Prodigy dies at 42 and other news of the week The week that was June 19-June 23

Monday 06.19.17

The state of North Carolina, that bastion of civil rights, had a law barring sex offenders from using social media sites, such as Facebook, invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court also ruled that rejecting trademarks that “disparage” others violates the First Amendment; the Washington Redskins, locked in their own legal battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, wasn’t a party in the current case but supported the decision, which ruled in favor of Asian-American band The Slants. New York sports radio host Mike Francesa, when learning of the decision, referred to The Slants’ members as “Oriental Americans,” and when told that phrase was offensive, he asked, “You’re telling me that using the word ‘Oriental American’ is a slight?” The 47-year-old husband of Beyoncé announced a new, stream-only album available exclusively to the hundreds of Tidal and Sprint customers. In honor of Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery, President Donald Trump released a statement praising two white men (President Abraham Lincoln and Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger), and a sportswriter questioned the history of American police and slave patrols. A heady reporter tried Lyft Shuttle, the ride-sharing company’s beta-stage commuter option, which allows riders to “walk to a nearby pickup spot, get in a shared car that follows a predesignated route, and drops you (and everyone else) off at the same stop” — or, in other words, a bus. A data firm hired by the Republican National Committee left sensitive information — including names, dates of birth and home addresses — of nearly 200 million registered voters exposed to the internet; the company responsible, Deep Root Analytics, calls itself “the most experienced group of targeters in Republican politics.”

The Philadelphia 76ers officially acquired the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, paving the way for the team to draft yet another player with past leg issues. Markelle Fultz, the first pick in Thursday’s draft, not only was traded from 53-win team to one that won just 28 games last season but also briefly considered signing with LaVar Ball’s Big Baller Brand over Nike. A Green Bay Packers fan and Wisconsin resident who, for some reason, has Chicago Bears season tickets, sued the Chicago franchise for not allowing him to wear Packers gear on the sideline at Soldier Field; the Wisconsin man told the court that the Bears “deprived me of my ability to fully enjoy this specific on-field experience.” In other bear news, three New Hampshire teenagers are being investigated for potential hate crimes for assaulting and yelling a racial slur at costumed Boston street musician Keytar Bear, who is black.

Tuesday 06.20.17

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said White House press secretary Sean Spicer wouldn’t appear on camera as much because “Sean got fatter.” Former five-weight boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard offered UFC fighter Conor McGregor one piece of advice for his boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in August: “Duck.” FBI director nominee Christopher Wray once represented an American energy executive who was being criminally investigated by the Russian government, but Wray deleted that information from his official online biography sometime in 2017. Mattel diversified its Barbie and Ken doll lines, offering different sizes, skin tones and hairstyles, including man buns, cornrows and Afros. For the new heavyset Ken dolls, Mattel originally wanted to market them as “husky,” but, “A lot [of guys] were really traumatized by that — as a child, shopping in a husky section.” Twitter was in an uproar after it was reported that Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot was paid just $300,000 for her role in the critically acclaimed, $500 million movie, compared with $14 million for Man of Steel’s leading man, Henry Cavill; the latter figure was not true. Imprisoned former football player O.J. Simpson, who is up for parole for burglary and assault next month, spends his time in prison watching his daughter’s show Keeping Up With the Kardashians; “He likes to keep up with all the gossip with them,” a former prison guard said. NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, last heard fighting prostitutes in Arizona, has decided to donate his brain to scientists when he dies; Sapp said his memory “ain’t what it used to be.” New York rapper Prodigy, real name Albert Johnson, died at the age of 42; Prodigy, one half of acclaimed duo Mobb Deep, had recently been hospitalized because of sickle cell anemia. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top lawyer, hired his own lawyer. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, catching up to the 20th century, signed a bill that raised the age of consent for marriage from 14 to 18. An Algerian man was sentenced to two years in prison for dangling a baby out a 15th-floor window on Facebook, instructing his followers “1,000 likes or I will drop him.” A Canadian man stole a mummified toe that had been used as an ingredient in a hotel bar drink for more than 40 years; an employee said the hotel was “furious” because “toes are very hard to come by.” To test the performative advantages of the microbiome Prevotella, a Connecticut scientist performed a fecal transplant on herself, telling a news outlet: “It’s not fun, but it’s pretty basic.” Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard, at 8:55 p.m. ET, tweeted, “Ok Twitter Fans ,, give me your thoughts , trades or otherwise & Remember 2B-Nice”; five minutes later, Howard was traded to the Charlotte Hornets.

