A power ranking of Odell Beckham Jr.’s custom cleats from the 2016 NFL season The New York Giants wideout was determined to break out the heat on any given Sunday

Every NFL Sunday is a footwear fashion show for Odell Beckham Jr. Over the past few seasons, the New York Giants wide receiver has shown up and showed out on the field with the freshest cleats in all of football. His secret? Well, it’s not really a secret at all, because OBJ takes much pride in his custom-made creations, for which he entrusts the skill and creativity of Los Angeles-based sneaker artist Troy “Kickasso” Cole, who cranks out masterpieces inspired by every concept fathomable. From album covers to video games and movies to personal tributes, whatever Beckham Jr. dreams up in his imaginative mind, Kickasso can translate onto cleats.

Yet, as a result of the NFL’s enforcement of its strict in-game uniform and equipment policy, most of the kicks in OBJ’s one-of-a-kind collection are worn exclusively during pregame warm-ups before he changes to a more traditional pair for games. But every now and then, Beckham Jr. will risk a fine to ensure that his flashiest shoes find their way onto the field when the game clock starts rolling.

During the 2016 NFL season, the anthology of custom cleats that OBJ unveiled was second to no other player in the league. Throughout the regular season, playoffs and Pro Bowl, he truly became a titan in the sneaker world, which certainly contributed to Nike recently inking the 24-year-old to the biggest shoe deal in NFL history, estimated to be worth more than $29 million over five years.

Hopefully the huge new contract with Nike doesn’t prohibit Beckham Jr. from continuing his tradition come next season. As we anticipate what else OBJ and Kickasso have in store, let’s take a look at their creativity through this definitive, descending-order power ranking of 20 custom cleats they made pop last season.


20. WEEK 10 VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS — LSU

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s cleats before the NFL game between the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 14, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every NFL player deserves to rep his alma mater however he sees fit, but, man, these cleats in the signature purple and gold of Louisiana State University — the school the Giants drafted Beckham Jr. out of in 2014 with the 12th overall pick — are quite hideous. A more appropriate salute to LSU would’ve been cleats featuring detailed illustrations of tigers, the mascot of OBJ’s former school. As for these plaid concoctions — in the words of the illustrious 21st century musical talent scout Randy Darius Jackson, “yeah … that’s gonna be a no for me, dog.”

19. Week 5 vs. green bay packers — Breast cancer awareness

Since 2009, the NFL has been committed to spreading breast cancer awareness. Every season in October, players take pride in wearing the color pink as a display of their dedication to finding a cure. Beckham Jr. didn’t disappoint last October. His breast cancer cleats were a simple but very classy tribute to every woman and family affected by the disease.

18 and 17. week 7 vs. Los angeles rams — Burberry and Rolling Stone

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When the Giants traveled to London to face the Los Angeles Rams in October 2016, OBJ channeled his inner European designer by breaking out pregame cleats embossed with the beautiful pattern of British fashion house Burberry (the iconic brand of clothing that Jay Z rapped about swimming in on his 2002 track with his then-future wife Beyoncé, ” ’03 Bonnie & Clyde”). These cleats are uber-swaggy, but don’t hold a candle to when Beckham Jr. went full-on designer and commissioned a pair of Supreme x Louis Vuitton customs to be made after the season.

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OBJ changed his kicks before kickoff, but remained authentic to the game being played across the pond by switching to red, white and blue cleats, and matching gloves, featuring the legendary logo of the English rock band the Rolling Stones.

16. week 12 vs. cleveland browns — Paint splatter

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. stands on the field during practice before a game against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 27, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

AP Photo/Ron Schwane

These are just really fun. Camouflage is always a good look, and the extra splash of color with the rainbow flecks and green and yellow shoestrings set them over the top. Stay tuned for more camo cleats from OBJ.

