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Tao of Stieb: Notable addition would help Blue Jays fans believe again –



The Toronto Blue Jays have reached an inflection point in their history. After three seasons of skittering backward in the standings, the coming year should be better. It needs to be.

There are signs that after the past few seasons’ strategic retreat, the collection of young and emerging talent assembled by the Blue Jays will be prepared to step up and move the team’s fortunes in a positive direction. Maybe not into contention just yet, but something better than 67 wins.

You’d be hard-pressed, though, to find much optimism for the state of the team among the fanbase lately. Maybe it’s the echo chamber of snark and negativity that thrives on social media, but the overriding sentiment is frustration, and maybe even worse, a growing disheartenment and apathy with where the Blue Jays stand.

Some of this is simply the turgid rot of modern sports fandom, where a segment of every team’s fans believes that if they aren’t in ecstasy, then they should be affecting agony at the top of their voice. But some of it runs deeper, and some of it is less cynical and more true, and it should be a concern for the brain trust and stewards of the franchise.

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The public trust in the Blue Jays is bottoming out, to a point where the management team can seemingly do no right. If they add starting pitchers like a Tanner Roark, or a Chase Anderson, it’s viewed as bargain shopping to raise the floor. And there’s not much reason to get excited about that.

If the Blue Jays take a serious run at players who may be slightly more skilled or revered, but come up empty, it feeds into the negative perception of the team. Either Toronto didn’t do enough to lock the player down, or nobody wants to come play for them. Both explanations leave fans demoralized and frustrated.

It has created a situation where, if the Blue Jays aren’t able to lock up a top player by the time they report to Dunedin in February, the season will begin to feel like another failure before it even begins.

This crisis of consumer confidence didn’t happen all at once. While there are arguments to be had over the team’s transactions in the past year, the messaging around the deals that sent long-serving players out of town for uninspiring returns helped to feed into a bitter pessimism about the team and those managing it.

From a purely rational perspective, one can’t blame the management team if they walk away from the off-season and pocket the “payroll flexibility” until a better player becomes available. But with the current perception of the team as low as it is, it’s hard to imagine how they could get away from the winter without making at least one big splash.

This isn’t an unprecedented situation. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that Alex Anthopoulos found himself in the same spot. Following a disastrous 2012 season, in which manager John Farrell left for his “dream job” with a divisional rival, shortstop Yunel Escobar walked onto the field with homophobic slurs written on his eye black and the team’s future core seemingly imploded in unison, something needed to change to save the perception of the team.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

By Christmas of that offseason, Anthopoulos had pulled off two mega deals to bring veterans, league-leaders, all-stars and a reigning Cy Young laureate. They brought back a well-liked manager (John Gibbons) and those blue uniforms — and their offseason boldness was rewarded with a level of reinvigorated fervor from the fans.

It didn’t actually work so well on the field, mind you. Not initially, at least, as the 2013 Blue Jays won just one more game (76) than the shambolic 2012 team. It took two more seasons before some of that massive haul could contribute to the moment when the team’s fortunes truly turned. But the big deals at least created the impression that the team could be bold if it needed to be.

There is some hazard in attempting to turn around the public perception all at once. The free agent market this year ran hotter and faster than any in recent memory, which left the Blue Jays – and many other teams – chasing after a scant few players at the top of everyone’s lists. It has left them in a situation where the decision of a single player could make or break their offseason, potentially sinking the customers’ trust that much more.

This is likely an argument for why teams shouldn’t wait until the perfect moment to begin adding substantively all at once when they are “ready”, and why they should always be looking to make their team better. But that’s another treatise for a another day.

It’s one thing to sneer at the notion of “winning the off-season,” but there comes a moment where if you don’t do something notable, you risk losing more fans’ faith.

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LeBron Saves Team USA in Thrilling Exhibition Against South Sudan at O2 Arena



LONDON — In what could have been one of the most monumental upsets in international basketball history, Team USA narrowly escaped with a 101-100 victory over a spirited South Sudan team at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night. This exhibition match, serving as a tune-up for the 2024 Olympics, showcased the rapid rise of South Sudanese basketball and the indomitable spirit of the American team led by LeBron James.

The atmosphere at the O2 Arena was electric, with fans witnessing a game that turned out to be far more competitive than expected. South Sudan, a team composed largely of refugees and players from the diaspora, pushed the heavily favored Americans to their limits.

First Half Highlights:

  • South Sudan came out firing on all cylinders, building a surprising 16-point lead in the second quarter.
  • Team USA struggled with their three-point shooting, missing 12 of their first 13 attempts from beyond the arc.

Despite the odds, South Sudan’s players, many of whom have overcome significant personal and professional challenges, played with remarkable cohesion and determination. Their performance was a testament to the rapid progress the team has made under the guidance of former NBA star Luol Deng.

