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    Tiffany Jackson, Texas Star Forward and W.N.B.A. Veteran, Dies at 37

    She was an All-American in college and spent nine years as a pro. “I don’t think I’ve seen a player as competitive,” her college coach said.Tiffany Jackson, an All-American forward for the University of Texas women’s basketball team who went on to play nine seasons in the W.N.B.A., died on Monday in Dallas. She was 37.The cause was cancer, the university said.Jackson noticed a lump in one of her breasts in 2015 while she was playing overseas in Israel during the W.N.B.A. off-season. She put off being tested until she returned to the United States and, even then, not until after the start of the season for the W.N.B.A.’s Tulsa Shock.“I didn’t let my teammates know until the playoffs,” she told ESPN in 2016, “because I knew I was going to have to go back to Dallas, after Game 2, win or lose, to start treatment. I ended up telling everybody via mass text, because I was afraid if I did it in person, I would just break down.”Jackson was a powerhouse player at the University of Texas, where she was the only women’s basketball player in the school’s history to score at least 1,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and have 300 steals and 150 blocks. She is ranked fifth overall in points with 1,197.“What made her stand out was her versatility,” Jody Conradt, who coached the Texas women’s team from 1976 to 2007, said in an interview. “She was 6-3, very mobile and could play multiple positions. But that was secondary to her competitiveness — I don’t think I’ve seen a player as competitive as Tiffany.”In her four years at Texas, Jackson averaged 15.6 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. As a freshman she helped lead the team to the Sweet 16 round of the N.C.A.A. women’s basketball tournament in the 2003-4 season.Her 2004-5 season was her strongest: She averaged 18.3 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.Tiffany Jackson was born on April 26, 1985, in Longview, Texas. Her mother, Cassie Brooks, had played basketball for the University of New Mexico; her father, Marques Jackson, had been a tight end at the University of Tulsa.At Duncanville High School, near Dallas, Tiffany led the Pantherettes to a state title in 2003, scoring a team-high 16 points in the championship game, shortly after being named a McDonald’s All-American.Jackson was recruited vigorously by more than 60 colleges. One coach said that the school that signed her would become an instant championship contender.“That’s a big statement to make, and I feel good that people think that much of me,” Jackson told The Austin American-Statesman in 2003. “It makes me want to work harder to prove them right.”While the Longhorns never won a national title, Jackson’s star was undiminished. Drafted by the New York Liberty with the fifth overall pick in the 2007 W.N.B.A. draft, she played with the team until she was traded to the Tulsa Shock (now the Dallas Wings) in 2010. She played a final season with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2017.She averaged 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds a game over her career. She was at her best in 2011, with career highs of 12.4 points and 8.4 rebounds a game.Jackson took off the 2012 season to give birth to her son, Marley. She sat out the 2016 season for breast cancer treatment, which included radiation and a mastectomy.“After that first month, never in my mind did I think I wasn’t going to play again,” she told USA Today in 2017. “So throughout my entire treatment, I was always working out. It was something that kept me going.”Information about her survivors was not immediately available.After retiring as a player in 2018, Jackson became an assistant coach for two seasons at the University of Texas. This year, she was named head coach of the women’s basketball team at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. She died before she could coach a game for the team. More

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    Australia’s Lauren Jackson Completes Her Remarkable Comeback Story

