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Vlade Divac & Peja Stojakovic: A pair of Kings

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Vlade Divac & Peja Stojakovic: A Pair Of Kings

A Great Deal.

All around the world, this game is global. Just take this last October gone for example. In the NBA’s exhibition across Europe and the rest of the world to preview their season with some preseason games, they travel everywhere from London to the towers and bridges of many other popular cities. Last year however as Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder faced down the Dr. J/A.I. legendary, storied Philadelphia 76ers franchise in the North West of England, the city of Manchester-famous for their Giants named team and their NBA export John Amaechi-saw it’s first National Basketball Association game with an oasis of talent. More than a year after the male and female Team USA practiced for the 2012 London Olympics against Teaam G.B. in an epic double-header and precursor to the big stage, Manchester showed it had the court vision to host a real game. Now there are even rumours that a state-of-the-art stadium is being built in this city for even more excitement than the Manchester Arena, that was once voted best in the world, higher than the mecca of Madison Square Garden. For Manchester’s first game the legendary likes of Amaechi and the finger-wagging of Dikembe Mutombo where on hand, as where a pair of Kings for this great deal. The Arco Arena of Sacramento’s finest cow-bell ringers Vlade Divac and Predrag Stojaković where there for more. Suited and booted like European actors with their huge heights giving away their true profession. Divac looking like a Jean Reno villain. The same villain he flopped his way to in the league, whilst having the strong, standstill to be a hero in Sacto. The same villain to the Los Angeles Lakers from the King dethroning playoff day attempts in the game of thrones days to the two times he made a great Laker addition but one in the wake of both ends in the death of the big Magic and Shaq dynasty respectively. Next to him slicked back and bearded up to look like a Hollywood star or model that could take your girlfriends gaze (trust me I know), Peja has the same good look that made him such a great one from behind the arc. The same great look that made him as pure a three-point shooter as the Bird’s, Miller’s and Allen’s that shot before him and the Curry’s that heated up after.

In the best West days of the new millennium that saw Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan dominate everyone from the four corners of the league and America, the Sacramento Kings where closer to the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs dynasties than even the great pretenders like the Portland Trail Blazers. How these Kings didn’t actually take the throne like LeBron James is beyond the reason, referees and the Basketball God’s…and this is a Laker fan saying this. Still, it wasn’t a lucky Robert Horry shot that killed the Kings, because luck had nothing to do with it. It was the epic, enormous era of Shaq and Duncan, who where even so-good and close they where co-MVP’s one time. Their battles where so legendary and somewhat underrated they deserved their own NBA Finals moment like Wilt and Russell or Bird and Magic. Still, the new blue-collar Celtics in the Spurs and their Laker rivals would always play for Larry in the Western Conference Finals, because whoever won that contest may as well have been crowned NBA champions there and then in those Finals, because they eventually where. Only Detroit’s dynasty destroying Piston team took a chip in this Lake Show/Spurs clicking championship campaign of time. Still, Sacramento could have got one and they almost did. They where just that great. With a fab-five and a scorching, scoring ‘Sixth Man Of The Year’ in Bobby Jackson they where led by the post, Power Forward revolution of Chris Webber and the clutch of Mike Bibby’s game-winning buckets to offset the dogged defence of another former Laker/King Doug Christie. Still, throughout the deep roster that shouted out ‘Sacramento’ like 2Pac asking “where you at” on ‘California Love’, it was the pair of “foreign shooters” that punchline king Lloyd Banks referred to on G-Unit’s ‘Follow Me Gangster’, off the ‘Cradle 2 The Grave’ soundtrack that where truly something else. They almost won it all but they where too busy battling for California with the Lakers like the Clippers of today. It got too hot in that state and it was clear to see through the smog of STAPLES success that only one band of brothers would make it out there alive.

