China delays re-start of basketball, other events
In a setback to the resumption of professional sports, the Chinese government issued an order Tuesday delaying the re-start of the Chinese Basketball Association and other group sporting events, according to documents obtained by ESPN.
The CBA’s attempts to return to action after being shut down since January is being seen as a test case for American sports leagues, especially the NBA in the future.
The General Administration of Sport, the body that issued the order, gave no timetable on when it plans to lift the new restriction. The CBA had been making plans to split its 20 teams and send them to two cities and have them play each other in empty arenas within a month, a plan the NBA might consider down the line.
While the spread of the disease has slowed dramatically in China and some aspects of life are headed toward normalcy, sports officials are concerned about asymptomatic carriers, sources said.
The Chinese government announced this week that it soon plans to release official numbers on people who have been found to be asymptomatic, a category that has previously not been broken out in public statistics.
In addition to basketball, the government specifically also shut down the possibility of marathons and encouraged citizens to work out by themselves and in groups connected through the internet.
The CBA planned to house teams in quarantined hotels with multiple temperature checks per day to try to avoid the risk of exposure and spread of the virus. More than a dozen American players, including Jeremy Lin and Lance Stephenson, returned to China within the last two weeks to start a 14-day quarantine with the expectation the season could begin soon.
The teams had begun holding practices as they waited for their foreign teammates to be cleared to join them. It wasn’t immediately clear if these would be allowed to continue.
Remembering the greatness of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty
Due in part to the coronavirus pandemic that has suspended the NBA season and caused shelter-in-place measures across the country, the documentary has moved from the original launch date of June 2.
Leading up to the premiere, our NBA experts look back at the magical run by Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and the NBA’s team of the 90s.
1. What’s the greatest legacy of the Bulls’ dynasty?
Marc Spears: The dominance was extraordinary, memorable and special. There were some other great teams at that time, but it didn’t matter. To be so dominant with two different supporting casts led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen through two runs was stunning.
Kevin Pelton: Marking the transition from the NBA of the 1980s — growing in popularity, but still not yet fully professionalized — to the more polished modern league we now know. That change is symbolized by the Bulls’ mid-dynasty move from venerable Chicago Stadium to the corporate United Center, but it also includes the first $30 million player salary for Jordan, widespread adoption of Bulls-style player intros and massive media attention, to name a few.
Kirk Goldsberry: Jordan’s reformation of superstardom. Magic and Bird were sports stars, but Jordan was an international icon. He showed the world that hoopers could be global forces and brands unto themselves. All of today’s biggest stars are trying to “Be Like Mike” in that regard, but only a few can even come close. It’s gotta be the shoes!
Nick Friedell: Jordan and Pippen were 6-0 in NBA Finals and never let a series go to seven games. Pure domination when it mattered most. Out of all the things they accomplished together — that stat stands alone as something we’ll never see again.
Chris Herring: It may not matter to some, but I think it’s noteworthy that we haven’t seen another three-peat with a fully homegrown trio of top players since the Bulls’ first title run. Good chance we never do.
2. Which three-peat run was better: 1991-93 or 1996-98?
Goldsberry: The second, because we appreciated it more following Jordan’s first retirement period. After he came back from baseball, there was just this crazy energy around him and the team. If it’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, then Jordan’s first retirement made the entire basketball world appreciate his greatness even more.
Pelton: The second three-peat. Some of the difference in terms of sheer numbers (a combined 203 regular-season wins to 185 in the first three-peat) can be explained by a top-heavy league after expansion and the discovery of the value of tanking, and my all-time team ratings put the 1991-92 and 1992-93 Bulls over the second and third title teams the second time around. Still, the 72-win 1995-96 team was so dominant as to give the second three-peat the edge.
Friedell: The second one stands out to me because of the quality of teams the Bulls had to get through. They beat the Shaquille O’Neal-Penny Hardaway Orlando Magic in 1996 after losing to them in 1995. They beat the Shawn Kemp-Gary Payton Seattle SuperSonics in the 1996 Finals. The Reggie Miller-led Indiana Pacers took them to seven games in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. The John Stockton-Karl Malone Utah Jazz gave them a battle in two straight Finals. The competition in the later years was just better.