15. week 1 vs. Dallas Cowboys — sept. 11 tribute

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants wears cleats as a tribute to the 15th anniversary of 9/11 before a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Sept. 11, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Giants’ 2016 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys happened to fall on the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 — one of the most infamous days in the history of the United States. Beckham Jr. illustrated his patriotism in the form of U.S. flag-themed cleats with bald eagles on the outer soles of each shoe. OBJ was certainly proud to be an American on the first night of football last season.

14. Week 6 vs. baltimore ravens — “Kirby”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike cleats during warm-ups before the game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

HUGE shout-out to OBJ for throwing it back to our childhoods by paying homage to the one and only Nintendo character Kirby. He unveiled these in the middle of October 2016, taking the NFL’s tradition of wearing pink to advocate for breast cancer awareness and running with it. Beckham Jr. chose a pink character and crafted an entire cleat design around it with the utmost detail, from the warp stars to the Whispy Woods (Kirby’s recurring foe in the video game series). On this NFL Sunday, OBJ represented the video game nerd that resides in every one of us.

13 and 12. week 13 vs. pittsburgh steelers — Make-a-wisH (Dora The EXplorer and The Simpsons)

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation during warm-ups before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

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For one week during the season, the NFL, aka the “No Fun League,” allowed players to wear their in-game cleats however they wanted, outrageous customization and all, without receiving fines in violation of the league’s uniform policy. The #MyCauseMyCleats initiative, which required players to commit to supporting a charitable cause, saw approximately a third of the league (around 500 players) participate. Beckham Jr. chose to represent the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, according to its website, has a “vision to grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.” And true to his cause, OBJ depicted the child within himself on two pairs of cleats he had designed. One pair was inspired by Homer and Bart Simpson, two of the main characters of the popular animated sitcom, The Simpsons. The other pair, which he wore during the Week 13 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, featured characters from the educational children’s series Dora the Explorer. Not the league, nor Swiper, could steal these cleats from Beckham Jr.’s feet on #MyCauseMyCleats Sunday. OBJ did it for the kids.

11. WEEK 2 VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS — “NOLA BOY”

New Orleans Native New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears Nike cleats with Nola Boy on them before the game between the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” Beckham Jr. has surely come across this legendary James Baldwin quote at least once in his life — or heard a variation of it from his grandma, aunties and uncles, or parents — while on his journey from growing up in Louisiana to becoming an NFL wide receiver in New York. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is OBJ’s hometown, but he also claims New Orleans. So when the Giants faced the Saints early in the 2016 season, Beckham Jr. made his allegiance to the city known with “NOLA BOY” custom cleats in Mardi Gras colors. These are pretty special.

10. week 9 vs. philadelphia eagles — “Salute to service”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wears cleats with a camouflage pattern while warming up before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 6, 2016, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

On the Sunday before Veteran’s Day, Beckham Jr. honored the nation’s armed forces with camouflage cleats reminiscent of the Japanese clothing brand A Bathing Ape’s fresh camo print. These are pretty sweet.

9. Week 14 vs. dallas cowboys — 300

Division matchups in the NFL are always battles. And no one went to war like the Spartans, whose combat skills were epically portrayed in the 2006 film 300. So when the Giants went up against their NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys in Week 14, OBJ imagined he was taking the battlefield for Leonidas I, unleashing these SUPER dope 300-inspired red, black and gold cleats.

8. wild-card playoff vs. green bay packers — “grab the cheese”

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In January, the Giants journeyed to the land of cheese for a wild-card matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Before the playoff game, Beckham Jr. countered Green Bay’s cheesehead fans with cheese feet. He donned a pair of yellow cleats that resembled blocks of cheese, with carefully drawn holes and images of Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Itchy the Mouse from The Simpsons. Like these two mice, OBJ was after the cheese. Too bad the Giants took that smooth L.

