Damian Lillard discusses the launch of his first signature shoe from adidas, the D Lillard 1

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard launched his first signature shoe from adidas, unveiling the D Lillard 1 at an event which was held at the company’s headquarters in Portland earlier this week.

Fans were invited to attend through Lillard’s social media channels, and they packed the place for a fun afternoon event that celebrated the player who has risen to quickly become the best on a very good Trail Blazers team.

Music was a theme throughout the sneaker launch, and with good reason. Lillard is the rarest of NBA creatures who is actually a skilled rapper, and his #4BarFriday weekly Instagram contest has become a fan favorite on a global scale.

As media arrived in Portland, they were given an iPod shuffle with 10 tracks preloaded that were chosen by Lillard himself. Once the event got going, Lillard gave us a live rendition of his latest 4bar creation, and there was a surprise performance from hip hop artist Future Hendrix, during which Lillard and members of his family weren’t afraid to put some of their dance moves on display.

After things wrapped up, the media spent the evening at a nearby recording studio, where plenty of silliness ensued as we were invited to lay down 4Bar tracks of our own in a professional setting.

[I did not do this. But those who did were surprisingly creative, hilarious and impressive with both their words and their respective styles — shout out to Abe Schwadron of SLAM, Lance Fresh of Bleacher Report, and Ian Stonebrook of Nice Kicks.]

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As for the sneakers themselves, Lillard was heavily involved from the very beginning of the process — one  that started 18 months before the shoes were ready to launch.

“I was all over it,” Lillard said. “I probably got on their nerves, because I would just pop up and show up to the office like, what you got? Let me see.”

“They were good about it,” he said. “I would send in pictures of some of my favorite shoes as a kid, or stuff that I like if I just see it on the Internet. I would screen shot and send a picture to them. … They listened to everything I had to say.”

Coming up with the details wasn’t easy for Lillard at the start, however — mainly because of the fact that while he of course had likes and dislikes from an aesthetic standpoint, he had paid little attention to the performance aspects when playing in the past.

“Basically, I’ve never really had a preference,” he said. “I’ve never loved a light shoe, or cared if it was kind of heavy, or [whether] it had a strap, or not a strap. I never really had a preference. So that’s what I had to get around. I had to figure out what I really wanted my shoe to look like, and it was kind of hard because I didn’t want to make their jobs hard by saying I don’t like that, or this is not how I want it, or I like this better than this. I had to fight that because I wanted it to look how I wanted it to look, so that’s probably why they brought me so many shoes, because we went back and forth about stuff. Because they were willing to work with me the way they did, it turned out just fine.”

How many shoes did they bring?

“Probably at least 20 different versions,” said Robbie Fuller, who designed the shoe for adidas. “But we had a really good starting point, because he gave us some real specific must-haves, which was to have this tech fit sleeve right next to the foot. He gave us the direction of how he really wanted to lace hard. And then finally, the SprintFrame construction, which we started with the adizero Crazy Light. It’s an efficient way to build a shoe that makes sense. You reduce the amount of softer, heavier material, and you replace it with something that’s lighter and stronger.”

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Keeping the price of the shoe down was near the top of the priority list for Lillard, who didn’t want his fans to have to break the bank just to be able own his first signature shoe. That meant keeping costs down from a manufacturing standpoint, which affected the choices he had to make when helping to create the shoe’s construction.

“We talked about the Boost, which would obviously have made the shoe probably 35, 40 dollars more expensive,” Lillard said. “But that’s why I wore [the D Lillard 1] a lot. In the summer I was wearing it, and then after that I had a few pairs that I just would always wear, because I wanted it to be a quality shoe. I didn’t want it to be just a shoe they put together so it could be cheap, you know what I mean? I wanted it to be quality. And it still ended up being a quality shoe without having the ‘greatest’ technology. I think you can still have a really good shoe without it being made out of the most expensive stuff you can use.”

The shoes feel great. They’re comfortable when you first slip them on, with zero break-in required. The cushioning that was used is more than ample — especially in the heel, but there’s enough in the forefoot to provide a smooth enough ride. We got a brief chance to play in them, and the above-average level of traction that was present was impossible not to notice.

Events like these can be awkward for the athlete, who is at the center of attention while hundreds in attendance focus on him and sing his praises for an extended length of time. Lillard managed to remain humble throughout it all, which, along with the wealth of on-court talent he possesses, is a quality that helps endear him to so many fans.

“People have been asking me all day, are you excited, are you going to cry, are you this, are you that,” Lillard said. “And I’m like … I’m trying to make myself, I guess, appreciate it more, because I know that I overlook a lot of things that I should probably be proud of, because I’m so quick to want to move on to the next thing.

“But I’m actually proud of it, because it’s something that’s mine, and I know how much I played a part in developing the shoe. It’s something that represents me.”

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The D Lillard 1 will be available at Foot Locker and adidas.com on February 6 at a retail price of $105.

Joseph Tsai to buy rest of Nets, Barclays Arena for $3.4 billion

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NEW YORK — Joe Tsai has agreed to buy the remaining 51 percent of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center from Mikhail Prokhorov in deals that two people with knowledge of the details say are worth about $3.4 billion.

Terms were not disclosed Friday, but the people told The Associated Press that Tsai is paying about $2.35 billion for the Nets – a record for a U.S. pro sports franchise – and nearly $1 billion in a separate transaction for the arena. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the transactions have not yet been completed.

