NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: LeBron supports 4 years in college — OK, our headline is a little bit of a tease. The idea that LeBron James, arguably the greatest preps-to-pros NBA player ever, might be advocating for young prospects to attain their college degrees could make for an interesting sports story. In this case, though, it makes for a fascinating story, period, because James’ focus is not on future NBA performers – it’s on regular kids from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, who otherwise not attend college at all. We’ll assume he’s getting a volume discount and not paying retail, per this piece on ESPN.com:
The NBA star has partnered with the University of Akron to provide a guaranteed four-year scholarship to the school for students in James’ I Promise program who qualify.
The scholarship will cover tuition and the university’s general service fee — currently $9,500 per year.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, as many as 2,300 children could potentially benefit from the scholarships.
It’s the latest example of James, who often refers to himself “as just a kid from Akron,” giving back to a community that helped raise him.
“It’s the reason I do what I do,” said James, who announced the program Thursday while hosting an event for students at Cedar Point Amusement Park. “These students have big dreams, and I’m happy to do everything I can to help them get there. They’re going to have to earn it, but I’m excited to see what these kids can accomplish knowing that college is in their futures.”
The university and the LeBron James Family Foundation are still finalizing the criteria for the scholarships. The students will have to graduate from high school within Akron’s public school system, achieve standard testing requirements, and fulfill a community service obligation.
James has had a long-standing relationship with the university. As his celebrity soared in high school, James played many game on the school’s campus, and the four-time MVP deepened his connection with Akron soon after he turned professional.
“It means so much because, as a kid growing up in the inner city and a lot of African-American kids, you don’t really think past high school,” said James, who bypassed college to jump to the NBA. “You don’t really know your future. You hear high school all the time, and you graduate high school, and then you never think past that because either it’s not possible or your family’s not financially stable to even be able to support a kid going to college.”
No. 2: Mixed messages from Team USA — There’s no denying that USA Basketball has come up with a formula for success, built by managing director Jerry Colangelo and men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski and driven by the commitments it requires from the NBA’s best players. But there were several mixed messages put out by the time this week’s mini-camp and intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas were completed. “Everyone hoping to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics had to attend” … except maybe not Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose. “Some players will be permitted not to play in the scrimmage Thursday” … except then participation was made voluntary and so many guys opted out – 20 of the 34 on this week’s roster – that organizers had to truck in four more NBA players just to flesh out the Blue and White squads to nine men each. There seems to be some slippage going on in what words like “mandatory” and “commitment” mean, as kicked around in this CBSSports.com report, and it opens the door for other players to test the program’s vaunted culture in the future:
Earlier this week, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said that because Derrick Rose chose not to attend minicamp this week in Las Vegas, the Bulls star would not be considered for Team USA’s Olympics squad for Rio 2016. In the same interview session where he revealed that he’s interested in Kobe Bryant returning for a final run with the team (despite Bryant also missing the minicamp), all of a sudden, Colangelo says he’s open to it.
“I always said you never shut the door entirely on anyone. I mean, why? To prove what? Was I disappointed Derrick [Rose] wasn’t here? Sure. Because, we want the best for him. We want the best for him. We want him to get back to the level that he once was. So let’s just see how things go in the future.”
OK, this doesn’t seem cool. Colangelo made a big deal to everyone saying how in order to be considered for Rio in 2016 you have to attend this minicamp. It was mandatory. So a bunch of players dropped what they were doing and shuffled out to Las Vegas in the middle of their offseason to run some drills and have some meetings. Most were happy to do it, and that’s a testament to the culture that Colangelo has helped build.
At the same time, many did so because Colangelo made it clear that attendance was mandatory. Now, on top of him saying that he’s not going to hold minicamp next year and that instead the team will simply be chosen, all 12 spots, it turns out that the players didn’t actually need to attend anyway. Rose didn’t attend, and he can get in if he stays healthy this year. Bryant didn’t attend, same deal.
No. 3: Bad form in Rivers’ self-challenge — We’ve all come to understand the role that confidence and even ego play in how far a person can take some natural ability and hard-earned prowess. The days of athletes – or artists or innovators or anyone else, frankly – having to hew the “Aw, shucks” line of false modesty are long over. We get it when someone says he or she aspires to be the “GOAT” (greatest of all time), that’s it a highly effective method of motivating oneself. But what even the most brash among us need to remember is that it remains bad form to call out or put down others while issuing such self-challenges. That’s a line L.A. Clippers guard Austin Rivers crossed on Twitter the other night. Fueled apparently by seeing the “extras” who were summoned to help out at the Team USA “Showcase” scrimmage — Arron Afflalo, Terrance Jones, Amir Johnson and Elfrid Payton, with C.J. Watson listed initially but scratched — Rivers’ comment as framed by SheridanHoops.com veered into arrogance:
It’s quite possible that Rivers’ eyes lit up when he saw C.J. Watson on the roster. Kidding aside, it’s tough to see where Rivers is coming from as far as saying he’s better than many on the roster, given that he hasn’t shown a whole lot during his first three years in the league (bare in mind, he’s not comparing himself to superstars like Stephen Curry and James Harden, who weren’t a part of the showcase).
To be fair, he was never quite enabled by Monty Williams – the only coach he has ever played for before being traded to the Clippers last year by his father Doc Rivers. Under his father, Rivers shot a career-high 42.7 percent from the field and had some shockingly good performances in the playoffs that actually made you wonder if you’ve had it all wrong about the guy.
Objectively, Rivers probably isn’t better than most on the roster from Thursday as of right now. Still, if that’s what he wants to believe, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, particularly if it drives him to want to become better (that clearly is the case if he wants to become MIP).
No. 4: Kobe schools D’Angelo (smiley face) — This one is pretty self-explanatory, a moment or two between new teammates Kobe Bryant and No. 2 draft pick D’Angelo Russell played out in social media. Apparently inspired after watching some of former NBA All-Star and scoring champ Tracy McGrady‘s exploits, Russell lavished some Twitter praise on the former Orlando and Houston star. Bryant then reined in Russell’s enthusiasm a bit:
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Michael Jordan’s name and image are worth millions, and yet a bootleg grocery ad didn’t sell much meat with it. … Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins probably has been working out harder than you. … If you’re still digesting the massive NBA schedule served up all at once Wednesday, here’s a primer on the best of the best that might help. … Clippers forward Blake Griffin, not bad as a power forward and a commercial pitch man, talks about yet another role: Web site story editor. … Griffin, in case you missed it, also had some of the most interesting thoughts among the Team USA players who talked about the relative appeal of Olympic gold medals vs. NBA championship rings. …