharing a laugh about the time the comedian once spilled an entire bottle of pineapple juice on Jay Z and his wife, Beyoncé, in a nightclub.

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That’s Rihanna at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals probably yelling at Kevin Durant. Given her history with the Warriors these past few seasons, it’ll be interesting to see the reaction she gets the next time she has a concert in Oakland, California, or San Francisco. (Spoiler: She’ll still sell out the arena and be welcomed like a queen because her fan base really doesn’t care about her sports preferences.)

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Never, ever doubt Spike Lee’s loyalty to his New York Knicks. Here’s the famed director in January 2013 at London’s O2 Arena for a regular season game between the Knicks and Detroit Pistons. This won’t happen — but if the Knicks win an NBA title within the next 15-20 years, Lee needs to be the first person to hoist the trophy. That’s the least we can do after the powers that be robbed him (and Denzel Washington) of an Oscar for Malcolm X.

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While I did get to attend Dave Chappelle’s famous Juke Joint party this year in New Orleans, I’m greedy. This is the same reaction I have every time I think of the Chris Rock/Chappelle superset they did in The Big Easy in late March. In reality, it’s Rock gesturing at Will Smith at Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.

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On the bright side, Mary J. Blige got a chance to see Kobe Bryant drop 50 points on Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the 2006 opening round quarterfinals. On a not-so-bright side, it’s almost as if you can see the inevitable written on her face — the Los Angeles Lakers blowing a 3-1 series lead and Bryant having the most controversial game of his career in Game 7.

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Sean “Diddy” Combs and Snoop Dogg: Pictured at Game 6 of the 2010 Finals between the Celtics and Lakers, neither knew the series would shift that night when center Kendrick Perkins went down with a knee injury. There’s also no confirmation if the two spoke of their appearance on The Steve Harvey Show as they attempted to quell the simmering East Coast-West Coast tensions 13 years earlier.

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At this point, the New York Knicks need whatever residual prayers are left over from Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act series.

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LeBron James and Drake: There’s no rapper currently who enjoys the perks of sitting courtside more than Drake. Perhaps paying respects in The 6, that’s LeBron James taking a drink from Kevin Hart and giving it to the Toronto Raptors ambassador during the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto.

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Everyone wanted hottest ticket in America in the fall of 2010 to see the Miami Heat’s new “big three” of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Including the greatest of all time herself, Serena Jameka Williams.

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Jack Nicholson and Michael Jordan: The Joker and The Cold Blooded Killer post up at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles on Feb. 28, 1999, for a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. The night featured six Hall of Famers (Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Dennis Rodman and MJ, himself, courtside). Seven including future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant.

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Stuart Scott, Samuel L. Jackson and Allen Iverson — In one of the cooler sports pictures out there, we’ve got three legends. One in Samuel L. Jackson who, if he doesn’t by now, should have a trademark on the word “m—–f—–.” Two, we have Allen Ezail Iverson, 2016 Hall of Fame inductee and NBA living legend. And three, Stuart Scott doing what he always did best. R.I.Booyah, Stu. We still miss you.

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Murder Inc.’s two genius creative seen here in 2002 at a Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors game. That year — ironically the one before 50 Cent became global sensation — was a good one for the label. Ja Rule and Ashanti’s “Always On Time” and “Down 4 U” both made Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 Singles.

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Here we have Diana Ross at a Knicks and Charlotte Hornets playoff game with her sons. Fun fact: Ross’ No. 1 smash single “Touch Me In The Morning” was released on the same day the New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the 1973 NBA Finals — a series that would give the storied franchise its last NBA title.

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Barry Obama’s love of hoops is one of the most relatable and endearing parts of his legacy. He even had a court put in at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Here’s the 44th president sitting courtside at an October 2015 game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Obama’s hometown Chicago Bulls.

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John Legend, Benny The Bull, and Chrissy Teigen — Life was all good for the Bulls in 2011. Derrick Rose was a superstar en route to an MVP season. They were the top seed in the East. And Benny The Bull had model Chrissy Teigen sit on his lap while future husband John Legend snaps a picture.

