Nike to make changes amid jersey tear spree

After at least five of Nike’s NBA jerseys ripped on players this season, the world’s largest shoe and apparel giant has acknowledged it will make substantive changes.

The company, which signed an eight-year, $1 billion deal with the NBA that began this year, said in a statement provided to ESPN on Monday night that the initial product presented to teams needs more reinforcement.

“Nike has always put the athlete at the center of everything we do and we have worked hard to create the most advanced uniforms in the history of the NBA,” the company said in the statement. “They are lighter and deliver great mobility and sweat wicking characteristics, and the feedback from players has been overwhelmingly positive. However, during game play we have seen a small number of athletes experience significant jersey tears. We are very concerned to see any game day tear and are working to implement a solution that involves standardizing the embellishment process and enhancing the seam strength of game day jerseys. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance and we are working with the NBA and teams to avoid this happening in the future.”

Nike did not reveal how many jerseys, if any, will be discarded in the process.

When they ripped, Nike’s jerseys didn’t just tear, they fell apart on the biggest of stars and in ways that made video of the moments spread quickly on social media.

In the closing minutes of an opening-night game, the jersey of Cavaliers star LeBron James, Nike’s highest-paid current NBA player, ripped down the middle.

Eight days later, Nike president and CEO Mark Parker told CNBC that “we’ve isolated the issue and we feel like we’ve got command of the situation and feel good about where we are.”

But it didn’t end.

Warriors forward Draymond Green‘s jersey ripped in a fight with the WizardsBradley Beal, and last week 76ers rookie Ben Simmons‘ jersey completely tore after being tugged at while he was fighting for a rebound. Cavaliers forward Kevin Love had to go the locker room after his jersey tore when he pulled it over his head.

While the jerseys tore on some of the most high-profile players in the league, Nike has seemingly skirted any criticism from the players; all five — including the LakersTyler Ennis, whose jersey tore in the first preseason game — are Nike spokesmen.

NBA players have dealt with torn jerseys in the past, but not with this frequency.

The authentic NBA jersey made by Nike promises to dry 15 percent faster than the previous Adidas jersey, and it is partly made out of recycled bottles. A similar version of the jersey was used in the 2016 Olympics with no known issues.

Despite the embarrassment for Nike, there have been no known complaints from consumers about the jerseys they’ve purchased, which has minimized the business impact of the mistake.

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Nike to make changes amid jersey tear spree
Nike to make changes amid jersey tear spree

Matthew Stafford throws 200th career TD

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Matthew Stafford took a chance — and it resulted in his 200th career touchdown pass.

Stafford, 29, is sixth-fastest to 200 career regular-season passing touchdowns, accomplishing the feat in only 117 games. Only Dan Marino (89), Aaron Rodgers (99), Peyton Manning (106), Brett Favre (107) and Tom Brady (116) reached that milestone faster than Stafford. Stafford is also the fourth player in NFL history to throw 200 touchdowns before the age of 30, joining Favre (218), Manning (244) and Marino (245).

The Detroit Lions quarterback took a deep shot to receiver Marvin Jones Jr. with 1:45 left in the first quarter, completing a 25-yard pass to Jones for the touchdown. It was a good pass from Stafford and a good reception by Jones, who created late separation and dove into the end zone for the score. It also pushed Stafford past Phil Simms into 40th place all-time in passing touchdowns.

Stafford also passed Sonny Jurgensen (32,224) for No. 39 all-time in passing yards. He did so on a 9-yard pass to Ameer Abdullah in the second quarter.

In all, 35 receivers have contributed to the 200 touchdowns — with Calvin Johnson nabbing over a quarter of them with 54. Golden Tate, who signed with Detroit in 2014, and Stafford’s fellow 2009 first-round draft pick, Brandon Pettigrew, are next with 15.

It’s the eighth time Stafford has thrown a touchdown to Jones — three of them coming at Lambeau Field. Of the 200 TD passes, 12 players caught only one touchdown from Stafford.

Touchdown No. 1 came in the second quarter of Stafford’s second career game in 2009, an 8-yard pass to Johnson as part of a 27-13 loss to Minnesota.

