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Nash hiring caps banner week for Canadian basketball, with brighter days ahead –



TORONTO – A quick Wikipedia search will tell you there have been 94 Canadian Heritage Minute shorts made in the history of the iconic mini-documentary series, and looking back at this week in Canadian basketball, a 95th candidate may have just emerged.

It started on Sunday, when Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray erupted for 50 points in a must-win Game 6 against the Utah Jazz to force Game 7 (a contest that Denver did ultimately win). But perhaps an even prouder moment for the nation was when he got honest with his feelings post-game about the ongoing fight against racial injustice, making reference to his sneakers – which had illustrations of the deceased George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on them.

“We found something we’re fighting for as the NBA, as a collective unit … and I use these shoes as a symbol to keep fighting all around the world,” Murray said in his post-game interview with TNT.

A few days later, Montreal native Luguentz Dort exploded for 30 points in Wednesday’s Game 7 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, the most by an undrafted rookie in a playoff game since the NBA Draft was introduced in 1947. Cooler yet, the 30 Dort scored were the most points a player has ever recorded in a Game 7 before turning 22 years of age.

Then, on Thursday, the out-of-nowhere capper to a fantastic week for Canadian hoops: Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash was hired as the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.

“I think it’s great,” said Rowan Barrett in an interview Thursday. “I think Canadian basketball is continually growing, I think that the Raptors definitely captured the hearts and the attention and the minds of Canadians and I’m hoping also that Canadians will be looking and will be proud of athletes that have grown up in our country, in their own backyards.”

Barrett is the general manager and executive vice president of Canada’s senior men’s basketball program and has been close friends with Nash since they were teenagers. They played for Team Canada together on multiple occasions, including as Olympians at the 2000 Games in Sydney.

Word that Nash had been hired by the Nets as their new head coach caught Barrett by surprise but he was ecstatic for his old buddy.

“I was excited, obviously,” said Barrett. “He’s one of my best friends and to be coaching an NBA team, I mean my goodness, right? To come out of Victoria, B.C., and now you’re coaching a high-profile team in New York. Wow! Amazing! I’m happy for him!”

Nash is widely considered one of the best point guards to ever play the game, winning back-to-back MVPs in 2005 and 2006 and ranking third on the NBA’s all-time assists list. Nash was essentially peerless at his position when he played.

And given the nature of what the point guard position entails, the leap to head coaching makes a lot of sense.

“For me it was always a natural next step for him, said Barrett. “I think that from the time that I met him [as a teenager], I mean, he was always a coach on the floor. Even with the older players. In the huddle he was always telling us what we were going to do, what was happening. He was always the one that was seeing what was happening with all five players on both teams.

“And I don’t think that you can lead teams in the NBA to the No. 1 offence without truly mastering and understanding the nuances of the game.”

Those teams Barrett was referring to were those great Phoenix Suns clubs that Nash won his MVPs with. At the helm of those Suns squads was current Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who also didn’t know Nash was getting into the coaching game but believes he’ll do a good job.

“He’s got a great basketball mind and I know he loves basketball so it doesn’t surprise me, but it’s interesting and I just texted Steve and telling him he’s jumping from into the frying pan and into the fire,” said D’Antoni after Houston practised Thursday. “So good luck to him because I’m happy for him and I hope things work out.”

But though there’s been much well-wishing for Nash upon hearing word of the news, there’s also been much skepticism because of his inexperience.

The Nets figure to be a very good team with both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and there are question marks over whether he’ll be able to handle the job having never been a head coach before.

For all the concern, however, you need only look at the example of the Golden State Warriors and Steve Kerr as reasons why Nash’s lack of experience may ultimately be a moot point because he already has plenty of experience to do the job.

“I think he has other experiences,” said Barrett of Nash. “Like when you look at people like Steve Kerr he was a general manager, was in the front office in the NBA and he had a number of different roles that were over and above a player to get more of an organizational understanding about how decisions are made….

