In honor of black history month Suits and 40’s would like to take some time to recognize the most dopest black hockey players of all time in a list that I put together off the top of my head while listening to the Black Panther soundtrack.
Some of these guys made this list because of my personal admiration for them, others made this list for finding ways to express their blackness while playing the whitest sport there is.
In any case, here’s a list that has almost nothing to do with skill and a lot to do with how certain songs off a soundtrack helped me realize what made these guys dope.
As I sit here overwhelmed by the way Kendrick goes from calm to snapping and back to calm again on the title track I can’t help but think of all the layers to Will O’Ree’s dopeness.
He doesn’t just make the list because he’s the first black hockey player in the NHL. He makes the list of all the extra stuff that comes with being the first black person to do anything.
One of the biggest drawbacks of being the first black anything is your name becomes an answer to a trivia question, but only for the month of February. O’Ree gets lumped in with every black person to break a color barrier in sports who isn’t named Jackie Robinson. Somehow, we decided as a country that we only had room in our brains for one first black athlete. After Robinson broke into the league we gave up on learning names like Kenny Washington, Earl LLoyd and Wendell Scott. (Since Scott is a light skinned race car driver I’m tempted to make jokes about his ability to pass but I’ll take the high road on that one.)
Luckily, the NHL knows you forgot about O’Ree. Which is why they trot him out whenever they want to pretend like they give a damn about diversity. What’s Gary Bettman going to do when O’Ree isn’t around to show up on MLK Day?
O’Ree also gets bonus points for breaking the color barrier where he did. Boston is the city that makes me roll my eyes when people talk about racism as a Southern problem. Boston has all the racism of a small town in Mississippi with none of the good barbecue joints. Boston is so goddamn backwards that they integrated their hockey team before they integrated their baseball team. Boston leads the league in racist epithets uttered with a mouth full of clam chowder. Crispus Attucks jumped in front of that bullet because he wanted to get the fuck out of Boston.
And that’s where this man had to go to start his career? He started this gangsta shit and this the mothafuckin thanks he gets? My man Willie O deserved better. Hockey fans love to praise hockey players for their toughness but no one ever mentions O’Ree playing his whole career with one eye. Maybe his partial blindness was for the better. That’s one less eye to see all the racism the Boston fans are throwing at you.
Ultimately, he deserves our praise because being the first black anything sucks. Even being the first black basketball player was a wack experience and the NBA is more unapologetic black than a Popeye’s commercial. So, shout out to Willie O’Ree for enduring all that hatred so black hockey players down the line wouldn’t have to deal with…Actually, scratch that, white folks stay trippin.
In an era where blackness is becoming superficially cooler to a mainstream audience and in a sports where 90 percent of those playing it have the all the character of lightly buttered toast, I appreciate P.K. for having a black as fuck personality.
First off, the P in P.K. stand for Pernell. That name is unforgivably back. Pernell sounds like a con man who hangs out jazz clubs in 1920’s Harlem and is always trying to get you to play three-card monte. Pernell sells you these. Pernell is in the barber shop right now talkin loud about how he was better than Lebron until he had that knee injury his sophomore year.
In speaking of the barber shop, advance black metrics show that Subban has the crispiest and most efficient hair line in the history of the NHL. And in speaking of crisp lines, Vince Staples kills his verse on Opps and should be crowned the king of the Afro-Futurism genre.
But, that’s not to say his blackness is anything he needs to hide. He may try to play it low key in the locker room but every once in a while he’ll try to remind you of his melanin content.
(Skate man, Skate Man, Skate Man them boys up to somethin)
He was so black that he got traded to Nashville for “personality reasons.” Personality reasons in this case mean actually having a personality, which is something the NHL frowns upon. I wonder what he was doing that was creating such a locker room devide that he had to be shipped to the predators. Was he dancing on beat? Did he casually suggest they switch the music in the locker room from techno to Tupac? Did he try to tell his teammates about seasoning their food?
Whatever the case, with Subban moving state side he’ll have more time to kick it with more of his homies. You know its too cold in Montreal for Uncle Snoop anyway.
Yeah, its cool he has over 600 career goals. And its impressive that he has almost 700 assists. The gold medals he got with Team Canada are cool too if I put my national pride to the side for a minute. But for me, he’ll always be the guy depicted here:
Specifically, he’ll be the only brotha depicted here until P.K or one of the 15 other Subbans blows up and makes it big. The NHL video game franchise will often have a few different version of the video game cover. The top Swedish player will be on the cover when the game hits the shelves in Sweden, the top Fin will be on the cover in Helsinki and so forth. But since the NHL best attempt at marketing to people who look like me is sending out Willie O’ree to a local inner city playground, they don’t have an alternate cover for the different markets in the US they could possibly appeal to.
I don’t think EA Sports or the NHL had the black market in mind when they put Iginla on the cover but when you put up 52 goals and 44 assist in a season, they kinda have to put you on. So when I opened up my copy of the game on Christmas and saw light skinned dude on the cover I was hyped. (Not as Hype as Kendrick’s hook on X gets me, though. That shit got me turnt the fuck up in my room like I’m not in here by myself writing about hockey in the middle of the night)
One of my first thought was, “Damn, this dude looks like he gets his hair cut where I get my hair cut.” That was a big deal cus unless I wanted to let my soul glow, my hair was never going to be the right hockey hair.
So, salute to Iginla for being the only Jerome in the history of video game covers and for not being weighed down by the fact that his full name is like 15 words long.