7. week 15 vs. detroit lions — craig sager tribute

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Craig Sager tribute cleats during the third quarter of the National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions on Dec. 18, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Beckham Jr. was fined only once last season for violating the NFL’s uniform and equipment policy with his flashy cleats. The penalty was issued following Week 15, when OBJ played against the Detroit Lions in a pair of multicolored, and multipatterned, cleats honoring longtime NBA broadcaster Craig Sager, who died at age 65 three days before the game. Known for his bright and brazen sideline outfits, Sager would’ve loved OBJ’s cleats, which he auctioned off following the game to benefit the Sager Strong Foundation for cancer research. Yet despite Beckham Jr.’s heartfelt gesture, the NFL still slapped him with an $18,000 fine, which didn’t sit too well with the superstar wide receiver.

Yet if you asked Beckham Jr., he’d probably tell you that, for Sager, the fine was worth every single penny.

6. WEEK 17 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — KANYE WEST “GRADUATION”

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Kanye West dropped out of college and became a 21-time Grammy Award-winning musician. Beckham Jr. never graduated from college, either, deciding to forgo his senior year at LSU and enter the NFL, where he is now an All-Pro wide receiver. So the only commencement the two have in common is OBJ’s cleats he had designed after the cover of West’s 2007 album Graduation. On these kicks, the colors morph from an orangish-pink to a drank purple, and illustrations of Kanye’s signature bears are beautifully done. Hot take: Graduation is one of the best, if not the best album of West’s career. Obviously, it’s up there in the ranks for OBJ, too.

5. week 4 vs. Minnesota vikings — OVO

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s OVO custom-made cleats are seen on the field during the first half of a game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 3, 2016, in Minneapolis.

AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King

If you didn’t know that Beckham Jr. and Drake are BFFs, you must have been living under a rock like Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants for the past year. Last NFL offseason, Beckham Jr. house-sat the hit-making musical artist’s Calabasas, California, mansion, known as the “YOLO (You Only Live Once) estate,” while he was on tour. Drake later shouted out his bro OBJ on his October 2016 track “Fake Love” with the seminal line, Just when s— look out of reach / I reach back like one, three / Like one, three, yeah — a reference to the most revered play of the NFL wide receiver’s young career, which also happens to be arguably the best catch in league history. And even this year, Drake stopped one of his shows to get Beckham Jr., who was in the audience, to sign a fan’s jersey. Yet, before all of these epic chapters of their friendship, OBJ paid tribute to his big homie during the 2016 NFL season with these simply gorgeous October’s Very Own (OVO)-themed cleats. The sky blue base of the shoes, with softly drawn white clouds, is a subtle nod to the cover of Drake’s 2013 album Nothing Was the Same, and the perfect complement to the metallic gold illustrations of Drake’s trademark owl on the outer soles of each shoe. Man, these cleats are a truly a work of art.

4. 2017 Pro Bowl — Toy Story

OBJ definitely “gotta friend” in Troy Cole, because the artist appropriately known as Kickasso absolutely did his thing with these Toy Story-themed cleats that the wide receiver sported in January’s Pro Bowl. What a beautiful touch to dedicate one shoe solely to Sheriff Woody Pride, and the other to space ranger Buzz Lightyear. Beckham Jr. is surely ready for 2019’s Toy Story 4, and so are we.

3. WEEK 16 VS. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES — GRINCH

Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants warms up wearing Christmas cleats featuring the Grinch before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 22, 2016, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

There’s only one way to celebrate Christmas on your feet, and that’s with the Grinch. Basketball great Kobe Bryant did it with his signature Nikes in 2010, and Beckham Jr. continued the tradition in custom fashion last holiday season. The vibrant colors and details on these cleats are amazing. We wouldn’t be mad if Beckham Jr. rocked them all season long — they’re that nice to look at. Yo, OBJ, if you’re reading this, next Christmas you gotta go full Home Alone with your kicks. It’d be the perfect way to tell every D-back in the league, “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal! … and a Happy New Year.”

