China maintains its swift, open response to coronavirus bought time for the world. Journalists, had their stories not been deleted, will tell you …How China Censored Citizens and the Press on COVID-19
The track and field legend speaks out about the fatal shooting of Arbery
By Martenzie Johnson
Like many people, four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson had not heard about Ahmaud Arbery until a video of the 25-year-old being fatally shot by a white father and son was released on social media last week.
But when Johnson, the former world-record holder in the 200- and 400-meter events, saw the footage of Arbery being gunned down in Brunswick, Georgia, he was infuriated. A few days after the footage was released, Johnson posted on Twitter that the murder of Arbery had “my blood boiling.”
On May 8, Johnson joined with others in running 2.23 miles (Feb. 23 is the date Arbery was killed) to bring attention to the shooting and point out how tragic and unacceptable the handling of the case had been up to that point, Johnson said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“We’ve gotten to a point where we realized — and certainly I realized — that if I can bring awareness in any small way to these sorts of situations and how important it is to support efforts to highlight these injustices, it’s important to do so,” he said.
In the past, Johnson hasn’t been outspoken about race or politics, saying he never felt compelled to be “really boisterous” in using his voice. But in the wake of Arbery’s murder, he said, “It’s just gotten to a point where it’s time for all of us to do whatever we can.”
Johnson spoke with The Undefeated about how the shooting has affected him, why this incident isn’t about a black man running down the street and what needs to change to prevent an Arbery-like killing from happening again.
What were your first thoughts upon hearing what happened to Ahmaud Arbery?
Just like with anything else these days, I tend to always sort of look for more information before I make any judgment to make sure that I understand what’s really going on. So my initial reaction was, ‘Is this real?’ After doing a bit more research and reading other articles I found that, yeah, this is real. And my initial reaction after confirming that this situation is factual — it’s just mind-boggling that two months had passed by and no one has been arrested given the circumstances of this case.
Of all the circumstances — him being gunned down, two months for it to become national news, taking that long until a video comes out for charges and arrests to be made — what would you say was the most frustrating thing with the entire situation?
To sort of pull back from there, the most frustrating thing for me is that we have gotten to a point as a country where people would even think that would be acceptable, that this may be able to just slide by
or that there could be any possible reason to not arrest these two men who have murdered Ahmaud Arbery, and do a proper investigation of this situation and have a proper trial and take this through the judicial system. That, to me, just screams of this sort of sentiment that black men’s lives are not valued and that these two men who murdered him could get away with this.
Was it surprising that this can still be happening?
No, it’s not anymore, and that’s where the frustration comes from, that it’s not surprising. And it should be, it should be shocking. We shouldn’t be throwing up our hands thinking, ‘Here we go again,’ you know? And that’s what’s most concerning as well for me, that this is becoming so common that racist people feel that they can just take a black man’s life and that there may not be any consequences.
What does it say about the criminal justice system that it takes a video for people to take it seriously?
I think what that says is more about the sentiment around the country at this point, that racists have been emboldened. They feel that they can do these sorts of things, take this sort of action, call the police on black people when they’re just living their lives. They can say whatever they want without consequence. This emboldening of racist people feeling much more comfortable now expressing their racist feelings and expressing that, whether it be in feelings or with action, is what’s most concerning for me. And we’ve seen that now for a few years.
Where do you think that emboldening comes from?
I think it comes from our political situation. It comes from our president not speaking out against this type of behavior. A lot of this is born out of the severe polarization that we see in this country from a political and social standpoint. And then when you have a president who, in some cases, is even an apologist for racist behavior and what we saw in the situation in Charlottesville: ‘There are good people on both sides.’ And when you have racist people and racist chants at some of his rallies. When you have the president of the United States not condemning those things, and in some cases even apologizing … that certainly emboldens those who maybe previously felt that they were in the severe minority and that it would not be acceptable for them to express those sorts of feelings.
Whether for athletes or not, why is going for a jog such an important activity for people to engage in on a daily basis?
Look, let’s not make this about running, because this is not about running. This is about black people being able to live their lives without fear of consequence that someone is going to make a set of assumptions about them and call the police on them, or in this case, take action into their own hands by making an assumption that they’re a criminal. That is ridiculous, whether you’re going out for a run or whether you’re going out to go to the grocery store or fill in the blank with anything that is living your life while being black.
Did you ever worry about how people would perceive a tall, built African American man running down the street?
