Klay Thompson, Jerry Rice among stars seen socializing at 49ers-Packers NFC title game

Ali Thanawalla | NBC SPORTS

It has been eight years since the 49ers hosted the NFC Championship Game, so the stars have turned out for the huge game Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

The sidelines were packed with local sports stars before the game between the 49ers and Green Bay Packers.

Injured Warriors star Klay Thompson, fresh off his Washington State jersey retirement, showed up with his girlfriend Laura Harrier.

The GOAT, Jerry Rice, is in the house…

And he was so jacked up for the game that he was running routes on the field.

Rice also got a big hug from all-time home-run king Barry Bonds.

Rice also caught up with actor Rob Lowe before the game.

Bonds shared moments with The People’s Tight End — George Kittle — and Thompson.

After the 49ers dominated the Packers 27-0 in the first half, Jerry was lit!

🎥WATCH: Go Man Go! FULL MOVIE Starring SIDNEY POITIER and THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS • 1954🍿

⚠️NOTE: Film may appear at first glance to be missing, but just press PLAY ▶️ and you’ll find it works just fine…⚠️

Go, Man, Go! is a 1954 sports film directed by James Wong Howe, starring Dane Clark, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Patricia Breslin, The Harlem Globetrotters and Slim Gaillard.

Clark plays Abe Saperstein, the organizer of the Globetrotters. Poitier’s character is Inman Jackson, the team’s showboating center. Breslin plays Sylvia Saperstein, the love interest, and Abe’s daughter. Gaillard plays himself.

The film tracks the Globetrotters from humble beginnings through a triumph over a major-league basketball team, as they struggle to overcome racial discrimination.

Actual Harlem Globetrotter players portray the team in basketball action throughout the picture. The friendship between Saperstein and Jackson, and their wives, is an important storyline. – Wikipedia

‘Things Are What They Are’: Kobe Bryant Says It Angered Him That He Didn’t Win Six Championships Like Michael Jordan Did

Daryl Nelson | ATLANTA BLACK STAR

When it comes to discussions about who’s the greatest NBA player of all time, Michael Jordan and LeBron James usually come up, at least among a certain generation of basketball fans.

But there’s another guy who some might say also needs to be included in that debate, and that’s none other than Kobe Bryant.

The retired hoops star sat down with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on “All The Smoke” podcast, where Jordan’s name came up.

Barnes mentioned that Bryant once said that he “wanted to sit at the table with MJ,” in terms of getting six championship rings like he did.

Kobe left the NBA with five rings, the last time being in 2010 when the Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Boston Celtics in seven games.

“Oh, it pissed me off,” said Bryant around the 27:50 mark about falling one ring short of Jordan. “But things are what they are. You push for a goal. My original goal was to try to win eight.”

“You push for it and you try to do the best you can,” he added. “At the end of the day, you can be comfortable with the results and where they landed and where they ended up.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Bryant said he and Jordan are far different from each other, because the retired Chicago Bulls star would compete at everything and anything, while Bryant said he’s the opposite.

“I only compete with things that I really am good at,” he explained.

The former shooting guard also talked about a conversation that he and Jordan had about the 1991 Bulls taking on the 2003 Lakers, since both had powerhouse squads in those years.

“He’ll talk basketball all day long. ‘What would’ve happened if my ’91 against your ’03?’” Bryant said Jordan asked. “What he started the conversation, [was like] well, ‘I would’ve destroyed you.’”

“I just said, ‘Listen, remember who you talking to,’” Bryant continued. “And he just started laughing and said, ‘I’m just messing with you.’ And then we just kind of moved on.”

Ja Morant’s smooth confidence is the best thing in the NBA right now – but should the Grizzlies really keep Andre Iguodala for a playoff run?

Charles Curtis | USA TODAY SPORTS

We all knew Ja Morant could play at Murray State, when we saw the guard lead the Racers to a first-round upset of Marquette in the 2019 NCAA tournament with a triple-double.

But now, nearly halfway through his first NBA season, we know the Memphis Grizzlies rookie can play … AND he’s not afraid of anyone in the league at the age of 20.

