Larry Fitzgerald fulfills promise to mom by graduating from college

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Larry Fitzgerald added another honor to his already prolific resume on Saturday.

College graduate.

The Arizona Cardinals wide receiver graduated Saturday from the University of Phoenix, majoring in communications and minoring in marketing. It was the end of an educational odyssey that has taken more than a decade since he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh in 2002.

“I’m glad I can finally shake the 15-year college student stigma,” Fitzgerald joked to ESPN.

Fitzgerald left Pitt after his sophomore season and was drafted third overall in 2004 by the Cardinals. While he put college on hold to pursue his NFL career, Fitzgerald never forgot the promise he made to his mother, Carol.

Before Carol died in 2003 from breast cancer, she told Larry: “Education is one thing nobody can ever take from you. I know you have a passion to play ball, but education is something you can carry for the rest of your life.”

Larry told his mother he would get his college degree and spent the past 13 years working toward it.

He worked on classes year-round, including during the season, and logged in around the world, he said, during his international trips that ranged from Ethiopia to Brazil.

“I wanted to make sure I was doing what I promised her I’d do,” Fitzgerald said.

He chose communications and marketing because Fitzgerald believes they give him a foundation for a wide range of potential careers -- including joining the media.

“They’re skills I think are essential for life,” he said.

While the Hall of Fame is still a handful of years away, Fitzgerald joined another elite club by graduating on Saturday.

“I was the only one in my family who hadn’t graduated,” Fitzgerald said. “So now, finally being able to graduate, I’m part of the family now, for real.”


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Alexander Povetkin tests positive for meldonium; fight vs. Deontay Wilder in question

Heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin has tested positive for the banned substance meldonium, putting his mandatory shot at world titleholder Deontay Wilder in jeopardy.

Russia's Povetkin, who is supposed to challenge Wilder in a much-anticipated bout on May 21 at the Khodynka Ice Palace in Moscow, tested positive for the substance in a urine test conducted by the Las Vegas-based Voluntary Anti-Doping Association on April 27, according to the agency's report, which was issued Friday and first obtained by

VADA president Dr. Margaret Goodman sent a letter Friday informing both camps as well as the WBC, whose title Wilder holds, of the positive test.

"This letter is to advise you that the 'A' sample urine specimen number 3969608 collected from Alexander Povetkin on April 27, 2016 in Chekhov, Russia through his participation in the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) program has been analyzed for anabolic agents, diuretics, beta-2 agonists, stimulants and drugs of abuse," Goodman wrote. "The results of the analysis are as follows: Adverse. Urine specimen contains meldonium."

The report also included a copy of the laboratory report.

"Mr. Povetkin has the right to promptly request analysis of the 'B' sample at his expense," Goodman wrote. "Please be aware that VADA does not adjudicate results nor determine whether sanctions are appropriate. As with all results, adverse findings are reported to the relevant commission(s) who may make such determinations."

Russian heavyweight Alexander Povetkin, who has tested positive for meldonium, is scheduled to fight Deontay Wilder on May 21 at the Khodynka Ice Palace in Moscow. Dmitry Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images

Meldonium, the same drug for which tennis star Maria Sharapova recently tested positive, was approved to be added to the banned substance list by the World Anti-Doping Agency in September and the ban went into effect Jan. 1. Meldonium is used because it is said to increase blood flow and allow more oxygen to be carried to the muscles and, therefore, enhance stamina, a trait boxers would want in a long fight.

Povetkin's levels were said to be very low, but it remains to be seen if the fight will be canceled.

"Traces of extremely low concentration of meldonium have been found in his blood. He consumed it in September last year," Povetkin promoter Andrey Ryabinsky of World of Boxing said, according to the Russian TASS news agency. "He has not taken it since Jan. 1. The situation is ambiguous. The blood sample was taken in April this year. We have been in contact with the World Boxing Council, which is to decide if Povetkin's boxing bout against Deontay Wilder will take place or not."

Promoter Lou DiBella, representing Wilder, told ESPN that he and the Wilder team were still gathering information on the situation.

"We literally have received this in the last hour and have not even had a chance to discuss this with our team," DiBella said. "We're in the process of doing this right now. But it's extremely upsetting and disappointing and while I am angry, I am certainly not shocked. We'll make a more detailed statement and figure things out when we discuss this among ourselves and with the WBC. We haven't had enough time to digest this. We'll have more to say later."

The fight nearly fell apart because of Ryabinsky insisted on delaying the beginning of the drug testing protocol. DiBella groused about it and threatened to pull Wilder out of the fight if testing did not begin. It only began when the WBC guaranteed that VADA would be paid for the testing.

So instead of beginning about 10 weeks before the fight, which was what was agreed to, testing began about seven weeks ahead of the fight.

WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman issued a statement after learning of Povetkin's positive test.

"The WBC's priority is and will always be safety, fair play and justice," Sulaiman said. "In order to continue to strive for the absolute safety of the boxers and for a just and fair outcome for all parties involved, the WBC is conducting an in-depth investigation of this matter. The WBC will make a public announcement in the very near future concerning the results of its investigation and any appropriate steps that it will take."

Earlier this week on a media teleconference to discuss the fight, DiBella was asked about the testing.

"Deontay's always said, a million times, he's never been hesitant to get involved in testing," DiBella said. "And we wanted testing to begin, frankly, before it did. But it began with what we believe is plenty of time to make sure that everything is on the up-and-up. There's been already a number of random tests of both athletes that have turned out negative. So we're not concerned about that as an issue. And the testing is being done by VADA and they've been very buttoned up and everything's been handled appropriately.

