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NBA's Best
#1
USA - Popovich More than Just Spurs Coach



From <!-- w --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.woai.com">[url="http://www.woai.com"]http://www.woai.com[/url]</a><!-- w -->



Independent film buff. Wine enthusiast. Political activist. Dedicated father and husband.



Oh, and the guy in charge of the NBA's top team, the one on the brink of a fourth NBA title in nine seasons.



Gregg Popovich is so much more than a coach.



Sometimes described as demanding and dull, those who know Popovich best paint a very different portrait of the 58-year-old, who has never failed to win a championship in three previous visits to the NBA finals.



Popovich, whose sense of humor can be as dry as some of the finer wines in his 3,000-bottle home collection, sometimes gathers the Spurs to discuss subjects much more important than defending the pick-and-roll.



"We'll come in and talk about politics before practice," forward Brent Barry said. "It's not much of a debate because nobody gets a chance to speak besides Pop. It's more of a monologue. We do touch on other things that are going on in the world and understand that what we're doing is not curing cancer, we're playing basketball."



Popovich can be extremely tough on his players, but Barry said the Spurs accept it because Popovich is a proven winner because he doesn't show any favoritism. Superstars get the same heavy hand as the reserves.



"He treats each player the same way when it comes to his wrath," Barry said. "It will go from Tim (Duncan) to Beno Udrih. It will go from Tony (Parker) to me. It will go from Manu (Ginobili) to Michael Finley. It doesn't stop anywhere.



"He's a pretty straightforward guy and a straight shooter and he's going to be very honest with you."



Popovich's appreciation for the bigger picture beyond basketball has caused him to take his players on trips to San Antonio's Brooke Army Medical Center, a burn unit, to visit injured soldiers.



He doesn't do it for the media attention, but because it's important for him to reach out to others.



"He cares," assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "And if no one knows about it he's happier about that."



NEVER A SPUR



Damon Jones' NBA passport has been stamped 10 times.



During a playing career that also included stops in Idaho of the International Basketball Association and Continental Basketball Association, the well-traveled Jones has played for New Jersey, Boston, Golden State, Dallas, Vancouver, Detroit, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Miami and now Cleveland.



Never San Antonio.



"I don't fit their profile," Jones, the Cavs' flashiest dresser and team clown said with a smile. "I have a very colorful personality. Not saying those guys don't, but that's never been an option for me."



Although he's never worn the Spurs uniform, Cleveland's backup guard is impressed by what the club has done in winning three titles since 1999, and being on the verge of a fourth heading into Game 4 on Thursday night.



"They've done some great things," he said. "They never lose sight of what it's all about, and that's team. Teams win championships. Defenses wins championships and they possess both of those attributes. It's never about one guy or two guys.



"It's about how five guys can go out there and get the job done and that's how they've always been."



LATE NIGHT WITH TONY



Tony Parker learned all about championship basketball while most of his countrymen were sleeping.



The San Antonio point guard said Wednesday he used to wake up at 3 a.m. while growing up in France to watch the Chicago Bulls play in the NBA finals. That helped Parker, who made his NBA debut at 19, get a feel for the league long before he played in it.



"You learn a lot watching that," Parker said. "When I first came in the league, a lot of people were surprised by my knowledge about the history of the game. You can ask me any question and I'll try to answer it the right way because I watched a lot of tapes and a lot of games."



He often did it without permission. Asked if he had to get his parents' OK to stay up so late, Parker said: "I didn't tell them. I was sneaking and watching them."



Parker recalled that Michael Jordan was the NBA finals MVP when the Bulls won all of their six championships. Tim Duncan has been the MVP in all three San Antonio victories, but Parker is playing well enough that he may beat out Duncan for the award this time.



And if he does?



"That would be unbelievable," Parker said. "I still think Timmy is going to get it because he's our franchise and he's a superstar. But if they want to change, why not?



"I'm joking. But still, there's one more game, and if we win the championship, I'll be very happy with that. And if it happened, I'd be the first one to be very happy."



GROWING PAINS



LeBron James may have to chalk up this trip to the finals as an educational experience. He wouldn't be the first superstar to do so.



It took four trips for Hall of Famer Julius Erving, who won the NBA title in 1983 with the Philadelphia 76ers after losing three times in the finals.



