LeBron James unanimous Finals MVP after legacy-cementing series

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OAKLAND — There was 1:50 left in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and it was tied, 89-89.

Kyrie Irving had missed a floater in the lane, four Cavaliers were down around the offensive glass, and the ball bounced out to Andre Iguodala, who took the rebound and was off to the races. He pushed the ball up court, passed to Stephen Curry who gave it right back, and it looked like Iguodala had a clear path to the layup that would put the Warriors ahead.

Then LeBron James happened.

That play was a microcosm of the entire 2016 NBA Finals.

Golden State was up 3-1, going home and seemingly in control. A repeat title seemed inevitable.

Then LeBron James happened. The Warriors didn’t see him coming and couldn’t do anything to stop him.

After back-to-back 41-point games that carried the series to seven games, LeBron posted a triple-double in Game 7 — 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. He wasn’t just the best player on the court, he reminded everyone that he is the most dominant force in basketball right now, one of the all-time greats. LeBron was an absolute force of nature for the final three games of the series. He silenced his critics (well, at least for a day).

He was the obvious and unanimous choice as Finals MVP.

He cemented his legacy, adding to a long list of accomplishments being the man who brought Cleveland its first major professional sports title in more than five decades. He broke down in tears while holding the Larry O’Brien trophy because of that.

“I’m true to the game, and I know what I bring to the table,” LeBron said after the game, holding his daughter in his hands. “I came back for a reason. I came back to bring a championship to our city. I knew what I was capable of doing. I knew what I learned in the last couple years that I was gone, and I knew if I had to — when I came back, I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get back to a place that we’ve never been. That’s what it was all about.”

LeBron averaged ridiculous numbers through the Finals: 29.7 points, 8.9 assists, 11.3 rebounds, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks per game. In the three elimination games for his Cavs this series he averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks a night LeBron’s game has always been about how he wasn’t just elite at one thing, he is elite at nearly everything. He showed that this series.

But that wasn’t his biggest contribution; it was his leadership that convinced the rest of his teammates that a historic comeback was possible.

“Learning from a guy like that is amazing … that guy led us all year,” Kyrie Irving said. “He knew what it took and how to lead us. We all just took it from there. We all were great in our roles.”

“For me, when I came up (to the interview podium) after we lost Game 4 at home, I said, hey, listen, we’ve got to take one possession, one game at a time,” LeBron said. “We’re going to Golden State, so we’ve got to fly home anyways, so why not have another game? And I believed in that. And my guys believe in me as their leader every single day. I preach to them every single day. I’m their leader, and they allow me to lead those guys every single night. I was just true to that….

“I told my guys before the game: Listen, there is a game to be played, but there’s not many guys, there’s not many teams that get an opportunity to be in the NBA Finals in a Game 7. There’s just not….” LeBron said. “I just told the guys: Don’t take this for granted. Don’t take it for granted. Let’s go out. Our coaching staff gave us a great plan; let’s go execute it.”

Over the past few days, and after the win, several Cavaliers talked about the sense of calm LeBron exuded despite the long odds of a comeback. How did he do that?

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” LeBron said. “I can sit up here and say — I don’t know if it was “The Godfather,” I don’t know if it was “Couples Retreat” that I watched, I don’t know if it was “Ocean’s 11, 12, and 13,” I don’t know if it was the “Revenge of the Nerds” that I watched. I really don’t know.

But I was just so like, listen, you’ve put everything into the game. The game always gives back to people that’s true to the game. I’ve watched it. I know the history of the game, and I was just calm. I was calm. I was focused. I was locked in.”

This was LeBron’s third Finals MVP (he got the award both times he won in Miami). He joins some select company, the only players to win three or more Finals MVPs are Michael Jordan (six), Shaquille O’Neal (three), Tim Duncan (three) and Magic Johnson (three).

“LeBron, he deserves it. He’s a hard worker. He’s been the face of the NBA for 13 years…” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “The biggest thing with LeBron and the reason why I say he deserves it is because of the person that he is. He’s a giver. He’s always looking to take care of people. He’s always been nice to everyone. If anyone deserves it, LeBron James definitely deserves it.”

He does deserve it.

And he has given Cleveland sports fans what they wanted most.

Jazz forward Joe Ingles joins Grizzlies huddle, drapes arms over Memphis players (video)

Jazz forward Joe Ingles vs. Grizzlies
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Jazz forward Joe Ingles has no boundaries with huddles.

Ingles invaded the Grizzlies huddle today, even putting his arms around – and some weight on – Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen. Gorgui Dieng appeared to notice the intruder just before the video cut away:

Beyond the hijinks, Ingles also scored 25 points – including 12 in the fourth quarter – to lead Utah to a 124-115 win.

NBA owners pledge $300M for empowering Black community

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The NBA put “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the court and social-justice messages on jerseys. These are visible symbols that can draw attention to the fight for racial justice.

But NBA owners have the power to do more than make symbolic gestures.

NBA owners will do more.

NBA release:

The NBA Board of Governors announced today that it will contribute $300 million in initial funding to establish the first-ever NBA Foundation dedicated to creating greater economic empowerment in the Black community.  The Foundation is being launched in partnership with the National Basketball Players Association.

