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PSC puts facilities under lockdown

Nick Giongco

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Five staffers of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) have tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting PSC chairman William ‘Butch’ Ramirez to put the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex (RMSC) and the Philsports under lockdown.

In a letter dated 11 August, Ramirez said the order will take effect 12 August until further notice.

“This is part of the agency’s health security protocol, after a staff tested COVID-19 positive in the recent round of RT-PCR testing,” Ramirez wrote.

PSC deputy executive director Guillermo Iroy told the Daily Tribune on Wednesday that “three female and two male” turned out positive.

Iroy said the five had been going in and out of PSC offices in the days just before they underwent swabbing.

The RMSC houses two COVID-19 centers: The Ninoy Aquino Stadium and the Rizal Coliseum.

The Multi-Purpose Arena at Philsports in Pasig also accommodates COVID-19 patients who show mild symptoms.

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Clippers put Doc away

Agence France-Presse

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Doc Rivers loses his job as Los Angeles Clippers coach following another Playoff flop. / Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images/Agence france-presse

LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers has parted company with the franchise in the wake of the team’s latest playoff flop, the coach confirmed Monday.

In a statement on Twitter, Rivers said he was no longer the coach of the Los Angeles club.

“Thank you Clipper nation for allowing me to be your coach and for all your support in helping make this a winning franchise,” Rivers wrote.

“When I took this job, my goals were to make this a winning basketball program, a free agent destination, and bring a championship to this organization.

“While I was able to accomplish most of my goals, I won’t be able to see them all through.”

Rivers’ departure comes after the Clippers agonizing loss in the Western Conference semifinals, when they blew a 3-1 series lead before losing, 4-3, to the Denver Nuggets.

The 58-year-old Rivers joined the Clippers from the Boston Celtics in 2013. Although the team was consistent qualifiers for the playoffs, Rivers was unable to take it beyond the Western Conference semifinals.

Six of the team’s playoff campaigns under Rivers ended in the first round.

Rivers however insists he believes the Clippers, who had high hopes of reaching the NBA Finals this year after recruiting Kawhi Leonard in 2019, are close to competing for championships.

“Though it was a disappointing ending to our season, you are right there and I know what this team is capable of accomplishing with your support,” Rivers said in his message to fans.

“Thank you to all the players, coaches, and staff for helping us get there. Most importantly, thank you to the fans. We went through a lot, and I am grateful for my time here.”

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Dodgers glued on ending 32-year drought

When you don’t win the last game of the season and you’re to blame for it, it’s not fun.

Agence France-Presse

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CLAYTON Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are looking to snap their 32-year title drought. / Ezra Shaw/Getty Images/agence france-presse

LOS ANGELES (AFP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers head into another Major League Baseball (MLB) postseason on Wednesday looking to end a 32-year wait for a World Series crown after a litany of recent failures.

For the third time in four years, the Dodgers head into the playoffs boasting the best regular season record in the National League (NL), armed with high hopes of winning a first Fall Classic since 1988.

But for all the vaunted regular season dominance, a postseason championship has remained elusive with a series of agonizing losses fuelling the perception of a psychological brittleness in pressure situations.

In 2017, the Houston Astros beat the Dodgers in seven game of the World Series, winning the decider in front of the shell-shocked home crowd at the Dodgers Stadium.

The following season, Dodger fans again had to witness a rival team celebrating the championship at Chavez Ravine with the Boston Red Sox wrapping up an emphatic 4-1 series victory in Game 5.

In 2019, it was the turn of the Washington Nationals to inflict the pain, with the Dodgers losing 7-3 at home in Game 5 against the eventual World Series winners after blowing a 3-1 lead heading into the eighth inning.

That game was notable for another in a series of disappointing outings for ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who is regarded as one of the greatest pitchers of his generation yet struggling to shed the crude tag of postseason choker.

“Everything people say is true right now about the postseason,” a distraught Kershaw said after last season’s letdown.

“When you don’t win the last game of the season and you’re to blame for it, it’s not fun.”

It is a tale of postseason woe that will give even the most optimistic Dodger fans cause for nervousness, despite the team boosting their firepower this year with the acquisition of former Red Sox Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts.

The format of the abbreviated 60-game season, and the expanded 16-team playoffs, mean that the advantages normally accrued for dominating the regular season will be absent this year.

Instead, the Dodgers must navigate a potentially awkward three-game wild card series at home to the Milwaukee Brewers starting Wednesday, before then heading into a division series that will be played on neutral turf in Texas.

“When the season’s closed down and we start the playoffs, none of that means anything,” the Dodgers in-form outfielder AJ Pollock said.

