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.

The woman behind CoverGirl’s ‘I am what I make up’ marketing campaign Ukonwa Ojo added Ayesha Curry and Issa Rae as brand ambassadors

When Ukonwa Ojo left Nigeria for the United States to attend the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, she had no clue she’d eventually become global senior vice president for Coty Inc.’s CoverGirl brand, but she knew she had a dream.

“My parents were gutsy enough to let me move to America by myself to follow my dream,” said Ojo. “I always knew that I wanted to work in business, and America was like the nirvana of business.”

Fast-forward to the present day, where that same bravery kicked in when Ojo, who joined CoverGirl in the fall of 2016, gave the brand a makeover by changing its slogan, “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl,” to “I Am What I Make Up” after just a year at the company. Ojo and her team added more brand ambassadors to round out their roster. Along with singer Katy Perry, the new CoverGirl ambassadors included chef and author Ayesha Curry, who is half of a power couple with NBA All-Star Stephen Curry; Issa Rae, the creator of HBO’s Insecure; fitness guru Massy Arias; 69-year-old model Maye Musk; and professional motorcycle racer Shelina Moreda.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but the feedback has been incredible and allowed CoverGirl to bring a lot of innovation to market with bolder colors, deeper tones and glitter with a spring collection that will launch 114 new products.

Making tough decisions isn’t new for Ojo, who decided to change her career after working nearly six years in the finance department at paper company MeadWestvaco. A finance and accounting major in college, she was good at math but realized that she wasn’t in love with it and couldn’t see herself doing it for the rest of her life. Then she heard about brand management.

“I realized that what I didn’t like about finance was that I worked alone most of the time. But with brand management, I’m constantly collaborating and building together with so many departments,” said Ojo. “I’m a classic extrovert, so I get energy from other people.”

Ojo earned an MBA at Northwestern University and, while there, interned at General Mills, where she spent seven years. She handled marketing for brands such as Betty Crocker, Honey Nut Cheerios and Progresso from 2004-11. Later, she worked on branding for the French’s mustard portfolio, as well as Durex and K-Y in London for the British multinational consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser until 2015. She stayed in London and joined Unilever as senior global director for Knorr, the food and beverage brand, before moving to New York as a CoverGirl senior vice president. With more than 20 years of marketing and brand management experience, she now oversees the cosmetic brand’s global strategy, advertising and communications.

The Undefeated visited Ojo at Coty’s offices in the Empire State Building to learn more about CoverGirl’s evolution, how she exemplifies why “you are what you make up” and why she lives by her Instagram bio, “working hard, playing harder and praying hardest.”

What is a typical day like for you?

There is no typical day, which is one of the things I love about this job and the beauty industry: It’s so fast-paced. I can be looking over the innovation within production operations, presenting to our board of directors or the executive committee, reviewing a pitch from our media partners who may have an amazing idea to meeting with our sales team on how we’re going to drive growth for that quarter. The scope of my role is so broad that it keeps things interesting and my brain challenged.

What’s the most rewarding and challenging part of your job?

The brand means so much because of the impact it has on culture, and that creates such a rewarding feeling for us. The challenge derives from that same responsibility of running such an iconic brand. Whatever you do, you know you’re standing on the shoulders of giants and that you’re pushing culture forward through the brand and the business.

What was behind the decision to change CoverGirl’s slogan from “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl” to “I Am What I Make Up”?

The decision came from really listening to people. I learned how makeup is so much more than cosmetic, and every day when they stand in front of the mirror with their makeup bag they are actually creating who they wanted to be that day. Women play so many different roles in society, and our makeup changes based on those roles because it’s a form of self-expression, and there’s a story behind each look. We realized that some of these looks weren’t so easy, breezy, and in some ways that was limiting us to go on that journey with her to create whoever she wanted to be that day.

How has CoverGirl evolved in how it chooses ambassadors?

It’s never easy picking a CoverGirl because of the legacy and history of what it stood for. It’s one of the hardest things we do as a team because it’s far more than just beauty that meets the eye. We’ve historically always stood for inclusiveness and diversity, but it was primarily limited to ethnicity. We wanted to continue to celebrate ethnic diversity but also the beauty that comes in all ages and vocations. A lot of our CoverGirls usually come from the entertainment industry as models and actresses, but we thought, ‘How awesome would it be to show women in various roles that are pushing society forward?’

Why did you choose Ayesha Curry, Issa Rae, Massy Arias, Maye Musk and Shelina Moreda?

We loved that Ayesha Curry was a chef, entrepreneur, a mom and a wife and was playing these roles in such an inspiring way. Massy Arias, a fitness sensation that could kick anyone’s butt at any time, is balancing that with brand-new motherhood and the ups and downs that come with that and was still thriving on that journey. And then we have Issa Rae, who we loved because she was really pushing the boundaries in Hollywood about what entertainment should look and feel like. She’s a director, producer, writer, actress and just a strong role model for women. [Model] Maye Musk exemplifies how even at 69 years old you can still do what you love and inspire at that same time. Shelina Moreda is the first woman to have raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and at the Zhuhai International Circuit in China.

We just wanted to show all of the different ways that women really thrive in society and have that be an inspiration to us and other women out there.

How can we increase diversity in managing advertising and brand campaigns?

I believe it’s a combination of not knowing that this is a career path and how there’s still a long ways to go on representation on all levels in this field. That’s why I try to be visible in my role, whether that’s with mentoring, participating on panels and speaking engagements so African-Americans not only know but see that this is a path here for them too. Brands, especially those that impact culture, have to have diversity in front and behind the camera to authentically push diversity and inclusivity. I’m very intentional at building a strong and diverse team.

Is it better to be feared or loved as a leader?

I don’t subscribe to fear and would never want to generate that on my team. If I had to pick a word, it would be respect, and I would choose that over being loved. As a leader, you’re going to make decisions that people aren’t always going to love, but if they respect you and you’re transparent, then they’ll recognize that your intent is right.

What is your advice to young women who don’t feel beautiful because they compare themselves to what they see on social media and in Hollywood?

Beauty really does come in every shape, size, ethnicity and vocation. It’s so important that we champion that and show how beauty is confidence. People try to water it down to an idealized vision of beauty. But at the end of the day it is confidence, and when you learn to accept who you are, you will automatically perfect beauty into the world.

What would be your personal theme song and why?

“Live Your Life” by T.I. featuring Rihanna, because I believe in writing your own rules. People could have statistically said where I should end up or what a senior executive should look or lead like. I love challenging those notions. Like our slogan says, ‘you are what you make up,’ and you can become whoever you want to be.

Migos madness: the ultimate bracket of Migos songs The best Migos song ever? Here’s the Skrrrt 16 — you decide

There’s no denying it at this point. If Quavo, Offset and Takeoff, collectively known as the hip-hop supergroup Migos, woke up tomorrow and decided they were done with rap, they’d already have more than enough material for a greatest hits album. We’re pleased to report they aren’t, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with their extensive catalog anyway.

