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Three Things to Know: Anthony Davis every bit the MVP contender

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Anthony Davis looks like an MVP going off for 36 points, 19 boards in Charlotte. Early in the first quarter Sunday in Charlotte, Hornets fans started chanting “M-V-P” when Kemba Walker went to the free throw line. With good reason. Walker is having a monster season, averaging 27.1 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 37.2 percent from three, and carrying the Hornets’ offense.

But if there was an MVP candidate in the building Sunday, it was the Pelican’s Anthony Davis. And he showed it. Davis finished with 36 points and 19 rebounds, plus played his usual stellar defense, in leading New Orleans to a road win.

While Walker is playing at an All-NBA level, Davis is playing at a real MVP contender level — 27.8 points, 12.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.7 blocks a game. Plus, he is playing Defensive Player of the Year level defense. Davis is second in the NBA in PER (28.7), fourth in win shares (3.6), fifth in B-R’s value over replacement player and third in ESPN’s real plus/minus. What could hold Davis back is the Pelicans as a whole — they are 12-12 despite Davis’ best efforts (they are 0-4 when Davis sits).

Right now Giannis Antetokounmpo is the likely frontrunner for the award (just talking to other voters early on) with some sympathy for LeBron James as well. Davis deserves to be mentioned in that group, especially if the Pelicans start to win. Walker, Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry (he might lead if not for injuries), Kevin Durant, and everyone else is in a group after those top names. That said, it’s very early and the race is still wide open.

Just don’t talk about the MVP award without mentioning Davis.

(P.S., someone is going to want to talk about the Pelicans trading him. Don’t bother to even discuss it before next July, it is not on the table, sources say New Orleans is trying to win and keep him. They are buyers at the deadline, not sellers. This July 1 the Pelicans will put a $240 million designated veteran max contract extension on the table in front of Davis and his agent. If Davis says no to that — and only then — the Pelicans will be forced to seriously consider a trade, with the Lakers and Celtics waiting at the front of the line. But don’t be so confident he walks away from all that money, and before he does there is no trade to be had, no matter how impatient you are.)

2) Clippers’ Patrick Beverley ejected after throwing a bounce pass to a fan who insulted his mother. If you sit within the first few rows of an NBA game, there is a little postcard sitting on your seat when you get there warning you that you can be ejected for what you say to a player, coach, or referee. The reality is that is inconsistently enforced across the NBA — fans cross the line all the time and all too often arena security doesn’t do much about it.

Which brings us to Sunday in Dallas. A fan sitting courtside along one baseline — a long-time season ticket holder and regular in those seats — was going after the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley’s mother. Beverley said the fan said “f*** your mother” while the fan said he did not use profanity but did insult Beverley’s mother. Security did nothing. Eventually, a frustrated Beverley threw a bounce pass to the fan during a break in the action. That got Beverley tossed from the game.

The fan? He got to stay and watch Dallas eventually knock off the Clippers. Here’s Beverley’s quote, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I just, I can accept the ‘F— you, Beverley,’ the ‘F— you, Pat,’ but out of the lines of my mother, anybody who knows me, man, knows I’m a family-first guy, and there’s some things that are unacceptable. After I told the refs, I told security, the Dallas security, told both of them and again, he said it again. So if no one going to control fans, what are we supposed to do as players?”

Bingo.

What happened to Beverley just wrong. In my book, if you sit courtside and decide to verbally joust with a player than you opened the door and he has the right to come right back at the fan verbally without retribution. Cross a line — say, insult a player’s mother/wife/kids — and he has the right to ask security to remove that fan. If security isn’t going to do its job then if Beverley wants to fire a chest pass into the face of the fan, so be it (the bounce pass was mild). To use the sentiment our parents used, “don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.”

I get it, probably not a good look for the league to have players yelling back at fans or firing passes into their faces. And when in the past I have asked a league official about the apparently growing number of people sitting courtside verbally going hard at players — often baiting them while camera video rolls, looking for a gotcha clip — the response was we don’t see how many fans are tossed for this behavior. Maybe so. But in a sport with this level of close interaction between fans and players, the players cannot be expected to restrain themselves while the fans have no such boundaries. There has to be a better give and take here.

