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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serena displays stretches of power and precision

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

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

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

For half a set, Williams appeared tight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her lateral movement was surprisingly good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Boondocks’ returns — as a video game

‘Inappropriate negro humor is serious stuff’

10:39 PM

The characters of The Boondocks, legendary for breaking barriers and pushing boundaries, spent the past two decades carving out a decidedly young, urban and black space in the mostly white worlds of syndicated comic strips and late night television. Created by Aaron McGruder, the characters of Huey Freeman, Riley Freeman, Grandpa and the other residents of Woodcrest became almost instant icons, defining the attitude and aesthetic of a generation. After the show ended in 2014, fans wanted to know what was next.

And on Thursday, McGruder took to Facebook to announce the next iteration of the Boondocks brand: a video game. Fresh for ’18 … you suckas!

Cryptically teasing an app-based experience, McGruder only promises “a bizarre political satire that is largely about race and inappropriate for children.” Considering this is the same crew that scripted the most blasphemous version of Dr. King possible, the possibilities here are endless.

If McGruder, John Imah and DJ Pooh learned from the mistakes of Bandai and allow you to actually play as one or all of the title characters, each possible selection points to a dramatically different game.

Longtime fans of the strip will remember how much time Huey and Caesar spent absorbing the messages blaring out from the TV. Considering how much can be ripped from the headlines, a game where the boys jump through the TV to deliver their trademark anime-style beatdowns would be cathartic.

And of course, if McGruder is envisioning Trump as a properly vitiligoed Uncle Ruckus, a game based on President Ruckus could reach unknown levels of foolishness. Is Tom DuBois his veep? How would Uncle Ruckus handle North Korea? Is Ronald Reagan going to send him proclamations from White Heaven? Or maybe it’s even darker? Could it be a McCarthyist sendup in the style of the epic “Thank You for Not Snitching” episode?

If Riley Freeman’s letters to the president are anything like his letters to Santa, a State of Emergency-style brawler set in the nation’s capital would be amazing. Based on the updated cover photo featuring Grandpa’s pootie-tang-like belt, Sarah DuBois with a crossbow and Tom DuBois clutching a makeshift shield with the anarchy symbol on the front, clearly things are getting too real in Woodcrest.

The only one who knows how the game will shape up is McGruder, and we will all have to wait a little longer to see what jumps out of his mind this time.

Michael Bennett couldn’t have landed in a better spot

He joins Eagles players who have been active in trying to make a difference in their communities

5:44 PMIn a major NFL move Wednesday, the Seattle Seahawks traded veteran defensive end Michael Bennett to the Philadelphia Eagles, and the on-field implications are clear: Seattle signaled that its championship window has closed with this iteration of its roster, and the reigning Super Bowl winner has gone all in to defend its first Super Bowl title.

The productive Bennett, 32, just completed his ninth season, finishing with 8.5 sacks and 40 tackles. For the third time in the past four seasons, the three-time Pro Bowler started every game. The Eagles, who cannot officially announce the trade until the league year begins on March 14, are counting on Bennett to deliver consistently off the edge again as they try to repeat.

That’s the football stuff. Now, here’s the rest of the story: The most socially conscious team in the NFL just got more socially conscious.

A leader in sports’ new civil rights movement, Bennett has been at the forefront of demonstrations during the national anthem to shine a light on racial injustice. Through his foundation, Bennett — whose brother, tight end Martellus, was just released by the New England Patriots — works to fight obesity and educate children in the United States, Ghana and Senegal.

With his outlook on the world, Bennett couldn’t have landed in a better spot. His first tweet since the trade was about jailed rapper Meek Mill.

Many Eagles players also have been active in trying to make a difference in their communities. And safety Malcolm Jenkins, defensive end Chris Long and wide receiver Torrey Smith, through their work with the Players Coalition, the main group of players who protested during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” have been as active as Bennett in trying to effect positive social change. Don’t be surprised if Bennett teams with his new teammates on some major projects.

