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

LeBron James unleashes vicious dunk on Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic joins a long list of others who entered The King’s airspace and lost

11:00 PMIf this were the ’90s, we’d all be in a panic trying to persuade our parents to get us the poster to put on our walls. In the first quarter of Thursday’s night’s primetime showdown between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trailblazers, LeBron James and Jusuf Nurkic met at the rim. It didn’t end well for Nurkic.

The dunk sent social channels into a tizzy — instantly taking over conversation that had been reserved for late-night March Madness games and Atlanta. As our own Martenzie Johnson pointed out, the folks at Nike must be thrilled as James had rolled out a new colorway for his LeBron 15s. (Related note: The dunk taking place in Portland, Oregon, not so far from Beaverton, where Nike’s worldwide headquarters is located, couldn’t have hurt either.)

Whether the force of LeBron’s dunk had the power to allow him to singlehandedly enter Wakanda’s force field is a topic for another day. But one thing’s for certain. Nurkic just joined the illustrious company of Damon Jones, Tim Duncan, John Lucas III, James Johnson, Jason Terry, Ian Mahinmi and Ben McLemore — all who tried to enter The King’s airspace and found out the hard way that’s not exactly the best business decision.

What’s going on with all these rappers dying in their 40s?

We pay homage to seven who died way too soon

4:21 PMThe condolences for Craig Mack lit up social media and had the old school and old school at heart offering tributes. But he’s just the latest artist gone too soon. For some of our favorite MCs, the 40s have been the kiss of death.

Craig Mack

Craig Mack

Johnny Nunez/WireImage

May 10, 1971-March 12, 2018

Age: 46

Cause of death: Heart failure

Prodigy of Mobb Deep

Prodigy

Jason Kempin/WireImage

Nov. 2, 1974-June 20, 2017

Age: 42

Cause of death: Complications from sickle-cell anemia

Heavy D

Rapper Heavy D on the set of a video circa 1988 in New York City.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

May 24, 1967-Nov. 8, 2011

Age: 44

Cause of death: Pulmonary embolism caused by deep-vein thrombosis

Nate Dogg

Musician Nate Dogg poses for a portrait session circa 2001 in Los Angeles.

Estevan Oriol/Getty Images

Aug. 19, 1969-March 15, 2011

Age: 41

Cause of death: Multiple strokes

Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest

Phife Dawg

Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Nov. 20, 1970-March 22, 2016

Age: 45

Cause of death: Complications from diabetes

MCA of the Beastie Boys

MCA

Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

Aug. 5, 1964-May 4, 2012

Age: 47

Cause of death: Cancer

Guru

Guru

Paul Natkin/WireImage


July 17, 1961-April 19, 2010

Cause of death: multiple myeloma

Age: 48

Craig Mack, Bad Boy Records’ foundational artist, dies at 46

The ‘Flava In Ya Ear’ MC was in a long battle with heart disease

9:47 AMHailing from Long Island, New York, Craig Mack was actually the first star of Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records. The news was confirmed late Monday that Mack, 46, died after a long battle with heart failure. Lesser known to some, Mack, with his distinctive, gravelly voice, predated the label’s grandest star, The Notorious B.I.G.

The creative and innovative “B.I.G. Mack” marketing campaign, fueled by Combs, gave the label undeniable steam in the early ’90s. And it was the remix of Mack’s 1994 “Flava In Ya Ear” and “Get Down (Remix)” that became his lasting calling card. The former features a classic opening 16 bars from The Notorious B.I.G. While The Notorious B.I.G. of course skyrocketed to crossover fame during his short life, Mack (who’d found some success with his debut Project: Funk da World) eventually left the public eye altogether. He dedicated his life to church, with rumors of him joining a religious cult surfacing online several years back.

You won’t be around next year / My rap’s too severe / Kicking mad flava in ya ear … The odyssey of Combs, Notorious B.I.G. and Bad Boy have become an undeniable hip-hop curriculum. Mack, though? “Nobody got to understand his story,” said close friend and producer Alvin Toney. “I wanted the world to know the talent he had. It was something I wanted people to enjoy, but it was cut short because he was very religious and wanted to go to church.” Mack’s death comes less than a week after the 21st anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 murder in Los Angeles.