Wednesday 06.21.17

The Pentagon paid $28 million for “forest”-colored uniforms for the Afghan Army, yet “forests cover only 2.1% of Afghanistan’s total land area.” White House aide and former reality TV star Omarosa Manigault signs her name as “the Honorable Omarosa Manigault” despite not being a high-ranking federal official or judge. Despite President Trump once valuing his Westchester, New York, golf course at $50 million, the Trump Organization valued the property at $7.5 million on tax forms, half of the town assessor’s valuation of $15.1 million, to pay less in property taxes. The Russian government, accused by U.S. authorities of spreading fake news to influence the 2016 presidential election, said it will “raise the issue of fake news” at the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, calling it “a problem that should be defined and addressed collectively.” Although terrorism is defined as using violence for political reasons, the FBI said the shooting at a baseball practice for the Congressional Baseball Game by a white man had “no terrorism involved.” Meanwhile in Flint, Michigan, the stabbing of a police officer at an airport by a man who reportedly yelled, “Allahu Akbar” is being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism. A group of CIA contractors were fired from the agency for hacking a vending machine and stealing over $3,000 worth of snacks. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana), best known for body-slamming a Guardian reporter last month, was sworn in to the House; the Democratic Party of Montana sent Gianforte an orange jumpsuit for his first day in office. The daughter of two dentists who had enough education to teach their children about stocks and investments, and who, herself, owns a multimillion-dollar company, was taught to save and now plans to retire at 40. In shocking news, a new study found that films with diverse casts outperform films that are overwhelmingly white. A police officer was acquitted of fatally shooting a black man. An auto insurance industry-funded study found that states with legalized recreational marijuana laws had a higher frequency of auto collision claims than states without such laws. Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert E. Murray sued comedian John Oliver for defamation after the HBO host used his weekly TV program to mock the energy executive, at one point calling Murray a “geriatric Dr. Evil”; Oliver predicted on his show June 18 that Murray would sue him. Hall of Fame professional wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler, known for calling women’s breasts “puppies” and other sexist remarks, said even he hated the finish of a historic all-women’s match that ended with a man winning. In response to the new American craze fidget spinners, Chinese companies have started selling the Toothpick Crossbow, a small, $1 handheld crossbow that can fire toothpicks 65 feet; parents worry the crossbows could blind young children, and Chinese state media fear iron nails could be swapped in for the toothpicks. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson said he is willing to trade 21-year-old center Kristaps Porizingis, who is 21, with the “future” of the team in mind.

Thursday 06.22.17

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, still visibly upset over the recent actions of Phil Jackson, pointed out that the Knicks president’s first front office deal back in 2014 was signing forward Lamar Odom, “who was on crack”; Odom was released from the team three months later. Meanwhile, an NBA prospect said Jackson was “falling in and out of sleep” during the prospect’s workout. Knicks owner James Dolan skipped out on the NBA draft to perform with his band, JD & The Straight Shot, at a local winery-music venue. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who last week said U.S. presidents “cannot obstruct justice,” said President Trump alleged he had tapes of former FBI director James Comey to “rattle” him. The president, who in May insinuated that he had “tapes” of conversations with Comey, tweeted that he, in fact, does not have any such tapes. The lack of diversity at the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal is so dire that some reporters have taken to calling the newspaper “White Castle.” In another example of “life comes at you fast,” Chicago Cubs outfielder and World Series hero Kyle Schwarber was demoted to Triple-A Iowa after batting just .171 through the first 71 games of the season. The trainer for former Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler, in response to his client being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, said he’s met “drug dealers with better morals” than Bulls general manager Gar Forman. Hip-hop artist Shock G, best known for his seminal 1990s hit “Humpty Dance,” was arrested in Wisconsin on suspicion of drug paraphernalia possession; there was no mention of whether or not the arrest took place at a Burger King restaurant. Just days after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from the company amid hostile work environment allegations, some company employees began circulating a petition to have Kalanick reinstated, stating “[Travis Kalanick], no matter his flaws (everyone has them) was one of the best leaders I have seen.” Montgomery County, Maryland, police are using DNA evidence to help create composite sketches of those suspected of sexual assault; the DNA, described as “bodily fluids,” is assumed to be male semen. A New York woman who traveled to the Dominican Republic to get reduced breast implants and liposuction developed an infection and now has a hole in one of her breasts; the woman, who traveled to the Caribbean island for a cheaper $5,000 procedure, will now pay over $10,000 in recovery costs. Famed comedian Bill Cosby is planning a series of town halls aimed at young people, specifically athletes, on how to avoid sexual assault allegations. After nearly three months of secrecy, Republican senators publicly released their version of a replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In unrelated news, only 38 percent of Americans want the president and Congress to repeal and replace the ACA.

