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    Kylie McKenzie Speaks Out Against a Former U.S.T.A. Coach

    PHOENIX — Kylie McKenzie, once one of America’s most promising junior tennis players, is for now back where she began, hitting balls on a local court, often with her father, living at home while trying to rescue what once seemed like a can’t-miss future.There is little doubt where that future went astray. In 2018, McKenzie, then 19, was working closely with a top coach at the United States Tennis Association’s national training center in Orlando, Fla.Anibal Aranda liked to take her to the remote courts of the tennis center, where, she said, he praised her and put his hands on her body during their workouts, pressing against her while she practiced her serve.Maybe, McKenzie thought, it was because Aranda had grown up in Paraguay and was less aware of the kind of physical contact considered appropriate in the United States. For six years, Aranda had coached for the U.S.T.A., which had been supporting McKenzie’s career and practically raising her at its academies since she was 12. Its officials trusted him, and she trusted them, and so she trusted him, too.On Nov. 9, 2018, Aranda sat so close to her on a bench after practice that their legs touched, and then he put his hand between her thighs, she said. She later learned she was not the only person to accuse him of sexual misconduct.During the last week, Aranda has not responded to repeated phone calls and text messages seeking comment, sent to a mobile number associated with his name. Howard Jacobs, the lawyer who represented him during an investigation by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which investigates reports of abuse in American sports, said Aranda was no longer a client of his.In his testimony during the SafeSport investigation, Aranda denied ever touching McKenzie inappropriately, either during or after training. He suggested McKenzie had fabricated a story because she had been told that the U.S.T.A. was planning to stop supporting her. Accusing him of abuse, Aranda said, would make it more difficult for the organization to cut her off, an assertion U.S.T.A. coaches and McKenzie rejected.The SafeSport records are confidential, but The New York Times has reviewed a copy of the final ruling, the investigator’s report, and notes from her interviews with a dozen witnesses, including Aranda. The Times has also reviewed a copy of the police report by an Orlando detective.“I want to be clear, I never touched her vagina,” Aranda told a SafeSport investigator, according to those records. “I never touched her inappropriately. All these things she’s saying are twisted.”The incident, which McKenzie quickly reported to friends, relatives, U.S.T.A. officials and law enforcement, led to a cascade of events over the next three years. The U.S.T.A. suspended and then fired Aranda. A lengthy investigation by SafeSport found it “more likely than not” that Aranda had assaulted McKenzie. Police took a statement from McKenzie, stated there was probable cause for a charge of battery, then turned the evidence over to the state attorney’s office, which ultimately opted not to pursue a case. McKenzie said she began to experience panic attacks and depression, which have hampered her attempts to reclaim her tennis prowess.Anibal Aranda, left, with Jose Caballero, a coach, and the tennis player CiCi Bellis, who is a friend of Kylie McKenzie’s, in 2017.John Raoux/Associated PressBut what especially troubles McKenzie, now 23, is something that she only learned reading the confidential SafeSport investigative report on her case. An employee at the U.S.T.A had a similar experience with Aranda about five years earlier, but chose to keep the information to herself.The U.S.T.A. was unaware of that incident because the employee said she did not tell anyone until she was interviewed by the SafeSport investigator for McKenzie’s case.“To know he had a history, that almost doubled the trauma,” McKenzie said last week at a coffee shop not far from her home. “I trusted them,” she said of the U.S.T.A. “I always saw them as guardians. I thought it was a safe place.”McKenzie’s case highlights what some in tennis have long viewed as systemic problems with how young players, especially women, become professionals. Players often leave home at a young age for training academies, where they often work closely with male coaches who serve as mentors, surrogate parents and guardians on trips to tournaments.Chris Widmaier, a spokesman for the U.S.T.A., said any suggestion that its academies are unsafe was inaccurate. He said the organization’s safety measures include employee background checks, training on harassment and how predators target and make potential victims vulnerable to advances, as well as multiple ways to report inappropriate or abusive conduct.“More than three years ago, an incident was reported by Ms. McKenzie and that report was treated with absolute seriousness and urgency,” Widmaier said in a statement. “The U.S.T.A. immediately, without any hesitation or delay, notified the U.S. Center for SafeSport and cooperated in a full and thorough investigation of the incident. The U.S.T.A. suspended the offending party on the day of the report and has not permitted him back on property or at any U.S.T.A.-sponsored function or event since. In addition to promptly reporting this incident, the U.S.T.A. worked with Ms. McKenzie and her representatives to ensure that she felt safe while she continued to train and advance her tennis career. The U.S.T.A. supported Ms. McKenzie before, during and after the incident.”Widmaier said the organization was working to increase the number of female coaches. It has added women to its staff at its national training centers — there are now five women, six men and three open positions on its national coaching staff — and developed a coaching fellowship program in which women must account for half the enrollment.McKenzie has repeated her account of the events on multiple occasions, to friends, U.S.T.A. officials and law enforcement. In finding McKenzie’s account credible, SafeSport investigators wrote that her account had remained consistent and was supported by contemporary evidence, including text messages and U.S.T.A. records.In 2019, SafeSport suspended Aranda, 38, from coaching for two years and placed him on probation for an additional two years. Aranda is one of 77 people involved with tennis on the U.S.T.A.’s suspended or ineligible list because they have been convicted or accused of sexual or physical abuse.‘You’re a champion. I want to work with you.’McKenzie at an international hardcourt juniors championship tournament in College Park, Md., in 2015.Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMcKenzie started playing tennis at 4 when her father, Mark, put a racket in her hands. By fourth grade she was being home-schooled so she could practice more.When she was 12, coaches with the U.S.T.A., who had seen her at tournaments and camps, offered her an opportunity to train full time at its development academy in Carson, Calif. She moved with the family of another elite junior player from Arizona, leaving her parents and two younger siblings behind.Within a few years she was homesick and burned out. Coaches kept her on the court for hours after training to talk about life and tennis, and one yelled at her while they attended a tournament at Indian Wells when he found out she had kissed a boy at 14.McKenzie left Carson in 2014 and returned to Arizona. But after she won two top-level junior tournaments, officials with the U.S.T.A. persuaded her to move to the training center in Florida.A shoulder injury eventually sent her back to Arizona for 18 months, but in 2018 she returned to Florida, moving in with relatives on Merritt Island. She occasionally spent the night at the home of her friend, CiCi Bellis, then a top American prospect. Bellis was injured at the time, allowing her coach, Anibal Aranda, to work with other players.McKenzie was initially flattered by Aranda’s attention and praise. “He told me: ‘You’re a champion. I want to work with you,’” McKenzie said of Aranda. “I had every reason to trust him.”One U.S.T.A. employee would have said otherwise.During the SafeSport investigation into McKenzie’s incident, the employee, who is not being identified to protect her privacy, told the investigator that a few years earlier, Aranda had groped her and rubbed her vagina on a dance floor at a New York club during a night out with colleagues during the U.S. Open. The employee said that she left the club immediately but that Aranda followed her and tried to get in a taxi alone with her, which she resisted.After the U.S.T.A. employee learned about McKenzie’s accusations, she regretted not reporting her allegations, she told the investigator.Aranda denied touching the woman inappropriately. He told the investigator he remembered the night at the dance club but did not recall details of the evening.What follows is the story that McKenzie told U.S.T.A. officials, a SafeSport investigator, police, and shared with The New York Times last week.By October 2018, McKenzie was training almost exclusively with Aranda, alone with him for several hours every day. Initially, their hitting sessions took place on the busier hardcourts, but he soon moved them to clay courts that got little foot traffic, telling her that the slower surface would improve her footwork. He scheduled training for 11 a.m., though most players practiced earlier to avoid the midday heat.The U.S.T.A. National Campus Collegiate Center in Orlando, where McKenzie trained with Aranda.Matt Marriott/NCAA Photos via Getty ImagesEach day, she said, Aranda increased his physical contact with her. Pats of encouragement moved down her back until he was grazing the top of her buttocks. He brushed against her as they walked to the courts, making casual contact with her breasts.He used her phone to film her practice session, then inched closer to her as they sat on a bench watching the video until their legs touched. Sometimes, she said, he held the back of her hand as she held her phone and intertwined his arm with hers. Then he began resting his arm on her thigh as they talked. Sometimes he would say, “You’re too skinny,” and grab her stomach and rub her sides and waist. He would ask her how her shoulder felt and massage it, she told the investigator.Under the guise of showing McKenzie correct body position and technique, he pushed the front of his body against her back and placed his hands on her hips as she served, moving them to her underwear. Another time, he knelt and held her hips from the front, his face inches from her groin. She dreaded practicing her serve.He also made her repeat daily affirmations. Some were about tennis, but others were not. “He’d say, ‘Say you’re beautiful because you are,’” McKenzie said.Aranda told the investigator he used affirmations in training but only those focused on tennis. He acknowledged touching McKenzie’s hands, feet and hips to teach proper body position but denied holding her from behind or touching her groin.All she wanted was a tennis coach.McKenzie in Anthem, Ariz., where she practices now.Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York TimesOn Nov. 9, 2018, McKenzie felt uneasy as she walked to the court for her late-morning training session, certain Aranda wanted to practice serving. He did, she said, grinding against her harder than ever as she practiced her service motion.At the end of practice he asked her if she thought she was pretty. She was wearing leggings and had placed a towel on her lap. Aranda rested his hand on her right upper thigh. Suddenly, she felt it between her legs, “rubbing her upper labia,” according to the report.McKenzie elbowed him away. Aranda then knelt in front of her, and started aggressively massaging her calves and knees. He asked her what she wanted him to be. She told him she just wanted him to coach her and provide mental training, an answer that appeared to agitate him.“Oh, that’s it?” he said, she told the investigator.As they left the court, she said, Aranda asked her to walk to a shed to store the tennis balls. She walked with him but did not enter the shed. A few minutes later, sitting on another bench, he spoke to her about finding an agent and sponsors. He tried to hug her as she hunched on the bench. She did not hug him back, and left.McKenzie went to Bellis’s home and, shaking and crying, told her what happened. They called Bellis’s mother, who urged them to report the incident to the U.S.T.A. Bellis and McKenzie called Jessica Battaglia, then the senior manager of player development for the organization. Bellis helped McKenzie, who struggled to speak, retell the story.Battaglia immediately contacted senior officials with the U.S.T.A., including Malmqvist and Martin Blackman, the general manager of player development, and female employees who needed to be notified, according to her testimony in the report. U.S.T.A. officials informed Aranda that a report had been made and that he would no longer be allowed at the training center.Ola Malmqvist, then the director of coaching for the U.S.T.A., told the SafeSport investigator that shortly after being suspended, a distraught Aranda called Malmqvist and said: “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I made a mistake.” Then, Malmqvist said, Aranda added, “It wasn’t bad,” and also, “But I made a mistake.” Malmqvist also said Aranda “made some comment along the lines of, ‘I got too close to her.’” Aranda later told investigators that he did not recall making those statements.Later on the day of the alleged assault, Aranda texted McKenzie to ask whether she had done her fitness workout and also added her on Snapchat. (She supplied the investigator with screen shots of her phone.) When she did not respond to his messages or pick up his phone calls, he started calling Bellis. The friends went to a hotel that night so Aranda would not know where to find McKenzie.McKenzie gave a sworn statement to the police in Orlando on Nov. 29. The detective wrote in his report that probable cause existed for a charge of battery. But prosecutors wrote to McKenzie in February 2020 to say they did not believe there was enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.As the SafeSport investigation unfolded during the first months of 2019, McKenzie continued to train at the center with other coaches. She had persistent stomach ailments and panic attacks, she said, that hampered her breathing when she tried to practice. On many days, she just wanted to sleep. Her love for the game never wavered, though.McKenzie practicing with her father, Mark.Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York TimesShe left the center in 2020, when the pandemic forced the U.S.T.A. to cut back. Since then, she has trained with coaches in South Carolina and Arizona. At the moment, she is playing on her own and working out several hours a day at a gym. Sometimes she goes for runs with her mother. She has worked with a therapist and would like to again, but treatment can be expensive, so she is trying to “plow through” on her own, she said.She completed high school in 2020, at age 21, and is considering attending college, possibly close to home, and maybe reviving her career through N.C.A.A. tennis but while gaining an education, a path several top women have taken, including Danielle Collins, who reached the Australian Open final in January, and Jennifer Brady, who did so in 2021 and used to hit with McKenzie on the U.S.T.A.’s courts. As a junior, McKenzie beat Sofia Kenin, the 2020 Australian Open champion.She often thinks of the U.S.T.A. employee with her own story about Aranda.McKenzie, who is soft-spoken and reserved, said she was motivated to speak out because she knows too well what can happen when women don’t.“That probably just empowered him,” she said of the silence that followed the incident at the New York club. “He felt like he was permitted to act the way he did.” More

