Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson headline Basketball Hall of Fame finalists

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TORONTO —  The 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame class is shaping up to be star-studded with Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming.

But today’s announcement – which named Shaq and Iverson as finalists – omitted Yao, who was nominated through the international committee. That didn’t stop Yao and Shaq from taking jabs at each other during the announcement ceremony.

“I feel very excited and very honored to be nominated,” Yao said, then mentioned Shaq and added, “I’m just worried when we stand on the podium together, can it handle our weight?”

And Yao Ming, he used to travel all the time when he’d shoot that fadeaway,” Shaq countered later.

Some Hall of Famers were already on the stage — Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Oscar Robertson, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Spencer Haywood, and Bill Russell among others — and both Iverson and Shaq acknowledged the trail those guys blazed for the players to follow.

“I want to thank all the guys on the stage, except Rick Barry,” Shaq joked. “He came to LSU and wanted me to shoot free throws underhanded. I can’t do it. I’d rather shoot zero percent than shoot free throws underhanded… And Dick Bavetta, I don’t like you either, you gave me 10 technicals and threw me out of the game twice.”

No matter the nomination process, I still expect Yao to make it, but in a departure of previous procedure, his enshrinement wasn’t announced today.

Who would join him?

Here are the four NBA finalists, via the Hall’s release:

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL [Player] – A four-time NBA Champion (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006), O’Neal played 19 years in the NBA averaging 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.  A 15-time NBA All-Star (1993-98, 2000-07, 2009), O’Neal led the league in field goal percentage for 10 seasons (1994, 1998-2002, 2004-06, 2009) and ranks seventh on the NBA All-Time scoring list. He was named NBA MVP (2000), NBA Finals MVP three times (2000-02) and NBA Rookie of the Year (1993). At Louisiana State University (1989-92), O’Neal led the country in rebounding (1991) and blocked shots (1992) while earning unanimous First-Team All America honors (1991-92). O’Neal is an Olympic gold medalist (1996) and a member of the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

ALLEN IVERSON [Player] – A nine-time NBA All-Star (2000-06, 2008, 2009), Iverson played 14 NBA seasons averaging 26.7 points and 6.2 assists per game. A three-time All-NBA First Team selection (1999, 2001, 2005), he led the league in scoring average four times (1999, 2001, 2002, 2005), steals per game three times (2001-03) and minutes per game seven times (1999, 2001-04, 2006-08). Iverson was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 1997 and NBA MVP in 2001. The Hampton, Virginia native attended Georgetown University (1994-1996) where he set the school record for career scoring average and earned consensus First Team All-America honors (1996).

KEVIN JOHNSON [Player] – After playing for University of California Berkley from 1983-1987, Johnson played12 years in the NBA and holds the NBA Finals single-game record for most minutes played with 62.  Johnson is the first player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 10 assists, a .500 field goal percentage and two steals per game for an entire season.  In 1989, he earned the NBA Most Improved Player award. The three-time NBA All-Star (1990, 1991, 1994) is also an All-NBA Second Team member (1989, 1990, 1991, 1994). Now the mayor of his hometown of Sacramento, CA, Johnson was a major advocate of keeping the Sacramento Kings NBA team in the city when it was at high risk of moving.

DARELL GARRETSON [Referee] – Garettson, a native of Long Point, IL, served as an NBA official for 27 years, officiating 1,798 regular season games, 269 playoff games, 41 Finals games and five All-Star games. He was instrumental in organizing and heading the first union for referees, the National Association of Basketball Referees. He is widely considered the individual who shaped modern basketball officiating with a three-person crew and a focus on “refereeing the defense”. He served as NBA Chief of Officiating Staff and Director of Officials (1981-98) and is the only person to have served as a staff referee and Chief of Staff simultaneously.

Shaq and Iverson are locks. Johnson’s inclusion makes me more uneasy than anything. No offense to Garretson, but the Hall of Fame features too many referees already.

The other finalists:

TOM IZZO [Coach] – A native of Iron Mountain, Michigan, Izzo has led Mighican State to seven NCAA Final Four appearances (1999-01, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015). With 18 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, his team won the NCAA National Championship in 2000. Izzo has coached Michigan State to seven Big Ten regular season championships (1998-2001, 2009, 2010, 2012), four Big Ten Tournament championships (1999, 2000, 2012, 2014), and 13 Sweet Sixteen appearances. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year three times (1998, 2009, 2012), NABC Coach of the Year twice (2001, 2012), Clair Bee Coach of the Year (2005) and Associated Press National Coach of the Year (1998).

