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“Bennie basically told me that I had to be better than everybody else, because essentially I was trading on his name,” Kirkland said. “So if his name was going to be involved in the situation, I had to be that good.”

Kirkland tells the story of a study session between he and Adams with Adams quizzing Kirkland on the rulebook. After providing an answer many would deem acceptable, Adams challenged Kirkland to provide the rule verbatim. As frustrating as this was for Kirkland, he understood the lesson Adams was teaching him.

Bennie Adams is in his 23rd season as an NBA official.

“Basically he told me ‘Being good enough is not good enough; you’ve got to be that much better.’ And that resonated with me early in my career and I’ve used that throughout the course of my career,” Kirkland said. “I’ve been in the league for 18 years now and I still remember those times where Bennie would constantly challenge me.”

“He gives tough love, that’s just how Bennie is,” Washington added. “I went through years where I was questioning, ‘Man does this guy even like me?’ because he would always just be on you and on you and it seemed like more than he was on anybody else. But he was just trying to get everything out of you in terms of your ability, your potential, and he just wanted to see you at your very best every time he saw you.”

Adams laughed when he heard these stories of his approach.

“It’s an open and honest relationship so its tough love,” Adams said. “It’s something that was passed down to me, just having attended an HBCU. What I thought was okay really wasn’t enough to be successful in the real world. But at the time I didn’t know what I didn’t know. So that tough love was just pushing them to do better, to do more because they had it in them. I’m only asking you to do things that I know you can do even if you don’t know you can do them yet. And do them at a level of excellence that when they make the decision on you it’s without question.”

Adams says mentors Dr. Rogers Newman (in mathematics) and Aaron Wade (in refereeing) instilled the high expectations in him that he now expects of others.

Adams calls Newman the most intelligent person he’s seen in his entire life and saw him as a bar to strive for.

“I would be in class and I was like, I wish I could do anything in life as well as he can do this. It was just inspiring. I can’t even explain how brilliant he was and how that impacted me,” Adams said. “Everything I thought I was doing — and I thought I was smart — I realized I didn’t know anything compared to him and that I had so much more to learn and so much room to grow and that transferred into my refereeing.”

Kirkland bridges two generations

Kirkland is in his 18th season as an NBA official and spent time at Southern with both Adams (who was teaching while Kirkland was a student) and Washington (who was a freshman when Kirkland was a senior), bridging the gap between these three generations of officials.

“It’s pretty interesting that I was in between the two of them but I was able to meet both of them before they got their career started and both of them watched me as I got my career started as well,” he said. 

Kirkland’s road to the NBA began in 1994 as a high school official for the Baton Rouge Basketball Officials Association. Despite being named Rookie Official of the Year that year, Kirkland said it never dawned in him in those days that he could pursue refereeing as a career.

Courtney Kirkland started on his path to become an NBA official in 1994.

That would soon change as mutual contacts put Kirkland in touch with Adams, which began their mentoring relationship. A work stoppage with NBA officials the following year provided a unique opportunity.  With NBA officials locked out, Continental Basketball Association officials refereed NBA games. That left openings in the CBA and Kirkland’s name popped up to fill an open CBA officiating spot.

“Now I didn’t know anything about refereeing pro basketball but that was when I met Aaron Wade, who at the time was overseeing the CBA,” Kirkland said. “He called me and he said ‘I heard you were a pretty good referee, are you interested in working in the CBA?’

“Again I had no idea what I was doing, no clue, no nothing, but I said ‘Sure I’m interested.’ I’d had some conversations with Bennie. He had sent me some videotapes. He said look over the videotapes, here’s some rulebooks, read them and be ready to go. And I said ‘Okay.’ And I looked at the videotapes, I studied them like it was the bible. I read the rulebooks like they were the bible and I also went on to do a couple of CBA games.”

The labor dispute ended and Kirkland only refereed a few CBA games, but that experience left a strong impression on him.

“Once I got that little taste that’s when I realized this is something I could do long term,” he said. “And that’s when I really got the bug of trying to do this professionally. And then I basically just ran a race from there.

“I got myself engaged with the Southeastern Conference and their training program so while I was doing that, Darell Garretson was actually the supervisor for the NBA. So Darell got the chance to look at me at a college camp and with the SEC, that was kind of a springboard for my career.”

Kirkland would earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Southern in 1999 and was hired by the NBA in 2000. It was in his final year at Southern that Kirkland met Washington, even though it wasn’t in a refereeing capacity just yet.

