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Chiefs Embracing Loose Locker Room Culture on Super Bowl Run – NBC Chicago

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If you’re planning to walk through the middle of the Kansas City Chiefs locker room between lunch and their usual afternoon practice, you might want to grab someone’s shoulder pads and helmet and brace for impact.

There’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in the middle of a pickup basketball game involving 300-pound linemen.

It’s a scene that plays out daily during the regular season, big bodies banging into each other as defensive tackles Chris Jones and Khalen Saunders try to post up under the hoop — hung just over the doorway leading into the showers. Usually, teammates will gather around them, playing the dual role of vocal fans and even more vocal referees.

“When you check in, it’s nonstop competition,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce explained this week. “Guys are always trying to play some type of game or compete in some type of way to get the upper hand on somebody else.”

The pickup games illustrate a few points about the Chiefs team preparing to play in its first Super Bowl in 50 years: They have a fierce competitive streak that permeates the entire roster, whether it’s on the field or off; they genuinely like being around each other, even when they could leave during the lunch hour; and perhaps most of all, they have a loosey-goosey nature despite the pressure-cooker business and high-stakes nature of professional football.

That last point could serve them well as they deal with a week of media engagements, countless parties and distractions, and ultimately the strain that comes with prepping for their big game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

“The unique thing about this group is that they don’t complain about anything,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “When they need to cut it loose and have fun, they cut it loose. But when they’re at practice, they’re all business.”

It wasn’t always that way.

Less than a decade ago, under the failed tenures of general manager Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley, the feeling in the locker room on a random Wednesday during the season was downright oppressive. Smiles were few, laughter even more rare, and the stress and tension that the Chiefs seemed to carry with them was almost palpable.

Romeo Crennel tried to lighten the mood a bit during his only season in charge, but it’s hard to be lighthearted in the midst of a 2-14 season marked by as much off-the-field turmoil as there were issues between the lines.

It wasn’t until Reid showed up from Philadelphia that things changed. He gave his players broad freedom to express themselves, whether that meant the way they dressed or how they acted or even where they spent their free time. All Reid asked was that they stay out of trouble, set a good example and take care of business when it was time to get serious.

“There’s a certain way we handle opportunities like this where we’re in front of the media,” Kelce said during the team’s pre-practice availability Tuesday, “but he wants you to be yourself and that’s the best thing you can do in his position is let you be yourself, how you’re most comfortable.”

Kelce is one of the biggest characters on the team — remember his reality TV show, “Catching Kelce?” He often wears outlandish outfits and his fashion sense is, to put it mildly, unique. But Kelce also exemplifies the almost uncanny way the Chiefs can flip a switch from silly to serious, as evidenced by his four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

The Chiefs showed their appreciation for their coach — and the way he treats them — when they donned his trademark Hawaiian-style shirt for the trip to Miami. Other teams might deplane the week before the Super Bowl wearing suits and an all-business attitude, but the Chiefs bounced across the tarmac as if they were headed to Disney World.

“Coach is an awesome dude to play for. He is 100 percent in this whole thing with us,” Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher said. “A big part of why we’re here is we want to succeed for him. He puts in so much work every day in making us successful, and making sure we do good. The least we can do is give him our all.”

Reid has a natural habit of deflecting such plaudits, so it’s no surprise that he pointed to the players themselves as the reason the Chiefs are such a tight-knit group.

It starts with the star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who often drags a handful of guys to college basketball games or concerts or a myriad of other events in Kansas City. And it trickles down to the newest of arrivals, who suddenly find themselves immersed in a locker room environment unlike they’ve ever seen.

It’s like a bowl of chili in that the right amount of the right ingredients can come together for a delicious result.

“When you get them all together,” Reid said, “they all kind of feed off each other. That is kind of this age, this time of life, at this time, being 2020. This is how it has evolved since I came in the league. We were barely getting cell phones back then. Now, you give them a break so that they can be on the cell phone. It’s a different world.

“But they do have a great personality,” the coach added with a smile. “I’ve said from the time I’ve been a head coach, let your personality show. That’s part of this thing, not only as a player on the field, but also when you’re off. You still have to stop at the red light, but you can let your personality show. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

___

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Kobe Bryant Is a Finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame

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Kobe Bryant, the former Los Angeles Lakers star whose death last month continues to cast a pall over the N.B.A., was among eight finalists announced on Friday for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bryant, who was 41, retired from the N.B.A. in 2016 after spending his entire 20-year playing career with the Lakers. He won five championships, was an 18-time All-Star and won the N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2008. A dynamic and hypercompetitive player, he also helped the league fill the void that was left by Michael Jordan’s retirement.

