Jason Miller/Getty Images

He promised: LeBron James is the AP’s male athlete of 2018

2 Comments

LeBron James went to the NBA Finals for the eighth consecutive year. He changed addresses again, leaving his Cleveland home for the second time to join the Los Angeles Lakers in the biggest move of free agency over the summer. He remained arguably the dominant player in the basketball, adding even more glitz on a legacy that reached epic status long ago.

It was, by any measure, a fantastic year for James.

And even without a title, it may have been his most significant year.

For the third time, James has been selected as The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year – after 2018 saw him continue to excel on the court, open the “I Promise” school for at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and further use his voice as an activist who bristled at being told to “shut up and dribble.”

“I would describe it as a success because I was able to inspire so many people throughout the year,” James said. “I got to go back to China, to Paris, to Berlin, I opened up a school. And all these kids I was able to see, all over the world and in my hometown, I was able to inspire, to make them think they can be so much more than what they think they’re capable of being. That was my outlook for 2018.”

James received 78 points in balloting by U.S. editors and news directors announced Thursday, while Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts was second with 46. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals was third, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was fourth and Triple Crown winner Justify was fifth.

On the court, James remained dominant. He averaged 28.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 8.4 assists in 2018 between his time with the Cavaliers and Lakers, playing in 102 games through Thursday.

“In addition to being on everyone’s short list as one of the league’s all-time greatest players, LeBron is among the hardest working players and is a thoughtful and impactful leader,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “He serves on the executive committee of the Players Association even as he builds an impressive media company of his own. And what’s most inspiring, and no surprise given his talent and focus, is how he’s done all of this while embracing his unique opportunity to positively impact communities in need.”

James becomes the third man to win the award at least three times, joining Lance Armstrong (a four-time winner from 2002 through 2005), Tiger Woods (1997, 1999, 2000 and 2006) and Michael Jordan (1991, 1992 and 1993).

Armstrong won the Tour de France in each of his years as the AP recipient, – though he was later stripped of the titles in a doping scandal. Woods won at least one major and was the PGA’s Player of the Year in all four of his AP-winning years. Jordan’s three awards coincided with his first three NBA championships in Chicago. And James’ first two times getting the award were in 2013 and 2016, years where his fingerprints mussed up the Larry O’Brien Trophy in a title celebration.

And James’ closest rivals in the AP balloting this year – Betts and Ovechkin – also won titles in 2018.

James’ year included no championship, no scoring title, no MVP award. But some of the people closest to James still considered 2018 to be his finest year yet.

“I like to talk about generations,” said Miami guard Dwyane Wade, one of James’ best friends. “There will never be another Michael Jordan because he was the first to be a global superstar, the first to take the NBA to another level. There will never be another LeBron James, and a lot of it is from what he’s done away from the game. Him understanding his voice has been so refreshing and so important to the culture and his friends.”

The “I Promise” school is perhaps James’ most prized accomplishment yet. It opened in July for 240 third- and fourth-graders, a public school in Akron that is perhaps like none other. Families – not just the kids – get support there, whether it’s by helping put food on the table or providing adult education or even legal assistance.

And this is just the start. James and his LeBron James Family Foundation have enormous plans for the school in the years ahead.

“It is already such a success,” James said. “And it’s something that I never thought was possible until we made it happen. So yes, it’s been a pretty good year.”

A busy year, too.

He had a documentary series called “Shut Up and Dribble,” which discusses the role athletes have in the current political and cultural climate. His show “The Shop,” featuring James and friends talking about life in the backdrop of a barbershop, has been enormously popular. James has faced criticism in recent days for posting rap lyrics that included the phrase “Jewish money,” for which he apologized, and even rival coaches have spoken out about how he’s used his fame for good.

“To this day, he hasn’t missed a step,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said earlier this year. “He hasn’t fallen off the ledge and he’s been a brilliant example for millions of kids, especially kids with lesser opportunity and haven’t had the same advantages as others.”

On the court, he was already an icon.

Off the court, he’s looking to be one as well in the years ahead.

“The next star is out there,” James said. “And I’m not just talking sports. Doctor, nurse, pilots, they’re out there. The one thing they need is knowing that people care about them and care about their lives. I believe it’s part of my job, and I take it very seriously, to try to tap into that.”

