Here Are College Football’s Most Important Week 8 Games

Thanks to our College Football Playoff model — which simulates every game of the season to figure out each team’s chance of reaching the final four stage — we can see how much influence any given game has on the overall playoff picture. Most games have little to no effect, but some can potentially swing the playoff probabilities not just for the two schools involved but also for numerous teams around the country. To help you prepare for Week 8 of the college football season, here are the games that matter most this weekend in terms of their potential cumulative effect on the entire nation’s playoff chances.


No. 3 Clemson (6-0) vs. No. 16 NC State (5-0)

Favorite: Clemson (84.1 percent)
Total potential CFP swing: 28.5 points

The stakes: Right now, we list Clemson as tied with Alabama for the best odds of making the playoff at 65 percent, a number that would rise to 74 percent with a Tiger win this week … or fall to 23 percent with a loss. Though it’s not overly likely — particularly since the game is in Death Valley — the Wolfpack do have the potential to pull off a huge surprise win. Despite a 5-0 record, NC State is still probably the nation’s best-kept secret (granted, its most impressive win so far is merely a 28-23 victory over Boston College), but it could really begin to gain national traction by knocking off Clemson. The Wolfpack’s playoff chances would rise to 37 percent with a win on Saturday, making them the rare unheralded team to make noise in today’s stratified college football world. Notre Dame and Ohio State should be rooting for the Wolfpack, too: The Irish would pick up 4 percentage points of playoff probability if Clemson loses, while the Buckeyes’ chances would improve by 3 percentage points. Clemson is an 18-point favorite, so don’t hold your breath, but this is still the game with the most potential playoff ramifications of any in Week 8.

How Clemson-NC State swings the playoff picture

Potential changes in College Football Playoff probability for selected teams based on the outcome of the Oct. 20 Clemson-NC State game

Change in odds w/ Clemson…
Team Current Playoff% Win Loss Wgtd Swing
Clemson 65.5% +8.1 -42.7 ±13.6
NC State 7.5 -5.7 +29.9 9.5
Notre Dame 50.1 -0.8 +4.1 1.3
Ohio State 51.7 -0.5 +2.9 0.9
Alabama 64.5 -0.3 +1.5 0.5
Oklahoma 23.3 -0.2 +1.1 0.3
Total* 28.5

Swing in playoff odds is weighted by the chance of each outcome — win or lose — actually happening.

*Total swing includes every game in the country — not just those listed here.

No. 9 Oklahoma (5-1) at TCU (3-3)

Favorite: Oklahoma (72.1 percent)
Total potential CFP swing: 17.7 points

The stakes: Last week, we talked about how Oklahoma could still make the College Football Playoff after losing to Texas earlier this month. The Sooners’ path hinged on taking care of business over their reasonably winnable remaining schedule and hoping for a peer like Notre Dame to slip up along the way. They almost got their wish for the latter with an Irish near-loss to Pitt, but OU’s own journey back starts with Saturday’s clash against the Horned Frogs. A loss would all but dash Oklahoma’s playoff hopes, and TCU is a tough opponent in spite of its 3-3 record, so the stakes for this one are already high from the Sooners’ perspective. But the game also picks up extra leverage from the fact that another loss would seriously damage OU’s chances of making the Big 12 championship (which helps conference leader Texas) and also remove it as a viable playoff rival for Notre Dame plus fellow one-loss squads LSU, Michigan and — now — Georgia, which fell to the Bayou Bengals last week.

How Oklahoma-TCU swings the playoff picture

Potential changes in College Football Playoff probability for selected teams based on the outcome of the Oct. 20 Oklahoma-TCU game

Change in odds w/ Oklahoma…
Team Current Playoff% Win Loss Wgtd Swing
Oklahoma 23.3% +6.1 -15.8 ±8.8
Notre Dame 50.1 -1.1 +2.8 1.6
Texas 15.0 -0.6 +1.5 0.8
Georgia 22.0 -0.5 +1.3 0.7
LSU 13.6 -0.4 +1.1 0.6
Michigan 15.5 -0.4 +1.1 0.6
Total* 17.7

Swing in playoff odds is weighted by the chance of each outcome — win or lose — actually happening.

*Total swing includes every game in the country — not just those listed here.

No. 6 Michigan (6-1) at No. 24 Michigan State (4-2)

Favorite: Michigan (66.3 percent)
Total potential CFP swing: 16.0 points

The stakes: Michigan’s season-opening loss to Notre Dame hurt its playoff chances, but research shows that, if you’re going to lose, it’s better to get it out of the way early and win out the rest of the season. Cross-state rival Michigan State is the Wolverines’ latest impediment to that plan, and the Spartans’ own meager playoff bid (which does exist!) received a shot in the arm when they beat Penn State in Happy Valley last week. There’s about a 1-in-3 chance that Sparty does the same to Michigan in East Lansing on Saturday, which would drop the Wolverines’ playoff probability to 5 percent (and elevate MSU’s to 7 percent). Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma would also get about a 1-point boost to their playoff probabilities if Michigan State wins. The Fighting Irish, however, are in an unfamiliar place here. Because of their head-to-head win over Michigan, Notre Dame fans should be rooting for Michigan to win, which would add about a half-point to the Irish’s chances of making the playoff.

How Michigan-Michigan State swings the playoff picture

Potential changes in College Football Playoff probability for selected teams based on the outcome of the Oct. 20 Michigan-Michigan State game

Change in odds w/ Michigan…
Team Current Playoff% Win Loss Wgtd Swing
Michigan 15.5% +5.1 -10.1 ±6.8
Michigan State 2.5 -2.5 +4.9 3.3
Georgia 22.0 -0.6 +1.2 0.8
Ohio State 51.7 -0.5 +1.1 0.7
Notre Dame 50.1 +0.4 -0.8 0.5
Oklahoma 23.3 -0.4 +0.8 0.5
Total* 16.0

Swing in playoff odds is weighted by the chance of each outcome — win or lose — actually happening.

*Total swing includes every game in the country — not just those listed here.

No. 5 LSU (6-1) vs. No. 22 Mississippi State (4-2)

Favorite: LSU (64.7 percent)
Total potential CFP swing: 15.9 points

The stakes: LSU, the other team whose odds we broke down a week ago, always needed to keep winning games in order to maintain its position as a playoff contender. It passed its first test with flying colors by upsetting Georgia last week, raising its playoff probability to 14 percent. That number would leap to 19 percent with a win over Mississippi State but plummet to 4 percent with a loss, effectively ending any realistic playoff chance for the Tigers. Those stakes are compounded by the slight gains for fellow SEC contenders Alabama and Georgia if Mississippi State can go into Baton Rouge and pull off the upset, to say nothing of the small playoff chance the Bulldogs would see (3 percent) if they win.

How LSU-Mississippi State swings the playoff picture

Potential changes in College Football Playoff probability for selected teams based on the outcome of the Oct. 20 LSU-Mississippi State game

Change in odds w/ LSU…
Team Current Playoff% Win Loss Wgtd Swing
LSU 13.6% +5.4 -9.8 ±6.9
Mississippi State 1.1 -1.1 +2.0 1.4
Alabama 64.5 -1.0 +1.9 1.3
Georgia 22.0 -0.8 +1.5 1.0
Notre Dame 50.1 -0.7 +1.2 0.9
Ohio State 51.7 -0.4 +0.8 0.5
Total* 15.9

Swing in playoff odds is weighted by the chance of each outcome — win or lose — actually happening.

*Total swing includes every game in the country — not just those listed here.

No. 2 Ohio State (7-0) at Purdue (3-3)

Favorite: Ohio State (81.2 percent)
Total potential CFP swing: 15.9 points

The stakes: The Buckeyes are in great shape right now, sitting undefeated with a 52 percent chance of making the playoff. And on paper, the Boilermakers don’t pose too great a threat to Ohio State’s winning streak, ranking 41st in ESPN’s Football Power Index ratings. But the great thing about college football’s regular season is that no team is safe, and any loss can throw a season into disarray. A slip-up against Purdue would drop OSU’s playoff chances by a whopping 21 percentage points, and the biggest beneficiaries would be Clemson, Michigan and Notre Dame — each of whom would receive multiple points of playoff probability with the Buckeyes dropping down. Ohio State should win this one as 12-point favorites, making all of these possible shakeups moot, but the potential for anarchy is lurking.

How Ohio State-Purdue swings the playoff picture

Potential changes in College Football Playoff probability for selected teams based on the outcome of the Oct. 20 Ohio State-Purdue game

Change in odds w/ Ohio State…
Team Current Playoff% Win Loss Wgtd Swing
Ohio State 51.7% +4.9 -21.0 ±7.9
Clemson 65.5 -0.8 +3.4 1.3
Michigan 15.5 -0.7 +3.0 1.1
Notre Dame 50.1 -0.5 +2.1 0.8
LSU 13.6 -0.4 +1.8 0.7
Texas 15.0 -0.3 +1.4 0.5
Total* 15.9

Swing in playoff odds is weighted by the chance of each outcome — win or lose — actually happening.

*Total swing includes every game in the country — not just those listed here.

Check out our latest college football predictions.

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The Brewers’ Pitcher Switcheroo May Be Coming Soon To A Game Near You

The Milwaukee Brewers challenged traditional position labels all season. They’ve helped push bullpenning forward in the postseason. They’ve been the most forward-thinking club this October in part out of necessity, entering the playoffs with one of the weaker starting rotations in the field.

But they’ve never been more radical than they were early in Wednesday afternoon’s Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell stepped out of the visiting dugout at Dodger Stadium and pulled left-handed Brewers starter Wade Miley after he had faced only one Los Angeles batter, the left-handed-hitting Cody Bellinger. Miley was replaced by right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who has limited right-handed batters to a .199 average over the course of his career. It was a premeditated plan, something of a surprise attack, against one of the heaviest platoon teams in the league.

While the short-term results did not work in the Brewers’ favor — the Dodgers won 5-2 to take a 3-2 lead in the series — the strategy’s long-term ramifications could be far-reaching. In a season of openers and bullpenning, managers might now have to think more deeply about how much they want to bet on that day’s listed opposing starting pitcher working deep into the game. (Especially if that listed starting pitcher isn’t an ace.) Platoon-heavy lineups are more vulnerable. And game-planning might become more complicated as starting pitcher designations become increasingly less relevant.

“Look, they’re trying to get matchups, we’re trying to get matchups,” Counsell said after the game. “They’re a very tough team to get matchups against.”

When he takes the mound Friday as the Game 6 starter, Miley will become the first pitcher to start consecutive postseason games since 1930, according to MLB.

“It’s not my job to question it. We’re trying to get to the World Series,” Miley told reporters. “This is the strategic side of it. I was in. Everybody bought in.”

The Brewers have thrown 75⅔ innings this postseason, but only 26⅔ (35 percent) have been logged by their starting pitchers, distressing traditionalists. Milwaukee’s upside-down approach became extreme Wednesday.

It is baseball tradition that teams announce their starting pitching assignments days in advance, even in the playoffs. (Imagine an NFL team announcing its personnel plans in advance of a game.) And because the starting pitcher is typically expected to absorb the lion’s share of innings in any particular game — well, at least until this season of “the opener” — opposing managers often try to create as many favorable matchups as possible within their lineup cards.

What has become a common part of daily game-planning — trying to gain platoon advantage against a starting pitcher — might be in jeopardy, particularly in high-stakes games.

