More stories

  • in

    Trail Blazers Fire Team President Neil Olshey

    Neil Olshey, who has been with Portland since 2012, was fired for “violations” of the team’s code of conduct related to the workplace environment at the team’s practice facility.The Portland Trail Blazers fired Neil Olshey, the general manager and head of basketball operations, on Friday, citing “an independent review of concerns and complaints around our workplace environment at the practice facility.”In a statement posted on social media, the Blazers did not provide further details, saying, “Out of respect for those who candidly participated in that privileged investigation, we will not release or discuss it.”The Blazers did not immediately respond to a request from The New York Times seeking more details about the nature of the concerns and complaints that prompted Olshey’s firing.Statement from the Portland Trail Blazers pic.twitter.com/W9j4V3nNl2— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 3, 2021
    Olshey, who also did not immediately respond to a request for comment, was hired as general manager of the Blazers in 2012 and was promoted to president of basketball operations in 2015. During his tenure, Portland made the playoffs eight straight years, but won only four playoff series.Olshey, who grew up in Queens, began his N.B.A. career working for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2003 as their director of player development. He then rose steadily through the organization until he was named vice president of basketball operations in 2010. His most noted move was acquiring the star point guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets in 2011.In July, Olshey and the Blazers were criticized for hiring Chauncey Billups, the former point guard, as Portland’s head coach because Billups had been accused of sexual assault in 1997. The organization conducted what many felt was an incomplete investigation into the allegation against Billups as part of the hiring process.When asked about the investigation at the news conference announcing Billups’s hiring, Olshey said, “The findings of that incident corroborated Chauncey’s recollection of the events that nothing non-consensual happened. We stand by Chauncey.”After a reporter pressed for details, Olshey called the findings “proprietary” and added, “You’re just going to have to take our word that we hired an experienced firm that ran an investigation that gave us the results we’ve already discussed.”In early November, the Blazers announced that they were conducting a workplace investigation related to “concerns” at their practice facility but did not say who was the focus of the concerns. Multiple news reports, including from The Athletic and Yahoo Sports, cited anonymous sources who said the investigation was focused on Olshey, but a team spokesperson declined to comment when asked if it did.In Friday’s statement about Olshey’s firing, the team said, “We are confident that these changes will help build a more positive and respectful working environment.”The Blazers also cited unspecified “violations” of the team’s code of conduct.Olshey’s most consequential basketball move for the Blazers was drafting Damian Lillard, now one of the N.B.A.’s biggest stars, with the sixth pick of the 2012 draft. But the franchise has struggled to put championship-level talent around Lillard, which Lillard publicly expressed frustration about over the summer.The Blazers have tapped Joe Cronin, the team’s director of player personnel who joined the franchise as an intern in 2006, to be the interim general manager. More

  • in

    Oklahoma City Thunder Lose by an NBA-Record 73 Points

    In a 152-79 loss, a rebuilding Oklahoma City team took record-setting lumps from the Memphis Grizzlies.Bookmakers took a look at the Grizzlies-Thunder game in Memphis on Thursday night, weighed all the factors, and decided that the Grizzlies should be 9-point favorites.Yeah, I think they covered.The Grizzlies led by 15 after a quarter, 36 at the half, and 51 after three quarters on their way to a 152-79 win. The 73-point margin of victory was the largest in N.B.A. history.Even an arithmophobe could find some amazing numbers in the box score.The Thunder, for instance, were outscored by 56 points when Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (2 points on 0-7 shooting) was on the floor. Oklahoma City was outrebounded, 53-26, and had two steals against 19 turnovers.On the plus side, they made 82 percent of their free throws, better than the Grizzlies’ 72 percent. Good thing too, or it might have really turned into a blowout.The happier-looking Grizzlies numbers included 27 points on 9 of 11 shooting for Jaren Jackson Jr. and nine assists in 21 minutes for Tyus Jones. Santi Aldama put up a plus-52 despite coming off the bench.“Tonight’s not necessarily who we are,” Thunder Coach Mark Daigneault said. Not necessarily, he said. Yikes.He went on the philosophize a bit. “When you compete, you have exposure to the highs and lows of competition. And competition comes with great joy. It also comes with grief and frustration and anger.”Tre Mann had 12 points in 27 minutes for the Thunder. Oklahoma City was outscored by 47 points when he was on the floor. Brandon Dill/Associated PressIn the Thunder’s favor, they were missing their leading scorer, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who entered the concussion protocol on Thursday. Still, the Grizzlies were without their own star, Ja Morant, who has a knee injury.The Thunder have now lost eight straight and sit 6-16 in what was always expected to be another rebuilding year (last season they were 22-50). They still have a better record than the Pelicans, Rockets, Magic and Pistons (4-18!). But none of those teams, not even the Pistons, has lost by 73.The Thunder now have three nights off before a game on Monday at … the Pistons. Get your tickets now.The previous record blowout was set by the 1991-92 Cavaliers, who beat the Heat, an eventual playoff team, by 68, 148-80. “I don’t know what we played, but it wasn’t basketball,” Glen Rice of the Heat said afterward.That eclipsed an earlier record margin of 63, which was set in 1972 by the eventual champion Lakers, who beat the Warriors behind 30 points from Gail Goodrich.Going back still further, on Christmas Day in 1960, the Syracuse Nats of Dolph Schayes and Hal Greer beat the Knicks, 162-100.Ty Jerome, a former Virginia player who started Thursday’s game for Oklahoma City, tried to find a silver lining on Thursday night. “My sophomore year in college, we were the first seed to ever lose to a 16 seed,” he told The Oklahoman after the game. “Like, that’s way more embarrassing than this N.B.A. game.” More

