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Wizards’ Russell Westbrook, wife Nina respond to critical comments from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith

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Wizards' Russell Westbrook, wife Nina respond to critical comments from ESPN's Stephen A. Smith

Russell Westbrook totaled 35 points (14-of-26 shooting), 21 assists and 14 rebounds in the Wizards’ win over the Pacers on Monday. Westbrook’s line was even more impressive when considering that he posted those numbers without All-Star guard Bradley Beal, who missed the game because of a hip injury. 

So, how did ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith react to the performance?

“I don’t give a damn about any of it,” Smith said Tuesday in a video segment titled “Stephen A. doesn’t care about Westbrook’s big night.” OK, then!

MORE: NBA trade deadline winners and losers

Smith rattled off the great teammates who have played alongside Westbrook and asked, “Where is the [championship] to show for it?” Smith praised Westbrook for his competitive fire and leadership, but he criticized the nine-time All-Star for never developing a consistent 3-point shot. He reiterated his stance on ESPN’s “First Take.”

“Westbrook’s numbers last night mean absolutely nothing to me because, even though that’s great numbers, that’s what Westbrook can do,” Smith said. “We all know this. He’s a former league MVP. He’s the most athletic point guard we have ever seen in NBA history. … I’m at a point in time in his career where it’s like — it ain’t about that no more. It’s about whether or not you can get to another level to win the [championship].”

After seeing Smith’s monologue, Westbrook’s wife, Nina, fired back on Instagram, saying that Westbrook is the “happiest he’s ever been.” She added that Westbrook doesn’t feel “hurt” because he has not won a title, as Smith claimed.

“You know nothing about him,” Nina said. “If you did, you’d know that he is way, way, way more than a championship. He is a champion of life. A champion of his people. He doesn’t care about YOUR championship, and certainly not YOUR opinion. He cares about his people, his community and trying to make the world a better place.”

During his Tuesday night media availability, Westbrook offered his own response.

Westbrook’s full comments:

I watch these college games and I watch these kids, and these announcers, man, they get on the TV and just say anything about a kid. They don’t even know him. They don’t know his family. They don’t know where he’s from. They don’t know what he’s been through. They don’t know his struggles. They don’t know his pain. They don’t know anything about the kid. But one thing said on TV can determine how you perceive this kid on TV, which will allow him not to be able to reach his goals, which will allow him not to be able to get drafted, which will allow him not to take care of his family, which will now not curate generational wealth, which now makes our people and the minorities, the underserved communites, which makes that gap [bigger]. It’s way bigger than basketball. That’s my entire life focus. My wife, that’s what she’s mentioning.

 

I sit back. I don’t say much. I don’t like to go back and forth about people. But one thing I won’t allow to happen anymore is let people create narratives and constantly just talking s— for no reason about me because I lay it on the line every night. And I use my platform to be able to help people all across the world. Nobody can take that away from me. I’ve been blessed to be able to have a platform to do it. Like I said before, a championship don’t change my life. I’m happy. I was a champion once I made it to the NBA. Like, I grew up in the streets. I’m a champion. I don’t have to be an NBA champion. I know many people that got NBA championships that’s miserable, have done nothing for their community, have done nothing for the people in our world.

 

For me, man, my legacy, like I mentioned before, is not based on what I do on this court. I’m not going to play basketball my whole life. My legacy is what I do off the floor, how many people I’m able to impact and inspire along my journey, man. That’s how I keep my head down and keep it pushing because it’s very important that you don’t let the negativity seep in. Because it’s been like that my whole career, honestly. There’s no other player that kind of takes the heat that I take constantly. But I take it as a positive because obviously I’m doing something right if people are talking about me. And that’s how I feel, and I [put] my best foot forward, stay prayful, keep my family close and keep it like that.

Smith then addressed what Nina and Russell said during Wednesday’s edition of “First Take.”

“Russell Westbrook is as real, as authentic as they get,” Smith said. “He gives to his community. He cares about his people. He addresses social justice issues. He gives voices to the voiceless. He’s charitable. He’s philanthropic. He’s, by all accounts, a great man, a great leader, a great husband, a great father, a great family man.

“Russell Westbrook, regardless of his mean and acerbic demeanor at times, is one of the best people, the most real, straight-up, authentic people you will ever see in your life. I respect the hell out of the man. What does that have to do with your game?”

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ESPN’s Holly Rowe speaks French and English in WNBA Draft interview; Twitter reacts

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ESPN's Holly Rowe speaks French and English in WNBA Draft interview; Twitter reacts

ESPN reporter Holly Rowe received many a “tres bien” from her confrères in media for conducting a bilingual interview with WNBA Draft pick Iliana Rupert, a France international, on Thursday night.

Rupert was chosen 12th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. With the draft being a virtual event for the second year in a row because of COVID-19, Rowe conducted the post-selection interview in an ESPN studio while Rupert was on camera remotely.

MORE: Why Paige Bueckers was ineligible for ’21 WNBA Draft

Rowe began the interview with “Bonsoir,” or “Good evening,” and asked Rupert in French whether she spoke English. Rupert responded in the affirmative and the interview proceeded in English.

“It’s always been one of my dreams and it’s amazing being recognized,” Rupert said. “I’m really happy to [represent] my country and I’m just excited to finally start this journey.”

After two more questions and responses in English, Rowe switched back to French for the interview’s conclusion, telling Rupert “Bienvenue,” or “Welcome,” to the WNBA. She also gave her regards to Rupert’s family.

Rowe’s media colleagues were quick with the compliments.

