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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is your Oscar?

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

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

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

How did you manage your pain level throughout your injuries?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your impressions of rookie Ben Simmons?

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

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

The Buffalo Bills’ Marshall Newhouse: ‘Relative to the rest of your life, the NFL is a very, very small piece’ The entrepreneurial offensive lineman adores ‘Seinfeld’ and his Super Bowl ring  

There’s a notation on the Wikipedia page of veteran offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse that jumps off the screen. It’s not that he’s played for five franchises. Nor is it perhaps his greatest accomplishment on the football field: winning a Super Bowl as a rookie with the Green Bay Packers, after the Dallas native was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft out of Texas Christian University.

The line that sticks out is from the “Early Years” section: “He was also very active on campus at Lake Highlands as a member of the Horticulture Society and Japanese Club.” The two extracurricular activities are also mentioned in his old TCU bio, which you can still find online. Despite being more than a decade removed from high school, the 29-year-old Newhouse can’t seem to avoid questions about his interests in “the art and science of plant production for both beauty and utility” or Japan.

So in late March, when The Undefeated caught up with Newhouse not long after he signed a one-year deal to join the Buffalo Bills, we couldn’t help but ask him about the two clubs — among other things, of course.


We’re approaching the annual NFL draft. What do you remember most about the day you were drafted?

I was with my family and a few of my closest friends. We were still at College House in Fort Worth. … In the second round, I got called [via phone] twice … by Kansas City and by Denver. You leave the room and take the call. One of them was the O-line coach, and one was the GM [general manager]. Both of them said, ‘Yeah, we wanna take you with this next pick.’ You come back in the room, tell your family and friends, then the picks come and your name isn’t called. That was a shock. … By the third day of the draft, we got tired of sitting on the couch. I said, ‘Let’s go get some tacos.’ We went to one of my favorite places in Fort Worth called Ernesto’s. Then [Green Bay general manager] Ted Thompson’s on the line, asks me if I wanted to be a Green Bay Packer. It’s kind of crazy how it went down like that.

What do you remember most about winning a Super Bowl as a rookie?

First, it was just the confetti and that euphoric realization, like, ‘Oh, crap, this is happening.’ You try to live in the moment as much as you can. Just soak it in, ’cause winning is incredibly hard. Watching the trophy walk by on the field … my family was there, so I got to hang out with them in the stadium. That was my late grandmother’s last game she saw me play, so that was pretty special. That night, we went back to the hotel and had a party. Kid Rock played … that was pretty cool.

Do you remember any specific moments you shared with your grandmother that night?

She was just so proud and happy. She was a big part of me pursuing sports. When my parents were working and I was playing select baseball, my grandma was the one who took me to practice, or tournaments on the weekends. She was just such an important part of my sports history, so seeing her in that moment, getting to share that with her, was really special.

Where do you keep your Super Bowl ring?

It was in my bedside dresser in a jewelry box, but I’ve been moving so much … it’s at [my family’s] house in a safe right now.

You have some strong bloodlines in the game of football. What are the most important football lessons you learned from your father, John Newhouse, and your cousin Robert Newhouse?

My dad was pivotal in my football upbringing. He was my coach for a lot of years too. I don’t know if there’s one particular lesson, but he was a running back that played the veer at the University of Houston. He went through some adversity, had to persevere and fight through some crazy stuff, and injuries. Robert, who was called my uncle growing up because he’s around my dad’s age, he told me, ‘You never know what your last day is gonna be, so use that as … motivation to continue to work and make the most of the short opportunity.’ Because relative to the rest of your life, the NFL is a very, very small piece.

“Andy Dalton loves The Office maybe more than anyone I’ve met in my life.”

Fill in the blank. If not for the NFL, Marshall Newhouse would have pursued a career in … ?

Man, that’s changed so many times. At one point, I thought it would be graphic design and art design. That was early on in college, and I switched. Then I thought I was gonna be in advertising. It switched even more now to just being an entrepreneur. And that’s such a broad term, just making a business for yourself, being your own boss, kind of getting to pursue whatever you see fit.

What was your experience in the NFL’s recent Sports Business Academy — and how’d you get involved?

That was incredible. I give thanks to Kaleb Thornhill for putting that together, and all the people that were involved. Never in my career had I been around that many guys in the league who were that like-minded. And also the professionals and CEOs and founders were all just there to help us. It was such a learning opportunity, and even past that, the formation of a bond that all the guys that were there will have. It’ll be fun to see how it manifests for every guy … and we’ll stay in touch through it all. Some of us might do business together, and we’ll continue to encourage each other.

