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    Andy Murray’s Measured Voice and Stellar Career

    He has won three majors, but a bad hip almost ended his career. Surgery allowed him to return.Andy Murray has no shame. He permits his three daughters to give him manicures and dons fairy wings during playtime. He recently posted a picture of himself in a too-small dinosaur costume and another wearing mouse ears and posing with Mickey. When his tennis shoes — and the wedding band he had tied to the laces — disappeared and then suddenly reappeared last year, Murray admitted that they still smelled stinky.But on the tennis court, Murray, 35, is no joke. Since turning pro 17 years ago, the former world No. 1 has often been hailed as one of the hardest-working pros on the ATP Tour. Though sometimes stymied by Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Murray has reached 11 major finals, winning the United States Open in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016. He also twice won Olympic gold in singles and led Britain to the Davis Cup in 2015.Murray has also emerged as one of the most measured voices in the sport, a champion for women’s rights and gay rights and prize-money equity. Hip surgery nearly ended his career in 2018. Instead, it has prolonged it.The following interview, conducted via email, has been edited and condensed.Murray on June 3 in a quarterfinal match against Brandon Nakashima at the Surbiton Trophy tournament in England. Matthew Childs/ReutersIt’s been 10 years since you reached your first Wimbledon final. What stands out most?There were a lot of highs and lows during that tournament. One thing I remember clearly was the pressure as it got closer to the final. I don’t think I appreciated how much it meant to the people of the U.K. to have a British man in the final. But my main takeaway was losing to Roger [Federer]. I was really close, and I wanted to win so badly. I felt like I let people down.You’ve played 70 matches there since your first in 2005. Which one resonates the most with you, and which one would you most like to replay?The match that resonates the most is when I first won the championship in 2013, but that is also the match that I would most like to replay. It was such a blur. I can’t remember hitting that final ball or climbing up through the crowd to the box even though I’ve seen it replayed a lot.If you were devising the greatest player in history, which stroke or trait of yours would make the list?If I had to choose a stroke it would probably be my lob, which has won me quite a few points over the years. Or my determination, which has enabled me to come back from serious injury and keep on improving.Is your greatest tennis accomplishment that you were able to return to top-level singles with a metal hip?I don’t know if I’d say that’s my greatest tennis accomplishment. I wish I hadn’t had to go through the hip operations. I had some dark days during that period, and it was certainly a time I had to dig deep to make it through to the other side.Murray signing autographs after a training session during the 2019 Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio.Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesYour support of equity and inclusion is well documented. Where does that come from, and do you treat your son differently from your daughters?My parents are both compassionate people, and they always encouraged us to treat everyone with respect. I treat my children exactly the same, and I hope they grow up as part of a generation that won’t have barriers or discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. We’re not there yet, which is why I speak out.Is this your last Wimbledon? If so, how do you want to be remembered there?I hope not. I don’t feel like I’m done yet. I hope I’ll be around for a few more years. I’d like to be remembered for being myself. I don’t think I always fit the mold of what a tennis player should be like, and I know I can get frustrated on the court, but I have always tried to be true to who I am and what I believe. I know at the end of my career I will have given absolutely everything, and that’s all you can do. More

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    From Tattoos to Malcolm X T-shirts, N.B.A. Hopefuls Talk Style

    Three top draft prospects — Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams — explained their approach to fashion. “I feel like I don’t really miss when I put fits on,” Holmgren said.Paolo Banchero lifted the right sleeve of his black hooded sweatshirt to point out the green tattoo ink on his forearm. His long arms make up most of the 7-foot-1 wingspan that positioned him as one of the top prospects in the N.B.A. draft on Thursday, but they also tell a story.His right arm is packed with tattoos that depict crucial parts of his upbringing and make statements about his style: the Space Needle and the rest of the skyline of his hometown, Seattle, sit on his right shoulder; “19th and Spruce” is written on his inner biceps as a nod to the Boys and Girls Club where he began playing basketball; and on his inner forearm is the logo for his friend’s Seattle-based Skyblue Collective clothing brand, which he sports often and says is “a part of him.”Banchero has a tattoo on his right arm that reads “19th and Spruce,” a nod to the Boys and Girls Club in Seattle where he grew up playing basketball.Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports, via ReutersBanchero, 19, who led the Duke men’s basketball team to the Final Four this year, uses his tattoos and outfits as a form of self-expression, a subtle way of sending messages. At a pre-draft style event at a Brooklyn barbershop on Tuesday, he wore an all-black luxury designer outfit, which he said was tame compared to what he would put together on draft night.On Thursday, he wore a bright purple suit as the Orlando Magic selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.Banchero and many of the top players in the 2022 draft class already have a public persona, but it will be boosted immensely if an N.B.A. team signs them. While playing well and winning championships are paramount in how an N.B.A. player is perceived, style and image are a close second. After all, this is the league in which Los Angeles Lakers forward/center Anthony Davis made his unibrow a celebrity in its own right, even trademarking the phrase “Fear The Brow” in 2012.N.B.A. athletes have made it easy for fans to appreciate their fashion sense, turning their pregame entrances into their own version of the Met Gala. Fans on social media quickly share photos and videos from players’ 30-second walks to the locker rooms from cars or team buses at N.B.A. arenas. GQ magazine crowned Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as the N.B.A.’s most stylish player of 2022, over Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, because “the guy cares about getting dressed.”Jalen Williams, a forward from Santa Clara University and a potential first-round pick in the draft, is looking forward to the pregame catwalk. On his cellphone, he has multiple search tabs open for different clothing brands. He laughed and pointed at Jaden Hardy from the G League Ignite, another potential 2022 draft pick, when he saw that they were wearing the same black sweatpants from the brand MNML at the event on Tuesday.Williams said he tried to balance being conscious about what he wore while having fun with his style, because he knew that he would be judged by his outfits and appearance. He incorporates clothing from less popular brands into his wardrobe to encourage those who may look up to him to be “comfortable in their own skin.”Jalen Williams said fashion was important to him — even in video games.Young Kwak/Associated PressWilliams at the N.B.A. draft on Thursday.Arturo Holmes/Getty Images“I think that’s the biggest thing that gets misunderstood in fashion,” Williams, 21, said. “You feel like you have to please whoever or look a certain way, but whatever you like is what you like.”Williams said he also tried to support small brands and promote social-justice issues through his clothing. He sported a jacket from Tattoo’d Cloth, which made custom embroidered jackets for some draft prospects, and tagged the brand in an Instagram story. On Juneteenth, he wore a shirt featuring Malcolm X, and he frequently wears different kinds of apparel supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. “I think as athletes, it’s important to inspire people and kind of spark a change and use our platform,” Williams said. “Sometimes, not even saying anything but wearing the clothes is really important.”Williams’s style goes beyond his outfits, too. As a high school sophomore, he decided to don a single braid while keeping the rest of his hair unbraided, hanging the braid at eye level. That has become a popular style in the N.B.A.“I’m not going to say I started it, but I might’ve started it,” he said jokingly.Fashion has long played a significant role in Williams’s life, back to his childhood when he began using the My Player mode in the N.B.A. 2K video game, in which users create players and can style them for hanging out in a virtual park. He is serious about the fashion choices of his My Player.“You can’t pull up to the park in brown and gray,” Williams said, mocking the generic outfit given to the created players. “No brown shirts!”The Oklahoma City Thunder selected Williams with the 12th pick in the draft on Thursday. He wore a dark pinstriped suit and large sunglasses with his famous single braid draped over them.Chet Holmgren, who is seven feet tall, said it was hard to find clothes that fit his long and lanky frame when he was younger.Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via ReutersHolmgren at the N.B.A. draft on Thursday.Arturo Holmes/Getty ImagesFor the seven-foot center Chet Holmgren, who played at Gonzaga and was expected to be a top-three pick on Thursday, being fashionable was a challenge growing up. He could never find clothes that fit his long and lanky frame, and he could not afford the custom-fitted outfits he adored. He ridiculed his most impressive childhood outfit: Nike socks, basic T-shirts, basketball shorts and basketball shoes. In high school, Holmgren said, his style skyrocketed as he turned to resale websites and brands that had clothes in the large-and-tall sizing. Now, he is confident that he is the most fashionable prospect in this draft class.“In my opinion, I’m the swaggiest dude beyond just what I am wearing,” Holmgren said. He further explained that fashion was about more than just the pieces a person was wearing.“You could spend $10,000 on an outfit, but you might have a trash outfit on,” he said. “You might have the right pieces, but if you can’t put them together, the outfit’s not going to be great.”Like Williams, Holmgren is looking forward to the N.B.A.’s pregame runway, and he isn’t apprehensive about his style choices.“I feel like I don’t really miss when I put fits on,” Holmgren said. “So whatever I’m wearing, I’ll be all right.”Holmgren was drafted second overall to the Oklahoma City Thunder. His diamond chain, which featured a pair of dice, shone in Barclays Center as he walked to the stage. He chose dice for his chain, he said, because he was “big on betting on himself.” More

