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'Our Voices Were Heard': Inside the 48 Hours That Brought Back the 2020 NBA Playoffs – Sports Illustrated

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The process was messy, but after a harrowing 48 hours for the NBA, the players and league came to an agreement to resume the season.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.—The sound of squeaking sneakers cut through the mural painted walls, the first sign of normalcy returning to the NBA bubble. One by one, players shuffled down hallways and stepped off buses on Friday, ducking through powder blue doors that led to practice floors, ready to go back to work. At 12:39 pm, the NBA and NBPA released a joint statement announcing new league commitments to social justice. The league, officially, was back.

It has been a harrowing 48 hours for the NBA, for the players, a tense stretch that began with the Milwaukee Bucks decision not to play in Game 5 of its first round series against Orlando—a choice made to bring attention to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year old Black man in Kenosha, Wisc.—and continued with a volatile meeting among players on Wednesday night. By Thursday, temperatures had cooled and after a video conference call between players and team owners, an agreement was reached to resume the season.

“Adam [Silver] and the owners were on board,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Even the things they didn’t agree on, they discussed.”

Said Danny Green, “They gave us their word that they have our back.”

The process was messy, players and coaches admitted on Friday. The first meeting, in a ballroom inside the Coronado Springs, was contentious. “I don’t even know if that meeting went well,” Rivers said. Said Chris Paul, “15 years in this league, I’ve never seen anything like it. The voices that were heard, I’ll never forget it.” Players left wondering if the season was going to continue. “50-50,” Green said. Added Rivers, “I think it was close. I don’t think it was a layup either way.”

MANNIX: NBA Players and Their Causes Will Benefit From Decision to Keep Playing

Still, players stressed: The decision to play wasn’t made after one meeting. The Lakers were among the first teams to leave the ballroom. “It was a long meeting, [it] got heated,” Green said. “Took a food break. It wasn’t as crazy as everyone made it seem.” The Clippers left soon after. But Rivers didn’t want the discussion to end there. On the eighth floor of the team hotel, Rivers pulled players into the hallway. He encouraged them to keep talking. To air everything out. Kawhi Leonard spoke. Then Lou Williams. Marcus Morris weighed in. Said Rivers, “There was a lot of emotion.”

On Thursday, more meetings. Teams met individually. Then in groups. Michael Jordan joined the discussions, not as an owner but an advisor, helping players narrow their focus. “He was huge in making sure that whatever we want to do together, we get it done,” said Russell Westbrook. A day after a historic work stoppage, players decided they wanted the season to continue. “[A] lot of our top guys, most teams, wanted to be here, wanted to play,” Green said. “But if we don’t stand for [anything] we won’t get anything done. So we were willing to walk away.” Added Paul, “We understood the platform that we have, and we wanted to keep our foot to the pedal.”

Players needed something. Owners were in a position to give it to them. The asks were reasonable. They wanted a bigger voice internally. The NBA agreed to establish a social justice coalition, one represented by players, coaches and owners, that will tackle a broad range of issues, from civic engagement to advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.

They wanted help with messaging. In recent weeks, players have noted a change. Players have continued to kneel for the national anthem. Television networks, though, have stopped showing it, diminishing the power of the demonstration. The NBA agreed to work with players and broadcast partners to create advertising spots during each game “dedicated to promoting greater civic engagement in national and local elections and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity.”

Inside the bubble, voting is a significant issues. They want to create engagement. “Black men have to vote,” Rivers said. “Have to vote. Suppression right now has never been higher.” They want greater access. Recently, several NBA teams have announced plans to turn arenas into polling stations. Players asked for all NBA teams to do it. The NBA agreed. In fact, Silver told the players, plans were in the works for this anyway. In cities where teams control the arena, owners will work to convert them this fall. Soon after the agreement was public, the Knicks and Clippers announced that Madison Square Garden and The Forum would become voting centers. Paul says that J.R. Smith told him officials in his city—it wasn’t immediately clear which—told him that they planned to do something similar.

“Voting,” said Paul, “is something everyone in the room [was] very passionate about.”