The first player to catch multiple touchdowns from Stafford was tight end Will Heller, who caught touchdowns in Week 4 and Week 9. Heller ended up catching four touchdowns from Stafford — three in the 2009 regular season and one during the 2011 playoffs — though the playoff one doesn’t count toward Stafford’s career total. Stafford has thrown four playoff touchdown passes in all.

It’s also the first time this season the Lions have had a touchdown pass on their opening drive.

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Matthew Stafford throws 200th career TD
Matthew Stafford throws 200th career TD

Gordon: I took drugs or alcohol before games

BEREA, Ohio — Josh Gordon used drugs or alcohol before every NFL game he played, Gordon told the magazine GQ in an interview released Monday.

The Browns wide receiver told GQ that he made taking some substance “a ritual … before every game.”

“We would stay at the team hotel, and then players are allowed to go back home, get what they need and then go to the game,” Gordon said. “So I’d leave the hotel early morning, go home, eat breakfast, do my little ritual, whatever it may be, some weed, some alcohol and then go to the game. And then, I’d definitely be partying after every game, win or lose. Every game.”

Gordon said he started taking drugs in seventh grade, continued through college and even did something before every game he played in 2013, when he led the league in receiving yards while playing 14 games.

“When I got to the league, I think they had their doubts from the very beginning,” Gordon said. “From the day they drafted me, they had to know there was some type of risk involved. I don’t think that they specifically knew. But I’m sure they had their doubts. [I] missed a lot of meetings, showed up late a lot of times, eyes were probably bloodshot on many occasions. But I guess you couldn’t really draw a definitive conclusion because I thought I was evasive enough. And because nobody told me anything.”

Gordon said he’s different now because he went to a lengthy rehab for himself, not for someone else.

“At this point, I thought, ‘If I want any type of a life, if I wanted to live, [I’ll stop],'” he said. “It was like: You’re never going back to f—ing work ever if you can’t figure out how to live. Because at this point in time, the trajectory, you’re going to die. You’re going to kill yourself.”

He also said he moved to Gainesville, Florida, because he could not take what he called harassment from Browns fans in Cleveland.

“Living in Cleveland, sometimes it could be a nightmare,” Gordon said. “I’ve been harassed, had drinks thrown at me. I’ve been [followed] in the grocery store, heckled everywhere. At the games, people harassed and heckled my brothers and my mom. [My] brothers got into fights in the stands. Cars [have] been jumped on. Somebody dented the hood of the car. Had to sue a guy and get the money back ’cause he damaged the car. People are throwing money, pennies, to break the windows. So Cleveland was rough, man.”

Browns coach Hue Jackson said the interview would not affect his thinking on Gordon’s rejoining the team.

“I think he was letting things out, if that’s what was said,” Jackson said. “I think he was cleansing himself of his past, and I get that, a little bit. But again, I think he said what he felt he needed to say.”

At his first scouting combine after being hired, Jackson said he would not put up with nonsense. On Monday, he said, “that’s not going to change.”

“I think we need to let him get out what he feels like he needs to get out,” Jackson said. “I’m sure this is part of his rehabilitation as well. To say certain things that you’ve done, I think that’s kind of good. Because you got to put it behind you as fast as you can.”

Jackson said he will need to know that Gordon is not trying to talk his way into being released with this interview.

“I don’t think he is trying to do that,” he said. “I do need to feel comfortable that he’s not. If he’s coming back to play football, I think he knows he needs to play football here.”

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Gordon: I took drugs or alcohol before games
Gordon: I took drugs or alcohol before games

Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans suspended one game

The NFL suspended Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans one game for his blindside hit on New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, which led to a sideline scuffle on Sunday.

“During the third quarter, after a play had ended, you struck an unsuspecting opponent in the back, knocking him to the ground. Your conduct clearly did not reflect the high standards of sportsmanship expected of a professional,” NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan wrote in a letter to Evans to inform him of the suspension.

Evans has three business days to appeal his suspension. If the suspension stands, Evans will miss Sunday’s game against the New York Jets and will be eligible to return to the Buccaneers’ active roster on Monday, Nov. 13.

Evans was flagged 15 yards for running across the field and drilling Lattimore in the back, then pouncing on Lattimore when he hit the ground. A Saints player then tackled Evans to get him off Lattimore.

