Entertainment

Felipe López: What You Need To Know About The Legendary NBA Star Being Called Dominican Jordan

felipelopez13 / Instagram

Latinos have smashed almost every glass ceiling in professional sports in the United States. It is common to see Dominicans (did anyone say Alex Rodriguez?), Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans and Mexicans, among others, hit the ball out of the park or pitch the perfect game in professional Major League Baseball.

World boxing is dominated by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (Saúl Canelo Álvarez just signed the richest contract for any athlete in history with streaming service DAZN, $350 million for eleven fights over six years). However, there are two sporting arenas that remain elusive for nuestra gente: the NFL and the NBA. Latinos who have become stars in basketball or football are few and far in between, which makes the improbable journey of Dominican NBA player Felipe López all the more extraordinary.

López’s life and career is the subject matter of the new film Dominican Dream, which launched at the Tribeca Film Festival this May 2019. Here are some facts for this true legend and one of the many faces of Latino pride in the United States professional sports landscape. 

Here’s all you need to know about the film that honors Felipe López.

Credit: felipelopez13 / Instagram

Joining great documentaries on basketball, such as the unmissable Hoop Dreams, this feature directed by Jonathan Hock tells the rags-to-riches story of our beloved López, who in 1994, at the mere age of 17, was the hottest prospect in basketball. His journey all the way to the NBA was a given. Los sueños sí pueden cumplirse. This film is part of ESPN’s series 30 for 30. The director had previously helmed Through the Fire, the story of another young basketball star, Sebastian Telfair. You can watch the trailer here

He was once known as “the Dominican Michael Jordan.”

Credit: felipelopez13 / Instagram

Felipe’s smart moves, athleticism, and quick reactions earned him the moniker of “the Dominican Michael Jordan”. To be compared to the greatest basketball player of all time is quite something, and that in itself turned Felipe into a bastion of Dominican pride. In fact, Felipe wanted the film to be more about immigration than the courts. He told CBS: “Jonathan Hock introduced it to me not as a basketball story, but more as an immigration story. I loved it because to me, it’s a topic that we are living. There are so many migrating families going through adversity coming into the country.”

His journey in the NBA was bittersweet.

Credit: felipelopez13 / Instagram

Felipe was touted as the next big thing in professional sports after being an absolute star in St John’s High School. He played only for four seasons in the NBA, which makes his journey a bit of an anticlimactic and tragic one for some. After the NBA, where he played for the Vancouver Grizzlies, the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Washington Wizards. He never got to hold the prized championship trophy. 

López moved to the United States with his family when he was only 14 years old.

Credit: felipelopez13 / Instagram

Luis Felipe (his full, telenovela name!) was born on December 19, 1974, in Santiago. With his family, he then settled in the New York area when he was a teenager. Just three years after arriving in los estates, he was gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, perhaps the most important sports publication in the world. 

His dad was also a sportsman: de tal palo tal astilla.

Credit: felipelopez13 / Instagram

Like many in the isla bonita, Felipe’s dad had a fondness for baseball. He participated in the amateur baseball league of the Dominican Republic. 

He played for Rice High School in New York City. Guess who else came out of New York high schools.

Credit: felipelopez13 / Instagram

No other than NBA stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) and Dean Meminger, who at the time was also considered top prospects. 

He played college basketball for St. John’s Red Storm.

Credit: felipelopez13 / Instagram

This team is proudly New Yorker and hails from St. John’s University in Queens. The team plays in the Big East Conference and has one of the biggest followings in the NCAA. What a way to start! 

López made quite a mark in his college team.

Credit: felipelopez13 / Instagram

He is one of the top four scorers (he recently went from third to fourth place) in the team’s history. Not bad for a recent migrant trying to achieve his dreams, eh! 

He was first picked by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1998 NBA Draft.

Credit: front. Digital Image. Beckett Upper Deck

He never got to play with stars like David Robinson, as he was quickly exchanged for Antonio Daniels and went to play for the Canadian team Vancouver Grizzlies. The fact that the NBA was just testing the ground in the Canadian market might have contributed to the bumpy road that Felipe had during his first steps in the league. One can only imagine what he could have accomplished with the San Antonio Spurs. 

He played 112 games for the Grizzlies.

Credit: fvi8ne1512773910. Digital image. The Sports DB

As happens with a lot of professional athletes that are traded like objects (there are serious ethical issues with this), Felipe was then sent to play with the Washington Wizards in 2000. He then became a free agent and played with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team with which he last saw action in the NBA. He signed with the Dallas Mavericks and trained with Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Clippers, but never played a game with these teams. We can see that his career was full of ups and downs, through which he kept his cool and a positive and generous attitude. 

His game in the NBA never quite reached the level of his high school and college days.

Credit: felipelopez13 / Instagram

In the NBA he averaged 5.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and one assist per game. To be honest, these are OK numbers, but nothing too impressive by superstar standards. 

He was a pioneer, though: he was the first high-school athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, sí señor.