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    Coach and Six College Golfers Die in Texas Bus Wreck

    The University of the Southwest said its golf coach, Tyler James, was among the dead and that two people were in critical condition.Seven people from the University of the Southwest died after its men’s and women’s golf teams were involved in a fatal wreck in Texas on Tuesday night, officials from the Christian university in New Mexico said Wednesday.“The U.S.W. campus community is shocked and saddened today as we mourn the loss of members of our university family,” the university said in a statement that also said that two passengers were in critical condition and being treated in Lubbock, Texas.Although the university did not identify any of the victims by name, it said its golf coach was among the people who had died in the wreck, which it said happened when its bus was “struck by oncoming traffic.” A spokeswoman for the university in Hobbs, N.M., said the only people aboard the bus were the golf coach, Tyler James, and students.The Texas Department of Public Safety, which is investigating the wreck, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. But a spokesman, Sgt. Steven Blanco, told local news outlets that the other vehicle involved in the crash had been a pickup and that at least one person in the truck died.“It’s a very tragic scene,” the sergeant told KWES-TV near the crash site on Tuesday night. “It’s very, very tragic.”The golf teams had traveled to Texas, where many of their players had gone to high school, to compete in a collegiate tournament in Midland. The crash happened in nearby Andrews County.James was new to the nondenominational religious university, hired just last summer as coach after he had worked at other Christian universities and at a high school about 120 miles southwest of Fort Worth.The U.S.W. sports program, which competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, is a part of the undergraduate experience for most students, according to federal records. Between July 2019 and June 2020, it earned revenues of about $3.5 million and recorded just more than that in expenses. More