  • in

    Lakers Search for Answers, With and Without LeBron James

    James could miss multiple games because of coronavirus protocols, but the Lakers have struggled even when he has played.Before the start of the N.B.A. season, LeBron James acknowledged one of the hard realities facing the Los Angeles Lakers. The team had once again rebuilt its roster in pursuit of a championship, and James said he knew that forming chemistry would be a process, that nothing would come easily — at least not right away. James illustrated his point by making an analogy.“I don’t think it’s going to be like peanut butter and jelly to start the season,” he said in September.James seemed to be carefully managing expectations rather than hyping them up after the Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and several other aging stars. The Lakers had the potential for boom or bust as one of the league’s most curious experiments.Sure enough, a quarter of the way through the season, they are not exactly making sandwiches.The latest obstacle for the Lakers surfaced on Tuesday when the team said that James had entered the N.B.A.’s coronavirus health and safety protocols, which apply to players who have tested positive or potentially been exposed to someone who has. The Lakers declined to comment when asked whether James had tested positive for the virus, but after the team defeated the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night without James, the Lakers’ Anthony Davis made comments that could suggest that he had.“Scary situation,” Davis told reporters. “He’s said he’s good. I think he’s asymptomatic, which is a good sign. We want to make sure that he gets back. Health is most important. It’s bigger than basketball.”James, 36, who said before the season that he had been vaccinated against Covid-19, could be forced to sit out for at least 10 days unless he is able to return two negative tests 24 hours apart, according to league guidelines. The Lakers have a relatively light schedule over the next week and a half, which means that James could miss a total of four games if he is absent for the full 10 days.Typically, players who are vaccinated face less stringent requirements than unvaccinated players. After Thanksgiving, though, the N.B.A. implemented enhanced testing requirements even for vaccinated players, according to documents sent by league officials to each of the 30 teams. They did so with the expectation that the holiday would increase players’ potential exposure to the virus.The league, which has said that 97 percent of its players have been vaccinated, has also been urging eligible players to get booster shots as breakthrough cases create disruptions and additional health concerns. On Tuesday, Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said James’s health was the top priority.“We just want the best for him right now,” Vogel said. “That’s where our thoughts are. We have a next man up mind-set. It’s an 82-game season. You got to deal with guys being in and out of the lineup. We’ve been without him some already this season.”It has not been a seamless season for James, who, largely because of injuries, has missed more than half of the team’s games, or for Los Angeles, which improved its middle-of-the-pack record to 12-11 with Tuesday’s 117-92 win over Sacramento.One of the big questions for the Lakers entering the season was their durability, and it was unavoidable because the Lakers are, by average age, the oldest team in the league.At the center of it all is James, who will turn 37 on Dec. 30. For so many years, he operated as a seemingly indestructible force. Seldom injured, he almost never missed games — until he joined the Lakers in 2018. He has since labored with injuries, and a sprained ankle hindered him as the Phoenix Suns bounced the Lakers from the first round of last season’s playoffs.Russell Westbrook averaged 25.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.5 assists over the past six games, a streak in which he never scored fewer than 20 points.Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsThis season, James has been sidelined for 10 games because of ankle and abdominal injuries, and he also missed a game because of a suspension. When active, he has been solid and occasionally brilliant, averaging 25.8 points while shooting 48.4 percent from the field, numbers that are not far off his career averages. His production is remarkable considering he is the fourth-oldest player in the league.The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to KnowCard 1 of 5The Omicron variant. More

  • in

    The Knicks’ Struggles Go Deeper Than Kemba Walker

    A surprising reconsideration of the lineup that pushed Walker out of the rotation could help with some of the team’s issues, but not all of them.Knicks Coach Tom Thibodeau has long been known as resistant to change, particularly in the way he uses his starters. He’s often been criticized for playing them for too many minutes, rain or shine, whether or not they are performing well.So it was surprising this week, a quarter of a way through the season, when Thibodeau said that he was pulling the plug on Kemba Walker as the starting point guard in favor of Alec Burks, a reserve for most of his career and not a traditional point guard. And it wasn’t just that Walker, a four-time All-Star who signed with the Knicks in the summer, was being yanked from the lineup. Thibodeau told reporters that Walker would be out of the rotation entirely.Changing a starter this early in the season is significant, particularly when it’s one with Walker’s résumé. At 31, Walker, in theory, should still be in his athletic prime.But Thibodeau was trying to correct for an urgent, and frequent, problem: Knicks starters putting the team in a hole that the bench has to dig it out of. If playoff teams are consistently hurt by any part of their roster, it’s usually a thin bench. But for the Knicks, the starters — even beyond Walker — are the reason they are a fringe playoff team instead of near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.Tuesday night’s game against the Nets was illustrative. Down 1 point at halftime, the Nets came out of the break with a blistering 14-0 run against the Knicks’ starters minus guard RJ Barrett, who missed the second half with an unspecified illness. The starters climbed back into the game and briefly took the lead. But the Knicks lost the 112-110 thriller in Brooklyn — in part because coming out of halftime flat left the team playing the Nets (15-6) from behind for most of the second half.Julius Randle regularly draws multiple defenders.Michelle Farsi/Getty ImagesThis wasn’t an exception. In a Nov. 10 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the reigning champions, the Knicks went down double digits in the first quarter. Even against the Houston Rockets, one of the worst teams in the N.B.A., the Knicks fell behind 18-11 in the first quarter before tying the game by halftime and winning. The next night, Nov. 21, against Chicago, the Bulls raced out to a 20-8 start en route to victory.The starting lineup the Knicks (11-10) have played for much of the season — Walker, Barrett, Evan Fournier, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson — hasn’t just struggled. Its net rating — a measure of how much better or worse a team or group is than their opponents — is negative 15.7, according to the league’s tracking numbers. That places this unit among the worst starting or bench lineups in the N.B.A.The evidence was becoming undeniable. Thibodeau needed to try something else.Walker wasn’t the sole issue, but he was a big part of the problem. He’s averaging 11.7 points per game on 42.9 percent shooting from the field, and an excellent 41.3 percent from 3-point range. But Walker’s play took a nosedive in November after a hot start. In 12 games last month, Walker shot only 29.6 percent from deep. If his 3s aren’t falling, there isn’t much else he’s doing on the court.Because of chronic knee issues in recent years, Walker has lost his explosive first step, so he’s not able to get to the rim as effectively. And because of his height — Walker is listed at 6 feet tall — and slower foot speed, Walker was targeted on defense. The only way to justify keeping him on the court would be if he spread the floor with his shooting, and he is no longer doing that.Inserting Burks into the starting lineup for Walker makes some things easier for the Knicks. He’s bigger — listed at 6-foot-6 — which makes him a more versatile defender. On Tuesday night, he was just as likely to guard the 6-foot-5 James Harden as the quick rookie guard Cameron Thomas, who is 6-foot-3. Early in the third quarter, Burks blocked a Patty Mills 3-pointer — easier for him than for Walker.“You’re able to switch 1 through 4,” Derrick Rose, the Knicks reserve guard, said of Burks’s insertion into the lineup. “You’re more versatile. I mean, A.B. is a hell of a player. A playmaker. A great shooter.”But Burks doesn’t fully solve a starting lineup problem that led Thibodeau to increasingly rely on the bench late in games. The Knicks don’t have much of a fast-break offense and often depend on isolations to get their points — which would be fine if their shooters did more work on their own to get open rather than just standing still. The team is near the top of the league in contested shots and toward the bottom in wide-open ones.Fournier’s stats dipped in November like Walker’s did, causing Thibodeau to barely use him in key moments late in games. Thibodeau did call his number on Tuesday night against the Nets, and Fournier rewarded him by hitting a game-tying 3-pointer with 18 seconds left. But overall, Fournier shot 5 for 12 for 13 points in 22 minutes, with no rebounds or assists. Like with Walker, if Fournier isn’t consistently a 3-point threat, there’s little reason for him to be on the floor.Randle, the team’s best player, has faced an onslaught of double teams without reliable shooting around him, and he has struggled. Randle is shooting only 41.7 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from 3 — all below his career averages. All of Barrett’s numbers have declined from last year as well. Barrett has improved his finishing around the rim, but his shooting has always been his biggest question mark, one he appeared to answer last year when he shot 40.1 percent from deep. Now he’s at 32.1 percent. (For his part, Barrett also started slowly last year, only to pick it up in the second half of the season.)Thibodeau was not in the mood to discuss the lineup change after Tuesday’s loss. Asked about it, Thibodeau expressed anger at the game’s officiating and then left the news conference after just one question.The saving grace for the Knicks has been their bench trio of Rose, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley. The team is third in the N.B.A. in bench scoring. Toppin is a sorely needed threat at the rim and in transition and does something the Knicks generally don’t do well: cut. Quickley and Rose have provided quality shooting, especially late in games, and Rose has been one of the few Knicks effective at getting to the rim.Swapping Walker for Burks swap has already paid dividends. He scored 25 and 23 points in the last two games, his only two starts of the season. And the Knicks may need to make more adjustments. More lineup changes mean the increased potential for hurt feelings among veteran players, but as Thibodeau said before the game on Tuesday: “You have to put winning first.” More