The dustup started when Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston — who was not playing at the time — pushed Lattimore in the back of his helmet while appearing to suggest that he go back to his own sideline. Lattimore turned around and shoved Winston in the chest. Then Evans flew in for the tackle.

ESPN’s Jenna Laine contributed to this report.

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Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans suspended one game
Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans suspended one game

Sashi Brown: I didn't sabotage McCarron trade

BEREA, Ohio — Any report or idea that the Cleveland Browns front office intentionally sabotaged a trade for Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron is “totally untrue,” vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said Monday.

“I am not worried about that internally,” Brown said. “Externally, I can just put it to bed that is just not the case.”

The sabotage chatter followed the news that the Browns did not get the trade paperwork to the NFL by the 4 p.m. ET deadline last Tuesday, with the thinking being that Brown did not want to give up second- and third-round draft picks for McCarron, even if coach Hue Jackson wanted him. Brown, though, said Jackson was in the room as the team tried to complete the deal minutes before the deadline.

“This is just a matter of getting to a deal too late in the process,” Brown said.

The Browns followed the same process they have with every trade they’ve made in the last two years. They wrote up terms and sent the signed document to the Bengals.

Their understanding was the Bengals would then sign the document and send to the league. The Browns’ feeling is that ensures all terms are correct.

The Browns emailed the document to the Bengals at 3:54 p.m. The Bengals conceded the next day they missed the email and submitted their own paperwork at 3:59 p.m. By the time the Browns realized they needed to submit their own paperwork, the deadline had passed.

Brown said it was a “fair critique” to say the trade could and should have been agreed to earlier.

“I think both sides, both Cincinnati and us, tried our damndest to try to get the paperwork in at the last minute,” Brown said. “We’re talking minutes and seconds before the trade deadline ended. We were on the phone with the NFL at the time to try to make it happen. It did not happen.”

Brown addressed a number of other topics in a wide-ranging news conference, and he did not deny that losing 23 of 24 games since he and Jackson took over has put a strain on the organization.

“These builds are challenging, and they do place a lot of adversity on organizations,” Brown said. “I think organizations and individual’s character comes out in those circumstances. Not going to sugarcoat anything. Last week was a tough, tough week for us from a PR perspective and things that we can get better on.

“But the groups are working together and working hard and will continue to. But we understand while we haven’t had the results we aspire to that those are going to be the types of stories that come out. Now we have to do everything we can to stay unified. I think that is the key ingredient toward making this a successful effort on both parts, and we will get there.”

Among his other points Brown said:

“I don’t shy away from missed opportunities at all,” Brown said. “That’s going to be a piece of it. There’s a lot of non quarterbacks out there right now frankly that are playing well right now too that we’d love to have on our team. But we’re not going to get every one right. We haven’t and we won’t moving forward.

“We will get enough of them right and we will solve the quarterback position.”

  • He would not specifically discuss if the team tried to acquire quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots, but his answer made it evident the Browns didn’t have much of a chance to enter trade talks.

“We will never know what’s in the minds of other teams,” Brown said. “It’d be nice to be able to control where all the other teams are going to send their players. We don’t have that control. But a lot of this stuff that’s been written has been made up.”

Specifically, what was made up was that he was not in the building at 5 p.m. the day of the deal, Brown said.

“The reality of free agents is that when you’re a wide receiver that’s a starting wide receiver in this league and you hit free agency, you’re going to get paid, he said. “That’s just the reality of it.”

Asked specifically if he consulted the coaching staff before signing Britt, Brown said: “Not going to go all the way back through all our evaluation processes, we have good processes internally.”

“If you look at the players we have selected and how early they are performing and performing well, I think you can see that this group can evaluate and will continue to do that coming up in the next draft,” he said.

He added he has “good communication” with owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam.

“I think they’ve seen our track record in being able to perform and pull off some of the more creative deals in the league and a host of just simple, straightforward transactions,” he said.

Brown believes the Browns in the long run can succeed with steadfastness and a renewed commitment to working together.

“We will get it right,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we will get every single one right. But we’re confident of where we’re heading and the group we have in place.”