Aside from yourself, who would you say is the most business-savvy player in the NFL?

You can’t know that for sure unless they share a lot with you. Some guys are more quiet than others, which I respect. I’m more that way too. But I would say Ndamukong Suh. Talking to him, his mindset is just so on point. Where he’s at right now, the way he’s leveraging, the people he’s meeting. He’s got his hands in a lot of stuff. He’s high-profile, so a guy like that could just sit around and not do much. But he’s … in multiple fields of business and he’s getting it, for sure.

What’s the worst purchase you’ve made since entering the NFL?

I’m frugal by nature, but I think the worst purchase is … man, I bought a gaming PC like four years ago, which I used, but it being a desktop, I couldn’t travel with it. So it sat at my home for eight months out of the year and collected dust until I sold it. That was a couple thousand dollars. It was a custom PC and really nice. But it was a dumb purchase.

Who’s on your Mount Rushmore of offensive linemen?

I grew up watching Larry Allen in Dallas. … Walter Jones, I always looked up to him … and same with a guy like Jonathan Ogden … I don’t think he gets enough credit. I enjoyed watching … Damien Woody play. I kind of compare myself to him in terms of stature and size.

Who’s the most difficult player you’ve had to block during your career?

There’s been a lot … but I would say Cam Jordan. I still don’t think he gets his fair due. He’s a great player. You gotta get your mind right before you go against him.

You played at TCU with Andy Dalton, as well as in Cincinnati. What’s one thing not many people know about him?

He loves The Office maybe more than anyone I’ve met in my life. Like, he has seen every episode multiple times, can quote it. It’s crazy.

What’s your favorite TV show of all time?

I’m a Seinfeld guy. I grew up watching Seinfeld. My parents say I got some of my smartassness from watching too much of it. Most shows have characters who are redeemable or try to better themselves, but no one on that show tried to be better. They were all just terrible people, and I just thought it was hilarious.

“You try to live in the moment as much as you can. Just soak it in, ’cause winning is incredibly hard.”

What’s your favorite movie of all time?

I don’t know if I could do just one. … It’s obscure, but The Fifth Element … it comes on and I watch it. It’s one of the ones where I can quote most of the movie. I’m a big fan of Pulp Fiction. I’m a big Tarantino fan.

Which actor would you want to portray you in a movie about your life?

I’ll just say Denzel Washington because he’ll make me look more handsome than I am.

What’s one bad habit you wish you could shake?

Socially, I’m never on time. When it comes to my job, or business meetings, I’m always on time. But with friends, like going to dinner or being out, I’m habitually late. It’s something my friends give me crap about all the time, and I really wanna change that.

Were you actually in the Horticulture Society and Japanese Club?

They had a club day at the beginning of the school year where you could sign up for dinner clubs. And I’d always heard the more clubs you’re in, the better your applications to college will look. So I was literally going from table to table and signing up for whatever I could find. With football, I didn’t have time to do it at all … but I always had an interest in Japan and Japanese culture. The horticulture thing was … random. I think I attended, between the two clubs, one meeting. And then somehow that ends up in my bio in high school, college and now the NFL. And here you are asking me about it. It’s followed me everywhere I’ve gone.

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.

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.

8 great quotes from Kobe Bryant’s All-Star sit-down with Jalen Rose ‘I couldn’t feel my legs, it felt like it was that last lap on the track for me … I just continued to run’

LOS ANGELES — “MAM-BA! MAM-BA! MAM-BA!” The massive crowd at Nike’s Makers Headquarters — the site of the brand’s activation during 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend — willed Kobe Bryant to spend 20 minutes chatting about his 20-year NBA career, his newfound love for filmmaking, and what he means to culture as a “maker of the game.” After loud and continuous chants, the Black Mamba, aka the now-retired Kobe Bryant, emerged onto the hardwood, 673 days after his final game in the purple and gold, and 59 days after both jerseys he wore in his career, No. 8 and No. 24, rose to the rafters at the Staples Center — the host arena of this year’s All-Star Game.