“Refereeing was never part of the conversation at that point in his life,” Kirkland said of Washington. “He was still relatively new at Southern. It wasn’t until later on, where I had already graduated and kind of gone on with my life and started with basketball that he actually got involved in refereeing. Then to go and see him again and be like ‘Wow I remember you; now you’re doing this!’

“I helped train C.J. for many years when he moved to Texas. I used to do a training camp down in Lake Charles, Louisiana. C.J. was one of the campers that I helped to train there and then when he got involved with the SWAC conference, I helped train him there as well. I’ve known C.J. for years so that was a great experience.”

Washington continues Southern legacy

By the time Washington began refereeing high school basketball in 2002, Adams and Kirkland were already in the NBA. But the efforts to bring along the next generation of officials from Southern kept Adams and Kirkland involved with Washington’s development.

Washington graduated from Southern in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. After spending a year as a high school referee and real estate appraiser, Washington pursued full-time refereeing, beginning a 14-year journey to the NBA.

“When I became an official, of course I heard all these names of people that came before me and so of course Bennie and Courtney were two of the names,” Washington said. “So when I got a chance to meet them a few years later we automatically had this sort of a bond because they wanted to see me be successful being that I was from Southern and kind of started in the same area and the same way that they did. So that’s a pretty cool bond that we have.”

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Report: Dallas Mavericks set to chase DeAndre Jordan after opt out

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DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks are making another run at DeAndre Jordan, three years after the center jilted them in free agency to stay with the LA Clippers.

Jordan has opted out of the final year of that contract he signed with LA in 2015, and the Mavericks intend to pursue him as an unrestricted free agent, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Friday.

Dallas also intends to decline the $5 million club option on Dirk Nowitzki’s contract and re-sign him once its salary structure is more settled, the person told the AP on condition of anonymity because the sides are not publicly commenting on moves ahead of free agency opening Sunday.

The move on Nowitzki is designed to create more room under the salary cap, as were the decisions to rescind qualifying offers to shooting guard Doug McDermott and center Salah Mejri, making both unrestricted free agents.

Jordan was set to make $24.1 million under the four-year, $87.6 million contract he signed to stay with the team that drafted him in 2008. Seven years later, the Mavericks made a strong play for Jordan, who agreed to sign with them as a free agent.

The Houston native changed his mind, and the saga played out on social media the day before Jordan could sign. Former teammate Blake Griffin and coach Doc Rivers were part of a contingent that went to his house and stayed with him until the deal was official.

The reversal was a stunning setback for Dallas, which made the playoffs without Jordan the following year but lost in the first round and now is coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time in nearly 20 years.

 

Is DeAndre Jordan the perfect free-agent fit for Dallas?

Circumstances are much different now, with the former All-Stars who helped persuade Jordan to stay no longer around. Chris Paul engineered a trade to Houston last summer, and the Clippers shipped Griffin to Detroit in January in a sign that rebuilding years could be ahead.

The Mavericks are two years into their own reconstruction, with 2017 first-round pick Dennis Smith Jr. joined by another player who will begin his NBA career as a teenager in European standout Luka Doncic.

Dallas moved up two spots in the Draft last week to get the Slovenian guard, who was taken third overall by Atlanta while the Mavericks selected former Oklahoma scoring sensation Trae Young for the Hawks.



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Reports: Kevin Durant to sign 2-year deal with Golden State Warriors

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Kevin Durant has decided to sign a two-year deal with the Golden State Warriors, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Saturday because the deal cannot become official until the league’s offseason moratorium ends on Friday. The deal comes with a player option for 2019-20, so Durant can — and likely will — become a free agent again next summer.

It’s a win on multiple levels for the two-time defending NBA champion Warriors. Not only do they get to keep the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals MVP, but they also get some financial flexibility in the deal.

Durant will be paid about $30.5 million this coming season, about $5 million less than he could have commanded if the deal was structured differently. That savings will give Golden State options for other moves this summer, as the Warriors look to bolster their bench for a run at what could be a fourth title in a five-year span.

The New York Times first reported Durant’s intention to sign the deal.

Warriors general manager Bob Myers said after his team won the 2018 Finals that he expected swift negotiations to re-sign two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP. 

“Sometimes you don’t negotiate. I’d love to have him for 10 years. Kevin Durant, look what he did for us last year, he did us a great service,” Myers said on June 12. “He’s earned the right to sign whatever deal he wants. I just want him to sign a deal. But want him to be happy and want him to know that we want him as long as he wants to be here. He’s earned that, to kind of lay out the terms. He can do whatever he wants. That shouldn’t be a long negotiation. Our goal, to be honest, is to try to keep the whole thing together, so that’s the pieces of the puzzle we’ve got to try to figure out.”