Vlade Divac began and ended his NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers and no matter what you say about him being a true King you can put him in the George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal list of legenday giant great centres who have held post on Lakerland…even with Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard for better or worse. Divac also belongs to the magnificent six, elite company of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett and Hakeem Olajuwon in players to post significant statistics of 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocked shots. If you don’t think that’s big than how could you possibly scale taller? One of the 50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors and member of both the FIBA and World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame deserves his Naismith moment too. After time with Sloga and Partizan, Vlade took his grizzled beard and game to the final curtain of showtime with the Lakers. With Kareem taking to the rocking chair and Magic retiring after that announcement there was only a small amount of Worthy talent left on the aging Lakers. Still, the young Vlade was definitely one of them, pivoting through all the critical mess to both his own team and his status as one of the first, new breed of foreign imports to a great post presence that scored over those who wrote him off. Mentored by ‘Cap and Earv before they took their final bow, Divac learnt from the best and showed the rest. Even though at first he spoke no English, his game or charm winning personality was not lost in translation. More than making flopping famous, some consider Vlade’s best move for the Lakers being when they traded him for this young high-school kid named Kobe Bryant who would team up with some other big fella for history and drama that Divac would be more than a courtside witness too. He saw it all out there on the floor after he left the Charlotte Hornets for the Sacramento Kings before he returned to the Lakers after all those years to team up with the man he was traded for as a valuable veteran on a rebuilding but real Laker team. He was back but back problems troubled him and backed down his career.

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While Divac was getting used to America’s phrasebook and the NBA’s playbook, Peja Stojaković was showing Crvena Zvezda of FR Yugoslavia and PAOK of Greece that this Serbian had skills enough to gain Greek citizenship and the ball every time down the floor. No wonder the Sacramento Kings gave the draft crown to this gunner who would eventually shoot down the competition to be the sixth all time league leader in three-point field goals to go along with two All-Star ‘Three-Point Shootout’ contest wins just for fun. As well as the Kings, Stojaković took his legendary three-balls to the Fieldhouses of Indiana that Reggie Miller made clutch famous, before he kept up pace with a career high 42 points in New Orleans, stinging people from downtown as a Hornet. Still, his own back problems took him to the injury table and Canada for the Toronto Raptors, but this man who at 36 could probably still play-and at least definitely shoot-today was far from extinct. Showing Dallas in his last shot like J.R. that he was a true Maverick, whilst showing the great Dirk Nowitzki that there was more than one pure shooter in this town ready to take him from three like the epic battles of the Texas triangle with the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets. Through the pain in the neck injuries that would prematurely end his career the playoff power player showed those old 20 point games his hot-hand was accustomed to feeling in his last preseason with the Mavs. A hand that was so scorching it helped seal the deal with O’Brien as the Dallas Mavericks went on to be NBA champions, giving Dirk and also Peja the ring on their fingers they so richly deserved in all its glitter and gold. Still throughout all the Euro-ball and National Basketball Association teams that Stojaković called home nothing quite defined his time off the pine then his tennure with the Kings just like his international partner Vlade. Even though the two won together in Yugoslavia, doing something Vlade wished he could unite with, alongside his friend, the late, great Dražen Petrović. The two stars who brought countries together showed one that Basketball didn’t just belong to one country or league during their time in the NBA.

Whilst Webber took ‘best in the league’ consideration and Mike Bibby inked more made shots then he made tattoo appointments, Rick Adelman’s Kings where worthy of the throne all the way down to the award of Bobby Jackson and all the peasant playoff dirty work Doug Christie did in the trenches and moats around the castle walls of Larry O’Briens NBA Finals home. Still Vlade held it down in the middle like an impaler, showing and proving that he was more than a flopper or punching bag for Shaquille O’Neal. He didn’t just stand like a sand-bag in the centre. Instead he soaked up the offence of the greatest post-talents from David Robinson to Arvydas Sabonis. That’s what happens when you take years of punishment off 90’s golden era players like the Georgetwon Hoya’s, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo along with Hakeem Olaujawon and the aformentioned for your on the job training, once the captian hangs up his goggles and helping hand and court vision like Magic. Still, Vlade was a 20 and 10 threat himself and not only one of the best big-men in league history but greatest players too. Robery Horry should even check a paper or something. His six seasons where more significant than the prime time of his six-player points, rebounds, assists and blocks historical milestone company. Especially with his six-shooter beside him as his fellow countrymen Peja Stojaković helped make this Sacramento team anything but queens as this would-be Kings and best team in the league during their controversial period should have been crowned as such. Peja’s purity from behind the arc wasn’t his only scoring prowess, as this 20 point threat himself and bearded brother could shave down the middle and showed the grit and grind, behind the foreign flair of these incredibly inspired imports, before that guy named Ginobili stood alongside the tear-drop, Eva Longoria scooping of Tony Parker and had everyone screaming ‘MANU’ like Charles Barkley with the San Antonio Spurs. It may have all clicked for the Alamo but the Arco was still legendary thanks to their own European influence from two men who not only helped, showed and proved to their town and league, but the whole world that this game was truly global thanks to their definition. Sure in Sacramento they may have not been winners but what they’ve done for Yugoslavia and the world when it comes to beyond the floor and court shows they are still true champions. This will always make them, forever kings.