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YG and Nipsey Hussle: When they’re not making anti-President Donald Trump anthems, two of L.A.’s finest young guns can be found supporting the hometown squad. This was also the game that birthed one of the funnier basketball memes of the season, too.

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Supporting her husband, Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union takes in the festivities of Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. The Miami Heat would, of course, go on to win that game and repeat as NBA champions. But not without its share of drama.

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Jay Z and Beyoncé Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers fell down 0-2 to the Warriors last year and won four of the last five. But that was last year before a 7-foot pterodactyl with range out of the gym joined the squad. If you’re Cleveland, it’s time to call in the secret weapon: Beyoncé. She look like she’s ready to give birth at any moment to the twins (if we’re lucky, they’re named Bad and Boujee Carter). But LeBron James always plays superhuman — and he’s going to have to play super, super, superhuman to beat the Seal Team 6 Warriors. That only happens if The Queen is courtside.

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Will Smith and Jada Pinkett — One of America’s longtime premier black power couples is no stranger to the courtside life. Here, the two TV stars turned movie stars share a smooch. The No. 1 all-time Will and Jada courtside story? Three days following the release of what became The Fresh Prince’s most commercially successful album in Big Willie Style and a month before their wedding, the couple attended the Sixers/Lakers game on Nov. 28, 1997. The matchup featured a pair of Hall of Famers dueling it out in Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant, who came off the bench. But more importantly, the couple got up close and personal with Jerry Stackhouse and Eddie Jones, who crashed into them.

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Wanda Durant and Marshawn Lynch — In the past year, Oakland, California, has welcomed Kevin Durant — and by proxy his mother, Wanda Durant — and its favorite football son, Marshawn Lynch, back to The Town’s fold. Both pictured here at Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. While it wouldn’t be surprising if the Golden State Warriors held on to win two more games, the more fascinating plot twist is if they let Lynch party with them during a potential championship parade. Mic Lynch and Draymond Green up and show it on pay-per-view.

Muhammad Ali knew how to play the villain, but dodging the draft turned him into a pariah An excerpt from Leigh Montville’s ‘Sting Like a Bee’

The famous quote did not come until a day later. The interviews on the lawn at 4610 NW 15th Street were long finished when Ali took a phone call in the morning from Tom Fitzpatrick, a 39-year-old sportswriter for the Chicago Daily News. The fight with Ernie Terrell was scheduled to take place in less than six weeks, March 29, 1966, at the International Amphitheatre near the Union Stock Yards in Chicago. Tickets had to be sold. There were reasons to talk to sportswriters from Chicago.

The Daily News was an afternoon paper, so Fitzpatrick was looking for a different angle, different words from what everyone would read over breakfast. He was not disappointed.

“I am a member of the Muslims and we don’t go to no wars unless they are declared by Allah himself,” Ali said into the phone. “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

Bingo.

That second sentence, the one about the Viet Congs, would become the defining quote for all that followed for the heavyweight champion of the world. The initial rush of self-indulgent emotion recorded by Bob Halloran and the other reporters was enough to get America agitated about a man who talked too much, loved himself too much. The mention of the Viet Cong, first reported in the afternoon edition of the Daily News, then repeated on the wire services to newspapers across the country, brought a focus to that agitation, put all the anger into a convenient package.

“Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.”

Nothing against those Viet Congs? This was the hook. Was it dissent or was it treason? Common sense or sedition? No boldface or italics were needed. The words would jump off the page without help.

“We Muslims are taught to defend ourselves when we are attacked,” Ali further told Fitzpatrick. “Those Viet Cong are not attacking me.

“These Viet Congs are fighting a very nasty war over there,” he added. “There’s a lot of people getting killed. Why should we Muslims get involved?”

Variations of “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs” would be included in all future biographical stories about Ali. This would become his stand, his legacy: the ten words that changed his life. The quote would become part of American historical dialogue, stuff for schoolkids to remember. Who said “Give me liberty or give me death”? Patrick Henry. Who said “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs”?

An added quote would be assigned to him later: “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘n—–,’ ” but he did not say that. Not now, not for many, many years, if he ever did. The quote was said by other people — activist Stokely Carmichael, for one — but somehow was assigned to Ali in slippery history. His quote was, “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs.”

