When Ali met Marciano in a battle of undefeated heavyweights The two champs met for a ‘Super Fight’ put together by a DJ and a computer

On the morning of his 1967 fight against Ernie Terrell in the Houston Astrodome, Muhammad Ali sat in his hotel room watching a film of Rocky Marciano challenging Jersey Joe Walcott for the heavyweight title 15 years earlier. Ali leaned forward, his head cradled in his hands, watching intently until a bloodied and trailing Marciano knocked Walcott out in the 13th round with a short, emphatic right. Then Ali turned to his manager, Angelo Dundee.

“Angelo, the man’s tough,” said Ali, according to reporting by Sports Illustrated. “He’d be hell to fight. I’d wear him at the end of my glove for 10 rounds but he’d still be coming. Meanwhile, I’d be tired — maybe too tired to dance — and Rocky would be throwing punches … that wouldn’t be no fight — that would be a war.”

Marciano was already the heavyweight champ in 1954 when a 12-year-old Ali took up boxing after having his bicycle stolen. At night, the boy would listen to his transistor radio in Louisville, Kentucky, and hear Don Dunphy’s staticky voice from faraway Madison Square Garden, announcing Marciano as the heavyweight champ-eee-on of the world.

“The Super Fight” lobby card between Rocky Marciano (left) and Muhammad Ali (right) was shot in 1969 and released in 1970.

LMPC/Getty Images

In 1969, two years after Ali beat Terrell, the champ found himself in the ring with Marciano in one of the more bizarre fights in the annals of boxing. Ali was 27 years old and 29-0. Marciano was 45 years old and had retired 13 years earlier with a perfect 49-0 record, including 43 wins by knockout — history’s only unbeaten heavyweight champ.

The “Super Fight,” as it was billed, was fake, the concoction of a Miami promoter and disc jockey, Murray Woroner. If computers could help put a man on the moon, why couldn’t they predict the outcome of a match between two unbeaten champions from different eras? Woroner fed the fighters’ statistics into a computer, which spit out a script of different fight scenarios that Ali and Marciano were paid to reenact in a film studio in North Miami. The resulting film was edited and shown in movie theaters across the country and overseas, the outcome kept a closely guarded secret, even to the fighters.

Ali and Marciano seemed like polar opposites, the Great White Hope from the ’50s and the Angry Black Man from the ’60s.

Marciano had been a quiet conformist during his career, suppressing his anger toward a manager who stole from him and the Mafia that secretly controlled his career, along with most of professional boxing. He had served in the Army during World War II and became a symbol of American might during the Cold War, with a punch his manager compared to the atomic bomb.

Ali and Marciano seemed like polar opposites, the Great White Hope from the ’50s and the Angry Black Man from the ’60s.

At the time, Ali was one of the most hated men in America, not the folk hero he would later become. During his pummeling of Terrell in 1967, he had screamed at him, “What’s my name?” because Terrell had called him by his former “slave name” of Cassius Clay, as did most sportswriters. He hadn’t fought in more than two years and was locked in a battle with the federal government after refusing to fight in Vietnam, famously declaring, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.

If this fight film was made possible by the new age of technology, promoters played up racial and ethnic stereotypes that had always characterized boxing to hype the gate. Newspapers frequently carried stories that Marciano was considering coming out of retirement, including one report shortly after Ali took the title that a wealthy Texan had offered Marciano $4 million ($34 million today) to silence the loudmouthed young champ.

Shortly before Ali and Marciano met in Miami that summer, a federal judge had ordered Ali to serve five years in prison for refusing induction into the U.S. Army. He remained free on appeal, and in desperate need of funds. “I was in the deep freeze part of my exile, and there was no thaw in sight,” he wrote in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest.

Marciano, who had let himself go in retirement, had gone back into training, lost 50 pounds and donned a toupee to mask his receding hairline. At 5 feet, 10 inches, he was dwarfed by the 6-foot-3 Ali, who was 20 pounds heavier. But Ali, who hadn’t fought in two years, looked flabbier. (I was able to recreate those sessions by interviewing two people who were there: Peter Marciano, Rocky’s brother, and Ali’s then-wife Belinda, now Khalilah Ali. I also found, in the archives of Sports Illustrated, a lengthy memo from a Time reporter who had interviewed other eyewitnesses at the time of the film’s release.)

A ticket for “The Super Fight” between Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali.

