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NBA players and coaches kneel and link arms during national anthem –



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Black players were next to white players. Coaches from one team were next to their compatriots from the opposing side. Many locked arms with the man next to them, some shut their eyes tightly, a few including LeBron James briefly raising a fist into the air or pointing skyward.

The NBA had a strong, powerful re-opening night message.

When it comes to demanding change, the league stands united — and Thursday, the four teams that played on the first night of the league’s restart showed that by not standing.

They were unprecedented images for the league in unprecedented times: The Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans knelt alongside one another during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” their way of joining the chorus of those demanding racial justice and equality in society. In the second game Thursday, James’ Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers did the same thing during the anthem preceding their matchup.

“Tonight we witnessed sober, powerfully moving and heartfelt demonstrations by our players of their commitment to the pursuit of justice,” National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts tweeted. “Very proud.”

The NBA has a rule that dates to the early 1980s decreeing that players must stand for the national anthem, and Commissioner Adam Silver quickly announced that the policy is being adjusted. The anthems were pre-recorded: Jon Batiste performed the one before Pelicans-Jazz, the Compton Kidz Club had the task before Clippers-Lakers.

“I respect our teams’ unified act of peaceful protest for social justice and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our long-standing rule requiring standing during the playing of our national anthem,” said Silver, who watched from a plexiglass-enclosed suite because he has not been quarantined and therefore cannot be around players and coaches who are living inside the NBA’s so-called bubble at Walt Disney World.

The coaches, first New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry and Utah’s Quin Snyder and then the Lakers’ Frank Vogel and the Clippers’ Doc Rivers, were next to one another, their arms locked together. The scenes, which occurred with the teams lined up along the sideline nearest where “Black Lives Matter” was painted onto the court, were the first of what is expected to be many silent game-day statements by players and coaches who will kneel to call attention to many issues — foremost among them, police brutality following the deaths of, among others, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in recent months.

James said he took a knee with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco quarterback who began kneeling during anthems in 2016 — a protest against oppression, he called it — in mind.

“I hope we made Kap proud,” James said. “Hope we continue to make Kap proud.”

Even the game referees took a knee during the pregame scene.

“I think it’s critical that all of us, in a unified way, turn attention to social justice,” Snyder said during a televised in-game interview. “And all the players, all the coaches, are united in that fact and committed to do what we can do to effect long-term change.”

Many players warmed up wearing shirts that said “Black Lives Matter.” Thursday also marked the debut of new jerseys bearing messages that many players chose to have added, such as “Equality” and “Peace.”

The NBA season was suspended when Rudy Gobert — who also scored the first basket of the restarted season — of the Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus and became the first player in the league with such a diagnosis.

Gobert was diagnosed on March 11; two days later, Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot when police officers burst into her Louisville, Kentucky apartment using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation. The warrant was in connection with a suspect who did not live there and no drugs were found.

Then on May 25, Floyd died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into the Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes. That happened on a street, with the images — and sounds of the man saying he couldn’t breathe, then crying out for his mother — all captured on a cellphone video.

The anthems lasted just under two minutes. Some players brought towels with them to cushion their knees. And Rivers said his knee was aching midway through the song.

“Yet there was a guy who had his knee on someone’s neck for 8 minutes. Think about that. … That’s nuts when you think about it,” Rivers said.

NBA players have used their platforms — both in the bubble and on social media — to demand equality, to demand justice for Taylor. Coaches have also said it is incumbent on them to demand change and educate themselves and others. And the pregame actions Thursday were just the start of what is expected to be a constant during the remainder of this season.

Other teams who will play their first games of the restart on Friday and Saturday are planning similar gestures.

“We want our lives to be valued as much as everybody else,” Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum said in a video that aired before the games, part of a project organized by both the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. “We don’t think that we’re better. We want to be seen as equals.”

Added Chris Paul, the Oklahoma City Thunder guard and president of the NBPA, speaking in the same video: “Things aren’t going to change until we sort of make them change.”

Gentry said he appreciated the accidental symmetry that came from the first games of the restarted season coming only hours after the funeral for U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who died July 17 at the age of 80.

Lewis spent most of his life championing civil rights and equality and was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington _ the one where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Gentry said he believes this movement, like the one Lewis helped spark six decades ago, will endure.