Because of the angle pitches travel toward home plate and the way pitches break, batters tend to perform better against opposite-handed pitchers. That is, right-handed batters typically perform better against left-handed pitchers and vice versa, gaining what’s known as a platoon advantage. The Dodgers ranked ninth out of 30 Major League teams in platoon advantage, owning it in 57.3 percent of plate appearances.

Consider how differently the Dodgers constructed their lineups in this series based on the handedness of the opposing starting pitcher. In Game 3 against right-handed Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin, Dodger manager Dave Roberts penciled in Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig as right-handed-pitching mashers. They were replaced in the lineup Wednesday against the left-handed Miley with David Freese, Chris Taylor and Austin Barnes.

The Dodgers were weaker this season facing left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching. They produced .324 on-base and .409 slugging marks against left-handed starters with 101 weighted runs created plus1 compared with .337 on-base and .458 slugging marks against righties with a 117 wRC+, which ranked second in the game .

By starting a left-hander, the Brewers were able to keep some of the Dodgers’ strongest bats against right-handed pitchers out of the game temporarily — though Puig and Pederson eventually entered and combined for four at-bats.

Moreover, against the left-handed Miley, the Dodgers featured a weaker defensive lineup. Max Muncy switched from first (where he most often plays) to second base to accommodate Freese at first, forcing Enrique Hernandez from second base to right field, where he replaced Puig. Puig is credited with 24 defensive runs saved over the past two years in right field, ranking second only to Boston’s Mookie Betts.

The Dodgers responded with a number of in-game substitutions.

In the top of the fourth, Pederson replaced Freese and went to left field. Bellinger switched from center to right, Muncy moved from second to first, and Taylor moved from left to center. Hernandez switched from right to second before he was replaced by a pinch-hitting Puig in the sixth inning, sending Bellinger back to center and Taylor to second. After Brian Dozier pinch-hit for Pederson in the seventh, he took over second, and Taylor went back to left field.

Ultimately, Dodger lefty Clayton Kershaw pitched so well — one run allowed over seven innings — and the Dodgers did enough damage off Woodruff (three runs, two earned in 5⅓ innings) that the plan did not yield a win. But in a season of radical strategies, Milwaukee’s move could have a lasting impact. The Brewers are rethinking everything — and baseball just might follow.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

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It took just 12 minutes for LeBron James to put the NBA on notice Ricky Davis, Chris Webber, David Stern and others recall the first quarter of the most anticipated debut in league history

If anyone could understand the task before LeBron James, it was 6-foot-10 Hall of Fame center Moses Malone. Malone, who died in 2015 from cardiovascular disease, was one of basketball’s most celebrated giants: a three-time NBA MVP, 13-time All-Star and a Finals MVP. Despite intense recruiting from the University of Maryland, Malone went directly to the professional ranks, in part to help his family. This was in 1974, and he was straight out of Virginia’s Petersburg High School.

James — only months removed from his graduation from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio — was about to make the most anticipated debut in basketball history. He’d soon become the first prep star to start in his professional rookie opener since Malone did it in October 1974 with the ABA’s Utah Stars.

So in the fall of 2003, Nike flew Malone to Sacramento, California, to meet with James before the first regular-season game of his career. The legend and the teenage prodigy sat for lunch at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ team hotel hours before tipoff. They spoke for an hour. “The first-game jitters — that’s the main thing he was concerned about,” James said then. “How you handle it, by staying focused and just competing. Don’t back down from anybody.” James said he’d been hearing that a lot. “But when you hear it from one of the greats,” he continued, “it makes it sound even better.”

So much hysteria surrounded James’ debut, there was a commercial produced about it — before the moment even happened. Weeks earlier, ahead of the release of his first signature sneaker, James starred in the now classic Nike “Pressure” commercial. It featured his Cavs teammates Dajuan Wagner, Carlos Boozer and DeSagana Diop, as well as Kings announcers Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds, actor Damon Wayans and the legendary George “The Iceman” Gervin.

In it, James, guarded by Sacramento’s Mike Bibby, temporarily freezes before smiling and barreling toward the basket. Originally, James was directed to blow by Bibby, but the veteran point guard wasn’t having that. “I said, ‘You guys want somebody else … I’m not gonna let anybody blow by me,’ ” said Bibby. “I don’t care if it’s LeBron James or Doo Doo Williams. I’m not gonna look like a dummy on TV.”

James handled stardom so well as a teenager in part because it seemed like his birthright. He’d been revered in Ohio basketball circles since the eighth grade, when he dunked for the first time in a students vs. teachers game at Riedinger Middle School. In the 2001 ABCD Camp championship game the summer before his junior year, James’ team defeated a squad led by shooting guard Lenny Cooke, then the top high school player in the country. At 16, James was the first underclassman in nearly two decades to be named a first-team All-American. The final basket of his performance? A 3-pointer in Cooke’s grill to win the game — and a personal 24-9 scoring advantage. That sliver of time catapulted James to phenom status, and the bright lights haven’t been shut off since.

Sports Illustrated blessed James with an iconic cover. His high school games were televised, and called by Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas. James’ favorite rapper Jay-Z, during The Black Album era, became a big brother and mentor. The Cavaliers decided it was worth a $150,000 fine (and a two-game suspension for coach John Lucas) for working out a 17-year-old James — and he dominated in games of 5-on-5. James was drafted No. 1 overall by those same Cavs a year later. “Pressure,” he said in the spring of 2003, “been following me my whole life.”

And the legend of James was also evolving behind the scenes. “We were in practice one time, on the same team,” said teammate J.R. Bremer. “He was running the wing, and I threw him an alley-oop. When I threw it, I said, ‘There’s no way in hell he’ll be able to catch this.’ I’d never seen anyone literally jump over somebody. He still had to catch the ball with one hand, and bring it to two. It was impossible for that to happen. … He jumped over Kevin Ollie.”

James was the first star of the internet era — every move documented, analyzed and critiqued. This happened even in the pre-social era, via message boards, grainy videos and chat rooms. Teen James generated $142 million in endorsements before logging his first NBA minute — including a $100 million deal with Nike. “It was clear Nike was on to something big,” said former NBA commissioner David Stern. “They were placing a very large bet on the success of this young man.” Barbershops, salons, bars, school lunch tables and college campuses buzzed: Who’d be the better pro? James? Or Carmelo Anthony? The LeBron hype machine was firing on all cylinders.


And then, at last, on Oct. 29, 2003, there he was — at Sacramento’s (now closed) Arco Arena. The stage was set for James to become either the game’s next transcendent force — à la Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson. Or its next bust — à la Pervis Ellison, Michael Olowokandi or Kwame Brown.

James and the Cavs were the back end of an ESPN doubleheader. The Kings’ championship dreams had been dashed the season before by Webber’s knee injury in a second-round seven-game series against Nick Van Exel, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. James’ arrival also coincided with the 180th consecutive sellout crowd at Arco.

“This guy had been anointed since he was in the eighth grade,” said former Kings forward Tony Massenburg. “And the dude was literally living up to it. So by the time you get to his first NBA game, and you’re part of that atmosphere, it’s circuslike. It was like we were looking at the young Michael Jordan.”

Some rooted for his downfall. Others wanted to see if he was worth all the praise. But for one person in particular, it didn’t matter if James became the next Jordan or the next Magic. Malone just wanted what was best for the kid. “These high school players, I want them to do good, because they represent me,” said Malone, the 1983 Finals MVP. “One day there maybe can be another high school player going to the Hall of Fame.”

This is the story of the first quarter of James’ career. Whether player, coach, friend, fellow athlete, reporter or photographer, even 15 years later, people remember those 12 minutes on Oct. 29, 2003, as a quarter that changed the game, and the world.

Everyone quoted is identified by the titles they held during LeBron James’ rookie season.

NBA Young Boy: ‘He was ready, man.’

From England, Germany, China and elsewhere, more than 340 members of the media were on hand. Ken Griffey Jr., Terrell Owens, Jeff Garcia and Dusty Baker were among the stars who trekked to Sacramento. NBA.com billed the game “King James vs. The Kings,” and ESPN cut from its opener, the Orlando Magic vs. the New York Knicks, which was in overtime at Madison Square Garden. And while the Kings were coming off a 59-win, Pacific Division title season, the Cavs, in what’s widely considered a blatant tank to secure the No. 1 pick, had won only 17 games. “We had a great team in Sacramento that year,” said Massenburg. “But opening night in Arco Arena … it was all about LeBron James.”

J.R. BremerShooting guard, Cleveland Cavaliers

Man, it was a zoo. Every reporter, every person you could think of was at that game.

Dusty Baker Manager, Chicago Cubs

My dad’s been a Kings season-ticket holder — well, he was. He passed … so I kept the tickets in his honor. I don’t go that much. I give them to the church … to friends and relatives … but I said, ‘I’m gonna go to the game,’ because I’d heard about LeBron James.

David SternCommissioner, NBA

People had been telling me that this kid was gonna wind up being the best ever. I said, ‘OK, let me go see what he’s got.’ … It was opening week, so I probably went to five games. … This one was highly anticipated, it’s fair to say.

Terrell OwensWide receiver, San Francisco 49ers

I’m a basketball fan at heart. I had formed a relationship while in the Bay Area with the [former Kings owners] Maloofs. They’d always take care of me if I came up to check out some of the games. I remember that game vividly.

David SternCommissioner, NBA

Everyone was all excited. The Maloofs were running around like expectant parents.

Mary Schmitt BoyerBeat reporter, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer

We all went to shootaround, and back in that day nobody except the New York writers went to shootaround.

Rocky WidnerTeam photographer, Sacramento Kings

I happened to be on the catwalk and took a photo of this big group around this young guy. He got Michael Jordan treatment almost. … That was the way people would swarm around Michael when he came.

DeSagana DiopPower forward/center, Cleveland Cavaliers

I’ve never seen that many media at a game before. I was with the Cavs for two years, and we weren’t that good. Then we had LeBron.

Terrell OwensWide receiver, San Francisco 49ers

At that time, they donned him the future of the NBA. [Michael Jordan] had just retired, and Kobe [Bryant] was already in the mix. Everybody just wanted to get a glimpse of him.

David SternCommissioner, NBA

It was just a game with a rookie — and there are always going to be great rookies in the NBA. But it was hyped to the greatest extent I could possibly imagine.

Dusty Baker Manager, Chicago Cubs

Everyone wanted to see if this high school kid was really this good. Or was he that good because he was a man-child playing against other little boys in high school?

Getty Images

Romeo TravisLeBron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary High School teammate; freshman, University of Akron

Brandon Weems’ house, R.I.P. to Ms. Brenda Weems … we watched the game in their basement. They had food, it was like a party. … We was locked in and excited to see what LeBron was gonna do. I hoped that he played well enough to silence the critics. I knew he was gonna be judged by how he played the first time he stepped on the floor. I was nervous for him.

Willie McGeeLeBron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary High School teammate; freshman, Fairmont State University

I wasn’t nervous at all. It was like Christmas!

Ricky DavisShooting guard/small forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

It seemed like that first game took forever to arrive … kind of like a kid waiting for Christmas. We wanted to see how the young fella was gonna play.

Doug ChristieShooting guard/small forward, Sacramento Kings

The atmosphere … I hadn’t experienced anything like that with a rookie. I mean even [Shaquille O’Neal]. Big as Shaq was — and I was in the same draft class with him — it wasn’t that.

Mike BibbyPoint guard, Sacramento Kings

You felt like it was something that was gonna go down in history.

Mary Schmitt BoyerBeat reporter, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer

There was that — I don’t wanna say ‘anxiety,’ but more like curiosity. How is he gonna react?

