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Heat’s Butler: Didn’t do my job, but ‘we’ll be back’

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — Miami Heat All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler raised his game to a superstar level during the postseason, but the proud veteran is leaving the bubble with a sour taste in his mouth following Sunday’s 106-93 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals because of a promise he felt he didn’t deliver on to team president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra.

“This is what my team needed me to do, the organization asked of me,” Butler said. “I told them that I would win them one and I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain, so that means I got to do it next year. I told Coach Pat, I told Coach Spo I’m here to win one. I didn’t do my job, so moving forward, I got to hold up my end of the bargain.”

Despite his assessment, Butler’s teammates and coaches know there wasn’t much else Butler could have accomplished. He led the fifth-seeded Heat to within two games of an NBA championship, putting together one of the most unexpected runs to the Finals in recent memory. In 20 postseason games, Butler averaged 22.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6 assists, including a triple-double in Games 3 and 5 of the Finals.

“Jimmy has a superstar competitive spirit to him,” Spoelstra said. “If you try to evaluate him or put him in a conventional box of how you view a modern-day basketball player, you’re totally missing the boat on JB. He is a winner, he is a leader, he is a motivator, a mentor and just a supreme competitor. And when you get to this level, I think so many people forget about that, the competition and what you can bring out of an entire franchise when you’re wired to that level of fierce competitiveness.”

Butler’s confidence and work ethic lifted the organization over the past three months, bringing a new level of praise to the culture that Riley created over two decades ago when he arrived in Miami. The passion and mental toughness Butler and his teammates showed throughout their time in the bubble left an emotional Spoelstra wiping away tears to start his postgame news conference Sunday night.

After congratulating the Lakers organization on its championship and thanking the league for putting the bubble together, Spoelstra thanked the Heat families for supporting the group and then spoke passionately about his team.

“This locker room, regardless of whatever happens in the future, we’re going to remember this year, this season, this experience and that locker room brotherhood for the rest of our lives,” Spoelstra said. “You’re in this business to be able to be around people like this. And I can go on and on. But the guys that competed and played in this series, we had several guys that were not even close to being 100 percent. Probably shouldn’t have been playing, but that’s how this group was. They wanted to do it for each other. And I just, I’m really bummed that we couldn’t find a way to get over the hump and finish the season with a win.”

The only solace for Spoelstra and the Heat is that they feel confident that Butler will eventually be able to lead the group to the top in the future. Butler has forever changed the narrative that followed him throughout his career regarding whether he could be the face of a championship-caliber team and fit in well within the context of the locker room. The professional marriage Butler formed with the Heat — after agreeing to terms last summer and having the organization complete a sign-and-trade with the Philadelphia 76ers to land him — paid immediate dividends for both player and team. Butler appreciated the work ethic that the young Heat players showed and the Heat loved how hard Butler played on a nightly basis.

“This is where I belong,” Butler said. “This is what makes me smile.This is what makes me happy. I wish I could have done it for the city. I wish I could have done it for my teammates, for the organization, but I’m still glad that it happened.”

Butler thanked the Miami fans and Heat organization in an Instagram post, closing with, “Best believe we will be back.”

After years of searching for the right fit during previous stops with the Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves and 76ers, Butler is looking forward to planting roots in Miami, and the Heat are confident they can serve as a premier destination for free agents in the future.

“I think that’s what we’re all looking for, right, is to be part of a family,” Spoelstra said. “To be a part of something where you felt all along that you were searching for something. Where you can just be yourself, you don’t have to make any apologies for who you are. We have been searching for him for a long time, and I think he’s been searching for something like us for a while …

“I’m just thrilled to be able to have an opportunity to coach Jimmy and have a relationship with him and move forward chasing this dream. It’s not going to stop. We’re all wired the same. So we’ll get over this at some point. I don’t expect anybody to get over it tonight. But we have some brothers in arms now moving forward that we share the same values and the same goals and that’s part of the battle of just finding that kind of alignment.”

As disappointed as Butler was about the result of the Finals, he took pride in how hard the group competed to get to that point, noting the “bond” the group built over time.