Sports and Migos go together like the Jheri curl and Soul Glo in Coming To America. Look no further than LeBron James’ Instagram Stories, Kevin Durant giving Quavo a game-worn jersey during the Golden State Warriors’ annual Atlanta stop, Los Angeles Laker Lonzo Ball’s playlist and, most importantly, Quality Control’s trophy case featuring Quavo’s All-Star Celebrity Game MVP award that he deservedly won last month in Los Angeles.

With the Sweet 16 tipping off this weekend, it’s only right, with the Three Wise Migos themselves, that we unveil the “Skrrrt 16.” It’s exactly what you think it is too: a March Madness-style bracket curated by us (The Undefeated) and them (Migos). And just like the actual NCAA tournament, there are a plethora of snubs — “John Wick,” “Say Sum,” “Slippery,” “Too Hotty” and more — but Migos just has too many dope records.

We need your help with narrowing down these 16 into the ultimate one. The conversation is happening at Twitter. Have your friends get with our friends and we can fill a bracket before the weekend. Without further ado, let’s get to it and break down the regions …

Culture I Region

  1. Bad and Boujee” (2016) — This is the top overall seed of the bracket — and for good reason. Despite all the surefire hits the Migos have to their name, “Bad & Boujee” is the only one that went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The dynasty the track sparked all began in August 2016, when Quality Control got out of a deal with 300 Entertainment. “The rest,” the label’s chief operating officer, Kevin “Coach K” Lee, said recently, “is history.” The record took off and catapulted the group into another stratosphere of influence, complete with countless memes and an iconic shout-out from Donald Glover on the Golden Globes stage. “Bad and Boujee” is the undefeated heavy favorite to win this bracket.
  2. T-Shirt” (2017) — This was a tough one for the selection committee. We had to decide between making “T-Shirt” a No. 1 seed (which it probably should be) or placing the track as a No. 2 seed in the Culture region, with an epic matchup against “Bad and Boujee” in play for the Elite 8. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but “B&B” vs. “T-Shirt” in the second round would settle an often debated question that even the greatest of hip-hop connoisseurs have failed to settle: Which one is the best track on Culture? Perhaps its stunning The Revenant-meets-the-trap-themed video will give “T-Shirt” the slight edge.
  3. What The Price” (2017) — You can’t tell me Takeoff yodeling, “WHAT THE PRIIIICE” doesn’t sound like Mufasa from The Lion King. This is hip-hop opera, if we’re being honest with ourselves. It’s such a classic Migos cut, and superstrong 3-seed, setting the stage for a huge matchup with “T-Shirt” in the opening round of Skrrrt 16. Is a potential upset brewing? We shall see.
  4. Bando” (2012) — Fun fact: The Migos and the 2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, running back Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints, all grew up together in Nawf Atlanta. And one story that Kamara always recounts is his memory of the then-up-and-coming rappers going to nightclubs every weekend to perform one song, and one song only, hoping to catch their big break. That song? “Bando,” which is where it all really began for the hip-hop trio. You’ve gotta respect how far Quavo, Offset and Takeoff have come since this early banger.

Culture II Region

  1. Stir Fry” (2018) — It’s a No. 1 seed for a reason. In what will likely go down as Culture II’s biggest hit, the Pharrell-produced number was also their third-highest charting single — No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The wide appeal of “Stir Fry,” while still remaining true to the group’s eccentric dynamic, is undeniable; it was the NBA’s official theme song of All-Star Weekend. Hard to deny that résumé a No. 1 seed.
  2. MotorSport” (2018) — Cardi B’s aggression blended with her simultaneous public displays of affection for Offset. Nicki Minaj’s follow-up that (temporarily, at least) quelled rumors of long-standing beef between the two rap stars. The three Migos crafted a futuristic trap monster that set the stage for Culture II.
  3. Walk It Talk It” (2018) — The most intoxicating music video of 2018 has arrived, and we’re only three months into the year. On March 18, while teams in the NCAA tournament were fighting for spots in the Sweet 16, the Migos dropped the visuals for their Culture II track “Walk It Talk It” in the form of a Soul Train-themed masterpiece, which features Jamie Foxx as the Don Cornelius-inspired host of the fictional program Culture Ride, the hip-hop trio as a swaying band swagged out in ruffled suits on top of platform shoes, and the song’s featured artist, Drake, coming to the stage rocking a Jheri curl. Co-directed by Daps and Quavo, the video even features a version of a Soul Train line, down which Offset pops and locks. Everybody and they mama surely took a break from hoops to watch this when it was released Sunday. Foxx, Quavo, Offset, Takeoff and Drake — that’s a starting five right there, boy.
  4. Handsome and Wealthy” (2014) — Catch this in the club, day party or cookout and it instantly becomes a choir rehearsal that your church aunts and grandpas would likely not approve of. One of the group’s earlier smashes, it still goes, and bless Offset forever for his closing spiritual: I know why you came in this club tonight / Looking for a n—a that’s gon’ change your life. Those bars leading directly into Quavo’s hook? Glorious. Simply glorious. “MotorSport” might be in trouble.

NAWF Region

  1. Fight Night” (2014) — Seven months before the drop, and ensuing success, of “Handsome and Wealthy,” the Migos delivered an absolute smash with the certified gold “Fight Night” — the group’s highest-charting pre-“Bad and Boujee” single, which spent 16 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 69 in September 2014. Also, if you had any doubts about Takeoff’s abilities in the booth, he squashed all of them by absolutely floating on the intro, hook and first verse of “Fight Night.” He opens with four masterful bars — If you know me, know this ain’t my feng shui / Certified everywhere, ain’t gotta print my résumé / Talking crazy, I pull up, andale / R.I.P. to Nate Dogg, I had to regulate and carries the track the rest of the way. Don’t sleep on “Fight Night,” which has all the components of a deep run.
  2. Freak No More” (2014) — And now for the biggest sleeper in the pool: 2014’s club anthem “Freak No More.” This trap ballad, which never truly got the mainstream play it deserved (likely because of title and content), is the perfect combination of rapping and singing, with the choppiness of verses transitioning into Quavo’s suave crooning on the chorus. This is an early example of the now-proven fact that Quavo can carry a track not only as an MC but also as the ultimate hook man. You can’t tell us that you’ve never caught some twerk — or, for the of-age crowd, thrown some ones — while this served as the soundtrack to the moment. Watch out, “Fight Night” … “Freak No More” is a borderline No. 1 seed, coming for the upset.
  3. Wishy Washy” (2014) — If you go back and look at the video, in particular at Offset, here’s something you’ll never be able to unsee: He looks like a regular-height Joel Embiid. Same hairstyle and everything. True story. Regardless, this standout from the 2014 project Rich N—a Timeline didn’t get much radio play because, well, you hear the subject matter. But let’s just say it lived and thrived in the ecosystem of Atlanta’s (strip) clubs without a hitch.
  4. Cocoon” (2016) — There’s a prophetic aura that surrounds the Migos’ non-album single “Cocoon,” which dropped on May 5, 2016, before the August release of “Bad and Boujee” and the group’s magnum opus Culture in January 2017. Be myself at the top like a cocoon (aye, like cocoon) / … We the wave, we the wave, typhoon (wave, aye, typhoon), Quavo spits on the track’s hook as a quasi-prediction of the rapid rise to superstardom the three rappers would soon experience — and their need to protect themselves (like a cocoon) once they reached the top. Obviously, in the end, the Migos back up these braggadocious bars. While “Cocoon” might be a forgotten track that some consider a throwaway, it’s definitely worthy of a Skrrrt 16 bid.

