Author Archives

The End of ‘Rolling Stone’ As We Know It

In the end, Jann Wenner was always going to sell Rolling Stone. The current timing is certainly unprompted and a bit of a surprise — Wenner, along with his son Gus, the president and chief operating officer of Wenner Media, announced this week the magazine is now open for bids — but there had been indications in recent years that the once groundbreaking magazine would soon be top edited by someone other than Wenner.

Wenner has passed on opportunities to sell Rolling Stone in the past, including an offer of $500 million that he turned down two decades ago. But in 2017, the timing was too good to pass up. This year is the 50th anniversary of Rolling Stone‘s founding, and not only is the occasion being marked with an HBO documentary co-directed by Alex Gibney, Knopf is publishing the first major Wenner biography this fall, written by Joe Hagan. (Full disclosure: I fact-checked the book.)

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Lena Waithe’s Historic Night at the Emmys

Lena Waithe, the writer and actor who stars as Denise in Netflix’s Master of None, is arguably the sitcom’s biggest breakthrough star. While a lot of media attention has been focused on her co-stars Aziz Ansari, Eric Wareheim, and Alan Yang, who are all fantastic in the brilliant and sometimes flawed series, it’s Waithe who provides the show with an emotional core and comedic stability.

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The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Getting Through 9/11

Joshua Bernstein is one of the more prolific craft beer writers working today. (Longreads featured a Q&A with Bernstein after the publication of his recent book, Complete IPA) As he explains in an essay about living in New York on and after 9/11 for Good Beer Hunting, Bernstein’s path has been winding, including stints working at American Baby magazine, and editing a porn magazine.

His office was located in Chinatown, a brisk walk from the Twin Towers, and even before that clear blue morning, Bernstein liked to escape the doldrums of his office job by fleeing to his apartment’s rooftop in Astoria and doing what every New Yorker in their twenties has done: drink.

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When Celery Was King

Celery is the outcast of the vegetable kingdom. Sure, the plant is rich in Vitamin K, but its fibrous stalks, bitter tasting leaves, and unique aftertaste are undesirable to the palate. Celery is either hidden (in sauces or as mirepoix) or left uneaten on crudité plates (no matter how good the ranch or blue cheese dressing with which to slather it). In short, celery is disgusting.

However, the vegetable wasn’t always neglected; during the Victorian era, the stalks were revered and highly sought-after, a symbol of one’s status and wealth. The mid-19th century was the boom time for the vegetable, as Heather Arndt Anderson explains in her Taste treatise on celery:

Native to the Mediterranean, celery cultivation began in the early 1800s in the cool, damp wetlands of East Anglia. It was fussy to grow and difficult to obtain—and this made it irresistible to the Victorian upper classes. Between the 1830s and the early 1900s, celery appeared as a standalone dish in countless cookbooks and housekeepers’ guides.

Referred to by Anderson as the avocado toast of its day, celery was still en vogue in the 20th century to be served to first-class diners on the Titanic, but after nearly a hundred years of vegetable dominance, celery’s star began to wane. It became… basic.

As American cultivation improved, celery became an everyman’s item. By then, the British upper classes had moved on to French luxuries like truffles and oysters. Celery vases may have gone the way of the dodo, but one would be hard-pressed to find a premade veggie tray without a slot for celery. Like it or not, celery isn’t going anywhere.

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The NBA’s Great Positionless Shift

By now, it is evident that the NBA is undergoing a significant evolution when it comes to lineup formations. Gone are the days of hulking centers and long two-point field goals. The game has become more refined, more dependent on perimeter offense and spacing, and more prone to players who are multi-skilled and versatile.

This is an NBA tailor-made for Royce White’s skillset. As Sam Riches details in his latest piece for Longreads, White drew comparisons ranging from Charles Barkley to LeBron James during his lone collegiate season at Iowa State; his passing acumen, when coupled with his basketball IQ and inherent touch, transformed White into a nearly indefensible player:

White, who stands 6’8” and weighs 270 pounds, moves with a lumbering fluidity, a grace that belies his size. He dribbles the ball like a guard, with hands that measure nearly a foot in width. He clears space with his frame, sometimes backing down his opponents from beyond the three point line, and then flicks passes to teammates at impossible angles. He rips rebounds from the sky and then floats the ball back into the basket with a feathery touch.

