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Behind the scenes from Brooklyn Nets training camp in San Diego



SAN DIEGO — Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap and Joe Harris were all trying their best, but this was not their night.

On the plush, manicured lawn of Brooklyn Nets owners Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai’s picturesque La Jolla, California, home, the Nets’ four veterans were no match for the Tsais’ two sons at bocce ball.

“Didn’t go great for us,” Griffin said. “But they were pretty good.”

A little over a week ago, the Nets were the Tsais’ guests at their home while the team was holding training camp at the University of San Diego. The Tsais have never hosted this many people at their Southern California home, so they wanted to make sure the 60-plus members of the Nets’ traveling party would be entertained and well fed.

There was a golf simulator for those who didn’t get to nearby Torrey Pines to hit some golf balls, not to mention cornhole and Jenga.

And in case the Nets wanted more court time, there was a light blue basketball half court perched not far from an oceanside cliff where Griffin and a few players did get some shots up.

“Beautiful house,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “… And the view.”

Perhaps the only thing more spectacular than the sight of the sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the Tsais’ house was that of Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and the Nets’ collection of title-contending players spending time together, eating, laughing and playing games.

With Irving’s vaccination status and inability to play games in Brooklyn hanging over the Nets’ championship aspirations (Caesars Sportsbook has the Nets favored at +225 to win the 2022 NBA championship), this night of bonding at the Tsais’ home and week of training camp in San Diego could end up being more vital than the Nets ever anticipated.

In their lone season together so far, the Nets’ Big Three of Durant, Harden and Irving played a grand total of 14 games together in the regular season and playoffs combined. After logging a shade over two hours of court time together in the postseason because of injuries, the star trio needs more time and more reps. And the more games in Brooklyn that Irving spends away from his teammates, the more valuable the time spent in San Diego becomes.

Irving practiced the entire week with his teammates at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. When the team returned to practice in Brooklyn last week, it did so without its starting point guard for four practices and a preseason home game due to New York’s COVID-19 protocols that require local players to get at least one vaccination shot to enter an indoor gym, including Barclays Center. But on Friday, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps reported Irving will be allowed to practice at the team’s HSS Training Center after the city determined it is a “private office building” as opposed to an indoor gym.

Irving rejoined his teammates at an outdoor event at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Saturday before practicing with his team again on Sunday at HSS. But the Nets’ star point guard will not play in Monday’s preseason game in Philadelphia.

“We recognize he’s not playing in home games,” Nash told reporters after Irving practiced Sunday with the team in Brooklyn for the first time this preseason. “We are going to have to for sure play without him this year. So it just depends on when, where and how much.”

In San Diego, the Nets didn’t have to worry about any city ordinances disrupting their cohesiveness. The time spent together on the bus to and from practices, the cross-country flights, the golf outings at Torrey Pines and the dinner with the Tsais were all opportunities for the Nets to enhance their chemistry.

“It was great,” Harden said of dinner at the Tsais’ house, which included steak and fish on the menu. “Kind of team bonding, organization bonding, getting to know each other. It was just beautiful, man. I think the more we can be around each other, the more we get to learn each other off the court, that makes it easier on the court.”

“[The dinner] was our first kind of bonding experience,” Harden said the day after. “… So best believe that I’ll try to get guys together for dinners, hangouts and things like that more often. We’ve got a fairly quiet group. Most of the guys are to themselves, they stay in their own little shells. It’ll be nice to get them out, open up a little bit, even myself.”

THE DOORS TO the court at the Jenny Craig Pavilion were closed, and the windows on the doors were covered by paper. But the energy of the Nets’ practices could be heard and felt through the doors as players shouted, communicating and encouraging one another during practices.

With a star-studded collection of talent that includes 44 combined All-Star appearances among Durant, Irving, Harden, Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Millsap, the Nets spent their first week together getting in shape, getting accustomed to Nash’s concepts and getting used to one another.

“Intense,” Millsap, the 36-year-old veteran who joins Brooklyn after spending the past four seasons in Denver, described the team’s practices. “Intense.

“[But with] all the accolades in the locker room, nobody has an ego. Everybody is in there to win.”

