New Orleans Hornets star guard Chris Paul returns home to Winston-Salem, N.C., on the next episode of “Homecoming with Rick Reilly,” which airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5, on ESPN. Hosted by Reilly, an 11-time Sportswriter of the Year, the show challenges the old adage, “You can’t go home again.”
In the episode, Paul is interviewed in front of nearly 2,000 at his alma mater, Wake Forest University. Paul’s former coaches and teammates, including Mo Peterson, were in the audience, as well as his family members and other supporters. The most poignant moment was when Paul was moved to tears talking about the murder of his grandfather the day after he signed with Wake Forest and how he forgives the teenagers who committed the crime.
Former Hornets coach Byron Scott (now an ESPN analyst) shares how Paul was the key to saving the New Orleans franchise after Katrina, and that he knew he’d be rookie of the year in 2006 when the team played in Oklahoma City.
Paul also took Reilly back to his grandfather’s old gas station where they faced off in a Squeegee competition. Paul is so well liked that sometimes even visiting players such as San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker and Memphis Grizzlies’ Rudy Gay stay at his house when in New Orleans.
Paul on his poem about his grandfather written while at Wake Forest University: “My best friend goes by the name Nathaniel Frederick Jones, also known to his grandchildren as Pa-Pa Chile. In the 17 years I was blessed to have him by my side, he taught me more about life than I could ever learn with a Ph.D. or a bachelor’s degree. To him life was a gift that should be cherished and used very wisely, because tomorrow is never promised.”
On his Uni-Brow: “I’m going to tell you the truth, my grandma, used to tell me about my uni-brow, she said that that meant I was going to be rich. Better start praying for a uni-brow.”
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant has reached the summit of ESPN The Magazine as its 2010 NEXT winner – the athlete destined to make the biggest impact on sports in the coming year, and for years to come. The double-cover NEXT/ESPN 100 issue will hit newsstands Friday.
At 6-foot-9, Durant has a delicate touch, lightning speed and rare work ethic is looking to blaze his own trail to the top. He also is being billed as a rare kind of player: The superstar nobody has the heart to hate.
Quotes from the article:
Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets, on Durant: “No matter how talented a young player is, his first year is sink or swim. Can he survive in a man’s league? Obviously Kevin did, and he did it pretty well.”
Houston Rockets coach Rick Adelman, on Durant: “He’s got all the ability in the world. And he keeps getting better.”
Durant: “I want to win more than anybody. I want to be one of the greatest players of all time. I want to be remembered. But I don’t think you have to be a bad person to be a great player. I think I can be one guy on the court and another guy off.”
2010 NEXT runners-up:
2. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans tailback
3. John Wall, University of Kentucky basketball
4. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals pitcher
5. Melanie Oudin, Tennis
The Oklahoma City Thunder put on a show with their 104-94 victory Tuesday night on NBA TV. Here are a few of the comments from NBA TV analyst Kevin McHale and Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, who were interviewed on the broadcast.
During the pregame show, McHale on the Thunder’s improvement: “They are starting to defend better. That is the key to that team. They have to be able to stop people. Young guys in our league, they are trying to establish their career on the offensive end saying ‘I want to score the ball,’ and defense comes second. They are playing good on the defensive end and that is what is going to have to carry them through.”
The Fan Night crew interviewed Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant on Arena Link.
Durant on becoming a veteran: “I didn’t know what to expect on that first night playing against A.I. (Allen Iverson) and Carmelo (Anthony) for the first time (as a rookie). Year two and year three I was calmer and knew what I needed to do for my team to win. Each year, I got more comfortable.”
Durant on his goals for the season: “I have one goal and that is to get better. Every game, every shoot-around, every practice just to go hard and get better and I think everyone on our team has that mindset. So if we continue to think like that, I think the sky is the limit for us.”
Durant on being a free agent next year: “I would like to stay with Oklahoma City for my whole career. I love playing here and playing with my teammates and I will leave it at that.”
Durant on the Thunder’s improvement: “I think defensively we have gotten a lot better. We know the concepts and we help each other out. We play hard on both ends and that is the key to winning. We all like playing basketball with each other. We just go out there and have fun. I think that is the key to why we have a better record this year than we did last year and we just have to continue to get better each game.”
Durant on the adrenaline from taking a game-winning shot: “Kids dream about taking that last shot and winning. Everybody thinks that every time you get that last shot you are going to make it. Those times when I don’t make it are going to make me a better player and give me the confidence to take that shot next time and make it. My teammates trust in me that if I’m in that position again they will give me the ball and hopefully I will make it.”
