Penny Hardaway reveals his plans for the team as University of Memphis head coach ‘Everything I do, I do it for the city’

Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway wants to see fans back in the stands at basketball games to cheer on his alma mater, the University of Memphis. And that’s one of his goals as the new head coach of the team, as he explained after addressing hundreds of attendees at Tuesday’s news conference in Memphis, Tennessee.

“The city raised me,” Hardaway told The Undefeated. “I’ve been very successful at basketball, and everything I do, I do it for the city, and I’m just excited to be in this position. I look forward to the fans coming back to the FedExForum, packing the house like we did in the Coliseum and in the Pyramid. I’m looking forward to those days coming back. I’m excited. I hope that everybody’s riding the waves, and I hope that I can put Memphis back on the map.”

The Mid-South Coliseum was home to the Tigers from 1966-91. The team moved to The Memphis Pyramid once it was built. It remained the home of Tigers basketball from 1991 until 2004, when the FedExForum opened.

Hardaway assumed the position vacated by Tubby Smith on the cusp of a three-peat victory with his East High School Mustangs. As the high school’s head coach, the NBA legend and local Memphis icon won his third straight state title (2016, 2017 and 2018) in Murfreesboro on March 17 at the Class AAA State Championship game. Hardaway focused on his team’s competition, never confirming plans to take on a new role until the school’s announcement on Monday.

Memphis Tigers cheerleaders handed out souvenirs celebrating their new head coach at a news conference and rally announcing Penny Hardaway’s new role for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.

For many fans, Hardaway has returned home — a place he holds dear to his heart. It’s the same place where his hoop dreams became a reality that thrust him into NBA stardom, a place where fans cheered him on, teammates urged him to play harder and his former coach, the late Larry Finch, who was also once a player at the then-Memphis State University, believed that he would do great things in life.

For Hardaway, his job as Memphis’ new head coach is divine intervention.

“God ordained this whole process into being what it is today …,” Hardaway said. “I believe in all of that. The timing is perfect right now. The city needs it, and the city is responding. I feel great.”

Hardaway has a high level of respect for Smith and his coaching history. Smith’s two-season stint ended in his firing after closing out the 2017-18 season with a declining attendance for the sixth straight year, ultimately contributing to the need for a new plan. The announced average was 6,211 fans through 18 home games toward the close of the 2017-18 season at the FedExForum, which holds 18,119.

According to The Commercial Appeal, the school averaged more than 16,000 fans and ranked among the top 10 in the country in average attendance just four years ago. During former coach Josh Pastner’s final season, the announced team average was 12,028 (2015-16).

Hardaway’s success with Team Penny, his AAU program, gives him exemplary knowledge of new recruits and their talents. Although he has no college coaching experience, his passion for basketball lends a level of confidence for a hopeful resurgence of the Memphis basketball program.

Penny Hardaway hugs Vickie Finch, the widow of former University of Memphis player and head coach Larry Finch, after a news conference and rally announcing Hardaway’s new role as head coach for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.

Hardaway said the hardest part of his upcoming journey is learning the NCAA rules and regulations.

“I have to make sure I don’t have any infractions or break any rules,” Hardaway said. “I have my compliance people on speed dial to make sure. I think that will be the hardest part. I’m focused, and there are so many rules and regulations.”

Hardaway is the university’s 19th coach and the third Tiger alum named head coach for the program, after Wayne Yates (1974-79) and Finch (1986-97).

Elliot Perry, Hardaway’s friend and former Tigers player and director of player support for the Memphis Grizzlies, thinks this is one of the biggest hires the program has made in its history.

“I’m in love with the hire,” Perry said. “I played for Coach Finch, one of the best players to ever play there. And the impact that he made and how much he poured into my life he’s poured into Penny’s life as well, and Penny will do the same thing for his players. You’re talking about a guy who played high school here and played in college at Memphis. [He’s] certainly one of the best players to ever play in our program, and now he’s the head coach. He will run the program, orchestrate the program, curate the program like it’s his own child. That’s why it’s so significant.”

Hardaway told the crowd of more than 100 at the news conference that his passion for Memphis basketball is what encouraged him to accept the position.

“You know it wasn’t easy to bring me here because of my experience with college basketball,” he said. “But I told everyone all I had to do was have the Memphis blood in me and the heart and the passion for winning basketball. As a coach, my style, we’re going to get after them. I know that’s what we love. We’re going to play hard-nosed basketball, running, jumping, pressing everywhere and winning games. Losing is not an option for us. I really want to hit the ground running. I know people are saying to be patient and to do this first and to do that first, but I’m not wired that way. I go all or nothing.”

Penny Hardaway speaks at a news conference and rally announcing his new role as head coach of the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.

Andrea Morales for The Undefeated

The two-time All-American and four-time NBA All-Star inherits a 40-26 record accumulated during the past two seasons under Smith. This season, the Tigers finished 21-13 after a American Athletic Conference Championship semifinal loss to top-seeded Cincinnati.

“I’m not just coming here to be a face,” Hardaway said at the news conference. “I’m coming here to make a difference, with the help of getting the fans back in the stands like it was back in the old-school days. I am dedicated to this team that just finished this season. Like I told those kids in the locker room, it was kind of unfair a little bit to them that nobody really showed up, but those days are gone. Also bringing some really good talent here that the city of Memphis would love to see on a nightly basis.”

Hardaway’s ongoing support of the University of Memphis is evident in his $1 million donation in 2008 to the Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame Building, which opened in August 2011. He graduated from college in May 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in professional studies.

Fans line the second-floor balcony at a news conference and rally announcing Penny Hardaway’s new role as head coach for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team. Photos of Hardaway line the balcony.

Hardaway was picked third in the 1993 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors but was traded to the Orlando Magic for the rights to Chris Webber, the draft’s top overall pick.

The 6-foot-7 point guard played in the NBA from 1993 to 2008 with the Magic, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Miami Heat.

Hardaway’s notoriety goes back to his senior year in 1990 at Treadwell High School in Memphis, where he averaged 36.6 points and 10.1 rebounds. His time at Memphis State University is in the books. He spent two seasons with the Tigers and led the team to two NCAA tournament appearances, including the Elite Eight in 1992. His achievements include two career triple-doubles, and he ranks 17th in scoring. Hardaway won a gold medal with the 1996 U.S. Olympic team in Atlanta.

How LeBron James plays when his most famous fans are at the game Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Diddy, Rihanna and Drake all bring out a very different LBJ

So we’re courtside when LeBron get a f— ring/ Yeah, I bet I be there / I be there.

Drake, from his 2010 “You Know, You Know


A man of his word, Drake was in fact present in 2013 at Miami’s American Airlines Arena when LeBron James captured his second ring with the Heat, beating the San Antonio Spurs in a dramatic Game 7. Whether Drake was actually there with someone else’s girlfriend, as the song alludes, is a discussion for another time. But the line is powerful because sitting courtside for a LeBron game, especially a championship game, is as big a status symbol as there is in all of sports. How does he do, though, as a player when Drake and other big stars are courtside?

