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Jordan’s tequila venture

It’s a testament to the continued pull of Michael Jordan that he continues to command top billing even when mentioned alongside other marquee figures. Anything he does becomes fodder for hoops habitues, never mind that he hasn’t played competitively since April 2003, and that his transition to the front office as the principal investor of the Hornets has been far from smooth and successful. Not that it’s surprising; after all, he’s the best of the best of all time, and his image and likeness adorn the Jordan Brand line of Nike gear that netted close to $3 billion in revenues last year.

All eyes on Brown

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was understandably cautious in assessing new acquisition Antonio Brown’s progress on the field prior to yesterday’s match. Just a week removed from inking a contract that would net him $15 million for the 2019 campaign, he couldn’t possibly know all the play calls of the defending champions heading into yesterday’s set-to. “A long way to go,” the bench tactician told members of the media after practice Friday. “The systems that he’s been in are quite different ... He’s working hard to pick [ours] up, and we’re working hard to get it to him.”

US Team expectation

There is hope, and then there is expectation. For Team USA, the latter was most definitely the case as it embarked on a quest to claim the gold at the FIBA World Cup in China over the last fortnight. No matter that its talent pool dwindled in the last year; 31 of the 35 players it originally named to be part of the selection process dropped out for one reason or another. And forget that two of those who actually made the squad wound up missing games due to injury. The bottom line remained: It still had the deepest, most skilled, and most athletic roster in the tournament. There would be heady challenges en route, but, in the end, it saw itself retaining the crown.

Player of the Year

Rory McIlroy’s stunned reaction said it all. Invited to lunch yesterday by fellow Jupiter resident Jack Nicklaus, he found himself the target of a surprise. It was an elaborate one, with the Golden Bear accompanied by the United States Professional Golfers Association Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and a camera crew ready to record his reaction for posterity. To set up the moment, they told him they simply wanted him to receive the Byron Nelson Trophy for competing the season with the lowest adjusted scoring average. He was calm and collected, believing the ceremony to be a formality.

KD’s fresh start

Yesterday’s news on the National Basketball Association was dominated by Kevin Durant’s revelations to The Wall Street Journal. Not that what he told J.R. Moehringer were shockers; for a long, long while now, avid hoops fans have known him to be, well, conflicted. Successful and yet unfulfilled. Wanted and yet unsettled. Talented and yet unsure. It’s why his divorce from the Thunder in 2016 was met with derision, and why his decision to move on from the Warriors over the summer, in contrast, felt preordained. Ironically, he had given assurances he would stay with the former, and no indications of his intentions in regard to the latter.

James motivation

LeBron James is three months short of 35 years old. He has been toiling at the sport’s highest level since being drafted first overall in 2003, in the process accumulating mileage topped only by a handful of legends. His numbers indicate both his longevity and the downward trajectory of his career: 16 years, 1,437 games, 56,284 minutes. And, moving forward, he figures to be viewed from the perspective of critical quarters only too cognizant of the dichotomy. He has delivered the goods too often to be doubted, but ultimately isn’t immune to the single most significant factor even the best of the best cannot overcome: time.

From villain to hero

In retrospect, it was, perhaps, only fitting that Daniil Medvedev got to determine the last stroke of the United States Open. After all, he arguably made the loudest news throughout. For all the print space covered by the fourth-round retirement of defending champion Novak Djokovic and the shocking loss of all-time great Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, he hogged the headlines, and not always for the right reasons. After overcoming cramps to win in the second round, he promptly turned heel in his next match, giving in to frustrations and showing fits of boorish behavior that hitherto gave him trouble and compelled him to include a psychologist in his entourage.

Serena legacy

For much of the fortnight, it looked like Serena Williams was finally prepped for the moment she long wanted to claim. Since her convalescence from pregnancy-induced complications in 2017, she had been a picture of inconsistency. A variety of injuries and an increased emphasis on family life stunted her return to the top of the sport. And while she proved good enough in spurts to contend for titles, she appeared tentative and unable to close the deal under the klieg lights. Thusly, she wound up with bridesmaid finishes in her last two appearances at Wimbledon and in the United States Open last year.

Fresh start

Dwight Howard’s conference call yesterday didn’t last long. In fact, it cost scribes only a quarter of an hour to sit through, and even less to consider his statements. If nothing else, he was consistent in his message: Whatever excess baggage he may have brought with him to Los Angeles, he’s looking to the future with eyes wide open and prepared to do whatever he can to help the Lakers win. And, taken in the context of all the workout and training videos of him surfacing on social media since he signed a non-guaranteed contract two weeks ago, his pronouncements come across as genuine and heartfelt.