Chris WebberPower forward/center, Sacramento Kings

A few NBA players literally told me that he was gonna go to 10 championships. … How can you say this about a person out of high school?

Tony MassenburgPower forward, Sacramento Kings

I come out, and we’re doing our warm-ups. I’m looking across the court, like, ‘Where is he at? Where is he at? … OK, headband, there he is.’ I’m watching this dude in the layup line putting his head above the rim on pretty much every dunk that he did.

DeSagana DiopPower forward/center, Cleveland Cavaliers

He had more juice than anybody on the court.

Rocky WidnerTeam photographer, Sacramento Kings

He didn’t look like any 18-year-old you’d ever seen. As opposed to Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant, who looked like they were 18 when they came into the league, LeBron was like a full-grown man.

Dusty Baker Manager, Chicago Cubs

I’m looking at the shoulders on this dude … first thing I noticed.

David SternCommissioner, NBA

He wasn’t filled out the way he is now. … He was going to get bigger and broader. It was like, ‘Holy Moses! … This is going to be some specimen.’

J.R. BremerShooting guard, Cleveland Cavaliers

He looked confident, like he was supposed to be here, like he was used to all the hype, and he was gonna go out there and show out. … He was young, so he didn’t really show too much of his emotions. He was quiet, to himself. In the locker room he was fiddling, but outside of that, you really couldn’t tell if he was nervous.

Getty Images

Ira NewbleSmall forward/power forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

He didn’t do anything out of the ordinary … except bite his nails, which he’s done for years.

Ricky DavisShooting guard/small forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

I knew he was nervous.

Ira NewbleSmall forward/power forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

He played in summer league, but those still aren’t NBA games. You could see his athleticism and his talent in training camp and preseason. But you just really don’t expect someone who’s 18 to dominate amongst men in his first game.

Peja StojakovicSmall forward, Sacramento Kings

How poised he was. … At 18, he came into his first NBA game, on the road, and he was ready. He was ready, man.

Cleveland’s starting point guard Dajuan Wagner, the team’s No. 6 overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, started his second season in the league on the injured list with an ailing knee.

Mary Schmitt BoyerBeat reporter, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer

I remember one of the announcers saying LeBron could end up playing point guard before it’s all done. And we were all like, ‘Yes, he’s the point guard.’ Regardless of what you wanna call him or what he’s listed in the box score, he was the point.

Paul SilasHead coach, Cleveland Cavaliers

We didn’t have a point guard, but he was my point forward.

The Pass-First Point: ‘An alley-oop to Ricky Davis.’

This wasn’t a tuneup for the rookie they already called “The King.” In the first test of his professional career, James would go blow for blow with one of the league’s heavyweight teams. As Sacramento got out to an early lead, James traded body blows, getting a feel for the game.

Doug ChristieShooting guard/small forward, Sacramento Kings

We start the game and I posted him up. … I caught the ball … go to bump him and give him a move and he didn’t move! As I’m doing it, I’m thinking, Damnnnn!

Paul SilasHead coach, Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron was tough. Any player he was guarding, he worked them out.

Tony MassenburgPower forward, Sacramento Kings

He was physically overwhelming for guys even then. He was like M.J. and Clyde Drexler but bigger, with a little bit of Magic, but more athletic than Magic. It caught everybody off guard.

Terrell OwensWide receiver, San Francisco 49ers

He was just trying to find his way and his rhythm as he started his career out. You could just see all these things unfold as the game was going on.

Doug ChristieShooting guard/small forward, Sacramento Kings

He was verbal, directing à la Magic — Let’s go! … Watch that! It was impressive. Normally you’re not gonna get that out of a rookie.

Mary Schmitt BoyerBeat reporter, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer

Actually, his first NBA [offensive] statistic was an assist … an alley-oop to Ricky Davis.

Mike BibbyPoint guard, Sacramento Kings

Ricky was the leading scorer on the team. They weren’t gonna put me on Ricky because my strongest point wasn’t defense. They put me on LeBron, to see how things would unfold. We didn’t know how he was gonna come in and play.

Ricky DavisShooting guard/small forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

For LeBron to put that ball right on the money, with all the nerves, all the pressure, all the hype … it proved everybody wrong. It proved that the kid could pass.

Paul SilasHead coach, Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron had to run all the plays. And he would do it … exactly the way I drew it up and asked him to do, from the get-go. It was just unbelievable.

Peja StojakovicSmall forward, Sacramento Kings

Sometimes you get into the game and get a little antsy. You try to do too much. His maturity and poise allowed the game to come to him. He was just making the right decisions from the very beginning.

Chris WebberPower forward/center, Sacramento Kings

I remember thinking, This kid plays like a two- or three-year vet.

David SternCommissioner, NBA

I remember being very appreciative for his smoothness as an art form: rebounding, blocks, steals and assists. He just had everything.

Ira NewbleSmall forward/power forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

So unselfish, yet so dominant at the same time. He had an aura … an energy around him — that good things would happen. I’ve never been around a player like that.

LBJ on that Break: ‘A perfect storm … a steal and breakaway.’

With James averaging eight points and shooting 33 percent from the field during the preseason, skepticism had ramped up. Was he overhyped? Could he shoot? A Cleveland-area writer noted his preseason play “would not keep a normal rookie on the roster.” James deadened that talk quickly. He connected on his first three baskets — all jumpers. “For all of you who think I can’t shoot,” he said after the game, “thank you a lot.”

Paul SilasHead coach, Cleveland Cavaliers

I told him, ‘You gotta shoot the basketball. We’re not gonna win unless you do … start shooting.’

Mike BibbyPoint guard, Sacramento Kings

He’s 6-8, which is tough to guard for a guy my size, at 6-1, 6-2. So we tried to bait him a little bit, to where he’d shoot a jumper instead of going to the basket.

Romeo TravisLeBron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary High School teammate; freshman, University of Akron

LeBron had broken a finger in the state playoffs his senior year, so he didn’t shoot a lot of jumpers. And so people started to say he couldn’t shoot. That was strange to us, because we’d seen him hit 10 3-pointers in a game in high school.

Mike BibbyPoint guard, Sacramento Kings

The way we were playing him was to see if he could make jump shots.

“I’d never seen anyone literally jump over somebody.”J.R. Bremer

Romeo TravisLeBron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary High School teammate; freshman, University of Akron

Once his jumper started falling, we knew everything else was going to come into place.

Mike BibbyPoint guard, Sacramento Kings

Him coming out like that, we had to play him honest … He wasn’t fazed by anything. He scored … shot jumpers … he played good defense …

Peja StojakovicSmall forward, Sacramento Kings

The play I remember the most is the pass he intercepted.

Doug ChristieShooting guard/small forward, Sacramento Kings

I was at the top of the key and the ball … it’s coming back towards me. And Peja, he knows I got an 18-year-old kid on me. He’s full of testosterone and just throws it. No pass fake, no fake backdoor cut … and LeBron shoots the lane.

Terrell OwensWide receiver, San Francisco 49ers

I was behind the basket … I knew it was coming.

Rocky WidnerTeam photographer, Sacramento Kings

It was a perfect storm. It was a steal and breakaway. He could do whatever he wanted.

Doug ChristieShooting guard/small forward, Sacramento Kings

I just look at Peja like, ‘Dude, what are you thinking, man? … You gotta know he’s about to shoot the gap!’

Peja StojakovicSmall forward, Sacramento Kings

Yeah, Doug does say that.

J.R. BremerShooting guard, Cleveland Cavaliers

You should’ve seen the bench getting ready to stand up, and I heard the crowd just making a noise like, What is he about to do? … What is he about to do?

Peja StojakovicSmall forward, Sacramento Kings

The whole arena was basically looking for something.

Rocky WidnerTeam photographer, Sacramento Kings

There were 11 remote cameras trained on the basket. … [James] went in the perfect way and had the ball stretched back, so there was nothing interfering on any angles.

J.R. BremerShooting guard, Cleveland Cavaliers

He went with his signature cock-back. … I’d seen him do it in high school, but it was on TV, and not that high.

Ira NewbleSmall forward/power forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

We were all elated. That dunk eased all the tension. You felt good for the kid.

Terrell OwensWide receiver, San Francisco 49ers

The energy was electric. It was like everybody coming there to witness that — and that’s part of his mantra. For me, I was a witness.

Rocky WidnerTeam photographer, Sacramento Kings

Everybody wanted to see that. They wanted to see LeBron on a breakaway for a big slam. … Fans paid to see that.

Doug ChristieShooting guard/small forward, Sacramento Kings

I’m forever running behind LeBron on his first dunk …

Ricky DavisShooting guard/small forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

Once he gets that good throwdown, it seems like all that pressure was off. LeBron looked like he had been there before.

David SternCommissioner, NBA

I remember … everybody saying, ‘Yes … this is the real deal.’

Ain’t No Fun if the Homies Can’t Have None: ‘Ricky could jump out the gym, too.’

James creating his own version of Michael Jordan’s Jumpman logo was sensational. But it’s the very next sequence that made clear who James is as a player and teammate. On the play after the dunk, James poked the ball away from Christie and began sprinting up the court. Carlos Boozer grabbed the loose ball and immediately threw it to a streaking James. Davis trailed behind. And what happened next has people in awe to this day.

J.R. BremerShooting guard, Cleveland Cavaliers

He had a wide-open break and he didn’t dunk.

Ricky DavisShooting guard/small forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

I was sprinting down the court not thinking to get the ball … I’m sprinting — ready to celebrate what he was gonna do.

Ira NewbleSmall forward/power forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

All you had to do was be able to run the floor and catch. … LeBron could pass better than almost anybody I’d seen — with both hands, left or right.

DeSagana DiopPower forward/center, Cleveland Cavaliers

He passed it to Ricky with two hands …

Rocky WidnerTeam photographer, Sacramento Kings

I was ticked off that he passed that one off to Ricky. I wanted more pictures of LeBron.

J.R. BremerShooting guard, Cleveland Cavaliers

Ricky could jump out the gym too … and LeBron was always looking out for the betterment of the team. He could’ve dunked that one but it was better for him to give it to Ricky and get him going.

Ricky DavisShooting guard/small forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

He throws it back to little ol’ me, and I do my thing.

Doug ChristieShooting guard/small forward, Sacramento Kings

Most young players wouldn’t do something like that. They wanna dunk. He knows he’s gonna be on ESPN, on all the highlights, just because he is who he is. And he [passed it off to Davis]? I said to myself — I can remember — ‘That’s pretty impressive.’

Chris WebberPower forward/center, Sacramento Kings

He gave guys a pass when he could’ve just dunked down the middle of the lane. … It was like, ‘Wow … he’s a great leader.’”

Across the country, 2.49 million households stayed up to watch him in the pressure cooker.

Terrell OwensWide receiver, San Francisco 49ers

When you see something like that happen, it just shows you the unselfishness. A lot of people have criticized him for being too unselfish at times. But from that point on, he’s never really changed from being who he was …

Romeo TravisLeBron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary High School teammate; freshman, University of Akron

The type of person LeBron is … it’s not all about scoring. It’s not all about the flash. It’s about making sure everybody feels involved.

“After that first quarter … I was like, ‘Damn, he might be better than I thought he was.’”Willie McGee

Willie McGeeLeBron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary High School teammate; freshman, Fairmont State University

It’s one of those things where it’s not fun if you’re doing it alone. To go through experiences with people makes it that much more special and creates that many more memories. We were blessed to have great coaches who helped us understand no one is bigger than the team — even though LeBron is the best player ever.

