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

What a week for Naomi Osaka, who won her first WTA title and beat her childhood idol Serena Williams

Forget winning, Osaka was all about that post-match handshake

12:16 PMEver since Naomi Osaka celebrated her 20th birthday in October, the Afro-Japanese youngblood has done no worse than quarterfinals and fourth-round exits.

On March 18, Osaka defeated Daria Kasatkina in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, to win her first WTA title. Osaka played nearly perfect tennis, dropping only one set in eight matches and beating three players who have been WTA No. 1s (Maria Sharapova, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep) and a No. 2 (Agnieszka Radwanska) en route to the title.

Hours after her first WTA win, Osaka’s coach informed her that she got paired up with Serena Williams, her childhood idol, in the first round of the Miami Open. Osaka would end up winning the match fairly easily, 6-3, 6-2. While winning was certainly a high point, it was the post-match handshake that really resonated with Osaka.

“This is going to be really bad,” Osaka cautioned. “Sometimes when I’m in a really important position, when I’m serving, I’m like, ‘What would Serena [Williams] do?’ ”

Osaka, ranked 44th in the world heading into Indian Wells, has risen to No. 22.

Ava DuVernay to be honored by Gordon Parks Foundation

The group also will fete Ronald O. Perelman, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Sherrilyn Ifill

1:28 PMAva DuVernay will soon be toasted by the Gordon Parks Foundation in late May, the group announced Tuesday. The group’s annual dinner happens May 22 and honors individuals who make strides in performing and visual arts as well as humanitarianism.

The A Wrinkle In Time filmmaker will be joined by businessman and philanthropist Ronald O. Perelman, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill, photographer Sally Mann and documentary photographer Jamel Shabazz, all of whom also will be honored at New York staple Cipriani 42nd Street. The night will be co-chaired by Karl Lagerfeld, Kendrick Lamar, Valerie Jarrett, Alicia Keys, Kasseem Dean (megaproducer Swizz Beatz), Usher Raymond, Janelle Monáe, Common, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault, Judy and Leonard Lauder, and Alexander Soros.

Previous honorees include Monáe, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and photographer Annie Leibovitz.

DuVernay’s honor comes on the heels of good recent news: Last week it was announced that DC Comics tapped her to direct the superhero film The New Gods for Warner Bros., which makes her the first woman of color to tackle a DC Comics film.

Larry Drew to replace Tyronn Lue on Cavs’ bench

Interim coach has been a head coach with Hawks and Bucks

4:44 PMThe Cleveland Cavaliers announced on Monday that head coach Tyronn Lue will “step back from coaching for the time being” to focus on his personal health, leaving the team in the hands of assistant coach Larry Drew.

Drew, 59, was hired by the Cavaliers in 2014 to serve under then-head coach David Blatt just weeks after LeBron James returned to the franchise after four seasons with the Miami Heat. Previously, Drew had served as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks (2010-13) and Milwaukee Bucks (2013-14) and was an assistant for nearly 20 years with the then-New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers.

In three years in Atlanta, Drew averaged 42 wins a season and made the playoffs each year, advancing to the conference semifinals in 2011. After a second consecutive first-round playoff exit in 2013, the Hawks elected to not renew Drew’s contract and he was replaced by one of his assistants, Mike Budenholzer. Drew signed a three-year contract with the Bucks the following season, but after a league-worst 15-67 record (which netted the No. 2 overall draft pick that eventually became Jabari Parker) during Giannis Antetokounmpo’s rookie campaign and a failed coup by Jason Kidd with the Brooklyn Nets, Drew was fired after just one season and replaced with Kidd.

Before getting into coaching, Drew was selected 17th overall out of Missouri by the Detroit Pistons in the 1980 NBA draft. He spent 10 seasons in the league with the Pistons, Lakers and Kansas City/Sacramento Kings, where during the 1982-83 season he averaged a team-high 20.1 points and 8.1 assists per game.

Drew has three sons who also play basketball. Larry Drew II is a guard with the New Orleans Pelicans, Landon Drew spent four seasons at Cal State Northridge and Lindsey Drew is a junior forward for Nevada, which is set to play Loyola Chicago in the Sweet 16 of the men’s basketball tournament on Thursday.

‘The Plug’ podcast: ‘The Madness Begins’ feat. Jenisha Watts (episode 14)

All things March Madness, Odell Beckham Jr., LeBron Sr. playing with LeBron Jr., and more

2:12 PM

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Thanks to Mother Nature making sure we felt the effects of winter one last time before spring, we had a delayed recording this week.

