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    What Rudy Tomjanovich Learned by Coaching the Greats

    Tomjanovich led the Houston Rockets to two championships (Hakeem Olajuwon), briefly coached the Lakers (Kobe Bryant) and oversaw an Olympic team (Kevin Garnett).Even as a noted players’ coach, Rudy Tomjanovich had a hunch Kobe Bryant would need some time to embrace their new partnership.After five years and three N.B.A. championships under Phil Jackson, and having thrived in the read-and-react triangle offense Jackson championed, Bryant was suddenly playing for a lifelong Houston Rocket with different sideline sensibilities.“It was an adjustment for him because I was a play caller,” Tomjanovich said.What Tomjanovich shared with Jackson, if not an offensive philosophy, was a gift for reading superstars and ultimately connecting with them. His time with Bryant was short during the 2004-5 season, when Tomjanovich quickly deduced that the stress of coaching had become damaging to his health, but at least one Laker urged him not to walk away.“Kobe tried to talk me out of it,” Tomjanovich said in a telephone interview, reflecting on his resignation, as well as how he meshed with Bryant, after just 43 games.In the buildup to this weekend’s pandemic-delayed inductions for the Basketball Hall of Fame’s class of 2020, Tomjanovich, 72, has been telling old stories often — most of them, naturally, from his 32-year run as a player, scout and coach in Houston. The class is headlined by Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Bryant, who will be presented by Michael Jordan and inducted posthumously. Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, that grief-stricken fans and peers, all of the honorees included, are still struggling to process.Tomjanovich coached Bryant and the Lakers for 43 games before stepping down for health reasons.Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesTomjanovich, after twice being named a finalist but not in 2019, earned his place among the 2020 inductees for his coaching achievements in Houston — particularly his championship partnership with Hakeem Olajuwon. The Rockets won back-to-back titles in 1993-94 and 1994-95, first with Olajuwon as the lone All-Star, then as a lowly No. 6 seed after a midseason trade reunited Olajuwon with Clyde Drexler, his college teammate from the University of Houston’s men’s basketball teams known as Phi Slama Jama.Those Rockets teams were routinely dismissed as champions of circumstance, branded as beneficiaries of Jordan’s 18-month hiatus from the N.B.A. to try to transform himself into a Chicago White Sox outfielder. We’ve since learned, through “The Last Dance” documentary series, that Jordan’s iconic Chicago Bulls were not a lock to handle Houston without a big man anywhere near Olajuwon’s level.“I heard it from the horse’s mouth — and that’s Michael,” Tomjanovich said.He said that Charles Barkley, in his first season as a Rocket in 1996-97, arranged a dinner at his home in Phoenix for the Rockets’ coaching staff. There were two very special invited guests: Tiger Woods and Jordan.“It was the first time I really got a chance to talk to Michael,” Tomjanovich said. “Nobody can ever know who would have won, but he said they were concerned that they couldn’t stop Hakeem. It was great to hear it from him.”Bladder cancer brought a cruel halt to Tomjanovich’s three decades in Houston after the 2002-3 season. Yet the way he managed an array of big personalities across 12 seasons as the Rockets’ coach helped Tomjanovich emerge as the Lakers’ choice to replace Jackson — after some flirtations with Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and an attempt to lure Miami’s Pat Riley back to Hollywood. Tomjanovich, then 56, signed a five-year, $30 million contract to coach the Lakers, who traded Shaquille O’Neal to Riley’s Heat four days later.Hakeem Olajuwon was the cornerstone of Houston’s back-to-back title teams in the 1990s under Tomjanovich.Noren Trotman/NBAE via Getty Images“I probably shouldn’t have done that,” Tomjanovich said. “First of all, I was excited that the cancer was gone. I thought, ‘I can’t pass this thing up,’ but then I just felt like I was hurting myself and I had to let it go. I love to coach good players, and Kobe was great. I thought I could do it, health-wise and body-wise, but I couldn’t. People said it was a lot of money to give up, but what good is money if you’re going to make yourself sick?”It was the rare Tomjanovich comeback story without a happy ending. As a player, he survived a vicious on-court punch from Kermit Washington in December 1977 and recovered to reach his fifth All-Star Game in 1978-79. As a coach, Tomjanovich steered the Rockets to playoff upsets of the teams with the league’s top four records (Utah, Phoenix, San Antonio and Orlando) in the 1995 playoffs to win title No. 2, including a second-round rally against the Suns after Houston fell into a 3-1 series deficit.“That’s how we got one of the greatest quotes ever in basketball,” Robert Horry, one of Tomjanovich’s Houston stalwarts, said on Monday. “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”That defiant rebuttal to Rockets skeptics, from a beaming Tomjanovich after Houston completed a 4-0 N.B.A. finals sweep of O’Neal’s Orlando Magic, became his signature line.He is still working in the league, hired in December by the Minnesota Timberwolves as a front-office consultant. He referred to his induction as “the cherry on top of it all” and said that coaching gave him what he craved most other than championships in his final years as a player.A new identity.“I heard that for a while and it was getting old — ‘Oh, you’re the guy who got punched,’” Tomjanovich said. “It was really good to push that in the background.”Tomjanovich didn’t coach Duncan, but said he would never forget the dread he felt upon seeing him as a rookie in San Antonio, teaming with David Robinson. “The first time they threw him the ball, I watched how he caught it and where he positioned it under his chin and how he looked to the middle,” Tomjanovich said. “I got sick to my stomach.”He did briefly coach Garnett and, not surprisingly, clicked with another star. Tomjanovich coached the United States at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Garnett was one of his loudest leaders. Two scares against Lithuania, including a semifinal that the Americans easily could have lost, will surely stay with members of that team, since U.S.A. Basketball, to that point, had not lost with N.B.A. players.“I’m telling you, that was a big, big boulder that you’re carrying around,” Tomjanovich said. “You don’t want to be the first.”Perhaps he and Garnett will have a chance to share a relieved laugh about it at some point during Saturday’s festivities. Every moment of levity is bound to be relished on what figures to be, at various points, an unavoidably somber evening.From left, Robert Horry, Clyde Drexler and Tomjanovich won a championship with the Houston Rockets in the 1994-95 season as the No. 6 seed.Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesHorry, the role player supreme, has as much reason to watch as anyone. He won two of his seven championships alongside Duncan in San Antonio and regards Tomjanovich as “the best coach to play for.” He also played for Jackson and Gregg Popovich, but rates Tomjanovich at the top “because he had a feel for the players and a feel for the game.”“I only still talk to one of them,” Horry said, referring to Tomjanovich.Yet Horry added that he was unlikely to tune in, as much as he wanted to celebrate Rudy T’s big moment, and it was clear why. For all we anticipate with this starry class — what sort of speech we get from the spotlight-shy Duncan is one prime example — it’s still so hard to get past the unjust and unfillable hole in the whole occasion without Bryant able to take his rightful turn on the podium.Bryant joined the Lakers at 17, grew up over the course of 20 seasons in Los Angeles on the biggest of N.B.A. stages and, after such a long and prosperous career, had his life cut tragically short. As a regular analyst on Lakers broadcasts, Horry said he feels that sting every time the team’s network runs what it calls “Mamba Moment” highlight tributes to Bryant, his teammate on the Lakers’ three-peat championship teams from 1999-2000 to 2001-2.Horry’s daughter, Ashlyn, had a rare genetic condition and died at 17 in 2011. He said he thinks often about Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, and “having to talk about not just losing a daughter but a husband, too.”“It’s too sad,” Horry said.The plan here is to revel as much as possible in Saturday’s joys, like the overdue recognition for a decorated coach like Tomjanovich, while bracing for the sadness we will all understand.The Scoop @TheSteinLineCorner ThreeThe Miami Heat had a shorter off-season than any other Eastern Conference team after their run to the 2020 finals stretched into October.Steven Senne/Associated PressYou ask; I answer. Every week in this space, I’ll field three questions posed via email at marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line.(Questions may be condensed or lightly edited for clarity.)Q: In last week’s newsletter, you wrote that no one foresaw that three of last season’s final four teams would be in danger of landing in the playoff play-in tournament. That is demonstrably untrue. I am no N.B.A. prophet, but I was published in your newsletter before the season started saying that it was tremendously unfair to ask the four best teams from the season before to return to play after as little as 71 days off. I can only assume that many other voices expressed similar concerns. — Avary Mitchell (McKinney, Texas)Stein: I have never disagreed for one second with what you wrote in December. The truncated turnaround from last season to this season was always going to be roughest on the Lakers, Heat, Celtics and Nuggets — and, yes, unfair in a lot of ways.But I don’t remember anyone saying that they expected any of those teams to slip all the way to No. 7 in its conference.I reread your letter, and the same holds for you. There’s a difference between denouncing the disparity in teams’ off-seasons and predicting that the defending champion Lakers would finish seventh in the West.Injuries and Covid-19 disruptions have been a major factor for the Lakers, Heat and Celtics, on top of the unfairness, but all have still managed to slip further in the standings than any of the worst-case-scenario pundits were projecting when the season began.Q: You have been writing a lot about the Nets’ recent signing of the former CSKA Moscow guard Mike James. I want to ask you about the guard from my country who recently joined CSKA: Gabriel Lundberg. He does not have a Luka Doncic pedigree, but he was the driving force behind Denmark’s upset of Lithuania in November. Does he have an N.B.A. future? — Martin Ronnow Lund (Denmark)Stein: Thank you, Martin, for what (I think) will be recorded as our first question from Denmark.I’ve done some checking on Lundberg, since I admittedly don’t have much of a file on him, and it’s fair to say that