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Sparks can't match Atlanta Dream's fourth-quarter surge, drop season opener

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Sparks can't match Atlanta Dream's fourth-quarter surge, drop season opener

Nobody would budge through the first three quarters. The Sparks would go on a run, the Atlanta Dream would respond with one of their own, and vice versa. They were deadlocked at 66 going into the fourth quarter of the teams’ season opener Wednesday night, neither giving the other any breathing room. Then, the fourth quarter happened.

Cheyenne Parker-Tyus and Crystal Dangerfield hit back-to-back layups to open the fourth. Then Rhyne Howard made some free throws and followed them with a three. All of a sudden, the Dream were up double digits before the Sparks scored in the final period.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” guard Kia Nurse said of the Sparks’ fourth-quarter cold streak. “We kind of just weren’t going. We didn’t hit enough shots in that situation and defensively, we didn’t get stops … That’ll be something we look at on film just to say where we could have been better in that situation, knowing that that’s something you can fix.”

There were moments of life, a huge three-pointer from rookie Cameron Brink to bring the Sparks within six with a minute to go, but that was as close as they would get. The Dream held on to earn a 92-81 win at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach. The venue seats 5,000 people, and the Sparks announced the contest was sold out.

“I take it as my responsibility that a lot of the starters got tired at the end of the third quarter. I had to substitute more players at one time in the start of the fourth quarter than I would’ve liked,” Sparks coach Curt Miller said after the game. “Ultimately, it was a hard situation to dig out of, but we never quit. We really battled and showed our scrappiness that we’re going to be defined by this year.”

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Dearica Hamby paced the young Sparks with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while point guard Layshia Clarendon finished with a first career triple-double — 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Brink finished with 11 points, four assists and two blocks in her WNBA debut, but early foul trouble limited her impact. During the second possession of the game, Brink found Clarendon, who hit a three-pointer for the Sparks’ first points. Brink then cut inside to get an easy layup for her first professional points. The hot start propelled the Sparks to an early 9-2 lead.

Brink quickly ran into foul trouble after that, however, and the Dream took advantage of her absence in the paint to tie the game by the end of the first quarter.

“Cam has to find a way to stay out of foul trouble because she’s so important to what we’re doing,” Miller said. “She’s a really good distributor of the ball as a 6-5 person, so she can create opportunities for her teammates. Defensively, she’s great rim protection but when you play three minutes in the first stretch and have to sit down, that’s a big blow. … Really solid start for her, we just got to keep her on the floor longer.”

For all the hype that comes with the Sparks’ two top-four draft picks, Miller said the young and often overlooked team still is working to establish itself.

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“Overall, it is a disappointing result because I thought we played well enough in stretches to win this game,” Miller said. “But what a great start, in a lot of ways, on what we’re trying to build as a culture in how we’re playing and sharing [the ball] and moving it. So, something to grow from tonight.”

Whatever work the Sparks have left to do, it won’t get any easier from here as they travel to the desert Saturday to take on the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

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Chiefs’ Travis Kelce defends Harrison Butker as ‘a great person and a great teammate,’ despite differing views

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Chiefs’ Travis Kelce defends Harrison Butker as ‘a great person and a great teammate,’ despite differing views

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Travis Kelce became the latest Kansas City Chiefs’ player to take a stance in defense of Harrison Butker’s character on Friday amid heavy scrutiny the kicker faced following his commencement speech at a Catholic college in Kansas earlier this month. 

The veteran tight end addressed the topic during the latest episode of the “New Heights” podcast, with his brother, former Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce. 

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Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, right, speaks next to kicker Harrison Butker during the press conference on the DFB Campus. (Arne Dedert/picture alliance via Getty Images)

“I’ve known him for seven plus years, probably, eight plus years. And I cherish him as a teammate,” Kelce said of Butker, who he calls “Harry.” 

“I think Pat [Mahomes] said it best where – he is every bit of a great person and a great teammate. He’s treated friends and family that I’ve introduced to him with nothing but respect and kindness, and that’s how he treats everyone.”

Butker, and by association the Chiefs, have come under the spotlight since his speech at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, on May 11. In speaking about his views as a Catholic, Butker made references to various topics, including abortion and the LGBTQ community. Speaking directly to female graduates, he spoke about the importance of being a homemaker, which he called “one of the most important titles of all.” 

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Kelce admitted to disagreeing with the “majority” of the speech, but he added that he has no interest in judging anyone based on their “religious views.” 

“When it comes down to his views and what he said at the St. Benedictine’s commencement speech, those are his. I can’t say I agree with the majority of it or just about any of it outside of just him loving his family and his kids, and I don’t think that I should judge him by his views, especially his religious views of how to go about life. That’s just not who I am.”

