The NFL without Odell There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market

It was written all over Odell Beckham Jr.’s face. He didn’t have to say a word. His fractured ankle — suffered in Sunday’s 27-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, which dropped a decrepit New York Giants squad to 0-5 on the season — will require surgery. Beckham tallied 97 yards on five catches and one touchdown before going down. In what could be his final 2017 image, the league’s most dynamic talent sat demoralized on the back of a cart in tears.

The NFL has many faces. Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling. The owners’ resistance to Kaepernick’s impact. Von Miller’s eccentricity. Ezekiel Elliott’s future. Cam Newton’s drama. The New England Patriots’ dominance. Marshawn Lynch’s silence. But Beckham is the face of fun (“fun” being subjective in this case) in a billion-dollar league with very serious — mental health, domestic violence, First Amendment, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — issues.

The loss of Beckham is a hit stick to the league’s cultural capital. He’s set to cash in more than $10 million in endorsements. Nike can’t be too happy: In May, the company and Beckham came to terms on the richest shoe deal in NFL history — nearly $5 million a year for five years. Beckham’s wardrobe, the football equivalent of Russell Westbrook’s, makes nearly as many headlines as the wind sprints, acrobatic one-hand catches and intricate end zone routines that could moonlight as music videos.

Beckham is the most followed NFL player on Instagram, with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively.

In a quarterback-driven league where fan loyalty largely resides with the entire team, Beckham is an individual, non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him) whose brand is just as much about name on the back of his jersey (fourth overall in 2016 sales) as the team logo on his helmet. Beckham’s social media influence is huge — he’s the most followed NFL player on Instagram with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively. With 55 percent of all 18- to 29-year-olds in America on Instagram, Beckham’s appeal to the younger crowd separates himself from his peers.

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On his off days, Beckham is a regular fixture at NBA games. He has the respect of LeBron James. Kaepernick, too. He’s won the adoration of Drake (and likely a spare set of keys to his mansion). He even, allegedly, friend-zoned Rihanna. He texts Michael Jordan. He takes selfies with Beyoncé and rubs shoulders with an even more famous Beckham — David. And Beckham’s cleats are always in. He shifts the culture by driving it, which is why his injury affects NFL culture far beyond the Giants’ red zone offense.

The Giants’ season had effectively been in rice for weeks. But the loss of Beckham means the loss of one of football’s most popular ambassadors at a time when America’s most popular sport is in the crosshairs of societal debates that the president weighs in on almost daily. While Beckham’s attitude has long been perceived by some as a character’s most notorious flaw, his impact on the sport is felt leaguewide. “I would be remiss not to acknowledge how engaging and professional Odell [Beckham Jr.] was during the entire week of the Pro Bowl,” NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said in February. “By far and away, he represented the New York Football Giants and the NFL with great poise, congeniality and professionalism.”


Max blasts Giants for OBJ injury

Beckham’s fractured ankle, the same one he injured in a preseason game versus the Cleveland Browns, is likely the bookend to his turbulent 2017. The year, of course, began with Beckham, Victor Cruz and several other Giants partying on a yacht in Miami with Trey Songz.

The January boat party followed a playoff-clinching win over the Washington Redskins, and Beckham was largely blamed for the team’s lackluster postseason exit a week later against the Green Bay Packers — for what it’s worth, and as far as the mood on Twitter, the Giants haven’t won a game since. Then, in July, Beckham, who reached 3,500 yards faster than any receiver in league history, declared he wanted to be not only the league’s highest-paid receiver but the highest paid player, “period.” And just last month during a game versus the Philadelphia Eagles, Beckham critics feverishly salivated at the opportunity to throw him under the bus after a touchdown celebration in which he mimicked a dog urinating in the end zone. Beckham revealed later that the celebration was a response to President Donald Trump’s “son of a b—-” statement. After his second touchdown in that game, to far less fanfare and debate, Beckham raised his fist. Except for Kaepernick and maybe Lynch, there is no more polarizing NFL personality than Beckham. The conversation around him never stops. The goalposts just shift in a league that served up the following just on Sunday:

In a long-planned move, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of the Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game as several members of the Niners kneeled during the national anthem. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lashed out after his team’s 35-31 loss to the Packers by saying that any member of the team to “disrespect” the flag would not play. Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster was seen snorting a white substance in a video posted on Facebook by a woman Foerster was confessing his love to. The Tennessee Titans denied Kaepernick a tryout after a hamstring injury to its starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, opting instead for unsigned journeyman Brandon Weeden. Houston Texans superstar defensive lineman Watt suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. Meanwhile, after a week of self-inflicted controversy, Carolina Panthers star quarterback Newton pieced together a second consecutive MVP-like performance with 355 yards and three touchdowns versus the Detroit Lions.

In quarterback-driven league and where fan loyalty is to teams, Beckham is the rare individual non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him).

And then: “I knew it was bad,” Giants tight end Evan Engram said about Beckham’s injury after the game. “Bad” is an understatement. Beckham’s ankle headlines a decimated Giants receiving corps that had the makings of quite possibly the best in football. Both Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard were ruled out of the second half of Sunday’s game with ankle injuries. Per Adam Schefter, Dwayne Harris’ fractured foot will end his season. Sunday’s setback also destroys Beckham’s quest for a fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and 1,000-yard season and the pipe dream of exorcising the demons of playoffs past. It complicates an already foggy contract situation too. Down their best offensive player, the Giants lose their most marketable face, with two prime-time games still left on the schedule, in a season on pace to go down as one of the worst comedy of errors in team history.

For the NFL, it’s a season in which the biggest headlines come from the sidelines, and the Oval Office. The season isn’t even halfway over and its traffic jam of moral dilemmas, including the saga of Kaepernick’s quest to return, dominate discussion. Which is why the NFL without Beckham is a blow it could ill afford. There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market. There’s no way to re-create that cocktail of production, swag and divisiveness that comes from the former LSU standout. The NFL is in a position it’s become all too familiar with in recent years — although Beckham’s injury is, of course, beyond its control — behind the eight ball.

As Beckham was carted off the field Sunday, towel over his head to mask the pain, he again didn’t have to say a word. One of his famous friends already had, fittingly on a song called “Do Not Disturb”: They tell me I need recovery/ Maybe gettin’ back to my regular life will humble me/ I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary.

SportsCenter’s ‘Gear Up,’ Week 6: UAB pays tribute to patients from Alabama’s children’s hospitals The segment shows off a one-of-a-kind UAB uniform honoring 10-year-old Griffin Devor

In Week 6 of Gear Up — SportsCenter’s weekly segment previewing the best uniforms in college football — The Undefeated’s Aaron Dodson breaks down the style combinations of Troy, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas State, Slippery Rock, Northwest Missouri State, Rice, Nebraska, Utah, Eastern Kentucky and UAB.

After a huge upset over No. 25 LSU on Sept. 30, Troy switches up the swag yet again, with the team’s fifth different uniform combination in as many weeks. For the first time, Gear Up features the uniforms of two Division II schools: Slippery Rock and Northwest Missouri State. As a nod to the past, Nebraska, Utah and Eastern Kentucky all unveil classic throwbacks. TCU and Oklahoma both break out fresh and funky patterns, while Rice shows off its patriotism with a U.S. flag-themed helmet. The uniform of the week goes to UAB’s Children’s Harbor combination, which allows players to honor patients from children’s hospitals across Alabama by wearing their names on the backs of jerseys.

Jay Z — an artist truly made in America — makes his case for an authentic rest of his life From Bun B to Styles P to T.I. — the grown men of rap are having a moment

In May, Jay-Z inked a new $200 million deal with Live Nation. Before this weekend, his last major tour was in 2014 with his wife Beyoncé for their ($100 million-grossing) On The Run excursion. Jay-Z’s return to Made In America, a music festival he founded with Budweiser in 2012, was to be the culmination of a chain of events that started with speculation, leading up to June 30 release of 4:44, about just how much Jay-Z did or didn’t have left in the creative tank.