Upset

Heading into the United States Open, longtime habitues of the sport wondered whether they would finally get to see a match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at Flushing Meadows. For all the protracted success of the two living legends, they hadn’t yet met under the klieg lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium -- not at any stage, and certainly not for the title. Because of one reason or another (but mostly due to fellow Big Three stalwart Novak Djokovic), they hadn’t yet gone head to head in the last tournament on the Grand Slam rota.

Preparation

Belinda Bencic isn’t one to exert pressure on herself. She has learned not to, having seen the pitfalls of great expectations both as an accomplished junior and as a well-traveled pro. She is, if nothing else, pragmatic, and especially in her assessment of self. For example, she concedes that she has “less talent and touch” than compatriot and mentor Martina Hingis, five-time major titleholder and daughter to former coach Melanie Molitor. No doubt, her nuanced view of her potential stems from her roller-coaster experience. She had ups early on, including a quarterfinal-round appearance in the 2014 United States Open and two Women’s Tennis Association Tour titles the next year. Then she had downs, among them wrist surgery in 2017 and its protracted period of convalescence.

Shocker

When the schedule for the United States Open men’s singles draw was released, not a few quarters saw fit to look ahead to a potential Round of Four match between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. There was reason for the heightened anticipation, to be sure; they contended for the Wimbledon championship when they last met, and their encounter had to be decided via an unprecedented fifth-set tiebreaker. And with fellow Big Three stalwart Rafael Nadal expected to emerge from the other half of the bracket, a humdinger of a final appeared to be in store.

Closer to success

In terms of star power, the third-round match between Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff yesterday did not disappoint. The capacity crowd of 23,771 that filled Arthur Ashe Stadium included a fair share of celebrities in sports and entertainment eager to see a humdinger that, based on hype alone, looked to rival any other for the United States Open fortnight. Unfortunately, the actual battle failed to approximate its potential. Not even close; it took all of 65 minutes to be decided, with the dismay of the vast majority of spectators borne as much of its duration as of its outcome.

Complicated friendship

The careers of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant are so intertwined that hearing news of one without the other being mentioned has become the exception rather than the rule. Their age disparity doesn’t matter. Neither is the fact that they played on different teams longer than together. Because they framed their greatest success alongside each other, perspectives of the remainder of their body of work become springboards for comparison. Heck, even they themselves can’t help but view their collective accomplishment with What Ifs and Could Have Beens.

Vulnerable

Longtime hoops observers have made a big deal out of the United States last week losing for the first time in international competition since 2006, and rightly so. It experienced its maiden setback against Australia, in the process breaking a 78-match win streak covering six tournaments and all exhibitions in between. Moreover, the development underscored the fragile state of USA Basketball heading into the World Cup this weekend; over the last year, all but four of the 35 players USA Basketball included in the national team pool saw fit to drop out of consideration for one reason or another, leaving the final roster devoid of star power.

Feeling good

Serena Williams had become a question mark heading into the United States Open. In part, it was because a cacophony of injuries -- including back issues that compelled her to pull out of two tuneup events -- further reduced her already-sparse schedule. In larger measure, it was due to her disappointing performances in tournaments where she did manage to show up. To be sure, “disappointing” is applied relative to expectations, which have remained outsized despite her advancing age, physical challenges, and, in the face of motherhood, redefined priorities. Needless to say, any other player would have been feted for making the final in three of five Grand Slam appearances.

Flourishing finish

Rory McIlroy was a dejected runner-up at the Tour Championship 11 months ago. Paired with Tiger Woods in the final round, he didn’t quite have his A-game to keep up with the eventual champion. In fact, he wound up being a spectator to one of the most spectacular finishes in the sport -- with the best player of his generation being embraced by an extremely engaging crowd of thousands that literally went inside the ropes to celebrate the outcome. And even as he joined teeming fans in congratulating the comebacking titleholder, he knew he let a grand opportunity slip away.

Signing Howard

The Lakers didn’t really need to find a replacement for DeMarcus Cousins as soon as possible. Even as the injury he suffered one and a half weeks ago came as a shocker and threw their best-laid plans to the bin, they could have waited for better alternatives than the veritable retreads who came knocking on their door. After all, there’s still half a year before the trade deadline; they can conceivably use the time to look at fillers, better options from the buyout market, or even unique combinations of players already on the roster.

Scrimmages

You know players are serious when they get antsy over being double-teamed during pickup games. You flick through social media, and you come across video of Devin Booker being frustrated by help defense in a match also featuring Ben Simmons, Joakim Noah, and Trey Lyles. “Hey, bro! We not doublin’ in open gym, bro. I get that s--t all season. Come on, man! Let’s work on our game, bro. Let’s work on our game,” he goes, and you laugh. It should be no big deal, you note, and certainly not enough to have one of the best scorers in the National Basketball Association sound off the way he did.

Critical addition

There can be no downplaying the significance of Tyrone Lue signing with the Clippers as an assistant on the bench. The news, coming via a tweet from The Athletic’s Shams Charania yesterday, caps a week-long negotiation that solidifies head coach Doc Rivers’ staff and further underscores the franchise’s intent to go all in through the coming season. He joins Sam Cassell, Casey Hill, Armond Hill, Rex Kalamian, Brendan O’Connor, and John Welch in the sidelines. And while he may be the last on board, he figures to be an integral component of their projected march to the top.

Quick fix

For all the question marks DeMarcus Cousins brought with him when he latched on to the Lakers early last month, there was to be no doubting his value. Signed to a $3.5-million deal, he would have been a cinch to start for a powerhouse squad that includes perennial All-Stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. In nominal terms, his salary, significantly lower than the $5.3 million he inked with the Warriors for the previous season, is just 231st of the 450 to be drawn by players on official franchise rosters. In other words, he was pegged to be a bargain-basement contributor who, at the very least, figured to give the purple and gold much-needed depth.

Proving worth

Justin Thomas looked well on his way to claiming the BMW Championship after a masterful third-round 61 staked him to a six-stroke lead with just 18 holes to go. And while he didn’t exactly have a good start yesterday, he managed to carve a decent front nine after birdies on the fifth and seventh holes. He was still at least four shots clear of the rest of the field heading into his final nine, never mind closest pursuer Patrick Cantlay’s blistering run to that point. His first win in a year appeared to be in his grasp.

Fox quits Team USA

What made De’Aaron Fox change his mind and decide to withdraw from the United States team to the FIBA Basketball World Cup? Based on the news Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Haynes broke via Twitter, he seemed to have an epiphany and moved to “focus on upcoming season with goal of making playoffs” just hours before it was scheduled to fly to Australia for a series of tuneup matches. Considering how much he hitherto appeared to relish the prospect of suiting up for the red, white, and blue, the timing was, at the very least, suspect.

Staying fit

Tiger Woods didn’t exactly have a good start to his pro-am appearance at the BMW Championship yesterday. He did his usual pre-round routine, spending some on the range before teeing off, but his relative rust still showed. It was hardly unexpected, to be sure; including last week’s aborted stint at The Northern Trust, he has played just 234 holes since claiming the Masters last April. Nonetheless, it didn’t augur well for the Presidents Cup captain who looked to turn the back half of the FedEx Cup Playoffs into a successful bid for a spot on the team also as a player.

Twitter game

Phil Mickelson hasn’t been consistently good for a while now. Arguably, he started the year on a high; he claimed a bridesmaid finish at the Desert Classic in January and then a victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am three weeks later. Yet, even then, there were signs that he would have trouble staying sharp; for instance, his competitive stints sandwiched a missed cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he had previously won thrice. He would wind up tinkering with his swing off the tee and stroke on the greens as he negotiated his 2019 campaign, and his results underscored both the causes and effects of his efforts to find comfort in his mechanics.

Team USA

Yesterday came with news of yet another departure from Team USA’s contingent to the World Cup. Granted, Kyle Lowry’s pullout wasn’t a surprise; continuing convalescence from surgery to his thumb last month had kept him out of training camp. Nonetheless, it served to strengthen the prevailing narrative that suiting up for flag and country isn’t as fulfilling as it used to be; the premise may be unfair, but there can be no questioning the numbers. Of the 35 names USA Basketball announced as part of its national team pool last year, only four remain.

Right direction

Heading into the final round, The Northern Trust appeared to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. Headlines were being grabbed by developments off, and not on, the 7,370-yard pride of Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey. Masters champion Tiger Woods, still golf’s biggest draw, had to withdraw from the tournament prior to the second round due to a “mild oblique strain that led to pain and stiffness;” never mind that, in negotiating his first 18 poorly, he appeared rusty and not injured. At the same time, social media habitues also focused on slow play, and particularly on egregious examples put forth by so-called mad scientist Bryson DeChambeau.

Rejected

Carmelo Anthony had to have been devastated that his request to join Team USA for the FIBA Basketball World Cup was turned down. Even as he had been experiencing one rejection after another of late, he figured with no small measure of optimism that Jerry Colangelo, managing director of USA Basketball, would consider adding him to the roster headed to China late this month. After all, he isn’t just any 35-year-old journeyman pro whose best days are decidedly behind him; he’s the country’s best-ever international player, among only four in hoops annals to have four Olympic medals and the only one in history with three golds in the Summer Games.

