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Kobe Bryant: People Need to Back Off LeBron James

Kobe Bryant sat down with George Smith for an interview during the Sunday Night Conversation. Kobe, who’s fresh off showing his soccer skills, was asked about the way the Lakers’ season ended. He admitted the Lakers lost to a team that was playing better than they were. He also said he watched the finals between the Mavericks and Heat. That prompted a question about the venom LeBron received. Kobe defended LeBron.

“I think people need to lay off that kid. That’s what I think. I’ve gotten to know him pretty well from playing with the Olympic team. I think people need to just back off of him and just let him play, let him live his life. Let him make his decisions. Let him mature as a player. It’s tough to be under the microscope like that all the time. I would like everybody to just kind of back off of him and let him play.”

You might think that Kobe was defending his fellow puppeteer because of their endorsement ties, but I think it’s more than that. Recall this is actually the second time Kobe defended the Heat players this season.

Kobe knows what it’s like to be the best player in the league and have everything you do get scrutinized. It’s not fun I’m sure, and it really wears on a person. I’ve said before that we’re ruining our superstars with all our criticism. That’s probably why Kobe wants everyone to back off and let LeBron be.

George Karl: 1996 Sonics Were Top 20 Team in NBA History

If you’re scratching your head right now thinking that’s a pretty bold statement, you’re not alone. When you think of the best teams in NBA history you immediately think of the Bulls, Celtics, Lakers, and maybe the dominant 76ers or Bucks. But you probably don’t think of the Seattle Sonics.

Former coach George Karl thinks you should.

Karl was on hand for Sonics night at Safeco Field in Seattle Friday night and he joined Dave Sims in the broadcast booth on Root Sports. He was asked for his standout moment in Seattle and mentioned his ’95-’96 Sonics team.

“Playing in the championship round in the NBA Finals against Chicago and Michael’s team. I thought our team and their team should be in the Top 20 teams in NBA history even though we didn’t win a championship. They won 73 games and we won 64.

If Nate McMillan would have been healthy I thought it would have been a very equal series. The opportunity to play in the Finals is an honor and a privilege — it’s amazing how few people get to be in that situation.”

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Lockout Could Result in NBA Players Passing on London Olympics

If you are one of those people who enjoys Olympic basketball and still thinks about the Dream Team, the NBA lockout could put a kink in your plans. If the lockout continues and the upcoming NBA season is cancelled, the Players’ Association will almost certainly pressure the players to bail on the 2012 USA Olympic team.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the NBA and USA Olympic team are too intertwined for NBA players to take part in the 2012 London Games. He refers to Team USA as a “David Stern production,” adding that while it will be a sticky public relations situation there’s no way NBA players and coaches could represent Team USA while the labor situation is uncertain. Jerry Colangelo, the managing director for USA Basketball, works under Stern. Additionally, the NBA’s biggest sponsor is Nike, which is also the top sponsor of Team USA.

After a disappointing 2004 performance in Greece that resulted in a bronze medal, the star power returned to Team USA and Mike Krzyzewski led a rejuvenated squad to a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. While USA Basketball will not be a top priority until a new NBA collective bargaining agreement is hammered out, it would be disappointing to see USA Basketball take yet another fall from grace.

H/T to I am a GM

Note: This post also appeared at Yardbarker’s Olympics Blog Medal Detector.

Amar’e Stoudemire to Join Big Lead Sports, Talk Sports and Fashion

One lockout has ended and another is looming.  Now that football is back, we get to rest our heads — very briefly for NBA fans.  The most significant difference that we can see so far between the NFL and NBA lockout situations is NBA players talking about playing overseas.  Personally, I find this annoying.  No one cares about Ron Artest possibly maybe sort of thinking about playing in Finland.  Kobe and LeBron will both be on NBA rosters when the situation is sorted out, so why waste our time talking about it.

