It’s been more than a century since Babe Ruth started his baseball career, but the Bambino is still breaking records.
A Babe Ruth New York Yankees jersey from 1928-1930 fetched $5.64 million at auction Saturday, making it the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia ever sold, according to the auction house. The previous record was a 1920 Babe Ruth jersey that went for $4.4 million.
The record-breaking jersey was part of a collection of artifacts related to “The Sultan of Swat,” as Ruth was also known, sold by Hunt Auctions at Yankee Stadium. The auction house said in a statement it partnered with the baseball legend’s family and had select additions from “elite third-party collections” for the massive display.
“Babe’s collection has remained largely unknown to the general public, and we felt it was time to bring these amazing pieces of his life to light,” Linda Ruth Tosetti, Ruth’s granddaughter, said in a news release.
The auction house certainly hit a home run with this collection, though it wasn’t a huge shock.
“While the record-setting prices attained today are certainly astonishing, I am not surprised at all given the incredible materials and the mythical status the Babe holds in the history of this country,” David Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions, said in a news release.
Ruth’s legendary baseball career spanned 22 seasons and included 714 home runs and four World Series titles, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. While he’s known for playing for the Yankees, Ruth also spent time with the Boston Red Sox and Boston Braves.
In 1936, he became one of the five inaugural members elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Despite resting a number of key players, such as striker Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, the reigning world champion took just 11 minutes to find the breakthrough on its way to a record-breaking seventh consecutive World Cup win.
As against Thailand, the USWNT were completely dominant and by half-time were leading 3-0. Somewhat surprisingly, Jill Ellis’ side failed to score in the second half despite relentless waves of attack.
In truth, the score could have been a lot worse had it not been for the impressive Christiane Endler, who marshaled her goal stoically in the face of constant pressure.
“Every player wants the same thing and they want to play maximum minutes and that’s what you want as a coach for sure,” said US coach Jill Ellis after the match, before praising the opposition.
“Endler was fantastic, we were aware of her skill, she’s a world-class goalkeeper. I thought their spirit was magnificent, total credit to Chile.”
Having watched its opponents thump Thailand 13-0, Chile must have been dreading facing this particular Goliath.
Ranked as the 39th best team in the world by FIFA, five places lower than Thailand, Chile is making its first appearance in a Women’s World Cup and might have been buoyed when it was revealed USWNT coach Ellis had sent out a second-string side.
Only four players kept their place in the starting line-up from the Thailand demolition but Chile could do very little to stem the tide against a USWNT side intent on securing qualification for the knockout stages as quickly as possible.
Even without Morgan, who netted five times in the opening group game, the USWNT looked threatening from the outset as it created three chances within the first three minutes of the match.
USWNT was simply bigger, faster and more experienced than its opponents and veteran striker Carli Lloyd sent a wicked shot flying into the back of the net to begin the rout.
Just when it looked as though the US had lost its rhythm, up popped Julie Ertz to double the lead with a superbly taken header before Lloyd followed suit to add a third before the break.
Endler continued to shine in the second half, producing a string of stunning saves to prevent USWNT from totting up another dizzying score.
“I’m sad for the defeat, but happy for my performance,” the Paris Saint-Germain Feminines keeper said, after picking up the Player of the Match award.
“I prepared intensely this last year to come to the World Cup and perform to the best of my ability. It’s a mix of feelings, but I’m satisfied to have played like this, especially here, at this stadium that’s my home.”
The frame of the goal also came to Chile’s rescue as the USWNT rattled the woodwork on numerous occasions.
Lloyd, the first player to score in six consecutive Women’s World Cup matches, also failed to complete a hattrick after dragging a controversial penalty wide of the post.
Sunday’s comfortable win secures the USWNT a place in the round of 16.
Meanwhile, Chile has now lost both of its two group games and will hope for a better result in its final fixture against Thailand, who were beaten 5-1 by Sweden earlier on Sunday.
CALGARY – Redblacks quarterback Dominique Davis compensated for passing mistakes with his legs in Ottawa’s 32-28 win over the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday.
Intercepted four times, Davis scored three rushing touchdowns, including the winner, in the Redblacks’ first win at McMahon Stadium in the team’s six-year history.
