Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James has ‘zero energy, zero excitement’ for All-Star Game

LOS ANGELES — The NBA’s most high-profile star, LeBron James, ripped the league’s plans to hold an All-Star Game in Atlanta in March while COVID-19 restrictions continue to have a grip on the regular season.

“I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year,” James said after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 114–93 win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. “I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star Game.”

James, 36, has played in the league’s showcase event in 16 of his previous 17 seasons in the league and, as a top vote-getter, was named a captain for the past three seasons as the NBA went away from East vs. West and adopted a draft format to spice up the competition.

“Short offseason for myself and my teammates, 71 days,” James said, referring to the time the Lakers had from Game 6 of the NBA Finals in October to opening night against the LA Clippers in December. “And then coming into this season, we were told that we were not having an All-Star Game, so we’d have a nice little break. Five days [in March] from the 5th through the 10th, an opportunity for me to kind of recalibrate for the second half of the season. My teammates as well. Some of the guys in the league.

“And then they throw an All-Star Game on us like this and just breaks that all the way up. So, um, pretty much kind of a slap in the face.”

James also stated the obvious health concerns of staging the festivities in Atlanta, where there are fewer state-mandated coronavirus restrictions compared to other NBA locales around the country. The Atlanta Hawks, for instance, are one of only nine teams allowing fans at their home games this season.

“We’re also still dealing with a pandemic,” James said. “We’re still dealing with everything that’s been going on, and we’re going to bring the whole league into one city that’s open? Obviously, the pandemic has absolutely nothing to do with it at this point when it comes to that weekend.

“Obviously, you guys can see that I’m not very happy about it.”

While voicing his displeasure in no uncertain terms, James said he would report for the game if he were to be named an All-Star for the 17th straight season. James led the West with 2,288,676 votes in the league’s first voting returns announced earlier Thursday. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant led the East with 2,302,705 votes as the only player in the league to appear on more ballots than James.

“It’s the agreement that the players’ association and the league came about. … It’s out of my hands,” James said. “I’ll be there if I’m selected. But I’ll be there physically, but not mentally.”

LOS ANGELES — The NBA’s most high-profile star, LeBron James, ripped the league’s plans to hold an All-Star Game in Atlanta in March while COVID-19 restrictions continue to have a grip on the regular season.

“I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year,” James said after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 114–93 win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. “I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star Game.”

James, 36, has played in the league’s showcase event in 16 of his previous 17 seasons in the league and, as a top vote-getter, was named a captain for the past three seasons as the NBA went away from East vs. West and adopted a draft format to spice up the competition.

“Short offseason for myself and my teammates, 71 days,” James said, referring to the time the Lakers had from Game 6 of the NBA Finals in October to opening night against the LA Clippers in December. “And then coming into this season, we were told that we were not having an All-Star Game, so we’d have a nice little break. Five days [in March] from the fifth through the 10th, an opportunity for me to kind of recalibrate for the second half of the season. My teammates as well. Some of the guys in the league.

“And then they throw an All-Star Game on us like this and just breaks that all the way up. So, um, pretty much kind of a slap in the face.”

James also stated the obvious health concerns of staging the festivities in Atlanta, Georgia, where there are fewer state-mandated coronavirus restrictions compared to other NBA locales around the country. The Atlanta Hawks, for instance, are one of only nine teams allowing fans at their home games this season.

“We’re also still dealing with a pandemic,” James said. “We’re still dealing with everything that’s been going on, and we’re going to bring the whole league into one city that’s open? Obviously, the pandemic has absolutely nothing to do with it at this point when it comes to that weekend.

“Obviously, you guys can see that I’m not very happy about it.”

While voicing his displeasure in no uncertain terms, James said he would report for the game if he were to be named an All-Star for the 17th straight season. James led the West with 2,288,676 votes in the league’s first voting returns announced earlier Thursday. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant led the East with 2,302,705 votes as the only player in the league to appear on more ballots than James.

“It’s the agreement that the players’ association and the league came about. … It’s out of my hands,” James said. “I’ll be there if I’m selected. But I’ll be there physically, but not mentally.”

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association will have a finalized agreement for an All-Star Game on March 7 in Atlanta by next week, according to a league memo shared with teams and obtained by ESPN.

The single-night event will encompass the Eastern Conference-Western Conference game as well as the skills competitions, according to the memo.

The NBA and NBPA are finalizing details on health and safety protocols that will govern the All-Star participants and those players dispersing for the league’s March 5–10 break, the memo said. The All-Star Game and skills competitions will be held at State Farm Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks, sources tell ESPN.