Wearing all-black, and a pair of his camouflage UNDEFEATED x Nike Zoom Kobe 1 Protros, Bryant took a seat next to ESPN’s Jalen Rose, who led the Q&A. These are the best moments from Thursday’s conversation:


1. On his 2016 60-point performance in the final game of his career:

I was tired as heck. It’s one of those things. When you know it’s the last game, you have to literally leave it all out there. It’s a familiar position to be in for me, because when you’re running a track, when you’re working out and doing these things — I had like my last lap to run … You feel like you don’t have the legs anymore, like you literally can’t move anymore, but you do. You keep going. And you finish it, and you realize, you’re OK. So I drew from that. Because during that game, I couldn’t feel my legs, and it I felt like it was that last lap on the track for me. I just continued to run.

2. On his 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006:

That Toronto game, there was a calmness to it. Like a stillness. Nothing mattered to me other than what was right in front of me. It wasn’t anybody in the crowd, or what an opponent may say or do. It was just about the play right in front of me, and I was able to … maintain that throughout.

3. On his who’s the greatest — him or LeBron James:

That’s a question? .. is that a question? Listen, everybody has their own way of measuring things, you know what I’m saying? My mentality is I never waste my time arguing things that I definitively cannot win. So I don’t waste my time even debating that kind of stuff. Because for every argument somebody makes for me being the best, there’s always somebody who makes an argument for LeBron being the best, or Jordan, or whoever. So I tend to focus on things that I can win definitively. If I can’t win definitively, I’m not gonna waste my energy on it.

4. On dunking on Steve Nash in

Well, I never really thought that was a big deal, because Steve’s like 5-10 … You’ve got players now who are jumping over 7-footers. I was able to catch Steve … but it meant a lot, though, because it felt good to win in Phoenix … we hated those guys. We felt like they were so arrogant. It was always like, ‘We could beat you guys any time we want.’ That sort of thing … but Steve is a nice guy. When we started playing together, I said, ‘Steve, you’re genuinely a nice guy.’

“… for every argument somebody makes for me being the best, there’s always somebody who makes an argument for LeBron being the best, or Jordan, or whoever.”

5. On his Oscar-nominated short film Dear Basketball:

Just like in sports, where you have an opportunity to play with great teammates … working with Glen Keane, working with John Williams — one of the greatest animators of all time, one of the greatest composers of all time — enhances things. It’s just all about the team, the group that you have working together. We really believed in the project. We believed in the core of the story, and wound up creating something that the academy deemed worthy for a nomination.

6. On the love and passion he has for production:

That’s the trick … finding something that you truly love … because there’s gonna be times where things are really, really hard. Physically, mentally, it takes its toll. If you don’t truly love it, you won’t get up that day and work. You’ll roll over and go back to sleep. You have to find something that you truly love, and if you find that thing, you don’t have to convince yourself to work hard. You just do it, because you’d rather be there than any place else. And I was fortunate enough to find that in basketball, and fortunate enough to find that in storytelling, and writing, and directing, and producing. That’s the key.

7. On how it feels to be a rookie in the 2018 class of Oscar nominees:

It feels wonderful. Being at the Oscar luncheon, and having a chance to sit with Steven Spielberg, and Octavia Spencer, and Meryl Streep … all those beautiful minds that I’ve admired for so many years is awesome … it’s a great experience.

8. On shaping the culture:

First is always finding things that you love to do — and focusing on that thing. When you focus on that one thing, it tends to have ripple effects outward. Whether you’re a painter, or a writer or a basketball player or a musician … having to focus on that creates ripple effects across culture. But it always starts with the craft.

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

Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

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.

The high-flying and unpredictable NBA Rising Stars Challenge in 5 storylines Lonzo Ball, Jaylen Brown, Dennis Smith — Team USA is loaded, but can ‘The Process’ lead Team World to glory?

The NBA Rising Stars Challenge game will certainly deliver swag, poster dunks, a barrage of 3-pointers and bucket after bucket from tipoff to the buzzer. But there are a lot of, shall we say, side narratives as well. For example: Apparently, the impact of an NBA All-Star Game snub can travel across the entire globe, even into the highest levels of government.

Despite a prolific rookie season, and a slew of injured All-Stars who needed replacements, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons won’t be playing on the biggest Sunday of the NBA calendar. The 6-foot-10 Australian phenom didn’t receive a call from commissioner Adam Silver when DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles, or when John Wall announced knee surgery, or when Kevin Love broke his hand, or when Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL. Instead, Paul George, Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic and Kemba Walker all got the nod as ringers.

One of Simmons’ countrymen decided to use the floor of the Australian Parliament to express his feelings.

