Posted Apr 30, 2014 2:12 PM
We all have a crazy uncle, don't we?
And we dread seeing them at Thanksgiving or Christmas, certain that they will ruin the holiday cheer with some awful, horrible statement about "the gays" or "the blacks" or whomever. But we know that our time with them will be short and that their hatreds will soon be forgotten.
It is hard to ignore Donald T. Sterling, though the NBA has tried.
No one who follows the NBA is surprised that Sterling is purportedly on a tape making racist statements to his girlfriend. He has been the league's crazy uncle for 30 years, a scourge on decency and proper behavior. A player with Sterling's track record when it comes to women and minorities would have been kicked out of the league years ago.
But Sterling is a multimillionaire, one of the largest individual landowners in the state of California. He bought into the league more than 30 years ago, when his views about the world may well have been in the mainstream (though they were not shared by fellow owners like the late Bill Davidson in Detroit or Abe Pollin in Washington). And the NBA has little legal recourse to take his team from him.
It should try, anyway.
This is Adam Silver's moment. It has come early in his commissionership, but it is here -- the same way it was there for David Stern in 1991, after Magic Johnson said he was HIV positive. The NBA could have hidden in a neutral corner and waited for public opinion to force Johnson from the 1992 All-Star Game, or from the Dream Team.
Stern did not hide. He and his staff worked forcefully, both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes, to ensure that not only Johnson play, but be welcome in the NBA community.
Silver's moment is here, the same way it was for Pete Rozelle in 1963, the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The league's players and coaches were ready to be told to go home. But Rozelle opted to play the games that were scheduled for Nov. 24, less than 48 hours after the president was killed. Rozelle said it was the decision he regretted the most in his almost 30 years as commissioner.
Now, it is Adam Silver's turn to decide.
He can do what Stern wouldn't -- dare Sterling to sue the league -- by suspending and fining Sterling within an inch of his life, and hiring the best legal minds he can to fight him for control of his team. This is different from when the league bought the then-Charlotte Hornets from George Shinn -- the Clippers aren't for sale. This would be a hostile takeover.
"If I am Adam, I make him sue me," a high ranking team official said Saturday. "The Commissioner has broad powers to protect the game."
Another source with knowledge of the league's rules indicated that it will not be easy to take action against Sterling merely on "moral turpitude" or other such clauses. The league's bylaws are rather specific about the circumstances under which it can seize control of a team: things like repeated failure to pay existing debts, willfully violating the NBA's constitution or the Collective Bargaining Agreement. And yet, the source believed there was room for the league to take serious action against Sterling.
"This has to be a high crime and misdemeanor," the source said, referring to the circumstances under which a U.S. president can be impeached by Congress. "It can't be that the league can say, 'Sorry, there's nothing we can do about it.' "
But it will not be easy, though Major League Baseball twice banned former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott for her delightful contributions to race relations in the 1990s. Owners in any sport are extremely reluctant to sign off on disciplining one of their own; as with Schott and baseball, Sterling's beliefs about minorities are hardly a secret in the NBA.
Like every owner, Sterling signed what is known as a "waiver of recourse" when he took over the Clippers -- a pledge that he would not sue his fellow owners while in the league. Whether that would still apply if the NBA, which is comprised of its teams and owners, after all, sought to try and remove Sterling as owner of the Clippers isn't clear.)
The league will no doubt have to be thorough in its investigation, interviewing both Sterling and the woman -- purportedly his girlfriend -- that is on the recording. It will have to make sure the recording wasn't doctored. It will have to completely understand whatever legal proceedings are currently underway between Sterling's family and the woman so that it understands the context of the relationship. (Michael McCann, who so ably aids SI.com on legal matters, broke it all down over the weekend.)
But it must act.
Otherwise, how can it expect a good man like Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who is married to a white woman and who has children of mixed race (full disclosure: I am married to a white woman, and we have children of mixed race), to be able to conduct his business? If, now, working for Sterling isn't the definition of a "hostile work environment," what is?
I asked Rivers Saturday if he feels uncomfortable, moving forward, working for the Clippers.
"It's a good question, and I don't know," he said. "It doesn't make me comfortable today, for sure. Having said that, I have a job to do for the players. I have to get them to do their jobs. And it's going to be a hard time, and I get that ... my job is to try to lead them the best way that I know how. And the best way I know how is to try to get them together, and unite them to play, and play well."
