Deitrick Haddon talks LeBron James, Chris Paul, Usher and life in Los Angeles The pastor, actor and gospel recording artist is living his best life

When gospel singer, songwriter and pastor Deitrick Haddon moved to Los Angeles in 2012, NBA All-Star Chris Paul, then a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, was one of the first people he met.

As Haddon was walking into a restaurant, Paul called out to him from his vehicle.

“I heard someone say, ‘Deitrick Haddon?’ and it was Chris Paul. I thought to myself, Chris Paul knows who I am? We started talking, and he told me he listens to my music all the time. He doesn’t keep it a secret that he is a believer,” the Detroit native said. “You may be surprised by who actually listens to gospel music; a lot of athletes listen to gospel music before they go out and play.”

According to Haddon, Paul listens to his breakout single “Sinner’s Prayer,” released in 2002.

“Sinner’s Prayer” also resonated profoundly in Haddon’s own life. After dealing with public scrutiny surrounding his divorce from his first wife, gospel recording artist Damita Haddon, in 2011, he wanted to give up. Instead, he drew even closer to God.

For Haddon, taking on Los Angeles was his best move. He married Dominique McTyer in 2013 and made his small-screen debut that same year in Preachers of L.A., Oxygen’s reality show that followed the lives of six preachers and lasted for two seasons. He became a father of three — Destin, 6; Denver, 3; and Deitrick Jr., just shy of a year old — and started Hill City Church, a nondenominational Christian church in Compton, California.

He also scored his first No. 1 radio single in 2017, “A Billion People” featuring the Hill City Worship Camp, made up of members of his church’s praise and worship team.

Now that the NBA season has started, Haddon has a new basketball team to fan out over in Los Angeles.

“My house is no longer divided,” he said with a laugh. “I am a LeBron James fan to the core, so by default I was a big Cavaliers fan. My wife is a huge Lakers fan. She is a die-hard Kobe Bryant fan. She bleeds purple and gold. We were enemies during every basketball season! We both are supercompetitive and emotional, so in the past there was a real battle in my household.

“This is a great time for my family. My home is united now that LeBron is on the West Coast.”

Haddon, 45, is a preacher’s kid who grew up in Detroit. He was only 10 years old when he knew that, like his father, Bishop Clarence Haddon, he was called to preach.

“I was in my bedroom looking out the window and I heard what I believed was the voice of God speaking to me as loud as I am speaking to you, his audible voice saying, ‘Deitrick, I have called you to ministry and I want you to preach the Gospel and sing the Gospel,’ ” he said.

Haddon was afraid but moved and went to seek counsel from his mother, Joyce.

“I ran to my mother and told her exactly what happened,” Haddon said. “She said, ‘That is God calling you to ministry, Deitrick.’ Before I knew it, I was up preaching. … My mother brought me a robe and a little Bible and set a date, and I was up preaching in front of a whole crowd at a church called Unity Cathedral of Faith [a Full Gospel church on Detroit’s west side]. The church was packed because word had gotten out that little Deitrick Haddon was going to preach.”

Haddon will never forget the day. He sang a song to begin and noticed the crowd’s response.

“Everyone in the church started shouting and running around like I was doing something so spectacular,” he said. “Then, when it came time for me to preach, my mind went blank. I couldn’t remember anything that I had practiced or studied! I don’t even know how I got off of the podium; I think they carried me out of there. After that experience, I dedicated myself to studying even more, learning every Scripture, every Bible story, etc., so that will never happen to me again.”

Haddon intensified his biblical knowledge and eventually began teaching Sunday school. When he was 13 he became minister of music, and at 16 he was youth pastor at Unity Cathedral, preaching every other Sunday and remaining until his young adult years.

After he married Damita in 1996, the two left Detroit and moved to Orlando, Florida, where he became worship leader at Paula and Randy White’s church, Without Walls. The couple later moved to Atlanta to pursue other music projects. By that time he’d already made a name for himself as one of this generation’s most influential gospel singers with his albums Lost and Found and Crossroads.

While in Atlanta, he and Damita divorced, and he moved back to his hometown of Detroit to recover. It was there when he decided Los Angeles could give him a new start and enhance his career.

Haddon received a phone call from music producer Zaytoven and was offered the opportunity to expand his writing into other genres of music. He co-wrote three songs on Usher’s latest album, A.