YRN Region

  1. Versace” (2013) — The most incredible aspect of this song is its staying power: The song’s flow influenced the entire game. A Drake feature, in 2013, was like the Bermuda Triangle. He annihilates the feature so effectively that the song becomes his, and the original artists are left to wonder where they go from here. Drake undeniably put the remix in the figure-four leglock with one of the standout verses of his career — and one of the better features of the decade, if we’re really keeping it a bean. But Migos absorbed the publicity and became stronger. They really are the rap Voltron. If that’s not No. 1-worthy, then nothing is.
  2. Hannah Montana” (2013) — If you’ve ever seen them perform this song live, especially at a festival, then the reaction this still gets a half-decade later is nothing short of amazing. Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana) has since handed her struggle-twerk card in, giving the title a different context now. But the allusion to “Hannah Montana” as a drug reference was brilliantly cunning. The fact many outside of rap didn’t get the reference was the closest (and most unintentionally funny) hip-hop magic trick since Dave Chappelle’s revelation about “skeet skeet” in the early 2000s.
  3. Pipe It Up” (2015) — “Look at My Dab” didn’t make the cut in the field of the Skrrrt 16, but “Pipe It Up” (which actually dropped first) is certainly puttin’ on for the Migos-created dab — the hottest dance in the past decade. It even inspired the group’s own brand of potato chips. Back in 2015, it was hard to find a highlight during Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s MVP-winning season without the second single off the group’s debut studio album, Yung Rich Nation, playing over top of it. That’s a winning formula from the song that features the refrain “Pipe It Up” 92 times. Far from lyrical genius, yes, but the track sure does make you wanna dab.
  4. One Time” (2015) — A strong 2015 for the Migos brought us the culture-shaking dance records “Look At My Dab” and “Pipe It Up,” but it all began with “One Time,” which features a repetitive party hook: Smoke one one time (smoke one) / Drink some one time (drink, drink) / Lemme f— some one time (smash) / Tear the club one time (turn the club up). Opening with all three members of the group passed out on the couch after a night of Lord knows what, the music video is definitely inspired by 2009’s The Hangover and brings a similar infectious energy.

Step into the ring at an underground fight club We are breaking the first rule of fight club

It’s 10 o’clock on a cold Friday night in an industrial area of the Bronx, New York. A line of people gathers in front of an auto body shop, where a towering bouncer asks for tickets and lets in groups of three at a time to be screened and searched for weapons.

Inside the body shop is an octagonal ring made of crowd control barricades and gym mats. Roughly 200 people have purchased tickets and try to claim a spot with an unobstructed view. The promoter refused to disclose ticket prices. This is the fourth fight night of the Bronx’s newest underground fight club, Rumble in the Bronx.

Each night has been held at a different location, and attendees learn the venue’s address only hours before the fights begin. The third fight night was held inside the trailer of an 18-wheeler and was limited to 60 spectators.

So far, each night has had about 10 bouts. The rules are simple: No kicking, biting or shots below the belt. Sixteen-ounce gloves are provided, but fighters are allowed to bring their own. The fights last three three-minute rounds, and the winners are determined by cheers from the crowd. In the event of a draw, a fourth round is fought. A cut man, an off-duty emergency medical technician, monitors the safety of the fighters and tends to wounds. Under state law, anyone involved with an unlicensed boxing match can be charged with a misdemeanor. Everyone from the promoter to the card girls could be punished with up to a year in jail.

Killa Mike, the founder of Rumble in the Bronx, was once a fighter for another underground group called BX Fight Club. After BX stopped holding fights and he received the blessings of its founders, he created Rumble in the Bronx.

Flipper (left) and CJ are the first to fight in the warriors-themed night of the fight club. After two rounds, Flipper was winded and could not continue. CJ took the win.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

The club is “a place to kill beef and release aggressions,” said Killa Mike. He attempts to arrange fights in which both parties have a dispute and can settle their differences before guns become a part of the equation — all while still being entertaining. Killa Mike is proud of an early match that involved an ex-husband and the new boyfriend. The two men’s problems had escalated to the point of death threats toward each other on social media. The two men walked out of the ring with a mutual respect, he says, and the threats and bickering have ceased.

The current undefeated heavyweight champ of Rumble in the Bronx is a 6-foot-2, 240-plus-pound 21-year-old known as Big Country. All of his fights have been won by TKO or KO, and none reached the third round. After his first win, Killa Mike helped Big Country find a job with him at a construction site. Big Country’s fourth fight was the most important to him because he was fighting to end the beef between his neighborhood and that of his opponent, Big Pun. Their fight, the final one of the night, ended early in the second round as Big Pun was winded and tapped out. By the end of the night, people from both neighborhoods were posing for pictures with Big Country. Asked whether he would ever consider going pro, his response is quick: “I never train. I’m too lazy. When I get home from work, I just want to lay down. I’ve always loved combat sports, but this is only a hobby for me.”

Crowds fill the stands awaiting the first fight of the night.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

CJ (left) and Flipper (right), with referee Frank White, are the first to fight in the warriors-themed night of the underground fight club. After two rounds, Flipper was winded and could not continue. CJ took the win.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Flipper ducks a punch from CJ during their match.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Counterfeit tickets were discovered during the fight night.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Desmond begins to get winded after the first round.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Card girl Kayla Basic entertains between rounds during the match between TyTy and Andre, the second fight of the night.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Lulu (left) moves in to throw a punch against Ashley during a fight that wasn’t on the card but was instead the result of a callout by Ashley. This fight was to settle some differences between the two onetime friends over Ashley’s ex.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Lulu (left) takes a punch to the face from Ashley during a fight that wasn’t on the card but was the result of a callout by Ashley. This fight was to settle some differences between the two onetime friends over Ashley’s ex.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Loso received a callout from Desmond between the second and third rounds. It looked as if Loso didn’t have enough to go back out and finish the fight.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Desmond collapses on the floor after the breakup of a clinch during the third round, finding it difficult to breathe.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Don (right) gets fighting instructions from a friend.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

The crowd watches the match between TyTy (left) and Andre.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

Loso officially wins the match after Desmond could not continue. Loso was 0-3 at the Rumble in the Bronx until this win over Desmond.

