Kevin Durant on his fiancée, loneliness and loyalty

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The countdown to Kevin Durant’s free agency in 2016 begun long ago, the Thunder and Wizards clearly occupying the role of frontrunners.

Where will he sign?

These excerpts from Zach Baron of GQ clearly show why Durant will stay with the Thunder:

Take the conversation we’re having right now. Two guys on stools in a coffee shop talking about girls. His heart still not quite right after hurting someone he loved. “I had a fiancée, but…I really didn’t know how to, like, love her, you know what I’m saying? We just went our separate ways.” Monica Wright, WNBA player, something like a high school sweetheart. One night Kevin got so full of feelings he just up and proposed to her. “We was just hanging out, chilling. And I felt the energy. I felt, I need to do this right now. And I just did it. I was like…We’re engaged right now? We’re about to get married? So I was just like, cool! I love this girl. But I didn’t love her the right way.”

Outside this coffee shop, there are multiple millions of people representing multiple millions of dollars—shoe companies, league executives, agents, little kids with big KD posters on their walls—with opinions on what he should and should not be saying at this particular moment. A whole universe bending to be like: Talk about your will to succeed. Your work in the community. How you know what it takes to win.

But what he wants to say right now is this: “I go to sleep at night, like, ‘Am I gonna be alone forever?’ ” A whole ocean of regret. His life too hectic, and too surrounded by money, to trust, let alone love, the next person who comes through that door.

“Am I gonna be alone forever? Am I gonna have kids?”

And why would D.C. be the promised land, anyway? He was so lonely there. Mom just 21 when she had Kevin. Dad lived in the neighborhood but not there. “I remember we were driving home one day, and I look over out the backseat, and I see him in a car with his homeboys at the light. I wanted to be like, ‘Ma, that’s Dad, right?’ ” But he didn’t say anything. Mom didn’t want to talk about it. Her son tall, shy, good at ball but lost away from the court. “I had no friends at 12 years old, 13 years old.”

Except these excerpts from Baron clearly show why Durant will sign with the Wizards:

He heard the Sterling tapes like everyone else. “When that came out, we was just like, ‘Oh, so that’s how they feel about us?’ ” All this rhetoric about team, about loyalty. And then guys like Sterling basically acting in private like their players are property. “When players do stuff that benefits them, they’re looked at as unloyal, selfish,” Durant says. “But when a team decides to go the other way and cut a player, or not bring him back or not re-sign him, it’s what’s best for the team, and that’s cool. But what we do is frowned upon, you know?”

Don’t forget, Kevin Durant was not selfish: He signed a full extension in 2010, no opt-outs. He remembers that, even if no one else does, even as he anticipates the lurking storm of recrimination that awaits him if he doesn’t re-up again. “I was loyal. If it comes down to that, I mean: I was. My deal’s up in 2016. I’ll have been here nine years. I could have easily wanted out. I could have easily not signed the extension after my rookie contract. I could have not played as hard every night. But people tend to forget.”

Has the team ever really given Durant what he needs to win? Durant has been asked this question so many times he may not realize that he’s begun answering it honestly. “Players are paid to do their jobs, no matter who’s on the court. And as superstars, you gotta lead what you have. You gotta make them better. Some players might be better than others. Some teams might be better than others. You gotta do your job, and you gotta trust that the front office is going to do their job. It’s hard, though. You know what I’m saying? Because it’s like, shit, I want win. Obviously our players aren’t as good as, you know, than they were before. But you have to figure it out.”

They’re part of a longer article about Durant coming into his own in front of our eyes. It’s well worth a read.

In the piece, Durant expresses some frustration about how we view him – frustration that came out in his recent bashing of the media. One example: Durant didn’t appreciate his genuine “You the real MVP” moment with his mother being turned into a silly meme.

And I get that. I’m sure that’s not pleasant for Durant.