N.B.A. teams are well aware of him now. At 26, he has made a storybook progression from playing in the Spanish second division as recently as the 2017-18 season to emerging as a force with a European powerhouse like CSKA. The performance (28 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists) you referred to against Lithuania certainly registered in front offices here, even though Lithuania didn’t have access to its N.B.A. players.There will be questions about his size (6-foot-4) as a shooting guard and his one-on-one skills, but I am told he plays with great confidence — to go with his great back story. Perhaps he can be the first Dane to really break through in the N.B.A.; helping a James-less CSKA reach the EuroLeague final four ensures he will be well scouted.Lars Hansen was the first Danish-born player to be drafted and had a brief stint with Seattle in the late 1970s, but he moved to Canada at a young age and represented Canada in the 1976 Olympics. David Andersen, who had a Danish father, had stints with Houston, Toronto and New Orleans in the N.B.A., but he was born in Australia and played internationally as an Australian. The Nets drafted the Copenhagen-born Christian Drejer with the 51st overall pick in 2004, but Drejer never played in the N.B.A.Q: I read your recent newsletter on the play-in games format and, as a fan, I love it. I also love the Knicks. The last several years have been rough, but I want to know: Is Tom Thibodeau going to win the Coach of the Year Award? — (Peter Thurlow, Ridgewood, N.J.)Stein: My official unofficial ballot, which I publish every season just for posterity, will headline next Tuesday’s newsletter. As a reminder: The New York Times does not participate in league award voting in any sport, but I still like going through the exercise of breaking down each race just for discussion purposes.While saving my extended commentary on coach of the year and the other categories until then, I can share that I was indeed leaning toward Thibodeau entering the final week of the regular season because of his unquestioned influence in establishing the Knicks as this season’s foremost overachieving team. To actually win it, though, he’ll have to beat out the league’s only two coaches (Utah’s Quin Snyder and Phoenix’s Monty Williams) likely to wind up in the 50-win club in this 72-game season.Numbers GameCarmelo Anthony keeps climbing the career scoring leaderboard, at a time when many thought he would be out of the league.Steph Chambers/Getty Images5Since Portland’s Carmelo Anthony made his debut in the N.B.A. in 2003-4, five players have moved into the N.B.A.’s top 10 in career scoring: No. 3 LeBron James (35,318), No. 4 Kobe Bryant (33,643), No. 6 Dirk Nowitzki (31,560), No. 8 Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) and No. 10 Anthony (27,337). The five players displaced from the top 10 in that span, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, were John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins, Oscar Robertson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Elvin Hayes.30Russell Westbrook is the N.B.A.’s new career leader in triple-doubles in the regular season, after surpassing Oscar Robertson’s record 181 on Monday in Atlanta, but he still has some ground to make up to match Magic Johnson’s record of 30 postseason triple-doubles. Westbrook has 10 playoff triple-doubles — two more than Robertson’s eight. LeBron James, with 28, is Johnson’s closest pursuer on the postseason list.2In April 1970, after successfully blocking a trade to Baltimore, Oscar Robertson was dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks from the Cincinnati Royals for the modest return of Flynn Robinson and Charlie Paulk. Robinson and Paulk spent only one season each in Cincinnati, and the Royals, just two seasons after the trade, moved out of Ohio to become the Kings and a team with two home cities: Kansas City, Mo., and Omaha.15Dallas’s Luka Doncic and Philadelphia’s Dwight Howard lead the league with 15 technical fouls each, followed by Russell Westbrook (14). Doncic and Howard each remain one technical away from a one-game suspension, but there would be no carry-over if a 16th tech was accrued in the final game of the regular season. Slates are wiped clean for the playoffs, with seven technicals in the postseason resulting in a one-game suspension.22-9Since Damian Lillard’s debut season in 2012-13, Portland has won 22 of its 31 games against the Los Angeles Lakers, according to Elias. It’s the Lakers’ second-worst record against an opponent in that span, better only than a 7-28 mark against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Trail Blazers’ home win Friday over the Lakers gave them a huge edge in the race to secure the sixth seed in the Western Conference and to avoid the playoff play-in round next week.Hit me up anytime on Twitter (@TheSteinLine) or Facebook (@MarcSteinNBA) or Instagram (@thesteinline). Send any other feedback to marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. More

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    Kobe Bryant’s Nike Contract Expired. The Implications Are Complex.

    The end of the deal has no analogue in basketball or sneaker history, opening a hole in the market as Bryant’s shoes have been used heavily by N.B.A. athletes and have seen high demand among the public since his death.The most popular shoes on the N.B.A. hardwood for the last several seasons were not the signature sneakers endorsed by the top active players, like Nike’s LeBron James or Adidas’s Damian Lillard. They were not the shoes endorsed by the man who practically invented the modern sneaker game, Michael Jordan.Instead they were Nike’s line of Kobe Bryant’s signature sneakers, which were worn by 103 players last season — about 20 percent of the league’s players — according to the sneaker website Baller Shoes DB. Many W.N.B.A. players, like the Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd, also wear Bryant’s signature sneakers.But soon those players will need to find new shoes, at least if they want to play in brand-new pairs. Nike confirmed Monday that its contract with the estate of Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash last year, expired last week.“Kobe Bryant was an important part of Nike’s deep connection to consumers,” a Nike spokesman, Josh Benedek, said in a statement. “He pushed us and made everyone around him better. Though our contractual relationship has ended, he remains a deeply loved member of the Nike family.”In the uncertainty over Bryant’s continued endorsement deal for basketball shoes and apparel, a number of issues collide: what professional basketball players wear on the court, the demand from consumers for Bryant merchandise and how a person’s name and image are used, even after their death.Nike has a short window in which it can continue selling the shoes and apparel featuring Bryant that it has already manufactured, but soon that merchandise will disappear from Nike’s website and store shelves.Switching shoe companies is not uncommon for top basketball players, whose sneaker contracts can pay tens of millions of dollars annually and rival or even exceed their N.B.A. contracts in value. Bryant signed with Adidas before he entered the N.B.A., in 1996, then signed with Nike in 2003 after his Adidas deal ended. Even as some major sponsors dropped Bryant when he was accused of sexual assault, Nike, which had signed Bryant shortly before he was arrested, stood by him.The current situation with Bryant’s estate has no analogue in basketball or sneaker history. Signature basketball shoes really only began to gain prominence in the late 1980s, and barely any N.B.A. superstars from that era or later have died, let alone at a young age like Bryant, who was 41.Different versions of Nike shoes were left at a mural honoring Bryant shortly after his death.Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York TimesThe closest comparisons are perhaps Chuck Taylor, the namesake of Converse’s famed Chuck Taylor All-Stars, whose shoes remain popular 50 years after his death, or Maya Moore, the W.N.B.A. star and Jordan Brand endorser, who has sat out the past few seasons to focus on social justice. But the strained analogies suggest the past provides little hint of what will happen next.Almost all N.B.A. players are endorsed by one sneaker company or another. But only a handful have lines of shoes named after them, fewer have popular lines that sell tens or hundreds of millions of dollars worth of merchandise annually and even fewer stay popular in retirement. In the 1990s, a handful of W.N.B.A. stars had shoe deals, including Sheryl Swoopes, who was the first female athlete to have a signature basketball sneaker.Nike clearly believed that Bryant’s appeal extended into retirement, signing him to a new five-year agreement on the day of his final N.B.A. game: April 13, 2016. Bryant played his final season in the Kobe 11s, the 11th edition of his sneaker line. After his retirement, Nike released a new line of sneakers styled as Kobe A.D., or anno Domini, the Latin phrase that means “in the year of the Lord.”Nike’s Jordan brand, and its continued release of Air Jordan sneakers, remains quite popular, but as everyday fashion shoes; N.B.A. players rarely wear Air Jordans during games these days. Bryant attempted to buck that trend in retirement, with Nike releasing Bryant “protro” shoes: retro Bryant shoes updated with modern professional performance features.While they were popular with basketball players, Bryant’s sneakers were not always the most popular off the court, worn with jeans or sweats.Before Bryant’s death, the market for his shoes was fairly niche, said Chad Jones, the co-founder of Another Lane, a marketplace for sneaker collectors. “Performance wise, a lot of performance athletes loved Kobe shoes, but fashion wise is really the predictor for how well it will sell to the masses,” Jones said.Nike did not sign Bryant to what is effectively a lifetime contract, like it has done with Jordan and James, raising questions about how much continued value it saw in his name. The Kobe shoes N.B.A. players wore were often limited editions or unique colors that average consumers could not buy, partly explaining why their popularity on the court did not necessarily translate to popularity on the street.Since Bryant’s death, Nike has released new Bryant merchandise, but mostly in limited quantities through its SNKRS app. The shoes have sold out almost immediately, and then showed up for much higher prices on resale markets, leading to accusations that Nike was allowing resellers to profit from Bryant’s death.“When people don’t get them on retail, but on a resale platform for five times or two times the price, they are upset,” Jones said.In a statement posted to Instagram on Monday night, Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s widow, wrote that she was “hoping to forge a lifelong partnership with Nike that reflects my husband’s legacy,” and hinted that she will find a way to continue to sell Bryant’s products, perhaps in greater quantities.Vanessa Bryant during the memorial for her husband, Kobe Bryant, and their daughter Gianna Bryant last February.Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports, via Reuters“My hope will always be to allow Kobe’s fans to get and wear his products,” she wrote. “Kobe’s products sell out in seconds. That says everything.”If Vanessa Bryant cannot come to an agreement with Nike on a new contract, building a new brand around Kobe could be a challenge. Nike, including brands it owns like Jordan Brand and Converse, controls more than half the sneaker market, with companies like Adidas and Puma as distant competitors. Under Armour, which is endorsed by Golden State’s Stephen Curry, has struggled to break through.Many sneakers are promoted through elaborate back stories about how the player inspired specific design details or guided the design process, and through player-focused advertising campaigns.But what really sells sneakers is players’ connection to culture, or the feelings they evoke in potential consumers, not necessarily winning N.B.A. championships or a shoe’s performance features. Allen Iverson’s rebellious, me-against-the-world persona made his “Answer” shoes from Reebok popular sellers in the 2000s, even though he never won an N.B.A. title.Bryant was not always a popular player, and his early shoes were not top sellers. Through repeated trips to China and success in the Olympics he found fame outside of America’s borders, and as he aged a generation of players entered an N.B.A. that revered him.If the year since his death has shown anything, it is that even into retirement Bryant’s popularity was growing as he made new connections in Hollywood, opened a sports academy and became a prominent and vocal supporter of women’s basketball. More

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    Stephen Curry Breaks Kobe Bryant's Record for Consecutive 30-point Games

    It is not that Stephen Curry has not been good all season. He has had games of 62 and 57 points, after all. But with his Golden State Warriors mired in mediocrity and players like Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid emerging as leading candidates for the Most Valuable Player Award, Curry had faded a bit into the background.That has changed in the last month. After five games away nursing a bruised tailbone, Curry returned and began a streak of 30-point games that has now reached 11, breaking Kobe Bryant’s record for a player who is 33 or older.The run has revived talk of a third M.V.P. trophy for Curry, and the Warriors look like they have a good chance of making the playoffs — as the team that no high seed wants to face.Here’s a look at the 11-game run that turned around Curry’s season, and perhaps Golden State’s, too.Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press1. March 29, vs. Bulls, 32 points, winReturning from his injury, Curry helped the Warriors end a four-game losing streak. “It wasn’t fun, but I got through it,” he said.Mary Holt/USA Today Sports, via Reuters2. April 1, at Heat, 36 points, lossThe attention fell on the Heat debut of Victor Oladipo, and Miami beat Golden State by 7. It would turn out to be the heaviest Warriors loss in their last 11 games, in which the team went 7-4. Curry still managed 11 rebounds, though, his best total of the run.Curry gave his jersey to the rapper Two Chainz after scoring 37 points against the Hawks.John Bazemore/Associated Press3. April 4, at Hawks, 37 points, lossAfter missing a game at Toronto because of the lingering tailbone injury (not coincidentally, the Warriors lost that game by 53 points), Curry was back, wearing protective padding. “He pretty much did whatever he wanted in that first half,” Hawks Coach Nate McMillan said.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press4. April 6, vs. Bucks, 41 points, winFor the first time in the streak the Warriors beat an elite team, getting a 1-point win with a late comeback. Of course, the Bucks badly missed their own star, Giannis Antetokounmpo.Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press5. April 9, vs. Wizards, 32 points, lossPerhaps the poorest performance of the run, despite the 32 points. Curry shot 11 of 25 from the field and his team lost to the middling Wizards at home. Curry missed a long 3-pointer to tie the score as time expired.Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press6. April 10, vs. Rockets, 38 points, winA sixth straight 30-point game made the scoring streak the longest of Curry’s career, and he wasn’t done. “He had a highlight reel worth of plays out there tonight,” Coach Steve Kerr said.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images7. April 12, vs. Nuggets, 53 points, winCurry’s best game thus far and his first 50-point night since February. He had 10 3-pointers, the most so far in his streak, and the start of a run of four of five games with at least 10. Curry also passed Wilt Chamberlain as the Warriors’ career scoring leader.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press8. April 14, at Thunder, 42 points, winIn the biggest team win of the streak, Golden State beat Oklahoma City by 38 points. Curry shot 14 of 20 and had eight assists. Draymond Green said he knew a big Curry night was coming. “I can kind of tell when he comes out,” Green said. “Just the look in his eyes.” Another 11 3s gave Curry 29 over three games, an N.B.A. record.David Dermer/Associated Press9. April 15, at Cavaliers, 33 points, winA fourth straight win for the Warriors, for the first time this season. Curry was only 4 of 13 from behind the 3-point line but compensated with eight 2-pointers. The Warriors improved to 16-1 in their last 17 games against Cleveland.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press10. April 17, at Celtics, 47 points, lossThe Warriors’ winning streak ended in a closely contested game, and Curry kept scoring, with 11 3s. “It took everything,” said Kemba Walker of the Celtics, adding: “We knew it was going to be tough. These guys are playing so well. Obviously they’ve got one of the best players in the world. He’s incredible.”Matt Slocum/Associated Press11. April 19, at Sixers, 49 points, winThe Warriors took on one of the best teams in the N.B.A. and won. Ten more 3-pointers for Curry, who faced off against his brother, Seth. The 11th straight 30-point game is a record for players 33 and older, surpassing Kobe Bryant’s mark. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like the run he’s on,” Sixers Coach Doc Rivers said.Next up? A visit to Washington on Wednesday night. More

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    Vanessa Bryant Uses Her Platform to Battle the Powerful

    Through social media and a lawsuit, she is trying to hold law enforcement to account in ways that are uncommon for women, and especially for women of color.For years, under the power dynamics of Los Angeles policing, many victims who have accused powerful law enforcement institutions of wrongdoing have found their charges batted aside or buried in bureaucratic inertia.But in recent months the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has faced a new, potent adversary: Vanessa Bryant.By leveraging her wealth and celebrity, Bryant, 38, is flipping the usual script. Through social media posts and a lawsuit, she is holding authorities to account in ways that are uncommon for women, and especially for women of color. And she has done it all while she navigates her grief after the deaths of her 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and her husband, Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers star, who were killed in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif., in January 2020.She filed the suit in September against the Sheriff’s Department, four deputies, the county and its fire department for invasion of privacy and negligence after deputies used personal cellphones to take pictures of the site that included the remains of her husband, their daughter and the seven others who died.In mid-March, Vanessa Bryant shared an amended complaint and the names of the four accused deputies — Joey Cruz, Rafael Mejia, Michael Russell and Raul Versales — to her more than 14 million Instagram followers. County lawyers had tried to keep the identities of the deputies hidden, arguing, in part, that they could be the target of hackers. It was an odd argument, considering that the lawyers had said the images had been deleted. A federal judge sided with Bryant.In the month since Bryant shared the names of the deputies, the call for law enforcement accountability has remained at the forefront of public debate through the murder trail of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who knelt on the neck of George Floyd.Bryant’s public campaign against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, a high-profile but long-troubled institution, has caught the attention of community activists and legal experts who are accustomed to families, especially those of color, silently hoping for but not receiving what they would consider justice. Vanessa Bryant is Mexican-American, and her husband was Black.“She has the ability to speak out and highlight what have been deep-seated and pervasive problems in the Sheriff’s Department around corruption, secrecy and lack of accountability,” said Priscilla Ocen, a member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission and a professor at Loyola Law School. “She has the means. She has the visibility and, importantly, she has the protection that is afforded based on her wealth and celebrity in ways that families in East Los Angeles or Compton just don’t.”Bryant, through her lawyer, declined to comment for this article. She has also filed a wrongful-death suit against Island Express Helicopters, the company that operated the helicopter that crashed.“Transparency promotes accountability,” said Luis Li, one of Bryant’s lawyers. “We look forward to presenting Mrs. Bryant’s case in open court.”The Sheriff’s Department, in response to a request for comment, referred to a tweet from Sheriff Alex Villanueva: “We will refrain from trying this case in the media and will wait for the appropriate venue. Our hearts go out to all the families affected by this tragedy.”The department released a statement last fall that said, “As a result of the swift actions we took under extraordinary circumstances, no pictures made it into the public arena.”The sheriff had assured Bryant that deputies had secured the crash scene to ensure her privacy, according to Bryant’s suit.The Los Angeles Times reported in February 2020 that a citizen filed a complaint after a deputy showed graphic photos of the crash victims at a bar. Instead of the complaint starting a formal inquiry, according to the suit, the deputies were told “that if they came clean and deleted the photos, they would not face any discipline.”The suit stated that Bryant “privately sought information from the Sheriff’s Department and Fire Department to assess whether she should brace for her loved ones’ remains to surface on the internet.”Firefighters worked the scene of a helicopter crash.Mark J. Terrill/Associated PressShe asked if the photos had been secured and how far they had ventured. According to the suit, each department “refused to respond to all but one of Mrs. Bryant’s questions and asserted they had no legal obligation to assist.”The suit stated that Cruz, then a deputy trainee, received copies of the photos from Mejia. Cruz is accused of showing them to his niece at his mother’s house, while making a crude remark about the images of the bodies, and of showing the images at a restaurant in Norwalk, Calif., where he could be seen zooming in and out of the pictures on a security camera.