By the way, Beverley was involved in more than just that play, he knocked out Dennis Smith Jr.‘s tooth, too.

3) USA Basketball qualifies for 2019 World Cup with a win — bring on the NBA stars. Jeff Van Gundy and his rag-tag crew — actually, a few different rag-tag crews, there was very little continuity — have done it.

With the USA’s 78-70 win in Uraguay, the United States became the latest team to qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, which takes place in China starting next Aug. 31. Travis Trice, the former Michigan State star who went to training camp with the Knicks in 2015, led the way with 17 points. John Jenkins, the former No. 23 pick of the Hawks who played in 145 NBA games but is now out of the league, added 13. Van Gundy coached a rotating group of similar G-League players to an 8-2 record to qualify for the World Cup, and his teams performed admirably.

Why the G-Leaguers? Because FIBA decided to flex its muscle and try to be like it’s soccer brethren, where international World Cup qualifiers take place during the club season. It was a pure power move, although FIBA sold it as wanting to see qualifying games played in home countries (there was a group play spread out over different weekends played in different countries, rather than one big regional tournament). The difference is in soccer there is a tradition of the major leagues taking mid-season breaks to let the players compete for their countries. Did anyone think the NBA was going to do that? No. The major European leagues? Limited, but mostly no. So what was left was countries around the globe scrambling to put together teams without their best players (Giannis Antetokounmpo did not suit up for Greece, for example).

The World Cup will not be that way — expect the USA Basketball World Cup team (and, subsequently, the Olympic team for 2020 in Tokyo) to be stacked with the NBA’s biggest names. Not many guys are backing out, unlike like we saw with the Rio Olympics. Why? Pride for playing for their country? Sure, some of that. Also, the World Cup is being played in the massive and fast-growing basketball shoe market of China so you can be sure Nike wants Kevin Durant to go, Under Armour wants Stephen Curry to go, Adidas wants James Harden to go, etc. (The same is essentially true of the next Olympics in Tokyo, the same region of the globe.) The stacked USA roster will be heavy favorites in China last this summer.

But it took some G-Leaguers to get the USA to that stage, and they deserve credit, too.

Miami’s Bam Adebayo to go up against Kobayashi in cheeseburger-eating contest

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No team around the NBA is better known for its strict training regimens more than the Miami Heat — players who head to South Florida get the best shape of their lives. Exercise and eating right are the pillars of that plan.

Something not on the Heat training table? Cheeseburgers. Especially multiple cheeseburgers. Right before training camp opens.

But Bam Adebayo is making an exception, in the name of charity.

Adebayo and other celebrities will go up against Kobayashi — one of the legends of competitive eating — in a charity event, as reported by Ira Winderman at the Sun-Sentinel.

Wednesday’s event, which begins at 11 a.m. and is being promoted by BurgerFi and Feeding South Florida, comes as part of Hunger Action Month. In addition to Adebayo and Guinness world-record holder Takeru Kobayashi, the event will feature former Miami Hurricanes great and NFL star Russell Maryland.

To make it fair, Adebayo and the other celebrities will have six cheeseburgers in front of them, Kobayashi will need to go through 18 at the same time.

My money is still on Kobayashi.

Adebayo heads into this season with a lot on his shoulders — with Hassan Whiteside gone, Adebayo becomes the starting center for the Heat. This is a team with Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic, one expecting to surprise some teams in the East. Adebayo is going to have to step up.

And work off those burgers.

Nets reportedly to hire former Turner executive David Levy as CEO

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In the coming weeks, Joe Tsai will get the official thumbs up from the Board of Governors and become the owner of the Brooklyn Nets.

His first move will be to bring in David Levy as CEO, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Levy worked closely with the NBA in his capacity overseeing Turner Sports’ television coverage and has a strong relationship with commissioner Adam Silver.

Tsai just paid $2.3 billion for the Nets and he wants his guy overseeing it all. Levy is that guy.

