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LeBron James: ‘NCAA is corrupt, we know that’

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The self-serving, laughable facade of the NCAA’s amateurism is crumbling.

The FBI investigation (which included a raid on the office of prominent agent Andy Miller) has exposed what everyone in the game already knew — money has been changing hands to line the pockets players/families/influencers for a long time. Coaches are in on it, agents are in on it, shoe companies are in on it, but it’s all done within a “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” system. Universities rake in the cash on the free labor of players in revenue sports — a college with a good basketball team sees alumni donations go up, the number of applicants to the school increase, there is a prestige factor, and it all more than pays for the seven-figure salary for the coach (which is not counting his shoe deal). Much of what the FBI has uncovered is not a federal crime, but the NCAA looks foolish. And this is far from over.

It leaves parents of athletes who could play major college sports with serious questions. LeBron James is one of those parents (LeBron James Jr., age 13, reportedly has standing offers at Duke and Kentucky.) Asked about it Tuesday at shootaround, LeBron — who skipped college to go to the NBA — ripped the NCAA. Via Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I don’t know if there’s any fixing the NCAA. I don’t think there is,” James said Tuesday. “It’s what’s been going on for many, many, many, many years. I don’t know how you can fix it. I don’t see how you can fix it….

“I’m not a fan of the NCAA,” James said. “I love watching March Madness. I think that’s incredible. I’m not a fan of how the kids don’t benefit from none of this, so it’s kind of a fine line and I’ve got a couple boys that could be headed in that direction, so there’s going to be some decisions that we as a family have to make. But I know, as the NBA, we have to figure out a way that we can shore up our farm league, and if kids feel like they don’t want to be a part of that NCAA program, then we have something here for them to be able to jump back on and not have to worry about going overseas all the time, I guess.

“We have to figure that out, but kids getting paid is nothing new under the sun. You all seen ‘Blue Chips’? It’s a real movie, seriously. … The NCAA is corrupt, we know that. Sorry, it’s going to make headlines, but it’s corrupt.”

LeBron went on to discuss another truth in this — the NBA plays a role in all of it.

The one-and-done rule is part of the reason the money flows the way it does: It’s of great value to shoe companies and colleges to get the five-star recruits to go to a specific school, so the benefits flow under the table. Sometimes it goes to the player, more often it goes to a family member or influential AAU coach or someone else who can help steer the player to a school. Think of it this way (and I use this example not because I have publishable evidence of specific wrongdoing, it’s just because I know the numbers): Under Armour signed a 15-year, $280 million shoe and apparel deal with UCLA in 2016, that’s $18.7 million a year to the university — and you can be sure the company expects to make a profit on top of that. So if you’re Under Armour, a $100,000 payout to steer an elite player to UCLA — where he will raise the school’s profile and sell jerseys/gear/shoes — is a minor additional investment.

In talks with the players union and consulting with colleges, the NBA apparently is moving (slowly) toward a system that allows teams to draft a player straight out of high school (if he goes to college he has to stay at least two years). Teams now have a better focus on developing players, and they have an expanded G-League, that can help players make the leap to the NBA better than a year in college, for the elite guys. It’s not for everyone, but for guys such as Ben Simmons what is the point of a season at LSU if you’re already looking ahead?

Maverick Carter, the right-hand business agent, and friend of LeBron James, put it this way in a fantastic roundtable at USA Today.

“I think the NBA and the teams have to really roll up their sleeves, put together a team, a task force, a committee, and really figure this out because it’s a very complex issue. You have young players, lots of them African Americans, but also not African Americans, who come up through the system as it is today and don’t get paid until they maybe make it to the NBA. But everybody else is getting paid along the way. AAU coaches, AAU teams, college coaches, college teams, colleges. So when they do take money, it’s only a story because the NCAA has these stupid-ass rules that are so archaic, so you have to fix that whole thing and figure out a way to do it. I own a piece of Liverpool football club, in European soccer, because the clubs have systems all the way down to the youth. They’ve figured out a way where they don’t have to deal with it.”

 

Report: Rockets star James Harden ‘feeling fine,’ might travel with Russell Westbrook

Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook
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When Russell Westbrook revealed he had coronavirus, speculation immediately turned to the Rockets’ other star who also didn’t travel with the team to Disney World.

James Harden is “feeling fine,” working out and might travel with Westbrook to Orlando, according to Shams Charania of Stadium:

Was Harden also diagnosed with coronavirus? Is he just waiting for his friend before entering the restrictive bubble? Is there another issue?

These questions beget even more questions.

If both players have coronavirus, they won’t necessarily recover on the same day. Would the first to get cleared wait for the other? Or is traveling together just an idea in case it works out?

If Harden is fully healthy and just waiting for Westbrook, how do their teammates inside the bubble feel about that? Those already at Disney World are spending more time away from friends and family in less-than-ideal conditions.

If there’s another issue… who knows?

The lack of transparency around the situation only invites rumors and guesses.

At least it’s good news that Harden feels fine.