But outsiders see him as a basketball player first and a human-being second, if at all. That’s why I can’t help but look for fee-agency tea leaves while the article.

Durant is a human being, though. This article is a decent look into his humanity and a good reminder it even exists.

Re-read those excerpts above – not with an eye on free agency, but thinking of Durant as a person. Jump right back to commodifying him afterward if you wish, but at least you’ll have a little more perspective before you do.

China again delays basketball season due to coronavirus

Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) chairman Yao Ming
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As the NBA contemplates how and when to resume its season, China – on an earlier coronavirus timeline – can serve as a model.

The Chinese Basketball Association suspended its season in February and planned to resume in April. Then May. Now, it’ll be even later.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

In a setback to the resumption of professional sports, the Chinese government issued an order Tuesday delaying the restart of the Chinese Basketball Association and other group sporting events, according to documents obtained by ESPN.

CBA teams have been informing players that they still intend to return to play and hope to have more clarity in a few weeks, sources told ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.

There’s probably a bigger lesson here about not blindly trusting messaging from China.

For the NBA, it’s a grim warning about the difficultly of restarting a basketball season amid an ongoing pandemic.

ESPN moving up Michael Jordan documentary to April

Bulls great Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson
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ESPN threw cold water on hopes its 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan and the Bulls, originally scheduled for June, would premiere early with the sports world lacking content due to the coronavirus.

Apparently, that was a misdirect.

ESPN release:

Today it was announced that the premiere of “The Last Dance,” the highly anticipated 10-part documentary series will air on ESPN in the U.S. on Sunday nights over five weeks from April 19 through May 17. The series will also be available outside of the U.S. on Netflix.

The series, directed by Jason Hehir (“The Fab Five,” “The ’85 Bears,” “Andre the Giant”), chronicles one of the greatest icons and most successful teams in sports history, Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls, and features never-before-seen footage from the 1997-98 season as the team pursued its sixth NBA championship in eight years.

ESPN statement: “As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience. We’ve heard the calls from fans asking us to move up the release date for this series, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve been able to accelerate the production schedule to do just that. This project celebrates one of the greatest players and dynasties ever, and we hope it can serve as a unifying entertainment experience to fill the role that sports often play in our lives, telling a story that will captivate everyone, not just sports fans.”

In the fall of 1997, Michael Jordan, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and head coach Phil Jackson agreed to let an NBA Entertainment film crew follow the team all season long. The result would be a remarkable portrait of an iconic player and a celebrated team – a portrait only now being revealed, more than two decades later, in “The Last Dance.”

As the series weaves its way through the tumultuous 1997-98 season, viewers will be transported back to how it all began – from Jordan’s childhood roots, the Bulls’ dire circumstances before his arrival and how the team was built after drafting him in 1984, to the struggles that eventually led to the team’s first NBA championship. As the series takes the audience through the Bulls’ first five championships, viewers will experience the off-court challenges, struggles and triumphs that were a part of the culture-shifting phenomenon created by Jordan and the Bulls.

It’s an unlikely scenario that serves as a fascinating backdrop for the inside tale of the 1998 championship run, with extensive profiles of Jordan’s key teammates including Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr, head coach Phil Jackson, and featuring dozens of current-day interviews with rivals and luminaries from basketball and beyond. All throughout, the tension and conflict that defined that final championship run are very much on display.

“Michael Jordan and the ‘90s Bulls weren’t just sports superstars, they were a global phenomenon,” said director Jason Hehir. “Making ‘The Last Dance’ was an incredible opportunity to explore the extraordinary impact of one man and one team. For nearly three years, we searched far and wide to present the definitive story of an era-defining dynasty and to present these sports heroes as humans. I hope viewers enjoy watching our series as much as we enjoyed the opportunity to make it.”

