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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Wednesday Briefing: Senate Votes on Ukraine Aid

U.S. moved toward approving Ukraine aid billThe Senate is...

Is Manchester United Unlucky? It’s Complicated.

You may have watched Manchester United reach their second...

The 6-Year, 204-Day Wait for a Pitcher’s Return to M.L.B.

Albert Suárez is not your typical Baltimore Orioles phenom....
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Wednesday Briefing: Senate Votes on Ukraine Aid

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The Senate is on track to pass the $95 billion package of foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. A final vote is expected in the next few hours, and President Biden plans to sign it.

The bill would be a major boost for Ukraine, where troops are fighting Russia with dwindling stores of munitions. It was stalled for months by Republican lawmakers, which had prompted a wave of concern in Kyiv and across Europe that the U.S. would turn its back on Ukraine.

“What this aid means, in the most simple terms, is guns and bullets,” my colleague Marc Santora, who has been reporting from Ukraine since the beginning of the war, told us.

He said it would also provide “a much-needed boost for the morale of both Ukrainian soldiers on the front and civilians living under the threat of near-nightly Russian drone and missile bombardments.”

The breakthrough in Congress is also a boost for Biden, who has spent months pledging support for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The bill gives him a push at a time when his credibility and U.S. leadership have been questioned on the world stage.

What’s next: The first significant U.S. military aid for Ukraine in 16 months could arrive quickly. “Most military analysts think that it will take a month or two before we see it really change the dynamic on the front,” Marc said.

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Is Manchester United Unlucky? It’s Complicated.

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You may have watched Manchester United reach their second FA Cup final in as many seasons by the leather of Haji Wright’s left boot and considered it a fortunate escape that their collapse from 3-0 up against Championship opposition did not deserve.

Erik ten Hag did not think United got lucky, though. If anything, he was at his most impassioned in his post-match press conference when discussing his side’s misfortune, specifically for Coventry City’s stoppage-time penalty, arguing it was an “absolutely crazy” decision to award a handball against Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Ten Hag took much the same line of argument before United’s last Premier League outing against Bournemouth. While accepting that “like a minister” he will bear ultimate responsibility for results, he could not help but bemoan his side’s bad luck over the past eight months.

“It’s huge. A lot went against us this season,” he said. And though United’s misfortune is not limited to refereeing calls in Ten Hag’s mind, that was where he trained his focus.

“You see all the penalties we conceded last week (against Chelsea and Liverpool) could also have been going in another way. You think over the course of a season sometimes you will get one, sometimes you will concede one. This season it feels like we only concede.”

United have been awarded five penalties this season and have conceded 11, with four given away in the opening four games of the Champions League group stage. While most of those in Europe were not especially contentious, many of the six conceded in the Premier League have sparked debate.

Some have been soft — Rasmus Hojlund and Casemiro’s concessions against Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers in particular — and others more debatable. None, it should be noted, have resulted in the officials responsible being stood down for the subsequent round of fixtures, as happened after Wolves were denied a penalty at Old Trafford on the opening weekend of the season.

All those decisions, however, are a matter of opinion. Outside of offside, most refereeing calls are subjective by nature and, as the era of VAR has taught us, there are different definitions of what constitutes a clear and obvious mistake.

Ten Hag has more substantive grounds for complaint on arguably the biggest single reason for United’s struggles: player injuries and enforced absences. The revolving door of United’s treatment room has seen all but four senior squad members — Bruno Fernandes, Andre Onana, Diogo Dalot and Alejandro Garnacho — pass through it at some point this year.

The 2-2 draw at Bournemouth was the first time United have named an unchanged line-up since the opening two games of a season ravaged by injury. According to data from transfermarkt, United’s squad have collectively spent 1,710 days sidelined since the start of the season.

Ten Hag said last week he has not been able to pick his “favourite” line-up since the 2-1 victory over Manchester City at Old Trafford in January of last year. Just as United’s injuries have appeared to abate, new concerns have cropped up.

Fresh problems for Willy Kambwala, Mason Mount and Sofyan Amrabat meant United’s absentee list swelled into double figures again ahead of the semi-final, while Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay both appeared to be carrying issues when substituted at Wembley.


Marcus Rashford walks off after being injured at Wembley (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

The absence of either of his first-choice left-backs for the majority of the season has, Ten Hag feels, had a material effect on United’s ability to play the way he wants. Lisandro Martinez’s unavailability has deprived him of a player who had a transformative effect during his first year in Manchester.

But is it all down to luck or could certain things be done differently? United have set to work restructuring the medical department since the appointment of head of sports medicine Gary O’Driscoll. Sources, who asked to remain anonymous to protect their relationships, believe there have been noticeable improvements since the former Arsenal club doctor’s arrival and that restructuring continues apace.

Ten Hag’s training methods have also come under scrutiny and can be intense, particularly for those not involved in matches, who are put through rigorous sessions the day after games to maintain a consistent level of physical load across the squad. The fast, direct and often chaotic style of play that has been adopted this season also has to be considered as part of that equation.

Everybody knows by now that United face a lot of shots on goal — 574 in total in the Premier League this season. No top-flight team has faced as many on a per-game basis, but in the context of recent history, that figure only becomes all the more remarkable.

Since 2016-17, eight of the 15 top-flight sides to have faced more shots than United have been relegated. None have finished higher than 15th. At the current rate, United will surpass all of those 15 sides and yet even in the absolute worst-case scenario, they cannot finish any lower than 14th.

Ten Hag has defended United’s apparent willingness to give up shots by arguing they are predominantly low-quality chances and he has a point. The average shot United have faced in the league this season has had a 10 per cent chance of resulting in a goal.


Andre Onana has been busy this season (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Brentford and Newcastle have the worst record in that regard, with the average shot having a 13 per cent chance of being scored. The difference between a 13 per cent and 10 per cent chance is small but significant. A marginal gain, if you like.

But if you concede at least 20 shots a game, as United have regularly been doing of late, and one in every 10 goes in, you’ll need to score three to win. The eighth-worst attack in the league, with only 47 goals in 32 league games, cannot count on that.

United’s 47 goals is level with Luton Town and in line with expected data, too. Defensively, Ten Hag’s side have conceded 48 goals — one of the Premier League’s better records — but from an expected total of 59.8.

Take one away from the other and United’s expected goal difference is -12.2, the fifth-worst in the league. Suddenly, that actual goal difference of -1 does not look so bad after all.

But nothing can change perceptions and narratives around a side like a favourable run of fixtures, in the short term at least, and United now face the Premier League’s bottom two at Old Trafford in the space of four days.

It should not need saying, but United are a better side than both Sheffield United and Burnley by any comprehensive measure. They should not need to get lucky to prove it.

(Top photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)


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The 6-Year, 204-Day Wait for a Pitcher’s Return to M.L.B.

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Albert Suárez is not your typical Baltimore Orioles phenom. His path was quite different than that of Jackson Holliday, the game’s No. 1 prospect; Colton Cowser and Jordan Westburg, the back-to-back American League Players of the Week; or Heston Kjerstad, the latest young hotshot to join the club after leading the Triple-A International League with 10 homers in 21 games.