The NBPA and NBA have been working through the details of a scaled-down event that centers on transporting players in and out of Atlanta in a significantly shorter window of time than what would be required on a typical All-Star Weekend, sources said.

Safety protocols — expected to include players arriving on Saturday and leaving on Sunday night under tight quarantines — are among the details still being ironed out, sources said. The memo included details about All-Star break rules that will include no international travel, daily testing for players and a requirement to return to home markets no later than the second day before the team’s first game after the break, the memo said.

During the All-Star break, players will be allowed to travel in the United States, including Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, sources tell ESPN. The concern around international travel centers on the possibility that players might not be allowed to reenter the country as quickly as they wish, or that federal and state regulations on testing and quarantines could leave too much to chance, sources said.

The NBA and union are increasingly confident that enough of the league’s top players are willing to participate in the All-Star Game during a tight midseason break in this condensed pandemic schedule, sources said.

Outside of the conference finals and NBA Finals, the All-Star Game is traditionally at the top of fan engagement for the league — another factor motivating the attempt to salvage the event this season. The raw financial impact of playing the game is not immediately clear. Because the league reduced the regular season by 10 games and doesn’t have a separate All-Star Game television deal, the league could also have generated more revenue on the season by filling the weekend with more regular-season games.

The NBA and NBPA share roughly a 50–50 split in basketball-related income.

The NBA has made the All-Star Game mandatory for players in the past, but games during much of the pandemic, including the Orlando restart and the 2020–21 regular season, have included opt-out clauses. That’s believed to be part of the discussions around the All-Star Game too, sources said.

The NBA has a midseason break set for March 5–10. Some teams will resume the season on March 11. The NBA is expected to release a schedule for the second half of the season in the next two to three weeks, sources tell ESPN.

NBPA president Chris Paul has been an advocate of the Atlanta All-Star Game idea, including a plan to use the game to benefit historically Black colleges and universities and COVID-19 relief, sources said.

Nevertheless, this is an idea that has been met with resistance and skepticism from players and from team executives. Even with protocol safeguards around the game, many see it as an unnecessary risk for the league, players and support personnel.

The travel and safety protocols are expected to be similar to those for a regular-season NBA game — flying in the night before on a private plane and flying out after the game. Atlanta is the home of Turner Sports, which can televise the game without its crew having to travel outside of the city.

Even a game without fans — or with sparse, socially distanced attendance — would still require significant travel for players, support staff and league officials in the teeth of the pandemic. The typical hosting of corporate sponsors, a significant financial component of a normal All-Star Weekend, wouldn’t be possible amid the pandemic.

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The NBA had originally postponed a February All-Star Weekend set for Indianapolis. Indiana has since been rewarded with the 2024 All-Star Game.

DAVIE, Fla. — Count Ryan Fitzpatrick among those expecting the Miami Dolphins to push forward and build around Tua Tagovailoa in anticipation of a big leap in Year 2.

Fitzpatrick has heard the early offseason criticisms of Tagovailoa and the trade rumors connecting unhappy Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to Miami, but he’s not worried about Tagovailoa at all.

Fitzpatrick believes there are several good reasons Tagovailoa will be much improved for the Dolphins in 2021.

“Everything is going to be a little more comfortable this year,” Fitzpatrick told ESPN on Thursday. “Playing in the league is going to be a little more familiar, your routine through the week and on road games. He’s no longer trying to figure out where the grocery store is, where he’s going to live or what car he’s going to drive. All that stuff is figured out. He can solely focus on being an NFL QB.

“To have an offseason, to have repetitions, to have some sense of continuity with [co-offensive coordinators] George Godsey and Eric Studesville in his ear calling the plays and working with him. All that stuff points to him having a much better season this year and continuing to progress as a quarterback. That’s the most important thing for him — progression.

“They drafted him in the top five for a reason, with his skill set and what he can do. There are very few people on this planet who can do that. For them to be fully bought in and believe in him, he’s going to do the same thing. He’s going to buy into what they’re coaching, and I think good results are going to come from it.”

In 2020, Fitzpatrick, 38, happily played mentor to rookie Tagovailoa in Miami. The two jelled extremely well with Tagovailoa willing to learn by watching early on and Fitzpatrick embracing his self-proclaimed “placeholder” role. Although he’s set to be a free agent in March, Fitzpatrick offered Tagovailoa one more piece of advice on how to handle the offseason noise, notably regarding Watson.

“That’s the nature of being a QB in the spotlight,” Fitzpatrick said. “Unless you’re winning the Super Bowl, there are always going to be questions and rumors. You look at a guy like Jared Goff, who was in the Super Bowl a few years ago and a №1 pick, now he’s on another team.

