Jeremy Lin is standing on the corner of Kent and West Streets in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, waiting for his longtime friend and trainer Josh Fan to arrive. The two were supposed to roll together, he explains, but plans changed once the Nets kept Lin and his teammates for a mandatory orthotic insole fitting after this morning’s workout. It’s a drizzly Monday afternoon in September, and Lin is wearing adidas sweats from head to toe, with a matching snapback that’s keeping his man bun, or braids, or whatever’s under there hidden from view.
In a few minutes, we’ll descend into a dimly lit, dungeon-esque basement to do one of those trendy new “escape the room” adventure games. You know, where you have an hour to collect clues and solve riddles as a team in order to, well, escape the room. (In our case, pulling off a Mission Impossible-themed bank robbery before the fictional cops catch us committing the heist.) While we wait, we bullshit about the Nets’ fancy new practice facility in Sunset Park, about how Lin scored his new apartment near the Barclays Center after refreshing Zillow for days on end, and about the upgrades he still needs to make to the shiny black-on-black Maserati he pulled up in, including tinting the windows and replacing the rims. As a jackhammer pounds away at a construction site across the street, Fan finally appears, panting. Turns out, he took an Uber to Kent Avenue, not Kent Street, and had to run the last three-quarters of a mile here, which draws a laugh from Lin.
The last time he played professional basketball for a team in New York, Lin was crashing on his brother’s couch in a cramped Lower East Side apartment. He was, before what ultimately became one of the most memorable individual stretches of basketball in the history of the NBA, another anonymous New Yorker. The night before his “Linsanity” phenomenon began, Lin famously slept on Knicks teammate Landry Fields’ sofa. What unfolded thereafter, for the last two months of the 2011-12 season, established him not only as a full-time pro, but as one of the most popular basketball players on the planet.
“I’m definitely glad to be back,” says the 28-year-old, who after stops with the Rockets, Lakers and Hornets from 2012 to 2016, signed a three-year, $36 million contract with the Nets this summer. “I obviously have a special connection with New York fans because of everything we’ve been through, so to be back here playing in front of them again is…to me, I wish it happened earlier.”
During our faux bank heist in Brooklyn, Lin immediately takes charge. He’s responsible for solving most of the puzzles to unlock each new clue and he instinctively directs everyone else to pick up items we’ll need along the way. It’s corny as hell to say, but he really is point guard-ing the shit out of this. When we emerge victorious with 26 minutes to spare, Lin admits that he’s done this before. In fact, it’s his eighth or ninth time “escaping the room,” and he shrugs once we get back outside to daylight—this wasn’t as challenging as the versions he played in Charlotte and Los Angeles. Then again, dude went to Harvard.
J-Lin’s “regular guy” vibe is disarming, and yet there are brief moments when his status as an international superstar smack you dead in the face. As we casually talk hoops on the walk back to his (ridiculously nice) car after wrapping the interview portion of our shoot, for example, Lin points out that it’s kinda hard for big men to look cool in highlights, because nine times out of 10, Stephen Curry breaking a defender’s ankles and raining a three is more entertaining to watch than LeBron James muscling in 2 points in the post. It’s not an earth-shattering observation for a person to make until you consider the two players being compared are among just a small handful whose global following eclipses that of the person who made it.
But this story isn’t about Linsanity. Because that story’s already been written many times over. And, if you’re reading this, you already know what happened. The night it all started with Lin, then a little-known Knick, dropping 25 on Deron Williams and the Nets at MSG. The 38 and 7 he put up against Kobe and the Lakers less than a week later. The game-winning three on Valentine’s Day in Toronto.
The memories won’t soon fade. Walk the streets of New York City and you’ll still occasionally see his No. 17 Knicks jersey every so often. But the next chapter for Jeremy Lin will play out across town, where Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson is handing him the keys. (Lin says Atkinson, who mentored him as a Knicks assistant during the Linsanity season, is “the only reason why I really considered the Nets in the first place.”) This year, on this team, Lin comes in as the starting point guard, not just some flash in the pan. With all due respect to former All-Star center Brook Lopez—whom Lin first met a decade ago on a serendipitous midnight visit to an IHOP during a high school tournament in California—it’s Lin who will be looked at as the face of the franchise, from the inside and out. And he’s definitely ready for the challenge.
“To have this role, I’m so excited I can’t even really explain just how happy I am,” says Lin. “There’s days where after we work out or play pickup or whatever, I’m just like, Man, it feels natural. I’m a leader. I’m a starting point guard. I run the show—and that’s something I’ve done my whole life on the court. So the last few years playing in a backup position, to me, that’s not who I was created to be as a player, that’s not natural. I feel like I wanna be the guy in the front. I wanna be the guy leading the charge, and I feel that here.
“Walking around Brooklyn, the vibe that I get is that they haven’t had a product that the people have been proud of,” he continues, noting the team’s 21-61 record last season. “I can tell there’s that disappointment from the past. No disrespect or no offense to anybody else who was here before, but that’s just the vibe that I get. So for me it’s just another challenge: How can we turn this thing around?”
Perhaps due to all the same lazy stereotypes that have followed Lin at every other stop throughout his career, it’s still hard for some to picture him in the role of the veteran leader. Time to get over it. The reality is, almost all of his new Nets teammates really do look up to him, and almost all for different reasons.
Like 21-year-old Nets rookie Isaiah Whitehead, who remembers watching every game of Linsanity as a sophomore at Lincoln HS in Brooklyn: “I was right in front of my TV watching every one.” Or Sean Kilpatrick, another New York-bred guard, who looks at Lin as a model of D-League-to-NBA-starter success. “He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” Kilpatrick says. “He’s always talking to me about staying hungry.”
Even Greivis Vasquez, who will be pushing Lin for that starting PG spot every day in practice, respects Lin for being “a fighter” who fears nothing on the court. “We want him to lead,” says GV, “and we want to win games with him.”
Meanwhile, Lopez is…actually, Lopez is just envious that Lin is being featured in a special edition of Marvel’s Totally Awesome Hulk comic book. “I was so jealous when I saw that,” Lopez laments. “He didn’t even tell me about it. Apparently it’s no big deal to him. I had to read about it on my comic book sites.”
Despite never having been an All-Star, Lin can sell comic books as a superhero thanks to his universal appeal. A week after our photo shoot in Brooklyn, at Nets Media Day, Lin is predictably swarmed by reporters despite playing on a team that beyond his presence is of lukewarm (at best) interest to the rest of the world. And, not unlike his teammates, Lin says his fans are as diverse as they are loyal.
“My story is so unique, and so there are people that always support different parts of my story. It might be that I’m Asian, or it might be that I went to Harvard, or it might be that I grew up in an immigrant family or the underdog story or the Ivy League,” he says. “For me it’s just something I want to be grateful for every day. I used to take my fans more for granted, and now I’m really thankful for them and I think I do a better job of showing that.”