Those players were high draft picks, top 100 prospects, the products not just of enviable draft positions stemming from years of tanking, but also of a front office hitting on one selection after another. Suárez, after only two starts, looks like another organizational triumph. But he’s 34. The Orioles are his fifth major-league organization. And he spent the past five seasons in Japan and Korea.

When Suárez made his Orioles debut on April 17, he had gone six years, 204 days between major-league appearances. He pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins that day, another 5 2/3 scoreless against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night. Not bad for a guy who joined the Orioles on a minor-league contract last September. Blake Snell, who signed a two-year, $62 million free-agent deal with the San Francisco Giants, has an 11.57 ERA after three starts.

The addition of Suárez, announced by the Orioles as one of seven minor league deals on Dec. 30, was the kind of offseason transaction that elicits little more than a yawn. But for Mike Snyder, the Orioles’ director of pro scouting, the move was years in the making. He first identified Suárez as a possible target in the fall of 2017, while preparing for the Rule 5 draft. Mike Elias was a year from becoming the Orioles’ general manager.

Suárez had been a swingman for the San Francisco Giants in 2016 and a reliever in ‘17. But the Giants, after re-signing him to a minor-league deal, declined to protect him on their 40-man roster. The Arizona Diamondbacks grabbed Suárez in the Rule 5 draft, then stashed him at Triple A. Suarez, who signed at 16 out of Venezuela with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2006, sought a fresh start. The following year, he began his journey to Asia.

He often was injured during his three seasons in Japan, but pitched well as a starter during his two seasons in Korea.

The Orioles continued to monitor him. Snyder wanted to sign him in the fall of 2022. But Suárez returned to the Samsung Lions with a seven-figure guarantee — a better opportunity than any major-league team was willing to give him.

What changed last year?

Suárez suffered a left calf injury in early August. The Lions, facing a Korea Baseball Organization cap on the number of foreign players they could carry, released him to replace him with another import, Taylor Widener. Snyder, seeing an opportunity that had not existed previously, contacted Suárez’s agent, Peter Greenberg.

“He’d been trying to get Albert for maybe the last three years. But the market in Asia moves very quickly,” Greenberg said. “He would always come to me early in the offseason here, but Albert would already have signed back in Japan or Korea. (Last year), though, he came to me and said, ‘I’m not going to be late this time. I want to try to sign Albert.’”

Snyder’s timing finally was right. The Lions wanted Suárez back, Greenberg said, but at a reduced salary in the $700,000-$800,000 range. Suárez was tired of being away. He is married with three children, ages 11, 8 and 4. The family lives in Katy, Texas. He had made decent money in Asia. He was ready to return full-time to the U.S.

The Orioles under Elias generally are selective in signing minor-league free agents. They don’t like releasing such players in spring training, and prefer their draftees to get the bulk of playing time in the minors. Elias, though, said he entrusts Snyder and his pro scouting group to handle minor-league deals for pitchers. Special assignment scout Will Robertson and pro scouting analyst Ben MacLean, in particular, vouched for Suárez, Snyder said.

“We are always conscious of the difficulty of finding starting pitching. And we saw flashes with him over the years,” Snyder said. “He had been working in a length (role), throwing strikes. He had gained some velocity, starting in 2018 in relief, and sustained that a little bit in Asia. He (also) improved his secondaries.

“We sold him on an opportunity in spring training, that we would give him some rope. We didn’t promise he was going to make the rotation. We didn’t make any promises. If anything, we undersell things. And I think in the long run, that really helps us. When we say we have an opportunity, it’s a legitimate opportunity.”

Signing Suárez in September enabled the Orioles to bring him to their fall pitching camp in Sarasota, Fla., where he met their high-performance, training and coaching staffs. Assistant pitching coordinator Adam Schuck and minor-league pitching coordinator Mitch Plassmeyer developed a plan for him. A number of other coaches also worked with Suárez, helping him tweak his delivery so that he wouldn’t need to make adjustments while trying to make the club in the spring (Plassmeyer is now the major-league team’s assistant pitching coach).

Suárez’s ERA in spring training was 5.17, but he nonetheless impressed manager Brandon Hyde and his staff, striking out 19 and walking only two in 15 2/3 innings. In one exhibition against the Philadelphia Phillies, he struck out seven in three scoreless innings against a lineup composed predominantly of regulars.

“He opened our eyes from the stuff that was coming out of his hand,” Hyde told reporters when the team summoned Suárez to replace the injured Tyler Wells. “You see 96 and you see him throw his fastball by guys with life, and then the secondary stuff he was throwing for strikes also. And he kept doing it every five days. We were excited about it.”

Suárez was excited, too, telling Greenberg even after he got sent down, “This was my favorite spring training in a long time.” In Snyder’s view, Suárez returned from Asia as many pitchers do, more refined in his approach, more advanced in his craft. He also learned to pitch in front of large crowds, making the majors less intimidating than perhaps they once were.

It’s only two starts. But the Orioles appear to have nailed it again.

“They saw something a lot of people didn’t,” Greenberg said.

(Top photo of Albert Suárez: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)


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20 Years Later, a Jury Weighs Claims of Abuse at Abu Ghraib

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The journalist said he was left naked overnight in a cold prison cell with a bag over his head, chained by his wrists to a pipe.

The fruit vendor said he was forced to take off his clothes and masturbate, while his captors watched and took photos.

The middle-school principal said he was told he would be raped, and that his family would be brought to the prison and raped as well.

At a federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., a jury listened last week to the accounts of three Iraqis who were arrested by U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion of Iraq and then held at Abu Ghraib prison.

Abuses like those the men say they endured have already been documented in reports from three Army generals, the C.I.A. inspector general, two Senate committees, and the Red Cross. But last week marked the first time a civilian jury heard allegations of America’s post-9/11 torture program directly from detainees.

The three men — Salah Hasan Al-Ejaili, Suhail Al Shimari, and Asa’ad Al-Zuba’e — are suing CACI Premier Technology, which is a subsidiary of the Virginia-based defense contractor CACI, and was hired to supply the Army with intelligence and interrogation services after the Iraq invasion. The plaintiffs say that CACI interrogators told military police officers to “soften up” the plaintiffs for questioning, and that those directives made the company responsible for “torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” carried out on the detainees.

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How Hockey Shaped One of the N.F.L. Draft’s Most Intriguing Prospects

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Dan Capuano’s funeral at St. Rita of Cascia High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side was standing-room only. Hundreds of firefighters from Chicago and around the country attended. Members of the St. Jude Knights youth hockey club were there, too, wearing their jerseys.

Capuano’s sons, Andrew and Nick, played for the Knights, a Northern Illinois Hockey League program that feeds many of Chicago’s powerhouse Catholic schools. Nick was on the 2012-13 team that won the Squirt A state championship.

Dan had devoted much of his time to the Knights before he died in the line of duty while fighting a warehouse fire on the South Side on Dec. 14, 2015.

That title-winning Knights team wanted to get back together to honor Capuano and his family, so in March 2016, a new team was formed. “Team Capuano” would play in the Shamrock Shuffle at the University of Notre Dame over a weekend. Their jerseys would be red and white and include Dan’s badge number: 1676.

