Zion Williamson, Pelicans aim to end ‘negative’ narratives

Zion Williamson, Pelicans aim to end ‘negative’ narratives
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson shakes hands with VP of basketball operations David Griffin. (AP)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Zion Williamson, Pelicans aim to end ‘negative’ narratives

Zion Williamson, Pelicans aim to end ‘negative’ narratives
  • Williamson appears healthy now, cleared by the club to engage in basketball activities without restrictions

NEW ORLEANS: A few months after Zion Williamson was left entirely out of Pelicans promotional material regarding ticket renewals, the injury-riddled star forward was back to being celebrated Wednesday as a supremely influential figure in New Orleans’ future.

“The last few months were a roller-coaster of emotions,” Williamson said. “The world just ran with narratives, and so when my family was going out in public, they’re getting harassed by people about why we don’t like New Orleans or why we don’t want to be here, when that’s not the case at all.

“I wasn’t able to play because my foot was broke,” Williamson continued. “Every time I checked my phone it’s always something negative. Even when you’re trying to make positive of the situation, it was very tough.”

So the Pelicans used the occasion of Williamson signing a $193 million, five-year contract extension — which could be worth up to $231 million if the explosive, 6-foot-6, 280-pounder lives up to the potential he’s displayed when healthy — to try to dispel past notions of distrust and start a new narrative.

“This is a really momentous occasion for all of us,” said David Griffin, the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations. “This is an opportunity for us as an organization to really put to bed a lot of things that were said.

“So many things that are talked about are just words,” Griffin continued as Williamson nodded in agreement beside him. “What Zion Williamson did today is express his commitment to this team and to this city and to this community. ... So the noise that’s on the periphery of all of that is completely irrelevant.”

Williamson appears healthy now, cleared by the club to engage in basketball activities without restrictions. Recently, he and his stepfather, Lee Anderson, have been running basketball camps for kids at a New Orleans YMCA, where Williamson formally signed his contract while campers stood behind him and applauded.

It also was Williamson’s 22nd birthday, and he commented, while grabbing Griffin’s shoulder and smiling, that it was his best birthday yet.

“Thank y’all for really sticking with me the past year,” Williamson said to the Pelicans’ brass. “It was a tough year, and then for the Pelicans to come give this birthday gift, I’m not going to let ‘em down. I’m not going to let the city down, I’m not going to let my family down, and most of all, I’m not going to let myself down.”

Now the 2019 No. 1 overall draft choice out of Duke, who has played in just 85 games in his first three seasons, is primed to see how much his return could help a squad that improved dramatically late last season and made a surprisingly competitive playoff showing without him.

Griffin, meanwhile, sees his vision for building a young team set up for sustained success coming together under Willie Green, who in his first season as an NBA head coach shepherded the team from a 1-12 start to postseason qualification, two play-in victories and two more victories in a first-round series against top-seeded Phoenix.

“We feel like with the team we have assembled, with Zion as an enormous part of that, coach Green and his staff are going to be able to put together an incredible run,” Griffin said. “We’re young, we’re talented and most importantly we are very hungry.”

Williamson played in just 24 games as a rookie because of a preseason right knee injury (lateral meniscus). In his second season, he played in 61 of 72 games, averaging a team-high 27 points and becoming a first-time All-Star during what was his lone NBA campaign not mostly or entirely wiped out by injuries.

“Zion is a huge part of what we want to accomplish,” Green said, noting that Williamson will periodically initiate the offense handling the ball as he did successfully in is second season. “It’s not necessarily him fitting in. He can do that with any team in the league. It’s about maximizing the group that we have when we had him to it. And, frankly, I think it’s going to be scary for the rest of the NBA.”

Williamson said he is focused on adopting strategies meant to preserve his health and promote career longevity — but cutting down on vigorous, high-flying dunks in favor of lower-impact layups probably won’t be one of them.

“I’m a competitor, so when I’m on the court, I’m not thinking about, ”Let me lay this ball in; hopefully my career will last longer,’” Williamson asserted with a playful grin. “No, I’m thinking about putting that person through the rim. So, as far as me dunking, that’s going to always happen. That’s going to stay happening, no matter what (team trainers and management) are talking about. I’m always dunking. Come on, man!”


UAE cricket fizzes with excitement as competitions make post-pandemic comeback

UAE cricket fizzes with excitement as competitions make post-pandemic comeback
Updated 40 min 56 sec ago

UAE cricket fizzes with excitement as competitions make post-pandemic comeback

UAE cricket fizzes with excitement as competitions make post-pandemic comeback
  • Cricket is flourishing in the Emirates for both men and women, thanks to hectic schedules, good coaching and long-term planning

It is going to be a busy time for UAE cricket.

