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No debate LeBron James is perfect winner for these important times

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A champion for our times.

With his fourth ring — earned with his third team in his 17th season — LeBron James has inched that much closer to matching Michael Jordan, his only other rival for GOAT status. Depending on how you are scoring at home he may have pulled even or got his shoulder past basketball’s ultimate icon. There are strong cases for both men, the defining players of the modern era — the years following the ABA-NBA merger in 1976.

Jordan will always have his clean sheet: six NBA Finals appearances; six titles and six Finals MVP awards to go along with five league MVP awards — and there should have been more.

James has his fourth Finals MVP — and counting — and having made his 10th Finals appearance can challenge not only Jordan’s peak performance but will likely retire – if and when he ever does — with the longest prime of any basketball player ever. Already James has been as dominant as Jordan for as long as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and a six-time champion who won his sixth MVP award at 33 in 1980 and his last Finals MVP five years later at 38.

Jordon vs. James is a lively debate, with plenty of room for parsing and comparing. Is Jordan’s perfection more impressive than James taking three different franchises from the high lottery — where the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Lakers were residing before their No. 23 arrived — to an NBA title?

Please discuss.

But what’s not up for argument is that at this moment, after this most bizarre season, buffeted by historic events with global reach, James was the right person at the right time as he led the Lakers to their record-tying 17th title with a dominant performance in a dominating Game 6 win over Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat Sunday night.

Concerns about the mental and emotional toll of being isolated from friends, family and the simple comforts of home have been legitimate as the NBA hunkered down on campus at Walt Disney World resort for what ended up being 101 days — James said he had a calendar and would check off his time served in velvet-lined confinement. Even with five-star service, the isolation was enough to undermine the hopes of teams with less fortitude. The Los Angeles Clippers, for example, were widely projected to be the Lakers’ most likely rival to come out of the West but their collection of hothouse flowers withered.

James wasn’t immune but seemed to get stronger as bubble time went on. And the Lakers followed his lead.

“I think you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have ups and downs in the bubble,” he said while enjoying a post-championship cigar. “At times I was questioning myself, should I be here? Is this worth sacrificing my family? So many things. I’ve never been without my family this long. Missing the days of my daughter being in kindergarten, even though it’s through Zoom. Missing my son’s 16th birthday, which we all know is a big birthday if you have kids. Seeing my middle child continue to grow and be who he is.

“Absolutely, I’ve had ups and downs throughout this journey. For some odd reason, I was able to keep the main thing the main thing. When I talked about all the stuff that I missed, they understood that, too, and that made it a lot easier for me.”

As his fourth title came into focus, James got better still. With a chance to close out the series in Game 5, he turned in an epic performance — 40 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for a GameScore of 39.1, the 10th-best in his 260 career playoff starts — that fell short only when Danny Green failed to convert James’ pass into a series winner.

In Game 6 James signalled his intentions early by putting up 11 points and nine rebounds in the first half alone as the Lakers sprinted out to a 64-36 lead. He finished the night with his 11th Finals triple-double with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in a blowout win. It’s a tribute to his single-mindedness that even with the possibility of returning home a brightening light in a long tunnel, James’ focus was unshakable.

“It’s a growth mindset,” he said. “You just figure it out. I kept the main thing the main thing, and everything else took care of itself.”

Almost no one has ever done it better. Less than three months before his 36th birthday, James’ Finals line reads like he was 25 again as he put up 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists on 59.1 per cent shooting while connecting on 41.7 per cent of his three-pointers. His average GameScore — a bundled stat from Basketball-Reference.com expressing overall performance — was 27.5, the third-highest Finals mark of his career. His ability to astonish has never aged.

“I have always believed in LeBron James,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel. “He’s the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen, and if you think you know, you don’t know, okay? Until you’re around him every day, you’re coaching him, you’re seeing his mind, you’re seeing his adjustments, seeing the way he leads the group. You think you know; you don’t know.”

But when the credits role on James’ fourth title to add to his bulging on-court resume, it’s what the best player of his generation and quite possibly any generation has come to stand for off the floor that makes him so perfectly suited for a year when it feels like the world is teetering on a razor’s edge and the centre is barely holding.

In response to the social unrest that became a unifying theme following the killing by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, James not only lent his defining baritone to the cause, but even before the NBA re-convened he had committed to action, lending his name and organizational heft to More Than a Vote — an initiative aimed at combatting voter suppression within the Black community and otherwise rallying political support behind progressive causes.

Once he arrived in the bubble, he didn’t stop.

“Being here and having the opportunity to talk about these issues and continuing to understand that this world is not just about basketball, even though we live in a small piece of the game of basketball,” James said earlier this week. “There are so many bigger things and so many greater things going on. If you can make an impact or you can make a change or you can have a vision, it just helps out so much not only in your community but all over the world.

