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Dwyane Wade buys ownership stake in Utah Jazz, wants hands-on role

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Three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade has purchased an ownership stake in the Utah Jazz, joining majority owner and team governor Ryan Smith with plans to take an active role in the franchise and region.

Wade, an eight-time All-NBA player with the Miami Heat, is the latest of several Hall of Fame-level players with NBA ownership stakes, including Grant Hill (Atlanta Hawks), Shaquille O’Neal (Sacramento Kings) and Charlotte Hornets majority owner Michael Jordan. Magic Johnson previously had a 4% stake in the Los Angeles Lakers.

“This goes way beyond the dream I had to just play basketball in the NBA,” Wade told ESPN. “I’ve seen Shaq do it in Sacramento. I’ve seen Grant Hill do it in Atlanta. I’ve seen Jordan do it in Charlotte. If this partnership is going to be anything like my relationship is with Ryan, there are going to be a lot of things that I’ll want to be involved in. …

“Unfortunately, people in my community don’t get this opportunity, and I do not take it lightly to have this opportunity. To make real change, this is where you have to be — at the top — and Ryan knows that. I’m thankful for him, and I know too that I bring a lot to this partnership outside of just my basketball knowledge and skills.”

Wade, 39, met Smith on a San Clemente, California, golf course shortly after his retirement from playing in 2019, and they became fast friends. Wade wanted to understand about Smith’s tech empire, including his company Qualtrics, and calls him a mentor. Smith, 42, raised the idea of Wade joining the ownership group upon completing a $1.66 billion purchase of the Jazz in October.

The NBA has a bylaw that ownership stakes can be no less than 1% of the team, but Wade’s financial investment in the franchise is not immediately clear.

Wade joins a small ownership group that includes Smith and his wife, Ashley; investor and Accel partner Ryan Sweeney; Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes; and the Miller family, which previously owned the team.

“Dwyane has had a chance to be part of so many different [ownership] groups if he wanted that,” Smith told ESPN. “We’ve basically been in discussion from the time we closed on the team on how we can get this done. Like I run my tech business, you want the brightest people around.

“There is a broad picture here. It’s much more than just basketball. This league is the biggest platform that there is, and we ran toward that. This isn’t a league where we came in saying, ‘Hey, this has gone somewhere we’re not comfortable with.’ This is actually what we signed up for. We’re the newest ownership group. We’re the youngest. Dwyane’s a perfect fit.

“It wasn’t like we wanted more partners; that wasn’t what we were trying to do. I want to work with Dwyane on and off the court, on the business side, and so do our partners — because of who he is as a human being and what he’s accomplished. Those are the kinds of people you want around.”

Wade didn’t say whether he had significant conversations with Heat ownership surrounding a financial stake in the franchise where he spent 14-plus seasons of his career. He described his strong, personal relationship with Smith and a shared vision for that business partnership as the driving force for securing the Jazz stake.

“The respect I that I have for that [Heat] organization will not go anywhere, the love that I have for the [Heat] fans — that goes nowhere,” Wade told ESPN. “But this is about the next phase of my life as an investor, a businessman, an entrepreneur. For me, this is an opportunity to grow.”

Wade described a synergy to Smith’s progressive vision of transforming the Jazz’s success on the court — including a league-leading 41-14 record — into becoming a cultural leader in the community and state. Beyond Smith’s lifelong love of the Jazz and basketball, his devotion to social causes made the organization an easy sell to Wade. Smith has dedicated a four-year college scholarship to an underserved student for every Jazz victory this season and partnered with Apple CEO Tim Cook to invest $4 million into the construction of eight Encircle homes, which provide safe-haven homes for LGBTQ youth and their families. Smith has embraced the Black Lives Matter movement, publicly supporting his players on those issues.

“We’re not running away from the racial and social and LGBTQ conversations,” Wade told ESPN. “I’m committed to doing the work. I talk about the LGBTQ community, which everyone knows is important to me. My daughter is part of that community.

“I don’t look at this as only a Utah Jazz relationship. I look at this as a relationship that’s multifaceted — business, basketball, me being able to bring Ryan into my world just as he’s bringing me into his world.”

Wade has had a strong relationship with Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, who has regularly been compared to Wade since his arrival in the NBA.

“I call him 2.0,” Wade told ESPN. “If there’s a player similar to me, it’s Donovan Mitchell.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Mitchell had spent time shadowing Wade in South Florida.

