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    Enes Kanter Freedom and the Consequences of Speaking Out

    Enes Kanter Freedom has condemned human rights abuses in Turkey for years. Now he claims the N.B.A. is blackballing him as he focuses on abuses in China.“My activism actually started when I was 9 years old,” Enes Kanter Freedom told a rapt audience of pro-democracy activists that included Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion known for his opposition to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.Freedom was at the Olive Tree Cafe in Greenwich Village on Feb. 23, dressed in a sport coat over a dark T-shirt that read, “Freedom For ALL.”“My mom told me — I remember when I was a kid — ‘Believe in something and always stand up tall for it. Even if it means sacrificing everything you have.’”Freedom used to be known as Enes Kanter, a serviceable N.B.A. center who has publicly defied President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, where Freedom was raised. But in recent months, the player has made headlines mostly by calling out China’s human rights abuses and ripping the N.B.A. for doing business with the country. In November, he changed his name, choosing Freedom as his surname, and his activism now overshadows his identity as a player.It has also made him a political weapon that right-wing politicians and pundits have used to bludgeon the N.B.A. and its biggest star, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, a frequent conservative target whom Freedom has singled out for criticism.But Freedom’s allies aren’t just on the right. Many left-leaning pro-democracy activists, like those at the Greenwich Village event, have also embraced him. Because he brings attention to their cause, they have looked past his appearances with right-wing television hosts like Laura Ingraham, who welcomed Freedom on her show but once told James to “shut up and dribble.”At the moment, Freedom is not in the N.B.A. No team has signed him since he was traded and cut last month, and to hear him tell it, his activism is the reason. He has invited comparisons to Colin Kaepernick, the former N.F.L. quarterback who in 2016 began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and who has accused the N.F.L. of colluding to keep him out of the league.For decades, the N.B.A.’s plans for global expansion have included China, where there are more fans of the league than there are in the United States. Before the coronavirus pandemic, top N.B.A. stars routinely traveled there to promote shoe brands. China accounted for a steady stream of television and sponsorship revenue for the N.B.A. until the league’s relationship with the Chinese government frayed in 2019.Freedom declined to be interviewed by phone or in person, but agreed to answer questions over text message.“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize why I got little playing time and was released,” he said. “But it does take people with a conscience to speak out and say it’s not right.”The perception — whether true or not — that Freedom is being punished for his political beliefs has become pervasive among his allies.Jeffrey Ngo, a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist in Washington, said Freedom’s criticism of China “must have at least played a role” in his not playing.“All of a sudden there’s all this attention and people telling him to stop talking about it or there would be consequences,” Ngo said. “And then those consequences came.”Adam Silver, the commissioner of the N.B.A., said in an interview that the league’s position on China had not changed. He also denied that the league had blackballed Freedom, saying that comparisons to Kaepernick were “completely unfounded and unfair.”The Great ReadMore fascinating tales you can’t help but read all the way to the end.Brash and funny, Emily Nunn uses her popular Substack newsletter, The Department of Salad, to hold forth about ageism, politics and, oh yes, leafy greens.For years, a virus hunter worried about animal markets causing a pandemic. Now he’s at the center of the debate over Covid’s origins.A few years ago, Nicola Coughlan was working in an optician’s office in Ireland. Now, with “Bridgerton” and “Derry Girls,” she’s starring in two of the most beloved shows on Netflix.“We spoke directly about his activities this season,” Silver said, “and I made it absolutely clear to him that it was completely within his right to speak out on issues that he was passionate about.”Freedom said Silver characterized their conversation wrongly, but — in what has become a trend for him — he wouldn’t offer specifics.‘Always Full of Joy’Freedom never ended up playing for Kentucky but was still drafted into the N.B.A. with the No. 3 pick in 2011.James Crisp/Associated PressEarly in his career, Freedom gave little indication that he would become an outspoken human rights advocate.Raphael Chillious, then a Nike executive, first met Freedom at a basketball camp in Greece when Freedom was about 16. Freedom, who was born in Zurich, was one of the best rebounders on the floor — and shy, Chillious recalled.“I don’t think he was confident in his English at that point,” Chillious said. “So he wouldn’t initiate conversations.”Freedom played for a professional team in Turkey before going to the University of Kentucky in 2010. But because he had been paid by the Turkish team, the N.C.A.A. ruled him ineligible.“He was heartbroken,” Orlando Antigua, an assistant coach with the program, said through a university spokesperson. “It was very difficult. It was difficult for all of us.”Freedom instead served as a student assistant, improving his English by watching the Nickelodeon cartoon “SpongeBob SquarePants.”The Utah Jazz selected him with the third overall pick in the 2011 draft even though he never played a college game. Brandon Knight, a college teammate, described Freedom as “super goofy” and “always full of joy.” After his rookie year, Freedom, no longer shy, posted a message on Twitter asking “for a blonde” to join him for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.“Once he got used to being here and around his teammates, he’s a really loyal guy,” said Tyrone Corbin, who coached Freedom on the Jazz.‘Shut Up and Stop Talking’A protest in front of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in February.Arnd Wiegmann/ReutersFreedom’s foray into public political activism began in 2016 with his denunciations of Erdogan, who detained thousands of people in Turkey after a failed military coup. Erdogan blamed the coup attempt on Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher and former ally. Freedom is Gulen’s supporter and friend, and he has referred to Erdogan as the “Hitler of our century.”Turkey canceled Freedom’s passport and issued a warrant for his arrest. Freedom’s father, Mehmet Kanter, wrote a letter disowning him and was later arrested, and acquitted, on terrorism charges in Turkey. Freedom has not been back to Turkey since 2015.A chance encounter at a basketball camp in New York last summer turned the player’s attention to China.“I took a picture with this kid, and her parents called me out in front of everybody and said, ‘How can you call yourself a human-rights activist when your Muslim brothers and sisters are getting tortured and raped every day in concentration camps in China?’” Freedom told the crowd at the Olive Tree, referring to allegations commonly made by Uyghur rights activists of abuses by China in Xinjiang, a region in northwest China. The State Department, under the Trump administration, labeled it genocide, and the Biden administration has maintained that position.Freedom, who is Muslim but knew little about the Uyghurs, threw himself into the cause. Tahir Imin, a Uyghur activist in Washington who met Freedom at a Capitol Hill rally, said that Freedom “boosted the morale of Uyghur activism.”That was just over a week after Freedom opened the N.B.A. season with the Boston Celtics, in October. Ahead of their first game, Freedom posted a video on Twitter with a caption referring to China’s leader, Xi Jinping, as a “brutal dictator.” During the game, he wore shoes designed by the Chinese dissident artist Badiucao that said “Free Tibet,” referring to the region Chinese troops invaded and seized in 1951. The N.B.A.’s response, Freedom said, was to try to silence him. In several media appearances after that game, he said two league officials demanded that he take off the shoes, and he refused. At the Olive Tree, he changed the story, saying the officials were with the Celtics.He also said the N.B.A. players’ union separately tried to get him to stop wearing the shoes.