McHale on impact of tonight’s win for the Thunder: “That was a huge win for Oklahoma City. I don’t even think they know how hard it is to win in that place.”
Green on win against the Jazz: “It was real tough to play in this building with the crowd that they have and the guys that have on that team with (Carlos) Boozer and (Deron) Williams. It was a great win for us.”
Green on his overall performance: “I’m feeling good. Three years in playing the four position, I’m getting accustomed to it. I had to put on a little muscle to battle those big guys but it is coming along well. It is putting our team in good position with match-ups on the offense end and it is working for us.”
The telecast also included Durant’s mini-movie produced by NBA Entertainment. Here is the link to it:
Clippers longtime play-by-play announcer Ralph Lawler and color analyst Michael Smith paid the price for some insensitive comments about Iranian-born Memphis Grizzlies center Hamed Haddadi on the Fox Sports Prime Ticket telecast last Wednesday. They were suspended for the Clippers’ telecast against the Denver Nuggets after a viewer who e-mailed Fox to complain.
Michael Eaves and Don MacLean, who regularly serve as halftime and postgame analysts, substituted for Lawler and Smith on the broadcast.
“That’s unfortunate. It was pretty strange not seeing them there,” Clippers point guard Baron Davis said after the Clippers’ 106-99 victory. “Ralph and Mike are very classy guys, and they didn’t do it to hurt anyone.
“A lot of times when you’re commenting on games, it’s a source of entertainment. And a lot of times, people may take offense. But the viewers need to understand that it’s entertainment, and people are entitled to their opinion. I stand by Ralph and Mike because they’re great guys and they only want to support and help everybody in the league.”
Lawler, 71, is in his 31st season doing Clippers games, and Smith is in his 12th.
“We regret the remarks made by Clippers announcers Michael Smith and Ralph Lawler during Wednesday’s telecast,” Fox said in a statement before the game. “While we believe that Michael and Ralph did not intend their exchange to be offensive, the comments were inappropriate.”
The transcript of the conversation between Lawler and Smith, which occurred late in the game, was printed on the Los Angeles Times’ Web site:
Smith: “Look who’s in.”
Lawler: “Hamed Haddadi. Where’s he from?”
Smith: “He’s the first Iranian to play in the NBA.” (Smith pronounced Iranian as “Eye-ranian,” a pronunciation that offended the viewer who complained.)
Lawler: “There aren’t any Iranian players in the NBA,” repeating Smith’s mispronunciation.
Smith: “He’s the only one.”
Lawler: “He’s from Iran?”
Smith: “I guess so.”
Lawler: “That Iran?”
Lawler: “The real Iran?”
Lawler: “Wow. Haddadi that’s H-A-D-D-A-D-I.”
Smith: “You’re sure it’s not Borat’s older brother?”
Smith: “If they ever make a movie about Haddadi, I’m going to get Sacha Baron Cohen to play the part.”
Lawler: “Here’s Haddadi. Nice little back-door pass. I guess those Iranians can pass the ball.”
Smith: “Especially the post players.
Lawler: “I don’t know about their guards.”
NBA TV studio analysts discussed the Thunder during the network’s Lakers-Thunders telecast Tuesday night. Here are a few of the comments:
Chris Webber in the pregame on why Oklahoma City guard/forward Kevin Durant is one of the most exciting players in this league: “Tonight you are going to get to see one of our best players (in Kevin Durant). He is one of our best scorers, he’s explosive and he is on a young team. And believe it or not, he can go to the basket. Even though he is skinny and has a lot of development to do, he goes to the basket like (Scottie) Pippen and he has a right or left hand just like TMac (Tracey McGrady). This guy, I really like his game. I think Carmelo (Anthony) is probably the easiest to score, but this guy (Durant) is a top five scorer in the NBA.”
Kevin McHale on who Oklahoma City guard/forward Kevin Durant reminds him of: “Iceman (George) Gervin. You look at him and think, ‘Oh, I’m going to have my way with him’ and he drops 35 on you.”
After Thunder GM Sam Presti joined the Fan Night crew via Arena Link, Webber commented on Presti’s well-known skills as a drummer: “Anybody is a good drummer on Guitar Hero, Sam. We need to hear you live. My nephew is a good drummer on Guitar Hero.”
At halftime, Webber on an athletic move by Thunder guard Jeff Green: “All it takes is effort, ladies and gentleman. Well, also a 40-inch vertical like (Green) has.”
After the game, Webber on the learning process for the Thunder: “You’ve got to be in close games to learn how to win them. You have to lose a couple, unfortunately. The game is to be learned and it’s just not going to be given to them.”