What will this mean for most fans? Very little, at least at first. The Nets basketball operations side — with GM Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson — is already on a solid foundation and there are not going to be changes on that end.

Levy and the Nets face a challenge few sports franchises do — they have an older, more established team playing the same sport in the same city. The Knicks have a large and established fan base that goes back generations, and just better play on the court — and the Nets were better on the court last season — is not going to change that loyalty. (The Clippers may be the only other team in a similar situation.) The Nets need to appeal to a new set of fans, ones not tied to Madison Square Garden and that legacy, and while they may never have the same power of brand in the city, New York is big enough to have a couple of fan bases.

It’s a lot of work from the business side, but Levy knew the job when he took it.

Popularity of NBA in China seems to create endless options

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BEIJING (AP) Kobe Bryant went to China for the first time in 1998, making the trip to Beijing to help operate an instructional basketball clinic for about a dozen kids. The local coaches working with him didn’t know a lot about the game. Barely anyone noticed that an NBA player was in town.

Basketball wasn’t a big deal in China.

And then everything changed very quickly.

The footprint of the NBA has grown at an extremely rapid pace over the last two decades in China, where more than 500 million people watched games last season and where one new streaming deal alone will pump $1.5 billion into the league’s coffers over the next five years.

“When I first came here, I never thought the game in China would get to be this big,” Bryant said. “But it has. And it’s not going to stop.”

The possibilities seem endless.

Could there be an NBA team in China despite the travel that would be involved? Might there be two-way player contracts between the NBA and the Chinese Basketball Association? What about the NBA constructing a team to play in China or the Chinese sending a team for a full season in the U.S.?

Farfetched as all that may sound, keep in mind that 20 years ago no one envisioned the NBA-China relationship to be this big – or that it would keep growing after Yao Ming’s run with the Houston Rockets ended eight years ago. The NBA has academies in China now, and the Chinese national team returned to the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this year.

“It’s a good question,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “I think the next step will probably come when the next Yao Ming comes. That would take it to a new level, more Chinese players to reach the NBA and make an impact.”

The marriage between the NBA and the world’s most populous country is stronger than ever. NBA officials say more than 300 million Chinese people play the game and 40 million are registered to play the 2K video game. Thousands showed up this summer just to watch the sons of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James play exhibitions with the rest of their high school teammates.

A trade war is happening between the U.S. and China, political tensions are escalating between the countries and it could impact the products of the league’s business partners . But the game itself continues to thrive.

“I think sports transcends politics and I hope the NBA can continue to connect fans globally,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. “I don’t have any reason to think our relationship won’t continue to be positive.”

Nothing seems to be able to derail the NBA’s popularity.

The team that the U.S. sent to the World Cup in China didn’t feature the NBA’s biggest stars, yet drew sellout crowds for each of its first six games. U.S. coach Gregg Popovich was begged for autographs and selfies everywhere he went.

“We’ve known for a long time how big basketball has become in China, of course, but all over the world,” Popovich said. “It’s an international deal now. There are so many great players in so many countries. It’s not a secret.”

Stars like James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden have a trip to China on their annual schedules – and when Wade, the recently retired guard who has a lifetime contract with Chinese shoe company Li-Ning, visited this summer one of his events had to be halted after about 10 minutes because the mall where it was happening was overflowing with people.

Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz has been to China twice this summer, once to promote his brand, the second time for the World Cup with USA Basketball. He sees it becoming an annual stop for him, too – and believes there is no ceiling for the game globally.

“Man, I couldn’t tell you,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s going to be even bigger and it’s not going to be just China. It’s going to be many more countries. The (relationship) between the NBA and China has been huge since I was a kid and it can only take off from there … because the passion and love is so strong.”

It’s not a one-sided relationship; China sees reason to invest in the NBA.

Joe Tsai, the co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, agreed this summer to buy the remaining 51% that he didn’t already own of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center from Mikhail Prokhorov in deals worth about $3.4 billion. In 2016, Lizhang Jiang, a businessman from Shanghai, bought 5% of the Minnesota Timberwolves, a stake he sold earlier this year.