ESPN

Sunday, April 19

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 1

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 2

Sunday, April 26

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 1

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 2

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 3

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 4

Sunday, May 3

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 3

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 4

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 5

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 6

Sunday, May 10

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 5

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 6

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 7

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 8

Sunday, May 17

7 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 7

8 p.m. ET – Re-air of “The Last Dance” Episode 8

9 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 9

10 p.m. ET – Premiere of “The Last Dance” Episode 10

NETFLIX (outside of the U.S.)

Monday, April 20 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 1 and 2

Monday, April 27 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 3 and 4

Monday, May 4 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 5 and 6

Monday, May 11 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 7 and 8

Monday, May 18 – 12:01 a.m. PT – “The Last Dance” Episodes 9 and 10

This is welcome news, but April 19 is still a ways off. The wait is about as long as the NBA has already been on hiatus.

In the meantime, NBC Sports Chicago has a fantastic feature on Michael Jordan’s 1995 comeback.

Knicks reportedly eyed trade for Terry Rozier before deadline

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The Knicks needed a point guard.

That was the undisputed fact heading into the last trade deadline. New York had Frank Ntilikina, Elfrid Payton, and Dennis Smith Jr. on the roster, but none of them were the lead guard the Knicks needed, which forced RJ Barrett to play more in that role, plus it was not good for the development of Kevin Knox.

We know the Knicks had targeted D’Angelo Russell at the trade deadline but didn’t have the players and picks to interest the Warriors (who eventually traded him to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins). Now comes a report from Ian Bagley of SNY.tv the Knicks also targeted Charlotte’s Terry Rozier.

But prior to the news of the [new Knicks president Leon] Rose hire, there was strong support in some corners of the organization to try to acquire Charlotte guard Terry Rozier, per sources.

The framework of one deal that had internal support sent Julius Randle, Smith Jr. and a future first-round pick to Charlotte for a package that included Rozier and Malik Monk, per sources.

Randle does not appear to be part of the Knicks long-term rebuilding plans, and there have been questions about his fit next to Barrett (New York’s best young player). While Smith has potential New York was ready to move on.

However, Rozier has two years and $36.8 million guaranteed after this season, and while he can get buckets — 18 a game for the Hornets, shooting better than 40 percent from three — he would have been a stop-gap answer for the Knicks. Rozier’s play improved as last season went on as he adjusted to playing more of a two-guard role next to Devonte’ Graham, but with the Knicks Rozier would have been back on the ball. This trade would have been classic old-school Knicks move, taking on contract another team doesn’t want for a short-term fix.

What Rose and the Knicks decide to do with Randle — who is owed $38.7 million in the next two seasons and averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds a game with his bully-ball style — will be something to watch this summer. Along with seeing who gets hired as coach, it will be a sign of the kind of team Rose wants to build.

NCAA will not extend extra year of eligibility to college basketball players

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Seniors playing college basketball, who got to play most of their regular season but no conference tournaments nor the NCAA or NIT postseason tournaments, will not get to come back next season to finish off their college careers.

The NCAA announced it would not extend an extra year of eligibility to winter sports participants, which includes men’s and women’s basketball as well as ice hockey for both sexes. Athletes in spring sports, who lost their entire season (such as baseball and softball), will get that added year of eligibility. The Division I Council “members declined to extend eligibility for student-athletes in sports where all or much of their regular seasons were completed,” the NCAA said in a statement.

That decision didn’t sit well with some college hoops players.

If the NCAA had extended an extra year of eligibility it would have also had to up the scholarship limit for schools as freshmen had already committed to colleges for next year and a logjam would have been created.

This does not have a dramatic impact on the NBA Draft class because most of those chosen are underclassmen coming out early. There will be a few seniors taken — Cassius Winston of Michigan State is a first-rounder, for example — but mostly this hits players who are not NBA prospects and would have considered returning for another year of college ball.

Due to the coronavirus and the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament (plus spring sports), the NCAA Board of Governors voted last week to distribute $225 million to Division I schools in June, which is far less than the more than $600 million or more they expected to distribute.