Tony MassenburgPower forward, Sacramento Kings

The thing that Michael Jordan got criticized for over the course of his career was passing and utilizing his teammates — LeBron had that the very first night he stepped foot into the NBA. To not be coached up to do that, but to have that instinctively … like Magic Johnson … like a point guard? That, to me, stood out. He had Karl Malone’s size with Magic Johnson’s ability to find teammates and make people better.

James finished the first quarter with 12 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals — a great game for many a pro. Cleveland took a brief fourth-quarter lead, 85-83, on a J.R. Bremer 3-pointer, assisted by — who else — James. And then Sacramento’s fluidity, chemistry and experience in big-time games allowed them to coast to a 106-92 win. But the best player on the floor, and by a considerable margin, was the 18-year-old supernova from Akron. James’ 25 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals rank among the best rookie debuts in sports history. He’s right there next to Willie McCovey and Wilt Chamberlain in 1959. Next to Fran Tarkenton 1n 1961, Iverson in 1996, Cam Newton in 2011 and Robert Griffin III in 2012. Per Elias Sports Bureau, James is the youngest player (18 years, 303 days) in league history with at least 25-5-5, and by a considerable margin — three years ahead of Willie Anderson (21-302) and Grant Hill (22-30). James’ first night on the job also placed him with the aforementioned Hill and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as one of only five players in the last half-century to tally at least 25-5-5 in their NBA debut. The future of the league had arrived. An entire country, begrudgingly or not, became witnesses.

Willie McGeeLeBron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary High School teammate; freshman, Fairmont State University

After that first quarter … I was like, ‘Damn, he might be better than I thought he was.’

Believe the Hype: ‘I always tell people I think God just made him.’

Only one of the 69 ESPN-broadcast NBA games from the previous season had a higher rating than the debut of King James — the first meeting between O’Neal and Yao Ming on Jan. 17, 2003. Across the country, 2.49 million households stayed up to watch him in the pressure cooker. They went to work or school the next morning tired yet energized. Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach had seen enough. “He’s for real,” said the nine-time championship-winning coach. Silas predicted that in less than five years James would have the league chasing him. The verdict had already been rendered. James wasn’t just built for the moment. He was the moment.

Romeo TravisLeBron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary High School teammate; freshman, University of Akron

We were hype! We were running around the basement. We was jumping up and down. Because you never know how careers are gonna turn out. No matter how much hype he had around him, you don’t know what’s gonna happen until it happens. You can’t anticipate. You can’t project. You can hope. But you don’t know.

Mike BibbyPoint guard, Sacramento Kings

He definitely lived up to the hype.

Terrell OwensWide receiver, San Francisco 49ers

I’m sitting there like, This dude is unbelievable.

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Ricky DavisShooting guard/small forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

I thought he lived up to the hype in the preseason. It was just a matter of time before he came in and got comfortable.

Rocky WidnerTeam photographer, Sacramento Kings

He was comfortable. You could tell he was gonna be good right away.

Ira NewbleSmall forward/power forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

I was on the bench with a couple of other players, and we just looked at each other in amazement at how LeBron was able to play that night at 18 years old. … You don’t expect him to get into the NBA, and day one, Game 1, have the impact that he had. I can’t recall another player being drafted out of high school that’s done that. It took other players some time to actually be able to do what LeBron was able to do from day one.

Tony MassenburgPower forward, Sacramento Kings

I expected it to be a little harder for him, but I watched him run us like a hot knife through butter. … Nobody could stop him. If you were close to being fast enough, you weren’t nearly his size. And if you were strong enough to keep him away from the basket, you weren’t nearly fast enough …

Paul SilasHead coach, Cleveland Cavaliers

He was running the ballclub: shooting, rebounding … all kinds of things. He was so good. We didn’t have that many great players with him, but he was outstanding. He did everything he could that first game.

J.R. BremerShooting guard, Cleveland Cavaliers

The whoopty-doo layups with the left hand to finding the open man to the crazy dunks … it was nothing new to him. Basketball is what he does.

Tony MassenburgPower forward, Sacramento Kings

His 25 could’ve been 35 if he really wanted it to be. … He didn’t really go M.J. … like, ‘If it takes me going for 40, I’m going for 40.’ I just saw a brother who wanted to play within the game.

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Peja StojakovicSmall forward, Sacramento Kings

We won pretty easily. But afterwards, we all talked about LeBron and how special he was going to be.

David SternCommissioner, NBA

It was an extraordinary event considering it was a young man who was playing his first NBA game.

Tony MassenburgPower forward, Sacramento Kings

The kid was mature. I looked at how he was handling the situation. At the time … he was literally the biggest, most hyped 18-year-old in the world. I don’t think there was an 18-year-old in any sport who had more attention and spotlight on him than LeBron James did, and I watched how he handled that on his first night on the stage, and I walked away thinking this guy is beyond his years, and his talent is quite frankly like something I’d never seen.

Peja StojakovicSmall forward, Sacramento Kings

Even watching him now and looking back trying to remind ourselves of 2003/2004, he was always prepared for the moment.

Chris WebberPower forward/center, Sacramento Kings

One of the most remarkable things about LeBron is how great he is — yes. But, wow, he matched the expectation of being that great — who does that?

DeSagana DiopPower forward/center, Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron’s special. I always tell people I think God just made him. It happens once in 100 years.

Mary Schmitt BoyerBeat reporter, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer

There was a sense that we were never going to be able to do this justice because of our deadlines … [like] it’s too bad the game is all the way out here because we’re never going to be able to explain this whole thing.

“Pressure been following me my whole life.”LeBron James

Rocky WidnerTeam photographer, Sacramento Kings

That moment is up there. But at that time, you gotta understand that nobody knew for sure that he would have the career or legacy that he’s turned out to have. He was really built up and was gonna be a really good player, but you didn’t know that he was gonna be arguably a top-three or -four player of all time.

Mike BibbyPoint guard, Sacramento Kings

Whether it’s 50 years from now or 60 years from now, I was on the court, and on TV, for the first game of one of the best ever, if not the best ever, to play.

David SternCommissioner, NBA

I did not view the game as a transcendent NBA moment. … Guys have great games. He had a great game at a very young age. But I wasn’t prepared … to make the judgment that this would shape his career, or this was a sign that he would be perhaps one of the greatest players to ever play. … I couldn’t have anticipated then the player he would be become. But what do I know? … What was going through my mind the entire game was, This kid really has game.

Terrell OwensWide receiver, San Francisco 49ers

I’ve been a fan ever since.

Chris WebberPower forward/center, Sacramento Kings

I was as impressed with his first game as I am with his career today.

Ricky DavisShooting guard/small forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

He’s still always going to be my rookie. No matter what. No matter how big of a superstar he is, how many championships he’s got — he’s still gonna be my rook.

J.R. BremerShooting guard, Cleveland Cavaliers

After we lost, LeBron came in the locker room and, being the leader that he is, he said, ‘Tough one, guys, but we’ve got a game tomorrow.’ He didn’t sulk on a loss in his first game. He was ready to try to come back and get a win the next day.

These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

Where they are now:

J.R. Bremer: Named to the 2003 NBA All-Rookie second team; currently living in hometown of Cleveland while still pursuing a professional basketball career in Europe, having last played in 2017 for Limoges CSP in France.

Dusty Baker: Last managed in Major League Baseball with the Washington Nationals in 2017; currently serves as special adviser to the San Francisco Giants, whom he managed from 1993 to 2002.

David Stern: Retired on Feb. 1, 2014, after serving as commissioner of the NBA for 30 years. He was succeeded by Adam Silver.

Terrell Owens: Class of 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee; second in NFL career receiving yards.

Mary Schmitt Boyer: Left The Plain Dealer in 2014.

Chris Webber: Five-time All-Star in 15 NBA seasons before retiring in 2008. He’s spent the past decade as an NBA on TNT/NBA TV analyst. His No. 4 jersey was retired by the Sacramento Kings in 2009.

Rocky Widner: Sacramento Kings team photographer since 1985.

DeSagana Diop: Played 12 NBA seasons for four different teams; coaching associate for the Utah Jazz since 2016.

Romeo Travis: Has played professionally overseas since 2007, when he went undrafted to the NBA; Now plays for the Magnolia Hotshots in the Philippines after becoming a champion and finals MVP of the French League in June.

Willie McGee: Director of athletics at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron.

Ricky Davis: Traded to Boston Celtics on Dec. 15, 2003, less than two months after season opener; played 12 NBA seasons for six different teams, and now is the co-captain of the Ghost Ballers in the BIG3 league.

Doug Christie: Named to 2003 NBA All-Defensive first team; retired from the NBA in 2007 and now works as color commentator for the Sacramento Kings after replacing longtime great Jerry Reynolds.

Mike Bibby: Played 14 NBA seasons for six different teams; head basketball coach at Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix since 2014; volunteer assistant coach for Memphis Grizzlies in the 2018 summer league and co-captain of the BIG3’s Ghost Ballers.

Tony Massenburg: Shares NBA record (with Chucky Brown, Jim Jackson and Joe Smith) for most franchises played for with 12; appears as a Washington Wizards analyst on NBC Sports Washington.

Peja Stojakovic: Retired three-time All Star and 2011 NBA champion with the Dallas Mavericks; His No. 16 jersey was retired by the Sacramento Kings in 2014; named Kings’ assistant general manager in May.

Ira Newble: Lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan, where he’s focusing on family and raising his kids after coaching in the NBA’s D-League from 2011 to 2016.

Paul Silas: Former NBA head coach who led four different franchises in 12 seasons; last coached the Charlotte Bobcats from 2010 to 2012.

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Months before his famous jump, Bob Beamon got kicked off his college track team for protesting racism When the man who could fly stood down

Start with the photo. Not the one you know, in which he’s suspended in the thin air of Mexico City, limbs lunging forward as his torso chases to keep up, his mouth agape, almost shocked at what he’s doing — which is, of course, leaping 29 feet, 2½ inches to break the world record in the long jump by nearly 2 feet. Not that photo.

There’s another picture of Bob Beamon, one that isn’t as well-known. It’s from later the same day, Oct. 18, 1968. In this one, the 22-year-old is on the medal stand, a gold medal draped around his neck. He is standing in the same spot where, two days earlier, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in the Black Power salute. Before stepping onto the medal stand, he rolled up his pants to his calves, revealing the black socks he wore in solidarity with Smith and Carlos. Moments after the national anthem played, Beamon faced the crowd. His left arm cradled the box for his gold medal, and he raised his right arm with a fist.

This is not the image that will be remembered, however. Beamon’s socks and raised fist won’t cause the same stir as Smith and Carlos’ protest. Unlike them, Beamon won’t be thrown out of the Olympic Village. He won’t be the subject of countless editorials. Instead, he will be recognized mostly for his otherworldly jump.

For Beamon, that is just fine. Or is it?

This wasn’t Beamon’s first protest. That April, Beamon and eight of his teammates on the University of Texas at El Paso track team boycotted a meet against Brigham Young University because of the Book of Mormon’s views on black people. They were all kicked off the university’s track team and had their scholarships revoked. Six months before the jump that remains an Olympic record today, Beamon was without a team.

Which is why the other photo is so important. There is more to the man than the jump.


On the night of April 8, 1968, four days after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee, nine members of the university track and field team met with their coach, Wayne Vandenburg, in his small apartment in El Paso. They were planning to boycott the Easter weekend meet against Brigham Young, they told him. This was not the first time they had thought about sitting out a meet. Earlier in the year Vandenburg had nearly encouraged it.