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    He Saw. He Believed. Now He Can Be an N.B.A. Star.

    MIAMI — The training drill is named after LeBron James. Most people would be better off if they just let him do it.Dribble a basketball while sprinting full court. Dunk it. Rebound. No time to catch your breath. Turn around and do it again.Ten times.Is that how to spend a morning in Miami?Mark Williams walked into a gym tucked beside the bustling Interstate 95 in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami on a recent Thursday. The glowing lights of the gym were a poor substitute for the sunny skies in South Beach, where he could have been instead. But when you’re trying to make it to the N.B.A., some things have to wait.He sat on the first row of bleachers inside the gym and exchanged his slides for splashy Nikes — a little blue, a burst of purple, a lot of neon orange. He wrangled the shoelaces and made his way to a video room, slipping his 7-foot-2 frame through the doorway. Williams, 20, is tall enough to touch a basketball rim just by shifting onto his toes.He joined a handful of N.B.A. hopefuls to watch video of a pre-draft workout by the Miami Heat star Bam Adebayo from several years ago. The message? While Adebayo, now an All-Star and all-defensive team member, did not sink every one of his shots, his energy never wavered.Williams got the message.Williams is best known for his rim protection skills, but he’s been working on his shooting.Mary Beth Koeth for The New York TimesBaseline, sprint, dunk. Baseline, sprint, dunk. His black T-shirt and black shorts didn’t show it, but his face couldn’t hide the sweat. The LeBron James drill seemed to exhaust him. But Williams had enough in his tank to display some of the jaw-dropping athleticism that has him pegged as a potential first-round draft pick. Standing at the baseline, he jumped, rotated the ball under his legs and slammed it into the hoop.N.B.A. prospects a generation ago were largely on their own after either declaring for the draft or exhausting their college eligibility. Their agents scheduled workouts with teams before the draft, and the players, often by themselves, flew out for the visit. They did not think of altering their diet or agonize about how to answer questions from N.B.A. personnel. They often trained for the auditions of their life by joining whatever pickup games they could find.But the best players in Williams’s generation have little downtime while dangling on the cliff between childhood and adulthood, amateurism and the N.B.A. Their Thursdays are spent training. Their Mondays and Fridays, too, are at the gym. The hopefuls who sign with the same agent — in Williams’s case, Jeff Schwartz at Excel Sports Management — can become a team of their own. They may live with one another, attending workouts, recovery sessions and media training all aimed at preparing them for those fateful auditions and the complicated life that awaits an N.B.A. star.It can be an anxious time, a monthslong Christmas Eve.“I think it’s just the uncertainty about where I’m going to be,” Williams said. “When I get there, got to find somewhere to live. I got to find a car. I’m going to have new teammates, so just building a relationship with them, coaches. Just not knowing what’s going to happen. I feel like I embrace the uncertainty. It’s not like I’m nervous, but I’d say that’s the biggest thing.“You don’t know what’s going to happen.”Williams thought about entering the N.B.A. draft after his freshman season at Duke, but “I just wanted to go back and really prove myself.”Mary Beth Koeth for The New York Times‘Places where people can’t see’Williams grew up in Norfolk, Va., the youngest of three children. His mother, Margaret, was a nurse, and his father, Alex, is a gastroenterologist. Mark went to golf camp as a child. He played tennis for a summer. He dominated flag football for a while. No sport held his imagination like basketball did.Mark was almost 10 years old and already nearing 6 feet tall when he started shadowing his older sister Elizabeth, who at 17 was a basketball star in Virginia. She trained with Nadine Domond, a former W.N.B.A. player, who is an assistant coach for Rutgers’ women’s basketball team. Domond indulged the curious younger brother by letting him box out and practice his footwork in the post.“I’d be messing around looking, and she would teach me little tips and tricks,” Mark said.Mark started to envision his own basketball future when he attended the McDonald’s All American Game for top high school players in Chicago in 2011. Elizabeth had been chosen for the girls’ team.Mark surveyed the tall, young players on the boys’ team and asked one of them — the future eight-time N.B.A. All-Star Anthony Davis — to sign his basketball. He considered the path players such as Davis were taking toward the N.B.A. That’s what he wanted to do, too.He enjoyed watching James, who was with the Big Three in Miami, and Kevin Durant, who was beginning to harness his talents as a deadly marksman in Oklahoma City. Both were dominant, multifaceted players who seemingly did everything possible on the court. But Williams had no local N.B.A. team to follow.He could expend most of his energy being Elizabeth’s biggest fan.Mark Williams blocked the shot of a Virginia Tech player during a game in March.Brad Penner/USA Today Sports, via ReutersElizabeth Williams blocked the shot of a Stony Brook player during a game in 2014.Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty ImagesElizabeth finished high school in Virginia and began her 2011-12 freshman season at Duke, where she became the program’s first four-time all-American. Mark was a vocal fixture at her games. “He was super loud,” Elizabeth said. “It didn’t bother me. I loved it.”Elizabeth had figured her brother would be tall. She is 6 feet 3 inches tall, and they have a couple of uncles who are around 6-foot-9. But Mark did not simply have a growth spurt — it really never stopped. “I like being tall,” Mark said. “It’s nice. You get to see over everything, places where people can’t see.”A rising basketball star needs that kind of vision, both physically and metaphorically. Williams became a McDonald’s all-American like his sister — although the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the game — and he chose to play basketball at Duke, too. Elizabeth’s No. 1 jersey was retired at Cameron Indoor Stadium after the Connecticut Sun took her with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 W.N.B.A. draft. She’s in her eighth W.N.B.A. season, her first with the Washington Mystics. Mark has his sights set on that kind of professional path as well. But others don’t always see what we see.Williams debated declaring for the N.B.A. draft after his freshman season, but returned when he was pegged as a borderline first-round selection.