How Jody Watley Reinvented Herself

The former Shalamar frontwoman is a Grammy Award-winning pioneer in music, video, fashion, and style and set to be inducted into NMAAM this month. Today on The Carlos Watson Show, she shares her selection process and a preview of her upcoming launch signature home line of candles. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

A Long Winding Road

Carlos Watson: Jody, what have been some of the best moments in life? Was it the Shalamar time? Was it when you went out on your own? When was it? When was one of those special windows, special moments?

Jody Watley: Today

Watson: Oh, I love that. That’s exactly the right answer.

Watley: I’m very much a person of the moment. The greatest day of my life is today because I’m here. We are here today. That’s the greatest moment that we’ll ever have, is today. And sure, there are pinnacle moments and benchmark moments along the way.

I am not a nostalgic person. The only thing I’m nostalgic about really is I loved going to the park with my kids and going to games with my son and taking all his friends with their sweaty socks to tournaments all over California.

But my solo career, which is ongoing, it is really a testament. I just feel like it was God’s plan for me to be able to shine as Jody Watley. This is the 34th anniversary of my solo debut. Time flies. I’m still 34, by the way.

I don’t know how it all happened. I’ve always said through the decades that it was such a message. And I always tell this in every interview when I’m asked about it, I say, “What do I represent?” I always hope that I represent being fearless to go out and live your life with joy. And if you find yourself in a situation, no matter how it seems to the public that, oh my God, that must be everything. If it ain’t everything, have the courage to remove yourself from it, whether it’s professionally, romantically, whatever it is.

And so, that’s something that I’m very proud of, and when I do reflect upon it, I just say, “Wow.” Twenty three, I quit a group. I wasn’t happy with it.

Leaving Shalamar 

Watson: How did you end up deciding to do it? Because my guess is at 23, a lot of people were telling you, “Jody, you’re crazy. You’re going to leave Shalamar? You’re going to leave all this?”

Watley: The thing of there was no “all this”, because I was broke. There was no mansion. When you realize that you’re the cash cow for other people… Other people are benefiting. Like I said, this is not something I’m saying for the first time, but sometimes people overlook it because they love the music.

There’s somebody right now: minimum wage. I got bills to pay. I can’t quit. I hear you, Miss Jody, but I can’t quit my job. That fear will keep you in that spot, so you’ll miss the next opportunity that will pay you tenfold. And I love your show because I wanted to be able to say that. Don’t be afraid to live the life that is meant for you based upon opinions or fear, insecurity, voices, whatever it is, because you’ll never get your blessing if you live in fear. You’ll never know. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. You can always regroup. Well that didn’t work. Let me try this. But you’re not stuck in a rut. And I don’t like people being stuck in a rut.

I would not be here today as Jody Watley with my solo career if I had let in anything negative that someone said to me almost 40 years ago. So in essence, it was an easy decision

Family Matters

Watson:  Your mom and dad? What were they like?

Watley: My dad, rest in peace, was the one that said I was going to be a star.

Both my parents, my first fashion influences, because my dad was flamboyant. He was getting custom suits. He was monochrome before it was a thing, lime green head to toe, shoes included.

It wasn’t Diana Ross, who I loved, who was an early influence on me, but my mom, she’s the first woman I saw with dolman sleeves and a zebra print. They were my first influences for better, for worse, because they both had a lot of things going on and brought some great difficulty to me growing up. But also, all of those difficulties and watching them spiral out of control in many ways, it helped me be stronger.

Often, those things, when you have parents that end up with the addictive behaviors, it hits people different. Not every child recovers from that.

I have a son and a daughter and neither one were raised as show business children. I really made a point to let them be and grow into who they are and their capabilities and possibilities. And I’m just the backdrop and the launchpad of…the support system. So they’ve traveled with me and I’ve taken time off over the years to raise them.

So when people see the name Watley, they’ll always, to this day, there’s a pause, like “Watley. Like the singer Jody Watley? Do you remember her?”

Advice to Younger Self

Watson: What advice, if any, would you give her, young Jody Watley?

Watley: I would go back and tell my younger me, who still lives in me by the way, she’s still here. And I think that’s very important that as adults, we keep the essence of our youth

I started writing poetry, which turned into songwriting. I’m blessed to have that gift to be a songwriter and a storyteller. Storytelling has helped me heal from things or always keep a positive attitude, whether reading it or writing it. My most recent song, “The Healing”, is about the now. Learn the lessons of the past and let it go. Create more love, create more peace, embrace the possibilities of the now as we move into the future.

That’s the same thing I would tell my younger self. And I think that I got that embracing the possibilities and it just has to be the voice of God. I’m not religious, but I’m very spiritual.

Watson: Jody, what’s one of the hardest things that you’ve been through?

Watley: My mom, seeing her go through so much, so many different addictions and I can say it. I would never say it to hurt her or embarrass her. It’s a part of my journey, but to be the child of someone who has gone through such heavy addiction, heroin addiction, crack addiction. Alcohol addiction was the first one.

There are times that I resented her so much. A lot of my success, she missed it. She didn’t really get clean until she was almost 70.

Going through a divorce was also very difficult. It’s one of the great disappointments of my life, to not be able to make a marriage work. I never talk about it. I did a conversation the other day, and I had mixed emotions. It’ll be in my memoir, because it’s not something that you can really put in short sentences to really say the magnitude and the millions of people who’ve gone through it. In the midst of being in the spotlight, I’ve always been private about my personal life.

Meet the Black Rising Stars of Music

There was a time not too long ago when music could be divided into genres fairly neatly. Today, even seemingly polar opposite strains such as country and hip-hop are merging. And Black artists are leading this bold new world. As America celebrates Black Music Appreciation Month and as we journey to Juneteenth, meet the rising star musicians who are breaking boundaries and could soon shatter records. This Daily Dose is a song of change. 

Rap It Up

Baha Bank$: When Vivian Bolden — better known as Baha Bank$ — released “Shake Dat A$$” with Chance the Rapper last year, it was a surprise to everyone: the music industry, her friends — even her. “[Rap] was never initially the plan,” Bank$ told OZY. “My grandpa still knows nothing about it.” At the time, she was finishing her degree in biology and sustainability at Roosevelt University. Today, she’s fast emerging as the latest rap sensation, releasing “Drip” and even nabbing a spot as a performer in the upcoming Summer Smash Festival. Read More on OZY.

Akeem Ali: With his shirt wide open, a nicely picked afro and a 1,000-watt smile, you wouldn’t know the braggadocious Jackson, Mississippi, native is a newcomer with just one EP, Mack in the Day Staring Keemy Cassanova, under his belt. But you’re allowed that cheeky confidence if you’re already racking up the kind of numbers Ali is: His single “Keemy Casanova” has exploded online with nearly 2 million views. If he keeps up this momentum, you’ll be seeing much more of his ’70s-style pimpin’ persona. 

Nate Joël: The rapper has spent the past year releasing the smoothest, cleanest string of freestyles you can imagine, with accompanying videos. These are MTV production quality videos, and while they’re only racking up modest views now, the Maryland native’s approach shows signs of catching on: On Twitter, his videos have secured thousands of views and likes. Will he break big? Stay tuned.

Brittney Carter: Write, rap, shoot, upload . . . repeat. For a while, the process was Carter’s way of practicing her craft, she told me. It worked. The routine has led to hundreds of thousands of views across various platforms, a local distribution deal and shoutouts from rap royalty like Missy Elliott and members of the label TDE, which is home to stars like Kendrick Lamar. Carter’s skill comes from her spoken-word roots, and her debut album, As I Am, a full-circle culmination of both faith and persistence, is a must-listen. Read more on OZY

Bktherula: Just 18 years old, this Atlanta, Georgia, rapper’s unique style, flow and following is one to be reckoned with. In just 10 months, the Fulton County native managed to flip the success of her 2020 debut mixtape, Love Santana, into a record deal with the hit  “Tweakin’ Together,” — with 5.5 million views — leading the way. Earlier this year, she released Nirvana to similar acclaim. Born Brooklyn Rodriguez, music’s in her genes: Her mother was a vocalist and her father was in a rap group that once opened for A Tribe Called Quest. The way she’s going, other bands might be queueing up to open for her soon. 

Armani Caesar: You want a gut-punching, soul-scraping vibe? Then you want Griselda Records’ Armani Caesar. The label, known for its raw street sound, debuted Caesar’s The Liz last year with the standout single “Palm Angels.” It’s a moment Caesar’s been preparing for: She started writing rap music at the age of 8 and was putting tunes on wax by the time she was a teenager. Fitting, given that her mom was in a choir, her grandma was a huge hip-hop head and her uncle was a DJ.

The International Set  

InternationalFix

Fyah Roiall: Born Brandon Wedderburn, this up-and-coming Jamaican rapper is part of the new “grimehall” wave — an exciting fusion of trap, U.K. grime and dancehall. His debut album, Underrated was released last year and offers a glimpse of the Caribbean island’s street vibe that many of his dancehall contemporaries have struggled to capture. Rapping in his hometown patois, Roiall brings authenticity to his videos “Nobody” and “Soda.” 

