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    His N.B.A. Dream Was Right There. Then He Couldn’t Move His Legs.

    On June 20, 2019, Kris Wilkes awoke in an Airbnb near downtown Indianapolis. He was happy. Next to him was the woman he was falling in love with. Scattered throughout the rest of the rooms of the rented house were friends and family members who had supported him throughout his budding basketball career. It was the morning of the N.B.A. draft, and Wilkes was on the cusp of achieving a childhood dream.Just a few miles up the road at North Central High School, Wilkes had become a coveted basketball recruit. He got his first scholarship offer, from Indiana, when he was in eighth grade. He ultimately committed to U.C.L.A., where he became known for his high-flying, rim-rattling dunks. He made the Pac-12 all-freshman team, and after his sophomore season, he was projected to be selected in the N.B.A. draft, near the end of the first round.Now, more than two years later, he hasn’t made it onto an N.B.A. roster. He has never even appeared in a G League or summer league game.Moments after waking up on draft day in 2019, Wilkes discovered something startling: He couldn’t move his legs. He tore off the bed covers and stared at his lower body. He tried to fire every muscle from his hips to his toes, but nothing happened. He had no feeling below his waist.He called his father, who was at home nearby, and asked him to drive over right away.“Dad,” he said. “I’m scared.”‘I felt like I was 80.’Wilkes initially declared he would enter the draft after his freshman year at U.C.L.A., but he returned for his sophomore season to try to prove he should be a first-round pick. In March 2019, he declared for the draft again. He signed with the Wasserman management and marketing company, and his agents there arranged private workouts with teams. For players projected to be picked outside the top 14, those workouts can be the difference between starting a pro career in the N.B.A. or in the developmental G League. Wilkes wasn’t worried.“I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to be a first-round pick,” Wilkes said. “I was in the best shape of my life. Unfortunately, it was short-lived.”Kris Wilkes playing at U.C.L.A. his sophomore season.Tim Bradbury/Getty ImagesBy the time he reached his seventh workout, with the San Antonio Spurs, he felt sluggish. Near the end of the workout, Wilkes almost collapsed, and a trainer pulled him aside to take his temperature. It was 103 degrees. Team staff members walked him to a nearby hospital, where he was diagnosed with strep throat. Wilkes called his agent, who canceled his next workout, with the Atlanta Hawks, and he returned to his childhood home in Indianapolis to rest and recover for draft night.Within days, his fever had disappeared and his throat felt better, but he started to notice other disconcerting symptoms. His limbs would feel as if they were coated in glass. Sometimes, he wouldn’t be able to feel a hand touching his arm. Other times, he felt an almost unbearable tingle. At night, he couldn’t sleep with a blanket on his legs because it was too irritating. Then his back began to hurt. As an athlete, Wilkes was used to a certain amount of joint pain and muscle stiffness, but this was different.One night, the pain got so bad that his father, Greg Wilkes, took him to urgent care. There the doctor asked Kris if he could remember the last time he had urinated. It had been more than a day. The doctor told him to rush to an emergency room because his bladder was at risk of ripping.In the emergency room, Wilkes received morphine and a catheter, and he was released with the catheter still connected. “Here I was, days before getting drafted, and I was shuffling around my house with bad back pain and a catheter in,” he said in a series of phone calls from his home in Los Angeles last month. “It didn’t feel like I was 20. I felt like I was 80.”Two days later was the draft. Kris awoke, couldn’t move his legs and called his father. Greg Wilkes has spent the past 25 years with the Indianapolis Police Department and is trained in emergency medical response. “I wasn’t a police officer or a first responder in that moment,” he said. “I was a father, and my heart and nerves were shot. I was thinking, ‘What is going on?’ My 20-year-old son is one of the most athletic people I’ve ever met in my life, and he can’t move. How could that be possible?”Wilkes scored over 1,000 points in his two years at U.C.L.A.Alicia Afshar for The New York TimesGreg called an ambulance for Kris and followed it to St. Vincent Hospital. That night, the family crowded into Kris’s hospital room and tuned the TV to the N.B.A. draft. Word had gotten around to teams that Wilkes wasn’t well, and he watched as all 60 N.B.A. draft picks came and went, his name uncalled. For a few moments afterward, the beeps of an electrocardiogram machine were the only sounds in the room.“I was in the best shape of my life, hooping at the highest level of my life, looking good, getting ready to get drafted,” Wilkes said. “And then I was in the hospital, struggling to breathe, barely able to move my legs, and wondering if my career was over.”Then Wilkes’s agent called and told him that the Knicks wanted to sign him to a two-way contract, which would make him primarily a G League player but allow him to play in some N.B.A. games. The family erupted in celebration.But there was a problem: Kris would have to go to New York for a physical. And the doctors in Indianapolis still didn’t know what was wrong with him — or if he would ever walk again.‘It’s as rare as hen’s teeth.’When the neurologist Adam Fisch saw Wilkes’s symptoms, he ordered a series of tests — X-rays, spinal fluid sampling, magnetic resonance imaging — but was cautious with both his diagnosis and his prognosis. Fisch, whom Wilkes authorized to speak with The New York Times about his medical history, said he began to suspect that Wilkes had acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, an autoimmune disorder otherwise known as ADEM.The disorder has a small but poorly understood association with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s, which Wilkes had been diagnosed with during medical testing months before the draft. ADEM often follows a viral infection, like Wilkes’s strep throat. The body confuses its own brain tissue and spinal cord with the infection and begins to attack itself. ADEM affects between 1 in 125,000 and 1 in 250,000 people around the world every year. An overwhelming majority of those cases are found in children.Making matters more difficult, Wilkes appeared to have a rare combination of ADEM and Guillain-Barré syndrome that involved the brain, spinal cord, nerves and nerve roots, Fisch said.“It’s as rare as hen’s teeth. One in a million doesn’t even do it justice. The odds are infinitesimal,” he said.New Williams, left, a former Fresno State player, training with Wilkes at Academy USA, a sports club in Southern California.Alicia Afshar for The New York TimesFisch treated Wilkes with high doses of steroids and two different blood therapies. “Some patients with ADEM will get just one of those treatments,” Fisch said. “Kris’s case was so severe that we decided it was imperative to use all three at once.”Fisch didn’t make any long-term predictions, but other hospital staff members told Wilkes to prepare for the possibility of having to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. His mother, Ahkisha Owens, rejected that right away.“I wouldn’t let myself even have a single thought that my baby wasn’t going to walk again,” she said. “I looked at him and I said, ‘God didn’t get you this far only to take your legs out from underneath you.’”After a week in the hospital, Wilkes regained feeling in his lower extremities, but he had lost more than 20 pounds and didn’t have the strength to walk. When he was discharged a week after that — the staff recommended inpatient physical therapy, but Wilkes insisted on returning home — Wilkes was expected to be in the wheelchair for at least two months.The next morning, Greg was at the stove cooking a big breakfast to welcome Kris back home — French toast, eggs, bacon and sausage — when he heard a sound like deflated tennis balls bouncing down the hallway. He turned and saw Kris out of the wheelchair, holding himself up with a walker. “Dad, what are you cooking?” he asked. “It smells good!”By August, Wilkes had progressed enough to take his first flight. He went to Palm Springs, Calif., to see Lexie Stevenson, the woman who was with him the morning of the draft. “As soon as he could walk, “he walked to me,” Stevenson said. “And we’ve been walking together ever since.”“You manifest it, you work hard, and you don’t let anyone tell you, ‘You can’t,’” Wilkes said.Alicia Afshar for The New York TimesIn September, Wilkes flew to New York to try to pass a physical for the Knicks. He had to be careful about how much water he drank because his bladder control hadn’t fully returned. Near the end of the workout, he was so dizzy from running baseline sprints that he ran into a wall. Nobody had to tell him that he had failed the physical. He knew.In October, after the Knicks signed Ivan Rabb to fill the two-way roster spot they had been saving for Wilkes, David Fizdale, the head coach at the time, said Wilkes “came down with a serious illness. I don’t know what it was, but it was pretty severe. So right now we’re not going down that road.”‘I was right there.’In the past two years, Wilkes has had health scares, such as when he got a cold and felt the glassy sensation return to his skin. And there were sleepless nights when he woke up Stevenson to talk — or to ask her to hold him while he wept.“I was able to cover the depression, but I had it,” he said. “I’d been working my whole life to get to the N.B.A. And I was right there. To go from that to paralyzed with no money and back home in Indiana, it sucked.”He resolved his money issues with a payout of “several million dollars” from a school-sponsored loss-of-value insurance policy he had signed up for at U.C.L.A. He quit his job as a Postmates delivery driver and started a company called Origyn Sport, which introduced its first product, a training basketball, in September.Wilkes used the time while he was recovering to create a company called Origyn Sport, which makes basketballs for training.Alicia Afshar for The New York TimesThough Wilkes has regained most of his muscle mass, he can sense that he is still not as explosive as he once was. He knows that making it to the N.B.A. now is a long shot. But he has faced long odds before.“Maybe most people don’t think I can get to that point, but why would I bother listening to them?” he said. “I didn’t listen to the doctors who told me I wouldn’t walk again, and I’m not going to let anyone talk me out of my goals now.” More