On the court, Lin insists he’s shored up a lot of the parts of his game that were suspect during his first go-round under the bright lights of New York, including his jumper, his ability to go left and his defense. Last season in Charlotte he averaged 11.7 points, 3 assists and a career-high 3.2 rebounds per game in a Sixth Man role for a Hornets team that won 48 games and made the postseason. With increased minutes, expect to see his numbers jump across the board—a lot.
Friday night, Lin flirted with a triple-double as he led the Nets to their first win of the season in the team’s home opener, finishing with 21 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds. Through the first three games of the 2016-17 season, he’s averaging 17 points, 7.3 assists and 5 rebounds per game.
Lin, though, says he’s matured as a person as much as he has as a player.
“Probably spiritually and mentally more than anything. I think when everything first happened I was a little scared and jaded, just because a lot of friendships and relationships and the way things worked out, I felt like maybe people betrayed me. I felt that sense of like, I don’t know if I can trust people,” Lin says. “Having gone through the last four years, I’m really in a different place. I’m not so concerned with what everyone else has to say about me anymore, whether it’s reporters or opponents or anybody, really.”
The Nets surely don’t have championship expectations in 2016-17. Competing for a playoff spot in a suddenly crowded Eastern Conference is probably a stretch, too. But Jeremy Lin is at long last comfortably stable, both in spirit and in his situation.
“I have a lot more fun through each day,” he says. “I smile a lot more.”
BY Abe Schwadron /
PUBLISHED October/31/2016 /
Alana Beard + LA Sparks win 2016 WNBA Championship
In the final act of the WNBA’s 20th season, the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx put on a show that elevated women’s basketball and the WNBA to new heights.
The 2016 Finals featured the two preeminent teams in the league competing at the ultimate level game after game in a series decided by a single point scored with just 3.1 seconds remaining in a winner-take-all Game 5.
The culminating game of this incredible series featured outstanding play by some of the league’s brightest stars. L.A.’s Candace Parker had her best game of the series with 28 points, 12 rebounds and 3 steals on her way to earning Finals MVP honors. Her teammate, league MVP Nneka Ogwumike grabbed her 12th rebound and scored her 12th point in game-winning fashion. Ogwumike’s shot came just 12 seconds after Minnesota’s Maya Moore hit a potential game-winner with 15.4 seconds to play to cap off a 23-point, 11-assist and 6-rebound effort.
“It was an unbelievable series,” Moore said even amid a disappointed Minnesota locker room. “So many great things came out of this series, so many great, talented athletes. Fight, will, people being resilient. Looking back, I don’t think either team should be ashamed, whoever came out on top. All season we’ve been the two to set the tone and it really was just an unbelievable end to a hard-fought series.”
There was high drama from the opening tip to the final buzzer with 24 lead changes, 11 ties and neither team leading by more than six points until a late Sparks run put them up by eight with 3:06 to play. The Lynx erased that lead in the span of 78 seconds with an 8-0 run to tie the game with 1:48 to play.
That set up a final sequence that had the Target Center crowd on its feet and fans at home on the edge of their couches and glued to the television.
“If you weren’t watching this series you missed out on some great, great basketball. This was WNBA at it’s finest,” said Penny Toler, the Sparks’ GM since 2001 who as a Sparks player scored the first basket in WNBA history.
The teams traded the lead five times in the final 72 seconds before Lindsay Whalen’s half-court heave at the buzzer went wide and sent the Sparks into a frenzy of celebration. Not only was it the first title for the Sparks in 14 years — it was the first title for each and every player on that roster.
The Lynx lost four games at home during the regular season and playoffs combined – three of those came at the hands of the Sparks. L.A. won the first and last game of the series at the Target Center by a combined three points.
In Game 1, it was Alana Beard’s buzzer-beating jumper from the corner that proved to be the difference. In Game 5, it was Ogwumike’s offensive rebound and putback that lifted the Sparks past the Lynx with the championship hanging in the balance.
“You think about the different playoff format that they implemented this year, and you couldn’t have a better series with the two top teams in the regular season competing against each other going through a five-game series, competing at the highest level,” said Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus after the game.
“We always talk about great players making great plays. Throughout the five games, you saw people rise to the occasion. Any given night there was any given player that could be the most important piece at that time.”
On a night that featured Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, a Thursday Night Football matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, a pair of college football games featuring Top 25 teams and a Stanley Cup rematch in the opening week of the NHL season, none could match the drama put forth by the final game of these WNBA Finals.
“This was what we needed, and I hope that we gained a lot of fans from around the world, around this country, and they really recognize how well women’s basketball is being played here in the USA,” said Augustus.
There’s someone else that turned away from the Dodgers to the Sparks and that’s the co-owner of both teams – Magic Johnson. The Hall of Famer and L.A. basketball icon was on hand for Game 4 in Los Angeles and was in Minnesota for Game 5 to watch the Sparks win the championship and celebrate with the team.
He also offered some key words of encouragement after the disappointing Game 4 loss that help lift the players’ spirits after they missed the opportunity to close out the series on their home floor.
Throughout the first 20 years of the WNBA, there have been moments that have captivated the national audience and drawn eyes from outside the core women’s basketball fan base. Cynthia Cooper’s brilliance in the league’s infancy. Teresa Weatherspoon’s shot for the ages. Lisa Leslie’s first dunk. Candace Parker’s debut. Maya Moore’s game-winning buzzer-beater just a year ago.
Can this series be the watershed moment? The one that turns the tide and finally brings the respect and attention that these women deserve? The one that can show casual fans what the best NBA players have recognized for years, that the women in this league are playing the game at an incredibly high level?
“I tell these guys all the time how proud I am of them for more than just their skills and just kind of what we’re doing to change minds, if you will, move forward in society,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. “And these two [Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus] are a big reason why we’re able to do that here locally in this community, so exposing boys and girls, men and women, to strong, powerful women playing at the top of their craft, they brought it tonight, our fans did, and like you said, I hope they walked away knowing they saw a good game, and I know they’re just as proud of our team as I am.”
BY Brian Martin /
PUBLISHED October/21/2016 /
C.J. Watson Visits Google with NBA’s Career Crossover program
C.J. Watson’s mom pushed him at a young age to get ready for the “real world,” making him learn how to write checks, do mock job interviews, and accompany her to work.
Watson wasn’t sure if he was going to keep playing basketball, much less make the NBA, and his mom wanted him to be prepared after his playing days ended.
“You never know with basketball — you can get hurt or get cut or something like that,” Watson told Business Insider. “So, you always have to be prepared and keep it in the back of your mind and just always keep your options open.”
That’s why Watson, a 32-year-old guard in the second year of a three-year, $15 million deal with the Orlando Magic, took his mom’s advice to heart and spent part of his summer job-shadowing at Google and Douglas-Elliman Real Estate in Miami, Florida.
