Nike brings World Basketball Festival to Chicago

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CHICAGO — Nike and USA Basketball descended on the city of Chicago this week, and partnered to put on its World Basketball Festival event that was created to celebrate and honor the global passion for the game. The two previous versions took place in New York in 2010 and Washington D.C. in 2012, but Chicago’s city-wide, deep-rooted passion for the game seems to be the most appropriate stop to date.

The folks at Nike and Jordan Brand wanted to give a group of media members an overview of just how influential basketball has been to those in this city, and after a day spent visiting historic sites related to the game and speaking to some of the legends associated with it, it’s clear that basketball is incredibly important to all of the individual communities that make up one of the country’s largest cities.

Our day began with an introductory speech from Scoop Jackson — a well-known journalist, but also a Chicago basketball historian whose enthusiasm for the game and what it means to this city is evident from the very first words he speaks. Jackson tells us about legendary players like Billy Harris, the name at the top of everyone’s list anytime the topic of Chicago’s greatest playground legend is ever approached. He explains how no matter the age or skill level, people can be found all over the city playing the game and discussing the area’s most influential players.

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He points out the wide variety of players from the area who made it to the NBA, all of whom don’t necessarily do one thing great, but have mastered multiple aspects of the game in order to compete anywhere while growing up in the city. Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre, Shawn Marion and Tony Allen are a few examples he gave, and of course there are more recent entries like Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis and incoming rookie Jabari Parker. He tells us stories of Michael Jordan flying in to compete on the city’s playgrounds to scratch that competitive itch, both while he was still in the league and for years after he retired. Finally, he implores us to talk to as many people around town that we can to verify that what he’s saying is the truth — something we’d get a chance to do anyway, but that wasn’t at all necessary given the intensity and excitement with which he conveyed his words.

“Basketball is Chicago’s export to the world,” Jackson has said. “I’ve compared it to Hip Hop in New York, technology coming out of Seattle, the auto industry in Detroit, food from New Orleans. This is what we do.”

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Our bus pulled up to Simeon Career Academy, a high school on the South Side of Chicago that is a large facility, but unassuming when you consider the level of basketball talent that has been produced there over the years. There’s Bucks rookie Jabari Parker and Bulls superstar Derrick Rose most recently, but others like Nick Anderson and Benji Wilson (whose tragic story was chronicled in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary) speak to just how rich the school’s history is.

We walked into the gym that doesn’t have air conditioning, and made our way to the bleachers. In came Sonny Parker — Jabari’s father, and a former NBA player who was born and raised in Chicago. He spoke about growing up in the city, and how the South Side has changed. Back in the day, he said, it was understood that athletes could walk through bad neighborhoods with a free pass, and that if something was about to go down, they would be given a warning so they could get away unscathed. He doesn’t believe that’s the case anymore, but also doesn’t feel like the neighborhood is nearly as bad as the media reports make it seem.

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He talked about Michael Jordan, and how he had a “Love of the Game” clause in his contract that allowed him to play anytime, anywhere — even on the playgrounds of Chicago. Jabari, he said, has the freedom to do the same. Parker told us how players from different areas play the game differently — for example, on the West side, he said, they’re a little more aggressive because of a shortage of bigs. Intensity is used to make up for that size advantage with players from that part of town, but those differences speak to what Scoop Jackson told us, which is that players had to be able to play a variety of different ways and hone a broad range of skills if they wanted to be able to dominate in all parts of the city.

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The day wrapped up with a trip to the 63rd Street Beach House, home base for all of the World Basketball Festival’s activities. We stopped by some outdoor basketball courts across the street, where clinics were being conducted for children from all parts of the city. We got some time to speak with Anthony Harris, who currently plays professionally in the D-League but more importantly for our purposes, is the son of Billy Harris, Chicago’s most legendary basketball player.

Anthony didn’t get to see his father play in his prime, of course, but said the man could still shoot the lights out, even in his older years. Scoop Jackson told us about how he was researching Billy, and walked all over the city on a daily basis trying to find one person — just one — who would say they ever saw Billy play a bad game. He gave up after three months. Anthony echoed that sentiment, and said he heard ridiculous stories — like his father grabbing a jump ball at one end of the court, and immediately shooting from there and draining what would have been an incredibly long shot. Anthony had trouble believing it, but said multiple people who claim to have been there swear that it happened.