When JT Brown isn’t being mistaken for a slightly darker version of Vic Mensa he plays for the Anaheim Ducks. When he isn’t playing for the Anaheim Ducks, he’s involved in the community. And after a long day of hearing questions about if he’s still cool with Chance the Rapper and trying to convince poor black kids in southern California that hockey is for everyone, his finding ways to piss off white people.
My favorite sport to watch is hockey. Watching white people get pissed off and expose themselves for being racist is my second favorite sport. This means, according to the laws of compound interest, he’s my favorite athlete right now.
Since I didn’t think anthem protests would make it to hockey seeing a demonstration from him was a pleasant surprise like the first time I heard The Ways. (I was skeptical when I saw the features but trust me, it slaps.)
The advanced black metrics are important in his inclusion on this list because the actual hockey metrics just have him being kinda average. Brown is -1 with seven points in 37 games as a fourth liner this season, which to me, means he is a serviceable player at the back end of a roster. To anybody who is uncomfortable with the notion of having to consider race while watching a sporting event, its a reason to discount his raised fist as inappropriate gesture that somehow disrespects the troops.
If by any chance Brown is reading this I want you to know I see you out here doing work in the community and I appreciate you. But just in case you are Vic Mensa in disguise can you please tell Chance to go back to that style he had on Acid Rap? This gospel/Kirk Franklin thing he’s got going on is kinda lowkey hella corny.
Anyone who’s seen this dude during his playing days know why he’s here. He’s not just here because of his impressive stat line (202 goals with 219 assists over 16 seasons). He’s not just here for that time he put 33 goals in a 05-06 with Vancouver. Its not even his under rated fighting ability that has him on this list.
He’s on this list for all the reasons above plus this:
My nigga had the strongest hair in the history of the sport. Look at that shit. His helmet ain’t protecting nothing in that picture, its just levitating like four inches above his scalp. The only thing protecting him from a concussion is the strength and power from his Barbadian ancestors and probably a little cocoa butter. He looks like how Seasons sounds if that song could play hockey.
Since this glorious photograph was taken my man has since cut his locks and is now one of the few brothas on TV talking about hockey. But before he went with the corporate hair cut dude started a hip-hop record label, moved to Atlanta, and took this head shot where he simultaneously looks less like a former top six forward and more like the R&B singer who steals your girl when you not acting right and that Jamaican dude Eddie Murphy warned us about.
This photo gives off all kinds of “I’m just sayin’, I’d treat you like the queen you are.”
Carter may be gone from the game, and his hair may be gone from his head, but that combination of blatant Caribbean blackness and 421 points will live on forever.
Yes, Grant Fuhr is the first, and so far only black player in the hall of fame. Yes, he revolutionized the goalie position. Yes, I am biased because on the rare occasion I get to play hockey, I play as a goalie.
The reason Fuhr earned his way on to the list as I skip over Future’s verse on King’s Dead is because of that Afro.
If I can get semi-serious with the hockey analysis for a second, part of the the problem with making the statistical argument for the greatness of old school goalies is that their numbers don’t fall in line with what we currently expect from goalies. The 403 wins is an easy number to highlight. The .887 save percentage and 25 shutouts don’t seem to match up to current goaltenders who wear larger pads, are bigger, more athletic and wear a helmets, not just face masks made out of hard plastic.
Since it can be difficult to explain the difference between what the game is now and what it was in the 80s I’d like to present you with another image that encapsulates his dopeness.
Look at my nigga over here lookin like the an assuming dude behind all the baby-making music your parent’s generation listens to at the cookout. I can almost hear someone’s drunk uncle in the backyard dancing uncomfortably close to someone’s auntie as the kids voice their appreciation for the song that’s playing.
“What you know about some damn Grant Fuhr? You young folks don’t know nothin about this here. This hear is how you got all them cousins.”
Another adult interjects.
“You don’t need to be talkin like that in front of the kids, Curtis!”
Curtis briefly takes a break from grabbing your auntie’s ass.
“Shut yo ass up Charles. He old enough to know about the facts life. He gon be doin it to them girls in a couple of years.”
(Before you ask, yes, the above scene is based on my experience at a cookout when I was 12)
Honorable Mention: Georges Laraque
I was just getting ready to close out this list and try to figure out if they really speaking an African language on the bridge to Redemption but I remembered one of my proudest moments:
About eight months ago the homie George Larque followed me on Twitter. Since then, I have spent the last eight months trying to figure out how I made it into this exclusive club of more than 54,000 thousand people who inhabit his timeline. (Before you start telling me that’s not an exclusive club, remember that there are over 8 billion people in the world which means only .000676 % of the planet has been followed by The George Laraque.)
But I don’t bring him up just so I can flex on the rest of you peasants. The man is also responsible for one of my favorite mic’d up moments in all of sports.
Laraque hits harder than Paramedic! and that song hits so hard with its clear bay area hip hop infleunces that when it first started playing I started throwing up gang signs of all the Bay Area Neighborhoods I avoided growing up because of the gang activity.
But he’s not just a fighter, as seen below, he’s also very polite before he gives you the beats.
Sometimes hockey fights start because of legitimate beef. Others start because a player is trying to energize his team. This one seems to be born out of a combination of boredom and politeness. These two just wanted to take a five minute break from the game to chill out and watch in some front row seats.
Laraque is the friendly Canadian version of that black hockey player without a stick Cedric the Entertainer was talking about.
I’m not gonna link to it but a Youtube search of “Geroge Larqaue fights” also brings up a 2-hour long video. That’s enough to make this list by itself.