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NBA likely to use target score again in next year’s All-Star Game

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It is a “good assumption” the NBA will use a target score to end next season’s All-Star Game after experimenting with the concept for the first time Sunday, Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, told ESPN on Wednesday in New York.

That is not set in stone yet, as league higher-ups have not fully debriefed since Sunday, Spruell said. But there is real momentum behind using the concept going forward at the All-Star Game.

Team LeBron [James] defeated Team Giannis [Antetokounmpo] 157-155 on an Anthony Davis free throw that took Team LeBron’s score up to the designated target of 157. The league tabulated that number by adding 24, one of Kobe Bryant’s jersey numbers, to the leading team’s score after three quarters.

The idea is similar to the Elam Ending used in The Basketball Tournament, a $2 million winner-take-all tournament held over the summer. Nick Elam, a professor at Ball State University, came up with the idea of generating a target score by adding points to the leading team’s total once the clock crosses a certain threshold in the fourth quarter. His main goal was to eliminate intentional fouls. He pitched the idea across the NBA before finding a willing audience with The Basketball Tournament. That event currently adds eight points to the leading team’s score once the clock hits 4:00.

The Big Three, a 3-on-3 league co-founded by Ice Cube, also uses a target score instead of a running clock.

The NBA and the players’ association have been working for years to make the All-Star Game more competitive. Changes began in 2017-18, when the league scrapped the East-versus-West format and replaced it with one in which two captains pick teams from among 24 All-Stars.

Thunder guard Chris Paul, the president of the NBA Basketball Players Association, coached a team in The Basketball Tournament last year and grew fond of the Elam Ending. He suggested it as one potential tweak for the All-Star Game in meetings with the league earlier this season, Paul and Adam Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, have said. Jose Calderon, special assistant for Michele Roberts, the executive director of the players’ association, and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, a member of the NBA’s competition committee, were also enthusiastic supporters, Spruell said.

The group initially discussed calculating the target score by adding 38 — the average 4th quarter output per team under the dueling captains All-Star system, Spruell said — to the leading team’s total after the third quarter. They dropped that to 35, and then to 24 to honor Bryant. If they use a target score again next season, they will likely add more than 24 to the leading team’s score and incorporate at least one television timeout, Spruell said.

The 4th quarter of Sunday’s game featured intense play over the equivalent of 15 minutes of game time and 39 minutes of real time, league officials told ESPN.

“The intensity popped,” Spruell said. “The guys really bought in.”

“The ending was good,” Nick Nurse, the Toronto Raptors coach who helmed Team Giannis, told ESPN. “And it would be even more interesting with some practice.”

The NBA will “discuss” using the target score system in the G League, but any full-scale adaptation there seems unlikely. The league has some concern about making G League play too different from play in the parent league, since one of the G League’s main functions is to prepare players, coaches and referees for the NBA, Spruell said.

“We want to have as much consistency of play as possible,” between the G League and the NBA, Spruell said.

A first step might be using the target score system at the annual G League Showcase, Spruell said.

The league will also discuss using a target score in the elimination rounds of any midseason tournament, should the Board of Governors at some point vote in favor of adding one to the league schedule. The league wanted to add a midseason tournament and a separate play-in tournament for the final two playoff spots in each conference — among other scheduling changes — for the NBA’s 75th anniversary season in 2021-22, but hopes for that appeared to dwindle last month when the NBA backed off plans to bring the measures to a Board of Governors vote in April.

Spruell reiterated that adding both remains on the NBA’s wish list, and that the league would like to add them at the same time — as opposed to adding one without the other. The league has not abandoned hope of adding them in time for the 2021-22 season; the Board of Governors could vote on those measures again in September, Spruell said.

The league is still considering reseeding the final four in the playoffs by overall record, regardless of conference affiliation, but Spruell acknowledged a relative lack of support for that plank of the NBA’s slate of reforms.

“It’s still up for discussion,” he said. “It just didn’t have as much of a favorable reaction as the other two pieces.”

