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►  NFL Sunday ratings fall after Trump’s call for boycott of games

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NFL ratings declined on Sunday, though it was unclear whether the drop was related to Donald trump’s call for fans to boycott the games because of player protests.

Match-ups on Fox and NBC drew fewer viewers than a year earlier, while CBS said the number of people tuning in rose. Monday night’s game, featuring major draw Dallas Cowboys, may lift the weekend’s ratings. Viewership for the entire season has been down.

Over the weekend, Trump criticized players for kneeling during the national anthem, a practice started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a protest against police brutality and mistreatment of black Americans. Trump said owners should fire players who protested and urged fans to skip watching NFL games.

Debate over the national anthem was “a side issue” that’s likely to boost ratings for sports talks shows or pre-game shows, but not affect whether people watch the actual games, said Lee Berke, president of consultant LHB Sports Entertainment & Media.

“People are going to tune in for the match-ups, the stars and hometown teams,“ Berke said. “I don’t see any political controversy causing people to walk away.“

Fox said both of its pre-game shows had higher viewership.

On Monday, the president continued his attacks against the league, tweeting the hashtag #StandForOurAnthem and saying the “issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our country, flag and national anthem. NFL must respect this!“

The NBC Sunday night game drew an 11.6 overnight rating, a decline of about 10 percent from the Chicago-Dallas Sunday night match-up in Week 3 last year. CBS said its Sunday games drew an 11.9 overnight rating, a 4 percent increase from a year earlier.

The mixed results could be a sign that competitive match-ups rather than political controversy had a larger impact on whether people tune in. CBS’s games included Green Bay’s close-fought 27-24 overtime win over Cincinnati while NBC’s Sunday night game featured Washington with a 21-0 lead over Oakland with less than five minutes into the third quarter.

Overall, ratings for Sunday’s NFL matches were down about 4 percent, according to John Ourand, a reporter at Sports Business Journal. They’re likely to be up overall for the week after Monday night’s game, he said.

TV networks took the unusual step of airing the national anthems live on Sunday. Owners, broadcasters and league officials criticized Trump over the weekend, and more players than ever kneeled during renditions of the song. Some NFL players also locked arms or held up fists in solidarity. Several teams stayed in the locker room during the anthem.

“We respect individuals’ rights to express their views, even if they are not ones we share,“ said Ford, a major sponsor of the NFL, on Monday. “That’s part of what makes America great.“

The NFL said Monday it hadn’t seen any business impact—positive or negative—in the aftermath of the president’s comments.

For now, the NFL’s broadcast partners are not seeing the same audience boost that other media outlets, from CNN to the New York Times, witnessed after Trump criticized them. That may be partly due to the fact the NFL isn’t doing investigative journalism about the Trump administration or because of the diverse political makeup of NFL fans.


►  ‘I certainly disagree with what he said’: Tom Brady finally takes issue with Trump

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When the time came for the national anthem Sunday, one of the biggest questions of the day concerned New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Would Brady, who stood by his friendship with Donald Trump throughout the presidential campaign with maddeningly vague answers, take a knee in solidarity with his teammates after Trump called for NFL players who protest social injustice and racial inequality to be fired or suspended? Would he stand and lock arms with them? And, as the NFL’s leading player right now, would he actually say anything? He gave a hint Sunday, liking an Instagram photo posted by Aaron Rodgers of himself and three Packers players kneeling. On Monday morning, after standing for the anthem and linking arms with a teammate, Brady was more explicit.

“I certainly disagree with what he said,“ he said in his weekly WEEI radio appearance. “I thought it was just divisive. I just want to support my teammates. I am never one to say, ‘Oh, that is wrong. That is right.‘ I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me.“

Trump set off a weekend of protests in the NFL and NBA on Friday, mentioning athletes such as Colin Kaepernick who do not stand for the anthem in a Huntsville, Alabama, speech. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a ##### off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s FIRED!‘“

He went on to tweet that theme Sunday, saying fans should boycott the games until owners fire or suspend the protesting players. That set off protests around the league, with more than 250 players either linking arms and standing, taking a knee or, in the case of three teams, choosing to remain in the locker room for the anthem.

Brady, who skipped the Patriots’ trip to Trump’s White House to celebrate their Super Bowl LI victory, stood with his teammates during the anthem and said he heard the boos in Gillette Stadium for those players who took a knee.