Credit: Instagram. d10b86e6-71d7-4f85-bb60-be89cc216aeb-782×1024. Digital image. The Big Hoop. 

Can you imagine being a Latino kid in the 1990s and see this cover? The Statue of Liberty on the background and a playful yet imposing Afro-Latino dynamo being the face of basketball? There perhaps too many expectations around Felipe’s career, which he acknowledged in an interview for SI, saying he wasn’t able to“make it all come together … and make it be the story that everyone wanted it to be.”

He is generous by nature and he established The Felipe Lopez Foundation

Credit: https://www.felipelopez13.com/foundation. Digital image. 

As a teenager, Lopez saw a way out of trouble (he was too busy shooting hoops!), but he knows that not all kids have the same opportunities. Out of his church in the South Bronx, he offers a space for kids from 5 to 17 years-old to be better students and better peers. Way to go, hermano! By the way, he also works with USA Basketball to develop clinics all around the country. We think that Felipe’s Dominican-American Dream is alive and well, thank you very much.

READ: Learn How Basketball Superstar Carmelo Anthony Got Where He Is Today In 21 Steps

Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

Culture

Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

aruni_y_photography / Instagram

Anyone traveling to the Dominican Republic this summer has likely been met with the cautionary warning; “Don’t drink anything from the minibar.” Eleven tourist deaths on the island in 2019, ranging from natural causes to counterfeit alcohol consumption, have spurred FBI and State Department investigations. Though news of flight and hotel cancellations abounded, I missed my family and refused to let fear stop me from seeing them. Since I lived to tell the tale, here are a few things I learned about my father, about myself, and about the precarious paradise that keeps calling me back.

Billy Joel and Nas have interpreted the “New York state of mind,” and if you have ever visited the Dominican Republic beyond the purpose of tourism, you’ll know that there exists a Dominican state of mind too.

Credit: Dan Gold / Unsplash

Whenever I exit Las Americas or Puerto Plata airports, humidity slaps me in the face, and my Dominican mindset is immediately activated. On this island, electricity does not run 24/7. When the electricity goes, or as we say “se fue la luz,” water doesn’t run from the tap either. All that is left to do is swap your sneakers for flip-flops, and exorcise your need for immediate gratification. It takes practice, and I re-learn this lesson with each visit.

The Dominican Republic is changing fast. 

Credit: zonacolonialrd / Instagram

There is new construction everywhere you look. I sit on the balcony chatting with my father and stare across the street trying to remember how it looked before the apartment building was constructed in that space. I can see from an open doorway on the ground level that wooden boxes are being stacked, and hauled out in front of a business. I tune out my father’s voice as I focus on the shape and size of the boxes. My Spanish needs work, and I ask my father, “Papi, what does ataúd mean?” The business slogan translates to “Quality Coffins.” I think about magic realism traditions in Latin American literature, and I am reminded that so often a country like this juxtaposes disparate images and experiences in such a casual manner. I don’t think I would be able to live across the street from a constant reminder of death anywhere else but on this incongruous island.

We drive to the countryside of El Seibo for a few days.

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My father syncs his playlist and he directs my sister what song to play next. The first song is by Boy George. I watch my father sing along, and I can’t help but think about the Dominican Republic’s homophobic culture steeped in hyper-masculinity. Same-sex marriage is not recognized on the island, and members of the LGBTQ community continue to face discrimination and violence. I talk to my sister about this later that night, and she tells me small changes are coming to the island. The city of Santo Domingo hosts inclusive events like Draguéalo, where you can even sign up for a Vogue class.

Credit: Draguelao / Facebook

My father’s playlist continues and I’m struck by his selections ranging from Taylor Swift to A.I.E. (A Mwana), a song by a 1970s group called Black Blood, featuring lyrics in Swahili.

I watched this Dominican dad jam across continents, decades, cultures, languages, and race. I realize there is so much I don’t know about him, and so often we shortchange our parents’ knowledge and experience, reducing them to stereotypes and gendered tropes.

My next lesson is on staying sexy.

                                                           Unsplash/Photo by Ardian Lumi 

After a few days in the countryside, my sister and I rent a hotel room in La Zona Colonial. We ready for a night out when she looks at my outfit and asks me, “Um, is that what you’re wearing tonight?” I thought my yellow jumpsuit was poppin’. My sister pulls out a little black dress from her overnight bag and kindly suggests I wear it. The dress is tiny. It’s skimpy. It’s super short. It’s absolutely perfect. I channel my inner Chapiadora, Goddess of Sex Appeal and Free Drinks, and dance all night. 

Growing up in the 90s, I styled myself in oversized men’s clothing. It wasn’t until that one magical summer in the Dominican Republic when the heat was too oppressive to wear jeans, so I wore—gasp—a skirt. That was the first time I felt sexy, and learned the power of sex appeal. Though I wielded that power throughout my twenties, it fell away in my thirties. Wearing my sister’s LBD I realize I still have “it,” and in the Dominican Republic, sex appeal is ageless. Be careful when you come here. You may fall in love with a local, or you may just fall in love with yourself again.

