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Kyrie Irving is having the best season of his career and it shut up his critics
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Kyrie IrvingPhoto: Getty ImagesMaybe, just maybe. Some of them were “pawns.”That’s what Kyrie Irving called “the media” before the season started, as he was coming off a failed attempt to not speak to reporters this season. Irving would eventually apologize for referring to professionals as the weakest piece on a chessboard, but feelings were hurt.But, on some level, did Irving have a point? Because all the drama — I’ll get to that in a second — and noise that once smothered Irving suddenly disappeared when he got back on the court. Taking shots at someone when they’re down and then going silent when they’re up is a pawn-like move. Keep that same energy for the good and the bad. The naysayers were quiet again last night, as the Nets defeated the Warriors 134-117 as Irving led Brooklyn with 23 points in Kevin Durant’s first game back in Oakland.This season has been a rollercoaster for Irving, as he’s only played 19 games so far. There was the “pawn” thing, others thought he should have been traded for James Harden, he took personal time away from the team without explaining why, then he was at his sister’s birthday party without a mask, he showed up on a Zoom call for Manhattan District Attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi, and then we found out that Jackie MacMullan thinks he and other players are “property” of NBA teams. It got so ridiculous at one point that Stephen A. Smith said Irving should retire. G/O Media may get a commissionBut then, Irving started hoopin’. It’s like everyone had forgotten that he’s one of the best basketball players on Earth. Those are Irving’s scoring numbers for every game he’s played this season in Brooklyn, making him the Nets’ second-leading scorer. Irving is in the midst of the best statistical season of his career. His 27.6 points per game are a career-high. He’s shooting 95.1 percent from the free-throw line, 52.5 percent from the field, and 40.9 percent from deep. His assists and rebounds have taken a dip, but that could be due to a position change on his part.As the NBA is still trying to force its players into playing what will be remembered as the worst and most lethargic All-Star Game of all time, Irving is still projected to be named a starter as the second round of fan votes have come in. Fans still find joy in watching the enigmatic star do his thing.Kyrie Irving has always been “different.” It’s just who he is. And while at some point there will be more controversy due to something he did or said, it’s always funny to see how quickly the noise around him lessens as soon as he starts dribbling a basketball. Whenever drama vanishes that quickly, it usually means it was never anything to begin with.  .
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The push for Tom Brady as the greatest ever feels like Great White Hope talk
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Tom Brady, the greatest athlete ever? Come on.Illustration: Getty ImagesOnce Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl ring on Sunday, you knew people would gush all over the 43-year-old Tampa Bay quarterback.It was a natural.After all, it gave Brady more championships than any other franchise in the league. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots both own six championships, one behind Brady now.Many jumped at the chance to proclaim Brady was the Greatest Of All Time in the NFL — whether he was directly involved in his team actually winning the game or not.Brady has won more than half of his titles on the backs of his team’s defense, including this Super Bowl win over the Kansas City Chiefs.G/O Media may get a commissionFor the Brady fanboys, it didn’t matter. It was all about the ring total.Even if you didn’t fully agree, you could understand why some would make the case for him.Enter jumping the shark, going off the rails.The next leap was that Brady was the greatest team-sport athlete ever.Somehow, Brady had passed Michael Jordan now because Brady has seven rings to Jordan’s six.The notion just didn’t feel silly, it felt like there was more to the narrative, a sinister message, if you will.Plain and simple, it was the propping up of a white athlete over all Black athletes.Yes, it felt like the Great White Hope agenda. Especially to some in Black America.Some people, or so it seems, want the message to be that Brady, a former sixth-round draft pick, was not only the best player in a sport that is 70 percent Black, but the best in all sports.The leap isn’t logical at all.First of all, there’s Jordan, who was 6-0 in NBA Finals and won all six NBA Finals MVPs in the process.Then, there’s Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics.There’s LeBron James, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and many others.Heck, there are other white players who won in team sports more than Brady. The Yankee’s Yogi Berra won 10 World Series in New York.So it can’t just be a ring count that makes you the greatest.And even as great as Brady is, many will concede that he isn’t the best quarterback ever. Maybe, the most accomplished — because of all his records and titles — but hardly the greatest who ever played.Even Hall of Fame former Packers’ QB Brett Favre couldn’t co-sign that. Here’s what he said about Brady on a Boston radio show:“I think