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‘It shows how exciting we can be!’ – Saka says Arsenal have real chance of winning Europa League after Slavia rout

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'It shows how exciting we can be!' - Saka says Arsenal have real chance of winning Europa League after Slavia rout

Bukayo Saka says Arsenal have a real chance of winning the Europa League after their rout of Slavia Prague, and claims their latest performance “shows everyone how exciting we can be”.

Arsenal bounced back from a disappointing 1-1 draw against Slavia in the first leg of their quarter-final tie at Emirates Stadium by picking up a comprehensive 4-0 victory in the Czech Republic on Thursday night.

Saka was among the scorers as the Gunners booked a last-four clash with Villarreal, and he is confident they can now go all the way in the competition after flexing their attacking muscles at the Sinobo Stadium.

What’s been said?

“It was fantastic from start to finish. We did it for all the fans, they all deserve it for all the support they give us. We are really happy to progress,” the Arsenal winger told BT Sport.

“We showed real character. The first one was disallowed, Emile deserved a goal, we kept going and got the first one again. We pretty much killed the game in the first half.

“In the first leg we played well but weren’t clinical, credit to the manager and coaching staff, the way we set up, pressed, they couldn’t get out.

“It shows everyone how exciting we can be, when we play like this it is so amazing to be involved in. We have a chance of going to the final and winning this competition, it is up to us. We look forward to the next opponent.”

Arsenal put Slavia to the sword

The Gunners went at their Czech opponents right from the first whistle in the second leg clash, and found themselves in front after just 18 minutes when Nicolas Pepe dinked the ball into the net after being teed up by Emile Smith Rowe.

Alexandre Lacazette then doubled the visitors’ account from the penalty spot after Saka was fouled in the box, and the teenager got his goal moments later when he cut in from the right-wing before firing the ball low past the goalkeeper at his near post.

Lacazette added extra gloss to the final scoreline with a trademark finish 13 minutes from time as Arsenal progressed to the semi-finals 5-1 on aggregate.

What’s next?

Arsenal will now turn their attention back to the Premier League, with a home fixture against Fulham scheduled to take place on Sunday.

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What pressure? Arsenal sweeps Slavia Prague aside to set up a reunion with Emery

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What pressure? Arsenal sweeps Slavia Prague aside to set up a reunion with Emery

Slavia Prague 0-4 Arsenal: Match statistics

What was all the fuss about?

It was billed as the game that would define Arsenal’s season, a night that could even shape Mikel Arteta’s future at the club.

The pressure was supposed to be on against Slavia Prague but within 25 superb minutes, the Gunners were in cruise control.

Last week’s 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium had left the Gunners with a very simple equation going into the second leg of their Europa League quarterfinal in the Czech capital: score a goal.

Arteta’s side knew failure to find a way through a Slavia side that was unbeaten at home in all competitions this season would send it crashing out of the tournament and leave an already disappointing season in tatters.

Serious questions were being asked of the players after the way in which they threw away a lead in the closing stages of the first leg to hand Prague the advantage going into Thursday night’s return fixture.

But in the space of six scintillating first-half minutes, those questions were answered in emphatic style.

The brilliant Emile Smith Rowe had already had a goal ruled out for the tightest of offside calls before Nicolas Pepe gave the visitors the lead on 18 minutes, thus canceling out Slavia’s away goal.

Alexandre Lacazette then struck from the penalty spot three minutes later to make it 2-0 on the night before Bukayo Saka added a classy third goal – all within 24 minutes of the game getting underway.

It was game, set and match Arsenal before we had even reached the half-hour mark.

Even in his wildest dreams, Arteta would never have imagined such an impressive start from his side, especially with his captain and talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missing due to contracting malaria while away with Gabon on international duty.

This was a major statement from his side and another example of why there is genuine belief within the club that things are heading in the right direction under the Spaniard.

Getty/Goal

The abject performances throughout November and the majority of December may have led to a hugely disappointing Premier League campaign, but the improvement since Christmas has been undeniable.

Since beating Chelsea 3-1 on Boxing Day, Arteta’s side sits fourth in the form table, with only Manchester City, Manchester United and West Ham picking up more points.

And now the Gunners have booked their spot in the Europa League semifinals, where they will meet Unai Emery’s Villarreal.

Clearly, there is still much for Arsenal to improve on and failure to go on and win the Europa League will more than likely leave it facing up to a season without European competition for the first time in 25 years.

For a club of Arsenal’s stature, that is not good enough, but there are still plenty of reasons for optimism and they were all on show as Prague was blown away in its backyard.

Arsenal’s homegrown youngsters have been the catalyst for the improvement since Boxing Day and one again they led the charge – with academy graduates Smith Rowe and Saka proving far too good for the Czech champions.

Immediately after seeing a goal ruled out for offside, Smith Rowe waltzed through the Slavia defense before working the ball to Pepe, who showed wonderful composure to score his fifth Europa League goal of the season.

Saka then took center stage, winning a penalty, which was converted by Lacazette, before scoring the third himself with a fine finish from the edge of the box.

At that point, the game was done and dusted. Arsenal had done its job and it cruised through the remainder of the quarterfinal, with Lacazette putting the gloss on a fabulous night’s work with a fourth goal on 77 minutes.

All eyes now turn to the semifinal against Villarreal and the return of Emery, the man Arteta replaced just over 16 months ago.

Emery led Arsenal to the Europa League final in 2019 and now he is the man standing in their way of repeating the trick two years later.

A return to the Champions League is now within touching distance for Arsenal. Just three games stand between the Gunners and a seat back at Europe’s top table.

They went to Prague with their season on the line and they return to London with the dream still alive.

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