23 | XIs | Me: Like Mike, Just Not on the Court

23 | XIs | Me: Like Mike, Just Not on the Court

Michael Jordan in the Air Jordan XI Concords | image c/o Nike


Back in 1997 I was 12 and a lanky, baby-faced eighth grader, standing 5’10.” Each day, I’d race home after school, scramble to get my homework done then hop on my bike to cycle to a basketball court.

On the court I’d show off moves I’d gained confidence in through hours spent practicing in my driveway, most of them bootleg renditions of what I’d seen Michael Jordan do time and time again on television. Jab steps. Pump fakes. Reverse lay-ups.


If my neighborhood friend Leo was playing on the opposing team and not guarding me, he’d yell what he thought I’d do out to the dude who was: “Watch out for his fadeaway!”

I’d post up about 8-10 feet from the basket, damn-near sitting on my defender with my arm extended for my boy Shyaka to feed me.

I watched endless VHS footage of MJ, so I’d fake right before spinning left, shoot, and that ball would make the chained nets jingle when it went through. Easy. Like…


I drooled over MJ’s moves and his shoes, fiending over every pair of the Air Jordans that’d hit the streets annually.

And when Brand Jordan dropped the XI commercial with MJ leaping maybe five stories high to dunk on an obnoxiously tall rim, I wished for the sleek sneaks that rocketed him up there, too.

But I had no business wearing $125 sneakers in the mid-‘90s. Nor could my parents have afforded them if I acquired the nerve to ask.

When you’re a kid, you’re still gullible enough to believe that sneakers will make you jump as high as the athlete endorsing them. Like when Spike Lee wished for Genie Little Richie to make him become Michael Jordan in a pair of Air Jordan VIs.

*Record scratch.* Unfortunately, reality bites.

If it wasn’t obvious from me telling you about fond memories from—of all windows in my life—middle school, my journey as a true hooper was short. I had a middling high school career that ended after senior year when no D-1 colleges recruited me. My childhood dream was over.

The good thing about my high school experience, however, was that I did discover a new interest that would last me a lifetime: Storytelling.

In high school homeroom, I’d eat a junk breakfast and read Mr. Haversack’s Washington Post. Mostly the sports pages. I fell in love with Michael Wilbon’s witty columns and takes on basketball. He inspired me to choose print journalism as my major when I enrolled at Howard University. When I graduated, I chose entertainment journalism–specifically music–to be my focus.

When I got my first job at Vibe Magazine I’d spend mad time in the lab sitting beside the Music Editor, getting better. I’ll never forget him transforming the intro paragraph about a truck speeding towards the subject of my first big feature, rapper Wale, into something awesome by taking my simple verb and swapping it for “careening.”

Entertainment Weekly editors helped punch up my album reviews, teaching me to make my writing tighter. Editor-at-Large Rob Kenner’s tips carried my Lana Del Rey cover story at Complex to a special place.

Throughout those years, I gained so much wisdom from countless writers and editors. Some were veterans who literally sat down beside me to help, others were word wizards who assisted me by producing amazing profiles that I consumed in the same studied manner I peeped Michael Jordan’s Come Fly With Me and Air Time movies in my parents’ basement.

By the time I became Features Editor at Billboard, I had racked up some great stories. Unlike in sports, there aren’t many championship moments. But my tenure at Billboard was when I felt like I had finally arrived. At Billboard I covered Kanye, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Rick Ross, Pharrell, James Blake, Lady Gaga, Beyonce…

It seemed like whatever I spoke up about at our weekly meetings turned into something unique, fun, and worthwhile on our site or in the magazine’s pages. I was on fire.

One Friday after a meeting in summer 2014, our Billboard Editor-in-Chief Tony Gervino stopped by my desk and asked me to come to his office. I meandered in, my chest tightening, my heart beating a mile a minute.

“You wear a 13, right?” he asked. Correct. He reached under his desk and handed a box over to me. “Thanks for always speaking up in the meetings.” I cracked the box open…

These bad boys


The white from the Concord XIs inside had an angel aura glowing around it. Those shitty fluorescent tube lights we had hummed on the patent leather and made the toe box glisten as well.

There I was in my Editor-in-Chief’s office, six years after beginning of my career, 12 years after my hoops dreams died, and 19 after I first peeped MJ debut the XIs.