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PBA catches FIBA attention

Bea Micaller

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JOE Devance (right) and Barangay Ginebra enter the PBA bubble at Quest Hotel in Clark. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PBA

The bubble concept that the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) had formulated to restart its 45th season just gained a big fan — the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).

PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said FIBA had shown willingness to pattern its tourneys after the bubble setup that the league will use in resuming its coronavirus-hit season on 11 October in Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga.

Marcial said the international cage body is mulling to use this kind of setup in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifier this November and in February 2021.

“What I heard is that FIBA is also looking at us as a pattern in holding its own bubble,” said Marcial in a virtual press briefing yesterday.

“If we emerge successful, then I think FIBA will hold at least its 3×3 tournament in Clark as well.”

No less than Bases Conversion and Development Authority president Vince Dizon and Clark Development Corporation president Noel Manankil welcomed the 12 competing teams when they make their entry in the PBA bubble at Quest Hotel.

First to check in were Magnolia, Talk ‘N Text, Meralco, Phoenix Super LPG and Terra Firma on Monday while San Miguel Beer, Ginebra, NLEX, Alaska, Blackwater, Rain or Shine and NorthPort followed suit on Tuesday in which they underwent strict health and safety protocols, including testing and mandatory quarantine.

Dizon, who covered the testing kits, said they would apply all protocols to everybody — from players to coaches, team staff, PBA personnel, league officials and even media representatives.

“This bubble is specifically designed for the safety of everyone in the bubble,” Dizon, who also sits as the government’s testing czar against COVID-19, said.

“Whether you’re a staff, driver, security, hotel attendants, the same protocol applies.”

With all of these protocols in place, it’s no wonder that FIBA is looking to copy the league’s best practice.

Dizon said they would be very open to host an international tournament, especially since they are coming from a successful staging of the 30th Southeast Asian Games last year.

“We are just ready to host here,” said Dizon.

“We are proud to be hosting the first bubble. We will do everything to support and make sure that it world be successful.”

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World Athletics changes format

Agence France-Presse

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PARIS, France (AFP) — World Athletics paved the way for changes to competition formats at the world championships or the Olympic Games when it published its 2020 guide to regulations and competitions on Monday.

The two major meetings of international athletics have been precluded thus far in hosting an “innovative” format, such as the introduction of a decisive final test in the long jump.

“World Championships and Olympic Games (are) no longer excluded from competitions where events may be held in an alternative format,” said World Athletics in a press release.

In search of a larger and younger audience, international athletics regularly tries to innovate in its competition formats, by modifying competitions or by introducing elimination races.

The new formats have attracted some criticism from athletes.

In August, American triple-jumper Christian Taylor led the offensive at the Diamond League meeting in Stockholm which offered a modified long jump competition with the best three jumpers after five attempts qualifying for a final jump which decided the winner of the competition.

“I hope this idea will stop after this season,” the double Olympic and four-time world champion tweeted at the time.

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Back with a bang

He smacked 32 winners to just 20 unforced errors to down Gerasimov.

Agence France-Presse

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Rafael Nadal hurdles the first step in his quest for a 20th Grand Slam title. / MARTIN BUREAU/agence france-presse

PARIS, France (AFP) — Rafael Nadal began his pursuit of a record-tying 20th men’s Grand Slam title with a straight-set victory while Serena Williams made a slow but successful start in her latest bid to match Margaret Court’s all-time mark.

Nadal, 34, needs one more Slam to match Roger Federer’s record but has described the defense of his Roland Garros crown as the “most difficult ever” given the cold and damp conditions of a tournament delayed four months by the coronavirus pandemic.

The second seed defeated Egor Gerasimov, the world No. 83 from Belarus, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to launch his assault on a 13th French Open title, 15 years after triumphing on his debut.

“I am happy, honestly. I did the things that I had to do. I didn’t expect much more,” Nadal said.

“I’m really happy to be back at Chatrier,” he told a smattering of the 1,000 fans permitted daily at Roland Garros.

“Hopefully it’ll be back to normal next year and I’ll play in front of the beautiful crowd.”

The Spaniard is appearing for the first time in Paris without a clay title to his credit and skipped the recent US hardcourt swing over COVID-19 concerns.

He smacked 32 winners to just 20 unforced errors to down Gerasimov, one of 31 men entered into his first French Open main draw.

“I don’t want to make any mistakes. It’s a different Roland Garros this year and the weather conditions are very challenging, but we are here to try our best,” added Nadal, who faces Mackenzie McDonald in round two.

Williams is chasing an elusive 24th Grand Slam title to draw level with Margaret Court’s all-time haul, but clay is her least successful surface.

