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‘He is a free man’: refugee Bahraini footballer heads home to Australia

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'He is a free man': refugee Bahraini footballer heads home to Australia

BANGKOK (Reuters) – A refugee Bahraini footballer with residency status in Australia boarded a flight for Melbourne early on Tuesday after Bahrain dropped its bid to have him extradited from Thailand, bringing to an end a case that had drawn international criticism.

Hakeem Al Araibi, 25, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and received refugee status in Australia, was arrested in November last year at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport while on a honeymoon trip, following an Interpol notice issued at the Gulf state’s request.

He was seen chatting happily before boarding a Thai Airways flight that was due to leave for Melbourne shortly after midnight. Araibi has lived in Australia since 2014 and plays there for a local soccer club.

The detention of Araibi, who appeared with his feet in shackles at a court hearing last week, drew international criticism, with Australian authorities and fellow footballers urging Thailand to release him. Araibi had said he faced torture if returned to Bahrain.

“He is a free man,” Chatchom Akapin, an official in the Thai Attorney-General’s office, said on Monday after Bahrain withdrew its extradition request without explanation.

Human rights group Amnesty International, which had lobbied for his release, welcomed Thailand’s move.

“It is only right that he should go back to Australia – where his family, his football club, and the country that gave him sanctuary are waiting,” said Minar Pimple, the group’s Senior Director of Global Operations,

A police car believed to be carrying Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi is pictured as it leaves the Bangkok’s Remand Prison, Thailand, February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A Bahrain government spokesman declined to give details when asked who had ordered a halt to the legal proceedings.

ARAB SPRING

However, authorities in Bahrain, which has accused Araibi of crimes committed during the Arab Spring protests of 2011, also reaffirmed their right to pursue legal action against him.

In a statement, Bahrain’s foreign ministry said it had noted the halt of legal proceedings and the verdict against the footballer remained in place.

Araibi was convicted of vandalising a police station during the 2011 anti-government protests in Bahrain and sentenced in absentia after he fled. Araibi denies the charges, saying he was playing in a televised soccer match at the time of the police station attack.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has said Araibi was tortured by Bahraini authorities because of his brother’s political activities during the 2011 protests. Bahraini authorities deny allegations of torture.

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday it had no comment on the case.

FILE PHOTO: Jailed Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi leaves Thailand’s Criminal Court, in Bangkok, Thailand February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the Thai move.

“We greatly respect the process that they have had to work through and we greatly appreciate their listening to the issues that have been raised by our government and many others,” he told a news conference.

On social network Twitter, former Australia soccer captain Craig Foster, who had helped lobby officials at world governing body FIFA, said, “My thanks go to the wonderful people of Thailand for your support and to the Thai government for upholding international law.”

Additional reporting by Paulina Duran in SYDNEY and Aziz El Yaakoubi in DUBAI; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones

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NBA All-Star 2019 – The most important things we saw at All-Star Weekend

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NBA All-Star 2019 - The most important things we saw at All-Star Weekend

All-Star Weekend had it all: a million Giannis dunks, a broken replica airplane, all the Currys, and many more highlight moments. Here are the most important things our team of experts saw in Charlotte, North Carolina:

Dirk and D-Wade’s last All-Star dance

Dirk Nowitzki made sure that commissioner Adam Silver’s decision to bring him and Dwyane Wade to Charlotte as special roster additions ended up more celebration than just ceremony. Nowitzki checked in for Team Giannis with less than a minute to go in the first quarter and stroked back-to-back 3s — one from 29 feet, one from 33 feet — before the horn sounded.

Wade started the second half for Team LeBron alongside LeBron James and threw a vintage alley-oop off the backboard for James to finish with a slam to bring back some Miami memories for the pair that won two rings together. Before the fourth quarter, Nowitzki and Wade were honored at center court and presented with framed All-Star jerseys by the team captains.

“The game is in good hands so it’s easy to walk away right now,” Wade said.

— Dave McMenamin

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LeBron James lobs one up to Dwyane Wade, then Wade returns the favor off the backboard for a big LeBron slam.


LeBron’s team-building exercise

Nine years ago, LeBron James chose to leave Cleveland and team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the shores of Biscayne Bay, creating a team that won two championships and reached four straight NBA Finals. This summer, James needs to find someone to do what he did back then: choose to come play with him and turn his team into a championship contender.

He needs to find his next Dwyane Wade.

That was what made this weekend so compelling. James drafted a team littered with players who have been linked to playing alongside him — either joining his Lakers as free agents this summer or via trade (in the case of Anthony Davis, as recently as within the past two weeks).