"It's the first time for the franchise, period," Erving said. "So I think it's a learning experience for everyone involved with the franchise even though they've got management and coaching staff who've got championship experience."



Erving could tell by listening to the news conference after Game 3 on Tuesday night that the Cavaliers still need some educating.



"I heard more of a defense of what everybody was doing," Erving said. "Everybody was kind of defending their own position. Everybody was saying, 'I did what I needed to do.' It's not really about what I need to do. It's about what we need to do."



Hall of Famer Bill Walton, who won NBA titles with Portland (1977) and Boston (1986), said the Cavaliers have a long way to go mentally.



"San Antonio has been the smarter team and Cleveland has to learn to play on the mental level of the championship teams," Walton said.



He also said James needs a better supporting cast.



Walton wouldn't count the Cavaliers out to at least make the series interesting, recalling how Seattle, trailing 0-3 in the 1996 finals came back to win two games against the Chicago Bulls.



"They are learning how hard it is to be the champions and how much of your life it takes," Walton said. "They are realizing how much further they have to go."
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#2
USA - LeBron isn't the king just yet



From blackathlete.net



Since his days back at St. Mary/St. Vincent High School in Akron, Ohio, LeBron James has been touted as being the true high school basketball phenom not just in the state of Ohio but also possibly on the planet.



He was a man amongst boys during that time and when he became the Cleveland Cavaliers' first round pick in 2003, it seemed that a prophesy was about to unfold right in front of our eyes.



"He has the skills that most 25-year-old professionals don't even have," one NBA scout once told me during the 2003 NBA Finals. "He is going to be very special for the Cavaliers."



Maybe that scout was just salivating over the fact that for once a high school player who has had the media hype and attention on him for so long finally will pan out to be exactly what has been said and written about him and after four years in the league, James has indeed lived up to much of that hype.



However, the one thing that is missing is something that he now will go after tonight at 8 pm CST at the AT&T Center. King James is finally going after the magical scepter that many think is rightfully his yet there is one problem; somebody else has already had the scepter and they want it back.



For all the things that James is today, and for whatever reasons the national media wants to try and spin a story line that makes it seem that they were correct in picking him to be the next "MJ", one player and his team stands in the way of that quest to fulfill a foretold prophesy.



That player is Tim Duncan and his team is the three-time NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs. The national media do not want the Spurs to be the victors of the spoils this year. After all with the Cavaliers now being ordained as the true Cinderella of the NBA who can save a Finals TV ratings fiasco, the Spurs are the most uninspired team in their eyes.



Everywhere in the sports world this team is being vilified as a boring team with no "flava", no substance or sex appeal. For the national media, Duncan isn't sexy; he's boring. His team is vanilla ice cream and nothing more. James and Cavaliers are the total opposite.



They are the sexiest tub of basketball flavors allowed on the planet. The story lines are endless for them. "Cinderella takes the ball", "The King and His Boobie Squash The Dragon", "Long Live the King". Yada, yada, yada. Blah, blah, blah.



With all of this hype, you would have thought that James and his merry band of castoffs, misfits and playoff rookies have already been crowned the 2007 NBA champions by now.



However they haven't.



Game One is tonight and this team and their national media bandleaders are in for a rude awakening. Or is it the beginning of a quickening? Unlike the last series, the Cavaliers are going up against what many have said is the best modeled franchise in the NBA.



The Spurs are boring to many but they are quite efficient in destroying opponents in their midst. Their nucleus has two titles together. Their roster is stocked full of multiple NBA titleholders as well as Olympic gold medalists and seasoned FIBA champion professionals.



Their bench is loaded with veterans who have seen it all in the playoffs and even their twelfth man can become a deadly three-point specialist. Nobody has made mention of just how formidable James' task is about to become because no one wants to think of the possible becoming a reality.



And just what is that reality? The reality could very well be that the Spurs grab their fourth title in nine seasons (three in five seasons mind you) and a dynasty could blossom before everyone's eyes.



The reality could be that this may be James only trip to the NBA Finals as a Cavalier or worse; he could become the Allen Iverson of a new generation; a dozen years or more in the league and only one NBA Finals appearance.



Now that my sound cruel and harsh but that is also a very realistic scenario for James and nobody is talking about it. Would it be James' fault should that scenario take place? Not necessarily.



