Stephen Curry throws Ayesha Curry surprise 30th birthday

Dianne de Guzman | SF GATE

Celebrity chef and entrepreneur Ayesha Curry has hit a milestone birthday, and Warriors star Stephen Curry made sure she celebrated in style.

Stephen surprised his wife with a Caribbean-themed 30th birthday party Friday, inviting their closest friends and family to the celebration.

Ayesha seemed uncertain about what was happening in one of the night’s earliest Instagram stories, saying, “We’re getting me ready for something,” and writing on the video that she’s “not used to surprises.”

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30 behavior.

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The couple shared many of the photos and videos posted to Instagram of the party, from Ayesha and Stephen arriving with friends via party bus to working up a sweat on the dancefloor (which was appropriately emblazoned with Ayesha’s name across it).

A number of Ayesha’s friends were in town for the occasion, including actresses Gabrielle Union, Jessica Alba, Sabina Gadecki, Tamera Mowry and Mia Wright, sharing some group photos of the event and wishing Ayesha a happy birthday.

“Happy Birthday @ayeshacurry,” wrote Union on Instagram. “So glad we could sneak up to the Bay and surprise you! S/O to @stephencurry30 for keeping her laughing and smiling and on the dance floor all night and that bomb ass food!!! Good times!! Until the next adventure…”

“What an honor to be amongst 3 amazing women, who are beautiful inside and out,” wrote Mowry on her Instagram photo from the party. “Happy 30th birthday @ayeshacurry. I’m so blessed to have known each of these women individually, and then hang with them all together last night.”

The celebration also included a performance of “Walking Trophy” by singer HoodCelebrityy, with Ayesha dancing alongside her onstage.

In what looked to be one of the night’s quieter moments shared via social media, Stephen said a few words in front of the crowd.

“We talk a lot about speaking things into existence, about what you’re going to do in your 30s and beyond, and we’re all going to be here to see and witness it firsthand,” Stephen said to Ayesha in the clip. “So I’m very excited to be here with family and friends, to celebrate your life.”

Bucks legend Marques Johnson on growing up in South Central, Giannis and playoffs

Ahead of his jersey retirement in Milwaukee, Johnson reflects on his journey


When Marques Johnson was drafted in 1977, the 21-year-old UCLA forward had aspirations of being an NBA superstar, winning an NBA title, and maybe, if he had time, coming across the type of beautiful people he was used to in his native home of Los Angeles.

The first two goals were attainable enough since Johnson was drafted third overall by the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that won the NBA championship six years before and had a superstar opening after the retirement of Oscar Robertson and trade demand of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974 and 1975, respectively. But on that last desire, well, there’s a reason Wisconsin is known for its cows and beer and not for the attractiveness of its people. (This writer is from Milwaukee, so don’t take it personally.)

Not to mention, Johnson traded in the beaches and Hollywood lights for subfreezing temperatures, nearly constant frozen precipitation, and roads so slick that he crashed at least two of his Jeeps.

“My first year — and I may get this conflated — but the first year was more snow than they’d had in 25 years. It was just snow, snow, snow until May,” Johnson told The Undefeated. “And then my second year was the coldest that it had been in 30 years. … And everybody kept telling me that ‘This is really extreme. It’s bad, but it’s not really this bad.’ And you couldn’t have told me different.”

Nevertheless, Johnson and the Bucks still found success on the court. From the 1977-78 season to 1983-84, when he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee won fewer than 49 games just twice, won five consecutive division titles (1980-84), and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals twice. Alongside fellow Bucks greats Sidney Moncrief, Junior Bridgeman, Bob Lanier and Brian Winters, Johnson averaged 21 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 524 games in his No. 8 jersey.

That forest green, red and white jersey, with its four All-Star and three All-NBA selections, will be retired by the Bucks on March 24 during halftime of the team’s game against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers. Johnson’s will be the ninth jersey retired by franchise, joining the likes of Abdul-Jabbar, Robertson and Moncrief.

Ahead of Sunday’s ceremony, Johnson spoke over the phone with The Undefeated about his jersey being retired, growing up in South Central Los Angeles, how much better current star Giannis Antetokounmpo can get (hint: a lot), and that glorious hairline of his.

What does it mean to have your jersey retired by the Bucks?