There was an early hiccup. “The guy that was running the tournament, he didn’t want to let us in,” said Ralph Lawrence, a former St. Jude coach. “He said that the competition would be way too high.”

Team Capuano just wanted to play together again. It got in. Things got chippy. During one game, a hit from behind sent center Luke Lawrence, Ralph’s son, hard into the boards.

“Could have paralyzed him,” Ralph said. “It was a bad hit.”

That’s when 13-year-old wing J.J. McCarthy rushed in. The future five-star recruit, Michigan quarterback, national champion and soon-to-be NFL draft pick was livid. He didn’t drop his gloves, but a scrum ensued.

“It was a little cheap hit in the corner,” Luke said. “J.J. was the first one to me, come into the corner and exchange a few words with the kid.”

“J.J. went off on the kid and got kicked out of the game,” Ralph said.

The whole scene was unlike McCarthy. He was typically more collected on the ice — his father, Jim, one of the primary organizers of Team Capuano, didn’t like the outburst — but Luke was J.J.’s close friend, and the tournament was an emotional experience. And in hockey, leadership often involves going into the corners.

“Those kids played for something more than hockey that weekend,” Ralph said.

When it was over, Team Capuano — the team some thought didn’t belong in South Bend — won the tournament. A year later, they returned and repeated as champions.


Ice is in McCarthy’s blood. His mother, Megan, was a competitive figure skater. He started playing hockey in kindergarten. Organized football came later.

McCarthy is on record calling hockey his first love. What he experienced on the ice would ultimately help make him a better quarterback — one now on the verge of being drafted in the first round.

He was 10 when the Knights defeated Winnetka in the Tier II Squirt A state championship in March 2013. He and Luke Lawrence assisted on the only goal of the game. It was a special season for a special group, one that eventually split up as players changed teams and levels.


McCarthy (far right) got used to winning early as part of a championship squad with the St. Jude Knights. (Courtesy of Ralph Lawrence)

McCarthy and Lawrence were inseparable for years. Competitive in everything, they played so much and so well together on the same line that they earned a nickname referencing Henrik and Daniel Sedin, the twin stars from the Vancouver Canucks.

The Lawrences and McCarthys stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts before practices or games. The dads would get coffee. Luke would get a bagel or a banana. McCarthy always ordered a strawberry frosted donut. Ralph Lawerence advised against the pre-skate pastry, but it became McCarthy’s go-to. (After McCarthy signed an NIL deal at Michigan, a medium iced coffee and a strawberry frosted donut became his official Dunkin’ Donuts meal in the Detroit area.)

“We laugh till this day,” Ralph said. “And it didn’t hurt him. His speed was fine. His stomach didn’t get upset.”

As a coach, Lawrence emphasized playing positionally strong in the neutral zone and the importance of forechecking and backchecking. But McCarthy played the game with feel.

“He knew where the puck was going to be,” Ralph said. “He knew what the other team was going to do.”

As Lawrence watched McCarthy play football, he saw similar things happen on the field.

“He had an instinct,” Lawrence said. “It was the same way he had it on the ice.”

McCarthy and Lawrence moved on to the Northern Express, another Tier II team that played in the Central States Development Hockey League, which expanded outside of Illinois. It was time for a new challenge.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as a coach,” Northern Express coach Brent Dolan said.

Dolan’s team excelled defensively. The team’s forecheck was relentless, but it didn’t score a lot.

“When J.J. and Luke came, that instantly changed,” Dolan said. “I would say our goals per game went up by two — and that’s massive in hockey.”

Checking was now permitted, too. There would be contact and a lot of it, a new and different level of physicality. McCarthy could give hits, take hits — and avoid them. The extra contact also meant extracurriculars, and McCarthy had no problem mixing it up.

“If I needed anything or if I was getting banged up in the corner, J.J.’s always there for me, getting in there and making sure that nothing’s gonna escalate,” Luke said. “He would always stick up for me.”


By the time he hung up his skates, McCarthy had developed into a fast, physical forward. (Courtesy of Ted Eagle)

Hockey requires quick decision-making under duress and amid contact. For McCarthy, as a forward, that often meant receiving the puck while exiting his own zone and deciding what to do as an opposing defenseman barreled his way.

Pass the puck quickly to a teammate? Make a quick cut around the defenseman? Chip the puck past the opponent and go after it?

“People who don’t play hockey don’t really understand how fast of a sport it is and how many different components go into it,” Dolan said. “You have to make a decision with the puck, and you got to know where to go with it and execute that all in a split second. That’s not overexaggerating it. That probably helped J.J.’s vision in football.”

A shift on the ice can feel like standing in the pocket: chaos everywhere, violence nearby. You have to see it — or, more importantly, feel it — to overcome it. McCarthy, who was on Northern Express’ power play, had the poise and spatial awareness to operate in the maelstrom.

“Hockey definitely slowed down football,” Luke Lawrence said.

In particular, McCarthy developed a Patrick Kane-like knack for avoiding major hits. Dolan later saw him make hockey-like cuts playing for Michigan.

“He’s trying to avoid getting drilled,” Dolan said. “The quick, subtle movements that you make in hockey probably helped him in the pocket and then also while he’s out on the edge rushing or scrambling.”

In the summer between seventh and eighth grade, McCarthy started training with Greg Holcomb, a private QB coach from Next Level Athletix. Holcomb saw a lot of natural ability. He also saw hockey’s influence.

“One of the reasons why he was so good at throwing off platform and moving around and changing direction is probably because in hockey he would get absolutely killed if he wasn’t able to skate past guys or make them miss,” Holcomb said. “Hockey definitely helped him.”


The first game of McCarthy’s final hockey season came, fittingly enough, at Yost Ice Arena on the University of Michigan campus.

He was playing for the 14-and-under Chicago Young Americans, a Tier I team, during his freshman year at Nazareth Academy high school. McCarthy had always been talented enough to play at the highest level of youth hockey, but football overlapped with hockey too much, especially on the weekends.

CYA coach Ted Eagle didn’t mind the conflict because of who McCarthy was.

McCarthy had good hands and a quick release. He played hard, generated turnovers and scored. “He was a beast in hockey,” Eagle said. “He threw the body around and he wasn’t kind of this less skilled, bigger guy. He was just fast and physical.”

And he was a spark — a tone-setter. In hockey, you need that.

“I relied on him, too,” Eagle said. “It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the team when one or two guys are kind of pushing the pace.”

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GO DEEPER

J.J. McCarthy’s draft ceiling: What film shows about Michigan QB’s NFL potential

McCarthy missed the first game of the tournament at Michigan because of a Nazareth football game then showed up in the first period of their second game against the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite junior team. Eagle considers it one of his favorite hockey memories. “He raced up, and he showed up mid-game and scored a couple of goals against one of the top teams in the country,” Eagle said.

There were three hockey practices every week, mostly after football practice, which resulted in some very late nights for a high school freshman. And there were the out-of-town games missed because of football games on Friday nights or Saturday mornings. CYA would play nearly 70 games that season, many that required travel, and McCarthy made more than 40 of them, according to Eagle.

The back-and-forth between football and hockey required discipline, but McCarthy was different. Eagle described him as a “front-of-the-line guy” in practice. He paid attention to the smallest details, asked plenty of questions, talked through different scenarios. Eagle said McCarthy craved the information to get better. Teammates were drawn to him.

