James Harden fires back at Giannis, says Greek Freak’s game ‘takes no skill at all’

James Harden is not as big of a fan of Giannis Antetokounmpo as he is of himself

Ben Rohrbach | Yahoo Sports

Houston Rockets star James Harden is not one for many sit-down interviews on national television, but he sure made the most of a six-minute discussion with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols for “The Jump.”

The bearded former MVP all but guaranteed a championship in his career, declared himself the NBA’s best player and took multiple shots at reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, all while rehashing his belief that Harden is the only player in league history to face consistent double teams.

Harden vs. Antetekounmpo III

Let’s start with the Antetokounmpo stuff, because that is the juice.

It is unclear where the rivalry between the league’s last two MVPs began, but Harden discrediting Antetokounmpo’s award as merely a misguided “media narrative” on a radio appearance over the summer is a decent starting point. (Antetokounmpo received 78 first-place votes to Harden’s 23.)

Antetokounmpo struck back at the All-Star Game, sandwiching barbs at Harden’s isolation-heavy play and defensive limitations around an elbow to Harden’s throat during the exhibition. Serving as a captain prior to the game, Antetokounmpo passed on Harden in favor of drafting Kemba Walker, saying, “I want somebody who’s gonna pass the ball.” Afterward, Antetokounmpo said of his team’s late-game strategy, “We were just trying to find whoever James Harden was guarding.”

Harden returned serve with Nichols on Friday.

“I average more assists than him, I think,” said Harden, who indeed is averaging 7.3 assists per game in Houston this season to Antetokounmpo’s 5.8 in Milwaukee. “I don’t see what the joke is.”

Harden suggested he had not heard Antetokounpo’s barb before, which seems implausible. He also ignores the fact that he is in possession of the ball twice as much and passes less than his rival.

Harden then added to Nichols, “I wish I was just 7 feet and could just run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and have skill. I’ll take that every day.”

That was clearly a dig at Antetokounmpo, who obviously does not just run and dunk and is skilled.

Antetokounmpo had a chance to respond to Harden on Friday, but opted to take the high road. Antetokounmpo said there was no “back and forth” with Harden.

‘I feel like I’m the best player’

Harden has on several occasions suggested he is the first player ever to face consistent double teams upon crossing halfcourt, which ignores Stephen Curry’s existence entirely, along with every other player in NBA history who has been double-teamed. Harden quadrupled down on this theory, just moments before declaring, “I’m not the type to go out there and say it or broadcast it.”

“I feel like I’m the best player,” Harden said when asked by Nichols who he believed to be the league’s best player. “Throughout the course of the year, I don’t see double-teams of anybody else. Maybe Dame [Lillard] when he’s going on an amazing stretch, but usually you see a double team after you have a 50-point night or a 60-point night. If I have an 18-point night, the next night I’m seeing a double team, which is pretty cool. The NBA’s never seen it before at halfcourt, so I’m just trying to figure out ways to be great in that. But you don’t see another player that’s getting double-teamed. It’s totally different than any other player in this league or probably that’s ever been.”

Harden is sticking to this narrative, even as teams have started to go away from blitzing him.

The Rockets star is currently third behind Antetokounmpo and James Harden on the MVP ladder regularly produced by NBA.com’s Sekou Smith, up from fifth last week. Nichols informed Harden he was not in the top five, which suggests the interview was conducted at some point between Smith’s Feb. 21 edition and the previous edition on Feb. 7, which had Harden outside the top 10.

“That’s crazy,” said Harden, “and I still lead the league in scoring.”

If you didn’t know, the MVP award is not annually given to the NBA’s leading scorer. Value takes defense and contributions to team success into consideration, among other things. We should mention that Antetokounmpo is among the top Defensive Player of the Year candidates on the team with the NBA’s best record by a wide margin. He also plays five fewer minutes a game than Harden.

None of this should surprise anyone, since Harden has felt he deserved MVP over the last three players to edge him out — Curry in 2015, Russell Westbrook in 2017 and Antetokounmpo in 2019.

Harden all but guarantees a title

Speaking of team success, the Rockets are 6-2 since trading center Clint Capela in their full embrace of small ball — another subject of conversation with Nichols — and Harden is feeling good about Houston’s prospects. He is “very, very confident” his team will win this year’s title if healthy.