BO RYAN [Coach] – A native of Chester, Pennsylvania, Ryan has been named the Big Ten Coach of the Year four times (2002, 2003, 2013, 2015) while coaching at University of Wisconsin. Prior to Wisconsin, he coached at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (1999-2000) and University of Wisconsin-Platteville (1984-1999) where his team won four NCAA Division III Championships (1991, 1995, 1998, 1999). Ryan led Wisconsin to four Big Ten regular season championships (2002, 2003, 2008, 2015), three Big Ten Tournament championships (2004, 2008, 2015), and the NCAA Final Four twice (2014, 2015). Ryan is a recipient of the Clair Bee Coach of the Year Award (2007), NABC Outstanding Service Award (2009) and Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award (2013).

EDDIE SUTTON [Coach] – The four-time National Coach of the Year (1977, 1978, 1986, 1995) and eight-time Conference Coach of the Year (1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1993, 1998, 2004) is the first coach in NCAA history to lead four different schools in the NCAA Tournament. Sutton currently ranks seventh among Division I coaches in all-time victories and has recorded only one losing season in 37 years of coaching. He coached Oklahoma State University from 1991-2006 and tied the conference record for wins by a first-year coach with 24. Sutton guided his teams to three Final Fours, six Elite Eights and 12 Sweet Sixteen appearances.

CHARLES “LEFTY’ DRIESELL [Coach] – A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Driesell is the only coach in NCAA history to win 100 games at four different schools and just one of four coaches to lead four schools to the NCAA Tournament. He is the only coach in NCAA history to be named Conference Coach of the Year in four different conferences. He currently ranks eighth among Division I coaches in all-time victories with an overall coaching record of 786-394 (.666). He received the NCAA Award of Valor in 1974 after saving children from a house fire and was inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

JOHN MCLENDON [Coach] – A native of Hiawatha, Kansas, McLendon was the first coach to win three consecutive national championships, leading Tennessee State to NAIA National Championships in 1957, 1958 and 1959. He compiled a collegiate coaching record of 522-165 (.760) and was named NAIA Coach of the Year in 1958. He was the first African-American coach to accomplish many feats including winning a national tournament (1954), winning a national championship (1957) and winning an AAU national championship (1961). He was the first African-American coach to coach in a professional league, the ABA. Already enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a “Contributor,” he is now named a finalist by the North American Committee as a coach.

ROBERT HUGHES [Coach] – Hughes coached high school basketball in Texas for 47 years during periods of both segregation and integration – for which he was a great advocate. He ranks first on the all-time wins list for boy’s high school coaches and has compiled an overall high school coaching record of 1,333-247 (.844), leading his teams to 35 district championships and five state championships. He served as head coach of the McDonald’s All-American Game West team (2001). He was named the NHSCA National High School Coach of the Year (2003) and recipient of the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award (2010). He has been inducted into the Texas Basketball Hall of Fame (1993) and High School Basketball Hall of Fame (2003).

LETA ANDREWS [Coach] – Andrews has coached high school basketball for over 50 years and is the all-time winningest high school coach, male or female. She has coached five high schools in Texas since 1962 and has led them to 16 state Final Four appearances, plus a state championship in 1990. Andrews also served as Head Coach of the McDonald’s All-American Game West team (2004). She was named the NHSCA National High School Coach of the Year (2007) and recipient of the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award (2007). She has been inducted into the High School Basketball Hall of Fame (1995) and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2010).

MUFFET MCGRAW [Coach] – McGraw is a three-time Consensus National College Coach of the Year (2001, 2013, 2014) and five-time Conference Coach of the Year (1983,1988, 1991, 2001, 2013). As the coach of Notre Dame women’s basketball since 1987, she ranks seventh on the active coaches win list. She has led Notre Dame to 22 trips to the NCAA Tournament, including 13 NCAA Sweet Sixteens, seven NCAA Elite Eights and seven NCAA Final Fours (1997, 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) with one National Championship in 2001. In 2001, 2013 and 2014 she was named the Naismith Coach of the Year, Associated Press College Basketball Coach of the Year, WBCA National Coach of the Year and USBWA National Coach of the Year.