“I know I do my part, as much as I do, on continuing to create change, continuing to educate, continuing to enlighten my community and communities all over the world that listen to me and follow me throughout my journey.”

What would Jordan have done?

It’s probably not a fair comparison, given the difference in time and place, but it’s hard to avoid making it.

Jordan was determinedly apolitical. His focus was purely on being both the greatest basketball player of his time and creating a new standard of business savvy and brand-building for a Black athlete, taking the opportunities afforded him by an earlier generation of trailblazers to their logical conclusion.

“I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player,” Jordan said in his documentary The Last Dance. “I wasn’t a politician. I was playing my sport. I was focused on my craft.”

“Was that selfish? Probably,” Jordan added. “But that was my energy.”

Jordan’s position — at least as a player — was best defined by an off-hand joke he made about why he wouldn’t publicly endorse Black democratic senate Harvey Gantt in North Carolina in his effort to defeat Jesse Helms, a Republican with a checkered racial record back in 1990.

“Republicans buy sneakers too,” was Jordan’s line.

Keeping his business interests front-and-center worked for him. In addition to his on-court dominance, Jordan amassed a nearly unrivalled athlete’s fortune, enough to become the only Black majority owner in the league when he purchased the Charlotte Hornets.

Their divergent political and social justice efforts during their respective playing days don’t necessarily settle any GOAT debates, but that James can still comfortably dominate on the floor while acting as an umbrella under which so many other crucial interests can gather makes him indisputably the man of the moment.

“I will not shut up and dribble,” James said at the 2018 All-Star Game when Fox News tried to chastise him for wading into the political arena. “I mean too much to my family and all these other kids that look up to me for inspiration and try to find a way out.”

Be it his early support of Black Lives Matter in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 or opening his life-changing I Promise School for at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio in 2018, James’ example resonates, and there is no reason to expect his influence to diminish any time soon.

In Anthony Davis he has a teammate who can nearly match his on-court brilliance and given Davis is 27 and James’ seeming agelessness, there is no reason he and the Lakers won’t have a couple of more cracks at adding to their shared championship legacy. The fire still burns.

“Personally, thinking I have something to prove fuels me,” James said, while standing on top of the mountain once more. “It fueled me over this last year and a half (with) the injury [a groin strain that limited James to a career-low 55 games in 2018-19]. It fueled me because no matter what I’ve done in my career to this point, there’s still little rumblings of doubt or comparing me to the history of the game and has he done this, has he done that.

“So, having that in my head, having that in my mind, saying to myself, why not still have something to prove, I think it fuels me.”

For that we should count ourselves fortunate. True greatness is usually fleeting, with age, injury or other circumstances eventually catching up to even the very best. James’ ability to extend his brilliance across nearly two decades is a gift to anyone watching.

For everyone concerned the hope can only be that his next title will be earned in a more familiar environment — in a packed arena, followed by a parade — and in a gentler, calmer time for everyone.

But that this one came this way — with the world upside down, the NBA gathered in a bubble for months on end and the pandemic and the fight for social justice almost washing the season away before it could ever finish — makes James the perfect winner.

Once more the right man for the job.

Source: – Sportsnet.ca

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Rays walk-off Game 4 to even World Series against Dodgers

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Brett Phillips squatted on the field crying, and Randy Arozarena was on the ground slapping his hands on home plate.

Tears of joy, smacks of celebration — and a crucial, wild win for the scrappy Tampa Bay Rays.

Light-hitting Phillips delivered a tying single off Kenley Jansen with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning that turned into the game-ending hit when the Los Angeles Dodgers dropped the ball twice, allowing Arozarena to score and lift the Rays to an 8-7 victory Saturday night to even this suddenly dramatic World Series at two games each.

“Golly, what a special moment,” Phillips said.

Centre fielder Chris Taylor misplayed Phillips’ ball in right-centre for an error and chased it down while Kevin Kiermaier scored the tying run. Arozarena kept charging around third base but stumbled and fell well before reaching home.

He was able to get up and score when catcher Will Smith looked up too early and missed the relay throw, letting it squirt toward the backstop while Arozarena dived on top of the plate.

“Once I saw Randy slip, I was like `Aw, shoot, at least we tied it up,’ and then he missed the ball,” Phillipes said. “I don’t know what happened but then he scored. The next thing I know, I’m airplaneing around the outfield and I get dogpiled and here I am.”

Jansen came on in the ninth for the Dodgers and struck out Yoshi Tsutsugo before a single by Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Rays player. Arozarena, the rookie who earlier hit his post-season record ninth homer earlier, drew a two-out, full-count walk to set up the wild final play.

