Will the NBA return this season?

By Michael Kinney

On March 11, the Oklahoma City Thunder rang the Coronavirus alarm in the sports world. That night a visiting member of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 and forced the game to be canceled.

From that moment on the NBA has been at a standstill. The season was suspended as the world dealt with the pandemic.

But that didn’t mean officials and owners weren’t looking for toward the point where they could restart the 2019-20 campaign and finish off the season in some manner.

“I just think it’s incumbent on the teams to really follow the lead of the league leadership in this situation because there’s not going to be a perfect solution.” Oklahoma City Vice President/General Manager Sam Presti said.  “In the event we are in a position to play again, obviously the health and wellness of staff, players, fans, everybody involved, that’s a decision that needs to be made way above anyone at a team level.”

Some of the options that have been talked about include playing in empty arenas without fans or shipping playoff teams off to Disney World to play a month-long tournament. It would be like their own bubble, with no contact from the outside world.

“Relative to coming back, whatever they provide to us, I know from our point of view, we’ll work with whatever it is as long as it’s been vetted by the league medical folks and everybody is working with the same schedule,” Presti said. “I can’t give you a perfect answer because I just don’t know. We’re in uncharted territory.”

Several of the league’s biggest stars have come out in recent weeks proclaiming they want to finish the season. They have included the likes of the Lakers’ LeBron James and Thunder guard Chris Paul.

“Saw some reports about execs and agents wanting to cancel season??? That’s absolutely not true,” James stated on his social media account. “Nobody I know saying anything like that. As soon as it’s safe we would like to finish our season. I’m ready and our team is ready. Nobody should be canceling anything.”

Publicly, everyone involved seems to be saying they want to play out the year. Right now, it’s the logistics, along with the safety, that has NBA officials stymied.

“We’re just not ready to set a date yet in terms of how long we can wait before we no longer would be able to continue this season,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “I would just say everything is on the table, including potentially delaying the start of next season. We just need more information.”

When the season was shut down, there were still 259 regular season games left on the schedule. And while most playoff teams seemed to be set, there were still chances for franchises to fall out of contention. (Oklahoma City (40-24) is currently in fifth place in the Western Conference and just two and a half games out of third place.)

So, if the league decide whether to just restart the season in the playoffs, or allow the teams several games to prepare for the postseason.

None of these questions have been answered publicly yet. Or even if they will for sure finish the season. It’s still up in the air.

However, last week the NBA took a step closer when it announced that teams would be able to start opening its facilities for players to work out and shoot around. That is scheduled to begin May 8.

Oklahoma has been one of the more aggressive states in relaxing its shelter at home guidelines. THe state has already allowed gyms to reopen under certain restrictions.

That could be seen as an advantage for the Thunder in being able to get their players back on the practice court sooner.

Presti doesn’t necessarily see it that way.

“I don’t know that there are any advantages in this situation, and I don’t mean from a basketball standpoint; I just mean in general. And a big part of that is just because of the amount of uncertainty that everybody is working with,” Presti said. “I just — I don’t know that there’s an advantage. You can make the argument that coming back too soon is a disadvantage; know what I mean?”

Regardless, Presti doesn’t want to have to make any decisions on whether to start allowing his players back into the practice facilities until he is positive that they will be safe from contracting the COVID-19. And that may not come until after May 8.

“With respect to the May 8 date, what I can say is that the league has stated it’s a target date, and we’re still a week or so away from that before we even can get there,” Presti said. “And I think what we’ve all seen and lived through this experience is that things are changing like literally day by day. We’re evaluating that. I wouldn’t say that we’re committed to doing that. We have to work through that a little bit. We’re going to continue to speak with our players about that whole entire concept of coming back, but the league has given some flexibility, obviously, to the teams to determine what is best for them. And for us, we’re operating on the assumption that the league wouldn’t be permitting players and staff members back into facilities unless they felt it was absolutely safe.”

Michael Kinney Media

 

BCC teams up with Google, Thunder

By Michael Kinney

The Journal Record

Eran Harrill knows a thing or two about teamwork. As a sergeant in the Oklahoma National Guard, he witnessed firsthand the importance of groups coming together for a common goal during his tour of duty in Afghanistan.

While Harrill may not be wearing fatigues and roughing it in the desert, he is still working to bring different groups together. Now he’s just doing it as the chief executive officer of the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce.

One of Harrill’s missions as CEO is to help the chamber’s members learn to keep pace in this technology-driven era.

“When I took over the Black Chamber, it was something that I immediately saw as a need that needed to happen,” Harrill said. “And so I’ve always been cognizant of that and trying to look for ways that can continue to push that mission out there and accomplish those goals.”

