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Cancellation

Wimbledon is gone for the year, and, while expected, the decision of the All England Lawn Tennis Club nonetheless underscores the gravity of the situation in which humanity finds itself. Notwithstanding the vagaries of holding a fortnight’s worth of topnotch competition on extremely fickle perennial ryegrass, the tournament has been around since 1877, and through all of history save for a six-year period covering the Second World War. And yet, organizers felt compelled to scuttle the proceedings, chucking tradition, however reluctantly, in favor of public safety given concerns on the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019.

The Last Dance

For hoops fans, and especially for those who followed the National Basketball Association through the Bulls’ Dynasty in the nineties, ESPN’s decision to move up the release of The Last Dance two months to April 19 is a welcome one. With the new coronavirus pandemic forcing most countries in the world to implement quarantine measures, the broadcast giant will most certainly be serving the 10-part documentary to a captive audience. As the Lakers’ LeBron James argued on The Road Trippin’ podcast of former teammates Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye last week, “if I’m Michael Jordan, I’m going in there and I’m making a conference call and I’m like, ‘Okay, what’s the reason that we’re going to hold onto it until June now? Compared to now when everybody is at home?’”

Information is power

There can be no discounting the power of celebrity when it comes to raising awareness for a cause. It was certainly on display over the weekend, when the Warriors’ Stephen Curry went on Instagram Live for the better part of half an hour to talk about the new coronavirus. It helped, of course, that he had Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, by his side. “Information is power,” he noted, and promptly discussed the importance of taking preventive measures with the key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Boon or bane?

In the midst of the National Basketball Association’s suspension of its 2019–20 campaign, not a few quarters have argued that the development benefits the Lakers’ LeBron James. After all, they claimed, he’s a relatively old 35, with significant miles on his odometer and in need of rest. Significantly, it’s a narrative that he’s pushing back against. And it isn’t merely because, prior to the league making the decision to hold the season in abeyance, he had just come off a productive weekend that saw him lead the purple and gold to victories against the Bucks and Clippers, noted powerhouses and deemed to be their biggest stumbling blocks en route to a projected championship.

Handling the crisis

The National Basketball Association has invariably been at the forefront of social activism. Unlike most other significant organized bodies in sports, it hasn’t been afraid to stand up for the needs of the greater community of which it’s part even at the expense of its stakeholders. In this regard, it’s fortunate to have progressive officials who take the long view and understand that, often, moving forward means first taking a step back. Earlier this month, for instance, it didn’t think twice about suspending the 2019-20 campaign after it recorded its first positive new coronavirus case. And then late last week, some 100 of its top officials saw fit to voluntarily take whopping pay cuts -- equivalent to a fifth of their salaries -- in order to ease the effects of the pandemic on other employees.

QB free agency

To argue that the National Football League has been having a bizarre offseason would be to understate the obvious, and not simply because of the continued threat of the new coronavirus pandemic. For the first time in a long, long while, quarterbacks aren’t in demand. Erstwhile Patriot Tom Brady was a target of suitors, certainly, and for more reasons than 20 years’ worth of achievements show. For others who have had significant burn under center, however, the free-agent market doesn’t seem to be inviting at all. Even as unease and accompanying movement have historically been tied to the most important position relative to success, 2020 appears to be setting itself up as an outlier.

Ready

The decision to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games was made not a moment too soon. Certainly, its effect on athletes who hitherto looked forward to the Olympics being held in July and trained accordingly cannot be underestimated. For countless who fixed their calendars so they could be in peak form for the quadrennial spectacle, the delay throws a monkey wrench on their bids for glory. The ideal would have been to push through with it, but the rapid spread of the new coronavirus and the need for containment made it untenable. And because lives were at stake, there was simply no choice but to move it back a year.

To delay or not?