FRIDAY 06.23.17

A Trump administration official once filed for bankruptcy because of his wife’s medical bills for treating her chronic Lyme disease. President Trump all but confirmed his former tweets about alleged “tapes” of former FBI director James Comey were an attempt to influence the director’s Senate testimony. Comey, who announced the reopening of an investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton just 11 days before the Nov. 8 election, refused three weeks earlier to attach his name to a statement on Russia’s involvement in that election because “it was too close to the election for the bureau to be involved.” A North Korea spokesman said the death of American college student Otto Warmbier just days after he was released from imprisonment in the country is a “mystery to us as well.” NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who was in North Korea around the same time Warmbier was released last week, said dictator Kim Jong-Un is a “friendly guy,” and the two sing karaoke and ride horses together. Zola, a gorilla at the Dallas Zoo, danced to (a dubbed-over version of) Michael Sembello’s 1996 hit “Maniac.” The St. Louis Cardinals announced their first Pride Night celebration at Busch Stadium; a disgruntled fan demanded that the team “stop forcing this down my throat.” Great Britain, loser of the Revolutionary War, is now putting chocolate in its chili. In response to Pirates of the Caribbean actor Johnny Depp asking an English crowd “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” a White House spokesperson condemned the remarks: “President Trump has condemned violence in all forms, and it’s sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead.” Hours later, New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Trump campaign adviser, visited the White House; last year, Baldasaro said Hillary Clinton “should be shot in a firing squad for treason.” Five-foot-9 Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said if he were taller he’d be “the best player in the world.” Nearly 500 Syrian civilians have been killed in U.S.-led airstrikes against two provinces in the Middle Eastern country. Former MTV Jersey Shore star Ronnie Magro-Ortiz, describing his breakup with fellow reality TV star Malika Haqq, said he and Haqq were like “oil and water.” He added: “It tastes good with bread, but it’s just not mixing.” A jury deadlocked for the second time in the case of a police officer killing a black man. After less-than-stellar reviews from critics and Jada Pinkett Smith, and a 22 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me is being sued for copyright infringement by veteran journalist Kevin Powell.

Warriors win the NBA Finals The Week That Was June 12-June 16

Monday 06.12.17

Ivanka Trump, who is the daughter of President Donald Trump and has presumably known him for 35 years, said that “there’s a level of viciousness that I was not expecting” in response to her father’s presidency. Former potential NBC buyer Bill Cosby declined to testify in his sexual assault trial, and his defense team rested after only three minutes and without calling an original witness. Hip-hop entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs topped Forbes magazine’s list of highest-paid entertainers, notably beating out last year’s top earner, Taylor Swift, by nearly $100 million. McDonald’s announced it will use social media app Snapchat to hire future employees this summer; the app, known for its animated filters and porn, is expected to “lure in younger applicants” for the fast-food giant. Meanwhile, a close friend of the president told PBS that Trump was considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is in charge of the ongoing Russia investigation. Professional wrestler Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte was sentenced to community service and a $385 fine for his assault of a Guardian reporter during last month’s special election in Montana; Gianforte said it was not his “intention to hurt” the reporter whom he punched and slammed to the ground. During a meandering rant about abortion on his official Facebook page, Missouri state Rep. Mike Moon beheaded a live chicken, cut its feet off, and removed its heart. Twitter argued over the effectiveness of Crock-Pots; in the words of one straightforward dissenter, “why on earth u wanna cook slow.” Seattle Seahawks running back Eddie Lacy received another $55,000 for not being fat. Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who spent more than a year in prison for illegally gambling on games, claimed the league will try to force a Game 6 in the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors ended the Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5.

