Youth movement: NBA’s 20-something stars set to battle in conference finals

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Updated 21 May 2024
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Youth movement: NBA’s 20-something stars set to battle in conference finals

  • Boston’s 26-year-old Jayson Tatum and 27-year-old Jaylen Brown are already experienced hands after the Celtics reached the conference finals in each of the past two seasons
  • Kyrie Irving, traded to the Mavericks in February 2023, has seen close-up what Doncic and the rest of the league’s rising stars bring to the table

LOS ANGELES: The NBA conference finals starting Tuesday will showcase a new generation of stars as the Boston Celtics take on Indiana in the East and Dallas clash with Minnesota in the West for a place in the NBA Finals.

Boston’s 26-year-old Jayson Tatum and 27-year-old Jaylen Brown are already experienced hands after the Celtics reached the conference finals in each of the past two seasons.

They made it to the championship series in 2022 but fell to the Golden State Warriors then were stunned by eighth-seeded Miami in the conference finals last year.

In the Pacers they’ll face a high-octane offense led by 24-year-old Tyrese Haliburton while in the West 25-year-old Luka Doncic will lead the Mavericks against 22-year-old Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Kyrie Irving, traded to the Mavericks in February 2023, has seen close-up what Doncic and the rest of the league’s rising stars bring to the table.

“They have no fear,” Irving said after the Mavericks polished off a six-game victory over the top-seeded Oklahoma City in the conference semifinals.

“They want to kill our records. They want to kill us every time they get on the court,” said Irving, an eight-time All-Star who won a title with Cleveland in 2016.

“That was the first thing I noticed about Luka, that he just had no fear going against the best in the world,” Irving said. “He always walks around like he’s the best player in the world. I think that’s the confidence of a champion. That’s where it starts.”

LeBron James is still a force at 39 but his Lakers were swept by Denver in the first round of the playoffs.

The Timberwolves swept Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns out of the first round when the Pacers took care of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors didn’t make it out of the play-in and three-time Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Nuggets were subdued in seven games in the West semis by Minnesota.

Edwards, averaging 28.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists in the playoffs, showed his maturity in Game 7, when he shook off a poor shooting night to dig in on the defensive end and help author one of the greatest Game 7 comeback wins in NBA history.

“I’m not one-dimensional,” declared Edwards, whose stellar season has seen him tabbed for the US Olympic team.

But Irving thinks Doncic has the edge in maturity. The Slovenian star is in the playoffs for the fourth time, his longest prior run a trip to the conference finals in 2022.

Irving says Doncic is set to shine with a new supporting cast around him — not least himself.

The Mavs, seeking to add to the lone NBA title they won in 2011, host the Timberwolves in Game 1 on Wednesday.

The Celtics, who share the record for most NBA titles at 17, host the Pacers in Game 1 on Tuesday, with Brown and Tatum aiming to become the latest to lead Boston to the crown.

“We’ve just been in a lot of battles together,” Tatum said of his partnership with Brown. “Seven years as teammates. He’s been in the conference finals six times, this is my fifth time.

“(We’re) really getting to a stage where we understand what we can do individually. We know how gifted we are offensively, but each night just kind of presents different challenges ... both of us are capable on the basketball court to do literally everything.”

The Pacers’ Haliburton is in unfamiliar territory, but he can rely on the experience of Pascal Siakam, an NBA champion with Toronto who was acquired from the Raptors in January.

After surprising in the regular season — and earning national attention with their run to the final of the new in-season tournament — the Pacers are out to prove they can flout conventional wisdom and use their up-tempo offense to carry them all the way.

“Well, we’re the uninvited guest,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said of sixth-seeded Indiana’s arrival in the conference finals. “So here we are, OK.”


Saudi Arabia to host first Esports Olympics in 2025: IOC

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Saudi Arabia to host first Esports Olympics in 2025: IOC

Lausanne: Saudi Arabia will host the inaugural Esports Olympics in 2025 the International Olympic Committee said on Friday.
“The International Olympic Committee (IOC) today announced that it has partnered with the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Saudi Arabia to host the inaugural Olympic Esports Games 2025 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the body said.
“The duration of the partnership between the IOC and the Saudi NOC will be 12 years, with Olympic Esports Games held regularly.”

Etihad Arena to host global basketball stars, legends, coaches and senior executives

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Etihad Arena to host global basketball stars, legends, coaches and senior executives

  • ‘Courtside Conversations and USA Basketball Showcase’ on July 16
  • Men’s teams from US, Australia, Serbia to play games in UAE capital

ABU DHABI: Sports enthusiasts are in for a treat as Etihad Arena will host a “Courtside Conversations and USA Basketball Showcase” on July 16 in Abu Dhabi featuring some of the sport’s top players and personalities.

This is in conjunction with the “2024 USA Basketball Showcase Games” in the UAE capital from July 15 to 17.

The games feature the world No. 1 US basketball men’s national team, Australian Boomers and Serbia, ranked at five and four respectively, that are all preparing for the Paris Olympic Games.

The “Courtside Conversations and USA Basketball Showcase” will be an evening of discussions with participants including basketball players, legends, and senior executives.

The forum will kick off with a “Global Growth of the Game” panel discussion highlighting the importance of investing in young people, women, and minorities.

It will also explore how programs beyond the court can mentor leaders in every community.

Speakers include Miami Heat legend Alonzo Mourning, the Las Vegas Aces’ Chief Business Development Officer Jennifer Azzi, and USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley.

The second panel, “The Road to Paris,” will have the panelists discuss how to build a championship-caliber team and the value of teamwork. The participants include NBA legend and US Men’s National Team MD Grant Hill and former NBA player Steve Smith.

