The Extra Pass: What the NBA gets that the NFL doesn’t, plus Sunday’s recap

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This past weekend, David Stern retired as commissioner of the NBA.

After 30 years, he left as quietly as someone of his stature could. Instead of choosing a time where the NBA was in the spotlight to have his final farewell, Stern left in the middle of Super Bowl hoopla, when the coverage of his departure could only be brief.

The peculiar timing did cast some light on a few things, though. Stern will of course be remembered for cleaning up the league and making it profitable where it once wasn’t, but through both triumphs and mistakes, he always understood that he needed to make the game accessible for everyone.

This isn’t a concept the NFL has fully embraced.

There were more than a few examples present during the big game. One that stood out in particular was when Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck read the Declaration of Independence pregame.

Aside from the slight irony of playing a game in London during the regular season and then reading that document before the championship, the whole thing served as another reminder of what the NFL’s primary agenda currently is.

That being said, let’s make this clear: the military should absolutely be honored, and America should be celebrated. This is not the issue.

The issue is that without reasonable moderation and without at least some detachment from the NFL brand, those acts begin to lose some of their integrity and meaning. When they’re done with the type of frequency the NFL does them, it’s hard not to see it for what it is.

More than anything else, the NFL uses Super Bowl Sunday to remind you that football is America, and America is football. They are made to be indistinguishable.

Because of this, in no way does the Super Bowl feel like a worldwide event. It’s televised around the world, naturally, but you could see how the event as a whole is isolating for international viewers. That seems especially true when there is nary a mention of international players or anything really of that ilk whatsoever. The most international flavor we got from the Super Bowl was a fan in the stands briefly being able to wave a Canadian flag after the first score. That was about it.

The NBA of course has built-in advantages with basketball being a much more popular sport around the world, but the NFL is years behind the NBA in the efforts to appeal to more than just American viewers.

Stern has a lot to do with that. In addition to his commitment to women’s basketball over the years, Stern always made it a priority for every major NBA event to celebrate all participants — not just Americans, but the players and fans around the world. The globalization of the NBA makes it what it is today, and that’s Stern’s crowning achievement.

You may not have loved Stern or all of his decisions, but the NBA is now a global sport. Here’s hoping the NFL tries a little harder in the future to be the same.

D.J. Foster 

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Celtics 96, Magic 89: This was Rajon Rondo’s best game since returning from ACL surgery — 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting, plus 10 assists, but more than that he was orchestrating the game like he used to — and not so coincidentally the Celtics got their first win since his return. Jared Sullinger added 21 for Boston. Orlando trailed most of the game but went on a 10-2 run in the fourth to make it interesting, but that run came from the bench and when the starters came back in they couldn’t get it over the top. Arron Afflalo led Orlando with 18.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.