    Lauren Jackson, a hero of Australian women’s basketball and a three-time W.N.B.A. most valuable player, has rejoined her national team after injuries knocked her out of the sport in 2014.SYDNEY, Australia — It was an inconspicuous return. Just over a year ago, Lauren Jackson, one of the greatest players in women’s basketball history, returned to the suburban courts of Albury, a small regional city in southeastern Australia, to play social basketball. No crowds, no fuss. Just hoops.“I was pretty overweight,” Jackson said. “But I could still get up and down the court. I could still shoot the ball. And I was still very competitive.”Jackson, 41, was a four-time Olympic medalist for the Australian national team (nicknamed the Opals), a two-time W.N.B.A. champion with the Seattle Storm, a three-time W.N.B.A. most valuable player and a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. But she had been out of the game for years, having retired in 2016 after injuries all but ended her career in 2014.She didn’t think of her return to her hometown courts as a comeback, but it turned out to be just that. Jackson, who had an office job with Basketball Australia, last month completed her remarkable return to competition when she was named to the Opals’ squad for in the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Sydney. Australia meets Serbia on Sunday and Canada on Monday.As Jackson spoke about her comeback in an interview at her team’s hotel, in Sydney’s Olympic precinct, tears formed in her eyes.“I’m sorry, I get emotional about it,” she said. “The sport has meant so much to me, on and off the court. Even the fact I’m still working in it — I just want to see it thrive. So to have this opportunity, this last shot at being a part of something special — this journey might be the most significant in my entire life.”Jackson played against Lisa Leslie during the gold medal game in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. The United States has repeatedly foiled Australia’s attempts to win gold.Vincent Laforet/The New York Times Jackson, the daughter of two national basketball team players, was a teenage sensation in Australia, entering the Australian Institute of Sport at 16 and leading its team to a national championship at 18. The W.N.B.A.’s overall No. 1 draft pick in 2001, she was a seven-time league all-star.“Everyone I talk to has her in the top three” of all time, Kobe Bryant said of Jackson in 2012. “And I mean everyone.”A series of injuries, including chronic troubles with her right knee, sidelined Jackson late in her career. It was her dream to retire after the 2016 Olympics, where she hoped to lead the Opals past their archrivals from the United States. Jackson’s Australian team had lost to the Americans in the Olympic gold medal matches in Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, and in the semifinals in London in 2012.More on the W.N.B.A.Swan Song: Sue Bird, who had said she would retire after this season, shepherded the Seattle Storm to the playoffs. The team’s loss on Sept. 7 marked the end of her incredible career.Greatness Overshadowed: Sylvia Fowles, who has also announced her retirement from basketball, is one of the most successful American athletes ever. Why isn’t she better known?A Critical Eye: As enthusiasm for women’s basketball and the W.N.B.A grows, fans are becoming more demanding of the league and more vocal about their wishes.Making the Style Rules: Players in women’s basketball are styling themselves before the games. Their choices are an expression of their freedom, and can be lucrative too.But she wasn’t able to return.“I tried to suit up a couple of times,” Jackson recalled, “but I was just in so much pain that I couldn’t move.” Missing out was a cruel end to a two-decade basketball career. “It definitely wasn’t on my terms,” she said.Jackson returned to Albury, a city of 50,000, and took a position with Basketball Australia, leading its women’s basketball program. She had two children. She started taking medical marijuana, as part of a clinical trial, to ease her knee pain.In time, she returned to the court, at age 40, at a local facility named in her honor: the Lauren Jackson Sports Center.Jackson high-fived teammates at the World Cup game between Australia and France in Sydney on Thursday.Stephanie Simcox for The New York TimesLocal players were star-struck — and a little intimidated, even unhappy, to be facing down a legend of the game. “There were a lot of complaints,” Jackson said. “I was like: ‘I’m a single mom, I’ve just had two kids and I have a knee replacement — and you’re complaining?’ But it was fun, a lot of fun.”Jackson discovered that the pain relief she got from the cannabis allowed her to return to the gym. “One training session led into another,” she said. Her training partner and best friend since childhood, Sam McDonald, also happened to be the assistant coach of the Albury Wodonga Bandits, a semiprofessional team. He suggested a return and, by April of this year, Jackson was competing again.She scored 21 points in 22 minutes for the Bandits in her first competitive game in nine years. “Is the G.O.A.T. back?” tweeted FIBA, basketball’s global governing body.With Australia scheduled to host the World Cup in September, whispers soon spread of a national team comeback. Jackson initially brushed off the idea, but then was invited to a training camp with the Opals.“I remember when I first went into camp, I said to the girls: ‘I don’t expect that I’m going to go any further than this, but it’s a real honor to be here — to be part of this process, to see the way you train, to help in any way I can.’” That led to an international camp in New York.“I remember thinking, in the back of my head, this is going to be it,” she said. “Because I just didn’t know how my body was going to hold out.”Yet last month, the Opals’ coach, Sandy Brondello, who also coaches the New York Liberty, told Jackson on a video call that she had made the team. In a recording of the call, Jackson looks shocked. “I don’t think there was ever a moment where I was like, ‘I’m going to make the World Cup,’ until I was actually told by Sandy,” she said in an interview.On Thursday in Sydney, Jackson played her first competitive game for Australia in almost a decade. She wore the number 25 on her jersey, marking the quarter-century since she first played for the Opals.Jackson checked in halfway through the first quarter, to a huge roar from the crowd. She missed her first shot, but soon nailed a 3-pointer, causing another eruption in the stands.It was a tight game until the final quarter, when France pulled away to win, 70-57. Jackson played more than 10 minutes, proving important defensively but not adding any further scoring.Jackson wears the number 25 for the Opals to signify the 25 years since she joined Australia’s national basketball program at age 16.Stephanie Simcox for The New York Times“It’s pretty crazy to be here,” she said after the game. Jackson was disappointed by the loss, but added, “I can’t wipe the smile off my face because I’m so honored to be here representing Australia.”Brondello called the game “an amazing comeback for Lauren.” She conceded that Jackson was not likely to dominate as she once did, though she expected her to grow into the tournament. “This doesn’t change her legacy at all,” Brondello said.The Opals’ prospects at the World Cup are uncertain. Their loss to France was not a promising start, but they bounced back on Friday with a 118-58 win over Mali (Jackson contributed eight points). As ever, the United States is likely to stand between the Australians and a gold medal.According to Jackson, this tournament will be her last. She has no plans to play in the 2024 Olympics in Paris (she will be 43; it would be her fifth Games). “No way,” she said. “I say that to you knowing full well where I’ve come from, so anything is possible, but I don’t think that’s happening.”It’s not clear if she will be welcome back at social basketball, either. “I don’t know if they’ll let me,” she laughed.But after her first farewell to basketball ended in agony, Jackson is glad to be bowing out on her own terms. She still endures the knee pain — “I feel it every day,” she said — but thanks to medical cannabis and a therapeutic use exemption (marijuana is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list), Jackson can have one last dance.“I don’t believe in fairy tales,” she said. “I just don’t. But if it ends today, if it ends tomorrow, I don’t care. I’ve had the ride of my life.”Stephanie Simcox for The New York Times More

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    Robert Sarver to Sell Phoenix Suns and Mercury Teams Amid Scandal

    Robert Sarver, the majority owner of the N.B.A. and W.N.B.A. teams in Phoenix, had been fined $10 million and suspended for one year for using racist slurs and mistreating employees for years.Bowing to what he called an “unforgiving climate,” Robert Sarver said Wednesday that he planned to sell the Phoenix Suns and Mercury amid public pressure after an N.B.A. investigation found that he had mistreated team employees for years.It was a swift turnabout for Sarver, who seemed determined to hold onto his stakes in both basketball franchises after the N.B.A. last week fined him $10 million and suspended him from team operations for one year. According to the investigation’s report, Sarver had engaged in more than a decade of workplace misconduct, including using racial slurs, making sexual remarks and treating women inequitably.But following the punitive measures, Sarver — and the N.B.A. — faced mounting public pressure to levy a harsher punishment for behavior N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver had described as “beyond the pale.”In a statement Wednesday, Sarver said his one-year suspension would have given him time to “make amends and remove my personal controversy” from the teams that he owns.“But in our current unforgiving climate,” he said, “it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible — that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past.”In separate statements, Silver and Suns Legacy Partners L.L.C., the ownership group of the Suns and Mercury, said Sarver’s decision was the best choice for the organization and the community.“We also know that today’s news does not change the work that remains in front of us,” the ownership group said, adding: “We acknowledge the courage of the people who came forward in this process to tell their stories and apologize to those hurt.”An N.B.A. spokesman declined to comment when asked whether Silver had pushed Sarver to sell the teams. Last week, Silver defended the fine and suspension issued to Sarver as fair punishment and said he had not asked him to voluntarily sell the teams. The N.B.A.’s board of governors also had not discussed removing him as an owner, he said. Silver could have suspended Sarver for longer than one year, but $10 million was the most he could fine him.The N.B.A. announced its penalties Sept. 13 after releasing a 43-page public report by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, which conducted a nearly yearlong investigation into Sarver’s conduct in his 18 years with the basketball teams. The N.B.A. began its investigation in response to a November 2021 article by ESPN about accusations of mistreatment against Sarver. The law firm said its investigators interviewed more than 100 individuals who witnessed behavior that “violated applicable standards.”Sarver, according to the report, made crude jokes, used “the N-word” on at least five occasions, shared inappropriate text messages and photos, and belittled employees. During the investigation, Sarver sought to defend himself by citing his contributions to social and racial justice causes and his support of women’s basketball.What to Know: Robert Sarver Misconduct CaseCard 1 of 7A suspension and a fine. More

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    War and Griner’s Arrest Don’t Deter U.S. Men From Russian Basketball

    While American female basketball players have largely stayed away from Russia, dozens of American men have sought pay and career development in the country.The war in Ukraine and the imprisonment of the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner in Russia have roiled geopolitics and all but shut down the pipeline of American female professionals playing in Russian leagues to earn far more than they can make in the United States.But Russians can still see Americans on their courts: Dozens of male players, including some with N.B.A. experience, are looking past the international conflicts and signing deals there, saying their careers and potential earnings are separate from politics. At least one American woman is also playing in Russia this season, for the same club that Griner played with in the country.“Russia wasn’t my first choice to come to,” said Joe Thomasson, 29, one of the American men playing in Russia. “It wouldn’t have been anybody’s first choice to come to if you were American, just dealing with the situation of Brittney Griner.”Although several agents did not respond to requests to be interviewed about their players in Russia, those who did identified roughly 30 American men’s basketball players who were competing or planning to soon compete in the country, about twice as many as usual. They can earn more than $1 million and often receive free housing and cars.“Everybody’s going to say, ‘Why would you go there?’” said K.C. Rivers, 35, who is in his first season with BC Samara and has played on other Russian teams. “But at the end of the day, you still have mouths to feed. You still have family to provide for. And sometimes it is not always the easiest decision, but you have to do what’s best for you. You can’t make decisions based off of what the general society says.”At least four of Rivers’s teammates are American.Many women’s basketball players who normally could have supplemented their modest W.N.B.A. salaries by playing in Russia during the off-season are avoiding the country — often in solidarity with Griner, who had played for UMMC Yekaterinburg — and signing contracts with teams in Turkey, Greece, Spain and other countries. The W.N.B.A. said it did not know of any of its players going to Russia. Alex Bentley, who last played in the W.N.B.A. in 2019, will play for UMMC Yekaterinburg for the second straight season.Griner has been at the center of a monthslong dispute with Russia. The U.S. government has said she was wrongfully detained at an airport near Moscow seven months ago when she was accused of bringing illegal narcotics — cannabis-infused vape cartridges — into the country as she traveled to play for her Russian team. She pleaded guilty in July and was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony in August but has appealed her conviction. U.S. and Russian officials have been discussing a prisoner swap that would free her.W.N.B.A. fans have pushed for Brittney Griner’s return from Russian imprisonment. Lindsey Wasson/Associated PressGriner earned about $230,000 as one of the best players in the W.N.B.A., but UMMC Yekaterinburg was reportedly paying her more than $1 million.“She was there for a reason,” said the agent Daryl Graham, whose client Bryon Allen is playing for Parma-Pari. “She made a lot of money there.”More on the W.N.B.A.Swan Song: Sue Bird, who had said she would retire after this season, shepherded the Seattle Storm to the playoffs. The team’s loss on Sept. 7 marked the end of her incredible career.Greatness Overshadowed: Sylvia Fowles, who has also announced her retirement from basketball, is one of the most successful American athletes ever. Why isn’t she better known?A Critical Eye: As enthusiasm for women’s basketball and the W.N.B.A grows, fans are becoming more demanding of the league and more vocal about their wishes.Making the Style Rules: Players in women’s basketball are styling themselves before the games. Their choices are an expression of their freedom, and can be lucrative too.He added: “It’s actually better for the players, because the teams are paying a premium now. They’re giving more money out to get the guys to come, because of the perception of what’s going on there.”One agent estimated that Russian teams have offered as much as 50 percent more than in previous years — and sometimes triple what teams in other countries pay — in order to persuade players to come.Bentley’s agent, Boris Lelchitski, said in an email that Bentley signed a one-year contract extension with UMMC Yekaterinburg in December and “had to make a difficult decision” to play in Russia. He said she did not have any offers from W.N.B.A. teams the past two seasons.“This is her opportunity to build her financial security,” he said.In a phone interview, Lelchitski said Bentley was “really good friends” with Griner and hoped that she would be freed from prison soon. He said Bentley felt comfortable returning to Russia because she has dual citizenship and plays as a European, and because there are many American men in Russia playing basketball.The State Department has advised Americans not to travel to Russia because of the war and the potential for harassment by Russian government officials. When contacted about the players in Russia, a spokesperson said that Americans “should depart Russia immediately” and that the embassy would have a “limited ability” to help them there.A spokesperson would not say how many U.S. citizens are thought to be in Russia but added that for emergency planning, embassies have constantly changing estimates of how many Americans are abroad.David Carro, who has been an agent for nearly two decades, represents Thomasson, Rivers and a handful of other players in Russia. He said players enjoyed going there because they can expect to be paid on time, the play is competitive, and they don’t have to pay for apartments and cars. He said Russia was not as dangerous as people might think because “there is a war in Ukraine. But in Russia, there is no war.”Rivers said of Samara, one of Russia’s largest industrial cities: “It’s normal here. Honestly, since I’ve been here, I haven’t heard anything about the war.”Nearly seven months after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, there is no end in sight for the conflict. All of the land warfare is happening in Ukraine, and the Kremlin has worked hard to minimize the effect on average Russians of the invasion — and the resulting sanctions imposed by Western nations. Although Ukraine recently recaptured large swaths of occupied territory in the northeast, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has shown no sign of backing down and has warned that he could further escalate his onslaught. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians are believed to have been killed.Thomasson, one of the American players, arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia, in late August with his fiancée, LaDresha Player Spear, and their three young children. Jet lagged and hungry after the long journey from Ohio, they headed to the grocery store.K.C. Rivers said he understood people may question his decision to play in Russia, but he wanted to make a living. Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty ImagesThomasson wanted nothing more than to leave quickly after buying a few items. But when he offered a debit card and a credit card to the cashier, neither worked. Player Spear’s cards also were declined. They did not know that Mastercard and Visa had suspended operations in Russia because of the war. A woman in line overheard the frustrated couple and, realizing they were Americans, offered to pay for their groceries.Months ago, as Thomasson finished his season with a team in Manresa, Spain, he and Carro debated where he should play next. Thomasson, who has also played in Israel and Poland, has always regarded himself as an underdog and wanted to test himself in the Euroleague, Europe’s primary professional club competition. (Russia has since been suspended from the league because of the war, but its clubs still play within the country.)Zenit Saint Petersburg, a top Russian team, offered him a contract. Thomasson mulled the offer and talked to the coaching staff and Americans who had played there. He reassured concerned family members. But he deleted his Twitter account after other users criticized him for making the deal.Carro had advised Thomasson not to worry about politics.“The common people are not very well-informed about the situation, and they want to make sports and sportsmen suffer for a political and geopolitical problem,” Carro said. “Of course, it is a very big problem and of course it should be worrying for all of us. But I don’t think the front where we should be fighting is the sports front, because those people in the clubs, they are not guilty of what’s going on.”He rebuffed those who tried to talk him out of sending players to Russia, pointing to the dangers in the United States in places like Texas “where everybody carries a gun, where there has been shootings in the schools or in a supermarket.”He added, “It all depends on how you see things.”The Russian basketball clubs will play fewer games this season because of their suspension from Euroleague competition. CSKA Moscow, UNICS Kazan and Zenit Saint Petersburg participated in the Euroleague last season, but had their results expunged.“Just because I’m not competing in the Euroleague doesn’t make me not a Euroleague player,’’ Thomasson said. “It just means more money for less work. That’s the approach that I took.”Zenit Saint Petersburg and Anadolu Efes Istanbul in the Euroleague last season.Sergey Grachev/Euroleague Basketball via Getty ImagesJermaine Love, a 33-year-old guard from outside of Chicago, is living in Russia for the first time after signing with BC Nizhny Novgorod. He has played for teams in Poland, Greece, Italy and Israel but said “everyone” told him he was crazy for joining a Russian team. He felt reassured after talking to a friend from Chicago who briefly played for the team last season.Love has been in Nizhny Novgorod, a large city in the western part of Russia, for a few weeks and expects to remain in the country through the end of the season in May. His wife, Thalia Love, and their two young children plan to join him in December.“I want to be able to take care of my family,” Love said. “That’s my No. 1 job.”There are some minor inconveniences. He has spotty phone and internet service, so he often relies on sending voice notes to stay in touch with friends and family back home. Love said he was also relying on his faith.“I’m covered by the blood of God,” he said. “I know that things wouldn’t come to me if He wasn’t ready for me to pursue them. I wanted to come into this situation with an open mind, and that’s what I did. Everything is great so far.”In July, a client of the longtime N.B.A. agent Bill Neff asked him to gauge interest from Russian teams. Neff said a conversation with a Russian agent he had worked with before quickly steered into the other agent’s belief that the United States was at fault for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.“I had a moral dilemma as to what to do,” Neff said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m sending guys to a situation like that?’ So, I decided only if they re-ask me, I would do it, but other than that, I really struggled with it, where other agents have not, and it’s interesting.”He added: “When you see what’s happening to Brittney Griner, there’s a side of me that said: ‘How can I, in good conscience, send a player there? And if something goes wrong, what happens?’”The client asked again, so Neff tried to find him a deal, but no Russian team offered a contract, he said. Neff is now hoping for a resolution that allows him to feel safe sending clients into the country again.“Believe me,” he said, “if the war stops and things get back to normal, I’ll be the first one in line.”Scott Cacciola More

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    Las Vegas Aces Beat Sun for First WNBA Championship

    The Aces shook off their reputation for being better in the regular season by holding off several rallies by the Sun.UNCASVILLE, Conn. — With a championship on the line for a team with some of the W.N.B.A.’s biggest stars, the Las Vegas Aces leaned on Riquna Williams, who had scored in double digits just twice this postseason.Williams raised her index finger to her lips to silence the Connecticut Sun’s white-knuckled fans in Game 4 of the finals as she hit one big shot after another in the fourth quarter. The last of her 17 points came on a step-back shot just inside the 3-point line over the outstretched arms of Natisha Hiedeman. Guard Kelsey Plum raised her hands, and Williams ran around the court with her arms spread wide as Sun fans began to leave.The Aces defeated the Sun, 78-71, on Sunday to win their first W.N.B.A. championship, their postseason reflecting the regular-season dominance that led them to tie Chicago for the best record in the league.The Aces led by as many as 10 but had to fight off several furious rallies by the Sun before clinching the title in the final minutes of Las Vegas’s third win in the best-of-five series. Chelsea Gray led the Aces with 20 points and was named the most valuable player of the finals.“I worked so hard for this,” Gray said as she became emotional and her teammates cheered.The Las Vegas Aces had long been considered better in the regular season than in the playoffs.Maddie Meyer/Getty ImagesGray and the Aces’ loaded roster kept Las Vegas a step ahead of the league all season. Four Aces were named All-Stars — A’ja Wilson, Plum, Jackie Young and Dearica Hamby — and Plum was voted M.V.P. of the All-Star Game. Wilson won her second league M.V.P. Award and was named the defensive player of the year. Becky Hammon, in her first season with the team, was named the league’s coach of the year.But coming into Game 4, Williams, who scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, hadn’t scored more than 14 points all season. The Sun held Wilson to just 11 points on Sunday, her third-lowest scoring performance of the playoffs.“I got a group of really resilient players,” Hammon said, adding: “You saw different people step up at different moments tonight and that’s what makes us difficult to beat.”The Aces finished with the best regular-season record in two of the past three seasons and second in the year they didn’t finish first. The Seattle Storm swept them in the 2020 finals. Las Vegas had shouldered the reputation of being a team good enough to win in the regular season but not able — or willing — to make the adjustments needed to succeed in the postseason. Its star-laden roster was seemingly too talented for its own good, with the best players often leaning on the isolation basketball they excel in but that has kept the Aces from closing out championships.This year, a large group of fans in red, black and gold Aces gear made their way down to the lower levels of Mohegan Sun Arena as the Las Vegas players flooded the court after the game. It was an invaluable moment for Gray.“I’ve been on two teams and that was loud,” Gray said of the Aces fans. “They’re going to celebrate us, and we’re going to celebrate them.”Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray had 20 points and 6 assists on Sunday. She was named the most valuable player of the finals.Jessica Hill/Associated PressLast season, the Aces lost the decisive Game 5 of the semifinals to the Phoenix Mercury, who celebrated on the Aces’ home floor. Gray said that ending had stuck in her mind since.“And now I’ll just have a different replay in my head,” Gray said with a smile.As the buzzer sounded on Sunday, the Aces players — now champions — yelled and hugged each other, their cheers of excitement bouncing around an otherwise quiet stadium that had been rocked with the deafening roars of Sun fans just moments before.As Connecticut players exited the court in tears, Sun center Jonquel Jones walked the length of the floor into the Aces’ celebration to hug and congratulate Wilson. As Jones walked away, she paused to clap and thank the fans that remained before heading to the locker room. Jones dominated the Aces physically in the Sun’s lone win of the series in Game 3, and she nearly led them to another victory in Game 4.Wilson spoke highly of Jones after the game.“I had to go and speak to her because she played her heart out,” Wilson said of Jones, who was last season’s M.V.P. “It’s so hard to guard her, and I just have all the most respect for J.J.”The loss for the Sun, the No. 3 seed, is another disappointing finish for a franchise with the second most wins in W.N.B.A. history but no championships. For the second straight game, Sun forward Alyssa Thomas had a triple-double. She is the only player to have a triple-double in a W.N.B.A. finals game.Hammon said it was a “battle” to beat the Sun. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” she said.Bill Laimbeer, who had been the Aces’ coach for four years, stepped down before the season. The Aces hired Hammon, who had been an assistant with the N.B.A.’s San Antonio Spurs. She took over a team led by Wilson, who won her first M.V.P. Award in 2020.Riquna Williams of the Las Vegas Aces hit big shot after big shot during the fourth quarter of the championship-clinching victory.Maddie Meyer/Getty ImagesAs Hammon guided the Aces to the first seed, she said she saw glimpses of the style of play that had kept the Aces from winning a title. But that shifted in the Aces’ semifinal win over the Storm, during which Hammon said the players were “choosing each other” and learned how to “take a punch.”That proved true as the Aces found ways to win playoff games while their stars struggled and they faced deficits — precisely what happened on Sunday — finally shaking the reputation of a team with unfulfilled potential.Hammon thanked Laimbeer for putting the team together and praised her players.“What I’m most proud of is we became a real team out here, and a team that cares about each other and trusts each other,” she said.Hammon said it was a “little surreal” to win her first W.N.B.A. championship. She played in the league for more than a decade, including several seasons with the Las Vegas franchise when it was in San Antonio.She said the Aces had “tremendous leadership” among the players, and that they had persisted when they weren’t playing well during the season. She applauded Williams for coming through on Sunday when the Aces had been struggling to score.“She knows she’s got the ultimate green light,” Hammon said.Wilson also spoke about growth — hers and the team’s.“I know who I am now more than ever,” Wilson said. “I feel like I’ve established myself in this league. And the Aces aren’t done yet.” More