NADKARNI: America Shouldn’t Need Black Athletes to Force Its Hand

There will be skepticism about what NBA players accomplished. If they did enough to make a three-day work stoppage worth it. In a league nearly 80% Black, these issues are deeply personal. Growing up in Hawthorne, Calif., Westbrook saw “police brutality in everyday life.” In 2018, Bucks guard Sterling Brown was tasered by Milwaukee police … for parking illegally. Choking back tears, Paul recounted a conversation he had with Jacob Blake’s father, Jacob Sr. Dad graduated from Winston-Salem State University—in the city Paul was born in. He thought of his 11-year-old son, Christopher, watching the video of Blake’s shooting while his father was thousands of miles away.

“Guys are tired,” Paul said. “We’re all hurt. We’re tired of seeing the same thing over and over again and everybody expecting us to be OK, just because we get paid great money. We’re human. We have real feelings. And I’m glad that we got the chance to get in a room and talk with one another.”

To players and coaches, the stoppage was worth it. It gave them time to process. “We all needed to take a breath,” Rivers said. And it made the world take notice. The WNBA stopped. The NHL, too. Baseball games were postponed. NFL players are discussing options for the fall. “Once the NBA stopped, everything else stopped,” Westbrook said. “Our voices were heard.”

Games will resume on Saturday. No one knows what to expect. “We have a PhD in handling adversity,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said, but it will be challenging to instantly move past this much emotion. In the bubble, there is a new normal. After Boston’s practice, Brad Stevens slipped into the Celtics meal room. A few minutes later, a booming voice could be heard. On a laptop, Stevens had cued up a speech delivered by Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist. Film work could wait until later. 

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NFL hands more than $1 million US in fines against 3 teams, coaches who didn't wear masks during games – CBC.ca

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NFL coaches thumbed their collective, and exposed, noses at the NFL’s mask mandate in Week 2.

The league responded with hefty fines of $100,000 US per coach and $250,000 per club. The first three to get fined were Denver’s Vic Fangio, San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan and Seattle’s Pete Carroll, according to a person with knowledge of the punishment who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the coaches were not identified.

The punishment was meted out a week after the NFL reminded team personnel on the sidelines about the rules for wearing face coverings during the coronavirus pandemic, lest they put the fledgling season at risk.

More coaches and clubs can expect similar punishments as the memo last week from Troy Vincent, who oversees the league’s football operations, was largely ignored throughout the weekend.

Among other offenders: Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels, Chiefs defensive co-ordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Colts coach Frank Reich and Rams coach Sean McVay.

Capping a weekend of deliberate defiance and/or desultory disobedience, Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who said last week he felt Vincent’s memo was directed at him, and Saints coach Sean Payton were shown on a split screen Monday night, both of them breaking the rules.

Gruden wore his mask like a chin strap, and Payton sported his gaiter like a turtleneck.

Players exempt from face covering rules

Following the Raiders’ 34-24 win over the Saints, Gruden revealed he’d had COVID-19 and apologized for violating the rules.

“I’m doing my best,” Gruden said. “I’ve had the virus. I’m doing my best. I’m very sensitive about it. I’m calling the plays. I apologize. If I get fined, I will have to pay the fine.”

The scenes were similar Sunday with head coaches and assistants apparently finding it too hard to keep their faces covered as required under the league’s COVID-19 protocols with either a mask, gaiter or face shield. Players, who, like the coaches, are subject to daily COVID-19 tests, are exempt from the face covering requirements.

Some coaches such as Belichick, McDaniels and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wore their masks or gaiters over their mouths but not noses. Others such as Carroll, Spagnuolo and Fangio wore their face coverings around their chins or necks, exposing both their mouths and noses.

In his strongly worded memo, Vincent said teams “must remain vigilant and disciplined in following the processes and protocols put in place by not only the league, union and clubs, but also by state and local governments.”

Vincent added: “Becoming careless or ignoring face covering and physical distancing requirements will put the 2020 season at risk.”

The rules don’t apply to players, but all other individuals with bench area access, including coaches and members of the club medical staff, are required to wear face coverings at all times.

Failure to do so, Vincent warned in his memo, “will result in accountability measures being imposed against offending individuals and/or clubs. The face covering must be worn as designed so that it securely fits across the wearer’s nose and mouth to prevent the transmission of the virus.”

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

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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

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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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