Former N.B.A. stars Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett will join Bryant on the ballot, while Tamika Catchings, a 10-time W.N.B.A. All-Star, was nominated by the women’s screening committee.

Rudy Tomjanovich, Kim Mulkey, Eddie Sutton and Barbara Stevens are finalists as coaches.

To gain induction, finalists need a minimum of 18 of 24 votes from the honors committee, which is made up of Hall of Famers, basketball executives and administrators, and members of the news media. The class of 2020 will be announced in April.

Mike Breen, the longtime play-by-play voice for the Knicks on the MSG Network and the lead voice for N.B.A. broadcasts on ESPN and ABC, won the Curt Gowdy Media Award for electronic media. Michael Wilbon, an ESPN analyst and former sportswriter and columnist for The Washington Post, won the award for print.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Jan. 26. He was widely expected to be on the ballot even before his death, which prompted an outpouring of grief across the country. A public memorial service is planned for Feb. 24 at Staples Center, where the Lakers play their home games.

Bryant’s death continues to affect players from around the league, including LeBron James, whose long relationship with Bryant had developed into more of a friendship over the last two seasons. James has pledged to continue Bryant’s “legacy” this season on the Lakers.



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FIFA, Seeking $1 Billion for Club World Cup, Hires U.S. Firm to Find It

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FIFA largely blamed costs for scrapping the event, but Domínguez reacted with fury, demanding, in a letter to FIFA, a detailed breakdown on how much FIFA spent to host similar meetings recently in India, Rwanda and China.

After finally bowing to the creation of the tournament, UEFA has so far stymied FIFA’s efforts to secure the participation of the continent’s top teams for the inaugural event next year. It has demanded the field should include winners of its second-tier Europa League competition, while FIFA wants only the continent’s best teams.

The clubs are taking advantage of the tensions. As well as talking to FIFA about the quadrennial World Cup, Europe’s biggest teams have also met with the American billionaire Stephen M. Ross, who is seeking to get them to commit more formally to an annual preseason tournament. Ross’s company, Relevent Sports Group, has held talks with both UEFA and FIFA about securing their backing for an annual event in which participating clubs could secure about $10 million per tournament and an equity stake, provided they commit to several editions of the competition.

FIFA hopes the new revenue stream from an expanded Club World Cup will allow it to invest more in developing the game around the world. But the financial demands of the top teams could make that difficult: Those teams want a model similar to the Champions League, where more than 90 percent of the income is paid out in prize money.

Because of the early opposition to its project, FIFA has found itself in a hurry to get the financing it requires. Some groups that showed initial interest in the event, like Suning Holdings Group, which is based in China, owns the Italian team Inter Milan and is one of the biggest Chinese investors in soccer, declined to make an offer after complaining that there was a lack of detail in FIFA’s tender request.

By hiring Raine to manage the process, FIFA is enlisting an organization well versed in securing deals for sports entities, and one with a presence in China. Led by the banker Joe Ravitch, the firm helped the English soccer champion Manchester City sell a stake worth $500 million to the American investment group Silver Lake Partners in November. And City’s Premier League rival Chelsea has directed any parties interested in acquiring the club from its Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, toward Ravitch.



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What we know, updates from public service

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Los Angeles will come to a stop Monday to publicly memorialize Kobe and Gianna Bryant at the Staples Center.

When Vanessa Bryant announced the public service on Instagram earlier this month, she pointed out the symbolism in the date: 2/24/20.

Two for the number Gianna, aka “Mambacita,” wore.  Twenty-four for the number Kobe wore during the second half of his career. And twenty, for the years Kobe and Vanessa spent together.

Kobe and Gianna were buried in a private ceremony on Feb. 7, according to records.

It is sure to be an emotional event.

Follow along with USA TODAY Sports for live updates.

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Jimmy Kimmel introduces Vanessa Bryant for eulogy 

Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel was the first speaker at the podium after a Bryant highlight reel. He then introduced Vanessa. 

“Thank you all so much for being here,” she said. “It means so much to us.” 

Vanessa began by talking about Gianna and how she always showed her love with a morning and nightly kiss. 

“Gianna never tried to conform,” Vanessa said. “She was always herself.” 

She also lamented on what “Gigi” will not experience in this life: her wedding day, never driving a car or attending high school, the chance to become the best player in WNBA history. 

“I miss you every day. I love you,” Vanessa said. 

She then turned her eulogy toward Kobe, who she’d been with since she was 17 years old. 

“He was my everything,” she said. “Kobe loved more than I could express or put into words … we balanced each other out. He would do anything for me.

“Kobe was the MVP of girl dads,” added Vanessa, before telling stories about Kobe being a father to Gianna and his three other girls: Natalia, 17; Bianca, 3; and Capri, 8 months.