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    N.C.A.A. Tournament: South Carolina Is Locked at No. 1 Ahead of Shuffling

    The Gamecocks have only one loss, but parity across the Power 5 leagues, especially the Big Ten and Big 12, should make for intense jockeying ahead of the tournament.As the spring approaches, women’s college basketball is inching closer and closer to a symbolic milestone. It’s one many people might never have noticed, and one that won’t have any impact on the quality or intensity of games.But for the first time since its debut 40 years ago, the N.C.A.A. Division I women’s basketball tournament will be officially called “March Madness” — the popular term that, until last fall, the N.C.A.A. had technically reserved exclusively for the men’s tournament.The start of the first official women’s March Madness is just a few weeks away. Many of the teams at the top of the heap are familiar, yet plenty of questions remain.Can anyone — besides Missouri, which managed to hand South Carolina a loss, by a single point — challenge the Gamecocks? Will Connecticut, long the front-runner, emerge in the postseason after its worst regular season in recent memory? Will the reigning champions, Stanford, earn longtime coach Tara VanDerveer her first repeat?As the regular season draws to a close, here’s what we know — and what’s next.Aliyah Boston is the front-runner for player of the year.Aliyah Boston has recorded 20 consecutive double-doubles, breaking a Southeastern Conference record set by Sylvia Fowles.Tracy Glantz/The State, via Associated PressSouth Carolina has been the top-ranked team in The Associated Press poll since the preseason thanks in large part to the efforts of the 6-foot-5 junior forward Aliyah Boston. Despite being the focus of every opposing team’s defense and getting persistently double-teamed by their most physical players as she fights to get in the paint, Boston has been nearly unstoppable. She leads the nation in win shares, according to Her Hoop Stats, and has recorded a double-double in points and rebounds in 20 consecutive games, breaking a Southeastern Conference record set by the highly decorated W.N.B.A. star Sylvia Fowles at Louisiana State.A top recruit out of high school, Boston has been a contender for national honors since she was a freshman. Last year, though, her stellar sophomore season was overshadowed by the prolific scoring and preternatural talent of Connecticut’s Paige Bueckers, whose national player of the year awards as a freshman were unprecedented.This year, Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, who in January became the first Division I player to record back-to-back 30-point triple-doubles, has drawn some attention away from Boston’s dominance — and that of her own team. Clark’s gaudy point totals and splashy hot streaks — she’s hit at least four 3-pointers seven times this season — make for irresistible highlight reels and have sparked conversation about her place in the player of the year race.Boston, though, has the numbers with 16.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, and South Carolina (26-1, 14-1 Southeastern Conference) has the wins.“It’s hard for me to imagine not having her and her contributions in so many different areas outside of the stat sheet,” South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley told reporters last week. “She’s a communicator, she’s a captain, she’s a leader, she’s a great teammate, she’s a great competitor on top of the stats.”Some top seeds could have a particularly tough road to the Final Four.With Paige Bueckers, second from left, set to return from an injury, UConn could have a more complete team and a quasi-home-court advantage during the N.C.A.A. tournament. Jessica Hill/Associated PressBarring a massive upset loss in the SEC tournament, the Gamecocks appear to be firmly in control of the top overall seed in the N.C.A.A. tournament. They’re better poised than ever to win Staley’s second national championship, with the South Carolina faithful — who have posted Division I’s best home attendance since 2015 — ready to pack the stands should they end up in the Greensboro, N.C., region.The most recent top-16 reveal from the N.C.A.A. Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, on Feb. 10, projected that the rest of the No. 1 line would fill out with familiar faces. After losing to South Carolina in December, Stanford (23-3, 14-0 Pac-12 Conference) has cruised through conference play with relative ease — only Arizona, its championship game foe last season, and Oregon stand as other Pac-12 teams ranked in The Associated Press poll.The Cardinal are currently projected as the No. 2 overall seed. That would likely place them in the Spokane, Wash., region, close to home and with limited upset potential.With the third and fourth overall seeds, the action is concentrated in the Atlantic Coast Conference. North Carolina State (25-3, 16-1) and Louisville, who have both been top seeds in recent tournaments, are neck and neck. The third-ranked Wolfpack are holding onto a narrow edge over the fourth-ranked Cardinals (24-3, 15-2) in the conference. One will likely play in the Wichita, Kan., regional, and one in the Bridgeport, Conn., regional.What both of those teams are hoping to avoid is something of a perfect storm brewing in Bridgeport. If UConn, projected as a No. 3 seed, is assigned to Bridgeport, either North Carolina State or Louisville — which has already beaten the Huskies once this year — could face what will essentially be a fervent home crowd at a purportedly neutral site.But even if UConn (20-5, 14-1 Big East Conference) winds up in Wichita, it will likely be playing with its healthiest team since the start of the season. Bueckers, who was sidelined after suffering a tibial plateau fracture and a lateral meniscus tear in her left knee on Dec. 5, is expected to return to the court on Friday against St. John’s.The Big 12 and Big Ten are deeper than ever.Caitlin Clark, left, had 32 points in a win over Rutgers on Thursday. Clark has gotten some national player of the year consideration along with Boston. Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesThis season’s parity has been remarkable, especially across the Power 5 conferences, where upsets have kept even the top teams from going on cruise control. Nowhere has that been more apparent than in the Big Ten and the Big 12, which are crowding the national rankings and positioned for exciting conference tournaments.In the Big Ten, where Maryland has won five of the past seven tournaments, the top teams — No. 6 Michigan, No. 17 Ohio State, No. 21 Iowa, and No. 13 Maryland — are separated by just a win or two, and their position is still changing by the day. Seven of the league’s teams are projected by ESPN to make the N.C.A.A. tournament, a group that now includes Northwestern, which fought to a double-overtime win over Michigan this month.In the Big 12, Baylor’s grip on the conference has been even tighter: The Bears have won nine of the past 10 tournaments. Yet right now, the fifth-ranked Bears (22-5, 12-3) are fighting for the top spot with No. 9 Iowa State.Close at their heels are No. 20 Oklahoma, which is second in the country in points per game with 84.9; No. 11 Texas, which managed one of the N.C.A.A. tournament’s biggest upsets last year by knocking off Maryland in the round of 16; and Kansas, which is in the mix despite landing 10th in the conference’s preseason poll.The last week of the regular season will be a tightly contested window into March.Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith, left, scored 13 points in a win Thursday against Pittsburgh. Van Lith leads the fourth-ranked Cardinals in scoring.Rebecca Droke/Associated PressThe final matchups of the regular season should offer some intrigue as teams jockey for seeding in conference tournaments and the national tournament.On Friday night, an overperforming No. 10 Indiana (19-6, 11-4) faces an underperforming Maryland at home (8 p.m. Eastern time, Big Ten Network).The Hoosiers beat Maryland in January, and now are just one win behind the Terrapins in a crowded field at the top of the Big Ten. If Maryland wins, there’s a chance it’ll be able to eke out its fourth-straight regular-season conference title and the top seed in the Big Ten tournament; if it loses, it’ll fall to the middle of the pack.On Sunday, Louisville and North Carolina State will each close the regular season against ranked opponents whom they have already beaten. The Cardinals will face No. 14 Notre Dame (noon, ESPN2), and the Wolfpack will take on No. 23 Virginia Tech (6 p.m., ACC Network). An upset loss for either team could take them out of the top four overall seeds and create a steeper road toward the A.C.C. title.In the Southeastern Conference, South Carolina’s stranglehold on the top spot has quieted some of its usual competitors. But new-look Louisiana State has sneaked into the top 10 for the first time in 13 years with Kim Mulkey at the helm, and is looking to make a run in the N.C.A.A. tournament despite not having qualified since 2018.On Sunday, the eighth-ranked Tigers will play No. 16 Tennessee (2 p.m., ESPN2), a team that started strong but has been bullied recently, losing four of six — albeit to a difficult group of opponents that included Connecticut and South Carolina — before winning Thursday.Mulkey’s former team, Baylor, is hardly languishing in her absence, though. The Bears will play Iowa State on Monday (7 p.m., ESPN2), with NaLyssa Smith, one of the best players in the country, center stage as she tries to pull the Bears atop the Big 12. More

