Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic becomes lowest draft pick ever to win MVP award

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Nikola Jokic drives against Deandre Ayton during Game 2 their 2nd round playoff series on June 9, 2021. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
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Nikola Jokic shoots against the Phoenix Suns during Game 2 their 2nd round playoff series on June 9, 2021. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
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Nikola Jokic shoots as Jae Crowder defends during Game 2 of their 2nd round Nuggets-Suns playoff series on June 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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Updated 10 June 2021
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Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic becomes lowest draft pick ever to win MVP award

  • Jokic, from Serbia, was the runaway winner, getting 91 of the 101 first-place ballots cast, mostly from a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league
  • 4 other foreigners had been named NBA MVP: Steve Nash (Canada), Giannis Antetokounmp (Greece), Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria) and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)

DENVER, US: Nikola Jokic was selected with the 41st draft pick when he entered the NBA seven years ago.
Now, by overwhelming consensus, he’s No. 1.
The Nuggets’ big man was revealed Tuesday as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for 2020-21, making him by far the lowest draft pick ever to win the award. “The Joker” now has his name etched alongside the greatest players in league history, which surely seemed unlikely when he was that unheralded prospect out of Sombor, Serbia in 2014.
“To be honest, I didn’t even think I would be in the NBA,” Jokic said. “My goal when I started to play basketball back home, it was playing in Euroleague because that was kind of the closest top league to my country.”
He did a little more.
Jokic was the runaway winner, getting 91 of the 101 first-place ballots cast — 100 of them from a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league, the other being an aggregate first-place ballot compiled from fan voting.
“It’s a big accomplishment, but it’s something that like I said to the guys, it’s not just me,” Jokic said. “I came here six years ago and I was growing, the organization was growing, the coaching staff was growing, the players next to me were growing.
“I couldn’t do it by myself. It’s an individual award, but it’s the effort of everybody.”
That fan vote was the outlier: It went to 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose of the New York Knicks, the only vote Rose got.
Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid was second, Golden State’s Stephen Curry was third, 2019 and 2020 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee was fourth and Phoenix’s Chris Paul was fifth.
The previous record-holders for lowest draft picks who became MVPs were Steve Nash and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who were both chosen 15th overall. Antetokounmpo won the MVP award each of the last two seasons.
Greece now cedes the bragging rights to Serbia — the fifth nation outside of the US to claim an MVP, joining Canada (Nash), Greece (Antetokounmpo), Nigeria (Hakeem Olajuwon) and Germany (Dirk Nowitzki).
The news came in a team meeting Tuesday, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver appearing on a video screen to deliver the word.
“First of many,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
After the top five, the rest of the voting was Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Portland’s Damian Lillard, New York’s Julius Randle, Rose, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Washington’s Russell Westbrook, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and, tying for 13th, was the Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Brooklyn’s James Harden and the Lakers’ LeBron James.
James got one fifth-place vote — extending his streak to 18 years with at least one vote in the MVP race.
Jokic’s rise was meteoric, but not totally unexpected after the way he played in recent years. Even Kobe Bryant, back in 2019, said he had challenged Jokic to fulfill his potential and win an MVP award.
Challenge accepted. Challenge met. And now Jokic has the trophy that Bryant won in 2008.
“MVP! BEST PLAYER IN THE NBA!” Nuggets teammate Will Barton posted on Instagram.
“I couldn’t win it without you guys,” Jokic told his teammates when the word came.
Jokic had a league-high 60 double-doubles and added 16 triple-doubles — second-most in the NBA behind only triple-double king and former MVP Westbrook — this season. Jokic’s scoring average jumped from 19.9 points per game last season to 26.4. He tied his career high with 10.8 rebounds per game and his average of 8.3 assists was just shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time season average (8.6) for a center.
He shot 56 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3-point range.
“The Denver Nuggets drafted me, it was an opportunity for me to become an NBA player,” Jokic said. “I think I did a good job of using that opportunity.”
A year after leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals in the Walt Disney World bubble in Florida, Jokic steered his team through a trying season marked a rash of injuries, most notably to fellow star Jamal Murray, who tore his left ACL in April.
Amid all those injuries — not to mention a jampacked season where virtually everyone got some rest along the way — Jokic was a rare everyday player, a big man who logged big minutes. He’s the only player to start all of his team’s regular-season games in the last two seasons, being on the floor for tip-off all 145 times. Others have also played in every game, but no one else has started them all.
Including playoffs, Jokic has logged 5,766 minutes in the last two seasons. That’s nearly 300 more than anyone else; he’s one of only six players to eclipse 5,000 minutes in that span.
Despite that ever-changing cast around him, Jokic guided Denver to the No. 3 playoff seed in the West. Behind Jokic, the Nuggets went 13-5 after Murray tore his ACL on April 12 and he led Denver past the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs.
And his numbers against the Blazers? Historic. He averaged 33 points and 10.5 rebounds on 53 percent shooting from the field, 43 percent from 3-point range and 92 percent from the free throw line — making him the first player in NBA history to average 30 points and 10 rebounds with the lofty benchmarks of 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3 and 90 percent from the foul line in a playoff series.
“Life’s about little moments,” Malone said late in the regular season. “And Nikola’s got about 56 moments where he’s shown he’s the MVP.”