SHERYL SWOOPES [Player] – A six-time WNBA All-Star (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006), Swoopes played 12 WNBA seasons averaging 15 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. A five-time All-WNBA First Team selection (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005), she was also named Defensive Player of the Year three times (2000, 2002, 2003) and WNBA MVP three times (2000, 2002, 2005). As a member of the Houston Comets, Swoopes won four WNBA Championships (1997-2000). While setting an NCCA championship record for points scored with 47, the Brownfield, Texas native won an NCAA Championship with Texas Tech (1993). Swoopes is a three-time Olympic gold medalist (1996, 2000, 2004) and a member of the WNBA All-Decade Team.

WAYLAND BAPTIST UNIVERSITY [Team] – Coached by Hall of Fame nominee Harley Redin, the Wayland Baptist University women’s basketball team won 131 consecutive games from 1953-58 and 10 AAU National Championships overall (1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1975).  Rosters included exceptional players such as Marsha Sharp, a three-time AAU All-American Patsy Neal, two-time FIBA World Championships gold medalist Katherine Washington, co-captain of the 1980 United States Olympic team Jill Rankin, and AAU national tournament MVP Lometa Odom. Coach Redin and team sponsor Claude Hucherson, as well as five players have been enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. The team as a whole was recognized as Trailblazers of the Game in 2013.

Kurt Helin contributed to this story from Toronto.

It’s official: Popovich, Wade headline international class (Gasol, Nowitzki, Parker) into Hall of Fame

San Antonio Spurs v Boston Celtics
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In an incredibly deep Hall of Fame class, the man who garners the most respect — legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — is the man who feels least like he belongs in these hallowed halls.

“In all honesty, I always felt the Hall of Fame is like for Red Holzman, Red Auerbach and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. … I’ve never felt like I really belonged, to be honest with you,” Popovich told the Associated Press, and it’s not a gimmick. “I’m not trying to be ‘Mr. Humble’ or anything. I’m a Division III guy. I’m not a Hall of Fame guy.”

Popovich is a Hall of Fame guy. While it has been expected for a while, it became official on Saturday with an announcement in Houston during the NCAA Final Four.

Popovich is part of one of the great Hall of Fame classes ever: Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Becky Hammon are the headliners.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer that all of these guys are first-ballot guys,” Heat president Pat Riley told the Associated Press. “Look at the records. Look at the longevity that they’ve had in this league. Look what they’ve done for the league, and how much the league calls them back – because they’re ambassadors of this great league and they have a great voice and a great message. Dwyane being a first-ballot was a no-brainer.”

Let’s break down the cases for the biggest, NBA tied-names:

• Gregg Popovich led the San Antonio Spurs to five titles and 18 consecutive seasons of 50+ wins. “Pop” also coached USA Basketball to the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics, and was active. Popovich will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time, a man who adapted his system to the personnel he had — how the Tim Duncan/David Robinson Spurs won was very different than the 2014 team led by Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard (and still Duncan).

• Dwyane Wade is one of the greatest shooting guards the game has ever seen. He helped the Miami Heat to three NBA titles and was the 2006 Finals MVP, and along the way racked up eight All-NBA teams and 13 trips to the All-Star game. He is the greatest Heat player ever and is an easy Hall of Fame choice.

• Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest Dallas Maverick ever, an NBA champion and Finals MVP, plus he won the regular season MVP in 2007. His resume includes being a 12-time All-NBA player and 14-time All-Star, plus playing 21 seasons all for the same franchise.

• Tony Parker is a four-time NBA champion for Popovich and his San Antonio Spurs, and Parker was the Finals MVP in 2007. His NBA resume includes four All-NBA nods and six All-Star trips, but his international resume secured his place in the Hall of Fame, for example he was the MVP of EuroBasket 2013, which France won.

• Pau Gasol won two NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers (as Kobe Bryant’s co-star), is a four-time All-NBA player and six-time All-Star, plus he was the Rookie of the Year in 2002. Like Parker, it is Gasol’s international resume that cements his spot in the Hall, he led Spain to the FIBA World Championship in 2006 and won three Olympic medals (two silver, one bronze).

