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MILWAUKEE BUCKS COACH Mike Budenholzer would like to know what constitutes the antonym of asterisk. If such a word exists, he says, that’s what should be attached to whichever team wins the 2020 NBA championship under such unusual circumstances.

It’s also, he argues, what should be affixed to the 1999 San Antonio Spurs, who endured a season shortened by a lockout, then culminated in the franchise’s first title. Some critics tried to undermine the team winning it all by saying doing so in a partially compromised season should necessitate an asterisk in the history books. Budenholzer, then an assistant coach on that San Antonio team, sees it the opposite way.

“We were on the precipice of going off a cliff,” he says, “but then we won a championship. You couldn’t make up the things that happened. It was a crazy year.”

San Antonio’s journey saw a head coach clawing for his job just 23 days into the season; a fiery players-only session on a bus in Houston hours before tipoff; a clandestine meeting called by the aforementioned coach-under-siege at his home with his two most trusted veterans; a nine-game winning streak that signified the passing of the torch from one legendary big man to the next; and a clutch, corner-tippy-toe jumper in the playoffs by a player who should have been on dialysis at the time.

Asterisks are being thrown around again because some noted pundits — Shaquille O’Neal among them — argue the 2020 NBA winner should be tagged with one, providing the Orlando bubble holds and teams are able to complete this bizarre 2019-20 season. Those statements generated pushback from Giannis Antetokounmpo, who contends, “This is gonna be the toughest championship you could ever win.” Nearly every coach in the bubble affirms the sentiment: There should be no asterisk.

The renewed debate has stirred emotions for the Spurs, who objected to Phil Jackson famously declaring — more than once — that the 1999 title deserved that asterisk moniker. They still bristle at anyone’s attempts to dilute their accomplishments.

“It completely ignores all the hard work we put in that season,” former Spurs point guard Avery Johnson says. “What’s most disappointing about Phil’s asterisk statement was not so much the first time he said it, but five or seven years later when he felt the need to regurgitate it, after Pop had won his second ring.

“It was just so disrespectful. I think the real asterisk was when Phil was president of the Knicks.”

Keep in mind that in 1999, the Spurs weren’t “THE SPURS” yet. Gregg Popovich was in only his second full season as the team’s head coach and had posted a 73-73 career mark, not yet fully formed as a Hall of Fame leader and the social conscience of the league. Tim Duncan was in his second season, a quiet emerging superstar who liked nothing more than to sequester himself in his room and play the video game version of Battleship. No one lauded the Spurs’ culture as a model of professionalism and integrity because that culture was under construction, with the real possibility the whole project could be scrapped at any moment.

“When you consider everything,” says Sean Elliott, one of the stars of that San Antonio team, “how could anyone even think about an asterisk?”

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Charlo Brothers fight card: Five storylines to watch on massive Showtime Boxing PPV doubleheader

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With the Charlo twins set to headline separate main events within the same unique pay-per-view doubleheader on Saturday from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, there are no shortage of storylines surrounding the 30-year-old rising stars. 

Both Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs), the WBC middleweight champion, and brother Jermell Charlo (33-1, 17 KOs), who holds the WBC 154-pound title, enter what can be legitimately called the toughest challenges of their respective careers on Saturday.  The six-fight event (Showtime PPV, 7 p.m. ET) also features a four-pack of exciting matchups in the bantamweight and junior featherweight divisions. 

Let’s take a closer look at what to watch for entering the Showtime Boxing PPV extravaganza featuring the Charlos this weekend.

1. PBC betting time is now on all things #LionsOnly

With an equal balance of speed and power to form a combined pro record of 63-1 with 39 KOs, the 30-year-old Charlo twins have both seemed one breakthrough victory away from cracking the sport’s top 10 pound-for-pound list in recent years. Marketing wise, however, there has always been talk about the potential of their #LionsOnly brand becoming more, maybe to the level of being a household name across the sport (and beyond). Following a flurry of headlining roles over the past year on pay cable and in primetime on national television, PBC boss Al Haymon believes the Charlos’ time is now to take that swing in this somewhat historic double PPV main event across two cards. There has never been a doubt that the fighting brothers, who are just as competitive seemingly with one another other even more so than their opponents, have the right kind of brash attitude to sell themselves and a firm understanding of how to grab an audience’s attention. But for this PPV kickoff to truly have lasting power, both will need to win in very difficult matchups, respectively. 

2. Jermall’s island finds shipwrecked passenger

Among the most talented and well-rounded talents in the 160-pound division, Charlo simply hasn’t had the opportunity to prove his skills translate the same against the elite members of the division. His prior junior middleweight title run brought him impressive wins over names like Cornelius Bundrage, Austin Trout and Julian Williams. His five fights at middleweight have largely seen him on the wrong side of boxing’s political line, however, despite a respected decision win over former champion Matvey Korobov. With his goal remaining the same of an eventual showdown with Mexican icon Canelo Alvarez, Charlo finally gets the chance to prove his worth against as tough an out as the division can find in Derevyanchenko. For every bold word Charlo has ever proclaimed in the face of critics, this fight represents his ultimate shot at having the last word in regards to where he stands. 

3. Derevyanchenko hoping third time is the charm

A native of Ukraine with an extensive amateur background (who called the likes of future world champions Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk as teammates), it didn’t take but 12 pro fights for Derevyanchenko to earn his first pro title shot. Despite two outstanding performances in title shots against Daniel Jacobs and Gennadiy Golovkin over the past two years, Derevyanchenko has nothing to show for it. While he deserved a mild level of contention for his split-decision loss to Jacobs, it was his absolute war with GGG — who received the nod from all three judges — that Derevyanchenko seemed to find the majority believing he deserved better. Not only did “The Technician” rise from the canvas against both to showcase his toughness, he stood up to the powerful Golovkin and became the aggressor as the fight wore on. At 34, there’s never a guarantee how many future title shots will be available to any fighter, let alone one who faces the reality of a third defeat being his last. It’s now or never for such a great fighter to realize his full potential. 

4. Control of loaded 154-pound division at stake

For all of the justified complaining by boxing fans of the sport’s constant disorganization and political trickery, the junior middleweight division is an almost throwback example of how the sport used to be. Nearly everyone at 154 pounds who matters fights under the PBC banner, and just about all of them are willing to try and prove they are the division’s best the old-fashioned way: doing so inside the ring. Charlo faces off with the upset-minded Jeison Rosario, owner of the WBA and IBF titles after shocking Julian Williams via TKO last year, to allow the winner a firm grasp on the division at large by owning three of four recognized belts (Patrick Teixeira holds the WBO strap). Considering how insanely competitive the biggest 154-pound fights have been over the last two years (including the likes of Jarrett Hurd, Erislandy Lara and Tony Harrison, to name a few), it will be nice — for as long as it lasts — to see a temporary king crowned. 

5. Loaded undercard puts spotlight on two divisions

The double Charlo PPV might be new school in its execution, but it carries with the classic charm of what used to be a standard throughout the sport: an undercard worth making an appointment to tune in early. In whatever the four support bouts under the two Charlo title clashes lack in mainstream appeal, they more than make up for that in terms of street cred from the hardcore fans. Competitively matched with each promising a certain level of two-way violence, the four world-class fights also offer the competitors a chance to steal the show at large. Will it be Mexican slugger Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs) in his vacant super bantamweight title bout against fellow unbeaten Aaron Alameda (25-0, 13 KOs)? Or how about WBA 122-pound titleholder Brandon Figueroa (22-0-1, 15 KOs)? Others are pointing to WBO bantamweight champion Jon Riel Casimero (29-4, 20 KOs) to carry on the Filipino fighting tradition of Manny Pacquiao. Either way, there are no shortage of explosive candidates. 



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No fans for Blast knock-outs as ECB warn of ‘severe’ consequences of further lockdown measures

The ECB has reiterated that the impact on cricket would be “severe” if fans were unable to return to grounds for the 2021 season, after the UK government confirmed that plans to reintroduce spectators to sporting events were being paused.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, the prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed that a spike in Covid-19 cases in the UK had required a postponement of the proposed date of October 1 for a trial reintroduction of fans in stadiums.