However, White isn’t perfect: The forward also suffers from generalized anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the NBA—like many professional sports leagues—has long been ill-equipped to meet the demands that come with mental illness. Larry Sanders, fresh off signing a four-year, $44 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013, walked away from the league as a consequence of repeated bouts with anxiety and depression, and sports psychology is transforming into a burgeoning field for high-level athletes.

Though the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement now has a mental health clause, there wasn’t a safety net in place when White was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 2012, which is why the forward is currently the MVP of the National Basketball League of Canada rather than an All-Star in the NBA.

In late July, he announces that he’s returning to [the] London [Lightning]. “Why wouldn’t I just play in London?” he says, when asked about this decision. “We won the championship for christ’s sake. We made history. Why would I leave defending my title? Why would I leave where I’m a champion at? To go where? Not only do I not know if I’m going to get a fair shot, I don’t know what the team I’m going to is going to do, what their priorities are, if winning is important.

This past season, Nikola Jokic, a 6-foot-10 Serbian forward for the Denver Nuggets, enjoyed a breakout season thanks to a skillset that mirrors White’s, wowing both crowds and fellow teammates with his passing touch and vision. Jokic, like White, anticipates the action several plays ahead, and has a deft touch to thread slight openings in the defense while also finding openings at the exact moment (and he can score in bunches).

The success of players like Jokic and Draymond Green (selected the same draft as White) have changed how general managers and NBA executives construct the lineups—the word “tweener” is no longer an NBA draft death knell—and it is within this environment that White should have shined. Lineups are no longer viewed within the rigid confines of positions, and players—like White, Green, Jokic, and many others—who can fill multiple spots on the floor are highly coveted.

White’s success north of the border is commendable, but his talent is too good for a mere cup of Gatorade in the NBA:

Asked about White’s ability on the basketball court, [Matt] Abdelmassih draws in a deep breath. “He’s so talented,” he exhales. “So talented. I wish that the experience he had in the NBA turned out to be better because I think he belongs in the NBA, he’s talented enough to be in the NBA, but at the end of the day I don’t know if he’ll have that opportunity again because I think that bridge has been burnt one too many times.”

Near the end of our conversation Abdelmassih asks if I’ve had a chance to talk to anyone in the NBA about White. I tell him that I’ve been trying, but every call and email has gone unreturned.

“Yeah,” he sighs. “Yeah. That’s what I figured.”

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The South Carolina Dylann Roof Knew

When Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah first began to cover the trial of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine parishioners of Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in June 2015, she initially assumed her feature for GQ would focus on Roof’s victims. But as Ghansah began to report on the trial, and specifically on Roof himself, she realized the thrust of her piece would have to focus on the murderer.

Over and over again, without even bothering to open his mouth, Roof reminded us that he did not have to answer to anyone. He did not have to dignify our questions with a response or explain anything at all to the people whose relatives he had maimed and murdered. Roof was safeguarded by his knowledge that white American terrorism is never waterboarded for answers, it is never twisted out for meaning, we never identify its “handlers,” and we could not force him to do a thing. He remained inscrutable. He remained in control, just the way he wanted to be.

And so, after weeks in the courtroom, and shortly before Dylann Roof was asked to stand and listen to his sentence, I decided that if he would not tell us his story, then I would.

To do so, Ghansah had to confront the history of South Carolina. This was a journey that Roof had also undertook in the days and years before he entered Mother Emanuel with 88 bullets — one that ended with a perverted viewpoint of the antebellum period before the state became the cradle of secession. What Ghansah finds as she crisscrosses the state — visiting Roof’s own place of worship in Columbia, walking along “Slave Street” on Boone Plantation — is that South Carolina prefers its history viewed through a heavy-handed filter.

Dylann Roof was educated in a state whose educational standards from 2011 are full of lesson plans that focus on what Casey Quinlan, a policy reporter, said was “the viewpoint of slave owners” and highlight “the economic necessity of slave labor.” A state that flew the Confederate flag until a black woman named Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole and pulled it down. A place that still has a bronze statue of Benjamin Tillman standing at its statehouse in Columbia. Tillman was a local politician who condoned “terrorizing the Negroes at the first opportunity by letting them provoke trouble and then having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable…to rescue South Carolina from the rule of the alien, the traitor, and the semi-barbarous negroes.”

Roof is what happens when we prefer vast historical erasures to real education about race. The rise of groups like Trump’s Republican Party, with its overtures to the alt-right, has emboldened men like Dylann Roof to come out of their slumber and loudly, violently out themselves. But in South Carolina, those men never disappeared, were there always, waiting. It is possible that Dylann Roof is not an outlier at all, then, but rather emblematic of an approaching storm.