“Many of us are on the receiving end of police mistreatment and we just have to swallow those indignities,” said Jody Armour, a professor at the University of Southern California, whose father, Fred, used criminal law he taught himself in prison to be released after a significant portion of his sentence. “Grin and bear it, because we don’t have the social kind of capital to be taken as seriously as she’s being taken.”Law enforcement officials, Ocen said, typically shape the narratives that filter out of debated interactions. As a result, public opinion is often split about whom to sympathize with. Not in this case, she said.“There’s universal sympathy, universal outrage for the conduct of the Sheriff’s Department in trivializing, minimizing and desecrating the memory of Kobe Bryant and their daughter,” Ocen said.Villanueva, the sheriff, announced an investigation into the sharing of the photos in March 2020, before the suit was filed, and asked the county’s Office of Inspector General to monitor it.“That was a sham,” said Max Huntsman, the inspector general.By that point, Huntsman said, his office had started an inquiry into Villanueva’s announcement that the photos were ordered to be deleted. Additional efforts to monitor the investigation were stymied by the Sheriff’s Department, which only offered him periodic, redacted updates, Huntsman said.“You can’t really rely on an organization to investigate itself when it’s the one that may have behaved improperly,” he said. “And when an elected official is the person who may have behaved improperly, then somebody else needs to investigate them if you want it to be at all credible and have real accountability.”The watchdog positions of the oversight committee and inspector general were created as checks in the aftermath of department scandals before Villanueva’s tenure as sheriff.Ocen and eight other civilians make up the commission, which recommends department improvements. But the group does not have the authority to force the department to adopt policies or discipline personnel. Recently, voters granted the commission the power to subpoena records.The relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and the committee and inspector general is adversarial. Two years ago, the Sheriff’s Department began a criminal investigation into whether Huntsman had illegally obtained internal records.The issues highlighted by Bryant’s suit represent a broader pattern within the Sheriff’s Department, Huntsman said. In December, his office released a 17-page report highlighting what it called “unlawful conduct” by the department, such as threatening county officials, failing to disclose the names of officers involved in shootings and not enforcing Covid-19 safety directives.A month earlier, the commission unanimously approved a resolution that condemned Villanueva’s leadership and called for his resignation.In February, Sheriff Alex Villanueva answered questions about Tiger Woods’s car crash.Allison Zaucha for The New York Times“I’m on record saying that I think he’s a criminal, and I’m on record as identifying a bunch of conduct by the Sheriff’s Department under his watch that is completely unlawful,” Huntsman said. “We have a rogue law enforcement agency as a result of what they’re doing, but that doesn’t mean he has to resign. He has to start following the law.”In September, Bryant took notice when Villanueva called on LeBron James to double the reward leading to information on a gunman who had ambushed and shot two deputies.In response, Bryant posted screenshots from a Twitter user onto her Instagram story that read: “He shouldn’t be challenging LeBron James to match a reward or ‘to step up to the plate.’ He couldn’t even ‘step up to the plate’ and hold his deputies accountable for photographing dead children.”The suits, including ones from the families of the crash’s victims, are ongoing. Some change has already occurred.In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed into law a bill making it a misdemeanor for law enforcement and emergency medical workers to take photos of scenes that do not involve their work. The bill, H.R. 2655, was introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, Democrat of Carson, and violations carry fines of up to $1,000. Gipson named it the Kobe Bryant Bill.“Emergency medical workers not only have a responsibility to the victims, but also I believe to the family,” Gipson said. “There’s an obligation to protect the situation and not try to expose the family to further grief.”He added: “Hopefully this is a deterrent that will prevent this from happening again.” More

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    In the N.B.A., Money Speaks Louder Than Stars

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The NBA SeasonVirus Hotspots in the N.B.A.The Friendship of LeBron and Anthony DavisThe N.B.A. Wanted HerMissing Klay ThompsonKobe the #GirlDadAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storymarc stein on basketballIn the N.B.A., Money Speaks Louder Than StarsWith tens of millions of dollars at stake, the All-Star Game is unlikely to be derailed by pushback from the league’s biggest stars about the health risks or the need for a break.The N.B.A.’s biggest stars are speaking out against the All-Star Game, but money has the megaphone for now.Credit…Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via ReutersFeb. 10, 2021, 11:30 a.m. ETDavid Stern was in his final full season as the N.B.A. commissioner in 2012-13 when LeBron James won his fourth and most recent Most Valuable Player Award. Eight years later, James is in his 18th season and a leading candidate in the race to receive the Maurice Podoloff trophy from Commissioner Adam Silver.James can still do many things in his supposed twilight years with the Los Angeles Lakers. He remains the game’s most high-profile figure and, by playing at an M.V.P. level at age 36, is constantly reminding us that basketball has its own answer to the N.F.L.’s time-defying Tom Brady.It would appear not even James, though, can stop the N.B.A. from staging an All-Star Game next month in Atlanta.He couldn’t have come out much stronger against the concept than he did late last week, blasting the N.B.A.’s plans to stuff three days’ worth of All-Star events into a one-shot Turner Sports extravaganza on March 7. League and players’ union officials are nonetheless expected to soon announce that those plans have been locked in.It is reminiscent of how the season started — and another illustration of the louder-than-ever say held by the N.B.A.’s broadcast partners at such challenging financial times for the sport’s various stakeholders.Players largely left the summer bubble expecting the 2020-21 season to be contested exclusively in 2021, starting no earlier than January and perhaps as late as March. Opening night was then suddenly moved up to Dec. 22 at the strong urging of the league’s two national broadcast partners, who wanted to preserve two valuable television properties: Disney’s five-game Christmas slate on ESPN and ABC, and Turner’s traditional Tuesday night doubleheader to start the season.As James said in a postgame session with reporters on Thursday, many players assumed there would not be an All-Star Game during the extended break scheduled from March 5 to 10. Those players were surprised when it emerged in late January that the league and the union were working on a one-night-only window for All-Star festivities that would enable TNT to air the event, the jewel of its annual N.B.A. coverage.The 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago, for example, attracted 7.3 million viewers for TNT. That was better than the viewing figures for any of the Christmas games on Disney-owned channels.The big difference between December and now is that no one has pinpointed the financial impact of a modified All-Star program. League officials maintain that it’s difficult to project figures for All-Star festivities in terms of basketball-related income, which owners and players split nearly 50/50. The New York Times was among the news outlets to report in December that starting the season before Christmas, rather than in mid-January, was expected to generate at least $500 million more in revenue.Chris Paul, left, has been working with the league to plan for the All-Star Game as president of the players’ union.Credit…Ralph Freso/Associated PressTwo estimates I was provided by industry insiders pegged the value of Turner’s All-Star coverage at $30 million to $60 million — money that the N.B.A. would have to make up to Turner later if the game was not played. You can safely assume that the overall potential loss (with B.R.I. added) would be much higher, given the way players of considerable stature, such as Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers, have talked about what’s motivating the league to take the health risk of bringing together the top players during the coronavirus pandemic.“It is what it is at this point,” Leonard said. “We all know why we’re playing it — there’s money on the line.”Leonard seemed to grasp better than most that, 11 months into the N.B.A.’s new reality (and the world’s), trade-offs for the big picture are a constant.Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Nets’ James Harden are among the marquee players who have joined James in publicly questioning the All-Star plans, contributing to an uncharacteristic swirl of pushback for Silver from the league’s stars. Phoenix’s Chris Paul, the players’ association president, said in response that “guys are entitled to their feelings” — but Paul insisted that “decisions are being made” with “the full body of players in mind.”Translation: More than 400 players who won’t be invited to participate in the resuscitated All-Star gathering are counting on those who do take part to ensure TNT can proceed with its usual showcase event and insulate them from a costly financial hit.The league’s deals with Disney and TNT, worth $24 billion over nine years, do not expire until after the 2024-25 season, but it is never too soon in coronavirus times to re-establish oneself as an exemplary partner. The N.B.A., for all the criticism it has absorbed in recent days, is certainly on a winning streak there, from conceiving a bubble to safely usher the 2019-20 season to a conclusion … to engineering that bubble at Walt Disney World as opposed to Las Vegas or any other interested city … to this All-Star save.I’m told Phoenix was proposed as a potential venue for March 7. Holding it in Atlanta instead would put the game in TNT’s backyard, eliminating travel for its coverage crews.Yet it’s the opposite for the participants, and that’s the unsettling part — even after the N.B.A. announced zero positives in leaguewide coronavirus testing last week. The All-Stars face extra travel to a function steeped in fraternization between players at a time when teams, in their day-to-day existence, are strongly discouraged from postgame interactions of any kind. There’s seemingly no way to avoid describing this game — an exhibition — as risky.The All-Star Game “has been an important tradition throughout the history of the league and remains one of our top events for global fan interest and engagement,” Mike Bass, an N.B.A. spokesman, said in a statement to The Times last week. “The health and safety of everyone involved is at the forefront of our discussions with the players’ association.”The league and the union have been adamant that the game will feature a significant philanthropic component to benefit historically Black colleges and universities as well as Covid-19 relief efforts. The broadcast itself is certain to amplify a league campaign that urges fans to take the coronavirus vaccine as it becomes available and features Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Gregg Popovich in commercial spots.Murmurs persist that some All-Stars will seek to opt out of playing what has been a mandatory assignment for those selected, according to the league’s bylaws, but all signs indicate the game will go ahead.James surely knows it, too. Don’t forget that, dismayed as he was about a game that “I don’t even understand” and a trip that will take 24 All-Stars “into one city that’s open,” he also said he would be there if selected.Even for the face of the N.B.A.’s player empowerment era, even when he’s playing Brady-esque ball, there are limits.Corner ThreeKobe Bryant, left, and Shaquille O’Neal, right, won three championships in eight seasons together in Los Angeles.Credit…Matt Campbell/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesYou ask; I answer. Every week in this space, I’ll field three questions posed via email at marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line.(Responses may be lightly edited or condensed for clarity.)Q: Who you got? Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant? Or LeBron James and Anthony Davis? I know you’ve covered both duos. I bet you go with Kobe and Shaq. — Chris Williams (Laguna Beach, Calif.)Stein: We’ve seen James and Davis together for less than a season and a half. As fearsome as they look as a tag team, even after winning a championship on their first try and quickly establishing the Lakers as this season’s title favorites, I can’t put them ahead of the twosome at the center of the N.B.A.’s last three-peat.Not yet.But I reserve the right to change this vote down the road.For all their success together, O’Neal and Bryant had to settle for three titles in eight seasons. They dominated every aspect of the league for nearly a decade, with their drama as much as with the on-court havoc they caused, but the partnership was dissolved in acrimony when the Lakers decided it was untenable to keep orbiting the team around O’Neal and traded him to Miami in July 2004. There will always be a sense that these two divorced prematurely and could have won more together.James and Davis so far have a harmony that O’Neal and Bryant scarcely achieved. It’s still the honeymoon phase, with no guarantee things stay this way, but the Lakers also have their two biggest stars under contract together through 2022-23. The outlook is rather rosy — as long as they stay healthy. (Davis, as we speak, is nursing some nagging discomfort in his right leg and foot.)It’s important to remember the circumstances when making your assessments. O’Neal hadn’t won an N.B.A. championship and was still reasonably young himself, at 24, when he was paired with Bryant, then the most ambitious teenager in basketball history. James and Davis not only have games that mesh together beautifully, as offensive fulcrum and defensive anchor, but they came together when they were clearly ready to team up.James is in the later stages of his career and, with his legacy secure, has willingly ceded a chunk of the spotlight to Davis that might have been much harder to share in his 20s. Davis couldn’t carry New Orleans to glory as the face of that franchise and has clearly reveled in the boost he gets from James’s presence to unlock his full potential.Q: Why did the Nets feel compelled to give away so much in the James Harden trade? Couldn’t this transaction have gone forward without including Cleveland and Jarrett Allen? — Tom Cartelli (Milford, N.J.)Stein: No chance.The three future first-round draft picks that the Nets parted with were the headliner trade assets they used to win the Harden sweepstakes, but they were not going to have any shot at constructing a workable deal without including both Caris LeVert and Allen. Rather than keep Allen, Houston routed him to the Cavaliers for another first-round pick (Milwaukee’s 2021 first-rounder) and to reduce the Rockets’ luxury-tax bill.Harden’s incoming $41,254,920 salary required the Nets to send out a minimum of $32,923,936 to make the salary-cap math work. Allen’s $3,909,902 salary didn’t make much of a dent into that figure, but combining him with another blossoming talent in LeVert at $16,203,704, those three first-round picks and the rights for Houston to swap first-rounders in four additional drafts enabled the Nets to outbid Philadelphia and Boston.Q: Given the potential voter fatigue with the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo this season and Luka Doncic’s Mavericks off to a slow start, could we see someone in his 30s win the Most Valuable Player Award for the first time in 15 years? Steve Nash was the last to win the award in his 30s in 2006. — David Anderson (Raleigh, N.C.)Stein: You’re onto something for sure. Denver’s Nikola Jokic (26 on Feb. 19) and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (27 in March) are at the forefront of the M.V.P. race with roughly one-third of the regular season complete, but there are more 30-somethings in the conversation than players in their 20s.The Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (36), Golden State’s Stephen Curry (33 in March) and the Nets’ Kevin Durant (32) would be in my top five with Jokic and Embiid if voting ended today.The duel between Curry (57 points) and Doncic (42 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds) Saturday night in a 134-132 victory for Dallas was one of the games of the season so far — and reminded you that Curry is back to his best after missing almost all of last season with a broken hand.(The Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, in case you’re wondering, turns 30 in June.)Numbers GameAnthony Davis is struggling from the free-throw line this season.Credit…Daniel Dunn/USA Today Sports, via Reuters17The Western Conference-leading Utah Jazz (20-5) are making 17 3-pointers per game — which puts them on pace for a league record. The 2018-19 Houston Rockets made 16.1 3s per game to set the record, according to Stathead.70.2For all the justified praised we heaped on the Lakers’ Anthony Davis last week for how perfectly he complemented LeBron James, there’s no avoiding one prime area of slippage in his game this season: Davis is shooting a career-worst 70.2 percent from the free-throw line. He shot a career-best 84.6 percent last season.2Jeremy Lin of the Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State’s affiliate) and Nik Stauskas of the Raptors 905 (Toronto’s affiliate) were the only two N.B.A. veterans allocated to the G League team of their choosing via the N.B.A. developmental league’s new veteran selection rule — which is also known unofficially as “the Jeremy Lin rule.” The G League’s 20th season opens Wednesday with 18 teams playing in a restricted-access zone at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., similar to last summer’s N.B.A. bubble.5We’re down to just five teams that have not faced a game postponement through the season’s opening seven weeks. That group includes both New York teams (Knicks and Nets), both Los Angeles teams (Lakers and Clippers) and Toronto (which is playing its home games in Tampa, Fla.).3Atlanta appears poised host to the All-Star Game for the third time. It was the host city in 1978 (when my beloved Randy Smith of the Buffalo Braves won most valuable player honors) and in 2003.Hit me up anytime on Twitter (@TheSteinLine) or Facebook (@MarcSteinNBA) or Instagram (@thesteinline). Send any other feedback to marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    ‘Grief Comes Out of the Clear Blue’: The Death of Kobe, the Father

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The NBA SeasonVirus Hotspots in the N.B.A.Will the Harden Trade Work Out?The N.B.A. Wanted HerAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyOn Pro Basketball‘Grief Comes Out of the Clear Blue’: The Death of Kobe, the FatherDiana Munson, the widow of the Yankees’ Thurman Munson, talks about raising children after the death of their celebrity father and her advice, as a mother, to Vanessa Bryant.Kobe Bryant with his wife, Vanessa Bryant, and their three older daughters, Gianna Maria Onore Bryant, Natalia Diamante Bryant and Bianka Bella Bryant, at his jersey retirement ceremony in 2017. The youngest, Capri Kobe Bryant, was born in 2019.Credit…Allen Berezovsky/Getty ImagesJan. 26, 2021Updated 6:07 p.m. ETMarc Stein is away this week.When the news broke on that terrible Sunday afternoon, the tears came, once again, in a flood from a reservoir that never runs dry.