Kobe Bryant challenges Isaiah Thomas to make first team All-NBA in weird marketing tactic

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Kobe Bryant’s retirement is going swimmingly.

He seems more genial, he is on ESPN and ABC with his own weird, adult puppet program. It’s going great.

Plus, Bryant and the team over at Nike have clearly made it a plan to embrace the legends and now-we-know-they-are-true personality traits that surround the former Los Angeles Lakers star. He’s straight up embracing it. No doubt this is a means to keep producing the Kobe shoe line, which has continued to push out models since his retirement.

At the core of this has been the phrase “Mamba Mentality” which dominated Bryant’s Musecage puppet specials. It was also the center of an ad that was pushed out on social media on Thursday in which Bryant teased new versions of his shoe.

A Tweet then followed from Bryant’s account giving out a special phone number that users could call. If you get through, it asks you to leave a message to see if you have the #MambaMentality.

That’s when the story gets even weirder.

In two tweets directed at current NBA players, Bryant challenged Isaiah Thomas to make the first All-NBA team this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He also challenged Toronto Raptors wing DeMar DeRozan to reconnect with an old friend in his hometown.

Remember: this is all to sell shoes.

Via Twitter:

It’s been a slow burn, but this has all been crackling on the fire for some time. If Kobe is going to keep selling shoes in the decades after his retirement, he’s going to need to continue to primp his legacy. The legend of Michael Jordan has only grown in the years since he retired, and Kobe needs to follow that arc. He is.

Bryant spoke in his Musecage series about folks finding what inspires them by showing his own method as the example. Now, he’s asking people if they, like him, have the “Mamba Mentality”. Kobe is trying to get people to be like him, akin to MJ’s own “I wanna be like Mike” ad from 1991. It’s perfect.

Meanwhile, the ad from Nike for the shoe itself is made of different emotions (read: colorways) that are part of said mentality.

Bryant’s clear manipulation could easily smooth over his basketball transgressions in a generation’s time, especially if he continues to use funny puppets to make singleminded obsession seem like a simple joie de vivre. The same goes for Bryant coming out everywhere talking about how he is a “storyteller”. It softens him. It’s also quite literally what brand people call themselves in the age of permission marketing.

Can he have post-playing interests? Absolutely. Should we hear about them from time to time? Probably! Bryant is an all-time great. But if you’ve ever worked in marketing, especially sports marketing, it’s obvious there’s no reason Bryant has been seemingly everywhere this year outside of branding purposes. This is a clear, real-time massaging of legacy and history from a marketing department, and it’s incredible to watch.

In the meantime, let’s get weird with it. You can call the number above and leave a message if you want.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Gerald Green ejected for pushing Gorgui Dieng into stands (VIDEO)

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I don’t know why everyone in the NBA is so geeked this weekend. Coaches are getting fined, referees are throwing dudes out left and right. Maybe it’s because most of us recently saw the sun for the first time in five months, although I couldn’t tell you for certain.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets went head-to-head on Sunday, something had players on both sides itching. Early in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng got into it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Gerald Green.

The incident came as Dieng was being defended by Paul in the low post. Paul was whistled for a foul while trying to get the ball away from Dieng, but even after the whistle blew the Rockets guard did not stop trying to get the ball. Dieng responded by pushing Paul, who fell to the ground as if someone cut the strings on him.

That prompted another whistle from the refs, and a crowd of players ensued. Green rushed to push Dieng, sending the Timberwolves center into the stands.

When the scene settled, Dieng was issued a technical foul and Green was ejected.

After the game, Dieng told reporters he thought Paul’s constant digging for the ball was a cheap shot, so he responded in kind.

Minnesota, energized, tried to make a late push on the top team in the Western Conference but came up just short. Houston beat the Timberwolves, 129-120.

Alvin Gentry, Stan Van Gundy fined $15,000 each for criticizing officials

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All is not right between NBA players, coaches, and the referees. What else is new?

After contentious games on Saturday night, both Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry expressed their opinions about what they felt was a poor officiating.

Van Gundy — whose team lost to the Portland Trail Blazers as they continued on to their 12th straight win — complained that his players were being “screwed” as they were knocked down, hammered, and hit. Gentry was especially infuriated after a late foul call went against his team as James Harden was hit on the hand while shooting a 3-pointer.

Now, the NBA has announced that both coaches have been fined $15,000 each for public criticism of officials.

Things were slated to get better between the NBRA and NBPA after the All-Star break. The two sides were supposed to have a meeting which discussed some of the more concerning trends that players and coaches have publicly complained about this year. That meeting got moved up to December, with more talks to come later. It’s not clear if they’ve done any good.

Right after All-Star Weekend guys like LeBron James were still making waves about how they are being officiated. Coaches like Doc Rivers continue to openly complain about the referees and draw fines. Van Gundy and Gentry are just the latest additions to the list, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last before the season ends.

Hell, the end of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors was just about as bad as we’ve seen all year. In that game, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected after a comment made by a fan sitting near the floor was incorrectly attributed to him.

The NBA lost a lot of veteran officials due to retirement in the changeover to this season, and the transition has been rough. They’re going to need to figure some things out over the summer. I expect bigger announcements about those efforts to come out after the NBA Finals as a means to restore public faith in the officiating crews.