A 26-year-old from Seminole, Florida, Phillips was drafted by Houston and played for Milwaukee and Kansas City before Tampa Bay acquired him in August for a minor leaguer. Touted for his outfield defence, he hasn’t hit much in the majors, ending the regular season with a career .202 average in 153 games. He had been 0 for 2 in the post-season and hadn’t batted since Game 3 of the AL Division Series on Oct. 7.

Phillips was left off the AL Championship Series roster but shined as a cheerleader, writing up phoney scouting reports on a clipboard touting Arozarena before dancing against him in battles after the team locked up the AL pennant.

“What a great team effort on this win. It took almost 28 guys,” Phillips said. “That’s what special about this team. Just all come together, our one goal is to win. We don’t rely on one guy. It takes everyone, and man, baseball is fun.”

Source: – Sportsnet.ca

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Toronto FC forced to take "hard lesson" from blowout defeat to Philadelphia Union

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USA Today Sports

Toronto FC haven’t had many nights in recent seasons like the one they had on Saturday, when the Reds were overrun and looked overmatched in an ugly 5-0 defeat to the Philadelphia Union.

Toronto were fielding a shorthanded lineup due to a rash of injuries, but even so, head coach Greg Vanney said his side should’ve fared more competitively against one of the teams they’ve been measuring themselves against for much of the season. For whatever reason, Vanney said the energy needed to match the intensity of Philadelphia just wasn’t there.

“It was wrong from start to finish,” Vanney said on his postgame video call. “We weren’t close to them the entire night, really. We weren’t in good spots for each other, we weren’t clear in terms of the stepping out in how we were going to defend, we couldn’t put passes together. And they were just at a different speed than we were on the night, that’s for sure.

“So part of it is just we need to put it behind us. But part of it is we also need to recognize it’s just a reminder of the time of year. You physically have got to be ready to compete and battle and fight for balls and win tackles and all of those things first and foremost, and then you can play. You’ve got to be strong when you’re holding up the ball, the ball has to move a lot quicker. A lot of that stuff has to happen, and tonight it didn’t. Yeah, we were missing some guys, but guys had the opportunity to step in and try to show that this time of year they might be able to help us, and we just from start to finish it was never right.”

Highlights: Philadelphia Union vs. Toronto FC

It’s an even more disappointing result considering the stakes of the matchup, with the Union snatching away first place in the Supporters’ Shield standings with the three points. Both sides currently have 41 points, but the Union are technically on top due to their superior goal differential.

Vanney said going forward the objective will have to be using the lopsided defeat as a reminder for what the games are going to be like come playoff time.

“Obviously credit goes to them because they played at a proper playoff-like intensity and today as a group we didn’t match that,” he said. “And also, in terms of the set-up of things, we needed to put a little bit more into being able to play out of their pressure, maybe play beyond their pressure. We didn’t get behind them enough in the game. There’s a lot of things that went on with that. Credit to them, but I think that’s what you expect this time of year, is teams to come out when you’re fighting for a Supporters’ Shield at the top of table, is you expect a team to come out fighting and you have to fight back and push back and set the intensity bar, but tonight it got set on us and we’ve got to take that as a hard lesson as we go through these last games.

“It’s not one that we needed to take, but we’re going to take it and we’re going to have to move forward.”

Source:Toronto FC forced 

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Toronto FC thrashed by Union – TSN

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CHESTER, Pa. — A top-of-the-table showdown turned into a lopsided loss Saturday for an understrength Toronto FC that saw its nine-game undefeated run snapped in a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the Philadelphia Union.

It was one-way traffic all night long, a night to forget for a Toronto franchise used to being the hammer rather than the nail. Philadelphia took advantage of TFC’s shambolic defending and non-existent attack, bullying a team that had been on a 7-0-2 run.

It was a costly defeat, given a win would have put TFC six points ahead of its nearest challenger. Instead, the Union moved into first place in both the league and Eastern Conference on goal difference over Toronto with the two teams at 12-3-5.

Toronto had gone unbeaten since suffering a pair of losses Sept. 1 and 5, against Montreal and Vancouver respectively.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney called it a “hard lesson,” the kind of performance he had not see for “a long, long time.”

“What went wrong? It was wrong from start to finish,” he said. “We weren’t close to them the entire night, really…We couldn’t put passes together and they were just at a different speed than we were on the night, that’s for sure.”

The decision matched Philadelphia’s largest margin of victory and Toronto’s largest margin of defeat in MLS play, according to Opta. TFC lost 6-0 to the Montreal Impact in a Canadian Championship semifinal second-match in 2013.