“Zaytoven is my brother from another mother,” Haddon said. “He has listened to my music and all kinds of gospel music for years. He is the godfather of trap music, but he is also a church musician on Sundays, and during the week he is making hit records for all of your favorite hip-hop artists.”

Haddon said a lot of “secular artists gravitate to church musicians because they get a whole lot of practice every week.”

“Church musicians are some of the best musicians in the world,” he said. “He [Zaytoven] is out there doing it big, and he stays faithful as a church musician at his church. He called me to come in and collaborate with some of the writers on Usher’s latest project.”

When Haddon isn’t writing music or preparing for service at Hill City Church, he is all about basketball and enjoying fatherhood. His wattage intensifies when he speaks of his three young children.

“I live for this,” he said about being on “daddy duty.” “Everything that I do orbits around my family. I am very hands-on. I attend all of the parent conferences, and even grandparents day.”

His parenting skills are patterned from his father, who adopted him as a young child after marrying his mother.

“My dad was a very responsible dad,” Haddon said. “We never wanted for anything. He was very dependable, and our lives were good because of that. He instilled those qualities in me.”

Student-inspired ‘Wings’ Air Jordan 5s take flight — and change lives Chicago high schoolers see their stories, and their artwork, immortalized

Lundyn Bowman couldn’t help but show off the shoes. She passed the box around to her dad, his friends and anyone else who wanted to take a peek inside. And at the sight of a fresh new pair of the “Wings” Air Jordan 5s, embossed with vibrant, hand-drawn illustrations, folks began making offers to buy them from the 12th-grader.

“Everybody kept throwing out prices,” Bowman said. “They kept saying, ‘Yeah … I’ll buy those from you for $500.’ … ‘You don’t know the value of them.’ ”

But she does. The sneakers, which Bowman has worn only once, mean the world to her because she’s one of 19 students from Chicago’s Little Black Pearl Art & Design Academy responsible for the drawings that sprawl across the sneakers. “People didn’t believe that I helped design the shoe,” Bowman said of the limited-edition Wings 5s, which dropped in late September for $200 a pair and sold out within minutes on Nike’s SNKRS App. And they have skyrocketed in value, reselling for as much as $450 on the popular sneaker marketplace GOAT.

Courtesy of Jordan Brand

It’s a shoe unlike anything the Jordan Brand has ever produced — and anything sneaker culture has ever seen. The shoes feature wing-patterned side panels and a winged lace toggle, all of which are teal in the light and glow in the dark. But most notable are the multicolored illustrations on each shoe that come together harmoniously to make every pair feel more like a painting you’d put on display than something you’d wear on your feet. The students at Little Black Pearl are the inspiration behind those illustrations.

“I never thought I’d have something I’d drawn on a shoe. When I got home, I didn’t take the shoes off. I couldn’t take the shoes off.” — Laquesha Clemons

“It truly is art,” said David Creech, Jordan Brand’s vice president of design. “There’s a story painted … through the lens of the city of Chicago, the community and Little Black Pearl’s students that no one … could’ve created but them. We were just a canvas; they were the storytellers. They’re the ones that bring the emotion to what this is about.”

The shoe is a tangible representation of Jordan Brand’s Wings program, a community outreach initiative inspired by Michael Jordan’s ongoing commitment to education. Since 2015, the brand has provided more than 225 students, many of whom come from low-income family backgrounds, with full academic college scholarships. And in each of the past three years, Jordan has released a different pair of Wings-inspired sneakers. The first two were crafted solely by the brand’s team of professional designers. In April 2016, there were the Wings Air Jordan 12s, limited to an exclusive release of 12,000 pairs. The shoes resemble the “Playoffs” colorway of the silhouette, but they incorporate gold accents and a sleek graphical wings pattern printed on the insoles and laid beneath the translucent outer soles. A year later, 19,400 pairs of Wings Air Jordan 1s dropped. Distressed leather construction gives the shoes an aged copper finish — and had at least one YouTuber asking his subscribers if they were the best pair of 1s ever.

Yet, of all the Wings sneakers, the new Air Jordan 5s are, without question, the most meaningful. For the first time, students such as Bowman contributed to the design. The idea came from Jordan Brand vice president Howard White, who pushed for this year’s Wings shoe to be completed using the Air Jordan 5 silhouette, which debuted in 1990 and was made famous by the timeless “It’s Gotta Be the Shoes” ads featuring Michael Jordan and Mars Blackmon, the fictional Air Jordan fanatic from Brooklyn, New York, portrayed by Spike Lee.