Considering the magnitude -- and the resources required for the staging -- of the 2020 Summer Games, it’s a wonder the International Olympic Committee continues to refrain from postponing the quadrennial spectacle due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The closest it has come to doing so is the announcement it made over the weekend, with president Thomas Bach acknowledging the possibility and noting that discussions will be held on the matter. The actual decision, he said, will be made anytime in the next four weeks. Meanwhile, all other sporting events of smaller scope have already been moved or scuttled altogether in compliance with community quarantine measures.

Coping up

Community quarantine measures are disruptive to all and sundry for obvious reasons. When it comes to athletes, however, the change can be nothing short of unnerving. National Basketball Association players, in particular, have encountered no small measure of difficulty adjusting to the new normal for the immediate term. Prior to the suspension of the 2019-20 campaign, they were deep in competition and ready for the stretch run through the last fifth of the regular-season schedule. Now, they’re compelled to stay at home and away from practice facilities, unsure of when they can take to the court anew.

A bind

First off, this much is clear: The Federation Francaise de Tennis was absolutely right to postpone the French Open to a later date. It couldn’t have opened the gates of Roland Garros on May 24 as originally planned given community quarantine protocols in place due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. And with cancellation as an acceptable alternative only in a worst-case scenario, it settled on postponement instead. From its vantage point, it had an obligation to host the major tournament even at the expense of tradition. At least the crown jewel of the clay court season would be moved and not scuttled altogether.

Risk-return ratio

Make no mistake. Tom Brady’s exercise of his free agency rights had everything to do with him underscoring his worth. His first choice was to stay with the Patriots, but he had a compensation package in mind, and he no longer wanted to compromise as he routinely did since he turned professional in 2000. With owner Robert Kraft letting head coach Bill Belichick make the final decision, however, the Patriot Way took precedence, thereby making the remuneration he sought untenable in light of his advancing age and seemingly declining skills. For the franchise, sense and sensibility ruled over sentiment and sentimentality.

Changing address

In retrospect, Tom Brady spent the 2019 season giving hint after hint that he was prepared to leave the Patriots. Not that the greatest quarterback in the history of the National Football League really planned to; familiarity and prolonged success provided ample reasons for him to stay. Rather, he felt he needed to show all and sundry that sentiment would be taking a back seat to sense, and that he, as a result, was prepared to cut ties with the only franchise for which he has ever suited up. Respect, he insisted, was due him for all his physical and financial sacrifices, and if he wasn’t going to get it in-house because the so-called Patriot Way cuts no slack, then pack his bags he must.

Optimism reigns

It’s still too early to say the world is on the way to recovery from the novel coronavirus pandemic. The worst is yet to come in many parts of the globe, and it’s fair to argue that no one country has succeeded in keeping the spread in check for good. In the midst of the uncertainty, however, all have remarkably tried to keep or restore a semblance of normalcy to their affairs. In Japan, for instance, the B. League decided to resume competition over the weekend after having suspended the season in mid-February. In South Korea, meanwhile, the Korean Basketball League is prepping for the return to action of its 10 teams by the end of the month.

Postponed

Golf was among the last of the organized sports to shut down due to the novel coronavirus. The Players Championship, long touted to be the pro ranks’ unofficial fifth major event due to its competitive fields and highly regarded home course, actually finished its first round -- and with crowds to boot -- before being called off. Up until then, United States Professional Golfers Association Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had been adamant in saying the show would go on in light of the varied circumstances under which competitive play occurs.

NBA in good hands

A lot has happened since Rudy Gobert playfully mocked in a presser last week safety precautions against the transmission of the novel coronavirus. Prior to leaving the premises, he went to the trouble of touching every microphone and voice recorder laid out in front of the table -- effectively belittling its capacity to spread. Never mind that the National Basketball Association had just instituted measures distancing players from members of the media in an effort to minimize, if not altogether eradicate, infection. And never mind that France, from which he hails, was then already hard-hit and fighting to contain it.