I took a road trip last week down the Atlantic coast and spent a few days in Charleston. It was a somewhat shocking experience to be in a city that purports to treasure its history but so openly glosses over the gritty details. Boone Plantation is one of the few sites to feature slave cabins dating back to the 1700s, but as Ghansah notes, the majority of the cabins are staffed by odd-looking dummies, which she writes “are supposed to represent black people in their deepest ignominy…there were no dummies that were supposed to represent the masters or the mistresses of the plantation.”

It is also at Boone I first learned of the “compassionate” slave owner, mentioned in one of the cabin’s audio tools. To enslave another human being immediately disqualifies anyone from being described as compassionate, no matter that person’s other qualities. This was closer to historical fiction than history. This distinction continued through the tour. The text in one cabin explained the significance of an archaeological dig on the property, an effort undertaken by a private firm which suggests Boone Plantation was forced to review the land (so as to not run afoul of Historic Preservation Act) rather than act on of any sort of archival inquisitiveness.

That a site like Boone would include these fallacies only confirms what Ghansah discovered during her time reporting on Roof:

In Charleston, I learned about what happens when whiteness goes antic and is removed from a sense of history. It creates tragedies where black grandchildren who have done everything right have to testify in court to the goodness of the character of their slain 87-year-old grandmother because some unfettered man has taken her life. But I also saw in those families that the ability to stay imaginative, to express grace, a refusal to become like them in the face of horror, is to forever be unbroken. It reminds us that we already know the way out of bondage and into freedom. This is how I will remember those left behind, not just in their grief, their mourning so deep and so profound, but also through their refusal to be vanquished. That even when denied justice for generations, in the face of persistent violence, we insist with a quiet knowing that we will prevail. I thought I needed stories of vengeance and street justice, but I was wrong. I didn’t need them for what they told me about Roof. I needed them for what they said about us. That in our rejection of that kind of hatred, we reveal how we are not battling our own obsolescence. How we resist. How we rise.

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A Look Back at the 1939 Pro-Nazi Rally at Madison Square Garden and the Protesters Who Organized Against It

In late February 1939, roughly 22,000 people gathered at New York City’s Madison Square Garden for a rally, which included a 50-member drum and bugle corps and a color guard of more than 60 flags.

The event, which had been proposed the year before and—after much hand-wringing and debate—had been given the green light by NYC mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, drew scores of protesters and at least one thousand police officers which promised to turn the Garden into an “a fortress impregnable to anti-Nazis.”

What type of gathering would draw this much scrutiny and opposition? A pro-Nazi rally organized by the German American Bund, which festooned MSG’s interior with both American flags, swastika-bearing banners, and a thirty-plus foot high painting of George Washington. Also included were signs that read “Wake Up American. Smash Jewish Communism” and “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian Americans.”

The 1930s were a boon period for American supporters of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. A depressed work force coupled with little chance of upward mobility and an economy not yet on the rebound led to a majority that was fearful of their place in the world, and Hitler’s rhetoric added fuel to an already lit population.

In 1933, deputy fuhrer Rudolf Hess ordered Heinz Spanknobel, a German immigrant, to form Friends of New Germany, a group based in NYC, with the goal of spreading National Socialism throughout the United States. Though Spanknobel was eventually forced to leave the country—he had failed to register as a foreign agent—and his organization collapsed, the German American Bund, or Amerika-Deutscher Volksbund, emerged in the vacuum and coalesced FONG and the other American-based groups that supported the Reich.

According to historian Warren Grover, the German American Bund was “the largest and best-financed Nazi group operating in America,” financing youth summer camps and family retreats in states like New Jersey, Wisconsin, and California (among others) and espousing concepts of pan-Germanism and a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.

A New York City mounted policeman outside Madison Square Garden during a pro-Nazi rally is shown attempting to take an American flag away from one of the demonstrators on Feb. 20, 1939. (AP Photo)

By the time of the rally at Madison Square Garden, the German American Bund had as many as 25,000 members nationwide. At that time, holding an event at the Garden and filling the cavernous space gave any group an air of legitimacy, and that’s what the leaders of the German-American Bund sought. “The Pro-American Rally” was scheduled to take place on George Washington’s birthday—the group considered the president to be the “first fascist“—and though NYC mayor La Guardia considered shutting down the event, he agreed to let the Bund proceed, arguing:

Our government provides for free speech, and in this city that right will be respected. It would be a strange kind of free speech that permits free speech for those we agree with.