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    WNBA Upgrades to Charter Flights for Finals

    For the first time ever, the W.N.B.A. is providing charter flights throughout the finals. Aces and Sun players are loving it — and hope it becomes permanent.UNCASVILLE, Conn. — There were “oohs and aahs” of excitement as the Connecticut Sun players entered their chartered plane on the way to Las Vegas for Game 1 of the W.N.B.A. finals, guard Nia Clouden said.Waiting for them were pillows and blankets, seats that fully reclined and a generous menu of complimentary food. Clouden typically never eats the roasted salted almonds, cookies, chips and other snacks offered on the team’s commercial flights. But on that night, she ordered a pepperoni pizza.Sun center Jonquel Jones pointed to the long legs that make up part of her 6-foot-6, 215-pound frame to show how the leg room on the charter flight made a difference for her. She usually tries to find the exit row seat on flights, but the space is never enough. Jones said she was also happy to avoid “all the unnecessary stuff that happens at airports.”“Sometimes after a game, you don’t really feel like talking, and you go to the airport and people want to talk about the game,” Jones said while laughing. “Or they want to ask you how tall you are — constantly — all the time. ‘How’s the weather up there?’ And it’s just like, dude, I’m just trying to get to the next destination.”She added: “As much as we love our fans — we appreciate them — sometimes it does really get a little exhausting, and it makes the season a little bit tougher.”This season, for the first time ever, the league agreed to provide charter travel throughout the W.N.B.A. finals. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said that the league does not have enough revenue to cover travel for all teams during the regular season and playoffs, which she estimated would cost more than $20 million. Teams fly commercially during the season and playoffs, with rare exceptions for extreme travel difficulties.Athletes in major professional sports leagues like the N.F.L., N.B.A. and M.L.B., and even many men’s and women’s Division I athletes, have grown accustomed to charter travel. But those men’s leagues have been around much longer than the W.N.B.A. and have billions of dollars of revenue, while the women’s league regularly operates at a loss.The W.N.B.A. hasn’t committed to offering charter flights for next year’s finals or expanding them to the regular season or any other part of the playoffs. Engelbert said the league was able to provide charters for the finals because of its efforts to increase revenue.“As we focus on growing this league by adding more corporate partners, increasing media exposure and disrupting the outdated media rights valuations of women’s sports,” Engelbert said in a statement, “it would be our hope to continue offering these opportunities when possible.”More on the W.N.B.A.Swan Song: Sue Bird, who had said she would retire after this season, shepherded the Seattle Storm to the playoffs. The team’s loss on Sept. 7 marked the end of her incredible career.Greatness Overshadowed: Sylvia Fowles, who has also announced her retirement from basketball, is one of the most successful American athletes ever. Why isn’t she better known?A Critical Eye: As enthusiasm for women’s basketball and the W.N.B.A grows, fans are becoming more demanding of the league and more vocal about their wishes.Making the Style Rules: Players in women’s basketball are styling themselves before the games. Their choices are an expression of their freedom, and can be lucrative too.The W.N.B.A.’s collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union prohibits teams from chartering flights without league approval. The Liberty were fined $500,000 for secretly traveling to several games by charter last season.So players fly commercially, dealing with the delays, Covid risks and the many flight challenges that everyday customers also deal with. If you’re wondering why professional athletes should have different travel standards anyway, many W.N.B.A. players said it started with rest.Having a relaxing night’s sleep is paramount for playing in a 36-game regular season — with half of those games on the road — when a player’s future salary and place in the league depend on their performance each night, players said. Rest can be especially challenging on a commercial flight for the tall humans that occupy women’s basketball teams. But more important, delays and flight cancellations can result in teams’ having to forfeit games.The Aces forfeited a game in 2018 after dealing with over 25 hours of delays and layovers on their way to Washington, D.C., to play the Mystics. They arrived just four hours ahead of their game. The Aces cited health concerns as the reason not to play and were the first team in league history to forfeit a game. Las Vegas missed the playoffs, finishing one game behind the Dallas Wings.“I definitely think having charters is a trickle-down effect to people being able to take care of their bodies better and rest,” Aces guard Sydney Colson said. “And then you have better games to watch because people are rested and injury free.”Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones said though she loved the Sun’s fans, it can be challenging running into them at the airport after games when players might not feel like talking.Joe Buglewicz for The New York TimesFor those players who played college basketball for major programs in the United States, the special finals travel is a welcome return to the norm, as many of their schools provided charter flights to all games.“There aren’t many times that I can remember at all that we flew commercial,” said Aces forward Theresa Plaisance, who played at Louisiana State University. “And when you get to the W.N.B.A., and you’re going to your middle seat on Southwest — sometimes it’s really hard to swallow that pill and think like: ‘Oh, this is my progression. I went from college to make it to a professional league, and I have to go backward.’”For Peter Feeney, the basketball operations manager for the Sun, who has handled all flight logistics for the past four years, the simplicity of the travel blew his mind, he said. Feeney typically arrives at airports an hour before the team to ensure that they can pass through security without any hiccups. But on their two charter flights, they’ve arrived at the plane less than an hour before takeoff, and the flight staff handled almost everything.The moment made Feeney realize that if the league switched to charter flights for the entire season, he would become less useful in his role. But he also serves as a video coordinator, so he welcomes the idea. “That’s a good problem, right?” he said with a laugh.Aces forward A’ja Wilson, who has been outspoken about the W.N.B.A.’s travel woes, said that the players had talked about what life would be like if chartered flights were normal after they comfortably made the cross-country trip to Connecticut from Las Vegas for Game 3 on Thursday.“We need it. Ain’t nothing else,” Wilson said. “We need to be able to fly like that after every game. I can only imagine how my body would feel if we did. So, I think it’s a huge deal for us to do it. We need to continue to push it.” More

