Associated Press

Not medically cleared for the NBA, Isaiah Austin is putting up numbers in China

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Back in 2014, Isaiah Austin was the focus of a story both tragic and touching. After having played at Baylor in college, he entered the NBA draft and was projected as a possible first-round pick, at 7’1″ and mobile he fit the direction the NBA was evolving. However, during pre-draft medical evaluations he was diagnosed with career-ending Marfan syndrome (one symptom of that is it enlarges the aorta near the heart, so when stressed, as in a basketball game, it is more likely to fatally tear). Austin had a $1 million insurance policy that kicked in, then that June the NBA ceremoniously drafted him and he was put into NBA2K15. The league office even offered him a job once he got his degree.

Austin, however, wanted back on the court and eventually was allowed to play by a doctor.

Now Austin is playing in China and putting up numbers, and he spoke with Leo Sepkowitz of Bleacher Report.

“I’m a complete mismatch on the court,” Austin says. “I haven’t come across someone in this league who can check me.”

Austin, 24, is calling from Guangxi, where he is rising to stardom in exile. In his second season there, Austin is averaging 35.1 points per game along with 10.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 0.9 steals. On a super-sized team, Austin plays small forward, and opponents marvel at his versatility. He attempts seven free throws and—yes—seven threes per game, while shooting 53 percent from the field. But most amazing for the man who supposedly risks his life with significant physical exertion: He logs huge minutes, sometimes playing all 48 in a given night.

“I’m in really good shape, which is why it’s really hurtful that people won’t give me an opportunity,” he says. In addition to the NBA, many international teams have been wary of signing Austin so far. “Even after playing these strenuous minutes and working out each day, I’ve had no regression in health. I’m just getting healthier.”

He wants a shot at the NBA again.

Can he play at an NBA level? Maybe. China is not a league known for its defense so a lot of guys put up numbers there, but his size and athleticism have always been intriguing. Teams reportedly have some interest if the league cleared him.

However, the NBA has not and is unlikely to let him play.

Austin and his doctors say in the story that his aorta is just slightly enlarged, that he has a mild case of the disease. I’m not a doctor and have no way of knowing if that’s true and how it might impact him on and off the court, but I do know the NBA and its teams to be conservative on these issues. The risks here are not just his heart, but also the possibility of torn ligaments that are weakened and stretched.

The NBA reportedly did a second test on Austin, which confirmed Austin has Marfan Syndrom. The league follows the guidelines of the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology which say people with Marfan Syndrome should not compete in high-intensity sports with contact.

The NBA works hard to promote the image of it finding ways to keep players healthy (and extend their careers), of doing what is best for the person. Austin may be willing to take on the risks, but the league is not. A team in Serbia did before, a team in China is now, but it’s hard to imagine the NBA changing its position.

Austin is getting to play basketball for a living, which is something, although falling short of his childhood NBA dream for something beyond his control cannot be easy to deal with. He’s impressively overcome a lot, but its unlikely he gets to take that final step to the NBA.

 

 

Joseph Tsai to buy rest of Nets, Barclays Arena for $3.4 billion

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NEW YORK — Joe Tsai has agreed to buy the remaining 51 percent of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center from Mikhail Prokhorov in deals that two people with knowledge of the details say are worth about $3.4 billion.

Terms were not disclosed Friday, but the people told The Associated Press that Tsai is paying about $2.35 billion for the Nets – a record for a U.S. pro sports franchise – and nearly $1 billion in a separate transaction for the arena. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the transactions have not yet been completed.

Tsai is the co-founder and executive vice president of the Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce giant. He already had purchased a 49 percent stake in the team from Prokhorov in 2018, with the option to become controlling owner in four years.

Instead, he pushed up that timeline for full ownership of a team on the rise after signing superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in July.

Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire, became the NBA’s first non-North American owner in 2010 and oversaw the Nets’ move from New Jersey to Brooklyn two years later. He spent big in the first couple years after the move in a quest to chase a championship, but the team soon became one of the worst in the NBA before rallying to return to the playoffs last season.

“It has been an honor and a joy to open Barclays Center, bring the Nets to Brooklyn, and watch them grow strong roots in the community while cultivating global appeal,” Prokhorov said in a statement. “The team is in a better place today than ever before and I know that Joe will build on that success, while continuing to deliver the guest experience at Barclays Center that our fans, employees, and colleagues in the industry enjoy.”

The deal is expected to be completed by the end of September and is subject to approval by the NBA’s Board of Governors.