Archive PL/Alamy Stock Photo

Over the course of filming, the two champs sparred more than 70 one-minute rounds. They acknowledged that it was just playacting. They never clinched and seldom went for the head. But sometimes things got real. Ali would flick his lightning-quick jabs in Marciano’s face, prompting him to walk back to his corner muttering, “My God, the kid is so fast.” Ali delighted in flicking Marciano’s toupee off. An angry Marciano trapped Ali in a corner and pounded on his arms, then smashed a right to his solar plexus. “Ooof,” Ali exhaled, sinking to his stool. The taping stopped. Ali refused to continue until the promoter sent a driver to the bank to bring him another $2,000. One night they went out to dinner and ran into comedian Henny Youngman, who came over to their table and joked around. Ali’s arms were so sore that he had trouble lifting the saltshaker.

Staging knockdowns was tricky. Marciano had been knocked down only twice in his career, Ali not at all up to that point. Both had to be coaxed to take a dive for the cameras. During one take, Ali shouted, “Drop the Wop” and hit Marciano, who fell to the canvas, took out his mouthpiece and roared with laughter. When it was Marciano’s turn, he teased a reluctant Ali by parodying him: “The onliest way I can be beat by any man is to knock me out.”

During a break one day, the conversation turned to the country’s racial divide and the riots that had swept the country. They sat on the floor next to the ring, sharing a bag of grapefruit. Ali would tear off a section and pass it to Marciano.

“Wouldn’t it be great if there was something we could do, me and you together, a white guy and a black guy?” said Marciano.

They talked about doing a bus tour of inner-city neighborhoods. Ali got excited.

“Imagine, Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano, going into the worst areas,” he said. “We could shake up the world, you and me. Would you do it? Would you do it?”

Marciano said he would. He encouraged Ali to hang tough in his fight with the Army. Marciano had a secret about his own struggle with the Army that he never shared with Ali but which I unearthed from old Army records. His patriotic image as a soldier who served in World War II concealed the fact that he and another GI had been court-martialed for robbing and assaulting two British civilians shortly before D-Day. He never deployed to Normandy but instead served two years as a military prisoner.

Marciano had never been comfortable with authority, nor with the mantle of Great White Hope. He forged close relationships with black fighters, including his boyhood idol, Joe Louis. (He cried after knocking out Louis in Madison Square Garden to end Louis’ career and advance his own.) Marciano told Ali about his Italian-American family’s struggles after settling in the shoe factory town of Brockton, Massachusetts. Sacco and Vanzetti, Italian anarchists and laborers, had been arrested on the Brockton trolley and executed in 1927, when Rocky was 3 years old, for a robbery and murder they didn’t commit. Politicians called Italians “a race of pickpockets” and “unfit foreigners.” Congress banned immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe.

“People fear change,” Marciano told Ali.

The Ali-Marciano bus tour never happened. A few weeks after they parted, on Aug. 31, Marciano climbed into a Cessna in Chicago, bound for Des Moines, Iowa, and a party at a steakhouse owned by the nephew of a mob pal. The plane crashed in a cornfield in Iowa, killing everyone on board. Ali cried when he heard the news.

The following winter, The Super Fight aired in more than 600 theaters across America. Woroner had filmed seven different endings. In the first screening, a bloodied Marciano, trailing on points, knocked out Ali in the 13th round. Later, when the film was shown in Europe, Ali won. The fight looks phony. There are no spectators, just an eerie darkness surrounding the ring, with the sound of piped-in crowd noise. It’s as if the two men have been abducted by aliens and are fighting on a spaceship in outer space.

“He was the onliest one that would’ve given me some trouble,” Ali said shortly after attending Marciano’s wake. Later, Ali said that he felt closer to Marciano during their sparring sessions than he ever did to any other white fighter.

“Our work was phony,” he wrote in his autobiography. “But our friendship became real.”

Antoine Fuqua lets Muhammad Ali tell his own story in HBO’s ‘What’s My Name’ Documentary from LeBron’s production company examines the life of The Greatest entirely through boxing

A year before his death in 2016, Muhammad Ali published an autobiography titled The Greatest: My Own Story.

Although the former heavyweight champion boxer never got to tell his story on film, a new documentary from HBO Sports comes pretty close. Directed by Antoine Fuqua and executive produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter, What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali is culled from at least 1,000 hours of video and audio footage and focuses on Ali’s boxing career, narrated with his own words. It will air May 14 on HBO.

What’s My Name | Muhammad Ali debuted Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Ali’s widow, Lonnie, attended the screening, which took place on the 52nd anniversary of Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army to serve in Vietnam. The decision resulted in Ali being stripped of his world heavyweight title, which he later reclaimed two more times.