“The Jordan 5 … everybody recognizes that shoe, no matter where you are on this planet,” said Joshua Muhammad, a senior at the tuition-free Little Black Pearl, which serves 150 students from Chicago communities. “The fact that Jordan put something we did on such an iconic model really stands out. It hasn’t set in all the way.”

Courtesy of Jordan Brand

The illustrations for the Wings 5s came to life in Chicago at the city’s flagship Jordan Brand store on South State Street, where a select cohort of Black Pearl students, as part of the Jordan Designers program, spent Saturdays learning about the apparel and footwear industry. Students received the full product-creation experience. They were split into groups and presented with prompts such as: What does the city of Chicago mean to you? What are your hopes and aspirations for Chicago? How would you like to see Chicago in the future? They were then required to respond to each brief in the form of drawings and pitch the finished products back to brand employees as a way of developing their public speaking skills. The extensive program also includes in-store product placement, writing copy to describe inspiration for designs, and packaging.

Workshops yielded friendly competitions between groups, and some illustrations were chosen to be printed on T-shirts that were sold in the store. Eventually, the 16-week seminar became a yearslong journey for many of Little Black Pearl’s students. The experience became about much more than waking up early on the weekend, making long commutes to the Jordan store and experimenting with markers and colored pencils. Muhammad Holmes says he once had no clue what career path he’d pursue — but now he knows it’s design. Kamaria Grayson admitted she still can’t draw that well, but she discovered the value of product ideation. She’s still several months removed from high school graduation but has already selected her college major: marketing.

“We learned about storytelling. … Basically, nothing Jordan puts out doesn’t have a story behind it,” said Grayson, another senior at Little Black Pearl. In three years, 15 of the school’s students who participated in the designers program have received full, four-year Wings scholarships. The brand already plans to expand the designers program to Los Angeles, New York and Charlotte, North Carolina. But it all began in 2015 with Chicago.

“Everything we make,” Grayson added, “has to have a story behind it that either affects us or affects the people around us.”

To the shock of many of the Little Black Pearl students, the story behind the Wings 5s was theirs. They had no clue that drawings they sketched would one day make it onto a pair of Air Jordans. It wasn’t until a leaked image of the shoe surfaced this summer that the students realized what was happening. Then, during opening week of the NBA regular season, the brand commissioned one of its athletes, newly signed Bulls forward and Chicago native Jabari Parker, with the job of delivering pairs of the shoes to the young designers.

High schooler Muhammad Holmes says he once had no clue what career path he’d pursue — but now he knows it’s design.

“It was a no-brainer. As soon I found out about the project and the opportunity was presented to me, I jumped on it,” said Parker, who made the trip to Little Black Pearl to surprise the students with boxes of Wings 5s. “The shoe is unique because these kids already had artistic minds. From that open-mindedness, they could just let their creative juices flow. That’s what I like so much about the shoe. It’s different. It looks good. And the story behind it makes it more appealing.”

Courtesy of Jordan Brand

Perhaps the best part about the shoe is that no two pairs are the same. The Jordan Brand wanted to ensure that every student’s hard work was reflected in the design. “To execute, we started with a collection of final artwork,” Creech said, “and allowed our [professional] designers to create different variations of the pattern to make each pair one of a kind.”

The moment the students opened up the boxes for the first time, they marveled at the sight of their own pieces of art on an Air Jordan. The pairs feature the same drawings that groups teamed up to create on Saturdays at the Jordan store: from a pair of outstretched hands holding the Chicago skyline to the iconic landmarks of the city, and even phrases such as “More than just a murder capital …”

“The fact that Jordan put something we did on such an iconic model really stands out. It hasn’t set in all the way.”
— Joshua Muhammad

“When I saw shoes, I was just shocked,” said Laquesha Clemons, a 12th-grader. “I never thought I’d have something I’d drawn on a shoe. When I got home, I didn’t take the shoes off. I couldn’t take the shoes off. I was just so excited. I even cried a little bit.”

The Wings Air Jordan 5s tell the story of youthful hope in the city of Chicago, through the eyes and creativity of Bowman, Muhammad, Grayson, Clemons, Nyla Brown, Zion Edwards, Moses Hardwick, Shaquille Holmes, Darian Johnson, Robin Miller, Gabrielle Mitchell, Jayvon Moore, Kareem Riley-Bey, Amia Smith and Ayanna Smith, Blaize Walker, Beyonce Webster, Raymond Wheeler and Erica Young.