As I looked down on those sneakers, designed and endorsed by a man whose name is synonymous with excellence, it dawned on me: it wasn’t an NBA championship trophy that I had been chasing after all. It was that Jordan-like mental state where my skills, talent, and hard work all clicked inside me like some marvelous triangle of dopeness.

Donning an NBA jersey might not be in the cards for most of us, but the awesome thing is that you can dunk and swish in all walks of life. Once you find your calling, it’s game time. Get after it and the trophies will come.


I made a pretty elaborate chain of Instagram Stories that partners with this pieces. Gifs, vids, art, music… The whole kit and caboodle is now in my Highlights section. I strongly suggest you head over to my IG page to give it a look-see.

Me x Kobe Bryant x Dear Basketball

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Kobe Bryant | shot by Ian Morrison for Flaunt


 

Whenever I interview someone who’s incredibly well known and popular, my goal is an obvious one: Find something new out. Most people know this person’s general life story and highlights.

So my question for you—after you read this interview I had with Kobe Bryant for Flaunt Magazine—is did you learn anything new about him? I think I dug out about–hmmm–three intriguing nuggets. Each third of the story has one.

Talking to Kobe and Disney animation legend Glen Keane (he drew Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast!) about their Oscar-winning short Dear Basketball was a treat. I’m a huge Kobe fan. Players who entered the NBA in the mid-‘90s were the ones I watched bloom into stars and Kobe was my favorite. The skill, the passion, the talent, the Hip-Hop meets Air Jordan 2.0 vibes… He was dope. So much so that I wouldn’t play as anyone but the Lakers on NBA Live or 2K from about 1997 to maybe 2010 or so when I stopped being a consistent gamer.

It was difficult to keep my cool, but thankfully I don’t think they could tell. The interview  went well and writing the piece was a breeze. We rapped about Michael Jackson, storytelling, discovering your life’s purpose as a youth and more. Give it a read.


 

A story about the photo shoot for this Flaunt piece:

During the photo shoot for this interview, I was talking to his Dear Basketball publicist  about one of my goals for the new year. We were just days into 2018 and knowing that I closed ’17 eating wild and glorious amounts of food and sweet treats, my goal was to lose 15 pounds in January. Kobe overheard me. About 10 minutes later, he walked over and looked me up and down—sneakers to the longest strand of hair on my head.

“You’re trying to lose weight?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said. I told him that I’d looked up Dwyane Wade’s weight (we’re about the same height), saw that he’s 220-ish and thought I could get there with some discipline. Kobe asked how I was feeling so far. Cutting back on eating garbage is pretty easy, I explained. But the 4-5 gym workouts a week that I had picked up were making me sore and tired as hell.

A smirk crept onto his face as his shoulders shrugged, like a two-piece combo of indifference and hilarity just presented itself. “Your body will get used to it,” he said through a light chuckle. “Yeah,” I responded. “True.” We shook hands. He left. On my way home, I too laughed. That was such a Kobe response.

Kobe probably never complained about the temporary pain he endured during the thousands of hours he’d spent training in gyms, running on tracks and recovering from numerous injuries. He knew it was part of the process. A little work and pain now, a trophy later. That’s a fair exchange. I took it all in while sitting in the back of my Lyft headed home, grinning ear to ear. “Kobe didn’t give a fuck about my gym pain because he’s a bad-ass and bad-asses aren’t trying to hear that shit,” I thought. “That’s why I love that dude.” Then I snapped out of it. Haha, what a nerd I am sometimes.

By the way, I lost that 15 pounds. Again, go read my Kobe story.

 

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Vindication? Kevin Durant Wasn’t Trying to Prove Anything to You

On Monday night Kevin Durant’s 2017 NBA Champion t-shirt was damp with champagne. The goggles that protected his eyes from bottle corks and alcohol drops dangled from his neck. A smile as true as his jumpshot sparkled from ear to ear. He had just won his first title and was the series’ MVP.

Sitting in for a post-game SportsCenter interview with ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt, he was asked what he now sees in himself after accomplishing such a feat. “Nothing,” he responded. “This doesn’t complete me. I already knew who I was before this even happened. I’m going to continue to be the person I was yesterday.”

On the surface, this answer could seem like complete bullshit. Like, dude, YOU’RE AN NBA CHAMPION, THE BEST PLAYER ON THE BEST TEAM IN THE BEST BASKETBALL LEAGUE ON EARTH!

But on second thought, I understand why he’d say that. Today and, I presume, throughout the rest of the summer, many will write their think-pieces and essays about how—at last!—Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder last year as a free agent to join the Golden State Warriors (the team that kicked him out of the playoffs that year) has been vindicated.