While everyone else tries to figure out if it’s worth signing with a European team to play in the fall, Amar’e Stoudemire has decided to come over to our world.  By that I mean the Knicks franchise forward is going to be banging some keys and joining the blog world.  According to the NY Post, Stoudemire has made a deal with Big Lead Sports to launch his own website in exchange for a revenue-sharing agreement and small equity stake in the company.

Stoudemire will reportedly talk sports and fashion and aim to help make fantasy basketball more popular in an educational way.

“This is definitely a great opportunity,” he told the Post on Tuesday. “From fantasy basketball, it’s a great way to learn math without you even knowing it.”

Educational? That might be a stretch, but there’s no denying this is great news for the blogosphere.  Having athletes on-board with what we do is huge.  I’m not sure how much success Amar’e can have in growing fantasy basketball, but an NBA All-Star as a blog contributor can only mean good things for all of us.

Kevin Love Likes Rick Adelman as Potential Coach, Thinks Rubio is Real Deal

Kevin Love announced Tuesday that he’s going to play volleyball in the Manhattan Beach Open next month. Love made his announcement at Times Square in New York City where a beach volleyball court was set up for him and other athletes on the Jose Cuervo Pro Beach Volleyball Series tour to play. We spoke with Love after the event and asked him if this was the first of many publicity stunts to come. We also asked him about his development as a player, his thoughts on Ricky Rubio, who he’d like the team to hire as its new head coach, and what goes into building the ideal team. Our interview follows.

How did this whole thing with Jose Cuervo and the beach volleyball idea come about?

Jose Cuervo came to me and said that they wanted me to be a part of it and I took it and ran with it — I thought it was a home run. It’s a different thing I could use throughout the lockout to keep active and kind of have fun with, so I’m very excited about it.

Do you have more ideas like this in store, like Ochocinco, or is this a one-time deal for you?

I’m not opposed to anything. I’m down to try new things and new sports, so I’m definitely taking the Ochocinco route. I’m definitely down to try anything, I think it’s fun.

How much volleyball experience do you have?

Not much, obviously a little bit in high school but nothing on the beach and it wasn’t really too serious. It was kind of just hitting the ball around with my friends in gym class but I even surprised myself today — I was a little better than I thought.

You made the jump, you became an All-Star this season. How good do you think you can be? Do you think you can be the centerpiece on a championship team?

Yeah, I think the sky’s the limit. I’m 22 years old — there’s still so much room to grow. Even Michael Jordan said that players don’t reach their prime until they’re 27-34. I think I can be as good as I want to be and take my game to whatever level I want to take it to.

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Kevin Love Playing Beach Volleyball During NBA Lockout

When Kevin Love filmed his commercial for the “Lockout Professionals,” he wasn’t joking — he was just leading up to a bigger announcement. On Tuesday, it was revealed that Love is partnering with Jose Cuervo to play in their Pro Beach Volleyball Series. He made the announcement while playing beach volleyball on a court in Times Square:

Love plans to play in the famed Manhattan Beach Open next month. Better yet, Jose Cuervo has agreed to waive all ticket costs and offer free admission to fans who attend any of their upcoming events.

LBS interviewed Love after his day of playing volleyball and asked him if he’s becoming the Chad Ochocinco of the NBA? Find out his answer by reading here.

Justin Verlander Gives Don Kelly the ‘Hot Foot’, Sets Shoe on Fire (Video)

It takes a variety of pranks to make the baseball prank world go ’round.  There are those that are designed simply to screw with your psyche and those that are meant embarrass the heck out of you.  Then, there are those that are meant to force you to change your cell phone number.  And finally, there are some pranks that are just plain dangerous and should only be attempted by professionals.

As Big League Stew pointed out, Justin Verlander is apparently one of those professionals.  Verlander gave a new meaning to the term “flamethrower” on Sunday with his dugout prank during a game against the Twins. Check out the video of Justin Verlander’s hot foot prank on Don Kelly, courtesy of MLB.com:

Personally, I think I’d rather have a pie in the face.