If not this year, then, Harden said at some point before his career is over, “I’ll get it.”

The Rockets lost in the second round of the playoffs last season after reaching the Western Conference finals the year before. They are currently 38-20, owners of the conference’s fourth seed.

PETTY PAUL? Steph Curry left off Chris Paul’s description of ultimate point guard

Brian Witt | NBC SPORTS

Thus far through their NBA careers, Steph Curry has gotten the better of Chris Paul.

In three head-to-head postseason matchups, Curry’s Warriors have won two playoff series to Paul’s one. Curry is a two-time NBA MVP, while Paul is still waiting for first. Curry owns three NBA championship rings. Paul has never made it to the NBA Finals.

So, yes, it would be easy to understand if Paul was bitter about the younger Curry’s success. He might not have wanted to pass the torch of predominant NBA point guard, but it happened nonetheless.

Paul was traded from the Houston Rockets — after they were eliminated by Curry and the Warriors — to the Oklahoma City Thunder last offseason, and he has done a tremendous job in leading OKC (36-22) to what is currently sixth place in the Western Conference. The Thunder have outperformed expectations thus far in what has been a feel-good season, and Paul arguably deserves the bulk of the credit for that.

Despite all those good feelings, however, it appears some of that bitterness still lingers. Paul was recently asked to build the ultimate point guard, taking attributes from different players, and he had one glaring omission that, frankly, seems intentional.

“I probably want [Derrick Rose]’s explosiveness,” Paul told Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks on the newest episode of “Take it There.” “And then you’ve got the different arms, so like one hand, probably Kyrie [Irving]’s finishes and all that. And then on the other hand, Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] nice with the finishes.

“Steve Nash was a really good shooter,” he continued. “Russ [Westbrook] — a great rebounder. [LeBron James] is always good at passing and all that different type of stuff. But I know my basketball IQ and awareness … nobody watches more basketball than me.”

All right. Some fair selections. No arguments there. But wait … 

“Probably [Deron Williams] or Baron Davis’ build. Shooting also might be somebody like Gilbert Arenas.”

Hold up … What?!?

Curry is the greatest shooter of all time. One could make the case for Nash as well, so his inclusion on Paul’s list makes sense. But Arenas?

Come. On.

Currently in his 11th NBA season, Curry is a career 47.6-percent shooter from the field and 43.5-percent marksman from 3-point range. He will own every 3-point record by the time his career is over. Arenas, meanwhile, shot 42.1 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from beyond the arc over his 11-year NBA career, never once coming close to Curry’s career effective field goal percentage (.581) in any single season.

Seeing Curry disrespected by NBA greats of past and present is nothing new. It’s certainly possible that Paul simply forgot to include him, but based on history, that’s awfully tough to believe

How black coaches are still struggling to find their place in the NBA

Vincent Goodwill | Yahoo Sports

Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce didn’t think the NBA would be his route to a head coaching job, simply because he didn’t fit the typical head-coaching profile.

He wasn’t a former player, nor did he hobnob through the ranks as a great networker. But opportunity “fell into his lap” — his words — which normally doesn’t happen for black coaches in the NBA.

“I was thrown into player development. Just hoop with NBA guys, helping them get better,” Pierce told Yahoo Sports. “I was coaching in college [at Santa Clara], which was all I really knew.

“When I got to the NBA, it wasn’t [because] I wanted to be a head coach. I wanted to grow and get better at my craft. I had a formula. Mine was put your head down and work.”

Pierce is one of seven African-American head coaches in the NBA, and the roll call was quite easy when he was prompted: Doc Rivers, Alvin Gentry, Nate McMillan, Dwane Casey, J.B. Bickerstaff and Monty Williams.

That number may seem paltry, considering there are 30 teams and around 75 percent of the players are black, but it’s better than the other major professions sports, particularly the NFL.

“We’re clearly better than every other league, but that shouldn’t be our benchmark,” Rivers, the head coach of the L.A. Clippers, told Yahoo Sports recently. “That’s not good enough, in my opinion. Easy excuse, but we should still be better.”

They’ve been better. At the start of the 2012 season, 14 head coaches were black, the highest mark in NBA history.

The opportunities have been cut, for various reasons, but those arguments can be applied to other coaches who’ve managed to keep their jobs through tumultuous situations.

“You always want more, better opportunities,” Casey, the head coach of the Detroit Pistons, told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t think anybody in the NBA can say African-Americans don’t have the opportunity to get the job done. Whether you get longer leashes as other coaches, that’s another story. But the opportunity is all you can ask for.”

Rivers is the dean of the group, a Yoda of sorts. He won a championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008 and is one of the longest-tenured head coaches in the league, joining the Clippers for the 2013-14 season.

Rivers is acutely aware that he’s the anomaly, in his third NBA head-coaching job and being the calming presence while steering the Clippers franchise away from embarrassment after the Donald Sterling scandal in 2014.

“We’ve taken a hit lately, in my opinion,” Rivers said about the state of black coaching in the NBA. “We gotta get back to it. I don’t know why, it just seems to go in ebbs and flows.”

As easily as Pierce can name the men who walk the sideline, Rivers can name men who haven’t gotten calls for repeat opportunities — probably the aspect that bothers him more than sheer numbers.

“I can name a bunch of guys. Ty [Lue] should be coaching. Mike Woodson, you look at his record and he couldn’t get another job,” Rivers said.

Woodson coached the Hawks to three playoff appearances from 2008-10 and then had a winning record with the Knicks in nearly three seasons from 2012-14. The Knicks haven’t been to the playoffs since Woodson was there.

Lue is on Rivers’ staff not long after leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title in 2016 and three straight Finals appearances before being fired six games into the 2018-19 season. He was in talks to coach the Lakers last summer, but the sides couldn’t reach an agreement, so he joined Rivers with the Clippers.

There are others, coaches who won’t win in the battle of public opinion but have won on the sidelines. Jason Kidd is an assistant with Frank Vogel for the Lakers, alongside Lionel Hollins. Mark Jackson established the Golden State Warriors as playoff contenders before being dismissed in 2014, as Steve Kerr developed them into champions the next season. Jackson has been a commentator for ABC/ESPN but hasn’t gotten a serious look since.

“We just gotta stay at it. Keep at it. Keep meeting people,” Rivers said. “We gotta get more access for the black assistants to meet owners. You hire who you’re comfortable with, who you have a relationship with. Our league does a good job of that, but we can do better so we can establish relationships.”

Pierce has a circle, even though he doesn’t consider himself in that group of coaches who put themselves out there at every turn. In his group chat are men who are in the same boat — guys who didn’t play professionally, started out in the video room and have grinded their way to better spots on the bench, even if there is a glass ceiling.

It’s Pierce, David Vanterpool (Timberwolves), Phil Handy (Lakers), Bickerstaff (Cavs), former Knicks coach David Fizdale, Jamahl Mosley (Mavs), Johnnie Bryant (Jazz) and J.J. Outlaw (Cavs). They all trade similar war stories about the business, what they hope to accomplish and the struggles they encounter daily. Pierce feels Vanterpool has been knocking on the door long enough, interviewing for a number of jobs over the last few years but not getting the opportunity to run his own show.

“The numbers are what the numbers are,” Pierce said. “Is it ever gonna be 12? Is it ever gonna be predominantly black coaches?”

He points upstairs, and while agreeing with Rivers that getting in front of ownership is important, having more color on the executive side is critical.

“How do you know guys are really getting their opportunities? If you start seeing more black coaches in addition to black general managers,” Pierce said. “That’s where the growth will be, the perception of opportunity. You’ll see more black coaches if you see more black GM’s.”

That number doesn’t seem to be on the rise, which could contribute to the lack of quality jobs black coaches are offered. Pierce is in a rebuilding situation in Atlanta, Williams took over a team in Phoenix that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010. Many had their doubts when Fizdale took over the Knicks in May 2018, and he was fired earlier this season.

Casey was on Rick Carlisle’s staff in Dallas when the Mavs won the 2011 NBA title, three years removed from a short stint in Minnesota where he was fired after going 20-20 to start the 2006-07 season.

When the Toronto Raptors came calling in the summer of 2011, Casey knew he wasn’t in a position to turn down this chance even though it wasn’t a marquee job.

“You build up a résumé where you can be choosy on the jobs you take. Unless you’ve won, I don’t think you can be choosy,” Casey said. “Rick told me, you take it and you build it up. That’s what we did.”

By Casey’s third season, the Raptors were in the playoffs and two years later, they made the conference finals. Even though LeBron James and the Cavaliers ended their season three years in a row, Casey helped turn a bad job into a good job — and was fired before the Raptors acquired Kawhi Leonard, who led them to the 2019 title.

Casey’s situation is the outlier; Lue was in the right place, at the right time of sorts, getting the Cavaliers job when the David Blatt experiment went awry. Those chances come few and far between for black coaches, and their successes don’t stick to the masses as much as the failures.

“Blacks aren’t a monolithic group. They don’t give us the same chances or look at each individual case,” a high-ranking African-American executive told Yahoo Sports. “If Lloyd Pierce goes into a tough situation or Fizdale, it’s not an indictment. Blacks are put in position, historically, that they have to take the worst circumstances and make it right in the short period of time.

“One black guy gets a shot to hold a position, if he fails then the establishment looks at it and says black guys can’t do that. White counterparts fail and fail up all the time, and get replaced by more white guys.”

All job openings aren’t created equal, and many are rebuilding situations with terrible circumstances — for some. Kerr inherited a ready-to-win team in the Bay Area — after passing up the Knicks job earlier in the coaching cycle. When the Oklahoma City Thunder still employed Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in 2015, they hired Billy Donovan from the college ranks to replace Scott Brooks.

Most recently, the Milwaukee Bucks and Lakers have been the “hot” jobs, and they’ve gone to Mike Budenholzer and Vogel, respectively.

Each situation has its own complexities, but in aggregate the results reveal the quality positions don’t make their way to African-American coaches.

It’s clear black coaching candidates see the trends, and even former accomplished players who’ve done their time as assistants realize how difficult it is to break through. Jerry Stackhouse had aspirations to be a head coach and was an assistant with the Raptors and Grizzlies, leading the Raptors’ then-D-League team to a title in 2016-17. But when Vanderbilt came calling, it was obvious he didn’t see a path in the NBA.

Patrick Ewing had years of coaching experience but didn’t get a sniff, going back to his alma mater, Georgetown. Juwan Howard spent years on Erik Spoelstra’s bench, but when nothing serious developed he went to Michigan, where he made his name as a Fab Fiver in the early 1990s.

The pipeline isn’t empty, but perhaps it’s underserved, making Rivers’ call for networking more poignant. Lost in his words is the need for allies in the establishment to champion black coaches.

Casey had one in Carlisle, noting Carlisle put him in charge of the defense during his years in Dallas, while Terry Stotts helmed the offense. Stan Van Gundy would tell anyone who asked that Ewing could be a head coach, and a good one, but it fell on deaf ears.

Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin had Scott Skiles in his corner, with Skiles telling him the second he was done playing he would bring him on as an assistant. Griffin played in Chicago for Skiles from 2006-08, near the end of his career.

“He was true to his word,” Griffin said. “I was cut [after being traded to] the Bucks, he was the coach. … He hired me right on the spot. I went straight from the locker room to the coaches room.”

Highly regarded and respected, Griffin should be atop many teams’ lists should they have openings. But if he doesn’t break through, it’ll be another example of a downward trend, even if it’s just cyclical.

“My next ambition is to be a head coach,” Griffin said. “I think you gotta put as many things in your favor. You need to know the right people, have the right work ethic, the right resources, support group. It’s not easy to get one of these jobs. If that means networking or pulling some all-nighters, it’s worth it.”

Kobe Bryant’s widow files wrongful death lawsuit against helicopter company

Ben Rohrbach | Yahoo Sports

On the morning of Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial service, news broke that his widow has reportedly filed a lawsuit against the company that owned the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter on which the Los Angeles Lakers legend, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in a Calabasas, California, hillside crash last month.

TMZ first reported the lawsuit on Monday. Multiple news outlets have since confirmed it.

Vanessa Bryant’s lawyers are seeking unspecified damages from Island Express, arguing that fog conditions on Jan. 26 should have prevented the company from putting lives at unnecessary risk, according to TMZ. The lawsuit also alleges that Kobe Bryant’s longtime pilot, Ara George Zobayan, who died in the crash, was previously disciplined for violating visual flight rules in 2015.

More from TMZ:

The lawsuit also says the pilot was going 180 miles per hour in the heavy fog in a steep decline.

The lawsuit claims the pilot failed to properly monitor and assess the weather prior to takeoff, failed to obtain proper weather data prior to the flight, failed to abort the flight when he knew of the cloudy condition, failed to maintain control of the helicopter and failed to avoid “natural obstacles” in the flight path.

The lawsuit also alleges that the helicopter was unsafe, per TMZ. The New York Times reported earlier this month that while Zobayan was certified to use the helicopter’s sophisticated navigation system, Island Express was not, calling into question the legality of flying in the foggy condition. National Transportation Safety Board officials also announced that the helicopter was not equipped with a Terrain Awareness and Warning System that could have alerted Zobayan prior to the crash.

“Defendant Island Express Helicopters’ breach of its duty and negligence caused the injuries and damages complained of herein and Plaintiffs’ deceased, Kobe Bryant, was killed as a direct result of the negligent conduct of Zobayan for which Defendant Island Express Helicopters is vicariously liable in all respects,” Monday’s lawsuit read, according to L.A. Times reporter Nathan Fenno.

Island Express, which has reportedly experienced three other helicopter crashes since 1985, temporarily suspended operations in the week following the latest crash, according to ABC News.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant honored with memorial service at Staples Center

Watch entire memorial service above

Jason Owens | Yahoo Sports

A memorial service honoring the memory of Kobe and Gianna Bryant at Staples Center has concluded. The ceremony was an opportunity for Bryant’s fans and the public to mourn and honor the fallen Los Angeles Lakers icon who died in a helicopter crash alongside his 13-year-old daughter and seven others on Jan. 26. Kobe and Gianna were laid to rest in a private ceremony in Corona Del Mar, California, on Feb. 7.

Here’s an account of the day’s events.

Thousands of fans arrive at Staples Center

More than 20,000 ticketed fans arrived at Staples Center Monday morning out of tens of thousands who applied for tickets to the ceremony honoring Kobe and Gianna’s memory, according to ESPN.

Fans who attended received a picture book featuring the Bryant family.

NBA players, greats in attendance

Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Fox, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Stephen Curry, Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Draymond Green, Kyrie Irving and A.C. Green are among the current and former NBA players sighted at the ceremony.

Former Los Angeles Lakers watch during a celebration of life for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 24: Kyrie Irving, DrayStephen Curry during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Boston Celtics players who were in town for Sunday’s game against the Lakers stayed for the memorial. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis shared images of their tickets on social media.

Beyonce opens with one of Kobe’s ‘favorite songs’

Beyonce opened the ceremony with a rendition of her hit song “XO,” which she noted was one of Kobe’s favorites.

“Because I love Kobe, and this was one of his favorite songs,” Beyonce said as she urged the Staples Center crowd to sing along.

‘Celebration of life’

Comedian, talk show host and Lakers fan Jimmy Kimmel fought back tears to get the talking portion of ceremony underway and introduce Vanessa. 

Before Vanessa took the stage, Kimmel urged fans in attendance to hug and shake hands with their neighbors “to to be grateful for life and the fact that we are all here together.”

‘Gigi would have been the best player in the WNBA’

Kobe’s widow and Gianna’s mother Vanessa opened by speaking on Gianna’s memory.

“She had rhythm and swag ever since she was a baby,” Vanessa said.

She described a confident, driven and talented teenager who spoke Mandarin and Spanish as an eighth-grader and gave pointers to the boy’s basketball team at her school “like the triangle offense.”“Gigi would have likely become the best player in the WNBA,” Vanessa said to applause. “She would have made a huge difference in women’s basketball.”

‘MVP of girl dads’

She then spoke about Kobe, whom she described as “the MVP of girl dads.”

“I want my daughters to remember the amazing person, husband and father he was — the kind of man who wanted to teach future generations to be better and keep them from making his own mistakes,” Vanessa said.

She closed with a message for Kobe.

‘God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other. He had to bring them home to have them together.

“Babe, you take care of our Gigi.”

Michael Jordan helps Vanessa Bryant off the stage after her moving speech

Women’s basketball greats honor Kobe, Gianna

WNBA and UConn great Diana Taurasi and reigning John Wooden Award winner and Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu paid tribute to both Kobe and Gianna.

“Gigi in many ways represents the future of women’s basketball,” Taurasi said. “Gigi already had goals to play for UConn. That in itself showed her fearless mentality.”

Ionescu spoke of modeling her approach to the game after Bryant’s.

“Growing up I only knew one way to play the game of basketball,” Ionescu said. “Fierce, with obsessive focus. I was unapologetically competitive. I wanted to be the best. I loved the work even when it was hard. Especially when it was hard.”

UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma then recounted speaking with Kobe about coaching Gigi’s youth basketball team and watching her play.

“Gianna passed it when she was open,” Auriemma said to laughs. “I thought ‘she’s not listening to her father.’”

‘Kobe’s last act was heroic’

Rob Pelinka shared that he was texting with Kobe during the fatal helicopter flight.

Pelinka said that he was in church that Sunday morning when Kobe reached out to ask for help securing an internship for Lexi Altobelli, the surviving daughter of John and Keri Altobelli, who died in the crash along with their 13-year-old daughter Alyssa, who was one of Gianna’s basketball teammates.

“I grabbed my phone and text Kobe back that I had seen the baseball agent at a Lakers game just the other night and was happy to help him with whatever he wanted. It was now just past 9:30. Kobe text back explaining his desire to help a friend of his secure a baseball agency internship for one of his young daughters. Kobe vouched for the girl’s character, intellect and work ethic. He clearly wanted to champion a bright future for her. I text Kobe right back and said I would put a plan in motion to help get that done. A handful of minutes later, Kobe and Gianna and seven other beautiful souls ascended into heaven. “Kobe had been texting me from the helicopter… Kobe’s last human act was heroic. He wanted to use his platform to bless and shape a young girl’s future.”

He then recounted a time that Kobe challenged his son’s 12-year-old boy’s All-Star basketball team to a game against Gianna’s girl’s team.

“Our boys got smashed,” Pelinka said while admiring the precision of Gianna’s team under Kobe’s guidance.

Alicia Keys’ ‘Moonlight Sonata’ tribute

Kobe’s agent and Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka shared a story about Bryant learning to play Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata” on piano by ear for Vanessa.

“By the end of the week, he had the entire piece mastered, and he played it for me without a mistake,” Pelinka said. “In my heart, I knew that moment was one of Kobe’s grandest feats for his deepest loves.” 

Alicia Keys then took the stage to to play “Moonlight Sonata” accompanied by a string quartet.

MJ: ‘I’ll have to look at another crying meme’

Michael Jordan was the player Kobe’s game was most frequently compared to. Along with playing the same shooting guard position, the two shared the same intense competitive streaks and championship desire.

Jordan spoke about his relationship with Kobe as Kobe came up in the NBA.

“In the game of basketball, in life, as a parent, Kobe left nothing in the tank,” Jordan said. “He left it all on the floor. Maybe it surprises people that Kobe and I were very close friends, but we were very close friends. … He was like a little brother.”

Jordan said that Bryant would call him to ask for advice on basketball, business and “the triangle offense.”

“At first, it was an aggravation,” Jordan said. “But then it turned into certain passion. This kid had passion like you would never know. … As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I can be.”

Jordan, in tears, found room for a joke at his own expense while honoring Kobe.

“Now he’s got me. I’ll have to look at another crying meme for the next … I told my wife I didn’t want to do this because I didn’t want to see this for the next three or four years.”

Shaq gets big laughs with Kobe story

Shaquille O’Neal provided perspective on Kobe like only he could, sharing a story about his early days playing with him en route to three NBA championships together.

“The day Kobe gained my respect, the guys were complaining, said ‘Shaq, Kobe’s not passing the ball,’” O’Neal said. “I said ‘I’ll talk to him.’

“I said ‘Kobe. There’s no I in team.’ Kobe said, ‘I know, but there’s an M-E in there mother f—er.’ I went back and told Rick [Fox] and Big Shot Bob [Horry], ‘just get the rebound. He’s not passing.’”

Christina Aguilera then sang a rendition of “Ave Maria” before the ceremony closed with Bryant’s Oscar-winning short film “Dear Basketball.”

The Lakers are reportedly waiving DeMarcus Cousins and fans are shocked

Nick Schwartz | USA TODAY SPORTS

The Lakers missed out on adding the guard they need when Darren Collision opted not to come out of retirement earlier this month, but it was reported on Friday that the Lakers are expected to add depth to its frontcourt and sign Markieff Morris, who agreed to a contract buyout from the Pistons.

With a full roster of 15 players, the Lakers would need to waive a player to make room for Morris should he clear waivers, and that player will be four-time NBA All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, according to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne.

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Cousins’ departure brings an end to what was primed to be one of the NBA’s most exciting experiments when it came together last summer. Cousins was limited in the 2018-19 season due to injuries, but the Lakers hoped that he could rediscover his All-NBA form alongside former Pelicans teammate Anthony Davis in LA. We never got to see Cousins take the floor with the Lakers, though, after he suffered a torn ACL last August.

The Lakers had no timetable for Cousins’ return, but had not ruled out a possible comeback in the playoffs this year. Coach Frank Vogel said during the All-Star break that Cousins was “on track” for a playoff return, but backtracked earlier this week, telling reporters that Cousins was “not close” to being ready.

Kyrie Irving to have season-ending shoulder surgery; Nets ‘looking at big picture’

Tim Bontemps | ESPN

PHILADELPHIA — Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving will season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, general manager Sean Marks announced Thursday night.

Marks said the decision was made after Irving had visited with a specialist the past few days.

“He’s obviously upset about this, and we are here to support him, support the process moving forward with him and the rehabilitation,” Marks said before the Nets’ game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. “He saw specialists including our people at [New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery] and it has been a group consensus that at this point in time, and this juncture, this is the best course of action.”

Irving, who joined the Nets as a free agent last summer alongside Kevin Durant, played in just 20 games in his first season in Brooklyn. He missed 26 games over the span of nearly two months with a right shoulder impingement, before eventually returning in mid-January following a cortisone shot.

But after missing the final five games before the All-Star Break with a knee sprain he suffered in a nasty-looking fall in a loss to the Washington Wizards on Feb. 1, it was determined that it wasn’t worth Irving playing through pain in the shoulder any longer, and that surgery was the right course of action.

What wasn’t on the table, Marks said, was Irving getting another cortisone shot.

“I think we look at our players long-term health as the number one priority,” Marks said. “Kyrie has been adamant like the rest of us that he would take one cortisone shot and see how it goes.

“We are looking at the big picture here. We are not looking at the next 2-3 months. We are looking at the next 2-3 years.”

The possibility for surgery had been on the table during Irving’s initial absence. At the time, it was decided that the better path was for Irving to get the cortisone shot and see how his shoulder responded, in the hopes of avoiding surgery altogether.

“A cortisone shot lasts as long as it can,” Irving told reporters back on Jan. 4. “You either continue to get cortisone shots, which is obviously detrimental to your health and your muscles, or you go get arthroscopic surgery,” Irving said. “For me, it’s just about being able to go back out there after the right amount of rehab, the right amount of rest and recovery and see what we can do for the rest of the season and then reevaluate after a few months.”

It turned out, however, that it would be another six weeks before he would be shut down for the rest of the way.

Thursday’s announcement closes the door on a disappointing first season for Irving in Brooklyn. He played extraordinarily well at times, including scoring 55 points in his first-ever game for the Nets in a season-opening overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but also spent the vast majority of the season watching in street clothes alongside Durant, who is out with a torn Achilles tendon and officially ruled out a return this season in an interview earlier this week with Bleacher Report.

Rather than figuring out how Irving fits next to Spencer DinwiddieCaris LeVert and Joe Harris ahead of Durant’s return next season, the Nets only saw them together for 19 games this season. Now, they’ll have to try to make the playoffs without Irving. The Nets entered Thursday seventh in the East, two games ahead of the eight-place Orlando Magic and five games ahead of the ninth-place Wizards.

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson admitted Irving being ruled out will force the Nets to start from square one in terms of piecing together their roster when their two stars return next season.

“I think that’s the big thing,” Atkinson said. “You wanted some time to work things out, work on our continuity and obviously work on the chemistry of the team and how we’re going to use him. That’s the disappointing part. We’re not going to have that opportunity. We’ll have to start fresh next season and figure it out quickly. But that is the disappointing part. “I don’t know if there’s enough, especially when you throw Kevin into the mix. I think it’s going to be a different structure, a different chemistry, different rotations.”