Tom Brady, his leadership, his competitiveness, you know, is he the most talented quarterback? I don’t think anyone would say that, but he’s got the It factor that you hear people talk about.”The “It factor” is a long cry from being the greatest team-sport athlete.This current over-the-top narrative feels like when Larry Bird came on the scene in the NBA. Fans and TV announcers talked about Bird’s play as if he’d invented basketball. There was the feeling that there was a narrative that the best player in an 80 percent Black league was white.Obviously, Bird was a great player. It wasn’t as if they were trying to push a bum.We’ve seen that in boxing with the likes of heavyweight Gerry Cooney, a made-up contender who never won jack.But the Bird hype put off some folks so much that Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas pushed back and called it out at the time.Rodman said in 1987 that Bird was overrated because he was white. “I don’t think he’s the greatest player,” Rodman said to the media back then. “Why does he get so much publicity? Because he’s white. You never hear about Black players being the greatest.”Both players were made to apologize for their comments. But they were legitimate and honest. Many Black fans sitting at home heard the same coming through their TVs.“The big controversy isn’t about my saying professional athletes are stereotyped,” Thomas told the New York Times. “The controversy is that I said Larry Bird, if he was Black, would be just another good guy. But I think you would all agree that stereotypes do exist.”For sure, Brady is a great player, hardly the greatest. It’s just some say he is in the hope of convincing others that he actually is. .
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O, say, can you see Mark Cuban’s point? No one even noticed lack of national anthem, so let it go
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Mark Cuban gave fans two minutes back and no one noticed.Image: APSomehow it escaped most everyone’s attention for 13 home games that the Dallas Mavericks weren’t playing the national anthem before any of them, which pretty much tells you how important the tradition actually was in the first place. The Mavs hadn’t been allowing fans into the arena until Monday’s game, so there wasn’t really much point in playing it anyway. And seeing as how no one really noticed, Cuban has decided to eschew the practice altogether.The initial fear, and really the only one, is that scrapping the anthem from before games is an easy out. To avoid the controversy of players kneeling or not, fans’ reaction to it or non-reactions to it, is to simply remove the point of conflict. And maybe that’s to be considered, as Rob Parker wrote back in June. But there are plenty of other ways, and plenty of more meaningful ones, to protest and get your message out. The anthem before every game has always felt jingoistic and overdone. We’re the only country that does it. You’ll see it before big events, like Cup finals in soccer in other countries or games that involve actual national teams. And there it makes sense, either as celebration or a symbol of the actual participants. But before every game? Why? They don’t play it before movies, or plays, or concerts. Those are all public gatherings. There are times when it serves a purpose, and perhaps on the 4th of July and some other days, as well as the beginning of championship series or games, it could be played, but other than that, what would we really be losing? We shouldn’t have to stand and wait around for two minutes to prove love of country. And if you do, then the relationship with country is probably pretty fractured. Both individual and nation will survive without it. The fact that it took six weeks before anyone noticed in Dallas pretty much tells you that. This country has always confused shouting “patriotism” with actual patriotism. The playing of the anthem before every game was and is just a show, essentially an empty gesture now. We can move on and find other ways to define who we are. G/O Media may get a commissionOn the actual floor last night, the hottest team on the planet continued their supernova act as the Utah Jazz got their 16th win in 17 games with a 122-108 win over the Celtics.The Jazz do what they do, going Smash TV in their shooting without a conscience from beyond the arc, hurling up 48 attempts and making 18, which is below their usual average of 41%. Donovan Mitchell went for 36 while Joe Ingles chipped in 24. The Jazz opened it up in the third when they dropped 42 points, and though the C’s got within six at one point in the fourth, the gap was just a little too much, especially on a night when Jayson Tatum was something of a wayward 7-for-20 from the field. The win kept the Jazz atop the West standings, and they did it without Mike Conley (though the Celtics were without Marcus Smart), They’ll see the Bucks, Sixers, Clippers (twice), and Lakers in the next seven. They’ll be the show to watch over the next little while. The real winner though, was Mike Conley’s look on the sidelines.I once joked to an ex who complained about my habit of wearing hoodies all the time that if it came to it, and the occasion called for it, I could produce a dress hoodie. I didn’t think there actually would be one. That thing can go from the club to a pajama party to a red carpet to the gym. Simply in awe. More shenanigans from the NBA, as here’s Jimmy Butler going the full Rivaldo 2002: .
