Grizzlies giving away ‘Z-Bow-Ties’ to fans

See, they’re bow ties with Z-Bo on them.

      
 

 

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Memphis Grizzlies Will Give Away Flip-Flops vs. Los Angeles Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers are known around the league for flopping, with superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin the most notable offenders. 

So when the Clippers come to Memphis on Feb. 27, 2015, the Grizzlies will have a special treat for fans. 

According to the team, Grizzlies Flip-Flops will be handed out to the first 5,000 fans to show up to FedEx Forum on that Friday night. 

This isn’t just a promotion on a whim; this goes back to the face-offs of the 2012 and 2013 Western Conference Playoffs, where each team took a series win. During these playoff series, a rivalry was born with the Grizzlies constantly frustrated with the Clippers’ flopping tactics

It seems the Grizzlies have some ground to stand on, as we’ve found plenty of evidence to support the Clippers’ love of flopping.

Chris Paul deserves an Oscar for this one: 

For a man who weighs about 250 lbs, Blake Griffin goes down quite easily here: 

So good on you Grizzlies; way to have a great sense of humor.  

[YouTube, ProBasketballTalk]

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Pros and Cons of Boston Celtics Starting Marcus Smart Right Away

The sky is the limit for Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart. A tenacious rookie out of Oklahoma State, Smart was selected by the Celtics with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft for one obvious reason: Boston feels he could be a cornerstone for the future of the franchise.

The question is, should the C’s start Smart (try saying that five times fast) alongside Rajon Rondo right out of the gate, or should they exercise patience and allow him to grow off the bench?

Taking into consideration the fact that the Celtics re-signed Avery Bradley to a four-year, $32 million deal this summer, per Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe, you would think the plan is to bring Smart off the pine due to the amount of money Bradley will be making. However, take a second look at that contract. It’s for four years. Does anyone seriously believe that Boston aims to keep Smart in a reserve role for four seasons?

That’s what makes this decision a bit debatable and why it is prudent that we weigh the pros and cons of the C’s immediately throwing Smart into the fray as a starter.

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Pros and Cons of Andrew Wiggins Starting Right Away for Minnesota Timberwolves

When the 2014-15 NBA season tips off, there’s still no telling where Andrew Wiggins will be. 

At least we know what team he’ll be playing for, as he’s officially joined the Minnesota Timberwolves following the trade that sent Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But beyond that, everything is up in the air, as Minnesota head coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders won’t commit to starting Wiggins. 

According to Andy Greder of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Twitter (h/t CBS Sports’ Zach Harper), Saunders was “noncommittal on Andrew Wiggins starting” during a radio appearance. 

That’s fine.

There’s plenty of time remaining—as well as training camp and preseason—before the Timberwolves have to make any sort of decision as to Wiggins’ role during the opening salvo of his rookie season. Rushing into a choice would be foolish.

But what’s in the team’s best interest? We can determine that much at this stage, even if that doesn’t lock Wiggins into the starting five or onto the pine. 

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NBA Insider: Trading Away Taj Gibson Could Be The Difference Maker

The Chicago Bulls find themselves in a unique situation, they have two valuable starting power forwards on their team and there’s a ‘sense’ one of them isn’t happy. To be clear, there is no official report stating Taj Gibson is unhappy (like from his mouth), but you’d have to imagine that the acquisition of Pau Gasol pissed him off a little bit.
After the amnesty of Carlos Boozer, Gibson was the front man to sign Carmelo Anthony. Appearing at the United Center for Anthony’s visit, if the Bulls signed Melo then Taj would have instantly become the starting power forward.
Things didn’t work out that way, Pau Gasol was signed instead and Taj finds himself as the backup power forward, nothing has changed.
Trading Gibson Could Be The Difference
According to a report, Yannis Koutroupis of Basketball Insiders thinks trading Gibson could get the Bulls a few more pieces to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and win the Eastern Conference.
“It just makes the most sense for both parties to see if there’s som

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John Calipari gives away beds, pillows to Kentucky fans camping out Big Blue Madness

Five students got Tempur-Pedic mattresses because, apparently, their sleeping setup at Tent City really needed an upgrade.

