Turner and the NBA announced today that basketball icons Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird will be co-recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 NBA Awards presented by Kia. TNT will televise the third annual NBA Awards live on Monday, June 24 at 9 p.m. ET from Barker Hangar in Los Angeles. The two previous recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award were Bill Russell (2017) and Oscar Robertson (2018).
With their epic rivalry, individual brilliance and team success, Johnson and Bird helped define the modern NBA and elevate the league in the 1980s. The rivals turned friends both earned three NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, nine All-NBA First Team selections and 12 NBA All-Star nods, along with being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and securing spots among the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players. They were also teammates and co-captains on USA Basketball’s gold-medal-winning Dream Team at the 1992 Summer Olympics, which was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010, making Johnson and Bird two-time honorees.
Johnson and Bird have epitomized greatness dating to their memorable clash in the 1979 NCAA Tournament, when Johnson lifted Michigan State past Bird-led Indiana State in the national championship game, which is still the highest-rated game on television in college basketball history. Both made an immediate impact in the NBA the following season, with Johnson leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a championship and Bird capturing Rookie of the Year honors with the Boston Celtics.
A three-time Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award recipient, Johnson won five NBA championships and helped the Lakers reach the NBA Finals nine times. Renowned for his extraordinary court vision and unique flair as a tall point guard, Johnson averaged 19.5 points, 11.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game in 13 seasons with the Lakers. He ranks fifth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.
Johnson retired in 1991 after announcing that he was HIV positive, becoming an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. He returned to play in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game in Orlando, where he was named MVP after an unforgettable performance, and later came out of retirement to rejoin the Lakers during the 1995-96 season. Johnson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
Now a successful entrepreneur, Johnson is Chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises and co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Football Club and esports franchise Team Liquid. He owned shares in the Lakers from 1994-2010, when the franchise won five NBA championships. Johnson served as the Lakers’ head coach during the 1993-94 season and as their President of Basketball Operations from 2017-19. His broadcasting career included a stint with Turner Sports.
Like Johnson, Bird played his entire 13-year career with the same team. He led the Celtics to three NBA championships and was honored as the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP twice. A premier shooter and adept playmaker from the forward position, Bird has career averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.
After his playing career, Bird flourished as a head coach and executive with the Indiana Pacers. He was named the 1997-98 NBA Coach of the Year in his debut coaching season and guided the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals in each of his three seasons. In 1999-2000, Bird coached Indiana to its first NBA Finals appearance.
Bird had two stints as the Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations, winning the 2011-12 NBA Basketball Executive of the Year Award. He is the only person in NBA history to win the MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year awards. Bird now works with the Pacers in an advisory role.
Raptors on brink of first Finals berth in franchise history
TORONTO — Twenty-one would be a very cool number for the Toronto Raptors. Before they get it, though, they’ll need to get one.
And one would be beyond cool. Off the charts, historic, potentially transformative and largely indescribable.
Twenty-one: That’s how many teams in NBA playoff history will have overcome an 0-2 start to win a best-of-seven series, if the Raptors manage to close out the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals. Whether it happens in Game 6 Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena or in Game 7 back in Milwaukee Monday, Toronto would buck outlandish odds — this is the 289th series to begin with the same team winning the first two games, so we’re talking a 7 percent likelihood (20 of 288).
One: That’s all that stands between the Raptors and the first NBA Final appearance in Toronto franchise history. One more victory in the next three days would validate the risks and twists of this 2018-19 season for the Raptors, while exorcising nearly a quarter century’s worth of demons.
One little win and Toronto finally will break through, capping a stellar six-year run of promising regular seasons and heartbreaking postseasons. They will have earned, in the face of so much uncertainty, their best shot yet at a championship, even if it means going through the mighty Golden State Warriors.
When Raptors president Masai Ujiri traded for star forward Kawhi Leonard, he was gambling not just that Leonard could recover from the right quadriceps injury that scuttled his 2017-18. He was guessing that swapping in Leonard for former All-Star wing DeMar DeRozan could push Toronto to, well, right where they’re at. And he was hoping Leonard, a rent-a-player able to leave this summer in free agency, would enjoy the whole experience enough to let Ujiri pay him $220 million over the next five seasons.