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    What the Ben Simmons Standoff Means for the Sixers and the N.B.A.

    Simmons is the latest N.B.A. star to ask for a trade then try to force his way off a team, but Philadelphia is holding firm so far.Over the summer, Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons requested a trade, initiating a standoff that has dragged into the regular season.The organization fined Simmons repeatedly for missing practices, meetings and preseason games, according to ESPN. Simmons did not report to the team until near the end of the preseason and was suspended for the regular-season opener for conduct detrimental to the team. Simmons likely will not play for the 76ers again for a long while, if ever. Philadelphia hosts the Nets on Friday.In response to a report from The Athletic on Friday that Simmons had said he was mentally unprepared to play, 76ers forward Tobias Harris wrote in a tweet: “And we’ll respect his privacy and space during this time. When he’s ready, we will embrace our brother with love and handle our business on the court. That’s it, that’s all.”Here’s how the situation evolved, where it stands and what it could mean for the N.B.A.Here’s what you need to know:Why is Simmons so unhappy in Philadelphia?What is Daryl Morey’s trade history?How does Simmons fit into the larger theme of player empowerment in the N.B.A.?Could N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver intervene at some point?What does the absence of Simmons mean for the rest of the Eastern Conference?What are the larger implications of Simmons’s actions?Why is Simmons so unhappy in Philadelphia?Technically, we don’t know. Simmons hasn’t said anything publicly. Much of this has played out through anonymous reports in the media. There have been some signals from Simmons’s Instagram page, such as when he liked a post detailing how much the Sixers could fine him for missing games and practices.The tension between Simmons and the Sixers has been festering for years, despite Simmons’s signing an extension in 2019. Now in his sixth season, he hasn’t really changed much as a player (he missed his first season with a foot injury). He is one of the most versatile playmakers in the N.B.A. and an excellent defender, but he has not developed a jump shot, which has made him a liability on the offensive end in multiple playoff runs. He’s also a career 59.7 percent free-throw shooter, which means teams often foul him on purpose at the end of games.In December 2019, Brett Brown, the former 76ers coach, publicly begged Simmons to take more 3s. One month later, Brown told reporters that he had “failed” in his mission.Even though Doc Rivers replaced Brown before last season, there hasn’t been much difference. Rivers was Simmons’s steadfast defender last year, but after the Atlanta Hawks eliminated the Sixers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Rivers told reporters that he didn’t know whether Simmons could be a point guard for a championship team. It’s highly unusual to see a coach publicly criticize his own player minutes after a tough playoff loss.On Thursday, Daryl Morey, the team’s president of basketball operations, said on a local Philadelphia radio station: “Doc Rivers defended Ben Simmons more than any human on Earth, maybe ever. If someone wants to interpret one comment out of 10,000, I don’t think that’s very fair to the organization or Doc Rivers.”He added, “To me, it’s all some sort of like, you know, pretext to do something larger by his agent.”What is Daryl Morey’s trade history?Morey recognizes the value of an All-Star, even if that player’s game is limited. He has never been shy about wheeling and dealing, typically swings big and often ends up on the right side of trades.Morey made an eye-popping 70-plus trades during his 13 seasons as general manager of the Houston Rockets and has already made several deals since joining Philadelphia in 2020. His most noteworthy deal helped shape the modern N.B.A.: Morey plucked James Harden from his reserve role with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 for Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin and draft picks. In Houston, Harden became the focal point of an offensive scheme that centered 3-pointers and high-percentage shots like layups and dunks.Two of Morey’s most memorable other deals involved Chris Paul. Morey landed Paul in Houston in 2017 for a package that sent several players, including Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams to the Clippers. In 2019, Morey acquired Russell Westbrook for Paul and a package of draft picks.How does Simmons fit into the larger theme of player empowerment in the N.B.A.?In recent years, some prominent players have leveraged their looming free agency to force trades to where they want to go. Anthony Davis, for example, got to the Los Angeles Lakers from the New Orleans Pelicans this way.What’s happening with Simmons, though, is unprecedented because of how much time is left on his contract. Simmons is not a free agent until after the 2024-25 season. Even when James Harden, then with the Houston Rockets, forced his way to the Nets, he had just two years left on his deal. In theory, Simmons shouldn’t have much leverage. The closest comparison is Paul George, who had just signed an extension in Oklahoma City before engineering a trade to team up in Los Angeles with Kawhi Leonard. The difference is that the Thunder quickly acquiesced to George’s request, while the Sixers have been unwilling to do so with Simmons.“Player empowerment” is also difficult to gauge in this situation because it’s not clear what Simmons’s value is. While he has made multiple All-Star teams and is one of the best defensive players in the N.B.A., his unwillingness to shoot and his shrinking in playoff games have hurt his trade value. At least so far, teams are unwilling to throw in the kitchen sink and more to obtain Simmons. So is it player empowerment if the player is currently not empowered?Could N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver intervene at some point?The league has rarely publicly intervened in standoffs between a player and a team, and it is uncertain what, if anything, Silver can do to move the situation along under the N.B.A.’s collective bargaining agreement.The N.B.A. stepped in when the New Orleans Pelicans attempted to bench Anthony Davis in 2019 following his agent’s public request for a trade. Davis and Simmons share the same agent in Rich Paul, but the two scenarios are otherwise vastly different. Paul made the trade request for Davis in early 2019 with Davis set to become a free agent in the summer of 2020. The N.B.A. fined Davis $50,000 for the public trade request. Simmons has four years and $147 million left on his contract.“It’s something you never like to see as a league,” Silver recently told ESPN of Philadelphia’s situation.What does the absence of Simmons mean for the rest of the Eastern Conference?We’ve spent a few seasons watching The Process come tantalizingly close to fruition.Remember, Simmons and the 76ers were only a cruel bounce away from qualifying for the Eastern Conference finals in 2019 when they were eliminated in the semifinals by Kawhi Leonard’s soft touch on a buzzer beater for the Toronto Raptors in Game 7.An engaged Simmons, the one who is a three-time All-Star, fantastic distributor and a disruptive force on defense, lifts Philadelphia to among the top of the Eastern Conference contenders.Philadelphia earned the Eastern Conference’s top seed last season with a record of 49-23, and Joel Embiid is talented enough to strike fear in any playoff opponent. But expect Philadelphia to regress without Simmons or some type of a return in a trade for him and for teams like the Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat to finish atop the Eastern Conference standings.What are the larger implications of Simmons’s actions?Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers have said publicly that they want Simmons back and playing, though Morey is still trying to trade Simmons but said he doesn’t want role players in return.If the Sixers are successful in getting Simmons back on the court, then the dispute becomes a moot point. However, it would signal that teams might be less willing to give in to trade demands going forward.But if Simmons still doesn’t return, both sides will enter treacherous terrain. For Simmons, he likely will lose significant money during his athletic prime to fines and unpaid salary. Morey has said that this saga could drag on for the rest of Simmons’s contract. This would mean that the Sixers would spend Joel Embiid’s prime with a gaping hole in their roster that would limit their ceiling.As for the league, if Simmons becomes the latest star player, after James Harden, Anthony Davis and Paul George, to engineer his own path independent of the organization’s wishes, it could affect the new collective bargaining agreement, which could come into effect in 2024. League owners might want harsher penalties for players who try to force their way off teams. (Conversely, there likely would be significant pushback from the players’ union on this. After all, teams trade players all the time despite signing them to play for their particular franchise.) More

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    Klay Thompson Finally Found Love. With His Boat.