“Instead of advocating on my behalf, I have encountered the union telling me I need to shut up and stop talking about the human rights violations in China,” Freedom said to The New York Times.Freedom’s story is difficult to corroborate because he would not disclose the names of his antagonists. The union would not comment on the specifics, but said in a statement that it supported Freedom and other players’ speaking out on important issues.Brad Stevens, the president of basketball operations for the Celtics, said team staff members merely asked whether the shoes were a violation of the league dress code.“Even the next day, I just walked up to him and said, ‘Hey, you always have our support to freely express yourself and say what you want,’” Stevens said. Freedom confirmed this exchange.Even if Freedom’s criticisms were not an issue for the Celtics, they have hit a sore spot in China. Tencent, which streams N.B.A. games in China, pulled Celtics games, evoking memories of 2019, when China stopped broadcasting N.B.A. games on its state television network after a Houston Rockets executive shared a Twitter image supportive of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The Chinese government was outraged, and the N.B.A. drew bipartisan criticism in the United States for what some saw as a weak response.The N.B.A. said the 2019 episode cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars. Silver, the commissioner, said that he wants the N.B.A. to normalize relations with China, despite the criticism. “Virtually every major U.S. company” does business there, he said.“So then the question becomes,” Silver added, “why is the N.B.A. being singled out as the one company that should now boycott China?”The league did, however, recently pull business out of Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. The difference between China and Russia, Silver said, was that the U.S. government instituted an economic boycott of Russia.“It’s very difficult for the league to practice foreign policy,” Silver said.‘Money Over Morals’Shoes Freedom has worn with protest slogans during games.Getty Images and Associated PressFreedom has criticized some iconic players, including Michael Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets, and James, the Lakers star, for their business with Nike, which has deep ties to China. During a game against Charlotte on Oct. 25, Freedom wore white Nike Air Jordans that said “Hypocrite Nike” and “Made With Slave Labor.” The Washington Post reported in 2020 that some Nike shoes were being made with Uyghur labor. (In a statement at the time, Nike said that it was “concerned” about reports of forced labor, but that the company did not find any Uyghur labor or that of other ethnic minorities from the region in its supply chain.)Freedom has accused James of choosing “money over morals” by associating with Nike, and he wore custom shoes that mocked James — much to the delight of prominent Republicans who have attacked James, who is Black, for his social justice advocacy. A spokesman for James declined to comment, and a representative for Jordan did not respond to an inquiry.As Freedom’s new identity and activism have raised his profile, he has drawn a backlash for his choice of targets and allies.In December, the former N.B.A. player Jeremy Lin announced that he would play for the Beijing Ducks for the 2021-22 season, drawing a stinging reply from Freedom.“Haven’t you had enough of that Dirty Chinese Communist Party money feeding you to stay silent?” Freedom wrote on Twitter. “How disgusting of you to turn your back against your country & your people.”Lin, who is Taiwanese-American, was born in Torrance, Calif., and the suggestion that Lin’s country was not the United States was met with disapproval on social media.In late November, Freedom appeared on Fox News with Tucker Carlson, the conservative host who has frequently denigrated immigrants and social justice activists. Freedom had just become an American citizen, and Carlson asked him whether people who grew up in America were as likely to “appreciate the freedoms” offered by the United States. Freedom’s response — that American critics “should just keep their mouth shut and stop criticizing the greatest nation in the world” — seemed to please Carlson, but clashed with Freedom’s portrayal of himself as a champion of free expression.Uriel Epshtein, an executive director at the Renew Democracy Initiative, which hosted Freedom at the Olive Tree, said the criticisms of Freedom’s appearance on Carlson are “relevant,” but “they pale in comparison to the simple fact that Enes has taken unbelievable personal, professional and security risks to do what he thinks is right.”The Carlson appearance, combined with Freedom’s attacks on James and Jordan, who is also Black, brought a sharp response from, among others, the journalist Jemele Hill.“Taking shots at prominent Black athletes who have done significant social-justice work will not help Freedom advance freedom,” Hill wrote in a column for The Atlantic. “All he’s doing is empowering right-wingers who delight in silencing social-justice advocates.”Freedom has also been criticized for agreeing to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which this year hosted several conspiracy theorists and election results deniers. He later backed out, saying he needed to focus on basketball.‘I Don’t Want to Retire’Charles Krupa/Associated PressIn February, the Celtics traded Freedom to Houston, which immediately waived him. Stevens, the Celtics executive, said the trade “was a basketball-driven decision, one thousand percent.”The Rockets declined to comment.Sen. Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, said Freedom’s release was a “disgusting example” of the N.B.A.’s “cowardly appeasement toward Communist China.” Freedom reposted the Twitter messages of other elected Republicans who expressed similar sentiments. Others on the right have explicitly likened Freedom to Kaepernick.The comparison is, at best, inexact. Some in the N.F.L.’s largely white fan base have described the protest of Kaepernick, who is biracial, as unpatriotic — even though he began kneeling during the national anthem at the suggestion of a former Green Beret. Freedom’s criticisms of the Chinese government, though pointed and perhaps irritating to the league, are largely popular in the United States.The athletes are different, too. Kaepernick was four seasons removed from a trip to the Super Bowl as a starting quarterback. Freedom, a journeyman center, is a strong rebounder with a soft touch around the rim. But his plodding, physical style of play has fallen out of favor in the N.B.A., which is now weighted toward shooters who are fast and can play multiple positions. Freedom is none of those things, and he struggles defensively. The Celtics signed him to a minimum contract to be a situational backup center before he began his China activism. He averaged 11.7 minutes in 35 contests — roughly in line with what a player in that role would receive — and scored 3.7 points a game.Freedom was not the least skilled player in the league when he was cut, but his role on N.B.A. teams began to shrink well before his China activism. He has not been a full-time starter since 2018. And many other players who have talents more suited than his to the current style of play also are not in the league.At the Olive Tree, a man in the audience asked Freedom what he wanted to do next.“I don’t want to retire at the age of 29,” Freedom said.“Sometimes,” he added, “sacrifice is a very important word, so there are bigger things.”Mike Wilson More

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    What Is a Foul in Basketball? It’s Always Evolving

    The Evolution of the Foul
    The N.B.A. foul is never set in stone. As players reinvent the game, the officiating changes, too.

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    When Dr. James Naismith invented basketball, he proposed 13 rules, which he published in 1892. Naismith stipulated in one rule that “no shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed.” These actions would be known as fouls.More than a century and multiple iterations of the game later, that definition has largely stayed the same. But Naismith’s foul rule is ever evolving. What constitutes a “strike” or a “push?”Fouls are fouls. Except when they aren’t. Or they’re a certain type of foul. Unless they’re not. During the 1984 N.B.A. finals, Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics clothes-lined Kurt Rambis of the Los Angeles Lakers, sending Rambis crashing to the floor. This was, at the time, considered a common foul. No flagrant. No ejection. No suspension.The N.B.A. rule book has preserved the basic idea of a foul over time, while adding interpretations and levels — flagrants became a thing in the 1990s — and shifting what referees have emphasized as basketball has changed.Flagrant FoulsIn Game 4 of the 1984 N.B.A. finals, Kurt Rambis took a pass on a fast break and tried to go up for a layup. He never got there. Boston’s Kevin McHale stiff armed him in the neck area, leaving Rambis flat on his back. The dangerous play prompted both teams’ benches to clear. It became emblematic of the kind of physical play that was allowed in that decade.“That foul was the impetus for a lot of rule changes,” Rambis, now a special adviser to the Lakers, said in an interview.Before the 1990-91 season, the N.B.A. upped the penalties for such fouls. If a player committed an especially hard foul, it could be called flagrant. The player would not necessarily be ejected, but the injured team would shoot two free throws and get the ball back.“Hopefully, we will have fewer of these ridiculous fouls, with players not even caring whether they hurt somebody or not,” Rod Thorn, then a top official with the league, said at the time. “It’s just getting too rough.”Rambis has called McHale a “cheap shot artist” and said that he “would probably be in jail right now if I had been able to do what I wanted to do after he upended me.” But since then, he appears to have softened, telling The New York Times that he had “no animosity” or “hatred” toward McHale.“I really don’t believe that Kevin meant to do that,” Rambis said. “The result of the foul wasn’t what he intended. I mean, we just gave players hard fouls to prevent them from laying the ball up. It just was an unfortunate circumstance.”The Shooter Has Landed (The Zaza Pachulia Rule)During Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference finals, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard went up for a baseline jump shot with Golden State’s starting center, Zaza Pachulia, contesting. Pachulia was so close that Leonard landed on Pachulia’s foot, rolling his ankle for the second time that game. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich called the play “dangerous” and “unsportsmanlike.”After this, the N.B.A. introduced what is colloquially known as “The Zaza Rule,” which said that if a defender doesn’t allow a shooter to land, referees would call a flagrant foul, rather than a common foul.Pachulia was called for a common foul, and Leonard made both free throws. But Leonard didn’t play again that series and Golden State swept the Spurs en route to winning a championship.Kawhi Leonard, on the floor, missed the final three games of the 2017 Western Conference finals after landing on another player’s foot.Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty ImagesIn the fall of 2020, Pachulia said on a podcast that Leonard’s injury “was a freak, bad accident unfortunately,” and that he “really felt bad.”“I’m an athlete too. My kids are playing,” Pachulia said. “I don’t want anyone to go through that.”Monty McCutchen, the senior vice president of referee training for the N.B.A., said the rule change had been in the works before that play and came in large part because players were taking more jump shots, particularly step backs. Even as players became adept at creating space for themselves, their natural shooting motion carried them forward — and they needed space to land.“That innovation of the game drove this idea that we were having people being injured,” McCutchen said. “They were landing on top of people’s feet and being out for two, three four weeks.”The N.B.A. Moves Away From Hand-CheckingScottie Pippen, left, was one of the best defenders in the N.B.A. in the 1990s. Defenders were allowed to use their hands much more than they can today.Noren Trotman/NBAE via Getty ImagesFor much of the 20th century, basketball favored the tallest players, who did most of their scoring in the paint. Defenders were allowed to hand-check — to use their hands to slow driving opponents. That put guards, who were typically the shortest players, at a disadvantage. But the 1990s Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the perimeter, changed the calculations for the N.B.A.By 1994, Jordan and Pippen had won three championships together, but Jordan had retired and the league was looking for of a new perimeter star to fill the void. The N.B.A. instructed officials to begin calling fouls for most types of hand-checking on the perimeter, which would make it easier for guards to score.“Offensively, it will be great,” Pippen said at the time. “But on the defensive end, it’s going to take some getting used to. It’s not that I necessarily do it a lot — it’s just something that if you’ve done it for so long, it will be hard to remember not to do it.”His teammate Steve Kerr added, “I don’t know how anyone is going to guard guys like Kevin Johnson or Tim Hardaway,” referring to Johnson of the Phoenix Suns and Hardaway of the Golden State Warriors, two of the league’s best guards.The N.B.A.’s enforcement of hand-checking fouls was inconsistent. Varying levels of defensive hand use were allowed until the 2004-5 season, when the league forbade almost all restrictive contact with the offensive player.“It had gotten so prevalent in the league that you could no longer function on ball,” McCutchen said.Scoring went from 93.4 points a game in the 2003-4 season to 97.2 in 2004-5, likely the result of the greater emphasis on hand-checking and other rule changes that were part of a continuing shift toward favoring offensive players. The stricter enforcement of hand-checking fouls opened the door for players like Golden State’s Stephen Curry to later become dominant from 3-point range and in driving to the basket.The less-physical style has had its critics, such as Metta Sandiford-Artest, who for almost two decades was one of the best and most physical defenders in the N.B.A.“If you were big and strong, they were trying to take away the fact that someone could show how bigger and stronger they are,” said Sandiford-Artest, who was known as Ron Artest and Metta World Peace during his career. “So they made all the rules go against the big and strong player and they catered to the smaller and quicker player. I felt like the rules were lopsided. Because now you can hit Shaq or LeBron, but they can’t hit you back.”Not that the rule affected him: “I’m an elite defender, so it couldn’t really change how I play,” he said.The Freedom to MoveBefore the 2018-19 season, the N.B.A. expanded upon the elimination of hand-checking to emphasize “freedom of movement,” even for players without the ball. Now all players were to be allowed to cut or move freely around the court, without being impeded by an opposing player, such as through arm wraps or bumps.“The clutching and the grabbing had gotten so strong that the game of basketball, which is a game of both strength and quickness, had turned into an unbalanced metric where strength was the thing that was winning the day,” McCutchen said.When players like Curry or other top shooters, say Joe Harris of the Nets, run around screens, opposing defenders cannot hip check, bump or clutch them to slow them down. It gives the advantage to quick players, like De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings, who are difficult to chase when they dart around the court without the ball.‘The Reggie Miller Rule’Reggie Miller, a Hall of Famer who is considered one of the best shooters in N.B.A. history, was skilled at making deep jumpers and drawing fouls on them with his infamous move: the leg kick. He became known for kicking his leg out on jumpers to make it seem as if a defender had made illegal contact with him. The move worked often enough that Miller would enrage opposing defenders and coaches.Chris Webber, a fellow Hall of Famer, called him “The Human Kickstand” in a 2018 radio interview. Miller, who retired in 2005, and Webber faced off against each other in the ’90s and early 2000s, and later worked alongside each other as basketball analysts for TNT.Reggie Miller was known for his sharpshooting — and for the leg kicks that sometimes followed.Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images“When he shoots the 3, all that leg stuff that he complains about when we do games, he might’ve helped invent all that,” Webber told Dan Patrick in the 2018 interview.For years, players copied Miller’s move and got the same results.“When you first start seeing something refereeing — and the league is always a little behind it — your eye is not prone to picking up that visual syntax,” McCutchen said. “And as such, the time frame that Reggie played is when we started to see players do that as a way of trying to fool referees.”In 2012, the N.B.A. said that referees would make a point to enforce an existing rule about offensive fouls that would apply to players who appeared to purposely kick out their legs.Unnatural MovementsIn recent years, N.B.A. stars like James Harden of the Nets and Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks had become particularly adept at drawing fouls on defenders by leaning into them, jumping sideways into them, or hooking their arms. It was creative on their part, designed to trick referees into thinking a defender had initiated contact. Other players also began flailing throughout games, trying to game officials for calls. Critics from inside and outside the league said this style of play had increasingly made the N.B.A. unwatchable and unfair.In the summer, the N.B.A. announced that plays with “unnatural movements” would result in offensive fouls or no-calls. The impact was immediate, with noticeably fewer foul calls for Harden, especially, and others from the preseason on.James Harden struggled to get foul calls early this season with tactics that had worked for him for years.Ron Schwane/Getty ImagesJordan Clarkson, a guard for the Utah Jazz, said that the change allowed defenders “to play with their hands a little bit more.” Asked if he was using his hands more as a result, Clarkson said: “Hell yeah. All the time.”Golden State forward Draymond Green, who won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2016-17 and is making a case for a repeat this season, said because of this latest shift, “our game is better.”“I enjoy watching N.B.A. games,” Green said after a recent practice. “I’m not looking at 144-148 in a regulation game. Those high numbers weren’t a product of great scorers, although we do have some great scorers in the league. Those high numbers were the product of a lot of people cashing 3s and a lot of people just knowing how to draw fouls.”He added, “I think we’re watching meaningful basketball now.”The Evolution of the Foul More

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    Scottie Pippen Takes Aim at Michael Jordan in New Book

    In a new memoir, Pippen makes a sharp turn from decades of praising his former Chicago Bulls teammate to calling him selfish, hypocritical and insensitive.Scottie Pippen’s new memoir, “Unguarded,” is a master class in settling scores, or creating new ones.Beginning in the prologue, Pippen expresses anger at Michael Jordan over “The Last Dance,” the 2020 ESPN documentary on the 1990s Chicago Bulls, which Pippen writes “glorified Michael Jordan while not giving nearly enough praise to me and my proud teammates.” Pippen gets more caustic from there.“How dare Michael treat us that way after everything we did for him and his precious brand,” Pippen writes, adding, “To make things worse, Michael received $10 million for his role in the doc while my teammates and I didn’t earn a dime.” (Pippen and several Bulls players appeared on camera for the documentary. It has not been publicly disclosed how much Jordan, whose company Jump 23 was part of the project, made for the series.)In response to Jordan calling Pippen “selfish” in the documentary for delaying a foot surgery and asking to be traded, Pippen writes, “You want to know what selfish is? Selfish is retiring right before the start of training camp when it is too late for the organization to sign free agents,” a reference to Jordan’s unexpected first retirement after his father’s death. He calls Jordan hypocritical and insensitive. And he criticizes Jordan for his behavior toward co-workers: “Seeing again how poorly Michael treated his teammates, I cringed, as I did back then.”“Michael and I aren’t close and never have been,” Pippen writes.That’s just in the opening pages. In the rest of the book, Pippen takes shots at everyone from Charles Barkley (“wasn’t dedicated enough to win a championship”) to Isiah Thomas (“dirty” player, “with a knack for making the most inappropriate comments”).Pippen also tees off on the former Bulls Coach Phil Jackson about the famed moment in 1994 when Pippen refused to re-enter a playoff game for the last 1.8 seconds after Jackson drew up a play for Toni Kukoc instead of for him. After telling Dan Patrick in a radio interview earlier this year that it was racist for Jackson to have done so, Pippen backs off that assertion in the book. Even so, Pippen writes that Jackson humiliated him and that “the moment of truth had come, and he had abandoned me.”As open as Pippen is in the book, he seemed far less willing to engage with the material in an interview. The conversation over a video conference became terse, and Pippen canceled a photo shoot afterward.This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.You come from very humble roots. You weren’t recruited by a huge school. You were underpaid compared with market value for a significant period of your career. Is there any point in your life when you didn’t feel overlooked? Because this book seems to stem from a lot of you wanting to write your own story and wanting to set the record straight.I think I can say there was no part in my life that I felt overlooked. That may be your take of what you took from reading the book, but I didn’t feel like I was overlooked. I just felt like it was a different journey than most people have traveled — who’s played on a professional level, who’s had to go to college.From the opening pages of the book, you take a cudgel to Michael Jordan. Have you always felt this way and just kept that inside or did those feelings really come into focus after watching “The Last Dance”?I think he’s always separated himself a little bit from what I consider the traditional team concept, in some sense. And I think “The Last Dance” just put the icing on the cake. So it was all about him at the end of the day.One of the most interesting lines is when you write, “We didn’t win six championships because he got on guys, we won in spite of his getting on guys.” And I thought that was really interesting, because Jordan’s treatment of teammates has long been heralded as a virtue. Did you find it to be unproductive?Well, I can’t say I found it to be unproductive, because it was productive.But you also said that you guys won in spite of it.Well, we won when he retired. We didn’t win a title, but obviously we didn’t have a full roster, so.Do you worry that your book will create a permanent split between you two?To answer your question, no.Have you given him any sort of heads up about what you’re saying about him?No.You write that Isiah Thomas reached out after the documentary aired and wanted to declare a truce with you. You said that you were unwilling to speak to him. Why is that?Well, I played in the league for 18 years and there was never a relationship there. I’ve been out of the league for 15 years, so why now? It’s not like we’re crossing each other’s paths anymore.You write that the book pushed you where you needed to be pushed, even to some places you didn’t want to go. What’s an example of a place that you really needed to push to talk about? What places didn’t you want to go?I don’t want to specifically point that out. I think you should read the book and figure it out. I’m not going to make your job easy by getting some controversy on that.Your interview with Dan Patrick in the spring made a lot of headlines. You said it was racist for Phil Jackson not to draw up the play for you in the famous 1.8 second game. You walked that back in the book. After you made those comments, did you hear from former teammates about it? What were you hearing from people and what made you walk that back in the book?What made me walk it back?Yeah.I didn’t walk it back. I just didn’t have it in the book. I said it was probably not right for me to say that about Phil being racist at this stage. It’s water under the bridge now. But at that point in time, based on where I was as a player, the year that I was having, I thought it was a bad move on his part.When was the last time you spoke to Phil Jackson?I can’t recall.Just to clarify, because I just want to make sure I don’t put words in your mouth. You don’t think that Phil was racist in designating Toni Kukoc to take that last shot?Did I say it? What are you asking?OK, in your book, and I’m quoting you here — —Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Have you heard me say that I said that?Well, yeah, I watched the interview.OK, so I said it. Now what are you asking me?In your book you write: “I was so hurt when he picked Toni over me that I needed to come up with an explanation for why I was rejected. For why, after everything I had given to the Chicago Bulls, I wasn’t allowed to have my moment. So I told myself at the time that Phil’s decision must have been racially motivated, and I allowed myself to believe that lie for nearly 30 years. Only when I saw my words in print did it dawn on me how wrong I was.” So you call it a lie. So I just want to clarify exactly what it is. Do you or do you not believe that Phil was being racist when he drew up that play?I feel like it was a moment where he did me wrong. How about that? How about I answer your question that way.OK, fair enough. What do you think is a big misconception about you? Is there something that people don’t know about you that you would like them to get to know about you?I’m private, so there’s not much you can learn about me. More

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    U.S. Ryder Cup Team Seizes Big Lead on a Wild Opening Day