Trailing 28-25, Ottawa led for the first time in the game with a minute and a half to play on the quarterback’s five-yard carry to score.
It was just the third career CFL start for the 29-year-old Davis, who is trying to establish himself as Ottawa’s No. 1 following the departure of Trevor Harris to the Edmonton Eskimos in the off-season.
“For us as a team, it’s huge,” Davis said. “We haven’t won in Calgary since the Redblacks first started.
“It’s a great confidence-booster for and us. For me, definitely not the way I want to play, but I just kept plugging away. My teammates had my back through it all.”
Lewis Ward kicked field goals from 43, 26 and 30 yards and Richie Leone contributed a pair of punt singles in a rematch of combatants from the 2018 Grey Cup.
Calgary beat Ottawa 27-16 to claim the CFL’s championship trophy in Edmonton last November.
The Stampeders defence generated a lot of Calgary’s offence.
Halfback Brandon Smith scored off an interception. The Stampeders turned two of Tre Roberson’s three picks in the game into touchdowns.
Don Jackson and Juwan Brescacin scored majors for the hosts in front of an announced 26,301. Rene Paredes kicked field goals from 17 and 42 yards.
Davis completed 29-of-44 passes for 276 yards.
“We did a good job of responding every time I turned it over,” Davis said.
With 275 passing yards in the game, Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell reached a career 24,748 and moved past Russ Jackson (24,593) into the CFL’s all-time top 20.
Mitchell completed 23-of-29 passes Saturday.
His throw to a covered Michael Klukas in the end zone on the final play of the game was intercepted by Jonathan Rose to preserve Ottawa’s victory.
“Defence, honestly they played their hearts out,” Mitchell said. “Offensively we just didn’t. We didn’t step up when we needed to. We didn’t execute.”
Down six points midway through the fourth quarter, Ottawa’s De’Andre Montgomery recovered Lorenzo Jerome’s punt-return fumble to give the Redblacks the ball on Calgary’s 19-yard-line.
Ward’s 30-yard field goal cut the deficit to three points down with just over five minutes to play.
“I do believe honestly we got outplayed and probably outcoached,” Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said. “Let’s be honest about that. We had our chances. We still could have won.
“I didn’t feel our best players offensively were dialled in. We were close, but couldn’t make the throws, couldn’t make the catches, really couldn’t control the line of scrimmage. That’s a problem. I thought our defence did enough. They caused turnovers and scored.”
Roberson’s three interceptions matched his season total from 2018.
“That was a heck of a game for him,” Dickenson said. “Tough to waste that type of performance and not come out of here with a win.”
His team down 18-6 after the first quarter, Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell said coming-from-behind to win the season-opener was important in the growth of his quarterback and team.
“In a new year, it’s always a knew version of your football team and there’s big lessons in this game,” Campbell said.
“The standings matter, but there’s big lessons in how hard it is to win, how important it is to play smart football.
“It’s so important to have belief and character. Those things matter when you get in a tough game that you can find a way to get it done.”
Notes: Calgary defensive ends Junior Turner and Ese Mrabure, as well as running back Terry Williams didn’t finish the game . . . According to the CFL, Ottawa (average age 26.8) and Calgary (27.0) have the youngest rosters in the league . . . Former Stampeder defensive all-star linebacker Alex Singleton, who signed with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, raised the Grey Cup championship flag prior to kickoff.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
BALTIMORE – For much of this season, Marcus Stroman has pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays without receiving adequate run support.
His teammates made up for that shortcoming in a big way against the Baltimore Orioles.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. homered to spark a seven-run sixth inning, Cavan Biggio went deep twice and the Blue Jays rolled to a 12-3 victory Thursday night.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Danny Jansen had three hits and two RBIs apiece for the Blue Jays, who rediscovered their offence against the woeful Orioles. After scoring eight runs during a five-game skid, Toronto tallied 20 in the final two games of the series.
“Everyone swung the bat well the last two days,” manager Charlie Montoyo said, “and that’s awesome to see.”
In this one, the Blue Jays reached a season high in runs and hits (17).
It was a sight to behold for Stroman, who had received nary a run of support in half of his previous 14 starts. His total backing was 2.87 runs per nine innings, lowest in the big leagues.