Butker and Kelce celebrate

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, #87, celebrates with place kicker Harrison Butker, #7, after Butker kicks the game winning field goal against the Cincinnati Bengals during the AFC Championship game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.  (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

CITY OF KANSAS CITY HAS ‘SEPARATED’ FROM EMPLOYEE WHO DOXXED HARRISON BUTKER FOLLOWING SPEECH, MAYOR SAYS

Speaking from his own experience being raised by two working parents, Kelce expressed appreciation for all “walks of life.” 

“My mother and my father both provided for our family. And both my mother and my father made home what it was. So they were homemakers, and they were providers, and they were unbelievable at being present every single day in my life. And I think that was a beautiful upbring for me.”

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“Now, I don’t think everyone should do it the way my parents did, but I certainly and sure as hell thank my parents and love my parents for being able to provide and making sure that home was what it was,” he added.  

Travis Kelce's parents take the stage

Donna Kelce and Ed Kelce Jason Kelce, parents of Jason and Travis Kelce, take the stage before their sons are presented with diplomas at their alma mater, University of Cincinnati. The brothers both earned degrees but never participated in graduation ceremonies. (Cara Owsley/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Jason Kelce echoed that sentiment, adding that one of the most important takeaways was the importance Butker placed on the family dynamic. 

“I don’t think we have enough people talking about the foundations of families and the importance of and the seriousness of parenthood,” Jason said. “If you are going to embark on being a parent, I do think it needs to be the most important thing in your life.” 

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Column: Why the A's 30-year commitment to Nevada has a 'Get Out of Vegas Free' card

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Column: Why the A's 30-year commitment to Nevada has a 'Get Out of Vegas Free' card

The pitch to the Nevada legislature was simple: If you provide the Oakland Athletics with $380 million in public funding toward a new ballpark, the A’s will agree to move to Las Vegas and stay there for at least 30 years.

The A’s got the funding. However, the agreement intended to bind the A’s to Las Vegas provides the team with an unusual escape clause: If ever a tax is aimed at the A’s, the team can leave town without penalty.

“That is not a normal clause in these things,” said Martin J. Greenberg, the founder of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University Law School and an expert in so-called non-relocation agreements in Major League Baseball.

“The whole object of this is to keep the team at home.”

This is not on the A’s. The Las Vegas Stadium Authority approved such a provision in luring the Raiders and presented virtually identical contract language to the A’s.

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“It is a targeted tax clause that says if they are taxed in a way that is different than the way other businesses are taxed, they have the option to leave,” said Erica Johnson, director of communications for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

This is not some remote hypothetical. If you go to a show in Las Vegas, you pay a 9% live entertainment tax. If you go to a game in Las Vegas — and the game is staged by a pro team based in Nevada — you do not pay that tax.

In 2021, an effort to remove that professional sports exemption was rejected. During legislative hearings on the A’s funding last summer, a state senator asked A’s President Dave Kaval whether the team would be willing to pay the tax, given that smaller Nevada businesses do. The Raiders and NHL Golden Knights do not.

Kaval dodged a yes or no answer, saying only that the legislation did not contemplate that. In the future, should a specific tax target the A’s, their players or opposing players, the A’s can move out of town.

The A’s propose a 33,000-seat ballpark in Las Vegas. If the A’s sell 26,000 tickets per game at last season’s average major league ticket price of $37, a 9% tax could generate $7 million for Nevada per year.

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In a presentation led by Steve Hill — chairman of the stadium authority and president of the visitors authority — the Nevada legislature was told the A’s could generate an estimated $1.3 billion per year in economic impact. (Most economists consider this estimate wildly optimistic.)

I asked Johnson why the A’s would be provided with an opt-out clause that could jeopardize that economic impact. She did not comment. Hill was unavailable for comment.

“These non-relocation agreements are what I call political cover,” Greenberg said. “They basically are, at least from a politician’s standpoint, the quid pro quo for the gigantic amount of public dollars that are going into these stadiums.

“Basically, the politician can say, ‘Look, we’re investing all this money because the team is going to stay here, based upon a non-relocation agreement.’ ”

In 2022, the Anaheim City Council considered such a targeted tax — a 2% admission tax that would have applied only to Disneyland, Angel Stadium and the Honda Center, where the NHL Ducks play. The council ultimately voted against the tax, in part because the Angels’ lease requires the city to credit the amount generated by any such targeted tax at Angel Stadium against the team’s rental payments.