“He wanted to ride in the car with me, go to the gym and shoot, and really wanted to pick my brain,” Wade said. “He’s on that short list of people who call me and talk for hours. We’ve got a big brother-little brother relationship.”

That relationship will have an opportunity to grow, and so will Wade’s role on the basketball side with the Jazz. Saying “they have the right people in place,” Wade sees an opportunity to pick his spots to contribute on the team side.

From free-agent meetings to individual counsel, Wade said he is fully invested in the franchise’s future. Wade, wife Gabrielle Union and family live in Los Angeles, a short flight from Utah. They spent Valentine’s Day skiing in Park City. “I fell on my ass a lot of times,” Wade said. “Ryan is showing us every inch of Utah.”

Said Smith: “Every city in every state is looking at leaders in their community to help. Whether it’s Minnesota, New York or L.A., what we do is something that can be leveraged to drive the culture of an entire [region]. That’s the work Dwyane and our group are talking about. We’re in a world where basketball is uniting this state when everything else in the world is trying to divide us. If we can take that platform and do good and lead and write change for the future, we can look back and say, ‘Wow, that’s what legacy is about.'”

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Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley to miss Game 2 vs. LA Clippers

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Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley has been ruled out of Thursday’s Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the LA Clippers due to a mild strain of his right hamstring.

Conley, who also missed Game 1, suffered the injury during the first half of Utah’s series-ending win over the Memphis Grizzlies last Wednesday.

Conley, 33, an All-Star for the first time this season, has missed significant time because of injuries to both hamstrings during his two seasons in Utah. He missed six games in February and nine games in late April and May due to tightness in his right hamstring.

Conley averaged 17.4 points and 8.6 assists for the top-seeded Jazz in the first round.

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.

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USA Basketball sets plan for Olympic camps in Las Vegas

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For USA Basketball, the last stop before the Tokyo Olympics will be Las Vegas.

The men’s and women’s national teams will hold training camps in Las Vegas in July, they announced Thursday, and they’ll be playing seven exhibitions there against other Olympics-bound national teams as well.

USA Basketball will open its men’s training camp, led by coach Gregg Popovich, in Las Vegas on July 6. The Olympic men’s teams from Australia, Nigeria, Argentina and reigning Basketball World Cup champion Spain will also be spending some time in Las Vegas; Argentina will start its training camp there this month.

The U.S. women’s training camp under coach Dawn Staley will likely open around July 12; the WNBA break for the Olympics starts after the games of July 11. The Olympic women’s teams joining the U.S. in Las Vegas are Australia and Nigeria.

It’ll all take place at the MGM Resorts, which was announced as USA Basketball’s training camp home and resorts partner with the sides having now agreed to a multi-year sponsorship deal.

“USA Basketball is proud to expand its partnership with MGM Resorts,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said. “We’re excited to bring our national teams to their properties as we prepare for the challenging competition that lies ahead this summer.”

The U.S. men are seeking a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal, the U.S. women their seventh in a row. Both will enter the Olympics ranked No. 1 by FIBA, the sport’s international governing body — though it remains unknown who the Americans will have on their rosters for the rescheduled Tokyo Games.

Those rosters could be set by the end of June. Some top NBA players such as Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard of the LA Clippers and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers have expressed some interest in being part of the Olympic team; others, such as LeBron James and Anthony DavisLos Angeles Lakers teammates who were dealing with injuries when their season ended last week — are not planning to join the team.

All teams in Las Vegas will be taking part in what USA Basketball described as “comprehensive health and safety protocols … including mandatory and regular COVID-19 PCR testing, administered to athletes, coaches, officials and staff in accordance with FIBA and USA Basketball recommendations and CDC guidelines.”

Those concerns are why the international teams opted to spend time in Las Vegas. Argentina’s men’s team is conducting the entirety of its three-week camp there before flying to Tokyo, simply because it believes a controlled environment and less traveling between different countries will minimize virus-related risks before the Olympics.

“We were lucky and, at the same time, we deserved it to get an organization like USA Basketball to extend this invitation to us,” Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. “In such a complicated context it doesn’t get better than this.”

The games are set up as part of five doubleheaders, and fans will be able to attend the matchups at MGM’s Michelob Ultra Arena. Tickets go on sale next week.

