HT Without Borders

Mutombo Calls For Africa Aid

Dikembe Mutombo has a long history of philanthropic work, highlighted by the construction of a $29 million, 300-bed hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his native country. Mutombo was awarded the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007 and was named the NBA’s global ambassador in 2009.

On Thursday, along with Cindy McCain, singer K’Naan, ONE (an organization that fights famine and preventable disease) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Mutombo held a conference call to discuss famine in the Horn of Africa. The group was speaking from Nairobi, after visiting a Somali refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya earlier in the day.

According to a ONE press release from earlier this month…

In recent weeks, the UN has declared a famine in parts of southern Somalia, due to what is being called one of the worst droughts in the past 60 years. This has left more than 11 million people in the Horn of Africa – greater than the populations of Houston and New York City combined- desperately in need of food, emergency agricultural assistance, clean water and basic sanitation.

The group spoke of children at the camp in Dadaab who were living without proper nutrition or medical care, and ultimately living without hope.

“People feel as though they’ve been left there,” K’Naan, a Somalia native, said, “that they’re forgotten.”

Kenna, McCain and Mutombo expressed the need for people to not only donate to the cause, but to spread the word and raise awareness regarding a situation that isn’t going away. The Guardian recently reported that about 1,400 Somalis arrive in Dadaab every day.

“How many more children have to die,” Mutombo asked, “before we react?”

You can help by signing a petition asking world leaders to address the UN’s call for emergency assistance funding and/or visiting futurefortified.org to make a donation toward the cause.

“Ten dollars is going to go a long way within these camps,” McCain said.

Next week, Mutombo will join Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and several more former players and current coaches as part of Basketball without Borders Africa 2011 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The camp is for the continent’s top 18-and-under players, but goes well beyond basketball, promoting life skills and participating in several community outreach events.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

London Trip Does Wonders For Nets

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When Nets coach Avery Johnson was gushing about his team’s London excursion and how important it was for them to get that unique time away from their normal surroundings, it would have been easy to assume it was just a coach trying to say all the right things for the benefit of his audience.

But Johnson wasn’t just putting on a show for those of us media members in attendance. He was serious about the opportunity that historic trip to London — for two “home” games against the Toronto Raptors at 02 Arena, the first NBA regular-season games played on European soil — provided his new-look team. All-Star point guard Deron Williams was just days into his tenure with the Nets after coming over in a deal with the Jazz at the trade deadline.

Something clicked for the Nets over there, because they haven’t lost a game since that first win over the Raptors in London. They’ve rattled off five straight wins, including last night’s stunner over the Celtics in Newark.

There has even been mention of the playoffs (don’t laugh, the Nets have not been mathematically eliminated yet), chatter that would have seemed ridiculous weeks ago when the Nets were neck-deep in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes.

Now they’ve won five straight for the first time since  January of 2008. Johnson was stoked to knock off the struggling Raptors in back-to-back games in London, the second a triple-overtime thriller that seemed like anything but a battle of teams with win totals in the teens. So you’d expect him to be fired up after guiding his team to a win over the mighty Celtics.

“The last couple of games, obviously, we beat two teams that were under .500 (Golden State and the L.A. Clippers),” Johnson told Colin Stephenson of the Star-Ledger. “But now you’ve got the team that’s basically the best team in the East coming in, and it’s exciting. I’m excited for our guys.”

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Let’s Do This Again!

LONDON – You know you’re a hit when the coach whose team lost back-to-back regular season games walks out of the building touting how much his team learned from their experience.

What the Nets and Raptors did Saturday night, though, goes above and beyond what anyone expected, even from a celebrated guest like the NBA. Two teams with a combined 35 wins before the night started, played the craziest (in a good way) and best regular season game of this NBA season.

That they did on the back-end of a historic, back-t-back set — the first regular season games played on European soil — only made it that much sweeter for the sellout crowd that piled into the splendid 02 Arena on this magnificent cities’ eastern edge. And yes, that would be the same crowd that rose to its feet in unison and gave both teams a standing ovation before the final 12.6 seconds of the third and final overtime was played.

“Hats off to the NBA … because I think it’s a huge success,” exhausted Nets coach Avery Johnson said of the European experiment. “This is one of the best wins I’ve been a part of … If you look at this crowd, the last two nights, I didn’t see an empty seat in the building. They were into the game and we provided them to two thrilling nights of basketball.”

Indeed!