  • in

    The Teenagers Getting Six Figures to Leave Their High Schools for Basketball

    Jalen Lewis liked high school, and why not? At 6-foot-9, with a bird’s nest of hair on top, he was instantly recognizable in the hallways of Bishop O’Dowd, in Oakland, Calif. Students he had never met would call out his name on the mornings after basketball games, raising a triumphant fist or extending a palm for a hand slap. In his freshman season, 2019-20, Lewis helped his team to the brink of a state title, until the pandemic came and shut down the tournament.Beyond the basketball, Lewis also enjoyed his classes. “Obviously, I’m tall, and I can play,” he told me recently. “Everyone knew that’s why I came to the school. But I also liked showing people in class that I could answer the tough questions you wouldn’t usually see an athlete raise his hand to answer.” Lewis has a knack for math and science. In those subjects, especially, he was determined to show his classmates that he was more than a jock. “Knowing they knew I was smart made me feel good,” he said.Lewis’s mother, Tiffany Massimino, died of breast cancer when he was 2 months old. His father, Ahlee Lewis, dedicated himself to raising his son. He played him classical music and Baby Einstein videos. A recruiter for a medical-device company, he used his salary (plus a chunk of financial aid) to enroll Lewis at Bentley, one of the East Bay’s best elementary and middle schools. He shuttled him around the region for practices and games.By third grade, Lewis had expressed a desire to play in the N.B.A. Ahlee, whose own basketball career ended after three seasons at U.C. Davis, promised to help, but only if Lewis studied as hard as he played. Bishop O’Dowd had a strong academic reputation and had sent several players to the pros. It felt like an ideal fit. Last May, following his sophomore year there, ESPN’s rankings placed Lewis second nationally among the class of 2023. His success on the court and in the classroom hadn’t gone unnoticed; the list of colleges recruiting him hard included Michigan, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Stanford and U.C.L.A. Offers from Duke, North Carolina and U.C. Berkeley seemed sure to follow.But Lewis won’t be playing basketball at any of those schools. In July, he signed a contract with Overtime Elite, a fledgling league for teenagers with N.B.A. aspirations. Instead of studying for the SAT on the last Friday in October, he was inside a new 1,200-seat arena in midtown Atlanta, where Overtime Elite is based, with eight teammates from around the United States and overseas. As rap music pulsed and video screens flashed on all four walls, he burst through a curtain of smoke. The din was disorienting. The scene was like a video game come to life.While warming up on the court, Lewis briefly scanned the seats for celebrities who had promised to be there, including the rapper 2 Chainz and the N.B.A. legend Julius Erving. Neither was in the building, but the plush couches that served as V.I.P. seating under each basket were filled with local prep and college basketball players, familiar faces from reality TV series and assorted influencers. “There was a lot going on,” Lewis would tell me later. “You didn’t know whether to be excited, or try to lock in.” Then he stepped up to take the opening jump ball. At 16, he was the youngest professional basketball player in U.S. history.Jalen Lewis, 16, scoring in OTE Arena in Atlanta.Victor Llorente for The New York TimesFive years ago, Dan Porter and Zack Weiner started a basketball business called Overtime. Actually, it was a content business. It used deftly packaged highlights from high school games and other amateur competitions to attract 55 million followers on social media. Then it found ways to monetize that following.As Porter and Weiner immersed themselves in the world of teenage basketball, they found themselves bewildered by the process through which the most talented adolescents became N.B.A. players. It seemed to work well enough for everyone but the athletes and their families. Weekly travel to tournaments run by the Amateur Athletic Union, the A.A.U., was subsidized by parents who often couldn’t afford it. That was followed by a year or two of these aspiring pros playing basically without pay on a college campus. And the half dozen of them who did manage to land in the N.B.A. at 19 or 20 often had little notion of how to run their own lives. That led to truncated careers, financial distress and regret about lost opportunities. “I’ve seen a lot of talented kids who weren’t ready — physically, mentally, socially,” says Avery Johnson, the former N.B.A. and college coach, who is an Overtime Elite investor. “When they show up in the N.B.A., they don’t even know how to write a check.”Porter, 55, is a great-nephew of the economist Milton Friedman. A digital entrepreneur, he formerly ran the gaming studio that became Omgpop. Before that, he spent a decade in education, including a stint as president of Teach for America. Weiner, now 29, comes from a different generation. A three-time Ivy League chess champion at Penn, he was barely past graduation when he and Porter started Overtime. The idea of creating an alternate pathway to the N.B.A. appealed to their vision of themselves as disruptive outsiders. It also, not incidentally, promised to be another lucrative business.The ongoing rupture of amateur basketball’s traditional order has played out quite publicly. On July 1, following a Supreme Court decision, the N.C.A.A. finally allowed its athletes to be remunerated for the use of their names, images and likenesses. Still, a vast majority of them end up earning only the basic contours of an education, even as sponsors, television networks and sneaker companies reap profits from the multibillion-dollar business the sport has become. But the dysfunction starts earlier: Games held between individual high schools, once the centerpiece of teenage competition, have become almost irrelevant. College recruiters prefer the A.A.U. tournaments, where they appraise hundreds of prospects in a weekend. A.A.U. teams, organized and run by entrepreneurs with varying motives who may or may not have coaching experience, crisscross America from March to October. “It’s totally unhealthy,” Ahlee Lewis says.Amid the signs that the system was starting to unravel, Porter and Weiner saw an opportunity. They weren’t the only ones. In 2017, LaVar Ball, the father of two N.B.A. guards, created the play-for-pay Junior Basketball Association, a league for disaffected high schoolers that featured eight franchises nationwide. (All of them were nicknamed the Ballers.) That folded after one season. The Professional Collegiate League, founded by a group that included a former associate athletic director at Stanford, a Cleveland lawyer and the N.B.A. veteran David West, was supposed to start play this year as a salary-earning alternative to N.C.A.A. basketball, but its debut was postponed to 2022; it will require that players be enrolled in college to participate. And because players don’t become eligible for the N.B.A.’s draft until the year after their high school class graduates — a 15-year-old rule that may be changed after the current collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union expires in 2024 — the developmental G League now accepts prospects who have finished high school but don’t want to play in college.‘They kept telling us, “You won’t be able to get the high-level players.” With every one that we were able to secure, it crushed that argument.’But Porter and Weiner have something that those leagues do not: the 1.6 billion views their content gets every month. Their new venture is a professional league for teenagers that will take the place of A.A.U., high school and college competition. When they explained the concept to Carmelo Anthony, an Overtime investor who is playing in his 19th N.B.A. season, Anthony took to it immediately. “He literally interrupted us in the middle of our pitch and finished it for us,” Weiner says. “When we started talking to other people about it, many of them said, ‘I’ve been waiting for something like this.’”Many of those people asked to buy a piece of it. Overtime is backed by the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and a roster of investors that includes Jeff Bezos, Drake, Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian and four owners of N.B.A. franchises. The most recent round of financing, in April, raised more than $80 million. Kevin Durant, Trae Young, Devin Booker and more than two dozen other current pros have joined Anthony in signing on. For its first season, the league has grouped 27 players, ranging in age from 16 to 20, into three teams of nine. They compete against one another and against high school and international teams that agree to play them. In the coming years, the league hopes to grow to six or eight teams that will face opponents from the G League, the best college programs and — “you never know,” Porter says — eventually the Knicks and Lakers.Overtime Elite’s coaching staff is run by Kevin Ollie, who coached UConn to a national championship in 2014. The players are given personalized nutrition plans and training programs. They are marketed across Overtime’s social media network. (So far, sponsors