It’s impossible to know where things stand on that last front, owing to Leonard’s inscrutability and a decision that’s still six weeks away. But the Raptors never have gotten this far, so there is an opportunity here to be savored, with more potentially to come.
“It would be a very, very long summer thinking about what could have been or what you could have done,” guard Fred VanVleet said, framing things a bit negatively after raining 7-of-9 3-pointers on Milwaukee in the 105-99 Game 5 victory. “So we’ve just got to go out there and have no regrets. … One win away from the Finals sounds pretty good to me.”
Sounds a little easier, maybe, than it actually will be. The Raptors are at home for Game 6 and the crowd at Scotiabank crowd, already dialed high, will be able to let it rip without any fear — immediate fear, anyway — of failure.
But Milwaukee will be desperate. Giannis Antetokounmpo has pledged that his team will not “fold.” And the Bucks have zero interest in a knock-knock year, believing all season that they were good enough to reach and win the championship.
They wouldn’t be human if they weren’t shaken by the three consecutive defeats Toronto has dealt them. The Raptors have managed to surround and partially stifle Antetokounmpo, while still firing out enough to bother Milwaukee’s 3-point shooters into repeated misfires.
The Bucks’ defense has been probed and poked like a cut-rate steak. They resorted again to some uncharacteristic switching in Game 5 but had most of their success inside the arc. Late in the pivotal loss, they got beat for five offensive rebounds, when grabbing two or three might have swung the outcome.
“It’s win or lose,” coach Mike Budenholzer said Friday in a conference call with reporters. “When you win, there are things that [still] are concerning and unsettling that you need to work on and improve. I think there’s just enough possessions where there’s a couple of rebounds that stand out.
“Can we do a little bit better job in some of our activity in certain situations. Offensively, I think at times can our spacing be better and our ball movement be better? But I would say it’s like a lot of games. We didn’t get it done.”
Trail Blazers sign Stotts to extension through 2022
PORTLAND (AP) — The Portland Trail Blazers have formally announced that coach Terry Stotts signed a contract extension through the 2021-22 season.
The extension was first revealed the day after the Trail Blazers were eliminated from the postseason by the Golden State Warriors, but terms were not released.
Stotts, Portland’s coach since 2012, led the team to its first appearance in the Western Conference finals in 19 years. The Blazers finished the regular season 53-29 to secure the third seed then got past Oklahoma City and Denver in the opening rounds of the playoffs.
The Blazers have made the playoffs in six straight seasons under Stotts.
The Blazers also announced Friday that President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has signed to a contract extension through the 2023-24 season. Olshey joined the team in 2012 as general manager and was promoted in 2015.
Durant initially thought injury was much worse
Superstar Warriors forward Kevin Durant was forced to sit out the entire Western Conference finals with a calf injury suffered in the previous round, and it’s increasingly likely he’ll miss at least part of the upcoming Finals against either Toronto or Milwaukee as Golden State pursues its third straight title and fourth in five years.
But it could have been much worse based on his split-second reaction to the injury he suffered late in the Warriors’ Game 5 victory on May 8 of their Western Conference semifinals series with Houston.
While Durant was later diagnosed with a right calf strain, he initially feared — along with many watching — that he might have torn his Achilles tendon based on the non-contact nature of the injury.
“I felt somebody trip me up,” said Durant, who spoke about the injury for the first time on Friday. “First thing that came to mind, “Boogie (Cousins) said, Kobe (Bryant) said…” that it felt like somebody kicked them (after they tore Achilles tendons).
“So the first thing in my mind was to slow down and process what happened. Then I started walking, and I could put weight on it, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought.”
But still bad enough that Durant has been out for more than two weeks, and has yet to be cleared for on-court activities. The Warriors announced on Thursday that Durant continues to make “good progress” with the injury, and is “hopeful” to return at some point during The Finals, which begin next Thursday and conclude, if it lasts all seven games, on June 16.
“I’m just taking it a second at a time,” Durant said. “I don’t really know too much about this injury. I’m just leaving it up to the team doctors.”
The Warriors can at least count on the return of veteran reserve Andre Iguodala (calf), who is expected to return for Game 1, and perhaps All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins (quad), who the Warriors expect to return at some point during The Finals.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said both players participated in a full team scrimmage on Friday, with no restrictions on contact or playing time. Durant, he said, sat out as he continues to rehab.
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