“I’m an Italian girl who gets emotional, maybe more than I should,” said the former Diana Dominick, who in marriage became Diana Munson.The moment when she heard Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash was destined to embed itself deep in the heart of Thurman Munson’s widow. Another tragedy from the air. Another famous sports star — along with eight others, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna — instantly lost in the flames.Most of all, more young ones deprived of their father. And this time — even worse than it had been for her own children — Bryant’s children lost a sister, as well.Though it now feels so very long ago, it has been one year since the plume of smoke rose over Calabasas, Calif., about 30 miles west of Los Angeles. When the tragedy was still being absorbed, Diana Munson predicted she would always be able to pinpoint the time and place: at home with the television on. Just as so many other people — particularly Yankees fans of a certain age — could tell you, and as some have told her, exactly where they were on Aug. 2, 1979.That was the day her Thurman died at 32 while landing his small plane at the Akron-Canton Airport in his native Ohio. She never took offense when people brought her back to that moment. “They just really wanted to talk about the impact he’d had on their life,” she said.For a young sports journalist at the New York Post, Munson’s death meant back-page pandemonium, a departmentwide call to action. For the Yankees fan I had been growing up, it was the painful loss of the indispensable catcher and captain of two beloved World Series champions. Within the American sports culture of the late 1970s, Munson of the New York Yankees was every bit the name — if not the brand — that Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was.More than 40 years later, the Bryant shocker was delivered to me as it was for so many millions — from a smartphone, while I was in line at a Macy’s checkout counter after a carefree roaming of the department store aisles. Remember those? That, too, seems like part of another life, considering all the Covid-19 casualties still being counted into the new year.Several days later, I met up with Diana Munson in a Manhattan hotel lounge before the 40th annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner, an event that has raised more than $17 million for the benefit of people with disabilities. (The 41st dinner is scheduled, virtually, for Feb. 2 and will honor, among others Gio Urshela and Luke Voit of the Yankees.)I have come to know her as someone able to articulate complicated emotions. While I was visiting her home for a story on the 10th anniversary of Thurman’s death, Diana led me into his office, its contents untouched from the day he died, right down to the miniature model of a Cessna Citation on his desk. That was the plane that two men — a friend and a flight instructor — had escaped after being unable to free a paralyzed Munson from a smoking cockpit.So while Diana made sure to say that one “should never compare tragedies,” and that she couldn’t imagine the pain that Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s widow, was having to endure in losing a child, she couldn’t help but dwell on an obvious parallel. “Thurman learned to fly because he wanted to spend more time with his family during the season,” she said. “I read where Kobe used helicopters to get home so he could do things like pick up his kids from school.”A plaque dedicated to the memory of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson was viewed by his widow, Diana, and outfielder Bobby Murcer, during a ceremony at Yankee Stadium in 1980.Credit…Associated PressSo if she could offer any advice to Vanessa Bryant, it would have to be as a mother, one who knows that children cannot be shielded from the world, no matter how hard one tries.Tracy was 9, Kelly 7 and Michael 4 when their father died. Other children would, presumably without intent, “say hurtful things, upsetting things,” Diana said. She recalled the day one of her children came home in tears after being told that another child’s father had found a small piece of wreckage from Thurman’s plane in the woods around the airport and saved it as a souvenir.“My kids would be devastated by things like that, but they didn’t want to show emotion so they internalized it,” she said. “They had a time growing up where they had to figure it out for themselves.”She believed it was all made easier by being in Canton where Thurman had moved the family in 1978 from the New York suburbs, and where he was more townie than icon. In Los Angeles, Bryant will always be cast as an all-conquering superhero for his five N.B.A. titles, his explosive scoring and his 60-point finale in 2016, albeit on the often-overlooked sum of 50 shots.Abetted by the news media, the public invariably mythologizes its sports heroes, but in doing what we do, we typically overdo. In death, Bryant was hailed as an emergent champion of women’s basketball, as if there weren’t elements of self-interest — Gianna’s apparent love of the game and especially Bryant’s post-playing-career brand rehabilitation from a 2003 sexual assault allegation in Colorado — probably driving his passion. (His besieged accuser became unwilling to testify, and the charges were dropped.)What Diana Munson realized early on was that her children needed to know their father the way she did: as a complex man who survived his abusive father, and who was self-protectively gruff to the world at large but tender at home to the point of being the preferred parent to brush his daughters’ hair.She could predict that Bryant’s three surviving children, especially the two who were younger than 5 when he died, would have questions as they grew up and would deserve and demand more than a highlight reel. The young Michael Munson, having repeatedly studied video of Thurman’s mammoth home run that won Game 3 of the 1978 American League Championship Series against Kansas City, was moved to ask: “If my daddy was so strong, how come the other two men got out of the plane and he didn’t?”“Grief comes out of the clear blue,” is what Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, graciously advised Diana in a phone call decades ago. She was reminded of that days before my 1989 visit. She and Michael, then 14, went to see “Field of Dreams,” knowing only that it was a baseball flick, not a father-son story that would leave them sobbing in each other’s arms when the father’s ghost — in full catcher’s gear — materialized at the end to toss a few balls with his son.She knew then that they couldn’t live in the past if they expected to have a future. Vanessa Bryant touched on the same theme — generously for the hundreds of thousands in mourning over the past months — when she posted on Instagram recently: “One day you’re in the moment laughing and the next day you don’t feel like being alive. I want to say this for people struggling with grief and heartbreaking loss. Find your reason to live.”Diana Munson never remarried but her family grew, adding seven grandchildren. Tracy and Michael remain near her in the Canton area, while Kelly relocated, coincidently to Tampa, Fla., the Yankees’ winter home, which Diana visited shortly before the 2020 dinner. Out with the family one night in a restaurant, she ran into Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ owner. There were introductions all around and suddenly, thankfully, there was another moment to remember. But surely not to mourn.The Scoop @TheSteinLineCorner ThreeThough Marc is away this week, you can still send in your questions via email at marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. (Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line.)Hit me up anytime on Twitter (@TheSteinLine) or Facebook (@MarcSteinNBA) or Instagram (@thesteinline). Send any other feedback to marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    He Bonded With Kobe as a Competitor, Then as Another #GirlDad

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The NBA SeasonVirus Hotspots in the N.B.A.Will the Harden Trade Work Out?The N.B.A. Wanted HerZach and Mackenly Randolph in the backyard of their home nearly a year after Kobe and Gigi Bryant have passed away.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York TimesSkip to contentSkip to site indexHe Bonded With Kobe as a Competitor, Then as Another #GirlDadA year after Kobe Bryant’s fatal crash, the former N.B.A. All-Star Zach Randolph and his daughter MacKenly, who played for Bryant’s girls’ basketball team, are still learning how to grieve.Zach and Mackenly Randolph in the backyard of their home nearly a year after Kobe and Gigi Bryant have passed away.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York TimesSupported byContinue reading the main storyJan. 24, 2021, 8:00 a.m. ETZach Randolph and Kobe Bryant were contemporaries in the N.B.A.’s Western Conference for more than a decade. They were teammates in two All-Star Games. They even shared a workplace during Randolph’s brief stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, who played in the considerable Staples Center shadow of Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers.They crossed paths often enough to develop what Randolph described as “a mutual respect.” Yet there were no hints back then that the relationship was destined to take on a coach-parent dynamic — that Randolph, in his first year of retirement, would ask Bryant to make room for his eldest daughter, MacKenly, on Bryant’s Team Mamba.“Who could imagine it?” Randolph said.Until the summer of 2019, when Randolph relocated from Memphis to Southern California, all his go-to Kobe stories centered upon Bryant’s maniacally competitive nature and what it was like to experience it firsthand. Those showdowns go back to the start of Randolph’s career in the early 2000s during his turbulent start with the Portland Trail Blazers, long before his run as one of the most successful and popular players in Memphis Grizzlies history.The recollections that flow now from Randolph tend to focus heavily on Bryant’s coaching ways as opposed to their N.B.A. encounters, memories cherished from the few months MacKenly was able to work with Bryant before tragedy intervened. On his way to a Team Mamba game on Jan. 26, 2020, Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif.The crash, nearly one year ago on a foggy Sunday morning, killed all nine people aboard — including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, her Team Mamba teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester and the assistant coach Christina Mauser. The catastrophe has left Randolph fixated on the image of Bryant as the girls’ ultra-organized, practice-obsessed and, in stark contrast to his playing persona, reserved-during-games coach.“He’s one of the best to ever do it,” Randolph said, referring to Bryant’s coaching rather than to his standing as the fourth-leading scorer in N.B.A. history.Randolph marveled at the N.B.A.-inspired lengths to which Bryant, alongside Mauser, went to train and teach his team of seventh- and eighth-graders. Bryant scheduled his players for yoga sessions, beach workouts, sprints and laps at the track, and frequent film study to supplement specialized on-court work to master footwork concepts and defensive principles. Conditioning and strength training were prioritized. Practice and travel schedules were comprehensive. Bryant also made a point of asking his players to name the colleges they dreamed of attending and playing for to establish that as a formal goal.“He put his all into it,” Randolph said. “He ran it like a real organization.”MacKenly Randolph had become aware of Team Mamba and the basketball-crazed Gianna Bryant through Instagram. At MacKenly’s urging, Kobe Bryant was one of Zach’s first calls after the family left Memphis and took residence in Encino, Calif. Zach asked Kobe if he was open to coaching MacKenly.“We’ll see,” Bryant told Randolph. “Let’s get her here and see how she mixes with the other girls.”Zach Randolph said he’s still learning how to help his daughter MacKenly deal with grief from the deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, and other friends and family in recent years.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York TimesMacKenly might have been the 6-foot-tall daughter of a former 6-foot-9 N.B.A. star, but Bryant promised nothing. She was not granted a starting spot right away — not even with Team Mamba in need of a center. Practices were often held Monday through Friday in Orange County, where most of the team’s players lived, meaning that MacKenly was expected to make the long commute from the San Fernando Valley. After practices, she had to run extra to “catch up to the other girls,” as Zach recalled Bryant saying.None of that, though, stopped Randolph from calling it “a perfect fit.”