Back in Brooklyn before the Nets left for San Diego for camp, Irving couldn’t participate in the team’s media day because of New York’s COVID-19 protocols.

Irving had to do his media session remotely via videoconference and asked for respect for his privacy while also saying he did not want to be a distraction to the team.

That, though, did nothing to quell the attention surrounding Irving. The Nets’ point guard became a hot topic not just nationally but around the globe. While Hall of Famers such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal were critical of players not getting vaccinated, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, discussed how some NBA players won’t get vaccinated during a recent parliament session.

In San Diego, however, Irving wasn’t a distraction to his team.

There were only a handful of reporters at practice daily at USD. Had the Nets held camp in Brooklyn, there would have been double the number of reporters and cameras on some days.

“I didn’t even know CNN [was] talking about us,” Harden said in San Diego. “I didn’t know Kareem and Shaq talked about us. I don’t even pay attention to stuff like that.

“Obviously, I know [the vaccination attention surrounding] Kyrie, but I don’t know who’s talking about him. … Kyrie gonna handle that stuff, and I just focus on training camp and preparing for a great season that we are about to have.”

Irving did not talk to reporters in California after practices or the Nets’ preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, in which Irving and several other key players sat out. Irving was allowed to keep his focus squarely on basketball.

“​​He had a great camp in San Diego,” Nash told reporters on Sunday. “He looked great.”

The Nets’ social media team posted practice videos that showed Irving converting a nifty reverse layup and the point guard and Durant doing their elaborate handshake. One of the videos also showed Harden setting up his teammates several times with his playmaking, which is perhaps a foretelling of the Nets’ future during home games in the absence of Irving in New York.

Durant liked the competitiveness, experience and veteran basketball brains he saw all around him in the camp practices. The Olympic gold medalist and two-time NBA champion has experience playing with a collection of All-Stars and understands he won’t truly know what this Nets squad can do until the regular season.

“We’re still building,” Durant said. “Obviously, practices, shootarounds and all that stuff are great. Until you get real game action, then we start to gauge to see where we are as a group. But we got high-IQ guys and we are looking forward to building — that’s something special as we step out on the floor.

“But we need them game reps under our belt in order for us to really, really feel comfortable with each other.”

ON THE LAST day of camp, Irving darted to and from five different spots behind the arc on a court at the far end of the Jenny Craig Pavilion. Building a good sweat well after practice ended, Irving focused on catching and shooting 3-pointers while working on his conditioning.

Until he was allowed to practice with the Nets again this past weekend in Brooklyn, the sight of Irving catching and shooting 3s was the last time the media got to watch the point guard work on the court. He and several veterans didn’t play against the Lakers in the preseason opener.

That did not dampen Tsai’s excitement. The Nets’ owner sat next to his wife — who was wearing a T-shirt with “Spread Love. It’s the Brooklyn Way” on it — and his family across from the Nets bench at Staples Center and enjoyed seeing some of the team’s younger players get playing time.

The Nets then got on their flight home to New York, where Irving could not practice for four straight days. Barring an unexpected change, it also appears the Nets will not have Irving on the floor for a single preseason minute.

But some 2,764 miles away from the Barclays Center, the Nets had one mostly sunny week together when they all practiced, bonded and even got in some bocce ball by the Pacific Ocean.

“I mean, it definitely helps,” Durant said when asked how the time spent together in San Diego helped the team’s chemistry. “When we all at home, we all have our own lives and families and we’re kind of separated when we’re not at the gym. But here, we’re all in the same bus, going back to the same hotel and we have conversations.

“Guys are starting to understand each other’s lives and what they’ve been through,” Durant continued. “We’re asking questions about where guys come from, so that stuff helps a lot. It’s good to be on the road with a new team, with new teammates. Hopefully that [leads to] a good start to the season.”

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Chinese Americans celebrate cultural heritage in New York, New Jersey



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“Hate has no place in New York City … We have to deal with the hate in this country, in the state. When we come together and march in a parade, we’re also displaying how we accept and respect each other,” says Eric Adams.</stro

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Gunshot alert leads to arrest of 3 Atlantic City men | Crime



ATLANTIC CITY — A gunshot alert led to the arrest of three city men and the recovery of handguns and drugs Saturday, police said.