    The action included some harrowing moments for a couple of golfers, and the gallery included Michael Jordan.HAVEN, Wis. — A snapshot panorama from the first day of the Ryder Cup would start with a crowd of 40,000 — 90 percent of it American fans because of pandemic-related travel restrictions — noisily arriving before sunrise on Friday to roar unabated for 12 hours and through eight matches that concluded in the gloaming. Patriotic costumes were in vogue, though not among the most prominent spectators in the mix: Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry.Whistling Straits, the topsy-turvy golf fun house designed by Pete Dye along Lake Michigan, almost claimed two competitors as a stumbling Jordan Spieth ended up a hop step from a Great Lakes face plant and Ireland’s Shane Lowry flopped to his backside on an embankment like a toddler on a water slide. Tiger Woods, still recovering from a devastating car crash in February, was there in spirit on Friday, having sent an inspirational message to the U.S. team on the eve of the event. Bryson DeChambeau, ever the lightning rod for attention, boomed his opening drive of the day off line and off the ankle of a spectator. Later, DeChambeau ripped a towering 417-yard drive and then helped chase down the world’s top-ranked male golfer, Jon Rahm, to earn a pivotal half point.DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?! 🤯@JordanSpieth // @RyderCupUSA 📺 Watch now on GOLF and @peacockTV💻 https://t.co/FGvI8M8F19 pic.twitter.com/wHxO9XuSKr— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) September 24, 2021
    Ultimately, the big picture would reveal that the Americans had taken control of the event by winning each of the four-match morning and afternoon sessions for a 6-2 lead over the European team. It was the largest first-day lead for the United States at the Ryder Cup since 1975, when it had a five-point lead.But that was when the Americans routinely dominated the event. Since the mid-1990s, the script has been reversed, with the Europeans having won four of the past five events and nine of the past 12.“It was good to finally get things going, and it was obviously a good start,” Steve Stricker, the U.S. nonplaying captain, said. “We’d like to win every session.”Stricker, a mild-mannered Wisconsin native not known for risky moves, took some big chances with his afternoon pairings after the Americans had built a 3-1 lead in the morning matches. Every match featured two-man teams from each side. The morning format was foursomes, in which players alternate hitting the same golf ball on a hole, while the afternoon brought a four-ball format, in which each golfer plays his own ball, and the lower score for a team decides the result on a hole.The strongest American combination in the morning was Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, two of the American team’s six Ryder Cup rookies. The pair surged to a big lead early and routed the high-profile, veteran European team of Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter, 5 and 3.“I don’t know that anyone could have beaten Xander and Patrick today,” McIlroy said later.Usually when a new team is formed and has immediate success, Ryder Cup captains keep the players together and playing often. But for the afternoon matches, Stricker surprisingly had Schauffele play with Dustin Johnson, who had teamed with Collin Morikawa for an easy win in the morning. It had been expected that Stricker would keep that pair together as well.Instead, Morikawa, the reigning British Open champion, sat out the afternoon matches, as did Spieth and the team of Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger, who had been victorious in a morning match.But on Thursday, Stricker said that he had arranged his lineup for the first eight matches and that nothing that occurred in the morning session would change his plans for the afternoon. Given the pressure the Americans are under to win on home soil, few believed Stricker would stick to such a plan. But he did, and the results were impressive.Justin Thomas celebrating on the ninth green as Viktor Hovland of Norway looked on. Thomas emerged as the emotional leader of the U.S. team on Day 1.Warren Little/Getty ImagesCantlay teamed with Justin Thomas, who had played in the morning with his close friend Spieth. Cantlay, the PGA Tour player of the year, was steady, and Thomas, who appears to be the emotional leader of the American team, was fiery. But the duo was losing for most of its match against England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Norway’s Viktor Hovland. Then, with two holes remaining, Thomas rallied for a crucial putt that created a tie, which is how the match ended.The usually stoic Cantlay even showed some emotion during the round with an occasional fist pump.“I was feeding off J.T. a little bit,” Cantlay said, referring to Thomas. “He carried me around all day today, and he played great, and it was a dogfight.”Cantlay was also doing most of the post-round talking because Thomas had all but lost his voice from screaming and yelling toward the American crowd, which he did after sinking any meaningful putt.Tony Finau, left, and Harris English of the United States on the 10th green Friday afternoon. They defeated Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry, 4 and 3.Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesThe Johnson-Schauffele team defeated England’s Paul Casey and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, 2 and 1. DeChambeau was paired with Scottie Scheffler in a match against Rahm and England’s Tyrrell Hatton that ended in a tie. The American team of Tony Finau and Harris English used their length off the tee and their accurate iron play to overpower McIlroy, who combined with Lowry in a 4-and-3 loss.The competition continues Saturday with another eight matches.Some of the Americans mentioned that Woods’s message had been part of the motivation for their winning play on Friday.“I’m obviously not going to reveal what he said,” Schauffele said. “But we referred to it a few times a day, and we knew what we needed to do. We knew he was fist-pumping from the couch. Whether he was on crutches or not — he’s fired up as any of us back at home.” More

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    ‘Space Jam,’ My Dad and Me