    Injury woes sent Thompson, the Golden State guard, looking for solace. He found it on the water. No bananas allowed.SAN FRANCISCO — Klay Thompson commutes to work in a 37-foot fishing boat.Out on the open water, he can forget about the disappointment and the frustration. He can take solace in the cool breeze. Finally nearing a return to the court for the Golden State Warriors after missing the past two seasons because of injuries, Thompson has found a new hobby that has been especially therapeutic.“You can’t have a bad day when you’re on the boat,” he said.So he fishes and explores deserted coves — and uses his Axopar 37 Cabin to avoid Bay Area traffic.“It’s been so good for my mental health,” said Thompson, the star shooting guard who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the 2019 N.B.A. finals and then tore his right Achilles’ tendon before the start of last season. “When the days would get really tough, I would take a cruise into the city or toward Oakland or just be out in nature. It always helps.”Thompson has come up with a couple of names for the boat. One is Nordic Knife. (As he recently explained to NBC Sports Bay Area, “She was made in Finland, so she’s Norwegian, I think.”) The other is Splash Express, for whenever friends are on board.“I fell in love with all the little things,” Thompson said in an interview, “whether it’s navigating, cleaning her, tidying her up — all the stuff you would never think of when driving a car.”Thompson is well aware that he often refers to his boat as if it were a living, breathing person.“I know,” he said. “That’s how much I respect her.”He has gone so far as to adhere to certain seafaring superstitions. Among them: a hard-and-fast ban on bananas, since they are believed to invite bad energy to the boat. It is a difficult one for Thompson. “Because I love bananas,” he said.Coach Steve Kerr encourages his players to have outside interests, for balance. Stephen Curry golfs. Draymond Green dabbles with broadcasting. Thompson pilots a high-end watercraft with supercharged twin engines and an enclosed cabin.“Being on the water is a safe space for him,” Curry said. “He’s outside, and he has that freedom to go wherever he wants to go out there.”Growing up in Southern California, Thompson was not the product of a “family of boaters,” he said. But he has always enjoyed the ocean. He finds the water peaceful and calming, and the goal of acquiring a boat of his own was spurred by Anthony Nuccio, his best friend since preschool. Nuccio would take Thompson fishing on his 1976 Aquasport.“He kept talking about getting one for years,” Nuccio said. “We would send pictures of boats back and forth to each other.”For a long time, Thompson made do with a dinghy, which he would board with his bulldog, Rocco. (Thompson did all the rowing.)It was not until Thompson was injured that he was motivated enough to invest in a full-fledged watercraft. A couple of months after tearing his A.C.L., Thompson was rehabbing with Rex Butler, who is a sports performance specialist and a recreational boater. When Butler learned that Thompson was looking to buy something, Butler showed him photos of an Axopar. Thompson was smitten.“I loved her lines so much,” he said.At the time, Thompson was dealing with the anguish of not being able to play basketball. The days were long, and his rehabilitation was difficult. He knew he needed something to take his mind off his troubles. He needed a boat. He conferred with Nuccio, who found a dealer in San Diego named — believe it or not — Kenyon Martin, a brand manager for Seattle Yachts who happens to have the same name as the former N.B.A. power forward.“I thought you’d be taller,” Thompson told Martin when he met him at his showroom.Thompson and Nuccio browsed the inventory and then test drove an Axopar. Retail price: north of $300,000, though it was available at a discount because it had been lightly used. Thompson signed a $190 million contract extension in 2019 but still appreciates a deal.Klay Thompson and his boat dealer, Kenyon Martin, on his test drive.Courtesy of Anthony Nuccio“Wow, this is it,” Thompson said as he took the wheel from Martin.Martin customized the boat with underwater lights and an infrared camera so that Thompson could operate it at night. Martin also connected him with a boat captain who trained him.“It’s not like a car where you just flip someone the keys and you’re like, ‘Yeah, you’re good to go,’” Martin said.Thompson said it had taken several months before he felt confident enough to man the boat by himself. In the meantime, he leaned on Nuccio for guidance. Thompson also learned to spear fish.“I love to move my body, and I was going through such a strenuous rehab,” he said. “So to be able to do a hobby that felt refreshing to me and see the world in a different way, it was a dream come true.”Thompson eventually had the boat shipped to the Bay Area, where it became apparent that he was still grasping the nuances of boat ownership. Whenever he commuted to Chase Center, the waterfront arena where Golden State practices and plays its home games, he was leaving his boat in other people’s assigned spots at a nearby boatyard. Mike Brown, Golden State’s associate head coach, overheard that Thompson was causing some hubbub.“He was just docking his boat wherever he wanted,” Brown said. “And I was like, ‘Klay, you can’t park your boat there!’”Arvind Patel, the proprietor of the boatyard, enlightened Thompson on the protocols and was so charmed by him that he invited him to dock Splash Express next to his own 60-foot sailboat.It was the start of an unlikely bromance between Thompson, a five-time All-Star, and Patel, a 70-something grandfather who runs start-ups in Silicon Valley — and does not like to disclose his exact age. (“I’m old,” he said.) Patel has taken an interest in teaching Thompson more about boating, and they recently took a day trip together in search of halibut.“We caught two nice fish and had a wonderful time,” Patel said. “It’s actually kind of a pure friendship because I’m not that into basketball. I’m into it when the local team is winning. I’m a sunny-day fan. So now, if I need tickets, I say, ‘Hey, Mr. Klay!’”Teammates have taken up Thompson on his open offer to join him on the high seas. A trip comes with the caveat that they are likely to make a cameo on Thompson’s Instagram feed.“Got rook on the boat with me,” Thompson said in a recent post, gesturing toward the second-year center James Wiseman behind him. “He don’t know a damn thing, but I’m teaching him the ropes.”Leandro Barbosa, a former teammate who joined Kerr’s staff last season, has been a regular. Barbosa and Thompson will take their mountain bikes with them and dock at one of the small islands in the bay so they can ride the trails.Brown has so far resisted Thompson’s appeals to let him take him out.“I’m not a boat guy,” Brown said. “Maybe if we were in Turks and Caicos.”Thompson, who could return to the court for Golden State by late December or early January, said he could see himself getting into sailing.“The ocean and free diving and spear fishing and boating bring me joy,” he said, “second only to winning basketball games, really.” More

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    After 600 Days, the Raptors Finally Came Home

    The Raptors had been separated from their home fans in Toronto since early 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Strict travel restrictions between the United States and Canada forced the team to play its home games and practice in Tampa, Fla., last season.