Webber on Thunder guard/forward Kevin Durant’s poor performance down the stretch: “He I bet you feels like he’s let him team down…I just wouldn’t want to be the guy who has to check Kevin Durant for the next 10 games. He’s already started out slow and did this tonight. He is going to bust somebody’s butt the rest of the season.”
TNT opens the NBA season on Tuesday with an opening night doubleheader: Boston at Cleveland at 6:30 p.m., followed by L.A. Clippers vs. the L.A. Lakers at the Staple Center.
TNT is going to carry 53 games, primarily Thursday nights. ESPN will have 75 telecasts, primarily Wednesday and Friday nights, ABC will have 15 games, Christmas on Sunday afternoon. NBA TV also will have 96 live games.
TNT announcers Doug Collins, Reggie Miller and Chris Webber discussed the upcoming season in a conference call. Here are a few of the excerpts:
Collins on how the addition of Shaquille O’Neal is going to help LeBron James and the Cavaliers: “(LeBron’s) game has gotten better every year and I love the energy he plays with. He’s in a good spot this year in that he’s in the last year of a contract and Shaq’s motivation to say that he’s won three championships with Kobe Bryant, one with Dwyane Wade and now one with LeBron. I think that Shaq will help on their frontline. They really got hammered inside last year and they didn’t have any answers for Dwight Howard. He’ll also take some of the pressure off of (James) in dealing with the media all the time. These are two very dynamic personalities. I don’t know who is going to be in charge of the pre-game introductions now so I can’t wait to see that.”
Collins on the competition between the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference: “It’s going to be so exciting to see which of the top three teams (Celtics, Cavaliers and Magic) in the Eastern Conference will be able to get the best record and get that number one seed. That will be so important this year because that will prevent you from having to go through two of those teams to get to the NBA Finals. The three-horse race in the East is going to be really exciting to watch.”
Miller on the defending NBA Champion Lakers: “Who is going to step up and challenge the defending champs, the Los Angeles Lakers? The rich get richer; you basically have the same team with the addition of a former defensive player of the year in Ron Artest.”
Miller on the San Antonio Spurs: “San Antonio added the veteran presence of Antonio McDyess and Richard Jefferson, but the key will be the health of Manu Ginobili.”
Webber on the San Antonio Spurs challenging the Lakers in the West: “I’m somebody that I’m the biggest San Antonio fan in the world and I think ever year they are not given the credit they deserve. They usually come through but they do it in a methodical way so it’s not interesting or sexy. I’m really looking for them to challenge and dethrone the Lakers.”
Webber on the Portland Trail Blazers: “Portland is the most exciting team in the NBA and I’m looking for them to take a big step and make their mark in the NBA.”
Miller on the New York Knicks plans for the prized 2010 free agent class: “Everyone has their eye on the prize of the 2010 class from LeBron James to Chris Bosh to Dwyane Wade to Joe Johnson to Amare Stoudemire. If I’m (Knicks general manager Donnie) Walsh and the New York Knicks, we know that your focus is LeBron James. But if you could get two of those guys in New York, I think that would pay bigger dividends than getting one big fish in LeBron James.”
Collins on if the Los Angeles Clippers can make the playoffs: “When you look at the Clippers and you don’t play in paper but the key is Baron Davis. Is this the Baron Davis who played 82 games in Golden State; played so well and was such a leader? They’ve got a ton of talent but will they be able to put it together? When I look at the Western Conference, to me there are (already) six playoff teams and two open spots. Houston is vulnerable without (injured) Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming for a while and New Orleans is a team that has slipped. There are two spots and I think the Suns could slip in (to the playoffs) or Golden State or the Clippers, they have talent.”
Webber on the Sacramento Kings: “I still think Geoff Petrie is one of best GMs in the game. I think it makes it harder for guys to come together when there isn’t a system to rely on. Are you relying on defense or on pick and rolls? Of course, there’s experience from playing that style of ball. I think Tyreke (Evans) is going to be the Rookie of the Year and they are looking to grow. They are probably not going to make the playoffs and definitely won’t win a championship but if they are looking to grow, it’s great to have a teacher and that’s what they need in Sacramento. Someone who will teach them, let them build on something and not just waste a 82-game schedule.”
Shaquille O’Neal came up with the idea for his new TV series, “Shaq Vs.,” as a way to train for his upcoming season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Shaq, a 15-time All-Star center, will challenge top athletes in their respective sports, including swimming against Olympic superstar Michael Phelps in the premiere Aug. 18. He also will try his football skills against Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, box retired world champion Oscar De La Hoya, bat against St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols, trade tennis volleys with Wimbledon champ Serena Williams and play volleyball against Olympic gold medalists Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor.