This could be the Doppler effect of being media hyped and having everyone christen you as the savior of the NBA at a time when the league doesn't necessarily need a single person saving it from itself.



This is not to say that King James will not be living up to his moniker because he has already proven that aspect of his alter ego. Even with him holding up the comic book in the photo for this piece showcases his mass appeal to Madison Avenue.



But that is also a perception that MJ faced early on in his career too. For six years Jordan was toiling around in no man's land during the playoffs before he won his first title in year seven. Some of Jordan's best playoff moments weren't really during his championship years but what he did before that time.



What many fans remember is Jordan dropping 63 points on the Boston Celtics; similar to James' 48-point game performance in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals for this year. That is something that James needs to get past, but this series will not let him get that accomplished.



This year is the Spurs' year. Forget the notion of that they win titles in odd years but look at the fact that this team thought that they were going to be in the Finals last year. They are hungrier than the Cavaliers because they expect nothing but a title run year in and year out.



And while the Cavaliers gamely put themselves in a great situation, led by a spectacular player, the passing of the magical trophy will not happen this season and maybe not for another season or so. As great as King James is, he cannot win a title by himself.



As good of a pitchman that he is for corporate America, he hasn't won anything of substance yet. Right now he is still a "prince" who is being groomed for the eventual ascension to his rightful thrown on top of the basketball world.



That time just isn't now. Unlike James and his merry band of teammates, the Spurs and Duncan have their own prophesies to fulfill and the one that nobody wants them to achieve is the word "dynasty". That could very well happen in three weeks.



But until that happens or until circumstances change, most in the national media will continue to crown James as the King of the game. But that is also an unfair crown because James hasn't won anything of substance yet and he knows that.
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#3
USA - Why are we so fascinated with Kobe?



From sports.espn.go.com



If you're Kobe Bean Bryant, how does it feel to sit at home with the NBA Finals going on and for the third straight year you are not a part of the festivities? It must be the loneliest feeling in the world. For anyone who comes across as self-important as Kobe has over the 11 years that he has been in the NBA, this must be something akin to dying a slow, tedious death. Life has to be pretty miserable for Black Mamba right now.



It was bad enough that he had to watch his former nemesis, Shaq, and his T-Mobile sidekick, D-Wade, take the crown a year ago. This year Kobe has had to witness -- no pun intended -- the crowning of King James, the true heir apparent to the Jordan throne and a cat whose Nike contract just so happens to dwarf that of his own. As a wise man once said, it's hard out here for a pimp. No doubt.



Kobe Bryant's flip-flop trade request spectacle was a vintage act of his self-indulgence.Kobe's self-indulgence was on full display recently when he publicly flip-flopped all over the place, demanding a trade, then recanting, only to end up making even less sense than when he first started this attention-grabbing stunt. Too bad Dr. Melfi is about to be off the air. This man needs professional help. Or at least a hug.



To say that Kobe Bryant is one of the most perplexing personalities in contemporary sports is an understatement. The son of a former NBA player, he who grew up between Italy and the 'burbs of Philly as a child basketball prodigy and that rarity of rarities, an upper-middle class, black spoiled brat. From the days of the numerous air balls against Utah that ended the Lakers' season in his rookie year to this most recent plea for attention, Kobe has long been a mystery wrapped up in an enigma; partly truth, partly fiction, a walking contradiction.



It's hard to deny his basketball skills, especially on the offensive end of the floor. I have long thought that his defense was overrated though. In general, he can lock someone down when he decides to, but he doesn't do it often enough to warrant inclusion on the All-Defensive first team, for my taste. But with the ball in his hands, when he's not pouting or trying to prove a point about how invaluable he is to the team, he can be unstoppable. That being said, the "Kobe Rules" that Larry Brown implemented and Tayshaun Prince and the Pistons executed in 2004 Finals exposed Kobe as the undisciplined, glorified streetball player that he can still be at times.