"In a perfect world, we might have liked it to start a little bit earlier, but that's not an issue. ... It's in the hands of VADA, and we're very comfortable with it in the hands of VADA."

VADA has tested for several major fights and caught several fighters doping. Most recently, heavyweight titlist Lucas Browne tested positive for clenbuterol after his 10th-round knockout win to claim a secondary world title against Ruslan Chagaev on March 5 in Grozny, Russia. Browne's A and B samples were both positive, and on Thursday he was stripped of the title, suspended and had the result changed to a no contest. The title was returned to Chagaev.

Wilder-Povetkin is one of the most significant fights in the division because many view Povetkin (30-1, 22 KOs), 36 -- a 2004 Russian Olympic gold medalist and former secondary titleholder -- as by far the toughest test of Wilder's career, especially with the fight taking place in Moscow.


Wilder (36-0, 35 KOs), 30 -- a 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who has made three title defenses -- was expected to face Povetkin on May 21 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, but when the camps could not make a deal, the fight was put up for a purse bid, which Ryabinsky won with an offer of $7.15 million. That beat DiBella's offer of $5.1 million.

If the fight is canceled, it will cost Wilder the biggest purse of his career. Under the purse bid, he is due $4,504,500 to Povetkin's $1,930,500. Ten percent of the winning bid, $715,000, is supposed to go into escrow and go to the winner of the fight.

Wilder, who is in Europe already trying to acclimate to the time change before he is scheduled to go to Russia this weekend, expressed enthusiasm about going to Russia earlier this week on the media conference call.

"I'm going to tell you right now I am super-excited about going to Moscow, Russia, defending my title," Wilder said. "You know it seems like every time I turn around -- when I have the big stage and the cameras -- it's always a moment for me. And this moment right here's putting me down in history as the first American ever to defend his title in Russia. And I'm looking to do it in great fashion and to represent my country."

That is, of course, is the fight doesn't get canceled.


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Goran Dragic's drives deliver Heat Game 6 victory over Raptors

MIAMI -- Point guard Goran Dragic was in attack mode early and often Friday night, and he carried the Miami Heat into another do-or-die Game 7 as a result.

Dragic penetrated to the basket with ease, finishing with a playoff career-high 30 points, and the Heat survived elimination, beating the Toronto Raptors 103-91 in Game 6 at American Airlines Arena.

The Eastern Conference second-round series is now tied, 3-3. Game 7 is in Toronto on Sunday afternoon.

"I was just aggressive," said Dragic, whose plus-minus was a game-high plus-25 in 38 minutes. "I didn't want to go home to Europe. I still want to be here. It was an important game for us, and of course we came out from the first minute with aggressiveness, tried to attack the paint and space the floor, and I think we did an amazing job tonight."

Dragic came into Game 6 having an up-and-down playoffs in which he was averaging 15.4 points on 43.5 percent shooting.

The difference in Friday night's 30-point, 12-for-21 performance was his ability to get downhill and drive to the rim.

After averaging 6.6 points as a team on Dragic's 9.6 drives to the rim in Games 1-5 of the series, the Heat exploded for 26 points on Dragic's postseason-high 21 drives to the rim in Game 6, according to ESPN Stats & Info research.

It was tied for the second-most points created by a team off a player's drives in the playoffs, next to Boston's 28 points created off of point guard Isaiah Thomas' drives against Atlanta on April 24.

"What [Goran] shows is great emotional stability," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Tonight was his night, and he was aggressive. The only person that feels worse than him when he doesn't look like Goran is his head coach, because usually it's foul trouble or me that's the reason he can't look like himself. But he looked like himself tonight and it came at the right time."

Spoelstra pulled out all the stops in Game 6, using a small starting lineup that included rookie Justise Winslow and no player taller than 6-foot-9. Spoelstra later inserted a lineup that featured three guards, with Dragic, Tyler Johnson and rookie Josh Richardson.

The goal in trying to overcome the absence of 7-footer Hassan Whiteside was to provide Dragic and franchise player Dwyane Wade (22 points) with quality floor spacing and lanes to attack the basket. Meanwhile, the Raptors won the rebounding battle 43-41.

"Sometimes unconventional works," Wade said.

Toronto's All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry (36) and DeMar DeRozan (23) combined for 59 points for a second consecutive game, but this time, they received little help from their supporting cast. Plus, their perimeter defense allowed far too much penetration.

Simply put, the Raptors can't handle prosperity. According to ESPN Stats & Info research, they are 0-7 when leading a playoff series.

Both teams played a first-round series that went seven games. So of course, this one will, too.

The Heat have won four straight Game 7s, and the Raptors are 5-0 after losses this postseason.

Something has to give.

"It's different than a normal game," Wade said of Game 7. "It's not a Game 1, where you have a Game 2 the next day. You have to give a little more. You have to do a little more. You have to give everything you have. There's no tomorrow."

For the Heat, tomorrow exists because Dragic, for all his highs and lows, played like the best player on the floor.

"It's great. It's awesome. Even when you have a bad game, you want to be in this position because last time I played in the playoffs was six years ago and it's awesome for me," Dragic said. "I enjoy the competitiveness, I enjoy every game. You know sometimes you're going to have bad games and sometimes you're going to have good games, but I always try to look at the positive and try to respond. Nobody said it's going to be easy, and I'll be going to Toronto for the seventh game."

As Wade joined Dragic at the podium for their postgame news conference, the pair exchanged friendly shoulder nudges.