The island leaves me with one last lesson.

It comes late one night, sharing a few bottles of wine with my father and sister. No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver—the worst blind person is the one who refuses to see. I could say the current political landscape in the U.S. reflects this willful ignorance, a refusal to see; yet it is the same human experience felt across space and time.

I come away wondering about my own blind spots.

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I board my return flight thinking up ways to combat willful ignorance at home, thinking about maintaining that flexible DR state of mind and thinking about buying a little black dress. As tourism in the Dominican Republic picks up again, and unfavorable headlines drop out of the news cycle, this changing island stands in its own plurality welcoming visitors, and offering endless opportunities to teach us something new.

READ:

Simone Biles Slayed During The U.S. Gymnastics Championships And Made History Twice And Here’s Why It’s A Big Deal

Entertainment

Simone Biles Slayed During The U.S. Gymnastics Championships And Made History Twice And Here’s Why It’s A Big Deal

To say, American gymnast, Simone Biles can’t practice her athletic art form under pressure is to completely misunderstand her strength. The 22-year-old from Colombus, Ohio, has already accomplished what many can’t even fathom. This week the Olympic gold medalist made history on the competitive mat just a couple of days after she confronted the USA Gymnastics for failing to protect her, and more than 150 women, from a sexual predator. 

On August 11, Simone Biles landed perfectly after doing a triple-double at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Kansas City. 

Let us break down what that actually means because it truly is a thing of beauty. Biles successful jumped into the air and completed two flips and three full twists and stuck the landing. She tried to do this exact move on Friday but failed on the landing. This time, however, Biles landed it amazingly. She’s the first woman to have ever completed this move. 

This move is no easy fete for the 4’8 gymnast. As someone on social media noted, Biles, at the peak of her jump, is close to 10 feet off the mat, which is two feet higher than the high jump world record. Insanity!!

On Friday, she also made history by pulling off a double-double dismount off the balance beam. 

That means she did two twists and two somersaults like its no one’s business. All of these historic firsts garnered Biles a record-tying sixth all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. So who could possibly have the same title as Biles? No one in the past several decades, that’s for sure. In the 1940s and 1950s, American gymnast Clara Schroth Lomady also received the same honor of sixth all-around. 

After her historical landing, Biles was quite pleased with her performance. 

Credit: Instagram/@simonebiles

“That feeling when you make history…. twice,” she said on Instagram. And this is all build-up to the main event. Biles, of course, is headed to Tokyo next year for the 2020 Olympics, where’s she’s naturally going to add on to her gold medals, but no pressure. (!!!)

Her incredible routine is quite impressive when you consider that the star athlete is competing for organizers who were enablers in her own sexual abuse.

Last year, a Michigan judge sentenced Dr. Larry Nassar, a physical therapist, 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing more than a hundred gymnasts some were as young as six years old. The abuse lasted for decades, and Biles was one of his victims. 

On August 7, Biles told reporters that it was the U.S. Gymnastics Championships and other institutions that assisted Nassar in his abuse by protecting him.

“You had one job. You literally had one job, and you couldn’t protect us,” Biles said in her addressed statement to USA Gymnastics, according to CNN. ‘It’s hard coming here for an organization, having had them fail us so many times. We had one goal. We have done everything that they asked us for, even when we didn’t want to, and they couldn’t do one damn job.”

Despite Biles’ horrific abuse she endured, her moves on the mat show her incredible strength and dedication to the sport.

Credit: Instagram/@simonebiles

The Texan native said she wasn’t sure if she’d succeed in those now-groundbreaking landings. She said, however, that she was striving for ultimate perfection, even if that meant failing the first time. Sounds like she’s a firm believer of the motto, “if at first, you don’t succeed, pick yourself up and try again.” 

“I feel like I compete for perfection,” she told the Olympic Channel days before her competition, “so whenever I don’t do that, it really irritates me.” 

Biles also told the network that she doesn’t even think about her titles and records until someone brings it up to her in conversation. Talk about humble. If Biles doesn’t do the bragging, her friends and fans will do it for her. 

Several fans, including celebs, touted her magical moves on Twitter.

As for the future of gymnastics in the U.S., and their beloved athletes, Li Li Leung, the president, and chief executive of USA Gymnastics, told CNN, that understand they are to blame for their part in their abuse and are doing everything they can to change the culture of silence. 

“One of our goals is for our athletes to feel comfortable in speaking up and sharing their opinions, and we are listening to what they have to say,” Leung said. “We will continue to work hard to demonstrate to Simone and all of our athletes, members, community, and fans that we are working to foster a safe, positive and encouraging environment where athlete voices are heard.” 

Now on to the Olympics!

READ: We’re ‘Un Poco Loco’ Over This Mexican Gymnast’s ‘Coco’ Floor Routine And Charro-Inspired Outfit

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