That said, Atkinson was excited by the brief glimpses of what he saw from Irving, who averaged 27.4 points and 6.4 assists, on the court this season, and is looking forward to seeing more next year.

“I’ve said this before: He was better than I even thought, a better player than I thought, and I had tremendous respect for him in Cleveland and Boston,” Atkinson said. “Faster than I thought, more skilled than I thought, a higher level competitor than I thought, much more physical than I thought. I don’t think people give him enough credit for how physical he is on both ends, how active he is defensively and what an attacker he is. That bodes really well for the future.

“I really love the player, and I feel like we have a really good relationship. So, we’re in a good place there. Obviously, you want more reps, more time with him, but we’ll have time with him in the offseason, too, to connect and, when he gets healthy, to work with him a little bit.”

Marks said Irving is still evaluating his options and didn’t say when he would have the surgery. But Marks did indicate that the rehabilitation process would allow Irving to be back before the start of next season.

“I think that is something that will have to be determined,” Marks said of Irving’s rehab timeline. “With all surgeries once somebody goes in there and takes a look at it then you evaluate how long the rehab is.

“This is something that he should be back in plenty of time to be working out this summer and obviously be ready for next season.”

Like Atkinson, Marks was looking forward to having this season as an evaluation period for his newly built roster. The Nets signed LeVert and Taurean Prince to extensions before the start of this season, have to decide whether to do the same with Jarrett Allen before next season and have to deal with the free agency of Harris — one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters — this summer.

Marks will have to go into the summer, and make those decisions, without the benefit of seeing his roster have much time together on the court this season.

“I’d be lying if I said I wish all our guys weren’t healthy for the whole time. It’s been kind of a roller coaster year,” Marks said. “We’ve had Caris out as well. So we’ve had multiple guys who’ve had these strange, unforeseen injuries.

“But I have the utmost confidence in our performance staff, our doctors, all the specialists we’ve used as well. And also the guys. The guys have fought hard with their rehab and obviously that’s led by Kevin over the course of the last four or five months while he’s been a Net.”

Ayesha Curry Shuts Down Troll Who Compared Her to a ‘Farm Animal’: I’m the ‘GOAT’

Ayesha Curry and husband Stephen Curry enjoyed a romantic vacation together in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Georgia Slater | PEOPLE

Ayesha Curry is clapping back at her haters with her clever wit.

On Monday, the Family Food Fight host shared photos on Instagram from her recent Cabo San Lucas vacation with husband Stephen Curry when an internet troll commented on her appearance, comparing her to a “farm animal.”

In the pictures, Ayesha, 30, and Stephen, 31, are seen cuddling up next to each other while lounging on pool chairs.

Ayesha, who is wearing a blue and white tie-dye bikini, captioned the photos, “all the things” with sun, heart, champagne and wave emojis.

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🌊🌞💙🍾 all the things.

A post shared by Ayesha Curry (@ayeshacurry) on

Responding to the cute selfies, the troll wrote, “Steph married to an actual real life farm animal.”

Ayesha was quick to come up with a clever response, writing “yes a GOAT I know” referring to the acronym meaning the “greatest of all time” as opposed to the animal.

The TV personality’s comment garnered over 1,200 likes and replies of praise for the star standing up for herself.

“The best clap back I’ve ever seen,” one user responded.

“You the real MVP!” another wrote.

During the couple’s getaway, both Ayesha and Stephen couldn’t resist sharing sweet — and sexy — photos of each other on social media.

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Vacation vibes with my one and only 😍 like dat!

A post shared by Wardell Curry (@stephencurry30) on

On Sunday, the Golden State Warriors player posted a steamy photo of the pair. In the image, the athlete lifts up Ayesha and holds her with her legs wrapped around his waist. The television host, who was wearing a black and green bikini, gave her husband a playful lick on the forehead.

“Vacation vibes with my one and only 😍 like dat!” Stephen, who has been recovering from a hand injury over the last three months, captioned the snap.

Ayesha jokingly responded, “You coulda at least popped a filter on this. 😩 I love you though.”

The pair, who wed in 2011, celebrated their 8-year anniversary in August. They’ve welcomed three children together: daughters Riley, 6, and Ryan, 4, and son Canon, 1.