Rap, historically, has been a young man’s game. Could Jay-Z, at 47, still shift the culture as he’s done countless times before? Could he successfully coexist in a world of Futures and Cardi Bs and Lil Yatchys and Migos — all of whom were either gracing the Made In America stage this year or in years past? Would Jay’s first major solo performance in three years be his next Michael Jordan moment?


Music fans in ponchos attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival, day one on Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 2 in Philadelphia.

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

Sunday morning. On Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street. Jay Z’s new “Meet The Parents” blasts from a black Toyota Avalon. People on the sidewalk rap along — the car’s speakers are an impromptu appetizer for what’s to come later. He can’t explain what he saw / Before his picture went blank / The old man didn’t think / He just followed his instincts,” Jay-Z rhymes at the stoplight. Six shots into his kin / Out of the gun / N—a be a father / You’re killing your sons.”

On that day — before the Labor Day holiday and Night 2 of the sixth annual Budweiser Made In America Festival — a group of friends walking down 20th Street playing cuts from 2009’s Blueprint 3 on their mobile phones. Thousands of iterations of Shawn Corey Carter stared back from T-shirts worn by the crowd that swarmed Ben Franklin Parkway.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables.

And then there was the young man working at UBIQ, a chic sneakers store on chic Walnut Street. Looking like a student from Penn, he said he planned on taking in Jay-Z’s headlining Sunday set. At least for one day at the end of summer, the City of Brotherly Love bled blue, Jigga’s favorite hue. “It’s a skate park like right across the street,” Penn Guy said as cuts from Jay-Z’s lauded 4:44 play from the store’s speakers. “I’ve never seen him live. I’m excited.”

Jay-Z’s return to rap — there’s been no new solo album since 2013’s middle of the pack Magna Carta Holy Grail — has been a summer-long process. First came the rumors of a new album watermarked by mysterious “4:44” signage that covered everything from city buses to websites all across the country. Then, at the last of June came the album itself, which was met with immediate and widespread love. A slew of “footnotes” — videos, conversations between people such as Chris Rock, Tiffany Haddish, Will Smith, Jerrod Carmichael, Chris Paul and more — followed, which detailed the album’s creation and inspirations.

From there, in mid-August, the most-talked-about music interview of the year showcased Jay-Z alongside Tidal and Rap Radar’s Elliott Wilson and Epic Records and Rap Radar’s Brian “B.Dot” Miller. The podcast left no stone unturned. In a two-part, 120-minute conversation, they peeled back layers of Jay-Z’s thought processes about music, life, love, motivation, depression and, even LaVar Ball.

On the heels of that talk, and through a Saturday of unseasonal chilly downpours, Jay-Z and Beyoncé watched a new generation of stars command muddy crowds. Family from both sides of the Carter-Knowles union cheered Solange on through her Saturday set. Was may well have been a kind of moment Jay-Z envisioned throughout the recording of 4:44. At 47, he had to wonder about his creative mortality, and if he could shift the culture as he’d done so many times before.


Bun B performs onstage at The Fader Fort presented by Converse during SXSW on March 16, 2013, in Austin, Texas.

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie point guard Lonzo Ball said it: “Y’all outdated, man. Don’t nobody listen to Nas anymore […] Real hip-hop is Migos, Future.”

On one hand, it’s difficult to fault a 19-year-old for backing the music of his youth. Younger generations of artists and fans alike have always bucked back at generations who view their contributions as destructive. Tupac Shakur openly dissed De La Soul on 1996’s seething battle record “Against All Odds:” All you old n– tryna advance/ It’s all over now take it like a man/ N– lookin’ like Larry Holmes, flabby and sick/ Tryna playa hate on my s–, eat a fat d–. And only weeks before he was murdered, The Notorious B.I.G. vowed to never rap past 30. On the other hand though? Right now is a particularly good time for a handful of statesmen who dominated hip-hop before Big Baller Brand was just a twinkle in Lavar Ball’s eye.

How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, he’s hip-hop’s them.

Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike and El-P (and their soundman, Trackstar the DJ) have consistently been one of the decade’s most impactful groups. They tour the world — and, in particular, amassed a melting pot crowd of various races and ages moshing at the Sunday Made In America set. Nas’ 2012 Life Is Good is, in many ways, rap’s interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, and one of the great late-career albums from any MC. OutKast’s 2014 tour was weird, but Big Boi of OutKast has quietly been responsible for several stellar albums — 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, 2012’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors and 2017’s Boomiverse — in this decade alone.

Jay-Z wasn’t the only artist in the pre-Lonzo Ball era displaying moments of clarity over the last few years either. A handful of hip-hop’s mature and notable names have been creating art and expressing — via conversation and on social media — everything from encounters with their own mortality to the pain and occasional beauty of survivor’s remorse.

Rice University instructor Bernard “Bun B” Freeman (currently working with Beyoncé and Scooter Braun on a telethon to benefit the victims of Hurricane Harvey), one half of the legendary Port Arthur, Texas, rap group UGK, sat down with Queens, New York’s own N.O.R.E. for an installment of the MC’s popular Drink Champs podcast. Per tradition, both parties swap hip-hop war stories and imbibe for the better part of two hours. The most emotional segment centered around memories of Freeman’s partner in rhyme, Pimp C, who died in 2007.

“The illest s— Pimp [C] ever said was ‘I don’t need bodyguards. I just need mighty God.’ Ever since he said that, and I never told him, I move like that,” Freeman said. A single tear streamed down the right side of his face. “If you wasn’t moving with me within God, I’ll just move by myself. That’s the way life should be.” He continued, “If you are who you say you are, and you’re honoring that in a real way, you can move anywhere in this world. Pimp and I are proof of that.”

When it comes to honoring a fallen comrade, T.I. (who was not feeling Lonzo’s comments) understands all too well. In May 2006, T.I’s best friend Philant Johnson was murdered in Cincinnati following a drive-by shooting. Phil, is inspiration behind T.I.’s massive Justin Timberlake-assisted single “Dead & Gone.” Phil had been by T.I.’s side that same evening — holding his mobile while the rapper performed. Hours later, his lifelong friend lay bleeding to death in his arms. “I told him I had him, and it was going to be all right,” T.I. told MTV in 2006. “That was what I said. And he said, ‘All right.’”

The death could be viewed as the trigger that disrupted T.I.’s massive mid-2000s success. His 2007 weapons arrest and subsequent incarceration was seen by many as a response to Johnson’s murder. T.I. contemplated quitting rap. But T.I.’s moved forward. While not at just this minute the Billboard and box office star he split time as a decade ago, the film producer, actor, and two-time Grammy winner born Clifford Harris is still a recognizable figure in rap. Particularly on his very active Instagram account.

Instagram Photo

Last month, Tip (a father to six who is who has experienced his own share of public marital ups and downs with singer-songwriter Tameka “Tiny” Harris) posted the video of him presenting Phil’s daughter with a new car. She’s now a high school senior. In a heartfelt caption, Tip used the moment as a social media therapy session. “Making straight A’s and maintaining a 3.8 GPA, all the way through school, staying away from all the things we were eyeball deep in when we was her age, & doing any & everything that’s EVER been asked since you left,” he wrote. “How can we not make sure she rides cool & in comfort her senior year? We miss you more than we can express…but we fill in for you everyday until it’s all said and done.”

He promised to send her to college. And that she’d never suffer for anything. It was more than an Instagram caption. It was remaining true to a promise to a man who died in his arms 11 years ago. “Our loyalty lives forever!”

Lastly, it’s Styles P — one-third of ’90s Bad Boy trailblazers The LOX. He and his wife, Adjua Styles, visited Power 105’s The Breakfast Club in August. Among other things, the couple discussed the benefits of healthy eating, and Charlottesville, Virginia. They also talked about their daughter’s suicide.

It’s what performances like these are masked for—regular season games for a championship run.