The most recent version of the in-season tournament included pool play, with designated tournament games built into each team’s regular schedule. The top-eight teams based on the results of pool play would then meet in a single-elimination tournament. Under the most recent proposal, all games — including pool play — would fall between Christmas and the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Spruell said.

The league has considered using a 40-minute format for games in the elimination portion of the tournament, Spruell said. Given the outcome of the All-Star Game on Sunday, the league will also discuss the possibility of using an Elam Ending-style target score in those elimination games, Spruell said.

“We were already looking at 40-minute games to make those games look a little different,” he said. “So here again [the target score] is something we would consider.”

If the NBA uses the target score at next season’s All Star Game, they may tinker with the rules so that the game cannot end on a free throw, Spruell said. They have already discussed taking points away from any team that commits a shooting foul on a potential winning shot instead of awarding free throws, Spruell said. They could also force that team to remove the player who committed the foul and replace him with someone else for a certain number of possessions, Spruell said.

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Nike athletes celebrate Air Max Day

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In the spirit of social media-focused holidays throughout the course of the year, Nike’s “Air Max Day” on Thursday saw a host of its highest-profile endorsers and sneakerheads sharing their pairs across Instagram and Twitter, honoring the original March 26, 1987, release date of the company’s first Air Max sneaker.

Originally designed in the mid-1980s by Nike campus architect Tinker Hatfield, the premise of exposing the company’s decade-old Air cushioning technology became a turning point for the Swoosh.

Hatfield was inspired during a trip to Paris, where he encountered the controversial Centre Georges Pompidou, a massive museum highlighted by its inside-out design, fully exposing its structure in varying colors.

“To see this large, almost machinelike building, sort of spilling its guts out into the world, you could just see everything,” Hatfield said.

Once back in Beaverton, Oregon, Hatfield sketched up the Air Max 1 sneaker, boasting a visible heel window to highlight the brand’s Nike Air system for the very first time.

Slated for release in 1987, the running shoe would go on to help turn the tide for Nike, which had posted less than $10 million in profits amid a slowing stretch just before Hatfield penned the Air Max 1.

“The Air Max, Air Revolution, Air Safari and Air Sock were done under that same time, and oh by the way, the third Air Jordan, too,” he said years ago, with a laugh.

By 1989, company profits topped $167 million, with the turn of the decade and launch of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign taking the brand to another stratosphere during the 1990s. The Air Max franchise became an annual launch of new editions ever since, with the series now dwarfing that 1989 company profit figure all on its own.

“That entire Air pack of shoes, including the Air Max, was probably pretty pivotal in changing around Nike’s direction,” Hatfield said.

To celebrate the iconic series Thursday, Nike athletes took to Instagram to show off their favorite pairs.

With an “Atmos” edition of the Air Max 1 on his feet, LeBron James hosted an Instagram Live session for his 62 million followers on his @KingJames account, guiding fans through a handful of Air Max 1, 90, 95 and 97s in his sneaker closet. At one point, the tour included the 6-foot-9 small forward stepping onto a ladder to reach up for even more pairs.

“Air Max 90s is one of my favorites, too — just how comfortable they are,” James said. “They feel like slippers when you put them on.”

Holding down his own Instagram Live tour for the official @NBA account’s 47 million followers, the league’s leading sneakerhead, P. J. Tucker, gave a glimpse into his “sneaker condo,” where he houses over a thousand pairs in floor-to-ceiling, stacked clear boxes. His Air Max section alone spans a few hundred pairs.

“The Air Max 1 is my favorite. I got my Air Max 1s for days,” Tucker said. “Hands down the shoe that I wear the most.”

While much of the appeal around the series is based on nostalgia, versatility and the endless limited editions and exclusives colorways, the series has continued to grow over the years, more recently adding the VaporMax and Air Max 720 to the franchise.

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant, already rising through the ranks of Nike’s list of NBA endorsers, helped to officially debut the new Air Max 2090 earlier Thursday. Two of the biggest WNBA sneakerheads also shared their favorite pairs, as Sue Bird posted a beloved Air Max 90, while Tamera Young showed off a batch of her own favorite editions.