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    Fax Machines and Popcorn Spills: The Rocky Road to N.B.A. Coaching

    Wes Unseld Jr. had done almost everything possible to prepare to be a head coach, from interning to selling tickets. But, he said, you can’t fully understand the job “until you’re in it.”Wes Unseld Jr. still has some of the reports he filed as a young scout for the Washington Wizards in the late 1990s. When he looks at them now, he said, they appear so basic. He still has no idea why Mike Brown, one of the team’s assistants at the time, was so encouraging and supportive of his work.In any case, Unseld has kept those reports as artifacts from the first of eight seasons that he spent combing the United States for prospects and studying opponents. Sure, there were moments when he questioned the general direction of his life. So many late nights. So many seemingly endless road trips. (“You get into Year 8, and you’re like, ‘This is a grind,’” Unseld said.) But from his courtside seat, he was immersed in the game that he loved.“It helped me enormously, because you’re seeing all sorts of philosophies firsthand,” Unseld said. “You’re watching all these different coaches and teams and how they use certain players: ‘That’s really good. It might work for our guys.’ In the process, you start to formulate your own ideology.”Now in his first season as the Wizards’ head coach, Unseld, 46, has used his more than two decades of experience as a scout and then as an assistant — first with the Wizards, and later with the Golden State Warriors, the Orlando Magic and the Denver Nuggets — as the foundation for his approach. Specifically, his time as a scout was vital and remains a part of his identity.“I think you always have that in you,” he said.Accustomed to challenges, Unseld has a fresh one with the Wizards, who are 27-31 at the N.B.A.’s All-Star break. Bradley Beal had season-ending surgery on his left wrist this month, and the team was active at the trade deadline, acquiring Kristaps Porzingis from the Dallas Mavericks. To get him, they traded away Spencer Dinwiddie, one of the team’s leading scorers. The Wizards have not had a winning season since 2017-18.“The goal is the playoffs,” said Ish Smith, a veteran guard who played for the Wizards from 2019 to 2021 and rejoined the team this month through a trade with the Charlotte Hornets. “But every day you’ve got to put the work in.”The Wizards traded for Kristaps Porzingis, left, earlier this month.Evan Vucci/Associated PressIn Unseld, the Wizards have a coach steeped in the organization: His father, Wes, who died in 2020 and was honored over the weekend as one of the N.B.A.’s top players ever, was the best player in Wizards history and a longtime executive. That connection surely helped the younger Unseld’s career, but he mostly climbed the coaching ladder the old-fashioned way. And it all started on one of the lowest rungs possible.For two summers, before and after his graduation from Johns Hopkins in 1997, Wes Unseld Jr. interned with the Wizards. (The first summer, he moonlighted as a sales representative for Nabisco.) With the Wizards, he hopscotched among departments, spending several weeks doing fairly standard tasks in each. His father, who was the team’s general manager at the time, emphasized the importance of hard work. So Unseld assembled media guides. He mingled with fans when he was working in community relations. He tried his hand at selling sponsorships and tickets, where he learned an important lesson about the business of professional sports.“If we weren’t playing well, it was tough,” he said.Unseld often started and ended each day the same way: by heading to the practice facility to rebound shots for players.By the end of his second summer with the team, he maneuvered his way into basketball operations, having shelved his ambitions of an investment banking career. The lure of the game was too strong, and his internship soon segued into a full-time role as a personnel scout, which largely involved evaluating high school and college prospects in the area.Brown, who had joined the Wizards before the 1997-98 season as a first-year assistant, was not sure what to expect when he first met Unseld. Unseld’s father, after all, was basketball royalty and the face of the franchise.“He was probably the most well-known person in D.C. besides the president,” Brown said.Unseld’s father, Wes, coached the Wizards from 1988 to 1994.Tim DeFrisco/Allsport, via Getty ImagesBut rather than come off as entitled, Wes Unseld Jr. was a sponge for information, Brown said. He was always asking questions, always seeking ways to improve and always willing to do the dirty work — no, really. Brown recalled how the coaches were meeting after practice one morning when one of them spilled some popcorn. Unseld practically jumped out of his chair before returning with a broom and a dustpan.“I knew right then and there that he was authentic,” said Brown, now an assistant with Golden State. “This was a guy who could’ve skipped two or three steps if he wanted to. But he didn’t skip any.”When the Wizards had an unexpected opening for an advance scout — someone who visits arenas far and wide to watch future opponents and write reports for the coaching staff — Unseld was in the right place at the right time. It was a promotion and an immediate test.“I had no idea what I was doing,” said Unseld, who leaned on Brown for guidance. “We lived right around the corner from each other, so I’d go over there to spend time, and we’d watch film and he would help talk me through some of the things, like what to look for and how to organize my thoughts.”Unseld, Brown said, would often visit just so that he could watch him watch film.“He wouldn’t even want to say anything because he didn’t want to bother you,” Brown said.At the time, scouting was still in a relative “Stone Age,” Brown said. Laptops? Forget it. The reports were by hand. Unseld had detailed forms that he used to draw up plays and record other minutiae from the games he watched. But that was only half the challenge: In the early days, he needed to find a fax machine so that his handiwork would beat the coaching staff back to the office by 6 a.m.“You’d find the nearest 24-hour Kinko’s or a grocery store that was within walking distance of the hotel,” Unseld said. “It was a lesson in self-reliance: You found a way to make it work.”The technology eventually improved to the point where Unseld could email them. But it was painstaking work, and the travel was nearly as incomprehensible as the hours were. He was routinely on the road for 20-plus days out of the month. His personal record, he said, was 28 straight days living out of a suitcase.He later spent another six seasons as an assistant on the Wizards’ coaching staff. But when he left for Golden State in 2011 — the team had offered him a more prominent position — Unseld doubted he would ever return.“It’s not that I didn’t want to,” he said. “But it was just one of those things where you think that if there’s going to be an opportunity, it would be somewhere else.”Hired by the Wizards last summer, Unseld has found that some aspects of his new job were impossible to anticipate, no matter how many years he had to prepare for such a role. He went so far as to cite the team’s travel schedule, which he was responsible for planning before the start of the season.“When you’re trying to project it, you’re just like: ‘Oh, this is great. We’ll travel on this day, and then we’ll stay over that night,’” Unseld said. “And then, when you’re living through it, you’re like: ‘What the hell was I thinking? This is awful.’ I don’t think you can ever understand the depth and scope of everything that comes with this position until you’re in it.”It has been an uneven season for the Wizards, who have been hindered by injuries and will finish the season with a new-look lineup. They rank among the bottom third of the league in both offensive and defensive rating, and Beal can opt for free agency this summer. But Unseld said he was excited about the future, describing Porzingis as a “very talented piece” of the puzzle.Above all, Unseld is learning as he goes, same as ever, back where it all began.“It’s amazing,” he said, “how it’s played out.” More

