Rivalry between schools is nothing new, but rarely has it led to a full scale riot. In 1939, Lanier High School, a vocational school in Texas, found itself in the center of a sports fairy tale with an unhappy ending. Lanier, made up primarily of Mexican-American students, wasn’t known for its basketball team; their star player was 5’1”. That changed when the underdog Lanier team made the playoffs and eventually outplayed rival school Brackenridge High, an all-white school, to win the championship game. Lanier’s victory shocked everyone, especially the Brackenridge team, which was heavily favored to take home the championship. Good sportsmanship took a backseat in the aftermath, which saw players, fans, and even the police escalate the situation into a full scale riot.
Latino USA has released an in depth podcast about the Lanier story, which is detailed in the book “When Mexicans Could Play Ball” by Ignacio M. Garcia. We can’t recommend the podcast enough. Check it out here.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Up Next is a FIERCE series highlighting rising Latina and Latin American women artists you might not know about but definitely should.
When Roc Nation’s #RocDaCourt Latin celebrity basketball game takes Las Vegas on April 24, there’s going to be an unfamiliar female face playing alongside Bad Bunny, Anuel AA, A.Chal and other urbano heavyweights. Let us introduce you: Nohemy, the emerging singer-rapper out of Orlando, Fla.
The moment is huge for the Puerto Rican artist, who just dropped her first Spanish-language single, “Repetir,” an energetic boastful bop, last month. But, clearly, the rising act has reason to be confident, though that doesn’t mean she’s not humble.
“Things are picking up. I’m grateful and enjoying the process,” the 25-year-old talent told FIERCE.
Nohemy, who is on Team El Combo, with el Conejo Malo, Tainy, Myke Towers, Rauw Alejandro and more, won’t be the only girl on the court. Becky G is over on Team La Familia, where she’ll be balling with acts like Anuel, Luny Tunes, C. Tangana and Justin Quiles, among others. But Nohemy doesn’t have her sights on the young Mexican-American singer. Instead, the triple threat, who played college basketball on a scholarship, is coming for Anuel — which is a glimpse at the up-and-coming Latina artist’s drive overall.
We chatted with Nohemy about the forthcoming game, where she sees her poppier sound in urbano’s global takeover, shining in Orlando’s music scene and what to expect next from the rising act.
FIERCE: It’s hard to place your music and sound in a genre box. How would you describe your style?
Nohemy: My style of music would be uptempo, commercial and very happy. I don’t promote drugs or stuff like that. I try to be a positive energy, a good energy.
FIERCE: You were born and raised in Puerto Rico before moving to Orlando when you were 16 years old. What sort of music did you grow up on and how do you think this influenced your sound today?
Nohemy: Growing up, I listened to a lot of Usher, Chris Brown, Michael Jackson and hip-hop. I didn’t even really understand the lyrics, but I liked the feeling of the uptempo music. I was also always involved in sports, and we always had a lot of playlists with this type of music, too. I think all of this reflects my style today because I go off of energy and the feeling it gives me. I’m very hyper. I can’t stay still. So I really identify with this high-energy music and I think I showcase this through my performances onstage.
FIERCE: Oh definitely! I’ve seen some of your performances online, and you are very energetic. Not only are you singing and rapping, but you’re also dancing. When did you realize your musical talents and knew this was something that you wanted to do?
Nohemy: I knew since I was little. I started singing at church, and I always had this feeling in me, this fire, that wanted to explode. In my room, I was always singing Usher and Chris Brown in front of the mirror. I always projected myself somewhere else. It was like a feeling of escaping from the real world.
FIERCE: At what point does this become the real world, something you go after professionally?
Nohemy: Once I actually took the initiative to make my own music and get onstage, that was it. I always had a vision of what it would feel like, but once I experienced it, I needed more of it. I felt like I had to keep going. It’s addicting.
FIERCE: Orlando’s music scene used to be huge in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, during the bubblegum pop era, but it has since faded out. That’s not to say there aren’t big and rising names in the game from the O’ — Luis Fonsi, Coast City, Spiff TV, Nitty Scott and more, for instance — but many have left the city. What are some of the difficulties but also advantages of doing music in Orlando right now?
Nohemy: I think it’s growing. It’s a great time right now. The Latino community is huge and growing in Orlando, and people are starting to catch up with what’s going on. As more Spanish-speaking people come in, the Latin market is growing worldwide. People here see that and I feel like there’s more support in the city now than ever, especially after Hurricane Maria, with more people coming over. People are understanding the culture and the importance of supporting one another. There are some difficulties, especially because Orlando is such a tourist area, so the music scene kind of gets lost in that. It’s not something people see; it’s hidden. It hasn’t gotten the boom and exploded out, so you have to network a lot, go to little events, get to know people inside the community and business. But there are people doing it. It’s just a different vibe, more quiet.
FIERCE: One of the benefits I see is you get to be a big fish in a small pond and are more likely to get on someone’s radar. Case in point: You were selected to participate in Roc Nation’s #RocDaCourt basketball game in Vegas this month, where you’ll be on team El Combo with Bad Bunny, Tainy, Myke Towers, Rauw Alejandro, A.Chal and more. How did that come about?
Nohemy: My manager Stephanie was in contact with Lex Borrero, who is the executive vice president of Roc Nation and the head of Roc Nation Latin. He asked her if I played basketball, and I do, I actually went to college on a basketball scholarship, so she told him that and they asked me to come on. I think it’s so cool because I get to make music and showcase this passion, sports, which I’ve done for so many years of my life.
FIERCE: Team La Familia has Becky G, but you’ll be the only woman on Team El Combo, and so early on in your career. What does this feel like for you?
Nohemy: Honestly, it’s surreal. When she told me, I got emotional. I come from a place where this is something we see on TV and never picture yourself there, especially so fast. I just put out my first single last month, and things are picking up. I’m grateful and enjoying the process.
FIERCE: I’m sure! As you said, you actually play ball and have real court skills. Who are you going to be coming for during the game on April 24?
Nohemy: I’m coming for Anuel. I’m coming for him. I heard he has some ball skills, and a lot of people who saw I would be in the game have reached out to me and said I have to cross him up. It’s a fun, competitive game, and I have to do it now for the people, haha.
FIERCE: Haha, I can’t wait to watch that! I want to get to your music. You recently released “Repetir,” a fun, somewhat boastful song for the haters who didn’t believe in you. Why did you want to make this record. Does it describe sort of where you’re at right now in life?
Nohemy: Yeah, it definitely describes where I’m at in life. I took nine months off. In that time, I was finding myself as an artist. Before this, I wasn’t an artist who would say these things in songs; I didn’t have the confidence for that. But after putting that time in, that development, finding me, who Nohemy is, I found that confidence to say the things I said in that record. This is who I am, and I will continue to be me.
FIERCE: Love that! What else are you working on right now that you can tell us about?
Nohemy: Right now, I’m working on my next single. I’m working on some visuals that I want to put together with it. That should be out by early June. Really, I’m just focused on making more music, having stuff to follow up with, and booking more shows.
FIERCE: Latin pop and urbano are having a major global moment right now. What do you think you bring to the game that’s different and helps you stand out among the rest?
Nohemy: I think what I bring to the game is a different type of sexy, one that doesn’t necessarily include too much skin but is a projection of the art, of my music, my style and my personality.
FIERCE: You are 25 years old, at the start of your career. What do you want the people to say about Nohemy in 10 to 15 years from now?
Nohemy: That I always remained myself, true to myself: Nohemy, the humble, funny and really caring person. This isn’t just about the music, but what I represent, my morals. I’m not buying into things for the money. This is for the culture; this is who I am.