“I wouldn’t give that back for the world,” Butler said. “We really, really, really love being around one another and competing with one another. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. If I had to spend three months around some people, these people, they’re the ones that I want to do it with.”

Butler said that the group was already talking about what it would take to get back to the Finals next season as the Lakers were celebrating their freshly minted title on the floor.

“We’re trending in the right direction,” Butler said. “We’re going to learn from this. We’re going to get better. We’re going to come back. We’re going to come back. We’ll be back. That’s what we’re all saying in that locker room. We got guys that want to do it. We got guys that already want to get back in the gym and get to working at this thing. That’s what we do here.”

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Hamilton questions FIA’s choice of Petrov as a steward

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Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has questioned the FIA’s decision to employ Vitaly Petrov as a steward at this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix after the Russian recently made controversial remarks about Hamilton’s anti-racism stance.

Following the Tuscan Grand Prix, at which Hamilton wore a T-shirt saying “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor”, Petrov claimed the world champion had gone “too far” and likened it to “urging everyone to be gay” if a driver came out as homosexual.

Taylor, a Black woman, was fatally shot March 13 when police officers burst into her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation. She was 26.

Hamilton’s shirt at the Tuscan Grand Prix read: “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” on the front and “say her name” alongside her picture on the back. He wore it at F1’s pre-race anti-racism demonstration and again on the podium after winning the race.

Speaking ahead of the following round of the championship in Petrov’s native Russia, the former Lotus and Caterham F1 driver was quoted as saying: “In Russia we have a different mentality, and we do not have the problems that Hamilton is talking about. There should be respect for everyone.”

He added: “For me, this t-shirt, on top of calling for everyone to kneel, was too much.

“It is a personal matter for every adult. You have the right to speak out on social media or give interviews, but I think the US government is well aware of these problems already.

“But to call on that in Formula One itself… I think half of the spectators didn’t even know what the shirt was about until it was explained to them.

“And let’s say a driver admits to being gay — will they come out with a rainbow flag and urge everyone to become gay as well? I think the FIA will no longer allow such behaviours.”

When Petrov’s comments were relayed to Hamilton during a press conference on Thursday in Portugal, the world champion questioned why the FIA had chosen Petrov as a steward over other former drivers who would also be suitable for the role.

“I mean, I’ve not seen all of the quotes, but obviously you’ve just recited some of them so yes of course I would say that’s a surprise that they would be hiring someone that has those beliefs and is so vocal about things that we’re trying to fight against,” Hamilton said. “So you should take it up with them [the FIA] really, there’s nothing that I can particularly do about it.

“But we should definitely be including people here who are with the times, who are understanding of the times that we are living in and sensitive to the matters that are surrounding us.

“So I don’t really understand what their goal is or why particularly he’s here because it’s not like they don’t have any other good options.”

Petrov, who competed in 58 grands prix during his F1 career, is one of four stewards who will officiate at this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix.

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Champions League’s ultimate sleepers: RB Leipzig to win, Inter Milan to reach final, Sevilla to semis

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The Champions League began on Tuesday and if we’re being honest, we know who’s probably going to win. Through one-sixth of the group stage, FiveThirtyEight gives defending champion Bayern Munich a 26 percent chance of repeating, followed by Manchester City (15 percent), Barcelona (9 percent), Liverpool (8 percent) and PSG (8 percent). PSG’s odds sank by three percentage points after an upset loss to Manchester United, though, and Real Madrid sank from 6 percent to 4 percent following a jarring 3-2 home loss to Shakhtar Donetsk.

Bayern more than looked the part of a favourite in Wednesday’s 4-0 destruction of Atletico Madrid, but with two of what were considered the “top six favourites” losing, there’s a lot of space for lower-tier contenders to advance pretty far in the draw. Besides, all but the chalkiest of tournaments produce surprises. Tottenham Hotspur made it to the final in 2019, while RB Leipzig, Lyon, Ajax, Roma and Monaco have all made somewhat unexpected runs to the semifinals in the past four years.

There are twists and turns along the way, so with that in mind, let’s talk about some teams that could be responsible for some major twists to come.