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    Ime Udoka Has Convinced the Celtics to Pass the Basketball

    Ime Udoka, the team’s first-year coach, has convinced his players that sharing the ball is the key to a potent offense. Now the Celtics are climbing in the standings.BOSTON — Ime Udoka has been emphasizing ball movement since the day the Celtics hired him as their coach. At his introductory news conference last June, Udoka apologized to Brad Stevens, his predecessor and the team’s newly appointed president of basketball operations, as a way of softening the blow before he pointed out that the Celtics had ranked near the bottom of the league in assists last season.“We want to have more team basketball,” Udoka said at the time.It was not instant fix for Udoka, whose team hobbled into the middle of January with a losing record. The ball was not moving. A bit of frustration was evident. But even during their struggles, Udoka sensed that his players were receptive to coaching, he said. So he reinforced his pass-first concepts in film sessions and by citing statistics that showed the offense was more potent when the ball zipped around the court.“It took some time,” Udoka said on Wednesday, “but I think they’re embracing being playmakers and helping everyone else score, and I think it’s pleasing to me and noticeable when we play that way.”Entering the N.B.A.’s All-Star break, the Celtics have resurfaced as one of the better teams in the league after winning 11 of their last 13 games, a run of solid play that has vaulted them up the standings, quieted a few of their critics and shown that Udoka’s sharing-is-caring formula can work in their favor.“The turnovers are down and the assists are up because we’re getting rid of the ball,” Udoka said.He made that observation a couple of hours before the Celtics (34-26) had their nine-game winning streak snapped on Wednesday night by the Detroit Pistons, one of the worst teams in the league. It was the second game of a back-to-back for the Celtics, who had routed the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday and were without two injured starters, Marcus Smart and Rob Williams.Still, the loss was a reminder that good habits need to be nurtured, and one the Celtics can stew over before they resume their season against the Nets next Thursday.“There’s got to be an edge to us coming back,” the veteran forward Al Horford said, adding: “This is when the fun starts.”It always takes time for new coaches to incorporate their systems, no matter how talented their personnel. Dwane Casey, the coach of the Pistons, knows the feeling. Before Wednesday’s game, he recalled landing his first head coaching job in the N.B.A., with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2005. Kevin Garnett, a colorful figure and a future Hall of Famer, made a habit of interrupting Casey whenever he tried to show the team a new play.“It’s not easy,” Casey said. “You want to go in there with all these grand ideas, but you learn pretty quick that you’ve got to be flexible, that you’ve got to learn the players and they’ve got to get a feel for you.”Udoka had to be just as patient in Boston, where the Celtics’ season was less than two weeks old when a loss to the Chicago Bulls dropped their record to 2-5. Afterward, Smart, the team’s starting point guard, used his platform at a postgame news conference to criticize Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the team’s top two players, for essentially hogging the ball.Early in the season, Marcus Smart, left, called out Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum (not pictured) for not passing the ball. The team has since revamped its offense.Brian Fluharty/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe Celtics spent subsequent weeks wrestling with mediocrity — two wins here, three losses there — without much continuity. And they found themselves absorbing more barbs after a loss to the 76ers on Jan. 14. Joel Embiid, the 76ers’ All-Star center, stated the obvious: The Celtics were a one-on-one team. Embiid went so far as to compare them unfavorably to the Charlotte Hornets, whom the 76ers had played two days earlier.“Charlotte, they move the ball extremely well and they have shooters all over the place,” Embiid told reporters. “Obviously, Boston is more of an iso-heavy team, so it becomes easier to load up and try to stop them.”Perhaps it was a message that the Celtics needed to hear. Tatum, 23, and Brown, 25, are terrific players, each capable of torching a conga line of defenders by himself. And there are certainly times when they should take advantage of their matchups. But Udoka wants all of his players to avoid “playing in a crowd,” he said, and to exercise more discretion. Above all, he seeks balance: fast breaks, pick-and-rolls, ball reversals.“We have a multidimensional team that can score in a lot of different ways,” he said.Sure enough, the Celtics were rolling by the time they paid another visit to Philadelphia on Tuesday. Udoka delivered some pregame motivation by showing his players that old quote from Embiid — the one about them being “easier” to defend than the Hornets had been. “It stood out to me when he said it,” Udoka said.The Celtics won by 48 points. Doc Rivers, the coach of the 76ers, spent the game looking as though he were in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.“You can literally see the improvement of the ball movement,” he said. “The old Boston is more isos. This Boston is driving and playing with each other, and that’s what makes them so much tougher.”The Celtics, who are also among the league leaders in defensive rating, made some savvy moves ahead of last week’s trade deadline by acquiring Derrick White, a versatile guard, and Daniel Theis, a defense-minded center.As for the All-Star break, Udoka said he would spend time with his family. But he also plans to dive into film by revisiting the hard times.“Really take a look at the struggles we had early,” he said, “and how we’ve turned the corner.” More

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    Bill Fitch, Who Coached Celtics to the ’81 Title, Is Dead at 89