    On Wednesday night, they opened their season at home in Toronto — 600 days after their last regular-season home game. More

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    Magic Johnson, le business, la NBA, les Lakers et LeBron

    Johnson prédit le nom des prochaines grandes équipes rivales au sein de la N.B.A, et évoque son seul regret du temps où il dirigeait les Los Angeles Lakers.The New York Times traduit en français une sélection de ses meilleurs articles. Retrouvez-les ici.Beaucoup d’athlètes de nos jours envisagent leur héritage au-delà des terrains de compétition, au travers d’entreprises qu’ils auront créées et de soutien apporté à leurs communautés. Magic Johnson a été pionnier de cet état d’esprit en fondant un empire commercial une fois sa carrière de joueur de la N.B.A, la National Basketball Association derrière lui.“C’était tout naturel pour moi de revenir dans la communauté dans laquelle j’avais grandi, pour l’aider à changer, pour fonder des entreprises et créer des emplois pour les gens”, nous explique Johnson lors d’un récent entretien téléphonique. “Ce qui manquait dans la communauté Noire, c’était des services et des produits de qualité.”Et Johnson de citer des joueurs comme LeBron James, Kevin Durant et Stephen Curry comme exemples de joueurs qui suivent ses pas: en inspirer d’autres, sur le terrain et en dehors.Johnson a servi d’ambassadeur officieux de la N.B.A. pendant la quasi-totalité de sa vie d’adulte: sa rivalité avec Larry Bird et les Boston Celtics dans les années 1980 a propulsé vers des sommets la notoriété de la ligue auprès du grand public, et les exploits de la Dream Team dont il faisait partie aux Jeux Olympiques d’été en 1992 ont contribué à populariser le jeu à l’échelle mondiale.Ce titre est maintenant officiel: pour célébrer ses 75 ans, la N.B.A. a choisi Johnson, Clyde Drexler Dirk Nowitzki, Bob Pettit et Oscar Robertson pour représenter, en 2021-2002, les différentes périodes de son histoire.Johnson, qui a abruptement quitté son rôle de président des opérations basketball des Los Angeles Lakers en 2019, va également faire son retour cette saison sur la chaîne d’informations sportives ESPN comme commentateur dans l’émission “NBA Countdown”.L’ancienne star des Lakers a accordé une interview au New York Times dans laquelle il évoque l’état actuel du basketball, cette ère d’émancipation des joueurs, et un regret personnel qu’il garde de son mandat à la tête des Lakers.Cette interview a été condensée et légèrement éditée pour des besoins de clarté.La N.B.A. connaîtra-t-elle à nouveau de vraies rivalités, comme dans les années 1980 quand les Lakers se retrouvaient presque toujours en finale contre les Celtics?Je crois que, plus les Knicks et les Nets jouent, plus ça a des chances d’arriver, vous ne trouvez pas? Parce que Brooklyn est maintenant une équipe championne. Et les Knicks sont une équipe de playoff. Et c’est ce qu’on va voir. Donc ce qui se passe, c’est qu’il faut qu’elles soient bonnes au même moment. Il faut qu’il y ait vraiment de la haine entre elles.Quand on voyait Philadelphia contre Boston, Dr. J [Julius Erving] et Larry Bird, Chicago contre Detroit, Isiah Thomas, Bad Boys contre les Bulls de Michael Jordan, ils avaient une vraie aversion les uns pour les autres. Donc je pense qu’on est en train de créer quelques-unes de ces rivalités. Je ne sais pas si elle sera un jour aussi intense que celle des Lakers-Celtics, mais si au moins on arrive à une espèce de rivalité, c’est prometteur.Pour Johnson (à gauche), qui a gagné cinq championnats avec les Los Angeles Lakers, le secret d’une vraie rivalité entre équipes de la N.B.A. est qu’il y ait “vraiment de la haine entre elles”.AP Photo/Lennox McLendonUne grande partie de ce que vous laissez en héritage, c’est ce vous avez accompli en dehors des terrains de basket, comme businessman dans les commmunautés défavorisées. Qu’avez-vous appris en travaillant avec ces dernières, et quelles erreurs de grandes entreprises qui tentent de faire pareil avez-vous notées? voir ?Eh bien le commerce de détail a fait l’erreur de penser qu’on ne pouvait pas faire d’argent avec la communauté Noire. Et sans surprise, on a prouvé le contraire avec les Magic Johnson Theatres . C’est pour ça qu’on voit les grands détaillants s’investir plus que jamais aujourd’hui dans l’Amérique urbaine, parce qu’ils savent qu’ils auront un retour sur investissement.Ils essaient aussi de faire du bien dans nos communautés. Je dis toujours: on peut à la fois bien faire et faire du bien. Quand est