LaGuardia then departed the city on what was described as a “western trip“. His constituents, though, certainly did not agree with the mayor’s rationale:

From 2/6/1939 New York Times.

Inside the Garden, the thousands who had gathered heard dozens of speeches denouncing “International Jewry,” while at least 100,000 protesters organized by the Socialist Workers Party—equipped with anti-Nazi posters and banners that read “Give me a gas mask, I can’t stand the smell of the Nazis“—picketed, held back from storming the Garden by police mounted on horseback. One protester named Isidore Greenbaum did manage to slip into the Garden and rushed the stage at one point, only to be badly beaten by “Bund storm troopers” who “ripped [his clothing] to shreds.”

According to Felix Morrow of the Socialist Appeal, the turnout was diverse and the protest unifying:

Among those who pressed against the horses, fighting for every inch of ground, were Spanish and Latin American workers, aching to strike the blow at fascism which had failed to strike down Franco; Negroes standing up against the racial myths of the Nazis and their 100% American allies; German American workers seeking to avenge their brothers under the heel of Hitler; Italian anti-fascists singing “Bandera Rossa;” groups of Jewish boys and men, coming together from their neighborhoods, to strike a blow against pogroms everywhere; Irish Republicans conscious of the struggle for the freedom of all peoples if Ireland is to be free; veterans of the World War; office workers, girls and boys, joining the roughly-clad workers in shouting and fighting; workers of every trade and neighborhood of the city.

Mounted police form a solid line outside Madison Square Garden on Feb. 20, 1939. To prevent any clash between bundsmen and counter-demonstraters, police surrounded the area with a force of 1,500. (AP Photo/Murray Becker)

The Pro-American Rally was the Bund’s final hurrah; its leader was convicted for tax evasion and embezzlement and the group dissolved after the United States entered World War II, but it never really disappeared. The recent violence in Charlottesville is a reminder that hate and fear don’t need many openings to cross from the shadows and into the mainstream. Once there, it is difficult to unroot.

The Fallacy of the Olympics

The Olympics have a problem. Countries that have bid and won the “honor” of hosting the games are finding it increasingly difficult to manage the after effects — from rampant growth to financial demands — that accompany inviting the world for a late summer visit every four years.

The last host city that substantially profited from hosting the Olympics was Los Angeles, which “earned” $93 million some thirty-plus years ago when it hosted the 1984 games. The southern California event set the template for Barcelona and Atlanta, two cities that re-envisioned their respective downtowns and central hubs thanks to the Olympics, but in the years since, it has been increasingly more difficult for host countries to justify pursuing the games, leaving too many empty and unusable stadiums in the wake.

Take Brazil. A thriving economy and a commitment to athletic excellence led Brazil to target landing the 2016 games, but the subsequent combination of a recession and various scandals have left the South American country — the first ever to land the Olympics — in tatters. Wayne Drehs and Mariana Lajolo of Doubletruck, ESPN.com’s longform vertical, explored what has happened to Brazil just one year after the Olympics left Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and its other cities:

The opening ceremony in Brazil’s famed Maracanã was the most watched in Olympic history. More than 2.5 billion people from around the globe tuned in as 11,000 athletes marched on the stadium floor holding a cartridge of soil and a seed from a native Brazilian tree. The athletes placed the cartridges into mirrored towers. Olympic organizers called the procession “Seeds of Hope,” explaining the containers would be planted as part of an Athlete’s Forest in the Deodoro neighborhood of Rio.

But now, just over a year later, there is perhaps no greater example of the Rio Games’ complicated legacy. The seedlings sit in planting pots under a sheer black canopy on a farm 100 kilometers from Rio. Prior to last week, Marcelo de Carvalho Silva, the director of Biovert, the company responsible for the seeds, hadn’t heard from Olympic organizers in months. He had no idea what the plans were for the seeds, but he painstakingly watched over them for free, knowing what it would mean for his company — and the country — if something happened to them.

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Where In the World is O.J. Mayo?

It has been more than a year since O.J. Mayo, thought at one point to be the second coming of LeBron James, was “dismissed and disqualified” from the NBA for 24 months after he violated the league’s anti-drug policy.

Mayo wasn’t a once-in-a-generation talent, but he was pretty close; the guard had the speed, physicality, and athletic creativity that even other elite athletes lacked, and when he was drafted out of USC as the third overall pick in the 2008 draft, the thought was Mayo was destined for a myriad of future All-Star games. Those prognostications never materialized, and in light of the NBA’s ruling, Mayo has taken a step back from the game.

