LOS ANGELES — Despite the team listing him as questionable with a left knee sprain, Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis says there is “no chance” he sits out Sunday’s Game 4 with L.A. looking to take a commanding 3-1 lead in its first-round series with the Phoenix Suns.
“There’s no chance that I don’t play tomorrow,” Davis said after practice Saturday. “As a player, I’ve wanted to be in this moment. You want to be in the playoffs and help contribute to my team’s success. I want to be out there. So in my eyes, for me as a competitor, I think I’ll be out there [Sunday].”
He pushed through the discomfort and stayed in the game, finishing with 34 points and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes.
The nine-year veteran said the injury did not require an MRI, but he has been experiencing swelling in the knee, and has been wearing a compression sleeve as part of his treatment.
When asked if he would wear a more substantial brace for Game 4, Davis doubted it would be necessary.
“I haven’t mentioned or talked about a brace,” he said. “But if that’s going to help, then I don’t mind going back to the 1970s brace.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who hurt his left knee and quad area in Game 3 and was unable to finish the game, is also listed as questionable.
“Both will be listed as questionable dealing with some soreness,” Vogel said. “But we’re hopeful that they both play.”
Davis stressed the importance of Game 4 for the Lakers, who have won the past two games after losing the first, in order to keep the momentum.
“It’s going to be probably the biggest game of the series, I think, besides if Game 7 happens,” he said. “We’re going in, want to protect home court … We know they’re going to come out and play desperate, in a sense.”
Former President Barack Obama to join NBA Africa as strategic partner, minority owner, sources say
Former President Barack Obama has joined NBA Africa as a strategic partner and minority owner, sources have told ESPN’s The Undefeated on Tuesday.
NBA Africa conducts the league’s business on that continent, including most notably the new Basketball Africa League (BAL). Obama plans to help the league’s social responsibility efforts, including programs and partnerships across the continent that support greater gender equality and economic inclusion. He will also have a minority equity stake in NBA Africa, which he intends to use to fund Obama Foundation youth and leadership programs across Africa.
“The NBA has always been a great ambassador for the United States — using the game to create deeper connections around the world, and in Africa, basketball has the power to promote opportunity, wellness, equality, and empowerment across the continent,” Obama said in a statement. “By investing in communities, promoting gender equality and cultivating the love of the game of basketball, I believe that NBA Africa can make a difference for so many of Africa’s young people.
“I’ve been impressed by the league’s commitment to Africa, including the leadership shown by so many African players who want to give back to their own countries and communities. That’s why I’m proud to join the team at NBA Africa and look forward to a partnership that benefits the youth of so many countries.”
The BAL was first announced during 2018 NBA All-Star weekend. After being delayed by the pandemic, the BAL held its inaugural season in May with 12 teams from 12 different African countries. There were expectations mentioned at that time that Obama would be involved at some point.
Obama, whose father is from Kenya, is a huge NBA fan who has partnered with several players on numerous projects, and he took part in festivities during 2019 NBA All-Star weekend in his hometown of Chicago.
The NBA says NBA Africa is focused on expanding the league’s presence “in priority African markets, deepening the league’s engagement with players and fans across the continent and continuing to grow Africa’s basketball ecosystem through programs like the Jr. NBA, Basketball Without Borders Africa and NBA Academy Africa.
“We are honored that President Obama has become a strategic partner in NBA Africa and will support our wide-ranging efforts to grow the game of basketball on the continent,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “In addition to his well-documented love for basketball, President Obama has a firm belief in Africa’s potential and the enormous growth opportunities that exist through sports. NBA Africa will benefit tremendously from his engagement.”
The NBA said strategic investors in NBA Africa also include a consortium led by Babatunde “Tunde” Folawiyo, Chairman and CEO of Yinka Folawiyo Group, and Helios Fairfax Partners Corporation, led by Co-CEO Tope Lawani. Additional investors include such former NBA players Junior Bridgeman, Luol Deng, Grant Hill, Ian Mahinmi, Dikembe Mutombo and Joakim Noah.
Since opening its African headquarters in Johannesburg in 2010, the NBA has increased its efforts on the continent for access to basketball and the NBA through social responsibility, grassroots and elite development, media distribution, corporate partnerships, NBA Africa Games and the launch of the BAL.
Head coach Willie Green says New Orleans Pelicans ‘really close to taking the next step’
Green, the lead assistant during the Suns’ improbable run to the NBA Finals, now shifts his attention to trying to find success in New Orleans — and he doesn’t think the Pelicans are that far away.
“This is a situation that actually reminds me a lot of Phoenix,” Green said at his introductory news conference on Tuesday morning.
“Really high talented players. The staff, same thing. High character. People that love to come to work. Love to come together. We’re really close to taking the next step. I believe going into next season that’s our goal, that’s our mindset. That’s what makes us a sleeping giant. We have two young All-Stars. Putting a lot of talent around those guys and really just making this team go.”
“Zion is a special talent,” Green said. “Quick. Fast. Athleticism. He can play-make. He can do a lot on the basketball floor. As I get together with our staff and continue to watch film, the thing about him, is the sky is the limit. It really is. That’s what excites me. I know that’s what excites us. He’s a guy that can do pretty much anything on the basketball floor.”
It’s the job of Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin, who also called the team a sleeping giant, to get the right pieces around Williamson and Ingram for Green.
And like Green, Griffin also harkened back to his days in Phoenix when talking about the potential of what New Orleans can be. Griffin, who spent 17 years with the Suns from 1993 to 2010, remembers what bringing in the right leadership on the bench and on the floor can do for a young team.