Gaidaa: The 22-year-old Sudanese singer from the Netherlands is making waves on the R&B circuit with her mix of powerful ballads, acoustic instrumentation and vulnerable lyricism. The daughter of a psychiatrist and a musician, she’s never felt entirely Dutch or Sudanese. Which is fine, since her music is unique, too — though she wears her Sudanese heritage proudly. She was first discovered by Dutch-Armenian producer Full Crate after he’d heard a Kehlani cover she had recorded, which eventually led them to collaborate on her breakout track “A Storm On A Summers Day,” which has been streamed over 7 million times.

Prettyboy D-O: He’s an artist you’ll be selfishly reluctant to share — like your favorite lesser-known cafe or clothing store — just to keep the goodness to yourself. But with a talent like his, good luck. Representing part of Nigeria’s growing alté movement — an experimental form of music that’s recently taken off —  this 30-year-old’s sound blends classic R&B and dancehall with deep African rhythms. I dare you to try standing still as you listen to his track “Police n Teef.” Don’t worry, the U.S.-born artist isn’t standing still either. 

Shaybo: She’s the self-proclaimed queen of South London, and in many ways, Britain’s answer to Nicki Minaj, dominating the country’s rap scene. Born Shayon Brown, she moved from Nigeria at the age of 6 and was freestyling by the age of 13 — at which time YouTube clips of Shaybo freestyling into a camera were already drawing 20,000 views. Overnight. And that was a decade ago. Since then, her singles “Dobale” and “Anger” have helped propel her to national acclaim and she’s even worked with big acts like Jorja Smith. Stay tuned for her upcoming EP, Queen of the South featuring her new single, “No Pressure.” 

Rock of Ages 

RockFix

Mario Judah: After making beats as a teenager, the 22-year-old Atlanta rock star with distinctive red hair decided to get behind the mic himself, debuting with “Crush” in June 2020. His second release, “Die Very Rough,” went viral in October and he hasn’t slowed down since. Whether breaking into bouts of screaming rage in interviews or performing an impromptu concert on top of a car, Judah is someone to keep your eyes on.

Guitar Gabby and The TxLips Band: This rock group is as a collectiveof 15 Black female and nonbinary musicians who are looking to shake up the industry’s status quo and inspire people of color to pursue any area of music their hearts desire. Led by 30-year-old Atlanta native Guitar Gabby, the band has previously performed as the backing group for a member of hip-hop group Crime Mob, and its touring lineup is based on where Gabby is and who is available. “Whenever I have different shows, I’ll build my band based around the sound that I’m looking for,” she says. That sound could range from rock instrumentation and R&B vocals to grunge-influenced tunes. Listen to “The Dead Pool.” If you’re not a rock fan already, their inspirational music will make you one. 

Winter Wolf: In proper rock fashion, “f— everything else” was the sentiment behind this band’s inception. At the time, bassist and singer Jehiel “Jay” Winters, now 35, was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow cancer. His former band had fired him. But the Harlem native bounced back, forming a band whose name represents cold, desperate hunger. And they’ve created a sound to match: It’s raw and full of passion. While they’re mainly a thrash and punk band influenced by legends such as The Clash and Municipal Waste, Jay says they grew up singing and playing in gospel quartets. “That’s where rock comes from in the first place — the church,” he tells OZY. A very intense church, in the case of Winter Wolf. 

R&BFix

R&B, Baby

Fousheé: The world knew her voice before it saw her face. Thanks to rapper Sleepy Hallow, who used an instrumental sampling of her voice, and TikTok’s algorithm, the New Jersey native experienced anonymous second-hand success — then she successfully petitioned TikTok to credit her. Now that Fousheé’s name is attached to a song with tens of millions of views, she’s used the virality to further her own soul sound. With a mother who was the drummer for a female Jamaican reggae band, music runs deep in Fousheé’s family — she started writing songs at 6 years old. Check out her new project Time Machine and music video for “My Slime,” which she directed.

Reggie: With a talent homegrown within the walls of his Houston church, Reggie can’t hide his music’s moorings in soul. Watch the performance of his new single “Ain’t Gon Stop Me” or peep the video for his 2020 jam “Southside Fade” and tell me it’s not instantly one of the most authentic hometown anthems you’ve ever heard. After getting kicked out of his parent’s home, Reggie settled in L.A. and counts Kirk Franklin and Smokey Robinson as vocal influences. He started off as a conscious or political rapper until his younger brother began to pull away from his music. That made the 25-year-old switch to melodies, where he was able to get his message across more effectively. We’re glad he did. 

Savannah Cristina: This South Florida songstress has a touch of Ella Fitzgerald in her. Yes, that’s a very bold statement, but bold is probably the best way to describe Cristina, who grew up with parents who loved Stevie Wonder and Gloria Estefan. Her journey to stardom started with the song self-care. It was 2019, and she was struggling mentally. So one day, she called in sick to work to spend a day at the beach recording music instead and performed a song about — you guessed it — self-care, with the crashing waves serving as a backdrop. The video went viral, leading to a deal with Warner Records a year later and her debut album, Self Care. 

Country Cousins

Breland: When Lil Nas X’s record-breaking “Old Town Road” won big at the Grammys in 2020, many wondered if his infusion of hip-hop and country rhythms was a one-off hit. Breland, a 25-year-old New Jersey native, is showing us that it wasn’t. His 2020 single “My Truck” has garnered a casual 40 million-plus views on YouTube, firmly establishing him as the heir to the country-rap throne. Now, he’s building on that momentum with his new single “Cross Country,” which mixes gospel, country and hip-hop. 

RMR: That’s pronounced “rumor,” and when it comes to his music, there’s little doubt that RMR has it. This L.A.-based singer with sonic uniqueness works anonymously from behind a mask. That air of mystery and freshness surrounds his songs, too. Sample “Rascal,” which went viral this year, and his album Drug Dealing Is a Lost Art.

Rvshvd: If his remix of Roddy Ricch’s “Ballin’” at 7 million-plus views isn’t proof of the chemistry between rap and country, his music video “Dirt Road,” which has crossed the million-view marker, certainly is. Powered by his 800,000 TikTok followers, the South Georgia country artist uses his buttery smooth vocals to cover hip-hop songs like Drake’s “Toosie Slide” and Lil Mosey’s “Blueberry Faygo.” Now, he’s showing off original music of his own. Check out his newest single, “Raised Up.”

Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr. On The Fire This Time

Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., a Princeton professor whose work takes a wide look at race in America and the challenges our democracy faces, is an award-winning author with a master’s degree in African-American Studies and a Ph.D. in religion, who frequently panels shows on MSNBC and is often considered one of the world’s big thinkers. You want to hear what he’s got to say? Of course you do. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

On Getting Into Politics

Carlos Watson: I love politics. I love history. I’m also the son of a political junky. How did you get into it? Are you the son of political people? Do you come from folks who love politics and history?

Eddie Glaude: No. I’m a country boy from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. My mother had her first baby in the ninth grade.

My daddy delivered mail and was the second African American hired at the post office in Pascagoula, Mississippi. And when he realized he had precocious kids, took a second job delivering flowers. The only books I had in my household, the only reading that really happened in my household was the newspaper. So politics didn’t come to me through my parents or my environment.

I just kind of gravitated to it and I was involved in local campaigns in my town, in my hometown. I was involved with the YMCA youth legislatures. The YMCA would invite students from all over the state to take over government, and I was elected the first Black youth governor of the state of Mississippi. And you know Carl, just a real quick, short story. I actually went as a special guest of the Democratic party of Mississippi to the Democratic National Convention when Mario Cuomo delivered the Tale of Two Cities speech.

Watson: So Jesse Jackson thought I was a stalker because I memorized that speech. And I ran up to him at an airport and his security literally started surrounding me because they were like, “Who is this weird kid reciting his speech back to him?” But I thought that speech was so powerful, so human, so encouraging of all of us to think about what we could be. I remember that. That was a special speech.

Glaude: In Jesse’s latest book, I write an introduction, an epilogue to the book. And I describe bumping into him because I was only 15 years old, 15, 16. And I bumped into him in an elevator. And Jesse’s towering and a former football player. He treated me with such generosity, and told me to dream these huge dreams. I never forgot it. I remember his delegates bullying Andrew Young and Coretta Scott King. I remember the Gary Hart signs and the Walter Mondale signs, and all those others. So politics kind of took its root in those early days, but not because of my family but because of those experiences.

Family Ties

Watson: Talk a little bit about your father’s rage: how did you realize that your father’s rage was maybe not the norm, and how did you manage it?

Glaude: One of the reasons why I’ve been so attracted to James Baldwin is precisely his own vexed relationship with his stepfather. Understanding and reading the life of Baldwin, and how his judgment of his father matured, it developed over time. And the same thing happened with me. My dad deposited fear in my gut in early age. I guess I was afraid before I even started remembering, given the stories my mother told. He wasn’t physically imposing. It was the context of our living. You were just afraid of him because his anger, he could give you a glance, a look that would literally make me shiver, right? He could scare me into tears just by looking at me.