What message would inaction send to a player like Blake Griffin, the child of a black father and white mother? For that matter, what message would it send to J.J. Redick, or Andy Roeser, the team's president, or anybody else who is offended by what they heard?
What message would it send to me?
If this recording is accurate, Sterling doesn't want me in his building. (Staples Center, of course, isn't his building; it's owned by AEG, and he is just a tenant -- an irony, considering his own track record toward many of his own tenants over the years.)
With the exception of a three-year period (1993-96) when I was covering the NFL, I've been covering the NBA since 1987. I've had one conversation with Sterling. It lasted about four minutes. This was in 2006, when the Clippers, to the surprise of the entire western world, didn't have a team that stunk. They had a functioning Elton Brand and Chris Kaman, and an old head in Sam Cassell, and a coach in Mike Dunleavy -- who, just a few years later, would have to sue Sterling to get what had been promised him contractually -- who made the Clips into a promising squad.
Anyway, the Clippers were in the playoffs for the first time in years, and playing the Denver Nuggets. At halftime of one of the games, I was talking to the team's GM, Elgin Baylor -- who, just a few years later, would have to sue Sterling in an age and race discrimination lawsuit. I mentioned, quite casually and not expecting anything in response, that I had never met Sterling.
Elgin got a look on his face. It was a familiar look; the look of someone who was about to do something he really didn't want to do, but felt obligated to do -- like shovel five feet of snow off the elderly neighbor's stoop.
"You want to meet him?," Elgin asked.
"Uh, sure," I said. It was halftime of a playoff game -- the clock was running in the press room at Staples. How much damage could be done in one pithy conversation?
Baylor introduced me to Sterling and his wife, Shelly -- who, just a few years later, would sue the woman who ... oh, God, never mind -- and we made about two minutes of small talk about the game and the great season the Clippers, finally, were having.
Then Sterling said, and I'm quoting, "Can I ask you a question?"
I said, "Sure."
And he said, "Why are all these black women having these children out of wedlock?"
To repeat: I had never, until this day in 2006, ever been introduced, or said hello, or called, or had anything to do with Sterling -- who, just a few years later, would pay $2.725 million to settle the largest housing discrimination lawsuit in the history of the United States of America. I had never written him a note or an e-mail, or received one from him. Nothing. Nada. Nuttin'.
I looked at the clock on the wall. I believe it was under seven minutes, and counting, until the second half began. I found what little composure was in my body.
"Well, Mr. Sterling, that's not a question I can answer in seven minutes," I began, gesturing to the running clock. "First, I'm not sure it's 'All' these black women,' and the ones that do have a lot of factors that contribute to their decisions -- "
"Oh, I know," he said. "I was just wondering what you thought."
I have not had a conversation with Sterling since. Nor do I plan to.
I know lots of people who work, and have worked, for the Clippers. I don't think a single one of them is racist. I don't know them all personally, of course, and I'm not near naïve enough to think some of them don't harbor prejudices of one kind or another. But I've never thought of the Clippers as a racist organization, or one that tolerates racism, or one that is in any way unfair to the African Americans and people of color who work on the staff.
Rivers, one of those people, is probably the perfect man to try and steer a team full of genuinely angry men through this bramble of intolerance. But the Clippers better not assume that Doc is full of unending good cheer. Rivers' contract, assumed from Boston, only had three years on it when the Clippers made the deal with the Celtics last year, and one of those three years is just about gone.
Rivers' youngest child, Spencer, is graduating high school in Florida this year. Doc and Kristen Rivers are about to be empty nesters; they can do whatever they want when his current deal expires in 2016, and be happy anywhere. They are no more wedded to the Clippers long term than any other high-profile talent in that year's free agent class is wedded to his team. And while Rivers has full control over the Clippers' team operations, he clearly can't control the man who currently owns the team. That can make a man think: Ubuntu in Boston to protests outside Staples Center? Who the hell wants that as his legacy?
The NBA has always made examples out of players who exhibit recidivist behavior -- think Dennis Rodman and Metta World Peace. If someone continued to do the same thing over and over, the penalties got stiffer. Is there any doubt that Sterling has, as determined in courts of law, consistently exhibited behaviors and been attributed to statements that are repugnant to minorities and disrespectful in the extreme to women?
