“It’s not easy,” Ujiri said of such decisions in an interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson that aired on the NBA’s Twitter account. “If you have that human part of you, you feel it in your heart.
“I will never forget, I will never, ever forget having to do that with Coach Casey and walking to his office, waking up that morning. Many times I wanted to move it and change it or think that you’re not making the right decision. It was incredibly hard, because Casey is an incredible person, and so great to work with. … DeMar, I was in the hotel in Kenya, and I walked around that hotel at 4 a.m., 5 a.m., for a couple hours, trying to gather up enough strength and courage to make this phone call. I will never forget it.
“With Casey, it has gotten so much better now with his family and him. With DeMar there is still plenty of work to be done. But, by the grace of God, it will all get better. We have to continue to make these decisions that are tough. But that’s the business of basketball, and the position that we are in.”
“I always say that the two hardest things in our world, in our business, is trading a player and then when a player leaves, if a player leaves in free agency,” Ujiri said. “And it’s hard on both sides. When a player is traded, it is hard on the player side, and when a player leaves, like us [with Leonard last summer], it is hard on that side. I’ve experienced all of it, from wonderful people.
“It sometimes puts a strain on relationships, as we saw with DeMar. People don’t know even with [when we traded] Rudy Gay, I was close to Rudy. Incredible kid. Incredible kid with DeMar, where you build and you’re trying to preach a culture of good, of trust, of being with people, and then you have to make this decision [to trade him].
“With Kawhi, we just built a relationship where we trusted each other, and that friendship has evolved even bigger after he left, and I’m proud of that. I support him with everything he does as a human being, and his family, and you move on. You’ve got to move on to the next …”
“By the way, [Masai Jr.] was on FaceTime with [Leonrd’s daughter] yesterday,” Ujiri said laughing. “I’m serious. I have a great relationship with Kawhi, but my wife and Kishele [Shipley, Leonard’s girlfriend] have a really, really close relationship and [Masai Jr.] talks to [Leonard’s daughter] every now and then.”
The business of basketball oftentimes gets in the way of building and keeping relationships, but it would appear that Ujiri has managed to keep a strong bond with Leonard and his family, even as Leonard decided to leave in free agency last summer.
“I always say that the two hardest things in our business is trading a player and then when a player leaves,” said Ujiri. “It’s hard on both sides. Like when a player’s traded it’s hard on the player’s side and when a player leaves it’s hard on that side.
“I’ve experienced all of it and it’s been with wonderful people. And it’s sometimes put a restraint on relationships as we saw with DeMar and – people don’t know – but even with Rudy Gay because I was close to Rudy. You’re trying to preach a culture of good, of trust, of being with people. And then you have to make these decisions.
“With Kawhi, we just built a relationship where we trusted each other and that friendship has evolved even bigger as he left and I’m proud of that. I support him with everything he does as a human being and with his family and you move on. You’ve just got to move on and go on to the next.”
On winning a title with Canada’s team
Q: Hi Nick, how does it feel looking at Jurassic Park during these Finals?
Nurse: That’s been the most interesting part for me — to see the unbelievable response from around the country. You couldn’t sense it — being in the middle of it, you just couldn’t.
It’s made it feel even more huge for me. What a time.
Q: How did it feel to see all of Canada unite over the Raptors championship run?
Nurse: Hard to put into words — I’ll try one. Amazing.
Q: Throughout the playoffs did you ever let yourself imagine what a championship would be like?
Nurse: You go into camp thinking about that. We were focused on playin’ as well as we could and preparing as well as we could. I knew there’d be plenty of time to celebrate once the job was done.
I’m imagining what it’s going to feel like to win another one right now.
Q: Even though you guys won the championship on the road rather than at home, did it feel a little bit like home with all those Raptors fans in attendance?
Nurse: I don’t know if it felt like home, but it was great to have all the fans there, for sure.
I think we would have rather won it at home — but we’ll take this, for sure.
In a statement released by the NBA team Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Towns family said they were “heartbroken” by the “untimely passing” of the star player’s mother.
“Jackie, as she was affectionately known among family and friends, had been battling the virus for more than a month when she succumbed on April 13th,” the spokesperson said in the statement.
Karl-Anthony Towns revealed in an Instagram video last month that his mother had “been in a medically induced coma” after contracting the virus.
At the time, said his family urged him to make a video “so that people understand that the severity of this disease is real.”
“This disease needs to not be taken lightly. Please protect your families, your loved ones, your friends, yourself. Practice social distancing. Please don’t be in places with a lot of people; it just heightens your chances of getting this disease, and this disease … it’s deadly,” he said then.
“The games have to stop now,” Marbury wrote from Westchester, N.Y., where he was visiting. “The game won’t be fun if people die.”
