- Eight-episode HBCU docuseries debuts February 12
- Series first to be presented by new collaboration between The Undefeated and ESPN+, creating a home on streaming service for content at the intersection of sports, race and culture
- One-on-one conversations between Paul and notable HBCU graduates – including Spike Lee, Taraji P. Henson, Jerry Lorenzo and more – will augment Why Not Us
The Undefeated and ESPN+ are partnering to deliver a year-round home on the industry-leading sports streaming service for stories at the intersection of sports, race and culture. Why Not Us: North Carolina Central University Men’s Basketball, a new all-access docuseries executive produced by NBA All-Star Chris Paul and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith is the first project to debut under The Undefeated on ESPN+.
Premiering February 12 exclusively on ESPN+, Why Not Us takes viewers behind the scenes of the North Carolina Central University (NCCU) men’s basketball team. The eight-episode documentary series will examine the distinct culture, experiences and challenges of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) athletic program, its coaches, staff and student-athletes. Presented by The Undefeated, Why Not Us is produced by Roadside Entertainment, Paul’s Ohh Dip!!! Productions, Smith’s Mr. SAS Inc., and ESPN+.
“Why Not Us will spotlight the importance and uniqueness of HBCUs by chronicling the NCCU men’s basketball team and the challenges they encounter throughout a season in my home state of North Carolina,” said Paul. “HBCUs face challenges to compete at the same level as PWIs due to lack of funding, resources and awareness. Despite the obstacles they face, Why Not Us shines a light on these amazing Black student athletes who attend HBCUs, and how these historically significant schools continue to enrich not only the Black community but our nation as a whole. It was important to tell this story with Roadside Entertainment as we have successfully partnered with them to tell a great story through Crossroads, another important documentary about inspirational Black athletes in North Carolina.”
“As a graduate of an HBCU – Winston-Salem State University – any issue that allows us to illuminate the great challenges that HBCU’s perpetually face, yet overcome day-after-day, is something that is going to garner my interest,” said Smith. “After asking my coach, the late, great Clarence ‘Big House’ Gaines, what I could do for him in return for all he’s done for me, his answer was very simple: ‘Do all you can for this university, for any HBCU. Don’t let the world try and forget about it.’ This project is a step in that direction. It’s not just a project or a piece of work. It’s a mission. And I’m incredibly delighted and grateful that Chris Paul and ESPN asked me to come on board to make this happen.”
“Why Not Us is exactly the right show for our audience and this cultural moment, and Chris and Stephen A. are the ideal duo to deliver it,” said Brian Lockhart, vice president, ESPN Original Content and ESPN Films. “It combines their sports passion with the incredible impact of HBCUs on Black life in America. Its authenticity is the new benchmark for the type of content we’re creating for ESPN+.”
“We are proud to bring our distinct brand of storytelling to ESPN+, and will continue to experiment and challenge convention,” said Kevin Merida, Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, The Undefeated. “We are excited about the premiere of Why Not Us, and the attention this series gives to the vibrancy of HBCUs and the promise of their future.”
The Undefeated on ESPN+, available now on the streaming platform, offers fans a dynamic platform for year-round premium Black storytelling with The Undefeated sensibilities. A dedicated new section for the collaboration launches today as home to new original content, curated collections and more, throughout the year on the sports streaming service. This represents The Undefeated’s latest expansion across the Walt Disney Company.
Why Not Us: North Carolina Central University Men’s Basketball
Why Not Us follows the NCCU men’s basketball team during the 2020-21 season, exploring the stories of pioneering head coach LeVelle Moton (himself an HBCU graduate and former star basketball player at NCCU) and his staff, as they navigate a season unlike any other and help their players achieve greatness on and off the court. Moton overcame challenges along the way to becoming one of the most accomplished, though not widely-known, coaches in college basketball. He has raised the profile of NCCU since he took over in 2009, helping it transition from Division II to Division I, and along the way become a benchmark for success in basketball at HBCUs.
The series also highlights the ethos of being a student and student-athlete at an HBCU. Over the course of eight episodes, the viewer learns why HBCUs are much more than just repositories for colorful homecomings and the best marching bands in the world. Why Not Us spotlights the importance of these remarkable institutions, who have done more with less. HBCUs are a place that produces many of the very best and brightest among us, such as Spike Lee (Morehouse College), Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University), Thurgood Marshall (Lincoln University/Howard University Law School), Stacey Abrams (Spelman College), and the first African-American, Asian-American and female Vice-President, Kamala Harris (Howard University), to name a few.