“I’m sure a lot of people are aware of this by now,” Eagle said, “but he was just like an ultimate leader.”


McCarthy hung up his skates after his freshman year of high school to focus on football. During his sophomore season the next year — and just days before Illinois’ Class 7A state championship game in 2018 — McCarthy’s throwing hand collided with a defensive lineman’s helmet as he released a pass.

“As a quarterback, it’s the kiss of death,” said Brody Budmayr, Nazareth’s former quarterbacks coach.

Everything stopped. McCarthy was in pain — serious, excruciating pain. After a few nervous moments, the sophomore starter with Division-I interest wanted to test his hand. He dropped back to pass, and then …

“It’s just the pain and anguish of you know it’s broke,” Budmayr said. “It’s him actually dropping to his knees and us thinking, ‘Wow, this is not good.’”

But there was no way he was missing Nazareth’s state championship game against St. Charles North. His parents found an orthopedic surgeon to work on Thanksgiving, and playing became a matter of pain tolerance.

That wasn’t a problem. McCarthy was a hockey player.

In the state championship game, McCarthy was 15-for-21 passing for 201 yards and a touchdown as Nazareth dominated 31-10. A legend was born.

“Ultimately, he was the one that had to go out there,” Budmayr said. “He taped it up and he led us to a state championship.”


McCarthy’s hockey coaches are convinced his experience on the ice informed his play on the gridiron. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

On May 11, 2019, McCarthy announced he was committing to Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh. During the recruiting process, Nazareth head coach Tim Racki told the story about McCarthy and his broken thumb.

“When I told him he was a hockey player, (Harbaugh’s) eyes lit up,” Racki said. “And then when I told him that story, that sealed the deal in terms of the kid’s toughness and the grit that he had.”

When McCarthy announced his college decision on social media, he thanked three hockey coaches — Lawrence, Dolan and Eagle — for allowing him to play both sports together.

“I would not be where I am without having had hockey in my life,” he wrote.

(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; photos: courtesy of Ted Eagle, Scott Taetsch / Getty Images


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Modi Calls Muslims ‘Infiltrators’ Who Would Take India’s Wealth

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday called Muslims “infiltrators” who would take India’s wealth if his opponents gained power — unusually direct and divisive language from a leader who normally lets others do the dirtiest work of polarizing Hindus against Muslims.

Mr. Modi, addressing voters in the state of Rajasthan, referred to a remark once made by Manmohan Singh, his predecessor from the opposition Indian National Congress Party. Mr. Singh, Mr. Modi claimed, had “said that Muslims have the first right to the wealth of the nation. This means they will distribute this wealth to those who have more children, to infiltrators.”

Mr. Modi aimed his emotional appeal at women, addressing “my mothers and sisters” to say that his Congress opponents would take their gold and give it to Muslims.

Implications like these — that Muslims have too many babies, that they are coming for Hindus’ wives and daughters, that their nationality as Indian is itself in doubt — are often made by representatives of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P.

Mr. Modi’s use of such language himself, as he campaigns for a third term in office, raised alarm that it could inflame right-wing vigilantes who target Muslims, and brought up questions about what had prompted his shift in communication style. Usually, Mr. Modi avoids even using the word “Muslims,” coyly finding ways to refer indirectly to India’s largest minority group, of 200 million people.

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A Former Yankees Star Prepares for an Epic Musical Debut

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For Bernie Williams, grabbing a bat was easy. He would pull out the same trusty 34 1/2-inch, 33-ounce Rawlings model for all occasions during his New York Yankees career, whether that was in spring training or the playoffs, whether he was facing a flamethrower or a knuckleballer.

Music, however, is different.

“Choosing a guitar is about the gig,’’ Williams said. “It’s about the sound that you want to create, and it’s about the music that you’re going to play. You need the right instrument with the right gig, and that varies with time.”

Such is what vexes the former outfielder as he prepares for a second big-league debut — this time in the arts. Williams for the first time will play guitar with the New York Philharmonic, at the Spring Gala on Wednesday, an epic milestone for a five-time All-Star and four-time World Series champion now deep into life’s second act.

So, which guitar? The acoustic steel string? The archtop? Williams said a few weeks ago that he might even choose to go electric “for that sort of Santana-like sound,” though he added it “might just be too over the top for that environment.”

Williams, who spent his entire career with the Yankees from 1991 to 2006, has rebranded himself as an accomplished musician, ordained with a Latin Grammy nomination and critical acclaim. Still, at age 55, the thought of stepping into the spotlight at another hallowed New York venue — think Yankee Stadium, but with better acoustics — gives Williams butterflies.

On Wednesday, he will play one selection, his 2009 piece “Moving Forward,” as newly arranged by jazz artist Jeff Tyzik. Famed conductor Gustavo Dudamel will be at the helm.

“I expect to be as nervous as I’ve ever been on any kind of stage,’’ Williams said “But I think it’s gonna be no different from playing a seventh game of the World Series, you know?”

To answer that last question: No, Mr. Williams, we don’t know. There is no one else in baseball history poised to compare the experience of baseball’s Fall Classic and the Philharmonic’s Spring Gala. No one else has played in “The House That Ruth Built” and in the concert hall Leonard Bernstein christened by conducting on opening night in 1962.

Williams’ distinction means much gnashing of teeth for the president and CEO of the New York Philharmonic. Gary Ginstling is an ardent Mets fan.

“This is a deeply difficult decision for me, I have to say,’’ Ginstling cracked during a phone interview. “I did scour the landscape for any retired Mets. But no one could hold a candle to Bernie Williams.”


Bernie Williams has performed the national anthem before baseball games since retiring. Here he is in 2021 at an Oakland Athletics-Minnesota Twins game. (Darren Yamashita / USA Today)

This experience is enough to give Williams flashbacks to his first big-league at-bat. The switch hitter was 22 years old when he stepped to the plate in the third inning at Yankee Stadium against left-handed junkballer Jeff Ballard on July 7, 1991. It was hardly a soaring opening note. The Baseball-Reference box score immortalized the moment this way: Groundout: 3B-1B (Weak 3B).

The outing got better. Williams drove in a run with the sacrifice fly in the fifth and brought home another run with an infield single in the ninth.

“I remember being really nervous,’’ Williams said of that debut. “I remember being in this place where there was a lot of uncertainty about my career and my own ability to stay in the big leagues. All I wanted to do was to get an opportunity to be able to show people what I can do.’’

A week later, Williams hit his first home run at Anaheim Stadium against the California Angels. He hit a fastball thrown by Chuck Finley over the left-center field wall. He kept rolling from there: a .297 batting average with 287 home runs and 147 stolen bases over 16 seasons.

Williams helped the Yankees win four World Series titles, including three in a row from 1998 to 2000. His 22 career postseason homers rank third all-time behind Manny Ramírez (29) and José Altuve (27).

That summation has applied, at times, to his musical career, partly because it would be easy to dismiss Williams as just another retired jock with an expensive new hobby. But his lifelong musical journey is part of what appeals to the New York Philharmonic. The Spring Gala, to be performed at the David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, is a fundraiser for musical education. Ginstling wants the younger crowd to be inspired by Williams’ scholarly dedication to his craft.