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The leases of the Colorado Rockies and Seattle Mariners restrict the ability of the respective stadium authorities to impose any targeted taxes. The Miami Marlins’ lease restricts the city or county from imposing a targeted tax and empowers the team to sue if it believes a tax violates the agreement.

David Samson, the former Marlins president who negotiated that lease, said it is impossible to protect against any targeted tax that might be imposed at any level of government at any point in the future. What a lease can do, he said, is say what can happen in the event such a tax is imposed.

“Can be anything,” Samson said, “a rent abatement, some sort of extra flow of funds from general revenue, or it can be as far as, hey, this non-relocation agreement becomes null and void.”

I asked Johnson if any alternative language had been considered besides granting the A’s the ability to move. She did not comment.

For the record, neither Greenberg nor Samson believes Las Vegas would be at high risk of losing the A’s if a targeted tax were to be imposed. For one, although the A’s would have the option to relocate, they could choose not to do so, or negotiate a lease concession in exchange for not doing so.

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If the team did wish to move, it would have to find a new home, secure funding for a new ballpark there, and win a vote among MLB owners — and the saga that led to Las Vegas took two decades for the A’s. Their move to Las Vegas would be only the second MLB relocation since 1972.

“It’s not easy, as we’ve seen, to move a team,” Samson said.

It’s also not easy to build a fan base in a new city. It might be a little bit easier if the “We’re here for 30 years!” pledge were not accompanied by an asterisk.

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Cavaliers dismiss coach J.B. Bickerstaff after two consecutive playoff berths

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Cavaliers dismiss coach J.B. Bickerstaff after two consecutive playoff berths

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The Cleveland Cavaliers had a relatively successful season. Despite advancing to the second round of the playoffs, Cavaliers management decided a coaching change was in order.

Cleveland’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals marked the franchise’s deepest playoff run since LeBron James’ exit following the 2017-18 season.

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On Thursday, the Cavs announced J.B. Bickerstaff had been relieved of his head coaching duties. Bickerstaff first stepped into the head coaching role in February 2019 following John Beilein’s resignation.

Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks to the media after Game 7 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Orlando Magic May 5, 2024, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.   (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

Bickerstaff’s dismissal came one week after the Boston Celtics eliminated Cleveland from playoff contention. 

Bickerstaff had to steer the team through numerous injuries during the regular season and NBA playoffs. All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell and center Jarrett Allen were sidelined with injuries during the Cavs’ final two playoff games.

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CAVALIERS’ DONOVAN MITCHELL REFUTES REPORT SUGGESTING HE GREW FRUSTRATED WITH TEAMMATES

Bickerstaff was successful, but other issues apparently led Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and president of basketball operations Koby Altman to make a move.

The coaching change could trigger a summer shift for the Cavs, who are hoping to sign Mitchell to a long-term contract extension and could make major moves while being tied to whatever James ultimately decides to do.

James, who can opt out of his contract with the Lakers, attended Cleveland’s final home playoff game, raising speculation about him making another homecoming and playing a third stint with the Cavs in perhaps a final career act.

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In the short term, the Cavs have begun their search for a replacement for Bickerstaff.

“J.B. is a well-respected NBA coach and an incredible human being,” Altman said in a statement. “Over the past four years, he helped establish a culture that progressively drove players to become the best versions of themselves. Decisions like these are never easy, particularly when you look back at where this franchise rebuild started under his leadership.

“The NBA is a unique business that sometimes requires aggressive risk-taking to move a franchise forward and ultimately compete for championships.”

The Cavs head coach and general manager attend a press conference

Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and general manager Koby Altman of the Cleveland Cavaliers are interviewed at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse Oct. 2, 2023, in Cleveland. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

While Bickerstaff was credited with building a strong culture, he had his flaws.

He struggled with in-game adjustments. His offense was often stagnant, and there’s a strong belief there should have been more development by guard Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, who, along with Mitchell and Allen, give the Cavs one of the league’s best young core of players.

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J.B. Bickerstaff coaches the Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff yells instructions to players in the first half of a game against the Houston Rockets Dec. 15, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

In his first full season, Bickerstaff, who was under contract through 2026, went just 22-50 with one of the NBA’s youngest rosters. They improved to 44 wins in his second year before losing in the Play-In Tournament while showing major strides.

After acquiring Mitchell via trade in 2022, the Cavs went 51-31 last season and had home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs before getting knocked out in five games by the New York Knicks. The early exit put added pressure on Bickerstaff to do more this season.

The 45-year-old Bickerstaff went 170-159 in the regular season and 6-11 in the playoffs with Cleveland.

The Cavs went 48-34 this season and stayed among the top teams in the Eastern Conference amid the rash of major injuries.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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