Augmenting the eight-episode series, Paul will host intimate conversations with notable HBCU graduates, such as Academy Award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee (Morehouse, ‘79), actress Taraji P. Henson (Howard, ‘95), fashion designer and Fear of God founder Jerry Lorenzo (Florida A&M, ‘00), Moton (NC Central, ‘96), and more. Rolling out over the course of the series, the conversations will also be available as part of The Undefeated on ESPN+.
Why Not Us co-executive producers Paul and Smith are both strong advocates for HBCUs across America.
Paul, who left Wake Forest University early before being selected No. 4 overall in the 2005 NBA Draft, is working toward a degree at Winston-Salem State University. He has actively supported HBCUs for years, most recently assisting HBCU voting initiatives and raising awareness through his “HBCU Sneaker Tour” when he wore shoes representing different HBCUs at each of his games in the NBA Bubble last summer. The HBCU sneakers were auctioned off with all of the proceeds donated to the men’s and women’s basketball programs of each school represented.
Paul partnered with Harvard Business School last year to bring its Entertainment, Media and Sports program to North Carolina A&T, creating the Special Topics in Management course to develop a pipeline for students pursuing careers in those industries. The course will expand to more HBCUs this year, helping to address emerging issues in business management related to sports, media and entertainment.
Smith played basketball on scholarship at Winston-Salem State University (under Hall of Fame coach Clarence Gaines) before embarking on a career that has made him one of the most recognized and hard-working commentators in sports. He is the co-host of ESPN’s First Take, hosts weekly NBA pre-game editions of SportsCenter with Stephen A. Smith, and is the host and executive producer of the daily original program Stephen A’s World on ESPN+.
In 2019, Smith was named the ambassador of HBCU Week by the City of Wilmington, Del., and was instrumental in bringing First Take to the 76ers Fieldhouse as part of the week-long celebration of HBCUs. First Take recorded its largest in-person audience ever, which led to a college fair that offered on-the-spot acceptance and more for prospective students. In 2019 and 2020, Stephen A. Smith’s participation has enabled the HBCU Week foundation to generate 2,003 on-the-spot acceptances to attend HBCUs, and 11.2 million dollars in awarded scholarships.
The Undefeated on ESPN+
The launch of The Undefeated on ESPN+ enhances ESPN and Disney’s ongoing commitment to telling Black Stories and establishes a year-round collaboration between the two brands that creates and curates content that is Powered by The Undefeated – including a mixture of premium storytelling, relevant collections from The Undefeated and ESPN+ libraries and additional special projects. It will serve as a home throughout the year that tells Black stories, elevates Black voices in sports, highlights specific communities within sports (e.g. less-known Black sports trailblazers, Black female athletes, etc.), and explores the off-field/off-court work of athletes within their communities.
The Undefeated has a long-established commitment to telling the stories of HBCUs, as one of the core content verticals on www.TheUndefeated.com. Since its launch in May 2016, The Undefeated has been a leading platform for the comprehensive coverage of HBCU sports, campus life and culture, general news, personality profiles and conversations with newsmakers. Highlights include: convening the first forum at an HBCU with a U.S. President in October 2016 – a conversation with President Barack Obama at North Carolina A&T State University; launching the annual ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings in 2018; Makur Maker’s first-person account in July 2020 about becoming the first blue-chip basketball recruit to play at an HBCU (Howard University) since 1980; the all-day celebration of the HBCU class of 2020 during #UndefeatedHBCUDay on May 23; and more.
Beyond storytelling, The Undefeated annually recruits and trains six emerging journalists from HBCUs for the Rhoden Fellowship, a one-year, fully paid sports journalism internship program where the fellows serve as correspondents covering their respective schools and surrounding communities for the platform.
Other critically-acclaimed content in The Undefeated on ESPN+ includes a collection of nearly 70 hours of stories including the recently-released Tiger Woods: America’s Son, and thematic collections focused on Black excellence, courage, community, passion, perseverance, reexamination, unity, classic events and more. Curated content comes from the unmatched ESPN library of storytelling, including The Undefeated Presents, ESPN Films and 30 For 30, E:60, SportsCenter and SC Featured, Nine for IX, College Football 150 and classic performances from Wimbledon, The Masters, US Open, the Top Rank and ESPN Big Fights library.
