Kurt Helin

Report: NBA has chosen New Orleans to host 2017 All-Star Game Charlotte lost

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This result has been rumored as close for some time, but according to the Associated Press the NBA has now decided:

The 2017 All-Star Game is headed to New Orleans.

The NBA has not officially confirmed this, but it is expected soon.

This is the third time since 2008 the NBA has brought the All-Star Game to New Orleans since 2008, the last one being in 2014. Because of the economic boost the game — and the many people it draws — bring to a city, New Orleans and Louisiana officials lobbied hard to get the event once the door opened.

The 2017 game had been scheduled to be in Charlotte, but NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA owners rightfully drew a line in the sand around the discriminatory HB2, what is commonly called “the bathroom law,” and was passed by the North Carolina legislature earlier this year. The law restricts transgender bathroom use (you have to use the bathroom for the gender with which you were born) and preempted anti-discrimination ordinances put in by Charlotte and other North Carolina cities that tried to block discrimination against gays and lesbians. It was a calculated “red meat” political move by a Republican legislature trying to make this a big issue and motivate their voters in the fall election (North Carolina is considered a swing state in the presidential race).

North Carolina can put the law on the books, just like free speech laws allow people to say terrible things, but there are consequences to actions. Adults understand that. It wasn’t just the NBA,  HB2 led to a business backlash as well with PayPal, Deutsche Bank, and others pulling plans for expansion in the state.

Louisiana is far from a model state as far as gay/lesbian rights legislation and issues go, but it has not gone as far as the “bathroom bill” that other states have passed (at least not yet).

There are few cities nationally that could quickly handle an event the size and scope of the All-Star Game (with an event that size, less than a year is very fast to get it together, and the arena/convention spaces had not to be booked). New Orleans was one, and a place the NBA had been before. Also in the running were Las Vegas, Orlando, Brooklyn, and Chicago.

The NBA has told Charlotte officials that if the law is changed, the 2019 All-Star Game will be there (2018 is in Los Angeles).

In the short term, there is going to be another big party in the Big Easy come February.

 

Usain Bolt celebrated 200m gold by doing “the silencer” — LeBron James approved

Associated Press
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Usain Bolt needed about 10 strides of the 200 meter finals in Rio to make up the stagger, and from there on in he ran away from the field to win his third straight gold medal in that event.

Bolt celebrated with LeBron James‘ signature move — The Silencer.

LeBron approves.

LeBron was watching that historic performance from Bolt at home, but he could have seen it in person had he decided to play in Rio.

Later, Bolt did break out his signature “To Di World” pose.

Ricky Rubio opens up about loss of his mother

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — There are few things in this world Ricky Rubio loves more than basketball, the electricity he feels when he’s on the fastbreak, teammates running with him and a no-look lob pass just begging to be thrown.

His mother, Tona, was certainly one of them.

The point guard spent all of last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves watching from afar as Tona’s body slowly succumbed to lung cancer, and there were times that he wondered if he should be playing at all.

“Sometimes at night during the season I was going through hell,” Rubio told The Associated Press as Spain prepared for a showdown with the United States in the Rio Olympics semifinals Friday. “Waking up in, who knows, Sacramento, in LA, in the middle of the night alone in a hotel and thinking, `Why am I here? Is it really worth it?”‘

When Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders died suddenly from lymphoma in October, it rocked the organization and Rubio in particular. Watching Flip’s son Ryan, an assistant coach on the team, grieve put a permanent pit in Rubio’s stomach, giving him the sinking feeling that he was getting a glimpse into his own future.

Sometimes during video chats – Tona’s was the first voice Rubio wanted to hear after a win or a loss – she would have to step away while becoming ill. He scrambled back home after the season was over and spent about six weeks with her before she died on May 25 at the age of 56.

“Anyone can say he’s close to his mom,” said Lucas Charte, Rubio’s close friend and manager. “But when you see Tona and Ricky and how their relationship went, it was something else. There was a kind of connection between them. They were too similar. Ricky has a brother and a sister. Nobody’s parent will tell you they have a favorite. But you could tell Ricky was Tona’s favorite.”

Rubio has always looked forward to playing for the Spanish national team. He started practicing with them at 16 and sees his teammates as a surrogate family that helped raise him from a child prodigy into a trusted veteran.

But when Tona passed, Rubio thought long and hard about pulling out of Rio to be with his father and two siblings back in Spain.

“At one point when everything happened, you think what’s the best?” Rubio said. “Stay with your family? Stay back home? Or sacrifice one more time everything for one goal, which is the gold medal, and dedicate it to her.”

Rubio tore the ligaments in his left knee at the end of a promising rookie season in 2012, causing him to miss the London Games that summer. He watched his beloved teammates fall to the United States, 107-100, in the gold-medal game. On his first day of rehab, Rubio vowed to physical therapist Andre Deloya that he would bring him to Rio four years later. Deloya never mentioned the promise again, but when it came time, Rubio had the tickets ready for him and his wife.