Williams’ first instructor was his father. Bernabé Williams, an able seaman with the Merchant Marine, returned from Spain with a gift for his 7-year-old son. It was a guitar that his son never put down. The family then found a guitar teacher in its neighborhood in Puerto Rico, and by the time Bernie was 9 years old, he had performed on a local radio station with other star pupils.

“The guitar teacher had all the little kids that were taking lessons with him, the ones that were kind of like standouts,’’ Williams recalled. “He would give them an opportunity to play a song or two on that radio show. … It was such a great experience and kind of set the stage for everything that came after.”

Williams kept playing throughout his baseball career, especially so while grieving the loss of his father, who died of lung disease in 2001. The former batting champion then studied guitar and composition for a year at the State University of New York at Purchase in preparation for his first album, “Moving Forward.” That release strengthened his bona fides thanks to 14 solid tracks including collaborations with Bruce Springsteen, Jon Secada and Dave Koz.


Bernie Williams and musician Jon Secada performing during the Grammy SoundCheck on April 17, 2009, in New York City. (Joe Kohen / WireImage)

But eventually, Williams formalized his expertise. He enrolled in the prestigious Manhattan School of Music en route to a bachelor’s degree.

“I tell you what, none of the home runs that I hit in the postseason helped me there,” Williams said. “I had to really reinvent myself. And in a very strange way, I had to earn the admiration of the kids that I was playing with, because they were all virtuosos in their own instruments by the time they got to the Manhattan School of Music.

“I was the old guy in the back of the room. I was asking all the questions and asking that no one erase the blackboard until I was finished writing all the notes.”

Williams wasn’t chasing a diploma for the sake of the paper. The experience signified his graduation from ballplayer to artist.

“I think the school gave me a great perspective on the reasons why I wanted to be a musician and the responsibility that we have as music makers to make sure that we make this world a better place,” he said. “The joy and the power of music is just incredible thing to use for the good of the world.”

Therein lies the message of the Spring Gala and underscores why even a Mets fan like Ginstling embraces a Yankee in the house. The eclectic bill on Wednesday is designed to introduce new audiences to the philharmonic. Selections range from a suite from Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” to two pieces from rapper Common to an aria called “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5,” sung by the South Korean soprano Hera Hyesang Park.

“I think that’s what I’m so excited about,” Ginstling said. “We’re gonna get a ton of Bernie Williams fans in the house that night who probably will be hearing the New York Philharmonic for the first time. It’ll be great for them to hear Bernie, but we want them to hear the orchestra play Strauss. And we want them to hear the orchestra play Nina Shekhar, this up-and-coming composer whose piece we’re playing.

“We’re hoping that they’ll get hooked not just by Bernie, but by all of this repertoire, and they’ll come back.”

Until then, Williams sometimes wakes up unexpectedly at 2:30 a.m. and reaches for his guitar. Still half-awake, he’ll strum until the notes sound just as they should before allowing himself to drift back to sleep.

“That’s the level of preparation you need for an event like this,” he said. “Because when the nerves come in, you want to still be in control and not freeze when the situation arises. The only antidote to that is being well-prepared.

“That’s true of doing anything that requires the spotlight and great expectations and great pressures.”

Williams hardly is the first ballplayer to make news with his music. As far back as 1964, a Yankees bus ride turned tense when Yogi Berra grew tired of hearing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” as played on the harmonica by a utility infielder named Phil Linz.

But that was the “New York Phil harmonica.” The New York Philharmonic is a whole different ballgame.

“If anything,” Williams said, “baseball taught me to be able to perform under pressure, and this is definitely going put that to the test.”

(Top photo: Mychal Watts / Getty Images)


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The Arizona Coyotes Are Gone. The Former Team Owner Is Still in Denial.

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True to form, Alex Meruelo was defiant.

Whether in a meeting with Arizona Coyotes employees last Thursday or during a local radio interview later that afternoon or as he was sitting next to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at a hotel in Phoenix the following day, Meruelo, the owner of the Coyotes since 2019, reacted to being forced to sell the franchise by the league by insisting he hadn’t lost it at all.

Sure, the Arizona Coyotes were moving to Salt Lake City. Sure, players and hockey operations employees were already meeting with a new owner and making plans to visit their facilities in Utah, and, sure, season ticket holders in Arizona were wondering when they would be refunded the deposits they’d put down for next season, but Meruelo’s relationship with that reality was, at best, casual.

On the “Burns and Gambo” radio show, he corrected one of the show’s hosts, insisting he was still the owner of the team, which was now simply “inactive.” He said he merely sent “players and hockey operations to Utah.” In the meeting with staff the next day, he told employees, who were worried about their jobs, that he refused to go down as the guy who lost the Coyotes. In a news conference with Bettman on Friday, the commissioner interjected on multiple occasions, jumping in to “translate” when Meruelo blurted out “I don’t like the media.” At one point, Bettman grabbed Meruelo’s arm to stop him from talking.

A thriving NHL franchise in Arizona has long been an oasis the league toiled toward. It is a vibrant market with a robust youth hockey scene, and it has long presented an opportunity to diversify hockey’s fanbase. But since the club’s inception in 1996 (the club moved from Winnipeg where it previously played as the Winnipeg Jets), the league and Coyotes fans have endured much in pursuit of that dream. There was a failed attempt to build in Scottsdale in 2001 and a move to Glendale in 2003. Six years later, in 2009, the NHL had to take control of the franchise after the team’s third owner put the team into bankruptcy. The past two seasons, the Coyotes played out of a 4,500-seat college facility after getting kicked out of their former arena following a battle over unpaid arena charges and more than $1.3 million in delinquent tax bills.

In forcing the sale of the Coyotes to Ryan Smith, owner of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, the league finally pulled the plug on its Arizona dream — at least for now. At the center of that failure is Meruelo. He was viewed as a potential savior of the franchise when he bought the team five years ago but became the final nail in its coffin, failing and defiant to the end.

Tact and grace were never Meruelo’s preferred approaches.

He made his wealth in real estate development and construction and also owns media companies and casinos. He was the first Hispanic owner to hold a majority stake in an NHL club — one located in a market that was, at the time he purchased the team, 42 percent Hispanic or Latino. Xavier Gutierrez, his top lieutenant and a longtime Meruelo confidant, became the league’s first Latino CEO and team president. Both were emphatic about their desire to connect with the fan base and rolled out a number of community-oriented initiatives to achieve the goal. Despite the fact Meruelo had a deal fall through for an NBA franchise years earlier (according to one report, the league felt the deal was too highly leveraged), the NHL hoped his deep pockets and reputation for revitalizing distressed assets would finally lift the franchise to stability.

It took just over a year for that optimism to crack. In August 2020, reports surfaced that he failed to pay players signing bonuses. Gutierrez blamed it on their lack of experience owning a sports franchise. As more vendors and employees began cropping up with complaints about unpaid invoices and strongarm tactics, it became clear that it was a feature of Meruelo’s business practices, not a bug.