(That has been among the most underreported aspects of this latest Sterling scandal: his abhorrent treatment of women over the years. You can Google all of the various suits and countersuits that have been by and against him dealing with his various requests and peccadilloes toward women with whom he sought a physical relationship. Again: this is recurring behavior toward women, not an isolated incident here or there.)
Think about the playoff game between the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs Saturday. There were players on the two teams hailing from Germany, France, Australia, Spain, Haiti, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Israel, Canada, the States, Italy, Brazil and New Zealand. The game was a walking, dunking Benetton ad.
The players fought tooth and nail for 48 minutes, until Manu Ginobili, from Argentina, scored with 1.7 seconds left to give San Antonio the lead -- until Vince Carter, from Daytona Beach, Fla., hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. Dirk Nowitzki, German born, who is married to a woman with Swedish and Kenyan parents, was the first to embrace him.
That is today's NBA. And today's NBA, which is looking to make its imprint in India, China and every other country that loves basketball, and doesn't care about the race of the person shooting the ball, needs to turns its back on racists and haters.
Sterling is a sad anachronism. He, indeed, has no place in this NBA in 2014. There are a dozen billionaire hedge fund managers or Silicon Valley moguls at the ready to buy any NBA team, and who would line up from Hollywood to Ojai to get a chance at owning these Clippers, with their market and their likeable superstars.
There are a hundred people who could market this team and make it a brand as big as the Knicks, Lakers or Celtics. There is a Hall of Famer who just happens to have a statue outside of Staples, and who just happens to be a business tycoon, and who just happens to own a piece of MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers -- and who just happens to have been slurred in that recording which is believed to be Sterling. How ironic and fitting would it be for Magic Johnson to spend a billion or so to buy the Clippers?
Howard Cosell once mocked the supercilious (and equally racist) Avery Brundage, who lorded over the Olympic Games for 20 years as the International Olympic Committee's president, by saying "there was a time for Avery Brundage: that of William of Orange." There was a time for Sterling: that of Richard Milhous Nixon and his Enemies List, and his secret, seething hatreds. And that time has passed.
It is time -- long past time, in fact -- for Sterling to go.
(Last week's record in parentheses; April 14 rankings in brackets)
1) Miami  (2-0): Step one of the postseason almost complete: Dwyane Wade has looked great against the Bobcats, and he's about to get a week off to rest his knee. Check.
2) San Antonio  (1-1): Spurs aren't going to panic, but you get the sense that the Mavericks feel very comfortable playing against them. SA has to make Dallas uncomfortable, and quickly.
3) Oklahoma City  (1-2): Reggie Jackson straight saved the Thunder's bacon Saturday night in Memphis.
4) Portland  (2-1): I think Damian Lillard is the most unstoppable guard with the ball in the league. There. I said it. And I meant it.
5) L.A. Clippers  (2-1): This next week will be among the most tumultuous days a franchise has ever endured during a playoff run.
6) Houston  (1-2): The Rockets have scored more than enough points to win each of their games against the Blazers. But they just can't get enough stops.
7) Dallas  (1-1): Vince Carter made the last, incredible, improbable shot of Game 3 Saturday, but Monta Ellis won the game for the Mavericks. He was unstoppable in the fourth quarter.
8) Washington  (2-1): Wizards have a really difficult call at season's end -- do they re-sign Trevor Ariza, or Marcin Gortat? Can't see them being able to do both.
9) Indiana  (2-1): Whatever's eating at Roy Hibbert, I hope he has someone to help him work through the issues. He's worked too hard to become a really good pro player to suffer through this kind of regression.
10) Golden State  (1-2): Going small, with Draymond Green replacing Jermaine O'Neal in the starting lineup, got Steph Curry more open looks in one quarter -- the first quarter -- of Sunday's win over the Clips than he'd gotten in the first three games combined.
11) Toronto  (2-1): Even in their series with the Nets despite Terrence Ross's horrific struggles from the floor.
12) Brooklyn  (1-2): Some of us thought the Nets were too clever by half positioning (tanking) themselves the last week of the season so they could face Toronto. One last time, don't tempt the basketball gods. They always get the last laugh.
13) Memphis  (2-1): Whatever happens the rest of this series, or the rest of his career, Tony Allen has made a believer out of me.
14) Chicago  (1-2): Bulls' margin for error is so small with their limited offensive options.