Seriously: did you see what he did on Tuesday night? The shocking Grizzlies — the eighth seed in the West at the moment at 19-22 — won their sixth straight by taking down James Harden and the Houston Rockets. And Morant (a team-high 26 points while missing just ONE field goal, eight dimes and three shots from distance) dismantled the Rockets by doing stuff like this:

Look at how he broke down Harden and shot from three when the defense gave him room — as social media pointed out, Morant had something NSFW to say after one of those shots:

Morant doesn’t take a ton of threes — about 2.3 per game — but he hits them at a 40.7 percent clip when he does shoot. So here’s what that clip tells me: he’s overflowing with confidence. Clearly, the Rockets know he prefers to slash, and that there are critics out there worried that he can’t shoot in an NBA world where guards like him need to shoot well:

I should say he’s also proven his basketball IQ is high, which helps:

There are other reasons the Grizzlies are shocking the world. Jaren Jackson Jr. is taking another step forward a year after being the fourth overall pick in 2019. Dillon Brooks learned how to hit from distance and is taking more threes. Brandon Clarke is every bit the sleeper everyone thought he would be out of Gonzaga. Jonas Valanciunas is still Jonas Valanciunas.

But it’s Ja — he’s fast becoming one of those NBA players you refer to by a single name — who’s tying them all together and bringing the confidence that makes him one of the must-watch players in the entire league.

Should Memphis try to bring Andre Iguodala back into the fold for a playoff push?

Cole McCauley | CLUTCH POINTS

Last July, Golden State Warriors small forward Andre Iguodala was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. Just two months later and the Grizzlies and Iguodala reached a mutual agreement that effectively let the former Finals MVP part ways with the team.

And while Iguodala is still on the Grizzlies roster, the veteran swingman has yet to appear in a game for Memphis and as of now, doesn’t look like he’s going to unless he is traded. Iguodala was vocally less than happy when he learned he was traded to Memphis since the thought was the Grizzlies were rebuilding, and the 15-year veteran was searching for another championship or at least to play on a playoff team.

Yet, fast forward three months into the season and the Grizzlies are in the midst of their first six-game win streak since 2016 and currently, 19-22, sit as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

With a salary of over $17 million dollars this season, Memphis ‘ highest-paid player isn’t playing for the team. It isn’t a guarantee that the Grizzlies can keep up this level of success and sneak into the playoffs in a tough Western Conference. Regardless, with young stars such as Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis has built itself a solid core and one that could probably use more veteran presence.

At the same time, whether it’s recency bias or not, the Grizzlies are playing great basketball. The team chemistry is great and people are excited about Memphis basketball for the first time in a while. Morant is almost guaranteed the Rookie of the Year award by now and the team can score with the best of them.

Adding back a player like Iguodala, while beneficial in many ways, would likely take away from the development of the many young prospects that Memphis has on the roster. Often times, the best way to improve is to get experience and with one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, the Grizzlies are demonstrating that.

And while the Grizzlies could very well sneak into the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, it’ll likely be as the seventh or eighth seed. The Grizzlies are one of the best up-and-coming teams in the league but that doesn’t mean they’re contenders.

If Iguodala is serious about winning another championship, he should still try to push his way out of Memphis. The team is doing just fine without him and while he is still a great role player in the league, at 35 years old, Iggy simply isn’t what he used to be.

I don’t think it would necessarily hurt the Grizzlies if Iguodala came back and played for the team. In fact, I think his veteran leadership would really help a young team.

But, it seems that’s not what Iguodala wants and the Grizzlies should lean into the youth movement they have going right now because it’s clearly working.

Why Kyle Shanahan was a Warriors fan before becoming 49ers coach

Drew Shiller | NBC SPORTS

Did you know that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has been a fan of the Warriors for years?

During his Wednesday morning press conference, Shanahan was asked if he has picked up anything in particular from observing Golden State.

“I just have always been a fan of them, even before I got here,” he told reporters. “Just watching how they play. I remember saying in Atlanta that I wanted our receiver group to be similar to the Warriors to where, ‘Who knows who the starter is.’ 

“They all play. Andre Iguodala. I think he wasn’t the starter and then he was the conference finals or whatever it’s called — the NBA championship — MVP. The seven games that mattered at the end (laughter). You think of stuff like that.