Shaqiri scores stunning goal in Switzerland’s 1-1 draw with Scotland at Euro 2024

Updated 20 June 2024
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Shaqiri scores stunning goal in Switzerland’s 1-1 draw with Scotland at Euro 2024

  • It is the sixth-straight major international tournament in which Shaqiri has scored, dating back to the World Cup in 2014

COLOGNE, Germany: “Shaq” did it again.
At the age of 32 and having left top-flight European soccer behind to play in MLS, Xherdan Shaqiri is back on the international stage and back scoring again.
His stunning first-half strike secured a 1-1 draw for Switzerland against Scotland at Euro 2024 on Wednesday.
It is the sixth-straight major international tournament in which Shaqiri has scored, dating back to the World Cup in 2014.
That’s three World Cups in a row and now three European Championships for the Chicago Fire forward.
“He proved tonight that he lives and breathes for moments like these,” Switzerland coach Murat Yakin said.
Shaqiri rolled back the years with a first-time curling effort from about 20 meters out at Cologne Stadium.
Scotland had led from the 13th minute when Scott McTominay’s shot took a wicked deflection off Fabian Schar to beat Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
But Shaqiri pounced on Anthony Ralston’s loose pass in the 26th to even the match with a left-footed shot into the top corner and past Scotland keeper Angus Gunn.
“If that chance falls to any other player in the Swiss team, it’s not a goal,” Scotland manager Steve Clarke said. “You knew when it was rolling toward Shaqiri it was destined for the back of the net. He’s a top, top player, so you don’t give top, top players that kind of chance.”
Shaqiri’s career has seen him play for some of Europe’s most iconic teams, including Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Liverpool. He joined Chicago Fire two years ago, but in that time has continued to produce for his country on the biggest stage.
“Shaq always gives everything in training,” Switzerland defender Manuel Akanji said. “I don’t know how many other players are able to score that goal.”
The draw leaves Switzerland on four points, second in Group A behind Germany and likely to advance to the round of 16.
Germany became the first nation to advance to the round of 16 after 2-0 win over Hungary.
Scotland’s hopes of making the knockout round depend on its final game against Hungary on Sunday and results elsewhere. No team has failed to advance from the group stage with four points.
Both teams had chances to win the game.
The Swiss should have taken the lead just before the hour mark when Dan Ndoye turned Kieran Tierney on the edge of the box. With just goalkeeper Angus Gunn to beat, Ndoye fired wide of goal.
Grant Hanley then headed against the post from a Scotland free kick and Switzerland’s Zeki Amdouni headed wide at the far post late on.
Scotland has never advanced beyond the group stage of a World Cup or Euros on 11 previous attempts.
But repeated disappointment doesn’t seem to dampen optimism among its fans, who filled Cologne’s square before the game.
Swiss fans were out in numbers, too, creating a raucous atmosphere in the stadium.
It was certainly a more enjoyable evening for Scotland’s fans than the opening game of the Euros — a 5-1 loss to Germany.
“It was what we expected. It was a good reaction to a disappointing night. We’re still alive in the tournament,” Clarke said.
Goals from Jamal Musiala and İlkay Gündoğan made it two wins from two for host Germany after victory against Hungary and ensured there would be no repeat of its group stage exit from the 2022 World Cup.
Albania substitute Klaus Gjasula scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time to hold World Cup semifinalist Croatia to a 2-2 draw in Group B. Gjasula’s own goal, just four minutes after entering the game in the second half, had looked like handing Croatia the win until his late strike.