“So I think [Nash] being a general manager of Canada’s team he got plenty of experience sitting in that coaches’ room, sitting in the coaches’ meetings before a big game and forming the team and kind of all the steps along the way of having a team that he was involved in doing.”

There may be some growing pains, but if Nash takes the same approach to his playing career as he did his coaching career, the Nets will be in good hands.

“He worked as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen in basketball to get ready every day and even when he broke his leg in L.A. no one out-worked him and I know he’ll do the same as a coach and he knows basketball,” said D’Antoni. “So it’s a pretty good formula for success.”

Another aspect that will serve Nash well, according to Barrett, is the fact he has an inventive basketball mind. As D’Antoni put it Thursday when he had Nash in Phoenix, “The game plan was give it to Steve and Steve you figure it out.”

“Creativity’s very important and anybody that knows Steve knows that he’s a creative guy,” said Barrett. “He has a creative mind, which is why I think he bucks convention in the NBA and kind of ushered in almost the style that we see being played now. He ushered that in with Phoenix all those years ago because his mind is open, it is creative, it is willing to do something different and try things differently and I think for players like Kyrie and Durant, who the goal will be, I’m sure, a championship, you will need some of that creativity that Steve can provide.

“So I feel like he has many of the prerequisites, many of the tangible skills and abilities to do this role, but obviously he hasn’t just been sitting on the bench as a play-caller. So I’m sure that’ll take some getting used to but I expect him to be successful.”

Barrett isn’t just expecting Nash to be successful as a head coach, he’s banking on it because of what it could mean for the growth of basketball in the nation. Nash is only the second Canadian to become an NBA head coach — following his old mentor Jay Triano — and the development of the sport in the country isn’t only limited to the athletes.

“I really think that this is the next step for us as a nation,” Barrett said. “We’ve been putting NBA players through it and now we’ve got more than 20 players playing in the NBA, which is awesome, and then kind of bit by bit we’ve been growing our numbers in the coaching ranks. Whether it’s Scott [Morrison] with the Celtics or it’s Nathaniel Mitchell with the Hornets and Jay Triano and Roy Rana, we’re kind of slowly but surely building our way into the coaching ranks and I think that now having a Canadian in there as a head coach is phenomenal.

“I’m very interested to see how that will impact it. I think seeing Jay Triano as a head coach in the NBA all those years ago I have to say impacted some of our coaches that have now made their way and are now there. I can only imagine what having Steve Nash in that role and guaranteed in a high-profile role in a place like New York with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on your team? I expect that they’re going to capture the imagination of basketball fans all over the world and hopefully as well in Canada, especially as it pertains to coaching.”

It’s a point well made by Barrett as the coaches are the ones that first nurture players like Murray and Dort and help turn them into the NBA stars we see today, so if Nash can inspire a whole generation of Canadian bench bosses the way he did players, the future of hoops in Canada looks blindingly bright.

“This has obviously been an awesome week but I think it’s just underlining and making the point about the work that has been going on behind the scenes in the gym that nobody sees and has been [observed] by coaches that are growing in our country, because once again for our athletes to get to that point somebody has to coach them,” Barrett said. “So I think it speaks to the level of our coaching as well.

“This is a victory not only for our athletes across the country but this has gotta be a victory for our coaches and if there’s one thing I can say to them is keep working, keep building, keep growing, man.

“Look at what our guys are doing. Look at what they’re doing right now, and it’s a testament to all of those coaches, our national team coaches that have been putting in work, toiling in other nations in the middle of the summer where you’re in a gym and you’re trying to work the referees and most of the country doesn’t see it but you’re out there and still trying to grind.

“So hopefully this is a huge shot in the arm for our coaches and for our system and hopefully for our fans as well.”

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

In the meantime, however, Barrett’s just excited that his best friend got a tremendous new opportunity that will see Nash actually try to shut down his godson R.J. Barrett when the New York Knicks eventually play the Nets.