“Like a puzzle, man,” Randolph said. “My daughter was just so ecstatic. It’s all she talked about.”He said MacKenly was “mesmerized”; MacKenly said he was exaggerating. Though she said she was “super nervous” at first about being coached by Bryant, “After like a week it was, ‘Oh, he’s just a regular person.’ ” While some of the girls on the team called him “Coach Bryant,” MacKenly said she “really just called him Kobe.”Where father and daughter readily concur: Bryant helped MacKenly improve immediately.“I work with her a lot, but you could tell the difference with Kobe,” Zach said. “When Kobe was speaking, he didn’t have to say, ‘Pay attention.’ ”“He basically taught me how to play defense and how to rotate,” MacKenly said.Asked to describe Bryant’s coaching demeanor, MacKenly added: “You would know when he’s mad, or he’s not playing around, but he would never, like, yell at you.”The pandemic has delayed the start of MacKenly’s freshman season at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, Calif., but her game continues to develop. Even though MacKenly shoots right-handed and Zach is a lefty, comparisons to her father’s combination of strength, guile and a deft scoring touch inside are frequent. Such is MacKenly’s potential that she has received verbal scholarship offers from Louisville and Arizona before playing a single high school game.“She’s extremely talented,” said Alicia Komaki, Sierra Canyon’s coach. “She’s very mobile and agile and she’s really worked on developing her guard skills, because I think she’s been locked into the post as a youth and she really wants to expand on that part of her game.”MacKenly has been helped along by games of one-on-one against her father in which Zach permits her only three dribbles before shooting. She also trains occasionally with the former N.B.A. All-Star Gilbert Arenas, whose daughter Izela is another highly rated freshman at Sierra Canyon. (The school’s boys’ team received national acclaim last season with a roster that included LeBron James Jr., who is known as Bronny and is the eldest son of the Lakers star LeBron James. He’s now a sophomore.)Although strict Covid-19 regulations in California have restricted Sierra Canyon to just a handful of practices and individual workouts in recent months, Komaki already sees improvement in MacKenly’s 3-point shooting and ball handling.“You can tell she’s been working on those skills,” Komaki said.Less clear, Zach Randolph said, is how to coach MacKenly through the many layers of grief that have been mounting for the Randolphs in recent years. Mae Randolph, Zach’s mother, died in November 2016. Roger Randolph, Zach’s younger brother, was shot and killed in June 2018. Then, less than two years later, the helicopter crash.A week before the crash, MacKenly made the same helicopter trip with the Bryants from Orange County to Ventura County after spending the night at their house. She and Gianna had bonded quickly as teammates, MacKenly said, because Gianna, sensing the newcomer’s unease about joining an established team, went out of her way to help MacKenly fit in.Kobe Bryant, right, his daughter Gianna, left, and MacKenly Randolph, center, at the Mamba Academy as Bryant coached Team Mamba in tournament play on Jan. 25, 2020.Credit…Chris Costello, via MoPho/SplashNews.com“She was super nice,” MacKenly said.Team Mamba played two games on Jan. 25, 2020, on the opening day of the first Mamba Cup, which Kobe Bryant had organized to attract top teams from California and other states. MacKenly Randolph said she thinks often about how “three of my best friends were here one day and then the next day, they were gone.”“It was tough for my baby — still is — but I’m proud of her,” Zach Randolph said. “She’s 15, but she’s strong, man.”As the one-year anniversary of the crash approached, Randolph said he was still processing his own emotions. It has stuck with him that Kobe Bryant, anticipating years of working with MacKenly, said on more than one occasion: “Z-Bo, just wait until I get done with her.”On the morning of the crash, Zach Randolph was driving north on U.S. Highway 101 to get to Bryant’s academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to watch MacKenly. She was already there with several teammates awaiting a noon tipoff against a team from Texas coached by Jason Terry, another former N.B.A. player.“When I got the news, I had tears in my eyes,” Zach Randolph said. “I looked around and everybody on the highway in their car was crying, too. It was like everybody got the news at the same time. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”A hint of comfort, Randolph said, came from having the chance to connect MacKenly with Bryant on Team Mamba like she wanted. He has been open about being raised without a father in Marion, Ind., how that might have contributed to some of the troubles and controversies he faced in his teens and his 20s, and “coming up in poverty.”Another bit of solace: Randolph said he did get to tell his old rival how grateful he was for all Bryant had taught MacKenly.“He loved them girls,” Zach Randolph said. “He loved my baby. He told me, ‘I love her, man.’ When he told me that, I told him, ‘We’re brothers for life.’ ”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    From Kobe to LeBron: Tragedy and Triumph in the N.B.A.

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The NBA SeasonThe Warriors Are StrugglingVirus Upends Houston RocketsMarc Stein’s Fearless PredictionsThe Reloaded LakersAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storymarc stein on basketballFrom Kobe to LeBron: Tragedy and Triumph in the N.B.A.A year that began with the deaths of two N.B.A. icons could not end soon enough, marked by heartache along the way but also small moments worth celebrating now.Kobe Bryant and LeBron James dominated a year of tragedy and triumph in the basketball world.Credit…John McCoy/Getty ImagesDec. 30, 2020, 9:00 a.m. ETThe longest and possibly saddest year in pro basketball history is almost over. From this world that plays out on hardwood, as with so many other wings of society, there will be few fond farewells to 2020.The basketball public has been losing and grieving since the first day of January, when David Stern, the N.B.A.’s former longtime commissioner, died at age 77. Soon after, a helicopter headed for a weekend youth tournament with nine aboard, among them Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, Calif. There were no survivors.Mere weeks later, the country was gripped by the coronavirus. Inside and outside of the sport’s sphere, life did not get easier and, as 2021 dawns, it still hasn’t.Yet there was some undeniable good along the way, most of all the N.B.A.’s leadership in coping with the coronavirus, and how its players, in tandem with their longtime activist peers from the W.N.B.A., lent many loud and influential voices to a year of profound social reckoning. The N.B.A. was the first major professional sports league to shut down in response to the pandemic, completed its 2019-20 season by engineering an ambitious protective bubble, and amplified the fight for racial justice and equality.Those were real-world triumphs that will be long-lasting.So let’s celebrate them. In the final edition of Year 3 for this newsletter, I have singled out a few of the far smaller victories, too, as opposed to rehashing a frequently dispiriting 12 months in detail. For all the natural Year In Review instincts that kick in for all of us every December, I’d rather reach back for some smiles, thin as they might be, than recount all the tumult and tragedy.Allow me to rewind to All-Star Weekend in Chicago in February, when the much-maligned dunk contest, and a competitive All-Star Game crunchtime enhanced by the use of the Elam scoring system, generated a level of tension and watchability that many skeptics no longer thought possible.Derrick Jones Jr. won the dunk contest during a revitalized All-Star Weekend in Chicago in February.Credit…Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThere were five uplifting Sundays in a row during the mostly lonely (and scary) days of April and May when a basketball documentary about Michael Jordan, “The Last Dance,” delivered the sort of shared experience and sense of community — through sports — that was otherwise unavailable.Michael Jordan captivated millions each week this spring with his recollections of his Chicago Bulls glory days.Credit…Jon RocheThe recent sports trading card renaissance extended to basketball, and led to rookie cards from LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo fetching $1.8 million — each — at auction.The creative forces behind the acclaimed animated series “Game of Zones” served up one final season that, to my great shock and pride, managed to work in a few lucky sports scribes.The seventh season of the animated show “Game of Zones” by Bleacher Report includes characters inspired by Marc Stein, right, and the former N.B.A. star Dwyane Wade, left.Credit…Bleacher ReportAnd when it comes to something that really matters: Delonte West, the former N.B.A. guard, was back in Maryland to spend Christmas with his family after years of struggling with bipolar disorder and drug use. A video surfaced in late September that appeared to show West, a former Dallas Maverick, homeless in Dallas. That led Mark Cuban, the owner of the Mavericks, to track him down and help West enter a drug rehabilitation facility in Florida.The dunks and trading cards and M.J. memes, to be clear, were mere footnotes at a time even sports struggled to provide its usual escape, but one suspects we will keep coming back to the bigger headlines from basketball’s intersection with a global health crisis.