And I just remembered the silences in the house. Before he came home from work, the house was jovial. We were playing, my brothers and sisters, we were running all around. But as soon as we heard the garage door open, and remember, he worked for the post office, so that’s high cotton back in the day. That’s the middle-class life.

So as soon as that garage door started coming up, everybody went to their corners. We had to leave him alone; we didn’t know what kind of mood he was in. But the rage was really expressed in his views of race, Carlos. He’s the second African-American hired at the post office in Pascagoula, Mississippi. He realizes he has precocious kids, so he moves us into another neighborhood up on the hill, where all of the elite Black folk are. Right?

He is this high school guy, married to this woman who had her kids early, this baby, when she was in the ninth grade. All of these elite Black folk are saying, “These folk aren’t going to make it.” The first time he moves into that house, the white family behind him shoots out the window, the back window. My dad responds with a 12 gauge shotgun, blows off the limb of their oak tree, and says, “Shoot back here again.”

The white neighbor comes and starts digging up flowers, and says, “I gave this to the neighbor before you.” My dad said, “Well, I bought the house. Those flowers are mine. You need to move.”

Or when I got called the N-word for the first time in my memory, he went over to the neighbor’s house and confronted that neighbor with a .38 in his back pocket. When we watched the Eyes on the Prize for the first time, he would literally jump up, walk out, and start cussing. He didn’t suffer white people.

That’s the rage. There is the man, who scared the living hell out of me, but the rage was about growing up in a world circumscribed by the reality of race. He grew up in Jim Crow Mississippi. He went to the Navy, fought in Vietnam. But my dad, he has these hands, these Glaude hands…he knew how to throw them.

The Big Breakthrough

Watson: When did you start breaking through, Eddie?

Glaude: Well, one of the things that I did is, I was very clear that I had to establish myself as an intellectual. I’ve been doing the work in the vineyards as a scholar for a long time. My first book, Exodus, won the inaugural William Sanders Scarborough book prize, right? I edited an important volume on African-American religious thought with Cornel West. I did something around Black power. So I’ve been doing this work in the vineyard so that I could get tenure at Princeton.

It has nothing to do with the public-facing work. But I was always thinking that the scholarship had to have an impact on the lives of people I cared most about. Cornel West is one of my closest friends. He’s the godfather of my son. He found me, in some ways, and asked me to come study with him. Right? Corn was doing the State of the Black Union with Tavis Smiley.

Corn, one year, asked me to come with him. Then suddenly I found myself doing the State of the Black Union stuff. And then I was doing Tavis’s radio show with him. I had a regular commentary on his radio show. Then I helped him with The Covenant with Black America. Then I helped him with the second book. We went on tour together.

While I was on tour with Tavis, I was writing my book, In the Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America. I wrote that while I was on the road with Tavis. And so, it’s in that space that suddenly I become public-facing, but I had already established all of my scholarly bonafides. I’ve become elected the president of the American Academy of Religion. I’m doing my thing. I get an endowed chair at Princeton, and dah, dah, dah, dah. Then suddenly, the world gets to know me, right?

And then one piece I wrote, Carlos, that really struck, “The Black Church is Dead”. I wrote an essay entitled “The Black Church is Dead” for the religion page of the Huffington Post. It got pulled into the New York Times. Suddenly, I get an agent who says, “I think you can write a book for a broader audience.” Boom.

Your 2021 NBA Playoff Guide

The NBA regular season is fun and all. But the playoffs? That’s where legends are made. The Lakers hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy last year, but COVID-19 illnesses and the bubble format put a damper on the proceedings, making theirs a championship with an asterisk for some. The low-key beauty of this season’s edition: We can focus on basketball once more. No, that doesn’t mean things are “normal” by any stretch. The inaugural play-in tournament is already shaking up the field, and a number of other X-factors could also change the trajectory of the league. Who will earn glory, and who will wilt under the pressure? Here’s our shot. 

unprecedented playoffs

The Pivotal Play-In. NBA teams usually get a best-of-seven series to prove themselves. But NBA officials chose to add a twist this year: a play-in tournament for four teams in each conference. Put simply, the seventh and eighth seeds must win one of two games to secure their playoff ticket, while the ninth and 10th seeds — which normally wouldn’t make the playoffs at all — can steal a spot if they win two straight games. The Boston Celtics secured their place by beating the Washington Wizards, who will now face the Indiana Pacers for the final Eastern Conference spot. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors, who will now face the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday to earn the last Western Conference spot.

What’s So Controversial? The play-in twist was included to add intrigue after the COVID-19 bubble tournament drew rave reviews for its exciting play. But it’s become more controversial after injuries put two of the league’s most popular players — former MVPs LeBron James and Stephen Curry, who leads the league in scoring — at risk of elimination while facing each other. “Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired,” James quipped. It’s worth noting James himself was touting the idea back in March 2020, when it seemed unlikely it would affect him. James made the point moot by draining a 34-foot 3-pointer over Curry with a minute left to win on Wednesday night. But Curry could be out after just two playoff games if he can’t beat the Grizzlies in their Friday matchup. 

the x-factors

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets

What Can Brown Do for You? Drafted in 2018 from the University of Miami, 6-foot-4 guard Bruce Brown embodies Brooklyn grit for the Nets. You’re not always going to see his value on the stat sheet — he averages a mere 8.4 points per game. But he makes his presence felt with his intangibles. You might have seen highlights of him fighting among giants for rebounds and diving for loose balls. His game complements Brooklyn’s three-headed scoring machine of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden well. His ability to move without the ball counters the traps and doubles his star teammates attract. He also makes the most of the minutes he has on the court, shooting 62.5% from 2-point range. Efficient.

Hollywood’s Young Gun. When serious injuries derailed both Anthony Davis and LeBron James for a combined 63 games, it was clear the Lakers needed firepower. Cue Talen Horton-Tucker, the team’s youngest player at just 20. The former Iowa State Cyclone and Chicago standout is 6-foot-4 and has lanky arms that lead to an impressive 7-foot-1 wingspan, making him a steal and deflection threat on defense and helping him to score quickly off the bench. Is he the best player on the court? No. But next to James and Davis, his performance could turn a series for the Lakers.

New York’s Rim Protector. One word: shot-blocking. That’s what Knicks center Nerlens Noel will bring to the playoffs. With the absence of fellow shot-block artist Mitchell Robinson due to injury, Noel has fortified the Knicks’ defense seamlessly, finally living up to his potential as the sixth pick out of the University of Kentucky way back in 2013. He has the third-most blocks (141) and the second-highest block percentage (8.7%) in the league. He is also an underrated thief, nabbing 1.3 steals per game, making him the only player in the NBA to average two blocks and one steal per game. Noel’s role is not conducive to him being a major scorer, but his rim protection will help the Knicks maintain their hard-nosed defensive identity

Trail Blazing Skills. This 2018 Portland Trail Blazers first-rounder is multifaceted. He’s a Slam Dunk Contest champion and tied the NBA record for consecutive 3-pointers without a miss with nine. While Portland has been consistent in making the playoffs and, in some cases, has overachieved, they still haven’t truly contended for a championship … and some wonder if blowing up the roster is the only way they’ll get there. Anfernee Simons may be the answer either way, though: If he can build some consistency and play with confidence, he might be that unexpected threat that will take Damian Lillard and crew to the promised land.

Comeback After a Flameout? Last year, Kendrick Nunn put up 15.3 points per game and 3.3 assists per game and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. Hopes of contributing to a Miami Heat team that ended up making the NBA Finals were imminent until he contracted COVID-19 before the team departed for the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida. Although his play dropped, the 25-year-old could be primed to bounce back in the postseason for a Heat team that needs as many scorers as possible. 

Great expectations. Since De’Andre Hunter was picked fourth overall in the 2020 NBA draft, Atlanta’s expectations for this 6-foot-8 former University of Virginia forward have been through the roof. And, for the first part of this season, he was proving he can make it happen — showing fantastic defensive and offensive consistency while draining 3s —  before a pesky right knee injury limited him to just 21 games. Now that he’s back and healthy, the Hawks can’t be overlooked and stand at least a chance of victory when they take on the gritty New York Knicks in the first round.

the juiciest storylines

Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks

Escape GOAT. While resting players at the end of the season is common practice in the NBA, the Clippers are rumored to have thrown the last stretch of their season to avoid playing the Lakers and facing LeBron James (the GOAT besides, perhaps, Michael Jordan). The Clippers were a No. 3 seed and would have been slated to play the Lakers, but started losing games near the end of the season. In fact, of the six teams to secure a playoff berth in the NBA’s Western Conference, the Clips were the only team that finished below .500 in the final 10 games of the season. Besides resting starters and losing to basement dwellers like the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the backdrop is that Paul George and Kawhi Leonard underperformed last postseason, giving up a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals. The Clippers don’t want to get bounced early again, of course. Playing scared or playing smart, either way the team will avoid a Lakers matchup in the first round.