Finding a long-term home for the Coyotes under Meruelo’s ownership quickly developed into his most vexing problem. In his first news conference, he addressed the need for a “financially sustainable” solution to the team’s arena woes. Given his real estate and construction background, there was optimism he’d be able to build a state-of-the-art arena as part of that plan. But as word of his business tactics made the rounds, distrust within the business and political communities grew. Instead of trying to forge inroads with power brokers and rebuild his reputation among local leaders, he was brash and arrogant. Former Tempe city councilmember Lauren Kuby recalled an interaction in which Meruelo remarked: “I bet you’ve never met a billionaire before.”

In February 2021, The Athletic published a report that Meruelo’s first 18 months of ownership was marred by a revolving door of executives, strained relationships with corporate partners, and a litany of financial issues, some made worse by the pandemic. The story, which drew from interviews with more than 50 people, detailed a pattern of unpaid bills and jilted vendors, a disastrous draft pick that earned them universal scorn and employees complaining about a toxic environment.

At a company draft party in the summer of 2021, he unexpectedly took the microphone, telling the crowd the team would leave Glendale and build a new facility in Tempe.

“That was one of the first signs I had that we were really in trouble,” said a former employee. “He had no self-awareness whatsoever.”

Later that summer, the Coyotes were told they were being kicked out of their Glendale arena after the 2021-22 season over unpaid bills, with the city manager describing the situation as the “point of no return.” Meruelo had played hardball in lease negotiations, certain the City of Glendale would never boot him from the building. For a man who owns casinos, he was an ineffectual bluffer.

It was a massive misstep. It meant the franchise had no suitable place to play while Meruelo attempted to get politicians, unions and voters behind a $2 billion development plan in Tempe that included a new arena. As he worked to secure that project, Meruelo’s years of hubris came back to bite him. Grassroots organizers pounded his track record and credit rating, citing a financial analysis commissioned by the Tempe City Council. Campaign materials characterized him as “corrupt,” “scandal-plagued” and a “deadbeat billionaire.” Local trade and worker unions lobbied against the plan. And Meruelo didn’t dive deep into his coffers to counteract that negative messaging. He said last week he poured $7 million into the referendum; campaign finance records show that he spent just over $1 million.

In May 2023, voters rejected the proposal, leaving the team again with no clear path to a suitable arena.

“I think the narrative in Tempe … is that they botched this campaign,” said Randy Keating, a Tempe City council member who supported the development proposal. “And they did.”

The clock on relocation began ticking once the proposal was voted down, yet Meruelo remained undeterred. In early March 2024, news broke that the team was eyeing state land in north Phoenix. The team was initially considering a 200-acre parcel in that area but that plan was “pared back” because of high infrastructure costs, Gutierrez later told The Arizona Republic. But bidding on the land required months of public notice; by the time the team secured a place on the agenda with the Arizona State Land Department in mid-March, the timeline became too “stretched,” according to Bettman.

In January, Ryan Smith publicly stated his intention to bring a team to Salt Lake City.  In February 2023, NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh blasted the Coyotes and made it clear that the situation was untenable. He stressed the urgency of addressing the matter and applied pressure on the league to take action.

On March 6, Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly met with Meruelo and asked whether he could look his players in the eyes and give them an honest answer of when they’d have an NHL-caliber home. He told them he could not. Over the next five weeks, a deal came together to send them to Utah for the 2024-25 season.

In a news conference on Friday, Bettman said the league decided it wasn’t fair for players to continue playing in a facility built to accommodate ASU’s hockey team and one-third the size of most of the league’s arenas. Meruelo called selling the franchise the most “painful decision in his life” — even though it was arguably not his decision.


NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (right) speaks alongside Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo during a news conference in Phoenix last week. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

As part of the sale, Meruelo will be given the exclusive right to bring a team back to the market, an effort that begins with the state land auction on June 27. Bettman said the league needs 18 months notice prior to reactivation and PHNX Sports reported that any arena must be 50 percent complete in order to trigger reactivation notice. According to Sportsnet, the “revival rights are non-transferable” and the $1 billion price tag to bring the Coyotes back is locked in. It is a path back into the NHL for Meruelo, but few people believe the league would allow that to happen.

“I have not witnessed a group more committed to doing things the wrong way and failing to develop any sort of meaningful support in the political community, business community and with the influential stakeholders they need to make this happen,” said David Leibowitz, a former communications consultant for the Coyotes who worked with three different owners, including Meruelo.

Said Keating: “I have zero faith they will be able to pull that off. The fact that he couldn’t build an arena when he had a team. Who’s going to build it now?” He added: “No one wants to do business with this guy. Why would you?”

Meruelo still exits with a golden parachute. Ryan and Ashley Smith of Smith Entertainment Group (SEG) purchased the team for $1.2 billion, $200 million of which will reportedly be divvied up among other NHL owners. Meruelo purchased the team for close to $450 million, according to two people familiar with the team’s finances. Even taking into consideration the franchise’s existing debts and yearly operating losses — which ranged from $50 to $70 million, those sources said — Meruelo is likely to net several hundred million dollars. One former employee, made aware of that fact, likened Meruelo’s tenure to that of a teenager who wrecks a car and then gets compensated with a Ferrari.

Employees within the franchise’s business side have been told their jobs are safe until the June 27 land auction. Meruelo said on Friday that those jobs will be evaluated over the next 60 days but that his intent “is to keep everything intact.” Those who remain behind have been told to focus efforts on the Tucson Roadrunners, the Coyote’s AHL affiliate that Meruelo still owns.

Last week, many of those employees and others from the past were at the anger stage of grieving. On social media, one former employee described a stint working for the organization as the worst four months of her life. A former in-game host revealed on X that the team tried to avoid paying the full amount of what she was contractually owed. Many employees attended the team’s final game in Arizona last Wednesday. Meruelo was conspicuously absent. He later claimed he didn’t attend because he was hammering out the final details of the sale of the team. In his absence, the mood was more Irish wake than funeral. Diehard fans stuck around for the final buzzer and long afterward. Players stayed on the ice in their gear and signed autographs. Employees congregated on the ice until their feet grew cold.

One young fan held up a sign that featured a border of Coyotes player photos. “THANK YOU FOR HELPING ME FALL IN LOVE WITH HOCKEY,” he wrote. In the center of the sign was a picture of Meruelo. Under that picture, in red, were the words:

“NOT YOU.”

The Athletic’s Chris Johnston contributed to this report.

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic. Photos: Norm Hall, Scott Taetsch / Getty)


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Could Salt Lake City Be the Unicorn the Winter Olympics Are Seeking?

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SALT LAKE CITY — Lindsey Vonn was 17, awestruck by her competition and feeling the weight of her first Olympic Winter Games experience. Before she went on to become one of the most decorated alpine skiers in the history of the sport, Vonn was just a kid hoping to stay on the course when she made her Olympic debut at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City 22 years ago. She finished sixth in the combined event and 32nd in slalom.

The impact of her experience in Utah all that time ago stuck with her throughout the ensuing years of gilded dominance. So much so that she kept coming back whenever she could. Before she retired in 2019, after a series of serious knee injuries, home was the suitcase she carried as she trotted the globe. Still, when asked where her home base was, she’d mention a series of places, and always made sure to include Utah.

