Word out of China is that CCTV-5, the state-run equivalent of ESPN, will once again air the NBA Finals live on Monday morning (Sunday evening in the U.S.) Game 5, despite airing at 9 a.m., was the highest rated programming on all of Chinese television Saturday.
Those close to Joe Tsai have said they don’t know how significant a role the Nets owner, the NBA’s only Chinese owner, played in the rapprochement between the league and the People’s Republic, but it seems incomprehensible that he didn’t play any. Let’s examine the possibilities.
As we noted Saturday, Chinese authorities said their decision to let the NBA back on the country’s main sports channel was the result of “goodwill” displayed by the league toward China, citing in particular donations to the country’s COVID relief efforts.
“During the recent Chinese National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations, the NBA sent their well wishes to fans in China,” CCTV said in a statement. “We also took note of the league has been continuously delivering goodwill [to China], particularly making positive contributions to Chinese people’s fight against COVID-19 pandemic.”
Tsai quietly provided aid to Chinese COVID-19 relief efforts back in February. The Nets, along with the Joe and Clara Wu Tsai Foundation, sent a 25 million yuan ($3.6 million at the time) donation to China on February 26. At the time, the pandemic was raging in China but had yet to pose as big an effect as it ultimately would here. Although the move didn’t garner much, if any, attention in the U.S., it was widely publicized in China via Weibo. the giant Chinese social media platform that also maintains the Nets Chinese language website.
In comparison, the NBA donated medical equipment worth 18.5 million yuan ($2.72 million) to hospitals in Wuhan at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s not known if other teams provided similar relief.
Chinese authorities did not detail what other “goodwill” the NBA and its teams provided, but here’s one possible example, Tsai’s embrace —and more— of a courageous Chinese teenager. Like the Nets COVID donation, it didn’t get much attention here, but was bigger in China.
Last month, Tsai and the Nets took note of the extraordinary ball-handling skills of Zhang Jiacheng, a one-armed 14-year-old boy from the city of Yunfu who became an internet sensation. Take a look...
As we reported in our third Off-Season Report, Tsai was very much out front in his support for Zhang who lost his right arm in an accident at age 5, praising him for his skills and character.
The Nets owner sent Zhang and his parents a message, an invitation ... and a Kyrie Irving jersey. Steph Curry sent a video offering encouragement.
“Jiacheng’s love and fighting spirit for basketball has moved me very much,” said Tsai, according to a Google translation of the message he sent young Zheng. “I would like to invite him to see our court in New York, have a face-to-face chat with our players, learn from each other, and help him realize his dream.
“Then we can also arrange for him to try his skills during the intermission of the game. I hope that fans all over the world can see the demeanor of the Chinese youth generation, and we will continue to support the growth of domestic youth basketball in the future.”
Zhang welcomed the invitation. He included a new video ... with him mimicking some of Kyrie’s most famous moves in the family kitchen while wearing his new Nets jersey...
Zhang told Tsai, “Thank you all for your support! I will definitely work harder and train harder.” That video went viral in China, too.
In fact, it now appears that the NBA and its teams have been quietly engaging with Chinese authorities on a number of levels in recent months. The donations and other “goodwill” have been accompanied by other, more tangible if less publicized, efforts. Last month, the NBA opened the world’s largest NBA Store in Guangzhou, a city of 14 million in southern China, and organized an event for 4,000 fans at Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena. That per Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.
This split between the league and the People’s Republic began, of course, a year ago when Rockets GM Daryl Morey posted a “Free Hong Kong” tweet. Chinese authorities wanted him sanctioned. At the same time, Tsai garnered a lot of criticism for a Facebook post in which he tried to explain Morey’s “Free Hong Kong” tweet in the context of Chinese history. He also branded Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protestors as “separatists,” a description they vehemently deny. Although Taiwanese by birth, American by education and Canadian by choice, Tsai has made it clear he’s Chinese by heritage.
The Nets have not responded to our request for information on any Tsai role in breaking the NBA-China logjam. It’s a cardinal rule of diplomacy, of course. You never take too much credit for success. You let your counterpart take it.