“I just wanted to go back and really prove myself and make it not up for debate anymore,” Wiliams said.Williams is learning how to navigate the increased recognition that comes with playing high-stakes basketball.Al Drago for The New York TimesHe flashed dominance as a rim protector and rebounder as a sophomore and grew more confident with each game. By the time North Carolina outlasted Duke in a memorable Final Four appearance in early April, he had known for a while that he would be off to the N.B.A. “Throughout the year, I really felt like I could be a pro,” Williams said.‘Setting a tone’The voices of Kanye West, Drake and DJ Khaled blared through the speakers of Core Fitness Miami, but Williams was tuned in to Andy Luaces.Luaces owns the gym on Northeast 25th Street in the Edgewater neighborhood of Miami. It’s near a juice bar and is lined with framed jerseys of some of the professional athletes Luaces has trained, including Terry Rozier and John Wall. The space has fake grass, rows of weights and no room for messing around.“If I let people start to get away with half-ass reps, then you’re setting a tone for your gym that quality here doesn’t matter,” Luaces said.Williams watches film with other N.B.A. hopefuls. One video showed a yearsold predraft workout of the Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo.Mary Beth Koeth for The New York TimesFueled by a bagel sandwich and a smoothie, Williams was there with four other N.B.A. prospects for an afternoon workout after the morning drills at the Overtown gym several miles south.Williams tossed a football back and forth with Ousmane Dieng, a French prospect who last played for the New Zealand Breakers, a professional men’s team based in Auckland. Luaces gathered Williams, Dieng and three others for what he called a feel-good workout. For the next hour, the group cycled through exercises that targeted their hamstrings and glutes.They started working out with Luaces at his gym a couple of months earlier. At the time, most still had lingering aches and pains from their seasons in college or overseas. Luaces had hoped to help them become healthy, stronger and faster to make their bid for the N.B.A.Now, with team tryouts on the horizon, he steered the workouts toward preserving their progress.Luaces watched closely as Williams collapsed before finishing the final repetition on a Nordic hamstring exercise. He told Williams to do it again. Williams grimaced and complied, letting out a long exhale upon finishing.Getting ready for the N.B.A. involves plenty of weight lifting and basketball, but there is more. It’s about learning to find time for balance — Williams and the hopefuls took a trip to the beach — and deciding how to craft an image. Williams picked his draft-night suit earlier that week, debating how flashy he wanted to be and what accessories he wanted to wear. He went to an Eastern Conference finals game between the Boston Celtics and the Heat in downtown Miami the day before.“I saw A-Rod at the game last night,” Williams told Luaces, referring to the former Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.Some fans asked Williams for selfies at the game. His height has always made him noticeable, but he also has a quick smile. Now he stands out by name, especially after the Final Four run. Williams hopes he can stir some of the same inspiration in children that his 2011 run-in with Davis spurred in him.The best big men in the N.B.A. are able to dunk and shoot from outside.Mary Beth Koeth for The New York TimesHis oldest sister Victoria Oloyede has a 2-year-old son named Tristan. “He’s a lot of fun,” Williams said. “Being an uncle is fun.”Just before leaving the gym to spend an hour in physical therapy next door, Williams asked Luaces if he had a tape measure.Luaces found one in a drawer. Williams held out one long arm and asked Luaces to measure his wrist. He planned to buy a new bracelet soon.“I would go 8 ½ or 8 ¾,” Luaces said. “Are you a bracelet guy?”“He’s about to be,” Dieng chimed in.‘Something I never experienced’Williams returned to the Overtown gym for another hour of shooting to close the day’s sessions. The final workout was shorter and looser, designed to develop a shooting rhythm and confidence by seeing the ball repeatedly splash home.Andrew Moran, a skills coach who works with Williams, sees him as more than a dunker and rim protector and said that N.B.A. teams would be surprised by the fluidity and accuracy of his outside shot.Ten years ago, a 7-foot-2 center wouldn’t need to spend months working on 3-pointers. But the demands are different now. The best big men are shooters — Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns — so prospects want that edge.And in this enlightened era of load management, they also want to rest sometimes.Williams has been projected to be drafted in the middle-to-late first round. The N.B.A. invited him to attend the draft in person.Mary Beth Koeth for The New York TimesAfter dunking and sprinting and activating his glutes, Williams planned to spend the rest of the day recuperating, possibly starting on a new show. He recently finished “Ozark” on Netflix.“It was crazy,” he said of the show’s final season.He thinks about how he would fit on various N.B.A. teams, the combinations cycling through his mind. He is projected to be drafted in the mid-to-late first round. Williams said he didn’t care where he went.Elizabeth will be at Barclays Center for the draft on Thursday after getting permission from the Mystics to miss a game to attend with her parents and sister.Mark is ready. He can already see it. “I’m looking good in my suit, and then when Adam Silver calls my name, it’ll just be surreal,” Williams said, referring to the N.B.A. commissioner. “It’ll be, I don’t know. I can’t even put into words that feeling. It’ll just be something I never experienced. A life-changing moment.”On most evenings, Williams asks himself if he had a good day before drifting to sleep. Soon, he will be living the dream. More

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    Stephen Curry Left His Critics With Nothing Else to Say