Philadelphia outshot Toronto 27-3 (12-1 in shots on target) and had 11 corners to TFC’s three.

“There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves and nobody’s panicking, I can promise you that,” said captain Michael Bradley, who marked his 200th career MLS start.

Sergio Santos scored three goals, Mark McKenzie and Jamiro Monteiro added singles with Kacper Przybylko contributed three assists for a rampant Philadelphia side. The margin of victory could have been higher had it not been for some fine saves by overworked Toronto ‘keeeper Quentin Westberg.

“The way that we play represents, I think, (Philadelphia) in a lot of ways,” said Union coach Jim Curtin “We don’t fear anyone. We’ll go toe to toe with any superstars and our guys stick together and really fight for each other.”

It marked the first time Toronto had given up five goals since a 5-1 loss to Houston in April 2018. That day, Toronto fielded a second-string lineup in advance of a CONCACAF Champions League game.

Vanney and Bradley were singing off the same hymn sheet after the game, saying it was a reminder for some of the intensity of play in the run-up to the post-season and the playoffs themselves.

Bradley, who came off the bench last week in his return from a knee injury, made his first start since Sept. 1. Fullback Justin Morrow, who had missed the last four matches with a calf strain, returned to action off the bench.

But Vanney had plenty of other injury concerns including designated player Pablo Piatti who sat out with calf tightness.

Centre back Chris Mavinga and striker Ayo Akinola missed their second straight game with hamstring issues. Midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who left last week’s 1-0 win over Atlanta after just 20 minutes with a hamstring injury, did not dress.

Star forward Jozy Altidore, another Toronto DP, is a long-term casualty with a Grade 2 hamstring strain.

“Yeah, we were missing some guys but guys had the opportunity to step in and try to show that this time of year they might be able to help us” said Vanney.

Akinola could be back for Wednesday’s game against New York City FC. Osorio is being pencilled in for either NYFC or next weekend’s game against Inter Miami, TFC’s penultimate regular season match. Vanney is awaiting a final verdict on Piatti from club doctors.

Richie Laryea, Nick DeLeon and Gallardo came into the starting 11. Gallardo had played just 62 minutes in two substitute appearances since March 7, when he started the second game of the season.

The Venezuelan lasted just 35 minutes before Vanney brought on Patrick Mullins in a bid to find someone to boost an impotent attack

Philadelphia ran its undefeated streak to five (4-0-1) since a 2-1 loss to Toronto on Oct 3 in East Hartford. The Union also improved to 7-0-0 in league play this season at Subaru Park, which has opened its door with local authorities allowing 15 per cent capacity or approximately 2,775 spectators.

“They’re making a lot of noise, really pushing the players on,” said Curtin.

Philadelphia wasted little time taking it to a Toronto lineup missing some big names through injury.

The Union outshot Toronto 15-1 (6-0 in shots on target) in the first half alone, with 60 per cent possession and nine corners to TFCs one.

The Union went ahead in the 27th minute on a rapid-fire counter attack after Brazilian fullback Auro and Gallardo both lost possession for Toronto in the Philadelphia end. Jose Martinez swept the ball wide to Kai Wagner, who made a run down the left flank and floated in a perfect cross that Santos headed in as defender Omar Gonzalez lunged in vain at the ball.

The Union doubled the lead off a corner in the 33rd minute, taking advantage of some dreadful defending. Monteiro’s corner found Przybylko alone beyond the back post and he floated a header to an unmarked McKenzie to head it in from close range as a half-dozen defenders looked on.

Monteiro made it 3-0 in the 56th minute with a booming shot off that cracked in off the cross bar after a giveaway by Liam Fraser. Santos scored his second on the night in the 63rd minute, knocking in a cross from Wagner with little opposition from Toronto. A dummy run by Brenden Aaronson added some sizzle to the goal.

Santos’ hat trick came in the 68th minute, with the unmarked Brazilian knocking in an Aaronson cross over Westberg. It raised Santos’ season goals total to seven

Alejandro Pozuelo played up front with Tsubasa Endoh, Gallardo and DeLeon trying to offer support. But the Toronto attack offered nothing and Pozuelo, usually a game-changer, was rarely seen.

Morrow and Fraser replaced Auro and Marky Delgado at halftime.

Midfielder Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, who turned 16 on June 16, became the youngest player to appear for TFC when he came in the 72nd minute — four minutes after Santos exited to applause. Raph Priso, an 18-year-old midfielder just signed as a homegrown player, also made his Toronto debut in the 64th minute.

Coming into the contest, Toronto had lost just two of 29 regular-season games (16-2-11) since a 2-0 defeat at the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 3, 2019.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 24, 2020.

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