It’s no worries, though. The show was still lit. Jenisha Watts, an editor with espnW, joins Terrika, Kayla and me (and later Tes) to talk about Ryan Coogler’s letter to Ava DuVernay, Cam Newton and much more. From there, the crew chops it up on Odell Beckham Jr.’s recent video controversy, whether or not LeBron James Sr. will actually stay in the NBA long enough to play with LeBron Jr., the validity of Tiger Woods’ latest impressive showing and, of course, all things March Madness.

We’re back on our regular schedule next week — provided it doesn’t snow another 10 inches again next week, of course. Rain, sleet, ice, snow or heat wave, you can always subscribe to The Plug via the ESPN App. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Justin Jenifer went from can’t-miss 10-year-old to starting guard at Cincinnati

Baltimore product has remained levelheaded through it all

11:16 AMNASHVILLE, Tennessee — When most Baltimore kids would have been happy making weekend trips to the Inner Harbor or playing games with their friends at Chuck E. Cheese’s, here’s what was going on in Justin Jenifer’s 10-year-old life:

  • AAU coaches across the nation were offering to fly him in for games.
  • A shoe company was sponsoring his team, seeking brand loyalty.
  • High school powerhouses were beginning to recruit him.

“It was a fun time in my life,” said Jenifer, a junior guard with No. 2 seed Cincinnati. “But growing up and having a target on your back for years, it’s hard going out there and playing when you have that pressure on you.”

Has Jenifer, who was profiled by The Washington Post when he was 10, emerged as the superstar player everyone expected him to be 12 years ago? Not quite, considering he’s not a household name.

But Jenifer is starting for the Bearcats, one of the nation’s top teams, who will take on No. 7 seed Nevada on Sunday. Jenifer averages 4.9 points and 2.5 assists in just under 20 minutes.

“I watched the NCAA tournament when I was young, so this is exciting to be here and be a part of this in college,” Jenifer said. “To be here and to be representing a city that doesn’t get a lot of opportunities, this is special.”

Jenifer’s not the first in his family to play in the NCAA tournament. His cousin, Keith Jenifer, played his first two years of college at Virginia before transferring to Murray State. In 2006 he was the starting point guard for the No. 14-seeded Murray State team that lost to No. 3 seed North Carolina, 69-65, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Keith Jenifer had led the Cavaliers to three straight wins over the Tar Heels before transferring to Murray State, where he was coached by Mick Cronin, now the head coach at Cincinnati.

“He was one of the Baltimore guys I looked up to growing up, along with guys like Will Barton [of the Denver Nuggets], [former NBA point guard] Muggsy Bogues and [former Maryland guard] Sean Mosley,” Jenifer said. “There’s a lot of talent in Baltimore, including people in my family.”

Jenifer enjoyed seeing No. 16 seed University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) upset top-seeded Virginia on Friday.

“Anytime a team from the Baltimore area does something, it’s great,” Jenifer said. “I was really happy for them.”

Five things to know about UMBC, the first 16 seed on the men’s side to take down No. 1

Jairus Lyles knows a little something about top competition

10:03 AMWhere were you the night No. 16 University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) took down No. 1 Virginia, the overall top seed?

At almost exactly the stroke of midnight, the Retrievers’ Cinderella story was in full swing as they blew out the Cavaliers, 74-54. UMBC came into the game with a 1.5 percent chance to upset the top team in the nation and dropped 53 points (which was the average points per game UVA allowed its opponents to score) in the second half to advance to the round of 32 against Kansas State.

It took 136 attempts, but a 16th seed finally prevailed, and here’s exactly what should you know about UMBC and its leading scorer, Jairus Lyles, after the team’s remarkable display Friday night.

Also, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called game.


This 16 seed was a remarkable kind of bad over the years

In the previous seven seasons, UMBC won a GRAND TOTAL of 41 games. In fact, just last year, the Retrievers finished 7-25 and dead last in the America East Conference. UMBC lost by 44 points to Albany this season.

20 years later the men caught up to the women

Let’s be very clear: UMBC is the first 16 seed to drop a No. 1 in the men’s tournament, but not overall. The first happened 20 years ago when the Harvard women’s team defeated Stanford, 71-67. Stanford sent its condolences to UVA, while UMBC was clear to make sure everyone writing about its amazing achievement put it in proper perspective and paid respect to what Harvard’s team did.

