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Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving starts on Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers



CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving returned after a two-week hiatus on Wednesday and started for the first time alongside Brooklyn Nets stars Kevin Durant and James Harden against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Before the game, coach Steve Nash declined to say how many minutes he was targeting for Irving to play, but said that he will have a “mindfulness approach” to Irving’s playing time.

“Let’s hope we have a game that can protect him and not overdo it,” Nash said. “But whenever I say that it always works in reverse. We hope he doesn’t have to play 40 minutes tonight and I’ll leave it at that.”

Nash said that he was “curious” to see how the game would unfold with Irving, Durant and Harden on the floor together for the first time.

“I’m not in a rush,” Nash said. “Like, if tonight it doesn’t feel good or feel right I’m not like, ‘Oh no.’ I’m just like, ‘OK good, we got one down and we’ll take a look at it and we’ll keep working at it.'”

Irving practiced with the team on Tuesday. He had missed the Nets’ past seven games — five for personal reasons and two while conditioning.

During the time away for personal reasons, the league fined Irving for violating health and safety protocols and attending what appeared to be a family birthday party. He also lost over $800,000 in salary for the two games he missed while in quarantine.

Irving is averaging 27.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists in seven games this season.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic to LeBron James



AC Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic criticized LeBron James and others on Thursday for their activism in what the former LA Galaxy star called “politics.”

Speaking in an interview for UEFA for Discovery+ in Sweden on Thursday, the outspoken striker said that although he admired James’ talent, it’s a “mistake” when athletes step out of their lane and get involved socially and politically.

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“[LeBron] is phenomenal at what he’s doing, but I don’t like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time,” Ibrahimovic said. “Do what you’re good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I’m the best at playing football.

“I don’t do politics. If I would be a political politician, I would do politics. That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn’t look good.”

James has been a force for social change and political action. His More Than a Vote organization drew more than 42,000 volunteers to work at polling stations for the November election, helped some earn back their voting rights and pushed for turnout among Black people and young voters.

He has also focused on his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

The I Promise School he opened in 2018 now has over 450 students in third through sixth grades. When the pandemic shut down the school, James and his team ensured students got hot meals delivered to their homes — even complete Thanksgiving meals. An affordable housing project for 50 families broke ground this year. And in December, plans for House Three Thirty (a nod to Akron’s area code) were announced, detailing how James is going to offer things like accessible family financial health programming, job training and a community gathering space.

“I still know what I do on the floor, and obviously, I give everything to the game,” James told The Associated Press in December. “But I can make a greater impact off the floor right now, more than I can on the floor. And I want to continue to inspire people with the way I play the game of basketball. But there’s so many more things that I can do off the floor to help cultivate people, inspire people, bring people together, empower them.”

His outspokenness hasn’t always been well-received, however. In February of 2018, a prominent conservative commentator famously told him to “shut up and dribble” in response to his “talking politics.”

Ibrahimovic has made headlines for acrobatic goals, bombastic boasts and on-field controversy throughout his wildly successful soccer career.

In January, he faced accusations of racism after a clash with Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku during a Coppa Italia quarterfinal clash. Ibrahimovic, who often refers to himself in the third person, was accused of having used offensive language during his spat with Lukaku and later posted a message on social media reiterating that he is against racism, with his coach later backing his claims.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Pandemic changes NBA draft rules for seniors



In a shift from years past, the NBA league office will require college seniors to petition the league for inclusion on the NBA early-entry list in order to become draft-eligible in 2021.

Last October, due to disruptions caused by the pandemic, the NCAA granted an additional year of eligibility to winter athletes, meaning every senior in college basketball is eligible to return for an additional season in 2021-22.

While the NBA is requiring players to “opt in” to the draft, the NFL took the opposite stance last month, requiring graduating college seniors (who played four years) to opt out by March 1 if they intend on returning to college for their additional year of eligibility.

This NBA’s move is expected to result in a record-breaking number of players on the NBA draft’s early-entry list, which last year had 163 college underclassmen.

Garth Glissman, Vice President of Basketball Operations for the NBA, told ESPN this was the right approach for NBA teams, and college basketball players.