15) Charlotte  (0-2): I thought the Bobcats would really make the Heat work hard in this series. I was *wrong. (*Al Jefferson plantar fasciitis had a little to do with this, though).
Los Angeles Lakers (0-0): No, the Lakers did not make the playoffs. Yes, the Lakers lost 55 games this season. But the Lakers are the team in L.A. that is not currently owned by Donald Sterling, so that means it was a good week for Jim Buss and Company. The needle's going north! (h/t J.A. Adande.)
Charlotte (0-2): Nineteen straight losses to the Heat and counting. But even if the Bobcats' season ends Monday night, coach Steve Clifford has engineered a great turnaround and a new beginning for a sickly franchise.
Is this when I suggest the National Basketball Players Association save itself a lot of time and money and just make Kevin Johnson the Executive Director now?
Yes, it is.
Johnson, of course, already has a day job. Being mayor of Sacramento, California, pays about $115,000 a year, and involves small tasks like, say, keeping the city's one major professional sports team from moving to Seattle.
Yet Johnson, in the midst of getting the city to make good on its promise to help fund and start building a new arena for the Kings, signed on last month to help the NBPA select a new executive director, chairing a committee that is tasked to pick a new executive director before the start of next season.
And in the midst of that, he was also enlisted over the weekend to help formulate the union's response to the Sterling controversy.
"I'm a former player," Johnson said last week in Oakland, before news of Sterling's alleged comments broke. "I know how much this means to the players that will be in the future, current players and past players. It's important to have the right leader. When Chris Paul, another point guard, says we need a little help, how do you say no to this league?"
Paul, the union's new president, and its interim executive director, Ron Klempner, reached out after the process to pick a permanent replacement for Billy Hunter had been roundly criticized by prominent agents, prospective candidates for the position and some players. All of them felt the process had been shrouded in secrecy -- a common criticism of how Hunter did business over the years -- and that the headhunter firm hired to conduct the search, Reilly Partners, was rushing the process.
During All-Star weekend in February, union representatives met with what several reports claimed were the two finalists for the job: Screen Actors Guild Executive Director David White and Michele Roberts, a partner at the powerful Washington, D.C. law firm Skadden, Arps -- though union sources insisted the reports were premature and that no finalists had been selected.
But the criticism hit home. And the union knew it needed to jumpstart the process.
"Mayor Johnson's been unbelievable," Paul said Friday. "We've talked and we've had some good conversations. That committee is there to aid us, to help us. Right now, we're in a situation where a lot of us guys are in the playoffs -- myself, Steph [Curry], Steve Blake, Andre Iguodala, Willie Green, all of us different guys [on the union's Executive Committee]. They're there to advise us, and we're so grateful to him for even doing that. I can't imagine how much free time he has on his hands. But this NBA stuff is a brotherhood, and he's the true meaning of that."
Johnson has acted swiftly to reach out to aggrieved parties. He says he reached out individually to many of the game's most prominent agents, who felt Hunter purposely kept them at arms' length and in the dark.
The early returns are encouraging for Johnson and the reconstituted committee, which includes voices that have not been a regular part of the Players Association.
Old heads with institutional memory like Junior Bridgeman, the former NBPA president and current multimillionaire businessman, were chosen to serve on the committee. But Johnson also recruited people like Troy Carter, the CEO of Atom Factory, an entertainment and artist management company that represents recording artists like John Legend and John Mayer. He brought in Sonya Henning, the former president of the WNBA's union and a current Nike executive.
"I have as much confidence in KJ as anyone I have ever met," said Bill Duffy, one of the game's most powerful agents, whose company represents Joakim Noah, Mike Conley, Rajon Rondo, Goran Dragic, Klay Thompson, Steve Nash and several other star players.
"He is a WINNER and DOER in every sense of the word," Duffy said in a text. "Just his initial approach is masterful in terms of strategy and substance."
Johnson promises that no one will be kept from putting their name in the ring.
"We told every agent, every player, if you have a candidate, get him to us and they will go through the normal process, and they will get a fair shot like everybody else," Johnson said. "I can't say an interview, but everybody gets a fair chance to get vetted. The interview only comes from the job spec, and what we're looking for."
Nor did Johnson ditch Reilly, as some wanted.