Does the je ne sais quoi of being courtside, so central to the allure of the NBA, affect James’ stat line? Actually, it kind of does. This is relevant because the league flaunts courtside culture — especially during the Cavaliers’ annual two-night Hollywood extravaganza. It kicks off in a few hours with the Clippers playing host, and then on Sunday with Lonzo Ball and the Lakers (both part of a six-game road swing). With both games televised and taking place at Staples Center, where he captured his third All-Star Game MVP last month, chances are more than a handful of stars will be courtside for The King’s annual Tinseltown pilgrimage.

LeBron’s love for music and music’s love for him is a well-documented two-way street. But how does ’Bron hold up when his most famous musical fans are in attendance? By cross-referencing photo archives and box scores, what we have here is a very unofficial representation of LeBron’s performances when Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Diddy, Rihanna, Drake and Usher (and their combined 62 Grammys) pull up on him at his places of business. It’s good to be The King. And apparently, it’s just as good to watch him — up close and personal.


Beyoncé

Rapper Jay-Z and Beyonce look over at LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat and the Eastern Conference during the 2013 NBA All-Star game at the Toyota Center on February 17, 2013 in Houston, Texas.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Research conducted on 17 games from April 14, 2004, to June 16, 2016

LeBron’s record: 11-6 (.647)

LeBron’s averages: 31.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.9 steals (52.3 FG%)

LeBron’s biggest game: Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals vs. Golden State Warriors (June 16, 2016) — 41 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks on 59.3 FG% (W)

Beyoncé and Jay-Z attend a lot of games together, but it was more revealing to break the stats down separately — especially as Jay-Z attended some of his games solo. The 11-6 record is slightly misleading, as five of those six losses came early in LeBron’s career. LeBron has actually won nine of his last 10 games with Blue, Sir and Rumi’s mom courtside. There’s the 49-point masterpiece he unleashed on Brooklyn in the conference semifinals that she witnessed firsthand, husband by her side, on May 12, 2014 (only hours after footage was released of the now-infamous elevator scene). There was the royal meeting seven months later when she and Jay-Z again visited the Barclays Center to watch ’Bron (who’d returned to Cleveland earlier that summer), along with Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, nearby. And the aforementioned decisive Game 6 win over the Warriors in the 2016 Finals.

All jokes and tinfoil hat conspiracies aside, one thing’s for sure and two things for certain. The King, at least as the past decade has shown, nearly always puts on a show and walks away victorious when The Queen is nearby. Rumors of an On The Run 2 tour with Beyoncé and Jay surfaced this week. Just judging by the Cavs’ erratic play pretty much all season long (aside from an early winning streak), ’Bron might want to persuade the couple to hold off on the running until the summer.

JAY-Z

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shakes hands with Jay-Z during the game against the Brooklyn Nets on December 8, 2014 at the Barclays Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Research conducted on 30 games from November 5, 2003, to June 1, 2017

LeBron’s record: 19-11 (.621)

LeBron’s averages: 30.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.7 steals (49.2 FG%)

LeBron’s biggest game: Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals vs. Golden State Warriors (June 16, 2016) — 41 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks on 59.3 FG% (W)

JAY-Z is the celebrity who has been linked to LeBron James for the longest length of time. The two are so close Jigga once recorded a diss song on ‘Bron’s behalf—aimed at DeShawn Stevenson and Soulja Boy during a 2008 playoff series versus the Washington Wizards. We first learned of their friendship when James visited (but never played at) Rucker Park in 2003 as a guest of Jay’s Reebok-sponsored team at the Entertainers Basketball Classic (EBC). The championship game against Fat Joe’s Terror Squad team actually never happened due to a blackout in New York City. The infamous moment became fodder for the 2004 smash record “Lean Back.” Dating back even further, an 18-year-old pre-draft LeBron allowed ESPN’s The Life into his Hummer as he rapped, word for word, JAY-Z’s “The Ruler’s Back.” Jay-Z also attended LeBron’s first home opener in November 2003, a loss against fellow rookie Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets.

In his 2001 Blueprint manifesto “Breathe Easy” Jay-Z raps that he [led] the league in at least six statistical categories / best flow, most consistent, realest stories, most charisma / I set the most trends and my interviews are hotter … Holla! A decade and a half later, add a likely seventh: Most LeBron Games Attended by an MC. As with LeBron when Beyoncé attends, the majority of the losses Jay-Z witnessed came early in James’ career, as he lost five of the first seven. But since the start of the 2008-09 season, LeBron is 12-2 in 14 games with Jay nearby. And Jay-Z has been on hand for several LeBron classics, including two 50-point games at Madison Square Garden and a mammoth 37-14-12 triple-double in Game 5 of the 2009 Eastern Conference finals (a series LeBron and the Cavs lost in six). Interestingly enough, both Jay-Z and Bey were at Game 3 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals on the road against the Boston Celtics. That was the last game that James won as a member of the Cavaliers until his return in 2014.

Diddy

LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat speaks with Recording Artist Sean P. Diddy Combs prior to the New York Knicks , Miami heat game on December 6, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.

Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Research conducted on six games from Feb. 4, 2009, to June 12, 2017

LeBron’s record: 4-2 (.666)

LeBron’s averages: 32.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks (54.4 FG%)

LeBron’s biggest game: Feb. 4, 2009 @ New York Knicks — 52 points, 9 rebounds, 11 assists on 51.5 FG% (W)

If I were a once-a-century basketball player with a flair for the dramatic, it’s difficult to imagine a celebrity more fun before whom to put on a light show than Sean Combs. Barack and Michelle Obama, maybe? Maybe. Diddy has never not been on the pop cultural scene since he became a household name in the early ’90s jump-starting artists like Jodeci and Mary J. Blige (and, of course, The Notorious B.I.G. — who was tragically murdered 21 years ago today). So it seems odd the Bad Boy Records founder hasn’t been to more LeBron games.

Although King James lost the last two games that Diddy attended, LeBron absolutely puts on a show in front of the man who invented the remix. Yes, it’s the smallest sample size, but James averages the most points in front of Puffy, a man no stranger to putting numbers on the board himself. Diddy was in attendance on James’ legendary night in Madison Square Garden nine years ago, only 48 hours after Kobe Bryant’s 61-point masterpiece, when The King set one of the gaudiest stat lines of his career: 52 points, 9 rebounds and 11 assists. But really, the whole evening was only a subplot for the real story: One of the all-time great memes was born that night — and even if by proxy, we have LeBron to thank.

Rihanna

Rihanna watches as LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers plays against the Golden State Warriors during Game One of the 2015 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 4, 2015 in Oakland, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Research conducted on nine games from Jan. 16, 2010, to June 1, 2017

LeBron’s record: 4-5 (.444)

LeBron’s averages: 30.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 0.9 steals (52.9 FG%)

LeBron’s biggest game: Game 1 of 2013 opening round vs. Milwaukee Bucks (April 21, 2013) — 27 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists on 81.8 FG% (W)

I went back and verified these numbers at least five times. The math just wasn’t adding up. And, to be honest, it’s still not. For one, Rihanna, the most famous King James celebrity superfan on the planet, had to have sat courtside at more than nine games. Then again, it’s not like Rihanna’s work ethic doesn’t put her on the same plateau as James — so maybe it’s due to scheduling conflicts? There’s no way The Bad Girl sports a sub-.500 LeBron record. But that’s what the archives reveal.