“Yeah, I did,“ Brady said. “No, I think everyone has the right to do whatever they want to do. If you don’t agree, that is fine. You can voice your disagreement, I think that is great. It’s part of our democracy. As long as it is done in a peaceful, respectful way, that is what our country has been all about.“

Brady’s friendship with Trump goes back over a decade and became headline fodder when a “Make America Great Again” cap was spotted in his locker in the fall of 2015. Last November, he sought to stay out of the debate but, when pressed by WEEI, said: “Donald is a good friend of mine. I have known him for a long time. I support all my friends. That is what I have to say. He’s a good friend of mine. He’s always been so supportive of me - for the last 15 years, since I judged a beauty pageant for him, which was one of the very first things that I did that I thought was really cool. That came along with winning the Super Bowl. He’s always invited me to play golf. I’ve always enjoyed his company.“

He tried to put the matter to rest before the Super Bowl, saying: “I don’t want to get into it, but if you know someone it doesn’t mean you agree with everything they say or they do. You have a lot of friends in your life. I think there are things that are based in your own dealings with someone that is a personal dealing, not a public dealing. Because you have personal experiences.“

Brady’s comment Monday echoed owner Robert Kraft, a longtime friend of Trump’s as well.

“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,“ Kraft said in a statement. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports and, unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.“


►  ‘The people run this country’: LeBron James doesn’t regret calling Trump a ‘bum’

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“That guy.“

No, LeBron James is not backing down from his criticism of Donald trump, preferring not to utter his name during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ media day.

“The people run this country,“ he said, “not one individual and damn sure not him.“

That echoes a tweet he published Saturday morning, one that has been liked nearly 1.5 million times and retweeted nearly 653,000 times. You know, the one in which he called the president “U bum” for pulling a White House invitation for Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors:

“U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!“

James saw the protests across the country at NFL games and was amazed.

“I salute the NFL, the players, the coaches, the owners and the fans . . . it was unbelievable. There was solidarity. There was no divide, no divide even from that guy that continues to try to divide us as people,“ he told reporters (transcription via SI.com). “Like I said on one of my social media platforms a couple days ago, the thing that kind of frustrated me and ###### me off a little bit, he used the sports platform to try to divide us.

“Sport and sports is so amazing, what sports can do for everyone, no matter the shape or size or race or ethnicity or religion or whatever. People finds teams, people find players, people find colors because of sport. And they just gravitate toward that, and it just makes them so happy. And it brings people together like none other. We’re not - I’m not - gonna let, while I have this platform, to let one individual, no matter the power, no matter the impact that he should have or she should have, ever use sports as a platform to divide us.

“And then you go to the other side and you don’t talk about sports, and they try to divide us from that side as well, and the one thing that I can say and just think about is how can we personally, throughout everything that that guy is doing, no matter if you voted for him or not. You may have made a mistake, and that’s okay. If you voted for him, it’s okay . . . Can we sit up here and say that I’m trying to make a difference, and can we sit up here and say I can look at myself in the mirror and say I want the best for the American people, no matter the skin color, no matter the race, no matter how tall or athletic you are, whatever the case may be. Can we sit up here and say we are trying to make a difference?

“Because we know this is the greatest country in the world. This is the land of the free, but we still have problems just like everybody else.“

James, who said he had no regrets about his tweet, couldn’t say whether there would be similar protests by NBA players when the season starts next month and promised to keep speaking out.

“. . . I will lend my voice, I will lend passion, I will lend my money, I will lend my resources to my youth and my inner city and outside my inner city to let these kids know that there is hope, there is greater walks of life, and not one individual, no matter if it’s the president of the United States or if it’s someone in your household, can stop your dreams from becoming a reality,“ James said.

James was one of several NBA stars to speak out against Trump on Monday, as 22 of the league’s 30 teams held media days.

In Washington, Wizards guard Bradley Beal called Trump a “clown.“

“There’s a lot of issues going on in the world, like Puerto Rico doesn’t have water and power and they’re still part of the U.S., but you’re worried about guys kneeling during the national anthem,“ Beal said.

Wizards guard John Wall echoed Beal’s comments about Trump.