He would try later to give the words context. He would claim in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story, that on his way back from the gym that day when he received the news, he had seen some kids throwing rocks at a little girl. He said he stopped and asked what was happening and the kids told him they were playing “army and Viet Cong” and the little girl was Viet Cong. The words made him flash to pictures he had seen in a magazine of a little girl walking among dead bodies outside Saigon. Troubled, he took this little neighborhood child in his arms and walked her home, away from the trouble. The incident was still in his head when he spoke later.

None of this happened. The autobiography would be filled with these little feel-good memories that were too good to be true, bedtime-story perfect, invented by the champ and ghostwriter Richard Durham. He never mentioned the little girl to any reporters on that day. He never even mentioned the Viet Cong until his late interview with Fitzpatrick. The quote that became remembered was another part of his daily torrent of words. Captain Sam Saxon, the man who first introduced Ali to the Nation of Islam in Miami, said he was with the champ at one point in the day and told him, “You got nothing against those Viet Cong,” and the champ agreed, yes, he had nothing against those Viet Cong. Ali perhaps remembered and repeated the phrase in the interview, nobody really conscious of the impact. There was no plan; the words came out with all the other words. The difference was that these words landed in the catch basin of the national mind.

Those Viet Cong were killing more than 18 American kids every day. The death total for 1965 had been 1,928 (double the casualties of any year in the Iraq War), and that would be tripled, to 6,350, in 1966 with the new escalation (more deaths in one year than in the entire Iraq War). In 1968, the height of the Vietnam War, 16,899 American kids would lose their lives. That would be 46 per day.

Not being upset with the Viet Cong seemed much worse than not submitting to the draft or not wanting to be involved in the war. Graphic pictures of these dying American boys had begun to appear on the nightly news. The enemy was supposed to be the enemy.

“I don’t want to scare anybody about it, but there are millions of Muslims around the world watching what is happening to me,” Ali said to Fitzpatrick. “I’m not making a threat [that they’ll get angry and do something]. I’m just saying maybe.”

This was heavy stuff.


Ali was familiar with the role of villain. He had chosen it in the early stages of his professional career, tried it on as if it were a black hat and a scowl discovered in the back of a family closet. He kept it when he found that it brought increased attention and larger paydays.

His marketing idea was that bad was much more interesting than good, an approach that newspapers, the television nightly news, and the gossipy woman next door had adopted long ago. People were more interested in paying money to see Sylvester the Cat than Tweety, Tom more than Jerry, Wile E. Coyote more than that beep-beep Road Runner.

This approach was adopted when Ali returned from the 1960 Olympics with his light-heavyweight gold medal and found himself back at the beginning in the professional side of the sport, no more than another low-watt attraction fighting unheralded opponents named Terry Hunsaker, Herb Siler, Tony Esperti, and Duke Sabedong. Where was the money, the instant payoff for those hundred-plus amateur fights? (His amateur record has been recorded in various places with various numbers, ranging from 99-8 to 137-7.) Where was that joy the country felt when he stood on that podium in Rome, the “Star-Spangled Banner” played for the world to hear? He was in a hurry. What would make people notice again? The answer appeared on his television screen.

“Soon after I turned pro, I discovered that even though I won the Olympic title, I wasn’t making any money,” Ali said to Alex Haley in Playboy. “I was the only champion who didn’t have no jack jangling in his jeans. . . . One night I was watching Gorgeous George on TV. He was jumping around making a lot of noise and threatening his opponents and I said to myself, ‘This guy’s on to something. I think I’ll put some of that into my act.’ ”

Gorgeous George, whose real name was George Raymond Wagner, was an eighth-grade dropout from Nebraska who had become one of television’s first stars in the Fifties, as notable as Lucille Ball or Milton Berle or Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He strutted into the ring in sequined robes and high-heeled shoes and had bleached-blond hair that looked as if it came from the same bottle Marilyn Monroe used. His personal “valet” preceded him, squirting perfume into the air. George was a sissified, exaggerated stereotype of a homosexual, effeminate to the ultimate, totally in love with himself. He also was a sneaky, dirty wrestler once the matches began. The combination was irresistible. People howled from the moment he was introduced. A ringside spectator named Hatpin Mary sometimes would stick said hatpin into George’s grand backside somewhere during the proceedings, to everyone’s amusement.

