Former Laker Slava Medvedenko auctions NBA title rings for Ukraine

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LOS ANGELES — Former Los Angeles Lakers player Slava Medvedenko is selling his two NBA championship rings to raise money for his native Ukraine.

Medvedenko was a power forward on the Lakers’ championship teams in 2001 and ’02, playing alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

SCP Auctions is donating the entire final sale price of both rings to Medvedenko’s Fly High Foundation. Its goal is to support Ukrainian children by restoring the sports infrastructure of the war-torn country’s schools and launching a network of social sports clubs.

“We want to restore gyms because the Russian army bombed more than a hundred schools,” he told The Associated Press by phone on Sunday. “Our country, they need a lot of money to fix the schools. Sports gyms are going to be last in the line to fix it. In Ukraine, we have winter and kids need to play inside.”

The auction runs from Wednesday through Aug. 5. The Laguna Niguel, California-based company estimates both rings will raise at least $100,000.

Medvedenko said he decided to sell the rings after going to the roof of one of the tallest buildings in his Kyiv neighborhood and watching rockets launched by Russian forces streak through the night sky.

“In this moment I just decided, `Why do I need these rings if they’re just sitting in my safe?”‘ Medvedenko said. “I just recognize I can die. After that, I just say I have to sell them to show people leadership, to help my Ukrainian people to live better, to help kids.”

Medvedenko spoke from Warsaw, Poland, where he staged a sold out charity basketball game to raise money for Ukrainian refugees who crossed the border to escape the war.

“In Ukraine, you’re just feeling it’s war, rockets, air alerts. You’re so used to that kind of pressure,” he said. “As soon as you cross the border and see how people live normal life, it’s a different world.”

The 43-year-old is married with two daughters, ages 16 and 11, and a 10-year-old son. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Medvedenko sent his children to live with their grandmother in another part of the country.

“After they stay for 1 1/2 months, they were all the time calling me and asking, `Papa, can we come home? We want to be with you and Momma,”‘ he recalled.

Five months into the war, Medvedenko has reunited his family in Kyiv.

“We have air alerts almost every day. Sometimes it’s three or four times a day,” he said. “The kids are so used to it. They play in our backyard. They not even stop playing they are used to it.”

Medvedenko has served in Ukraine’s territorial defense forces during the war.

“We were defending our neighborhood, doing checkpoints and duty patrol. I’m not the best solider, I’m not the best shooter, but I can give them support,” he said, adding that he carried an AK-47. “I shoot it a couple times, not at people. I’m happy I don’t have a chance to shoot somebody. Our army did a great job to defend Kyiv. I want to thank them.”

Medvedenko was a candidate for Kyiv City Council in the 2020 election. He was 11th on the election list and his party only managed to win nine seats.

Beyond his humanitarian efforts during the war, Medvedenko has long-term goals to help his country.

“After the victory, we will definitely return to that question of quality changes in sport,” he said. “Ten years in the United States, I saw how it works. I hope I have ideal model in my mind to change Ukrainian sport.”

Medvedenko joined the Lakers in the 2000-01 season. He had his best season in 2003-04 when he started 38 games in place of injured Hall of Famer Karl Malone, and averaged 8.3 points and 5.0 rebounds. Injuries later slowed him and Medvedenko was traded to the Atlanta Hawks in 2006-07, his final season in the league.

Medvedenko said he texts with former Lakers Mark Madsen and Luke Walton. The team has sent sports equipment for use in Ukraine.

“The Lakers family always help me,” he said. “The Lakers are always in my heart.”

Bulls’ Lonzo Ball “nowhere near playing,” could miss entire season

New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls
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“I’m trying to stay positive, keep my hopes up. I would love to play. I would never count that out.”

Lonzo Ball tried to put an optimistic face on his recovery from a second knee surgery, but he was realistic and put no timetable on a return.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was more realistic, speaking Saturday before the Bulls took on the Magic. Via Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune.

“He’s made some progress, but I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing,” Donovan said. “He’s just not. Because he’s not running on a consistent basis. When he can get to that place where he can do that consistently and be able to come back the next day and do it again, do it again and do it again — I think you’ll feel a little bit more optimistic.”

Could Ball be out for the entire season? Donovan again, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?’’ Donovan said. “I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?’”

Ball has undergone multiple knee surgeries. The first was in January 2022 and the expectation at the time was he would return for the playoffs, but his knee didn’t respond well during rehab. That led to a second knee surgery, and recovery from that is going slowly as well. It leaves the Bulls in a tough spot, they miss his defense and his being a floor general on offense as they have struggled to a 23-26 record this season that sees them sitting as the No. 11 seed in the East.

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest

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We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder (if he does sit out Monday against the Nets, as the team announced).

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.