First, the men’s team will compete in a tri-series against the US and Scotland, which will host the matches in Aberdeen between Aug. 10 and 16.

These matches are part of the International Cricket Council’s 2019-2023 Cricket World League Cup 2, which forms part of the qualification process for the 2023 World Cup. After that, the team will move to Oman to contest, between Aug. 20 and 24, the final qualifying place for the 2022 Asia Cup. Thirdly, irrespective of whether the team qualifies, the UAE will host the Asia Cup.

This congestion of events reflects the ongoing recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on international cricket schedules.

In the Cricket World Cup League 2, seven teams will complete 36 separate 50-over matches against each other in sets of tri-series, with two points awarded for a win. Oman has played all of its matches and tops the table with 44 points. Occupying the next three places are Scotland, with 34 points from 24 matches, then the UAE, with 26 from 22, and then the US, with 23 from 24. The forthcoming matches are crucial for all three teams, as the top-three finishers will join five full member teams in a final qualifying stage. The league is due to be completed in February, but two tri-series events, both involving the UAE, have to be rescheduled owing to their postponement during the pandemic.

The Asia Cup has suffered severe disruption. In December 2018, the Pakistan Cricket Board was granted the hosting rights by the Asia Cricket Council (ACC) for the 2020 Cup. This did not sit well with India, initially due to security concerns, later exacerbated by political tensions. India’s participation came into doubt, a situation not helped by claims and counterclaims by the respective parties. None of these mattered, as the pandemic intervened and, on July 9, 2020, the ACC announced postponement until mid-2021. Through a combination of the pandemic and India reaching the final of the World Test Championship, the event did not take place.

Since 2008, the Asia Cup has been scheduled to be held every two years. Now that the 2020 edition will be held in 2022, there is a backlog. In order to resolve this, there will be a 2023 edition, for which Pakistan has been awarded the hosting rights, having swapped its 2020 rights with Sri Lanka. This could have resolved the issue of India not being prepared to play in Pakistan. Subsequent political, economic and social upheaval in Sri Lanka has led to the decision to switch the playing of the tournament to the UAE, although Sri Lanka will retain the hosting rights and the opportunity to earn much needed income of around $6 million.

A further complexity exists in that the format alternates between editions. Until and including 2016, the format had been 50-over One Day International. It was decided that the 2018 edition would be played in the T20 format, the 2020 edition as ODI and in 2022 under the T20 rules again. The pandemic has disturbed this plan so, in order to bring the sequence back into line, the 2020 Cup will be played in T20 format (in 2022) and the 2022 Cup to ODI format in 2023.

Officially, the upcoming tournament is billed as 2022 Asia Cup, opening on Aug. 27 and ending on Sept. 11. It is unlikely that the identity of the team which has seized the final place will be known until Aug. 24.

The UAE will be competing against Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuwait. Teams will play each other once in a round robin format, with the winner being the team with the most points. It will face the daunting prospect of joining India and Pakistan in Group A. This pair will lock horns on Aug. 28 in what should be a spicy affair in Dubai. Group B will comprise Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The top two teams in each group will progress to the Super 4 stage.

After the hectic weeks between Aug. 10 and Sept. 2 — longer should the UAE reach the Super 4s — the UAE men’s team will turn its attention, no doubt, to the T20 World Cup in Australia. There, it will play its first group stage match on Oct. 16. Its qualification for this tournament marks a major step forward for a team which has reached a ranking of 11th in T20 cricket and 13th in ODIs.

It is no surprise that the Emirates Cricket Board also has ambitions to grow women’s cricket. On June 25, 2022, by beating Malaysia in the final of the ACC Women’s T20 Championship, the UAE women’s team matched the world record for the longest unbeaten run in all T20 international cricket.

This 20-match record had been set by England’s women in 2012. Prior to six unbeaten matches in the ACC tournament, the UAE team won all four of its matches against Hong Kong in April, after winning all five matches in the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Women’s Gulf Cup in Oman in March 2022. The unbeaten run had started in November 2021 in the T20 Asia World Cup qualifiers in Dubai, where the team won all of its five matches and propelled itself into the final qualifying stage for the 2023 World Cup, due to be held in South Africa in February.

The qualifying tournament will take place in Abu Dhabi between Sept. 18 and 25, 2022. It will be contested by eight teams: Bangladesh, Ireland, Scotland and the US in Group A; Papua New Guinea, Thailand, UAE and Zimbabwe in Group B.

The top two teams in the tournament will progress to the World Cup. After the qualifying tournament, the UAE women’s team will compete in the ACC Women’s Asia Cup in Bangladesh in October.

These hectic schedules reflect success through good coaching and planning. There can be little doubt that cricket is flourishing in the UAE for both men and women, with no let-up in prospect.