One promise kept. One to go.

Spain started the tournament 0-2 and Rubio was not playing well. Tona was not there, and he could not get her absence out of his head.

“I had a lot going on in my mind. It started with doubts. I started wondering if all the sacrifice was worth it,” he said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself, like I’ve been doing my whole career. At one point I decided to forget about all the pressure and just play for fun and do my game and enjoy what I do.”

He has gradually settled in, and Spain is humming heading into the rematch with Rubio at the controls. In the first two games of the tournament, Spain was outscored by six points in the 28 minutes he was on the floor. In their last three victories, they have outscored their opponents by 67 points in Rubio’s 59 minutes.

The mighty Americans – winners of 50 straight games in international tournaments – have shown some rare vulnerability in this tournament, emboldening challengers like Spain and Australia.

“It would mean everything for us,” Rubio said of a win on Friday. “It would mean the world. I remember watching Argentina beat the U.S. in 2004 and I think maybe the same story that Argentina wrote with the `Gold Generation,’ we can write, too.”

Rubio wants to win for Spanish fans after falling short against the U.S. in the gold-medal games in Beijing and London. He wants to win for teammates Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro and Jose Calderon, who may not have another Olympic run in them.

Most of all, he wants to win for Tona.

Five things to watch: USA vs. Spain Rio Olympics semifinal

Associated Press
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After Spain dropped its first two games in Rio — to Croatia and host Brazil — it was easy to overlook the two-time defending silver medalists. No Marc Gasol, no Serge Ibaka, an aging Pau Gasol and team core — maybe this Spanish team wasn’t as good as anticipated. A lackluster win over Nigeria didn’t change that perception.

WATCH THE GAME HERE

However, since that moment Spain has been the best team in the Olympics — beating Lithuania by 50, Argentina by 19, and then France by 25.

Friday Spain becomes the toughest test the USA has faced in Rio.

Winner of the game (2:45 Eastern on NBC Sports Network) moves on to the gold medal matchup, loser to the bronze medal game. Here are five things to watch in USA vs. Spain.

1) How well is Pau Gasol moving? We learned yesterday Gasol has a calf injury that had the Spanish coach saying he was questionable for the biggest game of the Olympics. Everyone — particularly Team USA — expects him to play, but if Gasol is limited so is Spain. Gasol is the Spain’s leading scorer and rebounder — 17 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. They need him to be special. Gasol’s game has never been based on explosive athleticism, but if he is slowed he can be taken advantage of. Watch to see how he is moving — particularly on defense.

2) Can the USA get stops? The USA’s offense has at times been stagnant and predictable — and predictable is defendable. Still, because of the ridiculous talent gap between the USA and its opponents, the Americans have put up points. The real problem has been at the other end. Teams with guards who can handle pressure, and teams that run motion offenses and cut hard off the ball — particularly backdoor cuts along the baseline — have given the USA trouble.

Well, guess how Spain plays? They start three guards in Ricky Rubio, Sergio Llull, and Rudy Fernandez — one NBA and two NBA-level guards who are not going to just cough the ball up. With them there is Gasol and the Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic, two bigs both capable of hitting the three. Then the five of them (and the Spanish subs) are in constant motion. If the USA doesn’t communicate, if they lose focus on their guy in the corner while ball watching, the USA is going to get eaten alive. This is the best offense the USA has faced, the Americans need to play their best defense.

3) How long does Mike Krzyzewski stick with his starters? The USA’s starters — Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson (and sometimes Paul George), Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins (or sometimes DeAndre Jordan) — have not been impressive in the USA’s biggest, toughest games. The starters can hurt teams with the three ball (when it falls for them), but they don’t defend and lack grit. The bench has played better. Remember how the USA quickly found itself down 10 to Argentina last game until Paul George entered?

Here’s a great stat from NBA.com’s John Schuhmann from USA vs. Argentina: The lineup of Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, George, Durant, Cousins was +20 (35-15) in nearly 12 minutes of play. The rest of the USA lineups were 70-63.

If things don’t work early, Coach K has to go to his bench quickly. Lowry isn’t a great defender, but he’s been better than Irving in Rio. Butler and George are excellent defenders, Durant is long and plays well in a team defensive system, and Cousins is a big and athletic body in the paint. I’d suggest changing up the starting lineup some, but if not Coach K has to switch to whatever lineup does work sooner rather than later this game.

 

4) Is Kevin Durant being the best player in the Olympics? Last game against Argentina, an aggressive and attacking Durant took over on offense for stretches — he was shooting over and Eurostepping around every defender the South Americans threw at him. The USA needs that guy again. Durant leads the USA in scoring at 18.5 points per game on 62 percent shooting. But it’s more than that — he is the single best player in Rio. Straight away. I love his instincts to want to play within the team system, but he is one of the two best scorers on the planet earth, and the USA needs him to play like the unstoppable offensive force that he can be. There is nobody on Spain who can defend him, and if they send double teams at him he knows how to find the open man — and frankly, he can score over the double anyway. KD needs to be MVP KD on Friday.