Season suspended

And so the worst has come to pass. The National Basketball Association has decided to suspend the 2019–20 season until further notice. In a statement issued yesterday, it said it will “use the hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.” Evidently, the commissioner’s office deemed the choice, however extreme, to be most prudent after it found All-Star Rudy Gobert to have “preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19.” Prior to the turn of events, the Jazz and Thunder were supposed to face off at Chesapeake Energy Arena. In fact, they were ready for tip-off, only to be sent back to their locker rooms while fans lay in wait. After half an hour passed, an announcement was officially made on the postponement of the match “due to unforeseen circumstances.”

Major sporting events affected by virus

The novel coronavirus has affected even sports. Major organizations are now preventing members of the media from accessing locker rooms after matches, with pressers held in strict compliance of social distancing measures. Other decisions will most likely be made on an as-needed basis, but preparations for any contingency are already being done. National Basketball Association teams have been told to be open to the possibility of holding matches without any paying spectators on hand, initially thumbed down by the Lakers’ LeBron James, by far the league’s biggest draw, but later on accepted as a worst-case option in the interest of public health.

Sore loser

Longtime hoops fans know better than to give weight to the bitter pronouncements of the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley over the weekend. Even as he gave props to the Lakers for besting them in a matchup the Staples Center marquee boldly proclaimed as a “Battle for L.A.,” he belittled the contributions of Most Valuable Player candidate LeBron James. “We gotta give them a lot of credit,” he said in the aftermath. “Living in L.A., it’s hard to deal with this loss, but we have to wash this down the shower, keep getting better, and we will.” Which was all well and good. However, he also couldn’t resist throwing a ridiculously off-target jab at the leader of the purpose and gold, arguing in response to queries from Inside the Green Room’s Harrison Sanford that defending the latter was “no challenge and “not hard at all.”

Lakers vs best of rest

The Lakers knew they had their work cut out for them heading into the extended weekend. On their plates were a pair of matches deemed to define their last-quarter blitz through the 2019–20 season. Considering their status as tops in Western Conference standings, and with a relatively healthy lead over the best of the rest, the outcomes of the set-tos didn’t appear nominally critical. On the other hand, more than simple bragging rights were at stake for them. The Bucks and Clippers just so happened to be the biggest stumbling blocks to their championship hopes, and not for nothing had they been a combined zero and three against the powerhouses.

New Jersey Nets’ superior culture gone

When Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving formally announced their decision to sign with the Nets in the offseason, they made sure to underscore the prevailing culture as a primary reason for the move. The more illustrious Knicks -- who counted the Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of hoops and just a subway ride from Barclays Center -- were among the numerous suitors who likewise knocked on their doors, but they decided to latch their futures on a franchise historically closer to futility than success. They argued that the foundations were solid -- epitomized by the two-way collaboration between management and the coaching staff, and particularly between general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson.

Anything can happen

A series of unfortunate events helped the Celtics snatch defeat from the throes of victory the other day. They appeared to be coasting along at home, taking the first quarter by five points, the second by eight, and the third by four against the seemingly disinterested Nets, holders of a dubious streak of four losses. And then, for some reason, fate conspired against them. Even with the visitors keeping just one starter on the court, they found their otherwise-comfortable lead (which went up to as high as 21) being whittled down methodically -- until they had none at the buzzer, and until they couldn’t forge one in overtime.

Knicks’ missteps

The Knicks can’t seem to catch a break. Every time they appear to get ahead, they wind up being waylaid. The problem isn’t that they face more hurdles after clearing some. That’s life. The problem is that the hurdles are being set up by their greatest enemies: themselves. And that’s death. For some reason, they flub opportunities to consolidate the strides they’ve made by then taking turns they should know well enough to avoid. After every step forward, they somehow feel compelled to take two steps back -- putting them in an even worse situation.