For more details on how the NBA and China got back together, read these two articles from this weekend’s South China Morning Post by Zhuang Pinghui in Beijing, home of CCTV, and Jonathan White in Hong Kong, from where he covers the NBA in China. Tsai is the president of the SCMP.
Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, KD leaves his mark
Kevin Durant’s Thirty-Five Ventures has unveiled a new basketball court in the borough with a distinctive —and eye-popping— design. KD announced the completion of the project, a joint venture with the Trust for Public Land, on Instagram. The post that drew more than 150,000 likes. It’s part of a Kevin Durant Charitable Foundation program to build and refurbish courts across America. The Brooklyn project in Midwood is the 21st of the initiative...
The Trust also publicized the effort on its Instagram feed, noting its purpose...
View this post on Instagram
The kids at PS152/315 have a brand-new basketball court thanks to our partnership with Kevin Durant and artist Timothy Goodman, who turned the courts into a mural that reminds students of the combined power of believing in yourself and hard work. @35ventures @easymoneysniper Learn more about our green playgrounds in NYC: (link in profile)
Timothy Goodman, an American artist, told Design Boom that he worked with the children in the neighborhood before coming up with the final design...
the theme of timothy goodman‘s piece was suggested by the students themselves. ‘back in february, I held art workshops with some amazing students, and they told me the content I should put on the basketball courts‘ the illustrator shares. the court drawing was completed in six days, with the artist and his four assistants working in 14-hour sessions in 95 °fahrenheit (35 °celsius) heat.
Goodman said of the $2 million project, “Creating public art for kids & communities has been my goal over the years, and as a big basketball and Kevin Durant fan, this was a dream project for me.”
Durant also left the Bay Area with a similar design-rich court in San Francisco...
#KDCF celebrates the completion of its 20th #BuildItAndTheyWillBall court renovation project at Hayes Valley Playground in San Francisco, CA. — Thirty Five Ventures (@35Ventures) July 30, 2019
Special thanks to @jgebbia for his support & leadership.
Court by @apexer
Drone by ‘something new’ from @SkydioHQ pic.twitter.com/17TzDnGFwR
Good on you, KD.
Draft Sleeper of the Week - Cole Anthony
A year ago, it looked like Cole Anthony, son of Greg Anthony, was bound for glory in the NBA. He was rated a consensus five-star recruit and the best point guard in the 2019 high school class. As a senior, he earned USA Today All-USA first team honors and was named MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic, and Nike Hoop Summit. Quite the resume.
But after a year at North Carolina, the 6’3” point guard has dropped in draftniks’ eyes, from a surefire high lottery pick to right around where the Nets pick at No. 19.
Although he averaged 18.5 points a game at Chapel Hill, he shot only 38.5 percent overall (but 34.8 percent from three) and was blamed by many a Tarheel fan for UNC’s 14-19 record. He was criticized as selfish, often forcing shots. Some even doubt that point guard is his best position in the league. Even his dad, the ex-Knick, called his season, which included knee surgery, “horrible.”
The Knicks had researched Anthony extensively but determined, according to SNY, they could find a better use for their eighth pick.
As Marc Berman of the Post reported this week, any hope of a reunion in New York rests with the Nets unless he falls to No. 27, the Knicks other first. Anthony played at Archbishop Molloy in Queens before transferring to Oak Hill Academy.
Of course, you don’t get to be as highly rated and as highly sought as Anthony without having real skills. He is hyper athletic and can shoot the three. Moreover, as we’ve noted before in these columns, the Nets have a tendency (and success) to jump at prospects who’ve dropped for whatever reason in others’ mock drafts. Ask Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs. Maybe Nicolas Claxton, too. All dropped into the Nets lap.
Here’s some highlights...
Of course, the Nets have a number of players on their roster who can play point guard quite well, from Kyrie Irving to Caris LeVert to Spencer Dinwiddie to Chris Chiozza. They even have another high school wunderkind who fell on hard times in college: Jaylen Hands. Oh year, Steve Nash has said he’d like to use Kevin Durant at all five positions. But the Nets don’t have to pick for position. As a contender, they have the luxury of patience. He could spend time on Long Island if the front office believes all that talent on display a year ago wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
Stashes back on the court in Europe
Although the NBA is nearing the end of its longest season, perhaps as early as Sunday night, the Euroleague is just starting up and at least some of the Nets five overseas stashes are playing again.