With the game hanging in the balance, LeBron James demonstrated why he remains one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Benched at the start of the third quarter, James returned to the floor with a determination that was palpable.

Key Moments:

  • Third Quarter: Anthony Davis’ defensive prowess helped shrink the deficit. LeBron’s return brought stability and focus back to Team USA.
  • Final Minute: With just 20 seconds left, JT Thor of South Sudan scored over LeBron, giving his team a one-point lead.
  • Game-Winning Shot: LeBron drove to the basket, scoring the decisive layup with eight seconds remaining.

South Sudan’s journey to this point has been nothing short of inspirational. The country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, and the basketball program, still in its infancy, has quickly become a source of national pride.

Notable Contributions:

  • Carlik Jones: Delivered a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.
  • Wenyen Gabriel: LeBron’s former teammate with the Lakers, contributed 11 points.
  • Marial Shayok: Led South Sudan with 24 points.

The team’s formation and rise have been spearheaded by Luol Deng, who played a pivotal role in recruiting and funding the program. His efforts have culminated in South Sudan qualifying for the Olympics, marking a historic achievement for the young nation.

Stephen Curry: “Wild game. They played really intense. It was nice to see how we responded. LeBron with a great finish down the stretch.”

Steve Kerr: “The whole team was embarrassed at halftime. We were challenged today, and it was good for us to feel that now. This was a reminder that we need to bring our best every game.”

Luol Deng: Expressed immense pride in his team’s performance, emphasizing the significance of their journey and the obstacles they have overcome.

This exhibition game was more than just a pre-Olympic warm-up. It highlighted the potential for underdog stories in sports and underscored the global reach and impact of basketball. Team USA, despite the narrow escape, was reminded of the importance of every game and the challenges that lie ahead.

South Sudan, on the other hand, has cemented its place on the international stage, showcasing that with determination and the right support, even the newest teams can compete with the best in the world.

As both teams prepare for the Olympics, this game at the O2 Arena will be remembered not only for its thrilling finish but also for the remarkable stories of resilience and ambition that played out on the court.

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UFC Vegas 94: Amanda Lemos vs. Virna Jandiroba – Main Event Recap



In a thrilling main event at UFC Vegas 94, strawweights Amanda Lemos and Virna Jandiroba faced off on Saturday night. After an evenly matched first round, Jandiroba secured a dramatic submission victory in the second round, just moments before the bell.

Fight Summary:

  • First Round: The opening round was highly competitive, with both fighters showcasing their skills and maintaining a close contest.
  • Second Round: In the final seconds of the second round, Jandiroba managed to secure a submission, forcing Lemos to tap out. The win marks an impressive fourth consecutive victory for Jandiroba.

Post-Fight Remarks:

  • In her post-fight interview inside the Octagon, Jandiroba confidently called out UFC President Dana White, declaring, “Dana, I’m the next one. Dana, I’m your next champion.”

Future Implications:

  • With this victory, Jandiroba has positioned herself as a strong contender for the strawweight title. Tatiana Suarez, who was the rightful next contender for Weili Zhang, has been sidelined due to an injury. Jandiroba’s current four-fight win streak and her dominant performance at UFC Vegas 94 make a compelling case for her title shot.

Stay tuned for more updates as the UFC strawweight division continues to evolve, and see if Virna Jandiroba will indeed become the next challenger for the championship belt.

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Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry: Fight Night Updates



Jake Paul is back in the ring, and he’s promising fireworks as he takes on former UFC star Mike Perry at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The fight will be broadcast live on DAZN. Originally, Paul was set to fight Mike Tyson, but Perry stepped in after Tyson suffered an injury.

Fight Details:

Jake Paul (9-1, 6 KOs)

  • Paul is coming off a first-round TKO of Ryan Bourland in March.
  • He has promised that Perry won’t survive the second round.
  • Paul is more experienced in boxing but still relatively new to the sport.

Mike Perry (0-1)

  • Perry, known as “Platinum,” brings over a decade of fighting experience, mainly in MMA and bare-knuckle fighting.
  • He believes Paul is still green in the fight business and intends to use his experience to pull off an upset.

Main Event:
Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry

Live Updates: Follow DAZN for all the live updates, results, and highlights from the Paul vs. Perry pay-per-view main card.

Main Card Results:

Amanda Serrano def. Stevie Morgan via TKO

  • Round 2, 0:38
    • Watch the finish

Lucas Bahdi def. H20 Sylve via knockout

  • Round 6, 2:27
    • Watch the finish

Corey Marksman def. Tony Aguilar via majority decision

  • Scores: 76-76, 77-75, 78-74

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. def. Uriah Hall via unanimous decision

  • Scores: 59-55, 59-55, 58-56
    • Recap

Stay tuned for the main event updates and see if Jake Paul can deliver on his promise of another highlight reel knockout or if Mike Perry will teach him a lesson and pull off a major upset.

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