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NBA

Great British Basketball Legend Luol Deng Retires Full Circle With Chicago

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Great British Basketball Legend Luol Deng Retires Full Circle With Chicago
The Chicago Way...

10 years ago this writer holding a microphone as nervous as if he was about to get his Bill Murray on in ‘Lost In Translation’ and perform karaoke for the first time in Tokyo, but with no Scarlett Johansson, palm sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy…moms spaghetti (and on the surface he does NOT look calm and ready) is taking part in his first press conference…let alone his first NBA one. All for a major magazine for his first writing job, just a mere month after he wrote his first ever article for what we the British call, “a laugh”. No Buzz, no blog. And who was my first question too?

No other but the commissioner…Mr. David Stern.

But as Stern as you could call him, the pre-Silver commish was the most warm and gregarious you could imagine. That’s when I got a little wind under my wings like I was wearing Air Jordan’s for this NBA London postgame Chicago Bulls vs Utah Jazz presser. I had a few questions for then Chi-town coach Vinny Del Negro. I don’t think I had the balls to ask Coach Sloan anything. But apparently I had enough confidence to tell the then Jazz leader Deron Williams that his team could test my Lakers…he didn’t agree (there’s the spirit D-Will). And then in walked the man of the hour. The whole reason this game was here and at the very least taking off on these shores. Sudan born but British raised Luol Deng. He too was kind enough to give me a quote worthy answer to my question. Then as he left past the cameras and tape recorders I reached out my hand and he shook it back.

Star…STRUCK!

Thank you for that Luol, and for everything you’ve done for British basketball…and also for being part of my beloved purple and gold Lakers for a season or two (or more as fate would have it). Although most fans who can’t look past that massive contract fail to see that the most underrated superstar of this era was worth every penny when healthy…no Lake Show aficionado talks smack about the Steve Nash cash. 

Now as this writer a decade later pens this in a Japanese residence aiming to have his own contract to remain here throughout the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, a week after taking in the cities NBA Japan Games featuring the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors, I look back to that Chicago Bulls London game of 2009 and the 2012 Olympics that came in London a few years later and everything you’ve done for the sport in my homeland and host nation. Knowing that from Brixton to Sudan you truly are a global ambassador like Dikembe Mutombo and like that mountain of a man will be at many a London exhibition for the National Basketball Association post career, no finger wag. No one-apart from former Orlando Magic big John Amaechi who truly changed the game from an equality perspective in the locker room-has done more for this game in the British Isles.

But this article isn’t about the U.K. Or even NBA Africa. Although that, just like your incredible and inspired charity work is worthy of its own book…let alone article. This is about the untouchable city of Chicago, from De Niro to Capone. The Windy City and the changing season you brought in with a gust and the Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson team of the new millennium and hope…that in the legendary United Centre seems as lost as the elevated train town that surrounds it, albeit still so classic. As American as apple pie…or Michael Jordan.

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As you walk past his Statue of Liberty to this city iconic statue outside in the unmistakable windy granite look of this area, cemented in the nostalgia of the golden era 90’s like a Pippen bronze bust once you and your pulled tight coat get inside out the cold, you know what it’s about. Post Jordan and Baby Bulls era you were the team to compete, bring it all back. And although Rose was the next 23 in line star to grow from concrete you were the dependable all-star from the start and a ten years of your own. You’ll go down as one of the best Bulls ever. Like the 1 and only Rose, your number nine will be shot up there in the rafters with all the twenty and thirty-three’s and all the banners bar injuries you could have put up there.