“I’ve been talking about it all year, kind of saying our guys were going to turn it around at some point,” the right-hander said. “It’s a long year and we’re starting to swing the bats better. A lot of young guys are beginning to get settled in.”
Stroman (4-8) allowed two runs, one earned, over six innings and left with a seven-run lead.
“I think we can do pretty special things with this lineup,” he insisted. “Some of these young guys can really hit, and I think they are only going to get better.”
Playing in his 15th major league game, Biggio hit solo shots in the second and seventh. He came in batting .146 with one home run and three RBIs.
Toronto used seven hits and two walks in the sixth to turn a 2-all game into a blowout. Gurriel started the onslaught with a drive to centre off Gabriel Ynoa (0-3), and Freddy Galvis and Jansen added two-run singles before Guerrero and Justin Smoak capped the Blue Jays’ biggest inning of the year with RBI singles.
This is the 14th successive series that Baltimore has failed to win (0-13-1) since taking two of three against the White Sox from April 22-24.
“Rubber game of the series, we were right there in the top of the sixth and then it got away from us,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
Chance Sisco homered and Anthony Santander hit a pair of RBI singles for the rebuilding Orioles, whose minus-133 run differential is the worst in the majors.
“Everybody’s clearly frustrated, but we know the position we’re in,” first baseman Chris Davis said. “We have to focus on the positives. There are things that we’re trying to accomplish that are going to take time, they’re going to take work.”
ORIOLES’ TOP PICK HONORED
Drafted this month by Baltimore with the No. 1 overall pick, Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman was named winner of the 42nd annual Golden Spikes Award on Thursday. The award is given to the top amateur baseball player in the United States based on their athletic ability, sportsmanship, character and overall contribution to the sport.
Blue Jays: Relief pitcher Elvis Luciano (1-0, 6.51 ERA) was placed on the 10-day injured list with right elbow inflammation. RHP Justin Shafer was recalled from Triple-A Buffalo.
Orioles: Mark Trumbo interrupted his rehab assignment to receive a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection in his sore right knee. He will be out 7-10 days, and “hopefully back on track after that,” Hyde said. Trumbo has been on the injured list the entire season following knee surgery in September. … OF Dwight Smith Jr. (concussion list) could be back this weekend, Hyde said. … OF DJ Stewart (right ankle sprain) will probably go on a rehab assignment if his time on the IL goes past Sunday, according to Hyde.
Blue Jays: Aaron Sanchez (3-7, 4.25 ERA) tries to end a run of six straight losses when Toronto opens a three-game series at Houston on Friday night.
Orioles: The World Series champion Boston Red Sox come to Camden Yards for a three-game series beginning Friday. Baltimore’s scheduled starter, Andrew Cashner, was scratched with a blister on his pitching hand. Hyde said the team would likely delve into the minor league system for a substitute starter.
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David Ginsburg, The Associated Press
NEW YORK – Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald shook off his crisis of conscience and defeated Neiman Gracie by unanimous decision on Friday night in the main event of the MMA promotion’s return to Madison Square Garden.
The Canadian (21-5-1) had second thoughts about continuing in MMA after a draw in his last fight in April, saying “‘I don’t have that killer (instinct) inside,” and it was harder to “pull the trigger.”
MacDonald, who moves on the face Douglas Lima in the Welterweight Grand Prix final for $1 million, said coming into the 170-pound fight that he found clarity to continue through his faith and did not consider retirement. The 29-year-old MacDonald didn’t dish much punishment over five rounds but hardly absorbed any either from Gracie (9-1) and won 49-46 and two judges scored it 48-47.
“I’m honoured to be able to compete in an arena like this in New York City,” he said.
MacDonald, a native of Kelowna, B.C., who now makes his home in Montreal, connected on a right hook early in the third round that appeared to lead to swelling around Gracie’s left eye. But that was about it, and MacDonald was left to face off with Lima inside the cage to hype their future bout. MacDonald beat Lima for the welterweight crown in January 2018.
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida made quick work of Chael Sonnen to win a light heavyweight bout in the co-main event. This one between two 40-something stars was well past its expiration date for a quality fight. But Machida (26-8) dominated in the brief time he was in the cage. Machida connected with a flying right knee that drilled Sonnen right in the face and pounded away until the first round ended. Machida opened the second round with another devastating knee and the bout was stopped for the TKO victory.