arrivé toute cette histoire avec George Floyd, le fait qu’il ait été assassiné, on a vu beaucoup d’entreprises du Fortune 500 — parce qu’il y avait tellement de jeunes qui manifestaient dans les rues. Mais c’était pas juste des Noirs — c’était aussi des Blancs et d’autres groupes de personnes. C’est là que tout le monde s’est dit: “Ça suffit. Je dois faire quelque chose. Je vais investir dans l’Amérique urbaine. “Pas mal de PDG m’ont appelé pour dire : “Earvin, on veut faire quelque chose. On n’a aucune idée quoi faire.” J’ai répondu, “Eh bien vous pourriez commencer avant tout par mettre de l’argent dans des petites banques Noires parce que le Paycheck Protection Program, un programme fédéral d’aide aux entreprises touchées par la pandémie, n’a pas eu de retombées chez les Latinos, les propriétaires de petites entreprises, les petits entrepreneurs Noirs, ou les femmes entrepreneures. Et si ces banques avaient des fonds, alors elles pourraient vraiment accorder des prêts à ces entrepreneurs ou aux gens qui veulent s’acheter un premier logement, dans la communauté Noire. Maintenant elles ont plus de cash pour accorder plus de prêts, n’est-ce pas?” Alors il y en a beaucoup qui ont fait ça. Ensuite je leur ai dit, “Écoutez, votre conseil d’administration doit refléter l’Amérique, alors il faut que vous recrutiez davantage de gens ou que vous élargissiez vos conseils d’administration, et aussi au niveau de la direction et de la haute hiérarchie, il faut inclure davantage de minorités à ce niveau-là.”Est-ce que ça vous intéresserait de diriger à nouveau une franchise de la N.B.A?Tout dépend de la situation, donc si de bonnes criconstances se présentent, j’y réfléchirai peut-être. Tout est une question de timing. Tout dépend de l’équipe. Moi je suis un Laker du matin au soir, donc il y a des chances que je retravaille avec Jeanie Buss, et c’est pas une blague. C’est sérieux.On m’a déjà proposé d’être le propriétaire de certaines de ces équipes, et puis j’ai décliné ces offres. Mais encore une fois, j’aime tellement ce sport. Je connais ce sport. Je connais les joueurs. Je connais les agents. Ce qui est bien avec moi, c’est que je suis là où je sais ce qui marche. Je sais à quoi ressemble une équipe gagnante qui a sa place dans le championnat. Donc je sais comment parler aux joueurs — vous n’avez qu’à demander à Julius Randle et à Lonzon Ball et tous ceux-là, parce que j’aime les voir avancer et réussir si bien, et donc les aider à atteindre leur meilleur potentiel. C’était ça mon rôle, et après tu les vois y arriver. C’était vraiment bien de voir ça.Rétrospectivement, y a-t-il des choses que vous auriez fait différemment à la direction des Lakers?Non, j’avais un plan en tête. On était au dessus du plafond salarial. Mon plan était de nous faire passer ce plafond. On y est arrivé. J’ai dû faire des choix difficiles. Julius était en train de monter. Je sais que Larry Nance Jr. était en train de monter, donc on a dû prendre des décisions difficiles qui leur allaient, mais qui allaient aussi aux autres Lakers. Donc je ne pouvais pas leur signer ces rallonges parce que je savais que LeBron était en train de monter, et Kawhi Leonard et tous ces gars-là, donc j’essayais de réserver un peu de ce plafond, pour pouvoir signer une de ces superstars, parce qu’on ne peut pas gagner un championnat sans superstar. Au final, on a fait les choses comme il fallait.La seule chose que j’aurais peut-être dû faire, c’était peut-être de parler à LeBron avant de démissionner, parce que je sentais que je lui devais ça, donc je dirais que c’est peut–être la seule erreur que j’aie faite, de ne pas avoir parlé à Jeanie ni parlé à LeBron avant les faits. Oui, ça je ne le referais pas pareil.LeBron James est arrivé à Los Angeles tard dans sa carrière. Qu’est-ce qu’il peut faire pour gravir les échelons et devenir un des plus grands Lakers de l’histoire?La réponse, vous la connaissez: gagner, c’est tout. Il faut qu’il en gagne un autre. Les fans des Lakers l’adorent déjà. Il nous en déjà gagné un. Il a déjà son maillot, qui sera accroché, mais la plupart des gars qui sont chez les Lakers ont gagné plusieurs championnats. C’est tout ce qu’il a à faire. En gagner un autre, c’est tout. Parce qu’après, il ne s’agit pas juste des Lakers. Il s’agit de l’héritage qu’il laisse ici, et c’est pas seulement ici — c’est à Hollywood aussi. LeBron, il est tellement extraordinaire, et pas uniquement comme joueur de basketball: c’est la plus grande célébrité dans la ville de la célébrité. Il faut lui reconnaître ça, aussi. More

