Omar Epps is a 21st century Renaissance Man. After an early life spent writing poetry and rapping as part of hip hop crew Wolfpack in Brooklyn, New York, the young Epps followed his talent into acting, and was cast alongside Tupac Shakur in Harlem drama Juice. Epps went from strength to strength, racking up further credits both on the big screen – In Too Deep with LL Cool J, and the Spike Lee-produced sports romance Love and Basketball – and in living rooms across the world with roles on House and ER. Now a father of three who recently published his first book, From Fatherless to Fatherhood, versatile Epps was tapped by the basketball and streetwear retailer KICKZ, who have partnered with hallowed label Champion for a limited capsule collection, Never Not Ballin’, on the occasion of their 25th anniversary. As the official outfitter of all 27 teams of the NBA, Champion made NBA gear fashionable off-court. Now KICKZ has updated the brand’s classic staples with polar fleece and black and white designs, for understated looks that say that the golden era of basketball fashion memorialized in Love and Basketball never ended.
Below Epps speaks to KICKZ about basketball, Tupac, LeBron, and fatherhood.
KICKZ: Omar, people know you as an actor but most are not aware, that you also have a basketball background.
Omar Epps: Well, I played a lot on New York City playgrounds, all over Brooklyn sometimes Manhattan. Now mind you, I was not a great player, but it was fun. I mean, as an inner city kid that’s what you did. Play sports and especially basketball since there are so many courts. You just go and play pick-up games, compete with other kids. Everyone wants to be the best on their block.
KICKZ: Were you?
Omar Epps: The best on my block? I’d like to consider myself that, but I probably wasn’t. [laughs]
KICKZ: Do you go to NBA games?
Omar Epps: Yeah, I’ve been to a couple. My schedule is tight but whenever I can I try to go. I definitely plan on watching LeBron play at Staples Center this year.
KICKZ: What do you think of the Lakers chances to win another title with LeBron?
Omar Epps: You can’t bet against LeBron. Ever. I think it will be interesting and he will take the team further than what people think. It will be exciting to watch. I don’t think they will be good enough to compete for a championship this year but I hope they still have a great season, LeBron doesn’t get hurt and they’ll add another superstar next year. Then it gets interesting.
KICKZ: Let’s switch topics to your career as an actor which luckily also includes basketball. The role you played in the cult classic Love and basketball . . . you looked very believable as a ball player which is not always the case when actors play athletes. How did you prepare for that?
Omar Epps: I was already quite athletic which helped and growing up like I said I played on the playgrounds and such, so it wasn’t like I was starting at zero. But still I had to train really hard for that film. We trained with some of the ex-coaches from UCLA, to make it look more real.
KICKZ: What’s on the horizon for you? Any new projects?
Omar Epps: I always feel like I’m jinxing it by talking about it, so I won’t. [laughs] Suffice to say I have a couple projects for tv shows and feature films in the works.
KICKZ: There’s also a book out now which you wrote. Could you please talk a little bit about that and why you wrote it?
Omar Epps: The book is called From Fatherless to Fatherhood and it basically chronicles my life growing up without a father and becoming a father. A couple of years ago I had a moment with my son that caused me to question whether me growing without a father has somehow crept into my fatherhood. It became an exploration of self since I never had that thought before and it started coming out in the form of writing. About halfway through I thought that maybe my story could be used as a tool of inspiration for others and people who have gone through similar things growing up. Or even when they did not go through that they could still maybe learn something different about parenthood. I’m very proud about it and I’m getting a great response from people who have read it so that’s pretty cool.
KICKZ: As a company that was born in 1993 and loves 90s hip hop, we have to ask you this. You played alongside Tupac in the movie Juice which was your first acting role. What can you tell us about Tupac?
Omar Epps: Wow. Pac was an amazing guy. He really was. So smart. Obviously super talented. We were really young. I believe he was 19, I was 17 and we were just living the dream. It was the first film for both of us and there’s just a lot of great memories. We were just two kids having fun. It was a magical time not just in my life starting out with acting but also in terms of hip hop culture.
KICKZ: What was different about the time back then compared to today?
Omar Epps: Back then there was so much positivity, specifically in New York, amongst fellow artists, musicians, athletes, actors. The 90s were a great time and they will always have a special place in my heart.
The Kickz x Champion Never Not Ballin’ anniversary capsule collection is available now. Check out the lookbook below: