Citizen/King: LeBron James wins NBA citizenship award

Snubbed in the MVP voting, LeBron James received an award maybe more significant.

James is this year’s recipient of the Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award given annually by the Pro Basketball Writers’ Association for “outstanding service and dedication to the community.”

Cleveland’s superstar is being honored for his educational work in Akron, Ohio, his hometown. He has helped more than 1,100 at-risk students through his LeBron James Family Foundation, which partnered with the University of Akron in 2015 to provide full scholarships to students who meet eligibility requirements. James is also starting a new public “‘I PROMISE” school to aid students and their families.

“It means a lot,” James said of the award, which is named after the league’s second commissioner. “I do so much for my community and my foundation does a great job of giving families and kids and the youth an opportunity to better their lives and better their futures and for that part of what I do to be recognized, it’s definitely an award that not only myself and my foundation but all my kids that are a part of my program and all the people that look up to me, it’s their award for sure.”

James has mentored students by writing letters, calling their homes and rewarding them with tickets to Cavs games. He has also bought groceries, supplied uniforms and arranged outings to expose the youngsters to new experiences.

“LeBron James’ efforts to help young people are exemplary,” said PBWA President Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. “He is making a difference, and so are the other 25 people who were nominated for this award.”

The other four finalists for the award were New York’s Carmelo Anthony, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Portland’s CJ McCollum and Memphis’ Zach Randolph.

Earlier this week, James learned that he is not among the top three MVP vote getters for the first time since 2008. James will finish in the media voting behind finalists Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. The winner will be announced on June 26.

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Reports: Larry Bird stepping down as Pacers president

NBA legend Larry Bird has resigned as president of the Indiana Pacers, according to reports from The Vertical and ESPN.

Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard will take over the team. Pritchard joined the team in 2011 as its director of player personnel and was promoted to general manager a year later.

No reason for Bird’s departure was given.

Bird, who also coached the team from 1997 to 2000, is expected to serve as a consultant going forward, The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported.

The 60-year-old Hall of Famer first became the Pacers’ president of basketball operations in 2003 and then retired for health reasons in 2012. After a year away, he returned to the position.

The Pacers went 42-40 this season, with their playoffs coming to an end with a first-round sweep by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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NCAA returns events to North Carolina

North Carolina is included as one of the states listed to host NCAA championship events between the years 2018-2022, the NCAA announced Tuesday.

The news comes two weeks after the NCAA ended its ban against the state, when it announced the organization’s Board of Governors “reluctantly voted to allow consideration of championship bids in North Carolina.” The reversal came after the state’s partial repeal of House Bill 2, or the so-called bathroom bill.

HB2 ordered that people at a government-run facility must use bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate. North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill, HB142, on March 30 that repealed the controversial law.

The new bill keeps regulation of bathroom access solely in control of the state legislature. It also prevents local governments from passing or amending their own nondiscrimination ordinances relating to private employment and public accommodation until December 2020.

In August 2016, the NCAA said it would relocate championships that were scheduled to be held in North Carolina during the 2016-2017 academic year, citing the “cumulative impact HB2 had on local communities’ ability to ensure a safe, healthy, discrimination-free atmosphere for all those watching and participating” in its events.

The affected events included this year’s Division I Men’s Basketball Championship first and second rounds, which were held last month. Those originally were scheduled to be held in Greensboro. Instead, they were relocated to Greenville, South Carolina, about 190 miles away.

Greensboro will host the first and second rounds of the men’s tournament in 2020, while Raleigh will host the same event in 2021.

The same day the bathroom law was repealed, NCAA President Mark Emmert addressed the subject in his news conference ahead of the men’s Final Four in Glendale, Arizona, noting that North Carolina is rich in college sports tradition.

“Everybody loves being in North Carolina for our games,” Emmert said. “It’s a state, obviously, that in many ways is synonymous with college sports.”

The NCAA previously said it did not lobby for any specific change in the law.

“We recognize the quality championships hosted by the people of North Carolina in years before HB2,” the April 4 statement said. “And this new law restores the state to that legal landscape: a landscape similar to other jurisdictions presently hosting NCAA championships.”

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, the NCAA had said championships previously awarded to North Carolina for 2017-18 would remain in the state.

More hosting news could be on the horizon. On April 7, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Charlotte is eligible to host the NBA All-Star Game in 2019. This year’s All-Star Game, originally scheduled to be held in Charlotte, was moved to New Orleans.

Silver said Charlotte getting the 2019 game is “not a done deal yet,” as the city will need to show when it resubmits its bid that it will adhere to the NBA’s anti-discrimination policy.

“I’m proud of the league’s stance on opposing HB2 and announcing that we were not going to play the All-Star Game under those circumstances,” Silver said. “And I’m also proud that we’re going back. I think we can be a force for change.

“I understand that there is a segment of our fan base that believes that the change from HB2 to the new law is not enough, but it is change. It’s incremental change. We were part of the movement, pushing for that change. It’s not everything we could have hoped for, but we’re prepared to go back.”

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NBA says it expects to give 2019 All-Star Game to Charlotte

The NBA says it expects to award the 2019 All-Star Game to Charlotte, North Carolina, after the partial repeal of the so-called bathroom bill.

But Commissioner Adam Silver says it’s not a done deal and the state has to meet the NBA’s anti-discrimination requirements.

Silver made the announcement Friday after a league meeting. He said returning to North Carolina is a “powerful way to display our values of equality and inclusion.”

He said the NBA plans to develop an anti-discrimination policy and will ask its partners to meet those standards. Silver didn’t give details of the policy.