The idea is that his decision to go to a better team, one likely to go on several future championship runs with or without him, wouldn’t have been valid or accepted by the the peanut gallery unless he performed spectacularly (he did) and won this year. And like I briefly noted last summer, that’s dumb. Mostly because the man made a decision for himself. As the author of his life story, no one but him has the right to put their pen on his pages.

Kevin Durant, The Warriors and Dialogue With a Hater

Sure, Kevin could have done things the “hero” way and continued to toil and chip away year after year in a small town as half of the one-two punch Russell Westbrook completed. Maybe they would have gotten to the finals again (OKC had been before in 2012, and lost to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat). Maybe. But KD decided the next chapter of his life would go in another direction.

Then came the ridicule. People called him weak, soft, pathetic even. All because he didn’t do things how XYZ legendary veteran who may or may not have won a champion by staying “loyal” to the team that drafted them or was on a team where they were one of a maximum two star players (ie: Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller…).

 

Hell, even Nike released an ad right after his Finals-sealing Game 5 victory that addressed the naysayers—a minute’s worth of pundits arguing about Durant’s supposed mental and physical flaws and ending with him a champ in a confetti storm. “DEBATE THIS,” it closes. A classic, well-articulated “Fuck you, hater!” without being too crass for network TV.

So I totally get why Kevin would say he’s the same guy he was before the locker room bubbly bath. It’s a mix self-assured confidence and not wanting to let us know he gave a shit about anyone else’s opinions. Though he might admit later that he heard the chatter and that it motivated him a tad bit, I doubt Durant will ever say that he ever felt that he needed to be vindicated for his controversial choice.

If anything KD probably felt that he made the right decision after training camp and a few games with the Warriors during Fall/Winter 2016, when he was enjoying the music that booms out of practice facility speakers while Coach Kerr is running through Xs and Os. Or when he realized that playing for Golden State really is as fun as it looks on TV, with Steph Curry joyously splashing threes launched just inside half court and eagerly throwing him no-look passes on the next possession. Or when he got emphatic encouragement from forward Draymond Green.

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Kevin Durant wasn’t waiting for anybody’s approval. He gave himself the okay, And now he’s the champion he always wanted to be. Critics can say they don’t like how his story played out. But there’s no debating that.

Make Air Jordans Sexy Again

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On any given day, you might catch me in a pair of Air Jordans. I just bought my second pair of Flu Game XIIs. I wore black VIIs to work on Tuesday. I was wearing black VIs when my girl beat me twice at HORSE on Saturday. My shooting is currently ultra un-Mike-like, unfortunately. By the way, here she is draining a jumper in Nike FlyKnits:

All that is to say I’m a big fan of Air Jordans. But here’s the crusher: I haven’t truly loved any new pair that’s come out since the XVIs.

Yesterday Jordan Brand unveiled the XXXIs. They’re cool. But like each pair that’s dropped since 2001’s XVIs, I’m not planning on getting a pair. That’s 15 years of “Meh.” A decade and a half of, “Not really feeling their latest, but I’ll be looking out for the retros.”

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The Air Jordan XXXI

 

They’ve got “Banned” written on the soles, because  the original Jordan 1s (which the XXXIs are inspired by) were banned by the NBA due to their black and red color-way not properly matching Michael Jordan’s Bulls uniform. There’s more about that in this story here.

From the look and description of the XXXIs, they appear to be amazing performance sneakers. They probably are a delight to run and jump in. To make hard stops and defensive slides with. But they’re not sleek. And they damn sure aren’t sexy. Look at the XIs, the 1s. I can’t imagine Michael Jordan–whose one of several nicknames was “The Black Cat”–wearing these. They’re too chubby for a cat. Gone are the days, I suppose, of Jordans that you want to wear as much off the court as you do on. (Why is the Jumpman on the back heel so big?) I don’t want to wear the latest Js with my jeans. Nah.

AirJordan5

Air Jordan 5 Retro OG | Metallic Silver | Out July 23, 2016

 
And that’s a bummer. But hey, the retros are still booming. The 1s will have their umpteenth re-release this September. The OG Vs drop in a matter of days. I want both. So while I hope Jordan hires one of these lux designers that are jumping ship from couture houses to make Air Jordans street-style sexy again, I’ll settle for blasts from the past.

Now pardon me. I’m have to iCal sneaker release dates.