Anthony talked about growing up in Chicago and leaving the house early in the morning to play an entire day’s worth of basketball, sometimes going from court to court in search of the city’s best players.

“If I went to your court, I was coming for you,” Anthony said.

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We wrapped things up by walking over to the Beach House, where there is a Nike Basketball museum of sorts set up that has some incredible artifacts — like the LeBron James MVP Puppet that was a part of one of the company’s more popular campaigns in recent years.

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There will be games held there all weekend — pro-am and three on three tournaments, FIBA skills competitions and appearances by members of the USA Basketball team. But more than anything, it’s simply a celebration of the game of basketball, and one that the city of Chicago seems uniquely positioned to appreciate.

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De’Aaron Fox on Kings: ‘I see myself being here. I want to be here.’

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The NBA restart in Orlando — however long it lasts for the Kings — will be the end of the third season for De'Aaron Fox, which means its time to talk about him getting paid.

Except nobody is talking about that because we are all trying to adjust to his new hairstyle:

However, we should be talking payday. The end of his third season makes eligible for a contract rookie extension this offseason — which always brings up talk of “does this player want to stay?” The Kings have yet to make the playoffs in his tenure, and are a longshot to end that playoff drought in Orlando.

Fox has been clear: He wants to stay and build something with the Kings. The coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the season does not change that, he said during a media conference call this week (via James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s all the same, it’s all the same, I don’t think there’s much to say about that,” Fox said. “I see myself being here. I want to be here. Obviously, you know we want to win and right now, I think last year, we put ourselves in a good position. This year, we’re sort of in the same position to still make the playoffs. So that’s what we all want and then continue to take the next step forward.”

The Kings see him as a franchise cornerstone. Fox is not going to turn down a max — and he expects the 25% of the cap max — rookie contract extension. He’s going to grab the bag. Expect a deal to get done.

The questions Sacramento should ask: Is Fox the point guard they want to build around? If so, are they building out a roster that maximizes his talents?

Fox averaged 20.4 points and 6.8 assists a game for the Kings this past season playing at a near All-Star level. The Kings’ offense was +5.2 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court. However, Fox is not a great defender, and he took a step back and shot 30.7% from three this season. He doesn’t space the floor, what he does do is attack the rim — 59.4% of his shot attempts came within 10 feet of the rim. He is a blur in transition and finished 63% of his shots at the rim, so this works for him.

Fox’s attacking style fits well with Buddy Hield at the two, but how it will mesh with Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley III (who missed a lot of time due to injury this season) are the bigger questions. Do they all fit in Luke Walton’s slower offensive system? How the whole plan comes together in Sacramento remains to be seen.

But whatever it becomes, Fox wants to be part of it.

Milwaukee Bucks the latest team to shut down practice facility

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The Milwaukee Bucks players are done working out at the team practice facility, they will get together in Orlando next.

Milwaukee has become the fourth team to shut down their practice facilities, doing so after a round of tests on Friday. It was not announced whether a player or team staff member (or members) tested positive to cause this move. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story (since confirmed by others), adding the team would keep the facility closed and there would be no more workouts before the team leaves for the NBA restart in Orlando.

Milwaukee joins Miami, Denver, and the Los Angeles Clippers as teams who shut down their practice facilities after positive tests.

The Bucks head to the restart in Orlando as one of the title favorites, and the clear frontrunner in the East. The combination of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the best defense in the league makes them legit title contenders, but questions remain about how the Bucks’ role players will step up in the crunch, if their defensive system allowing threes comes back to bite them against better teams, if coach Mike Budenholzer is willing to make critical adjustments (such as playing Antetokounmpo more minutes), and just how they handle going up against a LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard that have won on this level before. Milwaukee looks like a team that can win a title, but we just haven’t seen them do it. Yet.

The closing of the practice facility will not change their contender status (providing it was not one of the team’s stars who tested positive).

Serge Ibaka says Raptors are ‘locked in’ for restart in Orlando

Serge Ibaka Raptors
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Don’t sleep on the defending champions. Yes, Kawhi Leonard went home (and Danny Green went West, too), but Toronto proved to be no one-man show.  The Raptors are the two seed in the East with a 46-18 record, a +6.4 net rating that is fourth-best in the NBA, they have the second-best defense in the league, they have an emergent superstar in Pascal Siakam who is surrounded by other stars such as Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Fred VanVleet. Toronto is playoff tested.