Barring injury, Bennett should bolster the Eagles as they attempt to make another championship run. On the field, he’s exactly the type of player they need. And off it, Bennett figures to still deliver.

Beyoncé protégés Chloe x Halle to sing ‘America the Beautiful’ at WrestleMania

It’s the first time a duo will perform the song in company history

5:28 PMWWE announced on Monday that teenage rhythm and blues sister duo Chloe x Halle will sing “America the Beautiful” at WrestleMania on April 8 in New Orleans, marking the first time in company history the song will be performed as a duet.

The sisters, Chloe Bailey, 19, and Halle Bailey, 17, burst onto the scene six years ago after their YouTube covers of Beyoncé songs, including “Best Thing I Never Had” and “Pretty Hurts” caught the eye of the worldwide superstar. In 2015, Beyoncé signed the duo to her Parkwood Entertainment management and entertainment company.

Since that time, Chloe x Halle have released a mixtape, 2017’s The Two Of Us, and currently star on Freeform’s grown-ish with Yara Shahidi (black-ish). Last month, the pair announced that their debut album The Kids Are Alright will be released on March 23.

The sisters join Ray Charles, John Legend, Aretha Franklin and last year’s performer, Tinashe, in singing “America the Beautiful” at WrestleMania, World Wrestling Entertainment’s largest event of the year.

“Chloe x Halle are a dynamic sister duo, known for their angelic voices and soulful performances,” WWE senior vice president and general manager Neil Lawi said in a statement.

Some WWE fans, showing their excitement and love for America, responded to the company’s tweet about the announcement by calling the selection “diverse,” predicting this moment as the “restroom break.” There also were wide variations of “who?”

How Kobe Bryant celebrated his Oscar win

The NBA superstar partied with ‘Vanity Fair’ and hung out with Jay-Z and Beyoncé

5:48 PM 

Kobe Bryant could have had his first big Hollywood moment 20 years ago.

It was Black Mamba, after all, whom director Spike Lee pegged as Jesus Shuttlesworth in his 1998 film He Got Game. Bryant was all set to play the basketball phenom, the son of Oscar winner Denzel Washington’s incarcerated Jake Shuttlesworth. But he changed his mind before they started filming in 1997. The role ultimately ended up going to Ray Allen.

But Bryant’s become a Hollywood star in his own way. Sunday night, of course, he won an Oscar for best animated short film for Dear Basketball, his retirement letter. From there, the five-time NBA world champion took his statuette to the Vanity Fair party along with revelers such as Oscar winners Frances McDormand and Christopher Walken, Donald Glover and Matt Bomer. Also in attendance at the magazine’s annual bash were rapper Drake, Oscar nominee Mary J. Blige, Sean Combs, Naomi Campbell, and Olympians Gus Kenworthy, Adam Rippon and Lindsey Vonn.

Bryant later headed over to West Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, where Jay-Z and Beyoncé were throwing a private party honoring Blige’s Oscar moment. Of the 150-plus in attendance were Tracee Ellis Ross, Drake, Tiffany Haddish, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Mindy Kaling, BJ Novak, Shonda Rhimes, Whoopi Goldberg, Usher, DJ Khaled, Oscar winner Jordan Peele and Angela Bassett — all of whom received invites instructing them that there would be “No sitting, only dancing.”

At the West Hollywood hot spot — which, under normal circumstances, is crawling with celebrities — there was a casino setup, and at around midnight, Joe’s Pizza made a huge delivery. Bryant said a week earlier that he doesn’t regret just now getting his big Hollywood moment — he’s not an in-front-of-the-camera type.

“I’m not the most patient of a person,” he said. “When you look at actors … and the downtime involved … it’s just too much for me. I was 17 at the time, and I wanted to … play ball. I couldn’t sit still. I wanted to work out and train all the time. There was also a lot of pressure on me coming out of high school to perform well. I needed all my resources dedicated to preparing myself for the season.”

He says he loves the art of creating. “It’s like putting together a puzzle,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy the most.”