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Sashi Brown: I didn't sabotage McCarron trade
Sashi Brown: I didn't sabotage McCarron trade

If Lions want to be playoff team, win at Lambeau is close to a must

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — They’ve sat in their locker room the past three Sundays now, mostly silent, highly annoyed. The results were all the same: loss, loss, loss for the Detroit Lions — an increasingly familiar theme throughout October.

They haven’t been bad losses — at least not in the way teams would categorize bad losses to inferior opponents. No, the four losses the Lions have this season — including the three straight they closed October with — have all come against teams that might be in the playoffs this season.

But they’ve been losses nonetheless, and that’s an issue for a Detroit team that started the season looking like a potential NFC contender.

“We just got to figure it out,” tight end Eric Ebron said. “We got to figure it out quick because right now we’re heading downhill and we need to find a way to lift ourselves up and do it. If we could match our defense’s intensity, we’ll be damn good. That’s really what our lack is. That’s the gap.

“We just don’t have the same intensity and the same drive that those dudes do and we need to figure it out and find it.”

Players and Lions coach Jim Caldwell disputed Ebron’s opinion of intensity throughout the past week, but his overall message is correct. The Lions need to figure out what has been going wrong — and moreover, how to fix it, if they want to contend for anything postseason this season.

Detroit’s offense has struggled in various facets — from red zone to rushing to, at times, passing. The defense, which had sacked opposing quarterbacks 10 times the first four games of the season, has only three sacks in the past three weeks — and none in the past two.

Detroit might be running out of time to make corrections too, as it heads to Green Bay on Monday night. It’s a place in which the Lions have struggled — and that’s being kind. Detroit has won in Wisconsin once in the past quarter-century, an 18-16 win in 2015 that jump-started a 6-2 second half of the season.

The Lions, at 3-4, could use a similar boost against the Packers. Detroit entered this weekend 1½ games out of the last wild-card spot and 2½ games behind Minnesota for the NFC North title. Detroit still has nine games to play, but it’s a reasonably large deficit.

Some of the teams they’ll be competing with for a wild-card berth — Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans from the NFC South — all hold the tiebreaker over the Lions. So each of those teams entered Sunday with a 2½-game advantage.

Detroit, for now, holds a tiebreaker over Minnesota, but that could disappear if Detroit doesn’t beat Minnesota on Thanksgiving.

“Just got to keep pushing,” safety Miles Killebrew said. “Just got to keep fighting. It’s not as bad as it could be. It’s not as good as we want it to be, you know what I mean. So we’re at a position where we just have to keep fighting, man.”

While things don’t look good for Detroit, there are reasons for optimism. It starts with the Lions’ schedule. Only four teams in the NFC have faced a tougher schedule than Detroit.

After Green Bay on Monday night, the Lions play only two teams — Minnesota on Thanksgiving and the Packers in the regular-season finale — that have winning records as of Monday. So the Lions have made it through the toughest part of their year, at least on paper, and are still hanging around.

Detroit is 16-8 in the second halves of seasons under Caldwell – and the second half of this year starts Tuesday. This shows Caldwell can hold a team together. Last year’s 5-3 regular-season closing mark might have been better too, had Matthew Stafford not injured the middle finger on his throwing hand. Every season under Caldwell, the Lions have had at least a three-game winning streak during the second half of the year — another reason why the Lions have optimism.

Caldwell said he’s “not certain” why his teams in Detroit have been better in the second halves of seasons — but he’d rather be better in the latter half because “those are the times you better be at your best and if you’re faltering at the end, then you’re going to have struggles.”

So is Detroit’s season slipping away? Not many players believe that yet.

“I don’t feel like that,” safety Glover Quin said. “I think every year I’ve been here for the most part, except maybe a couple years, we’ve always been, at some point in the season we’ve been in a two-game losing streak, three-game losing streak and all those questions start to come up. Is it this? Is it that?

“The message is always the same. We stick to what we’re doing. Start to play good football. String some wins together and see where we are at the end.”

The Lions hope this season ends in the playoffs for the third time in four years — the first time Detroit would do that since the 1994 to 1997 seasons. In the 1990s, the Lions made the playoffs six times in nine seasons with Barry Sanders. It is the only time Detroit made the playoffs with that sort of frequency in the Super Bowl era.