I’ve been fortunate to live in communities where people don’t believe that they can take the law into their own hands, and you don’t have these ridiculous laws where people can kill another person and say, ‘I was standing my ground because I felt threatened.’ I’ve been in California, we don’t really have that. So I think that my experience is very different. But I am certainly aware that there are many people who live in communities where their experience is much different than mine.
But that’s not to say as well, though, that even where I live, that I haven’t been conscious of the fact that, as I said, over the last few years, the racist sentiment has been elevated and those racists, wherever they may be, feel much more comfortable taking whatever action they may feel they want to against a black person without consequence.
Have you ever had a racial profiling incident where you were accused or approached by someone because they thought you were doing something you weren’t supposed to?
I’ve had people come up to me when I’m just walking my dog and tell me that I’m not supposed to be walking my dog here, as if I’m playing with my dog in this area. The issue in that particular case was I felt that they felt because this person is black I can talk to them any sort of way, and that has absolutely happened to me.
What’s going through your head when that happens? Do you want to react or do you want to defuse the situation?
I want to educate. I think the best way to educate people is to make sure that they understand that I’m not going to allow you to speak to me in that way. I’m not going to elevate the situation, but at the same time, I’m going to educate you that you do not have that sort of authority that you feel for some reason you have over me because of the differences in the colors of our skin.
Growing up in the ’70s, what type of lessons did you impart about what it’s going to be like for you growing up as a black man?
It was very interesting for me growing up in the ’70s and in Dallas, and growing up in a neighborhood that was pretty well-integrated. It was a really rich experience. There were black families, there were white families, and we all got along. I just didn’t experience any sort of racism. And I think my parents did a good job of preparing us for a future where we were going to be experiencing interaction with people of all different cultures. Mutual respect was important, but also making sure that you were respected and making sure that you carried yourself in a way where you commanded respect.
You have a son, Sebastian. Did you ever give him the talk about growing up as a black man in America?
Yes, after the Trayvon Martin situation. I had to explain to him then, and he was in his early teens at that point. But knowing then when we started having all of these situations with police, I had to explain to him that if you are approached, you’re held to a different standard, and in order to make sure that you get home alive, should something happen, the responsibility is on you to make sure that you don’t escalate any situations. I had to tell my son, ‘Regardless of how you’re being treated, you have to be the one with the calm head and you have to just obey until I can get there or your mother can get there and we can take care of the situation.’
What was it like to have a life-and-death talk with someone so young?
For me, personally, it was sort of disappointing that we live in a situation here in this country where I’m having to have a conversation with my son and basically telling him that he has to stand down, and if he’s being disrespected, that he needs to just take that because his life could be taken, and it’s all because of the color of his skin.
What do white people need to do to prevent someone of their race from doing this again?
More people, regardless of what color you are, need to join in to drown out the voices of the racists and to make sure that people understand that those who are inclined to be racist and exhibit racist behavior understand that you are in the minority. And the overwhelming majority of us, of any color, find your behavior unacceptable. And I believe that for many years, for decades, we were winning that battle. That’s not to say that there weren’t racists, because there absolutely have always been racists, but I believe that in the last few years, the racist voices have started to rise and become much more prominent because they feel much more comfortable that they are accepted, and that their behavior and their perspectives are much more acceptable now than they were.
The kicker could be telling the truth, but there’s only one way to find out. And that’s not by taking his word for it.
By Bomani Jones
The sleuths of the internet noticed a tattoo on the forearm of Justin Rohrwasser, the New England Patriots’ fifth-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft. What started as chuckles about the novelty of an inked-up place-kicker led to the revelation that Rohrwasser chose to indelibly put the logo of the Three Percenters, a far-right militia group, on his body. On draft day, Rohrwasser told reporters he thought the tattoo was a show of military support and he has since learned better.
When did he learn better? That day.
Rohrwasser told Steve Burton of WBZ-TV in Boston that he got the tattoo when he was 18, and the mark created no problems while he was at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. Toward the end of the interview, his voice shook as he expressed remorse for getting a tattoo he thought supported the armed forces. He also said he will have the tattoo removed.
For the sake of argument, let’s say Rohrwasser was telling the truth. Rather than getting a tattoo of a bald eagle or Uncle Sam, he accidentally and ironically chose a symbol that represents a group that actually opposes the actions of the federal government and, somehow, not one person who noticed the tattoo told him its true meaning. He put on his body something he could barely explain.
Even if all that’s true, it’s damning to multiple parties that it took until Monday for anyone to directly ask Rohrwasser follow-up questions. His explanation on April 25 invited more scrutiny than it provided clarity, but no one with the job of asking him questions posed any in response to his initial answer.