Fuqua touches upon Ali’s friendships with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and the boxer’s refusal to submit himself for the draft. But everything is presented through the lens of boxing, from one of Ali’s earliest punches — when, as a toddler, he knocked out one of his mother’s teeth — to his last in the ring, when he lost to Trevor Berbick in 1981. Fuqua doesn’t address Ali’s personal relationships, nor the accusations of domestic violence or infidelity that come up in Jonathan Eig’s biography. The film takes its name from an exchange Ali had with opponent Ernie Terrell, who insisted on calling him by his birth name, Cassius Clay. Ali was so angry he called Terrell an Uncle Tom and repeatedly shouted, “What’s my name?!” at him during their subsequent fight, which Ali won by unanimous decision.

Fuqua is best known for his collaborations with Denzel Washington, including Training Day, The Equalizer and a 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven. The Pittsburgh native attended West Virginia University on a basketball scholarship and now uses boxing to stay in shape. We talked about his new documentary, Ali’s patriotism and the class divide in sports that are characterized by risk of traumatic brain injury.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.


Photo by Ken Regan © 2019 Muhammad Ali Enterprises

What do you think of dictums like “stick to sports” or “shut up and dribble”?

That’s just silly, and that’s an ignorant thing to say. Just because someone plays sports or does anything doesn’t mean that they don’t have an opinion. I think it’s shortsighted and a very immature way of thinking about an athlete. Athletes have an amazing platform, and a lot of them are highly intelligent people and they can be influential. Most of them have lived on both sides of the tracks, especially African American athletes, so there’s a pretty unique perspective on the world. When you come from not much and you make a lot, that’s a long journey and that’s two different worlds. So a lot of times there’s a very interesting, complex perspective that should be heard.

What were your conversations like with James and Carter about how to make an Ali documentary that would manage to stand out?

They were pretty clear. We all love him. We all love what he stood for, and the man he was. We all agreed to be honest about the journey, his journey. We all eventually came to the conclusion: It has to be from his voice. Ali has to tell his own story; avoid as much talking heads as possible unless it’s him talking. There’s been a lot of documentaries, some well-done documentaries, but there’s never been one where Ali’s telling his entire story. There were things that we discussed that we thought were important, which was ultimately let’s show his greatness, but let’s also show some of his weaknesses.

One of his weaknesses was he was chasing greatness, always. That’s not a weakness, but he was at a place where they just wanted him to stop fighting. But how do you say that to someone like Ali? He has that gene in him, and I think that’s what makes him so amazing. Like the scene when he has the torch in his hand and Parkinson’s is at its worst, he lifts the torch twice. He didn’t have to, he did, the crowd went crazy, he came down, he did it again. Every time I see the movie it makes me smile. I think that ultimately, collectively, we walked away going, ‘What a wonderful life. What an amazing, well-lived life.’

He never loses his charisma.

Never, never. He never blinked. And he stood by his principles. He lost a lot; he paid a heavy price for it. But he seemed cool as ice, always. Even when he was in the ring, leaning against the ropes, taking some beatings at times.

Those are so hard to watch.

Even though you knew the outcome, as we made the doc, there were days where I was sitting there sweating, like, ‘Come on, Ali.’ It was rough, but it was a beautiful journey because I was not disappointed in anything that I saw. We found footage that no one’s seen before. Nothing about his life was disappointing for me. It was all very inspiring, even the low points.

“When I have an opportunity to allow a man, especially a black man, to tell his own story, I’m going to do it.”

This documentary gives little snippets of his life, but always in relation to boxing. Why did you decide to frame this story this way?

Boxing is the thing that put him on world stage. The boxing is the thing that — when he’s beating the guys and, saying, ‘What’s my name?’ — to me it’s the metaphor of his life. Fighting is the metaphor of Muhammad Ali’s life. It doesn’t matter to dig into how many kids he has and who he’s married to or not married to, because that’s a given. I’d rather his children did a documentary about him. I think that belongs to them, it doesn’t belong to us.

What we need right now more than anything, I think, is leadership in athletes. What is your platform, and what are you going to do with it? He had a platform and he did greatness with it. He showed us how to stand by your principles: When things were wrong, to speak up about it. He showed us what it means to be physically beat down and get back up. I think that sometime that’s more important than getting into the headline gossip, which a lot of people want to get into, which you could do about anybody’s life that lives a full life, but why?

What do you consider to be gossip?