Running silver and bronze for Saudi as football, handball teams advance

Running silver and bronze for Saudi as football, handball teams advance
Updated 11 August 2022

Running silver and bronze for Saudi as football, handball teams advance

Running silver and bronze for Saudi as football, handball teams advance
  • Yousef Masrahi finishes second in the 400m competition, while teammate Mazen Al-Yassin finishes third

Saudi Arabia’s Yousef Masrahi on Wednesday took silver in the 400m as the Kingdom’s football and handball teams advanced in their respective competitions at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey.

With Vice President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee Prince Fahd bin Jalawi in attendance, Masrahi finished second in the final with a time of 45.80 seconds, while teammate Mazen Al-Yassin took third place and the bronze medal with a time of 45.95 seconds.

Meanwhile, the Saudi national U-23 team reached the semifinals of the football competition at Konya 2022 after beating Morocco 2-0 on Wednesday night.

The young Green Falcons’ goals came from Ziad Al-Juhani in first-half stoppage time and Turki Al-Mutairi in the 90th minute.

With this result, Saudi secured the top spot in Group B to advance to the last four, having earlier defeated Azerbaijan 1-0 in their first match and recorded a default 3-0 win after the withdrawal of the Iranian team before the start of the tournament.

Saudi’s handball team also qualified to the semifinals after defeating Morocco 29-25, having trailed 13-11 at halftime.

The result saw the team from the Kingdom top their group on goal difference from Qatar before the two teams clash on Friday.


Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother

Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother
Updated 11 August 2022

Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother

Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother
  • Al-Nassr risk transfer ban if Egyptian goalkeeper takes legal action
  • Rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad currently cannot sign players

The Saudi Professional League may currently be between seasons but the big clubs in the competition are never far away from the headlines.

Defending champions Al-Hilal are unable to sign new players in the current transfer window. Al-Ittihad are not only preparing for the new season and trying to improve on their second place in the league, but must do so with the knowledge that they will be unable to add players in January’s transfer market.

The common denominator in those two situations is Al-Nassr, the team that finished third last season. Al-Hilal midfielder Mohamed Kanno was found to have signed a contract with both Riyadh clubs, hence the punishment. Al-Ittihad’s ban came in early August after a dispute over Abderrazak Hamdallah. He was found guilty of, among other things, of conspiring to leave Al-Nassr who cancelled his contract in November. In January he joined Al-Ittihad and is now banned for four months.

It all meant that Al-Nassr were having an excellent time. Not only are their rivals dealing with issues, the nine-time champions have been busy this summer, starting with the appointment of former Lyon, Roma and Marseille boss Rudi Garcia, and signing stars such as Ivorian international Ghislane Konan, Luiz Gustavo of Brazil and David Ospina, the Colombian goalkeeper, from Napoli.

That last signing could be the reason behind the potentially tricky situation that Al-Nassr now find themselves in. It is the kind of situation that could end up in a similar transfer punishment coming their way.

It started at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon last January, all because of an injury to Egypt’s first choice goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy. The replacement for the Al-Ahly star was Mohamed Abou Gabal. The Zamalek glovesman, also known as Gabaski, went on to become one of the stars of the tournament and played a major role as the Pharaohs reached the final. His performance in the penalty shootout victory over Cameroon in the semifinal — including sticking information about the hosts’ kickers on his water bottle — made headlines around the world.

The 33-year-old also excelled in the final, though this time Senegal triumphed on penalties. As soon as he returned back to Cairo, there were reports of interest with Al-Nassr making the strongest enquiries, so much so that Gabaski believes that a deal was done and a contract was signed.

“The player was keen on joining Al-Nassr’s pre-season preparations as he repeatedly asked through his lawyer to obtain an entry visa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and issue travel tickets to join the team,” Echo Content Sports, which represents the goalkeeper, said in a statement released last weekend.

“However, he was surprised by the official response that the club does not recognize the contract concluded between the two parties and that it is invalid for reasons we deem as illogical.”

The agency called Al-Nassr’s proposed settlement deal as being “insufficient.”

Now it seems that unless the situation changes, the player is ready to take his grievance to the world governing body.

“Accordingly, we will refer the matter to FIFA’s relevant court, demand the full payment stipulated in the contract and demand compensation because of the damages caused by Al-Nassr club.”

Sources close to the player believe that the arrival of Garcia changed Al-Nassr’s plan. With former Arsenal goalkeeper Ospina now between the sticks, the Egyptian, whose form since the Africa Cup of Nations has been erratic enough that he has lost his club spot to Mohamed Awad, was no longer seen as necessary.

Al-Nassr, however, dispute that a valid deal was ever made.