At the start of the 2004-05 season, the Suns elevated Mike D’Antoni to the full-time head coaching position after he served as an interim for the final 61 games of the previous season. After adding 30-year-old point guard Steve Nash, Phoenix won an average of 58 games over the next four seasons while making two trips to the Western Conference Finals.
“What we hope we’re able to do in the coming weeks in the offseason and heading up through the following years is build a sustainable winner that’s rooted in that gratitude and joyfulness led by Willie Green and the players that we’re able to bring to the floor that can represent Steve Nash, that leadership voice, that shooting we need to put around our great young stars,” Griffin said. “We’re heading towards that.”
The Pelicans could have a chance to make a similar splash in free agency this season after freeing up cap space Monday in a trade that sent Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams and multiple picks (including the No. 10 pick in Thursday’s draft) to Memphis for Jonas Valanciunas and two draft picks, according to sources.
Whatever pieces Griffin and the Pelicans’ front office gives Green, it’ll be the job of the third-youngest head coach in the league to make those work.
“When I think about coaching … the best coaches are not the X’s and O’s,” said Green, who turns 40 on Wednesday. “People can do that. The best coaches are the ones that you know care about you. The best teachers. And connecting with players is no different than just connecting with people. You quickly realize you have a lot more in common than you don’t.
“That’s sort of my take and my approach in basketball. It’s easier to get people to reach their max when they know you care about them. That’s my way or our way of connecting with players.”
It’s a philosophy that Green learned in part from Suns coach Monty Williams.
Although Williams didn’t play a game during the 2003-04 season, he was a teammate for a brief period during Green’s rookie season with Philadelphia. Later, Williams was a head coach for the New Orleans Hornets and was Green’s coach during the 2010-11 season.
“Monty means the world to me,” Green said. “When he heard that I had the opportunity to go interview with New Orleans, not only did he make me go, but he just kind of walked me through the steps. He was so diligent in his processes of helping me along the way. I’m so grateful to learn under a man like Monty, a coach like Monty, a brother like Monty.”
Projected No. 1 NBA draft pick Cade Cunningham signs multiyear endorsement deal with Nike
After a COVID-19-impacted market found a majority of last season’s rookies playing out the 2020-21 season without a sneaker deal, brands are now returning to aggressively sign top players heading into this week’s draft. Nike had its eyes set on Cunningham, who starred at Nike-sponsored Oklahoma State University and has long had an affinity for the brand.
“More than anything, they show that athletes are more than just athletes,” Cunningham told ESPN. “They really put the right message out for people to see. That was important to me. … I felt like it was a perfect match for me.”
Cunningham, a dynamic 6-foot-8 point guard who completed his lone freshman season as Big 12 Player of the Year and a consensus All-American, is looking to build his marketing profile early on with Nike.
“We all can tell a Nike commercial as soon as they come on,” he said. “Those things matter to me, and I want to be associated with a brand like that.”
According to industry sources, Cunningham has landed the highest value shoe deal of his draft class. The deal was negotiated by Excel Sports Management.
Throughout the process, he also tested out sneakers from Puma, Li-Ning, Converse and Adidas during pre-draft workouts. During his rookie season, Nike plans to have Cunningham help lead its new “Greater Than” series, wearing player-exclusive editions of models like the GT Cut, GT Run and GT Jump.
Cunningham has also already agreed to endorsement deals in the plant-based food, energy drink, cryptocurrency, trading card, memorabilia and photo-sharing-app silos as well, which are expected to be announced in the weeks ahead.
“I definitely have been putting thought into it. I’m not playing basketball just for fun anymore,” he said. “It’s a business now, and that’s the blessing of it. I’m happy that I’ve gotten to get to this point to where I can make money doing what I’m doing. Marketing myself, I want to be fully authentic with who I am. I don’t want to take any marketing deals that don’t match who I am.”
Nike is currently worn by approximately 68% of the NBA and in the midst of a $1 billion, eight-year partnership agreement as the official league outfitter. The signing points to a commitment to continue signing top prospects and potential future faces of the league, with an extensive current roster of players and a lineup of five signature sneakers for the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George and Kyrie Irving.
To date, Cunningham has worked out for and met with only the Detroit Pistons, who are expected to select the 19-year-old with their first overall pick once the draft gets underway Thursday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).
“They’re a great organization, got a lot of good things going for them. I think they’re in the restoration period. I don’t think they’re rebuilding,” Cunningham told local Detroit media after his visit. “They’re just trying to restore what they got going on.”
A scoring floor general, Cunningham has already drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Grant Hill from Pistons GM Troy Weaver, which he called “an honor for sure” and “more motivation.” During his freshman season, Cunningham averaged 20 points per game while shooting 44% from the floor and 40% from 3. The Pistons anticipate adding Cunningham to a young core of Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey as foundational pieces.
“There’s an argument to be made that Cunningham is the third-best top pick we’ve seen in the past decade, which would lead me to project him as an All-Star in his first two or three years in the NBA and a longtime All-NBA type of player,” wrote ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz.
While the comparisons, projections and expectations may be lofty, all before he has even played in an official NBA game, Cunningham is embracing all that comes with being a potential top pick heading into this week’s draft.
“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to my whole life,” he said. “I’m not going to anticipate anything or get my hopes up on anything too crazy. I’m going to go in with an open mind, and I feel good about what I’ve done to prepare myself for this moment. Once I hear my name called, I’m just going to be happy to be in that position and excited to see what happens moving forward.”
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