And fans from all over the continent found their way here for the weekend. I know this because I had the pleasure of shaking hands and taking pictures with many of them before, during and after both games. They came from all over. Sweden, Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Italy and Russia, just to name a few, were all represented. There were men, women and children. Fans of the teams specifically but mostly fans of the NBA game. They wanted to be a part of the experience.

Still, none of us expected to see the triple overtime thriller we all witnessed on this night.

“Hopefully, every time we come through London we’re the home team here,” said Nets power forward Kris Humphries, who showed off with 38 points and 35 rebounds in two games, much to the delight of the crowd. “It feels good. It’s been great here, a great experience. Thanks to all the people that made this happen.”

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Nets, Raptors Truly Going Global

LONDON – New Jersey’s team? Sure.

But the Nets fancy themselves as so much more these days. They’re quickly becoming the world’s team in the NBA, having played preseason games in China this season, after conducting a basketball clinic in Russia, home of their billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Now they’re just hours away from making history as part of the first NBA regular season games to be played on soil outside of North America, tonight and Saturday here at London’s O2 Arena.

They’ve seen the Kremlin, the Great Wall and now Buckingham Palace all before St. Patrick’s Day, cementing the Nets as true citizens of the world.

“Hey, we’re a global team,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “And I don’t think it’s the last time [you'll see us do this]. But Prokhorov has added that dynamic to our franchise. It was great to go to Russia and spend some time with him. It was great to go to China and play two preseason games and give back to that community. And now here we are in London, pretty much with the same game plan. This is where we are right now and there is really nothing to complain about. [NBA Commissioner] David Stern had this vision a long time ago and now to see it happening is great for our fans, especially for our fans abroad.”

Their counterparts staring back at them in this historical contest?

The Toronto Raptors, who truly embody the spirit of the league’s Basketball Without Borders mantra, boasting six players on their roster that hail from foreign lands. Raptors coach Jay Triano participated in BWB Africa last summer in Dakar, Senegal.

“I’m not sure you could have picked two better teams to represent the league when you look at it from that standpoint,” said Raptors’ big man Solomon Alabi. A native of Nigeria, Alabi is one of three Raptors to participate in the Basketball Without Borders program before joining the league as players. Andrea Bargnani (Italy) and Alexis Ajinca (France) are the others.

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Raptors Expecting Diverse Turnout

LONDON – The location doesn’t matter to Raptors point guard Jose Calderon.

London. Paris. Berlin. Barcelona. Athens.

Wherever NBA teams play, he said, the game’s true fans will follow. That’s why he’s expecting a raucous and robust crowd for Friday’s Nets-Raptors game here at the 02 Arena, the front end of a weekend doubleheader that wraps up Saturday with a rematch of Friday’s contest.

Calderon has heard from friends and family back home in Spain who have made plans to make the trek here to see not only him but also the first NBA regular season games played somewhere other than North America.

“It’s exciting for us because this is the first time the NBA has done this,” Calderon said. “This is close to my house. For the people who cannot afford to fly to the U.S. or to Toronto, this is as good as you can get. If you love NBA basketball better, there is nothing better. For these kind of games, wherever you put the game, it’s going to be packed. And it won’t just be people from London. I know a lot of people in Spain and I know there are people coming from there and people coming from Italy to support [Raptors big man] Andrea [Bargnani]. If you are a NBA fan and you can come to London, it’s a nice city and it’s great to visit and you have the games. So it’s an excuse to enjoy both.”

Calderon joked that this wasn’t even a distant dream of his as recently as two seasons ago. Like most everyone else, the idea of two teams making the trip from the U.S. here seemed like a logistical nightmare.

“I’m excited to be a part of this and to be doing something different,” Calderon said. “And I don’t think it matters what two teams you brought over here and where you had them play. If there are two teams from the NBA playing a game anywhere near you, people are going to be excited about it. That’s why we all want to go out there and put on a good show.”

Recruiting Season Begins For Nets

LONDON — Road trips in the NBA have always provided the sort of seclusion and quality time members of the traveling party cherish. Ferrying a team across an ocean and to another continent, though, seems like a bit much, even by today’s standards.

Nets general manager Billy King isn’t complaining. Not with few of the normal distractions around as he continues to cultivate his relationship with the new face of the franchise, point guard Deron Williams.

It’s an ages old practice that has become increasingly more important in the last eight months since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami, and Carmelo Anthony joined Amar’e Stoudemire in New York, a movement of friends pairing up with other friends to form “super teams.”