The final rounds of the rescheduled T20 Blast had been set for October 1 (quarter-finals) and 3 (Finals Day), in an attempt to enable some spectators to return to watch the action. However, those plans are now on hold, following the rise of the UK’s Covid-19 alert level to 4, meaning that transmission is “high or rising exponentially”.

“We have to acknowledge the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen large sporting events,” said the prime minister. “We will not be able to do this from October 1 and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs, which are the life and soul of our communities.”

Earlier this week, 100 leaders of sports and fitness bodies, including the England & Wales Cricket Board and the cricket charity, Chance to Shine, wrote to the UK government to warn of a “lost generation of activity” if sporting clubs were to face financial hardship as a consequence of Covid-related measures.

According to a report in the Guardian, the government is braced to bail out eight sports facing a financial black hole as a consequence of lockdown measures.

ECB officials were among those to sit in on a phone call with the sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, in the wake of the prime minister’s announcement, alongside representatives of the Rugby Football Union, the Football Association, the British Horseracing Authority and the governing body for Formula One.

ALSO READ: ‘We can’t let this crisis narrow our ambition’ – Clare Connor

“Like other sports, the financial impact of Covid-19 on cricket has been severe,” read an ECB statement, “and we welcome today’s constructive call with the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport where we discussed potential ways to overcome the significant challenges facing sports across the UK.

“Through this crisis we have worked closely with the government to enable cricket to be played through the summer, and we will continue to work with the Government and other sporting bodies to see the safe return of crowds to stadia as soon as possible.

“The impact of having to stage cricket behind closed doors again next year would be severe. Many clubs will also face a significant financial impact if they are unable to host conferences and events over the coming months.

“Meanwhile, restrictions on indoor team sports will also mean a reduction in activity levels and could particularly hit those whose participation has been limited during the pandemic.

“We will continue to work with the government over the coming days and weeks to ensure the challenges facing our sport are understood and can be overcome.”

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Twins, Tigers will miss Gardenhire in dugout

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When the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers begin a quick two-game series Tuesday night, manager Ron Gardenhire will be watching from home.

Gardenhire surprised the baseball world by announcing his retirement Saturday afternoon, citing personal health as the main factor in his decision to hang up the cleats one week before the 2020 regular season concludes.

Gardy has been a mainstay in Twins-Tigers games since becoming Minnesota’s manager in 2002. Gardenhire collected a 1,068-1,039 record with the Twins from 2002-14, posting a winning season in eight of 13 campaigns. He carried himself with a humorous, light-hearted attitude — with everyone but umpires, that is, as Gardy was ejected from 73 games while at the helm of the Twins.

Gardenhire was named the American League Manager of the Year after leading Minnesota to a 94-68 record in 2010. He’s the only Twins manager to have won consecutive division titles, doing so twice with three straight banners from 2002-04 and two in 2009-10. Rocco Baldelli could become the second.

At age 60, Gardenhire was hired as manager of the Tigers in 2018. He registered a 132-241 record with the rebuilding franchise from 2018-20 and went 15-26 against the Twins.

Gardenhire was let go by Minnesota following the 2014 season. Paul Molitor filled in for four campaigns before Derek Falvey and Thad Levine ushered in Baldelli as manager in 2019.

Baldelli owns a 134-63 record (.618) over his first two seasons, which is the fifth-best winning percentage for a manager through two campaigns in MLB history. The Twins are tied with Houston and the New York Yankees for the best AL records since the start of 2019.

NOTABLE

— Twenty-five of Miguel Sano’s 36 hits have been for extra bases — 12 doubles and 13 home runs. That adds up to 69.4% of Sano’s hits this season, which would go down as the highest percentage of extra-base hits in a single season, besting Barry Bonds (68.6%).

— Miguel Cabrera has smacked 42 career homers against the Twins. The former two-time MVP has smacked seven dingers this season in 208 plate appearances.

— Homer Bailey is one of 11 different pitchers to start a game this season for the Twins. Only Boston (15) and Tampa Bay (12) have used more starters.

Statistics courtesy Sportradar, baseball-reference.com



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