He wasn’t the only one. As part of the NBA’s Career Crossover program, Watson was also joined at Google by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Dahntay Jones, Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler, and former NBA Development League guard Moses Ehambe. Jones and several other players also spent days with Douglas-Elliman in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.
The Career Crossover program, which NBA Senior Vice President of Player Development Greg Taylor estimates is in its sixth or seventh year, is meant to educate and expose players to fields outside of basketball. Alerted by the number of players looking only into basketball-related jobs after their playing days were over, Taylor and the NBA began to find corporate partners that players expressed interested in learning more about. In total, the NBA had 13 players take part in the corporate program (there are other programs for basketball-related jobs, from front-office work to refereeing), which also featured companies like Esquire and 2K Sports.
“I’m certainly not suggesting that basketball-related careers aren’t important, but there’s a whole world out there,” Taylor said. “So, the specific purpose of the Career Crossover program really was about exposure, exposing the guys to different career options and then letting them know what marketable skills they had to develop, what education they needed to have in order to be competitive in those new career endeavors that they expressed interest in.”
Players dive into Silicon Valley and beyond
The tech field, in particular, was a popular choice amongst players, which led Watson and Jones to Google.
“It’s the best company in the world right now, and I just wanted to see how it operated, what the culture was,” said Jones, a 35-year-old forward in his 12th season in the NBA. “I just wanted to see the intricacies of what made it such a great company.”
Jones, Watson, Chandler, and Ehambe spent the day touring the campus, sitting in on meetings, learning about YouTube’s analytics, social media, the company’s hiring process, and testing the self-driving cars. Watson enjoyed the self-driving car. Jones enjoyed learning more about YouTube and added, “Google Ventures was dope.”
Watson was impressed with the company.
“It’s a fun environment” he said. “They’re not really strict on a dress code or certain ways they have meetings and stuff like that. They do things outside of the box, which is pretty cool.”
Al-Farouq Aminu, a 26-year-old forward with the Portland Trail Blazers, visited Facebook for the day, after also expressing interest in tech. Though he enjoyed testing the Oculus Rift and touring the “beautiful” campus, he was ultimately looking for a more hands-on experience.
“In an internship, you kinda like push papers, you know, you do work sort of thing,” Aminu said. “For what I was intending it to be, it was not.” Still, Aminu came away with some valuable lessons, noting he’s interested in further exploring “the design aspect of technology.”
Taylor said that up until the interest in tech companies this year, real estate was the most popular job-shadowing choices, and it continued to be in-demand this year, with six players accompanying Douglas-Elliman.
Watson spent his days with Douglas-Elliman looking at high-rises, condos, and multimillion-dollar homes while he picked the realtors’ brains in Miami. Jones, who spent four days in New York, also saw some properties, ate lunch with the CEO, and had a meeting with the chairman. Jones said he’s taking online classes to pursue his broker’s license.
According to Taylor, there have also been some surprising requests from players to look into other fields and companies.
“We have a lot of guys who like doing outdoor things, fishing primarily, so I know there were some guys that wanted to spend some time at the Outdoor Channel,” Taylor said. “I would not have selected that one.”
“We had a player who was interested in going into mortuary science.”
He continued, “We’re fortunate at the NBA to be able to kind of pick up the phone, create internships and job-shadowing opportunities to expose them to the various fields. And then really giving them resources is important if they choose to pursue careers in those areas.”
Yet, breaking into the tech or real estate world is difficult — do NBA players actually have a shot at being hired by Google or Facebook or Douglas-Elliman?
“There’s no question that if you’re going to be competitive in those kinds of markets that there’s certainly going to be an education component of going back to school and doing internships and really gaining real life professional experience,” Taylor admitted. “But I also wanna be clear that we know our guys come to those jobs already possessing what we believe are marketable skills: teamwork, grit, time management, conflict resolution. These are all what we believe are transferable skills from their career as players. And now it’s about supplementing their existing education levels with the requisite education that it takes to pursue in those areas.
“So, that’s a really important message that we try to share with the guys. You’re not starting from scratch. You are a professional — happens to be in a different field.”
The mystery of life after basketball puzzles many players. While it may seem like an afterthought, as players devote much of their time to honing their on-court skills, it’s always a present factor. Taylor estimates that between mandatory twice-a-year “team awareness meetings,” and formal and informal “touch points” with each team, the league talks to players about “financial education and career management” up to seven times per year.
Despite the constant pressure from the NBA, however, players don’t necessarily begin thinking of what’s next right away. Jones, who has played on eight different teams during his career, estimates he began thinking about life after basketball about five or six years ago and decided to use his summers to look into other fields. Watson was four or five years into his career when he began to think about it. Aminu had something of a revelation after he was traded following his rookie year.
“After I got traded my rookie year, it kinda like hit me that this is a business and there’s no guarantees, so to say. It kinda opened my mind up to other possibilities,” he said.
“I mean, I remember just thinking after my rookie year, like, ‘Wow, I really don’t have any other skills,’ like, that just would cross over, that could make me anywhere close to the amount of money that I would kinda want to look out for my family.”
Clippers guard J.J. Redick said he began thinking about his post-NBA career sometime between the ages of 26 and 30, in between getting married and having children. Redick is an interesting case-study, seemingly already juggling a second job as the host of his own podcast on Yahoo’s “The Vertical.” Redick said he accepted the offer from Yahoo despite having never listened to a podcast beforehand. He insists it’s been a valuable experience, though he’s not positive a career in media is in his future.
“I never expected to be at this point in my NBA career and having to create an hour of content every week,” Redick said. “But it’s what I’m doing. … I’ve learned a ton about it and it’s been an overall just an amazing experience.”
While Redick has never taken part in the Career Crossover program (scheduling conflicts have often gotten in the way), he said he’s taken a valuable lesson from meetings with the league and NBA Players Association: networking. According to Redick, Clippers point guard Chris Paul has an “amazing” Rolodex of contacts across sports media, and he’s tried to follow his lead as far as “picking people’s brains.”
“I think Kobe [Bryant] used to cold-call people; I’ve never gone to that extreme,” Redick said. “But that’s the sort of thing that’s been really interesting to me and really fun for me.”
One such contact is David Solomon, co-head of investing at Goldman Sachs. During a conference in Napa Valley, California, Redick said Solomon gave him “simple, but profound” advice that has stuck with him.
“He said, ‘If you’re an athlete and you’re lucky enough to play, you know, 10-15 years, and you retire at 35, like, you can have a whole ‘nother career of 30 years.’ And I guess I had always thought, like, well, depending on how much money you make or what your kids are doing, you can really actually have a whole ‘nother career.
