23 | 11s | Me: Like Mike, Just Not on the Court
Back in 1997 I was 12 and a lanky, baby-faced eighth grader, standing 5’10.” Each day, I’d race home after school, scramble to get my homework done then hop on my bike to cycle to a basketball court.
On the court I’d show off moves I’d gained confidence in through hours spent practicing in my driveway, most of them bootleg renditions of what I’d seen Michael Jordan do time and time again on television. Jab steps. Pump fakes. Reverse lay-ups.
If my neighborhood friend Leo was playing on the opposing team and not guarding me, he'd yell what he thought I’d do out to the dude who was: “Watch out for his fadeaway!”
I’d post up about 8-10 feet from the basket, damn-near sitting on my defender with my arm extended for my boy Shyaka to feed me. I watched endless VHS footage of MJ, so I’d fake right before spinning left, shoot, and that ball would make the chained nets jingle when it went through. Easy.
I drooled over MJ’s moves and his shoes, fiending over every pair of the Air Jordans that’d hit the streets annually.
And when Brand Jordan dropped the XI commercial with MJ leaping maybe five stories high to dunk on an obnoxiously tall rim, I wished for the sleek sneaks that rocketed him up there, too.
But I had no business wearing $125 sneakers in the mid-‘90s. Nor could my parents have afforded them if I acquired the nerve to ask.
When you’re a kid, you’re still gullible enough to believe that sneakers will make you jump as high as the athlete endorsing them. Like when Spike Lee wished for Genie Little Richie to make him become Michael Jordan in a pair of Air Jordan VIs.
*Record scratch.* Unfortunately, reality bites.
If it wasn’t obvious from me telling you about fond memories from—of all windows in my life—middle school, my journey as a true hooper was short. I had a middling high school career that ended after senior year when no D-1 colleges recruited me. My childhood dream was over.
The good thing about my high school experience, however, was that I did discover a new interest that would last me a lifetime: Storytelling.
In high school homeroom, I’d eat a junk breakfast and read Mr. Haversack’s Washington Post. Mostly the sports pages. I fell in love with Michael Wilbon’s witty columns and takes on basketball. He inspired me to choose print journalism as my major when I enrolled at Howard University. When I graduated, I chose entertainment journalism–specifically music–to be my focus.
When I got my first job at Vibe Magazine I’d spend mad time in the lab sitting beside the Music Editor, getting better. I’ll never forget him transforming the intro paragraph about a truck speeding towards the subject of my first big feature, rapper Wale, into something awesome by taking my simple verb and swapping it for “careening.”
Entertainment Weekly editors helped punch up my album reviews, teaching me to make my writing tighter. Editor-at-Large Rob Kenner’s tips carried my Lana Del Rey cover story at Complex to a special place.
Throughout those years, I gained so much wisdom from countless writers and editors. Some were veterans who literally sat down beside me to help, others were word wizards who assisted me by producing amazing profiles that I consumed in the same studied manner I peeped Michael Jordan’s Come Fly With Me and Air Time movies in my parents’ basement.
By the time I became Features Editor at Billboard, I had racked up some great stories. Unlike in sports, there aren’t many championship moments. But my tenure at Billboard was when I felt like I had finally arrived. At Billboard I covered Kanye, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Rick Ross, Pharrell, James Blake, Lady Gaga, Beyonce… It seemed like whatever I spoke up about at our weekly meetings turned into something unique, fun, and worthwhile on our site or in the magazine’s pages. I was on fire.
One Friday after a meeting in summer 2014, our Billboard Editor-in-Chief Tony Gervino stopped by my desk and asked me to come to his office. I meandered in, my chest tightening, my heart beating a mile a minute.
“You wear a 13, right?” he asked. Correct. He reached under his desk and handed a box over to me. “Thanks for always speaking up in the meetings." I cracked the box open...
The white from the Concord XIs inside had an angel aura glowing around it. Those shitty fluorescent tube lights we had hummed on the patent leather and made the toe box glisten as well.
There I was in my Editor-in-Chief’s office, six years after beginning of my career, 12 years after my hoops dreams died, and 19 after I first peeped MJ debut the XIs.
As I looked down on those sneakers, designed and endorsed by a man whose name is synonymous with excellence, it dawned on me: it wasn’t an NBA championship trophy that I had been chasing after all. It was that Jordan-like mental state where my skills, talent, and hard work all clicked inside me like some marvelous triangle of dopeness.
Donning an NBA jersey might not be in the cards for most of us, but the awesome thing is that you can dunk and swish in all walks of life. Once you find your calling, it’s game time. Get after it and the trophies will come.
I made a pretty elaborate chain of Instagram Stories that partners with this pieces. Gifs, vids, art, music... The whole kit and caboodle is now in my Highlights section. I strongly suggest you head over to my IG page to give it a look-see.