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NBA creates Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award

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The NBA has created a new award in honor of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league’s all-time leading scorer and a noted civil rights activist, that will recognize a player who best embodies his striving for social justice and racial equality, the league announced Thursday.

The winner of the inaugural Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award will be announced during the playoffs and will receive $100,000 from the league to donate to an organization of his choosing. Four additional finalists will receive $25,000.

“It’s nice to see the NBA try to promote social justice awareness, and I am very flattered they would see fit to name the award after me,” Abdul-Jabbar, 74, told The Undefeated. “I know I have some history with this, so I’m happy the way it’s worked out.”

All 30 NBA teams will nominate a player for the award, and finalists will be selected by a seven-person committee composed of league executives, activists and former NBA players.

Aside from being one of the sport’s greatest contributors, Abdul-Jabbar is also a man of conviction, who in the face of Jim Crow-era segregation and racial discrimination, took principled stands for the betterment and progress of African Americans.

Growing up in the Dyckman housing projects in New York City, Abdul-Jabbar was exposed to the governmental neglect of, and targeted injustices toward, poor, Black people. Incidents such as the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, when Abdul-Jabbar was just 8 years old, and the Harlem riots of 1964, sparked by the fatal shooting of James Powell, a 15-year-old Black boy, by a New York police officer, are what triggered Abdul-Jabbar’s ascent into racial politics.

“Right then and there I knew who I was and who I had to be,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1980. “I was going to be Black rage personified, Black power in the flesh.”

Abdul-Jabbar won three consecutive NCAA championships (1967 to 1969) while at UCLA. In between them, he, alongside famed sociologist Harry Edwards, helped organize a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City due to the then-recent assassinations of civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and the continued mistreatment of Black people in America.

“It was too difficult for me to get enthusiastic about representing a country that refused to represent me or others of my color,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his 2017 book, “Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court.”

While in the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar and other famous Black male athletes, including Jim Brown and Bill Russell, organized the Cleveland Summit in support of world champion boxer Muhammad Ali’s decision to refuse entry into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

Today, Abdul-Jabbar sees many similarities in how athletes — such as Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and Maya Moore — have taken a measured approach to racial equality work much as he and others did during the civil rights movement.

“I’m glad that they’re taking their time and not rushing into it. If you go into trying to effect change with a chip on your shoulder, and a lot of anger, it really turns off the people that you’re trying to talk to,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who grew up on the teachings of adopted Harlem son Malcolm X before a chance encounter with King while in high school led him to a peaceful, direct action.

“And I am glad they’ve learned that lesson and have made a commitment to do it sensibly in a nonviolent and constructive way. That’s how we get change done. That’s how we managed to overcome the communication gaps and break through.”

Abdul-Jabbar said he hopes this award inspires young, up-and-coming basketball players to continue the work he and other athletes started some half-century ago amid heavy criticism and even death threats.

“They can’t be afraid. That’s the one thing that they can’t do, because if you’re going to give into fear, then we won’t achieve anything,” he said. “We have to have the courage to speak truth to power, and if we can do that, then get the others to feel that way, we can effect change.”

Abdul-Jabbar played in the NBA for 20 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Lakers, winning six championships (five with Los Angeles). Aside from points, Abdul-Jabbar is also the career leader in All-Star Game appearances (19) and MVP awards (six).

Outside of sports, Abdul-Jabbar has written 14 books; has starred in multiple films, most notably the 1980 hit “Airplane!”; and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Barack Obama in 2016.

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Mike Conley staying with Utah Jazz on 3-year, $72.5 million deal, agents say

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The Utah Jazz accomplished their primary offseason goal, getting point guard Mike Conley to agree to a three-year, $72.5 million deal to re-sign with the team, his agents Steve Heumann and Jess Holtz told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday.

Conley took to social media to announce his official return, writing: “Blessed to continue this journey with the @utahjazz !!!!! #takenote #nowaybutup.”

Conley’s contract, combined with the five-year extensions for Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell that kick in this season and are worth a combined $368 million, push the Jazz significantly into the luxury tax.

It’s a price new owner Ryan Smith is willing to pay to keep the Jazz’s window to contend open, although last week’s trade that sent backup center Derrick Favors and a future first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-rounder and cash considerations was in large part financially motivated.

Conley finally made his first All-Star appearance last season, his 14th in the NBA, thriving during his second campaign with the Jazz. He averaged 16.2 points and 6.0 assists per game with a career-best .552 effective field goal percentage for the team that had the league’s best record in the regular season.