“And I guess that was a great way to sort of summarize the way I was thinking the last five or six years of my life is, what do I find to do for 30-plus years that I’m gonna enjoy doing, that I’m passionate about doing in the same way that I’m passionate about the craft of basketball?”
Redick said if basketball were to cease to exist, he would like to pursue his MBA.
Despite the quandary of picking a second career, numerous players have gone on to meaningful, if sometimes odd, work after their playing days are over. Jones said he knows of former players who have taken up entrepreneurial pursuits; some become franchisees; Watson said his former teammate Keith Bogans opened up a pet store and tried to convince him to do the same; Redick recalled the story of former NBA forward Adrian Dantley taking up a job as a crossing guard at an elementary school; Aminu was inspired by former player Maurice Ager, who became a music producer.
“They do things different, I guess, because they don’t wanna have the standard 9-to-5,” Watson said of former players’ jobs. “So they try to start their own business and do things that way to be successful that way.”
Watson said he “definitely” wants to work in real estate and may consider becoming a franchisee of a restaurant like Subway or Jimmy John’s. Jones, aside from real estate, believes he could do something entrepreneurial. Aminu may also look into manufacturing, apparel, and music.
A big lesson in all of it is getting an early jump. Redick remembers advice an older player gave him that he would share with any incoming rookie.
“If there are people you wanna talk to, if there are opportunities that you wanna pursue, do them now. In other words, if I want to talk to a CEO of a company… if you wanna do that, do that while you’re an active player. It’s much easier to get someone to pick up a phone call or to get invited to a program if you’re an active player. There’s weight, there’s juice in being an active player, being an active NBA player, being an active NFL player, as opposed to being out of the game for six months or a year and being retired and saying, ‘Oh my God, I gotta figure out what I wanna do.’ I would say, if you are a rookie, I would say start thinking about these things right away.”
Jones feels the same way, saying he would tell a rookie to take advantage of the NBA’s programs.
“Don’t wait ’til it’s too late to be able to try to gather something for when you’re done, because you’re gonna ultimately be done at some point in time and you’re gonna have to move onto something.”
It’s not an easy transition, but it’s one the NBA is trying help make a little bit easier with its programs.
“I’m not sure yet,” Watson said of his next career, “still thinking about it, but I know it’s in the back of my head.”
Diamond Stone shows he’s more than just a paint player, he can shoot
Diamond Stone stood about 18 feet from the basket and, without moving, swished four straight shots.
He was one of the only Clippers working out before practice and, despite his 6-foot-11 frame and reputation as a back-to-the-basket scorer, was going nowhere near the paint. A smile crept at the sides of his mouth as his jumpers poured through the rim. He slowly gravitated to behind the right elbow for more of the same.
Swish. Swish. Swish.
“I think they all would be really surprised,” Stone said. “The people who saw me in college, they don’t really know that I can shoot and do all these things. But I can.”
Stone was tethered to the low post in his one season at Maryland, giving him the reputation of being a bruising big man: Drop steps, dunks and jump hooks. But the 19-year-old rookie has displayed much versatility since joining the Clippers. The second-round pick regularly wins shooting games in practice. During training camp, Coach Doc Rivers likened him to first-round pick Brice Johnson, who is known for his athleticism and midrange game.
None of this means Stone will get regular minutes this season, as he is still a teenager on a roster of veteran stretch forwards. Stone has the opportunity to stay on an accelerated track while shaking the labels that have been placed on him.
“I can really put the ball on the floor, I have a great touch,” Stone said. “I think this system will really be able to expose the good parts of my game.”
Unlike many NBA draft picks, Stone wasn’t tabbed as a potential professional player from a young age. He actually wasn’t even tabbed as a recreation-league starter.
When his parents searched for a trainer a decade ago, they just wanted their son to get on the court.
“He wasn’t playing, like at all,” said DeShawn Curtis, who started training Stone at 9 years old. “He was towering over his fourth-grade classmates, but he couldn’t get in games. They just wanted him to have a chance to play.”
At the time, Curtis worked full time in finance and was a part-time basketball coach. He met Stone and his father, Robert, at an outdoor court in Milwaukee in the summer. Robert put Curtis through an extensive interview, and then had Curtis show him the kind of workouts he’d do with Diamond.
Curtis, who came straight from his office, sweated through his full suit while running Diamond through a series of drills. Robert wanted his son to be developed as a low-post scorer. Curtis, looking at the kid’s long arms, agreed, but also wanted to make him well-rounded.
That was the plan when Stone started working out with Curtis four times a week. Before they got to post moves and jump shots, Curtis taught Stone how to move. Curtis noticed that Stone dragged his feet when he ran, so he put a series of hurdles on the side of the court.
Whenever Stone started to slow down, Curtis blew the whistle and told him to start jumping.
“For about two months all he did was go over those hurdles,” Curtis said. “He really didn’t like coming to work out with me, I can tell you that.”
It slowly worked, and Stone’s conditioning was eventually paired with attractive inside-out skills. He committed to Maryland as the second-best center in the 2015 recruiting class, and was immediately put in the paint when he got there.
The Terrapins were loaded with shooters, including two perimeter power forwards in Jake Layman and Robert Carter Jr. That narrowed Stone’s role to one of a traditional center, but didn’t stop him from working on the other parts of his game.
“I always made sure to get shots up, to go off the dribble, all of those things,” Stone said. “It would usually be before practice, or late after practice, but that was something I focused on because I knew I’d need those tools at the next level.”
The Clippers’ power forward group is full of floor spacers. Blake Griffin is continuing to expand his range beyond the three-point line. Veterans Brandon Bass and Marreese Speights have built careers on their midrange jumpers. Rivers has even said Paul Pierce could play the position in small lineups.
But Stone’s foresight was still correct. If he is to earn minutes, it will be with his soft shooting touch, physical defense and an unforeseen passing ability.
“Sometimes you actually have to give the guy the ball to make a pass to find out if he can actually pass,” Rivers said. “He didn’t do any passing in college because he wasn’t in that position. Now we’re putting him in a pass position and what we’ve found is he’s got passing instincts better than half the veterans.”
After working his way around the arc before practice, Stone started a one-on-one drill with Pierce.
Pierce, the 18-year veteran who plans to retire after this season, frequently works with Stone. They went at it on the wing, banging into each other in games up to three points.
“That’s not his range! That’s not his range!” Pierce barked, pulling at Stone’s hair, as the rookie set up just inside the three-point line. “I’m telling you, that’s not his range!”
He leaned his body into Pierce, took one step back and knocked down a 20-foot jump shot. Pierce looked at Stone, then at the basket, then back at Stone. Having heard those words before, Stone smirked before calling for the ball again.
“Wow,” Pierce said, lowering his voice to a near whisper. “Damn, this kid really can shoot.”