In February, Beamon and his teammates had crossed a picket line outside Madison Square Garden. Harry Edwards, the leader of a movement of black athletes who were considering boycotting the 1968 Games, had urged black athletes to boycott the New York Athletic Club Indoor Games. The club did not allow African-American members, Edwards noted, so why should black athletes compete at a meet that would benefit the club?

Bob Beamon (center) on the medal stand at the Mexico City Games. He won the long jump with a distance of 8.9 meters, and also protested against racial discrimination in the United States.

Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

But Beamon, who was from Queens, and several other teammates were reluctant to forgo a free trip to New York, where many of them could compete in front of family and friends. Plus, he wasn’t sure what a boycott would accomplish. “It got down to this,” he told Sports Illustrated. “The NYAC is prejudiced against a lot of different kinds of people, including Jews, and if they’re that way, why should we get excited about it? What happens if we boycott and they agree to admit Negroes but they still keep out the Jews? What have we accomplished?”

This was an invitational meet with collegiate athletes and pros alike, not a dual meet or NCAA championship with team scoring on the line. Before it started, rumors of violence swirled through the dressing room. Vandenburg approached Beamon, who was in his college-issued orange sweats. “Remember now, you don’t have to compete,” Vandenburg told him, according to a New York Times report. “It’s your decision, it’s an individual decision. That goes for everybody.”

Beamon, who had set the world indoor record (27 feet, 1 inch) in January, decided to jump, much to the delight of the crowd. He won with a leap of 26 feet, 3½ inches, about 10 inches short of his record. His teammates competed as well. They returned to the UTEP campus as heroes. “They told us, ‘Great job, wonderful!’ ” sprinter Dave Morgan told Sports Illustrated. “They said that we really stood up for our rights.”

This was the same campus where, two years earlier, coach Don Haskins played seven black players to defeat Kentucky and Adolph Rupp and win the NCAA title. (The school was called Texas Western at the time.) Rupp had been resistant to integration and had only white players on his roster. The reaction wasn’t quite what the track team was expecting.

The trip to New York and the return to UTEP, where only about 250 of the 10,000 students were black, sparked something in Beamon and his teammates. “Later down the road, I understood why there was a boycott outside Madison Square Garden,” Beamon says today. “As months go on, I get deeper into understanding what is happening not only in El Paso but in America in a sense. It was a bittersweet kind of situation for us, competing in that meet. You live and you learn.”

In El Paso, UTEP’s black athletes began to question their surroundings. Morgan, a sprinter and leader on the team, felt that Edwards had a point — why should the black athletes help these institutions when black students aren’t treated fairly? Beamon, meanwhile, wasn’t as quick to reach the same conclusion. There were problems on campus and in El Paso, he knew. The only job his then-wife Melvina could find was lifting boxes for $1.35 per hour, even though she was a qualified secretary and bilingual in English and Spanish. But was a boycott the answer?

Then King was assassinated. Beamon and the rest of the UTEP team competed in the Texas Relays in Austin the weekend after the assassination. But when they returned to campus this time, a small collection of black athletes held a meeting and made a decision: They were going to boycott the Easter weekend meet against BYU.

The black athletes were emotionally drained from the death of King. But there was more to the boycott. BYU is a Mormon school, and for much of its history, the church would not ordain men of black African descent as priests and barred black men and women from certain church rites. (The policies were reversed in 1978.)

Sitting in Vandenburg’s apartment the Monday night before the April 13 meet in Provo, Utah, the nine team members — Beamon, Morgan, sprinters Charles McPherson and Robert Boalts, hurdlers Kelly Myrick Jr. and Levi Portis, and middle-distance runners John Nichols, Jose L’Official and Jimmy Love — told him they were not going.

But Vandenburg’s reaction was different from the one in New York. “I said I don’t believe they’re being any more discriminated against today than they have been for the last 10-15 years that we’ve competed against BYU,” he recalled recently. “You’ve competed against them in the indoor conference championships and there was no issues, so now we’re making it an issue.” Sit out the meet, he told them, and they’d be off the team.

A picture of Bob Beamon (second from the right) with University of Texas at El Paso teammates, seen at his home on June 6 in Las Vegas.

Bridget Bennett for The Undefeated

From there, everything moved quickly. Vandenburg told his superiors in the athletic department, and they informed the athletes their scholarships would be revoked if they did not compete against BYU. The athletes stood their ground and attempted to get others on the team to join them. Pete Romero was a freshman middle-distance star of Mexican descent from California. He recalled recently that he told his teammates he couldn’t afford to lose his scholarship. “This is all I have,” he said.

By Friday, the news of the boycott was out. U.T. El Paso Negros Withdraw from Track read the headline in that day’s El Paso Times. An Associated Press article ran in papers all over the country, with headlines such as Negroes at El Paso Nix Competition to Beamon, UTEP Fellow Negroes Pledge Boycott filling pages.

The athletic department released a statement declaring that any athlete who boycotted the BYU meet would “be considered by the athletic department as having voluntarily disassociated themselves with the track team.”

“There were about a dozen reasons [to boycott],” Morgan told Sports Illustrated in July 1968. “The Mormons teach that Negroes are descended from the devil. As a reason for the track team’s boycott it may sound like a small thing to a white person, but who the hell wants to go up there and run your tail off in front of a bunch of spectators who think you’ve got horns. And it was Easter week, and it seemed to us that there was an obvious connection between the martyrdom of Jesus and the martyrdom of Dr. King. To a white it might be nothing; to us it had great significance. And on top of all of that, there was the general fact that the Negro is treated like something out of the jungle here, and we wanted to express ourselves about that.”

BYU president Ernest L. Wilkinson issued a statement, saying the UTEP students had “erroneous information” regarding the treatment of black people within the Mormon religion. “We do not discriminate because of race and have Negroes in our student body,” Wilkinson said.

Vandenburg held out hope that the athletes would change their minds up until the doors of the plane to Provo closed, but eight stayed behind. Nichols, a middle-distance runner, traveled with the team to Provo because he wanted to see the situation at BYU. But, he told Sports Illustrated, things were so tense that he got into a fistfight with a teammate who kept calling him “black boy.” Nichols ended up boycotting, too, and lost his scholarship.

Beamon, however, was still set on becoming an Olympic champion.


Beamon did not lose his scholarship immediately — it was near the end of the spring semester, and he remained in Texas. He missed two months of NCAA competitions, including the NCAA championships in mid-June. But there were still opportunities to jump.

He moved from El Paso to Houston once the semester ended in May to train with the Houston Striders track club and manager Dave Rickey. He moved towns and took on a new coach but somehow remained focused on his gold-medal task. “I didn’t have time to think about losing my scholarship,” he said. “I was really strapped to my dream. And there was nothing that would get in my way, that would make me change my direction. I went straight forward. I never lost a step.”

Beamon had broken his own world indoor record in March with a leap of 27 feet, 2¾ inches. Without NCAA meets to compete in, Beamon traveled with the support of the Striders and continued to jump. He soared 26 feet, 11¼ inches in Modesto, California, in late May. In early June, he leapt 26 feet, 7½ inches to win a competition in Los Angeles. At a tuneup meet in August in Houston, he jumped 25 feet, ½ inch.

Then in September, Beamon won the Olympic trials in Echo Summit, California, with a wind-aided leap of 27 feet, 6½ inches that surpassed the world record. The wind made the jump record ineligible, but Beamon was on a tear. He went into Mexico City as the favorite, even though he was facing both Ralph Boston, who won gold in 1960, and Lynn Davies of Great Britain, who won gold in 1964.

Then, he made the leap that cemented his legacy.

Beamon’s leap of 29 feet, 2½ inches — which far surpassed the record of 27 feet, 4¾ inches — was the stuff of legend. Athletes weren’t supposed to do what he did. Common sense said he needed to jump 28 feet before he could leap 29. In his first attempt in the finals, he broke the world record by nearly 2 feet. (Some noted that the wind was at the maximum allowable for a record: 2.0 meters per second — a condition that applied to all the competitors that day.)

The jump remains the gold standard of otherworldly performance. Plus, Beamon did it after getting kicked off the UTEP track team and losing his coach six months before the Olympics. World records weren’t supposed to fall so easily. And especially not when an athlete’s entire world had changed drastically. Many athletes would have faltered facing such change, but not Beamon.

For him, the magnitude of the leap was a surprise, but winning gold was not. That was always part of the plan.

“I lost my scholarship,” he said, “but I never lost focus on preparing myself for the Olympic team. I stayed right in the pocket.”


“When I give speeches,” Beamon said, “I like to tell people, ‘When I jumped off the board and leaped in the air, I took a moment and looked at my watch.’ ” He laughs, knowing how ridiculous it sounds. “They just go bananas on that.”

Beamon at 71 remains as vibrant as the multicolored geometric shirt and matching sneakers he is wearing. He sits next to his wife, Rhonda, inside their Las Vegas home on a stiflingly hot sunny day. As his dogs Phoebe, a Maltese poodle mix, and Bailey, a schnauzer, bark from upstairs, he talks about the 50-year-old jump — a subject in which he is well-rehearsed. “It took them at least 20 minutes or so for the jump to be measured,” he said, his legs bouncing as if there is still plenty of spring in them, “and I thought maybe I jumped close to 28 feet. But they couldn’t use the electronic device, so they had to send somebody out to Ace Hardware to get a tape to measure the jump.”

Bob Beamon takes off for a place in sporting history as he leaps 8.90 meters (29 feet, 2½ inches) at the Mexico City Games in 1968. It was 12 years before anyone else reached 28 feet (8.53 meters), and the record stood until 1991, when Mike Powell of the U.S. leaped 8.95 meters in Tokyo to win the world title.

Tony Duffy /Allsport

Jokes aside, Beamon still marvels over what he did that day. “They plastered this jump on the board, and it was 8.9 meters,” he said, his hands drifting apart in front of him as if he’s revealing an imaginary scoreboard, “and I didn’t know meters, I was just dumbfounded by meters. I was with my teammate Ralph Boston [who won bronze in the long jump in 1968], and he said, ‘You know, you just jumped over 29 feet.’ I didn’t process it for a moment, then the next thing you know, he was picking me up, and I couldn’t believe it. I just found myself between time and space. I wasn’t sure if this was really real, and I was wondering if it was just a wonderful dream. Maybe I can’t quite explain it. It was just way, way above what we had imagined.”

When the conversation turns to the UTEP boycott, though, he slows down, and his giddiness turns reflective. He ticks off a list of names: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr.

“When you see a nonviolent man being shot down,” Beamon said, “it just keeps building. The country has to respond in some kind of way. I was seeing so much, so much death and hate around us. So many different types of things that were not, to me, right.”

In 1968 he was laser-focused on his sport, but he also understood that the world was changing — and that he could be a vehicle to accelerate that change. Once King was shot, Beamon and his teammates knew they had to do something, anything. So they boycotted.

Looking back on it today, he does not regret that he did it, he only regrets that everything moved so quickly. The same is true for Vandenburg, now a board member for the USA Track & Field Foundation, who says he is still in touch with the UTEP athletes from the 1968 team. “You look at things in hindsight,” Vandenburg told me recently. “Do I believe I would have seen things differently today? Yeah, I think so. It probably wouldn’t have gone as far. It was one of those situations where you didn’t sit down and talk through it. I was 26 years old at the time, but that’s not an excuse. It just quickly got out of hand.”

