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.

Lil Wayne’s ‘Nightline’ Interview Let You Down, But How Much of That Is His Fault?

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Lil Wayne | shot by Thaddaeus McAdams/FilmMagic with added editing by HTS

 

After Lil Wayne’s super controversial interview with Nightline on Wednesday came out, I was asked by Billboard if I had an opinion on Weezy vs Black Lives Matter and him essentially refusing to have an opinion or have a positive contribution to the issues of African Americans. I did.

Lil Wayne’s ‘Nightline’ Fail Shows Why Asking Celebrities For More Than What They Sell Leads To Disappointment

The article I wrote for them, in a way, is the younger brother of this piece I penned here on HTS about Michael Jordan speaking out against senseless police killings and donating a load of cash to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund months ago.

It’s Great That Michael Jordan Spoke Up, But He Did Not Owe You That

In short, there’s a great deal of expectation placed on celebrities to be more than who they are. To be a movie star and a social activist. Or a rapper and political hero. And though it’s fair to hope one might use their popularity to fight for a good outside of their own, it’s that faith and desire in celebs that leads to huge disappointment. Such is the case for Lil Wayne, who clearly wants no parts of being a “fucking politician,” as he said before ejecting himself from that Nightline interview.

For context, it’s best you watch both the Nightline interview and well as his sit-down with FS1’s sports show Undisputed. After you read my Billboard piece, I’d really be interested in your feedback. It’s clearly a touchy subject, but the kind that makes for great conversation if you’re up for it.

 

It’s Great That Michael Jordan Spoke Up, But He Did Not Owe You That

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Celebrities don’t owe you anything past whatever made them famous. This weekend, when I go see the new Jason Bourne at the movies, lead actor Matt Damon will owe me a great performance. When I see the Saint Pablo tour this fall, Kanye West will owe me a dynamic concert. I invest time and money in you, you owe me a good job. That’s how it works.

That said, let’s talk about Michael Jordan, who recently released an impassioned statement about the rampant shootings of African Americans by police officers and the social unrest that comes with it.

“I can no longer stay silent,” he says before expressing disappointment about our nation’s inability to “find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported.” He put a load of money behind his words and writes that he’s split $2 million and donated it to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s newly established Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

That “silent” part is arguably (and unfortunately) the most noteworthy of the statement, because, to many, Jordan has skipped several chances to talk about social issues during his more than 30 years in the limelight as a star athlete. Unlike other Black sports icons like Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Jordan was quiet.

He’s infamous for allegedly responding, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” when asked to support North Carolina democrat Harvey Gantt for a seat on the Senate in the early ‘90s (his reps have denied this vehemently), thus beginning the storyline of a businessman so shrewd that he’d ignore issues bigger than basketball for the sake Air Jordan sales.

I get it: That’s a bad look. While Jordan paired with Gatorade and campaigned for us to be “Like Mike,” others bristled at the thought and wished he’d be like Ali.

Yes, it’d be nice if he was. However, the discussion ends there. It would have been nice and impactful. But Michael Jordan did not owe anyone that. There are arguments, sure, to be made about whether his moral compass should have guided Michael—a man that was easily one of the top five most famous people on Earth during his heyday—to use his platform to make the lives of people less fortunate (his people) better. Like Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” True.

But understanding that being Spiderman means that you’ll likely get your ass kicked on a nightly basis, would you fault Peter Parker if he just said, “Fuck this shit” and quit the hero game? It’s both silly and easy to be an armchair general and say what you’d do if given the same opportunities as Michael Jordan or any marquee figure. Would you have had the balls to raise the Black Power fist at the podium like Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico? Would you have refused to enlist in the army like Muhammad Ali did for the Vietnam War and lose years from your career to serve time in jail? Would you risk movie roles or mega advertising dollars to stand up with the #BlackLivesMatter movement? Maybe? Definitely? Hopefully. But I wouldn’t fault someone who answered “No.” That takes a unique type of courage. Even current NBA star Carmelo Anthony said “it’s about time” Michael spoke out.

 

Also, it’s terrible to diminish the philanthropic efforts of a man of means, because it doesn’t benefit the specific issue or cause you want them to support. What’s wrong with Jordan donating millions to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, like he has? What about him being the majority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats and the organization always having a Black president under his watch (currently Fred Whitfield)? And his Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational golf tournament has raised millions for several charities. What about that? Still, social media timelines and sports pundits alike became cynics when Jordan broke his “silence.” Some said he’s too late. Others clowned and wondered if it was more of a business move than a show of humanity.

I’ll admit that I laughed at that one. But my point remains: Michael Jordan doesn’t owe us shit. He’s not a member of a government office or some pseudo freedom fighter. Those people are out there. Count on them in these moments of brutal racial injustice.

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When Michael Jordan was a player and we watched in hopes of being awed, he owed you savage dunks and artful fade-away jumpers. Lock-down defense. If your pockets are deep enough, he still owes you sneakers that are so gorgeous and heralded that they make you feel you’re as fly as His Airness himself was then.

Alton Sterling & The Talk

But to be an outspoken leader and political advocate for African Americans whose impact was as great as it was when he hooped on the court? No. He didn’t. Never did. He still doesn’t. So instead of criticizing him for responsibilities he never accepted, let’s just appreciate that he’s here now. He did something extra good.

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.”

Air Jordan 31

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.

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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.