What Had Happened Was Trending stories on the intersections of race, sports & culture

‘Art of a Champion’ exhibit celebrates best playoff sneakers from Nike, Jordan and Converse

Ray Allen, Rasheed Wallace and Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving represented the three brands — and kicks they made iconic

4:20 PMNEW YORK — Back in 2012, a white mouthguard worn by LeBron James throughout one of his first playoff runs as a member of the Miami Heat featured one simple inscription: “XVI.” What those Roman numerals signify, 16, means a lot to the King and should to every player in the NBA. That’s because 16 wins in the postseason are what it takes to earn the distinction of being called an NBA champion.

On Monday, Nike, Air Jordan and Converse honored the upcoming 2018 playoffs, as well as that coveted number James put on his mouthpiece several years ago as motivation, with the exclusive “Art of a Champion” exhibit at Nike’s New York headquarters in midtown Manhattan. It featured a collection of 16 different pairs of sneakers from the three brands, representing multiple generations of basketball. Each pair, including a revamped version of the black-and-white low-top Converse that Bill Russell sported in Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals and the “Pass the Torch” Air Jordan 1s that celebrate Kawhi Leonard’s winning Finals MVP in 2014, were put on display below unique portraits of the shoes, crafted by a group of artists.

Other sneakers in the collection included Kobe Bryant’s “Final Seconds” Nike Kobe 1 Protros, Kevin McHale’s “No Easy Buckets” Converse Fastbreak high-tops, Scottie Pippen’s “Trifecta” Nike Air Maestro IIs, Rasheed Wallace’s “Rude Awakening” Nike Air Force 1 High Retros, Maya Moore’s “Rook to Queen” Air Jordan 11 lows, Wes Unseld’s “Intangibles” Converse Star Player Oxes, Moses Malone’s “Fo’ Fi’ Fo” Nike Air Force 1 Low Retros, Kevin Durant’s “Battle Tested” Nike Zoom KD IVs, LeBron James’ “25 Straight” Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 1s, Julius “Dr. J” Erving’s “The Scoop” Converse Pro Leather mid-tops, Michael Jordan’s “Last Shot” Air Jordan 14s, Ray Allen’s “Locked and Loaded” Air Jordan 28s and “Gold Standard” Nike Air Force 270s. Every pair will be available at retail from April to June.

Before the gallery was unveiled, ESPN’s Cari Champion hosted a panel discussion with Allen, Wallace and Erving, who shared their favorite playoff memories from their careers and the shoes they wore at the time. Allen repped Air Jordan (he’s been signed to the brand since its inception in 1996). Wallace, an Air Force 1 aficionado during his 15-year career in the league, talked Nike. And Dr. J, the O.G. of the bunch, reminisced about the old-school swag of Converse.

“It’s a lot to be said about this shoe, as well as the history of Converse,” said Erving, pointing to the Converse on his feet. “Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, the inspiration came from Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson.”

With the reporters, influencers and sneakerheads in attendance, Allen, Erving and Wallace stuck around to detail the experiences they had playing in their signature shoes that the gallery featured. In the middle of the exhibit stood the WNBA’s silver championship trophy and NBA’s gold Larry O’Brien Trophy, which many of the 16 pairs on display helped players obtain.

Brooklyn Museum responds to controversy over its new white curator of African art

Museum’s director expresses confidence in Kristen Windmuller-Luna’s ‘anticolonial’ approach

5:16 PMThe Brooklyn Museum issued a lengthy official response on Friday to the furor over the announcement of its newest curator of African art.

The controversy began March 26 when the museum tweeted that it had hired two new curators: Drew Sawyer, who will oversee photography, and Kristen Windmuller-Luna, who will direct an overhaul of the museum’s extensive collection of African art. Both Sawyer and Windmuller-Luna are white.

In response to the hirings, a coalition of Brooklyn anti-gentrification groups called on the museum to create a “decolonization commission.”

In a lengthy letter released to the press, museum director Anne Pasternak defended Windmuller-Luna against attacks that had been levied against the new curator, mostly on social media.

“The Brooklyn Museum stands by our appointment of Dr. Kristen Windmuller-Luna as the Sills Family Consulting Curator of African Arts,” Pasternak wrote. “The Museum’s collection of African arts is among the most important and extensive in the nation. Giving the collection the prominence it deserves, in terms of both its aesthetics and cultural value, has been one of this institution’s most pressing priorities. In order to ensure the highest level of scholarly excellence in how we preserve and present our collections of historical African arts, we knew the job required a specialist with a Ph.D. in this area.”

Some critics made a connection between the museum appointment and a scene from the wildly popular Black Panther movie. In the film, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) explains to a white curator at the British Museum that the only reason the institution holds African artifacts is because British colonizers raided the continent of its cultural and natural resources.

Pasternak pushed back on those making the comparison to Windmuller-Luna and the Brooklyn museum.