Herring: The second. Aside from the Bulls having a higher winning percentage during those years (and breaking the single-season wins mark), Jordan and Pippen were considerably older, which made their play only more impressive, and more rooted in cerebral qualities. There were better athletes than the Bulls, but you weren’t going to find a team with a higher collective IQ.
Spears: I guess the question would be who would win in a game? I was a big Horace Grant fan. But Dennis Rodman was a unique player. I would say the latter run was better because the Bulls were more experienced, championship tested, intimidating and had a Hall of Famer in Rodman.
3. What is your favorite Michael Jordan memory from the Bulls’ run?
Friedell: The Flu Game. That’s the game that made him even more mythical than he already was. That was the thing about MJ — he always found a way. No matter how he was feeling, how he was playing in a particular game, you knew he’d find a way to come through when it mattered most.
Herring: The moments that humanize Jordan have always been the best ones. In 1996, immediately after winning his first title since returning from retirement, he collapsed onto the court, cradling the ball in his hands, and wept. He then did the same thing after walking to the locker room. The day held significance to him: It was Father’s Day, and this was the first championship he’d won since his the murder of his father.
Goldsberry: This one is easy: the last 40 seconds of the 1998 Finals. Utah led 86-83. Jordan first took Bryon Russell to the rack for a quick 2 that everyone forgets, which brought the Bulls within one and secured the 2-for-1 in a huge situation. On the ensuing possession, the Jazz tried to kill clock before finally posting up Malone on the right block. Everyone knew it was coming, especially Michael, who swiped the ball from The Mailman right after the entry pass landed in Malone’s hands. The Bulls don’t call timeout and Jordan never passes before he goes and buries the series-clincher over Russell. That sequence exemplified the two-way clutch greatness of Jordan so perfectly and so dramatically.
Spears: My favorite moment was when MJ hit the winning jumper after a push off from my boy Bryon Russell. I once saw Russell — then with the Denver Nuggets — and then-interim Nuggets head coach Michael Cooper argue about who was embarrassed more. Russell during the Jordan game-winner or Cooper when he was dunked on by Julius Erving in a rock-the-baby move. The Nuggets players thought Cooper got the worst of it.
Pelton: Well, Gary Payton stripping Jordan in the final seconds to seal Chicago’s second loss of the 1995-96 season is my favorite memory. But setting aside my fandom, it has to be Jordan’s steal and winning shot in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals: about the most perfect ending to a season (and, seemingly, career) anyone has ever authored.
4. Who was the most unsung hero of those Bulls teams?
Herring: It’s hard to point to any one guy. But Jordan attracted so much defensive attention that the hero often ended up being whoever was left open and could knock down a pivotal shot. In the 1993 Finals, that was John Paxson. In the 1997 Finals, it was Steve Kerr. Craig Hodges was a great shooter, and Toni Kukoc couldn’t be left alone, either. So maybe it’s best to say that the jump-shooters on those teams carried far more value than normal.
Spears: Head coach Phil Jackson. While Jackson had Jordan, Pippen and a talented roster, it must have been difficult to deal with those personalities and egos. Even the guys who weren’t stars probably were treated like gods locally after they won a championship. Jackson’s job probably included daily challenges off the court more than on.
Pelton: Horace Grant. Grant was an outstanding role player who was a highly efficient scorer before it was cool (his .618 true shooting percentage in 1991-92 ranked fifth in the league) and a versatile defender. Grant’s advanced statistics suggest that, despite making only one All-Star team in his career, he should be a strong Hall of Fame candidate.
Friedell: Scottie Pippen. He gets plenty of plaudits for being a six-time champion — but it’s never enough because of the shadow that MJ’s greatness creates. Pippen was a supreme talent on both ends of the floor and found ways to change games on his own. Former teammates still revere him for the way he played and the impact he had on the team.