Tuesday 06.13.17

After the Warriors’ victory, Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib took a shot at Golden State forward Kevin Durant, calling the Finals MVP a “suburban kid” who had to “Link up with the best” to win a championship, and that the Hall of Fame is “laughing at you right now”; Talib, who shot himself in the leg last year, joined the Broncos in 2014, a season after Denver eliminated his former team, the New England Patriots, from the playoffs. A Canadian man who is blind in one eye installed a video camera over his eyeball; faced with privacy concerns, the man posited, “Am I not allowed to put an eye camera in my own body?” Hours after NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea, an American college student who had been detained in the country since 2016 for allegedly attempting to steal a political banner was released to U.S. authorities; Rodman, who is in North Korea for a reported fifth time, had his trip sponsored by a company specializing in weed-industry cryptocurrency. Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein said there was no evidence to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Hours later, it was reported that the president is being talked down by his staff from firing Mueller. R&B singer Tinashe, who is mixed-race, acknowledged the presence of colorism in the black community but explained that she is usually the victim of it, telling a reporter that “sometimes I feel like I don’t fully fit into the black community; they don’t fully accept me.” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who has been rocked by the recent death of his mother and his own workplace behavior, including meditating in the company lactation room and instructing his employees to “not have sex with another employee” at a company party, has taken a leave of absence from the ride-sharing company. During a companywide meeting to discuss Uber’s alleged “bro culture,” a 74-year-old board member interrupted a female board member by making a sexist joke; the board member stepped down shortly afterward. President Trump reportedly told Republican senators that the House-adopted health care bill, which the president in May called a “great plan,” is too “mean” and called it a “son of a b—-.”

Wednesday 06.14.17

A gunman shot three people, including Rep. Steve Scalise, at a congressional baseball team practice in Alexandria, Virginia. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who was at the practice field, proposed that lawmakers should be able to carry weapons, including, presumably, while playing baseball. In response to the shooting, Vox editor-in-chief and U.S. history buff Ezra Klein tweeted: “It’s easy to forget what a blessing it is to live in a country where politics rarely leads to violence.” Hours later, three UPS employees were killed by a gunman at a sorting facility in San Francisco. Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who was called a “modern plantation overseer” by journalist Bryant Gumbel in 2011, called Gumbel “an idiot” and said he, the implementer of the league’s controversial dress code, has “done more for people of color” than Gumbel, a black man. Days after reports came out that UNLV basketball players Dakota and Dylan Gonzalez were quitting the team to pursue music and Central Florida football player Donald De La Haye may have to give up his YouTube channel in the face of NCAA violations, University of Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said the football team’s recent $800,000 trip to Rome was paid for by an undisclosed school donor. A fire at a London apartment complex left at least 12 people dead. Five Michigan officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the ongoing contaminated-water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Right-leaning cable network Fox News has plans to drop its “Fair & Balanced” slogan, not because the tagline wasn’t true but to further distance the company from Roger Ailes, the late former network president. The Houston Astros, who called up outfield prospect Derek Fisher from Class AAA Fresno, will face the Boston Red Sox this weekend, with right-handed closer Matt Barnes expected to play. For the sequel to 1996’s Great White Hype, retired undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and UFC fighter Conor McGregor agreed to a boxing match on Aug. 26. A Texas couple was arrested and charged after authorities found 600 pounds of meth-laced candy, some of which were shaped like Star Wars characters R2-D2 and Yoda, in the couple’s home. A 21-year-old Maine woman, who is a vegetarian, drowned a rabies-infected raccoon in a puddle of mud on a walking trail she had been jogging along.

Thursday 06.15.17

How now, brown cow: 7 percent of American adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. A day after saying that “everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” President Trump tweeted that “some very bad and conflicted people,” presumably members of the FBI, were carrying out “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.” The Uber driver who shuttled Buffalo Bills cornerback Shareece Wright 540 miles from Chicago to Buffalo, New York, last week is an Iranian refugee who was tortured by Iranian intelligence agents on multiple occasions and hopes to one day become an astronaut; Wright, who was rushing to get to voluntary team workouts, injured his calf during minicamp. In more disturbing Uber news, the company is being sued by a woman who was sexually assaulted by one of the company’s drivers. Dennis Rodman, while still in North Korea, gave two books to country leader Kim Jong Un: Where’s Waldo? and President Trump’s The Art of the Deal. Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino was issued a five-game suspension by the NCAA for his role in the hiring of exotic dancers for players and recruits; the panel that issued the punishment said in its findings that “NCAA rules do not allow institutional staff members to arrange for stripteases and sex acts.” During the Warriors’ championship parade in Oakland, California, forward Draymond Green wore a shirt with “Quickie” written on the front, with the “Q” in the same font as the Quicken Loans logo; the Cleveland Cavaliers play in Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland forward LeBron James responded to the T-shirt on Instagram with a caption reading “That’s what she said, HUH?!?!?”; fellow NBA superstars Russell Westbrook and James Harden “liked” the photo. Hours later, Green responded with a photo of James with the caption “Them dubs finally made him go bald!!! Congrats bro @kingjames.” A 71-year-old Kansas City man who robbed a bank because he’d “rather be in jail than be at home” with his wife was sentenced to six months of home confinement.