Gossip, some people get interested in who he was with and who he wasn’t with, who he married and who he didn’t marry, what woman he was with. I mean, come on. There’s enough of that. He was a handsome, beautiful, charming man — use your imagination. Women loved him, he loved women. Men wanted to hang around him.

I don’t think Muhammad Ali’s story’s done. Somebody can go and do whatever they want to do. In my dream, I hope Laila and his children will tell a version of him one day, for them. But it should be done by them. My goal was to show the man that I admire, love, and I’m inspired by every day.

One of the things that becomes apparent is how much power white members of the news media, especially Howard Cosell, had to shape the public’s perception of Ali. Whether it’s calling the Nation of Islam a “racist cult” or framing his two wins against Henry Cooper as tragedies. Was this a way to hand that agency back to him from the beginning, and not just once he’s famous?

We all deserve that. We all deserve to have an opportunity to tell our own stories. He’s not with us anymore, so the closest I can get to that is what I’ve done. I was just telling the story through his eyes as we shaped it and gathered the material. When I have an opportunity to allow a man, especially a black man, to tell his own story, I’m going to do it.

The way this film is structured makes Ali’s decline from Parkinson’s feel like it’s evident much earlier in his life. We associate Parkinson’s with the tremors, but his speech pattern started to slow down in his 30s.

That was intentional to show that journey, because that was another fight. In the end of the documentary, the goal was to show you all the Muhammad Ali fights in the ring, out of the ring, with the military, the government, the loss of Malcolm, his friends, things like that. Being a black man, just because you change your name, the world turns on you because you changed your name, like you don’t have a right to change your name. But also, the internal battles that come from the wars you’re in in the ring: the pounding, the beating, the fighting, the stress.

I’m not a doctor, so who’s to say it was just the punching that led to Parkinson’s? But it certainly, I would imagine, it had a lot to do with it. Then, imagine the stress he was under during that time period. Black people were getting shot down and hung by trees still. He had all the close friends around him getting murdered, like Malcolm, like Martin, Kennedy. His name was as big as theirs, so imagine walking around every day with a target on your back, and as loud as he was. And going against the military.

So the goal was to also find footage where you start to see that, and I’m happy you noticed that. He was in a lot of battles; it wasn’t just the ones in the ring. But he still came out as great, he still affects us, we’re still talking about him. Even when his voice was taken away, one of his biggest attributes, his charm, his voice, his physical abilities were taken away, right? It’s biblical in a way. That’s why at the end, when he lifts the torch twice [at the Atlanta Olympics], I love him even more, because he was still showing us, he was still speaking to us as loud as he always has. That’s ‘I’m still here, man. I’m still the greatest.’

When I went to Jordan and Israel and places like that, I saw T-shirts and stuff with Muhammad Ali around the world every day. His name was known around the world. It’s amazing. How can someone say, ‘Shut up and dribble?’ Is that person’s name known around the world? I don’t think so. Is that person inspiring anybody? I don’t think so. But LeBron James is. Muhammad Ali is.

Photo by Ken Regan © 2019 Muhammad Ali Enterprises

Do you think we can call Muhammad Ali a patriot?

Absolutely. A man goes to the Olympics, wins the gold medal for this country, comes home, goes to a diner just to get a burger, and they tell him, ‘We don’t serve n—–s here.’

And he says, “Well, I don’t eat them!”

The charm, right? And then they’re going to send him over to a country to go kill some people that never did that to him? A war that we didn’t even really know why we were there, to this day. … I’m very patriotic, I love this country, but that’s some bulls—. Let’s call it for what it is, that’s exactly what that was.

What did you think of the concussion crisis within the NFL before you started working on this documentary? Did your thoughts change in any way? Ali says over and over, he doesn’t want anybody to pity him. He was always reiterating how much boxing had given him. But it also eventually took away his voice.

I grew up playing football. My family and friends would go play for the Steelers. [Fuqua’s uncle John “Frenchy” Fuqua was a running back for the Steelers from 1970-76]. I box now every day; I been boxing for 20-something years. What I’m happy about is I think the NFL is taking serious steps, they have been, to try to help prevent damage. It’s a violent sport, there’s only so much you can do, but I think they’ve been handling it really well. The guys get hit, they’re taken out the game and they don’t get to go back in. They get tested right away. I think they seem to be showing great concern in trying to do something about it. But that’s all you can do is do the best you can do, make better helmets, have better protocols. But it’s a very violent sport, and if you ever played or been around, especially guys at that size, on that level, that’s like being hit by a Volkswagen. There’s only so much you can do.

