Kurt Helin

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Stan Van Gundy rips North Carolina “bathroom law,” says league should move 2017 All-Star Game


Stan Van Gundy isn’t afraid to say what he’s thinking.

In an era when the Stephen Curry is soft-pedaling his response to the controversial new “bathroom law” in his native North Carolina, Detroit Pistons head coach Van Gundy will step right into the fray and tell you he thinks it’s crap. He’ll say what the NBA itself vaguely threatened to do, which is it should move the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte.

Here is what Van Gundy said, as reported by David Mayo at MLive.com.

“We went through this. People had their rationale for discriminating against blacks back in segregation,” Van Gundy, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations and head coach, said Monday. “I don’t care, religious liberty and all of that — look, that’s the same stuff that people brought up during the civil-rights movement. They’ll try to justify it with anything they have.

“We shouldn’t have the right in our country to discriminate against anybody and especially in this situation. And I think the league should take a stand.”

Good on Van Gundy.

North Carolina’s rushed 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. This was passed despite zero evidence of attacks nationwide by transgendered people in bathrooms. This law in North Carolina (and other Southern States) is a pretty naked political move to motivate non-Trump parts of the conservative Republican base in an election year, particularly in North Carolina where it was feared some down ticket races could go to Democrats.

There has been a backlash against North Carolina from business interests — PayPal killed plans for a 400-person global operations center in the state, Deutsche Bank halted plans to add 250 new jobs in what is generally a banking friendly state, other businesses have pulled back, and even Bruce Springsteen canceled his concert in the state.

The NBA moving the All-Star Game would be another blow along those lines. Whether it happens remains to be seen, even if Adam Silver wants it to happen the logistics of moving the massive undertaking that is the All-Star Game — and finding a city with an unbooked arena/convention space/hotel rooms — within a year is difficult.

We’ll see if the NBA — or even other players and coaches — will take the kind of stand Van Gundy was willing to. They should be for inclusion, but maybe they are concerned and want to make sure Republicans buy Under Armour shoes too.


Marv Albert to call Olympic hoops for NBC for first time since 1996


STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — Marv Albert will call Olympic basketball this summer for the first time since 1996.

He is set to be joined in Rio de Janeiro by analyst Doug Collins and reporter Craig Sager for the U.S. team’s games, NBC announced Tuesday.

Albert was the voice of the “Dream Team” run to gold during the 1992 Olympics. He also worked boxing for NBC at the 1988, 1996 and 2000 Games. The lead NBA play-by-play announcer for TNT since 1999, Albert started calling boxing matches again for NBC last year.

Albert “ranks in the pantheon of all-time play-by-play voices,” said Jim Bell, NBC Olympics’ executive producer.

This will be the fifth straight Olympics for both Collins, the former NBA All-Star and coach who now works as a studio analyst for ESPN, and Sager. Sager, the popular TNT sideline reporter, has continued to work as he battles a recurrence of cancer.

Hall of Famer Ann Meyers will also be calling her fifth straight Olympics when she serves as the analyst for women’s basketball. She will be joined by two first-timers: play-by-play announcer Marc Zumoff, the voice of the Philadelphia 76ers, and reporter Ros Gold-Onwude, a former Stanford player who now works Golden State Warriors games.

Zumoff’s and Gold-Onwude’s regular jobs are both at Comcast SportsNet regional channels that are part of NBC Sports.

Report: Ettore Messina, David Blatt leading candidates for Nets coaching job

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It will be new GM Sean Marks first big move.

Tony Brown is the interim coach in Brooklyn, having taken over for the fired Lionel Hollins mid-season, but he is not long for the job. Marks is going to bring in his own guy to help rebuild the franchise.

Which guy? Think guys with Spurs ties like Marks, and with Europeans roots such as Ettore Messina and David Blatt, reports Brian Lewis at the New York Post.

No, pole position may go to Spurs assistant Ettore Messina, who is also from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree and has a long-standing relationship with Marks.

Marks told The Post he’ll have some relationship and at least an indirect connection with whomever he hires, a la Six Degrees of Separation. Messina worked with Marks for the past three years. He also coached Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon to two Euroleague titles at CSKA Moscow. (Nets owner Mikhail) Prokhorov owned the Russian team, and board member Sergey Kushchenko was the GM….

Another likely contender is ex-Cavaliers coach David Blatt, who coached the Russian National Team from 2004-12 and whom Prokhorov knows, nearly hiring him at CSKA in 2008.