Finding their stride

The Heat haven’t exactly had a good run since the turn of the year. After taking the National Basketball Association by storm with its overachieving ways to start the 2019–20 season, they promptly went a middling eight and six in January. They appeared to have righted the ship to start the next month, only to absorb three different losing skeins of three, two, and two games to finish five and seven. A glaring inability to both hold on to seemingly comfortable leads and play up to par in the crunch had them struggling to hold on to provisional fourth in the East.

Shepherding the Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo was on the left block, his back to the basket. He had the ball with 2:28 to go in the match, and he looked left to survey the court. The Hornets, whose buoyant play to that point had the 19,149-strong Spectrum Center crowd pumped, were just three down following a P.J. Washington dunk, and he needed to manufacture points to keep them at bay. Seeing tight coverage, he decided to go for the best option: himself. He dribbled once to get closer to the paint, and then made a quick pirouette to the baseline to set up an arching fadeaway. The nine-footer, launched high to clear the outstretched arms of Miles Bridges, was money. It hit the bottom of the net, giving the Bucks some much-needed cushion against the hosts.

Embracing the system

If there was a match that underscored both the benefits and follies of the Rockets’ total embrace of small ball, it was theirs yesterday’s against the Celtics. True to form, head coach Mike D’Antoni relied heavily on his starters, with none taller than 6’7”. And of the four reserves who saw action, only Jeff Green cleared the ceiling, and barely at an inch higher. Yet, it wasn’t as if they lacked height to compete; in fact, they wound up forcing the hosts to go their way as well. When the final buzzer sounded, not a single stalwart who saw action topped 6’8”.

Untouchable

To argue that Jayson Tatum is finally learning how to play to potential would be to understate his production as an offshoot of circumstance. He was certainly a valued commodity heading into the 2017 National Basketball Association draft, with the Celtics bent on claiming him with their pick. They could have chosen anybody, but, their eyes already set on him, instead dealt their first overall slot to the Sixers for the third and a future asset. The deal spoke to both their astuteness and their belief in his capacity to help the cause.

Going small

The Rockets most definitely took a risk when they went all in on small ball at the trade deadline. True, they had advanced analytics to back up their contention that going for speed as opposed to size would lead to increased productivity. With All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook requiring room to maneuver, they figured dealing starting center Clint Capela and, in the process, acquiring versatile Robert Covington would further prop up an already-potent offense. At the same time, however, there was reason to question the capacity of their new roster composition to take the measure of opponents on the other end of the floor.

Wizards’ Beal

Heading into the Bucks’ first of two visits to the Capital One Arena yesterday, the focus of pundits was on how they just managed to clinch a playoff berth with still 55 days to go before the start of the postseason. Not without irony, observers noted that they earned the distinction of being the earliest qualifiers in one and a half decades without lifting a finger; due to the vagaries of mathematics, they did so as an offshoot of the otherwise-lowly Bulls’ victory against the Wizards. The latter so happened to be their hosts, giving the impression that another cakewalk was in the offing.

Bum calls

Since purchasing a majority stake in the Mavericks at the turn of the millennium, Mark Cuban has been unafraid to voice his opinion when it comes to officiating in the National Basketball Association. He hasn’t cared about the fines or the consequences; he is as much a franchise owner as a fan in showing his reactions to what he perceives are bum calls. At one point, The Oregonian reported, he has even considered suing the league, going so far as to hire a former agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the actions of the referees throughout the 2006 Finals.

Move fast

Ask those who have gone far in the National Basketball Association, and they’ll tell you to a man that camaraderie counts as one of the most important factors to success. Talent is still at the top, of course, but esprit de corps counts as 1B on the list, and figures to be far more elusive. The annals of pro hoops are littered with examples of superstar-laden lineups that ended up being spectacular busts. In this regard, the job of the general manager is never-ending, fraught with obstacle after obstacle through a continual search for improvement.