Why?

Two All-Star selections an All Defensive Second Team selection and the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for starters that’s why. But the Duke grad who also logged some time with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat (after Pat Riley called him one of the most important acquisitions after he came in for the post King era in South Beach)  was much more than a number, even if his will end up with the air up there when it is all said and done…which it is. Because after playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves last year after his Hollywood divorce, Deng is calling it a career. But he isn’t retiring Minny with the Wolves oh no. And there won’t be one last dance of a season sadly for those practicing their steps.

But still he is galloping out this association as a Bull. After signing a one-day contract with the team he entered the league with as an all rookie, seventh draft pick, Luol will retire and leave the league with the same team. It’s a grand gesture and nice move from the Bulls (even though it leaves talented player Perrion Callandret cut (bring him back)), as Deng’s 15 year career-with the lion share being with these cubs-comes full circle in Chicago like this town’s Loop subway system.

As Chicago as Common, Deng is back where he belongs if only for a night as the seasons of change and cities weather brings him back to where it all began for a fitting end blowing in the wind.

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NBA

Lakers Licking Warriors All Preseason

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Lakers Licking Warriors All Preseason
Name a more iconic Laker duo...we'll wait...

Number 23, James jerseys being burnt in fiery flames of anger and anguish. Just like a Cavalier when he left the land for a new flame with the South Beach talents of the Miami Heat.

Political commentators almost telling him to “shut up and dribble” like they were Trump.

It’s been a rough week for LeBron James.

But it has been an even rougher year for the people of Hong Kong…and that’s the point LeBron.

For all the controversy in China-from billboards coming down like it was a decade ago. To think before you tweet, hypocritical tweets being sent like the Donald (you could have waited ‘Bron…period)-James had to rebound on his return to Hollywood after the reality of the last seven days. And boy did he like Barkley. Running a power move on them like Chuck. Just days after being made a Public Enemy for failing to fight the power for a nation of millions, refusing to be held back.

And saying no more about the situation, whilst admitting wrong. Taking blame and hoping for an accepted apology, Business LeBron let his game do the talking.

And it SANG!

Answering back on the hardwood court at least…if not the one of public and social media trending opinion.

After failing to close out the China Games for the West and find the nets against Brooklyn in the Far East, James and his Laker gang returned to their regular preseason schedule for their California clash series with the former champion Golden State Warriors.

And right now it’s all Lakers like A.D., A.C., A.B., J-McGee, D-Howard, Danny Green, Quinn cookin’ against his old firm and K.C.P.

First the Lakers were too hot for the Warriors Chase Centre house warming in San Francisco. Then across the Golden Gate and state the Lake Show’s new young core manned up with the beard and the brow sitting. As rook Zach Norvell Jr. had 22 in his number 21 (hey Lakers maybe don’t trade this one), leading a youth in revolt featuring NBA family legacy members Kostas Antetokounmpo and David Stockton against the splash brotherhood and their newly adopted sibling, former Laker D’Angelo Russell, wetting everything on the Pacific Coast right now. Even Dwight Howard proved again against all the odds and odd looks just how big a back-up he’s going to be with 12 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals for the finest of lines.

And then there was the 126-93 candle blowing of last night for two teams who will meet tomorrow too. But right now with the Lakers licking the Warriors so much like a lizards tongue, Golden State are in the soft state of being the ice cream right now.

Let it melt!

But for all the cones like a kid holding two perhaps we’ve just SLAM cover jinked it all right now.

Still, tomorrow is another day.

As for yesterday all the Dubs troubles weren’t so far away as James’ La La Land company went full ‘Space Jam’ Monstar’s on the K.O’d champs. Playing some of the most beautiful basketball you’ll ever see…let alone in mere preseason play. Which rust dust off is taken so much more serious these days with the advent of social media allowing for instant replays in high-rises and hamlets across the world in the blink of a tweeting second. The drama is almost at a Shakespearian level…especially after last week. And to tweet or not to tweet (that is no longer the question) LeBron knows how to fine tune, orchestrate it all. Quarterback running it like the point position he was meant to take up like the number 6 and the chalk tossing headband days he’s strapping back on.