A playoff appearance this year would push toward that. And even though Detroit’s second half doesn’t technically start until next week, a win against Green Bay — at Green Bay — could be a catalyst for a back-half run.

So Monday might not be a must-win, but it’s a really-need-to.

“I doesn’t feel like it because we only played, what, one division game and then this is going to be our second one,” defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. “I feel like this is a game that we must win, that we have to win and just to get back in the swing of things, get our momentum going and, you know, just roll off a couple.

“We just got to get back on track, man. We just keep letting these games slip away and that’s something we can’t keep letting happen. Can’t do that. You got to win in November to get in so that’s something that everybody in here understands. We just got to clean up the little small things and get it done, man. Get it done.”

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If Lions want to be playoff team, win at Lambeau is close to a must
If Lions want to be playoff team, win at Lambeau is close to a must

Eagles push Pats for best odds to win title

Long shots to start the season, the Philadelphia Eagles have emerged as the clear-cut favorites in the NFC and are closing in on the New England Patriots at the top of the Las Vegas sportsbooks’ odds to win the Super Bowl.

The Eagles, who had odds as high as 65-1 in the offseason to win the Super Bowl, are now 4-1 at the Westgate SuperBook, behind only the Patriots at 7-2.

Philadelphia has won seven in a row and separated itself from other contenders in the NFC. The Eagles are 2-1 to win the conference and overwhelming -1,200 favorites in the NFC East.

“They’re legit, well-coached, well-quarterbacked,” said South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews, who last week moved the Eagles (7-2) ahead of the Patriots (4-1) in his Super Bowl odds.

Few bettors saw the Eagles’ rise coming in the preseason. At William Hill’s Nevada sportsbook, the San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were among 17 teams that attracted more bets to win the Super Bowl.

But the betting public is clearly on board now, and it’s starting to take a weekly toll on sportsbooks. Philadelphia is 8-1 straight-up and 7-2 against the spread.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll see strong play on the Eagles from here on out,” Jay Rood, vice president of MGM race and sports, told ESPN on Sunday afternoon.

The Denver-Philadelphia game was the most-heavily-bet game of Sunday at multiple sportsbooks, with the bulk of the money wagered on the Eagles.

Behind four touchdown passes from quarterback Carson Wentz, Philadelphia blew out the Broncos and easily covered as a 7-point favorite in a 51-23 rout. It was the most costly decision for several sportsbooks, which got off to a rocky start Sunday.

“The only game that saved our day from being a total disaster was the Panthers busting up the Falcons,” Rood said, as the afternoon games were coming to an end. “Otherwise, we’d be stuck probably double what we are now.”

“It could have been a lot worse,” Ed Salmons, assistant manager at the Westgate, said of the early slate. “The Atlanta game was the only one we really won on.”

The Panthers, who were 3-point underdogs, beat the Falcons 20-17.

The books recovered in the late kickoffs, primarily thanks to the underdog Washington Redskins‘ 17-14 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Bettors sided heavily with the Oakland Raiders in the Sunday night game with the Miami Dolphins, but the game was a push, with the Raiders, who were 3-point favorites, winning 27-24.

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Eagles push Pats for best odds to win title
Eagles push Pats for best odds to win title

Even Tom Izzo tried to get Miles Bridges to go to the NBA, he wouldn't

The Bridges home in Flint, Michigan, is humble and welcoming. When I arrive, Cynthia Bridges, tall, with a gentle voice and a deliberate way of speaking, chides me for not parking in the driveway. She invites me in and offers a water from the 3-foot-high stack of bottles common in kitchens in Flint. She and her daughter, Tara, nine years Miles’ senior, are happy to tell me stories about Miles’ childhood.

There was the way he used to wake up and play basketball in the driveway at 8 a.m., so early a neighbor had to ask Cynthia if she could do something about it. There was the way he used to rouse Tara out of bed to play one-on-one before breakfast. And when she would beat him, he would keep demanding more games. Eventually she had to physically pick him up and remove him from the court.

And, of course, there was the time he was one of the most talented players in the country, and instead of going pro and being able to help out the family that helped him all those years, he decided to spend another year playing basketball for free.