“I don’t like anything he’s been saying,“ Wall said. “I don’t respect him, I feel like you can’t control what people want to do, and we have bigger issues in this world that you need to be focusing on instead of focusing on all these people taking a knee. It means something more important, they’re doing it for a reason, and you can’t do nothing but respect their decision. But you’re coming out and saying what people are and what they do, you’re not being respectful, you’re not being mindful. . . . I don’t respect him.“

Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich decried the recent comments from legendary former NASCAR driver Richard Petty, who said “anybody that don’t stand up for the anthem ought to be out of the country.“ Popovich, who has been highly critical of Trump since he was elected, described the United States as “an embarrassment in the world” and suggested that Americans have a choice to make.

“We can continue to bounce our heads off the wall with [Trump’s] conduct, or we can decide that the institutions of our country are more important, that people are more important, that the decent American that we all thought we had and want is more important and get down to business at the grass roots level and do what we have to do,“ he said.

Popovich said Trump’s decision to rescind the Warriors’ invitation was “disgusting,“ but also “comical” because “they weren’t going anyway,“ and he also spoke at length about white privilege.

“Obviously, race is the elephant in the room, and we all understand that, but unless it is talked about, constantly, it’s not going to get better if people get bored,“ he said. “‘Oh, is it that again? They’re pulling the race card again. Why do we have to talk about that?‘ Well, because it’s uncomfortable, and there has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change. Whether it’s the LGBT movement, women’s suffrage, race, it doesn’t matter. People have to be made to feel uncomfortable, and especially white people because we’re comfortable. We still have no clue of what being born white means. If you read some of the recent literature, you’ll realize there really is no such thing as whiteness, but we kind of made that up. That’s not my original thought, but it’s true.

“It’s hard to sit down and decide that, yes, it’s like you’re at the 50-meter mark in a 100-meter dash. You’ve got that kind of a lead, yes, because you were born white. You have advantages that are systemically, culturally, psychologically there. And they’ve been built up and cemented for hundreds of years. But many people can’t look at it, because it’s too difficult. It can’t be something that is on their plate on a daily basis. People want to hold their position, people want the status quo, people don’t want to give that up. And until it’s given up, it’s not going to be fixed.“

Memphis Grizzlies Coach David Fizdale said he hadn’t discussed Trump’s latest comments with his team, but he was impressed with the show of solidarity he saw among NFL players on Sunday. Fizdale also added that if his players decided to take a knee during the national anthem, he would join them.

“So many comments are made so often now that it’s like, you can’t meet with your team every single time that he decides to make outlandish statements like that,“ Fizdale said. “The great part about it is that what you saw was a community come together against what he said. That brought me great pride, whether they stood for the national anthem and locked arms, whether they had a hand on a brother or whether they were kneeling, I just thought it showed real togetherness, and that’s what we’ve got to continue to do when so many things right now are trying to divide us.“

On Sunday, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan issued a statement in response to a question from the Charlotte Observer about Trump rescinding the Warriors’ invitation to the White House.

“One of the fundamental rights this country is founded on was freedom of speech, and we have a long tradition of nonviolent, peaceful protest,“ Jordan wrote. “Those who exercise the right to peacefully express themselves should not be demonized or ostracized. At a time of increasing divisiveness and hate in this country, we should be looking for ways to work together and support each other and not create more division. I support Commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA, its players and all those who wish to exercise their right to free speech.“

In Sports….

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►  LeBron James’ Home Vandalized With Racial Slur

A Los Angeles home owned by LeBron James was vandalized Wednesday morning, the n-word spray-painted on its front gate, according to TMZ. Los Angeles police confirmed the vandalism to USA Today, though the spokesperson didn’t offer specifics on what racial slur was used. The Cleveland Cavaliers player, whose primary home during the NBA season is in Ohio, was not at the Brentwood home at the time, and TMZ says it “does not appear he lives there on any regular basis.“ Property management has already covered over the racial slur, and police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.