2. WEEK 11 VS. CHICAGO BEARS — “BACK TO THE FUTURE”

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s Nike Cleats with “Mattel Hover Board” and “Back to the Future” on them before a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears on Nov. 20, 2016, at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All three films of the Back to the Future trilogy were released before Beckham Jr. was born in 1992. But as we saw last season, OBJ is a young Marty McFly at heart. He and Kickasso put their creative minds together to give the people not one, but two pairs of Back to the Future-inspired cleats, incorporating multiple elements and moments from Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty and Doc Brown travel 30 years into the future from 1985 to 2015. Beckham Jr. wore the first pair during warm-ups before a Week 11 matchup with the Chicago Bears, which included illustrations of the Mattel hoverboard, Marty’s metallic hat and the DeLorean time machine, all featured in the film. These cleats are glorious, but Kickasso saved his best work for what OBJ wore during the game. The wide receiver took the field in a pair of remarkable silver-and-electric blue creations, designed after the self-lacing Nike Mags that debuted in the 1989 film. Nike released the shoes for the first time nearly three decades later, and again in 2016, making OBJ’s Back to the Future cleat idea timely and relevant in the world of sneakers.

1. WEEK 3 VS. WASHINGTON REDSKINS — THE Joker

OBJ has a unique obsession with The Joker, which we’ve seen translated through his on-field apparel in the past few seasons. The wide receiver first made his infatuation known during a December 2015 Monday Night Football game, when he wore cleats and gloves illustrating the comic book supervillain’s chilling face. Last season, however, he took the obsession a huge step further. Everyone knows OBJ and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman aren’t too fond of each other. And, coincidentally, Norman’s favorite superhero is Batman, The Joker’s archnemesis. So, in all his pettiness, Beckham Jr. had two more pairs of Joker cleats made for a 2016 Week 3 matchup with Norman and the Redskins. The pregame pair featured graphic details in bold colors, from The Joker’s eyes on the tongue of each shoe and his stained teeth on each toe, to his tattoos and catchphrases such as Why So Serious?, on the inner and outer soles. The pair he wore during the game were more subtle — mostly white with speckles of lime green around the laces, and red ink circling each shoe to represent The Joker’s blood-stained smile. With 11 catches for 121 yards against Norman and the Redskins, Beckham Jr. became the fastest wide receiver in NFL history to reach 200 career receptions and 3,000 receiving yards. So, now, his in-game Joker cleats are displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. You know what that means, right? OBJ has a Hall of Fame cleat game.

A power ranking of Ice Cube’s Big3 basketball league With team names such as Trilogy, Power and 3’s Company, this league promises fun times

This past weekend, Ice Cube’s Big3 basketball league held a combine and aired its first official draft live from Las Vegas. Teams are now set, and the league tips off on June 25. The draft day itself was broadcast live on Facebook and featured host Michael Rapaport cracking jokes, Ice Cube talking trash and players gearing up for returns to the spotlight. One thing was made clear: This league is going to be fun. So without further ado, here are three major storylines coming out of the draft and the preseason power rankings. Those never go wrong.

An Unexpected Top 5

There are a lot of big names in the Big3 — Allen Iverson, Mike Bibby, etc. — but most of those guys were linked up with teams already as co-captains. So the players drafted were familiar — but light on former NBA star power. The league held a combine over the weekend, and while we don’t know exactly what happened behind those closed doors, it seems like the top five picks put on great showings. Former UNC star and Minnesota Timberwolves wing Rashad McCants, 32, was the top pick. He joins Kenyon Martin (captain), Al Harrington (co-captain), James White and Dion Glover on team Trilogy. Andre Owens, Reggie Evans and Xavier Silas were the next three picks, with former No. 1 pick and Michael Jordan whipping boy Kwame Brown picked fifth.