“Man, I can’t wait to sit at that first game. That’s gonna be amazing. I thought about it and I thought about Steve holding R.J. in his arms when he was a baby with his diapers and now to think that all these years later they’re on opposing sides and to be able to sit and watch them I’m sure will be an amazing moment for them and definitely will be a very proud moment for me, an exciting moment,” said Barrett. “I mean, Steve bought R.J. his first crib and he decided that he wanted to outfit the nursery and now he’s gonna be figuring out how to stifle him on the court. So it’s gonna be amazing, for sure.”

An incredible Canadian basketball moment to look forward to on the back of a great week in Canadian hoops, with many more surely to come.

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Hamlin, Michael Jordan partner on NASCAR team for Bubba Wallace –



CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Denny Hamlin has joined Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan to form a NASCAR team with Bubba Wallace as the driver, a high-profile pairing of a Black majority team owner and the only Black driver at NASCAR’s top level.

The partnership was announced Monday night in co-ordinated social media posts by Jordan and Hamlin, with Wallace adding his own comment. The posts showed a picture of Jordan alongside a firesuit-clad Hamlin in a motorhome at a race track.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners,” Jordan said in his statement. “The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.”

Jordan becomes the first Black principal owner of a full-time Cup team since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott drove his own race car in 495 races from 1961 to 1973. Scott’s 1964 victory at the Jacksonville 200 is the only win by a Black driver in Cup history.

The NBA great, who earlier this year pledged $100 million over 10 years for initiatives combating systemic racism, said the move into NASCAR is another step toward racial equality.

“I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing,” Jordan said.

Jordan joins former NBA player Brad Daugherty, a partner at JTG Daugherty Racing, as the only Black owners at NASCAR’s elite Cup level.

“Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not only in our sport, but also well beyond it,” Hamlin said.

Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and a top contender for this year’s Cup title, will be the minority owner of a single-car Toyota entry aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin has raced his entire career for Gibbs, a Hall of Fame NFL coach.

“Eleven years ago I met Michael Jordan at a then-Charlotte Bobcats game and we became fast friends,” Hamlin wrote. “Not long after, I joined Jordan Brand as their first NASCAR athlete. Our friendship has grown over the years and now we are ready to take it to the next level.

“Deciding on the driver was easy — it had to be Bubba Wallace.”

Wallace is the only Black driver in the Cup Series and this season used his platform to push for racial equality. The 27-year-old successfully urged NASCAR to ban the display of the Confederate flag at its events.

Wallace is winless in 105 Cup starts over four seasons, but he has six career victories in the Truck Series. He’s been handcuffed by mid-level equipment driving the No. 43 for Hall of Famer Richard Petty and, until this summer, the team struggled to land sponsorship.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that.

“Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

There’s been speculation for months that Hamlin was organizing some sort of ownership group as he expects NASCAR’s business model to become more favourable for team owners when the “Next Gen” car is released in 2022. NASCAR rules prohibit a current driver from owning a team and driving for another, but Hamlin works around the policy with Jordan as the principal owner.

“Starting a race team has been something that Michael and I have talked about while playing golf together over the years, but the timing or circumstances were never really right,” Hamlin said. “It just makes sense now to lay the foundation for my racing career after I’m done driving and also help an up-and-coming driver like Bubba take his career to a higher level.”

Jordan became a partial owner of the Bobcats in 2006 and bought the team outright in 2010, restoring the franchise to its original Hornets name. Hamlin has been a longtime season-ticket holder with courtside seats along the visitors’ bench.

Jordan dabbled in racing before with Michael Jordan Motorsports. He owned an AMA Superbike team and had one win in 10 years. Jordan has twice travelled to the NASCAR season finale to watch Hamlin race for the championship. Hamlin, who’s 39, is still seeking his first title.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said. “The opportunity to own my own race team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.”

Wallace, who has cobbled together about $18 million in sponsorship deals since he made social equality his platform, already said he’d leave Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the season.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” Wallace wrote. “I am grateful and humbled that they believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

Jordan and Hamlin purchased a charter for their team from Germain Racing that guarantees Wallace a spot in the 40-car field every week.