Wizards hire former Cleveland Browns exec Sashi Brown, former Georgetown coach John Thompson III

Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Wizards chose Tommy Sheppard as their new general manager.

Now, they’re filling the rest of the front office.

Wizards release:

Sashi Brown will serve as chief planning and operations officer for Monumental Basketball and Daniel Medina will serve as chief of athlete care & performance for Monumental Basketball.

Brown will manage efforts relating to technology, finance, communications, security, research and player engagement and Medina will head up medical, training, mental health, strength and conditioning, nutrition and physical therapy/recovery.

Leonsis also announced a new athlete development & engagement department which will be led by former Georgetown and Princeton Head Coach John Thompson III. Thompson will use his vast experience to lead a team that will focus on maximizing player potential both on and off the court for all Monumental Basketball athletes. Employing a holistic development approach, the department will focus on financial literacy, post-playing career opportunities and the overall empowerment and development of the athletes.

In addition to Sheppard’s promotion and the addition of Brown, Medina and Thompson, Leonsis also announced two promotions of current staff. Sashia Jones, who previously served as vice president of community relations, was promoted to vice president of player engagement and will work with Thompson to provide services to players for all teams. Brett Greenberg, who previously served as vice president of basketball analytics/salary cap management, was promoted to assistant general manager for strategy and analytics.

When the Cleveland Browns hired Brown to run their front office in 2017, it was an unconventional choice. He’s a Harvard Law grad whose apparent football connection was serving as the Browns’ and previously Jaguars’ general counsel.

Now, he’s getting hired to work for an NBA team with even fewer obvious basketball ties.

That might be fine. Employers should more often consider untraditional candidates. Maybe Brown’s intelligence will translate.

It is a weird fit, though.

Under Brown’s watch, Cleveland essentially imitated imitated Sam Hinkie’s Process. The Browns went 1-32 in Brown’s two seasons in charge, accumulated assets, didn’t draft particularly well and still rose into a budding power under the next general manager.

Now, Brown will work for Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, who said his team would never tank.

To be fair to Brown, he might have more than one gear. Just because he thought that strategy was right for the Browns at that time doesn’t make it the only way he can contribute. It’s also possible Leonsis is more open to new ideas.

Thompson is part of basketball royalty in Washington. Both he and his father coached Georgetown. Though the younger Thompson had his ups and downs on the job, it’s still a prestigious position – especially in D.C.

It’s a little surprising Medina landed with with another NBA team so quickly. The 76ers had plenty of issues with Joel Embiid‘s, Zhaire Smith‘s and Markelle Fultz‘s health. But evaluating medical personnel is extremely difficult. Results say only so much. The counterfactual is hard to assess.

Why did Jimmy Butler choose Miami? It started playing dominoes in Little Havana

Getty Images
1 Comment

Jimmy Butler‘s push to get himself to Miami in a sign-and-trade caught the NBA off guard.

The basketball cultural fit made sense — the Heat’s focus on hard work and conditioning as a foundation for winning are very Butler — but with the Sixers, Lakers, Clippers, Rockets and other teams interested in him Butler could chase a ring next season. The Heat were a year or two and a couple of big moves away from that level. Yet Butler chose Miami after meeting with the Heat staff and canceled other meetings. Soon enough, the deal got done and Butler was a member of the Heat.

How did butler come to that moment? It started when he played dominoes in Little Havana. Anthony Chaing at the Miami Herald put together a fantastic look at how Butler — with some help from Dwyane Wade — came to love Miami.

As for Butler’s fit with the city of Miami, he started exploring that in April with a tour through Little Havana. With the 76ers in town to take on the Heat in the final home game of Wade’s career on April 9, Butler used the first part of that day to learn about the area.

Butler was determined to experience “the real Miami” and settled on Little Havana as the neighborhood to tour…

On April 9 during a tour of Little Havana, Butler was looking forward to proving he was a better dominoes player than those at Domino Park that day. Not aware that double-nine dominoes were used at the park, Butler was thrown off because he grew up playing with a double-six set…

The group ended up playing double-six dominoes. And of course, Butler won.

Butler spent the first part of that end-of-the-season day trying to get a feel for Miami, its people, their love of basketball, and if he would be happy there. He ultimately decided yes, he would. Wade had planted the seed with Butler that the Heat organization and Miami would be a good fit for him, but Butler had to explore and figure it out for himself.