“You just got guys who seem really not to care how it gets done. They all just go out there and ball and see where the weakness in the defense is and wherever that ends up, that guy shoots. And that’s a lot how I see offense.”

It’s called the “NBA Finals” coach. The “NBA Finals.”

Good luck in the “game of championship NFC” this Sunday against the Packers of Green Bay! (just having some fun …)

As for Iguodala — in 2014-15, he came off the bench during all 77 of his regular season appearances, and the Warriors’ first 18 playoff games. But he started Games 4 through 6 of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the Dubs captured their first championship in 40 years.

Iguodala averaged 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals against the Cavs, while shooting 52 percent overall and 40 percent from deep. He was named NBA Finals MVP.

And just because we’re feeling nostalgic right now, don’t ever forget what happened in Game 2 of the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors:

It’s unclear where the soon-to-be 36-year-old will end up in the coming weeks, but hopefully he gets the opportunity to make some big plays throughout the 2020 playoffs.

Hawks’ Trae Young helps erase more than $1 million in medical debt for Atlanta residents

STEVE GARDNER | USA TODAY SPORTS

In just his second NBA season, Trae Young is already making a major impact in Atlanta.

The Hawks point guard recently made a donation through his charitable organization that will eliminate more than $1 million in medical bills that Atlanta-area residents have been unable to pay. 

The Trae Young Foundation’s $10,000 contribution to RIP Medical Debt will allow that organization to purchase and forgive $1,059,186.39 in outstanding medical expenses for 570 people, according to a news release.

“Giving back to this community is extremely important to me,” Young said in a statement. “I hope these families can find a bit of relief knowing that their bills have been taken care of as we enter the New Year.”

Wednesday, Young praised the people who helped the plan come together, ending his tweet with a capital A (for Atlanta) a heart emoji and the hashtag #MakeADifference.

The second-year guard from Oklahoma ranks fourth in the NBA with an average of 28.9 points per game. He’s also fifth in the league in assists per game at 8.4.

Zion Williamson could finally make NBA debut Thursday, but was seen falling asleep on the Pelicans bench Monday night

Too many cookies after a rich Fat City dinner?

It sure looked like Zion Williamson was falling asleep on the Pelicans bench

Andrew Joseph | USA TODAY SPORTS

New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson is nearing his NBA debut — possibly, even this week — but in the meantime, he’s been stuck watching the action from the bench.

Apparently, that can get pretty dull.

While I wouldn’t blame any regular person for nodding off out of boredom when forced to watch a January game between the Pistons and Pelicans, a regular person doesn’t play for one of those teams. Zion, however, does.

As the Pistons and Pelicans were playing a close game in the fourth quarter on Monday, the broadcast zoomed in on Williamson seated on the bench. And it certainly looked like the Pelicans rookie was battling those heavy eyelids, trying not to fall asleep.

Yeah, that’s pretty clear. He was making his best effort to stay awake. And NBA fans took notice to Zion’s near-power nap.

The best part had to be that the Pelicans were in a close game. Theoretically, that should have been compelling. The Pelicans ended up winning, 117-110.

Draymond on D-Lo’s dilemma: ‘You showed me you can defend. I didn’t know you could. So that’s the expectation now.’

D’Angelo Russell presents Warriors with unique dilemma in lost season

Monte Poole | NBC SPORTS

Come Sunday afternoon, the Warriors should receive considerable relief from the despair that has plagued their offense during a frustrating six-game losing streak.

For one, they’re playing the Grizzlies, whose 112.4 defensive rating is 27th in a 30-team league. Memphis is where NBA teams go to pad their scoring stats.

In addition, guard D’Angelo Russell, who has missed the last six games, is expected to play. He’s the Warriors’ leading scorer (23.2 points per game) and most proficient closer on a team that averaged 99.5 points, on 42 percent shooting, over the last six games.

D-Lo’s return is the most convenient way to defibrillate this comatose offense.

But if the D-Lo who takes the court at FedEx Forum is the D-Lo that we’ve seen most of this season, there is a steep price for the Warriors to pay.

Russell’s defense tends to range from half-hearted to indifferent to utterly negligent, which makes him as capable of sabotaging the defense as he is of fortifying the offense.