The term “sleeper” can mean a lot of different things — sleeper to win the whole thing? sleeper to advance out of the group stage? — so let’s talk about teams that fit each possible definition. It might not be likely that these teams will win the title, but they’re more than capable of either knocking out your favourite team or becoming your favourite team in the months ahead.

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Sleeper to win the whole thing

RB Leipzig

Group: H
Title odds, per FiveThirtyEight: 4 percent
First match: beat Istanbul Basaksehir, 2-0
Next match: at Manchester United (Oct. 28)

Despite reaching the Champions League semis in August, Julian Nagelsmann’s squad were stuck in Pot 3, but thanks to United’s upset of PSG, FiveThirtyEight now gives the Red Bull-owned squad a better chance of advancing (63 percent) than PSG (62 percent). A win in Manchester next Wednesday would put them in perfect position to win their group.

The absence of former star Timo Werner, now with Chelsea, is likely hurting RBL’s odds, but they’ve shown no sign of slippage without him, beginning the Bundesliga season with 10 points from four matches. They controlled Basaksehir from the opening kick and got to ease off the throttle pretty quickly.

RBL is attacking from everywhere. In five league and cup matches, seven different players have scored and 16 have logged either a key pass or an assist. Midfielder Angelino (four goals) and forward Yussuf Poulsen (three) are thriving, and the team has only gotten 45 minutes out of injured winger and captain Marcel Sabitzer thus far. We’ll see if he’s ready for the trip to Manchester, but RBL are again proving themselves worthy of big-boy status.

Sleeper to reach the final

Inter Milan

Group: B
Odds of reaching the final, per FiveThirtyEight: 6 percent
First match: drew with Borussia Monchengladbach, 2-2
Next match: at Shakhtar Donetsk (Oct. 27)

Antonio Conte and Inter could not take full advantage of Real Madrid’s defeat, drawing with Gladbach despite creating a 3.5-1.5 xG advantage. It was unlucky, but it was also reaffirmation that this team is fun as hell.

Inter nearly won Serie A last year and have almost inarguably performed better than either Juventus or Barcelona — two teams with far stronger betting odds — since the coronavirus restart this summer. Their only losses in the last three months were to Sevilla in the Europa League final and to a torrid AC Milan this past Saturday.

They kept most of last year’s squad intact and added both full-back Achraf Hakimi and veteran midfielder/enforcer Arturo Vidal. They were really good last year, and they have more pieces this time around.

The Nerazzurri were, along with Atalanta and RB Leipzig, easily the most proven teams in Pot 3 of the draw, and they find themselves in a chaotic group — FiveThirtyEight gives Inter, Shakhtar and Real Madrid each between a 51-59 percent chance of advancing. A win at Shakhtar next week, however, could give them not only great odds of advancing but also a solid shot at winning their group and generating a favourable draw in the round of 16.

Sleeper to reach semifinals

Sevilla

Group: E
Odds of reaching the semis, per FiveThirtyEight: 15 percent
First match: drew with Chelsea, 0-0
Next match: vs. Rennes (Oct. 28)

I know, I know: wrong tournament. Sevilla are kings of the Europa League, having won it six times since 2006, so it’s easy to simply assume they’ll finish third in their group, land in the Europa knockout round and make a run.

They have a real chance to make some noise in the UCL this time around, though. They’ve done so before, after all — they made the quarterfinals in 2018, barely falling to Bayern Munich, and they’ve now scored a road draw against their top Group E challenger in Chelsea. The Blues and Rennes both remain exciting teams, but the path to winning Group E is quite manageable.

Also… they’re pretty dang good. They brought in far more than they sent out in the transfer window, they gave Bayern fits in an eventual extra-time loss in the UEFA Super Cup, and while their goalscoring form has left them a bit in La Liga play — after scoring three goals in their league opener, they’ve scored just two since — their xG figures are solid, and their passing game is sublime. And in an offense-friendly group, they have the sturdiest defense led by centre-bacls Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde.

