John Beilein and Tristan Thompson
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Do you believe John Beilein’s ‘slugs’ explanation? Tristan Thompson sidesteps question

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DETROIT – Six Cavaliers players addressed John Beilein’s thugs-slugs jumble yesterday. Five offered clear support of their coach for this volatile situation.

The exception: Tristan Thompson.

“At the end of the day, he’s our head coach,” Thompson said after Cleveland’s win over the Pistons last night. “We’re the players, and have to go out there and play and do our job at the end of the day. So, that’s all that matters.”

Beilein apologized to the Cavs both individually and collectively after the film session on Wednesday, when he called players “thugs” but later said he misspoke and meant to use the word “slugs.” Did Beilein’s explanation help motivate and focus the team for Detroit? Thompson: “Coach’s job is to give us the scout and the game plan. But we don’t need no coaches at all to motivate us. Us as players, we motivate each other.”

The Cavaliers will keep Beilein as coach. Can Thompson still play for him? Thompson: “Man, I’ll play anywhere. I’ll play all over the world.”

Beilein has reportedly struggled to connect with the Cavs. Does Thompson need anything different from his coach? Thompson: “As long as I’ve got my dogs with me every night in that huddle – what do we got, 13, 14 guys? Brought back Zo. As long I’ve got my dogs with me ready to go to war, that’s all that matters to me.”

Eventually, I flatly asked Thompson whether he believes Beilein’s explanation that he inadvertently said “thugs” while intending to say “slugs.”

“I’m not trying to take away from tonight,” Thompson said. “So, I want to keep it based on how great the guys were tonight. I think Brandon Knight was great. A guy that doesn’t get to play a lot. When his number was called – especially when we have KP down – he stepped up and was great tonight. So, I don’t want to take away from my team’s tremendous win tonight in overtime. So, that’s where my focus is at.”

Missing from that answer? Some variation of “yes.”

This was a strange interview from Thompson, who was recently Beilein’s most vocal supporter.

Maybe we’re supposed to read between the lines and see the lack of stated support for a lack of support. “Thug” is a racially charged word, and I can see how a black player would resent his white coach calling him one.

It’s also quite possible Thompson truly thought sidestepping the issue was the best way to make it go away. If so, he was wrong. A quick declaration of support – like Larry Nance Jr., Kevin Love, Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Brandon Knight gave – would have been far more effective. Instead, Thompson opened the door wide open for speculation into how he truly feels.

The timing doesn’t help discern his meaning. Thompson didn’t speak at shootaround or pregame yesterday. After the emotional victory, it’s easy to see why he’d prefer attention land on the game. Thompson had a career night. He’s also a supportive teammate who wants to shout out Alfonzo McKinnie‘s defensive stops and Knight’s play with Kevin Porter Jr. injured. Thompson could have seen an opportunity to move on and leave the thugs-slugs issue behind.

To be fair, Thompson is not a public-relations expert. He’s a basketball player. Not understanding how to diffuse this controversy would hardly be some major offense. With prior scandal, Thompson served himself well by not talking about it. That kept the noise at bay.

But sports media was already widely discussing Beilein. Like it or not, this issue was in the forefront.

Which raises another question: How did it get there? Most Cleveland players who spoke publicly yesterday said Beilein’s use of the word “thugs” didn’t jar them in the moment. Only Sexton said otherwise, and he added he wasn’t alone.

“Everybody was shocked,” Sexton said.

Yet, Sexton also provided a defense of Beilein against the (absurd) argument that it’s inconceivable he’d use the word “slugs.”

“He says it all the time, so it’s all good,” Sexton said. “…He calls us slugs, because we move slow. But it’s good. We knew what he meant.”

Do all the Cavaliers know what Beilein meant, though? That remains an open question.

In wake of Kobe Bryant’s death, Kendrick Perkins seeks forgiveness from Kevin Durant

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins
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Kevin Durant once called Kendrick Perkins his favorite teammate of all-time.

A couple weeks ago, they were beefing on Twitter,exchanging barbs that didn’t look as friendly as previously.

Kobe Bryant’s tragic death has Perkins reflecting.

Perkins:

Good for Perkins. Amid all the sorrow, Bryant’s death creates an opportunity for people to re-assess their priorities. Grudges almost always aren’t worth it.