“I don’t think the administrators were understanding or sympathetic,” Beamon said. He remains sorry that Vandenburg and the UTEP track team lost some of its best athletes. (Vandenburg left the team in 1972, when coach Ted Banks took over and led it to 17 NCAA titles in track and field and cross-country over the next nine years.)

“I like to tell people, ‘When I jumped off the board and leaped in the air, I took a moment and looked at my watch.’ ”

But Beamon is not sorry that he had stood up for something he believed in. It was the same as supporting Carlos and Smith by wearing black socks on the medal stand. Beamon is quick to say that was an easy decision, especially with Boston, who was a mentor on and off the track, on the medal stand with him. And why wasn’t he vilified for wearing the black socks or for raising his fist? Beamon isn’t sure, but after he broke a world record by such an unfathomable amount, it’s easy to see why people focused on the jump.

Sitting in his Las Vegas home, I ask Beamon if he is OK with that, if he is fine being known almost exclusively for the jump. If he is OK with the fact that not as many people know about the BYU boycott. Or the raised fist in Mexico City.

He sits on the question for a moment, running it through his mind before asking me a question: “Have you ever looked up the term ‘Beamonesque’?”

“It’s in the dictionary,” he says. “It means spectacular. Something beyond the possible.

“It’s quite a thing to be in the dictionary. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”


Beamon and his wife have been in Las Vegas for about a year. They live in the northwest part of town, about a 25-minute drive from The Strip. They went to the same high school in Queens, New York, and got married 15 years ago after meeting again in Florida, where they both lived at the time.

In the 50 years since the jump, Beamon has worn many hats.

He returned to UTEP after winning gold in October in 1968 but left before graduating. He thought he was NBA material and was selected by the Phoenix Suns in the 15th round of the 1969 NBA draft. He never played for the Suns, however, and eventually went back to school, graduating from Adelphi University in 1972 with a degree in sociology. Beamon spent time as a publicist and became involved in the arts community in Florida, working with Art of the Olympians, a program that showcases art by Olympians and Paralympians. He even contributes some of his own abstract acrylic paintings. Plus, he was the chief executive of the now-closed Art of the Olympians Museum in Fort Myers, Florida, and has been an ambassador for the Special Olympics since the early days of the organization.

He has remained drawn to sports. He was a director of athletic development at Florida Atlantic University and moved to Chicago in 2010 to take a job as associate athletic director at Chicago State University. Today, he’s in Las Vegas with Rhonda, excited to rid themselves of the Chicago cold. He works on public relations projects and gives inspirational speeches.

There is, indeed, more to the man than the jump, and more to the man than a definition in a dictionary.

Beamon knows there is still more to be done when it comes to equality. And he’s thankful for athletes such as Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James, who, he says, “are picking up where we left off.”

“I’m seeing it start all over again,” he said. “We stood strong around the country, and I think that’s what is happening again. I think it’s getting ready to blossom. And so, 50 years are gone and it’s a new type of style, new type of behavior. The younger generation has to shape this thing and this country.”

Ideally, they will do something spectacular. Beamonesque, even.

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Kobe Bryant Q&A: ‘The Lakers are going to surprise a lot of people’ Kobe talks about his new book, the Lakers making the playoffs, and LeBron

Kobe Bryant smiled. He was moderating a panel discussion with five kids when one of them expressed love for the Los Angeles Lakers. That led to the five-time NBA champion’s reasonable follow-up:

“Who’s your favorite player?”

Owen Norwood, 11, one of the kids on the panel at the Aspen Institute’s Project Play Summit in Washington, D.C., looked at Bryant and responded without hesitation.

“LeBron James.”

Bryant threw his head back in feigned disgust, and the crowd roared in laughter.

Causes connected with youth sports occupy a lot of Bryant’s life these days, more than two years after he ended his career with a 60-point game against the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016. Bryant was 37 at the time, the oldest player in NBA history to score 60 points.

Now 40, Bryant is creating content largely aimed at kids through Granity Studios, which he created after the release of his 2015 documentary Kobe Bryant’s Muse for Showtime. He recently created a podcast called The Punies, and next week he’ll release his first book, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play, which is aimed at providing young athletes a look at one of the most brilliant minds to ever play basketball.

After Bryant’s appearance at the Project Play Summit on Tuesday, he spoke to The Undefeated about his book, becoming the first African-American creator to win an Oscar for an animated short, his drive to open up opportunities for minorities in Hollywood and, of course, his Lakers.


How involved were you in getting James on board with the Lakers?

I’ll tell you, when [Lakers owner] Jeanie Buss came to me and said, ‘I really want to go after [LeBron],’ I said, ‘Jeanie, he’s not coming here until you clean up this s— here.’ The last thing LeBron wants to do is come to an organization that has a lot of infighting, a lot of the stuff going on.

I said, ‘Jeanie, it’s time for you to take ownership of this franchise. He’s not going to come if you don’t.’

How good can this team be this year?

The Lakers are going to surprise a lot of people. Rob [Pelinka, the Lakers’ general manager], has smartly built a team of physical players. Big, versatile, fast, physical players. He understands that if you want to challenge Golden State, you can’t challenge them with shooting. That’s what they do.

You’ve got to beat them somewhere else. You have to beat them with size. Chippiness. Feistiness. Strength and speed. And he has a team that has that. He has a mixture of vets that are still in their primes and young kids that are hungry and open-minded and willing to learn. A team that can compete and challenge. That is a dangerous mix.

You say surprise people? A definite playoff team?

Oh, God, yes. C’mon.

A lot of people don’t see this, even with LeBron, as a playoff team in the West.

C’mon. (Laughing.)

You’ve won NBA championships, just won an Oscar. What motivated you to write your first book?

I struggled with doing a book. If we’re going to do anything, whether it’s the Muse film or The Mamba Mentality book, it has to have a reason for existing. So the layers I put on it, if it’s me at 12 years old and I’m reading a book, what would I want to read?

Some of the greatest insights I got from [Michael Jordan’s books] were with things that had nothing to do with what he felt like after this game or a particular shot. It was more like the process, the basics. I said I’m going to do a book that’s built on process, built on craft, and I’m going to teach the young kids. We’ve pulled images, and I’ve been able to pick apart tactically what is happening in that photograph or what should happen. It’s that level of insight.

Similar to what you do with Detail (Bryant’s in-depth game analysis created for ESPN)?

Exactly right.

How’s the transition been from player to storyteller?

I’ve written my whole life, ad campaigns and all that. But … the Muse film changed everything.

I wasn’t happy with the first version of the Muse film I saw. It was a standard documentary. I had to do something different, had to focus on the kids out there, and all I wanted was to speak to the young athletes.

And so I took a couple of days, went home and rewrote it. I found a lot of enjoyment in doing that.

I had people come up to me, basketball players and entertainers that had nothing to do with basketball, and say that film moved them. That inspired me to be where I am today. I really enjoyed that process.

What was the moment like when you were announced as the winner of an Academy Award?

I couldn’t believe it. Like, I would love to say it was a dream, but I couldn’t fathom that until we got the nomination. Then it was like, ‘We actually have a chance to win this thing.’

The moment we won, to actually go onstage and accept that award with all those amazing actors and actresses sitting out there? It’s crazy. I couldn’t believe in this day and age I was the first black director/producer to win an Oscar for an animated short.

I remember thinking back to our Oscar tour. We sat in the room with all these different animators — none black. Zero. Part of what I want to do is: ‘How can I show the culture in very different forms of expression?’

There’s not just basketball, music and football — there’s other stuff. There’s animation. Storytelling. Production. Screenplay writing. We want to open up the industry to show our children, hey, you can do this too.

Could you have envisioned being an award-winning media executive and content producer while you were playing?

You kidding me? No. No. No.

But I love it. It’s crazy. I feel very blessed to be able to say I played basketball for 20 years in the league. I love the game of basketball. But what I’m doing now, I love every bit as much as I loved the game of basketball.

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Our five favorite NBA storylines this season They have nothing to do with the Golden State Warriors

With the addition of DeMarcus Cousins, the Golden State Warriors are back and better than ever. But the reigning champs’ shot at a three-peat is probably the least interesting question on our minds going into the new NBA season.

With a new-look Los Angeles Lakers squad, a rejuvenated Boston Celtics team and a spiraling yet formidable Philadelphia 76ers organization, NBA fans have a lot to discuss as the season begins. And let’s not forget Kawhi Leonard’s quest to challenge Giannis Antetokounmpo as the No. 1 beast in the East. Here are our five favorite storylines.

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Philip Rivers Has The Supporting Cast He Deserves Again

Conventional NFL wisdom says teams should do whatever it takes to snag a Franchise Quarterback™ — that from there, the winning just takes care of itself. But for most of Philip Rivers’s career, his Los Angeles (née San Diego) Chargers have been the exception to that rule. Taken fourth overall in the 2004 draft, Rivers has been the elite passer that teams dream about building around. And yet, his team has just four total playoff wins to show for it, including only one this decade.

This year, though, Los Angeles looks poised to reverse that trend and actually capitalize on having a future Hall of Fame QB in its midst, while there’s still time left in Rivers’s career to do it. The Chargers walloped the Browns 38-14 in Cleveland last Sunday, bringing their record to 4-2 on the season — and giving them a 61 percent probability of making their first playoff appearance since 2013. Although L.A.’s postseason bid is far from assured, right now the Chargers have set themselves up with their most promising start to a season in a long time.

This Charger renaissance has been building for a few years, since the team finally began surrounding Rivers again with better playmakers on both sides of the ball. On defense, that goes back to 2012, when former general manager A.J. Smith drafted pass-rusher Melvin Ingram 18th overall. After a slow start to his career, Ingram has blossomed into a Pro Bowler and an annual double-digit sack candidate. Under Smith’s successor, Tom Telesco, the Chargers have also grabbed several defensive contributors through the draft, including sack-machine DE Joey Bosa,1 solid LB Denzel Perryman, up-and-coming CB Desmond King II and rookie S Derwin James (who, in his first season, already ranks as the NFL’s fifth-best safety according to ProFootballFocus’s player grades). Toss in outside pickups such as DT Brandon Mebane and CB Casey Hayward — another Pro Bowler from last season — plus the guidance of proven coordinator Gus Bradley, and the Chargers’ defensive talent base has undeniably made strides over the past handful of seasons.

On offense, Telesco also made key acquisitions that helped pave the way for this year’s hot start when he took WR Keenan Allen in the third round of the 2013 draft and RB Melvin Gordon 15th overall in 2015. Picking first-round running backs is always tricky business, but Gordon has been a good one so far in his career, with a couple of 1,400-yards-from-scrimmage seasons under his belt (in 2016 and 2017) and an excellent start to 2018 as well. Meanwhile, Allen has taken the lead from top San Diego-era targets Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates and forged his own chemistry with Rivers — only four receivers leaguewide have more yards through the air since 2017 than Allen does. (It also helps that Allen has stayed healthy these past two seasons after missing 23 combined games in 2015-16.) Allen and Gordon aren’t the only teammates making Rivers’s life easier: The offensive line has been much better with free-agent C Mike Pouncey anchoring the middle, while change-of-pace RB Austin Ekeler has proven himself exceptionally tough to bring down — he leads all RBs in yards after first contact per rush. More broadly, in its second year under head coach Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles now has the offensive pieces to beat teams in multiple ways.