"I knew this guy to my left was going to have an amazing performance tonight," Wade said of Dragic. "You could just tell he was on the brink of having one, and it was a great game to get."


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Stephen Curry has NBA's best-selling jersey for second straight season

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry not only won back-to-back league MVP awards, but he also can lay claim to the NBA's best-selling jersey for the second straight season.

Curry's jersey sold more than any other player's during the 2015-16 regular season, according to sales on the NBA's official online website.

Curry's was also the best-selling jersey in every U.S. state except Ohio and Oklahoma, according to Fanatics, the largest licensed sports retailer in the country.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, in his final season, finished second in jersey sales, followed by Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James.

New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis finished fourth, the highest season-ending spot on the jersey list for a rookie since James and Carmelo Anthony finished atop the jersey rankings at the end of the 2003-04 season.

Two players on the list jumped to career highs: Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook was sixth, one spot behind teammate Kevin Durant, and Warriors forward Draymond Green finished 13th.

The Warriors finished first among team merchandising for the second straight year. The Chicago Bulls, Lakers, Cavaliers and Knicks rounded out the top five.



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That's rich: ACC joins the $4 million coach club

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- For years, ACC coaches could only watch as their counterparts in other conferences cashed paychecks that grew bigger after every championship. Or every 10-win season for that matter.

Not anymore. Four ACC coaches are now in the $4 million club. Last year, that club belonged exclusively to Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. But Clemson coach Dabo Swinney recently has joined, more than quadrupling the $800,000 salary he got when he was first hired in 2008. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino got a raise to over $4 million too. Miami coach Mark Richt? Well, he already was making $4 million at Georgia, in a conference that set a benchmark nobody else has been able to reach.

Dabo Swinney has more than quadrupled the $800,000 salary he got when he was first hired by Clemson in 2008. AP Photo/Richard Shiro

As it stands, nine SEC coaches make $4 million or more. But the four $4 million coaches in the ACC puts the conference in line with the Big Ten, which also has four. Though the gap remains large, it has closed significantly. And that is a necessary step for a league that has really placed an emphasis on improving its football brand.

“Schools are continuing to make an investment in football,” Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said. “They see that’s where the revenue is and want to make sure that we’re continuing to be competitive in the marketplace.”

ACC athletic directors are well aware of what is happening in the marketplace. Radakovich said he wanted to be sure the school was giving Swinney his “market worth.” The raise Swinney got in 2014 put him at $3.15 million, which still ranked him among the highest paid coaches in the country. But in just two years’ time, that dropped him outside the top 25. So following a trip to the national championship game, Clemson realized Swinney was deserving of another raise.

So Radakovich said the school did comparisons with other high-paying schools to figure out what they could afford to pay.

“We just wanted to make sure that in our circumstance and where he is nationally and within our conference, that we’re giving Dabo his market worth and making sure that he’s comfortable at Clemson and Clemson’s certainly comfortable with him,” Radakovich said. “We don’t have the same resources as some of the other schools. We did some comparisons as a percentage of our football budget allocation, and personnel as it relates to our whole budget. We were very comfortable that percentage of expense is well in line from a ratio perspective of the revenue we’re bringing in.”

Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox has done the same with Fisher, who got a raise to an ACC-leading $5.15 million last year. In 2013, Fisher made $2.75 million. He has received two raises since, after winning the 2013 national championship and making the 2014 College Football Playoff.

“Every year we do benchmarking,” Wilcox said. “We basically look at major institutions in the Power 5 conferences, where they pay, where’s the market.

“You have to stay on top of what the trends are. You want to keep all your coaches happy. You don’t like to have coaching turnover because you’re starting a whole new program whenever you do that. By making sure you’re staying on top of and understanding what the current market is and what the rates are out there, you make adjustments as you deem fit based upon the success of the program each year.”


It is undeniable the ACC has brought high-profile coaches into the mix, with Petrino joining Louisville in 2014 and Richt now joining Miami. High-profile coaches certainly add to the credibility of a league. So does the recent string of success, between Florida State and Clemson. So do coaching salaries, which often serve as a benchmark for the relative “strength” of a league.

Add in the close proximity to SEC schools (Florida State, Clemson and Louisville all have SEC rivals), and the ACC had to do something to catch up.

“The market bears what people make, and if whoever’s in charge of deciding how much to pay a guy thinks he’s worth it, then that’s just the way it is,” Richt said. “I think it’s a matter of: Do they believe this person is worth this much to the program?”

Then there is the recruiting factor. Because recruiting is always a factor.

“You want to go out on the recruiting trail and be able to say, ‘I’ll be your coach when you’re here for your career,’” Petrino said. “It’s just a competitiveness you see throughout college football in general.”

Competitiveness on the field leads to competitiveness with salaries. No conference wants to say it cannot pay what the market dictates. That leads coaches to leave.

While nobody in the ACC is ready to dish out $7 million, the ACC is way ahead of where it used to be. More schools are seen as destinations, not stepping stones. That’s progress.


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Kamara could make Revs debut; Crew SC moves on; battle atop the East

As another weekend of Major League Soccer action gets set to kick off, Jason Davis looks around the league to preview matches and storylines you should be following.