Goldsberry: Johnny Bach, a decorated WWII veteran and a defensive genius, who as an assistant coach was a culture driver who helped craft the Bulls’ defensive identity in their first three-peat. But don’t take my word for it — here’s what Jordan told the Chicago Tribune: “Coach Bach was truly one of the greatest basketball minds of all-time. He taught me so much, encouraged me, worked with me and really helped to mold my professional game. Without him, I don’t know that we would’ve won our first three championships. He was more than a coach to me. He was a great friend.”
5. What’s one thing fans who never watched those Bulls teams should know?
Goldsberry: Just how culturally significant those broadcasts were. It was like The Beatles on Ed Sullivan for a generation of us. I can still hear “Roundball Rock” in my head whenever I think of the Bulls. It really was must-see TV for the entire country.
Friedell: The aura of invincibility that team had throughout those two title runs was unlike anything I’ve seen since. The only sports comparison to me would be the equivalent of when Tiger Woods was in his prime in the early 2000s winning all the majors. Teams tried too hard to beat the Bulls — but the mental advantage that team held over its competition was something to behold.
Herring: How singularly dedicated the defenses were to stopping Jordan. The Detroit Pistons built a blueprint for how to go about stopping him, and when they got too old to follow that plan anymore, the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers gladly picked up where they left off. Everything from flagrant foul rules and hand-checking to the distance of the 3-point line changed, at least in part, because of how teams beat up on Jordan.
Spears: Jordan did what he did with hand-checking. Think about that? Imagine how many points per game Jordan would have averaged and how dominant he would have been if there was not hand-checking, as is the case in today’s NBA.
Pelton: The Bulls’ ability to rise to the moment. They weren’t unbeatable, even at their best. But they always found a way to come up with the big plays necessary to avoid a Game 7 in their Finals appearances and to win the handful they played against East foes (1992 vs. New York and 1998 vs. Indiana). Naturally, a lot of that had to do with the guy wearing No. 23.
How the Charlotte Hornets are adding Kobe Bryant and playoff basketball to their break
Every team is searching for ways to remain connected during the NBA’s COVID-19 hiatus and the resulting self-isolation. Strength coaches have crafted workout plans for players and dispatched exercise equipment. The best teams have the most incentive to stay in tip-top shape and hold each other accountable, since they will have something to play for if the season resumes.
Lottery teams have to look beyond immediate goals to keep players engaged. One head coach is compiling a reading list of seminal sports journalism for players to read.
James Borrego, the Charlotte Hornets‘ coach, came up with something different: He picked one playoff series for the team to watch — one game every day or two — and break down in video chats and text chains.
“Basketball culture today is so much about watching specific plays,” Borrego told ESPN. “Guys watch their highlights. They watch edits of their own minutes. This is about studying an entire series, game by game. What can we learn? What adjustments do you see?”
Borrego didn’t want a series that was too recent. He spent a decade as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, but he was wary about pushing that connection too hard. He settled on the Denver Nuggets–Los Angeles Lakers first-round series from 2012 — a seven-game barnburner that was also the last series win of Kobe Bryant’s career.
Borrego liked the contrast of styles: the run-and-gun Nuggets against the behemoth Lakers, starting the Pau Gasol-Andrew Bynum mega-frontcourt. Bynum averaged 17 points and 12 rebounds per game for the series, and put up a triple-double — including 10 blocked shots — in the Lakers’ Game 1 win.
“A lot of our guys probably don’t even know Andrew Bynum,” Borrego said.
The series was also incredibly physical. The offensive teams rebounded almost 37% of all misses, a mark that would lead the league today by a laughable margin. The teams combined for 47 offensive rebounds in the Lakers’ 96-87 win in Game 7; Gasol had six — all in a row — on one pivotal fourth-quarter possession.
“Part of this is to show them what physical playoff basketball looks like,” Borrego said. “This is where we want to get to someday. Let’s study it.”
Cody Zeller has been to the playoffs twice, but he thinks it is useful for younger teammates to absorb postseason urgency. “It’s at another level,” he said. “Even the crowds. The young players are realizing the intensity of it.”
Jalen McDaniels, a rookie forward, texted Borrego that the physicality caught him off guard, the coach said.