The best of the bunch, of course is Isaia Cordinier, the 6’5” French point guard who was acquired in the Jeremy Lin trade two years ago ... and impressed during last year’s summer league.
Cordinier, 23 has played in five games so far and is doing well with a new team, Nanterre in western France, after spending all of his career with Antibes on the French Riviera. So far, he’s doing well, averaging 14 points with a shooting line of 55/28/96, along with seven rebounds and three assists. The number in the middle of that shooting line —his 3-point shooting— remains a concern but the third number, his 22-of-23 shooting from the foul stripe gives scouts hope that he can ultimately improve his shot from deep.
The suburban Paris native could wind up on the French national team in Tokyo, assuming COVID-19 doesn’t kill the Tokyo Oympics next summer.
Aleksandar Vezenkov, the 6’9” shooter taken late n the second round of the 2016 Draft, is with Olympiacos in Greece. In two Euroleague games so far, he’s come off the bench and averaged 8.5 points in 19 minutes but has been subpar so far shooting from deep, his calling card, hitting only 28 percent. The Bulgarian had a 28-point effort in the preseason. He’s 25.
The Nets longest held stash —selected in the 2015 Draft, Juan Pablo Vaulet, is in Spain and he too is doing (relatively) well for Manresa. As noted before, the 6’7” Argentine’s chances of making the NBA jump are limited. He’s improved his 3-point shot. In a very small sample over five games, he’s made half his three’s but has only taken four. Overall, he’s averaging 7.4 points a game. His shooting line is 63/50/43, the final number not a typo. He’s 24, eight months younger than Cordinier.
Aaron White, one of two stashes acquired in the DeMarre Carroll salary dump, The 28-year-old product of Strongville, Ohio, White was in line for a training camp invite to Wizards camp last year before the trade. A 6’9”, he’s an athletic forward. So far, he’s played only one game for Panathinaikos, Olympiacos’ big rival, scoring five points and hitting his only shot, a three.
The other stash from the Carroll trade, Nemanja Dangubic, a 6’8” small forward, has played four games for Serbian powerhouse Partizan, split between the Adriatic League and Euroleague. He’s averaging a mere 2.5 points a game although the 27-year-old did have the dunk of the week in the Euroleague.
Will any of them ever play in a regular season game? Maybe Cordinier. Could any of them be used as a sweetener or placeholder in a trade? Sure. Cordinier, White and Dangubic already have.
Last Nets standing in the ‘bubble’
The NBA has now played 171 games in the Orlando “bubble,” with no positive tests for the virus that causes COVID-19 and only one player expelled for violating protocols. It’s been a burden even for those like the Nets who played in eight seeding games and four playoff games before returning to Brooklyn on August 24.
But there are two Nets still there, Olivier Sedra, the golden-voiced P.A. announcer and DJ M.I.L, the D.J. for Nets games at Barclays Center.
Sedra doesn’t have the call Sunday night —Kyle Speller of the Nuggets does— but he won over Lakers fans with his intros on Friday...
The intro from Olivier Sedra as the Lakers run out for a closeout opportunity in Game 5: "Time to welcome the good guys -- YOUR LOS ANGELES LAKERS!"— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) October 10, 2020
You have to remember Sedra has a relationship with LeBron James. He was the P.A. announcer in Cleveland in 2016 when LBJ and Kyrie Irving won it all in Cleveland and 2008 when James led the Team USA to the Olympic gold medal in Beijing.
He’s worked behind the plexiglass at Walt Disney World’s arenas for 91 days now, three months, isolated in a hotel far away from his nine-year-old son, getting daily tests for coronavirus, living the routine.
“I didn’t know what to expect before coming into the bubble, but I think that the NBA did a really, really good job of creating an atmosphere,” Sedra said in a phone interview with The Athletic’s Josh Robbins. “Every single game, I get more comfortable in my seat. I feel a lot more like I’m calling a basketball game, and I’m projecting the same way that I normally would.”
