How Dikembe Mutombo’s Finger Changed The NBA

Since May 2013, I've been working on a story about Dikembe Mutombo's finger wag (no, no, no!) and how it turned him into an unlikely NBA superstar and a global icon. I had the privilege of chatting with Mutombo, Patrick Ewing, Shawn Kemp, Lenny Wilkens, Steve Smith, Bismack Bioymbo, and some of his former teammates at Georgetown. And it's finally published with Buzzfeed. An except is below:


Dikembe Mutombo doesn’t remember the first time he wagged his finger in a basketball game, but he does remember why. In 1992, the 7-foot-2-inch rookie center was an NBA All-Star, but he played on a bad team, the Nuggets, in a midsize city, Denver. And he was from a country, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), that most Americans can’t place on a map. Sneaker companies were dishing out multimillion-dollar endorsement deals to the league’s best and best-known players, and Mutombo knew he needed to establish a marketable trademark move to accompany the prodigious blocked shots for which he was already making a name.

“Back then, I would shake my head when I used to block shots,” Mutombo, now 47, recalls at his Atlanta foundation’s headquarters, where he spends much of his time these days. “I really didn’t have a signature…I had to come up with something [for when] I was dominating a game.”

Mutombo, wearing a light blue dress shirt with sleeves two inches too short, sinks into his black leather office chair, extends his long legs the width of his wooden desk, and sends a text to his wife, Rose. Inside the bright green-and-yellow office, reminders of Mutombo’s career are scattered alongside photographs from trips to Africa. Several boxes of new high-tops rest on a spare table, alongside a Mutombo-licensed basketball. In front of his monitor sits a mouse pad prominently displaying his face, which, much to Mutombo’s surprise, was — is — still very much everywhere.

Who wants to read Mutombo?

The Long Kiss Goodbye: The Search for Vinnie Vincent

KISS is being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week. Because of that, Rolling Stone asked me to track down the band's former guitarist Vinnie Vincent, who has lived in seclusion in a small Middle Tennessee town outside Nashville for nearly two decades. Here's my story about the once-brilliant, now-reclusive musician and my monthlong search into his bizarre world.

Smyrna, Tennessee, is not a likely place to find a guitar god, or anyone in particular, which meant it was just about perfect for Vinnie Vincent. For a while anyway. The town of 42,000 people is roughly 25 miles southeast of Nashville, and full of non-descript McMansions and farmhouses kept watch over by lazily grazing goats and cows. There are cozy residential subdivisions, too, where children's bikes are strewn across the well-manicured front lawns of one-story brick ranch houses. 

One property near the outskirts of town, though, sticks out amongst all the idyllic sameness. Behind a forbidding eight-foot-tall picket fence and a padlocked gate stand two houses. Paint cans, a television set and stuffed black garbage bags litter the driveways. This is where guitarist Vinnie Vincent — who gave life back into Kiss in the early Eighties, when the bandmembers had removed their makeup but seemed musically ready for embalming, and then became a hair-metal solo star in his own right — has lived in seclusion for the last 15 years. Or, more accurately, had lived. It's hard to know where Vincent is these days.

Read the full story over at Rolling Stone.

2013 in words

It's been a busy 2013. I've written a whole bunch of stories along the way for Creative Loafing and some other lovely publications. There's been hundreds of articles that have allowed me to understand Atlanta far better than ever before. A few stories also gave me an excuse to travel throughout the South and back home to Chicago.

As the year winds down, I compiled a few of my favorite ones (in chronological order) just in case you missed 'em throughout the past year. Hope you enjoy a few. See you in 2014.