By virtue of his selections, the name Team LeBron was quickly, and sarcastically, replaced by “Team Tampering.”

— Tim Bontemps


The Greek Freak rises

One of the defining moments of the game came with 6:42 in the second quarter when Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo connected for a gorgeous alley-oop.

With Curry leading a two-on-one fast break, the two-time MVP bounced a high pass to Antetokounmpo over Kevin Durant‘s head as the Milwaukee Bucks‘ young star threw down a dunk that left the Charlotte crowd in awe. For Curry, it was just another special moment in a weekend filled with them on a super-sized bounce pass that the All-Star Game had never seen before.

— Nick Friedell

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Take a look at Giannis Antetokounmpo’s All-Star alley-oop dunk from Steph Curry’s bounce pass in super slow motion.


A dunk contest in need of some tweaks

There’s no way to “fix” the NBA’s dunk contest, because the fundamental problem is reality competing against the memory of past years where the missed dunks and failed props have faded, leaving only the best dunks as a legacy. Nonetheless, two small tweaks could produce a more satisfying dunk contest.

1. Carry first-round scores forward

One of the most frustrating parts of the dunk contest is that the best dunks — including the very best of Saturday night, Hamidou Diallo scaling Mt. Shaq — don’t count toward the final result because first-round scores aren’t carried forward to the final round. That makes no sense.

When you praise Vince Carter‘s historic 2000 dunk contest, odds are you’re remembering two of his first-round dunks (a 360 windmill that prompted TNT commentator Kenny Smith to yell “Let’s go home!” and a between-the-legs dunk off a bounce pass by then-teammate Tracy McGrady that Carter capped with his famous point to the sky) rather than his final dunk, a two-hander from just inside the free-throw line that earned his lowest score all night (48).

So why shouldn’t Diallo’s perfect 50 have counted toward winning the actual competition? At a minimum, we should carry scores from the first round over to the final. Better yet, I’d suggest letting all four dunkers have three or four dunks and picking the winner among them rather than having two separate rounds.

2. Eliminate the minimum score

More aggressive adjustments to the scoring have been suggested, but in the name of simplicity I think an easy tweak would be taking out the minimum score of 6 per judge. That doesn’t punish players harshly enough for missing dunks, since they’ll still score at least a 30 (and both Miles Bridges and Dennis Smith Jr. scored better than that when they ran out of attempts Saturday night).

Additionally, utilizing all 11 scores from 0-10 would give judges more room to properly reward the very best dunks. When the scores are condensed, there’s little variation. Half of the 10 completed dunks Saturday scored a 50. Back in the 1980s, a score of 50 was rare. In their famous 1985 dunk contest, Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins received a combined three 50s out of 18 dunks in the three-round format used at the time. Making 50s less common will also make them more meaningful.

— Kevin Pelton

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Hamidou Diallo and Dennis Smith Jr. each took turns dunking over guests like Shaq and J. Cole, but Diallo comes out victorious.


Anthony Davis’ stunning news conference

When All-Star media day began Saturday morning, it was unclear if Davis would even show up.

The New Orleans Pelicans star’s quote isn’t exactly a stellar one in the best of times — and this was far from the best of times. Davis’ trade request from before the trade deadline, and the ensuing fallout from it, still hung over the franchise. Davis had left New Orleans’ final game before the All-Star break before it ended to get an MRI on his shoulder. His coach, Alvin Gentry, stormed off after his postgame interview when he was asked a second time about Davis leaving. Friday afternoon, New Orleans fired its general manager, Dell Demps.

All of it made what happened after Davis did, in fact, come to the podium all the more amazing to witness. Not only did he speak about everything that had happened over the past few weeks, he did so openly and honestly. He refuted the one major roadblock to his going to the Boston Celtics — the team with the most assets to trade for him — by saying they were, in fact, on his list of preferred teams. He spoke openly of what he liked about the New York Knicks. He said he would become a free agent in 2020 no matter where he played.

In short, he answered just about every possible question people have wanted to ask him since this whole saga began.

— Bontemps

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Anthony Davis speaks about his desire to play and explains that he never said the Celtics weren’t on his list of teams that he wanted to be traded to.