David 'Dee' Delgado for The Undefeated

‘The Quad’s’ Ruben Santiago-Hudson brings himself to character Cecil Diamond ‘What I bring to each role I play is the best of myself’

Georgia A&M University band director Cecil Diamond may be one of the most polarizing characters on BET’s nighttime drama The Quad.

Diamond, who has led the prestigious 200-member Marching Mountain Cats since 1990, is one of the best band directors Atlanta has seen in this fictional historically black college setting. And once band members get past the sometimes cold exterior of their fearless leader, they learn to love him — for the most part.

There have been some traumatic experiences on Diamond’s watch. Whether the brutal beating of a band member, a betrayal within his band family or personal health scares, Diamond proves that though he can be bruised, he will not be broken. Approaching season two was no different.

“His frailties are much more prevalent now,” said Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the actor who portrays Diamond. “He’s able to expose a lot of that to people who are close to him, and I always look for those opportunities in my characters because they’re clearly signs of his humanity — when you’re not only powerful but you’re also vulnerable. This season gives him opportunities many times, or at least a few significant times, to show the dichotomy of the character and his personality.”

Santiago-Hudson knows the brazen, tough-love, no-nonsense character is exactly what he needed to be. And becoming Cecil Diamond wasn’t the toughest part, since Santiago-Hudson considers the character to be merely an extension of himself.

“Cecil Diamond is one of those guys, I don’t know if you can kill him,” Santiago-Hudson said. “His reserve and his energy and his will is so incredibly powerful that he’s used to fighting. He’ll fight any foe, and he feels he can win.

“We are one. I think there’s times I can be as firm or hard as Cecil, and there are times I can be as soft as Cecil, so all I can give you as an audience member is the best of me. Whatever you see of me, I’m giving it to you real. I’m not a method actor per se, but I am a seasoned actor. And what I bring to each role I play is the best of myself.”

With a career spanning more than four decades, Santiago-Hudson has challenged himself and displayed his acting abilities in several roles. But as he matured in his career, he desired new challenges and different types of roles. Starring as a detective here or a police officer there were great roles to add to the résumé, but Santiago-Hudson tired of fruitless parts that relied on his “black authority” yet omitted his vulnerability, sensitivity and intellect.

Once he received the call from Felicia D. Henderson, the show’s co-creator, Santiago-Hudson knew that this was one role he would not turn down.

“When I read the script and had a discussion with [Henderson], it was just where I wanted to be,” Santiago-Hudson said. “I didn’t want to go to L.A. I wanted to be closer to home, and I wanted to do something other than being a police officer. … I could show a lot more of who we are as a people.”

Santiago-Hudson knew he could be what the role required of him. He could be cold and calculating or caring and emotional. As far as Diamond’s musical career, Santiago-Hudson also had that covered. He is a self-taught harmonica player who also worked as a disc jockey for eight years. Music has always been a means of expression and integral part of his life, but transforming himself into a band director would present some unique challenges.

Santiago-Hudson did not attend a historically black college or university (HBCU), but he said he lived vicariously through his children, who received their college educations at Hampton University, Morris Brown College and Morehouse College. Immersing himself in the HBCU band culture to transform into Diamond was a learning experience for Santiago-Hudson.

“I’m a very studious actor,” Santiago-Hudson said. “I love dramaturgy. I love research. I had some wonderful people around that were provided to me to learn what it meant, what the tradition was, what the status was and what it really meant to be a band director. We brought band directors from high schools in Atlanta and we brought band directors from universities in the South. They all had a different take and something else to offer me, and everybody offered me gems, jewels, that I continue to build so that I can have a whole pocketful of gems and jewels.”

Once the basics were down, Santiago-Hudson made Diamond’s style his own. From facial expressions to commands, the actor took a small piece of everything he’d learned to form a complete character.

“If you watch RonReaco Lee [who plays the role of rival band director Clive Taylor] conduct and you watch me conduct, it’s two different styles,” Santiago-Hudson said. “The expressions on my face, the way I command, the way I look over my shoulder. Watch how I walk through my band and the respect they have for me and how a little look or a raised eyebrow says a lot to them. That marching band culture at black colleges, you can’t get more prestigious.”

Besides studying, learning and researching more about HBCU culture, Santiago-Hudson was even more impressed by the environment, and new family, around him. As long as Cecil Diamond has a place at GAMU, Santiago-Hudson will continue to give his all.

“The community of actors we’ve gathered, the collaborative process with our writers, directors and showrunner, Felicia D. Henderson, the sense of community [is my favorite part of being on the show],” Santiago-Hudson said. “And something that brings me tremendous joy is to look beyond the camera and see people of color pulling cables, adjusting lights, focusing cameras, catering, wardrobe. We have, I would say, 85 percent on the other side of the camera who look like me. I have not seen that, and it really brings me joy to tears. That’s how much that means to me.”

Former Nike designer focuses on youths with launch of new footwear line Jason Mayden walked away from his 14-year-career to invest in what really matters to him

Designer Jason Mayden had his dream job.

As the lead designer at Nike’s Jordan Brand, Mayden spent long days and nights researching and designing some of the brand’s top shoes for its most popular athletes. But 13½ years into his tenure, Mayden decided it was time to serve a much larger purpose — and a brand of his own. After walking away from a fruitful career at Nike, it was time to direct his attention to and invest in today’s youths. Mayden put his own skills to use as CEO of Super Heroic, a comfortable and affordable footwear line designed to inspire children “to discover new places and hold on to that invincible feeling of play.” Mayden was determined to design shoes that were not only comfortable for children but also unleash creativity and inspire physical movement and imaginative play.

“The response [to Super Heroic] has been exceptionally well,” Mayden said. “Everyone says, ‘Hey, my kids love the shoes.’ They’re so comfortable. We get a lot of videos and photos of kids running and declaring that they’re superheroes and parents smiling and laughing and interacting. That’s exactly what we designed the product to do.”

The inspiration for the brand stemmed from not only Mayden’s love for superheroes but also Mayden’s son, who struggled with his own body image issues. One night, Mayden returned home to his wife and kids after a long work trip, only to discover his son sulking in the bathroom. There he stood staring at himself in the mirror, shirtless and crying.

“He hated his body. He hated who he was and didn’t want to go to school the next day,” Mayden said.

Right then and there, Mayden’s decision was made. As much as he loved his job and working with athletes, Mayden believed his family needed him more.

“There’s no way in hell I’d be able to go into work tomorrow and not feel some type of way about [my son’s situation],” Mayden said. “I walked through the door the next day and I quit. The most important job for me is to be a good father and a good husband.”

Although Super Heroic has opened many more opportunities for Mayden, the knowledge, wisdom and skills the 37-year-old learned during his time at Nike have been essential to the success of his own business.

Mayden always had a knack for art and innovation. By the time he was 7, Mayden was airbrushing, drawing names in bubble letters, imagining his own designs and sketching pictures of cartoon characters. An avid reader of comic books, Mayden was drawn to Lucius Fox, who supported his friend and ally Batman through many of his daily activities, including designing and supplying gadgets and technology for the superhero. Mayden likened himself to Fox, in a way.