And the Raptors are “locked in” for the NBA restart, according to Serge Ibaka.

Here is what the veteran said in a conference call with reporters on Saturday, via Steven Loung of Sportsnet Canada.

“Mentally, I think we’re ready,” Ibaka said. “Mentally as a team, I can see from everybody, I think mentally we’re ready. We know what is waiting for us out there, now it’s time to get a little bit (of) game condition and then we’ll be good to go…

“I saw just how everyone is in great shape. They came here in great shape and as soon as we got here everyone was starting to put in work,” Ibaka said. “I’ve been in the league for 11 years. You can see when people are locked in and they’re ready mentally, and when they’re not. So I can tell you right now mentally everybody is ready. Everybody is ready.”

Any run to the Finals out of the East goes through Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Raptors have the confidence of having beat them last season. It’s no secret the Raptors want to make a run at  Antetokounmpo in 2021 and a good showing by their young core in this postseason helps the “come join us” pitch (even if it is a longshot). Boston and its emerging young stars — and another elite defense — also are lurking as a threat.

Toronto, however, cannot be overlooked. VanVleet and Gasol are back healthy, Norman Powell has stepped up this season giving the team more depth, and Nick Nurse has been a master of putting players in the right positions to succeed.

Toronto is healthy and, to hear Ibaka tell it, in shape. This is a strong, deep roster that understands what it takes to win in the playoffs. The Raptors have not earned the rights to be favorites in the East heading to Orlando, but sleep on this team at your own risk.

Bryan Colangelo falsely says he was ‘absolved’ in burner-Twitter scandal with 76ers

Former 76ers president Bryan Colangelo
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Former 76ers president Bryan Colangelo bought a share of the Illawarra Hawks, an Australian team.

Which means revisiting the infamous burner scandal.

Colangelo resigned in Philadelphia in 2018 after his wife, Barbara Bottini, admitted to operating several burner Twitter accounts that frequently praised Colangelo, revealed sensitive team information and sharply criticized 76ers players including Joel Embiid.

Colangelo, via Sam Phillips of The Sydney Morning Herald (hat tip: Adam Hermann of NBC Sports Philadelphia):

“I haven’t addressed it very much over the course of the last two years. I have stayed very much under the radar on the topic because it’s a sensitive topic, for a lot of reasons,” Colangelo said.

“Family, personal, professional, or otherwise. I have to say I was dealt a pretty big blow, personally and professionally. And it’s been a difficult time dealing with the fallout. I was completely blindsided by the accusation and the storyline of the controversy.”

“Once that investigation was completed and I was absolved, I felt the appropriate thing to do – in conjunction with ownership there in Philly – was to mutually walk away.

“It was a difficult decision and a difficult time for me. But I have to say, it was a very, very difficult time for my family. Because of some of the reasons that came to light, it was something I thought was important not to talk about, quite frankly. And we’re still dealing with that.

“But the No.1 thing I thought needed to happen was trying to stay positive; preserve and love my family, protect their interests, emotionally or otherwise. And frankly, two years on, it’s gone. It’s in the past and I’m ready to move on.”

I sympathize with Colangelo and Bottini having a family issue play out publicly. That is unfortunate.

This answer also shows Colangelo doesn’t deserve credibility.

He wasn’t absolved. It was untrue when Colangelo said it at the time, and it’s untrue now.

The investigators concluded only that they found no forensic evidence that proved Colangelo knew of the Twitter accounts before they became public – and that they had a significant impediment to finding that evidence. Bottini deleted the contents of her phone before surrendering it for review.

The investigation also determined Colangelo was “careless and in some instances reckless in failing to properly safeguard sensitive, non-public, club-related information.”

Plus, Colangelo denied any knowledge of who ran the accounts at least two days after the news initially broke. Did Bottini really not tell him it was her by then?

Colangelo has paid a heavy price for this scandal. He lost his job leading an NBA front office, and he became a laughingstock. It will be difficult for him to rebuild his reputation.

But continuing to misrepresent the situation is not a good way to try.