It’s really emotional and heartwarming and exciting and an honor — a privilege. All those things kind of rolled into one. It’s been a long time coming. A lot of people have made some noise about it over the years, and I always get asked, ‘Why aren’t you up there in the rafters along with Sidney [Moncrief], Bob [Dandridge] and Brian [Winters] and Junior [Bridgeman] and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and Oscar [Robertson] and all these great players?’ And my thing has always been, ‘Well, if it happens, I’ll be honored to have it happen; if it doesn’t happen, then it’s not supposed to happen.’ But, trust me, I’ve always wanted it to happen. So when I found out from our team president, Peter Feigin, actually about a year ago, it was just a big — I wouldn’t say relief; it was just exhilaration.

MILWAUKEE, WI – CIRCA 1980’s: Marques Johnson #8 of the Milwaukee Bucks in action dribbling the ball up court during a early circa 1980’s NBA basketball game at the Milwaukee Arean in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Johnson played for the Bucks from 1977-84. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

What was your best on-court memory from your time in Milwaukee?

It was a compilation of everything. It was getting there in 1977, 21 years old out of L.A., stars in my eyes, and thoughts of being a great NBA player was my goal. And winning a championship in Milwaukee. But what happened was, I come to Milwaukee, and we’ve got this nucleus of just great young talent from all sorts of solid programs: myself and Dave Meyers from UCLA; and Junior Bridgeman from Louisville; Quinn Buckner, who we lost to twice in ’76 on that great Indiana team with Kent Benson; Brian Winters from South Carolina. So this great youth movement in Milwaukee with an opportunity to build and grow together. Our model for the franchise was ‘Green and Growing.’

I was looking over some stuff that year: We beat the Sixers that year, beat the really good teams with Dr. J [Julius Erving] and those guys. Beat the Knicks in triple overtime and surprised the league with how quickly things came together.

What was it like living in Milwaukee in the 1970s and 1980s?

The weather, driving in the snow, I probably had literally three to five accidents from sliding off the road and running over my neighbor’s mailbox to hitting some ice coming down to practice in my CJ7 Jeep and spinning out on the freeway. I got into another accident within a couple of years driving my Cherokee Jeep to a game and started slipping and sliding on [Interstate] 43 headed south and so I just turned into the center divider so I wouldn’t hit anybody and just messed my truck all up and probably gave myself a concussion. But we didn’t have that back in those days, so I played and had a terrible first half and Nellie [Bucks coach Don Nelson] got all into me in front of all my teammates.

Cultural differences, as Kareem talked about, it was slower; it wasn’t a whole lot going on. You didn’t have all the beautiful people like you had in L.A. I went to UCLA right near the ocean in Bel-Air and Brentwood and Beverly Hills. It was none of that. I was on a constant quest for that element of the beautiful people. And I found it, but it was on a much smaller scale than what I was accustomed to. But, I say this with all honesty and sincerity, after I was there about two or three years, I came to realize that the people in Milwaukee were in Milwaukee because they loved the city, they loved raising their families there and just the goodness of the community kind of overtook me and it became a really good place for me to be.

You were born in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and raised in Los Angeles, right?

We left Louisiana when I was 5 years old in 1961. My parents, with the racism and segregation and everything that was going on down there, their dream was for us to all finish from UCLA or some kind of University of California campus, and we all finished from either UCLA or UC Santa Barbara. And that was because of Jackie Robinson and Ralph Bunche, and the Pittsburgh Courier and Chicago Defenderwere the black newspapers of the day, and it was always about UCLA in terms of African-Americans and high achievers. So they sort of correlated the two and felt like for us to have a good chance of being successful in life as African-Americans in America that going to a UCLA or UC campus school would give us a leg up on that. That was their dream. They were able to move out in 1961 and we all kind of fulfilled the vision they had for us.

And you lived in Crenshaw, California?

I grew up deep in South Central from the first grade to about the sixth grade. I went to school with James Lofton, he was a childhood buddy of mine, we played park league ball together, hung out, walked to school together. We moved when I was 11 to the Windsor Hills. I grew up playing football and basketball and baseball with Ray Charles Jr., and Ike and Tina Turner’s kids, Ike and Craig and Ronnie and all those guys. It was just a different level — Nancy Wilson lived in this neighborhood. I’m still in the neighborhood now. My mom is here, all my sisters are here. I think it’s the highest per capita income for a predominantly black neighborhood in America. And it’s the Crenshaw district.

UNDATED: Marques Johnson #54 of UCLA Bruins poses for a portrait. (Photo by: Collegiate Images/Getty Images)

What was it like moving from the overt racism of the segregated South to California?