Lyles played with some ballers in high school

Not to brag, but as someone from Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland, we produce the best basketball players in the country. One of the top programs in the country is DeMatha Catholic, where Lyles played his high school hoops.

How was he able to step up and drop 28 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists on the Cavaliers? He wasn’t new to this. As a freshman he was going against the likes of Quinn Cook, Jerami Grant, Jerian Grant, Mikael Hopkins and Victor Oladipo. So at 14, Lyles had to practice against juggernauts in a program that demands you step up no matter who your opponent is. It’s no wonder that he would lead UMBC to this upset.

Lyles just upset his PARENTS’ alma mater

Jairus’ father, Lester, was so good at football that The Washington Post‘s Michael Wilbon penned a few words about his decision to spurn his home state (Maryland) and commit to a struggling Virginia football program. Lyles had his pick of football programs — the Terps, North Carolina, Wisconsin, etc. — but the strong safety opted for UVA.

Lyles spent his first two years on the bench watching the team win three of 22 games before UVA surprised the ACC and football world in 1984 with its 7-1-2 record. Lyles was given credit for the school’s turnaround. Thirty-four years later, his son did the same thing, picking a program not known for success and leading it to the biggest upset in men’s tournament history.

Jairus’ mother, Carol Motley, also attended UVA, where she met Lester.

Shoutout to the chess team, though

After the game, UMBC’s basketball team was asked where it got its drive to win, and the team shouted out the school’s most prestigious competitive unit, the chess team. How good is the chess team, you ask? It went to 16 consecutive Final Fours. And if anyone was really paying attention to the game, UVA was playing checkers while UMBC was out there playing chess.

O.J. Simpson says Colin Kaepernick ‘made a bad choice in attacking the flag’

The Juice leaves much of America with the choice of agreeing with Kaepernick or him

3:23 PMFormer NFL running back O.J. Simpson said he disagrees with Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem, calling the gesture “a bad choice in attacking the flag.”

In an interview with The Buffalo News on Friday that ranged in topics from his playing career with the Buffalo Bills to his time at Lovelock Correctional Center and brain injuries, Simpson seemed most opinionated about the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and his 2016 protests.

While Simpson said he appreciated Kaepernick’s message against police brutality and racial inequality, he thinks the quarterback “made a mistake” in choosing the American flag and national anthem as his vessel.

“I thought he made a bad choice in attacking the flag,” Simpson said. “I grew up at a time when deacons were in the KKK. I don’t disrespect the Bible because of those guys. The flag shouldn’t be disrespected because of what cops do. The flag represents what we want America to be.”

Simpson went on to say, leaving much of America with the choice of agreeing with Kaepernick or him, that he’s a “firm believer of doing what you think is right,” but — even after being accused of abusing his former wife (of which he was never charged), a gruesome double murder (of which he was acquitted), and robbing and kidnapping memorabilia dealers (of which he was convicted) — he “would always stand for the flag.”

In the rest of the interview, Simpson covered a variety of other topics.

On being the first running back in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season:

“From the moment that happened, I knew I was a part of football forever. I was the first guy to gain 2,000 yards and nobody could beat that, like being the first to hit 60 home runs or run the four-minute mile.”

On whether he would have voted for Donald Trump, whose wedding he attended in 1993, as president:

“Somebody asked me if I’d have voted for him. Probably not, but I only know two of my friends I’d vote to be president. Some of my best, best besties I would not vote to be president. That has no bearing on it, you know?”

On if he thinks he has chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a debilitating brain disease:

“Well, I don’t know. I feel all right. But I have days when I can’t … I lose words, and I can’t come up with a simple word. I can’t remember a phone number, so forget that.”

(Simpson believes longtime friend and man-who-was-willing-to-take-a-bullet-for-The-Juice-before-he-was-famous Al Cowlings may be affected: “I see [Cowlings] short-tempered now. A guy who has never been short-tempered. I see he’s struggling just a little bit.”)

On returning to the Bills someday, a team he played for between 1969-1977:

“I like the Buffalo Bills. So I will, the minute I can travel, request once or twice maybe next season to go to Buffalo, visit some friends, meet some of the boys. I thoroughly enjoy coming back. But it will not be through the Buffalo Bills.”

On his legacy as a football player:

“Anybody that saw me play will remember me as a football player. I like to think I played the game with a lot of passion and love. … I like to think I left a lot of those runs out there. I don’t think that once you see it, you’ll ever forget it.”