Hakeem Olajuwon named NBA Ambassador to Africa

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Hakeem Olajuwon has spent the last few years training NBA players – from Dwight Howard to LeBron James to Rudy Gay – on the finer points of post play.

Now, the former Houston Rockets great is moving onto more important work.

NBA release:

Two-time NBA Champion and Basketball Hall-of-Famer Hakeem Olajuwon was today named NBA Ambassador to Africa and will play a prominent role in the development of basketball on the continent.

Olajuwon will work closely with the NBA Africa office, which is located in Johannesburg and led by Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA Vice President for Development in Africa. The Nigerian native will represent the NBA through a range of basketball development events and NBA Cares activities across the region to help grow the game, give back to communities in need, and bring attention to diplomacy through sport.

“Basketball has given me so much in life,” said Olajuwon. “In this new role I am looking forward to impacting young Africans and utilizing the power of sport to help change lives in what is an exciting new chapter in my career.”

“We are elated that one of the greatest to ever play the game, a son of Africa, and a legend of Hakeem’s stature will officially represent the NBA in Africa,” said Amadou Gallo Fall. “He truly embodies the values of the game, and will be a great ambassador for the league and a perfect role model for Africa’s youth.”

Olajuwon recently participated in the launch of “Power Forward,” the ExxonMobil, NBA and Africare’s development program launched in Abuja, Nigeria last November. Prior to that he visited South Africa last August and attended the Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day celebrations at the International Convention Centre and the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Olajuwon was selected with the number one pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, becoming the first African player selected first overall. His playing highlights include: 12-time NBA All-Star, two-time NBA Champion (1994, ‘95), NBA Most Valuable Player (’94), and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year (’93, ’94). He is the only player in league history to be named MVP, Finals MVP, and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season (1993-94).

The NBA has a long history in Africa with more than 30 players from the continent playing in the league since 1984. Basketball without Borders Africa has been held 11 times on the continent and the league opened its African office in Johannesburg in 2010.

Since 2003, the NBA has worked with community-based organizations to create 38 places to live, learn or play in Africa, including youth hostels, kitchens, sports complexes, health facilities, Habitat for Humanity homes, and basketball courts in Angola, Botswana, Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Cameroon, South Sudan, and South Africa.

The Nigerian native has always expressed pride in his African roots, and that should help him connect to the people he’ll be helping. Olajuwon could really excel and make a difference in this role.

It’s a great opportunity for Olajuwon and the NBA to do good.

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.