FRIDAY 06.16.17

E-commerce juggernaut Amazon, like most of America, spent a lot of money at Whole Foods, purchasing the supermarket chain for $13.7 billion. President Trump admitted that he is “being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” Rod Rosenstein, the purported “man” who told Trump to fire FBI director James Comey, has, like his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, reportedly considered recusing himself from the Russia investigation. To add to the president’s exceptional week, his approval rating dropped to 35 percent in a new poll. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, apparently bored with life and ready to die at the age of 31, will race a great white shark. After his bodyguards savagely beat protesters last month at the Turkish Embassy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized American authorities’ response, asking, “What kind of law is this? If my bodyguards cannot protect me, then why am I bringing them to America with me?” NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who is black, said he is the “black Steph Curry,” who is also black. The Boston Police Department’s Twitter account sent out a photo of an officer with three black girls along with the caption: “The #BPD Ice Cream Truck gives kids a reason to run towards our officers and not away from them”; the tweet was later deleted. President Trump’s lawyer hired his own lawyer. LeBron James, ironically nicknamed “King James,” said the only two people who can score on him in the post are “Shaquille O’Neal in his prime … and Jesus Christ.” Minnesota Vikings receiver Michael Floyd violated the terms of his house arrest by drinking alcohol; Floyd blamed the failed tests on Kombucha tea.

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

Instagram Photo

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.

Instagram Photo

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

Instagram Photo

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”

Instagram Photo

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”

Instagram Photo

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.

Retired NFL safety Chris Crocker wants athletes to get their fair share in sports memorabilia business His new tech company FanFlow aims to help players protect their brands

When retired NFL safety Chris Crocker was at the peak of his career, like many other athletes he signed countless autographs. Many of the autographs were done face to face with fans, while others were signed for dealers who negotiated with fans.

From that experience, Crocker set out to focus on the next chapter of his life: starting a technology company that would connect fans directly with athletes and teams to purchase signed merchandise while allowing players to maintain control of their brands.

In 2014, Crocker hung up his cleats after more than a decade on the field, and now he’s in the beta phase of his new technology company FanFlow, a website and app that will help fans purchase memorabilia online without a dealer acting as a middleman.

“Essentially as an athlete, you’re indirectly an employee of that shop or that memorabilia dealer,” Crocker said. “There’s a huge disconnect between yourself, him or her, and your fan base. I just didn’t like any of it. I just didn’t like the fact that I own my name, and you leverage my name for your monetary gain as a memorabilia dealer. I just thought that was just so wrong. All my colleagues dealt with this, but it was the only way. There was no other way.”

According to Crocker’s business plan, fans will choose the item and the player and customize their message. FanFlow will take it from there. The business is still in its initial phase.

“Choose the athlete you want that has an article you want, and then have that athlete personally inscribe it,” Crocker explained. “Along the way, we video verify it, and we give that to you. That’s really a connect, and the thing that we do with the video, which is an integral part of what we do. We’re able to expand on that video, and that customizes as well. It’s a form of engagement, it’s an experience. It’s really awesome.”

Each athlete’s signature has a specific price point, and they will be paid accordingly. FanFlow will take a percentage of each transaction.

“We not only offer a premium form of authentication; our platform makes it significantly cheaper to acquire memorabilia for consumers because there are no markups in the product, and alternately more profitable for athletes because of the same fact,” Crocker said.

According to Crocker, memorabilia dealers charge higher rates for the same product because they have to pay the athlete to sign and then sell the item to make a profit. “This easily doubles the price,” he said.

FanFlow’s beta phase was launched in 2015 and has only one team on board: FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League. No other teams are under contract in any major sport yet.

“This is for intentional reasons, as we don’t necessarily want to divulge our go-to market strategy,” Crocker said. “Our platform doesn’t depend on having working relationships with sports franchises. We have the option of working with big-box retailers as well. Everyone sells the same merchandise, and FanFlow gives the competitive advantage because of that very same fact.”

Crocker has invested a significant amount of his own money. He says he has attracted outside funding, which he is not yet disclosing. “We are in a seed round of fundraising, and the company valuation has yet TBD,” Crocker added.

Crocker was a third-round pick in the 2003 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. After two years with that club, he spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings. He spoke with The Undefeated about the transition from football, getting his business off the ground and investing in yourself.


How did you become interested in a tech company?

I conceptualized this while I was playing. Before we actually dove into this, it was all about the research and trying to figure out who does it, and who’s in this space, who’s doing what we’re doing, what are some of the similarities. Then trying to sort the company, who could help us build it, because at that time I could never put together a team.

How did you decide on sports memorabilia?