The 41-year-old Machida (13 wins by KO or submission) set himself up for a potential bout with light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader.
Sonnen, another former UFC star, left his gloves in the cage and said he would retire from the sport .
“I had a hell of a lot of fun,” Sonnen said to a cheering crowd. ‘I’m walking out. I appreciate the memories.”
He made his pro debut in 1997 and his UFC debut in 2005. He fought for the middleweight and light heavyweight title but left the promotion without the championship and his loss Friday was his third in five Bellator fights. Sonnen’s career suffered a serious road block when he flunked three drug tests in five years that forced him to announce his retirement and cost him a broadcasting job with Fox. He rebounded with a gig at ESPN and ended a 3 1/2-year layoff with his Bellator debut against Tito Ortiz in January 2017.
Rizin bantamweight champion Kyoji Horiguchi became a two-promotion champion when he defeated Darrion Caldwell for Bellator’s 135-pound world title. Even with UFC star Dominick Cruz in his corner, Caldwell couldn’t rally to avenge a loss suffered with his first showdown against Horiguchi in Japan. The 28-year-old Horiguchi (28-2) choked out Caldwell in the first matchup held inside a ring instead of a cage, and fought in the United States for the first time in five years as part of this unique promotion vs. promotion matchup. Horiguchi is contractually obligated to defend the Bellator title once a year, and he had thousands fans at the Garden going wild when he was announced as the new champ.
Juan Archuleta connected with a hard right that KO’d Eduardo Dantas in the second round and left the Brazilian out cold. Dantas was on his back for several minutes and tended to by medical personnel. He eventually sat up and was helped out of the cage, the hapless victim of the knockout of the night .
Bellator, the Viacom-owned promotion, continued the run of big fight nights of late at MSG. Andy Ruiz Jr. stunned Anthony Joshua two weeks ago to become heavyweight champion and Gennady Golovkin won his super middleweight fight last week.
On the undercard, Larkyn Dasch’s Bellator debut was a bust. The Hooters waitress – she signed her contract in uniform during a break in her shift at a location in Michigan – lost a unanimous decision to Valerie Loureda.
MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko, rapper 50 Cent (with cageside champagne bottle service) and former NFL great Herschel Walker were among the celebrities in the house for Bellator’s return to New York.
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Dan Gelston, The Associated Press
EDMONTON – Kenny Stafford reeled in a pair of touchdown passes from Trevor Harris as the new-look Edmonton Eskimos survived a scare to start the season on a positive note with a 32-25 victory over the Montreal Alouettes on Friday.
Harris threw three touchdown passes and ran in another while passing for 447 yards on 32-of-41 attempts in the air.
After Montreal (0-1) conceded a safety on its first possession, Edmonton (1-0) came close to adding to its lead, only to see Ricky Collins Jr., fumble the ball away at the Alouettes’ five-yard-line, with the turnover going to Marcus Cromartie.
A punt return fumble recovery by Montreal’s Boseko Lokombo would lead to an eight-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Antonio Pipkin to DeVier Posey and a 7-2 Alouettes lead.
The Eskimos finally got their act together midway through the second with a long drive capped off by a 27-yard TD pass from Harris to Stafford.
Montreal responded with a single on a missed field goal by Boris Bede before Edmonton took a 16-8 lead into the half on a 10-yard TD pass from Harris to Stafford.
The Als conceded another safety midway through the third prior to Pipkin getting injured and helped off the field, with Vernon Adams coming in as his replacement.
Edmonton added to its lead to start the fourth with a 23-yard TD pass from Harris to CJ Gable.
Montreal responded quickly with a five-yard TD run by William Stanback and then kept the comeback underway midway through the final frame on a 17-yard TD pass from Adams to BJ Cunningham to make it 25-22.
Bede then tied the game with a 52-yard field goal with 2:18 remaining,
However, the Eskimos came marching back and regained the lead with a one-yard TD from Harris with just over a minute to play and got a huge Anthony Orange interception to secure the victory.
The Edmonton Eskimos host Mike Reilly and the B.C. Lions next Friday, while Montreal has a bye before heading to Hamilton on June 28.