I go to the fights. I’m friends with a lot of fighters. It’s the nature of the sport, to be punched in the head. Punched in the body. I watched the refs, and they do try to stop it as fast as they can if they see someone in trouble — most of the times, not always. But most of the times, everyone seems to be trying to get in there as fast as they can. Those sports are complicated and difficult because they’re violent sports. The nature of the sport is to hit each other.

Why are you so committed to boxing in your own life?

Boxing has a lot of metaphors. Boxing’s a great sport; it’s definitely chess, not checkers. People think it’s just swinging and punching, but that’s not boxing. The whole objective of boxing is get the other opponent to help you kick his a–. You trying to outsmart somebody. It’s not as primitive as people think it is. It’s a great sport to just learn some life skills, to know when to bomb and leave, when to catch your breath, when to stick and move, when to go for broke, how to get back up. And it challenges you on those things, so that’s what I love about it. It’s just you and the other guy. You don’t have help. It’s all about what you’re made of, what you have in you. So it challenges that, when your lungs are burning, your ribs are hurting, guy’s trying to punch you in the eye or jab a bit. It’s like, ‘Do I really need to do this?’

Economic stratification has a huge impact on defining who goes into football and boxing. If you can afford to put your kid into something that doesn’t carry the same risk for potential brain damage, you’re going to do it.

There’s certainly classism. … It’s just opportunity. If you’re poor living in a ghetto — I know when I was — you bounced the ball, you hit a ball with stick. You punched each other or you play football. There was no golf courses that were nearby, there was no lacrosse. There’s no polo.

But some of those sports, you don’t get camaraderie, you don’t learn how to play as a team player, you don’t physically always get challenged the same. There’s plus and minuses to it all. Classism will always be here, and the gladiators will always be the gladiators and some people will always be in the stands. It’s just the fact of life. It’s not going to ever change, ever. If they took away boxing and football … there’ll be another sport.

For some people, like myself, like LeBron, like Ali, Michael Jordan, sports was a way out. I got a scholarship to West Virginia. That was a way out, that was a way of getting out the streets, getting out the ghetto. But also, you love it. It was a place to go that felt safe. It was a place to go to create a family outside of your family, with your teammates. To get that feeling of success, to win, that’s something that you can’t put a price on.

The Miami Heat’s Derric Franklin is the first black leader in the very new history of the NBA 2K League With players Hotshot, MaJes7ic and 24K DropOff, has the guy in the violet Afro created the best big three since D-Wade, LeBron and Bosh?

Four years ago, when Derric Franklin returned from Afghanistan, where he’d been deployed by the U.S. Army, he picked up NBA 2K15 and began playing the game with a virtually created avatar. The only thing is, he didn’t know to change the avatar’s name, “Russ Snow,” or its physical appearance, a 7-foot-3 center with a massive purple Afro. But he let it rock, even as he became more well-versed in the game, and people took notice.

By 2016, he began operating under the persona “Famous Enough” as a way to embrace talented players whom the game cultivates worldwide. “ I wanted to let them know,” he said, “that they were famous enough to get the credit they deserve.” Via YouTube videos and a strong Twitter presence, Franklin became a fixture in the 2K community as “Famous” — a source of news and an evaluator of skill. But even as his profile expanded, Franklin continued to channel his inner Russ Snow. He dons a purple ’fro at every 2K event — and this one? It’s his biggest yet.


NEW YORK — It’s an uncharacteristically dreary spring morning in Manhattan, and Derric Franklin pulls up at Madison Square Garden earlier than most. In the sea of suits that begin to fill the arena, he stands out: button-down shirt, gray cardigan, dark blue jeans and freshly unboxed Game Royal Air Jordan 1s. The crown jewel of his ’fit is a custom Afro wig, dyed a faint violet and picked out in all its glory.

“This is me,” he says after climbing an MSG escalator that leads him to the lobby of the Hulu Theater. The ’fro is a trademark of Franklin’s swag in the NBA 2K community. And among tastemakers surrounding the most revered basketball video game in gaming history (and its most popular mode, the 5-on-5 Pro-Am gameplay), the 6-foot-4 Famous is something of a Don Corleone. Famous knows everyone — including players, streamers and league creators — and everyone knows Famous. This realm is his element, and in his element he commands the utmost respect.

“Today is the day,” he continued. “I had to tell myself, ‘Oh, s—, this is real.’ ” It’s April 4, 2018, and the draft of the inaugural season of the NBA 2K League has finally arrived. Professional gaming squads from 17 of the NBA’s 30 teams are gearing up to select from a crop of the best players on the planet. Beginning in May, the season will consist of weekly matchups and monthly showcases, all leading to the postseason in late August.