I tell a story about being in first grade and having the teacher Ms. Dodge at Manhattan Place Elementary School bring up four or five different races of kids and go down the line and talk about the virtues and the negative parts of each, and she got to me and talked about the colored people, and how you can’t trust them, and they’re lazy, and they’re this and they’re that. I went home and told my mother what Ms. Dodge said, and she went up there and cussed Ms. Dodge out one side of the school and down the other.

We faced it here, a different type; it’s kind of subtle, it’s not as overt. And that was the one thing a lot of people from the South say about the North and the West: At least in the South you sort of know where you stand. You can’t run north in those days. It was a lot of subtle-type stuff: You go to a store, you might be followed by the security or store attendant. My mother would turn around and say, ‘Why are you following me? I’m going to buy something. I’m not going to steal. I’ve got money.’

It’s a different type of racial attitudes, but all in all, I think [my parents] feel good about it because — and I tell this story all the time — my memories of Louisiana: segregated swimming pools, but also Christmastime in Natchitoches, Louisiana, had a big Christmas parade on the Red River and the black kids are on one side and the white kids on the other, Santa Claus comes down the middle of the street and just throws candy to the white side of the street. I remember that specifically. That stuff happened. It wasn’t to that degree out here [in Los Angeles], there was stuff to deal with, but I think overall they would tell you, my parents, that the opportunities were a lot better, and the lifestyle in terms of being an African-American was easier on you being in Los Angeles as compared to Louisiana.

Were you still living in Los Angeles during the riots in 1992?

That was early ’90s and I was living in Bel-Air watching the news and the riots start happening. First it was kind of relegated to Vermont [Avenue] and South Central — Vermont and Florence — and everything going on, Reginald Denny and all that stuff. I said, ‘Wow, that’s terrible.’ And then it spread a little further west to Pico [Boulevard] and another street, maybe 15 miles away from where I was in Bel-Air. I actually did a Clippers playoff game; they were playing against the Utah Jazz. So me and Ralph Lawler, the broadcaster for the Clippers, they moved the game from [Los Angeles Memorial] Sports Arena to Anaheim because everything happened. I think my opening line was that Karl Marx or somebody said that, ‘Religion is the opiate of the people, but tonight sports might be the perfect time to help soothe some of the tensions that are going on in Los Angeles right now, and for the next couple of hours we hope to bring you that sense of relief.’ That was the approach to the broadcast. It was nuts at that time.

With the recent arrest of Bucks guard Sterling Brown by Milwaukee police and the comments made by guard Malcolm Brogdon about the city’s segregation, what can the Bucks do to help improve race relations in the city?

Sterling Brown is doing his part: He spoke on a panel in Sacramento with all the stuff that they’ve had with police and the African-American shooting that they had there. So, they’re trying to take some proactive steps — Milwaukee has always been a city, geographically, where blacks are located in the part of town they’re in. They’re not only settled in those areas when they first migrated from the South, but then the mass transit situation never really developed like a lot of people thought or hoped that it would. So now you’ve got a bunch of people stuck in this one area without adequate transportation to get around.

So in terms of employment and jobs and all that — education, academics, all that stuff becomes really restrictive in terms of mobility. We try to do what we can with the understanding that it’s a long-term project, that it’s not going to change overnight. And I think the Bucks, they’ve set aside minority contracts for builders, minority hiring. That was one of the drawing cards in terms of getting this project for the new arena green-lit, which was really impressive on the part of Peter Feigin and the owners of the Bucks, that they wanted the community to have a major stake in this whole development project, and they do and continue to.

National media seem reluctant to believe in the Bucks’ chances in the playoffs due to the team’s collective postseason inexperience — what are your feelings?

I understand the national media and just them being a little skeptical of this team right now because we have not done anything, we have not proven anything. But, that being said, we’ve got a coaching staff that understands the big picture and they’ve been able to work with these guys, develop these guys the right way. I just look at our crew when we play against the Celtics, play against the Raptors, play against the Sixers, and I just think we match up with any of them, and can beat any of them in a seven-game series. So I’m real confident that we will continue to do that, and at the very least will be a team that will get to the Eastern Conference finals and very well come out of that and be in the NBA Finals.

Statistically, Giannis Antetokounmpo has improved every season he’s been in the league. How much better can he get?