    A writer adored the basketball-Looney Tunes mash-up as a boy. Watching the movie again after his father died, he felt the movie resonate in a surprisingly deeper way.When I was 10, I thought the coolest person in the world was Michael Jordan. The second-coolest person in the world was my dad. He played in an amateur men’s soccer league; I preferred basketball, so MJ got the edge. Like a lot of kids who grew up in the ’90s, I revered the seemingly unbeatable Chicago Bulls, and I was devastated when, on Oct. 6, 1993, Jordan announced that he would be retiring from the NBA to play minor-league baseball with the Birmingham Barons. I liked baseball even less than I liked soccer.Jordan’s triumphant return to basketball in March 1995 was a moment of intense relief and exhilaration for me; and when the Bulls won their fourth championship, in the summer of 1996, my enthusiasm for Jordan reached a fever pitch. So when “Space Jam” debuted that autumn, I could not have been more excited. Michael Jordan teaming up with Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes in a feature film about a high-stakes basketball game? It was as if they had scanned my brain and made a movie of my innermost fantasies. I begged my dad to take me to see it, and the minute it was over, I begged him to take me to see it again.He was not especially impressed with “Space Jam,” but it was everything I dreamed it would be. First, it was hilarious. The Nerdlucks, a cabal of short, wormlike aliens who smack one another around like the Three Stooges, had me in stitches; my friends and I impersonated their screechy, helium-pitched voices for months, to gales of approving schoolyard laughter. Jordan’s bumbling, nebbish assistant Stan — played by Wayne Knight, whom I knew as the guy who gets smeared by a dilophosaurus in “Jurassic Park,” another childhood favorite — was hysterically funny. And of course the Looney Tunes cracked me up. When the Tasmanian Devil spins around a basketball court and cleans it single-handedly in a matter of seconds, declaring it “lemony fresh” — that seemed like the funniest thing I had ever heard in my life.Jordan with the Looney Tunes in 1996 — a young basketball fan’s dream lineup.Warner Bros.What I loved most about “Space Jam” was the candid glimpse it seemed to offer of Jordan’s life off the court. I had seen him in action, and in interviews as well as in commercials. But “Space Jam” showed me a family side of Jordan. Here was the star talking to his wife. Here was Jordan watching TV with his kids. And here was a flashback of a young Jordan, shooting hoops in the backyard, talking about his hopes and aspirations with his own dad.His father, played by Thom Barry, has only a small role in “Space Jam”: He appears in the first scene of the movie, watching his son drop bucket after bucket in the moonlight. “Do you think if I get good enough, I can go to college?” asks the young Michael, played by Brandon Hammond. “You get good enough, you can do anything you want to,” the elder Jordan replies. Mike starts rattling off his dreams: “I want to go to North Carolina … I want to play on the championship team … then I want to play in the NBA.”His dad takes the ball and says it’s time for bed. But Michael has one more dream to mention. “Once I’ve done all that,” Michael says, beaming up at his father, “I want to play baseball — just like you, Dad.”Last April, as the coronavirus was sending most of the world into lockdown, my dad died suddenly in his home late one night of a heart attack. He was 58. He’d been in immaculate health. We were extremely close, and spoke or texted every day. I was shattered.Around the same time, ESPN began to air “The Last Dance,” the network’s 10-part documentary series about Jordan and the ’90s Chicago Bulls. I watched the show in the weeks following my dad’s death as a distraction from my grief. But I was not prepared for the revelations of the seventh episode, which deals with the death of Jordan’s father, James R. Jordan, at the hands of carjackers in 1993. I was struck by certain similarities: how close Michael had been to his father, how much he relied on him as a mentor and a friend. James Jordan died a week shy of 57.A young Jordan (Brandon Hammond) and his father (Thom Barry) came to mean a great deal years later.Warner Bros.After that episode, I put on “Space Jam.” Again, I was looking for distraction; again, I was floored by grief. That opening scene with young Michael and his father, such a beautiful testament to a parent’s influence, now seemed completely overwhelming. Three years after his death, Jordan Sr. had been resurrected onscreen for a heartfelt tribute. And what’s more, Jordan had invoked his father as the reason he was pursuing baseball — a career move most people had dismissed as ridiculous.When Jordan announced his retirement, back in 1993, he told the gathered reporters that, although he was sad to leave the sport behind, he was glad his father had been alive to see his last game of basketball. The same line appears in “Space Jam,” in a restaging of the retirement news conference, and in light of the earlier scene with Jordan’s dad, the moment has a special emphasis.At the time, pundits could not fathom why someone as gifted as Jordan would give up his place at the top of one sport just to start at the bottom in an entirely different one. Jordan used “Space Jam” in part to explain his decision, to explain that while it looked as if he was following a whim, he was actually following his father. In light of my own loss, it seemed to me that Jordan was pouring his heart out. Watching last year — nearly 25 years later — I was profoundly moved.“Space Jam” was not really as candid about Michael Jordan’s home life as I believed when I was 10 and as “The Last Dance” made clear. Understandably, “Space Jam” did not touch on Jordan’s sometimes reckless gambling, nor on his embattled relationship with the media nor his weariness with the demands of fame. But the movie does contain some sincere and deep-seated wisdom about loss, which I was only able to see once I was was in mourning myself.It’s about looking up to somebody and wanting to follow in his footsteps. To do right by him. To reflect back the love that person selflessly showed you. And although it might seem strange to say of a movie about Michael Jordan playing basketball with Bugs Bunny, seeing that truth in “Space Jam” after all these years helped me deal with the pain of what I’d lost. More