At 6:31 p.m., officers responded to South Carolina and Adriatic avenues after reports of shots fired, police said Tuesday in a news release.

While investigating, Lt. Mark Benjamin Sr. saw a man who matched the description of a possible suspect. With assistance from Surveillance Center personnel, the man, Hamid Palmer, was observed conducting a drug transaction, police said. Benjamin and other officers converged on Palmer and two other men, Kareem Watson Jr. and Omar Law.

Palmer was found to be in possession of a loaded handgun, more than 100 bags of heroin and more than 6 grams of cocaine, police said.

Watson was found in possession of a loaded handgun and 40 bags of heroin, police said.

Law was found in possession of a single bag of heroin.

ATLANTIC CITY — A city man pulled over for driving while intoxicated Tuesday was found to ha…

Palmer, 22, was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, possession of a defaced firearm, possession of a weapon while committing a drug offense, two counts of possession of CDS, possession with intent to distribute, possession with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school zone and contempt of court.

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Watson Jr., 21, was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, certain person not to possess a weapon, possession of a weapon while committing a drug offense, possession of CDS, possession with intent to distribute and possession with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school zone.

Palmer and Watson were sent to the Atlantic County jail.

Law, 21, was charged with possession of CDS. He was released on a summons with a future court date.

Contact Nicholas Huba:


Twitter @acpresshuba

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New sex education standards become target in N.J.



Last year, Scott Shields hired a painter for his house who was a transgender man. When his two children unknowingly misgendered the painter, Shields pulled them aside to explain pronouns.

His children, who are in kindergarten and third grade, had already been introduced to different genders, so they grasped the concept easily, he said.

“Once I corrected them, they got it. Kids get these things, and it seems to me like the earlier kids understand these concepts, the easier they are to process later,” he said. “I don’t think they know about hormones or reassignment surgery because that’s not for their age.”

Shields is a parent who’s supportive of New Jersey’s updated sex education standards, set to be rolled out in schools in the fall and currently the target of conservative parents and Republican lawmakers. One called them “Trenton’s assault on parental rights.”

For second graders, the new standards mean teachers discussing gender role stereotypes and how people can express how they feel. By the end of fifth grade, students should be able to differentiate between sexual orientation and gender identity. 

And by eighth grade, teachers should be developing a plan to promote dignity and respect for all gender expressions, and students should know the difference between genders, gender identity, and sexual orientation. In 12th grade, students will learn about birth control options, STDs, and consent. 

“It just seems backwards to me that this is somehow seen as harmful or promoting anything. We’re going to look back on this in 20, 30 years and see how LGBT youth and trans youth are being scapegoated, and it’s awful,” Shields said.

‘Overwhelming for our kids’

Researchers and experts say there is overwhelming support among parents for expanded sex education, but some parents are taking issue with the new standards. They say they go too far, are graphic in nature, and are inappropriate for young children. 

“You want to teach acceptance, that’s one thing. Teach them that everyone matters and respect and that we should be accepting, 100%. But you’re not going to teach them different sexes and the names of their body parts, and what to do with these body parts,” said Nancy Weuste, who lives in Passaic. “It’s overwhelming for kids. They just want to be with their friends.”

Weuste became worried about what will be taught to young kids in schools after delving into model instructional materials state Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen) shared on Facebook last week. One of the lesson plans for second graders Schepisi shared, titled “Understanding Our Bodies,” details how to differentiate between male and female body parts.

“At what point do we draw the line?” asked Weuste, who has a daughter attending high school in the fall.

The new standards were approved by the state Board of Education in June 2020.

‘Stirring this up’

Montclair researchers Eva Goldfarb and Lisa Lieberman studied 30 years of sex education literature and its effects on children. They say the reaction to the new standards has been dominated by a loud minority who are seeking to take advantage of a national debate that has focused on classroom instruction about the LGBT community.

“The vast majority of parents support quality, inclusive sex education. I think some folks are stirring this up for political advantage and are not being truthful in what they’re saying,” said Lieberman.

After conservative media aired segments about New Jersey’s new standards — Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity discussed them on Fox News last week — lawmakers announced plans to introduce bills aiming to limit the level of sex education taught in schools, and likened the expanded guidelines to child abuse. 