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Lightning strike twice on PP, beat Stars to even Stanley Cup final – TSN



EDMONTON — The Tampa Bay Lightning rediscovered the zap in their power play, using it to burn the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Monday and even up the Stanley Cup final.

Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat had goals on the man advantage as the Lightning scored three times in the first 16 minutes of the game then hung on for the victory.

It ties the best-of-seven series at one game apiece, with Game 3 set for Wednesday at Rogers Place.

Tampa’s power play was ranked fifth in the NHL in the regular season at 23.1 per cent but in the playoffs, heading into Monday’s game, had been spluttering along at 16.9 per cent and mired in an 0 for 14 slump.

Point said the success was not a huge relief because they hadn’t been dwelling on the previous power-play power outages.

“We’re staying positive with (it),” said Point.

“Tonight I thought we stuck with it. We were crisp on our passes and we had (Nikita Kucherov) making some great plays.”

Kucherov, the leading point getter in the playoffs, and defenceman Victor Hedman had the assists on both power-play goals.

Midway through the first period, Kucherov was the middle man in a tic-tac-toe passing play, taking a pass from Hedman and redirecting the puck into the slot area to Point, who then wristed it through traffic and high glove side past Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin.

Three minutes later, on a second power play, Kucherov, at the right face-off circle, faked a one-timer shot off a Hedman pass, freezing Khudobin, and instead slap-passed it cross-seam to Palat, who had a wide open net and didn’t miss.

Less than a minute after that, Tampa defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk scored on a blue-line wrist shot through traffic that proved to be the game-winner.

It was a different story from Game 1, when Tampa got six minutes of power play time in the third period, blasted 22 shots on net but couldn’t score and lost 4-1.

Kucherov said they didn’t tinker with the power-play plan prior to Game 2.

“We had some good looks during the first game. We just couldn’t score,” said Kucherov.

“We just stuck to what we had to do: keep it simple, shoot the puck at the net and get those rebounds.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27-of-29 shots for his 15th victory of the playoffs, including the seeding round.

Joe Pavelski and Mattias Janmark, with his first of the playoffs, replied for Dallas. Khudobin turned aside 28 shots in the loss. His post-season record drops to 13-7.

Janmark said the penalties and the power-play goals proved to be a bridge too far.

“That’s where we lost the game today,” said Janmark.

“Most of the first period we didn’t come out like we wanted. I think they were better, so I would say they earned (the power plays).

“At the same time, we gotta be better. We were a little bit undisciplined. We were turning pucks over and they were coming at us.”

Tampa Bay outshot Dallas 14-6 in the first period but was outshot 18-5 in the second frame as the Stars found renewed life.

The Stars hit the scoreboard late in the period when a fluttering John Klingberg point shot was redirected in by Pavelski while he battled with defender Ryan McDonagh in front of Vasilevskiy.

Pavelski, signed as a free agent a year ago after 13 seasons with San Jose, has a team-leading 10 playoff goals.

Less than six minutes into the third, the Stars made it 3-2 on a tic-tac-toe play of their own — Alexander Radulov to Klingberg to Janmark, who tapped the puck in despite Shattenkirk being draped all over him.

It was a rough game with big hits and numerous post-whistle scrums and takedowns.

Late in the second period, the Stars’ Corey Perry had Lightning forward Cedric Paquette in a post-whistle head lock. He released him at the direction of the refs only to see Paquette turn on him, throw him to the ice and start raining down punches.

Stars forward Blake Comeau was levelled by McDonagh on an open-ice hit in the second period and didn’t return.

Kucherov now has six goals and 22 assists for 28 points in the playoffs. Hedman has nine goals and eight assists.

Tampa has 15 wins and six losses in the post-season and has yet to lose two games in a row.

The Lightning are seeking the second Stanley Cup in franchise history, the last one coming in 2004. The Stars’ only Cup came in 1999.

All games are being held in a so-called isolation bubble at Rogers Place, with the players sequestered from the public to prevent contracting COVID-19.

The NHL reported that in eight weeks of testing there have been no positive COVID-19 cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2020.