include Gatorade and State Farm, which signed multiyear, eight-figure contracts with the league. Topps has a licensing deal.) And in the most obviously radical departure, each player gets a small share of the company and earns a salary of at least $100,000 annually, plus bonuses, depending on the contract he has negotiated. Jalen Lewis and some others make more than $500,000. (“There is a marketplace,” says Aaron Ryan, a former N.B.A. executive who has been hired as the league’s commissioner, “and players have varied value.”) In return, they have agreed to forgo their remaining years of high school and any chance of playing in college. That means no state titles or prom dates, no strolls on leafy campuses, no March Madness or Final Four. They also allow Overtime to use their names, images and likenesses, the same assets that college athletes have just earned the right to monetize for themselves, though the Overtime Elite players are permitted to strike their own deals with sponsors in noncompetitive categories.To ease the transition to N.B.A. life, Overtime Elite requires its players to spend as much as 20 hours a week in an academic setting, a mash-up of online classes, face-to-face instruction and guest lectures. Players are taught how to give news conferences and use social media. They learn how agents and sponsors operate. They also take basketball-focused versions of conventional subjects, math and history and English, so they will have fulfilled the necessary requirements if they ever want to apply to college. If basketball doesn’t work out, Overtime Elite promises to pay $100,000 toward a degree to any player who wants to get one.But if someone never reaches the N.B.A., will losing the opportunity to play in high school and college have been worth a few sure years of substantial income? When I put the question to Porter, he dismissed it. He described the connections made with Overtime Elite’s sponsors, investors and affiliated celebrities as yet another form of compensation, as if a shooting guard who turns out to be a step too slow could simply go to work for Drake instead. “We’re a family,” he insists. “We’re not going to forget about these guys.” If an Overtime Elite alum is struggling at some point in the future, Porter promised to volunteer his own services. “He can call me,” he says. “I’ll help him find a job.”Power forward Kok Yat, foreground, in the league’s interim school, before its educational facilities were completed in late October.Victor Llorente for The New York TimesOne afternoon in September, a rented black van pulled up at Core4, a basketball facility in northeast Atlanta. This was where the Overtime Elite teams were practicing while their arena near downtown was being finished. Overtime staff members held up cameras and smartphones to record the players as they stepped off the bus. Once on the court, the players stretched. A few jogged in place. Then they split into six groups and started shooting. The cameras and smartphones roamed among them, capturing bits of dialogue and game play.Overtime’s videographers are charged with collecting footage for use on various platforms. Some of it, the attention-worthy dunks and no-look passes, will be sent out as clips on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter. Other interactions, including conversations among players and motivational speeches by Ollie, and the footage of classes and down time that offers a glimpse into the players’ daily routines, will show up in documentary-style pieces on its YouTube channel. If players go shopping for sneakers, a crew is likely to come along. If they’re relaxing in the living room of their apartments, watching a movie or playing Xbox, someone might stop in and record that too. Though players are told they will not be filmed without their consent, part of the bonus they get at the end of the season is based on their willingness to participate in the content generation.During practice, two of Overtime’s social media producers sat with their laptops open, organizing the material that was coming in. Occasionally, they posted an image accompanied by a comment in the vernacular of their target audience, a 13-to-35 demographic. One recent example: “Yo real talk T JASS been having that thing on a STRING,” referring to a former prep basketball player, now 21, who became an Instagram celebrity with videos of trick shots. “It’s not that young people aren’t sports fans,” Weiner says. “It’s that they don’t want to necessarily consume sports in the way that is traditional. It’s not always about the final score of the game. Or even about who won or who lost.”Beginning in 2016, Overtime started building its following by recording highlights of entertaining plays in high school and A.A.U. games. It paid $25 for someone to stand on the baseline in an Overtime T-shirt and hold up an iPhone. Every alley-oop or windmill dunk was uploaded to its servers with the press of a button. When Zion Williamson, who played at a small private school in Spartanburg, S.C., and for the South Carolina Hornets A.A.U. team, emerged as the next great prep standout, Overtime was just getting started. The company sent three videographers to each of his games. “Every time Zion dunked, we’d get three different views on our server,” Weiner says. “We’d look at them and post the best one.”By the end of his high school career, Williamson had dunked enough to get a scholarship to Duke, where he spent one season before leaving for the New Orleans Pelicans. Overtime, meanwhile, had created a stealth empire. Whenever Porter ran into an executive from another media company, he got the same question: “How much live sports are you showing?” The answer was invariably confounding: Overtime Elite wasn’t showing any live sports at all. “Our competitors would have crushed us years ago if they actually understood what we were doing,” Porter says now.In effect, Overtime Elite is Zion Williamson writ large, an entire roster of players highlight-reeling their way into the public consciousness, or at least Overtime’s delineated segment of it. But this time, Overtime’s access to these players is virtually unlimited. And because it owns the entire, vertically integrated property, so is the company’s ability to make money from it. When an Overtime Elite player drove to the basket during a scrimmage during the practice session at Core4, then went up for what looked like a layup before suddenly flipping a pass to a teammate in the corner, videographers were there to record not just the move but also the astonished reaction of Lewis, who was sitting out the practice session with an injury. Paying the athletes entices them to sign up, but it also mitigates any guilt Porter might have about profiting from their personal narratives. “We’re going to create media around it,” he says, referring to the league. “Why should it be controversial to pay them? It would be controversial to not pay them. That’s called the N.C.A.A.”Advertising is the easiest way for Overtime Elite to generate revenue. There are plenty of others. The Overtime website, which does a $10 million business selling hoodies, iridescent basketballs, jewelry and other merchandise, has added Overtime Elite apparel. A Jalen Lewis trading card, from a set issued by Topps just a few weeks ago, is listed for $1,200 on the secondary market. Next, why not Overtime Elite workout videos? Or a new Gatorade flavor?“We already have the audience, we already have the brand, we already have many of the relationships,” Weiner says. “So we can go to a company like Gatorade and charge them millions of dollars in Year 1.” When Overtime Elite was unveiled last March, a little more than a year after the Junior Basketball Association sank under the weight of its debts, much of the skepticism concerned whether it could have the economic wherewithal to survive. With the first wave of sponsorships in October, the league announced that it had become self-sufficient into the foreseeable future.Head coach Kevin Ollie with Overtime Elite players.Victor Llorente for The New York TimesFor its blueprint to work, Overtime Elite needs players. And not just any 17-year-olds with smooth moves and silky jump shots. Its targets must have a reasonable enough expectation of reaching the N.B.A. to consider skipping college. They need to be regarded highly enough by recruiting analysts that Overtime’s followers will embrace them as the descendants of Zion.The job of filling the rosters was assigned to Brandon Williams, who played briefly in the N.B.A. before moving into executive roles with the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings. Williams had an elite education — Phillips Exeter Academy, Davidson College, law school. He also had grass-roots basketball connections. Still, creating an entire league from a standing start, even one with just three teams, presented a formidable challenge. The six-figure salaries helped entice some families. So did the involvement of Durant, Drake and Bezos. But Williams’s best argument, he felt, was that players who considered themselves headed toward the N.B.A. weren’t improving those prospects by competing against markedly inferior talent. “I’m playing against a guy who is going to be a milkman; I’m playing against a guy who is going to work at U.P.S. — but I’m not playing against a pro,” is how he describes that perspective.Williams also appreciated that many parents were unsettled by the A.A.U. experience, which appeared to be optimized for the convenience of recruiters, not the physical and emotional health of the players. “They’d say things like, ‘It seems weird that my kid played in the 9 p.m. game on Friday, and now he has a 9 a.m. game on Saturday,’” Williams says. “We told them: ‘We’ll have our own building. And in that building, we’ll have great coaches. In fact, here are their résumés.’ And they’d say, ‘I recognize that name — national champion.’ And you start to stack up the offering.”Williams hired a staff of scouts to go to A.A.U. tournaments and find potential recruits. “I couldn’t spend a lot of time talking to the irrationals, the person who really fought against this whole idea,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to be a salesman — ‘I’m better than Duke.’ What I wanted was to find parents who were saying, ‘I’m spending so much of my day doing this, I’ve spent so much money and I’m not even sure of the results.’”In May, Overtime Elite signed its first two players, twins from Florida named Matt and Ryan Bewley. ESPN ranked Matt third and Ryan 12th among players in the graduating class of 2023. Getting them made national news. Another set of twins, the Thompsons, probably helped even more within the A.A.U. subculture. Ausar and Amen Thompson grew up in Oakland, not far from Lewis. They relocated to Florida’s Pine Crest Academy before eighth grade so they could play high school basketball a year early. Like Lewis, they were excellent students, dabbling in coding and taking Advanced Placement classes. To ESPN and the other high-profile websites, they were afterthoughts. But as last spring’s A.A.U. season progressed, they developed into cult favorites. “Some people told us they might be the best players in the entire class,” Williams says. The Thompsons signed at the end of May. That prompted Lewis, among others, to take notice. “They kept telling us, ‘You won’t be able to get the high-level players,’” Williams says. “With every one that we were able to secure, it crushed that argument. And then the kids started talking to each other.”Lewis was the biggest target. Not only was he among the best prep players; he was also an ideal protagonist for the stories the company was trying to create. “He’s a good-looking kid,” Williams says. “Articulate. Courted by everyone. Recognized by everyone. Single dad, so there’s an interesting story.” The scouting staff set out to get to Ahlee and make its pitch. “In this case, the dad was at least receptive,” Williams says. “He was asking very deliberate and very advanced questions.”Ahlee learned all he could about the project. He called Aaron Goodwin, a longtime friend who is a successful agent, and found Goodwin to be enthusiastic. Only then did he approach his son. Lewis had heard stories about his father’s college career. But he’d been “a crazy Warrior fan” since he was 8. The way he saw it, he and his peers were trying to get to the N.B.A. so they could get paid to play basketball. “If you could start getting paid early, and get more work than anyone else, and work with people who were already in the N.B.A., that’s the full package,” he says. At Bishop O’Dowd, and even with his A.A.U. team, he was a 6-foot-9 center, playing with his back to the basket. That made sense, because Lewis could dominate smaller players. He would get the ball, roll to the hoop and score. But if he made it to the N.B.A., it would most likely be as a small forward, playing without handling the ball much, shooting from the corner when he did. Posting up in the foul lane wasn’t going to refine those skills.Ahlee had help from Goodwin, who represented both Durant and LeBron James early in their careers. “The negotiations were not easy,” Williams says. “They knew the value of what Jalen was giving up. Being at home, going to homecoming, maybe going to Cal or U.C.L.A.” The salary was one variable, but Williams asked what he could do to give them a sense of other opportunities. “What lever can we pull?” he said. Was it a meeting with Drake? Access to other investors?In the end, money turned out to be secondary. For 16 years, Ahlee had been trying to orchestrate every aspect of Lewis’s progress while simultaneously earning enough to support them both. Not only was he exhausted; he also wondered if he was making smart decisions. “How do I make sure my son eats right?” he says. “How do I make sure he gets proper rest? How do I drive him all over the Bay Area, so he gets the extra work he needs to get better? With Overtime Elite, so much of that stuff was under one roof. And that was just the basketball part. They also made the academic part relevant. That made me want to turn cartwheels.”On July 9, Lewis announced he was leaving high school to play for Overtime Elite. “The moment we got Jalen, it opened up conversations not just with players but with entities,” Williams says. “Nothing boutique, nothing nuanced, just the stud. Jalen Lewis comes in, and he’s recognized on the national level, the U.S.A. Basketball level. It got easier from there.”Lewis with his father, Ahlee Lewis, at OTE Arena.Victor Llorente for The New York TimesI was curious to see what the academic part of Overtime Elite looked like, so I stopped into some classes one morning. A few players were giving presentations, reading scripts off an iPad. They had chosen topics and written speeches. One lobbied for the merits of iPhones, as opposed to Androids. Another warned against recreational drugs. Lewis spoke persuasively about the health benefits of alkaline water.Some of the athletes, like Lewis, are advanced beyond their grade level. Others consider the idea of not studying for exams one of Overtime Elite’s significant benefits. I wondered how it was possible to teach them all in the same classroom.Last February, Overtime Elite hired Maisha Riddlesprigger, who had been a principal in Washington, to solve that problem. In 2010, working under Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the District of Columbia’s public schools, Riddlesprigger deconstructed and then rebuilt a low-performing elementary school. Later, she did the same in Anacostia, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. That makeover involved extensive use of online learning in rotation with a traditional curriculum, a combination that hadn’t often been used in the area. “And then, when the pandemic came, everyone did it,” Riddlesprigger says.For Overtime Elite, she hired facilitators versed in math, English, science and social studies. Then she found an online program flexible enough to integrate sports into its curriculum. That way, history can be taught through the lens of athlete activism, from the 1968 Olympic protests to the Milwaukee Bucks’ refusal to play their N.B.A. game following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Math might involve free-throw percentages or tracking the parabola of a three-pointer. That would appear to leave out vast areas of knowledge. “But some of our more academically challenged students, when you couch the traditional system in a subject they’re interested in, they apply that interest,” Riddlesprigger says.Each student’s class load depends on the status of his transcripts. Those who have fallen behind grade level take extra classes so they can get on track to graduate — which in this case means earning a degree accredited by a private nonprofit organization, Cognia, that exists for such circumstances. Others might only need two or three classes. Within each subject, the level of the work is tailored to the individual. In May, after the games end, Overtime Elite plans to hold some sort of ceremony for its 12th graders. It all sounded like a reasonable facsimile of high school, except for the parts of high school you actually remember years later.Removing teenagers from a traditional high school experience is only one way that Overtime Elite has caused consternation. Tommy Sheppard, the general manager of the Washington Wizards, said that when he initially heard about the league, it struck him as “somewhere between Amway and a Ponzi scheme.” College coaches competing with Overtime Elite for talent use the rapid demise of the Junior Basketball Association as a cautionary tale; at least one of the Baller players who sacrificed his eligibility claims to have received only a $1,000 payment.Lewis, 16, left his high school in Oakland, Calif., after his sophomore year and signed a multiyear, million-dollar deal to live in Atlanta and play and study with Overtime Elite, hoping to follow a new trail to the N.B.A.Victor Llorente for The New York TimesLeonard Hamilton, the head coach of the Florida State basketball team, had been courting six or seven of the players who ended up signing with Overtime Elite. He didn’t want to be perceived as dismissive of the league merely because it is new, but the math concerned him. There are only so many spots across N.B.A. rosters. “Making the N.B.A. is extremely hard,” he said. “How many of these kids are really going to get there?” Hamilton also put in a plug for the current system, which enabled him to get a basketball scholarship to the University of Tennessee at Martin in 1969. “Academics has meant a lot to people in America