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Kyle Lowry’s potential trade destinations if/when Raptors decide it’s ‘time to move on’
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Image: Getty ImagesLowry, the Philadelphia native, the Villanova alum, returns home. The Sixers are currently first in the Eastern Conference with a 17-7 record in the Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey era, but no one NBA team has a stranglehold on this oddity of a season thus far. Joel Embiid has looked like an MVP frontrunner, Tobias Harris should command All-Star consideration at the absolute minimum, and Ben Simmons, for better or worse, still looks like the same guy he was as a rookie. While the team’s playmaking could improve, Simmons is averaging his usual 8.0 assists per game, but as great as Embiid has been, working with Lowry would decrease his offensive workload, give the Sixers someone who could create a shot in the game’s final two minutes, and give the roster a leader it needs. What people forget about the Embiid and Simmons pairing is that they were at their best in 2018-19 when Jimmy Butler was present to carry the load. You could see the semifinal stats against the Raptors that season for yourselves. Lowry could have a similar impact, and it appears that Embiid may be ready to shoulder the responsibility, but a true point guard (who is willing to shoot from the outside) would help. It will matter come playoff time, and Lowry is a proven champion. Regarding an actual deal, the Sixers have several expirings, most notably Danny Green’s $15.4 million. They have several young pieces, led by Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey, and Shake Milton, who are all making less than $3 million each this season, and they have most of their first-round picks going forward, which were discussed in the Harden deal before he went to Brooklyn. They also have Ben Simmons at nearly $30 million, and he’s maxed out through 2025. Again, just saying. .
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The Derrick Rose trade could work for Knicks, but only if Immanuel Quickley is allowed to grow
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Derrick Rose is headed for New York... for the second time.Image: APDerrick Rose is back in his second home. The New York Knicks re-acquired the former MVP in a deal over the weekend with the Detroit Pistons, confirmed on Monday morning. The Knicks sent a 2021 second-round pick and enigmatic 2017 top-10 draft choice, Dennis Smith Jr., to Detroit.It’s a return to NYC that nobody really asked for, but one Knicks fans shouldn’t be mad at unless the team decides to keep Elfrid Payton beyond the March 25 trade deadline. The deal reunites Rose with the head coach he’s had the most success with in Tom Thibodeau, and gives the Knicks a top-six-or-seven rotation piece at the minimal cost of a non-rotation player and a second-round draft choice. Rose is also in the final season of a two-year deal worth $15 million total. Quietly, Rose has played his best basketball post-ACL tear since initially joining the Knicks prior to the 2016-17 season. In the last five years, Rose has averaged 16.6 points and 4.3 assists while shooting over 47 percent from the floor, and that includes a bizarre stint with Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as a nine-game cup of coffee with the Minnesota Timberwolves that same 17-18 season, when he appeared to be at the end of the line before a resurgence the following year. (Should be noted that Rose did average over 14 points, shot nearly 51 percent from the field and 70 percent from three in five playoff games with Minnesota that season, though, in his only taste of playoff basketball without the Chicago Bulls.)In 2018-19, Rose produced the highest offensive rating of his career, 114 per 100 possessions. Last season with the Detroit Pistons, his 109 O-rating was the fourth-highest of his career, and his 25.1 points per-36 minutes were a personal best, one whole point higher than his 2010-11 MVP campaign. In both the last two seasons, Rose finished in the top-seven of Sixth Man of the Year voting, successfully reinventing his basketball career as a scoring lead guard with above league average playmaking abilities. This season, Rose is good for 14.2 points and 4.2 assists in just under 23 minutes per game, though he only shot 43 percent from the field, but give him a break, he was a Detroit Piston. Per-36 minutes, Rose’s averages sit at 22.4 points and 6.6 assists. For reference: This is slightly up from his 20.3 points and 6.4 assists per-36 during his seven-season Bulls tenure. (No, he’s not a better player now, necessarily.) G/O Media may get a commissionThe Knicks indisputably got the best player in the deal, but if Payton remains on the team, and or the acquisition of Rose stunts rookie Immanuel Quickley’s growth, what’s the ultimate benefit? At 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game, while logging the fourth-most minutes on his team (28.5), Payton’s statistically one of the NBA’s least productive starting point guards, and would be better served coming off the bench for a contender instead of standing in Quickley’s way. Quickley is averaging 12.0 points and 2.7 assists while logging only 18.9 minutes per contest. He’s also shooting 36.3 percent from three, and providing more hope for Knick fans than fellow Kentucky-alum Kevin Knox ever has. Quickley’s minutes have been as consistent as his shooting, but if the Knicks are ever going to conclude their seemingly multiple decades long rebuild, developing young talent is the essential method. Quickley doesn’t need 30 minutes per night, but he should hover around at least 20-25 for the bulk of his rookie campaign, unless he Swanton Bombs into a rookie wall. And Austin Rivers has been exactly who Austin Rivers has been throughout his career, which isn’t to say that it’s bad; it’s to say that Quickley’s development should supersede a nightly 8-2-2 in 23 minutes. IQ already has eight games of 16 or more points, including four of 23-plus. Play Rose, play Quickley; play Rose with Quickley, but clear the way by dealing Payton (and perhaps other stuff to acquire draft capital or a player to help your playoff push) elsewhere. .