• Becky Hammon, who most NBA fans know as the first women’s assistant coach in the NBA and current coach of the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces, but before that she was a six-time WNBA All-Star.

Also entering the Hall of Fame this year:

• Jim Valvano, who coached North Carolina State to the 1983 NCAA Championship, and created The V Foundation for Cancer Research
• Gene Bess, All-time winningest college coach (1,300), 2-time NJCAA Coach of the Year.
• David Hixon, who racked up 826 wins and was a two-time D3 national champion and two-time D3 Coach of the Year.
• Gene Keady, best known for coaching 25 years at Purdue, was a six-time NCAA Coach of the Year and made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances.
• Gary Blair, who coached in the women’s game for 37 years, amassing 852 wins, including winning the 2011 National Championship with Texas A&M.
• The 1976 Women’s USA Olympic Basketball Team – Silver medalists in inaugural appearance for Women’s Olympic Basketball.

Watch Davis score 38, Lakers move up to No.7 seed with win against Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 17 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter and had 17 rebounds to lift the Los Angeles Lakers past Minnesota 123-111 and leapfrog the Timberwolves on Friday night in the crowded Western Conference playoff race.

“You’ve got to have that one pivotal force that’s leading the charge, and in our case with this particular team here in the moment it’s AD,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “When he comes out and he’s aggressive and we’re feeding him and he’s not settling and he’s putting pressure on the paint, putting pressure on the rim, we find ourselves having a lot of success.”

LeBron James added 18 points and 10 rebounds and D'Angelo Russell had 12 points and 10 assists against his former team as the Lakers (39-38) won for the fifth time in six games to move into seventh place. They’re even with New Orleans, owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pelicans.

“We’ve made some huge climbs, but we’re not finished,” said Davis, who had 38 points Wednesday in tthe win at Chicago. “We’re hungry to not only make the playoffs but make some noise.”

The Lakers improved to 9-4 since losing at home to the Wolves on March 3.

“We jumped on AD’s back, and he brought us home,” James said.

Mike Conley had 25 points on 7-for-11 shooting with seven assists before fouling out, and Karl-Anthony Towns scored 23 points for the Timberwolves (39-39), who tumbled into ninth place. They entered the evening one game behind Golden State and the cut to avoid the play-in tournament, with the Warriors tipping off later at home against San Antonio.

Davis scored 12 straight points for the Lakers over a 3:52 span late in the fourth quarter to seal the steely comeback from a deficit that hit 13 points shortly after halftime. He made five baskets in a row with Wolves center Rudy Gobert on the bench, dominating on the glass, in the post and at the rim.

“He’s playing at a super high level right now,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said.

The Lakers took charge earlier with a 24-2 spurt over a 6:49 stretch of the third quarter with their defense on lockdown mode. Conley’s turn to rest on the bench during that run was ill-timed. Davis rolled his left ankle around the start of the Lakers surge, a breath-holding sequence that only seemed to energize the visitors.

“We started to turn the ball over, and the ball started to stick much more,” Gobert said. “We kind of lost our flow offensively, and it really affected our defense.”

The Wolves, whose bench was shortened without center Naz Reid and his broken wrist, went 2 for 14 from 3-point range in the third quarter and were outscored 35-18 in a discouraging stretch for a fired-up crowd that included local sports superstars Justin Jefferson and Kirill Kaprizov in floor seats.

Watch Jalen Brunson score 48, Knicks top Cavs in possible playoff preview

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CLEVELAND (AP) — With All-Star Julius Randle back in New York, the Knicks needed someone to step up.

Jalen Brunson did that, and more.

New York’s point guard scored a career-high 48 points and the Knicks moved closer to a playoff berth while waiting for Randle to get healthy, outrunning the Cleveland Cavaliers 130-116 on Friday night.

“There is nothing that Jalen does that surprises you,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s so mentally tough. He’s nicked up a little bit, but he’s a machine. He just keeps going.”

Brunson credited his Knicks’ teammates and coaches for his big night, which included seven 3-pointers and nine assists. He finished 18 of 32 from the floor.