Lionel Messi could be playing in his final tournament with Argentina at Copa America

Updated 20 June 2024
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Lionel Messi could be playing in his final tournament with Argentina at Copa America

  • “The moment I feel that I am not going to help my team, I will retire,” Messi said in March in an interview with Saudi broadcaster Riyadh Season
  • He spends time with his three children, starts new businesses and lives as if soccer is slowly becoming a smaller part of his life

BUENOS AIRES: It’s sad but true, Copa America could mark Lionel Messi’s final chapter with Argentina’s national soccer team.

The World Cup winner will turn 37 during the tournament in the US, which kicks off Thursday. He’s clearly past his peak at Inter Miami after two decades of playing at the highest level in Europe.

Messi has not set a date for his retirement and has kept the door open to playing in a sixth World Cup in 2026 to defend his title from Qatar. But he already recognizes his shortcomings.

“I don’t think about that yet. The moment I feel that I am not going to help my team, I will retire,” Messi said in March in an interview with Saudi broadcaster Riyadh Season. “I always ate well, trained. But as I grew I became aware that the physical effort we make is getting harder. As you grow old, things become more difficult.”

Last year, the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner struggled with muscular injuries while playing in MLS and for Argentina. That didn’t change much in 2024.

Messi has shown he enjoys going out at night with his wife, Antonella, and his friends in Miami. He spends time with his three children, starts new businesses and lives as if soccer is slowly becoming a smaller part of his life.

Still, he has 12 goals and 13 assists for Inter Miami this season.

“I have a good time at the club. I am lucky to have teammates and friends (Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, all former Barcelona players) by my side,” Messi told ESPN. ”I have a good time in the national team, where I have teammates and friends, too. And I enjoy the little details that I know that when I don’t play anymore, I’m going to miss.”

Angel di Maria, a 36-year-old winger who has played alongside Messi for years with the national team, is sure to bid farewell to international soccer after the Copa America. That has also brought more questions about whether the team’s biggest star will remain on the squad.

“As long as I feel like I’m fine and I can continue contributing, I’m going to do it. Today, the only thing I think about is getting to the Copa America well and being able to compete in it,” Messi told the Star Plus platform in December. “Fighting for it again, as we always did, trying to be champions.”

Argentina’s all-time top scorer and the national team’s leader with 26 World Cup appearances is also seeking records in the continental competition.

Messi, who won the South American championship in 2021, wants to become the Copa America’s leading scorer. He has 13 goals in six editions, four behind Norberto Méndez of Argentina and Zizinho of Brazil with 17.

He also wants to be the player with most appearances in the Copa America, a record he currently shares with former Chile goalkeeper Sergio Livingston, both with 34 games.

Messi’s teammates don’t want to see him go.

“We’ll see how long, but while he’s here we’re going to enjoy it to the fullest,” Argentina defender Cristian Romero said. “We grew up watching him. We are part of those tournaments.”


PGA Tour grants Woods entry to top events with ‘lifetime achievement’ exemption — report

Updated 20 June 2024
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PGA Tour grants Woods entry to top events with ‘lifetime achievement’ exemption — report

  • ESPN, citing a memo to tour members, reported on Wednesday that the PGA Tour policy board approved the special sponsor exemption
  • Woods said he planned to compete in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland next month

LOS ANGELES: The PGA Tour has created a special exemption recognizing Tiger Woods’s “exceptional lifetime achievement” that will allow the 15-time major champion entry into the tour’s top events.

ESPN, citing a memo to tour members, reported on Wednesday that the PGA Tour policy board approved the special sponsor exemption during a joint meeting with the PGA Tour Enterprises board of directors on Tuesday.

Woods, whose playing schedule has been severely limited since he suffered serious leg injuries in a February 2021 car crash, plays too little now to otherwise qualify for the eight signature events.

But from 2025 he will be welcome in those tournaments, which feature smaller fields, larger purses and bumped up points toward the FedEx Cup playoffs.

“An additional sponsor exemption will be created to recognize Tiger Woods in his own category as a player who has reached an exceptional lifetime achievement threshold of 80+ career wins,” the memo said, according to ESPN.

With 82 PGA Tour wins, Woods shares the all-time record with Sam Snead.