“If you think about all that college students across the world and college basketball players have been through — they are in this situation through none of their doing,” he said. “They didn’t want the pandemic to abruptly end last season. They certainly didn’t want to play through a pandemic this season. This entire situation has occurred by virtue of circumstances beyond their control. So we didn’t think it was appropriate to add on to their plate an additional layer of responsibility that they have to affirmatively opt out. We’re essentially taking on the administrative burdens at a time that these players have enough on their plates and are in this situation for reasons that are completely beyond their control.”

According to the NBA collective bargaining agreement, graduating college seniors — meaning those who have exhausted their four years of NCAA eligibility — are automatically eligible for the NBA draft and do not need to declare themselves eligible via the early-entry list.

“The player has graduated from a four-year college or university in the United States, and has no remaining intercollegiate basketball eligibility.”

With the NCAA granting all players an extra year, the second part of that rule is no longer applicable, as every player in college basketball has “remaining intercollegiate basketball eligibility.”

The language required the NBA to consult with the NBA players association and the NCAA to determine whether to automatically include all seniors in the draft “unless they elect not to avail themself of the fifth year of college eligibility,” like the NFL stated, or instead require players to opt in to the NBA draft this spring.

According ESPN Stats & Information, 19.7% of players drafted over the past five years have been NCAA seniors.

In terms of the timetable for when players must declare themselves eligible for the NBA draft and begin the process of “testing the waters” to determine their likelihood of being selected, quite a bit of uncertainty still exists.

In normal years, the NBA requires underclassmen (and non-automatically eligible international players) to declare their eligibility by the middle to latter part of April, consistent with CBA language stating that the NBA early-entry deadline is 60 days prior to the NBA draft (normally held the third week of June). While it’s still unknown when the 2021 NBA draft will be held, it is typically conducted in the week following the NBA Finals, which would be late July this year based on the current NBA calendar.

The deadline for when college basketball players must decide whether to keep their names on the early-entry list — a separate date from the NBA’s withdrawal deadline — is also still up in the air. NCAA guidelines identify their early entry withdrawal deadline as being 10 days after the conclusion of the NBA Combine. The date for the 2021 Combine, as well as the format, remains undecided. In 2020, the NCAA pushed the deadline to August 3 due to the NBA calendar shift.

Given the current state of NBA safety protocols around the coronavirus pandemic, and the stress that has put on its 30 teams logistically, it appears unlikely that draft prospects will be able to start their pre-draft process or have contact with NBA teams in terms of conducting workouts or interviews until late May or possibly June. Any modifications to the 60-day period between the release of the NBA early-entry list and the draft would have to be collectively bargained with the NBA players association. The NBA regular season is currently scheduled to conclude on May 16 this year, about a month later than normal.

The situation would also lead to a significant amount of uncertainty for college basketball teams regarding the construction of their rosters until deep into the summer. A one-time transfer waiver provision is expected to be passed by the NCAA, which would allow all college basketball players the ability to switch schools one time without sitting out a season.

Players testing the NBA draft waters will likely want to first get an accurate gauge of their professional prospects before deciding on whether to return to school, and then for which school to play for. The possibility of receiving payments under name, image and likeness legislation, which may be resolved this spring or summer, could further complicate their decision-making process.

The NFL’s decision to force college seniors to opt out of their draft to take advantage of the extra year of NCAA eligibility created a hard deadline that currently does not exist for college basketball.

With the season ending for most college basketball players in the next three weeks, a long dead period lasting until at least the end of May before players are permitted to communicate with NBA teams will likely cause significant uncertainty.

To account for that void, the NBA says it will ramp up its education of players through its Undergraduate Advisory Committee.

The UAC was formed in 1997 to assist players in the NBA draft decision-making process, and in recent years has played a larger role — especially last year due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Prior to the early-entry deadline, the UAC sends NBA executives a series of emails with a list of names of players who are seeking feedback, requesting their team’s assessment of players’ draft stock. Players are then informed of the consensus reached by weighing the NBA executives’ responses and offering feedback on whether the player is likely to be a lottery pick, first-rounder, second-rounder or undrafted.