Over the past three seasons, Houston Rockets forward Thabo Sefolosha has gained somewhat of a cult following for exclusively wearing the Air Max 90 in games. The conspicuous choice raises eyebrows among both teammates and opponents, but the 14-year veteran has stuck with his rotation of a dozen colorways nevertheless. Last year, as a show of appreciation, Nike surprised him with two custom editions of the model.

“People ask me all the time, ‘How do I play in them?’ I just lace them up and run,” Sefolosha once told ESPN’s Eric Woodyard. “I just play in what’s comfortable, to be honest. That was the main thing for me, just being comfortable.”

Now more than three decades since its launch, the impact of a French museum’s inspiration long since has been felt on the feet of millions around the world, with the Air Max series serving as Nike’s hallmark technology and cushioning system even all these years later.

“[The Pompidou] painted everything in bright colors, because they wanted those things to be visible from a distance, be striking, and maybe shake people up a little more,” Hatfield said. “I think that’s what happened with the Air Max, too — I really wanted to just push it as far as I could possibly push it, without being fired.”

Of course, with NBA athletes sidelined indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, each athlete made a point to acknowledge the challenging time and express hope that a lighthearted sneaker tour and sharing his favorite pairs could bring some levity.

“I hope y’all are enjoying Air Max Day as much as I am,” James signed off. “Stay safe, and enjoy your loved ones.”



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Globetrotters legend Fred ‘Curly’ Neal dies at 77

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Fred “Curly” Neal, the face of the Harlem Globetrotters for 22 years, died Thursday morning in Houston at the age of 77, the team announced on Twitter.

Neal, with his slick ballhandling skills, recognizable shaved head and playful banter, in 2008 became just the fifth Globetrotters player to have his jersey retired, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Marques Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon and Goose Tatum. His jersey was raised to the rafters of Madison Square Garden during a special ceremony.

He also was presented with the Globetrotters’ prestigious “Legends” ring in 1998 for making “a major contribution to the success and the development of the Globetrotters organization.”

“We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known,” Globetrotters general manager Jeff Munn said in a statement. “Curly’s basketball skill was unrivaled by most, and his warm heart and huge smile brought joy to families worldwide. He always made time for his many fans and inspired millions.”

Neal played in more than 6,000 games in 97 countries for the barnstorming Globetrotters from 1963 to 1985, when the team appeared in numerous televised specials, talk shows, television shows and even cartoons that included the team’s own animated series.

“For those who say the game has evolved? I say what’s old is new again!” Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas tweeted Thursday. “… Curly Neal and Marcus Haynes taught me how to dribble.”

Neal joined the Globetrotters after averaging more than 23 points per game during his senior year while leading Johnson C. Smith University to the CIAA title.



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NBA’s top executives to have salaries reduced by 20%

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In the midst of a shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA is reducing base salaries by 20% for about 100 of the league office’s top-earning executives around the world, sources tell ESPN.

Many of the executives and officials who are impacted work in the league’s New York headquarters, including commissioner Adam Silver and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, sources said.

These reductions will be implemented immediately and are expected to continue through the course of the coronavirus crisis, sources said.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass wouldn’t confirm ESPN’s reporting but said: “These are unprecedented times and, like other companies across all industries, we need to take short-term steps to deal with the harsh economic impact on our business and organization.”

There are no widespread cuts to the rest of the organization, and no support or administrative staff are impacted, sources told ESPN.

The NBA has been on hiatus since March 11 and expects to be shut down for a significant period before it can consider resuming the regular season and operating its playoffs.

The NBA recently extended its credit limit to $1.2 billion, ESPN reported, which gives it the flexibility to infuse more cash into its operating expenses.

The Philadelphia 76ers reversed course on a plan to cut salaries by 20% for employees who made over $50,000. Backlash internally and externally caused the team’s owners to change their minds and continue to pay full salaries.

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