Notes: It was the first ever game as head coach for Khari Jones, as the former Als offensive coordinator replaced Mike Sherman in the top position during a controversial pre-season move… The Eskimos came into the contest having defeated Montreal in 10 consecutive regular season meetings, dating back to Oct. 5, 2013… The Eskimos honoured former receiver and four-time CFL All-Star Fred Stamps, who signed a one-day contract in the off-season to officially retire with Edmonton.
Shane Jones, The Canadian Press
HOUSTON – Robinson Chirinos said he was late on the fastball the whole game. He finally caught up to one when it counted most.
Chirinos hit his first grand slam and finished with a career-high six RBIs, Gerrit Cole struck out 10 and the Houston Astros routed the Toronto Blue Jays 15-2 on Friday night.
“Thank God I was able to square one that went out of the ballpark,” Chirinos said. “It was fun.”
After Toronto walked Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez on four pitches with the bases loaded, Chirinos cleared the bases with his 12th homer of the season off Thomas Pannone.
The Astros won their 13th straight series opener and improved to 9-3 in June.
Cole (6-5) allowed two runs and three hits while increasing his MLB-leading strikeout total to 140.
The Blue Jays’ runs came in the fifth inning. Cavan Biggio, son of Astros Hall of Fame second baseman Craig Biggio, drew applause when he came to the plate. The younger Biggio doubled to deep centre field off Cole, scoring two runs. The elder Biggio cheered from the front row near the Houston dugout.
“I think it just goes to show the amount of respect the name Biggio holds in this stadium,” the younger Biggio said. “I think it’s cool for me, but it’s even a better tribute to my father and what he did.”
Biggio said he was a little emotional in his first at-bat after hearing longtime Astros PA announcer Bob Ford’s voice say his last name the same way he heard him announce his father’s name for many years of his childhood. He said he knew where his family was sitting but tried not to look at them.
Both teams loaded the bases in the first inning. The results were starkly different for each of the starting pitchers. Cole escaped the inning with a strikeout.
“I got into a better rhythm with the fastball command,” Cole said. “I was good at times but fell behind. I was just able to do what I needed to do to get out unscathed.”
Sanchez, however, allowed back-to-back singles to Alvarez and Chirinos and a sacrifice fly to Josh Reddick, falling behind 3-0.
Alex Bregman extended Houston’s lead to 6-0 in the second inning with a three-run homer into the left-field Crawford Boxes, his 19th homer of the season.
Tony Kemp hit a two-run homer in the third inning that pushed the Astros’ lead to 8-0.
Sanchez (3-8) allowed eight runs on six hits and three walks before being replaced by Sam Gaviglio in the fourth inning. Sanchez’s eight runs allowed matched a career high from July 7, 2017, the last time he faced Houston.
“Can’t really do things when you’re behind in the count,” Sanchez said. “Obviously, have to establish the fastball command. When it’s all over the place like it was it doesn’t even give you a chance to get to your secondary stuff.”
Alvarez hit a two-run homer off Gaviglio, becoming the 20th player in MLB history to hit three home runs in his first four games and the first since Shohei Ohtani in 2018.
“There’s just a lot that he’s doing right that starts with the right mindset and mental aptitude to be at this level at an early age,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “So I applaud him for his approach to his at-bats and how he’s not letting the third deck get to him, he’s not letting hitting in the middle of the order get to him. He’s crushing.”
After being called up from Triple-A, Astros reliever Rogelio Armenteros held Toronto to two hits, striking out three in three innings. He became the first Astros pitcher in franchise history to record a save in his Major League debut.
Toronto LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and his older brother, Yuli, faced off for the first time in Houston. Yuli went 1-for-3 with a single and one flyout to his brother in left field, while Lourdes went 1-for-4 with a single.
HE SAID IT
“Couldn’t really write a better script where he had a million doubles and now I get my first one here. Now I have 1,000 more to go to catch up to him. It’s pretty cool.” — Cavan Biggio on hitting a double at Minute Maid Park
At 21, Alvarez is the youngest MLB player with seven RBIs in his first four games since Manny Machado in 2012. His single in the first inning posted a 114.1 mph exit velocity, the second-hardest hit ball by an Astros player this season, behind a 114.2 mph double from George Springer in April.
