When Laurence Holmes was 14 years old, his family moved from Roseland, an overwhelmingly African-American neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, to Homewood, a suburb that was around 75 percent white at the time. As Holmes started his freshman year at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, he didn’t know many people. But when he met Ben Bradley, he found out he and his new friend shared a favorite television show: Star Trek. Before long, Holmes would start going to Bradley’s house to watch new episodes of The Next Generation.
“You're looking to connect with people any way that you can. I was able to find friends. You make a reference to it, and it’s like, ‘Oh, you dig that?'” Holmes said.
Holmes is now one of Chicago’s most popular sports talk personalities. He hosts a daily radio show on 670 the Score, and the Football Aftershow on NBC Sports Chicago. A self-described geek, Holmes will often weave sci-fi and comic book discussion into his shows. “For whatever my popularity is worth, it comes from people who respect my opinion on sports, but also that I am ‘vulnerable’ enough to share that I like comic books, I like sci-fi, and I like music," he explained. "[Listeners] understand they don't have to be just one thing."
In covering the Chicago Bears, Holmes was often at Soldier Field, the football team’s home field. He saw fans in face paint, jerseys with a player’s name and number, shoulder pads, wigs and hair extensions. He also covers yearly fan conventions like Cubs Con and Sox Fest, where fans line up for hours for autographs from their favorite players. When he went to C2E2, Chicago’s premier comics convention, he saw the same thing.
“It's weird because there are so many sports fans who feel like there's a masculinity to being a sports fan that is not present when we're talking about comic book culture or sci-fi culture,” Holmes said. “My retort was, 'You're doing the same thing. It's a matter of what your geek is. Your geek is sports.'”
Holmes would watch reruns of The Original Series with his parents, but truly became a Trekkie when TNG started airing in 1987. He was a teenager by the time “The Best of Both Worlds” and “Chain of Command” aired, and he will still stop and watch those double episodes every time he gets a chance.
“‘Chain of Command,’ where we get to view the concept of torture. It wasn't grisly violent; we were seeing someone get psychologically tortured, and I thought it was a very powerful and valuable lesson,” he said.
The lessons taught in not just Star Trek, but in much of the science fiction world, stood out for Holmes. From Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura to Avery Brooks’ Ben Sisko, Holmes always appreciated how Star Trek portrayed the future in a more inclusive way.
“They set a good tone early on. It was the 60s, and it was difficult, but there's ‘Let that Be Your Last Battlefield.’ Whether it's Roddenberry, or Serling with the Twilight Zone, some of that stuff is so ahead of its time. Every time I see something now, as an adult, I can appreciate it more than when I was 13 or 14. Some of the things that they were putting in front of you were very important in shaping the type of person that you could become, and what kind of future you can envision,” Holmes said. “I've always found it to be, even at its darkest, even at the moments where the Borg are trying to take over the Federation, or what's going on in the Delta quadrant, there was still this glimmer of hope. There was a way to work through some of that.”
Holmes sees a natural connection between himself and Sisko. They are both African-Americans, and huge baseball fans. Like Sisko, Holmes said he keeps his anger below the surface, preferring to stay calm. But Sisko is not his captain of choice.
“Riker is my captain," Holmes revealed. "I love Picard. That's my guy. But I always was drawn to Riker. The moment when he actually does become the captain of the Enterprise, I thought that story arc was unbelievable. Some people wouldn't even consider him to be in the conversation, but he's in mine. He engineered the single most important victory for Starfleet in the history of the franchises. We saw what happened, and what would have happened if the Borg were not stopped.”
Those early days of watching Star Trek, whether with his parents or his friends, helped turn Holmes into a lifelong fan of the show. Bradley also went on to a career in media in Chicago, and is currently a reporter and anchor for WGN News. Holmes now credits his ability to talk to athletes of every stripe and the callers to his show to not limiting his fandom to just sports.
“I can relate to different kinds of people because of that experience. You may not expect a Black kid who grew up on the South Side of Chicago to be into Star Trek the way that I am. I'm glad that I had that.”
Maggie Hendricks is based in Chicago and has covered sports and culture for more than 10 years for USA Today and Yahoo Sports. She co-hosts a weekly radio show on 670 the Score, and sneaks in Star Trek references into the sports world as much as possible. Follow her on Twitter @maggiehendricks.