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‘The Greatest Basketball Story Ever Told’ about the Milan miracle Hickory Hoosiers by Greg Guffey features many a classic line of inspired journalism. One being about how a big-man dunked the ball as gently as dropping an egg in a basket. This plagiarism aside perfectly describes one of McGee’s slam’s. But the rest he and the Ghidorah big-man three-headed monster put down was like the dunk contests they all used to partake. And this table of full courses was set perfectly by the King like a moat surrounding a castle, thanks to the arrow in the ground perfect picks hammered down and planted with the deepest roots by these seven feet high and rising pivots off the roll.

And that was when the King wasn’t American Football running his way through the paint to pastel his own touchdowns with easel ease. One touch pass from the palette to Dwight Howard had exquisite wrote all over it, alley to oop.

But that wasn’t even the best one.

That belonged to the contouring down court of LeBron’s falling out of bounds, M.J. against the Lakers switch hands pass to Danny Green, waiting at the corner shop to bag the three, paper or plastic and make the King look even better like the previous week didn’t even happen. After all the social media white noise to what was more a misjudgement and the mistake of a man that is still school opening and philanthropic more than an athlete, this master move, worthy of the greatest of all-time highlight package-let alone the regular season itself-inspired Instagram flame emojis from everyone from former meme teammate Lance Stephenson back in China to the merc with a mouth, Deadpool himself actor Ryan Reynolds here in Hollywood.

LeBron’s 18 to go along with four rebounds, 11 assists and one steal, next to Davis’ 8 points and assists, 10 rebounds, one steal and two blocks. Not to mention Cook’s broth of 16 points and 3 assists against his old Chef Curry boys, Howard’s end of 13 points and 7 rebounds, McGee’s 12, 6 rebounds, a steal and a block and Avery Bradley’s 18 was the most balanced of attacks and too much for friend to foe D’Angelo Russell’s Jordanesque 23, off some of the fresh pail of water purest buckets.

Sure this game the Warriors were without soldier Stephen Curry to match his soaked on the side-line Splash Brother and the departed Durant. But they still had Green on this day like the Lakers. And the purple and gold themselves are still without former Golden State big DeMarcus Cousins and the young Prince of the King’s men Kyle Kuzma whose just had the option on his contract exercised like ghosts.

Just wait until they get at least one of those guys back.

It’s going to be real scary in Hollywood this Halloween.

And we’re on the eve of seeing it all over again back across the Bay, to close it all out a week after this teams horror show.

Time to suit up in the league’s most famous costume.

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NBA

Big Trouble For Lakers Against Nets In China

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Big Trouble For Lakers Against Nets In China
The China Syndrome...

Making ’em move and shake like the guitar he strums, former Laker meme team reserve Lance Stephenson is making his name and game proud in China. Lifting trophies just weeks after taking off for the Far East. But as for his former team, they had nothing to dance about when they left China after their Shanghai/Shenzhen double-header with the Brooklyn Nets.

There was no Kevin Durant. In the end with a facial fracture no Kyrie Irving and no Anthony Davis for most of Game 2 with a sore thumb. It sucked. But there was almost no game for all the King’s men and the Brooklyn boys as China went dark on the NBA following the events of last week.

Billboards of LeBron and co came down like witnessing the first time he left Cleveland for the talents of South Beach following some comments from the Rockets G.M., James Harden and Russell Westbrook in support of the Hong Kong protesters. And they weren’t even in China. Playing big in Japan with the champion Toronto Raptors. Splitting their two game series in Tokyo a year before the 2020 Olympics, one game apiece. Commissioner Adam Silver back them up saying they, the protestors and everyone has a “right to free speech”…and then everything came down.

First China cut ties with the NBA like your exes friends on Facebook. Then all posters, media and the like were removed like any chance of these games being televised. It looked like they wouldn’t even tip off as the Lakers and Net teams were stuck in their hotel rooms wondering if they could even go outside to Instagram those iconic skyline sights. The Lakers-getting there first-didn’t even have WIFi to check what was going on or scroll through their Twitter timelines and take on the trolls. But in the end from Shanghai to Shenzhen there was LeBron bringing back the iconic chalk-toss pregame like he has the headband Heat days.