Meanwhile, we’re still waiting on someone to ask Patriots coach Bill Belichick any of the following questions: Do the Patriots, like some other teams in pro sports, vet the tattoos of the players they consider selecting? If so, was Rohrwasser one of those players? If not, were you made aware of his tattoo of the symbol of a militia? Had you known this, if you didn’t know, would the Patriots have selected him? Now that you know — and the public knows — do you plan to sign him? Or will owner Bob Kraft cut ties with him as he did Christian Peter, who was drafted in 1996 by the Pats despite multiple violent incidents involving women, but wasn’t signed after women’s groups objected to his selection?
And, if someone wanted to go a little further, he or she could ask why, if Rohrwasser’s tattoo wasn’t disqualifying, a team with a hole on the depth chart at quarterback 1 hasn’t called Colin Kaepernick.
These questions would be responsible, delicate and fair. They are also necessary.
So why are they so hard to ask?
For decades, NFL teams have been famous for thoroughly vetting potential draftees and monitoring current players. Combine interviews often sound like interrogations, as team executives poke and prod players, asking uncomfortable — and often unnecessary — questions because they leave no stone unturned. Players’ affiliations, familial and otherwise, are closely scrutinized. In 2008, the NFL went so far as to hire experts to monitor whether players were using gang signs in games.
There’s a chance, had anyone asked someone in law enforcement about the Three Percenters, there would have been a long conversation. The group was formed in 2008, ostensibly out of a fear that Barack Obama’s election would lead to government overreach. Though its national council said the group does not associate with racism, there was security provided at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. While many law enforcement officers are Three Percenters, police departments in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, have disciplined officers for affiliation with the militia.
If a cop would have to answer for getting the Three Percenters logo tattooed on himself, it’s awfully generous to let Rohrwasser brush it away with an answer that didn’t add up.
That tattoo seems to say a lot more than someone’s tweets and likes. One could argue tweets are flippant, but that would be a harder sell if one had to get needled to send them. Accidentally or otherwise, Rohrwasser made a permanent statement of allegiance to a problematic organization, and that statement was apparently made past the threshold of adulthood. It could not be treated casually.
Rohrwasser is chalking this up to ignorance, an excuse one can’t grant as easily to Belichick. So how did Belichick, or anyone else, miss this one? Is Rohrwasser not the kind of guy they think they need to look into as such, both because he’s white and … well, he’s a kicker?
Or is it because, in a country where the president saw “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville, it’s been collectively decided that groups like the Three Percenters should be protected?
When armed Three Percenters showed up at armed forces recruiting centers across America in 2015 — ostensibly to protect unarmed recruiters after a shooting at a center in Tennessee — the Army told recruiters to treat them as a threat, but also to be “polite” and “professional” if engaged in conversation. This is sage advice for outgunned recruiters, but the thought of armed civilians being treated with honey instead of vinegar or gunpowder is impossible to relate to.
Perhaps that explains why those tattoos were treated as unimportant, maybe even how Rohrwasser could have the tattoo for years and never get a double take. Or maybe it’s just because groups like the Three Percenters don’t offend enough white people.
For all the ways the media got it wrong with Kaepernick, they at least treated his protest like it was important. There was no shortage of questions headed his way (though he’s answered none since 2016). But he was making the most daring public statement an athlete can make, the one so many explicitly avoid — black people, in this country, are the victims of racism and deserve better. Kaepernick’s pro-black words and aesthetics were polarizing and offensive to much of the public. “Wokeness” and support for Kaepernick didn’t fuel that story. The anger directed toward Kaepernick was that flame’s oxygen. The story thrived nationally because it struck a chord with white people, just like pretty much every other big story.
If the backlash had to do with respect for the law, Rohrwasser’s tattoo would be a hotter topic. Despite there reportedly being hundreds of law enforcement officers who are Three Percenters, they are no more respectful of the police than Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s protests center on stopping police officers from doing illegal things and getting away with them. The Three Percenters demand that their members not enforce laws out of step with their agenda (this applies to police officers and servicemen).
Writers know a controversial topic when they see one. Ignoring this one might be saying the quiet part quietly, but loud enough to hear — an express willingness to take up arms against the United States government, and refusing to enforce laws one has sworn to uphold, is less controversial than asking those whose job is to protect black people to not kill them without good reason.
Treating Rohrwasser delicately and sparing Belichick completely is saying none of this is a big deal. It doesn’t matter that, had no one noticed a picture on the internet, Rohrwasser would have been a walking advertisement for a militia whenever he was on camera. It doesn’t matter that legendary NFL investigators somehow missed something so glaring. It doesn’t matter that this would fly in the face of the idea that a kicker isn’t worth controversy.