    Four N.B.A. championships. Two Most Valuable Player Awards. And yes, a finals M.V.P. Golden State’s Curry has nothing else to prove.BOSTON — A few seconds remained in Stephen Curry’s N.B.A. season when he spotted his father, Dell, sitting along one of the baselines. He went over to embrace him, then fell to the court in tears.“Surreal,” Curry said. “I just wanted to take in the moment because it was that special.”Over six games of the N.B.A. finals, Curry had supplied Golden State with a narrow range of feats that ranged from the extraordinary to the sublime. He squeezed past walls of defenders for up-and-under layups, and backpedaled for fadeaway jumpers. He enthralled some fans while demoralizing others. He sought the spotlight, then delivered.He effectively turned the court into his personal theater and the Celtics into his helpless foils, delivering performance after performance in a two-week run whose only flaw was that nearly everyone could begin to anticipate the ending — with Curry exiting the stage as a champion again.After Golden State defeated Boston, 103-90, on Thursday to clinch its fourth title in eight seasons, Curry, 34, reflected on the long journey back to the top: the injuries and the lopsided losses, the doubters and the uncertainty. He also recalled the exact moment he started preparing for the start of this season — 371 days ago.“These last two months of the playoffs, these last three years, these last 48 hours — every bit of it has been an emotional roller coaster on and off the floor,” Curry said, “and you’re carrying all of that on a daily basis to try to realize a dream and a goal like we did tonight.”“You imagine what the emotions are going to be like, but it hits different,” Curry said of winning his fourth championship. Two seasons ago, Golden State had the worst record in the N.B.A.Paul Rutherford/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe numbers tell one story, and they are worth emphasizing. For the series, Curry averaged 31.2 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists while shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 43.7 percent from 3-point range. He was the unanimous selection as the finals’ most valuable player.“He carried us,” Golden State’s Draymond Green said, “and we’re here as champions.”But there was an artistry to Curry’s work in the series, too, and it was a profound reminder of everything he has done to reshape the way fans — and even fellow players — think about the game. The way he stretches the court with his interplanetary shooting. The way he uses post players to create space with pick-and-rolls. The way he has boosted the self-esteem of smaller players everywhere.“When I go back home to Milwaukee and watch my A.A.U. team play and practice, everybody wants to be Steph,” Golden State’s Kevon Looney said. “Everybody wants to shoot 3s, and I’m like: ‘Man, you got to work a little harder to shoot like him. I see him every day.’ ”For two seasons, of course, in the wake of the Golden State’s catastrophic, injury-marred trip to the 2019 finals, some of that joy was missing. The Warriors scuffled through a slow rebuild.“You imagine what the emotions are going to be like,” Curry said of winning his fourth championship, “but it hits different.”Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe team reassembled the pieces this season, but there were no guarantees. Curry missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a sprained left foot, then aggravated the injury in Game 3 of the finals. All he did in Game 4 was score 43 points to help Golden State even the series at two games apiece.He showed that he was mortal in Game 5, missing all nine of his 3-point attempts, but his supporting cast filled the void. Among them: Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole, who developed their games during Golden State’s playoff-free hiatus and were indispensable this postseason.“Our young guys carried the belief that we could get back to this stage and win,” Curry said. “And even if it didn’t make sense to anybody when we said it, all that stuff matters.”For Game 6 on Thursday, Curry broke out the full buffet. He used a pump fake to send the Celtics’ Al Horford flying toward an expensive row of seats. He baited defenders into traps and zipped passes to cutting teammates. And after a big flurry in the third quarter, he glared at the crowd and pointed at his ring finger. (Translation: He was ready for more jewelry.)Curry began to get emotional when Boston Coach Ime Udoka summoned his reserves from the bench with just over a minute remaining, conceding the series and the championship. Standing alone at midcourt, Curry seemed to be laughing and crying at the same time, a euphoric mix of feelings.“You imagine what the emotions are going to be like, but it hits different,” he said.After missing all nine of his 3-point attempts in the previous game, Curry was 6 of 11 from deep in Game 6. He scored 34 points.Elsa/Getty ImagesIn a sports world consumed by debate shows, uninformed opinions and hot takes on social media, two asterisks — unfair ones — seemed to trail Curry like fumes. The first was that he had neither helped his team win a title without Kevin Durant nor defeated a finals opponent who was at full strength. The second was that he had not been named a finals M.V.P.Whether he cared or not, Curry effectively quashed both of those narratives against the Celtics, a team that had all of its young stars in uniform and even had Marcus Smart, the league’s defensive player of the year, spending good portions of the series with his arms tucked inside Curry’s jersey.For his part, Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said there was only one achievement missing from Curry’s résumé: an Olympic gold medal. (It should be noted that Kerr coaches the U.S. men’s national team.)“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” Kerr said, deadpan. “Honestly, the whole finals M.V.P. thing? I guess his career has been so impeccable, and that’s the only thing we can actually find. So it’s great to check that box for him. But it’s really hard for me to think that’s actually been held against him.”After the game, as Golden State’s players and coaches began to gather on a stage for the trophy presentation, Curry hugged each of them, one by one.“Back on top, 30!” Looney said, referring to Curry’s uniform number.Afterward, as Curry made his way toward a courtside tunnel, lingering fans clamored to get closer to the court, closer to Curry, before he was disappeared from view. He chomped on a victory cigar as he held his finals M.V.P. trophy aloft, pushing it skyward once, twice, three times.No one could miss it. More

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    Stephen Curry Is More Human, and Brilliant, Than Ever