"We sat down with Reilly and said, 'We're going to dictate the process, and we need you to play the role to administer, to vet, and support,'" Johnson said. "They were like, 'That's what we always wanted to do.' So that was one aspect. It didn't make sense for us to go with anybody else other than Reilly with three months to go, because they'd done the legwork. And we're going to control the process."
Johnson's main task, though, is to find the candidate who can put into action what union members desperately want: a better, less adversarial relationship with the league's owners. The last Collective Bargaining Agreement was a huge, massive victory for the league, with owners getting more than $3 billion in salary rollbacks. At the same time, smaller revenue teams were further stabilized by significant increases in league revenue sharing. And the next television deal, to be completed by 2016, promises to sink billions more into their pockets.
Players are expecting to get some of their money back, and right quick.
"I think it has to start with a collaborative effort, that both sides have to understand -- this is a partnership," Johnson said. "And in a partnership, you don't sit down and think about how you're going to be adversarial, what the next lockout might look like, and positioning [for that] from day one. There's these emerging markets in China and India. How do we grow that? The next executive director, in me hearing from players, is somebody who understands the global context, the next TV deal. All of these are real things."
Johnson considers those issues "low hanging fruit," easy enough to find common ground with the league. But he first has to help get the new executive director selected.
To that end, last Friday, Johnson and the new search committee met with Klempner and members of the union's executive committee at Google's worldwide headquarters in Mountain View, just outside of the Bay Area. (Google's Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, is also on the Johnson Committee.)
On Saturday, after the Sterling news broke, Johnson was on the phone with Commissioner Adam Silver, and called an emergency meeting of the executive board. On Sunday, he met Sterling in person in Oakland.
"He's so high-functioning, and he's doing so many things at the same time," Klempner said of Johnson Sunday. "You do something and you hope it's recognized; you hope you see it, and you hope people understand what's going on. Often times, they don't, which defeats the purpose. [But] he is very aware of inclusion, reaching out. It's six times a day I've heard from him the last couple of months. It's a totally different way of doing business. For one reason or another, he really sees the opportunity for the organization to take the place in society it deserves."
The union hopes to resolve some of the numerous so-called "B-List" issues in the coming months, even if there isn't yet a new executive director in place. The bigger, more complicated issues like finding common ground with the NBA on an HGH test are not likely to be worked out any time soon. But there are other things players want action on, and at the top of the list is getting a seat at the table for the TV negotiations.
Players are also looking for action on working conditions issues such as scheduling, with trying to cut back on the number of back-to-back games a high priority. And, yes, they have ideas about the league's intent to raise the age limit for players entering the Draft to 20. (While the union bitterly protested the 20-game suspension of Grizzlies guard Nick Calathes at the start of the playoffs for having a banned substance in his system, the likelihood is slim that the NBA will change its drug policy, even in the case of what the union believes was inadvertent use of a banned substance by Calathes.)
The union's first vice president, Roger Mason, Jr., met with Silver at the NBA's office in New York last week.
"I basically told Adam, now that we know we're not going to be voting and getting this done until next season, we're open for business," Mason said Sunday night. "Ron and myself are available to get started on these B list items. But the most important thing I told Adam was, this is a constant dialogue, and he agreed. We can't just wait until we get a new ED."
Johnson says it's possible to get that done by the start of next season. "If we don't, for some strange reason, it's more important that they get the right person," he said. "So we can't let that external timeline dictate things at the end of the day."
Iguodala, who was named a vice president at the All-Star break, has also been impressed by Johnson.
"He's shown he's been able to put a game plan together from a business aspect, especially being the mayor, getting a group of people together, on the political side as well, which may be more important than anything," Iguodala said last week.
I asked Iguodala if it was fair to say that the Johnson Committee is a response to the criticism of the union.
"I don't think it's a fair reaction," he said. "Once Kevin was able to look at what we were able to do, especially during the season, I think he was, I wouldn't say he was surprised, but he was able to say 'wow, you guys really did your work. You put some time in. Now let's communicate this to those who weren't able to see what was done.' It's not our fault they weren't able to see it, but now that we've had some guys who've expressed their concerns, okay, now you've expressed your concerns. We expect you to be involved heavily. Don't just say it. But like the state of Missouri expression, show me that you want to be involved."
That, of course, is the paradox: NBA players are constantly distracted -- by the regular season, by the playoffs, by their summer workout plans, by vacations, by family. It was one of the constant laments of agents: these guys need someone who speaks the language of the owners, who can do business with businessmen.