In the 29 games since coach Steve Kerr expressed undiluted disappointment in his team’s defense — their 117.0 rating was dead last at the time — the Warriors steadily became respectable. They’ve moved up 10 spots, to No. 20 (111.8).

Here’s the truly revealing part: Over the six games that Russell has missed since Dec. 28, the Warriors are, gulp, ninth in defensive rating (106.0). While D-Lo was observing from the bench, always in stylish attire, they fixed their defense.

The latest proof came Friday night in Los Angeles, where the Warriors limited the Clippers, who this season have entered the fourth quarter with at least 100 points on nine occasions, to a mere 73 through three quarters. The Warriors took a 10-point into the final quarter but couldn’t hang on.

The defense that held through the first 36 minutes was not up to the task of containing LA stars Kawhi Leonard, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell over the final 12.

The Warriors’ offense, however, betrayed them the entire game. Though Omari Spellman responded to his first start as a Warrior with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including 4 of 8 from deep, his teammates were 31 of 84 (36.9 percent) overall and 4 of 31 (12.9 percent) from distance.

“They overwhelmed us,” Kerr said of the fourth quarter, when the Warriors were outscored 36-17. “They played a great quarter and got downhill. Kawhi and Lou Williams both got going. Harrell got going. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”

Which brings us back to Russell, who was sitting on the bench, at times flanked by disabled teammates Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. D-Lo has scored at least 30 points in eight games this season, with a high of 52. The man can get buckets with the best of them.

The man can give buckets, too. With the worst of them.

Back in October, as the Warriors were wrapping up the preseason and preparing for the opener, Draymond Green, who knows a bit about defense, responded to question about D-Lo’s defensive ability with a low-key dart.

“Watching him in practice yesterday, I told him, ‘Oh you showed me you can defend. I didn’t know you could. So that’s the expectation now,’” Green said.

“It’s interesting because you just never know what’s been asked of someone. You can easily judge a situation and say, ‘Oh man, he hasn’t really defended much,’ or, ‘He’s not that good on the defensive end.’ But if he’s never been asked to defend, it’s kind of hard to make that judgment.

“Obviously, we’re going to ask him to defend. Yesterday, he was asked to defend, and he showed that he can. I told him that’ll be the expectation moving forward. Sorry, buddy, you showed it.”

Now, 40 games into the season, Draymond still is waiting to see defense at the level he believes Russell is capable of playing. The coaching staff also is searching for it. Those who evaluated Russell during his first four NBA seasons are skeptical that it will come.

Until it does, if ever it does, the Warriors don’t have much of a choice. They will have to live with D-Lo’s defense if they want his offense.

They surely need it — at least until Curry and Thompson are ready for re-entry.

Former NBA players come to Kevin Durant’s defense against Kendrick Perkins

Mike D. Sykes, II | USA TODAY SPORTS

The NBA is certainly a fraternity of some sort, because what a fraternity without some type of beef.

On Thursday night, Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Durant went at it on Twitter. Now Kendrick Perkins is receiving blowback from all sides of the NBA world.

If you missed the Perkins-Durant feud, the current ESPN analyst sparked a dialogue by saying that Russell Westbrook is unquestionably the best player to have worn a Thunder jersey. When Durant chimed in, Perkins ripped him for going to the Warriors in “the weakest move in NBA history,” and questioned the legitimacy of Durant’s two rings.

Gilbert Arenas came to Durant’s defense with an entire dissertation about why Durant was correct in leaving, why RINGZ culture is toxic and a whole bunch of typos. Yes, I read the entire thing. Yes, my eyes do hurt.

Basketball’s OG Charles Oakley also came to Durant’s defense, telling Perkins not to be like his dreaded nemesis Charles Barkley.

Matt Barnes also came to Durant’s defense as well, saying that everyone was entitled to their opinion but no one can deny Durant’s greatness.

Perkins actually responded to this one! He chose the “well, he started it” defense (which, technically, isn’t true).

Somehow, Perkins is cooking up a lot of beef this season. I, for one, am enjoying it. Don’t know if it’s him being on TV or if he was always just like this.

Either way, keep this party going big guy.

UPDATE: Perkins responded to all of the criticism on The Jump on Friday.