“I rise today to express my outrage at the exclusion of Australian Ben Simmons from this year’s NBA All-Star Game,” said Tim Watts, a member of the Australian House of Representatives. “In a record-breaking rookie year for the Philadelphia 76ers, Ben is currently averaging nearly 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game. He’s already had five triple-doubles, and, frankly, no one with two brain cells to rub together would want Goran Dragic on their team.” Watts’ remarks went viral, and Simmons commented, “The man has spoken [insert crying emoji],” on a video of the speech posted on Instagram.

Simmons will make the trip to Los Angeles, though, where he’ll put on for Australia in the annual Rising Stars Challenge. Per tradition, only first- and second-year players are eligible to compete, and for the fourth straight year, the game features a matchup between Team USA and Team World. With the best American players in the NBA squaring off against the league’s top talent with international roots, Simmons will rep his Aussie set as one of the leaders of Team World, along with the Cameroon-born Joel Embiid, his Philly teammate and an All-Star starter.

Although Team World claimed a 150-141 win in last year’s game, Team USA enters the 2018 contest with an absolutely loaded roster that includes a trio of Los Angeles Lakers in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, a pair of Boston Celtics in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, as well as Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz and Dennis Smith Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks. Compared with Sunday’s All-Star Game, Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge presents a smaller — albeit almost equally high-flying, ankle-breaking and star-showcasing — spectacle that previews the leaders of the new school in the NBA. Here are five things to watch from the league’s future stars.


TEAM WORLD

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic, G, Sacramento Kings
  • Dillon Brooks, G/F, Memphis Grizzlies
  • Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Buddy Hield, G, Sacramento Kings
  • Lauri Markkanen, F, Chicago Bulls
  • Jamal Murray, G, Denver Nuggets
  • Frank Ntilikina, G, New York Knicks
  • Domantas Sabonis, F/C, Indiana Pacers
  • Dario Saric, F, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Ben Simmons, G/F, Philadelphia 76ers

TEAM USA

  • Lonzo Ball, G, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Malcolm Brogdon, G, Milwaukee Bucks*
  • Jaylen Brown, G/F, Boston Celtics
  • John Collins, F/C, Atlanta Hawks
  • Kris Dunn, G, Chicago Bulls
  • Brandon Ingram, F, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Kyle Kuzma, F, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Donovan Mitchell, G, Utah Jazz
  • Dennis Smith Jr., G, Dallas Mavericks
  • Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics
  • Taurean Prince, F, Atlanta Hawks

*Injured, will not play in game

 

When in doubt, ‘Trust the Process’

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The game plan for Team World is simple: “Trust the Process.” That’s the creed of the young-and-promising Philadelphia 76ers, who will likely make a playoff appearance for the first time since 2012. “The Process” is also the nickname of Philly’s 7-foot franchise center Embiid, who will start in both the Rising Stars Challenge and his first career All-Star Game. Embiid will be joined on Team World by Simmons and Croatia’s Dario Saric, the runner-up for 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year. In last year’s challenge, Saric recorded 17 points, five rebounds and four assists as a starter for Team World. Expect the entire Sixers trio, who all stand 6-foot-10 or above, to both start and get buckets. That’s a feared three-man offense right there.

Will Lonzo Ball play?

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It’s been a busy few weeks for the new-wave first family of basketball, also known as the Balls of Chino Hills, California. LaVar Ball has been frequenting sidelines overseas while coaching his two youngest sons — LiAngelo, 19, and LaMelo, 16 — who have both been straight-up ballin’ (all puns intended) in their first year of professional basketball in Lithuania. Meanwhile, Lonzo, the 2017 No. 2 overall pick of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, is reportedly expecting a child with his longtime girlfriend, Denise Garcia, and trying to make it back onto the court after suffering a left knee sprain on Jan. 13. “I didn’t think it was going to be this serious, to be honest …,” Ball said on Feb. 7. “I thought it was going to be dealt with quicker.” The injury might cost him an appearance in the Rising Stars Challenge, which will be played on his home court at the Staples Center. Fingers crossed he can suit up. The people need Lonzo Ball on the hardwood and LaVar Ball courtside.

The dunk contest before the dunk contest

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Two out of the four contestants who make up the 2018 NBA Slam Dunk Contest will get to warm up their bounce in the Rising Stars Challenge. They’re both rookies and both members of Team USA: Mavericks point guard Smith and Jazz shooting guard Mitchell, who was a late call-up to the dunk competition as a replacement for injured Orlando Magic big man Aaron Gordon. Smith has wild leaping ability and crazy in-air flair, while Mitchell plays at a height above his defenders, frequently breaking out his patented tomahawk jams. This is another reason that Ball needs to play in this game. Lonzo + Donovan + Dennis = endless lob possibilities. We’d be looking up all night long.