“This shoe shines a bright light on Chicago and shows people that it isn’t such a bad place,” Grayson said. “There’s so much talent living in Chicago. And if people would take more chances on kids from here, the outcome would be amazing.”

Buster Douglas: I wasn’t impressed with the success Mike Tyson was having When Douglas knocked out Tyson, he was fighting for more than just a win

In this installment of Playing for Something, Buster Douglas, as told to The Undefeated’s Kelley Evans, opens up about his mother and how she motivated him in his fight with Mike Tyson, who was heavyweight champion of the world and unbeaten in 37 fights. Oddsmakers in Las Vegas gave Douglas 42-1 odds of beating Tyson.

(ESPN Films’ new 30 for 30 documentary, 42 to 1, about Douglas’ epic 1990 defeat of Tyson for the heavyweight championship of the world, premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN.)

My mother slammed me on the ground, put her knee in my chest, and said, ‘If you don’t get out there and fight that boy, you’re going to have to fight me.’

My mother, Lula Pearl Douglas, was my motivator. At 10 or 11 years old, she made me go out there and face that bully, and when I came into the house crying, she jumped on me bad. It was, like, the next day I went outside, and we were shooting basketball. I called a foul. The bully was like, ‘What?’ And I turned around and said, ‘Foul!’ And I was looking at him, fists all balled up, and he just gave me the ball. Ever since then, he never said anything else to me.

She was my world — my rock. That’s how she was with me and my brothers.

She died three weeks before my fight against Mike Tyson on Feb. 11, 1990, a day that marked my sporting life. That was my pinnacle. On that day, I was the best. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I was blessed with the opportunity and I conquered. If you had to say, ‘This is how I want to be remembered, how I want people to know me, to look at me,’ it’s as a gentleman, a kind man who believes in himself, a humble guy who had an opportunity and took advantage of it.

Douglas fought with a heavy heart on Feb. 11, 1990.

AP Images/Sadayuki Mikami

But the person who motivated me was my mother. She visited me the week before she died on Jan. 18, 1990, to check on me as I was preparing for the fight. She was really ill at that time — I didn’t know how ill, but she mustered enough strength to get in her car and drive over to my house and ask me a few questions to see where my head was at. She was 46 years old, I was 29. It would have just been devastating, knowing that I was unable to continue because of her passing, but it just built my strength even more, in a sense.

Fighting Mike was a relief. I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got so much s— pent up in me, this is your a–.’ I mean, really, I was just at that point to where I could give a hoot about the naysayers. In my mind, I was getting ready to be a nightmare to him.

Make no mistake, I knew that if you weren’t bending steel or eating mercury, you had no chance against that man. But I knew what I could do.

I had no doubt at any time during training. I couldn’t wait for the fight. My biggest worry was something happening that would postpone or delay it — like Mike getting hurt in training. I just couldn’t wait for Feb. 11.

30 for 30 presents “42 to 1”

The thing about Mike is he’s not a trash-talker. He was a man of few words. I remember a reporter asking him how he thought the fight would go. He said the fight would be like any other fight — something like, ‘I’m going to knock him out,’ or whatever. Short and sweet.

I knew he was a talent. But I looked at the person. I looked beyond that figure in the ring, and I had to compare myself to the individual, so I wasn’t really impressed with all the success he was having. I knew he was a warrior in the ring, but I looked beyond that. That helped me a lot.

I went into the fight with a lot of confidence, and I wanted to express that. Everyone was expecting a quick, 90-second knockout, but I’m well-educated in this game. I knew what I was doing. I knew nobody gave me this opportunity; I had earned it. I fought killers to get this opportunity. Fighters who I figured would beat me, guys who lost their careers, I ended up beating and turning everything around to get a shot at the title. Even with all of that, I still wasn’t getting any respect because Mike Tyson was just a god.

“I knew it was over. He wasn’t even in the fight at that point — he was sleeping.”

When I went down late in the eighth round, I knew exactly why it happened. I got caught standing square, standing right up in front of him. That was the one time he really got me. I was angry and motivated — at the same time. I was pissed because I got caught looking. He caught me with one of those hooks, uppercuts. I hit the canvas like, ‘F—!’ When he knocked me down, I wanted to look at him, take a moment and say: ‘Come on, Mike. What do you think about this?’