“With her anticolonial approach to curating, she has devoted her professional life to celebrating the individual identities of historical African cultures, and to communicating how those vibrant societies play powerful roles in the world at large,” Pasternak said in a statement. “Her priority at the Museum is to create dynamic, multi-vocal installations that speak to all our communities, including those of African descent, both locally and nationally. All of us at the Museum are confident that with her expertise and care, we will revitalize and transform the presentation and interpretation of our collection, and amplify our capacity to illuminate connections and shared narratives with our broad and diverse audience.”

The controversy over Windmuller-Luna’s race highlighted a few points that usually don’t draw widespread attention. Curation is a disproportionately white profession, as Kimberly Drew, an art curator, creator of the Black Contemporary Art tumblr and social media manager for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, recently pointed out. And the profession requires degrees that can cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars without any guarantee of lucrative work.

“African art scholars in the US are overwhelmingly white and female, tweeted UCLA professor Steven Nelson, a professor of African and African-American art history who serves as director of the UCLA African Studies Center. “Given this situation and given that the very few POC in the field all have jobs better than this one, I find myself unable to manufacture any outrage over this.”

Windmuller-Luna has undeniable expertise. She received her doctorate and master’s degree in art and archaeology from Princeton and her bachelor’s degree in the history of art from Yale. Her work focuses on the early modern period of African art, architecture and Christian Ethiopia.

“Given that the very few POC in the field all have jobs better than this one, I find myself unable to manufacture any outrage over this.”

It’s understandable that black museumgoers want to see themselves among the ranks of those curating black art, especially at the nation’s most visible and highly regarded institutions. But not every black person who studies art history necessarily wants to specialize in art created by black artists.

Pasternak was sensitive to this too.

“The Brooklyn Museum recognizes that the longstanding and pervasive issues of structural racism profoundly affect the lives of people of color,” she wrote. “It is right to press museums and other institutions to diversify their leadership. Museums help shape the cultural imagination and contribute to society, so we have a responsibility to bring the broadest possible range of voices into our work. Cultural institutions also need to do much more to support young people of diverse backgrounds in pursuing advanced degrees in art history and succeeding in leadership positions. Please know that every day the Brooklyn Museum is working to advance these efforts and its longstanding and widely recognized commitment to equity in all its forms, including race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.”

What Kyrie Irving’s injury could mean for the Sixers

Yes, you read that right, the Sixers

5:32 PMThe Kyrie Irving injury has suddenly opened a door for the Philadelphia 76ers to potentially have an easier road to the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference finals. Now it’s up to rookie sensation Ben Simmons to lead the Sixers there sans Joel Embiid.

The Boston Celtics announced Thursday that Irving will have season-ending surgery on Saturday to remove two screws implanted in his left patella to aid the knee fracture he suffered in the 2015 NBA Finals. Keep in mind that the Celtics also lost 2017 NBA All-Star forward Gordon Hayward to a broken ankle in the season opener. While the Celtics have had success without Irving and Hayward, their hopes of winning an 18th championship banner took a major hit.

The Celtics are expected to have the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The up-and-coming Sixers hold their destiny in securing the East’s third playoff seed. The No. 3 seed, should it advance to the second round of the playoffs, would play either the injury-plagued Celtics or the seventh seed, thus avoiding the top-seeded Toronto Raptors until the East finals. The Raptors, assuming they advance, would meet the winner of the No. 4-No. 5 matchup in the second round. The Cleveland Cavaliers would likely finish fourth if the Sixers earn the third seed.

The Sixers and the Cavaliers entered Thursday with an identical record of 48-30. If Philadelphia accomplishes the mighty task of defeating LeBron James and the visiting Cavaliers on Friday night, it could land the third seed by winning out. The Sixers’ final three games include a road game against lowly Atlanta, a home game against the lowly Dallas Mavericks, and the regular-season finale at home against NBA All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. While Cleveland and Milwaukee are tough victories, the hot Sixers have won 12 straight games and will play both contests in front of a wild home crowd.

Unfortunately for the Sixers, they will be without NBA All-Star center Embiid during the final four regular-season games due to a facial fracture. ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that Embiid could return at the start of the playoffs. The Sixers, however, do have No. 1 draft pick Markelle Fultz coming off the bench to add a scoring spark, and forward Dario Saric, who has missed the past three games with a bacterial infection in his elbow, could return for Friday’s game.

Simmons has to be the Sixers star to lead the franchise to that coveted third seed. The former Louisiana State star is averaging nearly a triple-double with 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.1 assists. Former Sixers star Julius “Dr. J” Erving described Simmons as “maybe a once-in-a-lifetime type.” If Simmons can lead the Sixers to a top 3 seed, that could solidify the NBA Rookie of the Year award over Utah Jazz sensation Donovan Mitchell.

There are no back-to-backs in the postseason for Embiid, so he would get the needed rest to play at a high level every postseason game after his return.