In June 2015, Styles P’s stepdaughter, Tai Hing, took her own life. She was 20. Styles P addressed the tragedy a month later via Instagram, detailing the difficulty he and his family faced, and would face. Hing’s death, her mother believes, could have been the boiling point of depression, issues with her biological father, and perhaps her sexuality.

Fighting back tears, Styles P was emotional about never having been able to take the place of Hing’s biological father. The dynamic bothered him deeply, but was beginning to understand as he, himself, was a product of a similar situation. “If we knew she was depressed she would’ve been home with us,” he said. “ We all deal with depression on some sort of level … You expect your child to bury you, not to bury your child.”

Honesty has always been a prerequisite for hip-hop in its most soul-piercing form. Beyond the flash, the lights and the flossing, at its core, rap was necessary to explain the fears, dreams, joys and pains of a people so often still struggling. And dealing with police brutality, poverty, misogyny, and more. So Styles P’s pain, T.I.’s memories, Bun B’s instructions from Pimp C, and Jay-Z’s vulnerability aren’t new grounds for rap. But their grief, and willingness to shred the cloak of invincibility rap often mirages is living proof of the power behind the quote a wise man said nearly a decade ago. Ain’t no shame in holding onto grief. As long as you make room for other things, too.


Music fans attend the 2017 Budweiser Made in America festival – Day 2 at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 3, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

The weather Sunday proved to be Mr. Hyde to the Saturday’s Dr. Jekyll. The only visible fingerprint from Saturday was the mud that essentially became a graveyard for shoes. Jerseys were popular with the crowd. UNC Michael Jordan and Vince Carter. Cavaliers, Heat and St. Vincent-St. Mary LeBron. Sonics and Warriors Durant. Nuggets Jalen Rose, Sixers Ben Simmons. Lakers Kobe, and Hornets Glen Rice. UCLA Russell Westbrook, and Lonzo Ball. Arizona State James Harden, University of California Marshawn Lynch, Niners Colin Kaepernick, LSU Odell Beckham and Georgetown Allen Iverson. Obscure jerseys such as Aaliyah’s MTV Rock n’ Jock and Ray Finkle’s Dolphins jersey (from the 1994 Jim Carrey-led comedy classic Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) were sprinkled among the sea of thousands.

Afternoon sluggishly careened into evening. 21 Savage, Run The Jewels and The Chainsmokers all commanded large crowds. Felicia “Snoop” Pearson from The Wire dapped up fans. Hometown young guns Markelle Fultz and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers walked through the crowd. Festivalgoers camped near the main stage for hours in hopes of landing an ideal viewing spot for Jay-Z’s performance. To pass time, cyphers were had. Weed smoke reclined in the air. Guts from dutches and cigarillos were dumped. All to pass the time.

Months ago, many, especially on Twitter, wanted to act like Jay-Z wasn’t a headliner. No one even saw an album coming. Now here they were minutes from history. That’s what Jay-Z is in 2017. How generations before talked about Marvin Gaye, Prince, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson — Jay-Z is hip-hop’s them. He’s a throwback to the genre’s yesterday lyricism while embracing the newer generation he still attempts to impart game on and learn from.

The oversized Balloon Dog by famed sculptor Jeff Koons took the stage: It was time. “I’ve been waiting for this all summer,” one concertgoer said as he wrapped his arms around his girlfriend. “I know one thing, Jay better do the songs I wanna hear!” demanded another young woman.

So he did. Jay-Z’s set lasted nearly an hour and a half. He blended 4:44 cuts with classics from his catalog — the radio-friendly and the graphic street narratives. Jay-Z commanded of the crowd, but critiques did exist.

In his Rap Radar interview, Jay-Z mentioned that he was still toying around with the set list for his upcoming tour (slated to start in October). While it’s not a question to 4:44’s quality, Jay-Z weaving in old classics such as “Where I’m From,” “H to the Izzo,” “N—as In Paris,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Hard Knock Life,” “Run This Town,” “Empire State of Mind” and “Heart of City” captivated the crowd, cuts from his most recent album seemed to dissipate from the energy those helped muster. 4:44, after all, does not have a big radio single.