I got caught because of that brief moment of reflection, when I stopped fighting. He was showing me that he was still alive. But I got up.

I knew I had to get serious after that. I dominated the ninth round and gave him a swollen left eye. Then that 10th round came, when I dropped him at one minute and 22 seconds into the round. When Mike didn’t get up, I knew I had him. I knew I had won, because when he reached for his mouthpiece, I knew he was incoherent. If he would have been coherent, he would have just gotten up, let the referee get the mouthpiece and extend the count. But when he reached for it, I knew he was hurt then. That’s when I raised my hands. I knew it was over. He wasn’t even in the fight at that point — he was sleeping.

When Tyson and promoter Don King complained about the referee’s count at the end of the eighth round, I didn’t feel disrespect, I just felt like they were crying like babies. I looked beyond all of that and realized that it was just some force trying to stop me from obtaining my goal. I knew then that I was on the right track of succeeding at my childhood dream, which started when I was 10, when my father started me in boxing.

On February 11, 1990, I was fighting for more than a win.

Cherish tonight — James and Wade are the brotherhood Jay-Z and Biggie never had the freedom to experience LeBron James and Dwyane Wade: a high-profile black male friendship that has tragic precedent

Save for his final home game in Miami next April, Dwyane Wade’s “One Last Dance” farewell tour entered its most emotional stop Monday night in Los Angeles. The three-time NBA champion and surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer squared off against his former teammate, best friend and other championship-winning banana boat crew member, LeBron James, for the final time.

It’s been a blessing to watch James and Wade do what they’ve done for the past 16 seasons.

It’s the end of a basketball journey that began at the NBA draft combine in 2003. But now, life is starkly different for the championship-winning half of the banana boat quartet, which also features Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. Wade’s attention to the world after basketball is already in full swing. He missed LeBron’s visit to Miami a few weeks back on paternity leave after the birth of he and wife Gabrielle Union’s daughter, Kaavia James. Whereas LeBron’s basketball career continues to ascend toward the sport’s rarefied air — with the distant possibility he could one day play in a league featuring both his son LeBron James Jr. and Wade’s oldest son, Zaire, who is already involved in the college recruitment process. But Monday night is about them and the endless memories that come with the finality of the moment.

“It’s bitter, and it’s sweet. It’s sweet and sour,” James said after the Lakers’ recent 111-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. “The sweet part … is I’ve always loved being on the same floor with my brother. … And the sour part … is that this is our last time sharing the same court.”

Wade’s sentiments exactly. “Having this opportunity with ’Bron, out of everybody in the NBA, he’s the person I’ve loved playing against the most outside of Kobe [Bryant],” he told the Sun Sentinel over the weekend. “Obviously, he’s also one of my good friends, and the history we have as teammates, as well. It definitely means more than just the average last game versus a team or individual.”

There is an added incentive for both former teammates heading into Monday night’s game. James and Wade, who went to four consecutive NBA Finals from 2011-14 and won two together, are 15-15 in 30 career matchups against each other. The winner, for the rest of his life, carries a lifetime of personal bragging rights. More than anything, though, the final James vs. Wade game is an opportunity to witness history in real time — but also to appreciate the last 16 seasons, and what the duo has done to elevate a game they were both expected to, and did, revolutionize.

Their relationship calls to mind another friendship between competitive men who became all-time greats as competitive brothers. It’s one that fate ended early, and one that was recently reintroduced to the spotlight on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free” — Jay-Z flipping a lyric from The Notorious B.I.G.’s “What’s Beef.” Call it returning a favor for the late Brooklyn MC paying homage to Jay-Z 21 years later.

Imagine if Wade never played again after capturing Finals MVP in 2006. Or if LeBron, after the “48 special” he unleashed on the Detroit Pistons in 2007, were no longer in the game. Alternate realities that bring a tidal wave of grief and despair, just at the mere thought.


The success, the worldwide fame, the marriage to Beyoncé, the friendships with Barack Obama and LeBron James, the No. 1 albums, the Grammys — none of it can ever be enough to mute the voice in Jay-Z’s head. That nasal laugh and unperturbed voice that helped make Brooklyn a cultural zenith. Jay-Z will always remember the excitement in Biggie’s voice. The pain, too. The reality is one he’s never been able to escape, and never will: Jay-Z was one of the last people to talk to The Notorious B.I.G.