Kamara could be set for Revs debut

The biggest story of the season to this point takes center stage Saturday with Kei Kamara's potential debut as a member of the New England Revolution when they face the Chicago Fire. The Revs' blockbuster trade for the former Columbus Crew SC striker cost them a pretty penny (in MLS terms), and they won't want to wait to get Kamara into their lineup. The club says there's a chance he will be available, which might just be a hedge against the small chance he won't be in New England and settled by the time the game kicks off Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

Even if Kamara doesn't play, his arrival will be the story. New England has a pair of forwards -- Juan Agudelo and the banged-up Charlie Davies -- who can't be too happy to hear the news that their club thought it necessarily to trade for reinforcements. Further, there's the matter of how Kamara's presence at the center-forward position will or won't change the way that the team plays. Kamara seems made for crosses coming from Chris Tierney, Kelyn Rowe, et al, but it would be presumptuous to think chemistry will happen immediately.

New England still needs to work out some defensive issues, which Kamara doesn't address. But trading for an MLS elite-level forward will help them put the ball in the net more often, perhaps giving them the benefit of positive scorelines. Playing from the front is not something the Revs have done much of this season, and it could help Jay Heaps' team get on track in 2016.

Kamara-less Crew SC faces Rapids

Jermaine Jones v Seattle

Jermaine Jones and the red-hot Colorado Rapids won't take any pity on Columbus when they visit the Rockies on Saturday.

The flipside of Kamara's potential debut for New England is Crew SC on the road in Colorado playing without him. Considering how dependent Columbus had been on the striker before trading him, it will be a strange to see them lining up minus his significant presence. Crew SC was built around the idea of getting Ethan Finley and Justin Meram up the wings to serve balls into Kamara. Look no further than the progression of Columbus from pre-Kamara 2014 to the 2015 side that hosted an MLS Cup final to understand why the trade is so momentous.

Crew SC wouldn't have traded its leading scorer if there wasn't something very wrong in the locker room at MAPFRE Stadium. Assigning blame in this situation is a fool's errand without knowledge of the behind-the-scenes dynamics, but it's hard to believe that Federico Higuain didn't exacerbate any discord through his actions and lack of accountability this week. What matters in the short term -- at least until Columbus can use some of the reported $500,000 in allocation money they collected from New England to find a replacement -- is how the team gets on without a center forward.

And it had to be Colorado, a team that is riding high on a wave of confidence and can beat teams down with the best in MLS. Jermaine Jones won't be taking pity on Crew SC. The Rapids' defense has been solid even against in-form teams this year, putting ample pressure on Gregg Berhalter's side to figure things out on the fly. Life without Kei begins now.



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Manny Machado's stats put him in discussion for best young player

"He's just polished. I see all the guys that are compared in baseball, and his name is never really mentioned in there and I like that. Just let him continue to fly under the radar and do what he does. The kid is special." -- Adam Jones, to media members this season

Since Manny Machado's major league debut on Aug. 9, 2012, the Baltimore Orioles have won more games than any other team in the American League. He's 11 months younger than Mike Trout and three months older than Bryce Harper, but is often left out of conversations about the game's best young player.

If the season ended today, the American League MVP would almost surely go to Machado, who plays for a first-place team that ranks first or second in the league in hits, doubles, extra-base hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.

Machado, 23, is the 10th player in the last 100 years to record 25 extra-base hits in his team's first 31 games. Of the previous nine, four went on to win the MVP: Lou Gehrig in 1927, Stan Musial in 1948, Willie Mays in 1965 and Kevin Mitchell in 1989. Six of those nine players are in the Hall of Fame (Gehrig, Musial, Mays, Hank Aaron, Paul Waner and Earl Averill).

Machado's approach at the plate hasn't changed drastically from a year ago, when his walk and strikeout rates were the best of his career. He's still swinging at about the same number of pitches both in and out of the strike zone (28 percent).

Perhaps the largest difference from 2015 to 2016 is that he's hitting everything, and hitting it hard -- regardless of where he's being pitched.

Though his current .368 BABIP (54 points above his career mark) might give some reason to believe he's bound for regression, his hard-hit rate gives the impression that his numbers are legit. He ranks third in the majors in hard-hit rate this season (27 percent).

On defense, Machado has 62 career defensive runs saved, second-most in the AL since his debut (Alex Gordon, 69). He won the AL's Platinum Glove in 2013 but broke out offensively in 2015, joining Alex Rodriguez (1998) as the only players in MLB history to hit 35 home runs and steal 20 bases in their age-22 season.

Machado's combination of power and defensive ability at this age is rare; according to the Elias Sports Bureau, he's the sixth player to hit 75 home runs and win two Gold Gloves before his 24th birthday. The others are Al Kaline, Johnny Bench, Cesar Cedeño, Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones, making Machado the only infielder to do it.

Of the players above, only four also had a top-five MVP finish to their names before turning 24: Machado and Hall of Famers Griffey, Bench and Kaline.

Couple all of this with the fact he is now playing shortstop in place of injured J.J. Hardy, and Machado won't be able to stay out of the spotlight for much longer.

Looking ahead

The Orioles will face the Tigers on Friday night in the second game of a seven-game homestand, and that bodes well for Machado. In 19 games at Camden Yards this season, he's hitting .423/.471/.833 -- all the best in the AL at a batter's home park -- with 11 doubles, seven home runs and 19 RBIs.


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Whatever Duncan decides, fans should celebrate his greatness

The Duncan-ites of this world are pretty down right now.

We've been mopey this whole month, frankly, watching the previously age-defying ‎Tim Duncan -- our modern-day Bill Russell -- reduced to filling such a minuscule role for the San Antonio Spurs in these playoffs.

The NBA's corner of the Twitterverse predictably bathed in such sadness late Thursday night, once it started to sink in, before they even got to halftime in Oklahoma City, that we might be watching the final game ‎of Duncan's Hall of Fame career.

ou really shouldn't stay sad when we (A) don't yet truly know if it's the end, and (B) we've been treated to nearly two decades of Duncan's excellence.