“I saw Tua’s comments from the other day. The advice I would give him and what he’s going to do is put your head down, you go to work, you tune all that stuff out and you let your presence, leadership ability and play on the field doing all the talking for you. There’s always going to be rumors. There’s always going to be haters and doubters. As long as you have the belief in yourself and a team that believes in you because of how you carry yourself every day, that’s what matters. It gets harder and harder as social media is such a big part of everybody’s life now to tune it out, but that’s what he has to do, and that’s what I think he’s going to do.”

Tagovailoa, appearing on ESPN’s Get Up on Thursday morning, responded to the Watson trade rumors, saying he’s just focusing on improving in his second season.

“I can control what I can control,” he said. “I’m the quarterback for the Miami Dolphins.”

As Fitzpatrick spoke with ESPN while promoting Mountain Dew, this week marked the first time he talked publicly since Week 16, when he came off the bench to lead Miami to a comeback victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. He tested positive for COVID-19 just a few days later, making him ineligible for the Dolphins’ season-ending loss to the Buffalo Bills. Fitzpatrick said he lost his sense of smell and taste until earlier this week, but that he was otherwise asymptomatic and no one else in his family caught the virus.

As for Fitzpatrick’s future, he plans to play his 17th NFL season in 2021 in what he called a “really easy” decision. He says he’ll “never say never” in regard to a return to Miami, but that he has been in the league long enough to know how these things go. He praised the city and franchise for what has been a great two seasons.

Fitzpatrick played a huge role in guiding the Dolphins from a rebuilding team to one of the NFL’s best stories in 2020, as Miami made a five-win jump to a 10–6 record. However, he’s expected to seek a larger role from a more quarterback-needy team.

Fitzpatrick started seven games in 2020, completing 68.5% of his passes and throwing for 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also had a 77.1 QBR and was the unquestioned leader of the Dolphins. He could be in line for another a bridge starting-quarterback role or a chance to compete for a starting job in a number of places.

“I love being out there,” he said. “I love playing. I love the grind. I love the adversity with my teammates. I love being part of a team. These decisions have become heavier in recent years with some of that stuff, but I’ve got a really supportive family and looking forward to continuing on and playing next year. All things being equal, I want to be out there on the field playing. It’s just a lot more fun for me to be playing than it is to be sitting and watching. I’m going to see what’s out there and make an informed decision with my family.”

Dianne Durham, the first African American senior national gymnastics champion and a trailblazer in the sport, has died after a short illness, according to her husband, Tom Drahozal.

Durham died at a Chicago hospital, with Drahozal and her sister, Alice Durham, at her side. She was 52.

“She passed peacefully,” Drahozal told ESPN. “She was the love of my life and everything I could have asked for. She was as beautiful a person away from gymnastics as she was within the sport.”

Known for her combination of grace, artistry and power, as well as her joyful personality, Durham and her teammate, Mary Lou Retton, pulled the sport of gymnastics into an era dominated by power tumbling and fast-paced progression.

The last gymnast to beat Retton in all-around competition, in the lead-up to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Durham was deprived of a spot on the team due to a combination of injuries and politics.

But it is her achievement as 1983 senior national champion, which launched not only Durham but her coaches, Bela and Martha Karolyi, onto the national stage, for which Durham is most remembered.

“People said, you’re the first Black — I’m using ‘Black’ because ‘African American’ wasn’t a term in my era — national champion. Do you know that didn’t go through my head one time?” Durham told ESPN last summer. “Not one time. Do you know how many people had to tell me that? I could not understand why that was such a humongous deal.”

For Durham, that win, although hard-fought, was simply one step on her path toward the Olympics. When that path was cut short after the 1984 Olympic trials, Durham took a job coaching with the Karolyis in Houston before eventually relocating to Chicago, where she met Drahozal and became a gym owner, a national-level judge and a coach.

“I’ve had so many former gymnasts send me messages today,” Drahozal said. “They said she was tough, a great coach who they loved and that she was a great role model for them. I think Dianne would want to be remembered for her personality, and also as a pioneer for minority gymnasts. She was one of the greatest gymnasts of her era, but she also opened the door for the great Black gymnasts who came after her.”

“We are heartbroken to learn of Dianne’s passing,” USA Gymnastics CEO Li Li Leung said in a statement to ESPN. “As an icon and trailblazer in our sport, Dianne opened doors for generations of gymnasts who came after her, and her legacy carries on each day in gyms across the country. Our thoughts are with her friends and family during this difficult time.”

Durham is survived by her husband and sister; her father, Ural Durham; niece, Allison Woods; and nephew, Mike Woods Jr.

A celebration of life is being planned in her hometown of Gary, Indiana, later in the year.

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