who look like me,” he said. “It changed the whole culture of my family. I don’t have a crystal ball — I can’t see the future. I don’t know the end of the story. But there are 6,000 kids playing Division I basketball every year, and only about 30 kids have a chance to end up in the N.B.A. With that in mind, those others aren’t doing too badly.”Rodney Rice, a guard from DeMatha Catholic, in the Washington suburbs, who recently committed to play at Virginia Tech, was one of Overtime Elite’s initial targets. By remaining in high school, Rice’s chances of making the N.B.A. perhaps declined by a few percentage points. “But at DeMatha,” his coach, Pete Strickland, told me, “he’s going to be told to tuck in his shirt in the hallway. To be in class on time. By teachers who don’t know if our ball is stuffed or blown up. That’s how we grow up. When you mature as a kid, you mature as a player. Those things are connected.”After academics and lunch, the players returned to the van for the ride to practice. They arrived home at 6 p.m., having been out all day. Their apartments, which are paid for by Overtime Elite, include four bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room. One bedroom is kept empty for storage. The players eat dinners prepared in conjunction with the health and performance team — extra-large portions of, say, grilled chicken with pasta, broccoli, a dinner roll, blackberry cobbler — that are stacked on a table in the hallway.One unoccupied suite has been designated for use as a social center. On an evening when I was there, Lewis wandered in. A minute later, Amen Thompson showed up to see who might be around. Soon they were immersed in a game of table tennis. The points were long and intense, and startlingly athletic. When I told Weiner about it later, he used it as an example of yet another potential revenue stream. “What if we set up a Ping-Pong tournament with the players and charged $1 to see it on TikTok or YouTube?” he said.With the score 19-18, and Thompson 2 points from winning, Lewis ranged far to his right and sent a resounding slam across the table. The dinners were piling up in the hallway, but the winning margin had to be 2 points, so I figured they might be there awhile. Instead, Thompson won the next 2 points, the last by magically parrying what appeared to be a sure winner with a flip of his paddle. When it ended, both players were sweating. They bumped fists. It was a perfect moment for social media, but for once there wasn’t a camera in sight.In late October, on what was called Pro Day by Overtime Elite, representatives of N.B.A. teams were invited to visit the facility. That pro scouts would see the players was a major component of the league’s pitch. “How is that not a massive advantage,” Weiner said to me, “if the company you want to work for gives you feedback in real time?” Except that until the scouts actually showed up, nobody knew for sure that they would. The number of talented players involved made Overtime Elite intriguing, but the league was new: an addition to an annual schedule that, for most scouts, had been in place for years.When the doors to the practice court opened at 9:30, scouts from 29 of the 30 N.B.A. teams were there. (Only the Portland Trail Blazers hadn’t sent anyone.) Not surprisingly, the event as staged by a media company had a far different feel than the stripped-down showcases the scouts were accustomed to attending. “To pull up and see that new facility shining bright like a diamond — we were all blown away,” Ryan Hoover, the vice president of global scouting for the Milwaukee Bucks, said.Over the course of the four-hour session, the stock of some prospects rose. Others’ fell. But the judgments didn’t need to be conclusive. N.B.A. rules stipulate that scouts can attend only a limited number of high school and A.A.U. games annually, but Overtime Elite is a professional league. That meant the scouts could return whenever they wanted. Tommy Sheppard told me that the possibility of seeing so many prospective pros in one place would pull scouts for the Wizards away from games around the region. “Most college games, there’s only one or two prospects, to be honest,” he said. “The name Overtime Elite — I mean, not even every N.B.A. player is truly elite, so I don’t know about that. But that Pro Day convinced us that there’s definitely a lot of talent. We’ll be following these kids.”Players for Overtime Elite traveling to a game from their shared living quarters.Victor Llorente for The New York TimesThe following Friday, the Overtime Elite teams started playing games with an opening-night tripleheader. Each faced an opponent that had flown in for the weekend. Lewis’s team was matched against Vertical Academy, which everyone called Team Mikey. It had been created as a showcase for Mikey Williams, a solidly built, 6-foot-2 point guard who has become the most famous prep basketball player in America. Williams had been heavily recruited by Overtime Elite. Instead, he moved from San Ysidro High School in San Diego to North Carolina, where his father and uncle had established a relationship with Lake Norman Christian School outside Charlotte. Vertical’s players attend classes at Lake Norman Christian, but they compete as an independent team.In July, Williams became the first high school athlete to sign with a major sports management firm. Two days before the Overtime Elite game, he announced that he had agreed to a sneaker deal with Puma. By then, he had amassed 3.3 million Instagram followers. He had made millions of dollars. And because he wasn’t getting paid directly for basketball, he would still be eligible to play in college.It seems logical that Overtime Elite’s players may eventually be able to do the same. If their contracts are restructured so that they’re playing basketball unpaid but selling Overtime Elite the same name, image and likeness rights that college players now control, the N.C.A.A. might be persuaded to amend its rules. Those who find that unlikely should consider that many of the Overtime Elite players will have huge followings by the time their classes graduate. Would the sponsors that underwrite March Madness prefer that they play in college at that point, or somewhere else?Each of the three Overtime Elite teams will soon have its own name and logo. Until then, they are differentiated by the names of their coaches. Lewis’s team is named for Dave Leitao, who won the A.C.C.’s coach of the year award while at Virginia. The atmosphere before its game with Vertical Academy was intentionally raucous. “You walk in, there’s cameras everywhere, it’s loud, you’re walking through the smoke,” says Abdul Beyah Jr., a Vertical Academy guard. “It took time to adjust.” Lewis needed time, too. He missed his first seven shots. At halftime, Team Leitao had a 39-37 lead. Lewis had scored a single basket. Watching from the stands, Ahlee was philosophical. “This is like a show,” he said. “The boys are thinking performance rather than basketball.”When he came out to warm up for the second half, Lewis caught his father’s eye. Then he scored 16 points in the third quarter, ending it with a fadeaway jumper from well beyond the 3-point arc. He was hit as he shot, and the force of the contact sent him sliding backward past midcourt. He made the foul shot for a 4-pointer. After three quarters, Team Leitao had a 17-point lead.A scripted reality show couldn’t have been more dramatic than the way the game played out. Vertical Academy rallied. Late in the fourth quarter, Williams banked home a drive and hit a foul shot. With seconds left, his team led by 3. Then Overtime Elite’s Bryce Griggs sank a long 3-pointer at the buzzer. The cameras positioned around the court had recorded the shot from various angles, and all those Overtime employees jumped into action. By the time Team Leitao won in overtime, helped by another thrilling 3-pointer, the highlights had been viewed by thousands of fans. By Sunday, the number of views across all of Overtime’s accounts approached four million. “OTE vs MIKEY was one of the best games I’ve ever seen omgggg” was the caption on @ote’s soundtrack-backed TikTok post.Overtime Elite versus Mikey may prove to be foundational in the annals of guerrilla basketball history. It was surely the most visible game ever played outside the purview of a major network — or any network. It validated Overtime Elite’s credibility. As for Williams, his 4-for-21 shooting meant little in a virtual universe that prioritizes three-second highlights, like his baseline drive in the final minute. Some portion of Overtime’s 55 million followers had caught a glimpse of his artistry, which could only enhance his reputation. His team had lost, but Williams didn’t seem too troubled by the outcome. Sitting on the training table in one of the spacious locker rooms, he couldn’t hide a smile.Lewis taking the court at OTE Arena in Atlanta in October on the inaugural weekend of the Overtime Elite league.Victor Llorente for The New York TimesBruce Schoenfeld is a frequent contributor to the magazine. He last wrote about the Big Ten’s football season in 2020. Victor Llorente is a portrait and documentary photographer based in Queens who was born and raised in Spain. He was selected in The 30: New and Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2020. More

