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My Ritual With Kobe Bryant

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The last time I was in an N.B.A. arena with Kobe Bryant, I didn’t manage to speak with him.

It was one of the few times in nearly a quarter-century of covering Bryant that we were in the same place and didn’t communicate.

And I will regret it for the rest of my life.

I initially rationalized the lost opportunity by telling myself there were too many people trying to get Bryant’s attention when the Los Angeles Lakers hosted the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 29.

Bryant was sitting courtside beside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, to watch the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, just 20, take on the Lakers’ LeBron James. I must have been listening to my inner dad voice rather than my journalistic conscience because I convinced myself to settle for observing the spectacle from press row.

Yet I can truly say I’ve never seen Bryant look happier. For four quarters, I watched the Bryants as much as the basketball.

Bryant was 17 when he joined the Lakers in July 1996. I was the 27-year-old Lakers beat writer for The Los Angeles Daily News. I had been on the N.B.A. beat for only two and a half years. The supremely confident, deeply ambitious, me-against-the-world Bryant was the first player I ever covered who was 10 years younger than me.

I wound up moving away before Bryant’s first N.B.A. playoff game when a job offer from The Dallas Morning News proved too good to pass up. But shadowing Bryant almost every day for his first nine months in Los Angeles managed to keep me on his radar for the next two decades.

He never told me so, but I was convinced it was because I had been there from the rocky start, when Shaquille O’Neal could be regularly heard singing “I believe that Showboat is our future,” changing the words to the first line of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.”

“Showboat” was Shaq’s snarky nickname for Bryant, who initially struggled to fit in on a team full of veterans — and who had even less patience than acceptance.

Of course, Bryant was also instantly beloved by fans, who voted him an All-Star starter in his second season before he had even cracked the Lakers’ starting lineup. As for me, whether I was with The Morning News, or later at ESPN, Bryant routinely made time for a few questions one on one whenever we crossed paths.

We developed a ritual on his visits to play in Dallas. I would hover near the loading dock at American Airlines Center to intercept him as soon as he got off the team bus. It gave me the chance to walk with him to the visitors’ locker room before the usual pack of reporters swarmed.

But it’s Bryant’s youth when we met that I’ve kept coming back to since Jan. 26, when his helicopter crashed into a hillside near Calabasas, Calif., killing Bryant, Gianna and the seven others on board.

I can’t shake how Bryant’s beloved “Gigi,” just like her father when he became a Laker, was a mere teenager.

It’s the most dispiriting story I’ve covered in 30 years of writing about the N.B.A. — no matter where you stand on how much we should be talking about the felony sexual assault charge Bryant faced in Colorado in 2003.

That case was dropped in September 2004 because Bryant’s accuser refused to testify. But the civil case Bryant settled with the accuser out of court, as well as his public apology to the woman, spawned a legion of detractors who believed Bryant was never fully held accountable.

It is a debate that is bound to rumble on, well past Monday’s memorial service to honor a global sporting icon gone too soon. But I think it is a debate you can separate from this unspeakable tragedy.

On the fateful Sunday, I had just filled in as coach for my son Aaron’s Dallas Texans club soccer team. TMZ’s initial report about Bryant’s death was published shortly after I got home with Aaron and my wife/team manager, Rachel.

Like many, I didn’t believe the report. Part of me still can’t. I naturally prefer to keep flashing back to images of Bryant and Gianna from that joyful evening of Dec. 29.

He looks like Gianna Bryant’s best friend in all of them. As the father of a 13-year-old myself, I can think of no loftier aim.


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Bears Make Signings of Robert Quinn, Germain Ifedi Official – NBC Chicago

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The Chicago Bears have continued to confirm the signings
they made early in NFL free agency, as the team announced contracts with
offensive lineman Germain Ifedi and linebacker Robert Quinn.

Both signings, previously reported when the new NFL league
year began in mid-March, were both made official on Wednesday.

Quinn, a two-time Pro Bowler who most recently played for
the Dallas Cowboys, agreed to a five-year contract with the Bears. Ifedi, let
go by the Seattle Seahawks after the conclusion of the 2019 season, signed a
one-year deal with the Bears.

Quinn is joining a dynamic Bears front seven that is one of
the best in the NFL. Last season, Quinn started 14 games for the Cowboys,
racking up 11.5 sacks in those contests for Dallas. He also had 22 quarterback
hurries and 13 tackles-for-loss, and according to the Bears it was his fourth
career season with double-digit sacks.

Ifedi, a first-round pick of the Seahawks in 2016, will hope
to bolster an offensive line that struggled at times during the 2019 season. He
primarily played right tackle for the Seahawks last season, and will be one of
the Bears’ main candidates to replace Kyle Long, who retired from football
after the 2019 campaign.