I felt like if I could just create a platform where you could empower the athlete so that he could control it, it really is the right thing to do. It’s about time that the athlete can leverage his own brand, and if someone else is going to sell your likeness, it should come directly from you.

That’s why I wanted to … really create something that, in my opinion, really transcends the relationship between athletes and their fans. Because when you think of memorabilia, it references a point and a time, whether that’s in your life or what you were doing at that particular time.

What’s been the hardest part of the tech journey?

It’s probably just getting people to listen sometimes. I think with any entrepreneur that’s probably the common struggle, that when you think of something, when you want to invent something, you just need people to listen. You need that feedback, because some people are going to say, ‘Hey, it’s a great idea.’ Then some people are going to tell you, ‘No, that’s a terrible idea.’ You’re able to evolve and to really create something great because of not only the good advice but the bad advice.

I would say that’s probably the struggle, just that it’s hard sometimes to get people to listen to you and believe as much as you do in the product you’re trying to build. I think it was hard for people to listen to me because, I’m a former athlete, right? I’ve never been in business for myself, I’ve never done anything like this. They’re looking at me as just, what are you doing? Obviously, I could build this product from the point of view of an athlete, but they’re like, ‘You’ve never been in business for yourself, so how are you going to really create something out of thin air that doesn’t exist and get people to adapt?’

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

The biggest struggle any entrepreneur faces is that you can only infuse so much of your own money into your product.

The best advice I’ve gotten on that front is people would talk about the power of being broke. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was broke, OK, that wasn’t the analogy, but sometimes you’re forced. What that can do is that can force you to make bad decisions. You can go either way, because there’s some entrepreneurs who let that affect them, and they build a product that’s not necessarily applicable to what they’re trying to do because they’re cash-strapped.

Someone once told me, don’t let that affect your decision-making process. You have to be very resilient that when you get to a point in your business where you need more capital, you still have to make sound decisions. I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind as, OK, I need the money but, Chris, make a sound decision. Don’t let that affect your next step. I would say that’s probably the best advice that I received.

During your playing years, were you seriously thinking about your post-NFL career?

I was thinking about tech. I was thinking about everything everybody else was thinking about. Investing in mutual funds, stocks, IPOs, franchises. I was thinking about everything everyone else was thinking about, but my wife [Karrie], we had a conversation one day and I was really hell-bent on doing this, and my wife was kind of on the fence.

It just hit me one day, and I just said to her — it just literally came out of my mouth — ‘Hey, we invest in other people’s businesses, other companies.’ I really felt, I was convicted, I really felt like why don’t we invest in yourself? Let’s take a risk on us. We can do this.

Instead of investing in the mutual funds and all the other stuff that is normal, I said, ‘Let’s just put the money into us and let’s take a risk. Why not? There’s a 50-50 chance it goes up, there’s a 50-50 chance it goes down.’ I put my money on myself. I’d bet on me any day.

What advice would you give to other NFL players or athletes about their post-NFL careers?

I would say, I think the opportunities are there now where they weren’t as much when I was playing. I think the NFL, the NFLPA [National Football League Players Association], they’re doing a much better job of allowing guys to sort of dive into other businesses, whether it’s internships, whether there’s a program for the opportunity programs that they put on.

I would say do as many of those as you can because you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to end up loving, but if you never try them once you’re done, those doors close. Every athlete told me that prior to me retiring: ‘Hey, you have these opportunities in front of you. People are more willing to listen to you now than they will be when you retire.’ I’ve experienced that firsthand.

I would just say, networking is really immersing yourself in other communities. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Do other things. Those opportunities could really turn into something else post-career.

You have two daughters (ages 2 and 5). What are you teaching them this early in life?

You really write your own story, and that you get out of it what you put in it. I also say that I do believe in luck, but you have to work really hard to get it. I continuously tell my daughters that there’s no reason why you can’t do that. You have all the opportunities right in front of you.

Entrepreneurship is real; you’re going to succeed and you’re going to fail by your own means. You are literally your own worst enemy as an entrepreneur. That’s the lesson that I teach my daughters. You’re going to get out of it what you put in it. If you don’t work hard, then the only person to blame is yourself.

Was your transition from football difficult?

I think for me, it wasn’t difficult at all. I think it was a little bit of a shock, in my opinion. I still have relationships and I stay close to the game. I’ve been afforded the opportunity where I can still go back to Cincinnati and walk into that building, and there’s no problem.