5) Can the USA expose older, poor defenders of Spain? Even when he’s healthy, Gasol doesn’t move all that well on defense anymore and can be exposed on defense. Nikola Mirotic has played fantastically for Spain in Rio and is a floor spacing big that will get buckets against the Americans, but he is not a good defender either. A number of other guys Spain rolls out — Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez, Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro — are older and not exactly fleet of foot. If the USA moves the ball, runs good pick-and-roll action, and just plays as a team these guys can be exposed defensively.

If the USA falls back into its habit of isolation/hero ball, they can be defended. It’s that simple.

Kevin Durant gives US men’s hoop team needed jolt in Rio Games

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The words, scrawled in marker on the tops of his sneakers, remind Kevin Durant why he started playing basketball in the first place.

Even in the Olympics, it’s just a game.

On his left sneaker, Durant scribbled, “Have Fun.” On the right one, “Smile.”

“I forgot to write it last night,” Durant said grinning on Thursday.

That’s about the only thing he didn’t do. Durant scored 27 points with seven rebounds and six assists in a quarterfinal blowout of Argentina. He also executed a two-crossover, Euro-step, one-legged fadeaway in the lane, a sequence of intricate basketball moves that might make an Olympic gymnast envious.

With the U.S. team needing a lift, something to shake it from this South American slumber and re-direct the angst aimed at the 2016 collection of NBA All-Stars after three lackluster victories, Durant delivered.

“This is the stage he thrives on,” said U.S. point guard Kyrie Irving. “You can count on KD being KD in the biggest moments, which we have all come to respect and kind of rely on.”

Durant’s performance against Argentina pushed the U.S. a step closer to its third straight gold medal and set up a semifinal showdown on Friday with Spain, the two-time defending silver medalist hoping a third time is championship charmed against the Americans.

After deferring to his teammates and taking just 10 shots in the previous two games, Durant was in attack mode from the outset against the Argentines, who jumped out to a 19-9 lead before the U.S. erupted on a 27-2 run and into Rio’s semis with a 105-78 win.

This was the Durant everyone had been waiting for, the one who shot the U.S. to a 2010 world championship in Turkey, scored 30 in the gold-medal game in 2012 and has reached double digits in all 14 Olympic games he’s played.

Durant had not been himself earlier in the tournament, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that the U.S. team had not played up to expectations – as unrealistic as that sometimes seem – while squirming through pool play undefeated.

But when the stakes got higher, Durant again raised his game and perhaps motivated his teammates. He’s averaging 18.5 points and shooting 66 percent (18 of 27) on 3-pointers.

“I don’t think I inspired them just because I scored points,” he said following practice at the Flamengo Club, a short drive from scenic Leblon Beach. “I just think my energy, my aggressiveness and just being excited to play, I think that rubbed off on everybody and I just try to display that every time I play.

“I got away from that the last couple of games, but I just always try to stay conscious of just smiling out there, having fun. My smile is contagious and my energy and enthusiasm for the game is contagious and I try to spread that to my teammates.”

That smile disappeared for a short time earlier this summer.

Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City as a free agent and sign with Golden State, forming a super team with Stephen Curry and U.S teammates Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, brought criticism and questions about him for the first time in his career.

Durant was branded a quitter, unable to win a championship without help. He was called soft, overrated, insecure and worse. The noise was deafening, and Durant found the only way to drown it was to ignore it.

“It took me some time to get used to everything on the outside of a game, whether it was media or fans and their points of view,” he said. “What I had to learn over the last few years was just to relax, don’t care if I missed a shot or if I turned the ball over or if I don’t box out and someone scores on me. I can’t worry about that stuff and that just keeps me calm in those moments.”

When the U.S. team convened for training camp in Las Vegas, center DeAndre Jordan offered Durant some advice.

“I told him, `You gotta worry about you,”‘ said Jordan, who had his own free agency fiasco in 2015. “‘You can’t worry about what other people say. They don’t have to play in that city or play for that team. It’s ultimately what’s best for Kevin.’ And once I told him that, he kind of relaxed a little bit. I’m happy for him.”

Durant seems at ease, finally at peace with his decision. He’s enjoyed his time with Thompson and Green, and believes their Olympic chemistry will carry over once they’re with Curry.

For now, though, Durant is focused solely on this team, which is taking its cues from a player who once he steps onto the floor morphs from laid-back to into an offensive juggernaut.

“When he’s attacking, it sends a lightning bolt through the team,” Jordan said.

The Americans were looking for direction, and Durant is showing them the way.

Smiling every step.