That is why Harrill forged partnerships with Google and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The three groups have come together to create monthly workshops for the Black Chamber of Commerce to host for its members and other small business owners looking to use Google products.

Harrill first saw the value of Google in 2017 after attending a “Grow with Google” event at the Devon Boathouse.

“That’s when I really started seeing some of the deliberate efforts they were trying to do on their portfolio and the suite of products, to be able to help small business owners and entrepreneurs really get a leg up in some of the products that they were creating,” Harrill said.

The workshops cover a variety of topics each month. When the OKC Black Chamber of Commerce met Feb. 15, the subject was “Get Your Business Online.”

For two hours, Harrill went through ways different Google products could help business owners create a bigger and more effective imprint online. That is one of the reasons Joel Pendarvis of JP Accounting & Tax Services has been attending the workshops.

“I come to a workshop like this to get different strategies for optimizing my website, giving myself a better web presence,” Pendarvis said. “Also, I am a member of the Black Chamber and I come here to support one of my fellow Black Chamber members.”

Harrill explained to the small group at the Thunder Launchpad how the web is specifically working for businesses in Oklahoma with the help of Google. In Oklahoma alone, Google helped provide $532 million of economic activity for businesses, website publishers and nonprofits in 2017.

“(Google) gets small business owners being more recognized with the brand and using their suite of products in a way that they couldn’t do, or would cost them a lot of money to be able to try to get the word out that way,” Harrill said.

For the Thunder, being partnered with the Black Chamber of Commerce and Google is a way to continue to give back to the community and also showcase the viability of its Thunder Launchpad, which provides space and resources.

“We wanted to open up this space for nonprofit organizations, for-profit organizations, for educating small businesses, for educating youth, for educating veterans to better their careers,” said Karlis Kezbers, director of business intelligence and strategy for the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Then there is our partnership with Eran. We have hosted many events for the Black Chamber of Commerce, whether it’s at the arena or here at the Launchpad. We want to help support that as much as possible.”

So far in 2019, the Black Chamber of Commerce has hosted two Grow with Google events. Thirty people attended in January and 13 in February.

Harrill sees room for growth, but he knows the key continues to be getting the word out on how Google can work for people.

“We deal with a lot of entrepreneurs, people who are just starting their business. So this gives them an opportunity to improve their business presence on the web for free,” Pendarvis said. “That always helps. It doesn’t cost anything, there are no barriers for entry. It’s something you can do on your own and it also helps your business.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

NBA Draft: Trae Young already showing his brand is strong

By Michael Kinney

The 2018 NBA draft will take place Thursday at the Barclays Center in New York City. At some point in the first round, Oklahoma native Trae Young will be selected.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound point guard is projected to be a top-10 lottery pick.

When Young is chosen, it will be just over a year since he graduated from Norman North High School as one of the premier players in the country. He will have gone from an everyday teenager living with his parents to being on the verge of becoming a millionaire with his first NBA contract.

Twenty years ago that would have been all any professional athlete would have wanted. Throw in a shoe deal and a few commercials and they were set.

But now, in this new generation of young men and women gaining instant wealth and fame before they can even legally take a drink, the team contract is just the starting point.

For athletes like Young, the aspirations aren’t just to conquer their sport. It’s also to build their own brand and create a business empire.

“I dreamed of it. You ask me a year ago if I wanted to do this in a year. I would tell you that I’m gonna work my butt off to get to this point,” Young said. “But you never know. All I can do is focus and control what I can control. That was just playing and trying to do whatever it takes to help my team win. Ultimately that got me to this point. I envisioned it, I dreamed of it, but now that it’s reality … my dreams all come true on Thursday. It’s definitely something that is a blessing.”

While the verdict is still out on who will be the best player in the 2018 draft, there seems to be very little debate on who has the potential to be its biggest star. Earlier this month ESPN Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell said Young would be the most marketable player in this year’s draft.

Young seems to agree with the assessment.

“It means everything, courtside, on the court, off the court. Being able to attract fans, attract people,” Young said. “As far as on the court, make my teammates better, my overall skill set, you know, shoot the ball, spread the floor, but also be able to get in the lane, get my teammates involved, stuff like that.”

But Young knew that was a possibility early on in his basketball career. When he started getting recruited as an eighth-grader, he had his eyes set on creating a brand that others would want to be involved with.

“Well that was something that I knew I needed to do,” Young said. “ Back in the day there wasn’t social media, you weren’t as marketed like players are now. Even some of the best players weren’t. But, I think that’s something that I’ve learned … I think that I’m very mature at, is knowing that there’s always someone watching. Just making sure I’m doing the right thing at all times, is something I’m focused on.”