Stringer Bell And Avon Barksdale Split

Remember how gut-wrenching it was at the end of season three of The Wire when Avon Barksdale and his right-hand man, Stringer Bell, double-crossed each other, leading to their demise? It was an on-screen partnership we never thought we’d see end. Well, that betrayal in the annals of black friendship breakups just got topped: Cuttino Mobley, co-captain of the team Power, actually allowed his team to pick former teammate Moochie Norris over former best friend and brother from another mother Steve Francis. Mobley and Francis were inseparable as a Rockets backcourt tandem, and seeing them have a chance to reunite was a prospective highlight for the Big3 league. And Francis’ redemption story as someone who has been through legal troubles since retiring was a tale we were rooting for. Unfortunately, Francis went undrafted — the band is definitely not back together under coach Clyde Drexler.

The Return Of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was a legitimate college basketball star at LSU and a dynamic scorer with the Denver Nuggets in the early ’90s, but most people know him for sitting out the national anthem 20 years before then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did the same. As a result, Abdul-Rauf lost out on prime years of his career and was out of the media spotlight for most of the past two decades. It’ll be great to see him lace up again. Also, he’s sharing a backcourt with White Chocolate himself, Jason Williams. Pray for ankles. All of them.


And now the Big3 draft power rankings:

Rosters are in. Teams are set. That means it’s time to start placing odds and figuring out who’s going to come out with the championship.

1. Three-Headed Monster

Rashard Lewis (captain), Jason Williams (co-captain), Kwame Brown, Eddie Basden, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Gary Payton (coach) — As I mentioned before, the backcourt of Abdul-Rauf and Williams is going to create havoc. Of course, they may not both be on the court together, since this is 3-on-3 and bigs might be able to take advantage. Either way, the game is not timed and first to 60 wins, so the constant barrage of quickness might tire out any team of vets. Add in a Kwame Brown, who performed well in the combine, and Lewis and we may have a dominant force. Let’s also not forget that there are three spots for 4-point shots, and this team is as equipped as any to knock those down.

2. Power

Corey Maggette (captain), Cuttino Mobley (co-captain), Jerome Williams, DeShawn Stevenson, Moochie Norris, Clyde Drexler (coach) — This team was going to get my vote as a top team no matter who they drafted for one reason: Mobley. In case you haven’t seen the videos, Mobley has been going out to the Drew League looking like the real Uncle Drew and demolishing young cats. I don’t know if there’s an MVP of this league, but if so, Mobley has to be preseason favorite.

3. Trilogy

Kenyon Martin (captain), Al Harrington (co-captain), Rashad McCants, James White, Dion Glover, Rick Mahorn (coach) — Anyone who plays 3-on-3 knows that rebounding is key. Players have to clear the boards and get the ball outside of the paint as quickly as possible. This squad, with Martin and Harrington, seems ready for that task. Also, there’s no illegal defense, so Martin camping out in the paint daring anyone to drive is going to be a deterrent. Add in top draft pick McCants and we have a sleeper squad on our hands.

4. Killer 3s

Chauncey Billups (captain), Stephen Jackson (co-captain), Reggie Evans, Larry Hughes, Brian Cook, Charles Oakley (coach) — This team might be smaller than most, with only one guy taller than 6-foot-8 (Cook). But they have shooters in Billups and Jackson and an athletic Hughes. Plus, Jackson being coached by Oakley seems like a recipe for bully ball. Ice up, kids.

5. 3’s Company

Allen Iverson (captain), DerMarr Johnson (co-captain), Andre Owens, Michael Sweetney, Ruben Patterson, Allen Iverson (coach) — This squad is going to be the most anticipated simply because it marks Iverson’s return to the court. Does he still have it? Can he score 50 points in a 60-point game? Is he going to practice?! That’s well and good, but he’s lacking another big former NBA star like the teams above him. Former Atlanta Hawk Johnson will be an athletic help, but this is going to be a one-man show. And if A.I. can pull out his magic, that’ll be all they need.

6. Ghost Ballers

Mike Bibby (captain), Ricky Davis (co-captain), Maurice Evans, Marcus Banks, Ivan Johnson, George Gervin (coach) — Bibby and Davis are going to make for an explosive backcourt. However, there’s one problem: shooting. There aren’t many 3-point specialists here, which might hurt them in trying to get to 60. But if anyone can go off for an unexpected monster game, it’s Davis.