He just turned 40, after all. Now -- or soon -- we're going to be powerless to stop him from hanging up that horrendously huge and clunky knee brace which, as longtime Spurs owner Peter Holt told us in 2014, forced Duncan "to change the way he runs."

Don't worry, though. This is not how we're going to remember him.

The Spurs' six-game collapse to their longtime understudies from Oklahoma City is fresh in the mind at the moment, so you probably can recite depressing stats such as how Duncan's 19 points in Thursday's season-ender trumped the 17 points he managed in the first five games of the series. Or how he played only two measly seconds of the fourth quarter in Game 3, inserted just long enough to launch an ambitious cross-court inbounds pass to Kawhi Leonard, as if he were merely a long-throw specialist out of English soccer's Premier League like we used to see from Rory Delap.

Yet downbeat factoids like those will fade from memory soon enough. You inevitably will remember Duncan as we all should.

As the closest thing to Russell that we've ever seen.

I remember in February when our #NBARank folks asked me to add some context to Duncan's placement as the eighth-best player in league history. I said it then, too: Argue all you want about whether to call him the greatest power forward who ever lived -- or concede, as Gregg Popovich finally did a few springs back, that he would be starting Duncan at center in a playoff series against Utah "like we have for the past 15 years" -- as long as you note that he was the ultimate franchise player.

The most dependable dude to build an NBA title contender around since Michael Jordan.

Yet he's really more reminiscent of Russell, given how he has stayed in one place for 19 seasons and bonded in sustained success with his coach to such a degree that Pop is right up there now with Phil Jackson, Pat Riley and, yes, Red Auerbach in pro basketball's bench pantheon.

I'm prepared to be realistic here. I understand we'll all need some time to grieve if Duncan indeed decides it's time to walk away. It has been a tough year for the nostalgic souls among us, with Kobe Bryant having said goodbye and Manu Ginobili surely contemplating retirement as seriously as Duncan must now.

So I suspect lots of us felt like Duncan's former Spurs teammate Stephen Jackson late Thursday, staring at the screen and wishing we had a Timmy Cam showing nothing but No. 21's every twitch.

"He didn't ask Pop to take him out at the end but he'll be cool with riding off into the sunset with no applause."


Stephen Jackson

"I wish you could have seen me," Jackson, now one of my ESPN teammates, said over the phone. "I was [pressed] right up against the TV, like, 'Dang, my boy, this could be it.' I'm just standing there trying to look at Timmy's face.

"I hate to see him go ... if he goes. Dave [David Robinson] went out with a championship and I think Tim deserved the same. But how much better can you be? How much more can you give to the game? He's the best power forward to ever play this game.

"I'm not sure if it's over, but if it is ... he didn't ask Pop to take him out at the end but he'll be cool with riding off into the sunset with no applause. I'm pretty sure he has no regrets."


Duncan could have walked away Admiral Robinson-style after the Spurs' fifth championship in 2014, but I understood why he resisted the fairy-tale farewell. He loves to play. He loves to be on the team even more than that. He loves to be in that locker room, right there with his on-court brothers, which is why Jackson was by no means the only former teammate or rival we've spoken with this week who said they wouldn't be surprised if Timmy decided to play on and return for season No. 20.

Tim Duncan Postseason Career

TD's numbers and all-time ranking

Games 251 2nd
Points 5,172 6th
Rebounds 2,859 3rd
Double-doubles 164 1st
Wins 157 2nd
Source: ESPN Stats & Information

Yet if he doesn't?

How can anyone complain?

"DEATH/TAXES/SPURS" is indeed a clever slogan for fan signage, but not even Duncan can go on forever.


How could someone as lucky as me ask for more? I moved to Texas a month before the Spurs won the May 1997 lottery that enabled them to draft Duncan and have had the privilege to cover him from reasonably close range ever since, which led to this historical opus on the Pop-and-Timmy era heading into the 2014 Finals. I started out as an NBA writer in February 1994, so there were a handful of trips to the Alamo City before he even blipped onto my radar, but I don't remember much of them. It's hard to imagine going to San Antonio to see a Spurs team that doesn't revolve around TD -- to see Duncovich uncoupled -- but, again, how greedy can we be?

When he does decide time is up, I'll miss that unerring bank shot, of course, as well as how he was the same even-keeled, ultra-loyal Timmy every time I saw him. I'll likewise miss our traditional co-congratulatory handshake at some stage in the first round of the playoffs every year when I'd remind him that I too was a member of the April 25th Birthday Club ... along with Duncan, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and legendary NBA photographer Andy Bernstein.

But seriously.

Don't let yourself get swallowed up by the sadness.

The prospect of Holt, Ginobili and Duncan all exiting Spursdom at the same time is an undeniable shock to the system, but The Big Fundamental's legacy is secure, whether or not you think five championships in 19 seasons were enough to qualify as dynastic. Starry heirs Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, meanwhile, are in place to keep San Antonio among the elite irrespective of market size.

So ...

As Timmy steps away now to go "figure out life" before making any definitive pronouncements about the future, this is our plan:


Celebrate with appreciative, unreserved gusto how wonderfully long Timothy Theodore Duncan has made it look like he has had this whole basketball thing absolutely wired.

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Physical series against undermanned Grizzlies should sharpen Spurs

MEMPHIS -- The lights flickered, and officials at the FedEx Forum announced play would be suspended as workers scrambled to remedy the drop in voltage that affected all of Shelby County and knocked out the lights in the arena for 20 minutes.