Blue Jays: 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. exited the game in the first inning after being hit by a 96 mph fastball from Gerrit Cole on the left hand. He stayed in the game as a baserunner before he was replaced by Eric Sogard at third base. The team announced that he suffered a left hand contusion and X-rays were negative. Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said he would be day to day.
Astros: CF Jake Marisnick left the game with left knee discomfort after an awkward play in the field in the fifth inning. … 2B Jos Altuve (left hamstring strain) went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and RHP Collin McHugh (right elbow discomfort) allowed a two-run home run and a walk in 2/3 inning on rehab assignments for Triple-A Round Rock on Friday night. They joined C Max Stassi (left knee soreness), who began his rehab assignment Thursday night.
Blue Jays: LHP Clayton Richard (0-2, 7.04 ERA) will face the Astros on Saturday, making his fifth start of the season and still seeking his first win as a Blue Jay. Richard is 1-1 with a 4.79 ERA in three starts against Houston.
Astros: LHP Framber Valdez (2-2, 2.73) pitches Saturday against the Blue Jays, looking to build on his first start of the season on June 8 when he held Baltimore to one run in seven innings of a 4-1 loss in which he struck out seven with no walks and gave up five hits, including a solo homer.
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Jordan Godwin, The Associated Press
Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., left Friday’s game against the Houston Astros after being hit by a pitch in the first inning.
Guerrero was plunked in the left hand by a fastball from Houston’s Gerrit Cole and appeared to be in pain.
He attempted to stay in the game, but was eventually replaced in the bottom of the second inning at third base by Eric Sogard.
The team announced that Guerrero has a hand contusion and that X-rays were negative for a fracture.
The 20-year-old Guerrero was coming off back-to-back three-hit nights against the Baltimore Orioles and entered Friday batting .268.
He has seven home runs and 19 RBIs in 149 at-bats.
The Canadian Press
By Joe Sutton, CNN
Denver Broncos owner, Pat Bowlen, has died, his family confirmed in a statement early Friday.
“We are saddened to inform everyone that our beloved husband and father, Pat Bowlen, passed on to the next chapter of his life late Thursday night peacefully at home surrounded by family. His soul will live on through the Broncos, the city of Denver and all of our fans.”
Bowlen, 75, had been battling Alzheimer’s disease.
In the statement, posted on the Denver Broncos’ website, the family paid tribute to their patriarch and thanked the fans.
“Our family wishes to express its sincere gratitude for the outpouring of support we have received in recent years. Heaven got a little bit more orange and blue tonight.”
The family also shared that not only did he have “a competitive spirit with a great sense of humor,” but he was kind and humble.
“More important than being an incredible owner, Pat Bowlen was an incredible human being,” the statement continued.
In February, Bowlen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was elected as a contributor. In his tenure as Broncos owner, Bowlen’s teams amassed seven Super Bowl appearances and three titles (Super Bowls XXXII, XXXIII and 50). Bowlen ceded control of the team to Broncos president Joe Ellis in July 2014, when he announced that he has Alzheimer’s disease. Last June, Bowlen’s wife Annabel announced she also had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
His daughter, Annabel, was at NFL Honors to represent him at the time.
“We Facetimed him to tell him the great news, and he was so thrilled to hear,” Annabel Bowlen said.
OAKLAND, Calif. – Kawhi Leonard’s first season with the Toronto Raptors started with his now-infamous laugh.
It ended with him getting the last laugh.
The best player on the league’s newly crowned best team is an NBA Finals MVP for the second time. Toronto finally sits atop the basketball universe, with Leonard averaging 28.5 points in a six-game finals victory over the Golden State Warriors to lead the Raptors to their first championship.
He arguably ended any debate about who the best two-way player in the sport is at this moment.
“This is what I play basketball for,” Leonard said. “This is what I work out for.”
The King of the North, as they’ve been calling Leonard in Toronto, was King of the Playoffs. He’s the third player to win Finals MVP with two franchises, joining only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James.