He’s 24 years old. He’s starting to improve his outside shooting. That’s going to become more consistent [as the years go on]. And, I know how hard this dude works. I see how hard he works on a daily basis. I mean, you look at his body. Yeah, everybody remarks about the upper body and how that’s totally transformed from three or four years ago, and he’s going to continue to put in that work and get better and better, and start to really realize where his status is in this league in terms of just being an unstoppable force. I’m not going to be disingenuous and say he hasn’t scratched the surface, he’s done that. But he’s got a lot of room in terms of improvement.

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 18: Ex NBA/UCLA alumni Marques Kevin Johnson recives the game ball just before tip off of the Utah Utes vs UCLA Bruins during a NCAA PAC12 college basketball game at Pauley Pavilion on February 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

You’re 63 years old: What’s the secret to the immaculate hairline?

I’ve got a guy in Milwaukee. His name is Dedric King, I call him Dedric ‘The Lineup’ King. He does a whole straight-razor. The straight razor, brother, that’s it. My dad was a straight-razor guy; everybody’s trying to get the electric edger to line you up. That straight razor does it like nothing else can do it. And Dedric ‘The Lineup’ King uses that straight razor, he soaks it, heats it, gets it nice and soft, and he puts that straight razor on it, and that’s what makes it as immaculate as it gets.


Jusuf Nurkic suffers broken leg in gruesome, “devastating” injury

Larry Brown

Jusuf Nurkic suffered a brutal injury during double overtime of the Portland Trail Blazers’ game against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.

Nurkic was going up for a rebound and got his leg bent backwards underneath him. It went so far in the wrong direction that the bone snapped. Those watching the game on NBA TV could hear an audible snap as his left leg broke. TV cameras zoomed in and showed his leg bending the wrong direction where the break occurred.

Nurkic took one look at his leg and then started screaming in shock after he saw the injury. Players from both teams quickly backed away, while a stretcher came out to carry away the big man.

Nurkic had 32 points and 16 rebounds in the game prior to the injury.

NBC Sports Northwest shared video of the play, but beware, it is difficult to watch.



Nurkic (leg) expected to make full recovery


Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic underwent surgery on Tuesday and is expected to make a full recovery from a season-ending injury to his left leg, the team announced in a release.

There is no timetable for his return to basketball activity.

Nurkic, 24, fractured his left tibia and fibula with 2 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the second overtime of the Blazers’ win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night after he jumped for a rebound and came down awkwardly under the basket.

“It made me sick to my stomach,” Blazers guard Damian Lillard said of the injury after the game. “I think he tried to tip it in, he crashed the glass and I saw him hit the ground and roll over real quick, and I thought maybe he got hit in the face or something again. As I was walking over there, I saw everybody else turn around real quick and walk away, and then I looked and saw his leg — and you just hate to see that happen to him.”

It’s a crushing blow to the Blazers, who have been surging despite a knee injury to CJ McCollum that has sidelined him the past couple of weeks.


Luka Doncic vs. Trae Young: Who’s the NBA Rookie of the Year?

Trae Young and Luka Doncic are ‘neck and neck’ for Rookie of the Year

Originally posted on Sportsnaut  |  By Michael Dixon

For much of the season, it looked like Luka Doncic, the No. 3 pick of the Atlanta Hawks who was then traded to the Dallas Maverickswould be the year’s top rookie.

Trae Young went to Atlanta in that trade. And while the Hawks were initially rippedfor making the deal, Young’s play down the stretch has made the trade look a lot better. It’s also made the NBA Rookie of the Year race a lot more interesting.

Given that the end of the season is in sight, we now wonder who the NBA Rookie of the Year should be. Will it be Doncic, or Young?

The Case for Doncic: In more areas than not, Doncic has been the superior statistical player.

  • Doncic has rather significant per game edges in points (21.0 to 18.7), rebounds (7.6 to 3.6), and steals (1.1 to 0.8).
  • He also holds an edge in shooting percentage (42.6 percent to 41.7 percent), true shooting percentage (54.4 percent to 53.9 percent).
  • Doncic has been more efficient, holding an edge in PER (19.4 to 16.3).

The Case for Young: While Doncic generally holds better stats, Young does hold some edges.