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    Malcolm D. Lee on ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ and Directing LeBron James

    The filmmaker recalls the “organized chaos” that went into making the new film and the studio pickup games with Chris Paul and other pros.The making of “Space Jam: A New Legacy” was a head-spinning exercise in the unfamiliar for the director Malcolm D. Lee.For one thing, the film went into production less than a week after he officially signed on to direct the film. Lee was a late addition in summer 2019, taking over directing duties from Terence Nance. The script was still in development. Lee, the veteran director of comedies like “Girls Trip” (2017) and “The Best Man” (1999), had never worked with animation before and had never seen the original “Space Jam,” the 1996 basketball-Looney Tunes crossover starring Michael Jordan.On top of all that, Lee was charged with taking care of a movie built around LeBron James, one of the most popular athletes in the world. James had appeared on the big screen before (most notably in a supporting role in the 2015 romantic comedy “Trainwreck”) but had never anchored a feature.“It was organized chaos,” Lee, 51, said in an interview this week.The director met James a decade earlier when they had discussed making a film together, but it never came to fruition. The new project is a gamble for both Lee and James: It will inevitably be compared to the now-beloved original in the same way that James is continually measured against Jordan. If it flops, a movie literally billed as “A New Legacy” may be damaging to James’s own.The movie is, if nothing else, self-aware. At one point, James, playing himself, notes how poorly athletes fare when they try to act. (Similarly to the original, other pro basketball players — including Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis and Diana Taurasi — have cameos.) The film also features Don Cheadle as the villainous manifestation of an algorithm named, well, Al G. Rhythm, who kidnaps James, his youngest son (Cedric Joe) and the rest of the Warner Bros. universe.James and Bugs share the screen.Warner Bros. In addition to preparing for the film, James, 36, also had to stay in shape for the N.B.A. season. Lee said that on shoot days, James would wake up at 2 a.m. and work out till 6 a.m., then show up for a full day on set.In an interview, Lee, who is the cousin of fellow filmmaker Spike Lee, discussed his own love for basketball and how he directed a star without a traditional acting background. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.Did you grow up playing basketball?The third grade really is when I started playing organized basketball. I wasn’t as into it as my brother and my dad were encouraging me to. I started playing in this league in Brooklyn called the Youth Basketball Association. My dad coached a year. In fact, it’s funny, too, because Spike, who was living with us at the time, was the assistant coach. [Lee is 13 years older than his cousin.]No kidding.Swear to God. And Spike will tell you himself. There was one week when my dad went down to Alabama — that’s where he’s from — and Spike had to coach us. We had an undefeated season until that date, so Spike was sweating coaching us. And we actually got the victory. He didn’t want to spoil my father’s streak.What was your first conversation with LeBron like when you took the “Space Jam” gig?I think LeBron had the same agenda as everyone else in that he wanted to make the movie great. He wanted to make sure that I knew what I was doing, that my vision was clear and that he’d be taken care of. Not coddled, but that there was a leader aboard who was going to say, “This is what we’re going to do and this is how are we going to do it.” I assured him that there could be delays — I just don’t know — but I’m a professional, I’ve been in this for a long time and I will make sure that you’re taken care of.Lee signed onto the film late in the process. “It was organized chaos,” he said.Justin Lubin/Warner Bros.Did you have any reservations about working with a basketball star who doesn’t have the traditional acting training that someone like Don Cheadle has?Not really. LeBron’s been in front of the camera since he was 18 years old. Now, I mean, “Oh, those are just interviews,” but people get asked the same questions over and over again. So he’s got some rehearsed responses. He also was very funny. He wants to be good. He was good in “Trainwreck.” There’s some actors that get something and say, “OK, that’ll cut together.” And some that are just natural. I think LeBron has a lot of natural ability.Without spoiling it, there is a scene where LeBron has to convey a vulnerable emotion toward his son. Is there anything in particular either you or he did to prepare for that scene? Because that had to be out of his comfort zone.For sure. Look, the first thing that I try to get with any actor is trust, right? I have to trust them. They have to trust me because I’m going to ask them to go to some places that they aren’t necessarily comfortable going. So yes, we did talk about something before he delivered some of those lines. Then we did a couple of takes — just let him get warmed up. If I’m not getting what I’m looking for, then I’ll say, “Why don’t you think about this? And don’t worry about the line so much. Just have this in your brain and then say it.”From left, Nneka Ogwumike, Cedric Joe, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson and Diana Taurasi on the set. Scott Garfield/Warner Bros.Film is a director-driven medium, and basketball is very much player-driven in that players can get coaches fired or disregard them entirely. Did that dynamic ever come into play in the course of filming?No. I don’t think there was ever any “I want to do it this way and I don’t care what you have to say.” I think LeBron likes to be coached. He’s a master of his craft. But at the same time, people are in your corner whose job it is to say: “Make sure you do this. Think about this. I’m seeing this on the court. You’re not seeing blah, blah, blah.” And I think he takes that information. Same thing with acting.During the filming of the original “Space Jam,” Michael Jordan hosted scrimmages with other N.B.A. players. Was there anything like that here?There was a court built for [James] on the Warner Bros. lot. I did go to one pickup game and that was thrilling for me, because I’m a huge basketball fan. Chris Paul was there, Ben Simmons, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee, Draymond Green.You didn’t ask to play?Hell no.What an opportunity, man!Are you kidding? The opportunity to get embarrassed. A lot of those guys come into the gym, they don’t know I’m the director of the movie. They’re like, “Who’s this dude?” I can’t be like, “Hey, how you doing? I played intramurals at Georgetown.” That’s not going to impress anybody. More