Bent on competing

Tiger Woods almost didn’t tee off for the Pro-Am round of The Northern Trust yesterday. Delayed by around half an hour due to inclement weather, it didn’t seem like a good idea for him following a mediocre practice session. After some thought, however, he opted to get some reps in at 7,370-yard, par-71 Liberty National in Jersey City, New Jersey, anyway. No doubt, improved conditions coupled with the warm temperature spurred him to much-needed action. And for a while there, he appeared to do all right -- until, that is, his back appeared to act up after a wayward drive.

Heart and soul

Udonis Haslem has more than 522,000 followers on Instagram, so it’s but typical for him to see his posts draw significant reaction. Still, his latest contribution to the social media app tops the cake. Hitting Cyberspace yesterday, it featured a photograph of the Larry O’Brien Trophy ensconced in his locker-room stall at the AmericanAirlines Arena along with the caption “Too be continued Heat Nation!!!” and hashtags “#og” and “heatlifer.” Netizens pounced on the announcement; in a span of six hours, it drew a whopping 31,000 likes and nearly four figures in comments practically carrying the same message: “Legend.”

Unprecedented run

It’s official. Vince Carter will be suiting up for his 22nd and final season in the National Basketball Association. He had, of course, already signified his intent to burn rubber for yet another year and, in the process, break a record he currently shares with just-retired Dirk Nowitzki, Robert Parish, Kevin Garnett, and Kevin Willis for the most number of campaigns played in a career. The Hawks bringing him back for the minimum $2.56 million thereby ensures his place in history. No doubt, they were pleased with the numbers he put up -- norms of 7.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists through 17.5 minutes of play -- in 76 games for them, not to mention with his locker-room leadership as they strove to rebuild.

Sure thing

First things first: The $100-million extension that Draymond Green successfully negotiated with the Warriors represents the maximum-allowable amount he could have received under terms of the National Basketball Association’s collective bargaining agreement. Second things second: The $100-million extension likewise represents a bargain given the options he had. By agreeing to stay signed and keep donning royal blue and California golden yellow until 2024, he limited his earning capacity in favor of security. Clearly, he deems the one in his hand to be superior to the two in the bush.

Griffin on James

It’s easy to see why David Griffin went on the defensive as soon as the Sports Illustrated (SI) article focusing on his career hit the Net. Written by regular staff member Jake Fischer, it tracked his ascent to top-rung positions with the Suns and Cavaliers, and, most importantly, how his experience informs his plans as executive vice president of the Pelicans. And it should have been all well and good. Unfortunately, it wound up highlighting a handful of quotes he made throughout his conversations with the scribe spread over the National Basketball Association’s Summer Camp, and particularly as they related to LeBron James.

No takers

Believe it or not, Carmelo Anthony is still looking to get signed, and, to his credit, remains in shape for his targeted last payday. Under the supervision of trainer Chris Brickley, he is in the midst of his annual offseason pilgrimage at the Life Time Athletic at Sky, a members-only gymnasium in Manhattan. So far in his second home, he has worked out with the likes of Chris Paul, Julius Randle, Donovan Mitchell, and Trae Young. And, judging from the feedback given by those who have taken to the court with him or seen him in action, he’s ready, willing, and able to justify taking any one of the roster spots still available in the league.

Daddy James

LeBron James just can’t get any slack. Even his mere attendance at a basketball game of his son’s team has been placed under scrutiny. Admittedly, he calls attention to himself in manners other parents can’t and those from the outside looking in may deem overenthusiastic at best. Joining players’ pickup lines to throw down dunks and celebrating to the point where he becomes the focus of attention instead of the action on the court isn’t normal by any means. Which is why he has been pilloried by armchair pundits and on social media.

Best golfer

Not a few quarters were looking for a shoot-out heading into the deciding round of the FedEx St. Jude Invitational. Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka had all but obliterated TPC Southwind in their penultimate 18, carding 62 and 64, respectively, to set up a final pairing. It didn’t matter that 10 players posted scores within four strokes of the pace; as far as pundits were concerned, the focus remained with the multiple major winners, and not simply because they had momentum on their side. Parenthetically, the pride of Memphis, Tennessee, was set up as a birdie haven, allowing for low scores across the board and fueling anticipation for more red marks with the hardware on the line.