“They had confidence in me and the ball just went through the hole,” said Brunson, who scored 44 in a loss to Milwaukee on Jan. 9. “I just kept shooting with confidence and that’s just how it went.”

The Knicks reduced their magic number to one in their first game without Randle, who sprained his left ankle Wednesday and will miss the rest of the regular season. New York hopes he’ll be back for the postseason and a potential first-round matchup against the Cavs.

New York won the season series 3-1 and denied Cleveland a chance to lock up home-court advantage in the first round.

“This loss hurts,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led Cleveland with 42 points. “We need to feel it and be ready to use it when the time comes. Obviously, we control our destiny and we’ll probably see these guys in two weeks.

“There is a lot of film to go through. But if we let this affect us, we have no chance in the playoffs.”

Leading by three, the Knicks outscored the Cavs 14-2 to open the fourth and get some breathing room in a game played at a frenetic pace. The teams combined for 89 points in the first quarter and 151 in the first half.

The Cavs got within 123-116 before Brunson put the Cavs away with a layup following a timeout and then a 3-pointer. He missed a floater in the final seconds that would have given him 50 points.

Did he want 50?

“Who wouldn’t?” he said. “I was going to hold the ball out, but they doubled and I guess that means keep playing. No disrespect to them. They played to the buzzer. I have the most respect in the world for that coaching staff. You got to keep playing.”

Brunson, who averages 23.6 points, scored 33 in a wild first half without much defense.

The teams combined for 89 points in the first quarter, tying the third most in the first 12 minutes of a game in NBA history. The record of 91 is shared by Utah and Denver (1982), and Miami and Washington (2021).

Also, Cleveland’s 47 points in the first quarter were the most in the franchise’s 53-year history.

The Cavs were without two of their top defenders, center Jarrett Allen (groin) and Isaac Okoro (knee).

The Knicks had a moment of drama.

During a timeout in the third quarter, New York starters RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin got into a shouting match and had to be separated.

Thibodeau downplayed the conflict.

“The cameras are everywhere and it probably happens more than people realize,” Thibodeau said. “It was the heat of the moment. Sometimes, there is a difference of opinion, but those guys are fine with each other. These things happen.”

Later, in the locker, Toppin had his arm around a smiling Barrett.

“This is my brother,” Toppin said. “We’re good.”

NBA, players union agree on new seven-year CBA

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Labor peace will continue in the NBA through the rest of this decade.

The sides had to push back the deadline twice — then miss the latest deadline by a couple of hours — to get it done, but the NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Association have come to terms on a new seven-year Collective Bargaining Agreement, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by the NBA (at 3 a.m. Eastern).

While votes of both the owners and players need to ratify the new deal, it is expected to pass quickly and without controversy. The NBA continues to grow rapidly (particularly internationally), and is in the midst of negotiating a new national television and streaming deal expected to more than double television revenue flowing into the league (money split between the owners and players). Ultimately, nobody wanted to risk killing the golden goose with a labor stoppage.

Here are some of the reported key points of the new CBA:

• There will be a new mid-season tournament, mostly played before Christmas. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed for this, looking to add interest and put more meaning into regular season games.

• Players must take the floor in at least 65 games to be eligible for postseason awards, such as MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and All-NBA. The idea is to motivate players (and teams) to get their best players in more games and limit load management. This rule will not kick in until next season (at the earliest) but if in place this season it would keep Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Ja Morant and others off an All-NBA team.

• The one-and-done rule remains as the NBA is not changing its minimum age requirement to be drafted (one year after a player’s class graduates high school).

• Players will no longer face discipline from the league for marijuana use. It had already been taken out of the league’s drug testing program.

• There are changes to the luxury tax, particularly for the highest-spending teams, something detailed first by ESPN. It will involve adding a second tax apron — 17.5 million over the tax line — and teams above it will no longer have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception. This rule is targeted at the highest-spending teams (the Clippers and Warriors this season, the Nets were on that track before blowing up the roster.

• However, teams in the middle and on the bottom of payroll spending will have expanded opportunities (to spend more) in free agency, or to generate larger trade exceptions for other deals.

• Veteran contract extensions will be able to start at 140% of the last year of the existing contract, up from 120% in the current CBA. That will allow more teams to offer larger extensions and keep key players.

• Teams will gain a third two-way contact slot.