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    Celtics Games Are Pulled in China After Enes Kanter’s Pro-Tibet Posts

    The Boston center called China’s leader, Xi Jinping, a “brutal dictator” on social media, igniting an online backlash in the country. The N.B.A.’s online partner stopped streaming the team’s games.Boston Celtics games were abruptly pulled from the Chinese internet on Thursday after a center on the team, Enes Kanter, said on social media that the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, was a “brutal dictator,” citing his government’s repressive policies in Tibet.The incident could spell fresh trouble for the N.B.A. in China. The league has millions of devoted fans there but has also just spent two years mending its image in the country after a Houston Rockets executive tweeted support in 2019 for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.That tweet, by Daryl Morey, who now works for the Philadelphia 76ers, was quickly deleted, though not before setting off an uproar in China. Sponsors in the country severed ties and the state-run broadcaster stopped airing games, leading to financial fallout that the league estimated cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.Geopolitical tensions and rising nationalism have made China a minefield for multinational companies, whose access to the country’s 1.4 billion consumers is often contingent on not taking the “wrong” stance on issues such as Beijing’s rule in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang.Enes Kanter’s “Free Tibet” shoes.Sarah Stier/Getty ImagesAn N.B.A. representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.In a video that was posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on Wednesday, Kanter spoke into the camera for nearly three minutes and decried what he called a “cultural genocide” in Tibet.“I say, ‘Shame on the Chinese government,’” he said, wearing a T-shirt with the image of the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing considers a criminal separatist. “The Chinese dictatorship is erasing Tibetan identity and culture.”Another social media post by Kanter on Wednesday showed off sneakers emblazoned with Tibetan flag motifs and the words “Free Tibet.”By Thursday, recent Celtics games were marked as unavailable for replay through Tencent, the Chinese internet giant that has partnered with the N.B.A. to stream its games in the country. The website for Tencent Sports also indicated that upcoming Celtics games would not be livestreamed.Tencent Sports has not been livestreaming games involving the 76ers, either. The team hired Morey last year as president of basketball operations.A Tencent spokeswoman declined to comment.On the Chinese social platform Weibo, a Celtics fan account declared that it would immediately stop posting about the team.The account told its 615,000 Weibo followers: “Resolutely resist any behavior that damages national harmony and the dignity of the motherland!”China considers Tibet part of its historical empire, though the authorities have long confronted protests against their rule there. The Communist Party under Mr. Xi has intensified efforts to defray ethnic tensions by encouraging the region’s residents to assimilate into Chinese society and making Mandarin Chinese the dominant language in public life.Kanter, who is of Turkish heritage, has been an outspoken critic of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish prosecutors have sought Kanter’s arrest, and his Turkish passport has been revoked. He has expressed concern that Turkish agents might kill him overseas.Elsie Chen More

