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

How Kobe Bryant celebrated his Oscar win

The NBA superstar partied with ‘Vanity Fair’ and hung out with Jay-Z and Beyoncé

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Kobe Bryant could have had his first big Hollywood moment 20 years ago.

It was Black Mamba, after all, whom director Spike Lee pegged as Jesus Shuttlesworth in his 1998 film He Got Game. Bryant was all set to play the basketball phenom, the son of Oscar winner Denzel Washington’s incarcerated Jake Shuttlesworth. But he changed his mind before they started filming in 1997. The role ultimately ended up going to Ray Allen.

But Bryant’s become a Hollywood star in his own way. Sunday night, of course, he won an Oscar for best animated short film for Dear Basketball, his retirement letter. From there, the five-time NBA world champion took his statuette to the Vanity Fair party along with revelers such as Oscar winners Frances McDormand and Christopher Walken, Donald Glover and Matt Bomer. Also in attendance at the magazine’s annual bash were rapper Drake, Oscar nominee Mary J. Blige, Sean Combs, Naomi Campbell, and Olympians Gus Kenworthy, Adam Rippon and Lindsey Vonn.

Bryant later headed over to West Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, where Jay-Z and Beyoncé were throwing a private party honoring Blige’s Oscar moment. Of the 150-plus in attendance were Tracee Ellis Ross, Drake, Tiffany Haddish, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Mindy Kaling, BJ Novak, Shonda Rhimes, Whoopi Goldberg, Usher, DJ Khaled, Oscar winner Jordan Peele and Angela Bassett — all of whom received invites instructing them that there would be “No sitting, only dancing.”

At the West Hollywood hot spot — which, under normal circumstances, is crawling with celebrities — there was a casino setup, and at around midnight, Joe’s Pizza made a huge delivery. Bryant said a week earlier that he doesn’t regret just now getting his big Hollywood moment — he’s not an in-front-of-the-camera type.

“I’m not the most patient of a person,” he said. “When you look at actors … and the downtime involved … it’s just too much for me. I was 17 at the time, and I wanted to … play ball. I couldn’t sit still. I wanted to work out and train all the time. There was also a lot of pressure on me coming out of high school to perform well. I needed all my resources dedicated to preparing myself for the season.”

He says he loves the art of creating. “It’s like putting together a puzzle,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy the most.”

‘Essence’ celebrates black women at annual pre-Oscar gala

Tiffany Haddish, Danai Gurira, Lena Waithe and Tessa Thompson all honored

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Just about everyone in the space at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel was patting away tears.

The General — our general — was in the middle of delivering an impassioned speech about beauty and about how, despite having physical attributes that run contrary to traditional American beauty standards, as a child she was embraced by a majestic-looking woman 31 years ago with long flowing braids who cupped her face in her hands and told her she was beautiful.

And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. That woman, said actor Danai Gurira — whom the world now is coming to know as General Okoye from Marvel’s Black Panther — was Susan Taylor, the legendary editor who ran Essence magazine for many years.

It was appropriate that Gurira was honored by the magazine at its 11th annual event that always happens the week of the Academy Awards. The luncheon is preamble to the big event, and in many ways is as significant as the Academy Awards themselves. It was the place where Lupita Nyong’o delivered a powerful speech about being a dark-skinned little girl in 2014 — days before she would go on to win an Oscar for her portrayal of Patsy in 12 Years A Slave — a speech that had everyone in the room that year nodding their heads in understanding, regardless of the actual hue of their skin.

Tiffany Haddish speaks onstage during the 2018 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Oscars Luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on March 1 in Beverly Hills, California.

Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Essence

This event is a safe space. And it’s a place where black women are celebrated by the communities that cultivate them, inspire them and uplift them even when the rest of the industry doesn’t know to do any of those things. It’s a place where before Gurira even launched into her beautiful, tear-inspiring speech, she led everyone into the Stevie Wonder version of the “Happy Birthday” song for Nyong’o, who turned 35 this week.

This year, the event also honored Tessa Thompson — who talked about how awful she felt about the advantages lighter-skinned women in this industry have, and how she loved existing in a time where diverse representations of black womanliness was ever-present.

“She told me that my broad features and my brown skin looked beautiful when classmates did their best to convince me otherwise. She went to a beauty supply store with me, where she bought an eco relaxer, which we were prepared to apply together,” Thompson said of her mother, who is of Mexican descent, while the crowd laughed. “But she was proud and patient when I decided I wanted to keep my then-crusty, crunchy, over-gelled curls because she realized that being the fullest expression of yourself is an act of bravery. She wanted me to be brave and because of her, I aim to be.”

Tiffany Haddish brought laughter and levity despite talking about having been a foster child and a homeless adult. Lena Waithe talked about being a gay black woman from the South Side of Chicago who grew up loving the Wizard of Oz because of a scene where the Good Witch tells the munchkins to “come out,” a refrain Waithe repeated while asking others in the room — in the industry — to embrace who they are regardless of fear. “They were forced to hide in hopes that one day we wouldn’t have to and now look at us, still hiding. Being a gay black female is not a revolutionary act,” Waithe said, talking about the black LGBT community that came before her. “Being proud to be a gay black female is.” And, of course, Gurira also talked about the power that Black Panther is having on young kids.

“Sometimes I forget what it was like to be that young, to struggle in your own skin that much,” she said. “To grapple with a world system that was clearly not made with us in mind. To be unsure of your place in this realm, of how you will ever find it or how you will ever like yourself, let alone love yourself.”