The Knicks Are Back — Or Are These the Bulls? The New York Knicks have been one of the biggest surprises of the season, after the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook projected before the season that the team would be tied for the worst win total, at 22.5 wins. Now, with the Knicks at a 41-31 record going into the playoffs, some are wondering: Why were betters mistaken? Look no further than Tom Thibodeau, the former Chicago Bulls coach who not only brought his coaching style to the Big Apple but also two of his former players: Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose. Thibodeau is known for overworking his top players — playing them for upward of 38 minutes per game — and demanding immense defensive effort. Rose, a former MVP whose star dimmed after a knee injury, has succeeded in turning back the clock as a dependable scorer and distributor.

Nets Super Slander. Remember the heat (pun intended) LeBron took after his Miami dream team lost to the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals? Or the criticism Durant faced for joining Golden State after his OKC squad gave up a 3-1 lead to them in the Western Conference Finals? Well, those disappointments will pale in comparison should the Brooklyn Nets fail to at least reach the NBA Finals this year. Why? The Nets count three of the top 10 players in the NBA on their roster. Even though injuries meant that the Big Three played less than 10 games together in the regular season, the Nets still finished with the league’s second-best offensive rating. Irving, at point guard, notched a rare “50-40-90” season. Durant is shooting a record-clip from 3. And Harden was looking like an MVP front-runner as a scorer and passer before he went down. Now, they must deliver on that talent.

Reject the Doubters. The Utah Jazz finished the season with the best record in the NBA at 52-20. The team employs an offensive scheme that emphasizes ball movement and superior 3-point shooting — it leads the league with an average of nearly seventeen 3-pointers per game. The Jazz is also home to the likely Defensive Player of the Year in center Rudy Gobert, who is having one the best defensive seasons in modern NBA history. The lengthy Frenchman is the foremost reason for the Jazz’s top-flight defense in patrolling the basket. However, these are all regular season accomplishments. Will these feats translate in the postseason? The Jazz haven’t had a long playoff run in a while, and will be tested.

Hottest in the East? The Atlanta Hawks have the best record in the Eastern Conference, 27-11, since getting a major boost after Nate McMillan was designated the interim head coach on March 2. The team’s young star Trae Young is as reliable as ever, averaging over 25 points and nine assists per game, good for the second-most in the league. But the player with the biggest improvement has been Bogdan Bogdanović. As McMillan has introduced more off-ball action to spring his players open, the Serbian sharpshooter has averaged 22 points per game while shooting a scorching 49.5% from beyond the arc on 9.3 attempts per game in the last 25 games of the season. That level of slinging, and the efficiency, could propel the Hawks deep into the postseason. 

possible game-changers

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets

Reffing Conundrum. Referee shortages caused by health issues — mostly COVID-19-related — have the potential to impact outcomes in the playoffs. It was reported on April 26 that the absences of 10 officials during the season had led to six lower-level referees from the G-League working NBA games. Anonymous general managers have already complained about the inconsistency of officiating in NBA games. And that concern will only grow when the stakes are raised among teams contending for a championship. In the playoffs, games get slower and feature a more physical brand of basketball, putting more pressure on the refs to police a game before it gets out of hand. Inexperienced referees are more likely to miss these nuances and could disrupt game flow if they can’t handle the limelight. 

COVID Caution. The return of fans, and potentially uneven attendance, could come into play too. Unlike last year, where opposing players shot at record percentages due to empty gyms, many arenas are slowly reintegrating ticket buyers. But that could lead to uneven advantages, as some states allow in more fans than others. Do the Knicks, who are currently allowing just 10% of fans inside, have a smaller home-court advantage than the Hawks, who are allowing 45% capacity? Similarly, as cities open up and teams begin to travel, the chances of contracting the virus and missing out on games will be heightened.

Black Coaches Going Far. It left a bad taste in the mouths of some after the Brooklyn Nets hired two-time MVP Steve Nash, who is white and had never been a coach, for their head coaching gig last year. After all, there were many other experienced Black coaches to choose from. African Americans make up over 70% of NBA players, yet they only occupy 5 out of the 30 head coaching jobs. Still, this postseason could see a number of Black coaches prove they are up to snuff. Just look at McMillan’s surprising success with the Hawks, Doc Rivers’ resurgence in Philadelphia and Monty Williams, who was just announced Coach of the Year with the Phoenix Suns. A Black coach winning it all could force a deeper look into why NBA teams still have a double standard in the hiring process

Down Goes Michael Jordan? Given his season-long injuries and the Lakers’ fall in the standings, LeBron is no longer seen as a front-runner to win his fifth championship this year. But if he does? A fifth championship inches him to just one less than Jordan, who he has already surpassed in a number of statistical milestones. And an upset victory over a stacked team, like, say, the Brooklyn Nets, would cement LeBron’s place in NBA lore as a serious GOAT contender. Of course, the passions are too high at this point for LeBron to ever truly defeat Jordan in the minds of many a ’90s child. Still, a shocker of a championship would go a long way in building LeBron’s closing argument in the twilight of his career.

Folake Olowofoyeku Can Beat You at Basketball

Folake Olowofoyeku is a Nigerian actor and musician who stars as the nurse Abishola in the popular CBS sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola and who describes her latest single, “Melanin No Ni,” as an ode to melanin. On this episode of The Carlos Watson Show, she talks about her upbringing and other hobbies she loves. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

Upbringing

Carlos Watson: Are you a big-city girl? Are you a country girl? Where are you from?

Folake Olowofoyeku: I lived in Lagos. I grew up in Lagos, right smack, bam, in the middle of everything. And then I moved to New York and now I’m in LA. So when I travel, I like to stay as tropical as possible, and as remote as possible.

I think it’s similar to Miami at its hottest, but all year round, we have different seasons. We have summertime and we have our rainy season and it kind of cools down around that time. But it’s mostly hot and humid, good for your skin.

Watson: Do you enjoy LA? My sister and brother-in-law used to live there years ago and I used to visit a lot because of that.

Olowofoyeku: I like LA a lot. I decided to move from New York, because I realized that I was experiencing seasonal depression every year it got cold. It took me a while to figure it out. And I was like, I can’t do the cold ever again.

Watson: What do you think would have happened to you if you had gone home to Nigeria?

Olowofoyeku: I probably might’ve taken a more structured profession, probably got into law and then segued into politics perhaps.

Look, I’m really tenacious. I remember even before I left home, I was 15, 16, 17, getting on those little bikes that transport you around in Nigeria, just trying to go to this casting call, find this modeling gig, find anything within entertainment, go to the radio station. I’d work for free. I’ll tell them, “I’ll do anything, I just need to be around music and around the arts. I need a creative outlet.”

I guess you could say I’m one of the lucky ones who knew exactly what I was put on this earth to do. I’ve always had a close relationship with my intuition, and I’ve always relied on it.

La Familia

Watson: Folake, you are the youngest of how many?

Olowofoyeku: Twenty. I’m the 20th.

Watson: What is that like being the youngest of 20? Does that feel like an epic achievement?

Olowofoyeku: The age difference between my eldest brother and I is 40, 50 years. So I have a lot more in common and I’m closer in age to my nieces and my grandnieces.

Watson: If I had asked your mom at the time, “What do you think will happen to this beautiful little one?” What would she have told me?

Olowofoyeku: I do remember one thing she used to say to me and it was, “Just make yourself happy.” So I guess, at least her hope, or her prayer for me, was that I would be making myself happy.

Watson: Yeah. And Folake, is your mom still with us?

Olowofoyeku: No, both my mom and my father passed away many years ago. Actually on the same day, five years apart. Which actually brings me some joy because it makes me feel like my father came for my mom.

Basketball Jones

Watson: Did someone tell me that you played basketball? Did I hear that correctly?

Olowofoyeku: Nigeria is certainly not the land of opportunity. I think I never had the opportunity to kind of play competitive basketball. I think we had some inter-house sports, like where you run, but sports like the arts wasn’t something that was celebrated or nurtured. So, I developed my love for the game from playing PlayStation with my brothers and my brother would always need someone to dunk on. So what he’d do is he started to teach me how to bounce the ball just well enough so he could grab it from me and dunk over me. And then I learned the rules from video games.

Then I came to America and I was in college and I saw tryouts for the women’s basketball team. And I was like, “This would be cool.” So I go try out. I already knew how to bounce the ball. I was naturally athletic and I was tall, I am tall. And they were also desperate.

So, they took me on the team and I started playing. And I really, really love the game. I think by the second year I was averaging triple doubles, double doubles. It’s the game that I really love.

I remember my mom came to one of my games and she asked me why I don’t pursue this professionally. And I was like, “I don’t know.” I always had a dream of going to Yale Drama School and playing my last two years …

Watson: That means you brought aboard the spirit of Olajuwon.

Olowofoyeku: Yeah. I went to school with his niece, whose name was also Folake.

Her Hit Series

Waston: I have to ask you about your TV show. Do you enjoy it?