And it doesn’t matter that someone hasn’t been able to play in three seasons because he, supposedly, disrespected America, but Rohrwasser can shrug off what looks like an affiliation with an anti-government group.
When something like this comes up, the questions can’t just be to check something off a to-do list. The reason to ask the first question is the reason to ask more, to gain clarity on something that much of the public found jarring. If Kaepernick’s T-shirt with Fidel Castro on it was worth a few questions, so is Rohrwasser’s tattoo.
But guys like Rohrwasser rarely have to answer for themselves. And when they do, they get patted on the back like Burton, a black reporter, did by telling his audience he didn’t think Rohrwasser was a racist and telling viewers to “give the kid a chance.”
Men like Belichick don’t have to answer for anyone else. Sports media rarely has to answer for its inconsistency and negligence on these topics. Rohrwasser gets a tattoo to make a statement, and the people who notice are treated as the problem.
Hey, this really could be the misunderstanding Rohrwasser said it is, but there’s only one way to find out. And that’s not by taking his word for it, the easiest act that too many have been willing to do.
The six-time Super Bowl champion has a choice that his black teammates over the years haven’t been afforded
By Martenzie Johnson
On Wednesday morning, new Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, calling in from the rented mansion of former Major League Baseball player Derek Jeter, sat for a wide-ranging interviewwith shock jock Howard Stern. The pair spoke for two hours about Brady’s reasoning for leaving his former team, the New England Patriots, his relationship with former head coach Bill Belichick and the strain his job put on his marriage to former model Gisele Bündchen.
But early in the interview, when Brady was discussing how he managed dealing with and trusting unmotivated and apathetic teammates, Stern asked if he ever felt “guilty” or “self-consciousness” about having to be a cantankerous leader of a majority-black roster while being a white man.
Brady, clearly caught off guard by the question, responded, “Never. I never saw race. I think sports transcends race, it transcends wealth, it transcends all that. You get to know and appreciate what someone else may bring. When you’re in a locker room with 50 guys, you don’t think about race … because you’re all the same at that point.
“White, black, whatever it is, you figure out how to get along.”
Whatever one might think about Brady’s idea of racial harmony, based on his comments, it’s clear he possesses a privilege unique to a successful, famous white man. The six-time Super Bowl champion, who has made more than $200 million in his career (not including the $50 million contract he recently signed with the Buccaneers), can choose to not see race, something his black teammates over the last 20 years haven’t been afforded.
Race is everywhere in America. To choose to not see it might sound praiseworthy. But it is also a conscious decision to ignore the unpleasantness of racism and discrimination, not to mention acknowledge each other’s different backgrounds.
Colorblindness erases the experiences of the hundreds of black teammates Brady’s had over the years. Saying you “don’t see color” is a signal to society that 1) you’re a different white person from those slavery-era or Jim Crow white people, and 2) you couldn’t be racist because you don’t even think about it. But former teammates of Brady’s, such as James White, Mohamed Sanu and Devin McCourty, can’t wave a wand and suddenly have 400 years of African American history vanish because it helps their white co-workers sleep better at night.
Nearly every black player or coach whom Brady has come across since being selected 199th overall in the 2000 draft has experienced or knows someone who has experienced police violence, environmental racism, disenfranchisement, redlining, prison sentencing disparity or prejudice in the workplace. Former Patriot Jacoby Brissett, in 2016, became the first African American to start at quarterback for New England. Did Brissett look like Brian Hoyer to Brady?
Race, not colorblindness, is the story of the NFL. The conference Brady used to play in, the AFC, was once the American Football League. In the first half of the 20th century, the NFL had gentleman’s agreements and racial quotas that forbade or limited the number of African Americans in the league. The AFL had no such reservations and thus could choose from the best black athletes in the country. The NFL eventually merged with the AFL.
An example of Brady publicly acknowledging social issues revolves around the treatment of Colin Kaepernick and the protests of fellow NFL players. Brady called Kaepernick a “damn good quarterback” who is “qualified” to play in the league, and said he’s always admired the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback. He also told Boston radio station WEEI that he has “no idea if [Kaepernick’s] being blackballed” by the league.
In a 2018 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Brady said he respected players kneeling during the national anthem because the actions prompted “a lot of good, healthy conversations” in the Patriots’ locker room. It is helpful to have those conversations if you see race.