Despite his physical limitations, the 48-year-old has said he still feels he has more titles in him, although he has played in just nine official PGA Tour events in the past three seasons.

The only non-major he has competed in was the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, which he hosts for the benefit of his charitable foundation.

Woods withdrew in the second round at Riviera this year because of illness. He finished 60th at the Masters and missed the cut at the PGA Championship and the US Open last week at Pinehurst.

Woods said he planned to compete in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland next month.

He indicated at Pinehurst he expected it to be his last start of the season.

“I’ve only got one more tournament this season,” he said. “I don’t think even if I win the British Open I’ll be in the playoffs.”


Playing Italy like ‘looking in a mirror’, says Spain’s De la Fuente

Updated 19 June 2024
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Playing Italy like ‘looking in a mirror’, says Spain’s De la Fuente

  • “They’re very similar to us, they have changed coach and they have young players,” De la Fuente told reporters
  • “I think it will be a very high quality match“

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Luis de la Fuente said on Wednesday he was struck by the similarities between his Spain team and Italy as the pair aim to secure qualification for the knockout stage of Euro 2024.
La Roja and champions Italy have undergone a change in playing personnel over the last year, and have young blood throughout their squads.
Spain are more direct than under previous coach Luis Enrique while Luciano Spalletti is attempting get Italy to play a high-intensity attacking style with which he won the Serie A title for Napoli.
“They’re very similar to us, they have changed coach and they have young players. They are very competitive,” De la Fuente told reporters.
“It’s almost like we’re looking in a mirror actually. We are a growing, developing team which is working on cohesion and consistency and so are they. I think it will be a very high quality match.”
Spain have faced Italy at each of the last four Euros and meet in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday where both teams can ensure top spot in Group B with a win.
They are locked on three points at the top of the group, two ahead of Albania and Croatia who played out an exciting 2-2 draw earlier on Wednesday.
And De la Fuente, who has a fully fit squad at his disposal, is in no doubt that his team will play to win rather than try to not lose and then attempt to secure top spot in their final group game with Albania.
“Without doubt we want to win. This game most important game for us so far,” he said.
“That is the only thing we’re thinking about... We play all matches to win. I don’t know how to play any other way.”
Fabian Ruiz, who will face his former coach at Napoli in Spalletti, shrugged off talk of Spain being favorites for the Euros despite their blistering debut win over Croatia.
“We don’t see ourselves as favorites but we have confidence in our potential,” said Fabian Ruiz.
“We know we have the quality to get to the final and we’ll do what we can to get there. Maybe if we get to the final I’ll be able to tell you whether we’re favorites or not. But it’s very difficult to win a tournament.”


UEFA fines Albania, Serbia $10,700 each for nationalist fan banners at Euro 2024 games

Updated 19 June 2024
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UEFA fines Albania, Serbia $10,700 each for nationalist fan banners at Euro 2024 games

  • Each federation was charged with “transmitting provocative messages not fit for a sports event”
  • UEFA also opened a separate investigation into alleged discrimination by Serbia fans

FRANKFURT: UEFA fined the Albanian and Serbian soccer federations 10,000 euros ($10,700) each on Wednesday for fans displaying banners with nationalist maps at European Championship games.
Each federation was charged with “transmitting provocative messages not fit for a sports event” because they are responsible for the conduct of their fans at stadiums.
Albania fans displayed a banner with a map of their country extending its borders into the territory of neighboring countries. It was shown during the 2-1 loss against Italy on Saturday in Dortmund.
Serbia fans’ banner included the independent territory of Kosovo and a slogan “No Surrender” at a 1-0 loss against England in Gelsenkirchen. A case was prosecuted by FIFA at the 2022 World Cup when players were photographed with a similar banner in their locker room ahead of a game against Brazil.
UEFA also opened a separate investigation into alleged discrimination by Serbia fans. The Kosovo soccer federation field a formal complaint with UEFA.
The Albanian federation was fined a further 27,375 euros ($29,400) for fans lighting flares and fireworks, throwing beer cups and a fan who went on the field.
Fans invading the playing area have been a regular feature in the first week of games at Euro 2024.
UEFA announced the sanctions of its disciplinary panel hours after Albania drew 2-2 with Croatia in their second Group B game.
Serbia’s federation must pay 4,500 euros ($4,800) more for fans throwing beer cups.