Olowofoyeku: I do. I find a lot of joy in the show. I think what I’m struggling with is actually being present so that I can continue. Like there are a lot of outside things to deal with. Like the main focus is not just on filming and being with the other actors and, being present. And that is something I’m trying to focus on because when I am, it’s just so beautiful and I don’t want time to pass.

But there’s press to do, there’s lines to learn, like fittings, there’s just so many outside factors that interrupt the creative process. So, I’m trying to just dumb and quiet everything down so that I can just continue to enjoy one-on-one time with my cast and the production. But it’s lovely. It’s a great set to be on. Everyone’s super kind. I mean … Chuck Lorre universe … you’re in a well-oiled machine.

Watson: And do you think of it as a comedy or a love story, or how do you think of it?

Olowofoyeku: The amount of crying I’m having to do this season, it’s feeling like … Look it’s a nuanced show, it’s not just a sitcom. It’s not just a comedy. We have dramatic aspects and we have dramatic moments in there. We have very authentic and genuine dynamics for each of the characters.

It’s like a sitcom and a soap opera, and a drama and a documentary because we’re also highlighting and accurately portraying this aspect of immigrant life, Nigerian immigrant life.

The Secret World of Cybersecurity

Jack Nicholson was playing the Joker, the Berlin Wall was about to fall and the first internet providers were emerging. It was 1989, and while plenty was happening on the world stage, it was also the year of the first recorded ransomware attack, which occurred when evolutionary biologist Joseph Popp mailed out 20,000 tainted floppy disks to a list that included medical professionals and organizations. Promising to give them info on AIDS, the disks instead threatened to lock files on infected computers unless the user sent $189 to a P.O. Box for the PC Cyborg Corporation in Panama. Three decades later, cyberwarfare is decidedly less playful. The Colonial Pipeline, which provides the East Coast of the U.S. with nearly half of its gas and jet fuel, was recently shuttered for days after ransomware attacks. As the White House scrambles and President Joe Biden considers executive orders to strengthen cybersecurity, it’s time to get up to speed on the digital frontier’s emerging combatants and battle lines.

cyberwarfare’s new fronts

Unspeakable Spread. German hospitals haven’t just been fighting COVID-19 over the past year. At one point, cyberattacks against Deutschland’s health facilities were so serious that police believed ransomware had led to a patient’s death. While investigators eventually ruled that the patient would have died anyway, the incident highlighted that hackers have the ability to infiltrate every facet of our lives — even sacrosanct ones like health care. In 2019, cyberattacks ranked behind only climate change and ISIS as the most feared national threat, according to a global Pew Research poll that collected information from 26 nations, including South Africa and Japan. Businesses that were proactive against cyberattacks saved an average of $2 million on data breach costs, which explains why cyber specialists are in high demand, with growth in the sector far outpacing that of other occupations.

The Next El Chapo. Kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking — these are crimes we expect to see from billion-dollar Latin American crime syndicates. But now, Russian and Eastern European hackers are giving way to nefarious coders in regions like Brazil and Mexico. A malware called Amavaldo, which first harried financial institutions in Spain and Portugal, began attacking Brazilian banks, too, in 2019. Ploutus, a Mexican malware, has attacked ATMs, while ransomware in Colombia and Venezuela have been used to blackmail executives. That’s led to fears that major criminal organizations, like the Sinaloa Cartel, once led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, could make cybercrime a bigger part of their portfolios. Overall, Latin American banks lost $809 million in 2018, with 92 percent of them reporting digital security breaches.

Expensive Year. Hackers have also been refining an old trick. They install ransomware to hold an organization’s assets hostage, and the ransom can be steep. Cyber thieves demanded an average of $100,000 per attack in 2020, with record costs to companies, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. That led FBI officials to deem cyberattacks a national threat, with companies like Microsoft, Cisco and Amazon advocating for greater financial support and tighter oversight of cryptocurrencies often used by criminals to skirt traditional monetary systems.

Local Skirmishes. College students in Montana and California have had their data compromised in various attacks in recent years, while the cities of Atlanta and Baltimore saw their public utility systems crippled by RobbinHood ransomware attacks in 2019. Cities have turned out to be particularly vulnerable. They have small budgets and mountains of valuable information, from the data used to operate power grids to citizens’ personal data. Although federal governments can provide advice on how to handle these attacks, there won’t be meaningful change at the local level until citizens demand that elected leaders better protect their data.

Hackers Without Borders. No frontier is off-limits to hackers. Just take a look at the ones who mined Pfizer for COVID-19 data earlier this year. According to South Korean intelligence, North Korean hackers attempted to steal vaccine technology from the U.S. pharmaceutical giant. What makes the case more bizarre is that publicly, North Korea has established itself as a leader in COVID-19 denial. Even though the nation has yet to report a single case, it recently accepted 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. British officials are hoping that a new facility opened by global comms giant Viasat in the U.K. will help the nation stave off similar attacks and protect its COVID-related government services.

Hack the Vote. Opposition parties in India insisted in 2019 that the electronic voting machines used in the country, which is the world’s largest democracy, could be hacked. Some experts considered the voting machines vulnerable, while others pointed out that there’s only a risk if the machines are connected to the internet. Either way, this debate is likely to determine how we vote in the future, and could feed fraud fears that will undermine the credibility of democracy more broadly.

Breaching the Big Leagues. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. In 2020, Microsoft, Intel and other major tech firms and global governments were hit by a sophisticated attack inserted into software from SolarWinds and Microsoft. Likely emanating from Russia, the attack, in which the malware masqueraded as a routine Orion software update, affected 18,000 customers, including major U.S. federal government agencies. The Biden administration responded with a slew of new sanctions against Russia, but the damage was already done to the United States’ cyberdefense credibility.

Nuclear Head-Scratcher. The dangers of cyberwarfare were thrown into stark relief in 2010, when Iran’s nuclear sites were attacked by malware thought to have been launched by Israel and the U.S. The most perplexing part? The nuclear sites were offline, meaning the complex computer worm must have been delivered directly into the operating systems — an impressive, if terrifying, feat.

cyber heroes

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Chris Kubecka. The half Puerto Rican, half Dutch former U.S. Air Force vet serves as a digital guardian angel, always on the lookout for global security risks from her Amsterdam apartment. She has developed cyberwarfare exercises and tackled threats for international organizations such as NATO and the European Union, and was credited with saving Saudi Arabia’s oil giant Aramco after it suffered massive losses during the Shamoon cyber offensive in 2012. A child prodigy who had learned to program by the time she was 6, Kubecka is now developing guides to help companies and their employees ensure their networks are secure.

Michael Borohovski. A New York native and the only son of Russian immigrants, the 34-year-old is the co-founder of the software company Tinfoil Security. Since its launch in 2011, his company has sold automated security tools to tens of thousands of clients, ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. Had you known the MIT grad in his youth, you would have seen this career path coming. At 9, he taught inelegant programming languages like Visual Basic and COBOL to his sister — then a college sophomore. By the time he was a teen, he was already hacking video games for the win. At least U.S. citizens can rest easy knowing he’s on their side in the cyber cold war.

Shivam Vashisht. The 24-year-old chose ethical hacking over college and today is a leading white hat hacker for several major companies, including Goldman Sachs, Starbucks, Twitter and Instagram. Born in India, Vashisht’s parents were initially concerned about him dropping out of school. But once they realized it was for a good cause — and after he used his earnings to help his dad retire and take his family traveling around the world — they got on board. Vashisht’s specialty is finding server-side and logical bugs, earning his first payday at 20. With cybersecurity specialists in high demand and companies willing to shell out for their expertise, more tech-savvy youngsters may choose this career over traditional paths like computer science.

Eva Galperin. As director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Galperin protects vulnerable populations worldwide by writing security training materials and publishing research on malware for countries like Syria, Vietnam and Kazakhstan. Born in Latvia to Jewish parents who had fled the Soviet Union, her focus is on stalkerware — malware used by stalkers to track their victims, who are often survivors of domestic abuse. So far in her career, Galperin has launched an outreach effort for survivors of stalkerware and has shamed antivirus and security companies for refusing to act more aggressively against abuse.

Marcus Hutchins. Hutchins single-handedly prevented a terrible ransomware attack on hundreds of thousands of computers globally — including those used by dozens of hospitals in the British National Health Service — by the aptly named WannaCry in 2017. Yet, while the then 22-year-old was lauded by many, his major ethical hacking win wasn’t enough to prevent his arrest several months later by U.S. federal authorities. His crime? A code he wrote as a teenager was used in a Trojan attack. Nevermind that his whole (albeit brief) adult life had been dedicated to fighting malware. Place this hero in the “no good deed goes unpunished” category after he was sentenced to one year of supervised release, a charge that held no prison time but did raise the possibility that the British citizen may not be allowed back in the U.S.

unlikely threats … and successes

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Ethiopian Intelligence. Although not known for its coding prowess, Ethiopia has long employed cyberattacks for political leverage. In 2015, amid protests, casualties and an eventual state of emergency, investigators discovered that the East African country was using spyware to snoop on journalists and advocates of the Oromo ethnic group in 20 countries. Provided to the Ethiopian government by the Israel-based defense outfit Elbit Systems Ltd., the malware could take screenshots, record passwords and operate a computer’s camera to record conversations held by targeted subjects, which included Ph.D. and law school students.