Ali, as Cassius Clay at the time, adopted pieces of this act — the villain was known as the “heel” in wrestling, the hero known as the “babyface” — and added some of his own. The adopted parts involved the self-important bluster, the constant confidence, the repeated declarations about how pretty he was, the demonization of every opponent. He became a shouter, eyes bugged out of his head, one of those people who always seemed to be ticking, ready to explode. The predictions, the rhymes, the nonsense were part of his act.

American boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in the ring after his defeat of Sonny Liston in their world heavyweight title fight at Miami Beach, Florida.

Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images

He was especially insufferable and comic in the buildup to the first fight with Liston. He called Liston “The Bear,” and wore a light blue jacket that said “Bear Huntin” on the back. He went to Las Vegas, screamed outside the champ’s house, confronted him in a casino, made his life miserable. He asked if that big bear was as “rangy and fast and pretty as me.” Gorgeous George couldn’t have done any better.

Ali was familiar with the role of villain.

“[Clay] is light-hearted and breezy and has just enough twinkle in his eyes to take most of the obnoxiousness from the wild words he utters,” Arthur Daley of the New York Times said before the fight. “When they are imprisoned in print, however, the twinkle is never captured and Cassius just becomes nauseous.”

The twinkle made its last unadulterated appearance in the moments after Ali won the title. He was outrageous, comical, as he shouted in triumph from the ring at the sportswriters who picked Liston to win easily. He boasted about his looks, his ability, his battle plan for the odd fight that he had won when Liston refused to come out for the seventh round. No doubt about it, the night the young challenger captured the title he was a hoot. He made even his worst detractors admit they had been wrong about what would happen.

The change came the next day with his announcement that he was a member of the Nation of Islam. The comedy of the past was overwhelmed by the message of the present. The bigmouthed character became a Black Muslim. This was not what most of the paying public wanted to hear. The villain’s words now meant something. The jokes took second place to personal philosophy.

“I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” Ali said at his press conference. “I’m free to be who I want.

“I go to a Black Muslim meeting and what do I see?” he said. “I see there’s no smoking and no drinking and their women wear dresses down to the floor,” he said. “And then I come out on the street and you tell me I shouldn’t go in there. Well, there must be something in there if you don’t want me to go in there.

“In the jungle, lions are with lions and tigers with tigers and redbirds stay with redbirds and bluebirds with bluebirds,” he said. “That’s human nature, too, to be with your own kind. I don’t want to go where I’m not wanted.”

The softness here was in contrast to the national image of the NOI and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. For the white folk who had paid attention, not a large group at the start, this was a cult more than a religion, a theology that talked about white devils and spaceships and a black scientist named Jakub, who had an enormous head and created the white devils 6,000 years ago to persecute the black man.

The Muslims had demands. What was it that Malcolm X always said? “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Most national stories about the faith mentioned the large number of convicted criminals who now were members.

At first, there was the thought that Ali’s conversion was a phase, a mistake by a 22-year-old guy — 22 years, 39 days at that — who had landed in a new situation with new levels of fame and economics. He had been brainwashed by some slick salesmen, sold this bill of curious religious goods. He would grow out of it soon enough. A Black Muslim? He would realize a heavyweight champ could have a much easier life.

“He’s always been such a good boy,” said his mother, Odessa Clay. “He’s been taken in by these Muslim people. We pray he’ll see the light — and we think he will.”

Muhammad Ali at the Howard university with the Muslim journal ‘Muhammad Speaks’ produced by an African American organization (Nation of Islam).

Henning Christoph/ullstein bild via Getty Images

“That Muslim stuff is a phony religion,” said his father, Cassius Clay Sr. “They brag that they don’t drink, smoke or fool around with women. That is only one commandment. There are Ten Commandments.”

The depth of Ali’s belief soon became established. If this was a brainwash, it was a very good one. Standing at the side of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad after Malcolm X’s death, the heavyweight champion of the world became a potential target for revenge. He never blinked.