BY Jesse Dougherty /
PUBLISHED October/16/2016 /
Los Angeles Times
Just before the final buzzer sounded late Sunday afternoon at the Target Center, a Los Angeles Sparks shot rippled through the net to give the visitors Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. But it wasn’t the recently-named MVP who let the shot fly, nor the Sparks’ other two-time MVP, nor even their sharpshooting specialist. It was the veteran lefty, Alana Beard, who exuberant teammates mobbed in celebration.
On a team with the likes of Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker, Alana Beard doesn’t receive much attention–at least from the media. Opposing guards, however, are well acquainted with the defensive specialist, who earned her third appearance on First Team All-Defense this season. She’s been strong defensively since she entered the league, but her work on that end of the floor has become her calling card since she moved to Los Angeles.
Beard averaged just 7.1 points this season, and hasn’t averaged double figures since 2012. Her late winner was changed to a two, she’s not usually much of an outside threat, having made just 24 three-pointers in the last four seasons combined. There’s a reason why she told reporters today she was, “the fifth option” on the Sparks’ final play. “You got the 1, 2, 3, 4, and I’m perfectly fine being the fifth option,” she continued. “Everyone has their role, and I accept it, and it’s cool.”
Being an afterthought on offense hasn’t always been the case for Beard, however. Just take it from Chelsea Gray, who made the dish on the game winner, and went to Duke just like Beard.
“I’m younger so I wasn’t able to be around Duke when she was at Duke. But going there that’s all I heard about. ‘Alana Beard, Alana Beard,’” Gray said following practice today. “She could flat out score. I loved it cause she was a lefty. She brought so much swagger when she was out there and I loved it.”
Gray isn’t lying. Beard is Duke’s all-time leading scorer, finishing her collegiate career with 2,687 points; she holds the top two single-season point totals, and has made the most field goals and dished out the most assists in Duke women’s basketball history. She’s was also named to the Associated Press’s All-America First-Team three times. For her accomplishments, Beard was the first women’s basketball player to have her number retired by Duke.
That scoring ability didn’t leave Beard when she came to the WNBA, as she put up 13.1 points in her rookie season in Washington. In 2006 she turned in a career year, averaging 19.2 points on 49.5 percent shooting.
But then came the setbacks. “It’s been a long journey for me,” Beard reflected today before practice, referring to the two full seasons (2010-2011) she missed with foot and ankle injuries. “Yeah, injuries, I had ’em. It was a tough journey for me just as it would have been for any other athlete. But right now it’s this moment and it’s something that I’m relishing and enjoying with the special people that we have.”
Since her return from such difficult injury trouble, Beard has become well-regarded around the league. As Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve noted, “You know Beard is one of those players you can be happy for because she does things the right way.”
Sunday, after years of hard work that flew under the radar, Beard finally got her moment in the limelight. “It’s one of the best feelings,” Beard said Monday. Something you replay over and over in your mind, and now that moment has come. It felt good, and we won the game and that’s the most important thing.”
But if you think one shining moment changed her, think again. Even amongst countless congratulatory texts and calls, Beard remained grounded.
“Everyone reached out, congratulated me, but at the same time, you keep everything in perspective, understanding that that’s just one game.”
The veteran guard may be in her first WNBA Finals, but she doesn’t have time to focus on the past, no matter how sweet it may have been. “We all understand that’s one game,” Beard said. “We have to win three out of five so we’re moving on.”
BY Jack Maloney /
PUBLISHED October/10/2016 /
LaShawn Merritt returns to Portsmouth for parade in his honor
Before LaShawn Merritt climbed into the back of the red convertible, leading a parade held in his honor, he thought back to his childhood and how far he’s come.
“Where I grew up, there was a lot of dirt,” the four-time Olympic medalist said. “I could never keep my shoes clean. Now I have so many, I could probably wear a different pair every day.”
The world-class runner returned home Friday for the LaShawn Merritt Day Parade, and to receive a key to the city during halftime at I.C. Norcom High School’s game against his alma mater, Woodrow Wilson High.
The celebration marked another medal-winning performance for Merritt this summer at the Rio Olympics in Brazil. He won a gold medal in the 4×400-meter relay and a bronze medal in the 400-meter dash. In Beijing in 2008, he won gold in both the 4×400-meter relay and the 400-meter dash.
Draped in his Rio medals – each weighing about 5 pounds, he guessed – Merritt waved to friends, shook hands with well-wishers and caught up with people he hadn’t seen in years.
“I understand that this is bigger than me,” he said. “So to come back and see faces that I haven’t seen in years, it’s amazing.”
Several hundred people lined both sides of High Street, parked in lawn chairs, toting signs and cheering for their native son. The drumbeat of high school marching bands echoed as the caravan traveled toward Joe G. Langston Stadium.
“He’s put a small town on a world stage,” said 43-year-old Portsmouth resident Lamont Ferguson. “Being in the same category as Usain Bolt and still staying down-to-earth, that means a lot to the people here.”
Brittany Smalls, 30, said she was thrilled when Merritt’s relay team came out on top in Rio. Smalls said he ranks among Portsmouth’s most important natives.
“Just a lot of pride,” she said.
Merritt said the city’s challenges make his returns more meaningful.
“Not a lot of positive things happen around here,” he said. “So whenever I can get back and inspire others, it always feels great to do that.”
Even after competing around the world and training for much of the year in Florida, Merritt said, his heart remains in Portsmouth.
“It’s love. It’s family. It’s support,” he said. “These are the people I do what I do for.”
BY Matt McKinney /
PUBLISHED September/30/2016 /
INDIANAPOLIS — One by one, they clung to her, unwilling to let go. It was a hug-fest and a love-fest. But this was different, even for farewell.
For these weren’t Indiana Fever players hanging onto Tamika Catchings for dear life. These were Dallas Wings players. Catchings’ legacy transcends one team, one league or one sport.
In her last regular-season game, the Fever romped to an 83-60 victory Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. No one was spoiling this day.
In a postgame ceremony, Catchings reiterated her story: As a young girl with a hearing impairment and speech difficulties, she played basketball so no one would make fun of her.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be here and doing this,” she said.
She is not done. Not yet.
The No. 5-seeded Fever (17-17) open the WNBA playoffs against Phoenix in a home game at 6 p.m. Wednesday. If the Fever lose, Catchings’ career is indeed over. If they win, they will play in the second round at No. 4 Chicago.
Game statistics for the 37-year-old Catchings were Tamika-like: 16 points, seven rebounds, one assist, two steals.
“She just did everything that she’s always done,” Fever coach Stephanie White said. “She does what needs to be done on the floor when it needs to be done.”
Carol Callan, women’s national team director for USA Basketball, recounted an incident in which Catchings hand-washed uniforms for a junior team.
The ceremony climaxed with presentation of a $100,000 check to Catchings’ foundation by Jim Morris, vice president of Pacers Sports & Entertainment, and a new Lexus for her that was driven to courtside.