Kyle Kuzma, the late-first round Rising Star

Looking at the Rising Stars rosters before tipoff was a great reminder of how imperfect the science is of projecting the NBA draft. Watching the game’s MVP Kyle Kuzma throw down windmills and hit step-back 3-pointers was easily the most vivid example of that. Kuzma elected to redshirt his freshman year in college and proceeded to play only eight minutes per game his second. In, his third year at Utah, already 20 years old, he made just 13 3-pointers in 35 games, hitting 26.5 percent of his attempts, while converting 60 percent from the free throw line.

Mostly a streaky spot-up shooter in college, not many predicted Kuzma, the No. 27 overall pick in 2017, would emerge as one of the more skilled power forwards in the NBA almost from day one. Watching him get into his pull-up jumpers with the fluidity of a guard in Charlotte again reminded us of the importance of keeping an open mind about young players, even 22-year-olds coming out of college.

— Jonathan Givony

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Kyle Kuzma represents the U.S. and Los Angeles Lakers proudly by dropping 35 points and earning the MVP award of the Rising Stars game.


Get to know Deni Avdija

The 18-year-old Israeli forward was named MVP of the fifth annual Basketball Without Borders Global Camp, held in conjunction with All-Star Weekend. More than two dozen players from the camp, which features top international prospects 18 and under, have gone on to play in the NBA. Expect Avdija to soon join them. He’s currently seventh in ESPN’s mock draft for 2020 and strengthened his résumé by showing off comfortable NBA 3-point range while running point guard for his team at 6-foot-9.

Inevitably, Avdija’s combination of size and skill has led NBA scouts to compare him to Rookie of the Year favorite Luka Doncic. Avdija doesn’t have the same kind of high-level club success, having played sparingly for Maccabi Tel Aviv in EuroLeague action. But if Avdija can expand his role in 2019-20 and continues to develop his game, he’ll be an interesting option for teams in the top half of the lottery.

— Pelton


The Curry brothers’ big bet

Stephen and Seth Curry had a sizable wager on the line that carried ramifications throughout the remainder of their careers.

“Family’s obviously big for us and like our support,” Stephen said Saturday ahead of the 3-point contest. “So kind of wanted to weave that into the bet, so whoever loses has to pick up the tab for all the tickets any time we play against each other for the rest of our careers. Which, the stakes are high considering how many people show up for our games.”

Pay up, Seth.

— Friedell

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Steph Curry clarifies the terms of his bet with brother Seth and says he will probably make Seth pay up on their 3-point contest wager.


Where was the buzz?

There are points during every All-Star Weekend when the atmosphere inside the arena isn’t great. It is, after all, a series of meaningless exhibitions played in front of a crowd filled with many corporate suits. But the atmosphere inside Charlotte’s Spectrum Center throughout this weekend was particularly lacking in energy and enthusiasm.

Some of that was aided by what happened on the court. The dunk contest — which is supposed to be Saturday night’s signature event — was marred by strange grading and several dunk attempts that took multiple attempts to pull off (or, in a couple of instances, failed to work at all).

Then came Sunday’s All-Star Game, which was virtually void of emotion or energy for large stretches. Sure, there were a few nice moments — like when LeBron James caught an alley-oop from Dwyane Wade, or when Dirk Nowitzki hit a pair of 3-pointers to end the first quarter, or when hometown hero Stephen Curry pulled off a 4-point play when he was fouled while making a 3-pointer by Warriors teammate Klay Thompson.

For large stretches of the game, though, you could hear a pin drop. That wasn’t helped by the fact that the celebrities ringing the court were not exactly A-listers — including Guy Fieri being shown midway through the first quarter in an attempt to fire up the crowd.

The one person who could’ve gotten everyone excited — Hornets owner Michael Jordan — was nowhere to be seen. Outside of a 30-second interaction on the court in a mid-quarter break in the second half to celebrate next year’s All-Star Game being in Chicago (including Jordan having to shake hands with Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf, the son of owner Jerry), Jordan wasn’t part of the game Sunday in any way — despite this being something NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Jordan worked very hard to make happen.

It was an underwhelming end to an underwhelming weekend — one the atmosphere in the arena did little to help.

— Bontemps

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Jurgen Klopp needs to rule with his head and focus on the Premier League, not Bayern

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Jurgen Klopp needs to rule with his head and focus on the Premier League, not Bayern

The trick is getting head and heart to coexist in the right proportion, at the right time, and a great manager knows when to turn the dial toward the “heart” end.

It’s how Liverpool came back from 3-0 down in a Champions League final, remember? You loosen the reins, go for it and believe in the improbable. To paraphrase “Risky Business,” it gives you freedom, freedom brings opportunity, opportunity makes your future…

But there are times when you need it turned back toward the “head” end. Knockout European football is jiu-jitsu as much as anything else and Jurgen Klopp, who has won 12 of 15 two-legged knockouts, knows this as well as anyone.