    Golden State was good. Then too good. Then very, very bad. The worst. Back among the N.B.A. elite, Curry’s team has been humbled by the journey.BOSTON — Stephen Curry was demoralizing the Celtics when he decided to improvise. After he dribbled to spin past Marcus Smart, who happens to be one of the N.B.A.’s most ferocious defenders, Curry found himself sizing up Robert Williams, a 6-foot-9 center whose sneakers might as well have been filled with concrete.Curry took a hard dribble, leaving Williams in his wake, before he rose from the court to sink a running 12-foot floater that extended Golden State’s lead in Game 4 of the N.B.A. finals Friday night.It was a scene that felt familiar but new, the same but somehow different. Curry has spent his career filling games with parabolic 3-pointers and dazzling drives to the hoop. But now, at age 34, having spent the past couple of seasons wandering through the basketball wilderness with his teammates, he has been busy staging a renaissance.And it was his performance — 43 points and 10 rebounds on a sore left foot — that had basketball fans buzzing ahead of Game 5 on Monday night in San Francisco. The series is tied, 2-2.“He wasn’t going to let us lose,” his teammate Draymond Green said.Aside from Curry’s relatively slight stature — at 6-foot-2, he is a shrub in the N.B.A.’s forest of redwoods — it might be difficult for ordinary humans to relate to him. He is a highly trained athlete and the greatest shooter who has ever lived. He has won two N.B.A. Most Valuable Player Awards. The architect of an expanding entertainment empire, he golfs with former President Barack Obama in his spare time.And for five seasons, from 2014to 2019, Curry sat atop the basketball world.Few people ever become the best at anything, and wins can feel elusive. You get stuck in the slowest checkout line. You deserved that job promotion. You want to be able to buy a house in that neighborhood, too. But Curry helped the ordinary masses feel like winners alongside him, even if they rooted for his team to lose.Curry draws crowds, no matter which city he is in.Noah Graham/NBAE, via Getty ImagesAs Curry led Golden State to five straight N.B.A. finals appearances, winning three championships, opposing fans would turn out early for games just so they could watch him warm up. At Madison Square Garden, where the lights are low and the court is a stage, the M.V.P. chants were for him. In Los Angeles, in Houston, in Philadelphia and in Miami, cities with All-Stars of their own, the roars and the crowds, the oohs and the aahs — they trumpeted his arrival.Along the way, he pushed his teammates to turn basketball into high art. They shot with precision. They moved with the grace of ballet dancers. And in a sport saturated by supersize egos and enormous paychecks, they relished passing to the open man.And then came Kevin Durant, all arms and legs and 25-foot jumpers. After losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 N.B.A. finals, Golden State had successfully recruited Durant to sign on as a free agent. Was it a cry for help, an acknowledgment that the team had room for improvement? Or were the rich just getting richer?“We were the evil empire for a while,” Rick Welts, the team’s former president, said in a recent interview.Durant, of course, was fearsome before he joined Golden State. After being named the league’s M.V.P. in 2014, he described his mother, Wanda, as the “real M.V.P.” in an emotional speech. The callousness of the current era eventually turned that expression of humility into a meme, one that would soon be turned against him: Between Durant and Curry in Golden State, who was the real M.V.P.?That question — from social media trolls, television personalities and needling sports fans — was a dig at Durant, but its sharp edge wounded Curry, too. Golden State had become too good.Draymond Green, left, and Klay Thompson, right, formed the core of Golden State’s five straight finals appearances and three championships alongside Curry.Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via ReutersSure enough, Durant was a force in back-to-back championships, the latter a four-game sweep of the Cavaliers. There was a sense of joyless inevitability about Golden State: Anything short of a championship was a failure.And then the dynasty crumbled. In the 2019 finals, Klay Thompson and Durant sustained serious injuries as the Toronto Raptors staged an upset to win their first title. Thompson sat out the next season after knee surgery. Durant left for the Nets in free agency. And Curry broke his left hand, missing all but five games as Golden State finished with the worst record in the N.B.A.In a matter of months, the league’s most dominant team had morphed into a renovation project. Making matters worse, Thompson ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in a workout before the start of last season, and Golden State fell short of making the playoffs again.This season, nothing was guaranteed. Golden State had gone from indomitable to vulnerable, a battered version of its younger self. But the team was not totally broken. Thompson’s return in January after a 941-day absence was celebrated as a triumph and no small medical marvel. He soared for a dunk in his first game.The finals have been a microcosm of Golden State’s long road back — a beautiful struggle. After splitting the first two games of the series in San Francisco, Golden State lost Game 3 in Boston, and Curry injured his left foot in the final minutes when the Celtics’ Al Horford landed on him in a scramble for a loose ball.Afterward, it was left to Thompson to offer some hope, saying he was “getting big 2015 vibes,” a reference to the 2015 finals, back when Golden State trailed the Cavaliers, 2-1, before engineering a comeback to win it all, the team’s first of the Curry era.Bruce Fraser, an assistant coach, estimated he tosses 200,000 passes a season to Curry during practices and workouts. “I get nervous when I’m passing because I don’t want to throw him off,” Fraser said.John Hefti/Associated PressMore broadly, Thompson cited Golden State’s postseason experience as a positive. When he was younger, he said, there were trapdoors everywhere. Prone to feeling anxious when trailing in a series, he was likely to be overconfident with a lead. Now, he was older but wiser.“You can’t really relax until the final buzzer of the closeout game,” he said. “That’s the hardest part about the playoffs — you have to deal with being uncomfortable until the mission is complete.”Curry slept well after Game 3, he said, and kept his left foot in a bucket of ice whenever possible. The emphasis was on recovery and mending his achy body. (Steph Curry: Just like us.) He knew only one thing for certain: He was going to play in Game 4.Precisely 75 minutes before Friday’s opening tip, Curry appeared for his pregame warm-up routine. Clad in black, with the notable exception of lavender-colored sneakers, he started off by making five layups. He then moved to the left elbow, where he hoisted a series of shots with his left hand, which is his off hand, and missed nine in a row to the delight of hundreds of early-arriving Celtics fans.But over the next 20 minutes, something strange but not entirely unexpected happened: The crowd began to murmur in admiration and appreciation as Curry sank 136 of 190 shots, including 46 of 72 3-pointers, a few of them from just inside halfcourt. Fans broke out their cellphones to record the moment for posterity. Children yelled for autographs.“People think his shot is like Ken Griffey Jr.’s swing — it’s so pretty that you think he never has to work on it,” Bob Myers, the team’s general manager, said in an interview during the regular season. “But that is anything but true. When you peek behind the curtain, you see the work.”Thompson said Curry had never played a better finals game than Game 4 on Friday.Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesOnce upon a time, Curry’s feats seemed magical — and they still are. But in recent seasons, as Golden State wandered through a wasteland of injury and uncertainty, Curry and his teammates revealed that success does not happen by accident, that it takes great effort and determination. Sure, they are still basketball savants, but they are savants who have shown the world their homework.“Win, lose, whatever it is, however you play, you have to keep coming back to the well to keep sharpening the tool kit and finding ways to evolve your game,” Curry said. “That is the hardest part of what we do.”After helping force the Celtics into a late turnover that essentially sealed Friday’s win, Curry and Thompson celebrated by swinging their arms in unison. Thompson, who knows Curry better than most, said his teammate had never played a finer game in the finals. Curry was asked whether he agreed with Thompson’s assessment.“I don’t rank my performances, though,” he said. “Just win the game.”At this stage, he knows what matters. More

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    Derrick White’s Celtics’ Run Has His Group Chat Going Crazy