Addresses were delivered by White and longtime teammate Briann January, both of whom ended in tears; former Fever coach Lin Dunn, who invoked the memory of Catchings’ college coach, the late Pat Summitt of Tennessee; Rick Fuson, president and CEO of PS&E; Fever executive Kelly Krauskopf; WNBA president Lisa Borders; Rep. Susan Brooks and Mayor Joe Hogsett.
Catchings can be volatile on the court – White remembered a seventh-grade Tamika erupting at a summer tournament and hurling a basketball against the wall – but she was composed throughout the game and afterward. Her tears were shed long ago, she said.
It wasn’t that way for teammates. Shenise Johnson said the Fever were weepy before tipoff. January conceded she has “been in denial this entire season.” She said she could not look at Erlana Larkins, who teared up at times on the court.
“You just want to make the most of all these moments,” January said. “You know there are few. There’s not many left. So it’s tough. It was really tough today.”
Essentially, Hogsett, Krauskopf and Borders all offered jobs to Catchings. Dunn, a native Tennessean, wanted her to return to that state. Borders’ declaration that she wanted to bring the adopted Hoosier to the league’s New York office was greeted by boos.
“This is home,” Catchings assured the audience.
Catchings said more than 20 family members were in attendance. The Indiana Pacers were also represented, featuring Olympic gold medalists Reggie Miller and Paul George.
Fans wore white “#24 Forever” T-shirts in a white-out. Video tributes featured comments from some of the WNBA’s biggest stars, including former MVPs Maya Moore, Tina Charles, Diana Taurasi and Elena Delle Donne.
Although the fieldhouse held less than the announced crowd of 17,704 – George purchased 5,000 balcony tickets for free distribution – the gathering resembled that for the WNBA Finals. Fans were not disappointed.
Catchings left the bench midway through the fourth quarter for a cameo, leaving soon thereafter to an ovation. She smiled, acknowledged the crowd and sat … then stood and waved some more.
Goodbye, as inevitable as it was, might have been easy for her. It was not for anyone else.
BY David Woods /
PUBLISHED September/18/2016 /
Sometimes superstars need to be reminded they’re superstars. Doesn’t happen often. Actually, almost never.
But when you start out a gangly, shy, insecure girl with a wobbly self-image — not ever really fitting in — it’s hard to see a superstar in the mirror.
When you wear clunky hearing aids that kids relentlessly tease you about.
When you stop wearing those hearing aids to avoid the embarrassment and people think you’re ignoring them, that you’re rude or you’re dumb.
When your parents announce their divorce, after you’ve settled into a high school and just been named the state’s youngest Ms. Basketball in Illinois history at 15. When you should be happy about your accomplishment, but you’re devastated that your parents are splitting.
When the next year you find yourself almost 1,000 miles away in Texas trying to fit in yet again, with a whole new crowd in the city your mother moved to. When you still miss your dad and your sister, who stayed behind in Illinois.
Sometimes, it’s hard to accept you’re a superstar, to even think of yourself that way. You’re too busy trying to overcome to see any of the great things you’re doing.
Tamika Catchings was a superstar long before she knew it — long before she became, many people think, the top women’s basketball player in history, and a much honored humanitarian.
It’s hard to imagine the women’s game without Catchings in the middle of it, but we’ll soon have to. Catchings plays the final regular season game of her illustrious career with the Fever on Sunday at home against the Dallas Wings.
Her career has spanned 15 WNBA seasons and garnered many accolades: 11-time WNBA All-Star, 12-time All-WNBA, Defensive Player of the Year five times, MVP, league champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist.
It’s unfathomable to think of Catchings without a basketball in her hand.
Basketball, after all, has been the constant in her life, the equalizer that made all those insecurities vanish. Every once in a while with that basketball in her hand, Catchings believed she just might be a superstar.
She is out in the driveway, fighting with the grit only a little sister can, fighting to beat Tauja, the older sister by 19 months.
“Their games always got brutal and bloody,” said their dad, Harvey Catchings, who played in the NBA from 1974 to 1985. “It got ugly.”
This day it was especially ugly. Someone was going to get hurt. So Harvey went out and yanked the ball away from his daughters. There would be no more basketball.
Tauja ran into the house to play with her dolls; Tamika stayed.
“I go back out and I see Mika outside going through the imaginary motions without the ball,” he said. “She’s shooting and dribbling and rebounding. Seeing her doing those things?”
There is always the story of when a parent first realizes, “Hey, this kid might be something special.” This was that moment for Harvey Catchings. He’ll never forget it.
“This was something that set her apart,” he said. “She had so many issues growing up that basketball was something that allowed her to excel.”
To blend in. Which is all Tamika Catchings ever wanted to do. Which is ironic, because she became a superstar who stood out.
She still doesn’t believe it herself.
Catchings will go out and people come up to her. They want to get close to her, get her autograph, talk basketball. They stand in awe that they are in front of this dynamic player.
“I just don’t realize I’m ‘quote, unquote’ a superstar, whatever that means,” Catchings said Friday. “That makes for a fun life. It allows me to have more friends.”
Just like that little girl always wanted.
The hearing aids were huge and awkward. Catchings was born with a hearing impairment in both ears. Back then, in the 1980s, hearing aids were awful.
And if hearing aids didn’t cause kids to take notice, Catchings’ speech did. She slurred some words, didn’t pronounce others with the proper accents and emphasis. She couldn’t make some consonants powerful enough.
Kids taunted her for all of that.
Yet what was miserable for a young Catchings at the time, who said she just wanted to “be normal,” turned into something great. Sports.
“Sports was my outlet where I could practice and I could get really good at something,” Catchings said. “And, literally, people couldn’t make fun of me because they wanted me on their team.”
Catchings described the hearing disability as being in a prison. Basketball was her ticket to freedom.
If only she knew how good she was, said Harvey Catchings.
In youth games he coached, he would have to make sure Tamika wasn’t in at the same time as Tauja. Otherwise, they would run up 60-point leads for his team. Tauja Catchings was a stellar player in her own right, going on to play at the University of Illinois, then being drafted by the WNBA and later playing pro ball in Sweden.
Harvey Catchings learned that he would have to start them together and then sit one, almost immediately.
Tamika Catchings didn’t get the fuss as she stole the ball from helpless opponents, grabbed rebound after rebound. She was just playing a game she loved.
She got just as excited to see her sister and teammates score. She wanted to be a part of something. Not someone who was the center of attention.
“People say if you look up the word teammate in the dictionary,” Harvey Catchings said, “there is a picture of Mika.”
And, in his opinion, that spirit has cost her some in her professional game.
“That’s one of the struggles we had throughout her career,” he said. “Because of the position she was in, she had the green light to shoot whenever and wherever she wanted. I felt that she should have taken more advantage of that.” And yet Catchings is the No. 2 scorer in league history, and the all-time leader in rebounds, free throws and steals.