Power of faith

Jeremy Lin sounded somber for the better part of his testimonial recorded by Taiwan-based Good TV. He made the appearance as part of what has now become an annual pilgrimage to Greater China, where he remains the third most popular player from the National Basketball Association after LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. For all his willingness to give of himself by way of hoops clinics and instructionals, he proved to be at his most revealing in front of a packed auditorium of fellow Christians; the league that gave him his biggest break and enabled him to be an ambassador for Asians, he said, has “kind of given up on me.”

Appeased Harden

Russell Westbrook said all the right things throughout his introductory news conference the other day in fact, he had been doing the right things since the first week of free agency; erstwhile All-Star partner Paul George bolted for the Clippers, and the record haul the Thunder received in return placed them in prime position to reboot their roster. In support of this one-step-back-now-for-two-steps-ahead-later effort, he worked with the front office to engineer a transfer to the Rockets vice point god Chris Paul and even more draft picks. As he noted, it was a move both he and resident top dog James Harden angled for. “I only care about one team, and that’s the Houston Rockets.”

The new Clippers

The sight of Steve Ballmer exhibiting exuberance when it comes to the Clippers is nothing new to longtime followers of the pro hoops scene. When watching games from his usual courtside seat at Staples Center or on the road, he gets worked up even over routine plays. He’s keen on showing his support for the red, blue, and black, and the energy with which he conveys his sentiments is unparalleled. He’s not just the richest owner in the National Basketball Association; he also happens to be its most demonstrative, with due apologies to the Mavericks’ Mark Cuban.

Woods new norm

Fans can reasonably argue that truer words were never spoken when Tiger Woods said “I just want to go home” after an abbreviated stint at the British Open. Even with relatively benign conditions greeting Claret Jug hopefuls through the first two rounds of competition, the reigning Masters champion didn’t just fail to make the weekend; he got nowhere close to the cut line, a seven-over first-18 78 derailing his chances at Royal Portrush. And by the time he met members of the media for his post-mortem, he looked deflated to the point of uttering a sentence that threatened his status as the sport’s ultimate grinder.

Wizards solutions

The Wizards figure to have a busy week that could well determine the success of their medium-term plans. They started it by formally introducing longtime staffer Tommy Sheppard as their new general manager, finally closing the lid on a protracted search for the fired Ernie Grunfeld. The erstwhile assistant was himself involved in the process, but became the leading candidate when Nuggets head of hoops operation Tim Connelly, their primary target, begged off and actually recommended him. And they look to end it on a high note by offering resident All-Star Bradley Beal a three-year contract extension worth a whopping $111 million.

Irishman tames Royal Portrush

To argue that Shane Lowry battled the odds in order to win the British Open would be an understatement. It wasn’t simply that he carried the hope of Ireland in the major tournament’s return to the country for the first time since 1968 and just the second time ever. It was that his performances in Grand Slam events had been spotty at best, and that his most memorable turn ended up in disappointment. He held a four-stroke lead heading into the final round of the 2016 United States Open, only to sputter with a 76 and finish a bridesmaid.

Traveling rule

The eye test is crucial to National Basketball Association referees. In fact, it’s the single biggest determinant of the decisions they make as they survey the non-stop action on the court. On the flipside, it also happens to be the biggest weapon longtime habitues of the sport wield against them. Data from the front office strongly indicate that they get calls right an overwhelming majority of the time. Unfortunately, they don’t get pats on the back for doing their jobs well. Rather, they get pilloried on the rare instances that they wind up swallowing their whistles for reasons they may deem justifiable at the given instance, but which not-quite-impartial quarters believe to be flat-out wrong.

James-Russell tandem

It was evident from the outset that the Rockets didn’t simply want to claim another marquee name when they spread the welcome mat for Russell Westbrook last week. Even as speculation on their interest rose as soon as it became clear that he was on the trading block, their penchant for chasing superstars wasn’t the sole driving force for his arrival. In fact, the benefit of more information and hindsight figures to definitively prove that, above all else, they were angling for addition by subtraction. Erstwhile starter Chris Paul needed to be unloaded after their disappointing showing in the 2019 Playoffs highlighted a deteriorating relationship with top dog James Harden.

Gentler Woods

There was a time when press conferences featuring Tiger Woods yielded nothing by way of information. He was being reticent by design, to be sure. He didn’t want those on the outside looking in to know more about his private life, and, just as importantly, his peers from getting a better grasp of how he went about his business on the course. As far as he was concerned, winning wasn’t everything; it was the only thing. And for a long, long while, his steely demeanor served to underscore his dominance and singular stature; he was on a pedestal by his lonesome, with all and sundry looking up from a distance -- exactly the way he wanted things to be.