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Stop the seasons now and let’s get sports right
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Sports are a total shitshow right now and it’s time to stop putting money ahead of health.Image: Getty ImagesWe learned this week that the Biden administration wants the start of baseball season to be delayed, a desire that at this point stands to go unfulfilled because the Major League Baseball Players Association is not willing to let ownership link such a delay with a reopening of their collective bargaining agreement.The MLBPA is right about this. If the season is to be delayed because of COVID-19, it shouldn’t be connected to other labor issues like the universal designated hitter and expanded playoffs. It should be about doing the right thing.The right thing is a delay, not opening spring training camps in another week and a half. We’re still seeing more than 100,000 new cases of coronavirus on a daily basis in this country, and losing 3,000-plus people a day. The situation with the pandemic remains far worse than it was 11 months ago when sports shut down. Pushing back baseball season would allow for more time to get people vaccinated, in order to proceed with a safer summer game.But if we’re talking about delaying baseball because it’s really not safe yet to go ahead with a sport where the vast majority of the activity is outdoors, and a game that’s reasonable to play while wearing masks, well, what the hell are we doing with the indoor sports whose seasons are underway?Hockey is a total shitshow right now, which anyone could have seen coming since October. The cold air at ice level and heavy breathing of players are a recipe for trouble, and the slew of cancellations in hockey, from various NHL games to the scrubbing of the NWHL’s Isobel Cup playoffs, are nothing more than that recipe being followed by continuing to play.G/O Media may get a commissionBut what’s really galling right now is basketball, where not only is the NBA trying to futz its way through a season, with ludicrous results — such as Kevin Durant being held out of Friday night’s game, then allowed to play, then pulled — but planning to hold an All-Star Game.LeBron James wants nothing to do with it. Same for Giannis Antetokounmpo. And De’Aaron Fox. And Joel Embiid. Friday night, Kawhi Leonard offered the most blunt take on the situation, pointing out that the only reason to be going ahead with the All-Star Game is money.Money over health has been the story of far too much of the past 11 months, and even longer than that in America, if we’re being honest. It’s time for the NBA and NHL to hit pause again, and for the baseball season to be delayed. We did it last year, and we can do it again now, especially with the light visible at the end of the tunnel thanks to a ramping-up vaccination program. It didn’t have to be this way, of course, but the entire country endured a much worse situtation than we could have had thanks to completely incompetent leadership under the previous president.It’s time to finally put health over money. Call off the All-Star Game. Stop the seasons. Get it right and stop sending athletes around the country to keep spreading the virus in the name of collecting television dollars and putting on a charade that we’re closer to normal than we really are. The lesson we should be learning is that the longer you screw around with a pandemic, the longer it takes to beat it. It’s time to stop screwing around. .