Longform:

-The Past, Present, and Future of Grady Memorial Hospital: A three-part series on Atlanta's largest hospital. (Creative Loafing)
-South By Southwest: Is It Worth It?: Artists, industry figures, and 40 Austin-bound musicians weigh in. (Consequence of Sound)
-Trying to Make It at SXSW: An Atlanta band, filmmaker, and entrepreneur hit up Austin's 2013 mega-conference. Was it worth it? (CL)
-The Fight For Wilcox County's First Integrated Prom: Last month, black and white students from a tiny south Georgia county attended prom together for first time. Was this a big step away from the past or a small aberration in a community doomed to repeat it? (Buzzfeed)
-Lauryn Hill’s Rise And Fall, 15 Years After The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill: Despite the tumultuous, and at times mysterious, struggles surrounding the former Fugees emcee and Grammy Award winner, it’s easy to forget how much she mattered at the height of her career. (Stereogum)
-Neko Case: Through the Woods: On her latest record, Neko Case provides listeners with a rare glimpse into her personal world that, in many ways, exemplifies why she’s one of today’s finest songwriters. (Consequence of Sound)
-Jeff Fuqua, Atlanta's Most Controversial Developer:  After 25 years, more than 8 million square feet, and lots of opposition, few have shaped the city like Fuqua. (CL)
-Atlanta chases its Silicon Valley dreams: Hundreds of new companies and dozens of co-working spaces are making Atlanta a Southern startup hot spot. (CL)
-How Spotify Engineered the New Music Economy: In a post-Napster music industry, Spotify seems to have concocted a winning monetization formula, but not all its participants are happy with the numbers. (Mashable)
-Braves New World: A tax-averse suburban county is clamoring to build a publicly funded stadium, a professional baseball team is fleeing a resurgent city, and the mayor seems cool with demolishing a 16-year-old former Olympic complex. Welcome to Bizarroville. (CL)

Other stories:

-Why Dualtone Matters: Despite Grammy-level success, tiny Nashville label Dualtone still remains under the radar. (Nashville Scene)
-A Farewell Transmission: Thoughts on Jason Molina's Passing. (Paste)
-Mayor Reed's 140-character evolution: @KasimReed's once-lonely tweets have become something greater. But what exactly? (CL)
-Step away from the trombone: Atlanta's panhandling ordinance snags street musicians. (CL)
-Robert Ellis Expands Beyond Country Roots: Nashville songwriter teams up with producer Jacquire King on forthcoming third LP. (Rolling Stone)
-This Georgia hospital shows why rejecting Medicaid isn’t easy: Grady may be forced to make service cuts in light of Georgia’s refusal to expand its Medicaid program. (Washington Post)
-Why Georgia can't kill Warren Lee Hill: The state's new lethal-injection law undermines its repeated attempts to kill one of its death row inmates. (CL)
-Man Man Tighten Up for On Oni Pond: Philly experimental rockers hope to shed preconceived notions with fifth LP. (Rolling Stone)
-Atlanta's largest nonprofit patrons: Few have shaped the city's philanthropic world like Robert Woodruff and Alicia Philipp. (CL/NPR affiliate WABE)
-Quitting Religion: At a certain point, God became god to me. (CL)

Quick Update

It's been a while since I've updated this blog. In recent months, I've written about Spotify, Neko Case, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, big-box developer Jeff Fuqua, Lauryn Hill, and many more. Below are some highlights.



Creative Loafing
Endorse Kasim? Yep: Reed has put the city on a great path - but there is much room for improvement.
Atlanta chases its Silicon Valley dreams: Hundreds of new companies and dozens of co-working spaces are making Atlanta a Southern startup hot spot.
Jeff Fuqua: Atlanta's Most Controversial Developer: After 25 years, more than 8 million square feet, and lots of opposition, few have shaped the city like Fuqua.
Atlanta's largest nonprofit patrons: Few have shaped the city's philanthropic world like Robert Woodruff and Alicia Philipp.
Georgia risks passing up millions of dollars in funding to stop foreclosures: Housing advocates say program requirements are too strict, state not on track to meet 2017 deadline. 
Why Georgia can't kill Warren Lee Hill: The state's new lethal-injection law undermines its repeated attempts to kill one of its death row inmates.
Chip Rogers' Golden Parachute Broadcast: The former state Senator finally goes on the air at GPB.