Vonn, now 39, is part of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games. And with the International Olympic Committee seemingly on the doorstep of awarding the Beehive State the 2034 Winter Games, its second Olympics, Vonn believes the model for sustainability for the spectacle held every four years is to move toward a rotational approach. And she said Salt Lake City should be atop the list.

“I think in this day and age, it’s not a feasible blueprint anymore,” Vonn told The Athletic recently. “We need to have a more sustainable option, and I think Salt Lake is the best Olympic option that is available to the world right now.”

The future of the Winter Games is clouded by governing bodies balking at being asked to spend billions of dollars on venues that will not be utilized after the three-week event comes to a close. Climate change has eradicated potential hosts from the map as snow levels drop in many countries worldwide. The IOC can no longer act with the assumption that the Winter Games are going to be a tantalizing endeavor for potential host cities, or even feasible to stage in many parts of the world.

Gone are the days when the IOC wished for cities and countries to openly compete with one another in hopes of receiving the bid. Now, the IOC features a future host commission that tours potential hosts and forwards its data and reports to the IOC executive board, who then decide whether or not to bring their suggestion to a vote at an IOC session.

The IOC’s future host commission recently spent a week in Utah on an official visit to tour venues and hear the pitch that the SLC-Utah Committee had to bring the Games back.

“This is a hidden treasure, this city and this region,” said Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi. “The rest of the world have memories of 2002, but this place has profoundly changed. This story needs to be told.”


A quick Google search shows the condition of former state-of-the-art Olympic venues that are now dormant homes to rodents, weeds and pooled water.

In Rio de Janeiro, the aquatic center built for the 2016 Summer Games was left as a hollowed-out stadium. The 35,000-seat Olympic Stadium erected for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is now just a mound of grass in the shape of an amphitheater — an empty one. In total, South Korea spent an estimated $13 billion for the 2018 Winter Games.

In Tokyo, the gymnastics center constructed for the 2020 Summer Games is unused and surrounded by empty parking lots and gates with the same signs still hanging with directions to get in. It was paid for by the Tokyo taxpayers and cost an estimated $180 million.

A so-called “white elephant” property requires exorbitant expenses and plenty of upkeep, and it has little-to-zero value as soon as it’s finished. They are littered throughout cities around the globe. Hosting an Olympics was once perceived to be the utmost prestigious honor in sports,  but residents of prospective cities have gotten wise to the waste of taxpayer money.

But it hasn’t been a waste in Salt Lake City. The venues have been maintained and used again and again for the last 22 years.

The Olympic Oval west of downtown has hosted World Cup and World Championship speed skating events. The Utah Olympic Park in Park City has remained in the rotation for World Cup and World Championship bobsled, luge and skeleton events, too. The Soldier Hollow Nordic Center, which is 45 minutes away in the Heber Valley, has continued to host cross-country ski and biathlon events. And the various ski resorts within an hour of downtown have remained stops for world-class freestyle skiing and snowboard competitions. Over 90 World Cup and World Championship Winter Olympic events have been held in Utah since 2002.

“It is really great to see that we are not looking for white elephants in the countryside — we found just used, excellent venues for the next Winter Olympic Games,” said Karl Stoss, IOC’s future host commission chair.

Salt Lake City Olympics


Deemed “climate-reliable” and boasting ready-to-go venues, Salt Lake City is the leading candidate to host the 2034 Winter Olympics, just 32 years after hosting in 2002. (Tim De Waele / Getty Images)

After the 2002 Games, the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation assumed responsibility for maintaining and operating the venues. The foundation received a $76 million endowment after the Games. With options worldwide dwindling for the IOC, Utah’s Olympic legacy makes it not only a logical option to return in 2034, but beyond.

“We have all the infrastructure. We have all the venues. We have the right altitude. We can be economically smart with how we host a Games,” Vonn said. “It’s a much different endeavor when you have to build basically an entire Olympic Stadium for all your sports. It’s just not how it’s usually approached. With that, it’s clear why we are the best choice for 2034 and beyond.”

During the IOC delegation’s stop, Stoss said Salt Lake City and Utah are a model for other future hosts around the world.

“We have to think about how to bring winter sports to all the continents, not just here to the Americas,” Stoss said. “This will be a challenge for us to think about how we could motivate other nations and other national committees to participate in the Winter Games.”

While Salt Lake is all but confirmed to be the host in 2034, the IOC future host commission still hasn’t decided on the 2030 host. The French Alps are currently in pole position. The IOC delegation said during their visit that finding suitable hosts for the Winter Games is going to be more tenuous in the coming decades, and IOC president Thomas Bach said last year that by 2040 there will be as few as 10 countries with an appropriate climate. The IOC had to settle on Beijing for the last Winter Games, in 2022, with many of the venues anywhere from 45 to 75 miles away.

“There’s a possibility to think wider now,” said Jacqueline Barrett, future Olympic Games hosts director for the IOC, “to think how could the Olympic Winter Games here in 2034 be transformative.”


Utah’s Olympic organizers utilized the phrase “ready, willing and able” as far back as 2015. They were even standing at the ready in case a bid fell through in recent years. Everything is in place. And the reality is, from a Winter Games perspective, Utah may be 1-of-1.

Salt Lake City-Utah Committee CEO Fraser Bullock has estimated that the cost of the 2034 Games will be roughly $2.4 billion and will not be utilizing taxpayer dollars, but instead be privately funded.

The IOC likely won’t find that anywhere else in the world, and the governing body has acknowledged that it is considering the scenario of a rotational host system going forward.

“I think that’s definitely where things are going,” Vonn said.

While Utah does have a full head of steam and all the leverage with the IOC at the moment, there are issues facing the state’s residents.

Stoss said he’s read climate reports from the SLC-Utah Committee stating it could host Winter Games through 2050, but beyond that is a question, not only for Utah but the world. The Great Salt Lake is shrinking due to climate change, experts say. It’s a potential ecological disaster should the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere continue to dwindle. Despite back-to-back hefty winters to help raise water levels, the Utah legislature has spent roughly $1 billion on water conservation to help the lake.

Salt Lake City Olympics


“I think Salt Lake is the best Olympic option that is available to the world right now,” says Lindsey Vonn, the champion skier now part of the SLC-Utah Committee. (Tim De Waele / Getty Images)

On top of that, with winter storms becoming less frequent, the Wasatch Front — the towns, including Salt Lake City, that make up the growing sprawl at the foot of the white-capped Wasatch Mountains — is prone to winter inversions that trap pollutants in a thick dense smog that often hovers over the area. Part of the bid for the Games from organizers includes goals to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and reduce CO2 emissions by 50 percent.

While taxpayer dollars aren’t currently expected to go toward paying for the cost of the 2034 Games itself, the continual growth Salt Lake City is undergoing is expected to bring more changes on the sports front. Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith recently purchased the rights to relocate the Arizona Coyotes for an estimated $1.2 billion. The Utah legislature has passed a $1 billion taxpayer bill that will, according to Salt Lake Mayor Erin Mendenhall, transform the downtown community and help house the NBA’s Utah Jazz and the NHL team.

In a recent interview with The Athletic, Smith said his decision to bring the NHL to Utah was the same as his home state wanting to bring the Olympics back for a second go-round.

“If you think about the Olympics and the way Salt Lake bid on the Olympics, it’s very much the same way,” he said. “We’re interested. We’re ready. And we’re a partner.”