Marbury, who now coaches the Chinese Basketball Association’s Beijing Royal Fighters, worried that packed arenas would spread the virus. He begged Silver: “Please be the one to make the hard, easy decision.”
Silver thanked Marbury for his perspective, replied that the league was developing contingency plans and consulting with public-health experts, but remained noncommittal. Three days later, he didn’t have a choice. The first NBA player had tested positive, and Silver abruptly suspended the season.
By then Marbury was back in China, having landed earlier in the day to resume coaching duties as the CBA prepared to restart play.
After 13 turbulent NBA seasons, Marbury moved to China in 2010, where he won three domestic league titles and earned the acclaim that eluded him back home: two statues, a museum, a Chinese permanent residency card and starring roles in a play and two movies—all about his life.
His time in China also gave him a preview of what was about to happen in the rest of the world. The first omen came on Jan. 21, a day after China’s most famous doctor declared on state television that the mysterious virus spreading in the Chinese city of Wuhan was capable of people-to-people transmission.
That evening, as Marbury walked into the arena ahead of a home game against his old team, the Beijing Ducks (now starring former NBA star Jeremy Lin), he was presented with a sight he hadn’t seen before.
“I’ve never seen it where you walk into the arena and everybody’s got a mask on,” Marbury recalled last week. “I was like, ‘Yo, what’s going on? Like, what happened?’ This is serious.”
The next day, Jan. 22, Marbury flew to New York for the Lunar New Year holiday. On Jan. 23, China’s government locked down Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. On Jan. 24, the Chinese Basketball Association paused its season.
Hunkering down with his family in Westchester, Marbury embraced the role of prophet, though he initially found no believers. “I saw a tsunami coming,” he said. “Then I left and went to America. So now I’m telling everybody, ‘It’s coming. I’m telling you, it’s coming. It’s just a matter of time.’ And it’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ ”
While Marbury’s assistant coach managed the remaining players in China, Marbury became a model of self-isolation, leaving his New York home only two or three times over the next seven weeks and wearing a face mask each time he ventured outside. He told his kids to do the same. He fired off his advice to Silver.
An NBA spokesman said Sunday that “Marbury’s email reaffirmed what we were hearing from our offices in China.” He said on March 9, the day after Marbury’s email, the league had scheduled a board meeting for March 11 to discuss suspending the season.
Chapter 2 – The Bench Broskis
In retrospect, it is astounding how deep and talented the Raptors’ 2016 Las Vegas Summer League team turned out to be. The roster was stocked with Toronto’s four first round picks from the past three drafts — Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright, and Bruno Caboclo — plus their second round steal Norman Powell, and the undrafted Fred VanVleet. Just for fun, Lucas Nogueira (Bebe!) also joined them in the desert, practicing with the team throughout the tournament.
All seven of them were on the team in 2016-17, finding ways to be useful at different times throughout the regular season. None of them had much of a role to play in the 2017 playoffs, however — save Powell, who moved into the starting lineup for a few spectacular games during the run, and Wright, who contributed some solid spot minutes. Little was expected, as this group of Raptors was still young and unpolished. Each showed flashes in their own way, though, and it was possible to squint and see how they’d fill a need for the Raptors as they developed. Despite the crushing defeat of 2017, Toronto remained optimistic.
For the 2017-18 regular season, that optimism paid off. Led once again by Lowry and DeRozan, the Raptors relied on the rookie skills of OG Anunoby, their first round addition from the 2017 Draft, and the stalwart consistency of Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas — but that’s not all. Toronto began to shape its identity around a plug-and-play group of reserves fit for seemingly any scenario. Or, as was often the case, Toronto would simply roll out an all-bench lineup and blow other teams away (including the pre-makeover Cavs on national TV). These were the new-look fun and good Raptors.
Toronto’s bench group ran seven deep at times, led by VanVleet and his steady demeanour. His backcourt mates were the explosive Powell, still quite capable of blowing games open by himself, and the quiet Wright, who filled in various gaps for the squad, doing everything from play-making to offensive rebounding. Meanwhile, the unit’s frontcourt had a pair of gregarious buddies in Siakam, then just exploring the limits of his talent, and Poeltl, a big man in the classic sense. To round out the group, the Raptors added C.J. Miles for veteran seasoning and his sharpshooting ability, and kept Nogueira around for a dose of unpredictability (and comic relief). As they helped Toronto reach a new franchise record of 59 wins and their first ever one-seed in the East, the Bench Broskis were born.
#NBATogether with Ernie Johnson begins now with a tribute to Jacqueline Cruz, mother to Karl-Anthony Towns, followed by an interview with @TurnerSportsEJ and @Raptors President Masai Ujiri which was recorded earlier today. https://t.co/GYEUYcw46b
— NBA (@NBA) April 13, 2020