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Podcast: Jim Jackson, Marc Zumoff, Tom McCarthy talk careers in sports, and more

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Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Taryn Hatcher and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Predicting who wins the Flyers’ 2019-20 Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as most improved player.

Destra

When it comes to most improved from last season, Travis Konecny is the first that comes to mind. He didn’t have a poor 2018-19 season by any means but when looking back and the leaps and bounds he has made since then, it just makes sense to award him the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy. 

Before the season started, I noted that Konecny was the most important puzzle piece for a successful year and he has continued to prove that with every game played. 

Konecny bettered his two-way game, cleaned up his puck work in the neutral zone and can be on a line with just about anyone and still find a way to drive play. He’s grown every aspect of his game and now leads the team in points, as well. 

Not to mention, he’s also a pest to play against, a ton of fun to watch, made his first All-Star appearance back in January … and he’s only 23 years old. 

Emmer

Konecny is the most improved player.

Fans were expecting a breakout season from Konecny and he’s having it. With 61 points through 66 games, he’s already 12 points past his previous career high of 49 points in 82 games last year. 

Konecny’s average ice time has gone up by almost two minutes more than last season and he has continued to dominate in his 5-on-5 play, while his presence on the Flyers’ power-play units has grown as he leads the team in man advantage assists with 18.

The Flyers’ 2015 first-rounder obviously had talent from the start, but this season he really blossomed on the score sheet and grew that confidence Flyers fans had certainly seen hints of before, but now see it on another level. 

His confidence could have spiked for many reasons: his offensive success, his coaching staff and new linemates and maybe even that six-year, $33 million contract he inked at the start of the season.

Whatever it was, that confidence is hopefully here to stay. Konecny certainly improved the most this season and I think Flyers fans have plenty to look forward to out of this 23-year-old for the next five-plus years.  

Hatcher

The Flyers have quite a few players who have taken the next step in their game this season, but Scott Laughton deserves this one in my opinion.

Statistically speaking, Laughton played 82 games last season, netting 12 goals and tallying 20 assists. After battling through two injuries this year (finger, groin), he’s still managed to pass that goal total with 13 in just 49 games so far in 2019-20. Laughton has also jumped from a minus-11 rating last year to a plus-13. He’s a key piece of the Flyers’ significantly improved penalty kill.  

Not to mention, when Alain Vigneault has needed to shake up lines, Laughton has been able to find success as a top-six player. But, when called upon to contribute in the bottom six, he’s assumed the role without issue. Laughton still finds ways to distribute the puck well and produce with a different cast of players.  

Hall

With Konecny making such an important jump for the Flyers, he’ll rightfully be the favorite for this award and should even be in consideration for the Bobby Clarke Trophy.

However, Oskar Lindblom won’t be counted out for most improved. Don’t be surprised if some teammates cast their votes for the 23-year-old forward — and those votes would be deserved.

Before being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma during mid-December, Lindblom was thriving in his biggest role yet, scoring 11 goals and 18 points through 30 games. He was projected to finish with 30 goals after a promising rookie season in which he recorded 17 while playing fewer minutes.

Lindblom, who continues to undergo treatment, quickly won over Vigneault with his smarts and skill. His improvements were significant and evident.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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‘It’s Just So Devastating’: Olympic Delay Is Especially Hard for Gymnasts

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“I was never doing it for them anyway,” she said. “I’m just playing it by ear. I have to listen to my mind and body and go into the gym and see how I feel.”

Skinner is also listening to her body, and the two gymnasts have commiserated about their aging bodies in the past — including just last week when they texted each other and said they both dreaded a possible postponement because, to paraphrase, they are old and their bodies hurt.

To compete at the Olympics, Skinner would need to weather another year of wear and tear, with achy knees and stinging elbows. And taking another year off from the University of Utah might mean that Skinner’s N.C.A.A. eligibility for her final year of college gymnastics would expire. She has been looking forward to her senior year, which would not be nearly as intense as her Olympic training and, frankly, much easier on her body and more fun.

Holding on for Tokyo next summer also would mean putting off her real life, yet again. She married Jonas Harmer in November and they recently were looking for a starter home in Utah.

These days, nothing is unfolding the way Skinner had expected. Her best friend’s bridal shower didn’t happen last week because of concerns over the coronavirus — the partygoers instead pulled up in their cars, handed their gifts over, waved and left. The bachelorette party that Skinner, a bridesmaid, had planned didn’t happen, either. Skinner was upset that she couldn’t even attend a casual gathering for the bride, fearing that she had been exposed to the virus through her parents or, possibly, relatives who recently had taken a cruise.

She has leaned on her husband and other relatives to vent her stress and anger over the situation. Her mental trainer, Clay Frost, has also helped her refocus when her mind starts spinning.

She says a few key phrases, like “be the best you can be,” and punches her hand to snap her back. Or, to put things in perspective, she makes lists of the things she can and can’t control.



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