Brady’s privilege isn’t restricted to just skin color. In the Stern interview, Brady also expounded on his decadeslong friendship with President Donald Trump. Brady told Stern that he continues to be friends with Trump, whom he has known since 2001 and whose Make America Great Again campaign cap Brady displayed in his locker in 2015, because “political support is totally different than the support of a friend.”
White privilege allows Brady to only see Trump as a friend, not a politician, even while many African Americans in this country see Trump as the man who called African nations “s—hole countries,” claimed that the first black president was born in Kenya and advocated for the death penalty for the now-exonerated Central Park Five. A collection of Brady’s black teammates skipped the post-Super Bowl White House visit in 2017 due to Trump’s presence. Running back LeGarrette Blount didn’t attend, he said, because “I just don’t feel welcome in that house.” (Brady also didn’t attend for family reasons.) Five months later, Trump called black NFL players “son[s] of a bitch” for kneeling for the national anthem in protest of police violence and racial inequality. Brady called Trump’s comments “divisive.”
Some white people avoid talking about or refuse to see race because it makes them uncomfortable or it might force them to atone for the sins of their ancestors. Researchers at the University of Kansas, University of Wyoming and University of Washington call the tactic “color-evasiveness” rather than “colorblindness” because those purveyors are choosing to not see race rather than being unable to see race.
All eyes are on Tampa Bay’s new quarterback, and its diverse coaching staff.
By Domonique Foxworth
Bruce Arians is the reason black folks should root for Tom Brady, who officially signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday.
Maybe you can’t stand the idea of Brady hoisting the Lombardi trophy for the seventh time in February. But that would be a small price to pay if it means Tampa Bay’s coach also gets the title of Super Bowl champion head coach.
Like Andy Reid, who finally won his first Super Bowl title as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs last season, Arians is a beloved coach leaguewide. Arians, 67, is known for his Kangol hats and aggressive offensive style characterized by his slogan “no risk it, no biscuit.” But that’s not the reason I am an Arians fan.
I love that he has been deliberate about addressing the lack of diversity in coaching.
Arians’ Tampa Bay staff has 11 black coaches and two female coaches. The coordinators of all three phases of the game are black: Keith Armstrong (special teams), Todd Bowles (defense) and Byron Leftwich (offense). Harold Goodwin, the run-game coordinator and assistant head coach, is also black.
“I think it’s good for the game,” Arians told NFL.com in September. “I just saw the inequality in it and tried to do something about it.”
The women on his staff, Lori Locust, the assistant defensive line coach, and Maral Javadifar, assistant strength and conditioning coach, aren’t the first women Arians has hired. Back in 2015, when Arians was the Arizona Cardinals head coach, he hired Jen Welter as an assistant coaching intern for training camp, making her the NFL’s first female coach.
Arians, who has been passed over for head coaching opportunities that he thought he deserved, knows biases play a role in the hiring process.
“I guess that’s part of it too,” he said, “to give people of quality opportunity. Regardless of gender or race.”
Arians grew up in York, Pennsylvania, where his closest friends were black and race relations were anything but harmonious. He went on to play quarterback at Virginia Tech in the 1970s and became the first white player to have a black roommate. (That roommate was James Barber, father of Tiki and Ronde Barber.) Running the wishbone offense as a senior, Arians ran for 11 touchdowns, a school record until 2016.
He has gone on to a successful NFL coaching career during which he has been named AP coach of the year twice and won two Super Bowls as an assistant. He is considered a “quarterback whisperer” because of the success he’s had with big names, including Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck, to name a few.
Now all eyes will be on Arians and Brady.
Leftwich, another former quarterback for Arians, is in a particularly important role, seeing as he is the offensive coordinator and playcaller. Arians has been an offensive playcaller for most of his long career, but decided to hand the responsibility over to Leftwich last season (1) because Leftwich is qualified and (2) to remove any excuses for Leftwich’s potential employers. Arians hired Leftwich into the position that most commonly leads to a head coaching job in the NFL and is rarely held by black coaches.
This season, Arians will trust him with the greatest of all time.
The success Arians and the Buccaneers could have with Brady won’t solve the issues of diversity on NFL coaching staffs. But it would shine a little light on one of the most diverse staffs in football. It would also give us all the opportunity to celebrate Bruce Arians, the social justice warrior.
‘It’s not like wearing Kobes makes this feel any better.’
BY AARON DODSON
Washington – In their first home game after Kobe Bryant’s untuned you death, the Washington Wizards won the opening tip against the Charlotte Hornets, and the basketball found its way into the hands of Isaiah Thomas.
