Bomani Jones is a familiar face to sports fans. At ESPN he pulls double duty, and double mediums, as one-third of the hip-hop-friendly Highly Questionable and then holds down the fort on his own radio show, The Right Time With Bomani Jones.
Sports guru is not the typical career path for the son of two HBCU professors, but the Clark Atlanta University alum and former Ph.D. student in economics (at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) puts his great intelligence and advanced education to use, regularly applying nuance and context to his sports coverage and analysis without shying away from the complications of race.
The Root caught up with Jones (The Root 100 2015 honoree No. 50) and got some of his thoughts on Drake’s effect on Serena Williams’ career, Floyd Mayweather’s legacy, Allen Iverson’s Hall of Fame prospects, pioneering ESPN host Stuart Scott’s impact and Michael Vick’s place in NFL history.
The Root: Is Drake to blame for Serena’s loss [at the U.S. Open]?
Bomani Jones: I don’t know if he’s to blame, but he sure is around a lot of losers these days. It was funny; when the [Miami] Heat won the [NBA] championship in 2013, he was famously trying to get into the locker room, and they wouldn’t let him in. That’s what the champs did. They didn’t let him into the locker room. Everyone that’s been hanging out with him apparently doesn’t have good luck.
TR: Let’s talk Floyd Mayweather. What is his legacy?
BJ: He’s a really good boxer. He’s one of the greatest boxers of all time. As a boxer, he beat everybody that was in front of him, and much has been made about how strategically he picked his opponents, but I haven’t heard a lot of great answers on who these great opponents were that he was supposed to fight in the meantime. …
He never had that punching power, and people, by and large, are not watching fights to see technique. Most people are watching fights to see somebody get hit really hard, and that’s just not what Floyd does. You are not going to see a fight in the schoolyard and then people come back and say, “Man, you see how good that dude’s defense was?” That’s just not what people are interested in.
TR: Allen Iverson. First ballot next year. Is it too soon?
BJ: If he’s not a Hall of Famer now, then he’s not a Hall of Famer later. That’s generally the way I look at it. If you look at the stats, you can make an argument that Iverson was a bit overrated.
TR: Iverson overrated?
BJ: It’s very interesting that people have this sort of rose-colored look at Allen Iverson while simultaneously giving all this hell to Carmelo Anthony for what he doesn’t do. But Allen Iverson, in a lot of ways, is a 5-foot-10 version of Carmelo Anthony who shoots even more than Carmelo. He was a great player, but he was not an all-time, top-five-at-his-position type of great player. But he was a social phenomenon.
TR: What about Michael Vick and the quarterback position?
BJ: The thing with Vick that I find to be fascinating is there are so many legitimate criticisms to be made of his play and the talent that may have been wasted because he didn’t take the job seriously enough in his early 20s. And of course there’s the dogfighting, which is its own story discussion. But Michael Vick is a legitimately transformative figure in the NFL. Teams have won a lot of games largely because Michael Vick was their quarterback, even if it was, like, for a small moment of time.
He, for a generation of people, is that guy, the guy that kids grew up wanting to be, and then eventually turned into an elder statesman of sorts, a leader of sorts, which is nothing I don’t think any of us ever really saw coming when he wound up getting out of jail. I think, by the time it’s all said and done and we have the ability to really go back and take his career in, I don’t know if there’s a more fascinating story in the history of the NFL, really, than Michael Vick because it has so many twists and turns. It captures so many different levels of football. Twenty years from now, when somebody writes that great Michael Vick book, there are going to be kids that just can’t believe all the issues and factors that come up in one man’s career.
TR: When Stuart Scott was alive, were you truly aware of his impact, or do you get it more now after his death?
BJ: What I did not get at the time was the resistance he caught in doing things the way that he wanted to do them. Everybody else gets to do sports the way they want to do, and in a way that reflects their own personality. The expectation for a guy like Stuart was that he needed to go on and sound like the people who are already on TV. Stuart was like, “I am not like the guys who are already on TV. This is the guy that I am. This is the stuff that I want to talk about,” and he had to fight a lot to do that.
I found out a lot more about that after he died. And him being able to do that, the importance of it is, I don’t catch any blowback at all for the things that I do. I don’t have to fight those battles with any level of management. I’m at a point on Highly Questionable where I can tell jokes that my producers don’t get and they trust me when I say, “Don’t worry; that one will go across.” I don’t think that that happens without someone like Stuart Scott kicking the door in.
Ronda Racha Penrice is a freelance writer living in Atlanta. She is the author of African American History for Dummies.