The last two games she attended were the Game 1s of the 2015 and 2017 Finals. The former was an Oakland thriller soured by Kyrie Irving’s series-ending knee injury. The latter was also in the Bay, but new to the scene was a (near) 7-foot pterodactyl named Kevin Durant — with whom RiRi engaged in some in-game banter. The 2017 battle has also since become known as “The Jeff Van Gundy Goes Rogue” game, thanks to Rihanna. She missed the 2016 Finals preparing for the international leg of her ANTI tour. Photo archives show she hasn’t attended a Cavs game this season, although she may be saving her mojo to right the wrongs of playoffs past. She has, however, name-dropped The King in her and N.E.R.D.’s recent “Lemon”: The truck behind me got arms / Yeah, longer than LeBron. So, yes, the support very much remains.

Drake

Drake talks to LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during an NBA game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre on November 25, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Research conducted on 18 games from Oct. 28, 2009, to Jan. 11, 2018

LeBron’s record: 12-6 (.666)

LeBron’s averages: 30.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.7 steals (50.7 FG%)

LeBron’s biggest game: Game 5 of 2016 NBA Finals @ Golden State Warriors (June 13, 2016) — 41 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks on 53.3 FG%

They’ve partied together, worked together and made music together. Aubrey Drake Graham and LeBron James have been connected ever since Graham released the genre-bending 2009 mixtape So Far Gone. Since then, Ebony and half-Ivory are lightning rods in a pop culture universe in which both are kings of their crafts. Given Drake’s love of basketball, and the seemingly endless LeBron mentions in his catalog, 18 games feels like a lowball, although Drake has been courtside for two games that altered the narrative of James’ career: the aforementioned 37 points and 12 rebounds in Game 7 vs. the Spurs in 2013 and the robust 41-16-7-3-3 he unleashed on the Warriors in Game 5 of the 2016 Finals, a win that sparked the greatest comeback in NBA history.

Drake and LeBron have fun at each other’s expense in the moment. During the 2016 Eastern Conference finals, Drake openly mocked the Cavs via Instagram. Of course, the trolling proved short-lived, and to be quite honest, Drizzy probably should have left ’Bron alone. By the end, all that was left was LeBron taunting Drake during a game and the Cavs advancing to their second consecutive Finals. Fast-forward a year later, after a Cavs sweep of the Raptors, James asked Drake where the margarita move was afterward. The Cavs and Raptors have played only once this season, a 34-point blowout by Toronto, and Aubrey was there to see the drubbing. The two squads square off again in Cleveland on March 21. Only “God’s Plan” knows whether the Toronto rapper/singer/actor will bring More Life to the seasonal rematch with his courtside presence.

Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson hugs LeBron James at a basketball game between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 4, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Research conducted on seven games from February 15, 2007, to March 19, 2017

LeBron’s record: 6-1 (.857)

LeBron’s averages: 30.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.7 steals (55.4 FG%)

LeBron’s biggest game: January 17, 2013: Heat @ Lakers — 39 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals on 68.0 FG% (W)

You’d think Nicholson—the West Coast equivalent of Spike Lee at Madison Square Garden —would be at every game, but alas. And here’s the thing, if you’re a faithful Lakers fan making preparations for The Great LeBron Chase of Summer 2018, you absolutely need Jack. Of everyone on this list, LeBron has the highest winning and field goal percentages in front of Nicholson. I’m pretty sure a call from him would work better than engaging in billboard warfare with Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Usher

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates in front of musician Usher in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics during the 2010 NBA Playoffs on May 1, 2010 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Research conducted on 28 games from March 8, 2005, to June 7, 2017

LeBron’s record: 15-13 (.536)

LeBron’s averages: 28.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.7 steals (43.7 FG%)

LeBron’s biggest game: Game 7 of 2016 NBA Finals @ Golden State Warriors (June 19, 2016) — 27 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks on 37.5 FG%

By organization hierarchy, Usher has technically been LeBron’s boss for nearly a decade. The man who gave the world the greatest back-to-back album rollout in R&B history with 2001’s 8701 and then his magnum opus, 2004’s Confessions, became a minority owner of the Cavaliers in 2005. Usher’s been present for a handful of dynamic LeBron performances: 47 points against Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and the Heat in 2006; the infamous “crab dribble” game in Washington that same year; the game-winning 3 against Orlando in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals; and the signature defensive play of ’Bron’s lifetime, aka “LeBlock” in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals.

Unexplainably true, though, is LeBron’s field goal percentage with Usher courtside. It’s way lower in comparison to the other five. At 43.7 percent, the next closest is with Jay-Z present, at 49.2 percent. However many times I looked at the games, stats and factors involved (road games, playoffs, defensive matchups, etc.) there’s no other reason than the fact someone had to be the odd A-lister out — though Raymond is the only one on this list who can say they won a ring with LeBron.

The most disrespectful NBA plays of all time James Harden joins the pantheon with his annihilation of Wesley Johnson

Let’s get something straight off the rip. What Houston Rockets guard James Harden did to the Los Angeles Clippers’ Wesley Johnson on Wednesday night was not, in the purely technical sense, all that special. Yes, he sat Johnson down like a 5-year-old getting a timeout. It wasn’t any worse — again, strictly from a ballhandling and footwork perspective — than what Harden did to Ricky Rubio. Or Danny Green. Or Avery Bradley. Harden has been putting the whole NBA in a blender. It ain’t nothing new.

But what happened in between the ankle-breaker and the bucket? Harden watching Johnson fall, then waiting with the ball in his hands … and watching … and waiting? Forcing Johnson to struggle to his feet and contest a 3-pointer that we all knew was destined for the bottom of the net?

There’s only one way to describe it: disrespectful.

That doesn’t happen often in the NBA. For all their talent and swag and millions of dollars, NBA dudes can get in their feelings about perceived slights in the form of a garbage-time bucket, a late-game Rucker Park frolic or whatever nonsense sent three Rockets barging into the Clippers’ locker room the last time these two teams played.

But Harden’s game is so ridiculous right now, all Johnson could do is smile and prepare to join the pantheon of victims to The Most Disrespectful Plays Ever. This category is not the usual “greatest” lists of dunks, crossovers, buckets or club-parking-lot Bentley exits. These plays are all about what happened after the move or the shot. They are about the extra hot sauce, the exclamation point — and the fact that, just like Johnson, the victims couldn’t do a thing about it.


No. 6: KOBE bryant ON steve NASH

What Kobe Bryant did to Steve Nash isn’t the Mamba’s best poster. That would be when Kobe acquainted Dwight Howard with his manly regions in 2006. What set the Nash mash apart was Bryant’s postdunk pendulum on the rim. Imagine being Nash, lying on the ground in his own arena, looking up at Bryant doing the Uptown Swing. Dead wrong.

No. 5: ShawN KEMP POINTS AT ALTON LISTER

Bad enough that Shawn Kemp cuffed the ball with one hand off the dribble, then sent Alton Lister sprawling to the floor with a ferocious spread-eagle bang-out. Worse still that Kemp pointed at the prone victim. But the crouch-double-finger-point? Way extra — and superb.

No. 4: Michael JORDAN FINGER-WAGS MUToMBO

“You haven’t got me,” the shot-blocking giant Dikembe Mutombo, known for his finger-wag after rub-outs, told Michael Jordan in a moment of Titanic hubris. “It’s never gonna happen.”

Of course it did.