Cynthia comes across as bewildered as anyone when she tries to explain why her son made this decision. “He said God,” she tells me. “You know, he prayed, and God told him.” Even after he had broken the news to her, she found herself telling reporters he was undecided. She was hoping he would change his mind. “‘There’s things I want to accomplish at MSU,'” Cynthia remembers her son saying. “‘I want to win a championship.’ I said you can win a championship and get money. What does he tell me? He says, ‘Money is the root of all evil.'”

It is the permanent curse of parents that their adult children will make choices that vex them to no end. Some get unfortunate tattoos, some take questionable spouses, some forgo their education to live on organic communes outside of Portland. For Cynthia, the situation is similar. Only exactly the opposite.

“I worked hard to get his shoes. All those sacrifices and he’s like, ‘You’ll be all right.'” She shakes her head. “I’m happy the way he is. It was just a shock.”

When Cynthia leaves the room for a moment, I take the opportunity to ask Tara what she really thinks about her little brother’s decision. “I like it,” she confides. “I was excited because I’m not ready for that lifestyle, just as much as he’s not.”

Her son may at times vex her, but Cynthia Bridges is also quick to say, “I’m happy the way he is.” Al Goldis/AP Photo

I finally sit down with Bridges himself in the film room of the athletic complex on campus, and the truth is he doesn’t have much to say. He is clearly uncomfortable talking about himself. Nonetheless he is unfailingly polite and good-natured. He tells me what everyone else has told me. He has personal goals. He wants to win a championship. He wants to be really, really ready for the NBA. He has faith.

Since we are meeting directly after practice and workouts, a team assistant has procured him a chicken sandwich from his favorite place. He thanks the guy no fewer than three separate times.

I want to talk to Bridges about how great he is, what wonderful things are ahead for him, but it is not long before he’s telling me about last November’s game against Kentucky at Madison Square Garden, the second game of his college career.

“I wanted to prove to them that I was better than any player they had on their team,” he tells me, reliving it. “And that I made out-of-the-ordinary plays, shot out-of-the-ordinary shots.”

Carmelo Anthony was at that game. John Wall. It was the biggest stage he had played on. And his worst game: six points on 2-for-11 shooting, with nine turnovers. Bridges says he is not a crier. But that night he cried. He told the team the loss was his fault.

Afterward he talked late into the night with Josh and Tum. They told him he could not get the game back. They told him they loved him. He told himself to believe that even at his lowest point, God could bring him to his highest.

The next game he scored 21 points in the first half.

The other thing Bridges and I find ourselves talking about is purpose. It’s been on his mind since Bible study. “I feel like my purpose is to use basketball as a platform to help people get closer to God,” he says. “I feel like I could reach a lot of people once I get to the NBA.”

The cynic in me feels the need to protect him from disappointment. I gently point out that the NBA as I’ve seen it is not a place that is particularly religious.

“I’m not religious,” he points out quickly, and perhaps a little defensively. “I just have a great relationship. It’s not about religion; it’s about the relationship. The relationship that you have with God. Everybody in the NBA knows about God. They just feel like if they express it then they wouldn’t get cool points from that.”

After that we sit in silence for a long while. I want to see if he breaks it. He does not. So I ask him if he has any questions for me. He does.

“How are you able to speak so well?”

Bridges’ player efficiency rating is 23.1. Jayson Tatum had a 22.0 PER and De’Aaron Fox a 22.6
PER as freshmen. Dennis Smith was also at 23.1. All were top-10 draft picks. Mike Carter/USA TODAY Sports

If you really want to know why Miles Bridges declined the NBA, you have to sit in a room with Tum, Josh and Xavier and ask them to tell you stories.

They have just come from a long practice, but I ask each to share a story that to them is the quintessential Miles Bridges story. They light up. Tum starts: “Him and Josh, I feel like we came out of the same womb. That’s how close we are.” There is much laughter and head-shaking. “If I tell you the actual stuff that happened to us,” Josh tells me cryptically, “you’re not going to believe it.”

