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The Sports Report: Will NBA’s return distract from more important matters?

Dwight Howard
(Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell and some sports are getting very close to returning.

As Tania Ganguli writes, while the NBA is attempting to restart its season amid nationwide protests against police brutality and racism, some players have expressed concern that basketball could prove to be a distraction.

One of those is Lakers center Dwight Howard.

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“Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction,” Howard said in a statement provided to CNN. “Sure, it might not distract us the players, but we have resources at hand a majority of our community don’t have. And the smallest distraction for them can start a trickle-down effect that may never stop.

“Especially with the way the climate is now. I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families?”

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving led a conference call last week with a group of players in which he expressed concerns about the league’s plans to restart. This came after the National Basketball Players Assn. agreed to the framework presented by the NBA to resume play at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in July, pending further negotiations.

Several Lakers have publicly stated their desire to continue the season, including LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and the team’s player representatives, Danny Green and Jared Dudley, who have stressed the financial ramifications of the players not agreeing to resume. It could cause their current collective bargaining agreement to be voided, leading to significant financial losses for players. The Lakers are also hoping to finish a season in which they seemed poised to make a deep playoff run and had championship aspirations.

“Some of us want to hoop and compete don’t get that twisted,” Kuzma said Friday on Twitter.

Clippers guard Lou Williams shared concerns about the effect basketball could have on the protests, though he clarified that he did not say he wouldn’t play.

“If we had a game today and u leave a protest to watch it. That’s a distraction,” Williams said on Twitter. “Any questions? ... Be cool. Keep fightin.”

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CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif writes..... Last month, Amir Coffey wanted to understand what happened to George Floyd.

The Clippers rookie clicked on the video circulating on social media, showing four police officers surrounding Floyd, a Black man, as he lay restrained on the Minneapolis pavement. Coffey soon turned it off. He could not stand to see Floyd plead that he could not breathe. Nor watch as Floyd lay motionless nearly nine minutes after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck.

The footage was excruciating. So, too, was the feeling that came from understanding where it was recorded.

“It was so close to home,” Coffey said.

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Like millions of others, Coffey has watched — from Los Angeles, where he has continued training amid the paused NBA season — as worldwide protests against police brutality, coupled with a nationwide introspection into racial inequity, have rippled out from the intersection where Floyd died May 25 in south Minneapolis’ Powderhorn section, with no end yet in sight.

“It’s just like people are at a breaking point right now,” Coffey said. “They have to speak out and stand up for their human rights.”

For Coffey, who was born and raised just outside of Minneapolis, the movement’s roots have been felt on a personal level.

The intersection where Floyd died is eight miles east of Hopkins, the suburb where Coffey was the youngest in a family whose three children all went on to play Division I basketball.

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But the intersection is also a short drive from the suburban street at the heart of why Coffey says he stands in solidarity with the protest movement.

The scene is still vivid in his memory: He was in high school, driving home with a friend after stopping for McDonald’s takeout, when he was pulled over. Seeing a white officer approach his window, he went through the mental checklist he’d been taught by his parents while growing up in a state whose percentage of Black residents is half the nationwide average.

Speak to law enforcement in a neutral tone. Make no sudden movements. Keep your hands visible.

“He came up to the car and got the license and registration,” Coffey said. “First thing he said was, ‘Where’s the marijuana?’ Me and my friend were like, ‘What do you mean?’ He’s like, ‘I know you guys have it, I can smell it coming out of the car.’”

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The officer called for backup and three cars soon arrived, Coffey said. He and his friend were asked to leave the car as officers began a search. Coffey struggled to understand why the situation escalated so quickly.

“In reality, they were smelling the food or the McChickens,” he said. “It was just too much. It didn’t make any sense. It’s a crazy situation to know you did nothing wrong and you’re still getting treated like that.”

GOLF

Daniel Berger was playing some of the best golf that no one noticed. Three months away because of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t slow his momentum, and he made it pay off Sunday with a victory at Colonial.

The PGA Tour made a healthy return to golf at the Charles Schwab Challenge with a somewhat sickly finish. Berger saved par from behind the 17th green on the first playoff hole and won when Collin Morikawa missed a 3-foot par putt.

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Berger closed with a 4-under 66, his 28th consecutive round at par or better dating to Oct. 11 at the Houston Open.

Even over the final hour, a half-dozen players were still in the mix. All that was missing was the sound and energy of a gallery, with the PGA Tour not allowing spectators for the opening five events in its return. It was the first PGA Tour event since March 12 when the spread of the new coronavirus shut down golf and other sports.

From no positive tests to a dynamic finish at history-rich Colonial, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan sized up the week by saying, “This has been a phenomenal start to our return.”

NASCAR

Chase Briscoe lost much of his team and got a win for them.

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Briscoe survived two late cautions and a frantic overtime finish to prevail in an Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway — while adding to a nightmarish weekend for Noah Gragson, who saw a huge lead slip away in the final laps for the second consecutive day.

Briscoe was without crew chief Richard Boswell, car chief Nick Hutchins and engineer DJ Vanderley, all of whom began serving four-race suspensions for a safety violation that happened Saturday. So Briscoe — a big Tony Stewart fan growing up — got Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli to fill in as his crew chief and prevailed.

“It’s just a testament to our team,” Briscoe said.

Brandon Jones was second, Ross Chastain was third and A.J. Allmendinger was fourth. Gragson placed fifth, losing not only a race that was in his hands for the second straight day but also the $100,000 “Dash for Cash” bonus that wound up going to Allmendinger instead.

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BORN ON THIS DAY

1938: Baseball player Billy Williams

1948: Football coach Mike Holmgren

1949: Former Dodger Dusty Baker

1956: Former Angel Lance Parrish

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1957: Former Dodger Brett Butler

1958: Baseball player Wade Boggs

1972: Golfer Justin Leonard

1984: Baseball player Tim Lincecum

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DIED ON THIS DAY

1991: Former Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler, 92

1993: Race car driver James Hunt, 45

AND FINALLY

Dusty Baker hits a grand slam in Game 2 of the 1977 NLCS. Watch it here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.

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