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Raptors’ Embry had front-row seat to MJ’s greatness long before ‘Last Dance’ –



Once more this week, the basketball world will turn its eyes to Michael Jordan, looking at one of sports’ all-time greats with fresh eyes.

The Chicago Bulls icon has proven again that he can hold everyone’s attention, even if the story is more than 20 years old, and everyone knows how it ends.

‘The Last Dance’ – the 10-part documentary that began last weekend and will show parts three and four on Sunday night in the US and Monday in Canada on Netflix – seemed to draw in everyone with even a passing interest in the NBA and its most towering star.

And given the lack of options for sports entertainment during five weeks the behind-the-scenes documentary of the last of the Bulls six championships plays out, it likely won’t change.

An exception to the rule was Wayne Embry, the Toronto Raptors executive who is self-isolating with his wife Terri and their two daughters in Dayton, Ohio.

“I did not watch,” said Embry earlier this week. “I’m staying with my daughters and the family was watching something else, so I wanted to be a family man and watch what they were watching. I’ll have to catch up on it.”

Of course, the 83-year-old Hall of Famer had a front-row seat when Jordan’s show played live and it never ended the way Embry would have liked.

So, you can excuse him if doesn’t want to revel in the good old days.

Part of the Jordan myth is how he crushed all foes without favour or exception. Some of the greatest players and teams the NBA has ever known played out their Hall of Fame careers without having a championship to show for it – Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks, Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers, Karl Malone and John Stockton with the Utah Jazz and Gary Payton with the Seattle Supersonics.

Embry saw it all coming. In the 1980s in Cleveland, Embry, who won an NBA title as a player with the Boston Celtics and as an executive with the Milwaukee Bucks and a third with the Raptors in 2019, had put together an excellent NBA team that Jordan just happened to smother nearly every Spring.

The documentary has provided a forum or an excuse to relive countless Jordan moments, Embry lived some of them. The pain still haunts him.

In 1988-89 the Bulls weren’t quite the Bulls, having only won a single playoff series (against Cleveland in 1987-88) and yet to make even the Eastern Conference Finals.

But Jordan was most definitely Jordan as he was completing arguably his best individual season, averaging 32.5 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, along with 2.9 steals while shooting 53.8 per cent for the floor.

Richard Deitsch and Donnovan Bennett host a podcast about how COVID-19 is impacting sports around the world. They talk to experts, athletes and personalities, offering a window into the lives of people we normally root for in entirely different ways.

But Embry’s Cavs were a special team. Anchored by Mark Price at point guard and Brad Daugherty at centre – two Hall of Fame talents whose careers were stunted by injuries – they were deep and just coming into their own.

Coming off a 57-win campaign they were the favourites against the 47-win Bulls whom Cleveland had beat six straight times in the regular season.

But Price missed Game 1 of the five-game first-round series with a groin injury and their talented wing Craig Ehlo missed Game 3 with an ankle sprain, with Cleveland losing both games.

The Cavs entered a deciding Game 5 on their home court with their season in the balance.

Embry remembers how it unfolded like it happened last weekend.

The lead changed hands three times in six seconds, with Jordan (on his way to putting up 44 points, nine rebounds and six assists) hitting a jumper to put the Bulls up one; Ehlo scoring a lay-up off an inbounds to give the Cavs a one-point lead with three seconds left.

It set the stage for The Shot – one of a short list of series-winning shots, including Jordan’s Game 6 winner in the NBA Finals to conclude ‘The Last Dance’ and Kawhi Leonard’s series-winner against the Philadelphia 76ers for the Raptors last season.

“I used to stay in the tunnel for our home games, and when Ehlo went in for the lay-up to put us up … everyone was all cheering,” says Embry. “I was stoically watching what was happening on the court and people were like ‘Wayne aren’t you excited? We’re going to win, we’re going to win!’

“I said ‘calm down, he’s going to get one more shot’ and sure enough, the damn thing rattled and went in.

“My heart dropped.”

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.

Embry’s Cavs would end up losing seven playoff series to Jordan’s Bulls, including the Eastern Conference Finals in 1992.

It was a swath of dominance that played out over a decade and a complete roster makeover.