“I think he’s the best two-way basketball player in the NBA,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “He just goes. You know, I’ve seen some stuff from him this year that you just say, ‘Wow.’ You do. You say, ‘Wow.’ You appreciate the work that he’s put in. He works extremely hard at his game and works extremely hard on his body. And he loves this basketball thing. Loves it.”
Perhaps never more so than Thursday night.
After missing most of last season with a leg injury, after having his commitment questioned, after getting traded to Toronto, Leonard returned to basketball’s mountaintop. He thrust both arms high into the air when it was over, letting out a scream of joy. He even allowed himself a tiny smile when he hoisted the MVP trophy.
“He’s just a competitor,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “We respect that, for sure. He’s shown that again this entire playoff run.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo will probably win the NBA’s MVP award in a couple of weeks. James Harden and Paul George are the other finalists. And while all three of those players had marvelous regular seasons, the post-season was Leonard’s personal showcase.
He scored 732 points in the playoffs. Only Michael Jordan (759) and LeBron James (748) ever scored more in a single post-season. Leonard finished with 14 games of 30 points or more in these playoffs. The only players with more in a single post-season are Jordan (16 in 1992), Hakeem Olajuwon (16 in 1995) and Kobe Bryant (15 in 2009).
“Without a doubt, the best thing about this thing is that somehow I wound up on the sideline getting to watch this guy play up close,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse, who won an NBA title in his first season as a head coach in the league. “It’s really cool.”
Leonard was the unquestioned leader. When the Raptors lost Game 2 of the NBA Finals at home and surrendered home-court advantage in the series, Nurse walked into a very glum locker room and reminded his team that it merely needed to win either Game 3 or Game 4 at Oracle Arena to reclaim control of the series.
Some nodded in agreement.
Leonard was not one of them, saying, “Let’s go get both.”
They got both.
And then, on their return trip to Oracle for Game 6, they got one more. They closed Oracle with a title-clincher.
“I don’t know that any people will argue with me that he’s the best two-way player in the NBA,” Raptors President Masai Ujiri said.
Getting Leonard was just one of a bold series of moves Ujiri made in the last 12 months. He fired last season’s coach of the year in Dwane Casey and hired Nurse. He traded away three players at midseason for Marc Gasol. And he took the risk that Leonard would be both happy enough and healthy enough to take the Raptors to the newest and highest of heights.
The trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio for Leonard was high-risk, high-reward. Leonard was acquired on July 18 and formally introduced as training camp was beginning on Sept. 24. He can become a free agent on June 30 and he’ll almost certainly make in excess of $32 million next season no matter how long a deal he ends up signing – and whether that’s in Toronto or someplace else.
“This is the place for him,” Ujiri said.
Regardless of what’s next, Leonard’s memorable post-season won’t soon be forgotten.
There was the four-bounce-off-the-rim, at-the-buzzer jump shot from the corner to beat Philadelphia in Game 7 of the second round. A 15-point fourth quarter to lift the Raptors past Milwaukee in the pivotal Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. A 17-point third quarter at Oracle Arena in Game 4 of the finals, as the Raptors took control of the game and the series.
“You can always see in his eyes that at any given time he can kind of take over,” Pascal Siakam said.
Leonard can be thought of as enigmatic or anti-social.
He’s not really either of those things. He’s just quiet.
His path has not been an easy one. He wasn’t highly recruited in high school. By the time bigger colleges were calling, he was committed to San Diego State. He wasn’t even a lottery pick, getting taken No. 15 in the 2011 draft – behind the likes of Derrick Williams, Tristan Thompson, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Jimmer Fredette and Alec Burks, none of whom averaged 10 points per game for their NBA careers.
He rarely opens up about anything. He doesn’t talk about his private life. He hardly ever discusses the murder of his father, which happened when Leonard was playing in high school. He scored 17 points in a game the day after his father was shot and killed, perhaps the ultimate proof that he’s always been capable of blocking out everything else when he steps onto a court.
“Once it happened, I thought about it a lot,” Leonard said. “But as I got older, I pretty much just really stopped thinking about it. I think it just gave me a sense and feel that life and basketball are two different things and just really enjoy your time and moments. Like I always say, this is basketball; just go out there and have fun. These are going to be the best years of my life, playing this game.”
The best year yet just happened.
And with Leonard just entering his prime, there might be much more to come.
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Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press