Tum offers a more believable story instead. One night they’re in the dorm room “talking about the things of God,” he explains. It is early in the season, and the three of them are just getting to know one another. Here is Tum Tum, the stalwart hustle point guard, sitting with two McDonald’s All American recruits. He’s feeling them out. Will they be filled to the brim on their own press clippings? Things get deep as the conversation continues into the night. Tum looks over at Miles.

“He was crying,” Tum recalls. “Like, he just couldn’t stop crying.”

A blue-chip recruit, a kid known for thunderous dunks, sitting in a dorm room feeling the spirit so deeply that it moved him to tears. Tum took notice: “I saw that and was like, ‘There’s something about him that makes him different.’ It’s that he understands that he is a spirit.”

Josh’s story is a little different.

“One day, me, Tum and Miles — nobody in the gym. Coaches were gone and we’re just going to play one-on-one. It was our first time ever playing against each other. Summer. Wasn’t nobody there. And I knew Miles was good, but he won like four games straight. I’m like, ‘I got to step it up.'”

It feels to Josh like they played all day. Miles would win a game. Tum would win one. Josh would win one. Afternoon turns to evening. But just like Miles used to do with his sister when he was a little kid, he keeps pushing them. He’d win one game, then say he needed to win two. He’d win two, say he needed to win four. Evening becomes night.

Miles is not a big trash-talker, they tell me, but that day he was on fire. “We were talking to each other like we just seen each other on the street,” Tum tells me, “and he started it!”

It’s the day they came to actually know one another, to bond. Three boys who made their way through the ceaseless churn of summer leagues and prep schools and big-time collegiate recruiting and were now in a place where they met equals. Where they had found not just teammates but family.

“The last thing I’ll say about Miles,” Tum adds: “Miles tells me he loves me every day. Every day. I’m not exaggerating. Every day.”

Imagine you are 19 years old. You grow up feeling like an outsider, only to discover you have size and power that sets you apart and makes people sniff around your family and call your house.

Imagine that you come to a school to play ball and you find three people who love and embrace you as you discover your deepest and truest meaning. People who share with you everything from the glories of God to the glories of running it back infinitely while trash-talking until you have nothing left, until you have burned through your second, third and even final winds and your body ceases to be a body, becoming instead a vessel, a spirit.

How much money would it take for you to give that up and join the world of adults?

I ask Xavier if he has anything to add.

“No,” he tells me quietly. “I don’t want to ruin it.”

MILES is still thinking about the question of what is your life’s purpose. And the farther away I get from East Lansing, the more I think about a moment during the Bible study. Xavier, the 6-8, 260-pound 19-year-old father, is holding his baby daughter in his arms. Throughout the evening, she had been falling in and out of sleep, but she has finally succumbed to rest with a delicate little tremor and a sigh. Tum is holding forth to rapt attention about the nature of God and how to steer clear of temptation. Suddenly he is interrupted by a startling laugh that escapes from Xavier’s body. Tum stops midsentence. We all wonder what he said that was so funny.

“Miles tells me he loves me every day. Every day. I’m not

– Lourawls Nairn Jr. on his brotherhood with Bridges

“Oh, my bad,” he says sheepishly. “She just, like, smiled at me in her sleep. It was so cute. She just was looking up at me in her sleep and she smiled.”

The room breaks out into hushed approving giggles and restrained awwws.

The baby is swaddled in pink. Xavier is dressed in dark Spartan green. Thinking back on this moment, I swear I remember another color: a very faint but unmistakable golden light shining up from the baby’s face and casting a honeyed glow onto Xavier.

I’m sure that didn’t happen. But you have to understand: To be in that room? At that moment? It feels like it did.

These boys are holding something special. Something fragile and beautiful. They are holding it in their arms the way Xavier holds his daughter and, OK, sure, the way Mary held the baby Jesus. And the one thing they seem to know better than almost anyone else, better than parents, coaches or even journalists, is how to stop and look at it. How to smile at it. How to let its beauty and innocence affect every cell in their bodies. One thing they know better than all of us is how to truly appreciate it.

Carvell WallaceWallace is a writer, editor and father in Oakland, Calif.

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Even Tom Izzo tried to get Miles Bridges to go to the NBA, he wouldn't
Even Tom Izzo tried to get Miles Bridges to go to the NBA, he wouldn't