4:44 is Jay-Z’s most personal album to date. His thirteenth solo effort revolves around the complexities of his marriage, his mother’s sexuality and societal issues that continue to create systematic disadvantages for people of color. Its intimacy can get lost in an outdoor crowd of tens of thousands. For an album of that nature, it’s tough to ask even Jay-Z to plan for such.

Breath control was expected to be off-center in his first major performance in three years — though coaxing the crowd to sing Beyoncé happy birthday was a great diversion. Are these flaws that will doom his upcoming tour? No. He still has three more festivals on deck before setting sail on his own on Oct. 27. It’s what performances like these are made for — regular-season games for a championship run.

“It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” a concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.”

Jay-Z performs at Budweiser Made in America festival on Sept. 3 in Philadelphia.

Arik McArthur/FilmMagic

Jay-Z’s catalog: a litany of hits he can employ at any time to wrap a crowd around his fingers. People filmed Instagram and Snapchat videos of themselves rapping along. People yelled to him from the back of crowd as if it were a Sunday service. And cyphers between friends sprouted everywhere. Another element Jay-Z kills with is the element of surprise. He concluded the show with a tribute to Coldplay’s Chester Bennington, who committed suicide in July: an inspired performance of his Black Album single “Encore.”

As he left the stage, crowds swarmed to the exit. Some concertgoers voiced their displeasure. Jay-Z did his thing in the 90 minutes he gave Philly. But there was still something missing. “That’s it? He didn’t even do half of the songs I wanted,” said a girl as she walked toward the exit. “It was aight, I guess. It’s Jay, so he did all the songs I wanted,” another concertgoer told me. “But I’m greedy. I wanted more.” Made In America was over.

Then, it happened. An explosion lit up an adjacent stage. Just Blaze on the turntables. Some slipped in the mud trying to get there, ruining their clothes, but those concerns were faint. Hundreds were already on the street heading back to their apartments, AirBnB’s or Ubers when Jay-Z informed Philly that the party wasn’t over yet. This set was only for his “Day Ones.”

Jay pulled his “Pump It Up Freestyle” out his back pocket. This bled into “Best of Me,” “I Know,” “Hola Hovito,” “Money Ain’t A Thing” and more. Hometown kid Meek Mill’s guest appearance gave an already frenetic crowd an HGH-sized boost of adrenaline as the rapper ran through his catalog’s zenith and most intense track, 2012’s “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro).”

As Jay-Z closed the second set with [his favorite track], “Allure,” the mood was ceremoniously serene. Michael Jordan finished with 19 points on 7-of-28 shooting in his first game back in versus Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in 1995. The 21 misses are footnotes in history. It’s a moment everyone remembers for two simple words: “I’m back.” Grown as hell, Jay-Z is too.

Isiah Warner’s inspirational teaching at LSU never stops pushing STEM careers The 2016 SEC Professor of the Year holds the highest professorial rank in the LSU system

Louisiana State University (LSU) professor Isiah Warner laughed as he recounted the many hats he’s worn throughout his 25 years at the school. Warner serves as vice president for strategic initiatives, Boyd Professor (the highest professorial rank in the LSU system) and Philip W. West Professor of analytical and environmental chemistry and as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor who works to develop, apply and solve fundamental problems through research.

Although Warner battles a murderous schedule, the professor has no plans to slow down. The goal? Helping as many students as he can achieve their goals in a field that chose him long ago. Warner’s dedication to students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has earned him many accolades throughout his career and most recently allowed him to add SEC Professor of the Year to his résumé in 2016 — which is quite the ironic turn for a man who nearly walked away from his calling before his career even began.


Born in Bunkie, Louisiana, a small, one-exit town with a population of less than 5,000, Warner was an audacious child who was eager to learn how the world around him worked. Though he can’t pinpoint when his love for science evolved, Warner does recall a time when his earliest science experiment gave his parents a scare and landed him in the hospital.