Borrego liked that the style of play was so different than now — and well beyond the emphasis on crashing the offensive boards. Denver’s pace — second in 2011-12 — would rank last today. Both teams attempted 19 3s per game in the series; no team averages fewer than 27.5 now.
“It’s crazy to see how much the game has changed,” McDaniels said.
On Monday, Borrego held 30-minute Zoom meetings with players to discuss the first three games of the series. One group featured Zeller, McDaniels and Willy Hernangomez; Zeller immediately tried to get Hernangomez to admit to Borrego how many hours per day he has been playing Fortnite. Hernangomez responded by pointing out how much he had been working out, before Zeller badgered him into revealing the real number: eight to 10 hours per day, Zeller said.
“As teammates, we can get on each other’s nerves being around each other so much,” Zeller said. “But then one day apart, and it’s like, ‘Man, those are my best friends.'”
All the players said they enjoyed learning more about the classic NBA characters in that series. Obviously, today’s players love watching peak Bryant — now more than ever. Bynum has become something of a curiosity. “People forget how good Bynum was,” Zeller said. “He was a monster.”
Caleb Martin said he was surprised at the speed and athleticism of a young Danilo Gallinari, playing almost full time as a wing.
“You know of these guys, but you never sit down and actually watch them play a full game,” Cody Martin said.
Metta World Peace missed the first six games of the series after the league suspended him seven games for elbowing James Harden — then of the Oklahoma City Thunder — in the head in the Lakers’ second-to-last regular-season game. His return for Game 7 — after two straight Denver wins to knot the series — inspired a classic semi-motivational, semi-cranky Bryant remark.
“He’s the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete and play hard and play with that sense of urgency and play with no fear,” Bryant told reporters ahead of Game 7. “So, I’m looking forward to having that by my side again.”
It was probably not a coincidence that Gasol had combined for just 12 points in games 5 and 6, culminating in a dreadful 1-of-10 performance in Denver’s series-tying win. Bynum was also subpar in that game.
The Lakers built that 3-1 lead after what felt at the time like a typical gut-punch Game 4 road win by the favorites. Ramon Sessions and then Steve Blake iced that game in the last minute in Denver on catch-and-shoot 3s out of Bryant pick-and-rolls.
Both were open, which Bryant surmised was the case because they had missed similar looks earlier — nearly fracturing Bryant’s trust in them.
“If you’re observing the game in the third quarter, I hit Sessions for an open shot, Blake for an open shot and [Matt] Barnes for an open shot and they missed all three,” Bryant said after the game. “George [Karl], being observant as he is, saw I was [ticked]. I was and didn’t think I would trust them at the end of the game to knock down those shots, but they stepped up and knocked them down.”
The Lakers had traded for Sessions at the deadline that season — three months after they had nearly acquired Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets. David Stern, then the commissioner acting as New Orleans governor, nixed the trade. Sessions ended up the Lakers’ stopgap.
Meanwhile, Denver played two point guards — Ty Lawson and Andre Miller — at once for large portions of the series, and Miller is a player Borrego wants all of his guys to watch. “He was so good, and so smart,” Borrego said.
The coach wants Graham to pay close attention to Miller — to both his playmaking and how Miller managed to remain a threat off the ball (and despite a famously shaky jumper) when Lawson ran the offense. Graham has emerged as Charlotte’s primary engine on offense, but he has to work away from the ball some when Terry Rozier takes the reins.
“Devonte’ and Andre are very different, but I want him to see the game the way Andre saw it,” Borrego said. Graham in the Zoom session on Monday mentioned how impressive it was to watch Lawson — listed at just 5-foot-11 — finish around the rim, Borrego said; Graham shot just 54% in the restricted area this season.
Borrego is peppering other Charlotte players with questions about tactics and adjustments. He told Washington and Miles Bridges, Charlotte’s cornerstone young tweener forwards, to watch how Kenneth Faried changed games with energy and rim running.
He instructed the Martin twins to focus on Corey Brewer’s end-to-end derring-do. Mostly, the players were happy to be with each other again — even just virtually.
“Honestly,” Zeller said, “it was just good to see everyone.”
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