“If you talk to some of the younger generation, I think this is here to stay. I really do,” Gentry said. “I have a 20-year-old son and a 22-year-old son, and I know that they feel like this is the most opportune time for us to try to have change in this country.”

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Andre De Grasse didn't win gold, but earning bronze cements his legacy –



Andre De Grasse wasn’t able to overcome the slow start in Tokyo, but he’s just getting started.

No, De Grasse didn’t win a gold but he grinded out a bronze — further establishing himself as one of the world’s most decorated sprinters.

He came out in Tokyo looking like a man on a mission, running 9.91, the fastest in his first heat, the fastest time this year.

De Grasse was slated to run in the toughest semifinal and, after a false start and multiple technical issues with the start technology, a long delay meant some tense runners.

The false start in the semi and final were shades of Donovan Bailey in at Atlanta in 1996, where there was also a false start and a long delay.

De Grasse put up a 9.98 in the semifinals that got him through but got him stuck with a terrible lane assignment — out on an island in lane nine.

Surprise winner, Italian Marcell Jacobs, sprinted ahead of the competition to win the men’s 100-metre dash in 9.80 seconds. American Fred Kerley finished in 9.84 and De Grasse was third with 9.89.

De Grasse was in last place at 25 metres, which generally means your night is over in lane nine. But, similar to his preparation leading up to these games, he was calm enough to not panic, keep his head down and keep working.

He’s overcome not just in this meet but in between Olympics. Two hamstring tears made sure his 2017 and 2018 campaigns were dogged with injury plus the delay of the 2020 games due to the pandemic put a wrinkle in his training taper. The fact he was on the start line and healthy was a victory in itself.

The Canadian sprinter ran a personal best 9.89 in the 100-metre final, winning back-to-back Olympic bronze in the event.

By doing so, De Grasse earned Canada’s first medal won by a man at these Games, adding to the dominance of the women in and out of the pool.

He also climbs up the list of the best times by a Canadian in the 100-metre race, now just behind Bailey’s (1996 Olympics) 9.84 and Bruny Surin’s (1999 World Championship) 9.84, tying the 9.89 by Surin in the 1998 Canadian Championship.

De Grasse is in great company, but the gold would have changed his trajectory and cemented him as the face of Canadian athletics.

The “world’s fastest man” title was unchallenged for most of Usain Bolt’s career. That was supposed to change at these Games. With Christian Coleman’s drug-test-related Tokyo absence, Trayvon Bromell entered the Games as the betting favorite, but he struggled through the heats and missed the final. Bromell entered Tokyo with wins in 15 of his previous 16 100-meter races. His absence on Sunday seemed to clear the top of the podium for De Grasse.

De Grasse rarely dominates on the Diamond League circuit, but “Big Race Dre” often plays possum and saves his best for when it really counts.

It was a wide-open field all set up for De Grasse to take the torch in the 100-metres. Since 1996, there’ve been just four sprinters to win the Olympic men’s 100-metre, with Bailey doing so for Canada, as well as Americans Maurice Greene and Justin Gatlin and, of course, Jamaican Usain Bolt as a three-time champion.

“He’s going to be good; he runs just like me, I mean he’s really slow at the blocks but when he gets going, he gets going” Bolt said in 2016, predicting De Grasse would rise and take the mantle after Bolt retired.

De Grasse responded at the time by saying “He feels like I’m the next one, and now I’m just trying to live up to it.” Which honestly might be impossible.

He has the dual pressure being the heir apparent of Bolt on the world stage and Bailey in Canada.

Plus, the pressure to keep up in his own home. De Grasse and his partner, world champion hurdler Nia Ali, are the fastest parents to their daughter, Yuri, in the world and this looked like De Grasse was going to bring his own gold medal to the household.

So although this might feel like failing to live up to that hype, the key thing to remember is De Grasse is still only 26 years old and will by 29 when the next Olympics come around. Barring injury and interest, he could have another Olympics — if not two. For context, Bailey was 29 when he won Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996.

De Grasse is eight-for-eight in Olympic and world championship finals, every big race he’s been in he’s won a medal. De Grasse continues to add to his legacy of big race consistency even though the gold medal still eludes him.