“My whole career of wanting to work with athletes was driven by me wanting to design products for Batman,” Mayden said. “So, of course, the closest one to me [growing up in Chicago] at that time was Michael Jordan.”

But Mayden and his family weren’t exactly sure he’d live long enough to see that dream come to fruition.

When Mayden was 7, he experienced symptoms of a common cold, or perhaps the flu. The family couldn’t be sure since the diagnosis changed with every doctor’s visit. Each time, Mayden and his parents were sent home. Each time, Mayden grew more ill.

“When they finally rushed me to the hospital and identified what it was, it was at a critical point. I remember drifting in and out of consciousness and listening to these discussions [of my situation].”

The official diagnosis was confirmed. Mayden was battling septicemia, a bacterial infection that sends bacteria and toxins into the bloodstream and through the entire body if left untreated. Because the infection was misdiagnosed so many times, doctors moved swiftly to do what they could to save Mayden. Treatments had begun, but at such a critical stage, there was no guarantee that any of the medications would help. Aware of how serious the situation was, the 7-year-old Mayden seemed to be the only calm one through it all. Death may have been imminent, but there were things far more important than the fight for his life.

“Honestly, I was at peace with whatever the outcome would be,” Mayden said. “Would I be able to go to school tomorrow to get my Easter candy? That’s all I was focused on: seeing my friends and getting Easter candy. I needed to get my gummy bears.”

Fortunately for Mayden, treatments were working. Doctors began seeing progress, and he was eventually discharged from the hospital. The situation, as scary as it was, inspired Mayden’s response to life’s challenges — one he continues to live by.

“At 7 years old, I realized my life wasn’t finished,” Mayden said. “When I was in the hospital and I heard people discussing my mortality — if I could make it, if I would be alive, if I would be OK — I knew that I would not let my life be defined by if because it’s always will. I will be OK, I will get to Nike, I will persist, I will achieve my goals and dreams. It was the decision I made to never let an if determine my outcome. My parents always joke that I became an adult in that moment. I’ve been moving at a thousand miles per hour since then.”

Mayden continued to grow stronger and fall even deeper into his own creativity. He knew he loved to draw, and he entertained the idea of making a career of it. Becoming a designer wasn’t a thought that crossed his mind, only because he didn’t know much about the industry.

“I was an artist and a creative, but I didn’t know that I wanted to be a designer,” Mayden said. “I’d never heard that word. I knew nothing about industrial design. It just really came to a head when I went to an auto show and I saw these products that people made. I wondered how they did that. It was my senior year in high school when I learned about industrial design. It changed my life when I heard that phrase.”

Mayden went on to study industrial design at College for Creative Studies in Detroit. While there, Mayden began forming a master plan to get to Nike. He advocated for himself. He wrote letters and called 800 numbers that were printed to the backs of shoeboxes. He found names from newspaper clippings and dialed the customer service lines pretending to be their relatives. Although he didn’t get a job offer, he did receive free stickers and posters. Eventually, he lucked up and found a recruiter during his freshman year in college. She informed him that internship requests were received all the time and encouraged him to keep applying. Mayden took her advice and submitted his application and portfolio and kept in touch, only to be rejected twice.

“When people tell me no, I just take it to mean yes,” Mayden said. “It just means no, not right now, not no forever. And my grandmother always taught me that delayed doesn’t mean denied. Even during those dark moments, it was my family and my faith in God that kept me going. Even when Nike rejected me, I told them I’d be back.”

Mayden kept applying, and on his third try, the then-19-year-old was accepted into a rotational program where his first job was to design branding, logos and graphics for Virginia Tech football phenom Michael Vick. Mayden’s work with Vick and the Nike Air Monarchs gained the attention and respect of higher-ups who wanted to keep the young designer on board.

Two years later, with the help of Nike senior designer Wilson Smith, Mayden was brought on as a member of the Jordan Brand and thrown his first project: designing a shoe for New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter.

“Derek Jeter was my real-life Batman,” Mayden said. “I’m a kid who was given the responsibility to design a shoe for one of my heroes. I was so nervous. He was the ultimate gentleman, the ultimate coach, and encouraged me to try my best and have fun.

“We would walk to restaurants and he would stop and sign every autograph of every person and take every picture. He would say hello to everyone — from the hot dog vendor to the person selling newspapers. I’d never seen anything like it.”

Studying the interactions of Jeter and other athletes allowed Mayden to be more creative and give their shoes more personality. Mayden also kept consumers and fans in mind during the process.

“I care about the first time a person experiences my products, and that’s why that unboxing experience is so unique because somewhere, somebody is opening that package for the first time,” Mayden said. “I want to make sure it’s magical and amazing, and I want it to live up to the hype.

“I value storytelling and how people interact. Spending time and watching athletes and how they prepare is a lot of my process. I’m constantly consuming information and challenging my own way of thinking. If I can assess my weaknesses while leaning on my strengths, I can prepare for what’s next.”

The experiences from Nike and now Super Heroic are what drive Mayden to keep going. Making a difference in the lives of kids and parents across the country remains the goal — even when things can be a bit overwhelming. “There are times I feel tired and feeling like I need a mental break, then I’m reminded quickly that what we do really does matter,” Mayden said. “People have been very supportive and very encouraging.”

Mayden hopes that anyone who becomes frustrated along life’s journey continues to keep pushing. In the end, it’s all worth it.

“To anyone who feels their dreams are invalid or impossible, I encourage them to just keep going because no one can do anything great in life by doubting themselves because of their experiences,” Mayden said. “Who you are, where you come from, what you look like, your gender, your age, your sexual orientation — none of that matters. Your dreams are valid.”

‘The Quad’ recap: GAMU students get a peek at what a merger really means Doing what’s right isn’t always easy, and Eva Fletcher is learning that the hard way

Season two, episode 6 — The Quad: March

If we thought rumors of a Georgia A&M University merger had finally been settled, this week’s episode is here to remind us just how angry students are on both sides.

Eva Fletcher has been doing everything in her power to keep GAMU’s legacy alive, but during breakfast with her daughter Sydney, Fletcher told her that she would be speaking to the president of Atlanta State University later in the day. In the background, Fletcher’s anxiety medication remains visible, which causes Sydney to worry. Fletcher convinces her daughter that better days are ahead for the school and her mental health. At least, that’s what she hopes.

Back on campus, students already had planned a protest, but with the new information from Sydney, a busload of students packed up their protest and brought it to ASU, where the two presidents were in the middle of discussing a plan that would work best for everyone involved. What they hadn’t expected was a counterprotest from a small group of alt-right activists, which turned violent once GAMU students were told to go back to where they belong. Punches were thrown, and Madison Kelly was struck with a glass bottle. Both presidents were alerted to the chaotic scene outside. The only way GAMU students would return to campus was if Fletcher rode the bus with them, a suggestion from Cedric Hobbs.