Butler started that months before he met with teams, but by the time he walked out of the room where Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, and the rest of the Heat brain trust had been to pitch him on June 30, Butler knew where he wanted to play. He left it to the Heat and 76ers to figure out the sign-and-trade (which sent Josh Richardson among others to the Sixers, a move that cleared out enough cap space for Philly to sign Al Horford).

Now it’s on that Heat brain trust to add a lot more talent to the roster.

Bucks GM Horst says keeping Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez was summer priority

Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

Milwaukee made the leap last year — won 60 games last season, had the MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, was top five in offense and defense, reached the conference finals, and became a serious title contender. It was an amazing season and run, one that earned GM Jon Horst Executive of the Year honors, as voted by his peers.

But a GM’s job is never done.

The Bucks went into the summer with three starters as free agents and a lot of questions about keeping the roster together. Milwaukee retained two of those starters — Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez — and those two were the top priorities, Horst told Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

Khris was always a focus… He’s our second superstar, our second star. He’s an All-Star. He’s been one of our best players for a long period of time here. Fits our culture, fits our style of play, fits our aging curve. He’s become a leader of our team. For us, we want to try to recruit with him and play the culture fit, winning. Create an environment he wanted to play in for a long, long time. A place where his family is happy with Sam and the baby and everything…

When we got Brook last offseason, we understood, at some level, how important he was going to be to us and how important he was going to be and what the value was going to be. We also understood if he’s as good as we think he’s going to be, it’s going to present a lot of challenges.

The challenges Horst is referring to are about money. The Bucks got Lopez on a one-year steal of a contract at $3.4 million, but he played his way into an eight-figure salary. Keeping Lopez meant roster changes were needed to create cap room.

The ultimate upshot of that is Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic are no longer with the team. The Bucks could have matched the four-year, $85 million offer Indiana put on the table for Brogdon, but doing so would have put them deep into the luxury tax and tied their hands in other ways. The Bucks signed Wesley Matthews as a stopgap instead.

Malcolm is very, very important and we knew how important he was to our team. It will be hard to replace him. I think we’ve done the best that we can and we’ll continue to work in ways to be creative and fill that gap.

Horsts’ moves this summer should keep the Bucks as title contenders next season, they head into the season as the favorites in the East.

That’s not the biggest question facing Milwaukee, however. That is: Did the moves keep Antetokounmpo happy? Next summer he can be offered a super-max contract extension to stay with the Bucks through his prime, if he turns it down the Bucks have to consider trading him. Will Antetokounmpo take the money? Every move Horst made this summer needed to bring Antetokounmpo closer to answering yes to that question.

We’ll see how it went in a year.

Chris Paul says players don’t really talk about money in locker room

Associated Press
3 Comments

Locker room banter flies all over the conversational map: Clubs/restaurants to first cars to rappers to Fortnite to why Player X never has any lotion and always has to borrow someone else’s.

What doesn’t come up? Money.

That according to Chris Paul, who should know after 14 years in the league and now serving as the players’ union president. He was talking about his campaign to help players become more financially aware and said this to Clevis Murray of The Athletic.

“I think the reason why I’m so passionate about this is because I’m finishing up my 14th year in the NBA, and I’ve been around long enough to realize that guys in our league, we talk about everything in the locker room except for finance, except for money,” he said. “Nobody talks about money, because it’s one of those uncomfortable things.”

It’s a strange dynamic in an NBA locker room because everybody knows what everybody else makes, it’s very public, and that provides a certain measuring stick of worth.

Yet how does one player tell another “man, your entourage is too big, you’re blowing your money.” Players finally making money understandably want to take care of family and close friends, but other people come into their life and things can spiral fast. CP3 says he gets it, and he is working with Joe Smith — who made $60 million in NBA earnings and lost all of it — to help prepare rookies.

The stories of NBA players blowing through their money absolutely happen, but they also are not the majority, and the numbers are shrinking. More and more players are learning to be smarter with their money and set themselves up on some level for life after basketball. Not all, but guys who stick in the league a few years tend to learn. If Paul and the union can come up with ways to reach players at an earlier age and prepare them for what is to come, all the better.