An error-prone beginning from the American star left world number 102 Kristie Ahn serving for the first set before the three-time Roland Garros champion prevailed 7-6 (7/2), 6-0.

“She played very well in the first set, it wasn’t easy for me and she hit a lot of winners,” said Williams, playing at the French Open for the 18th time.

“The biggest difference was just confidence. I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena.

“So that was it. I just started playing like that. And I love the clay and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

Williams, seeded sixth here, has not gone beyond the Last 16 in Paris since her defeat to Garbine Muguruza in the 2016 final. Her last major came at the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant.

Fourth seed Daniil Medvedev crashed out in the first round for the fourth year running, losing 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 2-6, 6-1 to Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics.

The Russian, runner-up at last year’s US Open, became the highest-ranked player to fall so far and has yet to win a match at Roland Garros since his debut in 2017.

Italian journeyman Lorenzo Giustino carved out his own place in the headlines when he outlasted France’s Corentin Moutet 0-6, 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (7/3), 2-6, 18-16 in the second longest match in French Open history at six hours and five minutes.

The match, held over from Sunday, fell 28 minutes short of Roland Garros’ record marathon tie between Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement in 2004.

US Open winner Dominic Thiem, the runner-up to Nadal in Paris the past two years, defeated former Slam champion Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

“My level was good. I was very happy with the way I played from the beginning to the end basically,” Thiem said.

Having captured his maiden Slam in New York, Thiem is trying to become the only man in the Open era to win his first two majors at successive tournaments.

“I really love this tournament, it’s by far my best Grand Slam tournament so far,” said Thiem, who plays American qualifier Jack Sock in the second round.

“I’m from Austria so I know how it is to play in these cold conditions. I love it when it’s not too fast.”

Eighth seed Gael Monfils, the top Frenchman, lost 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 to Alexander Bublik.

Play on Monday was initially delayed by more persistent rain. Petra Kvitova defeated Oceane Dodin 6-3, 7-5 in the only match to start on time under the new roof on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Kiki Bertens overhauled 112th-ranked Ukrainian Katarina Zavatska 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 once conditions improved while Elina Svitolina scrapped past Varvara Gracheva 7-6 (7/2), 6-4.

Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion, edged past Tamara Zidansek 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 but last year’s runner-up Marketa Vondrousova was bundled out 6-1, 6-2 by Polish teenager Iga Swiatek.

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Serena hunts deadly self

Agence France-Presse

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PARIS, France (AFP) — Serena Williams believes the key to leveling the all-time Grand Slam record of 24 titles is to play like Serena Williams.

The 39-year-old American made a slow but successful start to her latest pursuit of Margaret Court’s record with a 7-6 (7/2), 6-0 win over Kristie Ahn in the French Open first round on Monday.

World No. 102 Ahn served for the opening set at 5-4 but Williams forced a tiebreak she dominated before charging through the second set to book a clash with Tsvetana Pironkova for a spot in the Last 32.

“The biggest difference was just confidence,” said three-time Roland Garros champion Williams when asked to explain the stark difference between the first and second sets.

“I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena. So that was it. I just started playing like that.”

Victory also took Williams’ first round record at the Slams to 75 wins in 76 appearances. Her only loss at the first hurdle was to Virginie Razzano in Paris in 2012.

“I love the clay and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding,” added Williams.

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Jimmy comes home

Agence France-Presse

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MIAMI (AFP) — Jimmy Butler’s journey to the NBA Finals began when his mother threw him out as a teenager.

The 31-year-old Texan with a taste for country and western music will lead the Miami Heat on Wednesday as they take on LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in game one of the NBA Finals in Orlando.

For Butler, it is the biggest sporting test yet in a life spent battling — and often prevailing — against the odds.

At the age of 13 growing up in the Houston suburb of Tomball, his mother told him he had to leave home.

“I don’t like the look of you. You gotta go,” is how Butler recalls his mother’s parting words.

For years he was homeless, spending a few days or weeks at a time sleeping on the couches of friends before moving on.

In high school he finally found a permanent home, being welcomed into the family of a friend, Jordan Leslie, also a talented athlete who would later go on to become a wide receiver in the National Football League.

With a stable home life, Butler was free to concentrate on his basketball, and although not regarded as a prized recruit out of high school, would eventually win a scholarship to Marquette University in Wisconsin.

Despite his troubled youth, Butler dislikes his unusual backstory being framed as the classic sporting narrative of triumph over adversity.

“Please, I know you’re going to write something,” he told an ESPN interviewer in 2011 shortly before the NBA draft.

Those challenges have molded Butler into the ferocious competitor who helped carry Miami into their first NBA Finals appearance since 2014.