Macedonian Backfire. Government hacks can have unintended benefits too — like exposing and bringing down a corrupt ruling party that has held power for decades. At least that was how events unfolded in this small Balkan country after the Macedonian opposition party revealed the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence had been using illegal widespread internet surveillance against its citizens. Journalists, nongovernmental organizations and politicians from all parties were targeted by sophisticated software, which recorded 560,646 telephone conversations on topics ranging from government-instigated violence against demonstrators to financial crimes that had decimated the state budget.

Estonia. This northeastern European country is a world leader in cybersecurity and has developed training exercises used by the governments of Austria and Luxembourg, as well as NATO. The small former Soviet republic is perhaps more code-savvy than you’d expect. It even has an e-government infrastructure in place that emphasizes reliable digital identity and a mandatory security baseline for all government authorities. Estonia’s excess of cyber caution came after it faced what experts deemed the world’s first cyberwar in 2007. Part of the nation’s innovative recovery included setting up a unit of cyber volunteers — citizen hackers — to protect Estonian cyberspace. Now, the country of 1.3 million people is on its third national cybersecurity strategy, refining its tricks of the trade as the years go by.

Murky Waters. Water treatment plants have become a new favorite target for hackers. In early 2021, hackers tried to modify chlorine levels at a treatment plant in Florida, an effort that could have poisoned an entire town of about 14,000 if not for the watchful eye of a local supervisor who noticed that an outsider had taken control of his cursor and ramped up sodium hydroxide levels a hundredfold. Similar attacks in Israel were foiled twice last year. These breaches highlight endemic failures in the water sector’s cybersecurity, and could mark a new frontier for cyberattacks.

Bitcoin’s Rocky Start. Before Bitcoin became a mainstay on Wall Street, hacks targeting the cryptocurrency were hardly uncommon. In 2014, the Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox, which handled about 75 percent of all Bitcoin transactions, was hacked, resulting in the loss of 850,000 coins — a tally worth approximately $47 billion at current Bitcoin valuations. The subsequent collapse of the exchange almost killed Bitcoin, as the currency lost some 80 percent of its value. But while rival exchanges saw massive sell orders, the dominant cryptocurrency has rebounded, reaching new highs in the past year.

Chiney Ogwumike Is the New Face of Sports Media

She’s a WNBA player for the Los Angeles Sparks, the first Black woman to host an ESPN radio show, and now she is releasing a new doc on the WNBA during the pandemic. Oh, and her sister Nneka Ogwumike? No. 1 pick in the 2012 WNBA draft too. But having her on The Carlos Watson Show? A pretty simple slam dunk. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

Two Jobbin’ It

Carlos Watson: I loved you on air, and it’s nice that you’re as fun in person as you are on air. Are you liking it too? Is it fun for you? Is it work? Is it a combo?

Chiney Ogwumike: I feel like it’s a blessing. It’s stressful, I’m not going to lie. It’s very stressful at times, but just to even be able to do both — hoop and also talk about hoop. Be a host, but also a baller, it’s worth the hectic nature.

Watson: Your sister, pronounce her name for me.

Ogwumike: I’ll tell you the name of everyone in our family: Erima, Chiason, I’m Chinenye, my mom’s Ifeymwa, and my dad’s name is Peter. Nigerian heritage and all of us have Nigerian names, proudly. People call me Chiney, and I always tell people, because a lot of people recognize my sister and I, Chiney, Nneka. Chiney, Nneka.

Watson: Which tribe is your family from?

Ogwumike: We’re Igbo, southeastern Nigeria.

Watson: There are three major tribes, right?

Ogwumike: Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba are the three major tribes. It’s tough because every group has their own pride points. Even as someone that’s looking for a husband out here in these streets, I have parents that would love for me to marry an Igbo man. But at this point, they’re just like, “Chiney, just bring somebody, please.” My parents were born and raised in Nigeria and we’re the first generation. They came here to U.S. for school, got their degrees and then moved to Houston for an opportunity. They both had the idea to go back home and run their respective family businesses, but instead my dad got a really cool opportunity to work for Compaq then, HP now. They popped four of us out and we’re first-generation born and raised.

Nigerian Prowess

Watson: So we wrote an article on OZY a couple of years ago saying that Nigerians were the most interesting ethnic group in the world today. Why is that? I feel like every time I am looking up, whether it’s some fintech startup, whether it is a new CEO, whether it’s someone in the NFL, what have you, I feel like Nigerians are winning. They won. It happened.

Ogwumike: They have a phrase meaning “never our last.” We’re always trying to be first, and within our DNA and our culture, it’s the idea that you’re going to be excellent at what you do. A lot of times, for a long time, you haven’t had a choice at what you’re going to do. Doctor, lawyer — those were the first things you had to do, and just now I think our parents, the generation of our parents, are understanding that you can be great and follow that same tradition, but also in whatever field, whether that’s athletics, music, acting. It’s just amazing to see so many people push boundaries with innovation in different industries. I would say the reason why Nigerians tend to be at the forefront of like, “Oh, we’re trying to be at the heart of Black excellence as well,” it’s because within our culture, there’s this idea that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you’re going to make something of yourself. You’re going to make your family proud, and education is the way to make it happen.

I would say that the reason why my sisters and I made it was because we saw value in something that required sacrifice. Meaning if you’re going to play basketball, don’t just play it, play it at a high level. Do not waste my time. We grew up in a household where academics were, first and foremost, the most important thing. But then four girls in one house, I know because you have three sisters, that can get a little rowdy, right? So they put us into something constructive to sort of kick our energy and that was at first gymnastics, which was hilarious. But then it turned into basketball after one of my mom’s co-workers was like, “Your girls are way too tall for gymnastics. Put them into basketball.”

What’s Up, Doc?

Watson: So tell me about this documentary, because I was intrigued … when I heard that you were doing it. It made me really think about this last year and how important the WNBA was arguably in helping change the tide of our politics.

Ogwumike: The documentary is called 144. This documentary shows the value of that priority of diversity and representation because by being a WNBA player and knowing the amazing 144 women in this league, and also by working at ESPN and knowing that we have the ability to tell some of the best stories, by existing in both of those spaces, now we have the first-ever ESPN films documentary on the WNBA.

Unfortunately I had to opt out of the WNBA season because of my two previous injuries. We all left our houses in pandemic, and I had two weeks to prepare for a season. Your girl needs six to eight weeks, so I was like, I can’t put my body in that type of risk again. And so the bubble, the WNBA bubble, started, and I’m a part of the executive committee. I’m a vice president of the WNBA Players Association.

When we started the bubble, it was like we have 144 women in one site trying to accomplish a season in the midst of pandemic with coronavirus, in the midst of social unrest based on Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the names that we all unfortunately came to know. This was going to be the most challenging season ever. We should tell that.

So we were able to get a camera in the bubble that was a fly on the wall throughout the season that not only crowned a champion but also created real lasting change.

Watson: Was there anything that surprised you or did you get any new or different views? Kind of being on that side of the camera instead of the other?

Ogwumike: I was extremely surprised that the women were extremely vulnerable. We are women’s basketball players. And so we always have to keep our guard up because people just see WNBA like a joke.

We’re approaching our 25th anniversary of the WNBA, the longest tenured women’s professional sports league. So we need that thick skin to be able to deal with what we constantly face. Our game being compared to the men, people saying that we’re less than, and I think just the authenticity of the women being vulnerable and just, you’re seeing athletes talk to a camera about things that would make them cry. And you’re seeing women cry but at the same time, you’re seeing women being badasses.

Lala Milan Reveals the Secret to Her Social Media Success

This up-and-coming star is a breakout comedian, social media influencer with over 3 million followers on Instagram and more than 14 million views on YouTube, and a budding entrepreneur with her new fitness platform, FitGirlBod, as well as her podcast, The Salon. In this sit-down with Carlos Watson, the Miami native shares how she went from local girl and internet sensation to celebrity status. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

Getting in the Biz

Carlos Watson: Now, how did you get started in entertainment? Because somebody told me that you were in insurance.

Lala Milan: Do you believe in magic? Yes. I was absolutely in insurance; Allstate to be exact. I’ve always been me. So, with that being said, I’ve always just been apparently naturally funny. So, being on a job, having extra time when a boss is out playing golf or networking, I was like, “You know what? I am going to go ahead and create some fun for myself in the office.”

At that time, social media was fairly new, so I would prop up my phone and just create content from there. Next thing you know, people started requesting to book me and stuff. And I was like, “I’m making more money on these bookings than I am biweekly at this job.” I was just like, “I got to go ahead and chase my dream real quick to be an entertainer,” and that’s what I did.

Watson: Did it take off right away?