LaMarcus Aldridge stared at the scoreboard. “I was like, ‘I just hope we can get this game started soon.’ I didn’t want to have to wait until tomorrow.”

Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs won’t have to wait after completing a four-game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies with a 116-95 triumph on Sunday. While Aldridge wanted to avoid waiting "until tomorrow" to complete the game, he and the Spurs know the physicality of this series against Memphis actually strengthened the club’s prospects for tomorrow.

“The good thing for us, I think, about the series is the Grizzlies were fantastic; their drive, their passion, their physicality for 48 minutes every game," coach Gregg Popovich said. "We found a quarter here or there in each game where we spread ourselves, but that was it. Other than that, they played us even. Dave [Joerger] and his staff and those players deserve a lot of credit. It’s not just false praise. They really do because it wasn’t a fair fight, and they didn’t care. From our part, that physicality will help us I think in the next round.”

It’s no secret: The Spurs whipped up on a wounded Memphis squad that used an NBA-record 28 players during the regular season. But San Antonio believes Memphis’ brand of physical defense will serve it well once it reaches the second round, where the Spurs will likely take on the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Oklahoma City holds a 3-1 lead over the Dallas Mavericks in their best-of-seven series, and there’s a 99 percent chance the Spurs will meet the Thunder in the next round, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. BPI gives San Antonio a 73 percent chance to win a series against Oklahoma City.

“I haven’t watched too much of that series, but I can imagine it was rough,” reserve guard Patty Mills said. “I think it comes back to Memphis being the top of the pack in terms of that kind of stuff. Not being out to hurt anybody, but that’s how they play defense.”

Does a physical series like this help to prepare San Antonio for Round 2?

“For sure, especially on offense,” Mills said. “Our defense, no matter who we play, can be solid. In terms of offense, it was good to go through these guys to sharpen things, for sure.”

The Spurs wrapped up Round 1 with the third-best scoring differential in any four-game series (+88) and the third-best differential in an opening-round series, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

But they entered the postseason out of sync offensively, after an odd combination of rest for the regulars, new additions (Kevin Martin and Andre Miller) and injuries to Aldridge and Boris Diaw late in the season affected some of the on-court chemistry while preventing the club from operating at its peak at the start of the first round.

Despite Memphis’ injury situation, the Grizzlies provided San Antonio with the perfect whetstone to sharpen its offensive weaponry. That became clear in Game 3, when Kawhi Leonard pushed the Spurs past the Grizzlies by scoring 13 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, in addition to blocking five shots while not committing a turnover.

Then, in Game 4, the Spurs blasted off with a 15-2 run in the third quarter to outscore the Grizzlies 37-21 while hitting 14 of 22 shots. Leonard poured in a game-high 21 points to go with seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and two blocks. Leonard averaged 21.5 points in this series, which registers as his best average in any playoff series of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“I guess you could say that,” Leonard said when asked whether the Spurs are starting to find the rhythm that has eluded them since the end of the regular season. Guard Manu Ginobili believes the Spurs have “sort of” found it.

“We were not as sharp as we wanted to be, but for moments we were,” Ginobili said. “They are a tough matchup because they are very aggressive. They grab, they hold. That’s the type of game they try to play. Sometimes that makes it hard.”

The easy part now is resting and waiting for their second-round opponent, as the Spurs hope to tweak a few things offensively while healing up a few nicks here and there.


At minimum, the Spurs will have five days off before their next game, with a chance to get up to seven days off. Leonard was the only Spur to average 30 minutes per game in this series. San Antonio’s starters averaged fewer than 25 minutes per game. That’s the fewest minutes per game the starters have ever averaged in a first-round series under Popovich, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That makes the Spurs the most well-rested team Popovich has taken into the second round.

The Big Three -- Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili -- all played fewer than 27 minutes in all four games this series.

“This was a tough one,” Ginobili said of the series. “Kawhi played 42 minutes on Friday, but we got to rest him a little bit today. I think we’re due a couple days off, then we’ll have a couple good practices to get a rhythm back. I think it’s very important … we need it.”

They’ve found it, finally. Now they’ve got to keep it.


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Yasiel Puig surprises attendees of a prom at Denver hotel

DENVER -- Yasiel Puig crashed a party Saturday night, but nobody seemed to mind.

Returning to his downtown Denver hotel after the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies, he surprised attendees at the Chatfield Senior High School prom. He took photos with party goers and posted some to his Twitter account, @YasielPuig.

So did he actually dance?

Somebody asked Puig before he went out for conditioning drills Sunday morning, and he said, "Yes," with a crooked smile.

Puig has had an amusing presence on Twitter this season, one that seems to coincide with his free-and-easy approach to the year so far. His posts have been both humorous and self-deprecating, mentioning multiple times his issue with hitting the cutoff man.

After his eye-opening throw from right field Friday to nail the Rockies' Trevor Story at third base, Puig hit the sarcasm button the following day.

Souce: ESPN

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Carl Edwards bumps past Kyle Busch on final lap for Richmond win

RICHMOND, Va. -- Carl Edwards had been grinding for 30 laps, doing everything he could to catch Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in a two-way breakaway from the pack at Richmond International Raceway.

When he finally caught him on the last lap Sunday, and in the final turn, he had no time to think about what would be the prudent thing to do. Instead, Edwards focused on the reason they are racing: to win.

Edwards bumped his sometimes-volatile teammate off his racing line in the last turn and passed him to win his second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, and the fourth in a row for the Gibbs racing stable.