  • While Doncic’s passing has been raved about, Young has more assists per game (7.9 to 5.8). In a sport like basketball, getting the most out of your teammates is nothing to sneeze at.
  • Young also holds an edge in three-point shooting (33.6 percent to 33.3 percent) and free throw percentage (82.1-70.5).
  • Since the All-Star break, Young has averaged 25.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 0.6 steals, and shot 45 percent from the field, 40.7 percent on threes, and 87.1 percent on free throws.
  • Doncic, meanwhile, has averaged 22.4 points, 9.2 rebound, 6.6 assists, and shot 41.1 percent from the field, 27.6 percent on threes, and 64.8 percent from the line.

That’s a pretty significant boost for Young over Doncic in terms of recent production.


DeMarcus Cousins on being called the n-word at games, fined & told by the NBA to “ignore it”: “…something needs to be done because obviously, it’s a bigger issue than they want it to be put out as.”

DeMarcus Cousins: NBA fans have said racial slurs to me multiple times

Marcus White | NBC SPORTS

DeMarcus Cousins says fans have directed racial slurs at him multiple times in his NBA career. 

“Oh, I’ve been called n—–,” the Warriors center told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes. “And it’s crazy because this has happened to me on a few occasions. I reported it to the league, and, you know, I may have said whatever I said back and I was still punished for it.”

Cousins did not identify the cities in which he’d heard racial slurs directed at him. Citing league sources, Haynes reported that one of the cities was Sacramento. The report did not identify which team Cousins was playing for at the time, but the six-time All-Star spent the first six-and-a-half seasons of his career with the Kings. 

The NBA told Cousins to “ignore it,” according to Cousins. 

“While it would not be appropriate for us to address any specific conversations we have with individual players, we review all situations involving alleged fan misconduct,” the league told Yahoo Sports in a statement. “If we confirm the misconduct, appropriate measures are taken directly with the fan in question.” 

On March 11, a Utah Jazz fan taunted Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook said the fan and his wife “told me to get down on my knees like you ‘used to,'” and believed the comments were “racial.” 

On March 12, Westbrook ultimately was fined $25,000 “for directing profanity and threatening language” at the fan, whom the Jazz permanently banned from all future events at Vivint Smart Home Arena. 

Cousins said he “[didn’t] really understand” why Westbrook was fined, noting that NBA players are “the product” and “push this league.” He said it’s human nature to respond to hateful language, and especially in a highly-charged, competitive environment of an NBA game.

“If you was somewhere walking down the street and somebody says something crazy to you, you’re going to react,” Cousins said. “So just because it’s a basketball event doesn’t mean those emotions go out the door or us being a human being goes out the door. It’s the same thing.

“And it makes it even worse because we’re at work. If a dude comes up to you at work and says something crazy, does it change it? And it’s already enough emotions in a basketball game. I wish I had the answer to [resolve this], but something needs to be done because obviously, it’s a bigger issue than they want it to be put out as.”

Kyrie Irving After Another Celtics Loss: ‘Winning’s Hard. Team Environments Are Hard’


Another loss for the Boston Celtics has Kyrie Irving realizing that the NBAis not easy.

The point guard discussed his problems after Sunday’s 115-96 loss to the San Antonio Spurs (warning: NSFW language):

Irving had 12 assists but also finished 5-of-17 from the field in the loss, which was the team’s fourth defeat in a row. The squad is now 43-31 on the year, good for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Although the Celtics are still likely headed to the playoffs, it has been a disappointing year for a team that was a heavy favorite to win the East.

Meanwhile, Irving has had problems with the media all year long and seems to once again be having a problem with outside input.

Lonzo Ball and his younger brothers ‘appear to be estranged’ from LaVar & leaving Big Baller Brand for Nike

Stephen A. Smith and Jalen Rose discuss Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball cutting ties with LaVar’s friend and Big Baller Brand co-founder Alan Foster. Stephen A. says it’s a sign of fracturing within the Ball family, especially since LaMelo and LiAngelo Ball also appear to be distancing themselves from the Big Baller Brand.

Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman comment on Lonzo Ball cutting ties with Big Baller Brand co-founder Alan Foster and what the move means for Lonzo’s young career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Stephen A. says LiAngelo and LaMelo also appear to be distancing themselves from LaVar Ball, and Max adds that Lonzo will now be able to blossom as a more independent person.

It sure looks like Lonzo and LaMelo Ball are leaving Big Baller Brand for Nike

Andrew Joseph | USA TODAY SPORTS

It was announced that Lonzo Ball parted ways with Big Baller Brand co-founder and LaVar’s longtime friend, Alan Foster, on Friday after ESPN reported that $1.5 million of Lonzo’s money was unaccounted for and allegedly taken by Foster.