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Kevin Durant debacle shows NBA’s COVID policy is a disaster
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Kevin Durant had a lot to say after being pulled.Image: Getty ImagesIf you didn’t watch the Nets’ 123-117 loss to the Raptors last night, you might have woken up this morning wondering what the fuck happened with Kevin Durant.Well, you’re not alone, because everyone who saw the game is wondering what the fuck happened with Kevin Durant, too.So, let’s go through it slowly and figure out what the fuck happened with Kevin Durant, beyond the basic story that Durant didn’t start the game due to health and safety protocols, then was allowed to enter the game, put up an 8-6-5 line in 19 minutes, then was told that he had to leave the game.Durant, who had to quarantine for a week in January because of a close contact, and was one of the first athletes to contract COVID-19 last March while he was still out recovering from his torn Achilles, was understandably frustrated by his latest ensnarement in the pandemic, as he put out a simple tweet as the fourth quarter went on just down the hall from where he was sequestered: “Free me”G/O Media may get a commissionIf only it were that easy. Based on the statement laid out by the NBA, it made sense for Durant to be quarantined. That statement, however, also maps out a series of failures.Kevin Durant has tested negative three times in the last 24 hours, including two negative PCR tests today. However, someone he interacted with this afternoon subsequently had an inconclusive test result return shortly before the game. Durant was initially held out of the game while that result was being reviewed.So far, so good. This is the “abundance of caution” that we hear so much about. You have a close contact with an inconclusive test, you treat it like a positive until you know otherwise. That’s just smart when you’re dealing with a virus that’s killed more Americans than the population of Oakland. That sucks for Durant, but that’s life right now.Under the league’s health and safety protocols, we do not require a player to be quarantined until a close contact has a confirmed positive test.Well, there’s your first problem. If you, regular person, had a close contact with an inconclusive test, you’d (hopefully) stay the hell home until you got word that their test was confirmed negative. And then if it was positive, you’d stay quarantined at least until you had your own negative tests, or, to actually play it safe, two weeks. But the NBA’s policy here is, nah, stick around and see how this plays out.Exactly what process of “review” allowed Durant to enter the game, well, it didn’t work out, because…During the game, a positive result was returned for the person Durant interacted with this afternoon.Whoops! So, the “review” didn’t show a negative test, just an inconclusive one? Because when it actually came back, it was positive. Just a quick question: Did this “review” indicate that Kevin Durant is a superstar and his team was playing a game on ESPN? Would Bismack Biyombo have been allowed to enter the Hornets-Jazz game under the same circumstances?Once that test was confirmed positive, out of an abundance of caution, Durant was removed from the game, and contact tracing is underway to determine if he was in fact a close contact of the positive individual.Let’s allow Durant to react to that last part.Indeed, you can’t fool em with your Wack ass PR tactics. Not so sure about the #FREE7 part, though, because “close contact” or not, Durant was around someone in the afternoon who tested positive for coronavirus. It’s imperative to make sure that he didn’t wind up getting it — yes, you can get COVID-19 twice — and that he didn’t spread it further.James Harden recognized that “he was around all of us” and that if it was about contact tracing, “The game should have been postponed.”Not only was the game not postponed, of course, the game was played, Durant entered, Durant was pulled… and the game still wasn’t postponed. Not that he’s anywhere near the person most to blame, but if Raptors coach Nick Nurse “was told right before the game that Durant was out because of health protocols,” and then the series of events unfolded as it did, why didn’t he, Nets coach Steve Nash, or both, sensibly raise a stink about continuing to play the game? Nash, for his part, saw at least some fault in how he dealt with things.But this comes back squarely to the NBA, which pulled off such a feat last summer with the Orlando bubble, and has predictably struggled mightily with coronavirus outside of that Disney lockdown.Eleven months ago, Rudy Gobert got coronavirus and the NBA and the rest of sports shut down completely. What’s become clear is why the pre-shutdown idea of just playing games behind closed doors would’ve been a disaster. Because that’s what this is.Wait, the NBA isn’t just playing behind closed doors. We had Courtside Karen just this week. But a much more enjoyable fan was in the stands in Orlando for the Bulls’ visit, a man properly wearing a mask that nicely accented his Michael Jordan jersey — a jersey for which he was thoroughly roasted by NBC Chicago announcers Adam Amin and Stacey King.This being 2021, word quickly got to the man that his favorite team’s broadcast was highlighting him this way, and he not only got a good laugh out of it, he got some love from his favorite team online.For the record, Mack McClendon insisted that his jersey was not a knockoff, just old and well-worn. And both King and Amin dapped him up online, too.Also for the record, the “Nyquil” reference is extremely real, long live the Choncago Balls. And, it’s kind of funny that this whole thing happened in Orlando, where Jordan himself once had to wear a weird-looking jersey, number 12, because his actual jersey had been stolen and hidden in the ceiling.Jordan took it personally, and scored 49 points. McClendon did not, and got to have the night of his life even though the Bulls lost, 123-119. .
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