      
 

 

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Don’t Be Surprised When Nerlens Noel Runs Away with Rookie of the Year Award

Nerlens Noel spent his first season as a professional athlete in anonymity, taking a redshirt year to recover from a torn ACL. That’s about to change in a big way.

More than any incoming player who will carry the “rookie” designation this season, the Philadelphia 76er is poised to make an instant and significant impact in the NBA.

Consider his college career: Though Noel only played 24 games at Kentucky before a torn knee truncated his season, in that short time, he made a powerful argument that he has the requisite tools to be a difference-maker at the game’s highest level.

Simply put, the Wildcat was a defensive dynamo. In 31.9 minutes a night in Lexington, the freshman averaged 4.4 blocks and a stunning 2.1 steals. The combined figure, according to Waiting for Next Year, is the third-highest total in college hoops since 1999-2000.

These numbers suggest he’ll fit in fine in the Association. According to Kevin Pelton’s Wins About Replacement Player projection system, Noel profiled as the top player in the 2013 class.

The steal figures are particularly instructive here. In Pelton’s historical database, in addition to Noel, only three post players notched a steal rate of two percent or higher. “Steal rate tends to be an indicator of quickness that translates at the NBA level,” Pelton wrote.

More good news: Not only are steals suggestive of the sort of athleticism required to make hay in the NBA, but swipes, as FiveThirtyEight’s Benjamin Morris argued in March, are also much more consequential than is widely understood. So buy some Noel stock now.

The fact that he tore his ACL also doesn’t figure to lower his ceiling in any meaningful way. Pelton, then writing for Basketball Prospectus, found that NBA players who suffered an ACL tear suffered pretty minor downticks in production the season they returned to the floor. And younger men, not surprisingly, appeared to heal faster. Twenty-one-year-olds saw just a 2.7 percent reduction in total performance after the injury.

Furthermore, according to Pelton, the stuff that Noel does really well—generate steals and rebounds—tends to be unaffected by the injury.

There’s also reason to think Noel will be less affected by his ACL than most: When the forward steps on an NBA floor for the first time, he’ll be 20 months removed from his last basketball game that counts in the standings. Far as I can tell, this will be the lengthiest recovery period in recent league history.

In fact, though it’s counterintuitive, Noel’s ACL might have made him more prepared to succeed from the first whistle. All last season, he enjoyed the tutelage of Sixers coach Brett Brown and the rest of Philadelphia’s ace developmental staff. (Brown, for the uninitiated, was the Spurs‘ director of development when a couple of guys called Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were learning the game.)

During this time, rather than being rushed into action—where bad habits and mechanics can calcify—Noel had his mediocre jumper broken down and rebuilt from the ground up. A common site before 2013-14 Sixers games was Noel taking 18-footer after 18-footer while Brown patiently watched and counseled him.

In the NBA Summer League, where Nerlens made his unofficial debut (the first Noel?) the tantalizing possibility of his game came closer into focus. In short: he dominated Orlando and Vegas—and did so in a way that married the best aspects of his college game with the new tricks he learned while apprenticing with the Sixers a season ago.

“His defensive presence was sensational in person,” CBSSports.com’s Zach Harper wrote after watching Noel protect the rim like a pit bull in Vegas.

“He’s been the most explosive big man on the floor in each game he’s played in,” gushed Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman.

“His length and leaping ability make him an intimidating force in the paint,” added ProBasketballTalk’s Kurt Helin. “The guys on the Sixers bench were counting the number of shots Noel altered and said it got into double digits before they lost track.”

Encouragingly, he also showed improvement as a shooter. After knocking down just 52.9 percent of his free throws at Kentucky, according to Wasserman, he hit 15 of his first 20 freebies over the summer. He showed bolstered skills as a shot-creator as well.

Awed by the sheer force of his play, a consensus quickly and correctly formed around the forward: This guy is ready to play. Now.