7. Tri-State

Jermaine O’Neal (captain), Bonzi Wells (co-captain), Xavier Silas, Lee Nailon, Mike James, Julius Erving (coach) — One good thing about 3-on-3 games is spacing. Bigs get to work out in the paint and destroy guys one-on-one, so it’s possible the Tri-State squad might be dominant thanks to having the league’s best big-man scorer in O’Neal. The only problem is that if he gets double-teamed, I’m not sure if the rest of the guys can nail the 3s. They’re seventh in my ranking, but they have the best chance to move up quickly.

8. Ball Hogs

Brian Scalabrine (captain), Josh Childress (co-captain), Derrick Byars, Rasual Butler, Dominic McGuire, Rick Barry (coach) — I don’t want to be that guy, but I have to: These guys are already at a handicap with Scalabrine as their captain, expected to pile on minutes. Sorry, White Mamba. They also drafted seventh, so it’s a cocktail for a roster that has an uphill battle.

Why do so many pros go broke? A former Steeler and a recent LSU Tiger talk about why it’s critical to prepare before one’s playing career is over

Lewis Neal and Russell Davis are generations apart, as are their stories. They don’t know each other but they share a passion other than football. They want their fellow athletes to understand finance so they can protect themselves and their families.

One is a defensive end looking forward to being drafted into the NFL next month. The other is long retired from the NFL, with a Super Bowl ring. One is determined to be the first African-American NFL player to become a billionaire. The other recently retired from his second career as an athletic director in Jackson, Michigan.

Neal, 21, graduated last December from Louisiana State University with a degree in sports administration. He wants to be a role model for African-American athletes in the NFL when it comes to financial literacy and budgeting, just like he was in college. His enthusiasm bubbles over when he talks about his self-taught financial acumen, earning money trading on foreign exchanges and teaching personal finance and investing to his LSU teammates.

“My goal is to inspire other athletes to take finances more seriously, and aim higher than sports,” Neal said. “They need more than one stream of income.

“It has to come from somebody in their shoes. And I feel like that’s me. When they have money and don’t know what to do with it, they get things they never had. And they are not understanding that type of cash flow will not come in when they leave sports.”

Davis, 60, was a running back with the 1979 Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. He said he was totally unprepared for the money that came with his athletic success and remembers vividly when he was cut by the Steelers after a five-year career. He had to give up the big house and the cars and figure out how to return to a “normal life.” There was no plan. It just ended. He, too, wants to talk about the importance financial literacy for today’s athletes.

“I never failed at anything before Pittsburgh let me go,” Davis said. “It goes beyond humbling. I had a family, and two young kids. I can’t describe the devastation that occurs in your spirit and your mind.”

Players need help to prepare and bounce back after losing it all

There are many stories about professional athletes and their postcareer money problems: Antoine Walker reportedly blew through $108 million; Warren Sapp, $82 million; Vince Young, $25 million. The list goes on. (Walker now does public speaking on financial literacy, and has a book and a documentary on his story.) But most of those stories are about the big-money athletes – not the average players who have much shorter careers.

Sports Illustrated once estimated that 78 percent of NFL players are either bankrupt or under financial stress within two years of retirement and 60 percent of National Basketball Association players are broke within five years of leaving the sport. The average length of a career in professional sports is relatively short: 3.3 years in the NFL; 4.6 years in the NBA; and 5.6 years in MLB.

Andre Collins, executive director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) Foundation, said players’ transition to life after football is difficult, “even for the most prepared players who have gotten a solid education. For a young person, it’s tough.” The foundation offers grants, loans and other types of assistance to help with that transition.

“There is a window when it can be difficult if he goes from earning a great salary to nothing,” Collins said. “If he goes from earning $450,000 and that goes down to $45,000 a year, there is an adjustment to his lifestyle.