    Hailed for reviving sagging teams, he was voted one of the top 10 coaches in the N.B.A.’s first half century and was twice named coach of the year.Bill Fitch, who gained a reputation for reviving the fortunes of dismal N.B.A. teams and took the Boston Celtics to the 1981 league championship in a pro coaching career spanning 25 seasons, died on Wednesday in Lake Conroe, Texas, north of Houston. He was 89.His death was announced by Rick Carlisle, the coach of the Indiana Pacers and president of the N.B.A. Coaches Association, who said he had been contacted by Fitch’s daughter Marcy Ann Coville. No other details were provided.A strong-willed figure who preached unselfish play, Fitch ran demanding workouts and did not spare the feelings of even his best players.“I believe in discipline and I think it’s the cornerstone of world championship teams,” Fitch once said.He was an innovator in taping games and practices to analyze his players and their opponents, shrugging off a nickname circulating around the league in its pre-high-tech years: Captain Video.Fitch was a two-time N.B.A. coach of the year and chosen as one of the top 10 coaches in league history in 1996-97 balloting that marked the N.B.A.’s 50th anniversary.He received in 2013 the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, named for the coach who won two league championships with the Detroit Pistons.When Kevin McHale coached the Houston Rockets in 2012, he recalled the lessons he had absorbed as a Celtic rookie during Fitch’s sometimes intimidating reign.“Coming out of college, I had never been around a coach that talked the way Bill did to you,’’ McHale told The Houston Chronicle, “but he really pushed you hard, and I thought Bill did a great job.”Fitch on the Celtics bench during a game in Philadelphia in December 1982. From left were the forward Larry Bird and the center Rick Robey. Fitch resigned after four seasons with Boston. Peter Morgan/Associated PressLarry Bird, who joined with McHale and Robert Parish on Fitch’s championship Celtic team, told Sports Illustrated in 1997 that Fitch “was the best in terms of motivation, getting you to really lay it on the line for each other.”Bird thought, however, that Fitch, who resigned as the Celtic coach after four seasons, moved on to other teams so often because “he really got under the skin of some guys after a while.”Fitch made his N.B.A. coaching debut in Cleveland, watching his 1970 expansion-team Cavaliers lose their first 15 games.But in his sixth season, the Cavaliers won the Central Division title, going 49-33, and made it to the second round of the playoffs, bringing Fitch his first Coach of the Year Award.Fitch was hired as the Celtics’ coach in 1979 after they had missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. He received his second Coach of the Year Award in 1980, when the Celtics, in Bird’s rookie season, went 61-21 and reached the playoffs’ second round.Fitch’s Celtics won the N.B.A. title the following season, defeating the Houston Rockets in a six-game playoff final, the deciding victory coming in Houston. It was Boston’s 14th National Basketball Association championship and their first since 1976.Taking the Rockets’ coaching post in 1983 after they had fallen on hard times, Fitch developed the Twin Towers, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, as the core of a team that he coached to the 1986 N.B.A. finals, where the Rockets lost to the Celtics in six games.Fitch got the New Jersey Nets’ coaching post in August 1989, succeeding Willis Reed, who became a team vice president after a 26-56 season.The Nets won only 43 games in Fitch’s first two seasons in New Jersey, but he coached them to the 1992 playoffs, their first postseason appearance in six years, though they were eliminated in the first round.Fitch had nearly failed to survive that season. A Nets minority owner wanted to hire Jim Valvano, the former North Carolina State coach, in December 1991. Though it didn’t happen, Fitch had other problems, having clashed with several of his players.He resigned after that season, then became coach of the floundering Los Angeles Clippers in 1994. He never produced a winning team with the Clippers but got them to the playoffs in his third season with them.Fitch was born on May 19, 1932, in Davenport, Iowa, and grew up in Cedar Rapids. His father, a former Marine drill sergeant, was a disciplinarian, shaping a trait his son would bring to the basketball court.“I was 14 years old before I found out I wasn’t in the Marine Corps because I lived like a Marine,” Fitch told The Los Angeles Times in 1994. “I had nobody to share that razor strap with. I was an only child.”Fitch played basketball at Coe College in Cedar Rapids and got his first head-coaching post there in 1958. He later coached at North Dakota, where Phil Jackson was one of his players, and then at Bowling Green and Minnesota before getting the Cavaliers’ head-coaching post.He retired from pro coaching after the 1997-98 season with 944 victories and 1,106 losses. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 2019.Fitch during his enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2019. Annette Grant/NBAE via Getty ImagesIn addition to his daughter Marcy Ann, his survivors include two other daughters, Tammy Fitch and Lisa Fitch.Fitch retained his zest for basketball gamesmanship long after he retired from coaching.“I never really thought being known as Captain Video was a bad deal,” he told the N.B.A.’s website in 2013. “Other people could laugh and tease all they wanted. The truth is I was glad that nobody else was doing it because I thought it always gave our teams a big advantage.”“If you could see my closet today,” he said, “it’s crammed full from floor to ceiling with old tapes and now with DVDs, and I’m still doing film for different people. I still love the competition and the strategy.” More

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    How Pat Riley Quit on the Knicks