Miami Heat Check Gaming coach Derric “Famous” Franklin climbs the stairs to the war room during the first ever NBA2K League Draft on April 4, 2018 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

For those a part of this world, this moment has been a long time coming. Back in February 2017, the NBA announced a partnership with Take-Two Interactive, 2K’s publisher, to bring the league to life. Since then, the latest installment of the series, NBA 2K18, became 2017’s top-selling sports video game, despite being released in mid-September, and is ranked behind only Call of Duty: World War II in national sales. The game is a multicultural phenomenon, and it just got bigger.

“He got a lot of us to make Twitters. … He was just good for the community. We always played 2K, but there was no meaning to it. Derric came in and brought that.”

“From the NBA’s standpoint, this is our fourth league,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver says in a packed news conference. “Of course we have the NBA, the WNBA and the G League, and now this is the fourth league in our family — and that’s exactly as we’re treating it: one more professional league.”

Famous is running on the fumes of a mere three hours of sleep, though he doubts that anyone else in the building has studied the field of talent — which went from 72,000 gamers to 250 to a final pool of 102 — more than he has. As team operations coordinator (basically, general manager and coach) of the Miami Heat’s squad, he’s had full control of Heat Check Gaming’s draft strategy since he joined the organization in February.

The hire came after initial talks with Sacramento’s Kings Guard Gaming, Portland’s Blaze5 Gaming and Washington’s Wizards District Gaming. For some reason, he went 0-for-3 in each of those interviews. “It’s definitely something that isn’t going to be forgotten,” he says of the teams that passed on him. Of the 17 teams in the first season of the league, Franklin is the only black leader.

HotShot, MaJes7ic and 24K Dropoff are Miami’s best big three since D-Wade, LeBron and Bosh.

“We didn’t set out and say, ‘Hey, we wanna hire an African-American coordinator,’ ” said Michael McCullough, the Miami Heat’s chief marketing officer, who is also black. “But when we met Famous, and learned about his background and what he can bring to us, it was a no-brainer. … He understood that the bulk of the gamers in NBA 2K are African-American and Hispanic … so we felt like he was able to bring that diversity to life and be different than some of the other teams.”

After the draft, the six players whom Famous selects will put in two weeks’ notice at former day jobs and uproot their lives. They’ll sign contracts, which include medical insurance and retirement plans, with the Miami Heat organization, worth more money ($35,000 for the first-round pick and $32,000 for players taken afterward) than what the NBA’s G League players make. Heat Check gamers will then move into new apartments in Coral Gables, Florida, where the team’s gaming room is on its own level. And for the next five months, they’ll compete for a $1 million prize pool, spread out over three in-season tournaments and the playoffs, with one goal in mind: a championship.

Derric “Famous” Franklin meets with – and – before the start of the draft. during the first ever NBA2K League Draft on April 4, 2018 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. (Brent Lewis/The Undefeated)

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

T-minus one hour till the first team goes on the clock, and Famous spots and daps up Ivan Curtiss and Toijuin Fairley, co-founders of the popular MPBA2K league who were hired by Milwaukee’s Bucks Gaming as draft analysts. Together, the three influencers are the only black representatives from the 2K community calling the shots at the draft (Christopher Toussaint serves as a players manager for Orlando’s Magic Gaming, and Hall of Famer/Sacramento Kings co-owner Shaquille O’Neal was named general manager of Kings Guard Gaming but didn’t make the trip to New York). But even Curtiss and Fairley look up to Famous’ position. “He’s built solid relationships with thousands of players, from unknown to known, and knows what he’s talking about,” said Curtiss, whom Famous reached out to share the news of landing the Miami gig. “He’s our only competition.”

Famous embraces the pressure of being the head of a franchise and architect of a roster that needs six MyPlayers: a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center and sixth man. And his confidence is oozing. “I’m gonna control the draft,” he said. “Things are gonna go the way I want. No other way.” Imagine this is the game itself for Famous. He grabs the rebound off the glass and leads the break up the floor. Now, it’s just time to score.


Heat Check Gaming’s war room is a cramped dressing room, deep in the bowels of Madison Square Garden. Inside, Famous sits at his bulky Dell Alienware laptop, scrolling up and down a color-coated Excel spreadsheet that he spent countless hours perfecting. Ever since the 2K League finalized the very multicultural-appearing group of draft-eligible prospects, many who are attending the event in New York wearing new suits purchased on the league’s dime, Famous went through scenario after scenario, simulating selections.

