Winderman: Charity games show fans’ passion, market to see NBA elite

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How intense is the demand from the NBA market for product?

Tickets to the Saturday lockout exhibition at Florida International University that LeBron James is helping promote sold out within two hours Monday.

Even though there were no on-line or phone sales, and even though some windows at the school’s box office only took cash for the tickets priced at $50 and $100.

How intense is the demand from the NBA secondary market for product?

Even before the tickets went on sale, they already were being offered for resale by some outlets, with prices posted as high as $500 while ticket sales still were under way. Now Stubhub has them listed for $1,700 a pop.

Granted, selling tickets in a 5,000-seat arena for a game featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony is different than trying to sell 17,000 seats in Sacramento to see the Kings play. And, granted, these exhibitions hardly have gone off smoothly, with a reported counterfeiting issue at Chris Paul’s game in Winston-Salem, N.C., this past weekend the latest snafu.

But what games such as these show is the players, at least in limited quantity, can market their own game, can push their own product.

In this case, proceeds will go to the charity organized by Florida International coach Isiah Thomas in honor of his late mother.

If anything, it should send another signal to those negotiating in New York of just how passionate the following is for their games and their stars. And how it is the stars who truly drive the product.

For years, offseason charity exhibitions had annually been staged at the Heat’s arena, with interest not quite as robust as what was witnessed Monday at the school on the west side of Miami.

Yet Monday, those negotiating a new collective-bargaining agreement in New York were dealing with proposals on how to trim the league’s highest salaries.

Tuesday, many earning those highest salaries will be back at the side of union boss Billy Hunter, facing down the owners who have taken the attitude that this is their game, their product, their show.

In a perfect world, Saturday’s exhibition will serve as a climax to the lockout exhibition season, before players return to training camps.

Otherwise, it will stand as a reminder of how deep the passion for the game, and particularly the game’s elite, runs among fans, as those $50 and $100 tickets are scalped for prices that exceed those of even the real games.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

Damian Lillard on shot to beat Thunder: ‘That was for Seattle’

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Damian Lillard is a legend in Portland. He’s a legend in Oakland.

And now he’ll be a legend in Seattle.

The Trail Blazers star’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer wave goodbye ended the season for the Thunder, who moved to Oklahoma City from Seattle 12 years ago.

Lillard on Sports Business Radio Podcast:

What can I say? That was for Seattle.

Just when I thought Lillard’s shot and celebration were as cold as could be.

Clippers executive Jerry West: ‘I’ve never been around any organization that is better than this one’

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Jerry West played 14 years for the Lakers, making the All-Star game every year and winning a championship in a Hall of Fame career. He coached the Lakers to a few playoff seasons. Then, he ran the Lakers’ front office for 18 years, winning five titles and setting the stage for several more by acquiring Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Now, West works for Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

West on The Dan Patrick Show:

Steve Ballmer has really put together an unbelievably terrific organization. He’s spared no expense. It’s a really fun place to be. There’s not ego-driven at all. It’s just a fun place to be, and he’s got an awful lot of basketball people over there.

He’s just a great owner and one of the nicest men I’ve ever been around in my life. I’ve never seen a person like this with his success. It’s just remarkable how even-keeled he is. If people knew how philanthropic he was. He keeps all that stuff quiet. I guess he’ll get mad at me for mentioning it. But he’s just a remarkable man himself.

People always ask me what he’s like. And I say he’s just like you and I, normal. I’ve never seen – he’s willing to spend on players. He’s willing to spend on personnel within the front office. And as I mentioned before, I’ve never been around any organization that is better than this one. That’s for sure.

Maybe West is bitter at the Lakers. Maybe West is just gushing about his current boss, because that’s who pays him now.

But the wider respect held for the Clippers is evident in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George picking them without the team first getting an incumbent star. That says a lot about the organization, one that Ballmer has put his stamp on.

This also feels like a shot at the Lakers, whether or not West intended it. Many consider them to be the NBA’s golden franchise.

But their operations have had no shortage of problems lately.

The Lakers would have a stronger relative case further back, when West worked for them. However, organizations generally run better now. The league is more advanced. Maybe West is considering that.

Biases aside, his endorsement of the Clippers might be accurate.

West also worked for the Grizzlies.

Spencer Dinwiddie: Kyrie Irving tipped me off on his Nets interest in December

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In early December, Spencer Dinwiddie had yet to sign a contract extension with the Nets. Kyrie Irving had recently pledged to re-sign with the Celtics.

But groundwork was already being laid for those two to team up in Brooklyn.

Dinwiddie signed a three-year, $34 million extension later in December. Irving and Kevin Durant joined the Nets this summer.

How did it all come together?

Dinwiddie revealed details of his recruitment of Irving.

Dinwiddie, via The Athletic:

The first time he reached out was probably maybe like December, in terms of just loosely talking about it. Because he’s still obviously super focused on his season and everything. But you could just tell from his conversation that it was a little bit different. It was on his mind. Obviously, free agency was coming up. So, that’s kind of what it was. Just asking a friend about his current situation and what he thought.

Actually, no. It definitely was December. Because he made a comment to me. He was like, “New York might be real fun next year.” Because I hadn’t signed yet. And I was like, “Brother, I don’t know if they’re going to extend me or not.” He was like, “I think New York might be real fun next year.”

At the time, I was like, “You all going to the Knicks. That’s what’s happening. Are you and the monster going to the Knicks?”

That’s when I was first tipped off to the whole thing.

When he made the comment, that’s when I was like, “OK, things have changed.” Obviously at that point in time, it’s too early to be like he’s for sure leaving or he’s this, that or the third. But it’s just like, OK, something happened.

What happened in Boston? That’s the big question Irving has yet to answer.

Irving seemed checked out with the Celtics long before their season ended. It’s fair to question whether he was fully committed to winning with them.

There’s nothing wrong with Irving talking to Dinwiddie about New York as early as December. Irving faced a life-changing choice in free agency. Of course he was going to consider it throughout the season.

But in context of everything else that happened with Irving in Boston, this is more evidence he was pretty set on leaving for a long time.