According to Ryan Jones of the Bleacher Report, who first profiled Mayo for Slam as a dominant high schooler at Huntington (WV) High School, Mayo has essentially disappeared:

 The basketball world doesn’t know what’s going on with Mayo, nor is it particularly interested in trying to find out. With his present a mystery and his basketball future in serious doubt, his past was the one thing it seemed possible to understand.

It’s not that Mayo has kept a low public profile — he has separated himself from both the basketball world and his own circle, or at least those whom Jones tried to contact to see how Mayo has spent his time away from the NBA. What’s bizarre about Jones’ feature is that Mayo was in the prime of his career at the time of his suspension, nearing 30 and, though recovering from injuries, still a valuable contributor for the Milwaukee Bucks. That he would incur the suspension is in itself shocking — only one other player in the past decade (Chris “Birdman” Andersen) suffered the same punishment — but to then completely disappear is a more shocking matter.

We’re no longer talking about a child, of course. O.J. Mayo will be 30 in November. He will have earned about $45 million in eight NBA seasons. At this point, there is no measure by which he is not an adult, responsible for his choices, good and bad. The stakes now go beyond trivialities like academic eligibility and mere reputation. This is about his career. His life.

Thinking about all this brought me back to something Mayo said 10 years ago, on that summer afternoon in Los Angeles. “What’s the average time you live on earth—like 60, 65 years?” he asked. “Basketball’s gonna take up half of it. I’d like to be successful in the other half, too.”

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Overseas Elite: The Team Dominating the Single-Elimination, Winner-Take-All Basketball Tournament

Jonathan Mugar’s idea was simple: create a single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament full of ex-college stars and pros. The Basketball Tournament—or, more simply, TBT—would take place every summer and, much like March Madness, only a select few could enter, determined by popular demand and an at-large selection process.

When TBT first launched in 2014, a team made up of former Notre Dame basketball players took the title, and the squad won $500,000, but the competition was seen largely as a niche event: perfect for the summer months to ease the doldrums of choosing between golf and baseball for your sports viewing pleasure. In the years since, though, TBT has exploded, adding 32 more teams (for a total of 64) to the field and upping the prize money to a whopping $2 million, attracting better athletes and enhancing the competitive spirit.

It’s within this chasm that Overseas Elite began its dynasty. An easy team to root for—Overseas Elite is stocked with Big East favorites including former St. John’s players (like DJ Kennedy) and Pittsburgh-area stars (DeAndre Kane)—the squad has won the past two TBT titles, racking up $4 million in the process and carving a path to the 2017 TBT finals (versus the Carmelo Anthony-coached Challenge ALS, which airs Thursday night on ESPN, challenging the NFL Network’s first preseason game).

Each of the half-dozen of so Overseas Elite players all have careers playing international ball, so it’s somewhat shocking that a team of such disparate players can come together for three straight years and make a mockery of the competition.

So what has helped Overseas Elite achieve this level of dominance? The team is built much like the modern NBA—that is, chock full of positionless players all capable of driving the lane and finishing at the rim or scorching the nets from deep. During the win against Boeheim’s Army in the TBT semifinals, Overseas Elite connected on nearly 50 percent of its threes, led by Errick McCollum II’s five three-pointers. During his time as a member of the Red Storm, Kennedy wasn’t known for his passing capabilities, but the big has evolved into a point-forward as a three-time Overseas Elite member (handing out 19 assist over five games).

By mimicking the tweaks already embedded in the modern NBA—offensive spacing, perimeter shooting, and lineups stacked with multi-versatile players—Overseas Elite has essentially become the Golden State Warriors of The Basketball Tournament. Back in 2014, when TBT was still very much a cool idea rather than a proven concept, Grantland’s Zach Lowe outlined the uniqueness of such a competition:

Picking the teams is the fun part. Any group of between seven and 10 players can apply for one of the 32 spots on TBT’s website (launching today). Every team has to have a “general manager” who selects the players, manages the team, and recruits “fans” through the website. Every “fan” must fill out a simple form to become official, and any team wishing to make the 32-team field must recruit at least 100 such fans — and likely thousands more. The 24 teams with the most fans will earn automatic bids into the 32-team field. The tournament organizers will choose the remaining eight teams, provided they’ve all met a baseline of 100 enlisted fans. That allows the tournament to make sure a high-profile team can make the field even if it somehow fails to pile up enough fans to crack the top 24.

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