Part of that brand building meant staying away from trouble. He knew if he was going to be the face of multimillion-dollar corporations, he couldn’t give them a reason to have a second thought about his character.

“It involved just making sure that I have a clean brand, everything about me is clean,” Young said. “I’m not perfect by any means, but just trying to make it as clean as possible. Trying to do things the right way. Give back to my community. Do different things like that. Just making sure that my off the court is just as good as on the court.”

So far the plan has worked. Young has already inked deals with NBA 2K19 to be one of the featured players on the game. He also signed endorsement deals with Express, the fashion retailer. It will be their suit he is wearing when he crosses the stage on draft night.

Young is also part of Footlocker’s One and Done campaign. Other new partners include Panini Memorabilia, the watch company Tissot and New Deal Custom Hats. According to his father, Ray Young, he was the only player in the 2018 class to have a deal in place with Panini.

Since the day Young said he was turning pro most fans and sports business analyst were waiting to see which shoe company he would join. That wait came to an end Tuesday when it was announced that Young would join the Adidas family. He and Miami’s Lonnie Walker were the only players to sign a footwear and apparel endorsement deal with the 69-year-old German company.

“After seasons of holding down highlight reels, Trae and Lonnie are both heralded for their elite skill set and creativity on-court,” Adidas said in a statement. “Their path to the NBA started with loyalty to family and community and further solidified by their character, passion and dedication to the game. Trae and Lonnie will play an instrumental role in driving performance insights, in addition to creating deeper connections within basketball communities across the globe. They will also be featured in upcoming brand campaigns and activations.”

While the numbers sound great, Young is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead for him in building a global brand. He is now basically a CEO and that means being involved in every aspect of his business dealings.

“Well, that’s something I’ve looked into. I’m very involved on the business side of my brand,” Young said. “Wanting to figure out who I’m going to sign with. Just little things like that. I’m very involved and every part of Team Young. Especially the business side.”

Young relies heavily on his parents, Ray and Candice Young. One of them is normally with the 19-year old wherever he goes while the other is back in Norman with his younger brother, Timothy, and two younger sisters, Caitlyn and Camryn.

“They are going to be a big a big factor to that,” Young said of his parents. “The way they feel about things is a big determining factor on certain things. They are going to be very involved in it. I talk to them all about what they think on certain deals and certain marketing opportunities, different things like that. They’re involved heavily.”

Others who have had an influence on Young have been the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who he has known since his high school days. Both have turned their names into global brands and helped paved the way for what Young wants to accomplish.

However, there is another player who Young is trying to pattern his business path after.

“I really like Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers). How he controls everything. He’s branded,” Young said. “The way he carries himself, he’s a big role model for me. He’s a big person that I look up to like that.”

Young isn’t looking to be a flash in the pan on the court or off. He building his brand for the long term and that means making smart decisions on who he associates with himself.

“Every decision I make now is going to affect me in the future,” Young said. “ Focus on what I can do now to make sure my brand is right, make sure my decisions going forward are looking good. Everything that I do now effects ultimately affects your future. I’m looking at everything,  not just on a short-term basis, but long term.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider with EyeAmTruth

Trae Young wants the NBA to know he’s ready

(Photo by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

Trae Young knows what he brings to the table. So when the former Oklahoma point guard makes the statement that there is no player like him in this year’s NBA draft, he means it.

“It means everything, courtside, on the court, off the court. Being able to attract fans, attract people,” Young said. “As far as on the court, make my teammates better, my overall skill set, you know, shoot the ball, spread the floor, but also be able to get in the lane, get my teammates involved, stuff like that.”

The 2018 draft is set to be held at 6 p.m. Thursday in New York City. Young, who has resided in Los Angeles since declaring for the draft, flew out to NYC Monday morning to prepare for the event.  The Norman North graduate will be on hand at the Barclays Center with a handful of other players who are expected to be drafted in the first round. Young is projected to be a top-10 lottery pick.

However, there is no consensus on where Young will land.

At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Young may be the smallest of the elite players in the draft, but his game fits into the new NBA. In his one season at Oklahoma, Young averaged 27.4 points and 8.8 assists. He also shot over 36 percent from 3-point range.  Of his 261 field goal made, 118 were from behind the arc.

Young had 17 games in which he hoisted up double-digits shots from 3-point range. He also had 11 games where he handed out at least 10 assists.

“A potent perimeter shooter and playmaker, Young displayed, and more importantly sustained, serious ability as the fulcrum of Oklahoma’s offense,” said Sport’s Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo. “His deep shooting range and intelligent use of ball screens open up room for his creative dribble penetration, and turning the Sooners into an elite offensive team for a large stretch of the season was no small feat.”