Serena’s incredible runs show there’s no need to worry about her

Venus Williams wins in straight sets, but Serena and the sport are in a good place

7:47 AMVenus Williams beat Serena Williams in straight sets on Monday night, ending her sister’s incredible run at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.

And women’s tennis should breathe a sigh of relief.

Let’s be clear: This is in no way throwing shade on the return of Serena Williams. What she’s been able to do this past week, with straight-sets wins over the Nos. 53 and 29 players in the world, is nothing short of incredible for a player in her first competitive tournament singles match in 14 months after enduring a difficult childbirth last September.

The straight-sets win by Venus Williams (6-3, 6-4) is good for the game, because what would it have said about the state of women’s tennis if a player had taken that long of a break and come back to reach the fourth round of a top tournament with three straight wins, including a victory over a top-10 player?

Venus, the No. 8 player in the world, won for just the second time in 10 meetings against her sister (Serena holds a 17-12 edge in head-to-head matches). The sisters played a solid match with some drama in the second set when Venus, seemingly on the way to an easy win, had to fight off a furious attempted comeback by her sister.

We don’t have to worry about Serena. She moved well in chasing down balls, showed a lot of heart and drove the ball with the same fire and fury that has led her to 23 career Grand Slam singles titles.

A month ago you would have thought Serena would be lucky if she could get back to Grand Slam form next year. Today, you can actually see her being ready to take on all comers and compete for a major by the time the US Open rolls around in August — or maybe even sooner.

Monday’s third-round match was the earliest between the Williams sisters since 1998, when they met in the second round of the Australian Open. Venus won in straight sets in what was the first meeting between the two in a professional match.

Venus won on Monday. Serena was competitive in defeat and has to feel she’s in a good place after playing three rounds in a tournament she entered with low expectations.

And women’s tennis? Women’s tennis is in a good place too.

The rumors are true … the Jay-Z and Beyoncé Tour is happening

And if there’s anything else you want to know, the Carters will tell you when you need to know

2:15 PMIt’s all about getting in front of the narrative. That’s how you control it before it controls you. That’s how the Carters do it. From addressing rumors of an impending divorce, to the release of two critically lauded albums in Lemonade and 4:44, to the birth of twins, the announcement of a Jay-Z and Beyoncé tour is the latest in a series of head-snapping breaking news for America’s most famous couple not named Obama.

The international leg kicks off June 6 in the U.K. and will cover 15 cities before wrapping up on July 17. It goes stateside on July 25, starting in Cleveland for the first of 21 shows. Tickets go on sale for Citi, TIDAL and Beyhive loyalists on Wednesday. General admission sales will be available starting March 19 on LiveNation.com. View the official tour trailer below.

P.S. — With Beyoncé headlining Coachella next month and a joint tour right behind it, this all but confirms new music is on the horizon, right? Has to be, right? This announcement will only send the long-standing rumors of a joint project between husband and wife into overdrive. And given the operatic aspect of their lives over the past couple of years alone, it’s not like they’re hurting for subject matter.

E:60

From E:60: The improbable rise and uncertain future of Isaiah Thomas

The brand-new member of the Lakers talks about what comes next in his far-flung path through the NBA

8:34 AMMost people didn’t start hearing about Isaiah Thomas, picked dead last in the 2011 NBA draft, until the 2015–16 season. Despite his lack of size, the 5-foot-9 guard earned a starting role with the Celtics and then a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. The next season he averaged 28.9 points a game, just shy of the single-season franchise record held by the legendary Larry Bird. Thomas stole the hearts of Boston sports fans and led the Celtics to the playoffs.

But just before the start of the first round, tragedy struck: Thomas was told by a teammate that his sister had been killed in a car accident. Thomas describes that day to E:60’s Ryan Smith and his decision to play Game 1 of the playoffs just hours later. Through the next two rounds, Thomas led the Celtics on a magical run until an injury sidelined him during the conference finals.