Milan: I was doing that for probably two years on social media and quickly rising. It was impeccable. You don’t see that kind of growth today because now everybody’s doing it. But after being there and doing the social stuff for a while, one of my friends was like, “I’m going to move to LA and if you don’t come, you’re going to miss out.”

Don’t ever tell me that I’m going to miss out on something because now I’m seeing it as competition. That was the best thing my friend could have ever said because I found myself packing my stuff up and getting the hell on. So then we made it to LA with a dollar and a dream and next thing you know, just started going insane.

Watson: And did you have dreams of entertainment?

Milan: Always. I knew that working a traditional job was not the thing for me. I very much so knew that I wanted to have a nontraditional job. And of course, our parents are very much … they’re like, “No, you need to get a 401k. You need to have a savings.”

I commend the people who have regular jobs and who are great at it. It just wasn’t my thing. So yes, I had dreams of being an entertainer. I didn’t know how I was going to attain it, but who would have known that social media was going to be the way that I reached my dreams?

Leveraging Social Media

Watson: How did you get on social media?

Milan: Everybody was on social media. I was like, “I want to be on here and I want people to see me, but not for being in my business. I want to entertain.”

So, I started creating content and it was engaging. A lot of people unfollow me. My friends had unfollowed me when I started doing it at first, because I guess it was annoying and they weren’t used to seeing something like that, but them people hitting me up today. You know what I’m saying?

Watson: Now, what were your mom and dad like and what are they like now?

Milan: Typical Black parents: “You going to go to school. You going to go make me some money the traditional way I raised you.”

But when she saw how lucrative it was and how successful I was actually getting to be, she was like, “I was wrong.” She had no problem admitting that she was wrong. As far as my dad, he’s always been very much, “So do what you want to, baby. I’ll always be proud of you.”

Weight-Gaining Guru

Watson: Now talk about trying to gain some weight because so many people are trying to go the other way.

Milan: Obviously I am a slim-framed woman. FitGirlBod is very, it’s a passion project for me because gaining weight is a niche that is very untapped and it’s taboo.

Most people want to lose weight but there’s so many people out there who want to gain weight. So being able to create a platform, in a safe space, for people who want to gain weight without being judged and people telling them different things like, “I wish I was your size.” It’s a fire thing for me. So I love it. I think that it should be normalized just as much as losing weight and people should understand more that just because you’re slim. You are not in shape.

I’m naturally slim. And so putting on weight is just as much of a battle as it is to lose weight. But when you have discipline and enough power to be able to control it and maintain both journeys, it’s a powerful thing. And I feel like being able to both gain and lose weight, it really, really, really makes you hone in on just being a better person overall. When you’re disciplined enough to eat more or eat less, it makes you be disciplined to do more work that day. It makes you be disciplined to go to the gym. It’s so many things that where you get those things in control, you are just becoming greater in life, period.

Hey Batter Batter! The Boys of Summer Are Back!

The sun? Beaming. A swirl of vitamin D sweeping across open green pastures. The sky? Blue and clear as day. And you? Ballpark frank in one hand, ice-cold brew in the other, as you think, with total certainty, that right now nothing else matters. It wasn’t until an Atlanta Braves game that it clicked for me, but when it did, I understood why it’s called America’s favorite pastime. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors . . . leisurely. But after 150 years and a global pandemic that’s changed, well, everything, baseball is not the same. How the game is watched? Changed. How the game is played, courtesy of technological innovations? Changed. So, as the 2021 season gets underway, we’ll look at what the hell happened to the baseball we knew to see if it can ascend once again to being America’s favorite pastime. Batter up!

Breaking Down the Breakdown

Gameplay

Rule changes? Nothing shocking here. However, Major League Baseball has implemented changes using a minor league, the Atlantic League, as a testing lab that may alter how the game’s been played for years. All to bring some life to the game (more on that later). So they’re increasing the pitching distance by a foot — to 61.5 feet — in the latter half of this year’s season. The league is also trying out larger bases with a less-slippery surface, a 15-second pitch clock and an automatic ball-strike system. And while there’s no guarantee these changes will make it to the majors, it‘ll be interesting to see if they boost the thrill factor.

Return to the Olympics

After the International Olympic Committee voted to drop the sport in 2012 and 2016, baseball is returning this year to the Summer Games in Tokyo. America, often considered home to the world’s highest level of professional baseball, will be looking to regain prominence after South Korea won gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In fact, the U.S. hasn’t been the gold medalist since 2000 — while Cuba took the top spot in 1992, 1996 and 2004. Major leaguers can’t participate in the Olympics, and that’s a detriment for all competing countries, but especially Team USA. Meanwhile, Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea have already qualified for the six-team Olympic tournament. In June, the U.S. will host the Americas qualifying tournament in Florida to fill the fifth slot, while a final qualifying round in Taiwan will decide who gets the sixth.

Unspoken Rules? Meant to Be Broken

Bat flips, showboating around the bases and any kind of staring — at a home run you’ve hit or at the catcher a little too long after crossing home plate used to be major MLB no-no’s as behavior that embarrasses the opponent and generally reflects poor sportsmanship. But, in an effort to attract fans, theatrics are now IN. Bryce Harper, the youngest player to win a National League MVP Award unanimously, is downright irreverent; and others, like Tim Anderson of the White Sox, have a whole home run routine. Not all rules are getting tossed — stealing bases with a big lead or distracting the defense while making a play will remain — but discouraging players from expressing pain by rubbing where they’ve been hit after being whacked by a fastball? Out! Because? That’s entertainment, baby!

Baseball Card Boom

Baseball cards are as old as the game itself. In the late 1800s, they were used to help stiffen cigarette packs and became a hot commodity in the ’50s when Topps Gum Co. turned a simple hobby into a major business. Today, as the sport struggles with viewership and participation, the baseball card industry is exploding, with investment yields outperforming the S&P 500. Earlier this year, a 1952 Mickey Mantle card went for $5.2 million, becoming the highest-value sports card ever. So, why now? Discretionary income. The pandemic has folks stuck at home, unable to spend on vacations, eating out or partying. Why not trade cards? Hardly two years into the NFT trend, baseball cards have joined the movement, and Topps announced that it’s going public in a deal valued at $1.3 billion.

Problems? Yes, We’ve Got a Few

Speed and Action

The two loudest gripes about baseball? The length of play and lack of action. In fact, the game has been slowing down. In 15 years, the pace went from an average of 2 hours, 48 minutes to 3 hours, 7 minutes. The reason? It’s taking longer for players to hit and pitch. It’s also become a home-run and strikeout-dominated league. In 2014, only the Baltimore Orioles hit more than 200 homers; 24 teams did it the last normal season, 2019. Once total MLB strikeouts climbed above 30,000 in 1998, they stayed there, peaking at 42,823 before 2020’s abbreviated season. That means viewers used to see an average of 57 balls in play and 11 strikeouts per game, a stat that’s skewed in recent years to a disappointing 49 balls in play and 17 strikeouts. Translation: much less action. One possible solution? Incentivize steals to liven up the game. For the first time, pitchers must leave the rubber on the mound before throwing to any base. Should it move past the experimentation phase, pulling the pitching mound back would also put more balls in play and up the excitement factor.

Visibility

News flash: Baseball is no longer America’s favorite pastime. World Series viewership in 2020 was a moribund 9.8 million — not even a quarter of 1978 viewership among a much smaller population. Plus the audience is aging, averaging close to 60 while kids are barely watching at all. In part, it’s due to the lack of lots of name players. Compared to the NFL’s Tom Brady and the NBA’s Lebron James, who have familiarity scores (the percent of Americans who know who they are) in the 70s, eight-time MLB All-Star Mike Trout’s score is 22. That’s yet another reason pace and action are imperative. Not to mention the MLB is losing American-born Black players. Whether it’s a lack of funding or structural obstacles — or because playing football is just more fun (we see you, Kyler Murray and Patrick Mahomes) — this year’s tally of African American MLB players was just 7 percent.

Racism

The MLB has made strides racially, breaking the color barrier 70-plus years ago with Jackie Robinson and more recently moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta to protest voting restrictions. But otherwise, the league’s been relatively silent on racial injustice. After the murder of George Floyd, there was still a hesitancy to explicitly condemn the police, causing upset among many African American players. The league has initiatives in place for more inclusive hiring, courtesy of the Selig Rule that requires teams to “consider” diverse candidates for league jobs, but a wholesale culture shift? Not really happening since teams can hire special assistants outside of this rule, undermining the league’s ability to make tangible progress on diversity. And while some white players have spoken up in support of Black Lives Matter, baseball still has some of the most racist fans around. All of which amounts to a continued prescription for shrinking audiences — even if Babe Ruth may have been Black.

On the Plus Side? Star Power

Fernando Tatis Jr.