It has taken Butler the best part of a decade to find his preferred environment.

Selected by the Chicago Bulls with the 30th pick in the draft nine years ago, Butler spent six seasons in the Windy City before being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2017.

But tension with teammate Karl Anthony-Towns left Butler heading for the exit, and after a single season in Minnesota, he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in November of 2018.

In theory it should have been a perfect fit for Butler, a high-quality addition to an emerging power complementing the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Yet, after the Sixers exited the playoffs in the second round last season, Butler was also packing his bags.

In July last year, he signed with Miami in a multi-team trade.

In Florida, where he has clicked with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and franchise president, Pat Riley, Butler is finally at home.

“I think that’s what this whole thing comes down to is being wanted, being appreciated for what you bring to the table, as I’ve said time and time again,” Butler said of his move to Miami.

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No Gilas stint for Austria

I rather have the national team to be coached by someone who has more experience.

Bea Micaller

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He may be the hottest mentor in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) for the past couple of years, but Leo Austria of San Miguel Beer is not yet ready to call the shots for Gilas Pilipinas.

Speaking at the recent edition of The Athletes’ Tribune late Monday, Austria admitted that handling the men’s national team is such a big opportunity, but he is not yet ready to grab it, knowing that there are more able coaches who can do the job.

Right now, TNT KaTropa active consultant Mark Dickel handles Gilas Pilipinas with Tab Baldwin serving as program director.

Dickel will be assessed depending on his team’s performance in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers.

“You know, it’s a big opportunity for any coach to be chosen as Gilas Pilipinas coach,” The 62-year-old mentor said.

“But for me, I think I’m not yet ready because there’s a lot of things that you have to prepare and I rather have the national team to be coached by someone who has more experience.”

Austria’s resume speaks for itself.

After calling the shots for Adamson University in the collegiate level from 20018 to 2013, he brought his acts to the Asean Basketball League where he mentored San Miguel to the title in 2013.

The team disbanded, but San Miguel Corporation tapped him to lead its flagship team in the PBA, the Beermen, prompting him to win eight crowns in just a span of five years, including five straight Philippine Cup diadems.

On top of that, he was able to grab the Coach of the Year award in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019, becoming the hottest local coach in the PBA today.

Still, Austria is not yet ready to call the shots in the international level.

“Right now, it’s really hard to decide. Although I think I could help, I don’t think I’m fit to become the head coach of the national team at this point.”

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Final hurdle

This is what I came here for.

Agence France-Presse

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ALL eyes will be on LeBron James and Jimmy Butler as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat clash in the NBA Finals. / Agence France-Presse

MIAMI (AFP) — LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers begin the final challenge in their bid to return to the summit of basketball on Wednesday when they take on the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

A full 11 months after the 2019-2020 NBA season first tipped off, a marathon campaign plunged into crisis by COVID-19 and tumultuous social unrest finally reaches its climax in Orlando.

The fact that the NBA season has managed to reach the home stretch is itself a triumph of sorts, a testament to assiduous planning by league officials to create a secure “bubble” at Disney World in Florida.

Since July, teams have been housed at the sprawling entertainment park in Orlando, largely sequestered from the outside world and the raging coronavirus crisis, which has claimed more than 204,000 American lives.

Even then, the season has not been immune from external forces. A month ago, the season threatened to unravel as a tide of anger against racial injustice prompted teams led by the Milwaukee Bucks to boycott games.

The Lakers, who will be chasing a 17th NBA championship against Miami in the finals, were one of two teams who reportedly voted to abandon the season altogether on August 26 following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.

That walkout threat was only headed off by the intervention of former President Barack Obama, who reportedly counseled James and other players against a season-ending boycott.

A little over one month later, and the 35-year-old James is now girding himself for a 10th appearance in an NBA Finals, a tally bettered by only two players in the history of the league.

It also marks the vindication of James’ decision in 2018 to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Lakers, a faded superpower of the NBA, were floundering before his arrival two years ago.

Although James first season in Los Angeles ended in disappointment with injury restricting his appearances and the team once again failing to make the playoffs, the bolstering of the squad with Anthony Davis last year, who has formed a superb partnership with James, returned the team to dominance.

“This is what I came here for,” James said on Saturday after the Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets to clinch the Western Conference championship and book a place in the finals.

“I heard all the conversations and everything that was said about why did I decide to come to LA that the reason I came to LA, it was not about basketball.

“All those conversations, just naysayers and things of that nature. I understood that, with the season I had last year and my injury, it just gave them more sticks and more wood to throw in the fire to continue to say the things that they would say about me.

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