    There was lots of talk about “beautiful basketball,” said one friend of the Boston Celtics guard, who is competing — improbably — in the N.B.A. finals.SAN FRANCISCO — After his junior season at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Derrick White knew he needed to have a difficult conversation with Alex Welsh, his best friend and teammate. And Welsh, for his part, knew the conversation was coming, not that that made it any easier.It was the spring of 2015, and Welsh had become acutely aware that White was too good of a player for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference — at least one opposing coach had begun calling him “the R.M.A.C. LeBron” — and for Division II basketball. It was time for White to transfer in order to play against tougher competition.“I remember when he told me, and it was like he was super nervous,” Welsh said. “And he asked me, ‘Are you mad at me?’ And I was like: ‘No, I’m not mad. But I’m sad!’ ”The N.B.A. finals are cluttered with former lottery picks who long ago seemed bound for greatness. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two of White’s teammates on the Boston Celtics, were can’t-miss stars coming out of high school. Golden State teammates Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry grew up watching their fathers play in the N.B.A.And there is White, a guard who was overlooked by Division I coaches coming out of high school and was offered only a preferred walk-on spot at U.C.C.S. because the team had run out of scholarships. His college debut was a 27-point loss in front of 211 fans in Winona, Minn., roughly speaking, about a billion miles from the N.B.A.But late bloomers can thrive, even on the glitziest of stages, and with Jay-Z and Barry Bonds sitting courtside, White made an immediate impact in the finals, scoring 21 points off the bench for the Celtics in their Game 1 victory over the Warriors on Thursday night.“He fits in so well with the rest of their personnel,” said Jeff Culver, the coach at U.C.C.S. “He scores when he needs to, and he plays just as well off the ball as he does with the ball.”Ahead of Game 2 on Sunday night, White’s friends from U.C.C.S. reflected on the old days, as White emerged from obscurity to become one of the most decorated Division II players in the country. There were early flashes of brilliance, said Alex Koehler, one of his former teammates.“We always knew he had a shot,” Koehler said. “But I didn’t know he would be this type of player.”White, playing at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs in 2014.University of Colorado Colorado SpringsBefore arriving on campus, White joined several of his future teammates for a game in a pro-am league outside Denver. He showed up with chipmunk cheeks because his wisdom teeth had been removed that morning. He insisted on playing, Welsh said, and wound up scoring about 25 points. One of the referees made a point of getting in touch with Culver to pass along his scouting report.“Hey, your new guy has been the best player in the gym,” the referee told him.Culver needed clarification: Which new guy?“I didn’t know who he was talking about,” he said.Culver had every intention of redshirting White as a freshman so that he could add some bulk to his lanky frame. (He had had a late growth spurt.) Culver even emailed White’s father, Richard, to make sure they were on the same page. Without White, U.C.C.S. played in a preseason exhibition game against Northern Colorado, a Division I program, and got “spanked,” Welsh said. At the same time, it was becoming clear at practice that White was one of the team’s best players. Culver had a quick chat with Jeff Sweet, one of his assistants.“We can’t redshirt this kid,” Culver recalled telling him.By the time U.C.C.S. made the trip to Minnesota for its season opener against Bemidji State University, White was in the starting lineup. A crowd of dozens turned out to watch the Mountain Lions get drubbed. It was not the most auspicious start to a season. White shot 5 of 12 from the field and scored 14 points.U.C.C.S. went on to finish with a 5-21 record, losing seven games by three points or fewer. Many of the team’s narrow losses had a similar feel. White and Welsh would lead the way for 38 minutes, Culver said, then muck up the final two minutes by doing “dumb freshman things.” But their potential was enticing.“We just couldn’t finish,” Welsh said. “We were so young, and we didn’t have any experience, and we would crumble in crunchtime.”Yet, the season set the foundation for White’s rise. As a sophomore, he led the team to a 21-9 record and became the program’s first all-American selection. He christened his junior season by dunking over a newly arrived transfer at the team’s first practice, prompting Culver to blow his whistle — “That’s a wrap!” he yelled — before White could inflict any more psychological trauma on his teammates.“It was like a preview of what was to come,” Welsh said.Koehler recalled trying to defend White at practice that season.“It was a nightmare,” Koehler said. “He could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.”During games, Welsh said, he would set “100 ball screens” for White, who would dissect his defenders (plural) in a variety of ways, depending on how they were playing him. He could launch a 3-pointer, or drive to the basket, or find Welsh rolling for an open shot. So many open shots.“He made my life really easy,” Welsh said.Jeff Culver, White’s first college coach, intended to redshirt him his freshman year so he could bulk up, but White proved too talented for the bench.University of Colorado Colorado SpringsAs the Mountain Lions sailed to a 27-6 record, White’s mother, Colleen, supplied the team with freshly baked cookies for its road trips. In the first round of the N.C.A.A. Division II tournament that year, White collected 50 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists in a win over the Colorado School of Mines.Having outgrown Division II basketball, White left to play his final season of his college eligibility at the University of Colorado Boulder. Welsh felt his absence on the court.“He would draw so much defensive attention,” Welsh said. “I remember texting him after a preseason tournament: ‘Dude, this is so much harder without you.’ ”Transfer rules meant White had to sit out for a season, and he spent months working to add weight. He set alarms on his phone so that he remembered to eat meals at odd hours. White was in attendance when Welsh broke U.C.C.S.’s record for career scoring. After the game, they posed together for a photograph, as White held a sign that Welsh’s family had made for the occasion: “NO. 25 IS MY HERO.”After a standout season at Colorado, White joined the San Antonio Spurs as the 29th pick in the 2017 draft, and soon developed into a rotation player. The Celtics traded for him in February.“Derrick is such a smart basketball player,” Tatum said. “He could fit in anywhere.”White is part of a group chat with eight of his former teammates from U.C.C.S. They sent each other enthusiastic texts during Thursday’s series opener. There was lots of talk about “beautiful basketball,” Koehler said. White was busy during the game, so he responded afterward by thanking his friends — “He usually says something like, ‘Y’all are crazy,’ ” Koehler said — and sending three fist-bump emojis.On Friday morning, he chatted via FaceTime for an hour with Welsh, who asked him about appearing on NBA TV’s postgame show with Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Smith and Grant Hill.“He was mad they put him in a short chair,” Welsh said.Culver said he was hoping to be in Boston for Game 3, while Welsh and his wife, Brooke, are planning to be in Boston for Game 4. Welsh’s dream of a Celtics sweep was still alive after the series opener.“He wants them to win so he can be in the parade,” Culver said.For White, it would be the latest step in an improbable journey. More

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    At the U.S. Women’s Open, Michelle Wie West Reflects on an ‘Amazing Journey’