The question with Messina in Blatt isn’t their knowledge of the game, it’s their ability to adjust to the NBA power dynamic — the players have it, not the coaches — and their ability to win over players and communicate. Blatt (and his ego) learned those lessons the hard way in Cleveland, would he be ready to adjust? The man deserves another shot, he won 67.5 percent of his games as the Cavaliers coach, which usually means you get to keep your job.

Messina has filled in this season when Gregg Popovich was away from the team.

Don’t expect a big name that will demand a lot of power — Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy — in Brooklyn. The rebuild is going to be a long, slow process there and Marks needs a guy he can work with.

Report: Even if he’s not the coach, expect Kurt Rambis to stay with Knicks in some role

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Kurt Rambis isn’t going anywhere.

He’s a Knick.

Well, at least as long as Phil Jackson is a Knick. Rambis is currently the interim head coach of the Knicks and the frontrunner to keep that job for next season. But if Jackson decides to go a different direction with his coach, Rambis isn’t leaving the organization, reports Marc Berman of the New York Post.

Whether Kurt Rambis is Knicks head coach for the last time Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse hasn’t been determined. What has been determined is Rambis will return in some capacity next season — whether as offensive coordinator or assistant general manager, according to sources. That’s part of the reason Rambis talks about the Knicks’ future as if he’s definitely part of it.

Berman goes on to say the candidacy of David Blatt as head coach is a “long shot.”

The Knicks were better this season. As John Schuhmann at NBA.com pointed out, no team saw a bigger improvement in net rating this season (point differential per 100 possessions) than the Knicks at +7.4. But that was still not enough to get them near the playoffs. This was — and still is — a team with a long way to go.

This summer and Phil Jackson’s moves will go a long way in determining if and when they get back to the playoffs, and maybe beyond that someday back to contention. He nailed the Kristaps Porzingis pick last summer, but this summer he needs to build on that through free agency and trades.

And also nailing the head coaching choice.

Whatever happens at Madison Square Garden, just know Kurt Rambis will be a part of it.


Kobe Bryant’s legacy in his own words

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It started with a simple sentence a couple of decades ago.

“I… have decided to skip college and take my talents to the NBA.”

From there — and after some relatively humble beginnings coming off the bench and missing key shots in the playoffs — Kobe Bryant would go on to be one of the legends of the NBA.

A legendary career that ends Wednesday night at Staples Center.

He’s the only NBA player to have a 20-year career with one team. Kobe’s raw statistics are otherworldly: Five championships, two Finals MVPs, one regular season MVP, third on the all-time career scoring list, 15 All-NBA teams, 18-time All-Star, four-time scoring champion, and the list goes on and on.

However, those stats do not define Kobe — we will remember him more as one of the game’s ultimate competitors, a guy as driven as anyone who has ever laced up shoes and walked onto a court. He talked about that and his legacy over the course of this final season, something we captured at PBT.

Kobe talked about a lot of things this season, but it all started with chasing his dream — and inspiring a generation of players to do the same.

“It’s easier said than done because I think we all have dreams,” Kobe said. “But once you go through the process of trying to make those dreams a reality, you hit obstacles. And I think unfortunately because of pressure or anxiety or responsibilities, things, whatever, you kind of give up on those dreams and somewhere along the line you lose that imagination. I think it’s important that you never lose that. You have to keep that. That’s the most important thing. I never gave up my dream.”

And he inspired others not to give up their dreams.

“The coolest thing is the messages I receive from the players,” said of his farewell tour this season. “They say thank you for the inspiration, thank you for the lessons, for the mentality. Those things honestly mean the most from me, that respect from the peers, there’s nothing in the world that beats that.”

For a guy with such an intense, burning competitiveness, he was amazingly at peace with his decision to walk away from the game after this season. He had realized it was time, and knew he didn’t want to be traded and don another jersey to make a run at a sixth ring as a third or fourth option. He wanted to be a Laker for life. There will be no comeback as a player — in the NBA or Europe — and no stint as a coach.

Kobe battled back this season so that he could walk off the court one final time and do it on his terms. Injuries were not going to be the last word on his story. Wednesday night at Staples Center against Utah, Kobe will get the moment he wanted, walking off the court when he wanted to leave. And he’s at peace with what’s next.

“I mean, how many players can say they’ve played 20 years and actually have seen the game go through three, four generations, you know what I mean? It’s not sad at all.”


From when he entered the league, Kobe understood what it took to become a great player. He was driven, but he also studied film on the greats, he reached out to them and learned from them. He challenged those around him and pushed them to challenge him.