GAME SCHEDULE

July 10 — U.S. men vs. Nigeria, Argentina vs. Australia

July 12 — Argentina vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Australia

July 13 — U.S. men vs. Argentina, Australia vs. Nigeria

July 16 — U.S. women vs. Australia, U.S. men vs. Australia

July 18 — U.S. women vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Spain

PREQUELS

The Nigeria-U.S. women’s game will be a prequel to the teams’ Olympic meeting on July 27 in Tokyo, the first game there for both of those teams. Nigeria and the U.S. are both in Group B at the Olympics, along with Japan and France.

The Australia-Nigeria men’s game is also the warmup for an Olympics-opening matchup. They’ll play in a Group B game on July 25.

The men’s teams from Spain and Argentina — the teams that played in the World Cup final at Beijing in 2019 — are both in Group C for the Olympics. They’ll both spend some time in Las Vegas but are not scheduled to face off there before flying to Japan.

FIBA RANKINGS

Las Vegas will see the top four men’s teams in the FIBA rankings there for the exhibitions: The U.S. is No. 1, Spain No. 2, Australia No. 3 and Argentina No. 4. Nigeria is ranked No. 22.

The U.S. women also hold the No. 1 FIBA ranking, and their July 16 opponent Australia is ranked No. 2 in the world. Nigeria’s women are ranked No. 17.

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Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul ‘makes it look normal’ after notching 15 assists, zero turnovers in win vs. Denver Nuggets

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It had been seven years since a player had a game in the postseason with 15 assists and no turnovers, but Chris Paul accomplished the feat on Wednesday as the Phoenix Suns routed the Denver Nuggets 123-98 to take a 2-0 series lead.

The last player to post a 15-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio in a playoff game? Paul, in 2014, with the LA Clippers.

“Guys are open. I got the easy part. All I got to do is find them,” said Paul, who had 17 points. “They got to make the shots. It’s a credit to our coaching staff to tell you the truth. Things we’ve drilled all season long, it’s nice to see it come into play in game form, especially in the playoffs.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Paul had the 10th playoff game with 15 assists and zero turnovers since assists were tracked in 1977-78. And Paul has accounted for three of those games himself.

“Obviously 15 assists, zero turnovers is unheard of,” Devin Booker said, “but for Chris Paul, it’s a thing that he does, and makes it look normal.”

In the two games in the series, Paul has 26 assists to just one turnover. Going back to his last three playoff games, that ratio gets even more ridiculous, sitting at 38-2. He’s the first player with 10 or more assists and one or fewer assists in three straight playoff games since Maurice Cheeks in 1989.

The Suns showcased their impressive balance with six players in double-figures, including all five starters. But even with 123 points, no player scored more than 18 (Booker). It was a clinic in distribution, particularly in a raucous second half, as Paul carved the Nuggets, finding efficient possessions nearly every trip down the floor. In Game 2, the Suns shot 15-of-24 off Paul passes. Of the 15 makes, 11 were uncontested looks.

“I’m telling you man, I’ve never been on a team quite like this where everybody can shoot it the way that they do,” Paul said. “You don’t have to try to find a certain guy.”

Like in Game 1, Paul found his spots to assert himself offensively, too, hitting a flurry of shots early in the fourth quarter as the Suns put the game away. It’s one of Paul’s many rare talents, an ability to sense moments and pick his spots to attack the game himself, or get teammates involved.

When Paul joined the surging young Suns in the offseason, there was a lot of talk about his role as a mentor, as a leader, as a culture cultivator. At age 36 and plenty of tread on his tires, Paul’s cerebral presence was thought to be something that could boost the Suns just as much as his play. But as he’s shown this postseason, there’s still plenty left in the tank.

“I would never doubt Chris,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “His ability to manage the team, his track record, has success all over it and everywhere he’s been he’s been successful. He works his tail off and yeah, he’s 36 years old but he’s doing a lot of stuff off the floor so he can be effective on the floor.”

The series now turns to Denver, where the Nuggets are desperate for a response. Paul has been using his experience as a motivator, recounting the 2007-08 second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs where the New Orleans Pelicans took a 2-0 series lead, winning the opening two games by a combined 37 points.

“We’re cool. We’re cool. We’ve got a great locker room, guys that understand the moment. A guy like Jae Crowder, who’s been to the Finals,” Paul said. “I’ve played a lot too. I’m always talking about 2007-08, we played against the Spurs when I was in New Orleans and we won the first two games, beat the brakes off of ’em. I remember looking over there at Tim [Duncan] and all them and they weren’t fazed. It was just one game. That’s what we talk about as a team too. It’s just one game.”

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