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BAL’s Ater Majok learned his work ethic from Lakers legend Kobe Bryant

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US Monastir’s Ater Majok has paid tribute to former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant ahead of the Basketball Africa League, telling ESPN that Bryant inspired his career after meeting Majok in high school for the first time.

According to Majok, who would go on to be drafted by the Lakers in 2011, the pair met when Majok attended a youth camp which Kobe hosted in Los Angeles, and the Sudanese-Australian promised the superstar that they would one day share a court.

Majok, who is currently preparing for the inaugural BAL that starts on May 16, told ESPN: “I remember when I first got drafted, on draft night, I was in Washington DC.

“Mitch Kupchak, the general manager at the time, called me. He said, ‘Congratulations, you’re a Laker. You worked hard for it.’ The first thing I remember saying was, ‘Tell Kobe that I kept my word.’

“I sent [Kupchak] a screenshot of the pictures that we had taken that day, [because] Mitch didn’t even believe that I had that conversation with Kobe.”

He further explained how the duo met: “I was having a conversation in one of the camps that Kobe was hosting and I told him, ‘One day, I’m going to be your teammate.’

“I took a picture with [Bryant] and said, ‘Yo, you’ve got a bullseye on your back. I’m coming for you.’ As a kid, being a competitor, that’s something that you’re automatically going to do.

“That’s where my journey started — when I met him that day. My words to him were, ‘I’m going to be on the same court as you one day. If I’m playing against you, I’m coming at your neck, but if I’m your teammate, I’m going to make you proud.’

“He said: ‘Yeah, a lot of people said that, but it’s not an easy road, but if you can get there, get my phone.'”

If going on to be selected by the Lakers made Majok feel 10 feet tall, then watching Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash in 2020, brought him straight back down to earth.

He said: “When I flew to LA the next day [after the call with Kupchak], I remember having the first practice. It was at 11AM. I thought I had good work ethics. Being professional and being African, I work hard and nothing is ever given.

“I showed up at 9AM and Kobe was in there already working out, bleeding sweat. Being around Kobe as a rookie, you don’t even walk on the court with him at the same time. When he’s working, you can’t disturb him, so I just stood on the sideline and watched.

“I remember the equipment manager said, ‘He’s been here since 7AM.’ I said, ‘What? We don’t have practice until 11!’ He said, ‘Yeah, and he’s going to keep working, go eat, and come back.’

“He did this every single day. Some days, he’d be there at 5AM. That was the extreme of work ethic and being professional.

“When I started seeing him, I thought, ‘Let me start imitating him — not so much imitating his game, but imitating how he carries himself and how hard he works.’

“You’ve got to tell yourself: ‘I’m not going to be Kobe — I want to be myself — but at the same time, I want to be blessed with that work ethic.’

“I started going in a couple of hours before practice. If I knew that he was shooting in the morning, I’d go to the gym at night.”

Majok carried this routine with him for years, even as he hopped between countries after falling short of making a name for himself in the NBA. He was cutting his teeth in New Zealand with the Breakers when he learned of Bryant’s passing.

He recalled: “I was actually asleep because of the time zone. I remember my mom calling me in tears and I knew something was wrong. I hadn’t turned on the TV. I hadn’t even looked at my phone — she called me early in the morning.

“I remember my mom saying: ‘Just turn on ESPN.’ I kept seeing his name. I couldn’t believe it — it took me probably three days to get it in my head that this was reality. For me, it’s still hard.

“Literally, this is the person that my character is based on — this is who I learned a lot of things from — being professional and even being drafted.

“I owe him for that, because when I met him and I was talking sh*t to him, talking smack, being a young high school kid… him challenging me led me to work hard to be in a place to get drafted.

“Then, just being in the same practice facility, the same block room, the same arena, the same uniform — and just learning things — he meant a lot to me.

“I don’t talk about it too much to a lot of people, because this is something that is personal to me.

“It really hurt me, but at the same time, he is a legend. Despite his physical spirit passing on, I know his spirit is still here and I don’t think his memory will ever go anywhere.”

In the spirit of Bryant, Majok said he would settle for nothing less than the championship title at the BAL in Kigali. Tunisian side Monastir are scheduled to begin their campaign on May 17 against Madagascar’s Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball Club (GNBC.

The entire 26-game tournament will air in Africa on ESPN (Channel 218 on DStv), as well as on Azam channel 120, Zuku channel 320, and StarTimes channel 256.

In the U.S, all games will be available on ESPN+ while the opening game and Finals will also air on ESPNews. ESPN will air the opening game and Finals in select countries in Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe and Latin America, and all BAL games will air on ESPN’s digital platforms in those same regions. BAL games and programming will also be available in Canada on TSN and in China on Tencent Video.