The music from the VIBE after-party for the Soul Train Awards at Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum was loud. “Where you at, playboy?!” Biggie yelled for Jay over the phone.

Not exactly the group chat LeBron and D-Wade use to keep tabs on each other, but a competitive and, at its core, respectful GPS nonetheless.

Only two weeks before the release of his album Life After Death, Biggie wanted Jay with him to celebrate. Not just his success, but theirs. They’d survived New York City during the eras of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Reaganomics and crack cocaine — and had lived to craft graphic street soundtracks of it all. The worst of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry seemed behind them, and the rest of their lives were in front.

At least, that’s the way it should’ve been. Minutes later, Biggie was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. He was 24 years old.

Jay was supposed to be with Biggie in L.A. on March 9 but had other commitments. According to an 1997 interview with MTV, he had, however, planned to fly to Los Angeles the next day to chop it up with B.I.G. The two had known of each other since high school, but it was rarely more than a dap here, a dap there and seeing each other around Brooklyn before Brooklyn was gentrified. And before Marcy Projects became an amusement park.

Hustling on street corners was a part of their lives, while music would elevate them beyond the long arm of the law. B.I.G., of course, found success first with the release of his 1994 landmark Ready To Die. During Biggie’s rise to superstardom, Jay’s rap acumen was growing. DJ Clark Kent constantly told Biggie about this cat from Marcy Projects who was nice. B.I.G., initially, didn’t take the nudge seriously.

“Aight, aight!” Kent recalled Biggie saying on The Juan Epstein Show in 2014. “Yeah, Clark. He’s good.”

Biggie’s walls of resistance began to erode after hearing Jay’s “Dead Presidents” — then an undeniable New York underground smash in the pre-Reasonable Doubt days. “Yo, man,” Big said. “Ya mans is mad nice.” But even then, he still wasn’t ready to give in. This was apparently due to Kent’s insistence that Jay was just as dope as Biggie — a claim, recounted in interviews and documentaries over the past two decades, that agitated Biggie so much that he recorded the second verse of “Who Shot Ya?” as proof to Kent that Jay wasn’t “harder” than him on the mic.

History remembers the record as a line in the sand that divided Biggie and Tupac and watermarked a bicoastal feud — but, according to Kent, “Who Shot Ya?” was Biggie proving to him that no one from Brooklyn could out-rap him, including Jay-Z. The wheels of competition were in full rotation after this. Jay, per Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke, was so inspired by Biggie’s move that, days later, he recorded three songs that would later become benchmarks in his catalog: “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” “D’Evils” and “Can I Live.” Not exactly the group chat LeBron and D-Wade use to keep tabs on each other, but a competitive and, at its core, respectful GPS nonetheless.

Competition brought Biggie and Jay closer and closer together, but it was fate that kindled a friendship. B.I.G. heard the “Brooklyn’s Finest” beat and wanted it for himself.

“You always giving this [guy] everything!” Biggie responded. Clark Kent was Biggie’s DJ, but Kent was also in A&R at Atlantic and was trying to sign Jay-Z. If Big couldn’t have the record, as legend has it, he was going to jump on the record. There was initial hesitation about bringing B.I.G. into the studio, not because Jay-Z didn’t want him on there but because doing so meant doing paperwork with Sean “Puffy” Combs — something Kent remembers then-Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash being against.

“If you can make it happen,” Jay said at the studio session, “it’s all good.”

Meanwhile, Biggie waited nearby in a car for Kent’s call to come inside. People in the studio looked at Kent funny, knowing he had set the meeting up. But the meeting between Biggie and Jay produced instant dividends. There had always been respect between the two — and now they were meeting face-to-face again. Chemistry was immediate. They laughed and dapped countless times, and the lyrical Olympics the two entered into became a story for all time. It was also during the session that Biggie saw Jay record his verses off the top of his head.

“You ready?” Jay asked Biggie from the booth.

“I told you,” Kent said to Biggie, “he don’t write no rhymes.”

Jay and Big were always competitors, but now they were friends. By the end of Biggie’s life, there were serious talks of the two doing a joint album — the original Watch The Throne, if you will, and by far one of the most gut-wrenching what-if scenarios in rap history.

The world kept moving, but his world, the world he and Biggie were supposed to take over together, was crumbling.