China also takes immense pride in players like Klay Thompson wearing Chinese brands on the court. (Thompson has a 10-year deal with Chinese shoe company Anta for a reported $80 million.) And China sent its national team to NBA Summer League this past July primarily to get ready for the World Cup, but also for exposure on the NBA stage.

“I think it’s good for our players and good for the team,” China coach Li Nan said of playing in Las Vegas. “I think it’s good for everyone.”

The NBA has opened three basketball academies in China and has seen very quick success with academies in Asia and Africa. The international influence on the league was more present this past season than ever.

The NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is from Greece. The rookie of the year, Luka Doncic, is from Slovenia. The most improved player, Pascal Siakam, is from Cameroon. The defensive player of the year, Rudy Gobert, is from France. The All-NBA center, Nikola Jokic, is from Serbia.

“This past summer, an NBA Academy prospect from China signed a contract with a National Basketball League team in Australia, becoming the first male NBA Academy prospect from China to sign a contract with a professional team,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “And on the women’s side, Han Xu from the New York Liberty, who trained at the NBA Academy in Shandong, China, became the first NBA Academy prospect to be drafted into the NBA or WNBA.”

It hasn’t happened overnight.

Former Commissioner David Stern struck a deal with Chinese television to show games on tape-delay three decades ago, and once toyed with the idea of some sort of NBA-sponsored or branded league in China. Teams embrace the chance to play the annual preseason games in China because he exposure is worth the jet lag.

“When I have 76ers gear on and I walk through Shanghai, walk through Shenzhen, if I had a nickel for every time somebody said `Trust the process’ in perfect English I wouldn’t be standing here working,” Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said, referencing the team’s motto during its rebuilding phase of recent years. “We’re very much a part of the fabric of China.”

None of this seemed possible 20 years ago or so, when Bryant made that first trip. Now fans can’t get enough.

“When you come here, you feel it from the fans, their energy, people at the hotel, people just walking around,” Kerr said in China during the World Cup. “Everybody just seems very excited about basketball.”

Same goes for the game’s future in China.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Michael Jordan takes another shot, enters high-end tequila business with Jeanie Buss, other owners

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Michael Jordan’s drink of choice? Tequila. And not the cheap stuff poured into a weak house margarita at a tacky chain Mexican restaurant, we’re talking the good, sipping tequila. The stuff the rest of us think we can afford about three drinks into the night already.

Now Jordan is getting into the tequila business with several other NBA owners — the Lakers’ Jeanie Buss, the Bucks’ Wes Edens, and the Celtics Wyc Grousbeck plus his then-fiancée-now-wife Emilia Fazzalari — and the brand has just launched.

Chloe Sorvino at Forbes Magazine had a more detailed breakdown about how this idea came together over a dinner they all shared at an owners’ meeting in New York in 2016.

By the time they were seated, this multibillion-dollar table was discussing the specific characteristics they wished they could find on the shelf—a tequila with a smooth, long finish like a fine cognac or whiskey.

“That was when we realized there was an opportunity in the market to create a new tequila, a better tequila,” says Fazzalari, who spent 29 years in financial services, in part developing information platforms for the energy sector, and has been heading up the project as CEO. “We let our hair down and became true friends that night.”

Tequila-fueled gamesmanship aside, the idea for Cincoro came at the right time. The United States consumes more tequila than any other nation–about 18.3 million cases last year, or 56% of global consumption, according to consultancy IWSR Drinks Market Analysis… The ultra-premium side of the American tequila market (where the starting price is $45 a bottle) is also growing fast—a 19% increase each year since 2013.

Having Jordan’s name and brand attached to the product also can help sales, as Nike will happily attest.

Maybe this works, maybe it doesn’t — much like the restaurant business, the liquor business is a fickle one that tends to defy expectations. These people have the money to afford a little loss, but they didn’t get rich taking losses very often.

Just expect if you’re sitting in the high-end seats near the court this season to watch LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kemba Walker, there will be certain, somewhat pricy tequila available on the menu.