►  Stanley Cup Catfish-Tosser Had a Very Elaborate Plan

Prosecutors are dropping charges filed against a Tennessee man for throwing a catfish onto the rink in Pittsburgh during the opening of the Stanley Cup Final, reports the AP. Thirty-six-year-old Jacob Waddell was charged in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County with disorderly conduct, possessing instruments of crime, and disrupting meetings or processions after tossing the dead fish over the glass surrounding the rink Monday night during the Nashville Predators-Pittsburgh Penguins game. District Attorney Stephen Zappala said in a Facebook post Wednesday that Waddell’s actions “do not rise to the level of criminal charges,“ so the charges “will be withdrawn in a timely manner.“

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry had called for the charges to be “quickly dismissed.“ Waddell called himself “a dumb redneck with a bad idea” in a conversation with Nashville radio station WGFX-FM. Sports Illustrated has the whole convoluted story of how Waddell got the fish into the arena, which included driving it 600 miles with the rotting critter in a cooler doused in cologne. His initial plan hit a snag: “I tried putting it in my boot but the head was too damn big,“ Waddell said. “No matter how much I ran it over with the truck, the head was too damn big.“ Hence, the fish’s mangled appearance. He eventually hid it between layers of underwear.


►  Who Beat Out LeBron for Most Famous Athlete

Tom Brady who? The all-star NFL quarterback might be a household name in the US, but he doesn’t even make the top 20 of ESPN’s list of the most famous athletes in the world, reports the Boston Herald. The 10 most well-known athletes, based on social media followers, endorsement money, and internet search popularity:

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo
  2. LeBron James
  3. Lionel Messi
  4. Roger Federer
  5. Phil Mickelson
  6. Neymar
  7. Usain Bolt
  8. Kevin Durant
  9. Rafael Nadal
  10. Tiger Woods

Click to see the highest-ranking female athlete.


►  Soccer Legend’s Body Goes Missing in Brazil

What happened to Garrincha’s body? That’s what Brazilians are asking after the soccer great’s remains went missing. The one-named, two-time World Cup champ’s family revealed the odd disappearance on Tuesday, telling O Globo via the BBC that Garrincha’s body may have been lost during an exhumation, though nobody knows for sure. A cousin says per ESPN FC the remains were removed from a grave in a cemetery near Rio 10 years ago, after another family member was buried there. Garrincha’s bones were supposed to be transferred to a niche, but cemetery officials concede they have no idea if that ever happened. “It’s very upsetting not knowing where he is,“ says daughter Rosangela Santos.

Cemeteries in Brazil are typically divided into two parts, one with tombs and another with concrete niches set like drawers into walls, per the BBC. Two tombs carry Garrincha’s name: the original grave where he was laid to rest in 1983, and a second one constructed in 1985 and marked with an obelisk. If the family agrees, Mage Mayor Rafael Tubarao says he’ll order an exhumation of the graves and DNA tests of any bones. Garrincha, a nickname meaning “little wren” in Brazil’s Portuguese dialect, is widely revered as the nation’s greatest dribbler of all time. As one of Pele’s teammates, he helped the soccer-crazed nation clinch the World Cup in 1958 and 1962. He died at the age of 49 after years of heavy drinking.


►  ‘We’re Sorry,‘ Say Mets After Mascot Flips off Fans

Mr. Met has had it up to here, it seems. The much-loved mascot is out of job after he flipped the bird to fans on Wednesday, the Daily News reports. The gesture summed up the frustration of Mets fans who’ve watched their World Series dreams dwindle during a troubled season. The incident unfolded during a 7-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers as Mr. Met was walking off Citi Field in Queens. Raising a white glove, the round-faced one displayed a single digit. Captured and tweeted by a fast-fingered fan named Anthony De Lucia, per the Washington Post, the video went viral. Although shouting can be heard, De Lucia tweeted that he and his friends “didn’t even say a word” and were “reaching over for a high five,“ when the mascot spun around and made Mets history.

Although some argued the four-fingered mascot really doesn’t have a middle digit to flip, the gesture was too much for Mets managers, who quickly canned Mr. Met. (The AP reports that more than one person dons the costume.) “We apologize for the inappropriate action of this employee,“ the team said in a statement. “We do not condone this type of behavior. We are dealing with this matter internally.“ Funny enough, the pudgy-handed salute came on the 53rd anniversary of Mr. Met’s debut as mascot. The team website notes that Mr. Met “can gesture in 12 different languages” and leads “all active Major League mascots in high fours.“ The Post notes the Mets have had an injury-wracked season with off-field embarrassments—like a photo tweeted by the Mets that showed a sex toy in a player’s locker.