    The golfer announced last week that she would play her last tournament for the foreseeable future at Pine Needles. “This week, I’m just soaking it all in,” she said.Michelle Wie West, one of golf’s most celebrated players since she was 10, had breakfast Tuesday morning in the player dining area at the U.S. Women’s Open at the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in North Carolina.“I had someone come up to me,” Wie West, 32, said, “saying that they were named after me.”She gently rolled her eyes and deadpanned: “So that made me feel really young. I’m at that phase in my life.”Last week, Wie West announced she was stepping away from competitive golf after this week’s championship. She has no plans to play another L.P.G.A. tournament in 2022. The only other event she expects to enter is the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links.She used the word “retire” only once when speaking with reporters on Tuesday and conceded that she could change her mind. But for Wie West, who contended for major championships shortly after her 16th birthday, won five L.P.G.A. events, including the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, collected endorsements and prize-money earnings in the tens of millions of dollars and, notably, played eight times against men on the PGA Tour, there was the lilt of finality in her voice.“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while,” Wie West said. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m very excited for what happens next.”The future, however, could wait for at least another 10 minutes as Wie West tried to summarize her career, which, because of her precocious introduction to elite golf, was lived under the obsessively bright lights of international stardom. Her career was also significantly disrupted by wrist injuries, which caused her to play intermittently or not at all for long stretches. In June 2020, along with her husband Jonnie West, she became a parent for the first time with the birth of the couple’s daughter, Makenna.“First off, I want to say I have zero regrets in my career,” she said. “There’s always that inkling of wishing I had done more. But no one is ever going to be 100 percent satisfied.“I have definitely had an up-and-down career, but I’m extremely proud for the resiliency that I’ve shown,” she said. “I’m extremely proud to have achieved the two biggest dreams that I’ve had — one being graduating from Stanford, and the other winning the U.S. Open.”Wie West was smiling, laughing and at ease. Among all the very public moments of her very public career, this seemed to be an easy one, and she was happy to be back in the setting of her signature on-the-course achievement.“I’m definitely giving myself some grace and enjoying this last week,” she said.For Wie West, whose presence, manifold skills and towering drives drew comparisons to Tiger Woods, what was left unsaid was her impact on women’s golf. She never addressed the topic directly nor did she acknowledge her own substantial influence on the sport’s popularity, but when asked what has changed in the women’s game in the last 20 years, Wie West was animated.“Oh, I mean, so much has changed,” she answered. “Huge kudos to the U.S.G.A. for really buying into the women’s sport and the L.P.G.A. for just growing and keep pushing the boundaries.“When doors get closed on us, we just keep pushing, and I’m just so proud of everyone on tour and the U.S.G.A. for really buying in and setting the level right,” she said.In January, the United States Golf Association nearly doubled the U.S. Women’s Open prize money to $10 million with the winner of this year’s championship earning $1.8 million, the richest single payout in women’s golf.A year ago, only three women on the L.P.G.A. tour earned more than $1.8 million. While the prize money for the men’s U.S. Open is $12.5 million, the U.S.G.A. chief executive Mike Whan has plans to bump the women’s purse to $12 million in a few years.The payouts of golf-industry sponsorship contracts awarded to top men’s golfers continue to overshadow most of those bestowed on women.But on that front, Wie West, who last year joined the L.P.G.A. board of directors and continues to serve in that capacity, had advice, from personal experience, for the golfers who will succeed her.Wie West playing from the 18th tee during the first round of the 2021 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, where she tied for 46th.Adam Hagy/USA Today Sports, via Reuters“As female athletes, a lot of times we get told, ‘Oh, your sponsorship is only worth this much; you should only ask for this much,’ ” Wie West said. “We’re kind of in that mind-set, and I would encourage female younger athletes coming up to say, ‘No, I know my worth. I know what I deserve.’ And ask for more.”Asked if that was what she had done — successfully — she answered: “Yes, for sure.”Wie West is also an investor in a company, LA Golf, that she said was pledging to start new initiatives for women golfers with hopes of financially altering the sponsorship landscape.In the short term, Wie West still has a tournament to compete in this week, one that, given her other priorities, she has not prepared for as she might have 10 or 20 years ago.“Definitely haven’t had the practice schedule that I usually do leading up to U.S. Open,” she said with a grin. “This week, I’m just soaking it all in. Just seeing all the fans, seeing all the players, walking the walk. It’s pretty cool.”Being a past champion of the event helps Wie West enjoy the experience, perhaps more meaningfully than anyone would have expected. In what was something of a surprise, she said that without claiming the U.S. Women’s Open trophy eight years ago, there would not now be an end in sight to her competitive career.“It’s the one tournament I wanted to win ever since I started playing golf,” Wie West said. She then insisted: “If I hadn’t won the 2014 U.S. Open, I would still — I definitely wouldn’t retire. And I would still be out here playing and chasing that win. That win means everything to me.” More

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    Luis Díaz Is the Liverpool Star Who Never Should Have Made It