King and the Nets are in full-blown sales mode, knowing full well that Williams has to be treated like the prized that he is. Williams can sign an extension in July, though, the current CBA expiring after this season throws a curve into the process. Still, the Nets have plenty of time to woo him. Williams also acknowledged that he, too, has to don his recruiter’s cap at this stage of his career, wherever he plays, in order to keep up with All-Star and Olympic team peers in Miami and New York.

“I’m going to have to [turn into a recruiter],” Williams said from a courtside seat Thursday morning after the Nets finished practice. “I tried to do it in Utah. But it’s tough. It was a tough situation. You’ve got to do it. Guys have to want to play with you and hopefully they will. And I’m going to try and recruit some guys to come here and help.”

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Williams Says He’ll Play Friday

LONDON – A day of rest must have done wonders for Nets point guard Deron Williams.

A day after rumors swirled about his availability for Friday’s game here at the 02 Arena against the Raptors, he made it clear that he will indeed be ready to go.

“I’m playing,” he said after the Nets wrapped up their Thursday morning practice at the arena. “I’m definitely playing tomorrow.”

Williams has a bone bruise in his left wrist and the strained tendon in his right wrist. But he said he felt rested a lot better today than he did the day before.

Nets New Star In Need Of Rest

LONDON – Any fears about the availability of Deron Williams for Friday and Saturday’s Nets-Raptors games here are legitimate. Williams has two sore wrists and could use some rest.

But he’s tried that already and it hasn’t done much to improve his condition. He didn’t practice here Wednesday, using that time instead to get treatment on the bone bruise in his left wrist and the strained tendon in his right wrist.

“I don’t know yet,” Williams said on a conference call Wednesday when asked about his availability for Friday night’s game here at the 02 Arena. “[I'll have to] see how things feel. I really don’t have either hand right now, so it’s tough.”

Still, it’s hard to keep a competitor like Williams off the floor. And he knows the Nets traded for him so he could lead them, not watch from the bench. That’s why he played through the pain during his first three games with the Nets, piling up 47 assists in those three losses. But a long flight from the states and the jet lag that comes with it can work overtime on the body when you are healthy, so you can imagine what it does to one that’s battered and bruised.

“I need more than a couple games,” Williams said. “I’ve done a couple games. I did eight days. I came back and I hurt it again and it felt like Day 1 again. Like I said, I need about three weeks, four weeks.”

Nets coach Avery Johnson said Williams be ready for Friday, so everyone will have to wait and see what transpires between now and then. But if I had to guess, Williams will be in uniform and ready to go.

As he said, the Nets didn’t trade for him to “sit out.”

Hang Time Without Borders

LONDON – The fleece jacket with the NBA.com logo was a dead giveaway.

Or maybe it was the red, white and blue skull-cap with “ATL” splashed across the forehead that tipped him off.

“You here for the big game?” the baby-faced kid said to me, not realizing I was lost and in need of someone, anyone here in this massive and historic city, to point me in the direction of my hotel.

“Yes sir, Nets and Raptors doing the deed twice this week at the 02 Arena,” I shot back. “You must be a big NBA fan to find me like this. I knew there were NBA fans over here.”

Look at that. Mere hours after crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the trip I like to call Hang Time Without Borders, my faith in the global reach of the game was justified by a kind stranger willing to show me the way to my hotel in Canary Wharf, in London’s business district.

Only he was no ordinary kid. He was a bell hop at the hotel and spotted my get up and knew instantly where I was headed. And the big game he spoke of had nothing to do with the Nets and Raptors. Chelsea and Manchester United had a game last night at Chelsea’s home stadium.

“This is a futbol country, or as you say in the states, soccer,” he said with a smile. “You have heard of Didier Drogba? Frankie Lampard? Those are my guys. I like basketball all right, but the biggest game around here is Chelsea against Man-U. And I’m a big Chelsea fan. I have to tell you, the NBA has some work to do over here. There just aren’t as many fans here as you are used to in the States.”

That’s why I’m here, my man. This is like the basketball crusades. A mission that the NBA began years ago with routine stops in Europe and one that will be realized here in the United Kingdom specifically in 2012, when the Olympics will be held here and the world’s greatest basketball stars from the NBA and around the globe will converge on this city like the plague.

(Sorry for the medieval reference, but you try reading up on the history of this place and not diving into character.)

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