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    What Does It Take to Be Like Mike? 1,264 Ticket Stubs

    He didn’t have to be there: Andrew Goldberg is trying to collect ticket stubs from each of Michael Jordan’s regular-season, playoff and All-Star Games.As the planet’s pre-eminent collector of a very specific type of basketball memorabilia, Andrew Goldberg scans the internet and works the phones. He has spent six years tending to a spreadsheet that details the items that are in his possession, and he has a network of industry sources who alert him whenever they come across something he may need. More

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    Vanessa Bryant Delivers Emotional Hall of Fame Speech for Kobe

    Kobe Bryant, the former Los Angeles Lakers star who was killed in a helicopter crash last year, was posthumously inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late Kobe Bryant, accepted induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame on her husband’s behalf on Saturday, saying that his absence made writing a speech all the more challenging.“If my husband were here tonight, he would have a long list of people to thank that helped inspire him and equip him to be in the Hall of Fame,” Bryant said. “Family, friends, mentors, the Lakers, teammates, muses and opponents.”She continued: “This is one of the many hard parts about not having him here. At the risk of leaving anyone out, I can only say thank you. To all those who helped him get here, you know who you are, and I thank you on his behalf.”Kobe Bryant, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996 to 2016, was the biggest name in one of the most anticipated Hall of Fame classes in history, alongside other basketball luminaries, such as the players Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Tamika Catchings and the coach Kim Mulkey. The induction ceremony, which took place at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., was supposed to have been held last year but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash in January 2020, was announced as a posthumous inductee last spring.Now, what has long been seen as a formality is now official: Bryant, an 18-time N.B.A. All Star, a five-time champion and one of the most influential basketball players ever, is a Hall of Famer.Vanessa Bryant, right, with her daughters Capri, left, and Bianka.Kathy Willens/Associated PressVanessa Bryant gave a poised speech in her husband’s place, with Michael Jordan, whom Vanessa referred to as Kobe’s “favorite player,” standing off to the side. Each inductee had a presenter, and Jordan served as Kobe’s. Vanessa said that she “wished my husband was here to accept this incredible award.”“He and Gigi deserve to be here to witness this,” she said, referring also to Gianna Bryant, their 13-year-old daughter, who also died in the helicopter crash last year outside Los Angeles that killed nine and sent shock waves through the basketball world.Before she started her speech, Vanessa Bryant said to someone in the crowd: “I’m OK. Love you.”Members of the crowd could be heard shouting back, “Love you, Vanessa!”Bryant continued: “I used to always avoid praising my husband in public, because I felt like he got enough praise from his fans around the world and someone had to bring him back to reality. Right now, I’m sure he’s laughing in heaven because I’m about to praise him in public for his accomplishments on one of the most public stages.”She added: “I can see him now — arms folded with a huge grin saying, ‘Isn’t this some …’” followed by a profanity, spurring a ripple of laughter from the crowd.Bryant was also praised in other speeches. Garnett, referring to Duncan and Bryant, both of whom were often obstacles in his quest for a championship, said that it was an honor to enter the Hall of Fame with them. Duncan returned the favor in his speech, saying: “You guys demanded the best out of me, and it brought the best of me. Thank you.” Rudy Tomjanovich, who coached Bryant in 2004-5 with the Lakers and was also inducted on Saturday, said that Bryant “thrilled us for 20 years right down until the last game.”Vanessa Bryant, in her speech, nodded to her husband’s infamous competitive streak.“I do know that he would thank everyone that helped him get here, including the people that doubted him and the people that worked against him and told him he couldn’t attain his goals,” she said. “He would thank all of them for motivating him to be here. After all, he proved you wrong.”She also spoke about Jordan’s influence on her husband, and the work ethic he had inspired.“People don’t know this, but one of the reasons my husband played through injuries and pain was because he said he remembered being a little kid sitting in the nosebleeds with his dad to watch his favorite player play,” Vanessa said, looking at Jordan. “He could recall the car ride, the convos and the excitement of being lucky enough to have a seat in the arena.Tim Duncan said playing against Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant had brought out his best.David Butler Ii/USA Today Sports, via ReutersGarnett said it was an honor to be inducted with Kobe Bryant.Kathy Willens/Associated Press“Kobe didn’t want to disappoint his fans, especially the ones in the 300 sections that saved up to watch him play — the kids with the same excitement he once had.”Vanessa Bryant ended her speech by paying homage to her husband’s retirement letter, titled “Dear Basketball,” which he published in 2015. It was then turned into a short film and won an Academy Award in 2018 for best animated short film.“Dear Kobe, thank you for being the best husband and father you could possibly be,” Bryant said. “Thank you for always trying to be better. Thank you for never giving up on us.”She closed with her voice cracking slightly.“You did it. You’re in the Hall of Fame now,” Bryant said. “You’re a true champ. You’re not just an M.V.P. You’re an all-time great. I’m so proud of you. I love you forever and always, Kobe Bean Bryant.” More