Kurt Helin

Sager surrounded by family for memorable return to Wrigley, sings “Take me out to the Ballgame”

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CHICAGO (AP) — Craig Sager carried around a picture from his childhood with Billy Williams, and he showed it to the Hall of Fame slugger in the home dugout at Wrigley Field. He introduced his family to Cubs manager Joe Maddon and posed for a group picture with the iconic outfield serving as a backdrop.

This was no ordinary night, even for the beloved TNT broadcaster.

The 64-year-old Sager, who is being treated for a recurrence of leukemia, threw out a ceremonial first pitch before his hometown Cubs faced the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. Dressed in a white suit with a blue shirt and a red and blue tie, Sager swapped out his jacket for a home Cubs jersey with No. 14 and his name on the back before throwing to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, also a cancer survivor.

He also led the seventh inning stretch rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which you can see above.

Are LeBron James and Stephen Curry rivals? They don’t think so

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LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry.

That is how this NBA Finals will be marketed, a tradition for the NBA dating back to Magic vs. Bird. The NBA markets personalities over teams, so you get Jordan vs. Stockton/Malone, or Kobe vs. Duncan, and on down the list. Now there is LeBron — the biggest star in the game over the past five years, both nationally and internationally — and Stephen Curry, the guy who has stolen that crown. Their teams meet in the Finals for the second straight year, both have a lot of legacy on the line, and you can feel loathing in the air.

Or not.

Both guys played down the idea of a rivalry the day before the NBA Finals tip off.

“I don’t think me and Steph — when you talk about rivalries, you talk about Carolina-Duke, you talk about Ohio State-Michigan,” LeBron said. “It’s hard to say LeBron and Steph. If there’s a smaller scale or another word for a rival.”

“It’s really annoying for me to be — that’s not what I’m playing for, to be the face of the NBA or to be this or that or to take LeBron’s throne or whatever,” Curry said. “You know, I’m trying to chase rings, and that’s all I’m about. So that’s where the conversation stops for me.”

There may not be animosity between LeBron and Curry, but both have a legacy points on the line here.

Curry and the Warriors won last year, took personally the idea that had been a fluke, went out and won 73 regular season games, but if they come up short now they will be seen as a team that couldn’t finish off that run.

LeBron has been in Samsung ads for a year telling us how it’s all about “winning one for the ‘Land” and that ending Cleveland’s championship drought. By going back to Cleveland he bet part of his legacy on winning a title there, and while he doesn’t have to win it this year, he will need to eventually and there are only going to be so many swings at the piñta.

So there is pressure.

Just don’t call it a rivalry.

 

Klay Thompson on Warriors’ hate: “I’m probably going to hate on the younger generation, too”

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From Charles Barkley through Scottie Pippen and on through a wide swath of former NBA players, there is a current of Warriors hate, of Stephen Curry backlash. The #getoffmylawn crowd. The “back in my day we would have pushed them around” line of thinking. Which is a steaming pile of… fertilizer. But older players — and, frankly, many older fans — need to cling to the idea that their era was better than today, just like we do in every corner of American culture. We long for an easier, better past that never existed. It soothes our egos.

Klay Thompson isn’t bothered by all of that.

“I mean, I think the hate and all that, it’s going to come whoever it is,” Thompson said Wednesday, the day before he and his Warriors try to become back-to-back champions. “I’m probably going to hate on the younger generation too when it’s all said and done. I mean, my father still does it. He says we’re soft these days and in this day and age, but I think that’s just natural.”

Klay’s father is Mychael Thompson, the former No. 1 pick who won rings next to Magic Johnson as part of the Showtime Lakers. He’s now a sports talk radio host in Los Angeles, and there is no shortage of “back in my day” stories. Although you can also tell, he’s one proud father.

The older generation complaining about the newer one is nothing new, and certainly not confined to hoops. Greek philosopher Socrates, back around 400 BC, said “children are now tyrants,” lived in luxury, and were disobedient to their parents. In basketball, people fetishize rivalries of the 1980s, or the toughness of the 1990s, as if the game where clutching and grabbing and a loose interpretation of fouls that took the skill away from players was somehow a purer version of the game. People remember Jordan and Barkley and forget what an ugly slogs most games of that era were.

We’re going to hear a lot of this talk again during the Finals. The game evolves, styles evolve, offenses and defenses evolve, and players evolve (and generally get better). If you don’t like it, I’m sure there’s a Matlock rerun on some other channel opposite the Finals.

Thunder assistant Monty Williams will not return to team

FILE - In this April 15, 2015, file photo, New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams reacts after the team's victory in an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs in New Orleans. Williams' wife, Ingrid Williams, is second from right. Oklahoma City police say Ingrid Williams died Wednesday evening, Feb. 10, 2016, at a hospital. Capt. Paco Valderrama says the 44-year-old's SUV was struck Tuesday night just outside downtown Oklahoma City when an oncoming car crossed the center line. Monty Williams is now an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams will not return to the team.

Thunder head coach Billy Donovan made the announcement Wednesday morning.

Williams left the team after his wife, Ingrid, was killed in a car crash. On Feb. 9, an oncoming car crossed the center line and hit Ingrid Williams’ SUV near downtown Oklahoma City. She died the next day.

Williams was in his first season with the Thunder. He was head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans the previous season and led them to the playoffs.

Donovan said he would talk to his current assistants to help figure out how to go forward.

As expected, Clippers’ Austin Rivers and Wesley Johnson will opt out of contracts, become free agents

Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers yells at a referee before being ejected during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Almost every player that could become a free agent this summer should — the salary cap is about to spike by $22 million per team and the average player salary is about to jump with it. Opt out and it’s an almost guaranteed raise.

Austin Rivers made $3.1 million last season for the Clippers and averaged 8.9 points per game. Wesley Johnson made $1.1 million and averaged 6.9 per game. Big holes can be pointed out in both their games, but they both could expect raises on the open market this summer. Welcome to the new NBA.

So, they are opting out.

Clippers’ coach and GM Doc Rivers said he wants to bring all his free agents back, but it will depend on cost. It also depends on if he is serious about keeping the Clippers’ core together, or if he will explore making a bold move for a team that hasn’t been able to get out of the second round in the deep West.

I’m not sure Rivers will be in more demand anywhere else than with his father and the Clippers. They overpaid him a little last year and it wouldn’t be a shock to see it happen again.

Johnson will tempt some GM and land on his feet again, but likely on a short deal.