Sen. Holly Schepisi, a Bergen County Republican, said she “respectfully disagrees” with researchers who tout teaching sex education to young students. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

Schepisi told the New Jersey Monitor this is not about politics, but about being a caring parent. 

“I’m a real moderate person who supports LGBTQ youth. This just seems so extreme and so far off the reservation of stuff we should be teaching children of these age groups,” she said. “I think that a lot of frustration and anger being expressed by parents is because how these standards they view as extreme were adopted.” 

Her main concern isn’t with the topics being taught, she said, but when they’re being introduced to students. She fears girls who are tomboys or boys who are effeminate will try to be “convinced they’re something they’re not,” she said.

GOP senators sent a letter to the governor demanding he pause implementation and said they want to hold public hearings on the matter. The state education board held public meetings when the standards were first adopted, but critics note they came just a few months after the pandemic had caused widespread business shutdowns and led many people to stay indoors to avoid infection.

Murphy said Wednesday he’d ask the Department of Education to clarify the standards, but defended them as age-appropriate, and accused some lawmakers of attacking the standards just to make political gains. 

Goldfarb and Lieberman called the new standards some of the best in the nation. In their studies, they found comprehensive sex education beginning in younger ages can help create a strong foundation for “lifelong sexual health.” 

They compared sex education to math: Teachers wouldn’t expect eighth graders to start learning algebra if they never completed lessons on long division, fractions, or basic addition and subtraction. Teaching kids about concepts like gender identity in their formative years will help them better apply and understand the topics in the future, they said.

And at the higher grade levels, their studies found sex education leads to decreased domestic violence between partners, among other things. Mental health also improves among LGBT students when sex education is inclusive to all genders and sexual orientation, they said.

“This sets the stage for anti-bullying, and anti-harassment that comes into play later in life. We’re building basic foundational blocks for what’s appropriate at each grade level,” said Goldfarb,

Opting out

Parents who don’t want their children to learn about certain topics or sex education can opt out, the Department of Education said in a statement. A spokesman said the department does not mandate curriculum, and local school districts create their own lesson plans.

Goldfarb said the concerted effort to fight comprehensive education hurts progress made in the LGBT community.

Schepisi has been accused by the statewide teachers union of spreading misinformation about the new standards. She noted the documents she shared last week were released by the Westfield school district as sample lesson plans. The Westfield superintendent has said they are not lesson plans and said they illustrate “the type of possible resources for school districts shared by the N.J. Department of Education.” 

There’s no evidence any New Jersey school district has adopted the materials Schepisi shared.  

Weuste, the Passaic mom, said even if the documents do not exactly reflect what schools are teaching, they show how far new curriculum might go in classrooms. She said parents should introduce subjects like gender identity and sexual orientation to their young kids.

She’s also concerned educators might try to impose their own opinions on young kids that might go against what their families believe. She said schools should bring back classes like home economics and cooking.  

“Kids don’t know how to sign a check. They shouldn’t be removing basic essential education for this sexual orientation and gender lessons in school. I think some things shouldn’t be taught in schools, or you teach them way down the line, but you don’t have to incorporate it with every aspect of your studies,” she said.

Researchers say the opposite. Teaching topics like inclusivity and consent leads to increased reporting of sexual violence, decreased use of drugs and alcohol before sex, and safer and more empathetic interpersonal relationships.  

Schepisi said she “respectfully disagrees” with the researchers.

Benjamin O, a Bergen County resident who asked not to be identified due to his job, has a son in first grade who will be learning some of these topics in the fall. He agrees with Shields on the impact these topics have on promoting inclusivity and support for at-risk youth.

“I feel like these are important things to be educating our kids on,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of information going around but it seems right for me and my kids.”

Benjamin has a son who was bullied because he likes to wear pink and likes unicorns. But his son also likes trucks and dinosaurs, things he wasn’t bullied for by the kids at school, Benjamin said.

“Kids already know and understand gender roles. He’s a boy and says he’s a boy and thinks he’s a boy, but he’s still getting bullied. It’s already a part of their lives, so having more education around it reduces harm,” he said. “I think it’s just really important.” 


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