Nick Kyrgios warms up for Australian Open in Kobe Bryant jersey (video)

Nick Kyrgios in Kobe Bryant jersey and Rafael Nadal
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Kobe Bryant was a great basketball player. His sport-specific skills – shooting, dribbling, positioning – were incredible.

But his competitiveness and work ethic transcended basketball. Those traits earned him admirers far and wide.

Tennis star Nick Kyrgios wore a Bryant jersey to warm up for the Australian Open:

CJ Fogler:

After his fourth-round loss to Rafael Nadal, Kyrgios – wearing a different Kobe jersey – shared his perspective on Bryant:

Kyrgios:

Basketball is practically my life, and I watch it every day, and I’ve been following it for as long as I can remember.

If anything, it motivated me. If you look at the things he stood for and what he wanted to be remembered by, I felt like, if anything, it helped me tonight.

I’m a Celtics fan, and so when I saw Kobe do what he does and break the hearts of so many Celtics fans, it was tough to see. But I don’t think they make them like him anymore. He was different. The way he trained, the way he did things, the way he played was special. It’s just sad.

Reports: Kobe Bryant’s helicopter was in holding pattern, advised of flying too low

Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site
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Kobe Bryant’s shocking death has left millions trying to cope.

For some, questions turn to the technical: How? How did Bryant’s helicopter crash?

RadarOnline.com:

“Hold outside Burbank, I have an aircraft,” the recording revealed the tower employee advising Bryant’s helicopter during the communication.

“He’s been holding for about 15 minutes,” a flight tower employee said about Bryant’s helicopter around 9:30 a.m.

Emma Parry and Chris Spargo of The U.S. Sun:

The pilot, Ara Zobayan, was told he was flying too close to the ground.

Per audio from before the crash, Zobayan said: “OK, we’ll continue holding.”

RadarOnline.com:

As the flight towers try to assist in the helicopter landing, they are cautioned about the “overcast” weather and their low flight level, meaning they were dangerously close to the ground.

“You’re still too low level for flight following at this time,” the flight toward warned the pilot on the audio.

Bryant’s helicopter was reportedly traveling north along the 118 freeway, turned west and followed the 101 freeway. After hitting heavy fog around 9:40 a.m., the helicopter turned south and made a steep climb from 1200 feet to 2000 feet.

Moments later they reportedly flew into the mountain at 1700 feet and the vehicle was traveling at 161 knots.

There’s still more to learn, including whether the helicopter had mechanical issues. Perhaps, we’ll never get that answer. If we do, it won’t change anything.

Still, it feels natural to search for greater understanding of this inexplicable tragedy.

In Europe, Kobe Bryant recalled for his “Italian qualities”

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ROME (AP) — In Europe, where Kobe Bryant grew up, the retired NBA star was being remembered for his “Italian qualities.”

“All of the NBA players are important, because they’re legends, but he’s particularly important to us because he knew Italy so well, having lived in several cities here,” Italian basketball federation president Giovanni Petrucci told The Associated Press. “He had a lot of Italian qualities.”

“He spoke Italian very well. He even knew the local slang,” Petrucci added.

Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died Sunday in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California. He was 41.

Bryant lived in Italy between the ages of 6 and 13 while his father, Joe Bryant, played for several teams in the country before returning to Pennsylvania for high school. Kobe Bryant spoke fluent Italian and often said it would be a “dream” to play in the country.

The dream almost came true when Bryant nearly joined Virtus Bologna in 2011 during an NBA lockout, only for the deal to fall apart.

“He was a supernatural,” Italian coach Ettore Messina, who worked with Bryant as an assistant for the Lakers, told the AP via text message while traveling with his current club, Olimpia Milano.

“To hear him speak and joke in our language and to remember when his father played here and he was a kid drew a lot of people to the NBA,” Messina said. “He was also always very attentive to help Italian kids arriving in the NBA and to help them enter such a tough and competitive world. He also did that with me when I arrived at the Lakers and I’m still very grateful to him for that. It’s very sad that his family has been devastated like this.”

Dating from his time in Italy, Bryant was a lifelong soccer fan.

AC Milan, one of the clubs that Bryant supported, tweeted: “We have no words to express how shocked we are to hear of the tragic passing of one of the greatest sportsmen of all time and Rossonero fan, Kobe Bryant. All our thoughts are with the families of those affected by this tragic accident. You will forever be missed, Kobe.”

The International Olympic Committee noted in a tweet that Bryant was a two-time gold medalist, adding: “Rest In Peace #KobeBryant You will always stay in our hearts.”