    In a book excerpt, a writer details the Knicks’ infighting and the tense contract negotiations that led Coach Pat Riley to leave for the Miami Heat in 1995.The following are excerpts from “Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the 1990s New York Knicks” by Chris Herring. They have been edited and condensed. The book was released Tuesday. Herring is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated.The infighting within the Knicks’ locker room seemed to be catching up with them.Perhaps it was the stress of getting so close — one win away from the 1994 N.B.A. championship, before a crushing Game 7 loss to Houston — only to watch it all slip away. Or perhaps it was the new campaign getting off to a rocky start, with a pedestrian 12-12 mark by Christmas and a five-game losing streak — their longest in Coach Pat Riley’s four years there.Whatever the reason, the squabbles were apparent.In early December, Riley got into it with the veteran guard Doc Rivers, with the men loudly trading expletives in Riley’s office during a spat over Rivers’s role. The argument ended with Rivers asking Riley to release him from the team.During a separate standoff that month, Riley’s two best players, Patrick Ewing and John Starks, traded barbs in Atlanta after Ewing declined to pass to an open Starks, drawing his ire.When Starks yelled at Ewing, Ewing snarled back, essentially telling Starks to know his place. The blowup was a breaking point, as Starks felt teammates had frozen him out of the offense during his recent slump. And while some players felt Riley had previously given Starks too much leash to shoot, no one felt that way after the loss to the Hawks.“Who are you to ever question anyone’s shot selection?” Riley screamed at Starks inside the visiting locker room. “Did anyone here ever say a word to you about [Game 7]?” The coach was referring to Starks’s disastrous 2-for-18 showing against Houston in the finals.Starks, almost in tears during the dressing-down, would be benched the following game.But deep down, Riley was the one beginning to feel distant. And change felt inevitable.‘He went quiet on us’Dave Checketts, left, the former president of Madison Square Garden, and former Knicks General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, right, discuss the resignation of Pat Riley on June 15, 1995.Marty Lederhandler/Associated PressDuring that last week of December, Riley gave his players time off from the grind. He took time for himself, too, chartering a jet on New Year’s Eve to Aspen, Colo., to visit Dick Butera, a longtime friend and wealthy real estate developer.Riley had a weighty issue to discuss. “I don’t know if this [situation with the Knicks] is going to work out,” Riley told Butera and other friends while at the developer’s home.As Riley dropped his bombshell, Butera countered with one: He and a group of deep-pocketed acquaintances planned to make a run at buying the Miami Heat. Riley said he’d consider being the team’s coach, Butera said.With a contract extension offer from the Knicks already in hand, Riley was far from desperate. But knowing he had a friend with a decent chance of purchasing a team may have emboldened him in his dealings with the Knicks. In January, after the Aspen trip, he sent a counteroffer to the Knicks, asking for a stake in ownership and a promotion to team president. These asks — which Riley said would assuage his concerns about the Knicks’ frequent ownership changes — were in addition to the $3 million salary New York had already offered.In late January, Riley met with Rand Araskog, the chief executive of ITT, which controlled 85 percent of the Madison Square Garden properties. (Cablevision owned 15 percent.) Garden president Dave Checketts gave Araskog a heads-up that Riley would likely request a 10 or 20 percent share of the Knicks as part of his extension.“I have to discuss something with you,” Riley said, pulling out a leather briefcase to talk numbers. Before he got another word out, Araskog stopped him. The answer was no.Riley pursed his lips. “I’m sorry to hear that. But I understand,” he said, declining to press the issue. The meeting concluded shortly after.“He went quiet on us after that,” Checketts says. “He’d only talk basketball with us.”‘I’m finished in New York’In “Blood in the Garden,” Chris Herring reported that Riley wanted an ownership stake in the Knicks as part of a contract extension but was denied.Ron Frehm/Associated PressIt was mid-February 1995, the first game after the All-Star break, and the Knicks were getting drilled on the road by a Detroit club 12 games under .500. By halftime, they trailed by 25. A red-faced Riley responded by punching a hole in the visiting locker room’s blackboard.The team’s play that night wasn’t all that was bothering Riley. Butera had just been informed he wouldn’t be getting the Miami Heat. “He’d kept telling me, ‘I’ll definitely come with you if you can buy the Heat,’ ” Butera recalled.But even after that plan fell through, a different opportunity remained.That same month, Micky Arison, chairman of Carnival Cruise Lines, took over as the majority owner of the Heat, and had a series of calls with Butera, phone records would later show. And while it’s not clear what was discussed — Butera denied Riley was the topic of conversation — it wasn’t long after that Arison sought to meet Riley when the Knicks were in town.On the morning of Feb. 16, Arison, who’d grown up a Knicks fan, arrived at Miami Arena early. He waited in a corridor that led to the court, wanting to watch the Knicks’ shootaround. Riley was fiercely competitive and private, so no, Arison couldn’t stay.“I was curious, based on his reputation,” Arison said. “The fact that he refused? I respected it.”But as Riley prepared to leave with his players, the new owner was standing at the exit. He pulled Riley aside, asking if he could talk with him for a few minutes.Arison’s persistence stopped Riley in his tracks. Since he’d taken the Knicks job, Riley had prioritized loyalty. The idea of being all the way in, or all the way out. Riley didn’t believe in fraternizing with anyone outside the team. So could he really agree to meet with Arison now, after a team workout, just hours before a game?Surprisingly, Riley nodded. Yes, he’d meet with Arison in the tunnel.But just for a few minutes.Arison didn’t need long, though. All he needed to know was that Riley was open to a conversation — one they could presumably finish at a later point.That point came in May, after the Knicks suffered a bitter Game 7 loss to Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Maybe an hour after the Knicks’ season ended, Butera’s phone rang. It was Riley.The Indiana Pacers pile on Reggie Miller after they defeated the Knicks in Game 7 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals.Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images“Are you still friendly with the guy who owns the Heat?” he asked Butera.“Yeah, I am. He’s a good guy. Why?”“Because I’m done. I’m just done,” Riley responded. “All I can tell you is, I’m finished in New York.”Butera wanted more detail. The agitated tone in Riley’s voice suggested something aside from the defeat itself had taken place. And Butera could hear noise in the background of the call. So he asked Riley where he was calling from — especially while discussing such a potentially explosive subject.“I’m calling you from my cellphone. I’m on the team bus,” Riley said.That struck Butera. Riley was so angry, he didn’t care that he might be within earshot of other people.“Make it happen,” Riley told Butera. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”‘That’s just how Pat is’Riley, left, signed his new contract to be head coach and president of the Miami Heat on Sept. 2, 1995, while Micky Arison looked on.Andy Newman/Associated PressButera met with Arison in Long Beach, Calif., on one of Arison’s cruise ships.“What does he want?” Arison asked.“He wants $50 million for 10 years,” Butera said.Arison laughed. No N.B.A. coach, not even Riley, was making $3 million a year, let alone $5 million. “What does he really want?” Arison asked.Butera reiterated his stance. Riley, already the highest-paid coach in the sport at $1.5 million a season, wanted $50 million over 10 years to run the show for Arison in Miami.Arison sat still for a moment. The asking price was a small fortune. But paying it — and getting perhaps the best coach in basketball to take over a listless organization — could prove worthwhile if Riley turned the Heat into a winner.“OK,” Arison said. “What else does he want to get this done?”Butera and Riley soon compiled a list of asks in a four-page, 14-point memo. Riley wanted an immediate 10 percent ownership of the team and another 10 percent share over the course of his deal. He also wanted Arison to loan him money to pay taxes on the initial 10 percent stake.He also wanted complete control over Miami’s basketball operations, and to be named the team president. Riley wanted Arison to purchase his sprawling homes near Los Angeles and New York City. He wanted a limo service to and from games in Miami. He wanted credit cards and a $300 per diem.Butera took a copy of the memo to Arison at a bar at Los Angeles International Airport on June 5. Arison’s eyes narrowed when he saw the per diem.“He couldn’t understand how someone getting a deal worth tens of millions would ask for such a nickel-and-dime sort of thing,” Butera recalled. “But that’s just how Pat is.”‘Wind this up’Riley had one year left on his contract with the Knicks when he left for the Heat.Robert Sullivan/AFP via Getty ImagesAs Butera and Riley were solidifying things with Arison in early June, Riley’s agent, the Los Angeles attorney Ed Hookstratten, was more than hinting to Checketts that Riley had finished his Knicks career, despite having another year left on his contract.“You and Pat have got to wind this up,” Hookstratten told Checketts during a June 7 meeting in Beverly Hills, urging him to let Riley out of his deal for a clean divorce. But Checketts wanted to talk with Riley.Checketts said when he and Riley met two days later at the coach’s home in Greenwich, Conn., Riley was noncommittal. “I’m having a hard time with [the Indiana] loss,” Riley said. “I’m having a hard time figuring out the extension. I’m having a hard time with all of it.”Checketts backed off, thinking he needed to give Riley space to decide.One day went by. Then a second. And a third. Around then, Riley asked assistant coach Jeff Van Gundy to quietly grab Riley’s things from his office. The following day, June 13, Riley met with his assistants to inform them: He was planning to resign, but wanted them to keep the news private for a few more days, as he wasn’t ready to tell the front office or the media.By June 15, Riley was ready. That day, Ken Munoz, the Knicks general counsel, was in his office when a fax came through his machine. It was a letter from Hookstratten’s law firm.Riley, one of the N.B.A.’s greatest coaches, and the Knicks’ best since Red Holzman, had faxed his resignation.And with that, the man who had taken a 39-win Knicks club and squeezed 51, 60, 57, and 55 victories out of it in four years while coming up just short of a championship was officially out the door.By the time the fax arrived and began making waves throughout the New York media, Riley was at 40,000 feet on a flight to Greece, likely to tune out the noise of the sonic boom he’d just triggered. More

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    FIFA's Best? Pitso Mosimane Doesn't Fit the Model