The two Brooklyn bombers, part of a collective then known as “The Commission,” officially released only three songs: “Brooklyn’s Finest,” “I Love the Dough” on Biggie’s Life After Death and “Young G’s” from Puffy’s No Way Out. They all were, as Kent has explained, inseparable.

It was a fast-break-like excitement that Wade and James would display nearly 20 years later on and off the court. They were two greats who knew they were great — but at the same time had no clue how powerful their voices would be in American pop cultural history. Both knew the climate of rap in the mid-’90s, how dangerous just existing in rap had become. But they couldn’t have thought it’d come to a head in the early morning hours of March 9, 1997. The end wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Seeing Jay tour the world, release meaningful projects at nearly 50 years old, is mind-numbing. Life goes on, and memories take up residency in the past. But pain travels. Jay was emotionally detached after Big’s death. He had been to only two funerals at that point in his life. The world kept moving, but his world, the world he and Biggie were supposed to take over together, was crumbling. “I remember the first time going out … in the car,” Jay-Z said months after Biggie’s murder. “I wasn’t driving. I was just looking out the window. Everybody was moving … and happy. That’s when I got angry.”


What the deal playboy, just rest your soul
I be holding it down yo, still love the dough …

Got the whole world on lock down you know how we flow
Don’t worry about Brooklyn, I continue to flame
Therefore a world with amnesia won’t forget your name
You held it down long enough, let me take those reins …

— Jay-Z “The City Is Mine” (1997)

LeBron and Wade’s head-to-head battles have produced a world of classics, while their time together as teammates, along with fellow future Hall of Famer Chris Bosh, forever reconfigured basketball’s power structure. With Monday night’s final LeBron James vs. Dwyane Wade matchup, there’s a completion there that Biggie and Jay-Z were never afforded.

Jay-Z’s verse on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free” is proof that as the elder statesman Biggie never got to be, Jay-Z still holds the game hostage, and B.I.G.’s spirit has been an ever-present theme in Jay’s music — often seeming like a kite sent to a fallen friend. Even Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace, says Jay honors her son to this present day. Biggie shouted out Jay on 1997’s “What’s Beef,” and 21 years later, the only homage Jay could return to his friend was lyric of his that he flipped. Hahaha, check out this bizarre / Rapping style used by me/ The H-O-V. It’s beautiful and tragic — a reminder of what was, and what should have been.

There’s real pain in that lyric. Not just because the world lost a great artist but also because Shawn Carter lost a friend. The success he’s had was supposed to happen with Biggie alive and well in the arena. Big never had the chance to work with Pharrell or rap over Soul-Sample Kanye beats or rap alongside young legends like Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Nor was he given much of a chance to see how fatherhood and the gift of maturity would have changed his approach to music and the world around him.

Wade, the greatest shooting guard not named Jordan or Bryant to ever live, and James — arguably the greatest, period, to ever set foot on an NBA court — likely don’t see themselves as Jay-Z and Biggie. At their apex, though, Wade and James’ chemistry calls to mind the Brooklyn tag team: the respect, the gamesmanship, the joy with which they dominated. Not to mention the unforgettable highlights. It’s been a blessing to watch James and Wade do what they’ve done for the past 16 seasons. There’s no stone unturned or anything they could’ve done differently to make Monday night’s moment any sweeter.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you, ‘Oh, it’s another one of 82 [games].’ Not it’s not. Not for me,” Wade said. “It’s a game where I get to play against not only one of my best friends but one of the game’s greatest players for the last time. I want to win as a team, but I want to savor the opportunities.”

Cherish Monday night. James and Wade are the brotherhood Jay-Z and Biggie never had the freedom to experience. It’s always been more than a game.

Sixers assistant coach Monty Williams: ‘God makes me look much better than I deserve’ Athletes believe they can overcome anything, he says, but that’s not the case

A look at the intersection of sports, faith and religion

Monty Williams was hesitant. He instinctively shied away from an exchange that would turn his personal thoughts on faith into a “glorified modesty-type thing.”

“I always tell people God makes me look much better than I deserve, and that’s just where it is for me,” said the Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach. “I don’t like coming off with the fake humility stuff.”

Less than an hour had passed since he’d finished practice at the team’s training complex in Camden, New Jersey. Now, he was talking not so much about basketball but about those times that faith kept him afloat.

