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NBA players step toward equality in limited edition sneakers

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LOS ANGELES (AP)— When LeBron James stepped on the court wearing mismatched sneakers in the nation’s capital, it wasn’t a fashion statement by the NBA’s most popular athlete. The message was clearly emblazed in gold on the back of his kicks, one white and one black: Equality.

Sneaker enthusiasts around the world eagerly await NBA All-Star weekend when new and limited editions of the latest shoes make their debut, but the month leading up to the highly anticipated shoepalooza is often used to make a social statement.

Starting with Martin Luther King Day and coinciding with Black History Month, players and companies honor the past and create dialogue about the future through footwear.

“I just think it’s more of a paying homage to people that paved the way before me,” Warriors forward Kevin Durant said. “It’s much more than just shoes. It’s more so of a memorial more than anything.”

Nike, which started building Black History Month campaigns in 2005, has created an entire theme around equality.

Kyrie Irving‘s fourth signature shoe has the word repeated over and over in black over a white body with a red and green outsole. There are multiple Air Force 1 models with “equality” on the body, and the Jordan line has been involved from a flyknit Air Jordan 1 to player-only editions of the Air Jordan 32.

Jonathan Johnson-Griffin, the global senior creative director of Nike Basketball and Olympics, says they also wanted to celebrate the Pan-African flag, leading to a red, black and green motif featured on several models that didn’t specifically include the word “equality.” He believes the messages are especially pertinent during divisive times epitomized by the violent demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Equality is the north star that we want to celebrate in sport,” Johnson-Griffin said. “We feel like people feel a lot more equalized in sport than sometimes they do outside of sport. We want to celebrate the many chapters of that idea and many different dimensions of how we can celebrate equality. And BHM is a really iconic one.

“When you see LeBron making a statement around equality, that’s a big invitation to everyone to come celebrate who they are.”

Nike isn’t the only apparel company celebrating Black History Month. Last year, Adidas honored Arthur Ashe on the James Harden, Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose models. A 2018 collection wasn’t created, but Lillard’s “Dame 4” has an edition that honors the Harlem Renaissance with nods to the Apollo Theater and Savoy Ballroom.

“When I can have something like the Black History shoe that’s close to home, close to my heart,” Lillard said, “it’s always good to be able to tell that story through the shoe.”

Players across the league have been seen wearing a variety of custom shoes in the last month touching on the theme. Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell wore a pair of Dame 4s with “I HAVE A DREAM” on the side and a closed fist on the toe box on MLK Day. Russell Westbrook recently wore his first signature performance shoe featuring a red, black and green colorway.

The movement is about more than just selling shoes. The Nike Equality campaign encourages people to get involved in youth organizations such MENTOR and Peace Players.

James, who has been extremely outspoken about social causes and injustices, knows he and many other players can spread those messages through footwear.

“You want the narrative to be sharp because you want to inspire people through that narrative,” Johnson-Griffin said. “It’s almost like when you curate an amazing museum exhibit. The narrative that you create should be a very meaningful and impactful one. We want to give people an opportunity to be part of that narrative.

“The BHM line is about inspiring, making an impact on sport and changing the world. … We want to celebrate people that are doing it and want to inspire people to do more of it.”

 

Another LeBron James mural vandalized in Los Angeles

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Most of Los Angeles — and the vast majority of Lakers fans — are fired up that LeBron James is coming to Los Angeles. They see a return to glory for the franchise (well, once they get the rest of the roster right… sorry Lance Stephenson).

However, there is a segment — particularly the die-hard Kobe fans — who are having trouble assimilating to the new reality.

So when an artist did a LeBron James mural near Venice in Los Angeles recently — a really well-done tribute — it was quickly vandalized. Then eventually covered up.

This week another artist did another impressive LeBron/Lakers mural — this one with LeBron looking up at the Lakers’ legends — and once again, it was vandalized.

I’m not shocked by any of this, but it is depressing. If you’re vandalizing art, you are a cowardly buffoon.

There’s no way to really know the motivation behind the second attack, although the smart money is on it being the same as the first one — a few people think they are protecting the Lakers’ brand by not welcoming the best player on the planet to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in five years. It’s incredibly flawed logic, but frankly flawed logic has become trendy in recent years, it can get you elected to all kinds of offices.

If you can’t embrace LeBron joining the team, I’m not sure how you could call yourself a Lakers fan. But to take that another step and deface a mural is another level of idiocy.

AP Source: Thunder trading Dakari Johnson to Orlando

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder are trading reserve center Dakari Johnson to the Orlando Magic.

A person with knowledge of the details confirmed the move to The Associated Press on Friday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

Yahoo Sports, which first reported the deal, said Oklahoma City will get guard Rodney Purvis in the deal. Purvis averaged 6.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in 16 appearances for the Magic last season. The Orlando Sentinel said the Thunder also sent cash to the Magic.

Johnson played 31 games last season for the Thunder with six starts. He averaged 1.8 points and 1.1 rebounds per game. The 7-footer averaged 23.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in 10 games for the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, last season.

Center Alex Len reportedly reaches contract deal with Atlanta

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Five years ago, the Phoenix Suns had just drafted Alex Len at No. 5 overall and thought he would be the big man in the middle the team would build around. It didn’t work out that way, he never averaged double figures in either scoring or rebounding for a season. While Len has said he thought he was not used correctly, and there has been plenty of change and inconsistency in Phoenix, he never grabbed hold of the top job, either.

When the Suns drafted Deandre Ayton No. 1 last June, there was no chance they were bringing back Len next season. The unrestricted free agent is headed to Atlanta instead, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Free-agent center Alex Len has agreed to a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Len received interest from several teams in recent days before finalizing an agreement with the Hawks on Saturday.

Len is not going to space the floor, 73 percent of his shots came at the rim last season, but he’s become an efficient finisher there. He is good as a roll man, will work off the ball, and can post guys up on offense. He’s also strong on the offensive glass and gets points via putbacks. His game is not that of a modern NBA center, but he’s become efficient at what he does.

Len is going to have to earn his minutes in the ATL, rebuilding team or not there is some quality along the front line. John Collins, who made the All-Rookie team last season and was one of the standouts of Summer League, will start up front, possibly at the four with Dewayne Dedmon at the five. The just-drafted Omari Spellman showed potential at Summer League and could be the backup four, which means Len gets the backup center minutes.

Len is getting his new chance on a team that can give him some run, we’ll see if a change of scenery is what he needed.

Gordon Hayward posts new workout video, he is moving pretty well

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Player workout videos on Instagram are a lot like how your life (or, your parent’s life) appears on Facebook — everyone looks their best, is always having fun and doing something interesting, and the daily grime of life has been scrubbed away.

That said, Boston’s Gordon Hayward looks good — he seems to be moving very well — in this latest workout video he posted.

It’s a good sign to see Hayward moving like that in July, months before that reconstructed ankle needs to be put to the test on the NBA hardwood.

With Hayward and Kyrie Irving healthy, the Celtics start the season as the favorites in the East — but Toronto is a sudden, serious challenger if Kawhi Leonard is all the way back and healthy. Philadelphia is talented and in that mix as well if Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can take strides forward with their game.

The top of the East is going to be very interesting next season.