Add it all up and it’s clear that Rivers, who turns 37 in December, has a much better group of talent around him to work with than in years past. Here’s a look at the changes in Rivers’s own production over time — as measured by his Yards Above Backup Quarterback (YABQ) — along with how his top skill-position teammates and defense have also evolved:

Philip Rivers is great again — and he has help

Los Angeles Chargers’ production from quarterback Philip Rivers and his supporting cast, 2006-2018

Season Rivers YABQ/G Top RB YdSc/G Top Rec. YdSC/G Team Def. efficiency
2018 99.2 M. Gordon 124.2 K. Allen 80.0 54.9
2017 75.1 M. Gordon 98.8 K. Allen 87.6 63.0
2016 31.8 M. Gordon 88.5 T. Williams 66.2 51.1
2015 48.3 D. Woodhead 68.2 K. Allen 45.3 38.6
2014 45.7 B. Oliver 53.3 M. Floyd 53.5 42.8
2013 79.6 R. Mathews 90.3 K. Allen 65.4 32.2
2012 -3.9 R. Mathews 59.9 M. Floyd 50.9 55.4
2011 48.0 R. Mathews 96.6 V. Jackson 72.3 33.2
2010 77.1 M. Tolbert 59.4 A. Gates 48.9 64.3
2009 97.0 L. Tomlinson 55.3 V. Jackson 73.6 46.4
2008 86.5 L. Tomlinson 96.0 V. Jackson 72.9 38.7
2007 26.4 L. Tomlinson 121.8 A. Gates 61.5 62.6
2006 58.5 L. Tomlinson 145.2 A. Gates 57.8 61.1

Per-game measures are relative to team schedule lengths, not individual games played.

YABQ: Yards Above Backup Quarterback, a measure of QB performance that gives credit for passing and rushing, and adjusts for strength of schedule.

YDSC: yards from scrimmage, or rushing yards plus receiving yards.

Defensive efficiency: ESPN’s measure of a defense’s per-play effectiveness on a 0-100 scale.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group, pro-Football-Reference.com

It probably isn’t a coincidence that Rivers is currently enjoying his best statistical performance in years, with Gordon and Allen also contributing more than any Charger rusher and receiver since the days of LaDainian Tomlinson and Vincent Jackson. It’s a little circular, in that sense: Is Rivers making them better, or are they helping Rivers rediscover his form? (Gordon’s ability to run against stacked defenses, for instance, has opened up space for Rivers to throw downfield.) Either way, the ingredients have been in place for a late-career QB rejuvenation. Right now, Rivers is on pace to tie for the ninth-most-efficient post-merger performance for a passer age 35 or older, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com’s advanced passing index. As far as old-man QB seasons go, this is one of the best in history.

Of course, with the Chargers, it’s about more than just improved talent. It’s also about execution, something this team has often been found sorely lacking over the years. As Mike Tanier wrote in his L.A. chapter for Football Outsiders’ 2018 Almanac, you could make a pretty convincing case that the 2017 Chargers missed the playoffs because of two very fundamental football activities: tackling and kicking. Last year, Los Angeles let opponents break tackles at an incredible rate and missed numerous field goals and extra points, helping to turn a team with 10-and-a-half-win point differential into a sad-sack nine-game-winner.

This year’s place-kicking game hasn’t been great (Caleb Sturgis made just 71 percent of his total field goals and extra points before he was sidelined by an injury), but it’s no longer dead-last in football, which I suppose is an accomplishment. Plus, the Chargers rank among the best in the league in terms of kickoffs, a big reason for their fourth-ranked net starting field position. And as for the tackling woes, they appear to be a thing of the past. According to Football Outsiders’ charting data, only 3.9 percent of plays by Charger opponents have seen a broken tackle, good for 10th best in the league this year. Relatedly, the Chargers are also allowing the league’s sixth-lowest rate of yards after first contact per rush this season, another major sign of defensive progress as compared with last season.

The Chargers must have practiced their tackling

Los Angeles Chargers’ defensive performance and league ranking in preventing opponents from breaking tackles or gaining yards after contact

Year Broken tackles/play NFL Rank Opponents’ yards after 1st contact/rush NFL Rank
2018 3.9% 10 1.56 6
2017 13.3 31 2.31 32

Source: Football Outsiders, ESPN Stats & Information Group

Los Angeles will put its improved talent and newfound execution on display in London on Sunday, for a game against the Tennessee Titans that ranks among the best of Week 7 in terms of both matchup quality (i.e., the harmonic mean of the two teams’ Elo ratings in each game) and how much it figures to swing either team’s odds of making the playoffs:

The best matchups of Week 7

Week 7 games by the highest average Elo rating (using the harmonic mean) plus the total potential swing for the two teams’ playoff chances, according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL predictions

Playoff % Playoff %
Team A Current Avg. Chg* Team B Current Avg. Chg* Total Change Game Quality
CAR 43.4% ±12.8 PHI 64.2% ±12.2 25.0 1586
LAC 60.6 14.6 TEN 41.3 12.6 27.2 1524
WSH 38.8 16.3 DAL 40.2 16.2 32.6 1517
BAL 68.7 11.5 NO 72.2 9.7 21.1 1605
CHI 43.0 12.2 NE 78.4 9.0 21.3 1560
CIN 49.6 11.2 KC 95.8 3.6 14.8 1575
JAX 46.7 13.8 HOU 23.6 12.9 26.7 1470
MIA 42.8 12.6 DET 24.3 9.8 22.4 1496
MIN 57.0 13.4 NYJ 14.7 7.1 20.5 1513
LAR 95.8 3.3 SF 3.1 2.8 6.1 1512
ATL 27.7 6.5 NYG 1.2 1.0 7.5 1454
BUF 10.2 5.7 IND 4.1 2.3 8.0 1417
DEN 3.8 2.6 ARI 1.4 0.8 3.4 1418
TB 20.7 5.6 CLE 1.1 1.0 6.6 1394

Game quality is the harmonic mean of the Elo ratings for the two teams in a given matchup.

*Average change is weighted by the likelihood of a win or loss. (Ties are excluded.)

Source: ESPN.com

For the Chargers, it’s part of a long road trip that will keep them away from Southern California until Nov. 18. The StubHub Center doesn’t exactly offer an intimidating advantage even when they are at home, but it does bear watching how L.A. manages all that travel. Even so, the Chargers’ season will still probably hinge on the final few matchups of the season — their last five games are either against division rivals or the biggest threats to their wild-card chances. If Rivers and his improved supporting cast can continue to thrive up to and including the month of December, we’ll know the Chargers have stamped their ticket back to the postseason and given their star QB at least one more chance to shine on the game’s brightest stage.

FiveThirtyEight vs. the readers

Attention football fans! Be sure to check out our constantly updating NFL prediction interactive, which uses FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings to forecast the rest of the season. And if you think you can outsmart Elo, step right up to our prediction game, which lets you pick against our model (and your fellow readers) for bragging rights and a place on our giant leaderboard.

Here are the games where Elo made its best — and worst — predictions against the field of prognosticators last week:

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 6

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 6 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

OUR PREDICTION (ELO) READERS’ PREDICTION
PICK WIN PROB. PICK WIN PROB. Result READERS’ NET PTS
BUF 52% HOU 60% HOU 20, BUF 13 +9.4
TEN 53 BAL 54 BAL 21, TEN 0 +4.8
GB 66 GB 75 GB 33, SF 30 +3.3
LAR 69 LAR 75 LAR 23, DEN 20 +1.2
CIN 54 CIN 51 PIT 28, CIN 21 +1.2
MIN 74 MIN 79 MIN 27, ARI 17 +0.9
ATL 67 ATL 64 ATL 34, TB 29 -3.9
SEA 67 SEA 63 SEA 27, OAK 3 -4.4
CAR 55 CAR 58 WSH 23, CAR 17 -5.3
PHI 71 PHI 66 PHI 34, NYG 13 -5.4
NE 54 NE 50 NE 43, KC 40 -6.2
LAC 69 LAC 60 LAC 38, CLE 14 -9.1
NYJ 67 NYJ 57 NYJ 42, IND 34 -9.9
MIA 54 CHI 59 MIA 31, CHI 28 -15.4
DAL 53 JAX 60 DAL 40, JAX 7 -16.2

Home teams are in bold.

The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction.

What’s been a great season for Elo kept getting better in Week 6 as the algorithm beat the average reader by 55 points, its second-best showing of the entire year so far. Human predictors really only had one major feather in their cap — Houston’s Nathan Peterman-fueled win over Buffalo (a very bad team whose badness Elo refuses to acknowledge) — but otherwise they saw Elo run roughshod over their picks. Elo correctly called wins for Dallas and Miami when readers picked otherwise, and it had a lot more confidence than readers in the Jets’ and Chargers’ victories as well. All told, the average reader is now down 233 points to Elo for the season to date.

Among the readers who weren’t destroyed by Elo, congrats to John D. Harden, who led all users with 275 points in Week 6, and to Jevon Mallett, who continues to lead all users for the season with 453 points. Thanks to everyone who played last week — and if you didn’t play, get in on the game already! You can make picks now and still try your luck against Elo, even if you haven’t played yet.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

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50th anniversary of the defining moment in sports social activism The voices of 1968 head to San Jose State University for historic town hall

San Jose State honors the legacy of athlete activism, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Join the conversation with #SJSUwordstoaction and watch the livestream, here.

Participants include:

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Deandre Ayton, ‘son of the soil’ The No. 1 pick goes back to his Bahamian roots

NASSAU, Bahamas – Slaves were allowed three days off during the Christmas holidays in the Bahamas to dance and play music from their native Africa. They donned elaborate and colorful costumes made of newspaper and other litter during the celebration called Junkanoo. Even after slavery ended in the Bahamas in 1834, Junkanoo continued during Christmas holidays and other special occasions.

The arrival of Deandre Ayton back to his native Bahamas in July — his first trip home since he was in high school — was deemed one of these occasions worthy of a modern Junkanoo band.

At a private pool club illuminated by purple lights, a band dressed in fluorescent colors got in position as word spread that their native son was near. One member blew a whistle to start the tempo. And as the 7-foot-1-inch, 250-pound center approached his welcome party, he smiled and danced when he heard the beating of goatskin drums and the blaring of brass horns and whistles.

“It was just amazing,” Ayton told The Undefeated. “You can’t describe Junkanoo. But once you hear that beat, your body will just move. You’re going to feel it in your chest, too.”

Mychal Thompson laughs while watching the action from the bench during the Jeff Rodgers Celebrity Basketball Game at Kendall Isaacs Auditorium in Nassau, Bahamas. Thompson is the first No. 1 NBA draft pick to come from the Bahamas.

Danielle A. Scruggs for The Undefeated

American hip-hop music soon replaced the native Junkanoo band, and the party was underway. Mychal Thompson and his sons, Mychel and Klay, were some of the first partygoers to greet Ayton.

The elder Thompson is a legend in the Bahamas. As a teen talent, he was discovered when a high school basketball scout from Miami was accidentally sent to his house in search of a different Thompson boy.

Bahamians love Thompson for opening basketball up to the country. He began his career with the Portland Trail Blazers before playing alongside Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy with the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers. He even has a street named after him in Nassau that leads to a gym where Houston Rockets players worked out in September.

Deandre Ayton at the Jeff Rodgers Youth Basketball Camp at the Kendal G.L. Isaacs Gymnasium. Ayton trained at the camp as a youth.

Danielle A. Scruggs for The Undefeated

But the No. 1 pick in 1978 draft said the attention he received back then pales in comparison to the attention being given to Ayton, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, who Thompson believes will be “the face of Bahamian sports for the next 15 years.”

“You’ve got to think back to those times,” Thompson said. “We had no cellphones, no social media, no [ESPN reporter] interviewing me in a hotel room with all this fancy camera equipment. I remember I went to New York, met with the commissioner. They announced the pick, I shook his hand. Some guy had a Polaroid, took a picture of us.”