Can Jamal Murray do it again?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If Jamal Murray shows up, balls out and is named the MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year, Drake has to consider remixing his timeless 2015 diss track “Back to Back” to pay homage to his fellow Canadian. That line from the record in which he spits, Back to back like I’m Jordan, ’96, ’97? How about Back to back like I’m Murray, ’17, ’18? In last year’s game, the Nuggets guard dropped game highs in both points (36) and assists (11). He also shot a whopping 9-for-14 from 3-point land. Oh, yeah, and he did it all after coming off the bench. C’mon, Team World, let the man start this year so he can really eat!

Throwback threads

Both Team USA and Team World will take the court at the Staples Center in vintage get-ups honoring the history of the city’s two NBA franchises. Team USA will rock powder blue and gold uniforms, inspired by the 1940s-’50s Minneapolis Lakers, while Team World will break out an orange-and-black ensemble as a tribute to the Buffalo Braves (now known as the Los Angeles Clippers) of the 1970s. Which is the fresher look? That’s for you to decide. Which squad will emerge from the challenge victorious? On paper, it’s hard to bet against Team USA. But in an All-Star Game, even at the Rising Stars level, you never really know.

NASCAR driver Jesse Iwuji debuts at Daytona International Speedway this weekend The 30-year-old will compete in the Automobile Racing Club of America event

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — When Jesse Iwuji appeared on a NASCAR podcast at a trade show in November with NASCAR driver Ryan Blaney, the challenges to make it in racing were evident.

Iwuji, at 30 years old, had started his racing career just a few years earlier at 27. Blaney, 23, was completing his second full-time season and fourth overall as a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver.

NASCAR drivers typically know by age 27 whether they have a future in the sport. But the Navy lieutenant and former Naval Academy cornerback is used to doing the unconventional.

While many of his friends have settled into more normal jobs, Iwuji just can’t fathom a 9-to-5 life just yet.

“That’s just too regular and boring to me,” Iwuji said Thursday as he stood in the garage at Daytona International Speedway. “I’m all about excitement and doing cool things. I couldn’t just go home every day and sit on my couch and go to sleep, wake up and do that every single day.

“To me, that’s not fun. For some people, that’s what they want: safe, conservative, that is the life. For me, it’s not. I’ve got to go out and do things. It is a lot of work; sometimes it can be stressful and take up a lot of time. At the end of the day, I look back and wow, I was on TV racing in front of thousands of people. That’s cool.”

Iwuji will compete in the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) event Saturday afternoon. The stock car series — a mix of up-and-coming drivers as well as veterans who compete in the circuit, which races mostly on Midwest tracks — will feature drivers competing at speeds of 180-185 mph on the high-banked 2.5-mile trioval.

On Sunday, he will compete in NASCAR’s developmental K&N Pro Series East on the half-mile New Smyrna (Florida) Speedway. He competed full time in East’s sister series, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, last year, finishing 14th in the standings.

Iwuji’s cars for both races will be fielded by Patriot Motorsports Group, whose ownership includes former NFL All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman. In the regional series this year, Iwuji is hoping that his full year of racing last season will give him the experience to keep pace with the younger, more experienced drivers. He also spends an hour or two nightly on iRacing, a racing simulation program.

SPOKANE, WA – MAY 13: Jesse Iwuji #36 talks to a member of his crew during final practice at Spokane County Raceway on May 13, 2017 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by )

“Age, to me, is just a number,” Iwuji said. “I am still very energetic. I still work out and run. I’m stronger and faster than half the people here physically. Just because I’m not 16 or 18 doesn’t mean I can’t physically outdo a lot of people.

“Experiencewise, yes, I am behind. It just takes time. The more time you’re in the seat racing, the better. A lot of these people started when they were 5 years old. Their 10 to 15, 20 years of experience racing is huge.”

Iwuji’s 2018 plans include about seven ARCA races and a return to the NASCAR regional series. The next step would be to compete in NASCAR’s truck series.

His Daytona debut Saturday will be something special, and part of the progression for any stock car driver.

“Everybody out there who has a dream to race or just do anything that is out of the ordinary, I’m here to show them it’s possible,” Iwuji said. “I’ve always loved cars, I’ve always loved racing. Sometime around 2014, I made the decision, ‘Hey, I want to become a professional race car driver.’