Although Sydney Fletcher’s relationship with her mother and her best friend, Kelly, had been warped, the trying times have brought them all closer together. Later in the episode, Sydney explains to her mother that GAMU’s support system, especially after her rape, has brought a new perspective. Sydney’s words of encouragement and support for her university may even serve as motivation for Fletcher to keep GAMU independent.

Back on campus, the newly pledged men of Sigma Mu Kappa are in the dorms celebrating. An elated Bryce Richardson can hardly contain himself, while his new line brother and roommate Hobbs still can’t quite understand the hype. This alone causes him to be an outcast among his other frat brothers, especially since they believe special privileges allowed him to join the line so late.

In reality, Hobbs is being forced into this brotherhood as a favor to Richardson. Although being a Sigma Mu Kappa man is Richardson’s family legacy, Hobbs has gained respect from some of his prophytes because of his leadership skills, which isn’t sitting too well with Richardson.

In a separate plotline, BoJohn Folsom is still recovering after being jumped by the friends of the high school football recruit aiming to take Folsom’s spot. His concerned teammate and roommate, Junior, has been trying, but a frustrated Folsom has been ornery. The real problem might stem from Folsom’s lack of communication with their third Musketeer, Tiesha, who has been ignoring him since their argument over her flirting with another guy. The two still haven’t spoken since the party, and Junior has been trying to play peacemaker until a later conversation revealed that Folsom and Tiesha had been more than friends. Junior, still processing the information, isn’t sure whether he’s more shocked or hurt that his two best friends hadn’t been truthful with him. With Folsom and Tiesha’s “situationship,” it’s apparent that Tiesha might not have wanted to commit to Folsom because he is white. Instead of talking things out, Tiesha leaves Folsom, adding another layer of complexity to their confusing relationship.

Folsom and Tiesha aren’t the only ones with relationship problems.

Somehow, Hobbs continues to land himself in hot water with every woman he meets. Hobbs, who is still dealing with the death of his first girlfriend and the fresh breakup from his last, thought it’d be a good idea to sleep with his best friend, Ebonie Weaver, before flirting with another one of his peers. Although Weaver wasn’t initially truthful about her feelings for Hobbs, Noni Williams made it clear to Hobbs that their hookup meant more to Weaver than just sex. Hobbs goes to Weaver’s room to try to clear things up and finds that Williams was telling the truth. Weaver does have deeper feelings for her best friend than she’d let on. Before Hobbs could show her that he shares the same feelings, he was interrupted by his roommate.

The two have been summoned by their fraternity and end up being punished for Hobbs breaking code earlier in the day. Hobbs, Richardson and their line brothers end up blindfolded and wearing nothing but their boxers in the middle of the woods. The show ends with the young men trying to find their way out of the woods after their prophytes leave them stranded — something Hobbs continues to struggle with and may end up speaking out against in the future.

James Harden’s fresh new Adidas colorway recalls his beloved junior high school years Rapper Nipsey Hussle takes L.A. pride in the Audubon Middle School alum and leading MVP candidate

At Adidas’ 747 Warehouse St. event during 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend, The Undefeated’s Aaron Dodson caught up with Los Angeles Sparks two-time MVP Candace Parker and six-time All-Star James Harden of the Houston Rockets. This two-part series will highlight the connection both players have to Adidas.

LOS ANGELES — In the streets of Los Angeles, there’s nothing but love and respect for James Harden. Just ask Nipsey Hussle, one of the city’s most respected rappers.

Fresh off the stage at the Hollywood Palladium, where he’d performed tracks from his recently dropped Victory Lap, Hussle bumped into Harden, the face of the Houston Rockets franchise and front-runner for this year’s Maurice Podoloff Trophy, presented annually to the league’s most valuable player. The random run-in turned into an impromptu family reunion for Hussle, who hails from the Crenshaw area, and Harden, who’s from nearby Compton. The way the two chopped it up, you would’ve thought they were cousins.

“The n—a that broke the NBA record for the highest m—–f—ing contract ever went to Audubon!” said Hussle to a swarm of paparazzi, with his arm draped around the hooper’s shoulder. The MC referenced the richest contract extension in NBA history: a four-year, $228 million deal that Harden signed last summer. But Audubon?

“Y’all don’t know what that is!” Harden joked to the people behind the flashing cameras. For him, though, that word means a lot. Audubon Middle School, in Hussle’s ’hood of Crenshaw, is one of the NBA superstar’s alma maters. So when Harden returned home to L.A. for All-Star Weekend, during which he dropped his new signature Adidas sneaker, it was only right that he paid homage to the school where it all began.

As a starter in the All-Star Game, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard took the hardwood at the Staples Center wearing his Adidas Harden Vol. 2s in the “Vision” colorway, a design inspired by Audubon’s school colors but remixed to incorporate different shades of green and a glitched palm tree pattern. The shoe dropped exclusively at Adidas’ All-Star Weekend pop-up, about 8 miles from his old middle school.

The day after bonding with Hussle over Audubon, Harden made an appearance at the Adidas event, where folks awaited the moment they’d be graced by the presence of what was billed as a “special guest.” As Harden stepped foot on a basketball court primarily populated by kids from the city’s neighboring communities, the crowd went nuts — rushing from the bleachers and circling him, prompting the DJ to drop Playboi Carti’s 2017 smash hit “Magnolia” — and of course the Snapchat videos started rolling.

The track and atmosphere commenced a Milly Rock battle between Harden and a few of his fellow L.A. natives, as he swayed back and forth in a fresh pair of his new kicks, which are engineered with FORGEFIBER and full-length BOOST technology tailored to his one-of-a-kind footwork and ability to change direction on the court.

“As a kid, you always want your own shoe,” Harden told The Undefeated in the scrum. “I’ve got my Vol. 2s now, so it’s an unbelievable feeling, especially when you’ve got the support behind you.”

Instagram Photo

In this moment, Harden donned the burgundy “Ignite” colorway of the Vol. 2s, but the crowd favorite was certainly the vibrant “Vision” look, worn by countless children who surrounded him. The salmon-tinted “California Dreamin’” colorway also debuted during All-Star Weekend.

“Man … Audubon is where I learned to love the game of basketball. On the playgrounds …,” Harden said of the shoe before he was overcome by loud bellows of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” He finally embraced the chants by waving his hand for more and letting out a powerful roar. Back to the middle school-inspired shoe: “It’s where I fell in love with the game, and I just took it from there.”

After leaving Audubon, Harden attended Artesia High School in Lakewood, California, where he emerged as a five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American. He starred at Arizona State University for two seasons before the Oklahoma City Thunder selected him with the third overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Since 2012, when a trade sent him from Oklahoma City to Houston, he’s become a six-time NBA All-Star and three-time first-team All-NBA selection, and for the past three seasons he’s been knocking on the door of becoming an NBA MVP. In 2015, Harden’s personal brand became so big that Adidas lured him away from an endorsement deal with Nike by offering a 13-year, $200 million contract.