Sleeper to reach quarterfinals

Olympiakos

Group: C
Odds of reaching the quarters, per FiveThirtyEight: 18 percent
First match: beat Marseille, 1-0
Next match: at Porto (Oct. 27)

The top of the Greek Super League features quite a few teams capable of doing minor damage in Europe, but Pedro Martins’ Olympiacos have lost just a combined three league matches over the past two seasons.They took points from Tottenham Hotspur in last year’s Champions League, then beat Arsenal in the Europa League knockouts before falling narrowly to Wolves. In this year’s Champions League play-off round, they beat Cyprus’ Omonia to qualify, and while the scoring margin (2-0) wasn’t dramatically impressive, all the other stats were: they outshot Omonia 45-12, generated 4.2 xG to 0.7, etc. And now they’ve got three points from one match in group play.

Olympiacos are a fun mix of leathery old veterans — former Marseille attacking midfielder Mathieu Valbuena (36), former Bayern full-back Rafinha (35), former Watford full-back Jose Holebas (36) and former Granada striker Youssef El-Arabi (33) all started against Marseille — and peak-age talent like attacking midfielder Kostas Fortounis (28) and Wednesday’s goal scorer, Ahmed Hassan (27).

This is a tough, physical and unintimidated team. Even if they can’t steal points from Manchester City in Group C, they’ve got more than talent and identity to work their way into the knockout rounds.

Sleeper to reach the round of 16

Rennes

Group: E
Odds of advancing to the knockout round, per FiveThirtyEight: 21 percent
First match: drew with Krasnodar, 1-1
Next match: at Sevilla (Oct. 28)

Rennes missed a prime opportunity by only drawing with the weakest team in Group E, Krasnodar. They took the lead in the second half and then immediately gave it back. But hey, that kept their odds of advancing low enough to call them sleepers!

After finishing third in last year’s abbreviated Ligue 1 campaign and therefore qualifying for the Champions League for the first time ever, Rennes began this season with 13 points in their first five matches before losing stars Edouard Mendy (Chelsea) and Raphinha (Leeds United) to the Premier League. The next batch of stars is already in place, however, and as they gel, they could improve as the group stages move along.

Julien Stephan’s squad brought in Juventus defender Daniele Rugani and Inter Milan full-back Dalbert on loan, and new acquisition Serhou Guirassy has already scored three goals in Ligue 1 play. And they still have 17-year old phenom Eduardo Camavinga, whose presence — and uncanny ability to do this — makes them a must-watch team.

Whether or not they advance, their two group matches against Chelsea — Nov. 4 in London, Nov. 24 in Rennes — will be an absolute blessing if you enjoy things like “goals” and “fun, attacking soccer.”

Sleeper to reach the round of 16

FC Salzburg

Group: A
Odds of advancing to the knockout round, per FiveThirtyEight: 32 percent
First match: drew with Lokomotiv Moscow, 2-2
Next match: at Atletico Madrid (Oct. 27)

The No. 2 team on the Red Bull totem pole held a 1.1-0.7 xG advantage over Lokomotiv on Wednesday but suffered a disappointing draw… and their odds of advancing still went up thanks to Atletico’s massive loss to Bayern.

The spreadsheets love Salzburg: they’re 19th in FiveThirtyEight’s club rankings and 22nd at EloFootball.com. They lost Hwang Hee-chan to Leipzig — and, of course, Takumi Minamino to Liverpool and Erling Haaland to Borussia Dortmund last January — but the next generation of stars is ready for the UEFA spotlight. Patson Daka, 22, has scored 11 goals in just nine matches this year and generated more than half of Salzburg’s xG on Wednesday. Hungarian starlet Dominik Szoboszlai (19) scored the goals of the day against Lokomotiv, and Sekou Koita (20) is excellent. And now American midfielder Brenden Aaronson (19) is coming aboard as well.

It’s safe to say that your favourite club’s scouting team is and has been watching Salzburg for a while, and while getting paired with Bayern and Atletico makes advancing difficult, they have the ball-control game to make things dicey for the favourites. a win next week would put them in a strong position to advance.

The ultimate sleeper

Midtjylland

Group: D
Odds of advancing to the knockout round, per FiveThirtyEight: 3 percent
First match: lost to Atalanta, 4-0
Next match: at Liverpool (Oct. 27)

Okay, no, Midtjylland probably aren’t going to advance. FiveThirtyEight ranks them 136th overall, and their odds of advancing are better than only Basaksehir’s. They’re stuck in maybe the most aesthetically pleasing possible group with Liverpool, Atalanta and Ajax. Their goal differential is already -4. But it’s a story that they’re here. Call them a sleeper in our hearts.