  • in

    Win Or Lose, the Knicks and Lakers Are Worth Billions

    Sports franchise valuations are guesses, with few data points for comparison. But prestige franchises like these can defy all calculations.The Los Angeles Lakers will face the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, and from a prestige perspective, it’s the equivalent of Billy Joel and Elton John touring together.On court, it’s a different story, since both teams are having underwhelming seasons. But wins and losses are unlikely to ever significantly matter when it comes to determining the worth of each franchise. They are consistently said to be among the highest-value franchises in the N.B.A., and have been for some time, regardless of how they’ve performed on the court. The Lakers, of course, have won six championships since 2000 and have had multiple generational talents to attract fans in that span, including Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. The Knicks have had the opposite experience — rarely winning or putting star players on the court since their N.B.A. finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs in 1999.Yet, earlier this year, Sportico, a sports business publication, estimated the Knicks and Lakers to be worth more than $5 billion each, two of only three teams, along with the Golden State Warriors, to be worth that much. Last month, Forbes had a similar take, putting the Knicks at $5.8 billion and the Lakers at $5.5. billion. (In 2000, Forbes said the Knicks were the most valuable franchise in the N.B.A. at $390 million. The Lakers were the runner-up at $360 million.)Franchises have become more lucrative in recent decades as N.B.A. revenues have skyrocketed, and generally, the super rich (on paper) have become richer.“This gets into the next greatest fool theory of team ownership,” said Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University. “It suggests that there will be a next greatest fool willing to pay that amount to get that franchise. And franchise values are essentially the most important job of the league commissioner, which is to drive up the asset appreciation of the franchise holders.”Or as Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, put it in an email: “When buyers have cash and are liquid, and business for the league involved is good, prices go up and vice versa.”But what does it mean when the Knicks and Lakers are said to be worth more than $5 billion? Here’s a look behind the curtain. (Representatives for the two franchises did not respond to requests for comment.)What is a valuation, exactly?In the most basic terms: It is an estimate of how much a team would sell for if it was on the market. But it is nothing more than an educated guess.“At the end of the day, we’re estimating what a private enterprise is worth,” said Kurt Badenhausen, a sports valuations reporter at Sportico. “No different than estimating what the value of your house is worth.”LeBron James is among the big-name stars who have kept the Lakers in championship contention over the past 20 years.Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesHow are the valuations derived?Much like house valuations on online real estate sites, they are based on several factors, including location, who owns the arena the team plays in, and the team’s local television deals. James L. Dolan, the owner of the Knicks, also owns Madison Square Garden, whereas the Lakers lease the space at Staples Center, which will become known as Crypto.com Arena on Christmas Day.“If you have two teams, let’s say one owns the building and the other leases it, what I’m valuing is the economics,” said Mike Ozanian, a managing editor at Forbes who compiles its valuations. “In other words, what are the revenues that the team generates at the building versus its expenses?”Assets related to the team don’t necessarily factor in, at least not completely. In the case of the Knicks, while Dolan owns MSG Networks, the regional cable channel that broadcasts games for the Knicks and several other New York-area sports teams, that doesn’t figure into the valuation of the team. However, the revenue generated from the network does.Valuators review public information on team finances, consult bankers involved in similar transactions, and consider previous sales and the scarcity of the product.The franchise worth changes, Cuban said, based purely on “supply and demand against cost and availability of money versus expected cash flows, if any, and expected appreciation.”What are the limitations?In 2014, Forbes valued the Los Angeles Clippers at $575 million. Later that year, Steve Ballmer purchased the team for more than $2 billion. Much like when buying a house, sometimes it’s difficult to account for just how eager a given buyer will be.“We do it with the best information we have based on a team’s finances, their arena situation and the market that they’re in,” Badenhausen said. “But sports teams don’t get bought and sold like traditional businesses, because there is there is an intangible factor in there because while there’s thousands of businesses you can buy, there’s only 30 N.B.A. teams that you can buy.”Given the rarity of team sales, there aren’t many data points for comparison.As Ozanian put it: “You could have precise information on a team and at the same time not come close to what the team sells for.”Sometimes, the accuracy of a number can be affected by how much information a team is willing to provide.“It’s possible there are times where, because one team speaks more than another, that the revenue and operating income numbers could be slightly more accurate for one than another,” Ozanian said. “But in terms of the valuations, the enterprise values, I don’t think that plays a role because the people that I speak to to get my valuations are very much in know, as to the revenues and expenses and therefore very knowledgeable on the valuation.”James L. Dolan, owns the Knicks, has said he does not plan to sell the team, even when fans have pleaded for him to do so.Mike Segar/ReutersJeanie Buss, the majority owner of the Lakers. The team has been owned by her family since 1979.Tracy Nguyen for The New York TimesWhy are the Knicks and Lakers valued so highly?Both franchises generate hundreds of millions of dollars from their local television deals and arenas, which drive revenue through merchandising, sponsorships and ticket sales, though some of that is distributed to other teams through the league’s revenue sharing system. And location matters, too.In fact, it might be the most important thing.“They are also located in markets that have tremendous wealth,” Badenhausen said. “So that if they were ever to come up for sale, you would have multiple bidders at multibillion dollar valuations. And the sky is the limit in terms of what somebody would be willing to pay for both these franchises.”There’s also the intangible.“You have one shot to buy the New York Knicks,” Badenhausen said. “You have one shot to buy the Los Angeles Lakers Lakers. They just don’t come up for sale, right?”The Knicks’ renovation of Madison Square Garden a decade ago also was a big boost.“It’s one of the oldest buildings in the N.B.A.,” Badenhausen said. “But the renovation turned it into a modern-day cash register.”Why doesn’t it really matter if the Lakers and Knicks win?Badenhausen argued that even while the Knicks’ value has skyrocketed independent of their play, the years of poor performance have lowered the ceiling.“The big market teams are definitely more immune to what happens on the court than small market teams,” Badenhausen said. “But you could make a case that the Knicks would definitely be worth more if they were running out a playoff team every year that was challenging for N.B.A. titles. That 100 percent boosts teams’ finances, allows them to charge more for tickets, sponsorships and suites and all of those things. And so your revenue goes up and that helps drive valuations high.”But the team is still flush, Ozanian said, which is ultimately the biggest arbiter. Television deals are often long-term, and are locked in whether the team is good or bad. Both teams draw well in audience and sponsorships.“Potential buyers are not looking at the past,” Ozanian said. “They’re generally looking at the future, and the amount of incremental revenue that comes in from having a good team versus a not-so-good team generally isn’t that much more.” More