The Undefeated is the premier platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture. It enlightens and entertains with innovative storytelling, original reporting and provocative commentary. The digital hub, TheUndefeated.com, which launched in May 2016, combines innovative long-form and short-form storytelling, investigation, original reporting, and provocative commentary to enlighten and entertain African Americans, as well as sports fans seeking a deeper understanding of black athletes, culture and related issues.
In addition to its cutting-edge content, The Undefeated seeks to be a thought-leader on race, sports and culture in the country – convening insightful forums to discuss and debate topical issues affecting sports and race in America.
About Ohh Dip!!! Productions
Founded by NBA All-Star Chris Paul, Ohh Dip!!! is focused on developing a wide range of projects across the spectrum of sports and entertainment for all platforms, including unscripted, scripted, digital, premium, documentaries, short-form content and more. Ohh Dip!!! is passionate about storytelling and bringing audiences together through entertaining, inspiring and unique programming.
Ohh Dip!!! Productions previously collaborated with ESPN Films on Paul’s three-part docuseries Chris Paul’s Chapter 3, which chronicles his offseason move to the Houston Rockets in 2017, and the 2018 film Crossroads, which was produced by Roadside Entertainment and follows a group of Black American boys in North Carolina who discover a love for lacrosse and their team’s journey in overcoming adversity.
Additional projects include The Game Changers, an award-winning 2018 documentary about plant-based eating, and Quibi’s 2020 Blackballed, the inside story of Donald Sterling and the L.A. Clippers. Upcoming projects include The Day Sports Stood Still, a documentary from director Antoine Fuqua and Imagine Documentaries about sports shutting down due to Covid-19 for HBO and to stream on HBO Max, and American Sole, executive produced alongside Kevin Hart, which follows two characters played by Pete Davidson and O’Shea Jackson Jr. in the sneaker reselling industry.
About Roadside Entertainment
Founded in 2004 by Emmy Award-winning producer/directors John Hirsch and Ron Yassen, Roadside Entertainment has a simple goal: Find great stories and bring them to life, seeking out characters who through force of will or the dynamics of circumstance rise up and inspire us in extraordinary ways. As filmmakers, Hirsch and Yassen take nothing for granted and strive to bring creative storytelling, honesty and integrity to everything they do. Hirsch co-produces the ESPY Awards on ABC and is an Executive Producer and Showrunner on Marvel’s Hero Project, on Disney+. Yassen’s credits include more than 30 documentary films, including Roger Maris: Reluctant Hero, Glory in Black and White, Kareem: Minority of One, and 50 Cent: Origin of Me. In addition to the ESPYs, Roadside previously collaborated with ESPN on the Emmy-nominated documentary Crossroads, which premiered at the Tribeca film festival in 2018
Chris Paul, Ohh Dip!!! Productions and Roadside Entertainment are represented by CAA.
About Mr. SAS Inc.
Mr. SAS Inc. was founded by Stephen A. Smith. Mr. SAS Inc is focused on developing game shows, talk shows, sitcoms, unscripted, scripted movies, and documentaries. Mr. SAS Inc. produces shows like ESPN+’s “Stephen A’s World.” A show that resonates with strong storytelling, celebrity guests, and original content to bring audiences entertaining, inspiring, and unique programming. Mr. SAS Inc. is co-producing “HBCU=Black Excellence,” a multi-part series using archival footage, photographs, news clips, and interviews about the most significant figures in the history of HBCUs. From Athletes to Historians, Celebrities to Politicians, Entertainers, and other prominent influencers, they’ll all come together to tell the true HBCU story. HBCU’s significant impact on American Society and Culture, and how its relevance continues to grow today.
About North Carolina Central University
North Carolina Central University (NCCU) prepares students to succeed in the global marketplace. Consistently ranked as a top Historically Black College or University, NCCU offers flagship programs in the sciences, education, law, business, nursing and the arts. Founded in 1910 and located in the Research Triangle Region, NCCU remains committed to diversity in and access to higher education. The university, which offers bachelor’s degrees in more than 100 disciplines, master’s degrees in more than 40 areas, and a Ph.D. in Integrated Biosciences, has an expanding academic portfolio that meets current and future workforce demands in industries from clinical research to information technology. NCCU’s signature graduate and undergraduate degrees are housed in seven colleges and schools. NCCU is a leader in the scientific study of health disparities and provides students with the opportunity to gain laboratory skills and experience working with faculty researchers and pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry professionals in two, state-of-the-art research institutes that are housed on campus.
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