As city after city rejected the idea that it should be the host for his rematch with Liston because of worries of Black Muslim violence, because of the potential for his assassination, his commitment never changed. As the fight finally landed in a hockey rink in Lewiston, Maine, and he trained in Chicopee, Massachusetts, trailed by five policemen every day as he went from his motel room to the converted banquet hall where he sparred, he laughed about the threat. As he was guarded by more than 200 policemen on the night of the fight, with hourly reports of Malcolm X Muslims coming north from New York to kill him, he laughed some more. He then dropped Liston in one round with one “anchor punch,” supposedly taught to him by old-time actor Stepin Fetchit, and as all of America wondered what the hell was going on, he exulted.

“Nobody wants to kill me,” he said. “If they shoot, the gun will explode in their hands, the bullets will turn, Allah will protect me.”

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play.

The Lewiston win was followed six months later with the 12th-round TKO embarrassment of Floyd Patterson. Poor Floyd, 31 years old, was a gentle man, a practicing Catholic, a two-time heavyweight champ who had been knocked out twice by Liston in the first round, causing him to disguise himself in shame when he walked the streets after the fights. He was cast here as a classic babyface by Ali, drawn for the fight as “The Rabbit,” as the white man’s version of a good black man, yessir, nosir, Uncle Tom. Ali cast himself, of course, as the heel. He was the belligerent black man the white man feared in the night.

Booed during the introductions, booed during the lopsided fight, booed at the end, Ali converted the night into a morality play. True Black Man pummels Fake Black Man. He would use this plotline often during his boxing career, no one ever sure if he was kidding to hype the crowd or was as serious as could be. The answer was left to the observer to decide. Ali simply laid out the story.

His domination of Patterson was obvious. The challenger, who claimed he hurt his back in the fourth, didn’t win a single round. Ali played with him, taunted him, called him “the white man’s black man,” said, “Come on, black man, fight for America.” He seemingly could have knocked him out in any round, finally dropped him in the sixth, then finished him in the 12th. Ali would claim that he was waiting for the referee to stop the fight all night, that he tried not to hurt Patterson, but the ringside view mostly was that he punished the challenger for insisting on calling him “Clay,” not his Muslim name, in the prefight publicity whirl. Fake or real, the villain was in charge all the way.

“He’s mean,” legendary retired champion Joe Louis said. “He worked that poor Floyd over good. He handled him like a baby and he gave him more than he had to give him. I think he could have knocked him out from the first round if he wanted to, but he didn’t want to. I think he just let him have it for fun.”

“While we were fighting, Clay said maybe once or twice in the earlier rounds, maybe like in the third or fourth, ‘What’s my name?’ and I said ‘Cassius,’ ” Patterson said years later. “And finally, in the latter part of the fight, I’d say in the ninth, tenth or eleventh round, and I was really taking a really bad beating, suffering, he said ‘Now what’s my name?’ I believe I said the same thing, ‘Cassius Clay and that’s what it’s always going to be, regardless of the results of this fight. Cassius Clay.’ ”

“Round one, I said, ‘What’s my name?’ ” Ali said, some number of years later. “He didn’t say nothing. So round two, round three, I hit him with my right hand. ‘What’s my name?’ He said, ‘Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali.’ ”

Either way, the fight was a showcase for Ali. This was how well he could box. The two bouts against Liston had been characterized by their strange conclusions. This fight was characterized by Ali’s abilities. He had dazzle, flash, incredible speed. There never had been a heavyweight champ like this young guy. He danced and moved like a middleweight, but had the size and power of a heavyweight. He had told everyone before the fight that Joe Louis would have been too slow to beat him. Rocky Marciano would have been too short. Jack Johnson would have been too ugly. Jack Dempsey would have been too light and couldn’t punch. That left him at the top. The Greatest. He looked the part against poor Patterson.

He said he didn’t need love. He had talent.

“I’m not worried about those boos,” he said. “Those were white people. I got all the black people, some white people, too, and the people of Africa and Asia.”

That theory would be tested with his remarks about the draft and the Viet Cong. The volume became louder. Starting now.