I’ve seen that I have a lot of colleagues or former teammates who can’t even go back into a building anymore. They treat them like a commodity, and I thought that was very, very sad and very tough to deal with for every athlete. That’s the thing that I think guys struggle with the most. I didn’t deal with it as much, but I did feel the fact that people didn’t respond as much. People weren’t as correspondent. Me being in my post-career, I just felt like athletes experience that, and I experienced it firsthand.

I was fortunate, and I said I’ll attach myself to something, such as officiating, at the time. I was fully immersed in that, but I had to step aside from that because this demanded every ounce of my attention, and you can’t do anything great if you’re not hands-on.

It was like I went from playing to directing to officiating and also from there into this venture. Both of those things, whether it’s officiating or this, it really was sort of, like, it allowed me to be flexible. I think that’s something that really attracted me about entrepreneurship is that, you know you work hard, you get to enjoy that. You’re on your own schedule. You’re your own boss. The ceiling is as high as you want. There’s an endless lot of opportunities.

It’s been good since I retired. It’s been very good. My wife has been great. Our daughters are young, and so we’re all about them. My life is really good. I think I was getting to the point, though, where I was going to be bored. If I wasn’t doing this, I can’t imagine the athlete that doesn’t do anything. He’s just bored.

What would you tell other entrepreneurs?

Chronicle every step so that you have the opportunity to look back. Because, shoot, where we were a year ago, we’re a completely different company. I think sometimes you have an idea as an entrepreneur, but it has to evolve. It may not end up looking like the end product, but you’ll get there some way, somehow. You’ll figure it out.

We were a completely different company from inception to now. Our product is all about the end user, and the end user for us is the athlete. Nothing works without the athlete, and so we had to build a product that we knew the athlete would use. The demand is already there, but you have to make it simplistic, you have to make it easy to process. When it comes to fulfilling these orders, the autograph signing, you have to make all those things simplistic for the athlete where it becomes a part of their schedule.

HBCU Battle of the Brains at SXSW was huge success in its first year Out of seven teams, Paul Quinn College won the first competition

I didn’t go to a historically black college or university (HBCU). Growing up in Hawaii, my only exposure to HBCUs was my parents’ stories about growing up in New Orleans, attending the Bayou Classic. When I left paradise to move to Austin, Texas, I came in search of educational and career opportunities, and a greater connection with my people. Had I learned how to do proper research in high school rather than college, I would have spent time on AOL looking up demographic information rather than meeting new people in chat rooms. Guess that’s what the internet was in 1999.

Being in a city that at the time was around 15 percent black (nearly half that now) made it more difficult than anticipated to meet folks who looked like me.

I joined the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) Austin chapter shortly after beginning graduate school in 2010 in hopes of finally finding that group of black professionals who had eluded me for over a decade. As I continued my research, I found that I wasn’t alone. Many people in Austin find it difficult to “connect” once they arrive here, and in most cases, they’ve come to this city for new jobs in the tech industry.

Samantha Rhoden of Prairie View A&M University.

Austin has long been considered similar to the Silicon Hills, a not-so-subtle reference to the high-tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Dell, Apple, and others that litter the landscape. What became clear to me is that after 15 years in the tech industry, I was often the only “educated” black man in the building. Which building didn’t matter. Blacks make up less than 5 percent of tech employees and less than 1 percent of tech company founders.

In the fall of 2016, fresh off re-election as president of the NBMBAA, I had a conversation with another president in an East Coast city about what makes up a “black Mecca.” I offered Austin as a destination city for blacks, not based on demographics, but because of the numerous opportunities and how well blacks in Austin are doing. My comment was met with a laugh until I explained that Austin rivaled Atlanta with its percentage of black bachelor’s degree holders (26.2 percent for Austin to 26.9 for Atlanta in 2014 – both in the top five in the U.S.).

A few brainstorming sessions with friends such as Donell Creech, founder of MVMT50; Tam Hawkins, CEO of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce; Clarissa Okpaleke, board member of the NBMBAA Austin chapter; and Jonathan Dixon, tech industry veteran), coupled with a desire to attend last year’s Bayou Classic (everyone loves the Battle of the Bands), led to the idea of the HBCU Battle of the Brains competition. The question became when.

Why not in Austin?

 

I’m a veteran of South by Southwest (SXSW). I’ve attended every year since 2009. SXSW is famous for bringing together the best minds in industry as well as the most forward-thinking companies, and investors from around the globe. It didn’t take me long to settle on SXSW as the perfect backdrop for the HBCU Battle of the Brains. Companies such as Twitter, GroupMe, and Foursquare launched at SXSW over the years, which creates excitement about what’s to come next. We were about to be next.