“Most players rebound, find gainful employment and are doing well,” Collins said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t try to educate players about money and how it works.”

Davis did eventually rebound. The third pick in the fourth round in the 1979 NFL draft, he spent his first year on injured reserve. His first contract was for three years with a $32,000 base salary and a $20,000 signing bonus in the first year. He said he hooked up with an agent who took advantage of athletes, so he was “woefully underpaid.” Still, it was pretty good money back then, when teachers were earning less than $15,000.” He earned a $90,000 base salary in his final year.

His first purchase as a rookie was a luxury car. “Knowing what I know now, that should not have been my first expense,” he said. “Should it have been a nice car that says I am somebody, or should I make an investment that will help me beyond my playing years? If you get a nice car, then you need a three-car garage and the trap continues. In my day Mr. T was big, so you had to have all the gold chains. They are still trapping kids with bling-bling.”

When he was cut by the Steelers, he was unprepared, financially and emotionally. “When I was drafted, I had not finished school,” he said. “I didn’t graduate, and I didn’t care, because, baby, I was going to play ball, and I was going to play with the best team in the country. Everybody knows I’m good and I will play forever. I learned quickly that wouldn’t be the case.

“I was mortified, out looking for work that would keep me in a lifestyle in which I was accustomed,” he said. He had saved nothing, and eventually had to sell the house at a loss and the cars. “We [players] had no education back then,” he said. “We were just exposed to the wolves.”

He credits Bo Shembechler, his coach at Michigan, with helping him turn things around. He told Shembechler that he wanted to coach: “He said, ‘Russell, you didn’t finish school.’ He said, ‘Let’s get you back in school,’ and put me in touch with a school counselor. He got me university housing and some scholarship money.

“It was the hardest thing because now I’m dealing with emotion,” he said. “I’m mopping floors at a hospital and people are still recognizing me. They say, ‘Man, aren’t you Russell Davis?’ And I say no, because I am ashamed.”

He said he fell prey to people who didn’t have his best interests at heart. “I’m not bitter, but I felt taken advantage of,” he said.

Davis said the problems with young players persist today. Even though they are making a lot more money, nothing has changed about their attitude and education about money. “Guys are still keeping up with the Joneses. That’s one of the traps I fell into. I’m making $90,000 and Franco Harris was making $450,000, and I’m eating at the same restaurants. I couldn’t afford it.”

His advice: “Get educated in every aspect of handling your money. At some point you have to trust somebody, but do your homework. Cover your basics. The athletic piece takes care of itself. You got there because of your abilities. Now you have to put in work in the other areas – your family and your finances.”

Getting it right

Then there’s Neal, the Wilson, North Carolina, native who grew up wanting to be an investor.

“I wanted to understand how to make money work,” he said. “I was always the kind of person to take finance seriously growing up. I had to take care of what I had, because I didn’t have much.”

His mom works at a bank. “She is really good with finances. I guess that being in a family that takes it seriously, it was natural for me to take finance seriously.”

His financial education started in high school. Then he found financial guru Dave Ramsey and started reading his books. “That’s when I got introduced to managing my money and doing things correctly. I started understanding 401(k)s and all those things that help you.”

Between football and learning about investing, he had little time for anything else. “You have to sacrifice,” he said. “Learning how to do what I do doesn’t happen overnight. The times when I could have been watching TV, that’s when I was learning. When I had extra time during the day, I was taking the time to learn more about finances. I had to manage my time.”

He trades regularly, mostly on foreign exchanges – stocks, commodities and futures. “When I needed to make some extra money, I’d go to the market and get it,” he said. “I’m successful, but I’m not a full-time trader. I can go to any market and do it, but I prefer the foreign exchanges.”

When he gets to the NFL, his plan is to invest the contact money and live off the returns. He also has developed several apps.