No. 3: THE ALLEN IVERSON STEPOVER

More essential to his legend than the Practice Rant. You don’t even need to see the video. Like Harden on Johnson, this was the type of move Allen Iverson did on the regular. But Iverson graffitied the bucket into history by stepping over Tyronn Lue with so much emphasis, with a look of such disdain on his face, it was like he delivered an entire rap song in the space of those two steps. Right in front of the Los Angeles Lakers bench.

No. 2: STEPHen CURRY TURNS HIS BACK ON BUCKETS

Stephen Curry is the anti-Iverson, right? Wrong. Dude is such a cold-blooded killer, he’s gonna turn his back and talk to your bench while his bullet is still flying through the air.

No. 1: REGGIE MILLER CHOKES OUT THE KNICKS

Madison Square Garden, 1995. Final seconds of a huge playoff game. Indiana Pacers down 6. Reggie Miller scores eight points in 8.9 seconds — then stares at New York Knicks court jester Spike Lee and gives a two-handed choke sign. So disrespectful, the Knicks have yet to regain their dignity.

 

‘Orange is the New Black’ star Dascha Polanco talks Michael Jordan and her journey as a single mom ‘We all have our own hardships that act as a piece of motivation for us to push forward’

The 35-year-old Orange is the New Black (OITNB) star Dascha Polanco grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and was an athlete in high school. But she hit the basketball court last week in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game playing alongside teammates Jamie Foxx, Common, Quavo of Migos and WNBA player Stefanie Dolson.

“I love that there are two women, Katie [Nolan] and Rachel [Nichols], coaching the [NBA All-Star] Celebrity Game,” said the actress who was on Team Clippers, the winning team. “I was very competitive when I used to play softball in school, so I was excited when the opportunity to play [in the Celebrity Game] came up.”

Polanco is best known for her role as Dayanara “Daya” Diaz in the hit Emmy- and Screen Actors Guild Award-winning Netflix show OITNB. Her first taste of Hollywood was in the independent film, Gimme Shelter, starring opposite Vanessa Hudgens and Rosario Dawson. Her big- and small-screen credits include Joy, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, The Perfect Match and The Cobbler to name a few.

Born in the Dominican Republic, she emigrated to Brooklyn as a young girl with her parents and became a citizen in late 2013. Borrowing the words of Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind, “Ima make it by any means, I got a pocketful of dreams,” Polanco didn’t sit on her dreams just because she was a young single mom living with the help of government assistance. She didn’t let the stereotypes of a label define what she could or couldn’t do. She went back to school to become a nurse at New York City’s Hunter College, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Then she began working as a hospital administrator at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

While studying nursing, Polanco signed up for acting classes at BIH Studios, where she eventually got signed to a talent agency and later landed OITNB in 2012, which changed her world forever.

The fierce and bold mother of two spoke with The Undefeated about why Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time despite her New York team allegiances, how she defies labels and uses fear to tap into an even stronger hustle, what it means to be an Afro-Latina in America and how overcoming insecurities is an everyday job.


Growing up in Brooklyn, are you a die-hard Knicks fan or have you become a Nets fan since they’ve become the Brooklyn Nets (previously the New Jersey Nets)?

I root for all New York teams. I grew up a Knicks fan and have so many memories watching the games with my family. As long as the Nets are the Brooklyn Nets, I’ll cheer for them too.

Who is the GOAT athlete?

Michael Jordan, hands down. And yes, I know I’m a Knicks fan, but MJ all the way. When I worked in the healthcare field, I had Jordan quotes all over my office. He is the epitome of dedication, perseverance and beating the odds. In my son’s room, I even have the poster of MJ with his arms stretched out.

What is your favorite Michael Jordan quote?

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” You can relate that quote to any situation in life. When I used to work in the operating room, it took a team of surgeons and nurses to get the job done, [and now as an actress, it takes so many people with different roles to make everything come together].

Where did your motivation come from as a young single mom going back to school to become a nurse, and then later taking acting classes while still working in the health care field?

We all have our own hardships that act as a piece of motivation for us to push forward. I remember living in a shelter and using food stamps and getting treated like a piece of crap every time I went into the city for welfare. That treatment made me feel ashamed and embarrassed, but it also encouraged me to want to have my own and be independent. I could have chosen to do nothing [and accept the stereotypes associated with the labels that were given to me], but I chose to go back to school. No label can define me. I’m Dascha and I am a force.

What’s something you didn’t think you’d have to adjust to as a celebrity?

I never was able to buy things because I wanted to; it was always because I had to. Now I have the choice and can treat myself, but I even struggle with that because I’ve become conditioned to be fearful of losing [what I work for]. But I’ve gotten to the place where I’ve learned to embrace what I deserve.

When you were working at the hospital, why didn’t you tell anyone that you were also filming Orange Is The New Black?

Where I come from, we don’t say the things that we’re working on. [Sometimes] people don’t want to see you grow. When I’m working, I don’t speak about it. I just let it show for itself. All of my life, I’ve gotten negative feedback when I’ve said I wanted to be a singer, actress or a dancer. I’d hear, “Ahh, girl, that’s so hard … I don’t think you’re going to make it doing that.” So I don’t give them the opportunity to put that negative energy into the universe. I don’t have to tell everyone my goals, because at the end of the day, everyone wants to succeed but no one wants to see anyone else succeed. I stay quiet and keep my goals in my control and my protection.

How have you overcome insecurities?

It’s a process that you ideally try to overcome, but you’re always working on it. There are days that I feel ugly and fat, and I have to tell myself to cut it the hell out. I started acknowledging what I’m feeling and exploring why I’m feeling that way. I look back at my experiences growing up and it’s rooted from not feeling like I’m enough. [And in the present day] maybe it’s that I’m around a group of sophisticated people and I feel I don’t talk as proper as them or I’m at a table with models and I’m the only one eating bread. Those insecurities come about when I’m so focused on everything else and I’m not taking the time to be aware of myself. So now I stop, meditate, stop again and go.

Where does your courage come from?

It might be genetic because my mom [who died at 46 years old] was one courageous woman emigrating [from the Dominican Republic], and just her tenacity in every situation. My mom and dad are my heroes and have taught me to take advantage of the now in life.

I recently booked a film that I never thought that I would get. [I can’t say what it is yet.] It’s a small role, but it’s with someone that I’ve always wanted to work with. I was so nervous that even my armpits were sweating. But I took a moment before I went on set and reminded myself, I am here because I deserve to be. You were brought to America by your parents to do whatever your heart wants to pursue, so take this moment to have the power and courage to take advantage of this moment. Fear is just one layer before your breakthrough. Give me a little bit of fear so I can beat it up and come out even stronger.

What does it mean to be an Afro-Latina in America?

There’s these labels and terms that we’ve created so people could understand their roots, what they identify with and where they come from. Even though I’m considered Latina, I’m really a Caribbean woman because I have African roots too. I love being a combination of pure melanin and having exaggerations in my body and movement.

But sometimes these labels are just a way of grouping individuals and putting people against each other — where it becomes about exclusivity instead of bringing people together. Growing up, the black community embraced me but not as much as I embraced them. It was always, “You’re not black, you’re Spanish,” but culturally I connected with them. It’s always been that constant battle but a lot of people feel that way. Even without racial differences, not everyone feels like they’re American too.

