Odell Welcomes Back the Oddball NFL

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns on the field during a mandatory mini camp practice on June 5, 2019 at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea, Ohio.

Source Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty

Why you should care

A gaggle of wacky preseason storylines reminds us why we love football.

This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.

We’re still one week away from the Hall of Fame game and the debut of Hard Knocks Season 14, but headlines ranging from benign to absurd are already rolling in like Richie Incognito at a noseguard’s knees. 

A year after being dismissed by Deion Sanders, the Titans’ Kevin Byard became the highest paid safety in the NFL. The same day, outspoken Jaguars All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey showed up to camp in an armored truck, with his driver/hype man announcing that “it’s time to get this money.” Let’s assume the idea sounded cooler at conception. 

Elsewhere, Jets coach Adam Gase uncorked a bold proclamation to be playing meaningful games in November. In related news, we vow to work at least until noon most days. New Baltimore Raven Earl Thomas doubled down on flipping his then-coach Pete Carroll the Bronx salute last season, and Titans tackle Taylor Lewan is posting polygraph results on Instagram after getting popped for performance-enhancing drugs. Football is perfect, and we’re here for it.

Still, no player dominates conversation quite like Cleveland wideout Odell Beckham Jr. The subject of GQ’s annual splashy NFL preseason profile this week, Beckham clearly still grapples with the demands of fame. In the piece — a genuinely interesting interview with a complex person — Odell touched on everything from race to sexuality to why he believes that Giants coach Pat Shurmur is a snake. But while Odell is keen on self-expression, someone should remind him that the Giants will be relevant long after he’s gone. Beckham has passion in spades, but passion becomes petulance when production depends on more important stars. 

Paging Mr. Mayfield …

What to Watch & Pick ’Em

Atlanta United at LAFC (Friday at 10:00 pm ET on ESPN)

Two of the top clubs in MLS kick off Friday. Will Atlanta be able to stop Carlos Vela? Not many teams have. 

  • LAFC (-195)
  • Atlanta (+450) 

WNBA All-Star Game  (Saturday at 3:30 pm ET on ABC)

After a captivating start to the season, the 16th WNBA All-Star Game comes to Sin City. Who’s taking the crown? 

  • Team Delle Donne (-120) 
  • Team Wilson (+110)
 

Ones to Watch

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The next KD? Well, Emoni Bates might not have to bother with college.

Source Paul Sancya/AP

Emoni Bates. A 6-foot-8 forward with a silky-smooth jump shot who handles like a point guard, Bates is being called “the next Kevin Durant.” That’s heady stuff for a 15-year-old rising high school sophomore. But such is Bates’ reality as he wraps up a stellar summer season on the Nike EYBL AAU circuit. A rangy, rail-thin forward who’s clearly still growing, Bates averaged 28.5 points and 10.2 rebounds as a freshman at Lincoln High School in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He was named the Gatorade Michigan Player of the Year and led his team to a state championship. Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free Press labeled Bates as the “best freshman to ever play in Michigan,” while Evan Daniels of prep sports site 247 Sports calls Bates the “best freshman I’ve ever seen” and the best high school prospect since LeBron James. And yet, he likely will never step foot on a university campus. With the expectation that the NBA will allow high school players to be drafted, again, beginning in 2022, Bates could be the first true prep-to-pro star since 2005.  

Felicia Spencer. Can a rising star spoil the likely going-away party of one of the greatest female UFC fighters ever? We’ll find out Saturday, in the co-main event of UFC 240 in Alberta. Entering the final bout of her contract, Cris Cyborg (20-2) has spoken openly about the possibility that she’ll leave the UFC for greener pastures once she’s a free agent. For now, she needs to rebuild her reputation after a shocking first-round knockout at the hands of now-UFC women’s featherweight champion Amanda Nunes. If Cyborg stays in the UFC, a title belt rematch looms … unless Spencer, 28, has her way. Spencer (7-0) told ESPN that “there have been a lot of people talking about her next fight, as if this fight wasn’t happening. So whatever plans are being made, I’m here to spoil that party.” She’s got the tools to do it. The former Invicta FC featherweight champion made her UFC debut in May, submitting Megan Anderson by rear-naked choke in the first round. The sixth-grade algebra teacher (she’s still teaching while fighting) has had just seven fights, but she began training jiu jitsu at age 12 and kickboxing five years later. “My cage time doesn’t match a lot of the other competitors in the UFC, but my mat time is there or beyond a lot of the roster,” she told ESPN. “I’m very excited for this coming Saturday to shock the world.”