Over the next 10 years, the 30 NBA team owners will collectively contribute $30 million annually to establish a new, leaguewide charitable foundation.  Through its mission to drive economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement, the NBA Foundation will seek to increase access and support for high school, college-aged and career-ready Black men and women, and assist national and local organizations that provide skills training, mentorship, coaching and pipeline development in NBA markets and communities across the United States and Canada.  As a public charity, the Foundation will also aim to work strategically with marketing and media partners to develop additional programming and funding sources that deepen the NBA family’s commitment to racial equality and social justice.

The Foundation will focus on three critical employment transition points: obtaining a first job, securing employment following high school or college, and career advancement once employed.  Through contributions, the NBA Foundation will enhance and grow the work of national and local organizations dedicated to education and employment, including through investment in youth employment and internship programs, STEM fields, job shadows and apprenticeships, development pathways outside of traditional higher education, career placement, professional mentorship, networking and specific partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“On behalf of the NBA Board of Governors, I am thrilled to announce the creation of the NBA Foundation,” said NBA Board of Governors Chairman and Toronto Raptors Governor Larry Tanenbaum.  “All NBA team governors recognize our unique position to effect change and we are committed to supporting and empowering young Black men and women in each of our team markets as well as communities across the U.S. and Canada.”

“The creation of this foundation is an important step in developing more opportunities for the Black community,” said NBPA President Chris Paul.  “I am proud of our league and our players for their commitment to this long-term fight for equality and justice, and I know we will continue to find ways to keep pushing for meaningful institutional change.”

The Foundation will work directly with all 30 teams, their affiliated charitable organizations and the NBPA to support national organizations and their local affiliates as well as local grassroots organizations to facilitate sustainable programming and create change in team markets.

“Given the resources and incredible platform of the NBA, we have the power to ideate, implement and support substantive policies that reflect the core principles of equality and justice we embrace,” said NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts.  “This Foundation will provide a framework for us to stay committed and accountable to these principles.”

“We are dedicated to using the collective resources of the 30 teams, the players and the league to drive meaningful economic opportunities for Black Americans,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  “We believe that through focused programs in our team markets and nationally, together with clear and specific performance measures, we can advance our shared goals of creating substantial economic mobility within the Black community.”

The 30 NBA teams will be members of the NBA Foundation with its eight Board of Directors comprised of representatives from the NBA Board of Governors (four board seats), players and executives from the NBPA (three board seats) and the league office (one board seat).  The Foundation’s board will oversee all business affairs and provide strategic direction with respect to programming and grantmaking.

This is great.

Trail Blazers reportedly tried recently to get Trevor Ariza to join them in bubble

Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza
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Trevor Ariza opted-out of playing for Portland in the NBA’s restart so he could spend time with his son. Due to a custody case, he had a limited window to visit and he chose family over basketball.

However, as his custody window shifted and Portland started to look at a deeper playoff run — and maybe a matchup with the Lakers in the first round — some Trail Blazers players tried to get Ariza to come to the bubble after all. If Zion Williamson and others could leave the bubble for family emergencies, why couldn’t Ariza be let in, the players asked?

That plan didn’t work out, reports Chris Hayes of Yahoo Sports.

But because his visitation period had been amended with a conclusion date now near the start of August, there was some optimism among the players that Ariza might be allowed into the bubble to further strengthen their chances of a deep playoff run. If the Trail Blazers were to snag the final playoff spot, they would face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round and a pesky Ariza would have been useful guarding James.

The possibility was explored, but sources said the Trail Blazers had to have previously applied for a hardship waiver or a late-arrival form for Ariza to be considered for entry into the bubble. Even if those steps were taken, the league would have likely denied the request because Ariza chose to opt out, wasn’t included on the restart roster, and didn’t arrive with his team on July 9.

The league put together strict rules about who could and couldn’t be inside the bubble — rules agreed to by the players’ union. Those rules are working at keeping the virus out. The league was not going to bend the rules for Portland now.

Ariza chose time with his son and wanted it bad enough to give up between $1.1 million and $1.8 million in salary (depending on how far the Trail Blazers got). Nobody should knock that choice; it was his to make, and picking family is never the wrong option.

Ariza is under contract for $12.8 million with Portland next season, but only $1.8 million of that salary guaranteed next season. If Portland wants to reduce payroll, they can buy Ariza out and make him a free agent at age 35. There would be suitors, Ariza has proven to be a helpful glue guy on good teams.

That glue just can’t help Portland this season.

No positive COVID-19 tests from 343 players in NBA bubble last week

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As has happened the past few weeks, Wednesday the NBA and NBPA announced that there were no positive tests among the 343 players tested for COVID-19 in the past week at the league’s restart campus in Orlando.

The NBA has had no positive tests from players inside the bubble.

The NBA’s plan for a restart began with testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again. The goal was to keep the virus outside of the bubble.

That has worked through one week of games.

The league did send a memo to teams reminding them players and staff need to wear a mask while on the NBA campus (when they were not practicing or playing games). The goal is to contain any outbreak, should the virus get into the bubble. That outbreak has yet to happen.

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining on the NBA campus, family members will arrive next month, and there are still other ways the virus could penetrate the bubble. The league isn’t celebrating victory yet.

But so far, so good.