Tell me about your work with the D.R.E.A.M (Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring) Project?

I always wanted to do something for the youth in my home country, so I fell in love the D.R.E.A.M Project. The organization is kind of like a YMCA where the kids get education and job training. A lot of the kids are orphans and are growing up through hard times.

Together we’ve launched a theater arts program for these children. The talent that comes through these kids out of hardship is just amazing. The kids play instruments and are so good at so young. I knew we had to create a space to feed their talent so it could be used as a way to express themselves [and heal]. D.R.E.A.M Project has created a school [that they’ve named after me] and now these kids get to write their own script and tell their own story through performance.

Taye Diggs is working with us now too. I encourage people to take a trip to the Dominican Republic and share moments with these kids. It’s truly a remarkable experience.

The top 15 best Rookie Game performances in NBA All-Star history Kyrie, Kobe, Durant, Westbrook, Wall: The top rising stars (almost) always become superstars

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — before each signed million-dollar max contracts, negotiated their own lines of signature sneakers and reached superstar status, they had one thing in common. All three balled out in the Rising Stars Challenge, which in the past two decades has become the NBA’s marquee event kicking off All-Star Weekend.

In 1994, the league turned its annual Legends Game, which featured a matchup of teams of retired players, into the Rookies Game, a showcase of the NBA’s top first-year talent. By 2000, the game was renamed the Rookie Challenge, with a revamped format that included second-year players — after the 1998-99 lockout season that deprived rookies of the opportunity to play.

The Rookies vs. Sophomores structure lasted until 2012, when the league rebranded the event as the Rising Star Challenge and combined both first- and second-year players on each competing team’s roster through a draft. Now, the challenge matches American players against international players in a Team USA vs. Team World makeup that began in 2015.

Some of the best young players in recent memory have laced ’em up — from Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway in the inaugural 1994 contest to Allen Iverson vs. Kobe Bryant in 1997, and Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade running together on the Rookie squad in 2004. In the early ’90s, the games were low-scoring affairs of fundamental basketball. But over time, they’ve become artful displays of athleticism and bravado.

As we head into 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend, which begins Friday with Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr. and Donovan Mitchell leading Team USA against Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Jamal Murray and Team World, these are the top 15 performances of all time from the event that’s become the All-Star Game before the All-Star Game.


1997 — Kobe Bryant

Stat line: 31 points, eight rebounds in 26 minutes

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

On Feb. 8, 1997, the crowd at Cleveland’s Gund Arena booed when Philadelphia 76ers point guard Allen Iverson, the No. 1 pick of the 1996 NBA draft, was named the MVP of the 1997 Rookie Game over Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant, the 13th overall pick of the same draft class. Iverson led the Eastern Conference’s rookie squad to a 96-91 win with 19 points and nine assists, while Bryant propelled the West with a game-high 31 points, which set a Rookie Game record that wouldn’t be broken until 2004. Later that evening, the then-18-year-old Bryant avenged the loss and MVP snub by becoming the youngest player in NBA history to win the Slam Dunk Contest. And he did it with pop star Brandy, his high school prom date, watching him from the stands. What a way to bounce back.

2003 — Jason Richardson

Stat line: 31 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals in 20 minutes

He was just trying to get the crowd riled up, but he has no class. You don’t do that.” This is what Carlos Boozer, then a rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers, had to say after the 2003 Rookie Challenge, in which Jason Richardson, then in his second year with the Golden State Warriors, went “off the heezy” — that is, he threw the basketball off Boozer’s head — in the waning seconds of the game. “Fans like stuff like that — a little streetball,” said Richardson, who dropped a game-high 31 points to lead the Sophomores to a 132-112 win over the Rookies. Even more disrespectful? Richardson followed up the move taken straight from an AND1 mixtape by draining a 3-pointer in Boozer’s face to seal the game. One of the great unsolved mysteries in NBA history is how Richardson didn’t catch the hands that night.

2004 — Amar’e Stoudemire

Stat line: 36 points, 11 rebounds in 35 minutes

Is Amare Stoudemire a Hall of Famer? He certainly thinks so, but it’s an often-debated question when you look back at the now-retired big man’s 14-year tenure in the NBA. Back in 2004, however, it appeared as if Stoudemire was destined to one day be enshrined in Springfield, Massachusetts. Just watch the tape from his MVP performance in the 2004 Rookie Challenge. Stoudemire’s 36 points broke Kobe Bryant’s 1997 record (31) for the highest scoring output in the history of the game. He also dropped more points in the game than three surefire first-ballot Hall of Famers: Carmelo Anthony (17), LeBron James (33) and Dwyane Wade (22). Stoudemire’s Sophomores dominated Anthony, James and Wade’s Rookies in a 142-118 win.

2007 — David Lee

Stat line: 30 points, 11 rebounds in 24 minutes

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

David Lee didn’t miss a single shot in the 2007 Rising Stars Challenge, which he finished as the game’s MVP with 30 points on a perfect 14-for-14 from the field to go along with 11 rebounds in only 24 minutes on the floor. Lee and the Sophomores demolished the Rookies, 155-114, even with then-second-year New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul coming off the bench. Moral of the story: Lee is definitely invited to the cookout, where he’d bust your drunk uncle’s butt in some post-meal pickup.

2008 — Daniel Gibson

Stat line: 33 points on 11 made 3-pointers in 22 minutes

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

Shooters gon’ shoot, as the saying goes, and that’s exactly what Daniel “Boobie” Gibson of the Cleveland Cavaliers did against a team full of rookies in 2008. Coming off the bench for the Sophomores, Gibson, one of James’ most beloved teammates early in his career, took 20 shots, all of which were 3-pointers, and 11 of them fell through the net to set a record for the game. Gibson’s 33 points earned him distinction as the game’s MVP in a 136-109 win for the Sophomores. Ten years later, Gibson is no longer shooting shots but rather spittin’ bars, having retired from the NBA in 2015 to pursue a rap career. You can catch him nowadays on Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood.

2009 — Kevin Durant

Stat line: 46 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists in 30 minutes, 51 seconds

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In 2009 — with James sitting courtside between Kenny Smith and Kevin Harlan, calling the game — Kevin Durant, then 20 years old and the franchise player for the Oklahoma City Thunder, pieced together the single greatest performance in Rising Star Challenge history, with a record 46 points on 17-for-25 shooting from the field. “He’s been phenomenal. If you add a few more wins to [the Thunder’s] résumé, he’s definitely an All-Star for the Western Conference team,” James said that night before the game. After leading the Sophomores to a 122-116 win over the Rookies during All-Star Weekend in 2009, Durant was selected the following season to play in his first career All-Star Game, which he hasn’t missed since.

2010 — Russell Westbrook

Stat line: 40 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 32:16

Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images

Russell Westbrook did his best Durant impression with a 40-piece in the 2010 Rising Stars game, the year after his then-Thunder teammate Durant dropped an unprecedented 46. Yet Westbrook’s prolific performance, which he delivered after scoring a mere 12 points in the game as a rookie in 2009, wasn’t enough for the Sophomores, who fell to the Rookie team, 140-128, for the first time since 2002. Tyreke Evans might have the MVP hardware from that game on his mantel, but Westbrook straight-up balled out. He was the real MVP, if we’re keeping it 100.