    Follow live updates of the UEFA Champions League final.LIVERPOOL, England — Luis Díaz bares his forearm and places a finger on his wrist, as if taking his own pulse. He does it without breaking eye contact, without pausing for breath. He does not seem to notice he is doing it. It is a reflexive, unconscious motion, the best way to demonstrate what he means.Díaz does not, he says, speak Wayúu, the language of the Indigenous community in Colombia to which he can trace his roots. Nor does he wear traditional clothing, or maintain every custom. Life has carried him far from La Guajira, a spit of land fringed by the Caribbean Sea on one side and Venezuela on the other, the Wayúu homeland.It is at that point that he traces his veins with his finger, feels the beat of his heart. “I feel Wayúu,” he says. He may not — by his own estimation — be “pure” Wayúu, but that does not matter. “That is my background, my origins,” he said. “It is who I am.”As Díaz has risen to stardom over the last five years or so — breaking through at Atlético Junior, one of Colombia’s grandest teams; earning a move to Europe with F.C. Porto; igniting Liverpool’s journey to the Champions League final after joining in January — his story has been told and retold so often that even Díaz, now, admits that he would welcome the chance to “clarify” a few of the details.Luis Díaz joined Liverpool in January, and helped fire its run to Saturday’s Champions League final.Paul Ellis/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesSome of those have been muddied and distorted by what Juan Pablo Gutierrez, a human-rights activist who first met Díaz when he was 18, describes as the desire to “take a romantic story and make it more romantic still.” The great Colombian midfielder Carlos Valderrama, for example, is often credited with “discovering” Díaz. “That’s just not true,” Gutierrez said.And then there is the tendency toward what Gutierrez labels “opportunism.” Countless former coaches and teammates and acquaintances have been wheeled out by the news media — initially in Colombia, then through Latin America, and finally across Europe — to offer their memories of the 25-year-old forward. “There are a lot of people, who maybe met him for a few days years ago, who bask in the light that he casts,” Gutierrez said.Still, the broad arc of his journey is familiar, in both senses. Díaz had an underprivileged upbringing in Colombia’s most deprived area. He had to leave home as a teenager and travel for six hours, by bus, to train with a professional team. He was so slender at the time that John Jairo Diaz, one of his early coaches, nicknamed him “noodle.” His first club, believing he was suffering from malnutrition, placed him on a special diet to help him gain weight.Though its contours are, perhaps, a little more extreme, that story is not all that dissimilar to the experiences of many of Díaz’s peers, an overwhelming majority of whom faced hardship and made remarkable sacrifices on their way to the top.What makes Díaz’s story different, though, and what makes it especially significant, is where it started. Díaz does not know of any other Wayúu players. “Not at the moment, anyway, not ones who are professional,” he said.There is a reason for that. Scouts do not often make their way to La Guajira to look for players. Colombia’s clubs do not, as a rule, commit resources to finding future stars among the country’s Indigenous communities. It is that which lends Díaz’s story its power. It is not just a story about how he made it. It is also a story about why so many others do not.Paul Ellis/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesDaniel BolívarAs far as Gutierrez could tell, Luis Díaz was not only not the best player in the tournament, he was not even the best player on his team. That honor fell, instead, to Diaz’s friend Daniel Bolívar, an inventive, shimmering playmaker. “Luis was more pragmatic,” Gutierrez said. “Daniel was fantasy.”In 2014, the organization Gutierrez works for, O.N.I.C. — the official representative group of Colombia’s Indigenous populations — had set up a nationwide soccer tournament, designed to bring together the country’s various ethnic groups.“We had seen that the one thing they all had in common, from the Amazon basin to the Andes, was that they spent their free time playing soccer,” Gutierrez said. “Some played with boots and some played barefoot. Some played with a real ball and some played with a ball made from rags. But they all played.”The event was the first of its kind, an unwieldy and complex logistical affair — the travel alone could take days — that unspooled over the course of a year. Its aim, Gutierrez said, was to “demonstrate the talent that these communities have, to show that all they lack is opportunity.”The message was intended to resonate beyond sport. “It was a social and political thing, too,” Gutierrez said. “The word ‘Indian’ is an insult in Colombia. The Indigenous groups are called primitive, dirty, savage. There is a long legacy of colonialism, a deep-seated prejudice. The tournament was a way to show that they are more than folklore, more than the ‘exotic’, more than headdresses and paint.”Daniel Munoz/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIt is a long way from the dusty fields of Diaz’s Colombian hometown, Barrancas, to the manicured pitches and bright lights of the Champions League.Daniel Munoz/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesSome teams, like F.C. La Guajira, now train on artificial turf fields, but that is no guarantee that scouts from the country’s biggest clubs will ever see them play.Daniel Munoz/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesBy the time the finals — held in the capital, Bogotá — came around, Gutierrez was involved in another project. In 2015, with Chile scheduled to host the Copa América, a parallel championship was arranged to celebrate the continent’s Indigenous groups. Colombia’s squad would be drawn from the best players in its national tournament.The team from La Guajira, representing the Wayúu community and featuring Díaz and Bolívar, had made the finals, and its two standout players were selected for inclusion in the national team. It would be coached by John Jairo Diaz, with Valderrama — referred to throughout Colombia exclusively as El Pibe — included as technical director.Valderrama’s involvement meant a lot to Luis Díaz. “That he saw me play and liked me is a beautiful thing,” he said. “I didn’t know him at all, but I admired him a lot. He’s a reference point for all of Colombian football. It was a huge source of pride that Pibe Valderrama might choose me for a team.”Valderrama was not, though, quite as hands-on as has often been presented (a misconception he does not appear eager to correct). “He was an ambassador,” Gutierrez said. “We knew that where the Pibe goes, 50,000 cameras follow. It was a way of making sure our message was heard.”Díaz shone at the tournament, performing well enough that Gutierrez received at least one approach, from a club in Peru, to try to sign him. It would prove a watershed. There were, Díaz believes, plenty of good players in that team. “The problem was that some of them were a little older, so it was difficult to become professional,” he said. He would prove to be the exception.Valderrama’s seal of approval, as well as the news media coverage the tournament generated, led to a move to Barranquilla F.C., a farm team for Junior — the first step on the road to the elite, to Europe, to Liverpool. It was the start of Diaz’s story.And yet, as Gutierrez points out, laughing, Díaz was not exceptional. “He was not the best player in that tournament,” he said. “He wasn’t even the best player on his team.” By common consensus, that was Bolívar.Daniel Bolívar was a former teammate of Díaz’s. Those who watched them say he was a better player.Daniel Munoz/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesBolívar’s story is not as well-known as that of Díaz. It does not have the stirring ending, after all: Bolívar now works at Cerrejón, the largest open-pit coal mine in South America, back in La Guajira.But his story is far more typical of Colombia’s Indigenous communities: not of a gift discovered and nurtured, but of talent lost. “There is no reason he could not be playing for Real Madrid,” Gutierrez said of Bolívar. “He did not lack ability. He lacked opportunity.”The Lucky OneFor all the challenges he faced, the obstacles he had to overcome, Díaz knows he was one of the lucky ones. His father, Luis Manuel, had been a gifted amateur player in Barrancas, the family’s hometown; Díaz still grins at the memory of how good his father had been. “Really good,” runs his assessment.By the time Díaz was a child, his father was running a soccer school — La Escuelita, everyone called it — and in a position to give his son the benefits of a more structured sporting education than he had received. “You could see that he was a little more professional, even then,” Gutierrez said. “He was a bit more advanced, and the credit for that goes to his father.”His father’s dedication to his career is what made the difference, what turned Díaz into a unicorn: He not only helped him train, but his decision to run the soccer school meant his son had competitions to play in. Those enabled him to win a place in the Wayúu team for the Indigenous championship as a 17-year-old, which positioned him to win his spot in the national team a year later, which led to his move into the professional game.Díaz’s first drew notice at an Indigenous tournament in Colombia. That led to a move to bigger teams and, eventually, to Porto.Manuel Fernando Araujo/EPA, via ShutterstockNot everyone, of course, can benefit from that constellation of factors. “In these regions, there is not the support in place,” Díaz said. “There are a lot of good players there, but it is hard for people to leave, to take that step and follow their dream. They can’t leave for reasons of money, or for family reasons. And that means that we are losing a lot of players with a lot of talent.”Gutierrez hopes that Díaz can be an antidote to that pattern. “For a long time, the view has always been that Indigenous peoples do not exist,” he said. “That is the legacy of colonialism: that they are not seen, or they are only seen as something exotic, something from folklore.”Díaz’s presence on soccer’s grandest stage — he could, on Saturday, become the first Colombian to play in and win the Champions League final — is a way to “deconstruct” that image, Gutierrez said. “This is a community at immediate risk of extinction,” he said. “And now, because of Lucho, it is in the light of the world’s cameras. He is sending a message that his community cannot send.”There is no doubt in Díaz’s mind about where he comes from, of whom he represents. He does not speak the language, but it is the blood in his veins, the beat of his heart. Díaz is the exception, the talent that was found while all the others were lost. His hope, Gutierrez’s hope, is that he will not be alone for long.Daniel Munoz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images More