LA teams

The Lakers cannot but be privately seething. Time and again, they’ve been thwarted in their plans to shore up their roster -- with the Clippers emerging as the beneficiaries. True, the rivalry has been around a while; when two franchises aren’t just vying for the hearts and minds of denizens of a single market, but do so in the same arena, fireworks become an inevitability. And, for a variety of reasons, the winners have invariably been adorned in purple and gold. Until, that is, the offseason and through the 2019-20 campaign to date, and the reigning kings of the city aren’t liking the developments one bit.

MLB cheating

“Bizarre” is a word that seems appropriately applied to just about all aspects of Major League Baseball these days. For some time now, the organization that should stand for the best in the sport has instead been under a cloud showing its worst. It wasn’t simply that players on a team conspired to cheat. It was that those players found themselves rewarded with a championship for their efforts. And then, even after their transgressions were officially exposed, they somehow got to escape punishment AND keep the prize they shouldn’t have won in the first place.

Anti-climactic ending

There were a lot of Could Bes and Maybes in the final quarter of the 2020 National Basketball Association All-Star Game. Because of the annual spectacle’s new format, just about the only thing cast in stone the other day was the absence of Overtime. The Elan Ending had the best of the best going for a specific score representing the aggregate number of points Team Giannis put up through the first three periods plus 24 (in honor of the late Kobe Bryant, whose name was likewise carried by the trophy about to be handed to the Most Valuable Player).

The old Tiger

There was a time when Tiger Woods would have been so ticked off by a poor round to the point of frustration. He would have headed straight to the range to correct his swing, striving to let the dark be his light in order to prep for the immediate future. Continuous improvement was his mantra, never mind the stakes, never mind the circumstances. The high number he just shot occupying his mind, he would have tried to scratch an itch in the belief that a remedy was in store. Then, he insisted that a remedy was always in store; it was just a matter of finding the right one.

Slam Dunk Contest

Aaron Gordon should have finally claimed the title he wanted. Scratch that. Aaron Gordon should have finally claimed the title he deserved. For all the recognition Zach LaVine received then, the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest should have been his for showmanship and flawless execution. And for all the outstanding efforts of fellow finalist Derrick Jones Jr. yesterday, he certainly proved even better. Except, that is, for three of the five judges who gave him nines for jumping over 7’5” Tacko Fall en route to an emphatic flush. The 47 he got was a point short of extending the competition, and, once again, he wound up the victim of an unmerited outcome.

Astros apology tour

When the Astros open the clubhouse to members of the media today, they will be marking the start of what figures to be a season-long apology tour for their sign-stealing transgressions. Their first public acknowledgment of the elaborate, electronically aided scheme they concocted to net them wins and, yes, the 2017 World Series will be orchestrated and, by all accounts, stage-managed down to the last word. The grapevine has them doing their mea culpas together, an offshoot of the meeting they had with franchise owner Jim Crane the other day. If nothing else, it’s a logical move; the last thing they need as they prep for their upcoming campaign is a disjointed front that will just keep wounds from healing for good.

Knicks woes

Losing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency was the first real sign the Knicks didn’t have as much pull off the court as they continued to think. There was no question of their lack of competitiveness on it; they headed into the offseason having missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year. Yet, their poor record and all the attendant problems it indicated notwithstanding, they felt they had the juice as first among equals in the National Basketball Association. Until, that is, the windfall that head honcho James Dolan so brazenly alluded to well before their 2018-19 campaign ended failed to materialize. And, amid their backpedaling, they finally admitted they didn’t have any clout, after all.

Ready, willing, able

For much of the 2019–20 season, the Raptors have had to prep for matches without a full roster. In this regard, yesterday was the same old, same old for them: While All-Star Kyle Lowry managed to play after missing a game over the weekend in compliance with the league’s concussion protocol, fellow starter Serge Ibaka wound up staying in the sidelines due to flu-like symptoms. Still, their mindset stayed the same as they prepped to host the Timberwolves. They’re the defending champions, and, regardless of circumstance, they have more than enough to win.