Elsewhere
MashableHow Spotify Engineered the New Music Economy.
Consequence of Sound: Neko Case's August cover story
Stereogum: Lauryn Hill’s Rise And Fall, 15 Years After The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill.
Rolling Stone: Man Man Tighten Up for 'On Oni Pond.'
WABE (Atlanta's NPR affiliate): The Historical Heavy Hitters

Medicaid expansion story for The Washington Post

Remember all the reporting I did earlier this year on Grady Memorial Hospital for Creative Loafing? Well, it ended up turning into one more piece. The kind folks at The Washington Post ran my story, "This Georgia hospital shows why rejecting Medicaid isn’t easy."

Here's a snippet:

 The Affordable Care Act was originally written such that every state would have to accept a Medicaid expansion. But the Supreme Court struck down that part of the law last year. The result is an unexpected bind for safety-net hospitals in states that are refusing Medicaid. How bad of a bind? Just look at the choices facing Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital. 

 Grady, Georgia’s largest hospital, with more than 950 beds, has long been considered the backbone of metro Atlanta’s health-care system. It serves about 600,000 patients every year, trains one-quarter of Georgia’s physicians and provides medical care to more uninsured patients than any other hospital in the state. 

 But like a number of other safety-net hospitals nationwide that provide uncompensated care to uninsured patients, Grady may be forced to make service cuts in light of Georgia’s refusal to expand its Medicaid program. 

 The state’s leaders have steadfastly opposed expanding Medicaid since expansion became an option last summer. Because of that development, Grady officials say that the Affordable Care Act could now be the worst thing to happen to the hospital — an 121-year-old institution that’s all too familiar with financial struggles.

Check out the full story over at The Washington Post's Wonkblog.

Rolling Stone story on Robert Ellis

Photo by Max Blau
I recently traveled up to Nashville for RollingStone.com to report on songwriter Robert Ellis' forthcoming record. Here's an excerpt:

At first glance, singer-songwriter Robert Ellis' decision to move last November from Houston to Nashville didn't seem surprising.

The 24-year-old Texas native, who honed his chops as a younger artist during a weekly classic country showcase called "Whiskey Wednesday," had spent the better part of the last two years on the road with bands such as the Alabama Shakes, Old Crow Medicine Show and the Old 97's. With a rich croon and charismatic onstage persona, Ellis appeared to be songwriter who could follow in George Jones' or Kris Kristofferson's footsteps.

But Ellis didn't come to Nashville to pursue a mainstream country career. As the songwriter readies his third record, he says that he wants something beyond a traditional Nashville career path. For him, that starts by breaking past the strong country influences found in his early work.

"I wanted to break it down," Ellis says. "I don't want people to think of this record as coming from classic country influence. Obviously it's a part of who I am, but I want them to hear the other stuff."

You can read the full thing here.

An overdue update

It's been a minute since I've shared some stories here. Rather than create several individual posts, I've compiled them all for you to take a look at.

First, there's all the daily articles I write for Creative Loafing. You can read all of them here, but below are some of my favorites:

Why Atlanta is taking tiny bits of info very seriously: City Hall throws its arms around hackers and learns to love data
Mayor Reed's 140-character evolution@KasimReed's once-lonely tweets have become something greater. But what exactly?
Clean up Cheshire Bridge? Two ordinances threatening red-light district's adult shops would set a bad precedent for the city
Hero of Summer: Hannah Tarr, the Corn Dog Princess
2013 Golden Sleaze awards: Recognizing the Georgia's worst state lawmakers
Final Four players should strike: Without NCAA reform, drastic action is needed
An interview with a neighbor, Dave Blanchard: Brick Store Pub co-founder has big hopes for a revitalized Avondale Estates

Over the past few months, I've also started writing for some new websites:

Buzzfeed (longform section): The Fight For Wilcox County’s First Integrated Prom
Stereogum: Deconstructing: Daft Punk, Will Oldham, And Two Decades Of Mysterious Musicianship
Stereogum: Deconstructing: Jason Molina, Uninsured Musicians, And The Importance Of Health Care
The Huffington Post: Euphonia Director Danny Madden Explores How Technology Impacts Personal Relationships
L.A. Weekly: Eleanor Friedberger Comes Into Her Own
Under The Radar: Interviews with Marnie Stern and The Besnard Lakes

More to come, and until next time, enjoy.
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