“Adidas is everything. You see the waves that we’re creating. It’s not just basketball — it’s a lifestyle,” said Harden at 747 Warehouse St. Later that night, 21-time Grammy Award winner Kanye West, the brand’s highest-profile endorser, popped up at the event to perform. (Also of note: Since the All-Star break, it’s been reported that Adidas is “far along in negotiations” with rapper Drake, who currently has a deal with Jordan Brand.) “Adidas is changing the culture,” Harden continued. “Just taking over.”

Less than three years after committing to the brand, Harden is already one of the faces of Adidas Basketball, now in his second signature shoe. As for whether this one, the Harden Vol. 2, will help him capture the elusive MVP award?

“Easy,” Harden said with a smile. “Easy.”

Not too bad for an L.A. kid from Audubon.

Why Candace Parker has stuck with Adidas her whole athletic life The L.A. Sparks star can go from Pro Models to Pusha Ts

At Adidas’ 747 Warehouse St. event during 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend, The Undefeated’s Aaron Dodson caught up with Los Angeles Sparks two-time MVP Candace Parker and six-time All-Star James Harden of the Houston Rockets. This two-part series will highlight the connection both players have to Adidas.

Candace Parker has worn one brand of basketball sneakers for essentially her entire life: during her AAU and high school days in her home state of Illinois, on the court at the University of Tennessee for three seasons, and for the past 10 years as the leader of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. All Adidas, all the time for the four-time WNBA All-Star, two-time league MVP and two-time Olympic gold medalist. In 2008, when she became the second player in WNBA history (after Lisa Leslie in 2002) to dunk the ball during a game, she rose from the hardwood in a pair of the Adidas Piranha 3.0.

In 2016, some folks in the sneaker world speculated that part of the reason Parker was left off the roster of the Nike-sponsored Team USA Olympic women’s basketball team involved her loyalty to Adidas — which isn’t stopping anytime soon. On the court, she rocks Adidas Crazy Lights, and off of it you can catch her in her favorite gray and orange Yeezys, throwing it back to one of the colors she wore at Tennessee. Here she talks about the first pair of Adidas she bought, her experience working on the “Calling All Creators” ad campaign and why she believes the brand keeps on winning.

What made you sign with Adidas when you entered the WNBA in 2008?

I’ve been actually unofficially with Adidas since 2003, which is when my high school team got sponsored by Adidas. I don’t know whether it was fate, but I went to an Adidas college at Tennessee, and then when I came out of college it was just natural to sign with Adidas just because I’d been with them. It had become more like a family. I knew everybody within the company. They wanted to grow with me and have that type of partnership.

How have you seen the brand grow in the past 15 years?

It’s been tremendous. Even going back farther than 2003, I remember getting the moon boot Kobes. Just me falling in love with the design. Obviously, it’s great to see the product go into a more functional direction. Kobes were a little clunky playing in them. They look fly now wearing them, but on the court they were a little heavy. So now, to see the Crazy Light shoes, they blew my mind. For somebody that’s kinda versatile like myself, who plays all positions, I couldn’t just wear a big man’s shoe. I needed a shoe that served all purposes.

What’s your favorite shoe ever?

I’d definitely have to go with the Pro Models from back in the day. The reason is, this was in 2002. I think I was a sophomore in high school, and I saved up my whole summer allowance to buy the Pro Models. That was kind of like the first time I worked and saved up, so they hold a special meaning to me. For a Christmas tournament, I had to buy two pair, so I had a red pair and a green pair. … The T-Macs were kinda fly too.

What’s your favorite off-the-court Adidas shoe?

I would say the Pusha Ts or the Yeezys are my go-to off the court because you can wear them with whatever. You can dress them up, you can dress them down.

How fun was it to work on the ‘Calling All Creators’ campaign?

It was really neat. … They had empty chairs, and it was surreal for me when you look across and see David Beckham, and you see Alexander Wang and all the nameplates, and you’re like, ‘Man, I’m really sitting at this table.’ For me, I think it was just the coming together of the commercial and then seeing it play on television. It was a really good concept. It’s what Adidas is about.

Who did you film with?

I filmed with Chiney Ogwumike, who I know very well. She’s like a sister to me. And then Dame Lillard — we’re real cool. It was good just catching up with them and talking. Obviously, I’ve known Dame since he came into the league, and just seeing his growth and how dominant he can be, I really respect him and his game.

What does Adidas mean to the culture?

Adidas is creativity. It fits for me, because in order to be great at something, you have to be creative.

What do you think is so attractive about Adidas to tastemakers outside of sports: musicians, actors, designers and more?

It’s just the variety. … For me now, it’s about the everyday wear. You have sweaters. They have shoes you can dress up. I live in L.A., so it’s kind of surreal, but you can wear a lot of Adidas’ stuff to business meetings now. The brand is going that way. It’s fun for me. It’s creative, and it’s different.

A career in sports analytics busts another barrier for African-American women I’m in the game to change it, not to be part of the status quo

I was standing right outside of the team personnel entrance when time seemed to slow down. Was I in the wrong place? What if I dressed wrong? Maybe red lipstick was too bold. I’m 17. How in the world am I even standing here even if it is the wrong place?

After an excruciating wait of what could have been two or 200 minutes, the arena door opened and out walked my mentor Calder Hynes. “Hi, Tiffany? Welcome, let’s get you started for the night!” Before his current stint overseeing public relations for some of the world’s most valuable athletes at Wasserman, Hynes was one of the main points of contact for the then-New Orleans Hornets communications team, and graciously took on the role of educating yet another eager high school student in the art of game-night operations.

I’d wanted to take career day off — goof off after four long years of honors courses, two-a-day volleyball practices, and PE Accelerate (physical education for the competitive overachievers if you were wondering). Instead, I marched over to the event, up to the public relations team and asked if I could shadow for a regular-season night or two in order to get skin in this game that would, though I did not yet know it, be my future.

After a rundown of team responsibilities and introductory small talk, Hynes then handed me an all-access pass to the New Orleans Arena, now Smoothie King Center. “I have you assigned to shadow the guys who will be inputting stats while I attend to our celebrity guest for the night, Will Ferrell. I hope that’s OK?” Hynes directed.

“The guys who input the stats?” What about shadowing Will Ferrell? Why can’t that happen? But rather than the response I was thinking, I simply said; “That’s perfect.” I headed off to assist the Hornets game night stats crew disappointed, but determined to make the best of my time with the stats guys.

Following Hynes into an entryway of an 8-foot-by-10-foot space barely big enough for an area rug, I walked into what I noticed was a closet transformed into a makeshift office by dint of the two desktop computers displaying NBA and team websites, a collection of roster posters of the Honeybees dance team pinned to the wall and two men unlocking their gaze from the monitors to greet me.