Noel’s game—and his counting stats—should benefit from Philly’s run-and-gun offense, too. The Sixers played at the fastest pace in the NBA in 2013-14, which is a perfect fit for Noel’s athleticism. This isn’t a methodical, grinding, half-court system that will underscore Noel’s lack of offensive polish. Philly plays fast-break basketball. And that’s a style the gazelle-like Noel is equally suited for.

Taken together, it feels like Noel is on the precipice of a monster rookie season.

“Watch him on defense and you begin wondering how he wasn’t the top pick in that draft,” a scout told Harper in Vegas.

After this year, that’s a question more people around the league will be asking themselves.

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How Far Away Is Andre Drummond from Becoming the NBA’s Best Center?

Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond can already see the peak of his position.

Perhaps that’s a reflection of his freakish blend of size and athleticism. With a 6’10″ frame and 33.5″ max vertical, per DraftExpress, there isn’t much that flies above his field of vision.

Then again, maybe this is something different. Maybe it’s not a simple observation of his physical gifts, but rather the way he has put them to use over his first two NBA seasons.

After dazzling with per-36-minute production as a rookie (13.8 points and 13.2 rebounds), the hulking big man upped the ante his second time around.

With his leash extended to 32.3 minutes a night, he bullied his way to 13.5 points and 13.2 boards as a sophomore, posting monstrous per-game marks of 18.4 and 17.4, respectively, during the month of April.

In the process, he pulled back the curtain on one of the league’s worst-kept secrets: His ascension to the top of the center spot is a matter of when—not if.

 

Where Does He Currently Rank?

Before plotting the path that lies ahead, it’s imperative to first take stock of his current standing.

The 21-year-old has a total of 141 games, 91 of them as a starter, under his belt. He’s a toddler in NBA years, a standing best captured by the blood-red, raw state of his offense.

His range is almost entirely dependent on his arm length. If he can’t reach the basket, he might struggle to put the ball inside it.

However, that isn’t necessarily a hindrance to his production. He understands his limitations and plays to his strengths. His shot chart, courtesy of NBA.com, shows a player who knows where he is most effective and rarely strays outside of his comfort zone:

Of his 479 made field goals last season, 427 of them came within three feet of the basket. He only made 14 jump shots the entire campaign (he took 77), relying largely on dunks (183), layups (177) and tip-ins (78) for the bulk of his production.

Some centers have the benefit of a deep bag of offensive tricks at their disposal.

Drummond is not one of them. He’s more specialist than skill player at the moment.

“Drummond’s offensive style still is primarily lob and dunk, or crash and tip,” wrote MLive.com’s David Mayo. “He has to add to the package, but that takes time. His post moves require sustained work and big men typically develop more gradually, over longer periods, than perimeter players.”

The slow pace of his seasoning seems like it should stifle his stat sheet, but its actual effects have been harder to spot.

Stack his numbers against the top centers in the game, and Drummond‘s more than hold their own:

So, what do those statistics say about Drummond‘s ranking?

To oversimplify things, the guy is really, really good. He had an average ranking of 4.2 across those six categories, which was topped only by DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan (both 4.0).

Of course, those particular areas don’t account for everything these players bring inside the lines.

It doesn’t show the skillful, creative passing of Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol, or the walls around the basket put up by Brook Lopez and Roy HibbertNBA.com indicates the latter two finished first and second in opponents’ field-goal percentage at the rim (minimum seven such shots faced per game).

It does, however, highlight how little room is left between Drummond and the current elite centers.

Bleacher Report slotted the Pistons bruiser eighth among all centers in its 2013-14 season rankings. That feels just about right for where he’s at right now.

As for where he’s going, that might be as low as he sits for a long time.

ESPN Insider Bradford Doolittle (subscription required) found that Drummond had the highest projected wins above replacement (11.5) for the 2014-15 campaign. The statistic, courtesy of ESPN, is “an estimate of the number of wins a player adds to a team’s bottom line above what would be expected of any easily acquired talent from outside the NBA.”

In other words, Drummond could already be the game’s most impactful center next season. That’s a terrifying thought considering the massive room he has left for growth.

 

How Can He Improve?