But Harvey Catchings said he knows that his daughter could have done even more.
“She tries to blend in,” he said. “Still.”
Or maybe it’s just her priorities. “At the end of the day, all (my records) will be broken, and all that goes away,” she said Friday, focusing instead on her Catch the Stars Foundation, which helps children going through struggles much worse than what she went through.
“But when you’re able to leave an imprint, a lasting imprint, that is amazing.”
Frank Mattucci first saw Tamika Catchings playing as a sixth-grader. No question about this 11-year-old.
“She could have played with our varsity team right then,” he said.
When he got her on his high school team at Adlai E. Stevenson in Lincolnshire, Ill., she became a freshman starter. And because she and Tauja, a sophomore, were so much better than everyone else, Mattucci started something he’d never done as a coach.
He brought in the boys.
Three male managers were assigned to the team so they could guard the Catchings sisters in practice.
Stevenson won 30 straight games and was a top 10 USA TODAY team. Tamika Catchings brought it all, even as a young teen, Mattucci said.
“As far as speed, agility, defensive knack, offense, she had all of that early,” he said. “Rebounding for her is kind of just like a reflex action.”
But it was in the final of the sectionals her freshman year that Mattucci saw just how special Catchings was.
She was leading the team to what looked like a sectional championship when, all of a sudden, she picked up a foul. And then another foul. And another.
“I remember it was really difficult because the two (Catchings) girls were the only two black kids on the court at the time,” Mattucci said. “A lot of people thought the officials were picking on her because she was black.”
The crowd. Her teammates. Even Mattucci thought the fouls weren’t fouls.
“Mika never once said a word about that. She just said, ‘Coach, I never touched anybody,’ ” Mattucci said. “The way she responded to that adversity, I knew this was a special young lady.”
They lost that game, but the next year Stevenson finished No. 2 in the nation and won a state championship, and Tamika Catchings became the youngest Ms. Illinois Basketball in the state’s history.
She was finally coming out of her shell. She was getting a glimpse of the superstar inside.
Mattucci was thrilled to see her blossoming, thrilled to have two more years with her. He soon learned that wasn’t to be.
The summer after her sophomore year, Catchings’ mother, Wanda, and Harvey Catchings, by then a well-known Chicago Bulls announcer, gave their girls life-changing news. They were getting divorced.
Harvey Catchings would stay in Chicago and so would Tauja, to finish her senior year at Stevenson. Wanda Catchings would move to Texas to be closer to family.
The weight of the world, it seemed, was on Tamika Catchings’ shoulders.
“She started talking to me about this dilemma,” Mattucci said. ” ‘What am I going to do? I want to play with my sister again. I want to play with you, and I want to stay,’ ” he recounts. ” ‘My mother is going to miss me. I miss her already. I don’t know what to do.’ ”
No doubt, Mattucci was dying inside to tell Catchings she should stay. She had to stay. They were about to embark on a basketball season with one of the greatest teams ever assembled in Illinois.
He did what any great coach would do.
“I told Mika, ‘Wherever you go, the team you play for is going to be that much better. You’re going to be just fine,’ ” Mattucci said. ” ‘The bottom line is, I got your back, I support you, and follow your heart.’ ”
Her heart told her to go to Texas with her mother. Once again, the superstar was back in hiding.
Shy and reserved, Catchings walked into coach Sara Hackerott’s office at Duncanville High in Duncanville, Texas, to introduce herself. She had just moved 959 miles across the country to a school that had 4,000 kids.
“She was really trying to feel her way, and I think it took her a little while to figure things out and feel acclimated,” said Hackerott. “To feel comfortable.”
Hackerott had heard about this stellar player she was getting. People had told her Catchings was amazing. She’d heard rumors, over-the-top praise. Hackerott had no idea.
But in 1995, people didn’t Google. They didn’t read newspaper articles online.
“I was going on a lot of hearsay,” Hackerott said. “Anybody in their right mind would say, ‘OK, you’re telling me that this player is this good?’ ”
Looking back, Hackerott is pretty sure that Catchings held off a little when she first started working out with the team — almost as if she didn’t want to be seen as a showoff or let people know how good she was.
As usual, she wanted to blend in.
“There were times she would just let loose and dominate, and there were times when she also very much wanted to be accepted and fit in,” Hackerott said. “And in order to do that, she had a sense of balance, of knowing when to fit in and when to go with the flow.”
But inside a Texas gym in 1997, Catchings the superstar emerged.
The Duncanville High crowd was going wild. Crazy. The new girl from the year before, now a senior, was lighting up the court. She always lit up the court. But she was really lighting up the court.
Hackerott knew Catchings was having an exceptional game. She didn’t know how exceptional, not until she looked at the stat sheet after the game.
Catchings had done something no other player in the history of basketball had ever done — no man, no woman, no pro, no college or high school player.
She had officially recorded a quintuple-double — double-digit totals in all five statistical categories in a single game: 25 points, 18 rebounds, 11 assists, 10 steals and 10 blocked shots.
“It was like you’re watching someone really explode into a phenomenal game, but it was so fluid you were drawn into it,” Hackerott said. “You didn’t know what the stats would be because she makes it look easy. You literally would go, ‘OK now. Did she just do what I think she did?’ ”
Most players would have made sure everyone in that gym, including the coach, knew they were doing superstar stuff. Not Catchings. She never showboated because she never believed she was superstar status.
“I remember after the game, people told me, ‘Hey, you got (a quintuple-double),'” Catchings said. “I was like, ‘What is that? That’s cool. I didn’t realize that.’ ”
She didn’t realize what she had just done was exceptional.
“Sometimes, the superstars are the ones that need reminded,” Mattucci said. “Need reminded the reason why they’re superstars.”
Sometimes. But it’s rare. Catchings is one of the rare ones.
BY Dana Hunsinger Benbow /
PUBLISHED September/17/2016 /
Why Nike is paying Jason Day lots of money even though golf is in decline
Golf is dying. Millennials don’t play. Ratings are on the wane. Several stars skipped the Olympics. The Tiger era is over, and Nike just exited the golf equipment business.
So why did the Swoosh from Beaverton, Ore., just pay a reported $10 million to the top-ranked golfer in the world, Australian Jason Day?
“We don’t comment on rumor or speculation,” Greg Rossiter, Nike’s head of global communications, said of the ESPN report. “We’re committed to being the undisputed leader in golf footwear and apparel.”
There’s a little more to it than that. One reason for the Day signing, according to Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst with the NPD Group, is that Nike wants to preserve its $500 million stake in the “soft goods” side of the golf market, think golf shoes and shirts. The company recently exited the golf equipment business, which is mostly golf balls and golf clubs.