2011 — John Wall

Stat line: 12 points, 22 assists in 28:56

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

No player in the history of this game has come out and tallied more assists than John Wall did at Staples Center back in 2011 during his first season in the league. His fundamental, 22-dime MVP display paced the Rookies to a 148-140 win over a roster of Sophomores that featured Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan and James Harden. Pretty sure even Jesus caught a lob from Wall that night.

2012 — Kyrie Irving

Stat line: 34 points, nine assists in 27:03

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A then-19-year-old rookie, Kyrie Irving didn’t miss a single 3-pointer in the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge. We repeat — Irving, fresh off of being selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA draft, made all eight shots he took from beyond the arc as part of his 34-point MVP night that helped his team, coached by Charles Barkley, beat Team Shaquille O’Neal in the newly formatted game that mixed rosters with both rookies and sophomores. Irving’s night, however, was just the warm-up.

2013 — Kenneth Faried and Kyrie Irving

Stat lines: Kenneth Faried: 40 points on 18-for-22 from the field, 10 rebounds in 23 minutes; Irving: 32 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds in 26:46

Denver Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried absolutely dominated the 2013 game, with an efficient 40-point, 10-rebound outing that ended with him hoisting the MVP trophy. But let us take this moment to pour out a little liquor for Brandon Knight’s ankles, which Kyrie Irving, the 2012 Rising Stars MVP, destroyed on the hardwood at Houston’s Toyota Center. Irving caught Knight not once but twice with saucy combinations of his unrivaled handles. About a month after the game, DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers broke the internet after throwing down a poster dunk on Knight. It was a tough year for the young guard out of the University of Kentucky.

2014 — Andre Drummond, Tim Hardaway, Dion Waiters

Stat lines: Andre Drummond: 30 points, 25 rebounds in 28:26; Tim Hardaway: 36 points (7-for-16 from 3-point) in 24:29; Dion Waiters: 31 points (4-for-6 from 3-point) in 21:24

Perhaps the greatest sequence in Rising Stars Challenge history is the back-and-forth battle between New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and then-Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters in 2014. For seven out of eight straight possessions in the final minutes of the game, Hardaway and Waiters went one-on-one, virtually operating as if there were no other players on the court. Hardaway would hit a 3 and Waiters would answer with one of his own. Hardaway would bring the ball downcourt and pull up, then Waiters would shoot from a little bit deeper. Rinse and repeat. Hardaway finished with 36 points on 7-for-16 shooting from 3, while Waiters scored 31 on a lights-out 10-for-14 from the field, including four 3s. What’s funny is neither player was named the game’s MVP. That honor belonged to Detroit Pistons big man Andre Drummond, who scored 30 points and grabbed 25 rebounds. No defense at all, but what a game.

2017 — Jamal Murray

Stat lines: 36 points (9-for-14 from 3-point), 11 assists in 20:09

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

No player has ever been named the MVP of back-to-back Rising Star Challenges since the game was first played in 1994. Yet this year, sharpshooting second-year Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray has a chance to make history, after coming off the bench in 2017 to drop 36 for Team World in a 150-141 win. Can Murray be MVP again? We shall see.

New York Knicks visit balcony where King was shot Front office, players and coaches call the moment ‘chilling’

Martin Luther King Jr. was staying in Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on that dismal day of April 4, 1968. He was assassinated on the balcony outside of his room at the place now known as the National Civil Rights Museum.

The day King was killed, the New York Knicks’ front-office power trio of president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and vice president of player development and G League operations Craig Robinson were all in elementary school. But they each have a vivid memory of the sense of loss the world experienced.

Perry, a Detroit native, was only 5 years old.

“I just know that there was sadness in my household. I can remember that. At that young age, it was this deep sadness,” he said.

Mills was 8 years old, but he recalls the sense of loss and his parents and grandmother being in “shock.”

Robinson, the brother of former first lady Michelle Obama, was about 5 years old. He remembers the sadness, but it also was the first time he was introduced to the word “assassination.”

“I also remember it was the first time I had a discussion with my parents about death that wasn’t caused by illness or old age,” he said. “I remember that very clearly because you heard the word ‘assassinated’ and you were like, ‘What does that mean?’ And everybody was sad. It was like the whole neighborhood was sad. It was one of those things, one that you can remember a dark cloud. I don’t remember much, but I remember a dark cloud.”

For the first time, the three men visited the museum with their team, coaching staff and other members of the Knicks organization last week.

And they all got to stand on that balcony where King lost his life while in Memphis advocating for the black struggle.

Private team tours are not new to the museum, established in 1991. But this year, player and team attendance for these tours has increased.

As the world approaches the 50th anniversary of King’s death, known as MLK50, teams are taking the opportunity to treat the private tours as a bonding experience, reflecting on the legacy of King and the civil rights movement.

For Mills, being able to spend time at the museum ahead of the 2018 commemoration was special.

“We had the opportunity, actually, to go out on the balcony, so to end up out there was just incredible. It was very captivating and interesting,” Mills said.

Robinson said that the visit was far more emotional than he’d imagined because it is the location of King’s death and because of the players’ reactions.

“These young guys didn’t grow up thinking about it the way we did, and this was a first event for a lot of the guys,” Robinson said. “And even the guys who had been there before, it had been remodeled and new, and it was interesting talking to them and seeing the disappointment in the way things were. So that was emotional for me, as well, seeing their reaction.”

Mills said Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. was showing his teammates photos he’d taken on his phone a day after the visit.

“He was talking about how important it was for Walt Frazier, who was a very sort of introspective guy who doesn’t talk that much, to hear him talk about his experiences as a team and how they used to go and sit at counters and get arrested,” Mills said.

Walt Frazier and Courtney Lee at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Tom Zweibel

Frazier, a Hall of Famer who played for the Knicks from 1967-77, is the team’s color commentator.

“For our players to hear one of the legendary Knick players talk about those experiences from a personal level, I think that’s what we’re here to do, to try to get these guys connected and understand where they fit. I thought that was a very emotional moment as part of the experience,” Mills added.

Perry called the visit a tremendous learning experience.

“It was a great time for reflection about all the things that had happened in history. And when you leave there, it does really, really give me more of a sense of purpose about trying to do better and serve people.”

The mission of the National Civil Rights Museum is to chronicle key episodes of the American civil rights movement, examine today’s global civil and human rights issues, provoke thoughtful debate and serve as a catalyst for positive change, according to its website. It holds 264 exhibits, including historic collections and interactive pieces.

Knicks forward and team captain Lance Thomas has visited the museum three times, but it was his first time with the Knicks team.

“I think it was amazing, especially for us coming around this time of year,” Thomas said. “It was very powerful. A lot of people know who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is but they don’t really know the story of the things that he was a part of and the things that he stood for, and we were very lucky to be able to have that tour and to have that team experience. We saw people locking into reading a lot of the descriptions on the wall. … I think we’ve come a long way, and it’s an unbelievable testament to thriving and pushing for things that you believe in. I feel like if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were still alive, he would be proud of the progress that has been made.”

Knicks guard Courtney Lee frequented the museum during his two-season stint with the Memphis Grizzlies. This was his fifth visit.