But if the King thought that was the end of his troubles in China then he was thumb sorely mistaken as the Nets bucketed the Lakers on the four frames of both trips. And if you want to talk about trolling Brooklyn also had the best bite back GIF reply to the Lakers “consider this a warning” tweet last week after beating the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco for their preseason opener.

Spencer Dinwiddie’s expression said it all.

Watch what you tweet.

Despite dropping two like Alka Seltzer tablets the Lake’s put on a show as ‘Bron bulldozed the lane like John Deere and the Ghidora three-headed big-man monster of the Lakers showed they could even take on Godzilla if they were ever to cross the continent to the city of Tokyo. A.D. again coming up big before injuries got in his way, even from downtown Shanghai on that night, showed how much he’s been working on his three-ball. But wolf McGee huffing, puffing and blowing the Nets painted post house down (before swatting the ball away from him like it was the hand of a significant other that had just pissed him off) and Howard finishing off alley-oops with that old Orlando magic (mosquito swatting all other shots. Looking more and more like a solid pick-up to round out the bolstered bench on his reunion redemption move as he blocks out any doubt) turned the lay-up line into a dunk contest. With both former participants liking it from their alternate takes on the bench and vice versa. Getting up and off it like it was their time to play.

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McGee is one of this writers fan favourite Laker players…of any era. But if you bleed purple and gold you have to love the Bruce Bowen like Avery Bradley right now and all he’s doing for the team not only the defence end he dominates like the people’s court, but the shots he selects and creates for himself on the business end. From reigning champ Danny Green, to little Greek brother Kostas Antetokounmpo who also showed out (making it another NBA family affair for the Lakers after signing legendary Point Guard John Stockton’s son David from South Bay. A year after picking up Gary Payton II), A.B. in the offseason of A.D. may be one of LeBron’s Lakers best pick-ups. Especially in this pick-up game like preseason exhibition. Hopes for this purple season are higher than Meth and Red right now.

But in the end in China it was nothing but the Nets.

Spreading love the BKLYN way with some crazy, rich wins, the Nets tore down the Lakers 114-111 in Shanghai, thanks to a former Laker of all people. As former (former) D-League to big league sensation David Nwaba iced the game off the turnover with a huge, signature slam with 13.9 to go before KCP (he’s still here… that’s how abyss deep the Lakers are this year) couldn’t convert a clutch three. This after both Irving and Caris LaVert went down (the latter joining Kyrie’s facial fractures with being poked in the eye). Spencer ‘The GIF’ Dinwiddie with 20 et al picked up the slack however to show the Nets are just as deep. Especially upfront, even rivalling the Lakers big, big-three as Jarrett Allen and new free agent pick-up DeAndre Jordan combined for seven big blocks.

Not treading shallow water either the following game on the H.K. border of Shenzhen closed it all out for an eventful and stressful half week. With many fans wearing hearts on their jerseys and other on their sleeves as the former New Jersey Nets took on the former Minneapolis Lakers in the second Chinese city. LeVert returned and scored 22 in that many minutes of play to lead his team to a 3-zip postseason record ensuring the Lakers would get no sleep on their return flight ’till Los Angeles. And this was without Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving. Even the locked down dreads of rookie Nicolas Claxton got in on the action with 8 points in nine minutes. If the Nets can beat the Lakers now just imagine what it will be like when their one, two punch hits. It looks like they have a dynamic duo to best not only ‘Bron and the ‘Brow, but the Shaq and Kobe greatest of all time too.

But if you thought that was how you send a message then just look at the Chinese fans who came to the game in their teams jerseys, but with a Chinese flag covering the Jerry West silhouette of the NBA logo.

Now that’s how you make a statement. Although let’s make one ourselves and continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong, but also look for peace and resolution in this critical time. Support the Lakers and Nets all you want but this was just a game…and a mere exhibition one at that. The support Hong Kong needs right now is so much more.

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