“Both parties agreed on a contract starting from August 1, based on the information provided by the player and his agent that his contract with Zamalek ended on July 1, 2022,” the club said in a statement, in reply to Gabaski’s claims.

“The information received by the club meant that the player cannot join us on a free transfer on the aforementioned date and that he will remain bound to a contract with Zamalek club until August 30, 2022.

“The player and his agent were contacted and they were asked to provide evidence that the player is available on a free transfer and is not bound to any other contract on that date but no proof was sent, and insisted that the information they provided was correct.

“After giving the player and his agent sufficient time to amend his legal status, Al-Nassr notified the player that what had been agreed upon is void and has no legal effect. Al-Nassr Football Club cannot be tied to a contract with any player that results in a serious legal violation.”

At present, the two camps have differing versions of events. It is expected that, unless Al-Nassr make an improved offer, then Gabaski will turn to FIFA.

Nobody knows what the outcome would be but if it results in Al-Nassr being unable to register new players for a while, they would at least be in good company. Officials at Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad will surely be taking a close interest.


Gamers8 launches $3m PUBG MOBILE World Invitational

Gamers8 launches $3m PUBG MOBILE World Invitational
Updated 11 August 2022

Gamers8 launches $3m PUBG MOBILE World Invitational

Gamers8 launches $3m PUBG MOBILE World Invitational
  • Hopes high for hometown heroes Team Falcons to reach final

RIYADH: Gamers8 enters the fifth and final phase of its calendar as the second annual PUBG MOBILE World Invitational gets underway on Thursday live from Boulevard Riyadh City.

First introduced in 2018 by world-famous video game developer Lightspeed & Quantum, PUBG MOBILE has since gone on to become a global gaming phenomenon. It is published in over 200 countries and downloaded over a billion times, with 50 million daily active users and an envious status as the most watched mobile esports game on the planet.

Over the next nine days, elite PUBG MOBILE teams will enter the state-of-the-art arena and battle it out for their share of the $3 million prize pool. Split into two parts, the main tournament — running for three days beginning today — welcomes 17 regional champions and one homegrown representative, with $2 million in waiting for the victors. The objective is to parachute onto the remote island and remain as the last player or team standing — competing alone or in teams of two or four to secure victory and glory.

Ahmed Albishri, chief operating officer of the Saudi Esports Federation, said: “Gamers8 thus far has been nothing short of remarkable, captivating attendees, inspiring audiences, crowning new champions, and making dreams come true for the latest generation of world-class Esports competitors. This journey has, however, by no means reached its conclusion because, as promised, PUBG Mobile has made its way to Riyadh for the biggest esports and gaming event on the planet.

“Expectations are understandably high among players, teams, and fans alike, not least due to the unprecedented success of the competitions held recently. And crucially, all the foundations are in place for the second PMWI to emulate the success of late while etching its place in esports history.”

Heading into week one of the main tournament, hopes will be high for hometown heroes Team Falcons, who have regularly competed throughout Gamers8 — reaching the final of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege — and now go up against 17 of the world’s best. Meanwhile, the Afterparty Showdown — the week two tournament taking place from Aug. 18 to 20 — will see teams competing for the remaining $1 million on offer. The Afterparty Showdown lineup will comprise the top five teams from week one, alongside six teams chosen from different regions, and one given a special invitation to compete.

James Yang, director of PUBG MOBILE, Global Esports, commented: “This year’s PUBG MOBILE World Invitational is set to be the biggest and best yet. This is our second annual world invitational, and we are excited to bring a new format of the event to the region which showcases the unique community spirit that PUBG MOBILE Esports and its talented teams have created.”

With the world’s best teams set to compete in front of a live crowd at the PMWI, fans around the world are excited for the event kickoff. Fans in Saudi will be able to enjoy the thrilling gameplay and electric atmosphere live and in-person from Boulevard Riyadh City. Alternatively, the event is being live streamed on official Gamers8 channels.


Saudi sports minister meets with OIC's Secretary General in Turkey

Saudi sports minister meets with OIC's Secretary General in Turkey
Updated 11 August 2022

Saudi sports minister meets with OIC's Secretary General in Turkey

Saudi sports minister meets with OIC's Secretary General in Turkey

TURKEY, Konya: Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal has met with the secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on the sidelines of the 5th Islamic Solidarity Games where Saudi athletes are representing the Kingdom in Turkey, state news agency (SPA) reported.

The prince discussed preparations for the next session of the Conference of Ministers of Youth, which will be hosted in Jeddah in September with Hissein Brahim Taha.

They reviewed ways to enhance bilateral cooperation between the OIC, the Saudi Ministry of Sports and the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation (ISSF).

Taha praised efforts of the ISSF, under the leadership of Al-Faisal, in enhancing the capabilities of youth and sports in the Islamic world.