“I remember I went on deployment that year and every single day on the ship, every night on watch, I’d just be in my head thinking, How can I make this happen?”

Like many of his Navy brethren, Iwuji will use his military experience to make up for the lack of experience in his field.

“They’re behind in maybe real-world experience in whatever field, but they’re not behind in just real-life experience, period,” Iwuji said. “They’ve been out there, they’ve been doing things, they’ve led people, they’ve had to make big decisions, whether it’s money, equipment, time or lives. … They have had to manage a lot of things that people in the real world really don’t get the opportunity to do at their age.”

His military experience allows Iwuji to handle the stress of racing, a sport that often depends on sponsorship and is unpredictable in regards to how a driver rises through the ranks. He has sponsorship for the ARCA race from BBMC Mortgage.

“You’ve got to deal with a lot in the military,” Iwuji said. “Being here? There’s nothing here that is going to faze me. When people get stressed after dealing with one or two things, I’m like, ‘How about dealing with about 30 things?’ ”

Iwuji will be the only African-American driver in the race Saturday. There is only one full-time African-American driver in NASCAR’s three national series: Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., a NASCAR Cup rookie this year at Richard Petty Motorsports who is the first African-American full-time driver at NASCAR’s top level since Wendell Scott in 1971.

“Bubba Wallace, he’s definitely paving the way right now,” Iwuji said. “Right now, diversity is going in a positive direction for the sport. … Whether they’re females or black, Mexican, Asian, you name it, the sport’s open to it and I think more people are starting to recognize that.”

Iwuji hopes to follow Wallace and race at NASCAR’s Cup level in a few years. The odds are against him. But whether he makes it or not won’t define him.

“At the end of the day, racing isn’t my whole life,” Iwuji said. “I’ve got some other big stuff going. I’m going to make it big in the business world too. Racing is the really cool, fun side of things.

“I’m not going to look to make this my end-all, be-all. I’m going to make it to where I want to go but I don’t have to just to live.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster loves his dog, Boujee — and The Powerpuff Girls The California native says that playing in snow is to his advantage

Walking the line between excelling at your first job and staying up all night because of your active social life is a cross so many of us bear at the age of 21. JuJu Smith-Schuster, the star rookie wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is just balancing it much better than most of us.

When he’s not catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger on any given NFL Sunday, Smith-Schuster is your typical 21-year-old. The former USC Trojan manages to upload weekly videos to his YouTube channel, where his nearly 182,000 subscribers can watch him do everything from making a Primanti’s sandwich to hitchhiking. He has a French bulldog named Boujee, who probably — well, definitely — has more followers on Instagram than you. And he stays up all night playing video games. Smith-Schuster did all of this and more while being named the Steelers’ rookie of the year, with 58 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season in the league.

The California native is adjusting to life in the Steel City, but don’t expect him to say “yinz” anytime soon. He quickly chopped it up with The Undefeated after hosting a Call of Duty: World War II livestream with the newly minted first-ballot Hall of Famer Randy Moss in the lead-up to the Super Bowl.


You survived your first winter in Pittsburgh. How traumatized are you?

It was crazy! I left my pizza in the car, and literally overnight it straight froze. It’s really cold. It’s a new thing for me.

So are you trading in the sand for the snow?

I don’t mind the snow. I feel like it’s to our advantage when you live in it and play in it.

“I can spit gum high in the air, like 10 feet, and catch it in my mouth, but I don’t think I can get paid for that.”

Have you tried snowboarding?

No, I want to! I feel like it would be easier than skiing, no?

What would you do if you didn’t play football?

Professional gamer. I can spit gum high in the air, like 10 feet, and catch it in my mouth, but I don’t think I can get paid for that.

Aside from yourself, of course, who’s the best Call of Duty player in the NFL?

Le’Veon Bell. I have to say him because he’s my teammate. He’ll probably laugh if I don’t say him, but he’s up there for sure.

Your dog, Boujee, has quite the following on Instagram …

That dude loves it [in Los Angeles]. He does photo shoots. He likes those.

Are you the photographer?

Yeah, me — and he has a professional photographer. His page is starting to blow up, so they have to be professional.

Favorite cartoon?

The Powerpuff Girls.

What would your superpower be?

To control people’s minds.

What advice would you give to your even younger self?

Take the opportunity to get to know the people around you.