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Top NBA draft prospect Jalen Suggs signs multiyear deal with Adidas

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Jalen Suggs has landed a multiyear footwear and apparel deal with Adidas ahead of his anticipated selection early in the 2021 NBA draft on Thursday.

“I’m so excited to be with the brand,” the former Gonzaga star said. “I grew up inspired by D-Rose and Dame [Lillard] and want to follow in the steps of the young Adidas family coming up now like Trae [Young] and Don [Mitchell].”

After a breakout freshman season leading the Nike-sponsored Bulldogs to the national championship game of the NCAA tournament, Suggs became one of the most sought-after players entering shoe deal talks this spring.

The deal was negotiated by Wasserman, with Suggs and the agency holding a series of seven presentations — most in person, some virtual — in Los Angeles to begin the process. Adidas ultimately emerged as Suggs’ choice.

Along with outlining product plans for Green in both basketball and lifestyle footwear categories, the brand committed to funding a court refurbishment in his hometown of Saint Paul, Minnesota, and mapped out a pathway to a potential signature shoe down the road.

Adidas currently makes signature footwear for James Harden, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Trae Young, with each product being released during the player’s second or third season with the company.

In addition to Suggs, Adidas has finalized endorsement deals with three other players expected to be selected near the top of the draft, signing explosive wing Jalen Green, versatile big man Evan Mobley and scoring guard Sharife Cooper.

“Each individual brings something unique to our team,” Eric Wise, global GM of basketball at Adidas, said in a statement. “From their talent and work ethic on the court, to a community-first mindset, values and openness to collaboration, we cannot wait to see where this week takes them.”

Behind the scenes, the brand recently merged its Originals and Basketball departments to work more closely together, as the culture of the sport has continued to blur the lines between performance and lifestyle in recent years.

Another factor in swaying players to land with the brand has been the recent appointment of designer Jerry Lorenzo, founder of high-fashion brand Fear of God, to help lead the creative and business strategy of Adidas Basketball. Lorenzo has launched coveted crossover basketball sneakers with Nike in the past, while also carving out his own sought-after footwear category at Fear of God, before signing a long-term partnership with Adidas in late 2020.

With new designers at the helm and a new hybrid marketing approach, along with existing signature athletes he has long looked up to, Suggs is looking ahead to a future with Adidas as he begins his NBA career.

“We will create culture together,” Suggs said. “And if you give me some time, I will pursue greatness like them.”

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Nets announce Mike D’Antoni’s departure from coach Steve Nash’s staff

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NEW YORK — Mike D’Antoni is leaving the Brooklyn Nets, forcing Steve Nash to make another change on his coaching staff.

Nash announced the 70-year-old D’Antoni’s decision in a statement Wednesday, saying having the two-time Coach of the Year was “invaluable” in his first season as a coach.

“I will be forever grateful for his guidance and will carry on a lifetime of lessons from the many years we’ve spent together,” Nash said in the statement. “Our players and staff all benefited from this time in Broolyn and we wish Mike, Laurel and their family the very best in what lies ahead.”

D’Antoni won the 2005 Coach of the Year award in Phoenix when Nash was his point guard, then another in Houston in 2017. He has long been regarded as one of the NBA’s best offensive coaches and helped the Nets reach the second round of the playoffs, where they lost to eventual champion Milwaukee in seven games.

The Nets already lost one assistant this offseason when Ime Udoka left to become Boston Celtics coach. David Vanterpool was hired to replace him.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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Mike D’Antoni announces departure from Nets coach Steve Nash’s staff

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NEW YORK — Mike D’Antoni is leaving the Brooklyn Nets, forcing Steve Nash to make another change on his coaching staff.

Nash announced the 70-year-old D’Antoni’s decision in a statement Wednesday, saying having the two-time Coach of the Year was “invaluable” in his first season as a coach.

“I will be forever grateful for his guidance and will carry on a lifetime of lessons from the many years we’ve spent together,” Nash said in the statement. “Our players and staff all benefited from this time in Broolyn and we wish Mike, Laurel and their family the very best in what lies ahead.”

D’Antoni won the 2005 Coach of the Year award in Phoenix when Nash was his point guard, then another in Houston in 2017. He has long been regarded as one of the NBA’s best offensive coaches and helped the Nets reach the second round of the playoffs, where they lost to eventual champion Milwaukee in seven games.

The Nets already lost one assistant this offseason when Ime Udoka left to become Boston Celtics coach. David Vanterpool was hired to replace him.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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