“This will go down as the most remembered year in N.B.A. history,” said Jared Dudley, the veteran forward and frequent unofficial team spokesman for the Los Angeles Lakers. “They will be making movies about 2020 for years to come.”He’s probably right. Tales from the bubble are bound to hold considerable long-term interest, particularly after Dudley’s Lakers emerged from the grand experiment as champions.Hollywood’s team is back on top for the first time since 2009-10, and the ending did include a surprise element: James and Co. have not been subjected to as much asterisk talk as the curmudgeons among us (like me in April) envisaged.My original view stemmed to some degree from fears that the N.B.A. postseason would be truncated from its usual four rounds of best-of-seven series, and thus not constitute a representative championship run. Critics could have also seized on the absence of travel, arenas without fans, and how much living and playing at the same address might have benefited the Lakers, so I still wanted to give it some time to see how their 17th championship would be received.LeBron James said he has won “the two hardest championships” in N.B.A. history, including the 2019-20 title.Credit…Harry How/Getty ImagesThe response has been encouraging. Occasional jabs about James and his supposed “Mickey Mouse” ring haven’t really stuck.Perhaps James went too far the other way with his recent assertion on the “Road Trippin’” podcast that he had won “the two hardest championships” in league history: Cleveland’s comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the 2015-16 N.B.A. finals against the 73-win Golden State Warriors, and the Lakers’ bubble crown. Historians haven’t exactly rushed to endorse those claims, but there is an no shortage of appreciation for what the Lakers did overcome during their 95-day bubble stay, cut off from the outside world.There was a mental toll from essentially living at work. There was isolation. There was an internal conflict to manage, as James and many of his peers would explain, for athletes playing a game and feeding the entertainment industry at a time of so much social unrest in their home communities.The truth, of course, is that you could slap an asterisk on just about anything that happened in 2020, sports or not, since we strayed so far from normalcy in too many precincts to count. Or did so much change get foisted upon all of us that nothing in 2020 should be sullied by the asterisk treatment?Maybe we’ll have that figured out by next year’s final newsletter.The Scoop @TheSteinLineCorner ThreeThe league’s free agency investigation of the Bucks ruined Milwaukee’s chances of signing Bogdan Bogdanovic, who landed with the Atlanta Hawks.Credit…Brett Davis/Associated PressYou ask; I answer. Every week in this space, I’ll field three questions posed via email at marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line.(Questions may be lightly edited or condensed for clarity.)Q: It is vital that it be explained why this was the “line in the sand” for the N.B.A. There have clearly been other examples of tampering. Why were no draft picks rescinded in those cases? — @Wanediggity from TwitterStein: I know Bucks fans are upset, but I don’t think the league’s decision to strip their team of a second-round pick in 2022 in the wake of Milwaukee’s failed attempt to court Bogdan Bogdanovic is such a mystery. For all the league’s shortcomings in policing and curbing tampering, it has been consistent in dishing out penalties when violations were blatant. The violations, in this case, were pretty blatant.These were not mere rumblings or assumptions about the sort of free-agent conversations that many of us suspect are happening leaguewide before they are supposed to. The league opened an investigation in response to a detailed news report about a five-player deal involving the Bucks and Sacramento Kings that had Bogdanovic, a restricted free agent, landing in Milwaukee — nearly four days before free agency was scheduled to start.The league took action again on Monday when it fined Daryl Morey, Philadelphia’s new president of basketball operations, $50,000 for a seemingly harmless tweet congratulating James Harden on a statistical milestone he hit when Morey was still his general manager in Houston. It doesn’t matter if the social media post was automated or accidental, as ESPN reported Morey told the league office. The mere fact that Morey publicly “discussed” another team’s player put him in line for a fine.Bucks fans have asked me: What about all the teams that have tried to recruit Giannis Antetokounmpo behind the scenes? My retort: Do we have proof? If there was a detailed news report in circulation about a specific team doing so — or if text messages Antetokounmpo has reportedly received from players on other teams were turned in to the league — I’m quite sure penalties would be imposed on the offending clubs. But no such evidence has surfaced in the public domain. It’s not that the Bucks are the only ones breaking the rules. Other teams have just been better at hiding it.Whether or not Milwaukee or Sacramento wanted this stuff to be out there, it got out. Both were operating as if they had a deal even though Bogdanovic insisted he never agreed to anything. The league wasn’t going to let that go.Even though the league announced in September 2019 that it would institute a new set of anti-tampering regulations to crack down on the practice, there is clearly still much to fix, given how many deals we still saw coalesce in the early hours of free agency on Nov. 20. But the league’s stance on this one, in the words of its general counsel Rick Buchanan, is that Milwaukee had to be sanctioned for “gun-jumping” the start of free agency.There is plenty of skepticism regarding Commissioner Adam Silver’s claim that the punishment “will act as a clear deterrent” to other teams, since the whole episode technically only cost Milwaukee a future second-round pick. Yet it’s also true that the league’s decision to investigate essentially snuffed out any chance the Bucks had of resurrecting a deal for Bogdanovic — someone, by all accounts, Antetokounmpo badly wanted to play with.So losing the ability to pursue Bogdanovic was Milwaukee’s real penalty here, while Sacramento wound up losing Bogdanovic without compensation after electing not to match Atlanta’s four-year, $72 million offer sheet. The Kings did not receive any formal penalty from the league office, but they would have acquired a player they coveted from the Bucks (Donte DiVincenzo) had the original sign-and-trade plan been resuscitated.Q: Any word on the status of Jeremy Lin getting his FIBA Letter of Clearance yet? Many fans want to know! — Tom GardnerStein: To catch up those who weren’t following this saga as it played out on Dec. 19, Golden State needed a clearance letter from the Beijing Ducks, Lin’s last team in China, to sign and then immediately release him before 11 p.m. Eastern time that day. That would have allowed the Santa Cruz Warriors to secure Lin’s G League rights.In part because FIBA’s office is closed on weekends, Golden State couldn’t obtain the letter in time. The rush to get the clearance letter pretty much ended then, because it initially appeared that subsequently obtaining Lin’s G League rights would require some complicated (and more costly) roster gymnastics for the Warriors.It has since emerged that the Warriors will have a new pathway to steering Lin to their G League affiliate that wasn’t apparent then — provided that the G League goes ahead with a 2020-21 season that will be at least partly played in a bubble environment. The N.B.A. is instituting a rule that will enable N.B.A. parent clubs to recruit players to fill one G League roster spot with an N.B.A. veteran who has at least five years of service time. The Warriors will thus have a mechanism to guarantee that Lin can play with Santa Cruz, their G League affiliate, should he decide to sign with the league.Neither the Golden State Warriors nor the Santa Cruz Warriors would sign Lin. He would have to sign with the G League first and then be allocated to Santa Cruz via the new rule, which some G League observers are even calling “the Jeremy Lin rule.” Yet there is no frantic need for the clearance letter now with the G League still trying to resolve some outstanding issues and commit to a season.If Lin decides he wants to go the G League route in hopes that it can boost his chances of an N.B.A. comeback at age 32, and if Santa Cruz is where he wants to play, it will happen.Q: Knowing James Dolan, do you think that the Knicks want to trade for James Harden? I’m sure Dolan is already tired of the Knicks playing second fiddle to the Nets. — Frank AlecciStein: After skipping the opening week of training camp and forcing the league to hit him with an additional four-day quarantine last week, while repeatedly violating the league’s health and safety guidelines in both instances, Harden made his season debut Saturday and promptly uncorked 44 points and 17 assists in Houston’s overtime loss to Portland.As my Houston Chronicle colleague Jonathan Feigen put it, Harden quickly reminded us that, yes, he is worth the trouble on a lot of levels.This would be especially true for a Knicks team that doesn’t have anything close to a certifiable franchise player at the moment. I imagine that Harden would hold appeal throughout the organization — not just with Dolan — despite being under contract only for the rest of this season and next season before he has the right to become a free agent in July 2022.The harsh reality of the Knicks’ current roster, though, is also a problem when it comes to getting into the Harden sweepstakes, since Houston has made it clear that it wants a player like Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons to headline the package it receives for Harden. If there is a combination of Knicks players and draft picks that would entice the Rockets, I don’t see it.Numbers GameKevin Durant (7) and Kyrie Irving (11)Credit…Sarah Stier/Getty Images7-11In one of the better quotes from the season’s opening week, Kyrie Irving said he and his Nets teammate Kevin Durant had “introduced the world to 7-11” with their scoring outbursts in the Nets’ first two games. Irving, of course, was referring to their jersey numbers, not the famed convenience store chain.23.2The average margin of victory from the league’s five Christmas Day games was a whopping 23.2 points. Only the first game (Miami over New Orleans by 13) and the last one (Clippers over Denver by 13) could be classified as competitive. Not what the N.B.A. was hoping for when it pushed up the start of the season at the behest of the league’s television partners, who badly wanted a Christmas week launch.107There were 107 international players from 41 countries on opening-night rosters, including a record 17 players from Canada and a record-tying 14 African players. It’s the seventh consecutive season that opening-night rosters included at least 100 international players; 113 at the start of the 2016-17 season is the record. France (nine), Australia (eight) and Serbia and Germany (six each) are the countries with the most players after Canada.5K.C. Jones earned enshrinement to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1989, but his coaching résumé is perhaps even more H.O.F.-worthy. Jones coached three teams in the N.B.A. across 10 seasons (Washington, Boston and Seattle) and made five trips to the N.B.A. finals in that short span, winning championships with the Celtics in 1983-84 and 1985-86. Jones died on Christmas at the age of 88.4,500There is a strong argument to be made, as a matter of fairness, that fans should not be in N.B.A. buildings until all 30 teams were allowed by local health regulations to do so, because it is a competitive advantage to have a crowd of any size. Yet it’s worth noting just how varied the maximum crowd sizes are for the six teams currently admitting fans. At the low end: Cleveland (300 fans maximum), New Orleans (750) and Utah (1,500). At the high end: Toronto (3,800 fans maximum in Tampa, Fla.), Orlando (4,000) and Houston (4,500).Hit me up anytime on Twitter (@TheSteinLine) or Facebook (@MarcSteinNBA) or Instagram (@thesteinline). Send any other feedback to marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More