July 29, 2015 | 7:05 am EDT Update
“We need to get to the playoffs this year,” point guard Elfrid Payton told Basketball Insiders earlier this month. “There’s no more time for, ‘Next year… Next year…’ The time is now. We need to step up our games and be ready to play.”
Barnes made sure to warn Jordan that things could change between them in the flicker of a cake candle now that Barnes plays for the Memphis Grizzlies. “I told him, ‘Even though we’re good friends, I’m still going to foul the beep out of you when we play,'” Barnes recalled Tuesday during his introductory news conference in Memphis. “That’s just the kind of player I am. There’s no hard feelings.”
It also means a player known for altercations with fans and referees, along with opposing players and team owners, has some reputation-mending to do in his new city. He might start with a young female fan who became irritated during a playoff game between the Grizzlies and Clippers in April 2013, when Barnes kicked a garbage can on his way off the court after a bitter defeat. “It was a close game and I was mad that we lost and I kicked the can,” Barnes said. “I’m looking forward to inviting that young lady back to the first game and letting her know I’m not the guy she thought I was when I kicked the can.”
Festus Ezeli said he advanced quickly in school and was promoted past the fifth and sixth grades by American standards at the private Igbinedion Education Center in Benin City. He actually earned his high school diploma just months from his 15th birthday. “The common knowledge of Africa is poverty, which we do have a lot of,” Ezeli said. “But the affluent and educated exist in Nigeria as well. My parents worked hard enough to send me to an international school. At the school I learned about different parts of the world. I learned to get out of a small-town mentality and to aspire to be great.”
Festus Ezeli arrived to Sacramento standing 6-foot-8 with plenty of room left to grow. While school remained the focus, his uncle believed it made a lot of sense for his nephew to begin playing basketball, too. “[Ndulue] saw my height and said, ‘We could do something with this,’ ” Festus Ezeli said. “I told him that I came to America to be a doctor. He told me, ‘You can play basketball and use basketball to pay for your education.’ We all thought it was a good idea, but we didn’t realize how hard it would be.”
Ezeli actually scored his first basket in his AAU debut in the wrong basket. He took a brief hiatus playing basketball after his frustrations, combined with his teammates’ and coaches’ frustrations, became too much for him. In 2005, he got cut from Sacramento’s Jesuit High School basketball team. “I didn’t like it at all at first,” Ezeli said. “I didn’t understand anything about the game.”
Ezeli received 27 scholarship offers before narrowing his field to Boston College, Connecticut, Harvard and Vanderbilt. Ezeli’s parents thought it would be a dream come true for their son to get a Harvard education. In hopes of getting the best combination of school and basketball though, a strong-willed Ezeli chose Vanderbilt. “I didn’t think it was the best decision because I thought Harvard would give him the greatest opportunity in life,” Patricia Ada Ezeli said. “Most parents would think that for their children. But when he kept insisting about basketball, school and being able to play at the highest level of the sport, we said to ourselves, ‘School is always there. He can try it and if it doesn’t work out he can go back to school.’ “
Ezeli is scheduled to depart from South Africa back to the United States on Aug. 6. He says his trip to Africa won’t be complete until he finally steps foot back in Nigeria. “Even if I can’t go right now, the fact that I can go back to Africa is exciting to me,” Ezeli said. “There are a lot of things I want to do in the world. With the trouble in Nigeria and things like that, I want to be able to help my country in some way. I don’t know how it’s going to be, but I want to help my country. But to be able to give back to the continent, this is an exciting first step.”
A security detail has accompanied the group throughout their travels to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, a restaurant near the northern border with Syria and Lebanon, the Holocaust Museum, and a basketball clinic for Israeli and Palestinian youngsters. The itinerary includes another youth clinic and a breakfast meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We were a little nervous about going to Jerusalem,” Casspi said by phone early Tuesday morning, “but we had a great time. Thousands of people followed us when we walked around the Wall and the shops. DeMarcus was like a rock star. Everybody wanted to be around him.”
This week, columnist Dave Zirin of The Nation wrote an open letter to the players who accompanied Casspi, urging them to investigate Adelson’s background. Zirin further alleges that Casspi organized the delegation in response to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, a Palestinian-founded campaign designed to isolate and financially cripple Israel.