“It’s always good to go back,” Lee said. “Especially with a different group of guys, with all the foreigners we have on our team, it was some of their first time going. So just seeing their reaction once they learned about how this country was built and the sacrifices that a lot of people made for us to live in equality — their reactions were priceless, pretty much. I can speak volumes to how Martin Luther King helped us out.”

Team veteran Jarrett Jack first visited the Civil Rights Museum when he was 15 years old.

“We had AAU nationals here in Memphis. My mom and dad are both from Louisiana, so they are familiar with the struggles and the rigors of what Dr. King and what men and women were fighting for so long,” Jack said. “They made it a point to take us even at a young age when we probably didn’t appreciate it. They would make us understand the history and kind of turn it into, instead of a basketball fun activity for us, but more of an experience. So this was probably my third time. They allowed us to go out on the balcony, which is where Dr. King had his last moments, and that was kind of chilling just to stand in the spot where he fell.”

The 34-year-old said he understands that although King is usually celebrated once a year, his legacy, his teachings and his many speeches live on daily.

“When you think about it, he’s been dead 50 years. … Five decades. … Half a century, which is a very short time for us to do things like play in the NBA or make whatever you want to do possible,” Jack said.

Visiting the museum was important to Perry because it aligns with the organization’s vision of making sure players are well-rounded.

“Basketball is something that they do as a job, but it doesn’t define them totally as people, and that’s what we want, those guys to really be well-rounded. When they’re done playing basketball, there’s a lot of life hopefully for them. Giving them a chance to experience things like what they experienced [at the museum] can go a long way,” Perry said.

For Robinson, the museum introduces some history that is not traditionally taught in schools.

The Knicks and their management team visited the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Tom Zweibel

“We have some foreign players on our team, and I was mentioning to Frank Ntilikina about the wall that has a lot of the black history heroes on,” said Robinson, who was Mills’ teammate at Princeton. “And I was explaining to him how, even for me, I knew who Harriet Tubman was, and I knew who Sojourner Truth was or Frederick Douglass or Dred Scott. But there were like 16 other people there who I’d never heard of. And I was just remarking at how little we get in African-American history growing up in schools. And now it’s more because you have a month now. When we were in school, you didn’t have a month. You had those encyclopedias that were beige, that every black family had, and you would flip through. But [Ntilikina] said, ‘You know, I never had any African history.’ He grew up in Belgium, family is Rwandan, and so here I am like, ‘Man, I didn’t have this,’ and then he tells me he didn’t have anything. Just watching him, that was eye-opening for me.”

The intersection of race, sports and culture exists, and the Knicks’ front office wants to encourage a climate that welcomes conversations around topics that may intrigue players.

“I try to make myself available to talk about all that stuff when they want to talk about it,” Robinson said. “I try not to be sort of editorial with my comments because, first of all, we have a professional relationship, so I don’t want my feelings to be their feelings. But secondly, of course, with my history and my familial relations, I sort of try and keep church and state separate, but whenever they want to talk about something political, I’m always right there to talk about it. And you would probably be surprised by the number of times we talk about that stuff. We have quite a few players who like to engage in what’s going on in the world today.”

Mills agreed with Robinson, saying that the three of them are always open to “answering questions, giving a perspective and letting guys have an opportunity to frame what they’re experiencing and give them some perspective.”

Perry said their doors are always open for issues beyond the players’ profession.

“That’s just how I was raised to be as a person,” he said. “I think one of the broader lessons and the type of culture that we want to have here when you start talking about sports and how it intertwines with society is unification, and that’s what we’re about.”

A look back at Latrell Sprewell’s very angry ‘Sports Illustrated’ cover The image was after the P.J. Carlesimo incident and at the tightest possible intersection of sports and race — not in a good way

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Latrell Sprewell? His 35-point performance at Madison Square Garden with the New York Knicks facing elimination in the 1999 NBA Finals? Him dunking on Jaren Jackson in the third quarter of that game?

Maybe it was his return to the Garden for the first time in more than a decade, last year, as a “friend” of Knicks owner James Dolan, not a foe. Perhaps it’s this recent Priceline commercial, supposedly a display of Sprewell’s sense of humor — at his own expense.

Or is it a moment obscured from the public’s eyes: Sprewell choking then-Golden State Warriors head coach P.J. Carlesimo during a December 1997 practice, leaving the gym and returning, apparently to attack Carlesimo again?


Or is what you recall the aftermath, when the 24th pick in the 1992 NBA draft became a pariah? His name and likeness became synonymous with violence. The Warriors voided the then-three-time All-Star’s contract, and the NBA, a season removed from celebrating its 50th birthday, suspended him for a year after the episode escalated into an avalanche of bad press that the league did not need one month into the pivotal 1997-98 season. Several stars — Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen among them — were injured, Michael Jordan was all but certainly retiring, and a lockout was looming.

Then, in addition, the Milwaukee-born, Flint, Michigan-raised Sprewell, one of the NBA’s rising (albeit reluctant) stars, was labeled persona non grata. He’d admittedly committed an act of violence against his coach. It was an act that seemed to confirm every absurd fear about the rise of the overpaid, petulant, violent (and *gasp* black) athlete. It was the problem with sports, to let sportswriters and fans alike tell it. And although Sprewell acknowledged that his actions were inexcusable — “I don’t condone what I did,” he told The New York Times in 1998 — he took issue with how he was portrayed. This was epitomized by the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Dec. 15, 1997, issue.

“It’s always a picture of me looking mad or being aggressive,” he said during a news conference one week after the incident, for which he was initially suspended 10 games without pay. “I never saw pictures of myself where I had a smile on my face. It was always negative.”

The enigmatic Sprewell was easy to cast as the villain. The former University of Alabama and Three Rivers Community College standout was an aggressive slasher and defender. His appearance was menacing — to people who associated cornrows with criminal activity. And Spree had previously fought teammates. He absolutely considered himself a fighter, but only in self-defense.

“I don’t get upset unless somebody’s doing something to me or to my family, disrespecting me to where I just can’t tolerate it,” Sprewell told Time in 2000. That’s how he viewed the altercation with Carlesimo.

The choking itself, said to have happened in practice during an argument about Sprewell’s effort (“Put a little mustard on those passes,” Carlesimo reportedly told him), triggered revealing discourse, in the pre-social-media era, about the very often uncomfortable intersection of race and sports.


Sports Illustrated flew into the eye of the storm and made a valiant effort to unpack the situations. And while the story itself excellently contextualized the NBA’s head-on collision with race, the image — Sprewell, in mid-scream — chosen for the Dec. 15, 1997, issue’s cover was provocative for the wrong reasons. Sports Illustrated was the de facto bible of sports at the time, in an era before breaking news spread via Woj Bombs and trending topics. A time when writers discussed stories with editors via phone calls — not yet in Google Hangouts, or Slack.

Phil Taylor doesn’t remember exactly how he heard about what transpired between Sprewell and Carlesimo, but as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated at the time, he called his editors to discuss how they planned to cover it. “This was a huge story … right in my backyard, and as lead NBA writer, I knew I was going to be writing something lengthy,” said Taylor, now a contributing writer for The Athletic. “I’ve often thought that if it happened now, we would have obviously been able to put something out on Twitter and everyone would have just written stories immediately. But I remember thinking that [as a weekly publication] we were not going to be able to get an immediate story out there.”

“One of my first thoughts was, at least put P.J. on there looking angry too.”