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►  Kobe Bryant Tweet Gets High-Schoolers Out of Final

Truly, tweets and US government are hopelessly intertwined these days. WRTV reports a high school senior in Indianapolis got his entire US Government class out of their final—thanks to a retweet from Kobe Bryant. William Pate was told by his teacher, Mr. Belser, the final would be canceled if he got a retweet from the basketball superstar. “Please if you retweet this we don’t have to take the final,“ Pate tweeted at Bryant on Thursday. Despite having more than 11 million followers, Bryant somehow got the message, retweeting Pate along with the message, “Hope you have an A in this class.“ Belser, true to his word, canceled the final. LAist notes it was Bryant’s 6,164th career assist. Even the superintendent of Pate’s school district was impressed, calling it a “great lesson in the power of social media.“

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►  Man Honors Childhood Friend ... by Flushing His Ashes

“I went to the bathroom, and I was like, I know what to do,“ Tom McDonald tells the New York Daily News. Roy Riegel, McDonald’s childhood friend and fellow New York Mets superfan, died in 2008 at the age of 48. McDonald kept Riegel’s ashes in a peanut can wrapped in Mets ticket stubs next to his collection of baseball autographs and World Series highlights, but he wasn’t sure exactly what to do with them, the AP reports. According to the New York Times, the answer presented itself after a trip to a bar’s men’s room: flush his friend’s ashes down the toilet. Since McDonald’s stroke of genius, he’s flushed scoops of Riegel’s ashes at 16 Major League stadiums around the country.

McDonald calls it the “perfect tribute” to his friend, “the best plumber you ever saw” who “walked that tightrope between genius and insanity.“ Hank Riegel agrees, saying his brother “would definitely approve of it.“ There are rules to McDonald’s tribute to Riegel: a baseball game must be in progress when the ashes are flushed, and if McDonald also has to use the facilities, “I always flush in between.“ McDonald has flushed Riegel’s ashes in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Baltimore, and Chicago (though not at Wrigley Field due to the Cubs’ rival status), to name a few. McDonald says he has enough ashes left for one final flush, which he plans to do at North Carolina’s Durham Athletic Park, where the movie Bull Durham was filmed.


►  Ballplayer Has Racial Slurs and Peanuts Hurled at Him

Adam Jones has received apologies from the Boston Red Sox and the mayor of Boston after the Baltimore Orioles outfielder was subjected to a barrage of racial slurs Monday night at Fenway Park, the Boston Globe reports. According to USA Today, Jones says he “was called the n-word a handful of times” and also had a bag of peanuts thrown at him. He says it was some of the worst behavior directed at him in his 12-year career—though he says it’s not the first time he’s been the victim of racist insults at Fenway. The Red Sox say a fan was removed from the stadium for throwing something at a player and another was removed for language directed toward a player, CBS Boston reports.

“No player should have an object thrown at him on the playing field, nor be subjected to any kind of racism at Fenway Park,“ Red Sox president Sam Kennedy says in a statement. He says the organization is “sickened” by the “inexcusable behavior” of “an ignorant few.“ Mayor Marty Walsh adds that the behavior was that of a “racist” fan and not indicative of the kind of city Boston is. The Red Sox say about 30 people were ejected from Fenway during Monday’s game. That’s more than double the normal amount. Jones says there need to be stiffer punishments than being removed from the stadium for fans who throw things at players, risking injury and their livelihood.


►  Ex-NBA Star Brandon Roy Shot While Protecting Kids

A former NBA All-Star and current high-school basketball coach of the year was shot Saturday near Los Angeles while shielding a number of children from gunfire, USA Today reports. According to KING 5, Brandon Roy was attending a party at his grandmother’s house in Compton when two men walked up. A source tells USA Today the men “opened fire randomly,“ and four people were hit. All four victims—including Roy, who was shot in the leg—had non-life-threatening injuries. Roy was treated in California before flying home to Seattle to recover. Police have not made any arrests in the shooting nor identified a motive, though a source tells KING the shooting might be gang-related.

Roy was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2007 while playing for the Portland Trail Blazers. He would go on to become a three-time All-Star in his six seasons in the NBA before being forced to retire due to knee injuries. The 32-year-old was undefeated this year during his first season coaching basketball at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, Yahoo Sports reports. Nathan Hale was the country’s top-ranked team, and Roy won the Naismith High School Coach of the Year award.