However, the 33-year-old Conley’s two seasons in Utah have been hampered by hamstring issues. He missed extended stretches during both seasons due to hamstring strains or tightness, which also forced Conley to sit out the first five games of this year’s Western Conference semifinals, a series the Jazz lost to the LA Clippers in six games.

Conley spent his first 12 seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies after the franchise selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft. The five-year, $153 million deal Conley signed with Memphis in 2016 was briefly the largest contract in NBA history.

Conley was one of the faces of the Grizzlies’ “Grit ‘n Grind” era, joining Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to form the group known as the “Core Four.”

They made Memphis a perennial playoff team, peaking with a trip to the 2013 West finals. Shortly after the rebuilding Grizzlies traded Conley to the Jazz in 2019, Memphis owner Robert Pera announced that the franchise would retire Conley’s No. 11 and put it in the FedExForum rafters after his playing career ends.



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Chicago Bulls land Lonzo Ball in sign-and-trade agreement worth four years, $85 million; sign Alex Caruso for $37 million

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The Chicago Bulls and point guard Lonzo Ball have agreed on a four-year, $85 million deal as part of a sign-and-trade agreement with the New Orleans Pelicans, Ball’s agent, Rich Paul, told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday.

The Bulls also reached an agreement on a four-year, $37 million pact with guard Alex Caruso, his agent, Greg Lawrence, told ESPN.

Ball slots in at a guard spot where he can grow with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic as Chicago tries to take the next step to be competitive in the Eastern Conference.

As New Orleans shifted more to allowing Zion Williamson to run the point position in the offense, Ball’s role for the Pelicans became that of an off-ball wing who could control the offense in the open court and cede duties to Williamson in the half court. He’ll have an opportunity to run the offense again with Chicago.

Ball, 23, has had an up-and-down four seasons since entering the league as the No. 2 overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017. He experienced some difficulty living up to the high expectations in L.A. but once he got to New Orleans, his game improved. Being among the players dealt in the Anthony Davis trade, Ball found a better shooting stroke with the Pelicans. After shooting 31.5% from deep and 43.7% from the line in his two seasons with the Lakers, Ball upped those numbers to 37.6% and 66.4% in New Orleans.

In 2020-21, he averaged career highs in 3-point percentage (.378), field goal percentage (.414), free throw percentage (.781), true shooting percentage (.551) and points per game (14.6).

He also protected the ball like never before with a career-low 14.5 turnover percentage, while his usage percentage was also at a career high (20.5).

Ball has struggled with injury issues throughout his young career and has yet to play a full season in the NBA. He missed 65 games in his first two seasons with the Lakers and a combined 26 in the past two years with the Pelicans.

The Bulls are sending Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple and a second-round pick back to the Pelicans in the deal, sources told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. Temple is joining the Pelicans on a new 3-year, $15 million deal, sources told ESPN. The last year of that deal is not guaranteed, a source told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears.

Undrafted out of Texas A&M, Caruso is a poster child for using alternative avenues to find a home in the league — first playing in the G League and later latching onto the Lakers with a two-way contract — before signing a two-year deal with L.A. in the summer of 2019.

The 27-year-old wing showed off his versatility last season, playing minutes at shooting guard, small forward and point guard for the Lakers. He finished the season averaging 6.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 21 minutes per game and shot 40.1 percent from 3.

Caruso missed 14 games during the regular season because of health and safety protocols and various other injuries. He also had to exit the Lakers’ Game 6 series-ending loss to Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs with a left ankle strain.

L.A. expressed interest in re-signing Caruso, sources told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, but the Lakers’ offer as a cap conscious, repeat tax-paying team was not as enticing for the four-year veteran.

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Atlanta Hawks reach $207 million max extension with star point guard Trae Young

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Atlanta Hawks All-Star point guard Trae Young has agreed to a five-year, $207 million designated rookie maximum extension, his agent Omar Wilkes of Klutch Sports told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The contract will kick in during the 2022-23 season and run through 2026-27.

Negotiations with Young over a max extension on his rookie deal weren’t too complicated after his brilliant playoff run for the Hawks, who advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after not making the playoffs each of the past three seasons.

Young was the driving force behind that success, leading the team to upset victories over the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers before pushing the Milwaukee Bucks to six games in the Eastern Conference finals, even as Young missed two games in that series with a bone bruise in his right foot and a sprained right ankle.

Young, who averaged 28.8 points and 9.5 assists during that playoff run, had previously established himself as one of the NBA’s elite young guards in his three seasons after Atlanta traded back to take him in the 2018 NBA draft as part of the deal that saw the Dallas Mavericks wind up with Luka Doncic.

While Young ultimately missed the All-Star team this season, he answered any lingering questions about his ability to impact winning during Atlanta’s postseason run.

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.

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