Finding the right comparison for Drummond isn’t easy. Guys with this combination of size, speed, strength and explosiveness don’t come around often.

That hasn’t stopped people from looking for a precedent, though, and the names most often mentioned spotlight his tremendous potential.

Last February, ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton (subscription required) wrote, “Drummond’s first 46 games have put him in the conversation with Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal.”

Upon first glance, that seems incredibly hyperbolic. Howard has booked eight All-Star trips during his 10 seasons in the league. O’Neal is a Hall of Fame lock who had 12 All-Star selections and won four NBA titles during his storied career.

Even those feeling bullish about Drummond‘s stock might have a hard time mentioning his name alongside these two. The numbers, however, say they shouldn’t.

Drummond‘s career 22.3 player efficiency rating checks in right between what O’Neal (25.7) and Howard (18.3) put up during their first two seasons in the league. Howard has a narrow edge in scoring (13.9 PPG to 11.1) and rebounding (11.3 RPG to 10.8), but Drummond has the advantage in both when viewed through a per-36-minutes lens (14.6 and 14.2 to Howard’s 14.4 and 11.7).

O’Neal‘s numbers are on a different level (26.4 points and 13.5 boards per game), but he came to the NBA after three seasons spent at Louisiana State University.

Drummond played just a single season of college ball at UConn, while Howard jumped straight from the preps to the pros.

Simply put, Drummond is beginning his career in very impressive fashion. That’s what makes charting his future forecast so enticing.

His raw gifts have taken him this far, but he needs to start expanding his repertoire.

He has been developing his post game, hitting 56.2 percent of his hook shots last season after connecting on only two of 11 attempts as a rookie. He doesn’t need to become a dominant back-to-the-basket scorer, but his quickness should yield more points out of the post than it has.

And while he’s been a disruptive defender (career 2.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game), he has had trouble with individual matchups. 82games.com indicates opposing centers racked up a 19.2 PER against him last season, a number that is far too high given his physical gifts.

Some of these improvements should happen organically, a process ideally hastened by his Team USA experience this offseason.

As Pistons coach-president Stan Van Gundy told Pistons.com’s Keith Langlois, repetition will help Drummond learn the finer points of the game:

Instincts, to me, come with experience. You look at a lot of the great point guards in the league and if you track it all the way back and figure out how much basketball they’ve played from being young kids, the things that look instinctual really come from hours and hours and hours of experience. They’ve seen things over and over and become expert at it. It’s the same defensively.

With the national team, Drummond has some expert teachers at his disposal.

He can lean on DeMarcus Cousins to learn the importance of leverage and proper footwork. He can watch how Anthony Davis uses every bit of his length to be a defensive force and aggressive offensive finisher. He can see the benefits of giving nonstop energy from watching Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee.

Add those lessons to what Drummond has already figured out, and you’re left with a blossoming big man ready to ascend the ranks of the NBA’s center position.

Of course, once he has reached that pinnacle, he’ll have to continue improving to hold off those coming for his crown.

 

Protecting the Throne

The professional sports world is a humbling place. For every current great, there’s always a batch of young bloods eager to take their spot.

Considering Drummond just passed his 21st birthday, his focus should be on the road ahead—not his rear-view mirror.

Still, his peripheral vision should pick up on those likeliest to compete with him for the No. 1 spot.

If a bigger, stronger Davis moves to the center position full-time at some point, that could end whatever run Drummond will have enjoyed at the top of the totem pole. After all, Davis is the league’s “next in line,” according to what reigning MVP Kevin Durant told Pelicans.com’s Jim Eichenhofer

He’s also only 21 years old.

Assuming Davis logs more time at power forward, Drummond will still face some stiff competition.

If Cousins commits more to the defensive end, he could be a devastating two-way force. The Philadelphia 76ers feature a pair of physical freaks in Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, both of whom could be top-flight players by the time the franchise is ready to compete.

More threats could be on the way soon, as the 2015 draft class features a pair of intriguing center prospects in Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl Towns. Those players have some time to reach to the big stage, but Drummond‘s rapid rise shows how quickly guys can climb the ranks.