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    Knicks Beat Celtics in Opener in Double Overtime

    A double-overtime thriller against the Boston Celtics in the season opener had 11 lead changes and 10 ties.When the typically gruff Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau took the podium on Wednesday night, he did something out of character. He opened his news conference with a smile.He had just sat — or rather, stood — through a double-overtime thriller to start the season against the Boston Celtics, a game that featured 11 lead changes and 10 ties. It was the first time that a Knicks home opener went into double overtime.“The good thing is, at the end of the day, we got the win,” Thibodeau said of the Knicks’ pulling out the 138-134 victory.It was only a regular-season game, but it felt like the basketball equivalent of the Iliad. There were star performances on both sides, like Jaylen Brown’s career-high 46 points for the Celtics after his recent bout with Covid-19, and Julius Randle’s 35 points, picking up right where he left off from carrying the Knicks last season. Even before halftime of opening night, Randle’s performance had the Garden crowd chanting “M-V-P!” again.There was peak basketball, like Robert Williams III, the Celtics center, scoring 16 points on only five shots, and his Knicks counterpart, Mitchell Robinson, doing virtually the same thing on the other end.And there was absolutely atrocious basketball, like the Knicks’ making a defensive miscue to free Celtics guard Marcus Smart for an improbable (and uncontested) 3-pointer that tied the score at the regulation buzzer and sent the game to overtime.Not to be outdone, the Celtics missed a wide open dunk and layup that could have sealed the game in the second overtime.Both teams were without key players: the Celtics without Josh Richardson and Al Horford, and the Knicks without Taj Gibson and Nerlens Noel. And while there aren’t many conclusions that can be drawn from only one game, especially the first one, Wednesday night made clear that there are some options on the new-look Knicks that they didn’t have last season.Last year, the Knicks had difficulty taking pressure off Randle, particularly with shooting the ball from the perimeter to create space for him late in games. The signing of Evan Fournier, a 28-year-old in his 10th N.B.A. season, appears to have given the Knicks a human release valve.Fournier made six 3-pointers on Wednesday night, including one in the final minute of the second overtime to give the Knicks the lead for good. He finished with 32 points, much to the relief of a grateful Randle. He was another valuable option in crunchtime that had to be accounted for.“He came up super clutch in those overtimes,” Randle said. “Hit some big shots. So I just wanted to keep finding him. But Evan is great, man. He’s really smart. We talked after the game. There’s things that we feel like we can do better and work on. He has an extremely high IQ.”The Knicks also saw good signs from Obi Toppin, who came off the bench with 14 points in 28 minutes, the most he had played in a game so far in his career. The Knicks were 4 points better with Toppin on the floor, and his strong play allowed the team to play small and move Randle to the center position. That gave the Knicks a lineup that was more nimble.“Obi is really learning how to become an N.B.A. player,” Fournier said. “From what I saw from him last year, he’s really getting better and better. He understands how to make himself efficient.”It was how Toppin made his presence felt that is likely to encourage Thibodeau to make him a permanent part of the rotation. He routinely put the Celtics’ defense on its heels through sheer energy and running the floor at full sprint to create opportunities for himself. Toppin, now in his second season, missed all three of his 3-pointers and is not yet a reliable shooter, but on Wednesday he made enough smart cuts to compensate for it.“Juice tells me when I’m on the court with him, if I see that he has the rebound, take off,” Toppin said, referring to Randle. “That’s what I do best. I run the floor. Every chance I get, I’m getting out in the open floor.”That will be useful for the Knicks, who were middle of the road in pace last year. Toppin’s efforts were rewarded.“Man, hearing your name chanted in the Garden is amazing,” Toppin said. “It’s an unbelievable experience I can’t even explain. It’s just something you’ve got to live through.”Jaylen Brown had a career-high 46 points for the Celtics.Frank Franklin Ii/Associated PressThis was the kind of regular-season atmosphere that hadn’t been possible during the pandemic, even if it was only one game starting a long slog of a season.But in a competitive Eastern Conference against a division rival, one game could be the difference between having home court advantage and not, as the Knicks themselves found out last year to their benefit. With high aspirations, every victory matters.“I don’t think we escaped,” Randle said. “We made some mental mistakes, errors or whatever. At the end of the day, we found a way to win a game.” More

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    Kyle Lowry Is Ready to Have His Say, On and Off the Court