He readily shared his financial knowledge with his LSU teammates. “Football doesn’t last forever. Ten years after football, you have to be ready. You want to walk into your next stage if you are already set. You will be ready, instead of saying, now what?

His rule No. 1 for pro players: “You have to look at your bank account every day. Know what’s going in and what’s coming out. That’s simple stuff. It’s not hard. But it’s got to be taught and molded into the mind from somebody who relates to him.”

Minnesota Lynx Seimone Augustus goes deep on why WNBA players go overseas to make more money WNBA players need higher wages and playing all over the globe helps, but there are consequences

A week after Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus finished her seven-month season in Russia with the Dynamo Kursk, she was back in Minneapolis for WNBA training camp.

This has been the routine for Augustus, who is entering her 11th season in the league, for eight years now. To make a satisfactory wage, the three-time WNBA champion has opted to give up summers, time with her family and her wife of almost two years to play overseas.

Augustus discussed the wage discrepancy in the WNBA versus international professional leagues with VICE Sports and ESPN Films as a part of executive producer Carmelo Anthony’s The Clubhouse shorts.

“If I have a daughter, I want her to dream just as big as my son,” Augustus said in the film.

As of 2014, almost three-quarters of WNBA players were playing for teams overseas, with some, like Washington Mystic Kristi Toliver, juggling three teams. As juniors and seniors in college, women interested in pursuing a professional career are abruptly introduced to the reality that they will probably have to leave home to earn max money.

In the WNBA, the maximum income a player could earn in 2016 was $109,000. In Russia, that number tripled to $325,000 for one season and as of 2014, a player could earn an estimated $600,000 playing in China, as Brittney Griner reportedly did.

There are a few WNBA players, such as Skylar Diggins and Elena Della Donne, who earn big money from their endorsements, who don’t have to play abroad to pay the bills. But stars such as Crystal Langhorne, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore, Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, and many more work during the WNBA offseason.

The WNBA’s stance on the double-dipping can best be described as uneasy. In 2016, the league negotiated with its players association to include a provision in the new collective bargaining agreement that allows teams — or the league itself — to fine players beyond the salary they automatically forfeit, for missing games because of overseas obligations. The league also gave each team a $50,000 “time-off” fund that the team can distribute to players who choose not to go overseas or who limit overseas play to fewer than 90 days.

“The notion of trying to find a way to both recognize the overseas play but also offer an incentive to limit that overseas play was very important to our ownership group,” WNBA president Laurel Richie told The Washington Post in 2014 after the new labor agreement.

As stated, players such as Augustus, who is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, get little to no break when they rotate going from their three-month WNBA season to their foreign teams. This creates little time to mentally and physically recover from long stretches of play and injuries that occur over the course of play. Small injuries can turn into long-term issues requiring surgery without appropriate rest and recovery.

“Obviously, we have to come out and put quality basketball on the floor,” Augustus said. “It’s very hard at times to have quality basketball and have players that are at 100 percent when we play year-round and we’re all kind of banged up. We’re doing the best that we can with the damage that’s been done to our body and very little break.”

While in the NBA, teams have been wary of putting brands on the jersey, Augustus believes branding could be a potential way to increase the stream of money coming into the WNBA and down to the players. The five-time All-Star said teams can do more to increase exposure of their players and their accomplishments by expanding media coverage. NBA players constantly use their likenesses to create greater earnings through endorsing products and services, which could benefit the WNBA as well on a wider scale.

“Without a doubt, we should be able to get those sponsorship deals and really promo that,” said Augustus. “There are just some areas we haven’t tapped into yet. I don’t know why, but there’s a lot of stuff that we can actually get involved with that men cannot touch. You’re not going to catch a man on a Tampax commercial. There’s many things that women use on a day-to-day basis that the league can use and we can use to get where we want to go.”

Augustus explained that she isn’t leaving the WNBA, because she wants there to be something for future generations to aspire to. She also said it would be a letdown of all the work the founders of the league put into it if the current players decided to forgo the league for increased earnings.