His skills on the court notwithstanding, though, it is Kobe's distinct persona that continues to attract all kinds of interest. But the interest he attracts is of a different variety than what we've become accustomed to in the modern NBA. The league now is one, like hip-hop culture, in which the dominant narrative is of the "up by the bootstraps" capitalist variety. We are told that poor, fatherless, black boys from the 'hoods of America pick up a basketball at an early age and use this prop as a means to an end. This romanticized ashy to classy transition from ghetto dweller to NBA superstar has become quite familiar. The NBA "come up" is as popular a tale now as those once told by Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines. But you won't find Kobe's name on any of these pages. No, Kobe, like a more media-friendly Barry Bonds, grew up in relative opulence as the legacy of a professional athlete.



Though we have yet to see black legacies in corporate America or in the media, for that matter, we do now routinely see them in sports. One need only look at the Florida and Georgetown teams in this year's Final Four -- where the sons of John Thompson, Patrick Ewing, Doc Rivers, Yannick Noah, Tito Horford and Sidney Green all participated -- to recognize how pervasive this trend has become. I'm not saying that growing up with a black sports father is the same as growing up as a Rockefeller, but it is certainly different than growing up as the son of a single mother on welfare.



Kobe has no 'hood stories to tell. His lack of a ghetto background is evident in his speech and his demeanor. Though he often plays basketball like he grew up in the 'hood, he most certainly did not. This is not a criticism, nor it is a judgment of his blackness, it is simply a statement of fact made more evident as it exists in contrast to the NBA norm.



In today's NBA, where the overwhelming majority of the players are black, race has been somewhat neutralized as a factor of identity. Blackness is the norm now, and NBA basketball is one of the few places in American society where the norm is black. Anytime you have a norm, it tends to go unspoken. Instead, it is assumed. Notice we seldom say the phrase "black basketball player," as the nature of the profession in question assumes a particular identity. We tend to speak of that which is outside of the norm, in this case whiteness; thus the need to modify Jason Williams' nickname, "White Chocolate," in a racialized way, for example, so as to point to the fact that his style is black, though he himself is not.



Nationality nuances this somewhat. Dirk Nowitzki is white, but he's also German, not American. His race is less relevant than his national identity. Whereas in the days of Magic/Bird some people may have embraced their players and teams based on race, this is no longer necessarily the case. A white American is certainly more likely now to embrace a black American athlete over a foreign player who just so happens to be white.



So what tends to be of most significance is the social and economic class status of various players. Guys like Kobe, Tim Duncan and that '90s NBA "savior" Grant Hill, have a different image than that of the players with lower-class roots. The largest percentage of foreign players in the league tend to come from formerly war torn places such as Serbia and Crotia or other economically depressed regions in Eastern Europe, some of which are places that would make the ghettoes of America seem like Beverly Hills by comparison.



One reason people are attracted to Kobe is because he is nonthreatening.Considering all these class politics, it makes sense that a large number of people find themselves attracted to the glow of Kobe's star. Not because he is a thug or because he embodies the hip-hop ethos that make so many people cringe, quite the opposite actually, it is because he is ultimately nonthreatening. His public persona is most certainly Laguna Beach and definitely not Compton. He is more Will Smith than he is 50 Cent. Kobe incites annoyance more so than he does fear. His public meltdowns demand a timeout more so than a call to the police.



If my claims here seem a bit exaggerated, forgive me. I live in the belly of the Laker beast, and so my perspective on this is undoubtedly influenced by proximity. Lakers fans love Kobe the way that Giants fans love Bonds, but I'm sure once we get outside of Lakerland, the adoration is somewhat less enthusiastic, especially in Colorado.



A few years ago, there were many who felt that Kobe was the main reason that the Lakers traded Shaq. It must be remembered that Jerry Buss signs the checks in Lakerland, not Kobe. So to blame Kobe for that egregiously inept act is somewhat misdirected. But Kobe's hands are not completely clean on this matter either. He and Shaq had reached a point where it was impossible for them to work together anymore. Though many suggested that, considering their enormous salaries, they should have been able to work out their differences, their relationship was broken beyond repair. We have all had someone whom we have worked with that we simply could not tolerate. The money is irrelevant here. The two hated working together, and we all watched this soap opera play out over an eight-year period. Maybe Buss used Kobe as a scapegoat for his unpopular trade of Shaq, and maybe Kobe verbally co-signed the move because he thought, at the time, that he would be better off with the Lakers' being "his team" than having to continue to defer to Shaq. There's probably truth somewhere in the middle of these two positions.