Derric “Famous” Franklin goes through his draft order before the round begins.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

Although 2K is a point guard’s game, the league’s altered game mode (or “build,” as it’s called by gamers) allows for big men to thrive. So for weeks, the head of Heat Check focused his energy on taking a center with the team’s first pick at No. 7 overall. “I’m 99.9 percent sure,” Famous said over the phone from Miami, about a week before the draft, “that nobody else has this mindset.”

At 1:33 p.m., Silver calls the name of Artreyo Boyd, an e-point guard from Cleveland known as “Dimez,” as the No. 1 overall pick of Dallas’ Mavs Gaming. That’s right, the commissioner who announced Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz as top picks in the NBA sticks around to welcome the first player to be taken in the 2K League. That’s how real this thing is. “It’s a blessing, man. I’ve worked so hard,” Boyd says onstage. “I’ve been playing for a very long time.” Before Dimez became arguably the best 2K player in the world, with a massive multiplatform following, Famous encouraged him to expand his skill set and brand outside of GroupMe conversations with fellow players by marketing himself in relevant ways.

“He got a lot of us to make Twitters,” says Dimez, who has nearly 30,000 followers/subscribers between Twitter, Twitch and YouTube. “He was just good for the community. We always played 2K, but there was no meaning to it. He came in and brought that. I respect Famous.”

With Dimez off the board, the league’s first draft has officially begun. Famous doesn’t watch but simply listens to the 50-inch TV mounted above him as Boston’s Celtics Crossover Gaming and Utah’s Jazz Gaming make their decisions. And just as he prophesied, the top three teams take a point guard. By the seventh slot, no one has sniffed out Famous’ strategy, so he gets his guy: Juan Gonzalez, aka “Hotshot,” a Miami native who’s “definitely in the conversation for the best center of the game,” said draft commentator/league analyst Jamie “Dirk” Diaz Ruiz. Meanwhile, Heat Check’s top choice collects his draft cap and walks onstage to pose in front of flashing cameras with league managing director Brendan Donohue.

“Derric understood that the bulk of the gamers in NBA 2K are African-American and Hispanic. … We felt like he was able to bring that diversity to life, and be different than some of the other teams.”

“It’s such an honor,” says Gonzalez, his hands still shaking after a circuit of interviews, “that it doesn’t feel real. I wanted to go to the Heat. I wanted to play for my hometown team.” The vibe is nearly identical to what any real NBA player experiences after being drafted. Flashing cameras and nonstop interviews. Congratulatory handshakes and salutes from every direction. Brewing trash talk between fellow picks — who would fire up the game right then and there to go at it on the sticks.

Heat Check Gaming’s first draft pick Juan Gonzalez aka ÒHotshotÓ calls his mother after being drafted while coach Derric “Framous” Franklin waits to welcome him during the first ever NBA2K League Draft on April 4, 2018 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

Famous claps after picking up MaJes7ic during the second round of the NBA2K League Draft.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

Famous appears and interrupts Gonzalez with a huge hug. “After the pick, I cried,” he says to Hotshot, who’s still beaming. The brief moment ends with Famous jogging back to his post, where he’s cracked open a fruit tray to fuel him through the next five picks. Next to his computer is the phone he uses to call in his selections to a league representative when it’s Heat Check’s turn to draft. Early on, he establishes a streamlined system for himself: pick up the phone, hit redial and say a name. No time wasted — that’s how certain he is of his choices. There’s quite a bit of time, though, until he must make another decision. A snake-style drafting format means Heat Check must wait 11 picks before its second selection. And as Donohue announces name after name, there’s one that, shockingly, remains uncalled.

Stanley Lebron (yes, that’s his real last name), known on 2K as MaJes7ic (pronounced Majestic), would’ve been the top-ranked shooting guard in the draft class but qualified as a point guard at the combine. Hotshot notices Lebron continuing to fall, pulls out his iPhone and dials Famous. “TAKE MAJES7IC!” he blurts out before his coach hangs up on him. Famous already knew what to do. With the No. 28 overall pick at the end of the second round, Heat Check lands the talented combo guard.

“This guy should’ve went in the first round,” says Famous, standing next to Lebron. “When he got there, I was, like, there’s no way I could pass on him.” Of the eight pre-draft interviews he conducted with gamers, Famous hadn’t even bothered wasting MaJes7ic’s time because it just didn’t seem feasible for him to still be there so deep in the draft. He continues raving about the second-round pick to members of the Heat staff: communications manager Lorenzo Butler, marketing manager Clara Stroude-Vazquez, videographer Edwin Jean and senior director of interactive media Lauren Cochran. They’re a dedicated crew who all made the trip up from Miami.