NASCAR said it was the first last-lap pass for a victory in the history of the premier series at the track, a span of 120 races.

"I wish it was anybody but my teammate that we had to race like that with, but big picture to me is we've both got some wins, we're in the Chase, and it's fun to have to race your teammate for the win," Edwards said. "If the roles were reversed, I would have expected him to bump me the same way."

Then in a bid to throw a bone to Busch, whose car was sponsored by Banfield Pet Hospital, he said: "If my cat ever gets sick, I don't care how much it costs, I will take it to the Banfield Pet Hospital, if that helps."

Gibbs said there's no game plan for how to handle the next team meeting.

"What you do is you just start out and work your way through it, and that's what we'll do," he said.

Edwards, who had fallen nearly 1.5 seconds behind after a restart with 36 laps to go, gradually ran him down, catching him on the final lap. Then he slipped underneath Busch, a master blocker in late-race situations, and nudged him just enough to allow Edwards to get inside him for his second consecutive victory. It was also the fourth in a row for the Gibbs stable, and fifth in nine races.

"Kyle's an amazing teammate and it's like he got really slow there at the end," Edwards said. "Something happened that last lap, it's like his rear tires went off or something, and he went down into (Turn) one and I dove it in and I got to him, and I thought, `Man, I've got something here.' Then he went to get down to the bottom to park it in three and four and I'd already decided to go down there, so I thought, `Man, I'm going to give him a little nudge.'

"We've both got wins. We're racing for fun and getting these trophies. Just an awesome day."

After falling so far behind, Edwards was surprised to find himself in position to challenge for the victory.

"Man, I didn't think we had anything. Kyle was just so good for that run. I was just doing everything I could. He never spun his tires," he said. "If Dave (crew chief Rogers) hadn't screamed at me to just go get him, I don't know if I would have dove it in there that hard."

Busch seemed less than amused after being denied his third victory in the last four races.

"We just kind of gave it up a little bit there on the last lap, but I guess that's racing and we move on," he said. "... We had a really great car. ... We were fast, maybe not as good as Carl was on the long runs, but we did everything right, everything we were supposed to do."

Jimmie Johnson finished third, follow by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne and pole-sitter Kevin Harvick. Gibbs placed all four of its drivers in the top seven, with Denny Hamlin sixth and Matt Kenseth seventh.

The race was the first scheduled for during the day at Richmond since 1997, and the racing made a huge fan of Johnson.

"We had multiple lanes that laid the rubber in the race track and we didn't have all those marbles built up on the outside, where it really limited your opportunities up high," he said. "It was fun. The cars were slipping and sliding; there was a ton of fall-off. I enjoyed the long runs. I really like sizing-up guys that I'm racing with and seeing how that works out. And then, at the end we had a bunch of short runs."


Kahne was trying to hang on to a good finish at the end and missed the drama ahead of him.

"I didn't watch. I wish I would have. It sounded like a great battle," he said.

Edwards dominated the first half of the race, leading 120 of the first 200 laps, and he continued to lead until Kevin Harvick slipped underneath him with 170 laps to go. Edwards faded for a time, but wound up leading seven times for a race-high 151 laps. The race featured 23 lead changes, the most here since 2007.

Seven other drivers also led, with Busch, Harvick, Kurt Busch and Johnson also leading for at least 44 laps.

Game notes
Johnson has three career victories at Richmond, but none since September 2008. ... Gibbs cars have won five of the first nine races. ... The race went green for the first 157 laps, the longest green-flag run to start a race at Richmond since 1979, and only the fourth time in the last 47 races in the premier series on the 0.75-mile oval that the first 100 laps were run caution-free.

Souce: ESPN

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Warriors prevail despite losing Curry to knee injury

HOUSTON -- Stephen Curry, who returned to action Sunday after missing the past two games because of a sprained right ankle, will undergo an MRI on Monday after spraining his knee midway through Golden State's 121-94 Game 4 win over Houston.

Curry slipped while guarding Houston's Trevor Ariza at the first-half buzzer and banged his right knee on the floor. The reigning league MVP grabbed the knee and limped off to the locker room.

Curry returned to the court after halftime and moved laterally in a test of the joint, but he stopped and shook his head toward the bench. Shortly thereafter, he headed back to the locker room and was ruled out just after the second half began, with Shaun Livingston taking his spot in the starting lineup.

"He was standing there crying, you know, and like, 'Dog, just get out of here. We'll hold you down.' We gotta support him, you know, and be there for him," Warriors forward Draymond Green told ESPN Radio's Kevin Calabro and Jon Barry postgame. "I mean, he came out and obviously gave it a go, wasn't 100 percent, and he gave it a go, and it's unfortunate that that happened.

"But at the end of the day, one thing we've always talked about is our depth, and we've gotta use that to win games, and so we used that tonight."

Added teammate Klay Thompson: "We knew as soon as Steph went down, we were going to have to do it ourselves. The ball was swinging around, Draymond got hot, I made a couple, and the floor opened up and we were just patient and having good shots. That's why we were successful."

Curry had six points on 2-of-9 shooting, including 1-of-7 from the 3-point line.

Curry appeared to slip on a wet spot, started when Houston's Donatas Motiejunas slid across the court for a few yards near the 3-point circle.

"His conditioning was better than I expected," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. "And then he slips on the wet spot, unfortunately, and back to square one. We'll see what happens with the MRI tomorrow."