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Jays thump Yankees – Bluebird Banter



Yankees 5 Blue Jays 11

It is so much more fun playing the Yankees in Buffalo than playing them in Yankees Stadium. I’m going to love hearing them whine about the park.

Matt Shoemaker made his first start coming back from the IL and he was very good. Just 3 innings (they were going to keep him around 60 pitches, he finished with 54), 3 hits, 2 walks, 1 earned with 1 strikeout. He seemed to be thrown out of rhythm when a foul tip went into the mask of the plate umpire and there was a long delay.

My continuing complaint is that, the umpire clearly got rocked by that pitch, the trainer comes out, and they stand and talk and joke and leave him in the game. There should be a rule that takes the umpire out of the game, at least for an inning, so he can be evaluated properly.

At the end of the inning the umpire comes out of the game and a spare umpire, who for some reason was at the game, takes over (boy was he terrible at calling balls and strikes).

Shoemaker was getting his fastball up to 95-96 and looked healthy. He’ll get another start on the weekend and, all being well, should be our third starter for the playoffs.

T.J. Zeuch came in for the fourth and threw 3 perfect innings. He gave up a walk and a double in the seventh and came out of the game at 3.1 innings, 1 hit, 1 earned, 1 walk in 3.1 innings. He looked calm and kept the Yankees hitting the ball on the ground. He gets the win.

Patrick Murphy followed up. He got us out of the seventh and pitched the 8th, giving up 2 hits with a strikeout. He’s pretty impressive with a 97 MPH fastball and a very pretty 12 to 6 curve.

Wilmer Font started the ninth and was just awful, giving up a single and 2 walks to load the bases and then a double to unload them, while getting 2 outs. Font forced Charlie to get Shun Yamaguchi into the game, to get the last out, a strikeout.

Mike Wilner mentioned that Font only hit 89-91 on the fastball, maybe something is wrong.

Offensively, it was a ton of fun. We scored our first 9 runs without the help of a home run. Solo homers by Randal Grichuk (nice to see) and Alejandro Kirk got us to 11.

Lots of guys had a big night, but Kirk was the most fun to watch, going 4 for 4, with the home run, a double and a long single off the right field wall that only needed to be about 2 feet higher to be home run. Kirk scored from second on a single, which may have been the most entertaining moment of the night. Amazing that he’s in the MLB without playing above A ball.

Vladimir Guerrero was 3 for 3 with a walk. He had a “triple” that Yankees’ center fielder Aaron Hicks lost in the night sky (that we didn’t score him was a sin), a double (on pitch he really shouldn’t have swung at but he managed to pull it down the left field line) and another double that was hard hit, well earned double. let’s hope that it is the start of a hot stretch.


  • Cavan Biggio had 2 walks (should have been 3, did I mention the hastily dressed plate umpire had a rough night).
  • Bo Bichette was 2 for 5, with 2 RBI.
  • Teoscar Hernandez was 2 for 5, 2 RBI, 3 strikeouts.
  • Randal was 2 for 4, with the homer, walk and 2 RBI.

Jays batters having less fun were Lourdes Gurriel (0 for 5, 3 k), Jonathan Villar (0 for 4, 2 strikeouts) and Jonathan Davis (0 for 3, k, but reached on error).

Being the Jays, we couldn’t make it through the game without an error. Biggio had an easy grounder hit to him at third but threw wide of first. Vlad got over to make the catch but couldn’t put a tag on the runner. Next batter hit another ground ball to third, this time Cavan threw a strike.

That brings our Magic Number to 3, with the Mariners still playing.

Jays of the Day: Vlad (.161 WPA), Bo (.110) and Hernandez (.102) all had the number. And, of course, I’m giving one to Kirk. And let’s give one to Zeuch for throwing the 3.1 innings, saving us from using more pitchers.

No Suckage Jays. Gurriel had the low mark at -.071. On the other hand, lets give one to Font for an awful ninth.

We had 898 comments in the GameThread. I led us to the win. I tell you, I have a beer, the team wins. I’m willing to keep it up.

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