  • in

    No. 1 South Carolina Gets a Statement Win Over No. 2 UConn

    The Gamecocks dominated in the second half and gained only the second win in 11 games against Connecticut in the history of the two programs.In a matchup of the two highest-ranked teams in women’s basketball, the University of South Carolina overwhelmed the University of Connecticut in the fourth quarter for a 73-57 victory on Monday in the final of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.This was the first time a women’s competition had been part of the prestigious tournament, which has existed since 2011 for men.The decisive victory gave South Carolina a 2-9 record against UConn in the history of the programs, and it should preserve the Gamecocks’ No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. To accommodate the high-profile matchup, the A.P. delayed its weekly poll update for just the second time ever.The rout also offers clues about how these two teams might fare later in the season, both during their next regular season game against each other — in Columbia, S.C., on Jan. 27 — and through the deep postseason runs both teams are expected to make toward the Final Four.Despite remarkable performances from the teams’ stars, the story of the game lay in its fundamentals: turnovers and offensive rebounds.The Huskies (3-1) went into halftime with a 3-point lead but could not generate any points from turnovers or offensive rebounds during the second half. The Gamecocks (6-0) forced 19 turnovers, capitalizing on them for 21 points.“We just took the shots they gave us,” South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley said on ESPN after the game.UConn’s sloppiness, uncharacteristic of the long-dominant program, is something that the team, particularly its young core, will have to work on.“We’ve got a long time before we go down there and play them again,” Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma told reporters after the game. “But right now, they’re better than us. We’re going to have to work really, really hard.”The Gamecocks, in contrast, played sharp and turned to their signature defense in the second half, allowing Connecticut to score just 3 points in the fourth quarter against tight man-to-man coverage.The junior forward Aliyah Boston nearly had a double-double in the first half, and ended the game with 22 points and 15 rebounds — the kind of performance that South Carolina is relying on her to deliver throughout the season.“It’s time for Aliyah Boston to be the dominant player she is,” Staley said.The guards Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson are the other two keys to the South Carolina offense. Cooke had 17 points worth of circus shots, while Henderson’s veteran savvy manifested in speedy transition baskets and a well-balanced stat line of 15 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals.Overall, the team showed its depth — and that it has ample room to grow. If, for example, the Gamecocks can get Kamilla Cardoso, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Syracuse, more involved in the paint, they might have an easy answer for a tough interior defense like Connecticut’s.This was the first big test of the season for the Huskies. UConn guard Paige Bueckers, the team’s leading scorer, delivered a number of showstopping baskets, and in the first half the Huskies’ ball movement looked nearly transcendent. That rhythm, though, disintegrated in the second half, when only Bueckers had more than one field goal.Connecticut will have plenty of shooters ready to help, though, once it reduces some of its more basic mistakes. The redshirt senior guard Evina Westbrook was the spark for the Connecticut offense early, and the team’s second leading scorer. With more opportunities, she might be able to lift some of the offensive load off Bueckers.Azzi Fudd, a highly regarded freshman, barely played Monday after scoring 18 points against the University of South Florida on Sunday, a decision Auriemma attributed to her inability to move within South Carolina’s stifling defense. With more time in college basketball’s big leagues, though, Fudd might become a consistent scoring threat.Connecticut needs to fix its flaws in the coming months if it wants to establish the kind of dominance that for more than decades has made it the foremost team in women’s college basketball.In Monday’s win, the Gamecocks didn’t reveal such shortcomings. The adjustments they needed could be handled during the game and not left for a future practice.The road to the Final Four won’t be easy for any team in the sport. But with this statement victory, South Carolina suggested that is firmly on course. More

  • in

    Curry’s 3-Point Bonanza Has Golden State Bouncing Back

    A turnaround early this season has come with Stephen Curry reasserting why he is the best 3-point shooter in basketball history.Stephen Curry going for 40, the Golden State Warriors at the top of the league: We’re talking 2016 or so, right? No, try 2021.After many fans moved on from the Warriors era to ponder possible dynasties from LeBron James and the Lakers or Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, Golden State has come roaring back early this season behind the scoring of Curry.On Thursday night, Curry had nine 3-pointers and 40 points as the Warriors improved to a league best 13-2 with a 104-89 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors entered the fourth quarter down 13. No problem for Curry, who had 20 points in the period, helping his team outscore Cleveland by 36-8 to win going away.Starting in around 2015 or ’16, Curry, already a great 3-point shooter, seemed to almost break the game with a torrent of 3s, many from very, very deep, leading his team to five straight finals, including its most recent championship in 2018.But Curry missed most of 2019-20 with a broken left hand. Although he bounced back last season, averaging 32 points a game, the team did not, missing the playoffs. Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala had left in 2019, and injuries cost Klay Thompson more than two full seasons. The golden years at Golden State seemed to be over.Yet at 33, Curry has helped turn the team all the way around this year.The continued development of Jordan Poole (17 points a game, up 5 from last season); Draymond Green’s outstanding defense, rebounding (eight a game) and passing (eight assists per game); and another solid season from Andrew Wiggins (18 p.p.g.) are all a part of the resurgence. But Curry rightly deserves a huge amount of the credit.In his first 15 games, Curry already has three 40-point efforts and a 50-pointer against Atlanta last week. Thursday night was his fourth game with nine 3-pointers. At 29.5 points a game he leads the race for what would be his third scoring title.Curry is indisputably the best 3-point shooter in the game’s history. Though he has maxed out at nine this year, in his career he has 22 games with double-digit 3s made; the next best player is Thompson, with a mere five.Curry has not shied away from the shot. Early in his career, about a third of his shots came from beyond the arc. That increased to 50 percent and eventually 60 percent in his prime years. This season, fully 65 percent of his shots are from 3, which would be a career high. His 85 3-pointers made leads the league by 20.Oh, he also hits 96 percent of his free throws.Curry is also choosy about his shot, to the team’s benefit. He is careful to avoid the shot most dreaded by statisticians, the long 2, which has a low percentage but without the bonus point the 3 offers.After a few early seasons in which he took about 30 percent of his shots from longer than 16 feet in 2-point territory, Curry cut that figure down to about 10 percent of his shots in his peak years. Last season he took only 7 percent of his shots from that region, and this season he has nearly abandoned the long 2, taking it only 3.5 percent of the time.The sheer number of his 3s seems to compensate for a slightly lower percentage from long range; he is hitting at 42 percent this season, which would be the second lowest mark of his career in a full season and down from the 45 percent or so he shot at his peak.It’s also possible the figure is a little low because of the sample size. Should Curry sink a few more 3s, as it would seem he could, he could actually improve this season. And with Thompson finally practicing again after his injury nightmare, the team could soon be getting even better, too. More