Asked about pundits' picking against the Warriors without Curry, Green told ESPN Radio, "If Steph Curry's out, I'd probably write us off too. That's human nature [because] the guy's the MVP of the league, but we've got a team full of competitors.

"We're not gonna bow down or lay down against anyone. We're gonna continue to play our game, continue to try to win basketball games, no matter who's out there."

Green said the same of the Rockets, citing last season's Western Conference semifinal series between Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers.

"If I'm not mistaken, the Clippers were up 3-1 [on the Rockets before Houston rallied to win three straight]. They ain't laying down," he said. "It's not going to be easy. We know they are a very talented ballclub when they get it going. They get hot from the 3, they can do anything on the floor. We have to come out and take the game, knowing that it's not going to be easy, knowing Steph probably won't be playing."

The Rockets had their own issues at point guard. Patrick Beverley strained his right leg, and the team announced before the start of the second half that he would not return.

Source; ESPN

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Broncos outlast Panthers, claim third Super Bowl title

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The Denver Broncos authored one of the greatest defensive performances in Super Bowl 50, helping Peyton Manning write one of the game's most improbable stories in the process.

The Broncos are Super Bowl champions for a third time after dismantling the Panthers 24-10 inside a raucous Levi's Stadium. It was only fitting that the game's decisive moment was made by Broncos linebacker Von Miller. Miller was named Super Bowl 50 MVP.

Late in the fourth quarter in a one score game, Miller fought off Panthers tackle Mike Remmer's initial block, dipped his shoulder, kept his balance and reach his long left arm at Cam Newton. The ensuing fumble was Carolina's fourth of the day and fourth turnover overall. Like the high-powered Steelers and Patriots offense before them, the Panthers offense had no answers for this incredible Broncos group.

Around The NFL will have more on this shortly.


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Late Costa strike denies Man Utd win

Diego Costa scored a late equaliser to preserve Chelsea's unbeaten record under interim boss Guus Hiddink and deny Manchester United a win.

United dominated early on, Thibaut Courtois producing a fine one-handed save to keep out Anthony Martial.

David de Gea saved well from Nemanja Matic's header before Jesse Lingard's fine turn and shot put United ahead.

Costa rescued a point in the 91st minute after rounding De Gea following Cesc Fabregas' pass.

United were moments away from moving to within four points of the top four when Costa scored his seventh goal in eight games.

Chelsea, who lost defender Kurt Zouma to a serious injury, remain 13th in the table.

Relive all the drama from Stamford Bridge

A United performance to offer encouragement

This will feel like a defeat for United after a bright start and a wonderful goal to give them the lead in what was an entertaining draw between two teams struggling for form.

Apart from the late equaliser, Louis van Gaal's side produced a display full of positives after recent criticism about the team's style and reports linking former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho with the United job.

They started well and offered more zip and energy than their cumbersome hosts.

Courtois' flying save to keep out Martial's curling attempt was excellent, while United forced 10 corners before the end of the first half.

The visitors looked set for a rare win over Chelsea when Lingard displayed terrific balance and agility to break the deadlock with a sublime spin and shot inside the area.

However, United backed off after scoring and invited pressure, Costa pouncing from close range after a terrific Fabregas pass.

Instead of closing the gap on fourth place to four points, they now find themselves six points adrift.

Chelsea leave it late again

De Gea was at his magnificent best to keep out a thunderous attempt by Branislav Ivanovic and then Fabregas as Chelsea surged forward in the final quarter in search of an equaliser.

When Costa blazed over the bar after a free-kick it looked all up for the hosts.

Yet for the second league home game in a row, they rescued a point in stoppage time.

Hiddink's sixth draw in eight league games in charge leaves the defending champions seven points above the relegation zone with 13 games remaining.

Will Terry stay?

This was Chelsea's first game back at Stamford Bridge since captain John Terry announced he was set to leave at the end of the season.

There was no mention of Terry leaving in the captain's programme notes and Blues fans will still be hoping he may yet extend his stay.

They chanted his name throughout as Terry produced an assured performance at the heart of the defence, while he was denied a penalty when his goal-bound shot at the end of the first half struck the arm of Daley Blind.

Terry's importance to the team was underlined by Zouma's nasty-looking injury, the France international landing awkwardly on his right knee after volleying the ball away.

What the managers said

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink:

"I am happy with the reaction of the team. Manchester United did a good job in the first half and in the beginning of the second, they are not an easy team to beat.

"But we deserved a point. We dropped too far back after the first 20 minutes when they dominated us but later on we closed a little more.

"They made a beautiful goal - without good marking from our side - but after I think the team reacted very well."

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal:

"I feel we didn't reward ourselves with a victory because we were the better team. Until the last quarter we played very well and could have scored more goals. But you have to control the game better and we did not do that.

"It isn't a lack of concentration it is not being composed when you are defending. When we have the ball we have to keep the ball.

"You need to give the right pass at the right moment and we did not do that [before Chelsea scored]. Chelsea are a very good team and you play like we played and don't reward yourself, it is frustrating."

The stats you need to know

  • Despite still being unbeaten under Guus Hiddink this season, Chelsea are winless in four consecutive Premier League home games for the first time since November 2012.
  • Indeed, it is the first time they have ever drawn four consecutive home games in the Premier League.
  • Jesse Lingard has scored three goals from his last four shots on target in the Premier League.

Up next?

Both teams are in Premier League action on Saturday at different times of the day. While Chelsea entertain struggling Newcastle United (17:30 GMT), Manchester United travel to Wearside to face relegation-threatened Sunderland (12:45 GMT).


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