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    NBA Under Pressure to Remove Phoenix Suns Owner Robert Sarver

    A sponsor, team owner and players are calling for a harsher penalty for Robert Sarver, the Phoenix Suns owner, after an investigation found he mistreated employees for years.Minutes before the N.B.A. announced the results of an independent investigation into Robert Sarver, the majority owner of the Phoenix Suns, on Tuesday, a call took place between N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver and Tamika Tremaglio, the executive director of the players’ union.Silver told Tremaglio the report was coming and that, based on its findings, he’d given Sarver a $10 million fine and one-year suspension.It was one of many conversations they have had this week. Once Tremaglio had read the 43-page public report that said Sarver had used racial slurs and treated women unfairly, she met with players on the union’s executive committee. Then, she told Silver that a one-year suspension would not do. Sarver, she told him, should never return to the Suns.“We do have to step up; I have to protect our players,” Tremaglio said in an interview Friday. “In my mind, this is not protecting our players. We are putting them in a situation that we already know is toxic if we were to permit that.”She said Silver had said he understood.“I think he also was torn with regards to what needed to be done,” Tremaglio said.Tremaglio and N.B.A. players aren’t alone in wanting Sarver out of the N.B.A. for good. A prominent sponsor and a Suns minority owner also have called for Sarver to no longer be involved with the team, part of mounting pressure for a dissolution of the relationship between Sarver and the N.B.A. Sarver also owns the W.N.B.A.’s Phoenix Mercury.“I cannot in good judgment sit back and allow our children and future generations of fans to think that this behavior is tolerated because of wealth and privilege,” Jahm Najafi, a Suns vice chairman and minority owner, said in an open letter to employees and fans Thursday calling for Sarver to resign.PayPal, which has a logo patch on the Suns jerseys, said Friday it would not renew its sponsorship after the 2022-23 season if Sarver were involved with the team after his suspension.Dan Schulman, PayPal’s president and chief executive, said in a statement that Sarver’s conduct was “unacceptable and in conflict with our values.”What to Know: Robert Sarver Misconduct CaseCard 1 of 6A suspension and a fine. More

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    NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Defends 1-Year Suspension for Owner’s Misconduct