Embry won the NBA executive-of-the-year award in 1992 in putting together what was probably his best team in Cleveland and again in 1998 for a revamped roster built around a promising Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

The Bulls just won titles.

“I thought we a better team, one-through-12, a couple of those times, but they had greatness on their side,” says Embry. “… We had to overcome Michael and we couldn’t get it done.”

Embry is an expert on the subject of greatness and overcoming.

As a player, he teamed with Oscar Robertson on the Cincinnati Royals and was a five-time all-star, but never tasted champagne because Cincinnati couldn’t find a way past Bill Russell and the Celtics or Wilt Chamberlain and the 76ers.

As an executive in Cleveland, it was Jordan, and then for several years with the Toronto, it was another No. 23 – LeBron James in his second tour with the Cavs — that stymied the Raptors.

But Embry is used to overcoming things. He’s fond of saying the keys to success lie in words that begin with ‘P’ – pride, perceptions, passion, preparation, persistence and perseverance.

For decades it was a philosophy that helped him withstand racial prejudice and injustice. Growing up in rural Ohio, he recalls having gun shots fired at his home in the 1940s and 1950s and death threats against him fifty years later.

In between it was making his way in an NBA that had an unofficial quota for black players on rosters and setting the standard as a pioneering basketball executive.

Now he’s dealing with an ailing wife and trying to stay safe during a pandemic that has disproportionately targeted the elderly.

“This is unbelievable,” says Embry, who is using his downtime to put miles in on his recumbent bike and make calls from his contact list of legends – Sam Jones, Robertson, Russell, Jerry Colangelo, Rod Thorn and others.

“My heart goes out to those people and their families that are being infected by this. Polio [the deadly virus that peaked in the 1950s before being tamed by a vaccine discovered Jonas Salk] was bad, but this is unbelievable.”

‘The Last Dance?’ Embry says he’ll get around to it.

Then again, he’s seen it before and despite being on the receiving end of some of Jordan’s most ferocious gut punches, he remains a champion by any measure.

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Report: NBA to test players every night upon return – TSN



The National Basketball Players Association informed players on Friday they will work with the NBA to conduct COVID-19 testing every night during the resumed season according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

The testing will likely involved mouth swabs or light nasal swabs and not full invasive nasal swabs. Should a player test positive, they will quarantine for a minimum of seven days.

Charania also reports the league does not plan to shut down the season should a player test positive for the coronavirus. Players are expected to stay inside the league’s bubble environment in Orlando, while families are allowed to enter after the first round of the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Charania also reports the NBPA has unanimously approved a 22-team return to play format beginning July 31 at Disney World. The news comes one day after the league’s board of governors voted 29-1 to approve the NBA’s summer restart plan.

The league and the union will continue to work though a number of details in the next week on the Orlando resumption.

As for the 2020-21 NBA season, reports from earlier in the week indicated the league was planning on beginning the regular season around the start of December but Charania writes the NBPA believes this to be “unlikely.” Charania adds they plan to negotiate the date.

The league paused its season on March 11 after Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert was revealed to have tested positive for COVID-19.

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NFL stars send passionate video message to league about racial inequality –



Patrick Mahomes, Saquon Barkley and Michael Thomas are among more than a dozen NFL stars who united to send a passionate video message to the league about racial inequality.

The 70-second video was released on social media platforms Thursday night and includes Odell Beckham Jr., Deshaun Watson, Ezekiel Elliott, Jamal Adams, Stephon Gilmore and DeAndre Hopkins, among others.

Thomas, the New Orleans Saints wide receiver who has led the league in receptions the past two seasons, opens the video with the statement: “It’s been 10 days since George Floyd was brutally murdered.” The players then take turns asking the question, “What if I was George Floyd?”

The players then name several of the black men and women who have recently been killed, including Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Eric Garner.

“I AM George Floyd,” Hopkins says.

Adams follows with: “I AM Breonna Taylor.”

The video closes with the players insisting they “will not be silenced.” They also demand the NFL state that it condemns “racism and the systemic oppression of black people…. We, the National Football League, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting…. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”

‘We were wrong,’ says NFL commissioner  

Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league made mistakes in not listening to players, in a video on Friday denouncing racism in the United States amid widespread protests over police brutality against black people.