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►  Report: Tony Romo Leaving NFL for New Gig

Sidelined for all but five games over the past two NFL seasons, Tony Romo is opting for retirement, reports ESPN. Insiders say the Dallas Cowboys quarterback is expected to retire from football Tuesday with plans to pursue a broadcasting career. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport confirmed the news, per NFL.com, noting Fox, CBS, and NBC are interested in Romo as an analyst. Romo, who turns 37 this month and has recently battled injuries to his back and collarbone, also plans to spend more time with his family, per ESPN.


►  Jerry Jones Has a Smart Idea About Pot and NFL

When NFL owners got together last month, the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones floated a provocative idea, reports NBC Sports. He suggested the league lift its prohibition on marijuana and let players indulge. If the league is smart, it will listen, writes Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post. Jones may be worried in part about losing players to suspensions, but Ingraham has a different rationale: saving lives. As things stand now, teams are happy to dole out opioids to players, even though research has shown they do little to relieve the pain so common to the game. What’s worse, opioids run the real risk of getting players hooked. Marijuana, on the other hand, has been shown to help with pain, with nothing close to the health risks of opioids.

“The NFL, in other words, is pumping its players full of highly addictive and deadly substances that are of dubious use for treating the long-term, chronic pain suffered by so many players—and fining and suspending players who choose instead to self-medicate with a less-addictive and nonlethal substance,“ writes Ingraham. The prospects of Jones’ suggestion actually happening are unclear. All would have to be worked out in labor negotiations between owners and players, and ESPN reports that players, perhaps surprisingly, may not want to do away with marijuana testing altogether. If players test above a certain level, for example, it may suggest a problem that needs to be addressed. The report sums up an idea being kicked around by the players’ union thusly: “Let’s still test for it, but let’s do it in a constructive and less punitive way.“


►  A Record Untouchable Since 1962 Was Just Tied

Is Russell Westbrook the best player in the NBA? It’s a question NPR asked in March as the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard inched closer to claiming a storied record: the most triple-doubles in a season. Oscar Robertson did it 41 times for the Cincinnati Royals during the 1961-1962 season—decades before the term was officially coined. Getting one means racking up double digits in three of five basketball stats categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocked shots. And on Tuesday night, Westbrook notched No. 41. In the Thunder’s 110-79 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, Westbrook managed 12 points, 13 rebounds, and 13 assists. “It’s historic,“ Thunder coach Billy Donovan tells ESPN. “If what he’s doing wasn’t so difficult, we’d have a lot more people being able to do it.“

There’s more than one record in sight. Robertson is also the only player to have ever averaged a triple-double for the season. With five games left, Westbrook needs only 16 assists to get there, which has Fox Sports proclaiming that “as long as the MVP frontrunner doesn’t fall into a coma on the court,“ it’s in the bag. Tuesday’s game also put Westbrook on par with Wilt Chamberlain for the fourth-most career triple-doubles ever, at 78; in front of them are Jason Kidd (107), Magic Johnson (138), and Robertson (181). The origins of the “triple-double” aren’t iron-clad, but the phrase is widely attributed to Harvey Pollack, dubbed the “basketball’s godfather of statistical analysis” by Bloomberg in its 2015 obituary of Pollack, who is said to have started using the term during Magic Johnson’s 1979-1980 rookie season.

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►  Why the NBA Flips Over This Food

Only organic peanut butter and jelly and crustless white bread will do for the Portland Trail Blazers. For the Milwaukee Bucks, the elaborate locker room buffet offers three types of bread paired with crunchy, smooth, and almond butters, assorted jellies, and other fixings. The Cleveland Cavaliers like to send pre-packaged Uncrustables to opposing teams, while they feast on artisanal versions with fancy jams, ESPN magazine reports. Although the delivery methods differ, the NBA is apparently crazy for PB&J. The little-known pre-game (and sometimes at halftime or post-game, too) ritual traces its roots to Boston during the 2007-08 season when one Celtics player confessed a craving: “Man, I could go for a PB&J.“ He got his snack, as did Kevin Garnett, the game went well, and thus: “We’re going to need PB&J in here every game now,“ Garnett said. The Celtics went on to win the NBA title, and a tradition was born—and spread to other teams.