The Sprewell-Carlesimo incident took place on a Monday — the worst-case scenario for the magazine, which was finalized for the mass printing on Sundays. Back then, hundreds of thousands of issues would be sent to subscribers and would be available on newsstands on the Wednesday/Thursday of the following week. Local outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle were already on top of the story. That extra time, though, did allow Sports Illustrated to fine-tune its coverage, and Taylor ended up writing two of the three stories: a look at who Sprewell was and an essay about race and the NBA.

“We knew that by the time the story came out, the story might have advanced beyond what we knew at the time we were writing,” Taylor said. “So we wanted to come up with something to better put this into context, and that’s where we started talking about the issue of race in the NBA and what the Sprewell incident had to do with that.”

In a break from covers that featured full-bleed photography, a particularly incisive excerpt from Taylor’s essay was featured — white type on a black background:

“Latrell Sprewell has been publicly castigated and vilified, and any player who gets a similar urge to manually alter his coach’s windpipe will surely remember Sprewell’s experience before he acts on that impulse. Problem solved. But the Sprewell incident raises other issues that could pose threats to the NBA’s future, issues of power and money and — most dangerous of all — race … ”

Placing that much text on the cover of a magazine was rare for SI. “The editors liked what I wrote, and I think it was our managing editor Bill Colson … thought it was so strong that we should put those words on the cover.”

Part of Taylor’s satisfaction came from his belief that the cover would differ from what had quickly become a typical characterization of Sprewell as angry. Until he saw it, that is.

“My words … but they added that picture of Sprewell, and that was disappointing to me,” said Taylor, who didn’t see the cover until the issue came out. “One of my first thoughts was, at least put P.J. on there looking angry too. But maybe that would have been inflammatory as well, because then you would have had a black man screaming at a white man. That sort of anger could be interpreted as racial, but … would have at least been more fair.”

It was unfair to Sprewell because although what he did was undeniably wrong, Carlesimo was far from … docile. He was notoriously hard on his players, and notoriously unpopular for it. “We’ve been face-to-face on many occasions,” Rod Strickland, who played for Carlesimo while with the Portland Trail Blazers, told the Baltimore Sun.

“I’ve often thought, that if it happened now, we would have … put something out on Twitter, and everyone would have just written stories immediately.”

“I played under him, so it doesn’t surprise me,” Tracy Murray, who began his career with Portland, added.

After the Warriors hired Carlesimo in 1997, he was the focal point of their “No More Mr. Nice Guy” campaign, appearing on billboards with his coaching staff dressed like a team of FBI agents. Carlesimo was depicted as an enforcer; he was celebrated for an approach that alienated players and, more importantly, never translated into success in the NBA.

“P.J. was a guy who stirred it up, and was as bellicose and belligerent as Sprewell was,” Taylor said. But Carlesimo had a vastly different relationship with the media, Taylor added. He was very cooperative and affable and would ask about the reporters’ well-being. He’d remember their first names. That charm likely played a factor in Carlesimo receiving more favorable coverage than Sprewell, who was tight-lipped with the press.

Imagery is as important to a story’s narrative as reporting or analysis. A March 2002 issue of Sports Illustrated featured Charles Barkley in shackles. It drew criticism from Sports Illustrated staffers, readers and Barkley’s friend and colleague Kenny Smith alike. Golfweek’s infamous Tiger Woods “noose” cover, from January 2008, got its editor and vice president fired. LeBron James’ historic moment as the first black man to grace the cover of Vogue that spring was sullied by the black man-as-savage beast stereotype it projected. According to Taylor, the media routinely overlooks the reverberations of such editorial decisions.

“The media in general has always, and definitely at that time, underestimated the power of the images of black athletes,” said Taylor. “I don’t think the implications of putting an angry Sprewell out there occurred to them. I’m not even sure the implications of putting Barkley in chains occurred to them — until the backlash came.”

Taylor noted that no black editors were involved with the Sprewell story. “I might have been the only black writer or editor at that time,” he added. The magazine could have placed an expressionless Sprewell on the cover, and it would’ve been just as captivating. That’s how great the treatment is, and how powerful Taylor’s words are. But the cover — and all of the more incendiary examples that preceded it, and will surely continue to follow — represent a more hazardous issue: a failure on the part of many media professionals to grasp the complexity of stereotypes and the way they’re bound to black identity, and how all of that affects the way black people are viewed and treated.

Still, though, Taylor gives Sports Illustrated’s editors credit for deciding to explore the NBA’s racial undercurrent. After discussing the atmosphere with them, he said, Colson asked if the magazine should write about it. Taylor was stunned, as that was “edgy” for Sports Illustrated — and really for any mainstream sports publication of that era.

“They were willing to take on a controversial issue, although they kind of regressed on it … by choosing the picture they chose,” he said. “I wish they hadn’t done that.”

Sprewell survived his figurative public stoning and continued his career with the Knicks and then Minnesota Timberwolves. The clothing and footwear company AND1 even branded him “The American Dream” upon his return to the NBA in 1999 — the last time the Knicks made the Finals. The events of December 1997 never impeded Sprewell’s career, but it ended abruptly in 2005 after he claimed he couldn’t feed his family on the three-year, $21 million deal the Timberwolves offered him. That Priceline commercial, where he pokes fun at his mistakes, is poignant considering the headlines that have emerged since his retirement.

Despite Sprewell’s success after the incident, he remains symbolic of poor decisions and explosive anger. Regardless of Sports Illustrated’s intentions, that’s all their cover screams about him too.

Nike unveils City Edition uniforms for 26 NBA teams The question is, which team has the swaggiest look?

All four editions of Nike’s NBA uniforms have officially dropped. First came the home and away uniforms, which the company, in its first year as the league’s official apparel provider, dubbed the Association and Icon editions. Then came the Statement uniforms, designed with the bravado and swag required for big games and rivalry matchups. On Wednesday, for 26 of the NBA’s 30 teams, Nike released its City Edition uniforms, geared toward honoring “the fans — those who, 41 times a year, take pilgrimage at their local arena, and whose passions help define each respective team’s identity,” according to a press release. “The Nike NBA City Edition uniforms represent insights and emotion from the court to the upper deck to the cities’ streets, in pursuit of a unique way to capture each team and its city in a way that respects the past and present of the clubs while also positioning them for the future.” The Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors will unveil their City Edition uniforms for the 2017-18 season at a later date, according to Nike.

Designs range from paying homage to the 50-year anniversary of the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee, to the incorporation of snakeskin and camo prints and the use of the iconic “PHILA” script to mimic the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Which team has the best look? That’s for you, the fans within each respective city, to decide (people are voting for what’s hot and what’s not at The Undefeated’s Instagram stories). Here are the 26 uniforms:


Atlanta Hawks

Boston Celtics

Brooklyn Nets

Charlotte Hornets

Chicago Bulls

Cleveland Cavaliers

Dallas Mavericks

Denver Nuggets

Detroit Pistons

golden state warriors

 

Indiana Pacers

Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles Lakers

Memphis Grizzlies

Milwaukee Bucks

Minnesota Timberwolves

New Orleans Pelicans

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

Orlando Magic

Philadelphia 76ers

Phoenix Suns

Portland Trail blazers

Sacramento Kings

San Antonio Spurs

Utah Jazz

Washington Wizards