Bucks GM not worried about other players recruiting Giannis Antetokounmpo inside bubble

Giannis Antetokounmpo
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Already reports are leaking out of the NBA restart bubble of players from different teams mingling, talking, hanging out together some. There will inevitably be some tampering (which goes on between players whether they are in the quarantine bubble or not).

All eyes are on Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is eligible for a supermax extension this summer, one the Bucks are going to offer him the minute they can (how much that is worth will depend on where the salary cap lands). Most people around the league expect he signs the deal, but if not rumors will fly. In the bubble, some players may try to plant the “come play with us” seed in his head.

Buck GM Jon Horst said he can’t worry about that. Via Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

“Zero [worries]. We can only control what we can control. If it’s considered tampering or recruiting or whatever it is, in our league people talk, people are connected, people have relationships,” said Bucks GM Jon Horst. “At the end of the day, I have full confidence in my personal relationship, our league’s relationship, our coach’s relationship, his teammate’s relationship with Giannis in what we’re doing and what we’re about.

“I think that separated us and we’re going to continue to be above that and not worry about that. We can only worry about what we can control, to be the best that we can, to have the best organization of support and success as possible, and that’s really where our energy and our focus is. Also, just as a funny kind of side note, I think that technically violates the social distancing rules and I think everyone is getting tracked for that, so I think we’ll be OK that way as well.”

I’m not sure how much players are sticking to the social distancing rules — they don’t have to wear the proximity alarms that team staff, media, and others do — but it doesn’t matter.

What happens in the playoffs could impact Antetokounmpo’s decision, but in the end he is expected to stay with the Bucks — they can offer the most money, they are a contending team, and Milwaukee is the only home he has known in the United States. It’s where his family is, where his child lives. That said, Antetokounmpo has played this close to the vest, not talking about his intentions.

That said, he knows what he wants. Nobody is going to say anything in the bubble to sway Antetokounmpo’s mind.

Bradley Beal, Mason Plumlee are part of Alex Rodriguez’s bid to buy the Mets

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Bradley Beal, a St. Louis native who is a die-hard Cardinals fan, may have to switch allegiance to the Mets.

Beal, the Wizards’ All-star, as well as Nuggets reserve big man Mason Plumlee, are part of a group of celebrity investors led by Alex Rodriguez and his wife working to purchase the New York Mets. From Vaughn McClure of ESPN:

Rodriguez, who last starred with the Yankees, and fiancée Lopez have put $300 million of their own money toward the bid. Other investors include future Hall of Fame offensive lineman Joe Thomas, who spent his entire career with the Cleveland Browns, two-time NBA All-Star Bradley Beal from the Washington Wizards, and Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee.

Beal’s group is competing against several other groups, with the first round of bids reportedly due Thursday. Josh Harris, owner of the Sixers, heads one group. Hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen has made a top bid so far of $2 billion. Rodriguez’s group reportedly bid $1.7 million. The first-round of bids is non-binding, but it starts the negotiations.

While the NBA has rules against owner/players in its own league, Beal is free to invest in other leagues. Beal would not be alone, LeBron James owns a piece of Premier League champions Liverpool, while a number of European players own small basketball clubs back in their native country.

Beal is not with the Wizards in the Orlando restart bubble, he is recovering from a shoulder injury.

WNBA MVP Delle Donne says league denied her medical waiver

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NEW YORK — Elena Delle Donne’s request to be medically excused from the WNBA season was denied, according to the league’s reigning MVP.

The Washington Mystics star said in a statement Monday that the independent panel of doctors the league and union agreed upon to decide whether players should be medically excused deemed her not to be “high risk, and should be permitted to play in the bubble.”

Had Delle Donne been medically excused, she would have earned her entire salary for the season. Now, if she chooses not to play, the defending WNBA champion Mystics wouldn’t have to pay her.

Delle Donne has battled Lyme disease since 2008. The disease is not included on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of underlying conditions that could put someone at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

“I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play! But the question is whether or not the WNBA bubble is safe for me,” Delle Donne said in the statement. “My personal physician who has treated me for Lyme disease for years advised me that I’m at high risk for contracting and having complications from COVID-19.”

Delle Donne’s statement was first obtained by ESPN.

“I’m thinking things over, talking to my doctor and my wife, and look forward to sharing what I ultimately plan to do very soon,” the 30-year-old said. “My heart has gone out to everyone who has had to choose between their health and having an income, and of course to anyone who has lost their job, their home, and anyone they love in this pandemic.”

The league declined to comment, citing privacy concerns about player health matters.

Delle Donne’s new teammate Tina Charles also was waiting for a decision from the medical panel. If both players miss the season, the Mystics would be down to 10 players on the roster.

“As with all of our players, we have and will support Elena throughout this process. The health and well-being of our players is of the utmost importance,” Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said.

Charles and Delle Donne did not travel with the team to Bradenton, Florida, last week. The WNBA is using IMG Academy as a single site for its season which will begin on July 25.

There are a handful of players who are waiting to have their cases heard by the three-person panel. Phoenix forward Jessica Breland, who missed a year while at North Carolina to be treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was deemed high-risk and was medically excused, the Mercury said.