“There’s a lot of times within the faith, as a Christian, that most people think we walk around like we have it together, and I just got to be straight with you,” said Williams, 47. “The longer you’re walking with the Lord, it’s the exact opposite. It’s like way on the other end. I need the Lord because I don’t have it together. I am broken. I am flawed no matter how I’m viewed.”

Williams’ initial introduction to faith came through his grandfather, James Williams Sr., who was a pastor at Cleveland Avenue Christian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He still plays an integral role in his grandson’s life.

As a child, Williams regularly attended vacation Bible school during the summer, and every Sunday morning he was alert and ready for Sunday school. As he matured, he realized there was a lot more to faith than going to church.

“There was a relationship involved with God that allowed me to delve deeper into some heavy questions and ask myself what did I believe even before I knew what to believe,” he said. “I had to figure some things out, and then you realize you can’t figure it out. It’s all about faith.”

As his career path changed from player to coach, he leaned more on his faith.

“Whether it’s winning or losing or getting a contract or not getting signed by a team and all the in-between, my faith allows me to hopefully have something to hold onto that’s much bigger than sports,” Williams said.

“You realize you’re not the cat’s meow. Most athletes, we feel like we can overcome and withstand anything. There’s been a few times in my career where I couldn’t change the consequences with lifting more weights or getting more shots or whatever the case may have been. And that’s when you realize how small you are and how much you need a relationship with God. And I felt like that was where I started to grow.”

A 6-foot-8-inch small forward, Williams averaged 30 points and 16 rebounds as a high school senior at Potomac High School in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. He went on to play for Notre Dame, averaging 22 points and eight rebounds as a senior. He was selected by the New York Knicks in the first round of the 1994 NBA draft. He married his college sweetheart, Ingrid, after his rookie season.

Over his nine-year NBA career, he played in 456 games and averaged 6.3 points while suiting up for the Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers. His coaching career includes time with the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder and 76ers.

Five children (Janna, Micah, Faith, Lael and Elijah, now ranging in age from 8 to 20), eight cities and 26 years of marriage make up the triad that represents his life with Ingrid. The couple wrote a faith-based book in 2010 with another couple, Dave and Kaci Bullis. Called Look Again 52, which refers to the number of weeks in a year, the book provides scriptural readings for every day of the year.

His faith has evolved over time.

“I had the idea that because I was faith-based, things would work out well for me,” he said. “I thought that being a man of faith, that was a byproduct of that. Having been around a little bit, I’ve come to realize that my faith is something I can hang on to in the good and not-so-good times, and it allows me to deal with both the success and the failures and the in-between. It’s not a good-luck charm.”

The hardest time in his life came in February 2016, when Ingrid died from injuries she suffered in a car accident in Oklahoma City.

“Nobody’s strong enough to get through that, not on their own, and I certainly did not,” Williams said. “I had a lot of people praying for me. If not for the grace of God, I probably would have been more frustrated than I was. …

“She was the greatest example of faith that I’ve ever been around because she was my best friend. It was what attracted me to her when I first met her. So to lose her to a senseless car accident was by far the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with and am still dealing with. That’s something that I’ll never be able to explain or rationalize. I just have to trust God that he’s going to get us through it all, and he has.

“The problem is what you see on TV is usually painted a certain way, so I was probably painted stronger than I really am. The reality is it’s been a struggle to deal with something like that, and to not only deal with it but have to raise five kids in the process. That part no one can do on their own. If it wasn’t for the grace of God and him putting really good people around me and helping me, I wouldn’t be here today for sure.”

Williams continues to provide a faith-based household for his children, and he encourages them to establish their own relationship with God.

“My older girls know, and they’ve known since they were teenagers, that they can’t live on my faith,” he said. “Earlier, when we were doing devotions at home, we would go to church and we would go to different faith-based activities. They’ve reached an age where I have to be straight with them, like, ‘This is my faith. You have to have your own faith.’ ”

Williams and his family are nondenominational Christians and attend Fellowship Alliance Chapel in Medford, New Jersey, outside Philadelphia.

He uses the Holy Bible app daily and has friended other family members, coaches and NBA players.

“I use it every day because I like the Bible plans that they have on there,” he said. “They’re pretty encouraging, and sometimes they punch you in the mouth. But I learn more about the Lord, I learn a lot about myself. It’s a really cool way to connect with other believers and other people in general who are just like me, just trying to live this thing out in a real way, but do it in a way that would glorify God without being offensive or goofy to other people.”