This 22-year-old San Diego Padres shortstop is considered the new face of baseball. He’s already secured a 14-year, $340 million contract and has a higher WAR — which stands for “wins above replacement” and summarizes a player’s total value to his team — in 150 games than anyone ever at his age. And, yeah, a swagger that jumps off the screen. Watch while he mocks Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer with this home run celebration. Tatis was born in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, often referred to as the “Cradle of Shortstops,” which suggests his calling was predetermined. According to his father, baseball is the only thing Junior watched since opening his eyes. While the season is still early, Tatis is already tearing it up and has generated NL MVP buzz.

Ronald Acuña

While this 23-year-old Venezuelan Atlanta Braves outfielder is making his presence felt, taking home the National League Rookie of the Year trophy back in 2018, he’s also become one of baseball’s most feared hitters, winning the Silver Slugger Award in 2019 and 2020. He’s also an excellent defenseman, having led the NL in steals. It explains his spine-straightening contract: an eight-year, $100 million deal — signed when he was just 21. He also comes from a family deeply rooted in professional baseball. His grandfather and father played in the minor leagues, he has one uncle and four cousins who played in the MLB, and his younger brother, Luisangel, is an infielder for the Texas Rangers’ organization.

Yuán Moncada

Robinson Canó with more speed” is how this Chicago White Sox second baseman was once described. He was even considered the number one prospect when he entered the sport in 2016. However, the Cuban native’s road to success has not been a cakewalk, and he even led the league in strikeouts in 2018. But that’s what makes Moncada worth a look: his ability to bounce back. The following year, he set career highs in almost every batting category and ranked third in batting average. This year mirrors those years: After catching COVID in 2020, he never quite got back to form this year, but he insists there are no lingering effects. A promising sign for the Sox.

Shohei Ohtani

“Sho Time,” as he’s been affectionately nicknamed, was a legend before coming over to the MLB from the Japanese pro circuit. The 6’4”, 200-pound, two-way star was said to be the second coming of Babe Ruth and, at first, lived up to the hype, winning 2018 Rookie of the Year his first season. But after he had Tommy John surgery in late 2018, the magic wore off. However, after having not pitched in two years, he’s made history and joined Babe Ruth as the only player to hit 15 home runs and pitch 50 innings in a season. In a season. And the legend stuff? It’s back: He has one of the fastest sprints from home to first, has thrown a 101 mph pitch and got wood on a 119 mph hit. Will this put asses in seats? Don’t doubt it.

Pete Alonso

They call him “Polar Bear,” and it’s not because he’s from a cold climate. In fact, he’s from Tampa, Florida, and of Spanish descent. But the New York Mets third basemen earned the name for his pure, raw power, breaking the major league record for the most home runs by a rookie in 2019 with 53. And his momentum has not slowed: He’s the fastest player ever to amass 70 homers. The Mets are loaded this year, and if they are to replicate their NL pennant season of six years ago, it will be behind his bat.

Future Shock

Robot Umpires

Baseball’s umps? Historically bad. And although America’s former favorite pastime is rooted in traditionalism, there were talks of adding automated strike zone technology in the 2020 season. It was first implemented in the 2019 summer Atlantic League via the “TrackMan,” a system that measures the flight of a baseball using a 3D Doppler radar. But it received mixed reviews for accuracy, speed in making calls and reliability. Still, with the game in dire need of a facelift, having the ability to map the data of a ball in flight onto the dimensions of each player’s strike zone will keep “robo-umps” in play.

Looming Labor War

The collective bargaining agreement is set to expire after the 2021 season bubbling with tensions over player compensation and owners’ bargaining tactics. While there has not been a lockdown since ’94/95, next season could be in question if there is no pathway to a resolution. With young talent cheaper and qualitatively competitive with the veterans, there’s been a trickle-down effect where a de-emphasis on free agents is affecting wages. The MLB Players Association expects to fight for an alternate salary structure to provide more just compensation but expects nothing short of a labor war with the league and owners.

AI Training

Artificial Intelligence may very well be coming to the MLB. It’s been found to help with training players as it allows teams to collect player-specific data to improve performance and to identify different types of pitches, batting swings and so on. For example, when searching for prospects, AI helps scouts determine specifics down to a player’s angle of swing or velocity of pitching. The technology also helps hitters practice for the types of pitches they’ll face in upcoming games by recreating their opponents’ throws — while also using health data, from sleep patterns to injuries, to enhance player performance.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries Poised for Power? Possibly …

Hakeem Sekou Jeffries is an American politician and attorney who has served as the U.S. representative for New York’s 8th Congressional District since 2013. He’s been chair of the House Democratic caucus, was the house manager in Trump’s first impeachment trial, and could very well be the next speaker of the House. Join him on The Carlos Watson Show as he discusses the ups and downs of life on the Hill. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

On the Insurrection

Carlos Watson: It’s crazy … but you guys have already had, it feels like a decade’s worth in the first 45 days alone.

Hakeem Jeffries: Yeah, it’s incredible. The pace was intense over the last four years, and then 2020 got more intense. And then I thought, you know what? 2021 has finally arrived. And six days in, we have an insurrection.

Watson: Right. Did you see it coming? Did you have a sense that that was going to happen either in the days leading up?

Jeffries: Some members had raised security concerns, and whenever there’s an event and a protest and a volatile situation, there are always some issues. So the one step that we took is that we had all … no staff worked that day with one exception, the person who’s always with me, but everybody else I said, stay home, because we knew there would be tension. But we didn’t expect that it would result in a violent attack on the Capitol.

Watson: Wow. And where were you when all that was going down?

Jeffries: I was actually on the House floor at the time. It was surreal. And the first moment where you realized something was happening is when I saw the speaker being pulled by her security team from the podium with great urgency. The sergeant-at-arms got up, interrupted the debate, halted it, said that protesters have breached the Capitol, they’re on the second floor, they’re heading toward the House Chamber, and secure the gas masks that are underneath your seats.

It was at that moment that I realized this was a real different situation than I’ve ever encountered in life, because I’ve seen a lot growing up in central Brooklyn, in the middle of the crack cocaine epidemic, never had I ever been asked to secure a gas mask. And that’s when things just began to become clear that we didn’t know what was going to happen.

Getting There, the Long Way

Watson: Congressman, how did you get into politics? Were you like Bill Clinton, someone where politics was always in your blood, and you were always thinking about it and committed to public service?

Jeffries: I was a student at Binghamton University and began to get involved in activism and in my final year served on the executive board of the Black Student Union as the political correspondent. I believe that was the title. It was the first race that I ever ran and won. I don’t remember the margin; I think it was close, it was a three-way race. And I was then on my way to graduate school to study public policy, thinking about the possibility of going to law school.

And in the spring of my senior year, I remember coming home. I had an off-campus apartment in downtown Binghamton, turned on the TV and LA was in flames. I’m trying to figure out why is L.A. is in flames. Then, of course, it was because the all-white jury had come back in the trial of four officers who had beaten brutally Rodney King. Four white officers. Acquitted them all.

Of course, that led to the LA uprising. And I remember thinking at that point in time, and in the next few days, that I want to go to law school and I want to practice law, and I want to use my law degree after I finished graduate school to try to advance the cause of racial and social justice.

After practicing for a few years, I decided to run for a seat in the New York State Assembly. I lost my first two races, but I learned that a knockdown is different than a knockout. And I was able to, thankfully with the encouragement of so many friends and family members and loved ones, get back up, keep moving forward. Won a seat in the New York State Assembly that third time. I’d run against a 20-year incumbent first two times. And then, the rest has been history.

Watson: Man, I love that story and I love the knockdown versus knockout. Go back in time and talk to that young fella, young Hakeem. What’s going to surprise him about politics?

Jeffries: There are issues where you think there will never be agreement. And that the left and the right see things differently, and we’re just going to have to fight and fight and fight to turn things around, to get it done. And that struggle may be endless. Sometimes you’ll realize that there actually is the emergence of, what I now refer to as a coalition of the unusual suspects who come together on an issue that shocks the conscience of the American people. And criminal justice reform has now become that issue.

Doug Collins, a conservative Republican from rural Georgia, and myself, a progressive Democrat from the People’s Republic of Brooklyn, come together on the First Step Act to strike a devastating blow against mass incarceration and address over-criminalization.

We get the bill somehow to the president’s desk, and Donald Trump of all people signs it into law, with the encouragement of his daughter, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The Future

Watson: If at some point in the future you were blessed to get to become speaker, what would that look like? What would you want people to be able to say about the speakership of Hakeem Jeffries one day?

Jeffries: Listen, I’m fortunate enough to represent the people of the 8th Congressional District, and now to serve as the chairman. I don’t want to get out ahead of myself. That’s what my grandmother used to tell me and my younger brother, Hassan, “Never get ahead of yourself, boys.”

Do the job that’s in front of you, and the rest will take care of itself. So, I’ve got great respect for Speaker Pelosi, and to be honest, I nominated her twice, had the privilege of doing that. I’ve been able to learn a lot from her.

We’ll see what the future brings, but I just think that for as long as I’m able to serve, I want to serve with honor, integrity, authenticity, and be able to say at the end of my tenure that I was able to get something done and make life a little better, or hopefully, a lot better for the people that I’m privileged to represent.