In the weeks leading up to the draft,  Young has visited only a handful of teams for individual workouts. They included Atlanta, Orlando, Chicago and New York. As of right now, they have the No. 3, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 9 picks in the draft.

“Going out to different teams, it’s been a very busy few weeks just flying different places,” Young said. “Luckily I put myself in a good situation where I only had to work out for a few teams. I just got in and worked out and met  the whole staff, had dinner with them and everything. I mean that was good.”

Young has also seen strong interests from other teams, including Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland.

According to Young, each club that has shown an interest in him have all pretty much approached him in the same way.

“It wasn’t necessarily asking me a bunch of questions, really just wanted to get to know me,” Young said. “Because they know they have a high pick, they want to know who they’re drafting because when you’re picking this high you don’t want to miss. They’re picking people and they want them to be a part of this franchise. They want to get to know me and stuff like that. That’s really all that it really was.”

For Young’s part, his main objective during the workouts and informal meetingshas been to convey to the teams why he should be their top pick.

“Just let them know how much of a team player I am, a competitor,” Young said. “Someone who’s going to come out and compete for his teammates. Just someone who’s an ultimate winner. That’s my main thing. They know what I can do. They know what I’m capable of doing on the court. I wanted to give them a little piece of how I think the game, little things about my mindset and everything.”

Until Young’s name is called Thursday, his future is still up in the air. The 19-year old could land on a rebuilding team, a possible contender, a small market franchise looking for a foundation to build on or a big market needing a star.

Regardless of where Young ends up, he says he is ready for whatever comes next.

“I dreamed of it. You ask me a year ago if I wanted to do this in a year, I would tell you that I’m going work my butt off to get to this point,” Young said. “But you never know. All I can do is focus and control what I can control. That was just playing and trying to do whatever it takes to help my team win. Ultimately that got me to this point. I envisioned it, I dreamed of it, but now that it’s reality … my dreams all come true on Thursday. It’s definitely something that is a blessing.”

This story first appeared in The Yukon Review

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider with EyeAmTruth.com

Thunder fall to lively Hornets

(Photo by Sam Murch)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — For most of the season, Russell Westbrook’s chase of the triple-double record and his team’s success coincided. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s success rate when he reaches those magical double-digit numbers made the historical ride beyond reproach.
However, the luster is starting to come off as the Thunder have dropped three of their last five games in which Westbrook earned a triple-double. The latest came Sunday afternoon, when the Charlotte Hornets beat Oklahoma City 113-101 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Westbrook registered his 40th triple-double of the season as he posted 40 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He is now one triple-double away from tying the record held by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson (1961-62).
But when asked what he feels about potentially tying the record, Westbrook didn’t want to talk about it.
“We gotta win,” Westbrook said. “That’s my thoughts.”
Kemba Walker scored 29 points to lead Charlotte (36-41). He shot 10 of 20 from the field and 6 of 12 from the 3-point arc. Frank Kaminsky came off the bench to post 18 points. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 16 points and six rebounds as the Hornets pulled within 1 1/2 games of Miami for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot pending the Heat’s night game against the Denver Nuggets.
Thunder guard Victor Oladipo scored 19 points while Andre Roberson added 12. No other player scored in double figures as Oklahoma City (43-33) dropped its second straight game. The sixth-place Thunder are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference standings.
Oklahoma City didn’t help its efforts with 24 turnovers.
“We were just making bad mistakes, bad decisions,” Westbrook said. “Starting with myself, we have to take better care of the ball.”
Oklahoma City used an 11-1 run to cut the Hornets’ lead down to 102-91. A three-point play by Cody Zeller halted the Thunder momentum.
Leading by 12, Walker drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Westbrook answered right back from the same location.
After getting a stop, Westbrook had an opportunity to cut the deficit, but he missed a layup in traffic. Marvin Williams then hit a pair of free throws to give Charlotte a 110-96 lead.
However, Westbrook knocked in a 3-pointer and was fouled. He missed the free throw and Oklahoma City trailed 110-99.
That was enough to put the game away for Charlotte.
“Every guy who played today contributed,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. “Starters got off to a great start. … Then, really, it was the guys coming off the bench that really got the cushion there early in the fourth.”
The Hornets began the afternoon by spreading the wealth around. Nine different Hornets scored in the first half.
But it was the bench players who sparked the Hornets. Kaminsky and Marco Belinelli combined for 17 points in the first half.
“When our level of play off the bench is very high, we just play with a lot of energy,” Kaminsky said. “Then the starters can get more rest when we are playing well. If we can play like that going forward, I think we will be in a good spot.”
Oklahoma City turned to Westbrook and Oladipo to carry its scoring load. The backcourt duo had a slow start, but picked up the pace in the second quarter as they posted 34 points, but the Hornets still led 59-54 at halftime.
Charlotte picked up its defensive presence in the third quarter and took apart the Thunder. Oklahoma City didn’t score until 6:24 left in the quarter when Westbrook drove the lane and scooped in a layup.
Westbrook scored 13 straight points as he tried to take over the contest. Yet Charlotte still held a 14-point advantage going into the fourth.
“This is one of the best defensive games we played in a while,” Charlotte’s Steve Clifford said. “I know (Westbrook) had 40 and we didn’t make a lot of mistakes on him. He is such a great shot maker. He had 40, but I feel our defense on him was good.”
After the Thunder reserves cut the Hornets’ lead down to 12, Jeremy Lamb hit a string of baskets to get Charlotte’s lead back up to 21.
“It was great. We were on a string on both ends of the floor,” Lamb said. “Played good defense, did good gang rebounding. Even though Russ still had 40 and still had a triple double, we made him take a lot of shots to do it. That was good. Just an overall great win for us.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Westbrook explodes in 4th to take down Pelicans