Each of the afternoon’s honorees were presented by someone remarkable: Gurira was honored by Nyong’o, Thompson was honored by Janelle Monae, Waithe was honored by Justin Simien and Angela Bassett and Haddish was honored by Lil Rel Howery. The event was hosted by Yvonne Orji and will air on OWN on Saturday at 10 p.m.

‘The Plug’ podcast: ‘Run Me My Money feat. Jalen Rose’ (Episode 12)

The ‘Fab Five’ legend sheds light on exactly how it feels to be young, dumb, talented and broke

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With the NCAA news exploding over the weekend, The Plug crew brought in an expert to discuss the state of collegiate athletics. Fab Five phenom, now NBA analyst, Jalen Rose sheds light on exactly how it feels to be young, dumb, talented and broke. Rose also talks about how he thinks the NBA can stand in solidarity with its collegiate counterparts, as well as how he became the first “Jalen” and what that means to him. Plus, we gear up for the Academy Awards and discuss the upcoming clash of two of the most powerful black women to hit the small screen. And, of course — the hot takes are plentiful. As always, please make sure you subscribe to The Plug using the ESPN app!

Previously: ‘The Plug’ podcast: NBA All-Star recap + Chris Tucker on ‘Rush Hour 4’ (Episode 11)

Emlen Tunnell: the first black player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Defensive standout played 14 seasons in the NFL

11:00 AMEmlen Tunnell was the first black player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Born: March 29, 1925

Died: July 23, 1975

His story: Tunnell, born in Philadelphia, played football at the University of Toledo in 1942. He suffered a broken neck, which cut short his season, but he recovered in time to lead Toledo’s men’s basketball team to the National Invitation Tournament finals in 1943. He attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army and Navy during World War II but was denied because of his neck injury. He joined the U.S. Coast Guard and served from 1943-46. He finished his college career at the University of Iowa from 1946-47. He signed with the New York Giants in 1948, becoming the first black player to do so. He played defensive halfback and safety with the Giants until 1958 and spent his final three seasons with the Green Bay Packers, retiring in 1962. He played in nine Pro Bowls over his 14-year career and was part of two NFL championship teams in 1956 and ’61. His 79 career interceptions were an NFL record when he retired. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, the first black player and first pure defensive player to be enshrined. He remained with the Giants from 1963-74 as a special assistant coach and defensive backs coach. (19651974).

Fast fact: His nickname was Emlen the Gremlin.

Quotable: Tunnell’s Packers teammates often came to him for guidance. “I’m old enough to preside over them, but still young enough to be part of them,” he said.

The Undefeated will profile an athlete each day during Black History Month.

Bobby Grier: broke the color barrier in the Sugar Bowl

Georgia’s governor wanted to block Georgia Tech from playing against Pittsburgh in 1956

2:55 PMBobby Grier was the first black football player to play in a bowl game in the South.

Born: 1933

His story: Grier grew up in Massillon, Ohio, and played fullback and linebacker at the University of Pittsburgh during the 1952-55 seasons. When the Panthers made it to the 1956 Sugar Bowl against Georgia Tech, there was controversy about Grier, Pittsburgh’s lone black player, being allowed to play in the game in New Orleans, Louisiana. Georgia’s governor, Marvin Griffin, wanted Georgia Tech to boycott the game because of Grier’s participation. Georgia Tech students protested, and the Georgia Board of Regents voted to allow Georgia Tech to play but barred Georgia teams from playing future games against integrated teams (a rule that was never enforced). Many people in New Orleans also wanted to block Grier playing in the bowl game in the racially segregated South. But the game went on and Grier became the first black player in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia Tech won, 7-0, after a pass interference penalty on Grier set up the game’s only touchdown. Referee Rusty Coles, who was from the Pittsburgh area, later admitted it was a bad call.

Fast fact: Grier received strong support from his teammates and the university. They would not play in the Sugar Bowl without him: “No Grier, no game.”

Quotable: “I didn’t push that man,” said Grier, who was in tears after the Sugar Bowl. “I was in front of him, how could I have pushed him?”

The Undefeated will profile an athlete each day during Black History Month.

My Brother’s Keeper creates grant competition focused on youth violence and mentoring programs

Up to $500,000 in grants available for organizations working with Obama Foundation initiative

11:25 AMMy Brother’s Keeper Alliance, an initiative of the Obama Foundation, announced Monday that it is launching the MBK Community Challenge Competition for $500,000 in grants to help uplift boys and young men of color and other underserved youth.

The program is aimed at finding solutions to youth violence and increasing the number of mentors for boys. In addition to the planning grants, it will provide winners with a team of experts and practitioners and access to more funds to hire full-time local project leads.

“Four years ago, President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, and since then hundreds of communities have stepped up and shown up for their boys and young men of color in extraordinary ways. We are excited to let these communities know the Obama Foundation remains committed to their success, and provide some tools and resources to help them accelerate the pace of impact and inspire action nationwide,” said Michael D. Smith, director of MBK Alliance and Youth Opportunity Programs at the Obama Foundation.

MBK Alliance is especially dedicated to improving the lives of children in the city of Chicago, where Obama began his political career. A Chicago nonprofit will be selected in the inaugural competition, and other Chicago nonprofits will have the chance to compete for mini-grants of up to $50,000.

The organization will release eligibility requirements and a technical assistance schedule in the coming weeks and will begin accepting applications in March. Interested individuals and organizations are encouraged to sign up to receive updates.