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Zion Williamson signs three-year endorsement deal with 2K

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The past few weeks have been a blur to Zion Williamson.

Picked No. 1 in the NBA draft by the New Orleans Pelicans. Signed his first pro contract that could be worth as much as $45 million over the next four years. Went to summer league and got hurt after nine minutes. Considered playing for USA Basketball in China this summer. Landed a massive endorsement deal with Jordan Brand. Became very rich very quickly.

And now, a video game deal.

Williamson has signed with 2K, he and the video-game giant announced Tuesday, and the former Duke standout will make his video-game debut in NBA 2K20 when it launches on Sept. 6.

“It’s crazy,” Williamson said. “None of this will ever seem normal to me.”

A person familiar with the terms said Williamson and 2K agreed on a three-year contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details of the deal have not been released. It’s the latest major deal in a rapidly growing off-court enterprise for Williamson, perhaps the most celebrated No. 1 pick to enter the league since LeBron James in 2003.

“When I put the CD in the console, I don’t have to create me as a player,” Williamson told the AP at a party in Las Vegas to commemorate the game’s release, moments after NBA players like Portland’s Hassan Whiteside tried the game for the first time. “I’m there as a player. That’s going to take some getting used to. This is not normal. I can’t even put it into words. I’m honored.”

Williamson is an imposing figure already – 6-foot-7, 284 pounds, blessed with the combination of size and strength that leaves backboards shaking for many seconds after he unleashes a powerful dunk.

He’s also a young man who remains a work in progress. His fitness has been called into question, and he’s spending the weeks leading into his first NBA training camp – now less than two months away – getting his body ready for the rigors of his first 82-game season, after a minor knee issue ended his summer league experience in Las Vegas earlier this month after just one half of one game.

“Zion represents the best of the NBA’s up and coming talent and we are excited to welcome him to Team 2K. … We’re excited to grow with him,” NBA 2K Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Jason Argent said.

Even with all these things coming at him at once – he already had fame, and now he has the fortune that can come with it – Williamson insists that he is remaining grounded.

He didn’t arrive for his video-game coming out party with a massive entourage, just his dad and a couple members of his management team. He didn’t immediately gravitate toward the bigger names in the room high above the Vegas skyline, but rather some young kids who were busy playing the game. And he cringed at the notion that he’s already considered a star.

“I just turned 19, I have yet to play an NBA game and I know I still have to prove that I belong,” Williamson said. “I’m a rookie. I have a lot to prove.”

Williamson is fond of saying that he’s merely living his dream, and he knows it sounds a bit cliche.

He stands by it anyway.

“You say things when you’re 5 years old like `Yeah, I’ll go to the NBA,’ but I’m really going to be playing against superstars this year,” Williamson said. “LeBron, Kevin Durant the year after, Anthony Davis. I’m going to be playing with great NBA players like Jrue Holiday, players that I played with in this video game. That’s my new normal. I’m looking at something I’ve dreamed about and now it’s my normal life.”

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.

Under new anti-tampering rules, Adam Silver empowered to suspend execs, take away picks, void contracts

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LeBron James publicly courted Anthony Davis. Many free agents seemingly struck deals before free agency even began. Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle/advisor reportedly sought prohibited extra benefits from teams.

The NBA finally reached its breaking point on tampering and circumvention.

After late apprehension, the league will enact stricter enforcement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m not surprised this passed unanimously. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted this to happen and wasn’t going to have owners vote unless he knew it’d pass. At that point, any protest-voting owners would just put themselves at odds with the commissioner. Not worth it.

We’ll see how long this crackdown lasts. I think that anonymous general manager represents many. If nobody is tampering, it’s fine not to tamper. But if some teams tamper, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.

This could slowly creep back toward the old status quo. But if there’s a clear violator early, Silver will have an opportunity to send a message. We’ll see whether he takes it.

This should be less about which communication is or isn’t allowed. It’s about fairness.

That’s why it’s important the NBA has rules it will enforce and only rules it will enforce. That hasn’t been the case. If it is now, this will be a success.