Owned by former professional gambler and analytics lover Matthew Benham (who also owns Brentford FC), Midtjylland won its first Danish Superliga title in 2015 and lost to Manchester United in the 2016 Europa League knockout rounds. After years of knocking on the door, they finally qualified for the Champions League group stage by upsetting a solid Slavia Prague with a thrilling late surge of three goals in seven minutes.

Like Salzburg and Rennes, Midtjylland is developing a reputation as a top-notch scouting-and-development club — which is to say, bigger clubs are ready to pounce when a younger player looks good, and the foursome of Anders Dreyer, Sory Kaba, Awer Mabil and Frank Onyeka (four shots, 0.6 xG against Atalanta) is awfully fun to watch.

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Utah erred in athlete’s death, settles for $13.5M

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The University of Utah announced a $13.5 million settlement with the family of slain track and field athlete Lauren McCluskey on Thursday, saying for the first time that her death had been preventable.

Lauren McCluskey, a 21-year-old heptathlete at Utah, was shot and killed Oct. 22, 2018, by a man she had dated briefly, Melvin Shawn Rowland. Rowland killed himself later that night when cornered by police.

In a news conference Thursday on the school’s Salt Lake City campus, university president Ruth Watkins read a statement expressing the school’s regret after McCluskey, her mother and friends reached out for help numerous times before she was killed.

“The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren’s case as it should have and that, at the time, its employees failed to fully understand and respond appropriately to Lauren’s situation,” Watkins said. “As a result, we failed Lauren and her family.”

McCluskey’s parents, Jill and Matt, filed a federal Title IX lawsuit in January 2019 after Watkins said publicly, following a school investigation, that nothing could have prevented Lauren’s death.

Jill McCluskey, fighting back tears as she read her statement, said the school had made progress in addressing campus safety issues over the past two years.

“We acknowledge and applaud the many positive changes that have occurred at the University of Utah since her death and we hope they continue,” she said. “This settlement is important for many reasons: It addresses how Lauren died, but also honors how she lived.”

When McCluskey — who was raised in Pullman, Washington, where her parents are professors at Washington State — first met Rowland in late summer 2018, he said he was a 28-year-old community college student named Shawn Fields.

In early October, however, she discovered his real identity, that he was actually a 37-year-old convicted sex offender on parole. She immediately broke off the relationship. Over the following two weeks, Rowland sent her text messages posing as friends saying he had been killed in an accident, stalked her at her dormitory, extorted $1,000 from her by threatening to release a compromising photo of her, came to her dorm with a pistol that he showed to other students, and sent a text to McCluskey claiming to be a police officer in what she took to be an attempt to lure her out in public.

In the two weeks before she died, McCluskey and her mother called campus police more than a dozen times seeking help. A December 2018 university investigation determined that police did not check Rowland’s parole status. Had police been aware, it’s possible Rowland could have been found in violation of his parole and returned to prison.

Also, two of McCluskey’s friends told the resident assistant in her dormitory that they believed Rowland might be a threat to McCluskey’s safety, and the resident assistant forwarded those concerns to her superiors. The resident assistant and the McCluskeys have said no subsequent action was taken.

In the statement read by Watkins on Thursday, the school said, “If these employees had more complete training and protocols to guide the responses, the university believes they would’ve been better equipped to protect Lauren.”

The statement did not specify or refer to campus police and housing officials, but employees from both departments had been named in the lawsuit.

Jill McCluskey told ESPN in January 2019 that Watkins’ previous statement that Lauren’s killing could not have been prevented sparked her and her husband to file their lawsuit.

The McCluskeys have said the goal of the lawsuit was to set off a chain reaction to improve campus safety nationwide and that a settlement could force insurance companies to push for safety reforms. The McCluskeys have said all money from the settlement will go to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, which contributes to causes associated with “campus safety, amateur athletics and animal welfare.”

ESPN investigative producer Nicole Noren contributed to this report.

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