Tsai is the co-founder and executive vice president of the Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce giant. He already had purchased a 49 percent stake in the team from Prokhorov in 2018, with the option to become controlling owner in four years.

Instead, he pushed up that timeline for full ownership of a team on the rise after signing superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in July.

Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire, became the NBA’s first non-North American owner in 2010 and oversaw the Nets’ move from New Jersey to Brooklyn two years later. He spent big in the first couple years after the move in a quest to chase a championship, but the team soon became one of the worst in the NBA before rallying to return to the playoffs last season.

“It has been an honor and a joy to open Barclays Center, bring the Nets to Brooklyn, and watch them grow strong roots in the community while cultivating global appeal,” Prokhorov said in a statement. “The team is in a better place today than ever before and I know that Joe will build on that success, while continuing to deliver the guest experience at Barclays Center that our fans, employees, and colleagues in the industry enjoy.”

The deal is expected to be completed by the end of September and is subject to approval by the NBA’s Board of Governors.

That would put Tsai, a native of Taiwan, in full control of the team by the time the Nets head to China to play two exhibition games against the Los Angeles Lakers in October. That comes at the start of a season of renewed excitement for the Nets, who just three seasons ago won an NBA-worst 20 games but are set to make a big move up the standings after landing two of the best players on the market when free agency opened.

“I’ve had the opportunity to witness up close the Brooklyn Nets rebuild that Mikhail started a few years ago. He hired a front office and coaching staff focused on player development, he supported the organization with all his resources, and he refused to tank,” Tsai said. “I will be the beneficiary of Mikhail’s vision, which put the Nets in a great position to compete, and for which I am incredibly grateful.”

Brett Yormark, the CEO of BSE Global, which manages the team and the arena, will oversee the transition before leaving for a new role.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder tells Donovan Mitchell to ‘be a sponge’ around Gregg Popovich

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While other players continue to pull out of the USA Basketball roster — De'Aaron Fox was the latest, and P.J. Tucker before him — Utah’s Donovan Mitchell has been outspoken in his commitment to the team.

“Me, I’m 22, some guys are older and got to rest their bodies and I understand that…” Mitchell said Friday night after Team USA’s exhibition game win over Spain. “For me, I’ve never been part of USA Basketball and I’m honored to be here, I’m honored to have this privilege to go out and compete.”

A lot of players have left — or just not put their names in the hat in the first place — saying they wanted to focus on preparing for the regular season, especially players in the Western Conference, which is deep with outstanding teams. The Utah Jazz, now with Mike Conley at the point, are one of those teams with high expectations.

Mitchell, however, has the full backing of his coach Quin Snyder to stay with Team USA and learn from Gregg Popovich, as Snyder told Marc Stein of the New York Times.

“Both Donovan and I have been excited for this opportunity, not just the chance to compete for his country but to play for Pop. I think he has an appreciation for the fact that he’s playing for the greatest coach that’s ever coached…

“Just try to throw yourself completely into it,” Snyder said he told Mitchell. “And try to communicate with Coach as much as you can. Be a sponge.”

Popovich has had an impact on the young players on the roster. For example, there’s more maturity to Kyle Kuzma‘s game, and Popovich recognized him on the court Friday night when Kuzma made a couple of smart plays against Spain.

Just having different coaching voices — not just Popovich but his assistants Steve Kerr, Lloyd Pierce, and Villanova’s Jay Wright — can help a young player. The message may be consistent, but said in a different way, one that better gets through to the player. Styles matter.

Mitchell led Team USA in scoring against Spain with 13, but Snyder and Jazz fans are hoping for more. Not just gold at the World Cup in China starting Sept. 1, but that Mitchell comes back energized and with a broadened game after having been a sponge next to Popovich.

Marcus Smart reportedly cleared to play for Team USA

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Through two weeks of training camp, first in Las Vegas then in Los Angeles, through one intrasquad scrimmage and one exhibition game, Marcus Smart has sat in street clothes.

The Celtics guard has a calf injury that has sidelined him. On Thursday in Los Angeles he took part in the shooting parts of practice during training camp, but not the full-contact scrimmages against the select team. All he could really do was this.

Friday night he never got out of his warmups and did not play against Spain, but he did say on the broadcast he would be back.

Turns out, he was cleared to be back the next day according to Mark Stein of the New York Times.

This takes away a little of the sting of De'Aaron Fox deciding to withdraw from the team just before it left on Saturday for Australia.

It also means four Celtics are on the USA roster: Smart, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. USA assistant coach Steve Kerr jokingly said to me last week he asked Brad Stevens for a thank you gift for running Celtics mini-camp.

Smart is one of the 13 players headed down under for a series of tune-up games before the World Cup (against Australia and Canada). If he’s fully healthy enough to go, Smart is a lock to make the roster because of his physical perimeter defense and ability to shoot the three (36 percent last season in the NBA, and the international line is a little closer in). He likely would come off the bench at the two behind Donovan Mitchell.

Bill Walton broadcast White Sox vs. Angels game and was nothing short of brilliant

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Bill Walton is brilliant.

The Hall of Fame hippie and big man was in the broadcast booth Friday night — not for basketball, but for the White Sox vs. Angels MLB game. Walton loves baseball even if his understanding of the sport is… unconventional.

I want Bill Walton to narrate my life.

The world missed him while he battled serious back issues, it’s so good to have him out and around and being himself again.