Thomas had become the face of the Celtics, and he considered Boston home. But with one year left on his contract, Thomas was unexpectedly dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster trade for Kyrie Irving. Unable to jell on the court with LeBron James and his new teammates, Thomas was traded again — this time to the Los Angeles Lakers, the team that sparked his hoop dreams as a kid and with whom he hopes to keep writing his NBA success story.

Thomas also opens up about his life’s journey, beginning with his childhood love of the Lakers and being shipped off to a prep school in the middle of nowhere to his time with the Celtics and the pain of losing his sister. Thomas also reveals his thoughts on his trade to Cleveland, his former teammate James, why he thinks the Cavaliers dealt him so quickly and what he hopes the future holds for him in L.A.

‘Black Panther’ dominance: ‘A movie can’t get to $1 billion globally without tapping into some universal truths’

The superhero epic bests even ‘The Dark Knight’

12:47 PMAs of today, Marvel’s Black Panther has crossed the billion-dollar box office mark globally. The film is the 16th Walt Disney Studios film to reach this milestone — and it did so in less than a month — and it’s only the fifth Marvel film to achieve this accolade. Other films that have earned this amount include The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War. Black Panther continues to impress financially, as it also is now the No. 9 release of all time, and after this weekend it will be the No. 2 superhero release of all time, besting The Dark Knight, which earned $535 million domestically. Black Panther has already claimed the No. 1 February debut, among other achievements, and it’s one of only four films to surpass the $100M mark in its second weekend.

“This is the first time that a movie has opened in February and made $1 billion globally,” said Phil Contrino, the director of media and research for the National Association of Theatre Owners. “The notion that moviegoers will only come out in droves during the summer and the holiday season is now officially dead. Compelling content will play well at any point in the year.”

Overseas, Black Panther will shoot past the $500M mark this weekend, after its Friday opening in the last market for the film to open in, China, where it grabbed a first-day estimate of $22M. That the film has been able to excel, and break down long-held theories that films with largely black casts don’t sell in overseas markets, is remarkable.

“A movie can’t get to $1 billion globally without tapping into some universal truths. Black Panther’s emphasis on the importance of family and identity helped it transcend race, and that’s why it’s had no problem playing so well around the world,” Contrino said. “Audiences are sending a clear message that they want to see more diversity on the big screen. I really hope that five years from now we can look back at Black Panther as the moment that permanent change began.”

Serena displays stretches of power and precision

‘It’s incredible,’ she said of her return to competitive singles

11:19 AMThere was a loud roar as Serena Williams walked onto the main stadium court at the BNP Paribas Open, wearing a bulky black jacket and black tights. As her match against Zarina Diyas was about to begin, Williams shed her outerwear to reveal two arm sleeves, an early indicator that the visual gun show that usually intimidates opponents would not be on display.

For a moment, the best women’s player in the history of tennis displayed rare vulnerability.

For half a set, Williams appeared tight.

But in her first competitive singles match in more than a year, Williams eventually settled into a comfort zone on the way to a satisfying 7-5, 6-3 win over Diyas to advance to the second round of the tournament.

To say Williams is back would be a rush to judgment for the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, who was playing her first competitive singles match since winning the 2017 Australian Open title last January.

But she’s a lot further along than anyone who saw her play Fed Cup doubles a month ago could have anticipated.

Williams was sluggish then, surviving conditioning that was not ready for prime time as she played alongside her sister Venus.

From that doubles match, you might have pegged Williams’ return to Grand Slam form sometime next year.

Based on the promise she showed on Thursday night, that timeline might have to be adjusted.

Thursday we gave you a few things to watch in Williams’ return. Here’s how she did:

Her lateral movement was surprisingly good.

Her stamina appeared to get better as the match progressed, and she won several long points.

Her inner drive was on display as she had to dig deep and fight fatigue on a few occasions. There were several rough stretches early in the first set where you might have thought that it would be easier for Williams to ease out of the match quietly and begin focus on her next tournament.

But she recovered from those moments to display stretches of power and precision that left you thinking that she might be back to competitive form later this year.

Her focus was solid as Williams, with the exception of a few displays of emotion, maintained her cool for much of the night.

“It was incredible,” Williams said during her post-match interview. “It’s been over a year, and a kid later.”

Next up for Williams: a Saturday match against Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, the No. 29 player in the world.