“I’m Dominican,” Lebron says with a smile. He’ll fit right in. The shooter hails from Queens, New York — but the Heat is his favorite NBA squad.


Basil Rose, the man from Montreal known in these NBA 2K streets as “24K DropOff,” looks deep into a SportsCenter camera and doesn’t hesitate. “Just like Lonzo Ball knew he was going to the Lakers, I knew I was going to the Heat.”

Famous had planned on taking a power forward in the third round, and the versatile DeMar Butler, who can essentially play every position on the floor under the gamer tag “OGDeedz,” sat atop his list. But Utah’s Jazz Gaming snagged OGDeedz four picks before Heat Check was in position. “Once Deedz was gone,” Rose said, “I could’ve just walked up before the three minutes on the draft clock started. I already knew.”

Derric “Famous” Franklin greets Basil “24k Dropoff” Rose after drafting him during the first ever NBA2K League Draft.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

Don’t get it twisted, though. 24K DropOff is no compromise for Heat Check. Famous interviewed him before the draft and placed Rose’s name high on his board. Of 72,000 players who participated in the combine, Rose emerged as the only one to average a triple-double (17 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists). Hotshot, MaJes7ic and 24K DropOff are Miami’s best big three since D-Wade, LeBron and Bosh. And DropOff is certainly the alpha of the bunch — outspoken and super wavy, as they say north of the U.S. border. As for how he feels about playing for the league’s only black coordinator?

“You go on a TV or reality show — for example, I like Big Brother — and you’re only going to see one black guy, one black girl. Everybody else is gonna be white,” said Rose, who’s half-Jamaican and half-Nova Scotian. He left Canada for the first time in his life to attend the draft in New York. “It’s how the world works, but Famous is going to succeed. We just had a black president. … Well, you guys did, not me.”


Stop it, Famous … just stop it.

These are the whispers in the room, but as the draft rages on, he keeps splashing jumpers with his selections.

In the fourth round, he takes “sharpshooterlos,” a skilled small forward from Reading, Pennsylvania. “I thought Miami was the last place on Earth I was gonna land,” said Carlos Zayas-Diaz. “But, man, this is a dream come true. I got the best team in the league.” The fifth round yields a shooting guard in “Jalen03303” Jones, who didn’t make the trip to the Big Apple from his hometown of Bossier City, Louisiana.

Famous makes one last call in the sixth round. This time, it’s for Rahmel Wilkins, another shooting guard, who calls himself “HyPeR iS Pro” on 2K. “I was just watching the picks unfold in front of me,” he says, “and I was the final piece.”

Derric “Famous” Franklin walks back to the war room after the third round of the first ever NBA2K League Draft on April 4, 2018 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY.

Brent Lewis/The Undefeated

The new faces of Heat Check Gaming gather in the first two rows of the theater’s auditorium for their first team meeting. “We’re gonna run, we’re gonna score a lot of points and we’re gonna play tough defense,” says Famous, while his players listen intently as their fearless leader delivers an Any Given Sunday moment.

“We’re gonna go win a championship,” he continues, “because I feel like we got the best team.” Famous adds a little more weight to the statement.

“Easily.”

SportsCenter’s ‘Gear Up,’ Week 11: Teams honor armed forces for Veterans Day South Florida lets its ‘SoFlo,‘ and Colorado State shows off ‘State Pride‘

In Week 11 of Gear Up, SportsCenter’s weekly segment previewing the best uniforms in college football, The Undefeated’s Aaron Dodson breaks down the style combinations of Army, Navy, Air Force, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Arkansas State, South Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Marshall, South Florida and Colorado State.

Four of the five United States service academies — Army, Navy, Air Force and the Merchant Marines — pay tribute via Veterans Day uniform combinations. In a matchup between Arkansas State and South Alabama, the two teams partner to honor all five military branches with decals on their helmets. Missouri unveils a special American flag-themed helmet, while Mississippi State breaks out a Veterans Day alternate for the second consecutive season. Vanderbilt players will wear the names of fallen soldiers on the backs of their jerseys, and on the stripe across Marshall’s helmets are the names of all 75 people who lost their lives in the team’s tragic 1970 plane crash. The South Florida Bulls crank up the color with their “SoFlo” uniform. And, yes, we show off Colorado State’s social media favorite “State Pride” look.