Someone, you know, like Kevin Johnson. Just sayin'.
Not your Average Jo. From Woody Lifton:
Nice job on the awards...can't disagree with much but I was surprised that you did not consider Joakim Noah for Most Improved. Not that he should win, but the upgrade in his offensive play -- especially his passing -- was truly staggering. It shows not just improvement on the physical side, but on the mental side of the game. I consider passing to be the single most difficult skill in the game (What kind of pass does this player like? Where does he like to see the ball? What's the right pass for the situation? When should I deliver the pass to him?). These are things that need to be sorted out in a fraction of a second and Jo has shown incredible improvement there.
I thought Noah was already pretty doggone good, Woody. You're right that he was asked to do even more offensively this season after Derrick Rose's injury, with the Bulls often running their offense through him. But I thought Joakim's biggest jump as an offensive player came last season, when he began to display consistency both as a perimeter shooter and passer. But, that's just one man's opinion.
Watered down accusations. From Stephen Potter:
The League usually comes down hard on players who do things to the fans. Why wasn't Griffin suspended or at least heavily fined? I emailed the League but got no response. Have they explained why they didn't punish him for throwing water on the fan. It was clearly deliberate.
Obviously the league didn't find it deliberate, Stephen; otherwise, Griffin would have certainly been suspended. Hard to prove that Griffin did it on purpose unless you can read minds. He said it wasn't deliberate. You may not believe him, but how can you prove he's lying?
You belong to the (Big) city, you belong to the night. From Luke Duffy:
Reading last week's Morning Tip, as I do every week, I noticed something you said in the 'Not Feelin' part of your article. In it you said that the fact that for the first time in history there won't be at least one of the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics or New York Knicks in the playoffs was a bad thing.
While I agree to an extent, these are arguably the three most storied franchises in the league, is this not what the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was about? Ensuring that talent was spread more evenly, meaning bigger markets teams would have to be wiser with how they went about their business? Now, I'm not a 'hater' of any of these teams. I am, after all, nothing more than a lowly Orlando Magic fan! But seeing the first-round matchups, surely you would have to agree there is an element of freshness and you might even say exciting uncertainty to it all?
I have no doubt that all three of these teams will be back in the playoffs sooner rather than later of course, I just think that the variety of less storied teams with, for the most part, genuine talent on their rosters should be celebrated rather than frowned upon?
Luke, it's great to see different cities like Washington, Portland and Toronto have playoff breakthroughs. This postseason feels as wide-open as any in the last few years. But the Lakers, Knicks and Celtics are franchises with huge, national followings (and, in contrast, fans who hate them) built up over decades. And those fans tend not to switch allegiances. It's good for the game when at least one or two of those teams make the playoffs.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and suggested ice-breaking lines when and if I ever meet the fabulous Lupita to email@example.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
(weekly averages in parentheses)
1) Kevin Durant (27 ppg, 11 rpg, 3.7 apg, .355 FG, .810 FT): In a horrible shooting slump the last couple of games against the Grizzles, but trying to compensate by getting busy on the glass
2) LeBron James (31 ppg, 8 rpg, 7 apg, .600 FG, .818 FT): Good for you, LeBron James. Good for you.
3) Blake Griffin (29.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, .643 FG, .667 FT): Doc Rivers says Griffin has a work ethic similar to Ray Allen's, which is as high a compliment as Bad Blake will ever get.
4) LaMarcus Aldridge (37.3 ppg, 12 rpg, 2.7 bpg, .531 FG, .857 FT): When 23 and 10 is a bad night, you know you've been straight ballin'.
5) Tim Duncan (16.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 2.5 bpg, .632 FG, .900 FT): The Mavs have neutralized Duncan in the last two games of this first-round series; he's been a -15 and -16, respectively, in the Spurs' two losses.
Dropped out: James Harden.
13 -- Years since the Raptors won a playoff game on the road, before Toronto's 87-79 victory over Brooklyn Sunday night.
244 -- Career playoff games for Oklahoma City's Derek Fisher, tying the all-time record set by former Lakers teammate Robert Horry, after Fisher played 11 minutes in Saturday's overtime win at Memphis.
