RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico – Ludacris decided to pause his set at the FanDuel World Fantasy Football Championship, steps from the beach, to shout out an individual standing dead center about halfway back from the stage.
“Where’s my guy who won half a million dollars?” the multi-platinum selling artist and star of the Fast & Furious franchise asks. Paul Baranauskas, username “paulyshorts,” looks around as if there’s someone else in the crowd who fits the bill, then raises his hand as others shout and point to him.
“What are you going to do with the money?” Ludacris asks back.
Paul has already answered that, and earlier in the evening held up a gigantic novelty check before passing it to his three sons. He’s using the money to send them to college, and still looks a bit shellshocked that he’s here in Puerto Rico, $500,000 richer, thanks to a late run of points from Rams players Todd Gurley and Tyler Higbee. The margin of victory throughout the day vacillated between tenths of points, but paulyshorts made his run late and stood transfixed watching the tail end of the Falcons game. Atlanta pulled off the upset, and Baranauskas capped off his win.
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“I got lucky,” Baranauskas told Uproxx after the excitement died down a bit from the gigantic ballroom in which the 80 or so entrants enjoyed food, an open bar, and moments from exhilarating to agonizing during throughout the day. “It was the offsides by [Michael] Bennett that allowed the drive to continue on, which led to Gurley getting more receptions, Higbee getting receptions, and Gurley running it in. Miss the two-point conversion, but Bennett offsides again, and Gurley ran it in. This is unreal. Unreal.”
That it came down to plays from Los Angeles, where part of Fast & Furious 9 was filmed, and Atlanta, which Ludacris calls home, was only fitting, and he seems more than delighted to celebrate with Baranauskas and the rest of the FanDuel crew, players, family, and friends who take in the rapid-fire concert. Ludacris mentions between songs that he hasn’t performed much as his time was spent in production for the latest F&F film, and yet he performs hit after hit casually, laughing with those who joined him on stage and enjoying the smaller crowd and the tropical setting.
“Let’s welcome everybody to Atlanta, Georgia,” Ludacris says to open the night. “I know we’re in Puerto Rico, but still.”
Ludacris spoke to Uproxx before his show at the FanDuel World Fantasy Football Championship and discussed his love for all things Atlanta, the sports, the culture, Georgia State, as well as how Lamar Jackson compares to prime Falcons-era Michael Vick.
What’s your earliest sports memory?
Damn, that’s a good question. It’s probably the Hawks, the Dunk Contest, and loving all that stuff. Spud Webb, the Dominique Wilkins era, I would probably say that with the Hawks. Dominique Wilkins had hops.
You’ve had a lot of NFL overlap between events, doing stuff on Thursday Night Football, and the Super Bowl party in Atlanta last year. What does it mean to you to be able to embrace the Falcons like you do, and consistently get to work with the NFL?
Man, it means the world, especially in Atlanta, because you know Atlanta is the hometown. In terms of being able to represent for all things that boost the morale of the city, especially the Falcons, it’s a phenomenal thing, man. And just being ride or die. We’ve gotten close a couple times, but I think we need some restructuring here and there, but we’ll get back to where we need to be. It definitely feels good to be that staple in the city and a part of everything that goes on, and the growth, with Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and the Home Depot Backyard, and all the other things. It’s exciting, seeing the development and the economy of Atlanta continue to grow.
With the culture — music scene and sports all together — you’ve been through so much of that growth in Atlanta. That’s something you can continue to foster and be able to shape along the way.
That’s what I was basically saying, now you feel more a part of it and all of the moves and knowing about the plans before they even happen. You can be there throughout the process and see the finished product, it’s one of those things that’s just beautiful, seeing that process.
Georgia State has a special place in your heart, there’s a class where your career specifically has become the focus of the curriculum, but also you’re the artist in residence there. How has your relationship to GSU evolved, with this opportunity to help the youth, and another extended branch of all you were saying?
History repeats itself. I was blown away and very humbled by the fact they had a whole course on me. There’s all these up and coming lawyers who are taking a class not only on me, but are taking tests and all these things. I mean, just to be a part of history, I think now, everything that I’m doing is about legacy and what I’m going to leave this earth with. I’ve accomplished so much, so doing things like that is the logical next step in the progression of making that stamp that is going to stay here for years and decades to come, for a lifetime, that’s really my goal. So to have Georgia State, the college that I went to, to have everything come full circle, it’s like the best thing in the world.
Another full circle thing is after watching Michael Vick as much as you did in Atlanta, and now seeing Lamar Jackson, who is so explosive.
He’s like Vick 2.0 man. It is definitely exciting to watch. I think he just broke Vick’s record [Ed. note — for rushing yards in a single season by a quarterback]. Let’s see what happens. Let’s keep it going, bro.
Uproxx was hosted by FanDuel for the reporting on this piece. However, FanDuel did not review or approve this story in any way. You can find out more about our policy on press trips/hostings here.