After winning silver in the 200-metres at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and the World Championships in 2019, another individual medal is still within reach in 2021.

It was not to be on Sunday, but his best opportunity actually lies ahead of him as he’s better positioned to win gold in the 200-metre and the Canadians will also be in the mix in the 4×100-metre final.

In the 200-metre his personal best is 19.80, which is a national record.

Andre De Grasse of Canada reacts after winning the bronze medal in the Men’s 100m final during the summer Tokyo Olympics in Tokyo, Japan on Sunday, August 1, 2021. (Frank Gunn/CP)

De Grasse usually runs the field down, which is why his 200-metre prospects are even stronger than his 100. But the one 100 is the marquee event, the money maker that might feel like an opportunity lost even though the performance was strong.

De Grasse though still has a positive perspective.

“I feel like every year I’m getting better. I still got time in me” said the ever optimistic to De Grasse to CBC trackside in the mixed zone after his race. “I gave it my best. I’m grateful for my performance”

De Grasse had not gone under 9.9 in 61 professional races so now that that barrier has been broken the sky is the limit.

It’s important not to downplay the significance of the 9.89 personal-best getting him his fourth Olympic medal.

De Grasse didn’t lose gold — he earned bronze. In becoming the first Canadian sprinter to claim two medals in the 100-metre, he showed he can grind out results and that his best is likely still ahead of him, at these games and beyond.

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Blue Jays blank Royals as Manoah makes marvellous Rogers Centre debut –



TORONTO — The Blue Jays celebrated a second win in two starts in their Rogers Centre return thanks to co-starring performances from rookie pitcher Alex Manoah and centre fielder George Springer.

Manoah tossed seven shutout innings while Springer smashed home runs in his first two at-bats in Toronto’s 4-0 victory against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday. The Blue Jays arrived back home in Toronto on Friday after 22 months away because of the Covid-19 pandemic, playing home games in Buffalo and Dunedin, Fla.

Manoah made a return of sorts, too. He injured himself two weeks ago, slipping on the rain-soaked steps of the Blue Jays dugout in Buffalo. He suffered a right-back contusion. He yielded only a pair of singles in his 89-pitch outing.

“It kind of got me pretty good,” Manoah said when asked about his fall. “It was a long couple of weeks, and I’m just so happy and so grateful to be back on that mound.

“Body felt really good; everything felt good. I was able to throw a lot of strikes and get the boys a win.”

The 23-year-old Manoah (3-1) knew he would be keyed up for his first Rogers Centre start. So he attempted to control his adrenaline with deep breaths. He didn’t have the velocity he exhibited earlier in the season.

However, he still managed four strikeouts and retired 16 Royals in a row between Ryan O’Hearn’s one-out single in the second inning and Hunter Dozier’s two-out base hit in the seventh.

“We thought he was going to be rusty,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoya said. “But he was throwing strikes.

“This kid didn’t have his best stuff, and he still can get you out.”

If Manoah can continue to chip in as he did on Saturday, the Blue Jays should have a scary starting rotation with their top four pitchers, led by Robbie Ray, Hyun Jin Ryu and newcomer Jose Berrios. The latter was acquired from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for shortstop/outfielder Austin Martin and right-handed pitcher Simeon Woods Richardson on Friday.

Berrios, scheduled to start for the Twins on Friday, was expected to arrive at Rogers Centre on Saturday evening. Montoyo plans to start his new pitcher in the series finale on Sunday afternoon if he deems himself ready.

“I’ll be waiting here for him,” Montoyo said in his post-game remarks.

The Blue Jays also had to wait for Springer to make an impact this summer. The free agent signed a six-year, $150-million US contract with Toronto last January. But a right-quadricep strain limited his playing time earlier this season.

He found his form in July. His first-pitch leadoff homer down the left-field line, for his 40th career leadoff round-tripper, and his third-inning two-run blast were his 10th and 11th home runs of the year. He now has gone 19-for-49 (.388) in his last 13 games with six doubles, six homers and 10 RBI.

“Obviously, this is where I wanted to play,” said Springer, who has reached base 50 times in his 34 outings in 2021. “This is home. For us to have a chance to come back here, to play in front of the fans, the atmosphere has been unbelievable the last couple of games. It’s exciting.”