The goal was to expose HBCU students, undergraduate and graduate alike, to the opportunities, as well as providing access to the tech companies housed here in Austin. The premise was, if we can have these companies and investors observe these talented students over the course of a weekend, those individuals couldn’t help but be impressed. But we needed a hook, and a competition was seen as the ideal draw. Everyone in the tech industry loves a hackathon, and the National Black MBA Association is famous for its case competitions. We thought we’d put our spin on it and create a hybrid of the two, allowing for schools to create mini-corporations to compete in this inaugural event.

Once we were locked into hosting the HBCU Battle of the Brains, we immediately moved to “How?” Did I mention that I didn’t attend an HBCU? I wasn’t well connected within that community either. I mean, it’s not like there’s an online database of HBCU presidents and faculty members to reference. We spent a week or so digging up contact information for presidents and chancellors around the country, wanting to cast the net as wide as possible, with the hopes of sparking interest in participating in an event in such an infantile state. Speaking to the bold nature of the venture, I was pulled aside by one of the HBCU faculty members during the weekend who stated, “I had to meet the guy audacious enough to email 100 HBCU presidents directly!” I responded, “Rule No. 1, start with the decision maker.” Now that we had spoken it into existence, we had to find support.

We believed that we would be able to pique the interest of tech companies as they are just as aware of their diversity issue as we are. Google (and Google Fiber), Atlassian, Amazon Web Services, Facebook and others in the tech community saw the vision and worked to pull resources together.

Non-tech companies such as Farm Credit Bank of Texas, State Farm and H-E-B also made vital commitments to ensure the success of the event. The NBA spearheaded the support from the sports community. That was further extended by in-kind contributions by Cedric Griffin (former Minnesota Vikings cornerback), as well as Aaron Ross (two-time Super Bowl champion) and his wife, Sanya Richards-Ross (four-time Olympic gold medalist), and their associated companies.

With all of these entities focused on creating a great experience for these students, we believed we were ready. But for what? It had never been done before. We were hopeful though. Who would be the early adopters?

The ‘battle’ is on

 

The first registrant would be Prairie View A&M University. Then came Morgan State University and Florida A&M University. If anything, it told us that it was a good enough idea for schools to travel to attend it. In the end, the charter members of the HBCU “BOTB” club included the above schools, as well as North Carolina A&T University, Philander Smith College, Paul Quinn College, and our hometown Huston-Tillotson University. We now had a quorum.

Before we knew it, the students had arrived. Lunch, a brief introduction, and at 1 p.m. March 10, they were handed the case. And in 24 hours, they would be solving all of the world’s ills while providing an outline, go-to-market strategy, executive summary, and technical solution (website, mobile app, etc.). It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t supposed to be. It was supposed to stretch these star students to their limits in front of these industry heavyweights to show just how talented they were. And they didn’t disappoint. When the dust settled, the 2017 HBCU Battle of the Brains champions were the Tigers of Paul Quinn College of Dallas.

Winner of the inaugural HBCU Battle of the Brains, Paul Quinn College’s Hannah Backus, Vincent Owoseni and Destiny Modeste, with BOTB founder Gregory Gibson Jr.

Said Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College: “Winning the inaugural HBCU Battle of the Brains is a moment that the students, staff, and alumni of Paul Quinn College will never forget. As a smaller institution, our ability to play David and defeat the Goliaths of the HBCU world serves as further confirmation to our students that 1) they are special, and 2) what we do at Paul Quinn works. We will forever be grateful to Gregory Gibson and his team for providing this institutionally significant moment. All that we have left to say is ‘thank you.’ ”

When it was all said and done, Prairie View A&M University placed second and Morgan State University came in third … but that wasn’t really the point. The point was to create an atmosphere where our HBCU students could thrive in front of an audience they otherwise might not have exposure to, and those companies and investors to them. And by that metric, the 2017 HBCU Battle of the Brains was a success. When asked what the students enjoyed most, Dennis Grissett, a junior at Philander Smith, said, “pitching. It was intense and brought the best out of everyone.” Added Meshia Greer, a senior at Prairie View A&M, “I really enjoyed the career fair and the companies who were there. The networking event at the open mic night on Sunday was also really awesome.”

This year served as a pretty good pilot for what we were trying to accomplish. There were lessons learned that we will apply moving forward, and opportunities to make the competition even more impactful in the years to come. We’ve only just begun.

Gregory Gibson Jr. is the founder of the HBCU Battle of the Brains. He is an avid Saints fan, hip-hop aficionado and staunch believer that we’ve entered the greatest era of black media in history. Branding maven. @GregoryGibsonJr