The Bahamas has produced a number of NBA players. Thompson is a two-time NBA champion. His son Klay, stars for the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. His other son, Mychel, has also played in the NBA. Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield is from the other side of the island in Freeport. Former NBA players Dexter Cambridge and Ian Lockhart are from the Bahamas, while former three-time NBA champion Rick Fox has Bahamian roots, as does current Rockets guard Eric Gordon.

No matter where you go on the island, NBA games past and present are on TVs — even in the offseason — and debated over games of backgammon. There was even a charity game shown live on local TV on July 20, pitting island celebrities against pastors to promote peace on the streets.

Bahamas prime minister Hubert Minnis told The Undefeated that he hopes to one day change the national sport from cricket to basketball.

“Every kid growing up in the Bahamas, they want to be basketball player, a baseball player. And now you hear them talking about football. But basketball has always been No. 1,” Minnis said.

Deandre Ayton meets with the prime minister of the Bahamas, Hubert Minnis, and his cabinet, at the Churchill Building in Nassau.

Danielle A. Scruggs for The Undefeated

People from all over the Bahamas tuned in to ESPN for the 2018 NBA draft on June 21. There were six media members from the Bahamas at the draft along with then-Bahamas minister of sport Michael Pintard. After NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the Phoenix Suns had selected Ayton with the first pick overall, an island cheered.

“Nobody, nobody expected me to do this,” said Ayton.

Ayton is ready to continue exceeding expectations, but has dealt with recent challenges. Last week, the Suns fired general manager Ryan McDonough, who drafted Ayton. Moreover, former Adidas consultant Thomas Gassnola said the shoe company paid Ayton’s family before or during his college career at Arizona while testifying in federal court in New York a week ago. Gassnola, however, did not divulge any details about the alleged payments.

Ayton, meanwhile, told reporters in Phoenix last week that he was surprised by the accusation.

“I don’t know why my name is in that,” Ayton said. “For me, my family and friends have been supportive of me my whole career. I don’t think they’d do anything like that. I just know my main goal right now is just my first game as an NBA player Wednesday coming up.”

Before these events, Ayton allowed The Undefeated and ESPN to follow him during his trip to his native Nassau in July. The following is a look at his return to his roots.


hoops camp, full circle

Deandre Ayton’s childhood home in Nassau, Bahamas.

Danielle A. Scruggs for The Undefeated

There was a nervous energy among the kids at the Jeff Rodgers Basketball Camp as word spread that Ayton was about to arrive. It was at this same camp, years ago, that Ayton’s love for basketball began when he himself was a youth.

Jeff Rodgers, who started the camp in the Bahamas 31 years ago, did not play in the NBA. But he is just as much of a basketball legend in the Bahamas as Thompson and Ayton.

Rodgers says his Seventh-day Adventist Church challenged its members to do something special for the Bahamas in 1986. So, he started a summer camp in Nassau to give kids something positive to do.

“Young people have a way of getting into some crazy things, and trouble, whatever you want to call it,” Rodgers said. “I look at it as an opportunity for me to see how I can empower young people to believe in themselves, [as] I was able to do for myself.”

To earn respect for the camp early on, Rodgers persuaded then-Atlanta Hawks guard and dunk champion Spud Webb to attend. Webb then asked Rodgers if he could bring along a teammate, which just happened to be eventual Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins.

With Wilkins and Webb in tow, Rodgers’ basketball camp was a hit from the start. Later on, Mychal Thompson became a camp counselor along with Mychel, Klay and his youngest son, Trayce, who is an outfielder for the Chicago White Sox.

“I remember — like 7, 8, my earliest memories — going to Jeff Rodgers camp, actually,” said Klay Thompson. Eric Gordon and Hield also attended the camp as youths.

Ayton, whose stepfather introduced him to basketball and forced him to attend Rodgers’ camp, said he received motivation from Klay Thompson when he was one of the camp counselors.

After catching the basketball bug during his first camp, Ayton wanted to go to camp the next year but did not have the money to go. To earn the fee, he had to work as a plumber with his father for a week.

“I look at him. I say, ‘Let’s go to work. No camp for you this year,’ ’’ Alvin Ayton said. “And he was more than happy to come to work that week. He worked very well. I paid him $20 a day. That Friday I come in and I give him that hundred dollars, and he say, ‘OK, Daddy, I can tell you something now.’ I say, ‘What?’ He say, ‘I ain’t coming back to work Monday.’ I say, ‘What you mean you ain’t coming back to work Monday?’

“He said, “I can pay for my camp.’ ”

Rodgers, who remembers when Ayton first attended his basketball camp as if it were yesterday, recalls Ayton being clumsy and with no basketball skills to start.

“This young man comes from a small little island with like 350,000 Bahamians,” Rodgers told the kids at the Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium. “He goes into one of the biggest countries in the world where they have millions of people. … And this young man makes a statement to the world, ‘I’m going to be No. 1.’

“Let no one discourage you from your dreams and goals in life.”

Ayton followed that up with a motivational speech of his own and spent the next half-hour playing with a rotating group of boys and girls. Some of the kids chanted, “Dunk it! Dunk it!” And Ayton did just that, to the delight of his adoring crowd and their phones.

“It just brought me back,” Ayton said. “How they looked at me was the same way I was looking at Klay when he was talking to us. I was really speechless. I didn’t even want to say anything at first because I’m looking and they are not blinking at all when they were looking at me.”

The next day, Rodgers put on an annual showcase so family and friends of the participants could witness their basketball growth followed by a celebrity game. Klay Thompson starred in the celebrity game that also included Mychel Thompson and Memphis Grizzlies guard Shelvin Mack. Ayton was asked to play, but a source said the Suns denied him permission to participate. Even so, a source said Minnis asked for Ayton to make an appearance. After learning of the prime minister’s request, Ayton quickly arrived during the first half while Klay Thompson was showcasing his 3-point shooting prowess.

Ayton sat next to Minnis and the crowd had one eye on them and the other on the game. After Minnis departed, Ayton left shortly after, signing autographs and taking pictures outside before exiting.


the prime minister’s chambers

Deandre Ayton (left) meets with the prime minister of the Bahamas, Hubert Minnis (right), and his cabinet at the Churchill Building in Nassau.

Danielle A. Scruggs for The Undefeated

On the third day of his visit, Ayton was dressed in a black button down shirt and slacks for a meeting with the Bahamian government, which wanted to welcome him back. Ayton and his father were excited as they arrived at a mansion next to Rawson Square, their SUV parked behind a black Lexus sedan that had the letters “PM” (for Prime Minister) on the license plate. Ayton’s mother, Andrea, followed along via FaceTime.

Ayton, who would turn 20 years old three days later, marveled at the room where major Bahamian government decisions were made. The teenager was directed to his seat at the long wooden table.

Everyone in the room stood out of respect when Minnis arrived. After Minnis sat down, he welcomed the group and focused on Ayton.

“You are sitting in the prime minister’s seat,” Minnis told Ayton. “That’s where I sit. So, I don’t know if that is some premonition for what is to come, because when I was your age, I would have never even dreamt that I would be sitting up here just like you in the cabinet office and even becoming prime minister one day.”

Minnis spoke in glowing terms about Ayton’s and the Bahamas’ love for the game of basketball and the NBA. He told Ayton that Bahamians were proud of his ability to come from the island to become the No. 1 pick. Minnis, however, also mentioned that with that success came a responsibility.

“Always remember that wherever you go, you will continue to represent Bahamas,” Minnis said. “You must continue to always being on the top and remind the public that you are son of the soil. And you will always carry that being and flying high and mighty.”


‘once i’m in the village …’

Deandre Ayton attends services at Real Harvest Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Danielle A. Scruggs for The Undefeated

Church service at Real Harvest Seventh-day Adventist Church had already begun, but the churchgoers were distracted by the pending arrival of their star member who was back in town. After a lengthy drive from the Baha Mar hotel area, Ayton, along with several family members and friends, arrived at the small church he grew up in.

Hanging over the door the 7-footer had to duck under was a sign that read, “WELCOME HOME DEANDRE. Congratulations!” with a picture of him wearing a Suns hat while making a No. 1 hand sign on draft night.

The morning sermon was entitled, “Keep Hope Alive,” from a bowtie-wearing evangelist named Newton Joseph — Ayton’s childhood friend. Joseph’s sermon centered on Ayton and also included motivational and inspiring words. After the sermon, Ayton shared some words with the congregation about his time at the church as a kid. He then was asked to sit in a tall wooden chair with artistic engravings as four members laid hands on him in prayer. “Be with him, dear God. Stay with him and his family,” a member said while praying over Ayton.

“He’s a good friend. Obviously, he’s still a man of faith,” Joseph said. “So, that’s good to know that he still believes in God and holds him as important in his life. He’s a great young man and we’re rooting for him, that he does well in the NBA and success follows him wherever he goes.”

Ayton was in no rush to leave after the service as he enthusiastically spent time talking to the members he’s known since he was a child.

“It was good being recognized,” Ayton said. “As a young kid, people didn’t expect much from me.”

After a long goodbye, Ayton and his family got back into their SUV and headed toward their family home nearby in Nassau Village. The neighborhood has had its share of violence and crime throughout the years. Ayton said he once got into a fight as a child at the nearby park and his father told him he was not allowed to go back. According to Tribune 242, in the summer of 2015 residents of Nassau Village feared that even an expected improved police presence could not quell the crime and violence.

“It’s just a rough neighborhood,” Rodgers said. “You’ve just got to be tough to walk the streets. To survive in there and to come out to be a young man whose life is focused, didn’t get caught up into the bad things out there, it’s a miracle.”

Ayton’s parents told him and his siblings to play in front of their two-bedroom house where they could be watched. And when they didn’t, they were disciplined. Ayton eventually told his father that he wanted a rim and basket put in front of the house. Ayton and his father worked together to build a basketball court in the driveway with a backboard made out of wood. Many of the neighborhood kids ended up wanting to spend time playing basketball at the Aytons’ rather than find trouble elsewhere.

The rim, backboard and pole are still intact today, despite the many hurricanes, storms and dunks that have damaged it in recent years.

Ayton’s father does not plan on moving anytime soon and did not seem eager to sell the place either.

“Deandre just sign a contract, before then we have no money,” Alvin Ayton said. “So, somebody have to stay home and work. That’s what I did, you know? So, the moving process will be soon, but we just taking it one step at a time.”

Deandre Ayton shoots hoops outside his childhood home in Nassau, Bahamas.

Danielle A. Scruggs for The Undefeated

The small living room was filled with family pictures and achievements. There were also several of Ayton’s basketball awards and memorabilia, including a Suns hat. The lone bathroom had an adjusted shower to fit Ayton.

Ayton eventually made his way into his old bedroom, which included a twin bed used by Ayton’s sister and a bunk bed used by him and his brother growing up. Ayton somehow managed to curl up and fit on the top bunk as a preteen before departing to the United States.

Ayton then took off his shoes and dove his giant frame onto the bottom bunk, which nearly broke the bed during his landing. Forget the five-star hotel, restaurants, swimming pools, nightclubs, casinos and beach. He was much more comfortable and at peace in his childhood home.

He asked if his luggage could be retrieved. Then one of his cousins ordered the Chinese food takeout they often got after church.

“I told the guys, ‘Y’all, I’m spending the night here, cause I ain’t moving.’ Once I’m in the village,” he said, “I’m in the village.”

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