    MIAMI — For a long while, the scowl on Kyle Lowry’s face seemed permanently etched. He used that edginess to rise from meager beginnings in Philadelphia as he scraped for stability early in his N.B.A. career.“I knew I was good,” Lowry said during breakfast at a hotel here. “I knew I was a starter. But I still had to prove it. I still had the chip on my shoulder. I still had to do this, that and the other. And I still play like that.”That determination blossomed in Toronto, where Lowry, 35, provided a foundational steadiness across nine seasons, six All-Star berths and a championship in 2019. But all that came only after he fought for court time and was traded from Memphis, which drafted him in 2006, and then Houston during his first six years in the league.The stage is now set for Lowry to begin the final arc of his playing career with the Miami Heat, who hope that the addition of a veteran point guard with a championship pedigree will launch them back into contention for a title. The Heat journeyed all the way to the N.B.A. finals in the pandemic-paused 2019-20 season, but last season were quickly dispatched by the Milwaukee Bucks.In the off-season, Lowry signed a three-year contract with Miami worth nearly $90 million, joining a retooled team intent on making Milwaukee’s tenure atop the Eastern Conference a brief stay. Lowry was a prized free-agent target after a midcareer span that made him synonymous with the Raptors.“We all were mutually agreed that it was time,” Lowry said of leaving Toronto. “It’s hard to put it into words. It was just time. For me, I knew with Miami it was the right situation, right timing, right place, right people, right everything.”His journey in Toronto started with questions — he was the team’s backup plan after a failed attempt at landing Steve Nash — crested with a championship and ended in a season no one could have anticipated.Lowry was criticized for poor shooting early in the 2019 finals against Golden State but responded with a clutch performance in the championship-clinching victory in Game 6.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press, via Associated PressThe coronavirus pandemic forced the Raptors to relocate to Tampa, Fla., for their home games in 2020-21. Toronto righted itself after a shaky beginning, only for the season to unravel when Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and others missed time because of virus protocols.“The city of Tampa was great,” Lowry said. “It was just difficult because we didn’t know what to expect day by day. We were in fifth place, fourth place. We hit a Covid stretch and then it was over.”Speculation swirled over whether the franchise would deal Lowry, who was on a one-year contract. The Heat, among other teams, made inquiries about acquiring him before the March trade deadline.Lowry had pledged to his teammates before the season that he intended to help them compete for another championship. The team’s dismal record made such a foray unlikely, but Lowry wanted to stay true to his word in seeing the season through.The adage of sports being a business is a truism. Every so often, the reality becomes murkier.In 2018, the Raptors and Masai Ujiri, the team’s president, traded DeMar DeRozan, a franchise cornerstone who, along with Lowry, had brought respectability and competitiveness to the organization and was beloved in the city.Toronto acquired Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs in the trade, immediately won a championship and frayed its relationship with DeRozan. It avoided a potential similar fracturing with Lowry.“Sometimes franchises have to do what’s best for them, but I was in a position where I had say and I had a little bit, I wouldn’t say power — but I had a little bit of, ‘Listen, it’s not going to be a good look if we don’t collaborate on this together,’” Lowry said. “We all agreed that to be on the same page was the best thing to do, and that was that.“With DeMar not having the autonomy of having a decision, I think it was just such a different circumstance. It prepared them to not do that to me.”Lowry finished the season in Toronto and landed with the Heat, anyway. “It’s been really tough for us to see an incredible player like that go,” Ujiri said at a news conference in August. “We knew this was coming. The direction of our team was kind of going younger and Kyle still has these incredible goals.”Saul Martinez for The New York Times “It was just time. For me, I knew with Miami it was the right situation, right timing, right place, right people, right everything.”Lowry is one of several point guards, including Chris Paul and Mike Conley, who are still flexing impactful games in their mid-30s, a quality Lowry attributes to better modern knowledge about dieting and training.“I’ve never been super athletic,” Lowry said with a laugh. “I can dunk and all that, but I still play low to the ground. I’m not explosive. And I know how to not jump when I don’t need to be jumping.”Lowry saw a role for himself with the Heat, a franchise eager for another championship. He had established a relationship with Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra while playing for him at an N.B.A. Africa exhibition in South Africa in 2017. Tampering investigations concerning Lowry’s sign-and-trade deal to the Heat, along with the one that allowed Lonzo Ball to join the Chicago Bulls, are ongoing, N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver told reporters this week.In Miami, Jimmy Butler is Lowry’s primary wing mate after he spent years alongside DeRozan — “Smooth,” Lowry said of DeRozan. “That’s my best friend.”And of Leonard: “A machine,” Lowry said. “He gets it done.”DeRozan and Leonard are two of the game’s quieter personalities. Butler, though, is a force, both vocally and on the court. Lowry said Butler often communicates through strings of expletives.“I partly think it’s to get him going, because he’s got to get himself going somehow some way, which is dope,” Lowry said, adding that “some people can’t take it” and think Butler’s a jerk.“Nah, it’s just how he is,” Lowry said. “Everybody has different demands on themselves.”Butler recently told reporters that the team was adjusting to how quickly Lowry got the ball upcourt.“He’s always looking to pitch the ball ahead and get guys in the right spot,” Butler said. “It’s incredible. It’s a blessing, and sometimes it’s a curse because you’ve got to be in some really great shape if you’re out there in what we call the Kyle chaos.”Lowry during a preseason game with the Heat.Lynne Sladky/Associated PressOne day, Lowry expects to retire as a Raptor. Until then, he expects his former teammates to grow into the roles he and DeRozan once occupied. Lowry, for example, faced criticism for missing shots during the first few games of the 2019 finals. He responded with 26 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds in the Game 6 championship-clinching victory.“Freddy, OG, Pascal, now they have to take the interviews, and they have to do all the media. Because I’m the guy who was like, ‘Yo, it’s on me,’” he said, adding: “They have to take the criticism, and that’s what’s going to help them grow. I want them to be the All-Stars. I want them to be the champions again. I want them to get opportunities to create generational wealth.”Lowry’s maturity has continued away from the court. He once fell into the financial trap of securing a loan before his first professional game.“If I could do it again, I would’ve lived in North Philly with my mom and my grandma until I got an actual paycheck, because then you’re just paying money back,” Lowry said.Among other pursuits, Lowry has made strides in venture capital and investments in real estate and private equity.“I started to get outside of who I was, of being hard-nosed, and I started letting people in and introducing myself,” Lowry said. “My main source of income is basketball, but I have other interests and I have people around me that are doing very well. Why not have conversations and learn about things? Because when you do retire, you have to transition. Whenever that time comes, hopefully not for a long, long time, I’ll be making decisions on running the companies.”The scowl is erased. The chip on the shoulder remains. The chase for Lowry, on and off the court, continues.“You’re happy, but what’s next?” Lowry said. “How do you get another transition? How do you evolve? How do you continue to get better?” More