The practice is so ingrained that the Golden State Warriors nearly revolted when a new trainer banned sugary snacks. (He eventually relented on PB&J.) Why the school cafeteria staple became so popular isn’t clear, but dozens of interviews revealed superstition and comfort food have something to do with it. “It’s a soothing memory from childhood,” the LA Lakers’ nutritionist tells ESPN. Another calls it “peace of mind.“ Yet there is science, not just hunger, behind the hankering. With the first bite, the tasty combination of fats and sugars unleashes chemicals that produce effects similar to sex, or a heroin rush, releasing doses of “happiness hormone” serotonin and endorphins that reduce stress, a nutritionist tells ESPN. It adds up to a perfect fix before a big game. Packing 500 calories, 50 grams of carbs, and 20 grams of fat, a PB&J sandwich is “not the best,“ says sports nutritionist Jill Lane, “but it’s not bad.“ Read the full article HERE .

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►  Shaquille O’Neal: Earth Is Flat

Apparently there’s a belief circulating in the NBA that the Earth is flat. Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers first revealed his flat-Earth beliefs back in February, and now retired basketball player Shaquille O’Neal has revealed he’s on the same page. In an episode of his podcast broadcast late February but only recently picked up by the media, Shaq said, per Sports Illustrated: “It’s true. The Earth is flat. The Earth is flat. Yes, it is. Listen, there are three ways to manipulate the mind—what you read, what you see, and what you hear.“ He used an example involving Christopher Columbus, arguing that Columbus didn’t really discover America because there were already “fair-skinned people” living here when Columbus arrived. Then he got into the real nitty gritty.

He explained that he drives from coast to coast, and it certainly seems flat to him: “I’m just saying. I drive from Florida to California all the time, and it’s flat to me. I do not go up and down at a 360-degree angle, and all that stuff about gravity, have you looked outside Atlanta lately and seen all these buildings? You mean to tell me that China is under us? China is under us? It’s not. The world is flat.“ Kenny Ducey at SI says that while he wants to believe this is all a joke, both Irving and O’Neal seem to be taking it seriously; Irving, for example, has continued to defend his beliefs. Ben Rohrbach at Yahoo Sports, who first uncovered the Shaq podcast, agrees that Irving is not kidding around (or trying to make some sort of point about “fake news,“ as NBA commissioner Adam Silver suggested), and points out that at least two other NBA players have agreed with him.


►  Tom Brady’s Missing Super Bowl Jersey Found

Jerseygate is over: Tom Brady’s missing Super Bowl jersey has been found, Fox Sports reports. The jersey, which went missing from the locker room after the Patriots won the big game, was valued at $500,000. In a series of tweets, Fox Sports’ NFL Insider Jay Glazer reveals that the jersey was found “on foreign soil,“ which would explain why the FBI had gotten involved in finding it; the New York Times reports that the jersey was found in Mexico, along with Brady’s Super Bowl jersey from two years ago. “The items were found in the possession of a credentialed member of the international media,“ says an NFL Representative Glazer says he’ll later reveal more of the “wild story” on Fox.

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►  NBA Player Breaks Arm Punching Chair

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Enes Kanter is likely out six to eight weeks with a fractured forearm—which he got when he punched a chair, USA Today reports. The Thunder were playing the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday when a frustrated Kanter punched a chair on the sidelines during a timeout. (Video HERE .) The chair hit back, and Kanter quickly headed to the locker room, where an X-ray confirmed the fracture. “It’s tough, man, especially to do it the way he did it,“ Thunder star Russell Westbrook tells ESPN. The loss of Kanter is big for the Thunder; he was the team’s third-leading scorer and the leader of its second unit.

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►  Phil Jackson, Jeanie Buss say they have ended engagement

New York Knicks President Phil Jackson and Lakers executive Jeanie Buss have ended their engagement.

Jackson tweeted a statement Tuesday night in which the couple said because of their professional obligations and geographic distance, “sustaining the relationship has been difficult.“ They added that they had shared wonderful moments and “expect to remain supportive of each other in the future.“

Buss, the Lakers’ executive vice president, later tweeted that she would always love Jackson but that the Lakers were the love of her life and “it’s not fair to him or Lakers to not have my undivided attention.“

Jackson and Buss began dating in 1999 while he coached the Lakers and were engaged before he moved across the country to take the Knicks job in 2014. Buss not only encouraged him to take the position but also to coach the team, though Jackson said he knew he wasn’t physically up to that.


