As ESPN features producer Zac Budman reviewed Odell Beckham Jr.’s news-making sitdown with Josina Anderson for the umpteenth time last week, he made sure the receiver's answers were always kept in context. Meanwhile he hoped Lil Wayne wouldn't be distracting.
Beckham’s words provided the important elements of the interview, as he threw shade at his team’s energy, its coach, and its 37-year-old quarterback. The wideout apologized at a team meeting Saturday before the seven-minute portion aired during Sunday NFL Countdown. It was a topic of conversation again during coach Pat Shurmur’s post-game press conference, and across the Internet as the Giants fell to 1-4.
But what made the segment memorable was everything else going on. The impossibility of the scene—the absurdity of it! In 2018, that’s what it takes to feel real.
Start with the participants. Anderson has developed a rapport with Beckham (“I think I tend to connect well with people who are very authentic,” she told Sporting News), and she knew he had a strong connection with Lil Wayne—as well as a tattoo of the rapper on his leg. When she learned Wayne would be in New York promoting his new album, she got the pair to agree to a joint appearance on little more than a day’s notice.
That gave Budman only a few hours to pick a setting—ideally one that would be pretty, but more importantly convenient for the two stars. He struck gold, literally. La Casa Femme, a West Village Egyptian restaurant, was willing to close during Tuesday dinner hours to host the taping. At times, the place’s chairs stole the entire show. “The chandeliers, the big fireplaces, the gold chairs, it just looked like a palace,” Budman said, “like a lounge where these guys would get together for a fun little sit down.”
Anderson maintained a relaxed vibe despite the ornate surroundings, all the while pressing Beckham when need be. “Are you happy in New York?” she asks near the end of the segment. “That’s a tough question,” Beckham responds, while Lil Wayne covers his face. In one clip, the rapper opines on the team. “I mean, come on, he’s Odell,” Lil Wayne says (at 1:22 here). “He needs the ball more.”
Generally, Budman said, his team worked to keep the focus tight on Beckham while he talked about the Giants. But Wayne’s presence still adds something, his knowing nods lending authenticity to Beckham’s critical words. He’s not lying, the gesture suggests. Fans wanting to hear more from the Young Money founder will be glad to know that ESPN plans to put the entire conversation, stretching nearly an hour, on its YouTube page. (The two also talked about growing up in Louisiana and their recent struggles—Odell describing his recovery from a leg injury and Lil Wayne discussing the delayed release of Tha Carter V with Universal Records.)
"My observation was that [Beckham] appreciated being heard and understood," Anderson wrote in an email. "That’s what was especially unique about this opportunity, pairing him with Lil Wayne, who comes from the same area code, who can relate to being misunderstood and who has also worked through his own adversity."
A snippet of the interview first appeared on NFL Live Thursday, with SportsCenter picking it up later that evening. It wasn’t until Saturday that Countdown host Sam Ponder saw what would air the following day, and from the looks of it, several members of the desk watched for the first time with America on Sunday.
On the left former Jets coach Rex Ryan let out a chuckle in response to the latest Big Blue drama, while Randy Moss shook his head in the center of the picture.
“That wasn’t—that wasn’t a good interview to give,” Moss said. “I can say that because I’ve lived through that.… It was bad.” In that moment, Moss connected Beckham’s latest headlines to decades of receiver memes. His reaction also made clear just how anomalous Sunday’s moment was.
A star wideout might never be captured that perfectly again. All hail the King of New York.