The Sixers’ game on Friday against the Cavaliers will be the franchise’s biggest since they were last in the playoffs in 2012. It’s also the type of challenge that James loves. The Raptors will be intently watching too. Oddly, the trickle-down effect of the Irving injury has paved a possible smooth path to the East finals for Simmons and the Sixers. Oh, to be in Philly on Friday.

Unreleased ‘Makaveli’ liner notes reveal anger Tupac died holding

Lost ‘Seven Day Theory’ transcript attacks Biggie, Diddy, Jay-Z, Faith Evans and more

11:24 AMA previously unreleased manuscript further reveals the depths of rancor Tupac Shakur lived with in his final days.

Less than a month before his murder in Las Vegas, ‘Pac famously recorded the final album of his life (not career), The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, within a week in August 1996. Released under the alias “Makaveli,” while lyrically sharp and poetically introspective in pockets, the project followed suit with the themes that defined Shakur’s most successful, most complex and final year. Killuminati took direct aim at foes he believed wronged him — in the 1994 Quad Studios shooting attempt on his life and the sexual assault trial that landed him in a New York maximum security prison for much of 1995. Until now, the album’s original liner notes had never been released. And much like several Shakur artifacts (his letter to Madonna, the BMW he was murdered in, etc.), an original transcript of Shakur’s thoughts has hit the auction market.

In the short statement, Shakur blasts a multitude of people for a multitude of reasons. Jacques “Haitian Jack” Agnant for making the call for the Quad shooting. Walter “King Tut” Johnson for pulling the trigger. Biggie, Diddy, Little Shawn (the artist he was supposed to be recording a record with the night he was shot in 1994) and Jimmy Henchman for remaining “silent while quietly conspiring on my downfall.” The notes read like a manifesto of a man’s dying proclamation, so obsessed and hell-bent on revenge while unknowingly serving as a pawn in Suge Knight and Death Row’s endgame of a bicoastal war with Puffy and Bad Boy Records. Without shame, he once again name-checks Faith Evans, thanking her for her greatest weapon (“her low self-esteem” and “beat up p—y”). Names such as Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim, De La Soul and Donnie Simpson are also caught in Shakur’s verbal crossfire.

However right he felt he may have been, and whatever role some of these names may have plotted on his fate, this hatred led him into a demise that would shift pop culture forever. But the soliloquy is a far cry from what he hoped his legacy would be. “I want people to be talking about me like, ‘Remember when Tupac was real bad?’ ” he said shortly after his release from prison. “We all should get that chance. I just want my chance.”

While Shakur is eternally painted in history as rap’s greatest martyr, one of its most beautiful thinkers and cultural critics and perhaps the most influential name the genre will ever see, this is undeniably part of his legacy too. Venom and vindictiveness had overtaken his life. The result of a combination of manipulation, stubbornness and getting in too deep in a game where the only exit strategy is death. “I don’t wanna die,” he told VIBE in 1996, “but if I gotta go I wanna go without pain.” Tupac died angry with hate in his heart — the worst pain of all.

Philly sports teams are having their best year yet; Philly music is not

The City of Brotherly Love is the newest title town, but native rapper Meek Mill isn’t having the same luck

10:50 AMIf you’re a Philly sports fan, this quote from legendary black philosopher Young Jeezy’s 2005 sermon “Get Ya Mind Right,” Minus the bulls—, life’s great, may be extremely relevant to your life right now.

After years of coming up short and outright irrelevant in some sports, Philadelphia is America’s newest title town. The Eagles are the reigning Super Bowl champs and widely regarded as the most socially conscious team in a league that would rather its players be anything but. They also appear to be getting stronger with a slew of offseason moves. The Sixers are riding a 10-game winning streak, Ben Simmons is dating rhythm and blues starlet Tinashe, and, despite a recent injury, All-Star Joel Embiid should be back in time for the playoffs (though that hasn’t stopped him from tweeting Rihanna once again). The Philadelphia Flyers are still in playoff contention as the NHL season winds down. The Phillies are still in the hunt — with only 159 regular season games remaining. And Monday night the Villanova Wildcats captured their second national championship in the past three seasons with a 79-62 victory over Michigan.

On the flip side, all is not well in Philly’s pop culture world. The cold war between Judge Genece Brinkley and Meek Mill wages on. Brinkley recently denied the request to recuse herself from Mill’s case after repeated attempts by his legal team. She then doubled down by killing the request to reconsider his sentencing, calling Mill’s two- to four-year term “absolutely necessary.” Meek, of course, has become a rallying point for the city’s sports teams — especially the Eagles, who rallied (literally and figuratively) around his “Dreams and Nightmares” intro all the way to the city’s first Super Bowl championship, and the Sixers, with Embiid and Sixers minority owner Michael Rubin visiting the rapper in prison.

Such is just the latest chapter in a saga that has transcended hip-hop, becoming a lightning rod around the ongoing criminal justice debate. Mill’s next post-conviction hearing is set for April 16.