Secondly, with Tiger Woods, who has been the face of Nike golf, no longer the story every week, Nike’s golf business lost its biggest star and a lot of luster. The point is to get the inimitable Swoosh as much television time on Sunday afternoons, when television ratings tend to spike because that’s when tournaments play their final round. Day offers insurance that Nike will be front and center on Sundays.
“Nike has gone 0-8 in the last eight Majors, and isn’t accustomed to, or excited about watching its competitors’ endorsers, particularly Under Armour’s athletes, hoisting trophies – regardless of the sport,” said Jim Tanner, president of Tandem Sports & Entertainment in Arlington, Va., in an e-mail.
Tanner said Woods and other elites like Rory McIlroy (Nike) and Jordan Spieth (Under Armour), are all believed to have shoe-and-shirt endorsement deals “in excess of $20 million” per year.
Sounds like a lot, but when you consider Nike sells $30 billion worth of sports stuff a year and has a marketing budget estimated to be more than $2 billion, the $10 million it just paid Day is a rounding error.
Besides, Day has been more consistent than McIlroy and Woods, finishing in the top 10 of six of the past eight major tournaments. He also won last year’s PGA Championship.
“Getting the world’s number one golfer for half that may prove to be a great deal for both Nike and Day,” Tanner said.
There’s also the fact that selling golf clubs isn’t a great business any more. Nike’s total golf revenue from sales of equipment, shoes and shirts peaked at $792 million in 2013 and has been falling ever since.
John Horan of Sports Marketing Intelligence said rules changes by golf authorities like the U.S. Golf Association limiting golf club design, particularly for drivers – “which gives the ball its boing” – cramped innovation, and, in turn, stifled sales.
“Once you sort of limit the amount of innovation you can do, your market is limited to a replacement market,” Horan said. “It used to be pretty easy for [golf club maker] Calloway to go down to the metallurgists and the engineers and say, ‘We need more boing.’ ”
Horan said the money is now in the soft goods side.
“That’s where the battle is going to be,” he said.
Under Armour, the David to Nike’s Goliath, continues to nip at the heels of its rival. This week, Under Armour this week is rolling out a new line of high-end clothing called Under Armour Sportswear that is very unlike the company’s traditional utilitarian, performance-based clothing.
Baltimore-based Under Armor Sportswear is selling a $349 transparent parka, a $449 sports coat, women’s leggings for $179, and a $1,400 trench coat.
But speaking of golf, UA founder and chief executive Kevin Plank last weekend was out on the course himself, playing 18 holes in UA shirts and golf shoes at Caves Valley Golf Club in Baltimore County.
His guest? President Obama – and a pack of Secret Service agents.
BY Thomas Heath /
PUBLISHED September/14/2016 /
The Washington Post
Through success + tragedy, Henderson and Ellington show meaning of friendship
The bond between Gerald Henderson and Wayne Ellington was solidified on the basketball court at Episcopal Academy in the Philadelphia area.
From that point on, they were always there for each other in significant moments of their lives. High school successes. Being recruited to collegiate powerhouses Duke and North Carolina. Becoming first-round NBA draft picks.
As their game schedules had it, they also were at the same place on Nov. 9, 2014. Henderson’s Hornets were in Los Angeles to play Ellington’s Lakers. Neither could have anticipated they would be together on a night that turned tragic.
Ellington’s father, Wayne Sr., had a feeling the Lakers would get their first win of the season that evening. He sent a cross-country text to his son before the game telling him that, and encouraged him to “go to work.”
Ellington got that victory over his best friend. The two should have caught up afterward for a joyful reunion. Instead, Ellington’s world was flipped upside down when he checked his phone following the game.
“One Sunday evening we got the unfortunate call that my dad had been shot and killed here in Philadelphia,” Ellington said recently at the Philly Peace Games. “That was a very, very hard time for me and my family. We still grieve obviously.”
Wayne Sr. had been murdered in his car in Germantown.
Ellington was struck by harrowing grief inside the Staples Center. Henderson learned of the news and rushed to find his best friend.
“It’s so crazy that I played him that night it happened,” Ellington said. “He was there for me. When I got that news, he was one of the first people that had come to me. … It definitely comforted me some. There’s nothing that anybody can say to do or do to make you feel better, but to have somebody that genuinely loves you and cares about you and you have a bond like that with, to have them by your side, no question it makes it a little, little, little bit easier.”
Wins or losses, nothing else mattered in that moment except for Henderson getting to Ellington.
“It’s what friends do,” Henderson said. “It’s a thing you can never really prepare yourself for, being in Wayne’s position. You just try to support him the best way you can. As his friend, I just tried to be there for him.”
That meant flying from coast to coast to support Ellington. Henderson arrived in Philadelphia for the funeral and flew out that same day to make it to a game against the Warriors in Oakland that night.
“Wayne Sr. was a great man,” Henderson said. “More than anything, just a funny cat, a cool cat, very similar to Wayne. Seeing Wayne’s family here brings me back to how much I relied on him as a kid, going over their house, eating up all their food, his mom or dad taking us to games or practices, AAU tournaments. … You realize how much they really did for you. Wayne Sr. did a lot for me, and more than anything, was a good man for me.”
Ellington started the “Power of W.E.” initiative, named for his father’s initials, aimed to reduce youth violence in Philadelphia. When he hosted the Philly Peace Games this month at Girard College, there was no question if Henderson would be there for it. Henderson, along with NBA players Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Ed Davis, coached teams that competed in the tournament. Prior to the games, a panel of Ellington, Henderson, Philadelphia state representative Dwight Evans and CeaseFirePA executive director Shira Goodman addressed the group of 40 players to emphasize the message of preventing gun violence.
“I’m from the Philadelphia area, this is where it happened to my father. This is the place where I feel like I can touch the community and the youth,” Ellington said. “You just hope a few people walk away from here with a different attitude or are able to spread the word. [You hope] to be able to do that, just to change somebody in some way, [someone’s] life and make them want to live life a little differently, take a more positive approach, realize how serious it is and not want to resort to violence.”
Wherever their careers have taken them, Ellington and Henderson have remained closely tied to Philadelphia. Ellington, who signed this offseason with the Heat, is thrilled Henderson inked a deal to return home and play for the Sixers.
“I think it’s great for him,” Ellington said. “He’s going to get to play in front of his friends and family. I think it’s going to be great for the city, too, and great for the Sixers. I think people are going to be shocked to see how big of a following he still has in the Philadelphia area. I’m excited for him.”
Ellington and Henderson have proven whether they are in the same city or opposite sides of the country, wearing the same uniform or on opposing teams, the relationship they established in high school is strong enough that they can’t be kept apart.
“Wayne’s my best friend,” Henderson said. “It’s really as simple as that.”
BY Jessica Camerato /
PUBLISHED September/1/2016 /
Comcast SportsNet Philly