Winderman: Olympics far more compelling than Stern’s World Cup of Basketball dream

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Imagine if Sunday’s compelling doubleheader of United States-Spain and Argentina-Russia wasn’t the Olympics. Imagine if it was David Stern’s got-to-have World Cup of Basketball, the you-bet-it’s-on-the-way NBA-proposed tournament.

Would the play have been as gripping? There is no reason to believe otherwise.

Would national pride have been as paramount? National colors resonate no matter the venue.

But here’s why it wouldn’t have been the same:

Because it wouldn’t have been woven into an international carnival of sports.

Take the world’s premier national-team basketball championship out of the Olympics (some say the World Championships already mean more, but we know better), and all you have is, well, the world’s premier national-team basketball championship, something you’d be likely to find on some Fox Sports regional network or with ESPN commentators calling games off monitors in Bristol.

What the Olympics give us is LeBron and Kobe and KD marching behind a fencer carrying the United States flag, alongside wrestlers, weightlifters, kayakers.

What the Olympics give us is LeBron and Kobe and KD in the stands at tennis or soccer or volleyball.

What the Olympics give us is that rare moment when NBA elitists are merely part of the program, willing parts of the program, appreciative of their place in the greater sporting landscape.

Yes, the accommodations were separate and upgraded, but the gold medals were exactly the same as those for Misty and Kerri and others even lesser known who soon will return to day jobs out of financial necessity.

And that’s part of why we watched, because Sunday’s men’s basketball gold was bigger that just basketball, it was another check mark in the gold column, another part of the ledger that put this country ahead of other countries, at a time when our politicians only seem to be telling us what’s wrong with our country.

For two weeks, these NBA stars were part of something bigger than not only themselves, but also bigger than their sport.

Reduce the Olympic basketball competition to something along the lines of soccer’s 23-and-under and you’ll wind up with the men’s Olympic soccer tournament, a competition so nondescript that Spain seemingly couldn’t even be bothered by competing.

Basketball fans weren’t the only watching LeBron and Kobe and KD on Sunday. So were, well, sports fans, and Olympic fans.

That’s something you won’t get from a World Cup of basketball.

Because that only will be about basketball.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

Chris Paul’s free agency decision becomes a documentary

Associated Press
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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Chris Paul had a new home in Los Angeles and the potential for a $200 million contract if he stayed with the Clippers.

He also had reason to doubt a championship would ever come there.

So sometime between walking off the floor after a Game 7 loss with the Clippers last spring and walking back onto it Tuesday night in a Houston Rockets uniform, Paul decided he needed to pack up his family and try for a title elsewhere.

“I just felt that it was time,” Paul said.

His free agency process and decision is the subject of a three-part documentary series titled “Chris Paul’s Chapter 3” that debuts Thursday on ESPN.

The first episode shows Paul’s frustration following the Clippers’ ouster against Utah in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs and his questioning the Clippers’ culture. He had helped them become a perennial playoff team since his arrival in 2011, but not one that ever seriously contended for a title,

“Somewhere, I don’t know when it was – I’m not a saint by any means, it could have a lot do to with me also – but we just weren’t having as much fun,” he said.

He talked with his family and business partners about possibilities with Boston and San Antonio – where he feared Gregg Popovich might only coach for a couple more years – and visited music mogul Jay-Z and Disney CEO Bob Iger for their advice. He began to view Houston as the best option and eventually accepted a trade in late June, agreeing to opt in for the final year of his contract and delaying free agency until next summer.

All that after he had bought a house in Los Angeles across the street from Clippers teammate Paul Pierce, moving his in-laws in last January.

“Truthfully, I didn’t think there was no way that Chris would leave the Clippers,” said Pierce, now retired and an ESPN analyst. “He really built up something special, you know, with getting the Clippers back to being legitimate, make the playoffs every year, (winning) 55 games. He just bought a new home like less than a year ago. He had a $200 million offer on the table. So that really shocked me that he would leave.”

Paul never planned for his first real foray into free agency to become public.

“When it all came together and we saw how it looked it was like, man this would be cool to tell the story of how it’s not just cut and dry, you just pick a team,” Paul said. “We showed the move and everything that goes into it.”

Paul laments having to always have the ball in his hands in Los Angeles – which won’t be a problem alongside James Harden in Houston. And he worries about having to move his two young children, eventually telling his son he can’t go do his job without him. And after they finally move, Hurricane Harvey devastates Houston, a focus of the second episode.

“We are constantly looking for opportunities to bring fans closer to athletes in order to better understand their experience. In this series, Chris Paul gives fans a truly unprecedented look at his free agent decision-making process and how he thinks about both his basketball career and his life off the court,” said Connor Schell, ESPN executive vice president of content.

All three episodes will be available on the ESPN App and on-demand beginning Friday. They will then air next Tuesday from 8-9:30 p.m. EDT on ESPN.

Paul said he learned a lot about the free agency process – but would love to avoid having to do it again next summer.

“In a perfect world you win a championship and there’s nothing to even talk about,” he said.

 

Bulls claim PG Kay Felder off waivers

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The Bulls’ point-guard position is a quagmire.

Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne are both injured (and not necessarily good). Jerian Grant is maybe an adequate backup pressed into starting. Ryan Arcidiacono is on a two-way contract.

Enter Kay Felder.

Bulls release:

The Chicago Bulls announced today that the team has waived forward Jarell Eddie and center Diamond Stone, and claimed guard Kay Felder off waivers.

Felder was waived by the Hawks, who acquired him in a salary-dump trade from the Cavaliers. Cleveland drafted Felder No. 54 last year, but ran out of roster spots this year.

Felder is only a moderate prospect. He impressed in the D-League, but at 5-foot-9, he has significant limitations. (His size also makes him incredibly fun to watch when he gets rolling.)

For Chicago, he’s a quite-noteworthy addition.

LeBron James: ‘I still got Pandora with commercials’

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Dwyane Wade revealed last year that LeBron James refuses to use his phone internationally unless he’s on Wi-Fi.

LeBron’s friend and new Cavaliers teammate again brought up that claim, and LeBron confirmed – then went even further about his own cheapness.

LeBron in a joint interview with Wade on ESPN:

No. I’m not doing that. I’m not turning on data roaming. I’m not buying no apps. I still got Pandora with commercials.

LeBron – he’s just like us!

As funny as that line is, keep watching to see LeBron hilariously explain how his hairline affects his interviews.

PBT Extra: LeBron as MVP and other NBA postseason award predictions

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Last year, Russell Westbrook had a historic season on his way to the MVP award, with James Harden and Kawhi Leonard right on his heels. But heading into this season, the dynamic for MVP — and many of the NBA awards — feels very different and wide open.

In this latest PBT Extra, I lay out my preseason predictions for every award — LeBron James for MVP, Ben Simmons for Rookie of the Year, and on down the list. There are a few leaps and surprises in there (predicting Most Improved or Sixth Man before the season is a crap shoot, so why not gamble).

Now the predictions season is over, let’s get on to the games.