After Manoah departed, the Blue Jays received some substantial relief pitching from lefty Ryan Borucki and Adam Cimber. Borucki got the first two outs in the eighth inning, while Cimber closed down the Royals (45-58) with four straight strikeouts to end the game.

The Blue Jays (53-48) have won three in a row and four of their last five.

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Toronto's Penny Oleksiak makes history as Canada swims to bronze in medley relay – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Published Saturday, July 31, 2021 10:23PM EDT

Last Updated Saturday, July 31, 2021 10:23PM EDT

TOKYO — Canada’s women capped Olympic swimming with a bronze medal in the medley relay Sunday and produced a historic seventh career medal for Penny Oleksiak.

Kylie Masse of LaSalle, Ont., Sydney Pickrem of Clearwater, Fla., Maggie Mac Neil of London, Ont., and Toronto’s Oleksiak touched in 3:52.60, a Canadian record.

Australia took gold with an Olympic-record 3:51.60. The Americans were close behind, finishing second in 3:51.73.

Oleksiak swam the anchor freestyle leg into the history books as the most decorated Olympian in Canadian history. The 21-year-old surpassed speedskater Cindy Klassen and speedskater-cyclist Clara Hughes at six medals apiece.

“Knowing that I have the best girls in the world to race with, I pretty much had a medal in the back of my mind the whole race,” Oleksiak said. “I’m racing with three of the best swimmers in the world, so why should I worry?”

The achievement says a lot about Oleksiak’s depth of talent, said Marnie McBean, Canada’s chef de mission.

“Winning one medal is hard, and multiple at one Games is all about the ability to reset and focus. Winning multiple medals at multiple Games — that is a battle against so much more,” McBean, a three-time Olympian, said in a statement.

“The notion of repeating and the burden of expectations, internally and externally, can be so disruptive. Penny figured out how to thrive all while being an amazing role model to young Canadians.”

Masse led Canada off in backstroke followed by Pickrem’s breaststroke leg and Mac Neil in butterfly.

As Mac Neil hung the medal around Oleksiak’s neck during the medal ceremony, Masse applauded and Pickrem shimmied in celebration.

“Most decorated,” they chorused during post-ceremony interviews with reporters.

Oleksiak, Mac Neil and Masse claimed their third medals at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre.

Mac Neil, 21, also captured 100-metre butterfly gold. She and Oleksiak took silver in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay on the first day of finals, so Mac Neil leaves Tokyo with a complete set.

The COVID-19 pandemic kept Canada’s swim team out of the water for large chunks of the last 15 months. Mac Neil said that didn’t stop the swimmers from challenging the world in Tokyo.

“We’ve had one of the strictest lockdowns in the entire world, so it was just putting in the training that we’ve doing for the last 15 months in and showing the world what we have,” Mac Neil said.

Masse, 25, earned a pair of silver in backstroke. Oleksiak, who revealed Sunday she’d been dealing with an ongoing back injury, also claimed bronze in the 200-metre freestyle.

The women’s swim team amassed six medals in Tokyo to equal its Rio count of five years ago.

Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C., Pickrem, Mac Neil and Toronto’s Kayla Sanchez posted the fastest qualification time in Friday’s heats to give Canada a middle lane Sunday.

The medley relay medal was Canada’s first since 1988 and fourth in the 61-year Olympic history of race. Canadian women were bronze medallists in 1976, 1984 and ’88.

Oleksiak won 100-freestyle gold, 100-butterfly silver and anchored Canada to a pair of freestyle relay bronze medals at age 16 in Rio.

Heats, semifinals, finals and relays added up to 10 races over nine days for Oleksiak in Tokyo, where she added a pair of relay medals and the 200 free bronze to her total.

Canada’s men’s team finished seventh in the medley relay just minutes after the women left the pool Sunday.

Markus Thormeyer (backstroke), Gabe Mastromatteo (breaststroke), Joshua Liendo (butterfly) and Yuri Kisil (freestyle) finished in 3:32.42.

The U.S. took gold in the men’s event with a world record 3:26.78. Great Britain came second and Italy captured bronze.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2021.

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