“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” said Goodell. “We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”

The NFL has been locked in an ongoing debate with players over kneeling protests during the national anthem before the start of games, a practice popularized by quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality.

WATCH | NFL Commissioner admits league mistake for not listening to players: 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league was wrong for not listening to players fighting for racial equality and encourages them to peacefully protest. 0:49

Kaepernick filed a grievance against the league in 2017, claiming collusion as no teams signed him after he parted ways with the San Francisco 49ers. The NFL and Kaepernick settled in 2019.

“Protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff,” said Goodell. “I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve.”

The NFL sent the video out just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump renewed his call for an end to kneeling protests during the national anthem.

Jaguars lead march against racial injustice

The Jacksonville Jaguars protested against inequality and police brutality on Friday, marching from their stadium to the steps of the sheriff’s department.

“Today, we say, ‘No more,'” wide receiver Chris Conley said. “Today, we see a nation that can’t await change, a city that won’t sit still or be quiet.”

The march included Joshua Dobbs, Brandon Linder and Josh Lambo of the Jaguars along with family members. Coach Doug Marrone, general manager Dave Caldwell and assistant coach Terry Robiskie also walked in what the team called an attempt to “raise awareness for racial injustices against the black community,” with many wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts.

The Jaguars started their march at 9:04 a.m. local time to signify the local 904 area code.

The protest came two days after owner Shad Khan spoke against racism in a letter on the team website. He promised then the franchise would work toward a “timely response.” Former Jaguars receiver Ernest Wilford, now an officer at the department, joined them on the steps at the sheriff’s office.

Conley spoke at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. He said he cried when he saw the video of the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was jogging when killed Feb. 23 in Georgia.

Marrone said the Jaguars are working on actions they believe can make a difference. He also challenged the white community to step back, listen and learn.

“Let’s not make the same mistakes we’ve made,” Marrone said. “We need to stand together white and black to make this movement work.”

With the NFL allowing only coaches to return to their offices Friday and players still working remotely because of the pandemic, several Jaguars could not take part in the march.

The team posted videos from a handful of players, including quarterback Gardner Minshew, linebacker Joe Schobert and defensive end Aaron Lynch. Schobert encouraged people to register to vote.

The Jaguars’ protest is the latest involving professional athletes since the killing of Floyd in Minneapolis.

Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry marched in a protest Wednesday along with his wife and four teammates from the Golden State Warriors, including Klay Thompson. Shaq Thompson, and four other Carolina Panthers walked in a protest march Monday in Charlotte, with Thompson helping lead the way.

Broncos plan Saturday march in Denver

On Saturday, several Denver Broncos and coaches plan to march to the Colorado capitol, the site of daily demonstrations. Safety Kareem Jackson organized the gathering after saying Tuesday that players need to do more than tweet and talk because they all see what’s going on.

“I think it’s huge for us to be heard,” Jackson said Tuesday on a video call, “and it’s huge for us to be out in the community so everyone can see us and know that we stand behind them.”

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Saints’ Drew Brees responds to Trump: It was ‘never’ about the flag –



A day after he apologized for his comments about NFLers engaging in peaceful protest, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is defending his newfound stance to the president of the United States.

Earlier on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump criticized Brees for walking back his statements about kneeling during the national anthem.

“I am a big fan of Drew Brees. I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honouring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high… We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag — NO KNEELING!” Trump tweeted.

Brees — who faced backlash from teammates, other athletes and fans for saying he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States” — acknowledged in an Instagram post Friday night that he has learned the protests initiated by Colin Kaepernick in the NFL and taken up by other players was never about the stars and stripes.

“Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been. We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities. We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week,” Brees wrote.

“We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial and prison reform. We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history! If not now, then when? We as a white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities. We must acknowledge the problems, identify the solutions, and then put this into action. The black community cannot do it alone. This will require all of us.”

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To @realdonaldtrump Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been. We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities. We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week. We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform. We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history! If not now, then when? We as a white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities. We must acknowledge the problems, identify the solutions, and then put this into action. The black community cannot do it alone. This will require all of us.

A post shared by Drew Brees (@drewbrees) on Jun 5, 2020 at 7:10pm PDT

Issues of police brutality and systemic racism have returned to the forefront of discussions around the NFL in light of the widespread protests over the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

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