Derailed by elements

Phil Mickelson began yesterday’s round with confidence, and not just because of his history of outstanding showings at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am. True, self-assurance has never been a weakness; when he claimed the tournament last year, for instance, he figured it to be the trigger for an outstanding campaign. Instead, it proved to be mostly downhill from there, with his world ranking tumbling down 55 spots to 72nd by the time he went about his title defense. All the same, he remained upbeat, in no small measure because of his third-place showing at the Saudi International.

Missed calls

The play was set, and Damian Lillard executed it to perfection. Coming off a timeout, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts set up a high screen for him to exploit any way he chose, and he chose right. With Caleb Swanigan in the way, the Jazz’s Joe Ingles -- not fleet of foot to begin with -- was toast. It was Dame Time, and he showed it with a quick drive to the hoop that even the 18,306 fans at the Vivint Smart Home Arena figured to be a sure bucket. It didn’t matter that Rudy Gobert got a hand on his layin and prevented it from going through the hoop. It hit glass first, rendering the block illegal and netting him two points to tie the game.

Spend low, win small

The whiff of the trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Dodgers came midway through what was supposed to be the Red Sox’s season of consolidation. With a World Series victory in their immediate past, they began their 2019 campaign with the promise of continued contention off a largely intact lineup. Unfortunately, they wound up underperforming for a variety of reasons -- and, crucially, despite the efforts of the 2018 American League Most Valuable Player. With the repeater tax slated to add a whopping 50% to the defending champions‘ bill, ownership decided keeping him sans any guarantee of success was not worth the considerable cost.

McDowell’s push

Graeme McDowell is no stranger to slumps. In fact, he had one shortly after he won the 2010 United States Open. Still, it didn’t take him long to recover. He had solid seasons in 2012 and 2013, and the manner in which he rebounded to crowd the top of the sport gave rise to the contention that he would have plenty more highs than lows. In his own words, however, life “just got in the way,” and he saw bliss off the course, courtesy of marriage and fatherhood, coinciding with tumult inside the ropes. “I don’t think I’ve ever sat back and rested in my laurels. Just my practice changed, the time I was giving to the game changed, and I was less effective in what I was doing.”

Superior still

Considering Novak Djokovic‘s experience in defense of his Australian Open crown, “rally” doesn’t quite describe the work he did in order to win. While he claimed the opening set with aplomb, getting 80 percent of his first serves in and winning 80% of his second, it was clear that fellow finalist Dominic Thiem would not be an easy out despite early jitters. In fact, he played nowhere near as well as his opponent in the second and third sets. For the first time in a long, long while, and for the first time ever at Melbourne Park, he looked rattled, shaken, and all too ready to fold.

Comeback masters

The Chiefs headed into Super Bowl LIV as the favorites, however slight, backed by a solid defense and an offense that had hitherto proven its capacity to score in bunches. In fact, their road to yesterday’s winner-take-all affair was marked by a couple of improbable from-behind triumphs. They won the divisional round 51-31 after spotting the Texans 23 points, and then the AFC championship 35-24 despite having been down by double digits. For much of yesterday, though, it appeared as if they finally ran out of luck. And behind by 10 with 11:57 left in the final period, they looked just about ready to fold after yet another interception gave the Niners the ball.

In grief

LeBron James had the shot. He was wide open, having executed a deft crossover dribble that had defender Trevor Ariza literally skidding on the hardwood. The purple-and-gold faithful at Staples Center let out a collective gasp, anticipating a basket that would keep the rally going and firmly shift momentum on their side. They needed a hero, needed a fitting end to a game prefaced by a moving tribute to the passing of one of their own. And he was ready, and willing -- and as he launched from beyond the arc, he very clearly wanted to be able as well. He backpedaled, believing his aim to be true, only to be greeted by a brick and a long bounce to the sideline.