The report was a major blow for LaVar’s start-up apparel and shoe brand, which had been reeling since its failing grade from the Better Business Bureau. But the problems could just be getting started for the Triple-B’s.

Lonzo and LaMelo look to be on their way out.

On Saturday, Lonzo posted on Instagram a photo of himself in his Nike Lakers jersey with Nike’s tagline of “It’s only a crazy dream until you do it.” The Lakers guard posted that he was moving on to “bigger and better” in the caption. He added a hashtag of “#MyOwnMan.”

The post was liked by Lakers Nike teammates LeBron James and Josh Hart. It didn’t stop there — LaMelo commented on the post, thanking Lonzo for getting both of them out.

The hints at a Big Baller Brand exit continued with both LaMelo and Lonzo unfollowing Big Baller Brand’s social accounts, and Lonzo deleting all the Big Baller Brand promotional posts from his Instagram. Lonzo’s new Twitter avatar shows him wearing a Nike T-shirt as a child.

They weren’t exactly being subtle about this situation.

In the ESPN report, it was noted that the Lakers voiced concerns about both Big Baller Brand’s failing BBB grade and if the shoes were causing Lonzo’s ankle issues.


“Yeah, they talked to me,” Lonzo Ball told ESPN two weeks ago. “They asked me about it, and I told ’em, ‘I feel comfortable. If I wasn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t play in ’em. If I didn’t play in [his signature BBB shoes], I’d play in Kobe [Bryant’s signature Nike shoe]. I work out in [LeBron James’ signature Nike shoe], but that’s because they’re heavier.”

Lonzo also said he told the Lakers he was open to making adjustments — “just minor things,” he said — to his Big Baller Brand shoes if needed.

Big Baller Brand collaborated with Brandblack for the ZO2 sneaker designs and received decent marks from shoe experts. But when it comes to engineering and resources, it’s impossible for Big Baller Brand to compete with the shoe giants like Nike and Adidas or even Under Armour.

At this point, no official announcement has been made on the Ball brothers’ status with Big Baller Brand. LaMelo, who is almost certainly ineligible for NCAA competition next season, would be a massive draw for Nike along with Lonzo. If the brothers do leave their father’s company (that Lonzo actually holds a 51 percent stake in), the development could spell the end of Big Baller Brand.

These next few weeks will be telling as LaMelo is slated to play in the March 31 Big Baller Brand All-American Game.


JERRY WEST reveals his all-time favorite Laker, talks free agency 2019 & says, “The best risk takers do the best in this league.”

Basketball Hall of Famer and LA Clippers consulatant Jerry West joins the Stephen A. Smith Show to share his thoughts on LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers’ poor season, as well as his opinion of Magic Johnson as a general manager. West also foreshadows how he will sell the Los Angeles Clippers to free agents this summer.

Papa John’s turns to Shaq to help repair image over founder’s racist comments; to become company’s first black board member


NEW YORK — Papa John’s is getting “Shaq-ified.”

The pizza chain said Friday that basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal will be its new pitchman, appearing in TV commercials and promoting Papa John’s in other ways. The company hopes O’Neal can repair its image and revive its sales after the company’s founder and namesake, John Schnatter, made racially insensitive remarks.

Besides being a spokesman, O’Neal will also join the company’s board of directors and invest in nine of its restaurants in the Atlanta area.

“If you want to enjoy great pizza and feel loved by the people that serve the pizza, you can come back home now,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The Daddy’ is here.”

The problems at Papa John’s started in 2017, when Schnatter criticized the NFL’s leadership and blamed protests by football players for falling pizza sales. Last year it was revealed that he used a racial slur during a media training session. Schnatter apologized for the slur, and the company scrubbed his face from the company’s logo and pizza boxes.

He is still the Louisville, Kentucky-based company’s biggest shareholder.

O’Neal said Schnatter’s comments were “not acceptable” and said he told the company’s executives that it needed more diversity in its leadership. He says he’s the first African-American to join Papa John’s board.

“We want to create a culture to let everybody know that they’re loved, accepted and wanted,” O’Neal said.

Papa John’s International Inc. said it will pay O’Neal more than $8 million in cash and company stock for the three-year endorsement deal.

Wall Street seems to think it’s a winning partnership. Shares of Papa John’s soared more than 6 percent Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Watch CNBC’s full interview with Papa John’s new board member Shaquille O’Neal