Kurt Helin

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COURTESY OF MARVELLOUS IHEUKWUMERE

NBA employee takes leave of absence to train for 2016 Rio Olympics

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Usually when people first meet Marvellous Iheukwumere, the conversation is about her first name.

Or the topic turns to her job out of college working in the NBA league office.

But she’s taken a leave of absence from that job to train for the Olympics, where she is trying to qualify as a sprinter for Nigeria. Seth Rubinroit of NBCOlympics.com wrote a fantastic feature about her, her journey as a child from Nigeria to Texas, how she fell in love with the NBA, and her quest to make it to Rio. Here are just a few hightlights:

“Her name describes her perfectly,” said Mark Tatum, the NBA’s Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer. “She is a marvellous person in every single way.”

When she started high school at Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy in Austin, Iheukwumere focused on basketball. The track coach, LaBoris Bean, happened to be in the gym during basketball tryouts, and noticed that none of the other girls could keep up with Iheukwumere during the three-man weave passing drill. He encouraged her to run track when basketball season ended. She agreed, despite never having seen a track meet.

Tradition called for freshmen to run for the junior varsity squad. In her first meet, she received the baton in last place on the anchor leg of the 4x200m relay. Without much difficulty, she passed the seven other competitors and crossed the finish line first.nStunned, the older students demanded that Bean move Iheukwumere up to varsity. He did not need much convincing.

She went on to run in college at Columbia — despite being recruited by track powerhouse Arizona State, she opted for the better academic school — and while there worked in the NBA’s summer internship program. That evolved into a being part of the NBA Associate’s program, followed by a full-time job offer.

However, she is on a leave of absence to chase her Olympic dream — with the full blessing of the NBA.

She moved to Phoenix and ALTIS, an elite training center and home of several Olympic champions, including hurdler Aries Merritt and long jumper Greg Rutherford. Iheukwumere calls the facility, which features two theatres and an executive chef, “an athlete’s heaven.”

After a nearly two-year break from competition, Iheukwumere is still striving to match her top times from college. Her personal best in the 100m is 11.63 seconds, and 23.54 seconds in the 200m. In 2016, she said her season’s best is 11.73 seconds in the 100m and 23.60 seconds in the 200m….

To qualify to go to Rio, Iheukwumere needs to meet the Olympic standard in either the 100m (11.32 seconds) or 200m (23.20 seconds) by July 11. Two Nigerian women have already met the Olympic standard in each event, according to tilastopaja.org.

She also needs to finish in the top three at Nigeria’s Olympic Trials, July 7-9. She finished fifth in the 200m at 2014 Nigerian Nationals.

If she can make it, Adam Silver will have a good reason to watch a sport other than basketball in Rio.

Craig Sager will join ABC broadcast crew to do sideline reporting for Game 6 of Finals

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 27:  TNT reporter Craig Sager is seen on the sidelines during the NBA season opener between the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans at ORACLE Arena on October 27, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND — Craig Sager has never worked an NBA Finals game.

Until Thursday night, that is.

Sager, the flamboyantly-dressed sideline reporter for TNT, has signed a one-game contract with ABC to work Game 6 of the NBA Finals, ABC announced on Wednesday. Sager and Dorris Burke will share sideline reporting duties.

“I’d like to thank Turner and ESPN for approaching me with this tremendous opportunity to be part of the Finals broadcast team,” Sager said in a statement. “I’ve been watching the series very closely and, while I do not want to distract in any way from the event itself, I look forward to being in the building for what will be an incredibly exciting Game 6. The NBA community is very special one and this is a great honor.”

Sager has been battling leukemia, and while he has twice fought it back it into remission it is not there now.

He is one of best broadcasters in the sport and someone beloved by fans, players, and coaches alike. Because he has worked for Turner Broadcasting (TNT and NBA TV), and they have not had NBA Finals broadcast rights, he has never been able to do one of those games.

Kudos to ABC/Disney and Turner for making this happen.

Damian Lillard says he hasn’t decided on playing in Rio Olympics

Team USA Practice Session
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No Chris Paul. No Russell Westbrook. No Stephen Curry. No John Wall.

A number of the NBA’s top point guards have pulled out of consideration for USA Basketball’s team for the Rio Olympics. What about Damian Lillard? He’s still thinking about it, as reported by Kevin Berry at CSNNW.com.

Speaking in Taguig City while on tour for Adidas, Damian Lillard indicates that he hasn’t made any decision related to playing for Team USA in the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

The Manila Times quotes Lillard saying, “I have not thought about it yet.”

There’s a spot for Lillard now if he wants to go and pick up a gold.

Lillard and Kyrie Irving could well be the two point guards for Team USA this summer. If this were the NBA you’d have defensive concerns with that backcourt, but internationally the best point guards The USA will go up against are likely Matthew Dellavedova (Australia) and Jose Calderon (Spain). If France qualifies, Tony Parker may jump to the top of the list. Nobody that’s going to make the USA pay too much for their point guard’s defense, and even if someone gets hot Coach K can put Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler or Paul George on him and take that threat away.

The USA is going to be just fine at the Rio Olympics.

LeBron had two impressive chase-down blocks in Game 5

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We’ve talked at length about LeBron Jamesfantastic performance in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Tyronn Lue asked him to run the offense more and not only did he score 41 points — with his jumper finally falling — he set a tone early (25 first half points) that Kyrie Irving picked up on and helped push the Cavaliers to extend the series.

Almost forgot in that — LeBron had a couple of his classic chase-down blocks. Nobody makes that play like him.

It’s one last look back at Game 5, Thursday we’ll see if the Cavaliers can replicate that performance at home, with Draymond Green on the court.

Report: Some in Memphis front office concerned Mike Conley may bolt in free agency

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The general feeling around the league is that Mike Conley will remain in Memphis this summer. He’s a free agent and the best point guard available, but the sense is if Memphis makes a max offer as expected he probably stays put.

But we’re all tempted sometimes by the possibility of change.

Could Conley be thinking that way? That’s a growing concern in the Grizzlies front office, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

…some members of the Grizzlies front office are growing a bit concerned about the possibility of Conley leaving in free agency, per a source with knowledge of the situation. Memphis, which plans on using a video featuring Grizzlies part-owner Justin Timberlake as part of its recruiting pitch, per a source, can offer Conley a five-year deal worth approximately $124 million. Other clubs can ink Conley to a max contract for four years worth approximately $92 million.

There should always be a little concern, unless your Mark Cuban trying to keep Dirk Nowitzki. But I’m not sold there should be much unless the Grizzlies try to pitch him on taking less than the max.

If Conley opens the door to other teams, the Knicks, Spurs, and other teams are said to be interested. He’s one of the best defensive point guards in the league, a smart floor general, he shot 36.3 percent from three, and he’s good at getting players the ball when and where they want it. He would have been an All-Star had the West not been loaded with other great point guards at the same time.

All of which is why the Grizzlies GM has said keeping Conley is their top priority.