    Pitso Mosimane enjoyed a better 2021 than almost any coach in world soccer. Just don’t expect FIFA, or soccer, to notice.Pitso Mosimane has done enough winning in the last year, plus change, to talk about nothing else. In November 2020, only three months after he was appointed manager of the Egyptian club Al Ahly, he won the African Champions League title. He did so by beating Zamalek, Al Ahly’s fiercest rival. The final was cast as the derby of the century. Nobody in Egypt thought it was an exaggeration.Eight months later, he repeated the trick. The calendar contracted and concentrated by the pandemic, Al Ahly returned to the Champions League final in July to face Kaizer Chiefs, the team Mosimane had supported as a child in South Africa. He won again. He was showered with golden ticker tape on the field, then presented with bouquets of roses by government grandees when he returned to Cairo.He places both trophies among his proudest moments as a manager, alongside coaching his country — he was in charge of South Africa for a couple of years after it served as host of the 2010 World Cup — and winning his first continental trophy, with the South African team Mamelodi Sundowns in 2016.And yet Mosimane does not rhapsodize about either victory quite so much as he does the one international tournament in 2021 that he did not win. Between his two triumphs, Mosimane took Al Ahly to Qatar for the Club World Cup. His team was drawn to face Bayern Munich in the semifinals. “They had beaten Barcelona, 8-2,” he said. “I was worried. That was Barcelona with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. If they could do that to them, what would they do to us?”He had no need to be concerned. Al Ahly lost, 2-0, but there was no embarrassment, no humiliation. A few days later, in the third-place playoff, Mosimane’s team overcame the South American champion, Palmeiras, to take bronze. “Africa got a medal,” he said. “The year before, it had not won a medal. That, to us, was success.”That it is the third place, not the string of firsts — two Champions Leagues, accompanied by two African Super Cups — that Mosimane lingers on is instructive. It is a reminder that silver and gold are not the only measure of glory in management; achievement is necessarily relative to opportunity.Mosimane said he considered Al Ahly’s third-place finish in the Club World Cup as important as any of its firsts last year.Noushad Thekkayil/EPA, via ShutterstockMosimane, by that gauge, has enjoyed a year that holds up in comparison to any of his peers. He has not, though, been granted the same recognition. When FIFA published its seven-member shortlist for its men’s coach of the year award a few weeks ago, Mosimane — who had lifted three continental honors in 2021 — was not on it.He was not the only notable omission. Abel Ferreira was not there, either, despite going one better than Mosimane and leading Palmeiras to two Copa Libertadores titles in the same calendar year. He did not make the top seven, let alone the top three. Those spots were taken by Thomas Tuchel, Pep Guardiola and Roberto Mancini.The pattern held for the women’s prize, too. Bev Priestman led Canada to an improbable Olympic gold in Tokyo, but she did not make the final cut, overlooked in favor of Lluís Cortés, Emma Hayes and Sarina Wiegman.The connection is not that all of these coaches won major honors: Cortés might have led Barcelona Femení to an emphatic treble and Hayes might have won the Women’s Super League, but Wiegman saw her Dutch team knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Olympics, then left to take charge of England. The link, instead, is that they all work in Europe.The temptation, of course, is to chalk this up to FIFA’s star-dazzled ineptitude and move along. The problem, though, is more deep-seated than that. FIFA does, of course, choose the initial shortlists of candidates for its so-called Best Awards, and it has a tendency to overlook anyone not competing in the most glamorous, most lucrative tournaments in the game.But, occasionally, one slips through. Djamel Belmadi, of Algeria, was nominated in 2019. So, too, were River Plate’s Marcelo Gallardo and Ricardo Gareca, the Argentine in charge of Peru’s national team. Lionel Scaloni, the Argentina coach, was included this year.That none went any further is not just to do with FIFA but with the array of players, coaches, fans and journalists who command a vote on the awards. It is not only the game’s governing body that is in thrall to the famous faces and the glamorous names of the major leagues of western Europe, but the game itself.“It is not only Africa” that is overlooked, Mosimane said. “It is as though it does not mean as much when you win in the competitions that do not generate the most money, that do not have the biggest audiences.”The consequences of that Eurocentrism reach far beyond one prize, one gala. Mosimane was appointed by Al Ahly, at least in part, because the club was “looking for someone who knew Africa, knew the Champions League, had beaten the teams they needed to beat.” His record was impeccable. He was, by some distance, the best man for the job.He landed in Cairo, in September 2020, to be greeted by thousands of fans at the airport; it was then, and only then, that he realized the scale of the job he had taken. “I don’t know if there is another club in the world that has to win everything like Al Ahly does,” he said. “I thought South Africans loved football. But they don’t love it as much as Egyptians do.”In the news media, though, Mosimane detected a note of skepticism. Al Ahly had employed foreign managers before, but they had all been European or South American. He was the first non-Egyptian African to be given the post. “There were people who asked whether I had the credibility to coach the biggest team in Africa and the biggest in the Middle East,” he said.It made sense to him that those doubts proved unfounded. Africa, as Mosimane pointed out, is full of European coaches. They should, really, be at a considerable advantage. Until recently, the African soccer federation, CAF, did not run a formal high-level coaching course, the equivalent of the pro license required of all European managers.Mosimane with Gianni Infantino of FIFA, which has only ever honored Europeans as world coach of the year.Karim Jaafar/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesMosimane was one of the first coaches accepted for the inaugural qualification. It was supposed to take six months. Three years later, it has still not finished, only in part because of the pandemic. Meeting European coaches in competition, he said, was the equivalent of “being asked to sit the exam but not being given the books to read.” And still, African coaches still found a way to pass. “When the floors are level, when they are coaching teams with the same quality of player as us, we beat them,” he said.It is small wonder, then, that Mosimane is convinced that if he was put in charge of Barcelona or Manchester City he would “not do too badly.” He is resigned to the fact that he will never find out. If FIFA finds it easy to overlook the success of African coaches, if African clubs are wary of the abilities of African coaches, then there is little hope a team from outside Africa will offer him that sort of chance.Part of that, he is adamant, is to do with the color of his skin. He was pleased to see one of his former players, Bradley Carnell, be appointed coach of St. Louis City S.C. in Major League Soccer. He is proud to see another South African doing well. Carnell does not have a fraction of Mosimane’s experience. “So maybe I could get a job in M.L.S. then?” he said. He did not sound hopeful. Carnell, after all, is white.Europe is more distant still. He has noted the almost complete absence of Black coaches — let alone Black African coaches — in Europe’s major leagues. He has spoken with former players of the highest pedigree who feel they are denied opportunities easily afforded to their white counterparts. “That is the reality,” Mosimane said.That is not to say he does not harbor ambitions. His latest Champions League crown has earned him another tilt at the Club World Cup next month. It is the trophy that he would like to win, with Al Ahly, above all others. “There is nothing left for me to win in Africa,” he said.Once his time in Cairo ends, he would like to try his hand at international management again. The “timing” is not right for South Africa, he said, but perhaps Senegal, Nigeria, Ivory Coast or Egypt might be feasible: one of the continent’s traditional powerhouses.He would cherish the chance to coach the best players in the world in Europe, of course, but he knows soccer has imposed a ceiling between them and him. His ambitions run as high as they can, given the way the world has been constructed around him, one in which opportunity is not always contingent on achievement. More