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook has the ability to hurt opposing teams in a variety of ways. But regardless of which way the Oklahoma City point guard chooses to rip apart clubs, the foundation is his aggressive nature.

This was on display Friday when he scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Thunder to a 118-110 victory over the slumping New Orleans Pelicans at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The 21 points is the most Westbrook has ever scored in the fourth during his career.
“I think throughout the game, I try to find ways to pick my spots,” Westbrook said. “Tonight was the fourth quarter. Some nights it may be early, some nights it may be late. I just play. The game will tell you what to do. If something is working, I keep doing it.”
Westbrook ended the night with 41 points on 14-of-29 shooting from the field. He also posted 11 rebounds, 11 assists and nine turnovers to notch his 29th triple-double of the season. It was also his seventh career 40-point triple double, which tied Wilt Chamberlain for second most in NBA history.
“I just stay in attack mode,” Westbrook said. “I did a terrible job of taking care of the basketball. But I stayed in attack mode and tried to help us win.”
Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 20 points and grab nine boards. Steven Adams and Alex Abrines each scored 13 points for the Thunder (34-25).
Anthony Davis led the Pelicans (23-37) with 38 points and seven rebounds. DeMarcus Cousins added 31 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out. E’Twaun Moore was the only other player to hit double figures (10). It was the third straight loss for the Pelicans since acquiring Cousins in a trade last week.
“I thought we played well,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we did a good job. We started the game the right way. At the end of the day, Russ made all the plays down the stretch. You have to give them credit.”
With the Thunder leading 94-93, Westbrook hit back-to-back 3-pointers before Kanter added two free throws.
That forced Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry to bring Cousins off the bench with five fouls and he promptly was fouled and hit two free throws.
Westbrook came right back down and nailed another 3-pointer. Davis scored four straight points, Moore drilled a corner 3-pointer and the Pelicans were back to within three points with 3:50 left.
A Westbrook jumper pushed the Thunder lead to 107-102. But Cousins responded with four consecutive free throws to cut the lead to one.
Westbrook ended Cousins’ night when Jrue Holiday let him drive straight down the middle of the lane for a tomahawk dunk on Cousins, who picked up his sixth foul on the play. The three-point play gave Oklahoma City a 110-106 advantage.
“Obviously it changed the game from the standpoint of we were able to throw the ball inside and he was playing well,” Gentry said. “It took all of that away. Like I said, Russ made all the plays at the end of the game.”
C5o84m2UwAAMGNX.jpg
With 1:41 left, the Pelicans had the ball and trailed by four. But Holiday missed a 3-point attempt and that set up two free throws on the other end for Westbrook. He hit two more on Oklahoma City’s next possession and that was enough to close out New Orleans.
The Thunder won the rebound battle 53-26 and owned the points in the paint 56-40.
The night started very spotty for Cousins as he and Adams picked up double technical fouls 32 seconds into the game on what appeared to be light jostling for position. One minute later, Cousins was hit with his second foul and had to sit on the bench the rest of the quarter.
“I have to fight through the adversity and ignore the negativity and just do what’s best for the team,” Cousins said.
Despite that, Davis was able to have his way with the Thunder defense. Whether it was Adams, Kanter or Taj Gibson, no defender had an answer for him as he posted 24 points in the opening 12 minutes.
“He had two fouls at the 10:30 mark,” Davis said of Cousins. “It’s tough when he goes out. I tried to make shots and get other guys involved.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

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