Of course, there are a minimal number of fans, team and league staff, players’ significant others, but he still serves a purpose: “conveying information such as replay-center reviews and foul calls to the players,” as Robbins notes.
“Then also, the goal is to try to bring some semblance of normalcy for the players when it comes to how the games are announced,” said Mike Chant, the NBA’s associate vice president of team programming and game presentation. “It’s just a way to try to make it seem as normal an NBA event as possible, and the PA announcer is obviously a key part of an NBA game.”
The NBA has even asked Sedra and the other announcers to skew their enthusiasm to whatever team is designated the home team on the schedule! Some teams even provided audio clips of their regular PA announcers’ signature calls and asked for them to be played at bubble home games at the appropriate times, Robbins wrote.
The gig is the culmination of his announcing dream, having done the Olympics, an NBA Finals and now the “bubble.” Not bad for a kid from Montreal.
A look back on the Morphing Nets
Something caught our eye in Alex Schiffer’s interview with Justin Anderson, the Nets 10-day who later played in the “bubble” as a substitute. Allen spoke about how several Nets players surprised him with their improvement from the time he played with them in January to his “bubble” time in July. In some ways, he said, the players morphed into something bigger.
“I always knew that the guys that were there, from a DNA perspective, obviously I know Joe and the cloth that he’s cut from, being around (Caris LeVert) a little bit, I didn’t know he was that type of killer. I learned that when I got there,” Anderson said.
“Obviously (Jarrett Allen) was on the rise but to see him embrace his role and being the guy for us down low was really different from what I saw when I was on my 10-day with the Nets. I just knew going into it that all of these guys that are on this roster have something to prove.”
Of course that same praise could apply to Timothe’ Luwawu-Cabarrot who averaged 15.9 points and shot 39.8 percent from deep in 12 “bubble games.” As Tom Dowd noted this week in one of looks back at the 2019-20 season,
Luwawu-Cabarrot started five of Brooklyn’s 12 games, averaging 15.1 points and shooting 39.5 percent from 3-point range. In the two games the Nets played without the trio of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and Joe Harris, Luwawu-Cabarrot led the Nets in scoring in a pair of wins, with 26 points against Milwaukee and 24 against Orlando.
As TLC said of his time with the Nets, “I proved I was a reliable scorer, reliable defender, and a person you could count on every single game.”
It’s those kind of improvements fans should think of the next time they hear a rumor about the Nets seeking this “third star” or that.
Truth or Shorts?!?
Is there an Off-Season Report without any mention of Spencer Dinwiddie? There is not! Here he is on Jimmy Kimmel two nights ago.
Saturday was the last day to register to vote in New York State. The Nets did about all they could to make sure everyone in Brooklyn got the word, from reserving the atrium of Barclays Center for early voting and Election Day to sending a bus around the borough offering help on getting registered (and filling out Census forms) on Thursday and Friday.
As Darren Rovell, who covers the business of sports, tweeted...
While some public officials are trying to hard to make it harder for people to vote, kudos to the @BrooklynNets for doing this. With Brooklyn neighborhoods trailing in census completion and voter registration, a branded bus is going around helping people complete forms. pic.twitter.com/IswTkaScHa— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) October 2, 2020
There’s a lot to be proud about the Nets in these difficult days, not just the donations of cash and equipment from Wuhan to Detroit. There’s the voter registration effort, the $50 million Social Justice Fund, the use of the arena atrium for four pop-up food pantries at a time of great food insecurity —read hunger— in New York. And that doesn’t count the players’ efforts, whether it’s Kyrie Irving donating food or PPE to his mother’s tribal reservation and his fund to help WNBA players or Dzanan Musa helping his hometown hospital in Bihac, Bosnia, which was that country’s first hotspot. Paying the arena workers their full salaries.
Often, you will hear that a sports franchise is a “civic trust,” usually in laments that the Knicks ownership hasn’t returned the many favors the city and state have granted it. Well, Hello, Brooklyn!