    Adam Silver, the league’s commissioner, said the suspension and $10 million fine were fair, considering the “totality” of the career of Robert Sarver, who owns Phoenix’s N.B.A. and W.N.B.A. teams.N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver on Wednesday defended the one-year suspension and $10 million fine assessed to Robert Sarver, the majority owner of the Phoenix Suns, who was found after an independent investigation to have mistreated employees over more than a decade.Despite calls for harsher penalties, Silver said the suspension and fine were fair punishments for Sarver’s misconduct, which included using racial slurs, yelling at employees and treating female employees unfairly, according to the report. Silver said he had not talked to Sarver about his voluntarily selling his team because of his behavior, nor had the league’s board of governors discussed terminating Sarver’s ownership.“From a personal standpoint, I was in disbelief to a certain extent about what I learned that had transpired over the last 18 years in the Suns organization,” Silver said. “I was saddened by it, disheartened. I want to again apologize to the former, and in some cases current, employees of the Phoenix Suns for what they had to experience. There is absolutely no excuse for it. And we addressed it.”Sarver is also the majority owner of the W.N.B.A.’s Phoenix Mercury.Silver spoke to reporters one day after the league released a 43-page report from the New York-based law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz that detailed Sarver’s repeated use of racial slurs, mistreatment of employees, bullying and unfair treatment of female employees over nearly two decades as the owner of the Suns and the Mercury. Silver said the investigative group was diverse in race and gender, but he was unsure of the demographic breakdown. The law firm reviewed thousands of pages of documents and interviewed hundreds of current and former employees.Chris Paul, the Suns’ All-Star point guard, said in a post on Twitter late Wednesday that he was “horrified and disappointed” by the actions outlined in the report.“This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and must never be repeated,” he said. “I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior. My heart goes out to all of the people that were affected.”Silver used the firm’s findings to determine what punishment Sarver deserved. He meted out the maximum fine allowable by the league’s constitution, but not the longest suspension.“I had the option to go longer,” Silver said. “I landed on one year. I will say it’s the second-longest suspension in the history of our league, just to put it in some sort of context.”Robert Sarver, center, the majority owner of the Suns and the Mercury, was found to have used racial slurs and treated women unfairly over several years.Ralph Freso/Associated PressThe harshest penalty the league has ever levied on a team owner came in 2014 when Donald Sterling, then the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was barred for life after he made racist remarks about Black people in a private conversation and a recording of his comments was made public.At the time, Silver said the punishment was based solely on that one incident, and that he would recommend that the board of governors vote to terminate Sterling’s ownership. Ultimately, though, Rochelle Sterling sold the team, despite her husband’s efforts to prevent her from doing so.Asked why he did not go as far with Sarver, Silver called Donald Sterling’s and Sarver’s situations “dramatically different.”“What we saw in the case of Donald Sterling was blatant racist conduct directed at a select group of people,” Silver said.When it came to Sarver, Silver said, the “totality of circumstances over an 18-year period in which he’s owned these teams” didn’t warrant the same punishment.Later Wednesday, LeBron James wrote on Twitter, “I gotta be honest … Our league definitely got this wrong.”James, who stars for the Los Angeles Lakers, continued: “I love this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. There is no place for misogyny, sexism, and racism in any work place. Don’t matter if you own the team or play for the team. We hold our league up as an example of our values and this aint it.”Silver said he had heard from players in the last 24 hours but would allow them to speak for themselves.“It’s beyond the pale in every possible way to use language and behave that way,” Silver said of Sarver’s behavior. But he added: “Remember, while there were these terrible things, there were also many, many people who had very positive things to say about him through this process.”Despite detailing several instances in which Sarver made women and Black people feel demeaned, the investigators said they did not find that Sarver’s actions were motivated by “racial or gender-based animus.”Silver paused when asked if he agreed with that assessment.“I accept their work,” Silver said. “To follow what we believe is appropriate process here, to bring in a law firm, to have them spend essentially nine months on this, to do the extensive kinds of interviews they can, I’m not able to put myself in their shoes. I respect the work they’ve done, we’ve done.”The public report did not explain how the investigators determined that Sarver’s actions were not motivated by racial or gender-based animus, but Silver said that the report represented only part of the findings. He said he was given more information, but to protect the privacy of those who had participated in the investigation he could not reveal more.“Let me reiterate: The conduct is indefensible,” Silver said. “But I feel we dealt with it in a fair manner, both taking into account the totality of the circumstances, not just those particular allegations but the 18 years in which Mr. Sarver has owned the Suns and the Mercury.”Silver was speaking after a meeting of the league’s board of governors in Manhattan. The board typically meets three times a year, including once before the start of the regular season. This week’s meeting lasted three days and included discussion about the investigation.When asked about the discrepancy between how Sarver is being treated, in being allowed to remain an N.B.A. owner, and how employees of most companies would be treated had they behaved similarly, Silver pointed to a different standard for team owners.“There’s no neat answer here, other than owning property, the rights that come with owning an N.B.A. team, how that’s set up within our constitution, what it would take to remove that team from his control is a very involved process, and it’s different than holding a job,” Silver said. “It just is, when you actually own a team. It’s just a very different proposition.”When asked what standards he would expect league owners to meet, Silver said each case must be considered individually.Silver made references to Sarver’s misconduct having been part of his past, and spoke of the positive changes he felt had been made in the Suns organization. But many of the incidents confirmed by investigators happened recently. For example, the report found an incident of Sarver making inappropriate sexual remarks in 2021, and one of the instances in which investigators confirmed that Sarver had used a racial slur occurred in 2016.Although the investigation has closed, Silver said this will not be the end of the league’s concern about Sarver’s actions.“In terms of future behavior, he’s on notice,” Silver said. “He knows that.” More