Stoss and the IOC delegation will spend the next two months working on their report on Salt Lake City and present their report to the IOC executive committee in mid-June. Stoss hopes then they’ll be greenlit to bring it to the IOC session in July in Paris to finalize the worst kept secret around: that the Winter Games are bound for Utah once more. Bullock had his best poker face on at the conclusion of the visit.

“We look forward to July 24,” Bullock said.

(Top photo of American skier Picabo Street starting a downhill run at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City: Olivier Morin / AFP via Getty Images)


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Michael Jordan or LeBron James? We Asked N.B.A. Players Who the GOAT Is.

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Some debates deserve a stage of their own.

So while our (anonymous) NBA player poll was released Monday, with a record 142 players weighing in on some of the most interesting questions surrounding their league, we decided to dive even deeper into the age-old GOAT discussion because there’s a fascinating voting trend that simply must be explored.

While Michael Jordan won the “Greatest of All Time” category for the third consecutive time, his once-massive lead over LeBron James has shrunk significantly with every passing poll. This time around, James almost took the mantle. The data speaks loud and clear…

  • 2019 (the first time The Athletic conducted the poll): Jordan earned 73 percent of the votes, with James second at 11.9 percent (a gap of 61.1 percentage points)
  • 2023: Jordan earned 58.3 percent of the votes, with James second at 33 percent (a gap of 25.3 percent)
  • 2024: Jordan earned 45.9 percent of the votes, with James second at 42.1 percent (a gap of just 3.8 percent)

But why has Jordan’s lead shrunk so much? We wanted to let the players themselves explain.

The consistent rationale among LeBron voters, both old and new, is that his longevity is the ultimate difference-maker between the two. He’ll be 40 years old on Dec. 30, yet is still great enough to be widely considered one of the best players in today’s game. While Jordan was epic in his 14-year career, from his 6-0 record in the NBA Finals to his five Most Valuable Player awards and his incredible two-way play, many players shared the view that James’ ability to remain elite for more than two decades puts him over the top.

Jordan, to review, retired twice (in 1993 and 1998) during his storied career and played 14 seasons in a 19-year span. When he was James’ age, in the last of his two forgettable seasons in Washington, he was putting up good numbers on a bad Wizards team that went 37-45 in both of his postseason-less campaigns. James, meanwhile, has saved some of his best work for last:

  • He broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record on Feb. 7, 2023
  • He led the Los Angeles Lakers to the Western Conference finals three months later
  • He led the Lakers to an (inaugural) In-Season Tournament title in December
  • He became the first player to be named to a 20th All-Star team in February
  • He was one of three players to average at least 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds this season (the others were Nikola Jokić and Luka Dončić)

Out of respect for the GOAT incumbent, we’ll begin by highlighting this nuanced opinion from a Jordan voter who believes MJ’s influence on the entire sports world — not just basketball — is a deciding X-factor.

“The greatest ever is LeBron James, (but) the greatest of all time is Michael Jordan,” the player said. “The difference is stats. When you talk about impact, Michael Jordan. When you talk about stats and numbers, LeBron. Mike has the most impact, so that makes him the greatest ever in all aspects because he doesn’t just impact basketball. He impacts people who look up to him in tennis and football. But you won’t hear that about LeBron. … LeBron changed the game, but more so how it’s played. Jordan changed how it’s viewed. And that’s a big difference.”

Yet as the many LeBron voters detailed below, it goes much deeper than that for them. The microphone is theirs:


“I think what Jordan did in (14) years is crazy, but you’d have to add a whole lot of other things (for him to catch up with James). I think we got MVP fatigue with ‘Bron. I think he should have like seven (MVPs, rather than four). I think ‘Bron should have D-Rose’s (Derrick Rose) MVP (in 2010-11). I think he should have KD’s (Kevin Durant) MVP (in 2013-14). I think he should have James Harden’s MVP (in 2017-18). There’s a lot of MVPs he should have had.”


“Who would I draft in an all-time draft? That’s the way I look at it, you know what I’m saying? Some people look at it like, ‘Who do I want taking the last shot?’ Blah, blah, blah, all this other sh–. But in an all-time draft, I’m choosing LeBron. Why? I get 20 years of greatness, and I get somebody who plays one through five (point guard through center). And let me just say, the person I choose No. 2 would be Shaq (O’Neal), the most dominant player of all time. So in my GOAT debate, I would go 1-2 like that. And this is coming from a Kobe (Bryant) fan.

“Winning, era-wise, is tough. And obviously, you’ve got Mike as the killer. But then, how does he (adjust to the rise of) the 3-point shot? There are questions if we take off the Teflon MJ cloak. If you took players from right now and put them back then, we’re faster, stronger, more skilled. We’d kill them. It is what it is. Part of the reason Michael was Michael was he was the first of this generation’s athletes: 6-foot-6, 40-inch vertical, which back in the ’80s was insane. But we’ve got rookies and role players doing that nowadays. ‘Bron is 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, with a 50-inch vertical. That’s probably what it’s gonna look like in 2045. And then we’re gonna be looking at it like, ‘I don’t know if I could play with those little kids.’ (Nowadays) in high school, people are taking off from the free-throw line and windmill dunking on people. When I was in school, barely finishing a windmill was a thing. … Now, it’s like these kids are windmilling on kids, doing it in eighth grade. It’s part of evolution. And even with basketball, once people see sh– is possible, they try to do it. When I was a kid, Kobe barely did the through-the-legs dunk. That’s what we aspired to do. Now people are looking at Zach LaVine and the free-throw line 360 and other wild sh–. … It’s part of how this sh– grows.”


“(LeBron) for sure. I think him being able to literally do everything and win (titles) with so many different organizations (the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Lakers) and also having the most points in his career, along with figuring out how to have longevity in his career. Everybody’s looking to have longevity, and he figured it out. He figured it out at the highest level. It doesn’t make any sense.”


“LeBron James is without a doubt the greatest player to ever touch a basketball. What he brings to the court, and for long he has, that’s my thing.”


“I’d say LeBron. Just to be able to do it for 20 years, it’s insane. I think it’s more of a longevity thing that you have to look at there, and (how) still every year he’s playing at the highest level. With the highest expectations (placed on him), he had everything to lose in terms of coming into the league. It would’ve been very easy for him to underachieve and not meet those expectations, I think he’s far surpassed them, all of them, somehow. … Being on the floor, the closer you are to the game, the more of a sense (you get) for how great LeBron is, how he sees things, how he talks. His impact on the game, his gravity on the game is felt.”


“(LeBron), easily. He’s the best at everything, His longevity, his consistency, his availability. And he’s won.”


“For me, personally, growing up, (James) has just been the pinnacle. Being a Midwest kid, I remember him being in Ohio at (St. Vincent-St. Mary High School), and I’m hearing about him as a young kid. And just seeing him come up and seeing him do everything that he’s done since he’s been in the league has just been amazing. It’s a testament to him and all the hard work. It’s not normal what he’s doing. At all.”


“Longevity, consistency for 20 years-plus.”


Required reading

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; top photos of LeBron James and Michael Jordan: Justin Tafoya, Nathaniel S. Butler / Getty Images)


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