►  NFL Team Rains on Parade by Finally Winning Game

Cleveland Browns fans were looking forward to a “Perfect Season Parade,“ though that “perfect” season was meant to be perfectly winless, reports NPR. But then the players had to go and ruin everything by winning their Christmas Eve matchup against the San Diego Chargers 20-17, leaving more than $10,000 sitting in the GoFundMe account created to pay for parade security, insurance, and facilities. The event’s organizers recovered the fumble by making a charitable decision: to donate the money instead to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, News 5 reports, which added its own surprise note. “Thanks to the Browns fans who donated $10k+ to the Food Bank! The @Browns have announced they’re MATCHING with an additional $10k!“ the food bank tweeted on Tuesday, bringing the total received to $20,000. Not bad for a sad season’s work.


►  Russia Admits Doping Was ‘Institutional Conspiracy’

It was an institutional conspiracy,“ Anna Antseliovich, acting head of Russia’s anti-doping agency, admits to the New York Times, marking the first time Moscow has come clean about an elaborate doping scheme that has marred its Olympics competitions. But all is not utter contrition, notes the BBC, which reports her agency later said her wording had been “distorted” and emphasized that the state was not involved in a cover-up. World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren has issued two extensive reports this year that allege Russian athletes downed steroid cocktails and that urine samples were tampered with or swapped. His recent findings spurred the IOC to begin disciplinary proceedings for upward of two dozen more Russian athletes. “From my point of view … we made a lot of mistakes,“ says Vitaly Smirnov, a former sports minister appointed by Vladimir Putin to lead the country’s anti-doping reforms, though, like Antseliovich, Smirnov denies the doping was state sponsored.

That’s not to say, however, that Smirnov and the others are feeling especially apologetic, despite accepting the probe’s core findings. “Russia never had the opportunities that were given to other countries,“ he says, citing hacked medical records that showed Western athletes like Serena and Venus Williams were given the OK to take banned drugs for therapeutic reasons. And the owner of the company that makes the Russians’ Olympic uniforms says time shouldn’t be wasted assigning individual blame and punishing future athletes, noting, “Even during Stalin’s times there was a saying: ‘The son is not responsible for his father’s sins.‘“ The Times speculates Russia may have come around to confessional mode because it doesn’t want to lose out on hosting future Olympics and other events, which regulators had said wouldn’t happen if it doesn’t cop to the doping. McLaren, for his part, says he’s glad Russia is finally conceding, though he also calls it “damage control.“


►  Steelers Coach Has Brilliant Comeback to Bradshaw Slam

NFL analyst Terry Bradshaw raised eyebrows recently when he derided the current coach of his former team—that would be Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers—as not so much a coach as a “cheerleader guy,“ notes NBC Sports. Tomlin’s response is great: He begins with self-deprecation, saying that, like most, he doesn’t qualify as a “great” coach. “Now that being said, terms like ‘cheerleader guy,’ to me, maybe fall outside the bounds of critique or criticism. They probably fall more toward the area of disrespect and unprofessional. But what do I know? I grew up a Dallas [Cowboys] fan. Particularly, a Hollywood Henderson fan.” The unspoken zing? As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains, Henderson was a Cowboys linebacker who years ago said of Bradshaw: He “couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the C and the A.“

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►  This Is Officially the ‘Clutchest NBA Shot Ever’

Basketball fans have spent countless hours in the nation’s rec rooms and bars debating the biggest shot in NBA history. But now thanks to math and an in-depth analysis by the Wall Street Journal, we have a definitive answer—and it’s not a shot that would top most people’s lists. A new-ish statistic called win probability added—how much a made basket increases a team’s chance of winning—can be shifted to championship probability added—how much a basket increases a team’s chance of winning it all. By that metric, Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointer that gave the Cleveland Cavaliers a 92-89 lead over the Golden State Warriors with 53 seconds left in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals is the “clutchest NBA shot ever” with a championship probability added of 32%. Even the great Michael Jordan only ever hit a shot that increased the Chicago Bulls’ chance of a championship by 19%. Read the full piece here for everything that went into making Irving’s shot bigger than the more than 4 million that came before it.

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