“By engaging more deeply in North Carolina we can be part of a national effort to secure more LGBT rights in North Carolina,” Silver said.

The law required people to use the restroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate, not their gender identity, in government buildings and in public schools and universities. It also prevented local governments from passing nondiscrimination policies based on gender identity.

The league gave the 2017 All-Star Game to Charlotte, then moved it to New Orleans after the law was passed.

North Carolina lawmakers voted in March to repeal the law and eliminated the bathroom stipulation. The replacement also allows cities to enact their own nondiscrimination ordinances, but not until 2020. LGBT groups say it’s unacceptable that people will have to wait for protection.

Silver, who was a vocal opponent of the law, said the NBA can be a “force for change.”

“I’m proud of the league’s stance and announcing that we weren’t going to play under those circumstances and I’m also proud that we’re going back,” he said.

The NBA’s announcement comes after the NCAA lifted its own boycott of North Carolina. The NCAA had pulled tournaments from the state but said Tuesday it would consider it as a venue for future championships.

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North Carolina fights off Gonzaga for national championship

There will be no heartbreak for the North Carolina Tar Heels this time.

A year after losing on the first buzzer-beating three in NCAA men’s basketball championship history, the Tar Heels are back on top, defeating Gonzaga 71-65 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, in front of a crowd of 76,168. It’s UNC’s sixth title and first since 2009.

It’s also the third title for UNC head coach Roy Williams, who becomes the sixth men’s college basketball coach with at least three titles.

“At the end, when you’re watching your kids jump around, and the excitement and thrill they have, there’s no better feeling in the world as a coach,” Williams said.

In 2016 in Houston, UNC lost in a thriller, succumbing to Villanova on that last-second three-pointer by Kris Jenkins. But the Tar Heels (33-7) didn’t let that scenario shape up on Monday against Gonzaga (37-2), who was in the national championship game for the first time.

In the opening minutes of the second half, UNC went on an 8-0 run to take a 40-35 lead. Gonzaga stormed right back with an 8-0 run of its own to make it 43-40 with 14:34 left. From there, as the teams continued to trade points, the officials couldn’t stop blowing the whistle. There were 27 fouls called in the second half, compared to 17 in the first.

“It was a slugfest out there,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “It’s two teams that desperately wanted to be crowned national champion. And I think to be so close for us is a temporarily crushing blow right now. But I’m hoping and knowing that perspective will come with time.”

The final push came from UNC. An Isaiah Hicks jumper gave the Tar Heels a 68-65 lead with 27 seconds to go. A Kennedy Meeks block and a timely rebound by Joel Berry II set up the fast break, which led to a Justin Jackson dunk. That made it 70-65. With no timeouts, Gonzaga was finished.

“When Kennedy blocked that shot and I grabbed the ball and threw it to Justin, I immediately almost started crying,” Berry said.

Berry, who scored 22 points on 7-of-19 shooting despite dealing with ankle injuries, was named Most Outstanding Player. Jackson had 16 points, while Hicks had 13 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and one steal. Meeks finished with seven points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

Nigel Williams-Goss led the Bulldogs with 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Josh Perkins added 13 points.

Gonzaga, a Roman Catholic university in Spokane, Washington, emerged as a Cinderella team in 1999, reaching the Elite Eight before losing to eventual champion Connecticut. The Bulldogs have been a mainstay in the NCAA tournament since.

This year’s run by Gonzaga was no fluke, with its only other defeat coming February 25 to BYU. For their efforts, the Bulldogs earned the No. 1 seed for the West region for the NCAA tournament. This was the Bulldogs’ first Final Four appearance.

“I mean, how many teams would take 37-2, league champs, national runner-up?” Gonzaga senior guard Jordan Matthews said. “We broke that glass ceiling everybody said we couldn’t get over. Everybody was saying how the Zags couldn’t get to the Final Four. So we did that.

“It started in ’99 when they went to the Elite Eight and we just kept — the Zags keep breaking that ceiling. I have no doubt in the future, there will be future Zags that get over this hump.”

But the night belonged to the No. 1 seed from the South region, UNC.

“It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” Berry said. “It’s what we’ve worked for. The ups and downs that we’ve had, it’s all worth it. I can’t even describe my feeling right now, but I’m just glad that I was able to do something with this team because I felt like, just the personality and what we went through, and I think we just deserved it.”

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South Carolina wins women’s NCAA championship

South Carolina beat Mississippi State 67-55 to win the women’s national championship game Sunday night.

The Gamecocks (33-4) were playing in their second Final Four after losing to Notre Dame in the national semifinals two years ago.

To win their first national title, they had to go through the Bulldogs, who shocked UConn with a buzzer-beating 66-64 victory on Friday night. The national semifinal win snapped an 111-game winning streak by the four-time defending national champion Huskies.

Mississippi State (34-5), which reached the Sweet 16 in 2016 and 2010, was playing in the program’s first Final Four.

South Carolina beat Stanford 62-53 on Friday to reach the championship game.

The all-Southeastern Conference national title game was the third such matchup in tournament history and  the first since Tennessee beat Georgia in 1996. The other all-SEC title game saw Tennessee beat Auburn in 1989.

It also featured two rivals who know each other very well. South Carolina won the regular season SEC title, finishing one game in front of second-place Mississippi State. The Gamecocks won both meetings this season before Sunday night, winning 64-61 in a home game during the regular season and then 59-49 in the SEC Tournament championship game.

While South Carolina’s women’s team won their title, the men’s team fell short, losing to Gonzaga in the national semifinals on Saturday night. The school is just the 13th to have both teams reach the Final Four in the same season. Only UConn has won both titles in the same season, doing so in 2004 and again in 2014.

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