“We are going to work diligently to enhance our communications to the college basketball community,” Glissman said. “We, both the NCAA and the NBA recognize the need for education on an ongoing basis throughout this year’s draft process. There’s more uncertainty this year than in a normal year. So we have mutually committed to trying to do our best to provide that ongoing education to college players, coaches, and family members, with the full intention of helping young men make an informed decision at an important time in their life. We have a track record that we built up a relationship with the NCAA in recent years to really hit on this educational theme, and we intend to really ramp it up this year.”

“This is a continuation of something that we’ve been working hard at in the last few years. For the third year now, we are providing student athletes written feedback, first prior to the early entry deadline, so they get that initial feedback prior to deciding whether they want to enter the draft. And then if they do enter, and they’re contemplating whether to stay in or return to school, they get a second round of written feedback.”

The NCAA will now need to decide when to require players to withdraw from the NBA draft, as well as any deadlines they may put in place for when players must opt-in or out of their extra year of eligibility. Some of that will likely depend on the dates the NBA decides for its draft and combine.

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How Chicago Bulls guard Coby White is raising awareness for Black History Month



When Coby White walked into the United Center for the Chicago Bulls‘ Feb. 12 matchup against the LA Clippers, he wasn’t styled in the latest designer attire.

White sported a white hoodie featuring a black-and-white photograph of the Texas Western squad that won the 1966 NCAA men’s basketball championship — the first team to start five Black players in the title game — beating Kentucky’s all-white squad 72-65.

“‘Glory Road’ is like my favorite sports movie of all time. And what they did and what Don Haskins did by starting all five African Americans, especially in the national championship game, he started a new wave,” White told ESPN. “For us, as African Americans, we were looked at as just being athletic and we don’t know how to think the game. We don’t have no IQ. So for him to do that, he kind of started the wave that we’re no different than anybody else out there on the basketball court and playing sport.”

Though it was his tribute to Texas Western that drew attention on social media, White has been using his arena entrances as a platform for issues important to him throughout much of this season. During Black History Month he has put an increased focus on spotlighting significant figures in the Black community: Matthew Henson, credited as co-discoverer of the North Pole; civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin, who was arrested at age 15 for refusing to move to the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white person (nine months before Rosa Parks’ actions started a national movement); Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager who was fatally shot by former neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman in February 2012 while visiting his father in Sanford, Florida.

“Coby’s a man of few words. Until he gets super comfortable with you, he’s an introvert,” said his sister Tia, who helps him pick the people to highlight. “Before the season, he was at my house and we were just chatting and I said, ‘Would you like to use your platform more?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but I want to be me. I’m not Donovan Mitchell. I’m not Chris Paul. I want to do it my way.’ And I said, ‘Well, you like hoodies, so why don’t we find what’s important to you and you love hoodies and we’ll highlight what’s important to you.'”

Gone were the outfits White used to arrive in, replaced by custom messages made by A3 Craaaftz, a Black-owned business based in Maryland run by Adria Davis, a longtime friend of the family.

They call it “raising aWEARness.”

White started with different mantras such as “Honor Black Women” on a black hoodie and “Black Lives Matter” on a face mask when he entered the building for the home opener against the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 23. “Mental Health Matters” was the message for the Bulls’ Jan. 18 home game against the Houston Rockets.

And through this personal form of activism, White is learning his own history along the way.

“To be honest, I never heard of her until now,” White said of Colvin. “I always like learning new stuff and especially in our Black culture and Black history so it’s been fun for me also.”

After an up-and-down rookie season that was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, White is averaging 15.2 points, 5.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds this season. Bulls teammate Garrett Temple praised White for his desire to learn, both on and off the court.

“Coby is like a little brother I never had, he’s just annoying,” Temple said. “Always around. Always asking questions, trying to get knowledge, trying to learn. … He’s a guy that definitely wants to learn, is listening, wants to know more about the game, more about different players, what I see and ways that he can get better.”

Still, White knows that no matter how much he learns and how well he plays, there are still challenges he’ll face on a day-to-day basis, notably as a Black man wearing a hoodie. Just last week, before Chicago’s Feb. 17 home game against the Detroit Pistons, White found himself the target of a skeptical mail carrier, who didn’t believe that White lived at his home address.

“I just accept the fact that we’re gonna be looked at differently no matter what. But my thing is, I’m the type of person that never gives up. We just can’t quit fighting,” he said. “One day, something is going to change in a positive way.”

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