When Kobe saw in others what he knew was in himself, he instantly respected it.

“Dirk and I have always had a great relationship because we’re both extremely competitive. Also both extremely loyal to our teams,” Bryant said the last time he faced Dirk Nowitzki at Staples Center.

“I’ll tell you a story about Dirk. He was up for free agency, and I knew what his response was going to be. But out of respect, everybody’s looking around at all these free agents, I felt I’d shoot you a text, if you want to come to L.A. He goes, I would love to play with you, but Dallas is my home. This is my team. I’m not leaving here. So he and I think a lot alike in that regard.”

Kobe’s game evolved over the course of his career, from the high-flying No. 8 playing next to Shaquille O’Neal, the kid who won a dunk contest and used his athleticism to get buckets, to the fundamentally impeccable, high-IQ No. 24 that could read the play and be a step ahead of everyone else on the court. He was pushed hard by the other greats in the game along that path.

“(The Spurs) pushed me to really fine tune and sharpen my game. I’m sad those matchups aren’t going to happen (anymore).”

So what does Kobe see as his career defining moment?

The 2010 NBA Finals against Boston.

“It was really big,” Kobe said. “We were part of the history of rivalry — and there was no way we could go down in history as being remembered as the team that lost twice to the Celtics (Boston had beaten Kobe’s Lakers in 2008). All the history that’s gone on (between these franchises) and there’s no way, no way.

“So even above and beyond winning a fifth championship, it was disappointing the memory of this organization and the rivalry that’s been there for decades. That was more important…. You know it was still a very beautiful thing to be a part of it. But the pressure, and understanding what this Finals meant, especially 2010 because you can’t lose twice to these guys. I don’t care how many Hall of Famers they have, it just can’t happen. There’s no excuse.”


Through the arc of his career Kobe evolved into the unquestioned leader, not just of the Lakers but one of the veteran voices in the NBA other players looked up to. He had help with that from other legends of the game.

“(Bill Russell) has been an unbelievable mentor.,” Kobe said. “Especially from the standpoint of leadership and understanding group/team dynamics. Some of the experiences he’s been through, and how he’s been able to manage some of the teams he’s been on, and some of the difficulties he might have faced. He’s been an invaluable ear and voice for me.”

Like his game, Kobe’s leadership style evolved.

“(A leadership voice) just comes with time and it comes with age. When you first come into the league you’re trying to figure out what’s what — what is the right thing to say, what is the wrong thing to say. Trying to avoid conflict and controversy. Then as you age you realize that no matter what you say there’s always going to be conflict, there’s always going to be controversy so the best thing to do is just be yourself. Then if there’s going to be conflict or controversy created it’s going to be created from the person that you truly are.”


Father Time wins every race against man, and he won against Kobe. Eventually.

But Bryant was not going to take the hint of torn Achilles or knee surgeries to leave the game, he was going to overcome those and walk off the court. It wasn’t the physical that made Kobe realize it was time to walk away — “you can always figure the physical out” — it was the mental side.

“Sitting in meditation for me, my mind starts drifting, and it always drifted to basketball. Always. And it doesn’t do that anymore. It does that sometimes, it doesn’t do that all the time. That was the first indicator that this game was not something I can obsess over much longer.”

Kobe isn’t leaving the game as one of those curmudgeonly old “get off my lawn” guys, he’s not a player with disdain for the younger generation.

“When we first came in, it’s always the younger generation that comes in and it’s just like the elder statesmen says this younger generation has no idea what they’re doing. They’re going to absolutely kill the game. The game, when we played, was pure and all this kind of stuff. Hey, man, that’s always the case. When we came in, we were just young kids that wanted to play, and (Allen Iverson) was aggressive. It was a newer generation, newer culture, but I think where the game ended up, it ended up in a beautiful place.”

That did not mean Kobe would go quietly. In flashes this season he put up points and showed his old swagger — he was demanding respect one last time.

“We were playing Portland and some kid from the bench said something to me, said ‘we’re going to beat you tonight.’ I looked at him and said ‘I’ve got one rule: If you weren’t born when I started playing you can’t talk trash. It’s a simple rule’ And he looked and said, ‘Yes sir.’”

So what happens the first day of retirement?

“I’ll probably wake up and have some coffee and go back to sleep.”

Kobe doesn’t seem to get the point of coffee. And even in retirement, whatever is next, it’s hard to imagine Kobe going back to sleep rather than jumping into what’s next with both feet — and an unparalleled determination.