Still, this position should be Drummond‘s to hold in the very near future. He’s closer to the top than some may think, and it feels inevitable that he will clear those final steps in the next few seasons.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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New Zealand Let FIBA World Cup Opener Against Turkey Slip Away

New Zealand were denied down the stretch, losing their opening FIBA World Cup game against Turkey 76-73. The Tall Blacks watched a 12-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate as a series of key plays caused a momentum shift that the Kiwis could not stop.

It was a 30-second period with four minutes left in the game that cost the New Zealanders. In this time they conceded nine points on the back of a technical foul to coach Nenad Vucinic and an unsportsmanlike foul to point guard Tai Webster. The technical was especially deadly, giving Turkey free throws after a New Zealand offensive foul as well as giving up a three-pointer the very next possession.

That movement cut a six-point lead to one and after finding himself isolated in defensive transition, Webster gave up an unsportsmanlike foul to surrender the lead.

It was a lead Turkey would not surrender. Despite their best efforts, New Zealand just could not put the ball through the hoop the way they had done so effectively for the majority of the game.

New Zealand will walk away ruefully. They were the better team for three quarters, and even after giving up the lead late in the third, fought back to get in front by 12 in the fourth. Their inability to close it out was the difference between the two teams.

Their intensity was outstanding, showing the typical desperation and fight of a New Zealand team. Mika Vukona, Rob Loe, Casey Frank, Isaac Fotu, BJ Anthony and Thomas Abercrombie were all prominent, crashing the boards and going after loose balls.

Despite giving up a significant height advantage to Turkey, they were able to claim 21 offensive rebounds. The Turkey big men did not box out well, but for the most part it seemed the Kiwis were just hungrier for the ball. They went after it aggressively and gave themselves multiple second-chance opportunities.

At the other end of the floor they did a good job containing the long Turkish front line. They made use of good footwork and forced their bigger opponents to shoot over them in the low post, which they did not do well for large parts of the game. Often they were forced into settling for outside jumpers and struggled shooting from here.

In contrast, New Zealand were outstanding shooting from outside. It was not just perennial scorer Kirk Penney who threatened, either, with Corey and Tai Webster both scoring well along with Loe and Frank.

In fact, Penney was well contained and struggled to find his range, finishing with only nine points and shooting 3-of-11. While this would normally make for a long night for the Tall Blacks, they were helped with contributions across the board.

Big men Loe and Frank both showed their range, particularly Loe, who shot a handy 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and also got a good tip-in.

Corey Webster was their most threatening player, though. He showed his ability to shoot from the outside like the others, but also was the only one who got the hoop effectively. Perhaps he was guilty of overshooting from the outside, but he hit some timely shots to keep New Zealand in front throughout and finished with a game-high 22 points.

It was all in vain, as the inability to make a shot down the stretch cost them. They did not give up, though, and kept their high intensity right until the final buzzer. 

Despite the loss, New Zealand can take plenty of positives from this game. Most notably that they can still remain competitive when Penney is not shooting well, but also that their undersized line-up can compete with bigger teams down low.

They will enter their Day 2 game against the Dominican Republic full of confidence and should start as favourites to win.

 

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Steve Ballmer, Clippers Start Washing Away Stain of Donald Sterling Era

LOS ANGELES — April 29, 2014 feels like a distant memory now for the Los Angeles Clippers and their fans, and not just because that day came four months ago.

That was the day that thousands of Clippers fans shuffled ambivalently through LA Live, past angry protesters and into Staples Center for Game 5 of the team’s first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors—their first home game in the aftermath of Donald Sterling’s explosive comments hitting the airwaves and sending shockwaves throughout the world.

Some were dressed in black that day. Others wore shirts denouncing the Clippers’ now-former owner. Everyone had something different to say about Sterling, the team and the NBA‘s response to the controversy.

All of that seemed little more than the remnants of a bygone era on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Just about every Clippers fan who streamed out of Staples Center after the team’s Fan Festival on this day had nothing but glowing reviews for the owner.