Attendees will have the chance to ask questions, which have to be submitted in advance.

Select fans will be able to meet basketball legends Smith and Mourning, which includes on-court photo opportunities following the Australia-Serbia game.


Stars of ‘Free Fire,’ ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ and ‘Mobile Legends: Bang Bang’ battle it out at Esports World Cup

Updated 12 July 2024
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Stars of ‘Free Fire,’ ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ and ‘Mobile Legends: Bang Bang’ battle it out at Esports World Cup

  • World’s largest gaming competition runs until Aug. 25 at Boulevard Riyadh City

RIYADH: Action at the Esports World Cup is hotting up across three of the most high-profile conceptions — “Free Fire,” the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” and “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.”

Running until Aug. 25 at Boulevard Riyadh City, the eight-week Esports World Cup has seen strong showings in “Free Fire” from All Glory Gaming, Team Solid, and Twisted Minds.

At the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters,” HEROIC, Team Spirit, Tundra Esports, and WBG.XG were among the teams to impress.

Meanwhile, “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang” has reached the quarterfinal stage.

The Esports World Cup features a unique cross-game structure pitting the world’s top clubs and players against one another across 22 global competitions in 21 leading games.

More than 1,500 players from 60 countries are battling it out for a share of the $60 million prize pool — the largest in the history of esports.


T1 star Faker hails ‘Cristiano Ronaldo-esque’ reception from fans at Esports World Cup in Riyadh

Updated 12 July 2024
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T1 star Faker hails ‘Cristiano Ronaldo-esque’ reception from fans at Esports World Cup in Riyadh

  • The ‘Michael Jordan of esports’ helped South Korean side overcome Top Esports of China 3-1 at Boulevard Riyadh City in Esports World Cup’s ‘League of Legends’ final

RIYADH: Faker, the T1 star known as the “Michael Jordan of esports,” believes his Esports World Cup reception from fans in Saudi Arabia has been “Cristiano Ronaldo-esque” — but that is mostly because they love “League of Legends,” not just him.

The 28-year-old South Korean professional, whose real name is Lee Sang-hyeok, is a hero across the world for his gaming exploits and has 1.5 million followers on Instagram.

Starred in the Esports World Cup’s “League of Legends” competition as South Korea’s T1 overcame Top Esports of China 3-1 in Sunday’s all-Asian final in front of a capacity crowd at the SEF Arena at Boulevard Riyadh City.

The win secured vital Esports World Cup Club Championship points for T1 and the $400,000 first prize.

Faker described the love he received from fans in Saudi Arabia as akin to that of five-time Ballon d’Or winner and Al-Nassr hero Cristiano Ronaldo.

“I think it’s because I’ve been putting in a lot of effort all these years and the fans really like that. But mostly I think it’s the love of ‘League of Legends’ itself from the fans. All I can do is just keep being better and keep it up all these years.”

Adored by millions worldwide, “League of Legends” is a strategy game where two teams of five powerful champions face off with the objective of destroying the opposition’s base.

The final on Sunday at the Esports World Cup was decided in a best-of-five format.

Faker — who competes alongside Zeus, Oner, Gumayusi and Keria in T1’s five-star lineup — said the world cup “symbolizes the growth of esports worldwide.

“There are so many athletes from so many countries competing here and this reflects the recent growth of our industry. It’s popular everywhere right now. I hope the Esports World Cup attracts even more athletes, clubs, games, and fans in the future.”

The Esports World Cup began on July 3 and ends on Aug. 25 with 22 tournaments across 21 titles.


Saudi’s Hattan Alsaif fights for women’s place in Mideast MMA

Updated 12 July 2024
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Saudi’s Hattan Alsaif fights for women’s place in Mideast MMA

  • At PFL MENA 2 on Friday night, the 22-year-old will take on Egypt’s Iman Baraka at Riyadh’s Green Halls
  • Alsaif made a winning debut in the Professional Fighters League against Egypt’s Nada Faheem in May

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Hattan Alsaif is fighting to prove that women deserve their place in the world of combat sports.

The 22-year-old Muay Thai striker recently made history by becoming the first female from the Kingdom to be recruited by a major mixed martial arts organization when she joined the Professional Fighters League.

In May, Alsaif made her highly-anticipated debut during the inaugural season of PFL MENA. She knocked out Egypt’s Nada Faheem by head kick in the second round, much to the delight of fans in Riyadh.

Alsaif hopes to inspire other Saudi Arabia women to take up the sport.

“Combat sports isn’t exclusive to men anymore,” Alsaif said. “It’s open to both sexes.”

Alsaif has some big names in her corner, namely fellow Saudi Arabian fighter Abdullah Al-Qahtani, who is currently the Kingdom’s biggest MMA star.

“He supports me, he helps me develop my game, and he gave me a lot of motivation after my first PFL win,” Alsaif said of Al-Qahtani.

Alsaif said she does not feel pressure when fighting, but rather a determination to succeed.

“Winning my last fight wasn’t pressure, it was validation,” she explained. At PFL MENA 2 this weekend, she steps back into the cage to take on another Egyptian fighter.

“It showed my preparation was perfect, and now I’m even more confident facing Iman Baraka,” she said.

Alsaif said she enjoyed fighting in her hometown. “The energy of the Saudi fans after my first win was incredible. It fueled my training and showed me I was on the right track.”

“I saw the love and support from the fans after my victory, and it made me even hungrier to win again. I’m ready to step into the cage and prove myself,” she added.

“The last fight was a great victory, but now my focus is on Iman Baraka. I’m not dwelling on the past, I’m training for the challenge ahead.”