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Spencer can do the math on her upset chances.

Source Jeff Bottari/Getty

Trending Up 

The Big Fundamental. Only 6 percent of NBA head coaches have been former centers, and outside Boston legend Bill Russell, whose record declined sharply once he transitioned from player-coach to coach only, they’ve largely bombed. If anyone can change that, it’s the even-keeled Tim Duncan, who officially joined the Spurs staff this week. San Antonio’s all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots spent most of last season with the team in an unofficial “coach of whatever he feels like” role. In making the partnership official, head coach Gregg Popovich can now lean on one of the all-time greats to teach an art that is disappearing from the modern game. It should surprise no one if San Antonio exploits the open paint next season. Duncan also provides a potential succession plan who won’t be poached by another team like many other assistants in the Popovich era, which began in 1996. In the short term, Popovich, Duncan and Spurs assistant Becky Hammon makes for one of the most interesting coaching trios in the league. In the long term, he could give big coaches a better name.

Trending Down

College Football Attendance? Football’s plodding pace of play, huge field lending itself to downfield wide shots and slow-mo zoom-ins on hits all play perfectly to the viewer at home. Thus, broadcasts have mastered the art of bringing the action directly to our warm, cushioned dent in the living room couch. While any real sports fan should still enjoy a raucous tailgate and the feeling that comes from being one of 75,000 like-minded barbarians inside a stadium, evidence shows that might not be the case. Driving this conversation of late are comments from Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. Fitz pointed to social media and phones as reasons for college football’s declining attendance, alleging that technology has “changed the way a lot of young people and younger fans intake.” In large part, he’s right. Not only does football have to compete with its own made-for-TV viewing monster, but we need secondary screens to follow our fantasy teams. At the college level, conference realignment and the death of local media have killed rivalries and coverage. We know you’re tempted to tell Coach to get out of the ‘80s, but he does have a point.

Read This

The Shift Back to Starting Pitchers Is Coming, by Matt Foley in OZY

There’s growing evidence that baseball’s push to devalue and diminish the role of starting pitchers may be premature. Turns out, overworked bullpens are bad too. The next three months will determine where this copycat league goes from here. 

Who Gon’ Check the Las Vegas Aces? Inside the Making of a Super Team, by Mirin Fader in Bleacher Report

After a slow start, the WNBA’s newest superteam is riding high and ready to claim its throne. How did Liz Cambage, A’ja Wilson, Kayla McBride, Kelsey Plum and Co. put it all together? Sisterhood.

The NBA Is Pushing Into Africa. Can It Compete With Soccer? by Sarah Maslin Nir in The New York Times

Even though he was 6-foot-6 by the time he was 14 years old, when an aspiring basketball star in Senegal picked up a ball for the first time, his friends were skeptical: In this soccer-mad region, why bother with a ball you dunk, when everyone else is kicking?

Robots Will Be Part of the 2020 Olympics Experience in Tokyo, by David Wharton in the Los Angeles Times

Technology has been an emphasis during the build-up to the Games — scheduled to begin a year from Wednesday — with Panasonic and Toyota joining the effort to develop automated helpers.

Don’t Miss

Trea Turner on Tuesday became the 26th player in MLB history to hit for the cycle twice in his career. When healthy, Turner, 26, is one of the most exciting players in the game. The MLB record for career cycles? Three. Pencil Turner in for four.

OZYThe Huddle

Football, basketball, soccer. Cricket, rugby, the X-games. And anything else you can dream up to make you sweat.