Not Sterling, of course, but former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

“I thought that Steve Ballmer was just superb and enthusiastic and wonderful,” said Aisha Mori, a Clippers fan since 2004. 

The Clippers themselves, including head coach Doc Rivers, referred to the Sterling debacle that resulted in his long-overdue ouster as “The Clutter” during the proceedings. 

The franchise was nothing if not “cluttered” during the Clippers’ second-round playoff run: cluttered with curious media reporting on a story that touched on a lot more than just sports, with fans, players and staff who weren’t sure how to feel and with controversy unlike any the NBA had yet seen.

That clutter was gone, replaced by a clarity of vision, purpose and passion brought to bear by Ballmer. His romp of high fives and chest bumps through the crowd on the way to the podium couldn’t have been more different than what Clippers fans came to expect from Donald Sterling in his public courtside appearances.

“He’s amazing,” Martin Fuentes, a season ticket holder since 2009, said of Ballmer. “He definitely energizes a crowd, definitely a real fan and [I'm] looking forward to the next season.”

Such words would’ve seemed not only unusual, but downright ludicrous if spoken about a Clippers owner at any point in the past 33 years. Sterling was almost universally reviled by Clipper Nation, forcing fans into an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance in supporting an enterprise that lined his pockets—and will do so even more now, with Ballmer‘s $2 billion payout enriching the Sterling family trust.

In truth, the Clippers might never be truly cleansed of the residue from the Sterling era. Ballmer sees no need to rename this team, despite its long history of losing for a man who’s become persona non grata in America. “The Clippers are the hottest brand in basketball pretty much right now,” Ballmer insisted at a press conference after the event.

The Clippers haven’t exactly untethered themselves from the tainted Sterling name, either. Shelly Sterling, Donald’s estranged wife, squeezed plenty of perks out of the deal she helped usher along, including a pair of courtside seats and the title of “Clippers No. 1 Fan” (h/t ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi):

Shelly Sterling’s reputation, beyond her official fandom, has also been called into question. According to The Los Angeles Times‘ Nathan Fenno, Sterling was party to the housing discrimination for which her husband was taken to court by the Federal Housing Administration in 2009:

In a 2009 deposition, a tenant at one of the Sterling’s apartment buildings in Los Angeles County said that Rochelle Sterling called him a “black m—f—” during a discussion at the building.

Ballmer, though, insisted that Shelly’s role in this process warranted some sort of salvation. “Without her, this deal does not get done,” Ballmer said.

Indeed, it was Shelly’s victory over Donald during a recent probate trial in Los Angeles Superior Court that paved the way for Ballmer to take control of the team.

Even with Shelly’s ongoing involvement, much has changed for the franchise’s identity since those fateful days in late April.

“It’s almost like now they can say it and be proud of it, and I’m happy for them,” Rivers said about those Clippers faithful who were wary of touting their fandom during those troubled times.

To that effect, Clippers fans have nothing to worry about now. Ballmer reiterated that he won’t be moving the team closer to his home in the Pacific Northwest. “Seattle is not where the Clippers are going to play,” he said.

Instead, he hopes to be leading “I love Larry” chants—many of which he led during the Fan Festival—down Figueroa Street. The “Larry” in question is the Larry O’Brien Trophy, which is awarded to the NBA Finals champion every year. 

If there’s any concern about Ballmer, it’s his lack of experience in the basketball world. “Everyone has more experience in what they’re doing than I do in what I’m doing,” Ballmer added.

Then again, he’s not unfamiliar with the NBA as an enterprise, to say the least, not after trying to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle in 2013.

More importantly, Ballmer seems to have the fire and the drive to cement the Clippers’ burgeoning spot on the basketball map. Time and again, he used the word “hardcore” to describe his approach to his latest enterprise.

“I love basketball,” Ballmer went on. “My passion, in a sense, is for things I get involved with.”

“I won’t be able to watch the Clippers dispassionately because I care. I’m involved.”

Which the Clippers and their fans never could and certainly won’t say now about their former owner…what was his name again?

A distant memory—that’s what.

 

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