Instead of advancing past half court, Thomas dribbled in place for eight seconds before his team was sanctioned for an intentional eight-second violation. Following the turnover, the Hornets inbounded the ball and dribbled out their own intentional 24-second shot clock violation, as the crowd at Capital One Arena chanted — “KO-BE! KO-BE! KO-BE!” — all while Thomas stood by himself, staring down at his sneakers. On his feet were a pair of “Finals MVP” Nike Zoom Kobe 4s — the same pair Bryant wore the night he and the Los Angeles Lakers claimed an NBA title in 2009.
Thomas wore them four days after the 41-year-old NBA legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed, along with seven others, in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The night of the Hornets game, Thomas arrived at the arena rocking a yellow throwback No. 8 Bryant Lakers jersey. And during pregame, he stumbled across the decade-plus-old pair of Kobe 4s, tucked in the bottom left cubby of his locker. He decided to lace them up in honor of his longtime hero and mentor.
“It was only right,” Thomas told The Undefeated. “I hadn’t seen anybody wear these this season, so I had to pull them out. But it’s not like wearing Kobes makes this feel any better.”
Bryant is the first player in NBA history with a signature sneaker to die. His legacy in basketball footwear is undeniable. He repped two major brands, Adidas and Nike, while receiving 22 different signatures and more than 20 team models bearing his name and logo. Since Bryant’s sudden death nearly a month ago, players across the NBA have mourned him through their sneakers. From breaking out exclusive shoes from Bryant’s storied signature line to scribbling personal messages on pairs and even abandoning brand loyalty, the tributes to one of the most important figures in sneaker history haven’t stopped.
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Perhaps most notably, for the first time since he entered the NBA in 2003, Lakers star LeBron James played a game in another player’s signature shoe — Kobes.
“It really speaks to how much our players admire him,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said. “For many of the young players today, Kobe was the NBA. They all admire him. Sneaker culture is so prevalent now in the NBA and the world that it’s so appropriate for them to honor him in this way. I know Kobe loved sneakers, and the fact that our players are rallying around sneakers as one way to show their love and admiration for Kobe is amazing.”
On Jan. 26, in the hours after news of the helicopter crash surfaced, more than 40 players across eight NBA games took the court wearing pairs of Bryant’s sneakers.
The first game on the schedule, a matchup between the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets, tipped off less than 40 minutes after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirmedthe death of Bryant, the retired 20-year NBA veteran. Seven players on the rosters of the Rockets and Nuggets laced up Kobes for the game: Denver’s Torrey Craig wore the “Galaxy” Nike Zoom Kobe 7s, which Bryant donned in the 2012 NBA All-Star Game. P.J. Tucker wore a pair of player exclusive (PE) Nike Zoom Kobe 7s, made for the basketball team at Los Angeles’ Westchester High School. Tucker, the NBA’s unrivaled sneaker king who wears multiple pairs of sneakers in any given game, typically ends games playing in Kobes. That afternoon, he pulled the Westchester PEs out of the 16-pair duffel bag he takes with him on Houston’s road trips.
“RIP KB,” Tucker wrote with a Sharpie inside the swoosh of each shoe. He also wrote “THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER” and “LOVE YOU KB24” on each midsole. The permanent ink on Tucker’s rare Weschester PEs will forever remind him of the day he, and the world, lost Bryant.
That same afternoon, San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, a native of Compton, California, who has idolized Bryant since high school, when they first met, received a message as he arrived at AT&T Center to face the Toronto Raptors in the second NBA game of the day.
“I probably took like five steps away from my car and my cousin texted me asking me, ‘Is this real?’ ” DeRozan recalled. “He was like, ‘This Kobe thing … ’ I paused for a minute. Just like everybody, I didn’t wanna believe it. I think I was the only one who knew at that moment. I sat on the floor and tried to process it from there. We played an hour and a half after that. Everybody was asking what was wrong, and if I was OK. Once it hit everywhere, you could just feel the whole energy sucked out of everybody.” DeRozan last spoke to Bryant in December. “My daughter is getting older now and she loves basketball,” he said. “We were talking about getting her into the Mamba Academy.”
In a 110-106 Spurs loss, DeRozan scored just 14 points while wearing the “Big Stage/Parade” Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Protros, which were scheduled to drop on Feb. 7. Following Bryant’s death, Nike postponed the release. “It was, by far,” DeRozan said, “the hardest game I ever had to play in my life.”