The stats crew for game nights was in charge of getting box score updates into the hands of prominent front-office personnel during timeouts and halftime, and manual statistical inputs to the team website after the game.

It wasn’t until I started tagging along with said crew as they were handing out stats sheets during timeouts to Monty Williams, the head coach of the Hornets at the time, and entering the suite of former Hornets president Hugh Weber, for the halftime stats update to help with any last-minute team decisions that I realized the significance of the situation.

Never mind Will Ferrell. I’d discovered that stats were what I wanted to do with my life. I’d found a career … maybe even a calling. I now knew that these stat sheets that revealed everything from player on-court contributions to net efficiency were my golden ticket. With these, I could go anywhere … even to the front office of an NBA team. Analytics, coaching and development personnel.

Who should be the sixth man off the bench? How are players developing over time? Should a trade even be entertained?

Still the doubts persisted. Was I really in the right place? The room housing the stats guys were clearly last-minute resources the team scrambled to find. They looked tired … manually inputting stats until 1 a.m. with an emptied bag of Lay’s potato chips near the computers for a postmidnight snack. I was tired leaving the arena before the end of the game news conference. After all, it was still a school night.

Seven years later, I’m still in stats. Moving on from handing out numbers to crafting intelligent insights from those numbers is now my life as a sports analytics associate for ESPN. It is still the career I want but the “Am I in the right place” doubts have never gone away. Sometimes I feel as if they’ve amplified. I have mentors, supportive colleagues and a challenging and intellectually stimulating job that I know I’m good at and to which I can bring my best self. But I have no role model. I am an accidental standard-bearer for black women in sports statistics. The first woman of color on ESPN’s sports analytics team — the only one crunching numbers among all of statistics and information at ESPN. And the shortage of women who look like me hasn’t changed a whit since that day with the Hornets.

Choosing a career in sports had, in part, grown from my experience playing volleyball, basketball and swimming and my hypercompetitive relationship with my older brother Osby (Oz for short). The day I beat Oz in NCAA Football on PlayStation is a day I will never let him live down. But sports became an obsession after that night with the Hornets and still is. I knew then I didn’t want to be what the sports industry expected of me. I wasn’t going to take a job I didn’t feel fit me because it fit the societal expectations of female-dominated roles in sports.

Analytics would be my path. Damn the comments and consequences.

I was and am constantly asked about what I’ll do if I hit that glass ceiling, the infamous old boys’ club that generations of women have struggled to join. And like generations before me, I ignore the question and focus on the work — work that reveals clearly what I bring to my field and hope it does the trick.

I remember receiving a text earlier in my career. A colleague with significantly fewer qualifications than myself was asking for help on statistical methodology that would be used to evaluate him for an analytics position with one of the few NBA teams that were hiring. It was a job I’d also applied for through a well-acclaimed referral (and had heard nothing back). That silence would then turn into apologies followed up with “you’ll end up somewhere soon.”

If I’d known about the glass ceiling on that night in New Orleans, if I’d known how hard it is for women to break new ground in a field that hasn’t ever included them, I’m not sure I’d be in stats right now. But today, it is my work that combats gender and racial stereotypes when I tell people what I do for a living and it is my work that prepares me for the seemingly choreographed head snaps when I walk into a room full of men.

Analytics is my path and I’m not stepping away from it. With a little bit of luck and a more courage than I’d expected I’d need, I found my way to change the perception of what a woman can do in the sports world.

This respect that women, minorities, and frankly any human being should have in pursuing their purpose comes from running toward the gray. It comes from accepting the norm as merely a long inherited social custom to be considered and then rejected or accepted depending on what works for any individual. I chose rejection. By embracing what cultural differences set me apart from my team, I am able to create and quantify different insights that expand the usefulness of analytics.

Analytics is used mostly to help front offices or journalists to find those undervalued players, those Davidson College-Stephen Currys of the world. But what happens when we use analytics for stories about issues that go far beyond pure sports? The stories that intersect cultural experiences and sports. The very stories that create the tension behind the “stick to sports” label.

Basketball aside, maybe that’s using our metrics to calculate the total quarterback rating (Total QBR) or impact on a team’s football power index (FPI) of Colin Kaepernick vs. well, insert any injured NFL starting quarterback of your choosing. For the record, that would be the Kaepernick ranked 23rd in Total QBR for the 2016 season ahead of seven current starting quarterbacks, including the now-injured Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Either way, analytics should be looked at as a conversation-starter, not ender. And in being just that, it uncovers the rudimentary answers to questions all of us have either had or haven’t thought were relevant, all while trying to strip bias from the equation. This is what I want all individuals to understand about what it is that I do and about what analytics can and will do, prejudices aside.

And yes, there are biases in analytics that I am fully aware of. The bias to strategically exclude racial, gender and educational minorities, or the biased belief that athletes are not bright enough to comprehend these analytical insights. Being that I, ironically, am a target for all four of these prejudices makes me the exception that proves the arguments for and against analytics. I find solace in the coming generations ready and already acting to squash preconceptions of African-Americans, women, athletes, and nonstatisticians. Though it may appear to be but slight progress with me being the lone African-American woman in sports analytics within ESPN, professional leagues – specifically the NBA – and our sports analytics industry as a whole are realizing the significance of not following the norm and following people who look like me.

Shane Battier for the Miami Heat. Aaron Blackshear for the Detroit Pistons. Curry and Andre Iguodala for the Bloomberg Players Technology Summit (the Summit). Rajiv Maheswaran for Second Spectrum. John Scott, Jahkeen Hoke, and John Drazan for 4th Family.

All are “minorities” moving into or helping other minorities move into analytics and data-tech, all while realizing their momentous influence on our industry. But most importantly, they are all building the future of our industry so the next stream of analytics looks like all of us. Specifically, 4th Family and its win in the research competition at our annual conference, what most call the meeting of the nerds – the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, for developing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education using basketball analytics for minorities in underprivileged schooling communities.

Curry and Iguodala are two African-American NBA players in the forefront of investing and all in the battle for startup equity among top venture capitalists interested in the tech right in the Warriors’ backyard, Silicon Valley. Using their own summit to invite other professional athletes to share in their sports tech capitalizing endeavors, my mind can’t help but wander to a player investing in the next startup that revolutionizes the way sports data is managed and how analytical insights are formed.

An investment with professional athletes as primary stakeholders in potential sports tech companies founded on tracking depth perception in arenas and stadiums for holographic experiences that will be used in their team practices. An investment that returns a double bottom line – strengthening on-court or on-field performance and a peek into franchise operations. Now that’s a real key to the city.

My key?

I have accepted my life detour into sports media with open arms, and have complete faith in the handful of women NBA front offices have progressively placed their confidence in. I am an extroverted sister navigating my way in this mostly introverted, analytics industry of men and a few women sprinkled about. I am accepting and learning from role models that do not look like me in order to catalyze change. And that is the exact reason that there is beauty in having no standard. I’m figuring out my own black girl magic.