Either way, Kobe now realizes that though he's won two scoring titles, two first-round playoff exits lessen those individual accomplishments. Kobe's scoring 81 points in a meaningless regular-season game last year against one of the worst teams in the league at the time is worth a lot less than King James' scoring 48 points, 25 of those in a row, and 29 out of his team's last 30 points on his way to the NBA Finals.



As they say, you make the All-Star team in February, but you become a champion in June. Shaq knows this all too well. He has been to the Finals with three different teams and won titles with two of them. Say what you will about his shortcomings now, but Shaq is the best player of his generation, and he has the hardware to prove it. One could make the argument that were it not for Shaq, the only ring on Kobe's finger would be his wedding ring.



So now he wants a trade, or does he? Who knows? Any team that potentially gets Kobe Bryant better be prepared for diva behavior of the highest order. No, he won't wreck the team the way that Ron Artest killed a promising Indiana team, but he will contaminate team chemistry in his own petulant way. Perhaps he should just quit basketball altogether, and make the leap to Hollywood, where there is a culture already in place to cater to pampered celebrities of a different sort. In Hollywood, with all the publicists and other attendant flunkies, he would be right at home. He could whine to his heart's delight, and there would always be people there to wipe the tears away with a smile on their faces while doing it.



The excessive attention afforded Kobe Bryant often grows out of a deep-seated contempt for the lower-class thugs that many assume most NBA players to be. Kobe is user friendly in a way that someone like Rasheed Wallace will never be. Therefore people will pay attention to Kobe's desperate pleas for attention the same way that they pay attention to a soap opera like "Desperate Housewives" or, better yet, candid tabloid photos of doped-out young starlets on a night out clubbing.



Considering that it's June though, I would rather watch the NBA Finals when the game itself is what's most relevant, not some reality show about an entitled, indulgent celebrity who can get people's attention only by acting out his neurotic impulses at the expense of other more important happenings. Stay in your lane, Kobe. It's not about you right now.
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#4
From <!-- w --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.fia.com">[url="http://www.fia.com"]http://www.fia.com[/url]</a><!-- w -->



USA - Mutombo to be honoured



WASHINGTON (NBA) - Former Georgetown University men's basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive another honor for his community service work this week when he is inducted, along with two other professional sports standouts, into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.



Mutombo, along with NASCAR veteran Kyle Petty and seven-time Major League Baseball All-Star Edgar Martinez, will be enshrined for their humanitarian achievements on Wednesday, June 20 at its annual induction ceremonies in Boise, Idaho.



The Humanitarian Hall of Fame annually inducts individuals who are world-class in athletic ability, role models in their community and have a strong record of humanitarian efforts.



"The World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame is honored to include Kyle Petty, Dikembe Mutombo and Edgar Martinez among its fraternity of role models," said Larry Maneely, President, Board of Directors of the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.



"As humanitarians and community leaders they represent all that is good in sport and remind us of the importance of setting positive examples through community service for our peers and our youth."



Mutombo, 40, of the Houston Rockets is the Hall's seventh NBA inductee.



The eight-time NBA All-star and four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year recently concluded his 15th NBA season.



He previously played for the Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks.



Mutombo, who originally came to the U.S. on an academic scholarship to study medicine at Georgetown University, is being honored for his long-standing dedication to improving the health, education and quality of life for the people in his birthplace, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other parts of the world.



Through the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation (<!-- w --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.dmf.org">[url="http://www.dmf.org"]http://www.dmf.org[/url]</a><!-- w -->), Mutombo has contributed some $15 million toward the $29 million cost of building the new 300-bed Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center in the capital city of Kinshasa.



His foundation also supports the International Polio Victims Response Committee in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and he is personally involved with the NBA's Basketball without Borders Africa initiative, the United for Children, Unite against AIDS campaign and CARE.
Respect and thanks for everything:

Alvertis, Bodiroga, Jasikevicius, Radja, Wilkins, Vrankovic, Fotsis, Rebraca, Kattash, Gentile, Koch, Middleton, Kutluay, Rogers, Papadopoulos, Becirovic, Tomasevic, Siskauskas, Pekovic, Lakovic, Vujanic, Chatzivrettas, Maljkovic, Spanoulis and many more to follow in the near future.
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