DeRozan represents a small collective of NBA players that includes Thomas and Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker, who exclusively rock Bryant’s Nikes on the basketball court. He’s worn Kobes since day one — Oct. 28, 2009, when DeRozan played his first NBA regular-season game in a pair of black and white Kobe 4s. The four-time All-Star has laced up Kobes in all 805 games of his NBA career with one exception. On Feb. 12, 2012, Bryant traveled with the Lakers to Toronto for a matchup against his protege and the Raptors. That afternoon, DeRozan tried to get into his opponent’s head by ditching his usual Kobes for a pair of Air Jordan 10s. Undoubtedly, the Black Mamba noticed.
“It’s a thing early on in your career that you don’t ever wear the shoe of a player you’re going against,” DeRozan said. “I remember I wore some Jordans and as soon as Kobe walked on the court, he was mad as s— at me. He was like, ‘What the hell is going on!?!’ We laughed about it and I didn’t do it again. Ever since then, I’ve stuck with Kobes.” In 2017, a year after Bryant retired from the NBA, Nike released the Kobe A.D. DeRozan PE, inspired by one of the shooting guard’s earliest, and fondest, memories watching his idol play for the Lakers while growing up in Los Angeles. Two more of DeRozan’s Kobe PEs, a red limited edition Zoom Kobe 1 Protro, and a blue Olympic-themed Kobe A.D., dropped at retail in 2018.
“It’s always meant so much to me to be able to wear his shoes just because of our relationship and how he handpicked me to wear them,” DeRozan said. “I’ve always worn his shoe proudly, and continued to have his shoe live on. That was always my plan, even before his whole thing — to honor him and everything he stood for.”
Booker, along with Thomas and DeRozan, also played the night Bryant died — wearing Kobes, of course. The Suns shooting guard scored 36 points, fittingly on 24 shots, in a pair of all-purple Kobe 4 PEs, on which he penned in quotes a phrase Bryant once proclaimed to him: “Be Legendary.” After wearing a pair of Kobe 4 PEs in Wizards team colors against the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 26, Thomas turned to PEs from his brief stint with the Nuggets during the 2018-19 season. Coincidentally, the yellow, navy and red Kobe 4s are the same shoes Thomas took the court in after his close friend, West Coast rapper Nipsey Hussle, was shot and killed in March 2019. “RiP Nip RiP Kobe,” Thomas wrote on the side panel of the right shoe’s heel, while adding a line from Hussle’s 2018 track, “Victory Lap” — “I say it’s worth it, I won’t say it’s fair.”
When the Wizards returned to Washington to play the Hornets on Jan. 30, Thomas inked messages calling out the late Hussle and Bryant on his “Finals MVP” Kobe 4s, and added another line — “I Love You Chyna!!” — to honor his late sister.
On April 15, 2017, Chyna Thomas was killed in a one-car accident in the family’s home state of Washington at the age of 22. The following night, Thomas, then playing for the Boston Celtics, opened the 2017 NBA playoffs wearing a pair of green, gold and black Nike Kobe A.D. PEs.
“Kobe was one of the first people to reach out after my sister passed. He helped me through it for a while. It wasn’t just that day,” Thomas said. Two-and-a-half weeks later, Thomas broke out the green Kobe A.D. PEs again, and scored a career-high 53 points in a game that fell on the day Chyna would’ve turned 23. “I still have that pair, because that was my sister’s birthday,” Thomas said. “It was one of the biggest games that I ever played. One of the biggest games in playoff history … a special night for me in Kobes.”
Thomas is now an NBA free agent after being traded by the Wizards on Feb. 6 and waived by the Los Angeles Clippers. He played his final game in Washington on Feb. 3 wearing the “Prelude” Kobe 4.
“I’ve been Team Kobe my whole life … ,” Thomas said. “I will always wear Kobes and pay homage to, in my opinion, the greatest player to ever play.”
It wasn’t until five days after the tragedy that the Lakers took the court for the first time. On Jan. 31, during a game against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers, nearly every player and coach on the hardwood at Staples Center that night had on a pair of shoes that the late Lakers legend made timeless.
“I just wanted to find some special Kobes to wear,” Lakers shooting guard Troy Daniels told The Undefeated. “I had a pair that I made three or four years ago through Nike I.D. but had never actually worn them. I figured it would be a good time to wear them.”
That night marked James’ first time playing an NBA game in another player’s shoe. James, who’s received a signature sneaker every basketball season for 17 years, laced up a pair of Nike Zoom Kobe 1 Protros — a performance retro model of the shoe Bryant wore while dropping 81 points at Staples Center on Jan. 22, 2006.