“There was just something about science that I always loved,” Warner said. “When I was 2 years old, my parents would use a kerosene lamp to light up the room, and I was curious about this liquid that would light up the room. So I creeped into the cabinet when they forgot to lock it one day and drank some kerosene and ended up in the hospital. I tell everyone that was my first chemistry experiment. But I craved chemistry, and they bought me a chemistry set when I was 11 or 12 years old.”

As Warner grew, so did his passion for science. After graduating from high school, Warner headed to Southern University without any real direction.

“I certainly didn’t have any role models,” Warner said. “In fact, when I went to Southern University to major in chemistry, I was kind of discouraged and I went in to talk to the chair. He said, ‘Mr. Warner, you’ll have a Ph.D. before you’re 30.’ And I said, ‘What’s a Ph.D.?’ I had no idea what that was. You can’t aspire for something if you don’t know what it is. But I knew that I loved science, I loved math, and it was just something inside of me that loved these things.”

Despite having to figure out college on the fly, Warner earned his chemistry degree before working as a technician for a prime contractor with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Over his five years on the job, Warner began to question whether he had entered the right field.

“I hated my job so much so that I thought I was not meant to be a chemist, that I’d obviously picked the wrong field, that I was wrong about my love for chemistry,” Warner said. “In the industry I encountered lots of bias, and that was difficult for me. I wasn’t as confident as I am now, so it was difficult for me to accept. And that was part of the rationale about me thinking that I wasn’t suited for being a chemist, because I wasn’t treated very well. But my wife worked for a psychiatrist, and I went to them and asked them to run an aptitude test on me to see what it is I loved. He ran the test, and it said I was best suited to be a chemist.”

The psychiatrist suggested what would be a simple fix: an advanced degree. Warner took his advice and went on to get his doctorate in analytical chemistry from the University of Washington. There, Warner also discovered how much he enjoyed working with students and others around him.

“I love students, and I spend a lot of time with students,” Warner said. “It is an active way for me to work with students and do things with them outside of the research realm, so I’ve created educational programs and written grants to support students and all of those sorts of things I do through this office.”

His time at LSU has made a notable difference to students, faculty and staff alike. Before his arrival in 1992, according to Warner, there had never been more than three African-Americans in the chemistry graduate program at one time, with only six African-Americans earning doctorates. Since then, the number has increased to more than 80 African-Americans entering the graduate program over the past 10 years and around 30 working toward doctorates in chemistry.

Although the increase in African-American students does coincide with Warner’s arrival, the professor refuses to take full credit for the rising number of students joining the science program.

“Those students don’t just work for me, so it has to work where the entire department is interested in these students and not just me,” Warner said. “I have some good people around me, supporting me, and that helps a lot.”

His devotion to his career, nurturing spirit and investment in the growth and mentorship of students were noted during his nomination for SEC Professor of the Year in April. The award is presented annually to one SEC faculty member whose work ethic, teaching and research have gone above and beyond the call of duty. The honoree is selected by the SEC provosts from among the 14 SEC Faculty Achievement Award recipients.

After the announcement was made, Warner became a hometown hero in Bunkie. On May 17, the mayor declared it Isiah Warner Day, and city officials, residents and old friends gathered at a celebratory reception in Warner’s honor.

“I had never received those types of accolades from my hometown before,” Warner said. “Everyone was there. I brought in about 20 of my students to interact with any students who were there. Students got to see where I was born and raised.”

Although the year has been filled with exciting moments for Warner, the professor knows his work is far from over. Besides his jobs at LSU, Warner also plans to give back to the community and help spark an interest in STEM-related studies in young children. On July 10, Warner will be back in Bunkie helping to host a daylong science event in which 50 students from Avoyelles Parish will experiment with different projects for a hands-on learning experience.

Warner vows to continue to help students in any way he can, but he also encourages them to find others around them who may be suited to guide them throughout their destined career paths.

“Students need to find mentors and find a niche,” Warner said. “I spend a lot of time mentoring young people because there were people there along the way for me who pointed the way for me, and I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for people who pointed the way for me. I try to be there for other people.”

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.