“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth without each other,” Vanessa said. “He had to bring them home together. Babe, you take care of our Gigi. And I got Nati, Bibi and Coco. … May you both rest in peace and have fun in heaven until we meet again one day.” 

Beyoncé opens Kobe Bryant memorial with song ‘XO’ 

After a short introduction by the public service address announcer, Beyoncé Knowles took the stage and began singing her hit “XO,” which she said was one of Kobe’s favorite songs.

“I’m here because I love Kobe,” she said before encouraging the rest of the crowd to join her in song. 

Beyoncé also sang her single “Halo.” 

“Halos don’t fade away,” she improvised during the chorus. 

About five minutes before Beyoncé took the stage, people gathered inside Staples Center gave a respectful round of applause to Vanessa Bryant after making her way to the arena’s lower bowl. Beyoncé blew her a kiss and mouthed “I love you.” 

LeBron James tweets ‘2/24’ with infinity symbol

James and the Lakers have endured plenty off the court over the last month as they continue leading the Western Conference. 

The infinity symbol was important to Bryant. His production company, called Granity Studios, issued a statement three days after his death: 

“Granity is a word Kobe created that is a combination of greater than infinity. How very Kobe.” 

Luminaries spotted at Kobe Bryant memorial 

Here’s a list of big names spotted at the ceremony so far:

Kobe’s parents Joe and Pam and older sisters Sharia and Shaya; NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Lakers legend Magic Johnson, former teammate Brian Shaw, former NBA MVP and teammate Steve Nash, Lakers great Elgin Baylor, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, 10-time NBA champion Bill Russell, Phoenix Suns point guard Devin Booker, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, NBA legend Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls champion Scottie Pippen, former teammate Lamar Odom, former Lakers coach Byron Scott, Metta World Peace, Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers with players Stephen Curry, Ayesha Curry, Warriors forward Draymond Green, Lakers champion A.C. Green, Spurs legend Tim Duncan, Houston Rockets’ James Harden, former teammates Shaquille O’Neal and Derek Fisher, WNBA star Diana Taurasi, Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade, actress Gabrielle Union, rappers Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West, Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabar, former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook, former baseball player Alex Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez, Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss, Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, Lakers assistant Jason Kidd,  

Mark Medina and Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports, reporting from Los Angeles

Fans begin to enter Staples Center

Patient and mourning Lakers fans lined up outside Staples Center before the crack of dawn. Then around 8:30 am PT, arena workers opened the doors for those attending Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial service.

Fans that entered the building received a T-Shirt showing Kobe and Gianna Bryant embracing each other in three different images. They also received a program titled “A Celebration of Life: Kobe & Gianna Bryant.” On the back of the T-Shirt read “Bryant” along with the jersey numbers for Gianna (2) and Kobe (24) underneath.

As attendees entered Staples Center, music played — Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and Diana Krall’s version of “Just the Way You Are” — and a photo gallery of Kobe and Gianna photos rotated on the video board. 

The program does not indicate the memorial’s itinerary, including any planned speakers. No photos are allowed in the Staples Center seating area. But there is a center stage with red flowers all around, drum set and plenty of mic stands. 

While it required a mobile ticket to enter the arena, attendees were given a commemorative ticket featuring a young Gianna hugging her dad: section 8, row 24, seat 2. 

Mark Medina and Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports, reporting from Los Angeles 

Parking prices hit $40 on Monday

The daily flat rate at public parking lots close to Staples Center has been hiked and street vendors are out in force Monday with three hours before the memorial service for Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

One parking lot jacked up its daily rate to $40 from the usual fee of $20 and another increased its rate to $40 from $30.

 “That’s the story, right?” a parking lot attendant told USA TODAY SPORTS with a smile while declining to give his name. “Everybody’s making a profit on Kobe.”

Things were more affordable down the street. Vendors were selling Kobe beanies, caps and T-shirts for $10 apiece. 

One vendor said that has been here for 24 hours.

“No shower,” she said with a grin. 

Josh Peter, USA TODAY Sports, reporting from Los Angeles

Kobe, Gianna imagery everywhere 

The image of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna are on omnipresent near Staples Center on Monday as the memorial service for both approaches.

In addition to T-shirts and other merchandise bearing their images, they’re also pictured together on a massive electronic billboard.

And on a retaining wall in front of a car wash, someone has spray-painted, “RIP KOBE & GIGI.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of ticket-holders for the memorial service already are standing in line, with doors to Staples Center expected to open at about 8 a.m. 

Josh Peter, USA TODAY Sports, reporting from Los Angeles

As a condition of providing this live stream, the USA TODAY Network is required to show a graphic directing viewers to Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s foundation.



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