He won’t admit it in so many words — managers are specifically conditioned not to do this — but there’s a bigger picture to consider as Liverpool host Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Round of 16 clash.

As important as the Champions League may be, both financially and in terms of prestige, his club are poised to do something they haven’t managed to do in 29 years: become English champions. As droughts go, this one is particularly stinging because when Liverpool last won it back in 1989-90, no English club had won it more times. Since then, Manchester United have passed their 18 league titles — or, as Sir Alex Ferguson famously said, “knocked them off their f—–g perch” — and no club in a major European league, among those who have won more than 10 league titles, has gone as long between titles.

In that sense, Klopp’s head has a very clear message and one that his heart doesn’t like very much: the Premier League must come first.

You can imagine heart and head duking it out over the past 10 days during the club’s warm-weather training in Marbella. The logic speaks volumes. Next Sunday, Liverpool travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. If they can escape unscathed, they will nose in front of Manchester City (who have played one more match) by either a point or three points. Do that and you control your destiny because the fixture list is kind. Every single away game after that is against a side from the bottom half of the table, except for Everton. And every single home game, bar Chelsea and Tottenham, is against a team from outside the top six.

It’s not a dead cert, by any means — Liverpool learned the hard way, when Steven Gerrard slipped in 2013-14, that there is no certainty in football — but at least a chance at controlling your own destiny.

There’s another factor pointing you toward the league: Your starting central defence may well be made up of two guys (Joel Matip and Fabinho) who, between them, have played the position less than a dozen times in the past 12 months. Joe Gomez is injured. Virgil Van Dijk is suspended. Dejan Lovren hasn’t played in six weeks, missed the training camp and is still nursing his injured hamstring. You don’t want to risk his health because you’ll need him down the stretch, as Gomez might not be back until April.

Plus, you know Manchester City are in the opposite boat. They have a League Cup final to play, they’re through to the quarterfinal of the FA Cup and their Champions League opponents aren’t Bayern but Schalke, who sit 14th in the Bundesliga and have won just once in 2019. That’s where your head tells you: Let them deal with the fixture congestion of advancing in Europe and two domestic cups.

You can hear your head loud and clear. But thrumming away inside you is your heart, and its message is different. Your heart reminds you that many thought you were doomed against City last year, when you were so depleted that you had to call on somebody named Conor Masterson to sit on the bench just so you could field an 18-man squad. And you won home and away, 5-1 on aggregate.

Plus, this is Bayern. Not that long ago, you knocked them off their perch and made your name in world football. Like the cool clique in school, they’re the guys who take it for granted that everyone in German football wants to hang with them. Not you; you turned them down before and you may be asked to do it again. It was sweet then and it would be sweeter still now.

And then there’s maybe the greatest pull of all. Tuesday night, you’ll hear them, even from the bowels of Anfield, even before you walk past the “This is Anfield” sign. You’ll see the Kop moving as one, the wall of sound will hit you, the faces will, for a moment, become distinct before melting back into the red. They too are balancing their hearts and their heads but in that moment, the former will rule. And you’ll be swept up in it. You always are.

Klopp knows his team have lost their last five European games away from Anfield, conceding 12 goals in the process. The question isn’t whether to field an under-strength side and save his big hitters for Manchester United — he won’t do that — but how much mental and emotional energy to expend on this clash.

And so, maybe, you treat this a “free hit.” If you get something from it, you can use that momentum and self-belief as fuel against United. If you come up short, it won’t derail your season.

Tomorrow night, Klopp should go with the head, tempered by the right amount of heart. The trick for him is getting the balance right while keeping his eyes on the prize: The one that has been missing since before the vast majority of his squad, and many of the fans, were even born.

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Giants manager Bruce Bochy to retire after 2019 season

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Giants manager Bruce Bochy to retire after 2019 season

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy has announced he will retire after the 2019 season.

Bochy, 63, has been the Giants’ manager since 2007 and has guided them to three World Series championships, in 2010, ’12 and ’14.

Before that he managed the San Diego Padres from 1995 to 2006. He took them to the World Series in 1998, where they lost to the Yankees. He was named Manager of the Year in 1996.

In 24 years as a manager, he has a record of 1,926-1,944. His victory total ranks 11th on the all-time list.

Bochy played nine seasons in the big leagues as a catcher for the Astros, Mets and Padres.

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