“To see that is beyond crazy,” DeRozan said. “It shows the relationship between Kobe and ’Bron, who looked up to Kobe even before he got in the league. It shows the amount of respect that Kobe had amongst his peers and amongst the greats. I don’t know the last time we saw ’Bron in some shoes other than his. So for ’Bron to throw on them shoes — that says a lot.”
On his pair of Kobe 1s, James wrote “Rest in Paradise KB + GG” and “#Mamba4Life.” During the game, he also wore a pair of the “Big Stage/Parade” Nike Zoom Kobe 5s.
“LeBron actually practiced in them a couple times,” Daniels said. “But I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He never wears low-cut shoes. For him to put those on, it was powerful.”
Sneaker salutes continued across the NBA in the week following James’ unprecedented moment. At Staples Center on Feb. 6, Houston Rockets star James Harden, a native of Los Angeles, broke out a pair of white, yellow and purple Reebok Question PEs, which Bryant wore during his sneaker free agency during the 2002-03 NBA season before signing with Nike. Harden had the freedom to wear a pair of the Questions as a signature athlete for Adidas, which has owned Reebok since 2005.
On Feb. 8, Brooklyn Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie released a special edition pair of the K8IROS Mark II, his personally designed signature basketball sneaker. Dinwiddie — who changed his jersey number from Bryant’s famed No. 8 to No. 26 — pledged 100% of the proceeds from sales of the shoes in the first nine days following their release to the MambaOnThree fund in support of the loved ones of the seven other victims involved in the helicopter tragedy.
“While I continue to mourn this tremendous loss alongside the millions he impacted globally, I wanted to do my part to honor him in my own unique way,” Dinwiddie wrote in an insert included in the promotional packaging of the K8IROS Mark II. “As a native son of L.A. who grew up idolizing Kobe, I have learned many lessons from him, both on and off the court. One of those is his entrepreneurial drive, which inspired me to create my own shoe.”
“One of the top sneakers to ever be played in,” Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant said of Bryant’s signature line at media availability before the Rising Stars Challenge during 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago. “I’m a big fan of them. I got a lot.”
In a 114-109 Grizzlies win over the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 26, Morant wore the “Chaos” Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Protros — the last pair of Kobes Nike released before Bryant’s death. Morant hasn’t worn Kobes since.
“I just don’t want to wear them no more now,” said Morant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft who’s in the conversation to become Nike Basketball’s next signature athlete.
“Man, to be honest,” New Orleans Pelicans rookie, and Jordan Brand athlete, Zion Williamson told The Undefeated at All-Star Weekend. The question: What is Kobe Bryant’s legacy when it comes to basketball sneakers? “It’s up there with Jordan’s. Especially in this generation, because he was this generation’s Michael Jordan. If you look … a lot of players wear Kobes when they’re playing basketball. His impact on the shoe game was incredible.”
Throughout All-Star Weekend, Bryant’s sneakers surfaced on the feet of multiple players, dominated by pairs of the unreleased “Big Stage/Parade” Kobe 5s, worn by Bam Adebayo, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Joe Harris, Buddy Hield, Khris Middleton, Josh Okogie, Duncan Robinson and Domantas Sabonis. For the All-Star Game, Adebayo unveiled a custom-painted pair of Nike Kobe A.D.s, while Lakers big man Anthony Davis hit the free throw that gave Team LeBron a 157-155 win over Team Giannis while wearing a purple and yellow pair of Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Protros.
“I always wore high-tops and mids, honestly,” Davis told The Undefeated in an interview five days before Bryant died. “Then maybe two years ago, I was trying different shoes, put the Kobes on, and I just felt like I was faster. I jumped higher. I shot better. I just felt like Kobe. So I stuck with them … I love Kobes.”
At the All-Star Game, Lakers assistant coach Phil Handycollaborated with Brand Aces on a custom-designed pair of “Chaos” Kobe 5s. The sight of the pair, which feature “KOBE” on one shoe and “GIGI” on the other, brought tears to Handy’s eyes when he unboxed them for the first time.
“As someone who actually had a chance to get to know Kobe a little bit and understand what he was about,” Handy said, “it’s an honor to have a shoe like this to represent him, his family and everything he stood for. That’s what this means to me.”
Bryant meant everything to basketball — and, as a result, sneakers. The tributes will keep coming and extend far beyond the shock of his death because Bryant’s legacy in footwear is truly everlasting.
“I’ll never play in another player’s shoes as long as I’m in the league from now on,” DeRozan said. “That’s how much I love Kobe’s shoes.”