O’Neal will negotiate a handicap with his opponents and train with a coach for one week leading up to each challenge.
“These athletes may be on top of their game, but I am up for the challenge,” O’Neal said. “I plan to train hard and win, so look out.”
Shaq will compete against Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning QB, in a 7-on-7 passing drill to be filmed this week in the Pittsburgh area.
Although he has just one season left on his NBA contract, Shaq, 37, says he wants to play three more years and is hoping he can help Cleveland superstar LeBron James win his first league title.
If Blake Griffin had also played football at OU, he likely would have been a heck of a tight end. He certainly would have been a big target for OU quarterback Sam Bradford to find going across the middle.
As part of ESPN SportsCenter’s “Fan Feast,” Griffin’s dream of playing for the Sooner football team will air Friday as part of a series of vignettes in which key athletes discuss their favorite events (other than their respective sports) to play in or to watch:
June 29: Kobe Bryant – play cricket.
June 30: Joe Mauer – be a quarterback at the Super Bowl.
July 1: Candace Parker – attend the FIFA World Cup.
July 2: Jeff Gordon – face Tony Hawk one-on-one in an X Games contest.
July 2: Carl Crawford (midnight) – to be a quarterback in the NFL.
July 3: Blake Griffin – play football at the University of Oklahoma.
July 6: Colt McCoy – attend the Masters.
July 7: Trevor Hoffman – race in the Indy 500.
July 8: Lisa Leslie – attend the US Open and watch a Williams sisters final.
July 9: Dale Earnhardt Jr. – play in the NFL.
July 9: Dick Vermeil – a front row seat at the Indy 500.
July 10: Justin Morneau – play and win the Stanley Cup.
The series will feature five daily essays each by ESPN television studio host Kenny Mayne on his top five sports events to attend, and Mike Greenberg, co-host of ESPN Radio and ESPN2’s Mike and Mike in the Morning Show, on his top five events to participate in.
Fans also can fans can submit a 50-word essay on www.espn.com/fanfest proposing their favorite sporting event to attend. Fans can also submit essays about their favorite sporting event to participate in. A panel of ESPN.com editorial staff will select the top 10 essays submitted for each category.
ESPN’s draft begins at 6 p.m. Thursday from the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. After Tuesday’s trade between Minnesota and Washington shook up the draft order, ESPN.com draft guru Chad Ford made some adjustments in his latest mock draft. Ford’s current top five:
- Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
- Hasheem Thabeet, Memphis
- Ricky Rubio, Oklahoma City
- Tyreke Evans, Sacramento
- James Harden, Minnesota (from Washington)
ESPNU (Cox 253) plans to replay three OU basketball games to spotlight Sooner star Blake Griffin, expected to be the No. 1 pick in NBA draft Thursday night. The Sooners’ 72-60 loss to North Carolina in the Final Eight will air at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. Other broadcasts include OU’s 82-78 win against Davidson and star guard Stephen Curry at 5 p.m. Thursday and a 89-81 victory over OSU (Jan. 26 in Stillwater) at 7 a.m. Friday.
ESPNU also is featuring games of other draft prospects, including DeJuan Blair (Pittsburgh), Tyreke Evans (Memphis), Blake Griffin (Oklahoma), James Harden (Arizona State), Jordan Hill (Arizona), Jrue Holiday (UCLA) and Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut).
ESPN’s extensive draft coverage will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday from the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Stuart Scott will host ESPN’s coverage with analysts Jay Bilas, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy. Additional contributors will include international basketball expert Fran Fraschilla; Dick Vitale (via satellite); reporters Ric Bucher and Andy Katz; on-site interviews by Mark Jones; green room interviews by Lisa Salters; and field reporter Rachel Nichols from Tarrytown, N.Y., site of the New York Knicks’ training facility.
The coverage will include video conferencing with 15 team headquarters — Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Indiana, Los Angeles Clippers, L.A. Lakers, Memphis, Minnesota, New Jersey, Phoenix, Portland and Washington — and “draft cam” from the draft rooms of the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves, which have three first-round selections.
ESPN The Magazine’s current issue offers a preview of the NBA Draft including a Mock Draft featuring current players making the picks for their respective teams. Top five picks:
1) L.A. Clippers (selected by Ricky Davis) – Blake Griffin, Oklahoma.
2) Memphis Grizzlies (selected by Rudy Gay) – Hasheem Thabeet, Uconn.
3) Oklahoma City Thunder (selected by Russell Westbrook) – James Harden, Arizona State.
4) Sacramento Kings (selected by Spencer Hawes) – Ricky Rubio, Spain.
5) Washington Wizards (selected by Antawn Jamison) – DeMar DeRozan.