$25,000 -- Fine for Toronto General Manager Masai Ujiri, for taking part in a "(Bleep) Brooklyn" chant before Game 1 of the Raptors-Nets series. League VP Rod Thorn said on Sirius/XM NBA Radio channel last week that the NBA first thought about just issuing a warning to Ujiri, who has done everything the right way in his career to this point, but felt that Ujiri's title with the Raptors was such that his actions warranted a more formal rebuke.
1) This has been an incredible first week of the playoffs. You shouldn't let one man's hate take away from what you've seen -- Cousin LaMarcus, Beal, DeRozan, Dunleavy, Vinsanity, Grit n' Grind -- and what you will see.
2) If there's a better story in sports this week than Troy Daniels, the Rockets' Game 3 hero from the NBA D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers, I'd think you're making it up.
3) Heard that our friend Craig Sager remains in great spirits a week into his treatment for leukemia. Just know that everyone asks about you, Big Fella, and has you in prayer. Warriors coach Mark Jackson wanted to pass this along specifically: "God is a healer."
4) Good for the Harrison Twins, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and the other Kentucky Wildcats who decided to return to school next season rather than enter the Draft. That doesn't mean that Julius Randle and James Young were wrong to put their names in; far from it. Every player has to make his own decision based on his own circumstances. But I'm never going to think it's a bad thing that a young person spends another year exposed to different people, different ideas and different cultures. The four years I spent at college changed my life, and all to the good.
5) For those of you (us) who fly all over creation, a very informative story on the fastest, most efficient way to seat passengers before takeoff.
1) This is what the playoffs can do to you.
2) Michael Heisley will never be forgiven by many for moving the Grizzlies from Vancouver to Memphis, and for the many times he infuriated locals in Memphis about spending, or not spending, on the team. But by the time he sold the team to Robert Pera's group two years ago, the Grizzlies were back on the right track. And he was an accessible and honest owner who spoke his mind, and whose franchise hired any number of people of color in prominent positions. Sad to hear he passed away Saturday after being in poor health the last few months. My sincere condolences to his family.
3) Prayers going out to Dr. Jack Ramsay and his family. Wishing you all good graces and thoughts. One of the most decent guys I've ever had the pleasure of working with.
4) Ty Corbin had an impossible task: following Jerry Sloan in Utah, on a team full of kids, after the Jazz traded away Deron Williams. It was no surprise that Utah lost a lot more than it won in his two-plus seasons as head coach, and it sadly wasn't a surprise that the Jazz let him go last week.
5) I don't think the Pilgrims even had hats made of actual wood, did they?
He has lived the American Dream, which is pretty cool for a kid from Mumbai, India.
Vivek Ranadive dominated in business, having built his software companies into multi-million dollar properties, and he came out of nowhere last year to save the Sacramento Kings from moving to Seattle, putting down $534 million to buy the team from the Maloof family and keep them in California's capital city. He's spent his first year as a majority team owner rebuilding the Kings' front office, making Sleep Train Arena the first in the league to accept Bitcoin for transactions, rubbing elbows with the league's hotshots at the Sloan Conference and trying to change the Kings' brand from dysfunctional mess to team with a future.
He embraced Rudy Gay when most of the game's advanced stats crowd shunned him, and he didn't hesitate to put his arms, literally and figuratively, around DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings didn't do much better this season in the won-loss record, finishing 28-54 in the Pacific Division. But Sacramento dramatically improved its attendance, moving up from last in the league a year ago to 23rd this season, an increase of more than 2,500 per game. And as the public face of his franchise, Ranadive has been accessible to fans and honest about the task that remains of leading the Kings back to respectability.
Me: With 12 months under your belt as the primary owner of the Kings, how do you think things went beyond the won-loss record?
Vivek Ranadive: Well, the fans of Sacramento are the most amazing fans in the world. It was an incredible experience. We made a lot of progress. We obviously have a lot of work left to do, both with the team and also with the business. But we made great progress. The arena's on track. We hope to move in in two years. We rebuilt the leadership team. We have a great coach [Mike Malone], we have a great GM [Pete D'Alessandro]. We have Chris Mullin helping us, we hired Chris Granger for the business side. So we're very pleased with the progress we've made. Now, obviously, there's a lot more work to be done, and hopefully in the not too distant future, I can give the Kings what they deserve, which is what we're seeing here with the Warriors.
Me: Did you come here to get an even better sense of what a playoff atmosphere, playoff metrics, playoff everything is like?