Myers wants to keep as much of the core of the two-time defending champions intact while also realizing the Warriors will be a younger team without the same veteran presence as the group that swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers out of The Finals. Myers said after The Finals that working to try to extend the contracts of Draymond Green and Klay Thompson could be discussed as well.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report

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LeBron James returns to Los Angeles to plot next move

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CLEVELAND — LeBron James flew back to Los Angeles from a family vacation in the Caribbean. He could be there longer than usual.

Hours before NBA free agency opened with the three-time champion as its most coveted prize, James returned Saturday to Southern California, where he has two homes and a film production company. The Lakers are hoping they can persuade him to sign with them and return them to glory.

Los Angeles is among the teams in the mix to land James after his agent told the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday that he will not exercise his $35.6 million contract option for next season. At 12:01 a.m. Sunday, James will be an unrestricted free agent, and agent Rich Paul is expected to contact several teams with the Lakers and Cavs atop his list.

By declining his option, James positioned himself to be able to choose where he’ll play next, and Cleveland, just up the road from his home near Akron, remains a strong possibility. But there are at least three other teams – and maybe an outsider or two — with legitimate shots at landing James, who made it clear following this year’s NBA Finals that he’s still driven to win championships.

While every team dreams of being ruled by King James, only a few have a legit chance of signing him.

Here are the cases — for and against — the leading contenders:

CLEVELAND

WHY: Home; money.

James came back four years ago to a hero’s welcome, something that seemed unimaginable when he left in disgrace four years earlier for Miami. But he vowed to do everything he could to deliver a title to championship-starved Cleveland. He delivered in 2016, erasing past sins and raising James to a worshipped level few athletes in any sport have experienced. His family is comfortable here and it’s where he has complete control.

The Cavs can also offer him the most lucrative package, a five-year, $209 million contract.

WHY NOT: Flawed roster; blemished relationship with owner Dan Gilbert.

Last summer’s stunning trade of guard Kyrie Irving left the Cavs without a quality running mate for James, who was forced to carry a heavier offensive load throughout the regular season and playoffs. Cleveland has deep salary-cap issues – partially caused by James’ failure to commit long-term – and the Cavs currently lack enough talent to unseat the champion Golden State Warriors.

Gilbert and James mended some fences for his return in 2014, but they remain distant other than a shared commitment to winning. Gilbert has gone above and beyond financial barriers to appease James, but the well could be running dry.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

WHY: Salary-cap space; business interests; iconic franchise.

With some savvy moves, the Lakers are poised to potentially add two superstars – James and Paul George and maybe Kawhi Leonard – to a team featuring up-and-coming talents like Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, who is reportedly dealing with a knee injury. James loves the Hollywood lights, and with two homes in the Los Angeles area as well as a film production company, he has already established some roots in the land of movie stars and slow-moving traffic. The appeal of playing for one of the league’s most storied teams is another allure.

WHY NOT: Youth; the Western Conference.

There’s little doubt James has some quality years ahead of him. But does he have enough time to let a group of unproven players with no postseason experience develop into a title contender? And if he jumps conferences for the first time in his career, the path to the Finals is far more treacherous.

PHILADELPHIA

WHY: Rising team; staying in the East.

In Sixers guard Ben Simmons, James sees a younger version of himself and he’d relish the chance to play alongside the 21-year-old while mentoring him. The Sixers also have center Joel Embiid, 24, projected to become the game’s next dominant big men. Philadelphia would instantly vault from conference contender to favorite with James, who could make a strong run at his ninth straight Finals in Year One.

WHY NOT: Too young; front-office dysfunction.

Much like the Lakers, the Sixers lack postseason experience and James would be surrounded by players who have barely tasted the postseason. General manager Bryan Colangelo’s resignation following an investigation into whether he created Twitter accounts to criticize his own players, has given the impression that the team isn’t operating in concert and then would turn off James quickly.

OTHER CONTENDERS

Houston: While the Rockets once seemed a good fit, James declining his option all but eliminated the chances of him joining up with close friend Chris Paul and MVP James Harden. If James had opted in with the Cavs, they could have worked out a sign-and-trade with Houston.

San Antonio: James reveres Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, but living in Texas doesn’t seem appealing to the star’s family and the Spurs are still trying to figure out what to do with Leonard, who can become a free agent after next season.
 

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