“You sit around a locker room, and you talk about your home,” Casspi said. “I always tell my teammates, ‘Come see my side of the world. I go to your house when we go to Washington. Come meet my parents, my brother, my sister.’ It’s literally as simple as that. On CNN, all you see is war. My thought is, ‘Come see for yourself.’ Sheldon … is a Republican; our president (Barack Obama) is a Democrat. Good, bad, whatever. It doesn’t matter. We have to work on our relationship.” While the NBA’s involvement is limited to providing a clinician and T-shirts for the campers, league officials have long encouraged coaches and players to conduct clinics – usually in conjunction with the U.S. State Department – in war-torn countries such as Lebanon, Iran and Iraq. During the Cold War, the Atlanta Hawks toured the former Soviet Union and fostered lifelong friendships among the players, coaches and members of the respective basketball federations.
Contacted by The Post, Hodges said Houston called him two weeks ago with the news his contract would not be renewed. “My only comment is I was thankful for the opportunity. It was their decision to make,’’ Hodges said. “I feel we could’ve done better. We didn’t get Thanasis [Antetokounmpo] to the level we should have.’’
“I take everything very serious,” Towns said during an appearance at the Dick’s Sporting Goods’ Sports Matter panel Tuesday. “For me, making sure that I had great grades at Kentucky was a very key component of my freshman year. It’s going to be every year. Just wanted to make sure I could play and be the best I could be, especially in the classroom, and I’m glad I came out with a 4.0 GPA.”
Cuban took to his Cyber Dust messaging app this week to congratulate Trump, referring to the Republican presidential candidate as “probably the best thing to happen to politics in a long, long time.” “I don’t care what his actual positions are,” Cuban wrote. “I don’t care if he says the wrong thing. He says what’s on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years.”
Trump issued a tweet to his more than 3 million Twitter followers, thanking Cuban for the “nice words.” Trump added that he was rapidly becoming a Dallas Mavericks fan. “I think people are tired of politics as usual,” Cuban told ESPN Radio last week. “We’re tired of everything being scripted, we’re tired of every comment being politically correct. And, you know, even though Donald has to spend a lot of time pulling not just his foot but the toenails and the stuff that falls off his cuticles out of his mouth, at least it’s refreshing to have somebody who is just gonna say what’s on their mind and give an honest, if not insensitive, response to a question. To me, it’s great.” So would Cuban vote for Trump? “No, but I don’t know that I’d vote for any of the other 14 candidates and I don’t know that I’d vote for the Democratic candidates right now either,” Cuban said.
A Beijing court has dismissed a trademark case brought by US basketball superstar Michael Jordan against a company using a similar name and logo to his Nike-produced brand, a report said. The former Chicago Bull is arguably the most popular international basketball star in China and is known in the country as “Qiaodan”, a Chinese version of his name.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has entered a plea of not guilty in his driving under the influence case, according to his attorney. Budenholzer entered the plea in Fulton County State Court last week in writing with the court and Judge Diane E. Bessen. The court has a scheduled plea and arraignment hearing tomorrow at 9 a.m. With the filing of the plea and two motions, neither Budenholzer nor his attorney Michael Hawkins will attend. The plea and motions were filed with the court on July 22.
July 28, 2015 | 7:53 pm EDT Update
Speaking about the feud on his podcast The Big Podcast with Shaq, O’Neal is still irate that Pippen dared question his career. O’Neal even went as far as to put himself in a higher echelon of players that Pippen isn’t a part of. From the 3:45 minute mark of O’Neal’s podcast (via Reddit): “I didn’t even make the picture. Some other little guy made the picture so I just took it. It was the five best Lakers and the five best Bulls and I said we’ll beat them by 50. That’s how I feel and I’m sticking to it. I didn’t say ‘Hey @ScottiePippen we will beat you guys by 50.’ ‘Hey @Rodman we will beat you guys by.’ I just said, I’ll beat you by 50.
Now, he made it personal when he said, ‘@Shaq I don’t believe in hypotheticals.’ He swung first so I’m going to swing second and I’m going to swing last. Because I don’t let bums disrespect me. Yeah, he was a great player but I’m the bridge, he’s the water. He will always be under me. Every now and then he will rise to the occasion to get to the same level as the bridge but when reality kicks in, I’m bridge, he is water, he is under me. Scottie Pippen can’t disrespect me. He made it personal when he put @Shaq, we got six rings like he was the main focus of the six rings. You were not the main focus of the six rings. Don’t make me pull up the scouting report. You wasn’t even a factor on the scouting report. It was all about Mike.”
July 28, 2015 | 6:52 pm EDT Update
Josh Richardson — the 40th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft — has agreed to terms on a three-year, $2.5 million contract with the Miami Heat, league sources told RealGM. Richardson’s deal is fully guaranteed for the first season and partially guaranteed the second year, sources said.