VR: Well, I've experienced the playoffs before [as a minority owner of the Warriors]. I've watched games before. But I just love the game of basketball, and I'm here to support the sport.
Me: You've spoken so much about NBA 3.0. With Granger aboard, and your own experiences and vision, what do you see as possible for the team and the league in some of the emerging markets like India and China?
VR: Well, I believe that basketball will be the premier sport of the 21st century, a truly global sport. It will be played in villages in India just as it's starting to be played in China. It will be the sport that youth all over the world embrace. But it'll be about more than basketball. I believe that basketball is a game, and the game should also have an impact on the local community. So it's all captured in what I've referred to as NBA 3.0, and I see all of that happening.
Me: How did you find being the ultimate decision maker for an NBA team fit you?
VR: Well [chuckles], I have always been a guy that's not afraid to make decisions. But I've always done that by surrounding myself with people smarter than me. And I've done that in my software business and I've done that with the Kings. So while I am the final decision maker, I have some great people around me.
Me: Did you find the leadership skills you used in your other businesses were transferable to the NBA?
VR: Without question. But again, what we always have to keep in mind is, at the end of the day, we're simply custodians, and the team belongs to the city and the fans.
Me: You reached out early to DeMarcus Cousins, and embraced him, and gave him an extension. What did you think the return on your investment was this year?
VR: Well, he's shown us that he's arguably the best big man in the game. His numbers speak for themselves. Clearly, there's more work to be done, and I have every confidence that he's going to keep maturing, as a person and as a player.
Me: I know that you are deferring to Commissioner Silver when it comes to potential sanctions against Donald Sterling. But you and I are both people of color. When you heard those remarks, what were your thoughts?
VR: Well, those were shocking and just shameful comments, especially in the state of California, which is one of the most colorblind places, and the game of basketball, the NBA, which is arguably one of the most colorblind entities there is. They were just shocking and shameful, and if they are authenticated and true, then we should have zero tolerance for that.
Me: There are so many new owners in the game today, younger ones. With that in mind, do you think this group of owners will be less tolerant of people with that mindset?
VR: I can't speak for the owners. But the people that I know are all colorblind. They're all amazing people. So I have every confidence that the Commissioner will do the right thing, and the owners will support him.
We need a new coach ASAP like rocky !!!!!!
-- Ray Westbrook (@whynotraywest), brother of Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, Thursday, after OKC Coach Scott Brooks took Russell Westbrook out of the lineup for a time during the Thunder's Game 2 overtime loss to Memphis. The time is unknown since Ray Westbrook deleted the Tweet Thursday evening. He apologized Friday via Twitter, saying he was "caught up" in the game. Russell Westbrook said Friday that he "took care of" the situation with his brother, saying "we don't conduct business like that."
"If it's in the cards, man, are we fortunate. If it's not in the cards, man, are we fortunate. We're going forward, anyway."
-- Knicks president Phil Jackson, during a media session with reporters in New York last week, on the team's hopes of re-signing Carmelo Anthony this summer after Anthony, as expected, opts out of the final year of his contract and becomes a free agent.
"I think Phil is great to have gotten $12 million out of [Knicks owner Jim Dolan]. Super job. Take the money and run. If I were Carmelo, I would say, 'Listen, I'm not gonna stay here and take all this gruff and all this criticism. You got other guys on the team making $12, $15, $16 million and doing nothing, and here I am averaging 28, 29 points per game.'"
-- Oscar Robertson, to XM/Sirius NBA Radio host Spike Lee, responding to Lee's assertion that Jackson's ascension to the Knicks' presidency would start a restoration of New York's playoff and championship aspirations.
"I just wanted to let everybody know that I am absolutely fine with Andrei not playing tonite. The only thing I personally want is for #brooklynnets # to win. I apologize if I hurt anybody by posting a quote from Nellys song. Haha, journalism in this country sucks #dailynews# I was just trying to be witty but I failed))) but I guess I have some stupid talent for creating media attention. Peace!"
-- Masha Lopatova, the wife of Nets forward Andrei Kirilenko, in a message on her Instagram account, responding to a New York Daily News story that inferred Lopatova was upset that Kirilenko didn't play in Game 1 of Brooklyn's series with Toronto. The Daily News story cited an Instragram post by Lopatova after Game 1 showing a picture of Kirilenko sitting on the bench with the caption "And you are Kidding like Jason," a line from Nelly's song "Hot in Herre."
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