That would put Tsai, a native of Taiwan, in full control of the team by the time the Nets head to China to play two exhibition games against the Los Angeles Lakers in October. That comes at the start of a season of renewed excitement for the Nets, who just three seasons ago won an NBA-worst 20 games but are set to make a big move up the standings after landing two of the best players on the market when free agency opened.

“I’ve had the opportunity to witness up close the Brooklyn Nets rebuild that Mikhail started a few years ago. He hired a front office and coaching staff focused on player development, he supported the organization with all his resources, and he refused to tank,” Tsai said. “I will be the beneficiary of Mikhail’s vision, which put the Nets in a great position to compete, and for which I am incredibly grateful.”

Brett Yormark, the CEO of BSE Global, which manages the team and the arena, will oversee the transition before leaving for a new role.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder tells Donovan Mitchell to ‘be a sponge’ around Gregg Popovich

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While other players continue to pull out of the USA Basketball roster — De'Aaron Fox was the latest, and P.J. Tucker before him — Utah’s Donovan Mitchell has been outspoken in his commitment to the team.

“Me, I’m 22, some guys are older and got to rest their bodies and I understand that…” Mitchell said Friday night after Team USA’s exhibition game win over Spain. “For me, I’ve never been part of USA Basketball and I’m honored to be here, I’m honored to have this privilege to go out and compete.”

A lot of players have left — or just not put their names in the hat in the first place — saying they wanted to focus on preparing for the regular season, especially players in the Western Conference, which is deep with outstanding teams. The Utah Jazz, now with Mike Conley at the point, are one of those teams with high expectations.

Mitchell, however, has the full backing of his coach Quin Snyder to stay with Team USA and learn from Gregg Popovich, as Snyder told Marc Stein of the New York Times.

“Both Donovan and I have been excited for this opportunity, not just the chance to compete for his country but to play for Pop. I think he has an appreciation for the fact that he’s playing for the greatest coach that’s ever coached…

“Just try to throw yourself completely into it,” Snyder said he told Mitchell. “And try to communicate with Coach as much as you can. Be a sponge.”

Popovich has had an impact on the young players on the roster. For example, there’s more maturity to Kyle Kuzma‘s game, and Popovich recognized him on the court Friday night when Kuzma made a couple of smart plays against Spain.

Just having different coaching voices — not just Popovich but his assistants Steve Kerr, Lloyd Pierce, and Villanova’s Jay Wright — can help a young player. The message may be consistent, but said in a different way, one that better gets through to the player. Styles matter.

Mitchell led Team USA in scoring against Spain with 13, but Snyder and Jazz fans are hoping for more. Not just gold at the World Cup in China starting Sept. 1, but that Mitchell comes back energized and with a broadened game after having been a sponge next to Popovich.

Marcus Smart reportedly cleared to play for Team USA

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Through two weeks of training camp, first in Las Vegas then in Los Angeles, through one intrasquad scrimmage and one exhibition game, Marcus Smart has sat in street clothes.

The Celtics guard has a calf injury that has sidelined him. On Thursday in Los Angeles he took part in the shooting parts of practice during training camp, but not the full-contact scrimmages against the select team. All he could really do was this.

Friday night he never got out of his warmups and did not play against Spain, but he did say on the broadcast he would be back.

Turns out, he was cleared to be back the next day according to Mark Stein of the New York Times.

This takes away a little of the sting of De'Aaron Fox deciding to withdraw from the team just before it left on Saturday for Australia.

It also means four Celtics are on the USA roster: Smart, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. USA assistant coach Steve Kerr jokingly said to me last week he asked Brad Stevens for a thank you gift for running Celtics mini-camp.

Smart is one of the 13 players headed down under for a series of tune-up games before the World Cup (against Australia and Canada). If he’s fully healthy enough to go, Smart is a lock to make the roster because of his physical perimeter defense and ability to shoot the three (36 percent last season in the NBA, and the international line is a little closer in). He likely would come off the bench at the two behind Donovan Mitchell.

Bill Walton broadcast White Sox vs. Angels game and was nothing short of brilliant

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Bill Walton is brilliant.

The Hall of Fame hippie and big man was in the broadcast booth Friday night — not for basketball, but for the White Sox vs. Angels MLB game. Walton loves baseball even if his understanding of the sport is… unconventional.

I want Bill Walton to narrate my life.

The world missed him while he battled serious back issues, it’s so good to have him out and around and being himself again.