Wizards

Timberwolves mourn passing of biggest fan

Timberwolves mourn passing of biggest fan

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Mike Stephenson couldn't talk and still managed to get himself suspended from Minnesota Timberwolves practice for saying too much.

He couldn't walk and still managed to crawl out of his wheelchair to wipe up a wet spot he noticed on the court before anyone else could get there.

He couldn't shoot and still managed to leave a lasting impact on the organization that took him in and treated him as one of the guys.

Stephenson was born with cerebral palsy and died earlier this week after the latest in a long line of bouts with pneumonia, leaving Timberwolves past and present to mourn one of the team's biggest fans, and biggest inspirations. He was 42.

``He was so good for the players and the rest of us,'' former coach and executive Flip Saunders said. ``They all make a lot of money and are kind of on a different level. But Mike helped them get a better understanding that there's other things, bigger things, that make the world go round.''

Stephenson was born in the small town of Spring Valley, about two hours south of the Minneapolis. Cerebral palsy rendered him unable to talk and sentenced him to life in a wheelchair.

``When he was born the doctors told us he was severely mentally retarded and we should just put him in a home and forget about him,'' his mother Barb Stephenson said.

Barb and Randy Stephenson didn't do that and their son grew up to earn a bachelor's degree in political science from Southwest State University before moving to the big city and latching on with the Timberwolves.

A passionate sports fan, Stephenson started showing up to Timberwolves games regularly near the turn of the century. He had an elaborate electronic board mounted on his wheelchair that would allow him to hit certain buttons, which would prompt a computerized voice to say sentences he constructed. Never bashful, he once chased down former Wolves executive Kevin McHale at a Twins game and asked for his email.

Saunders would see Stephenson scooting around Target Center and struck up a conversation. Stephenson asked to come to practice, using that gregariousness he got from his father.

``I'll talk to a wall if it will listen,'' Randy Stephenson said.

Saunders started allowing Stephenson to come and watch practice, a privilege granted to very few. It came back to bite him later when Stephenson called into local sports talk radio station KFAN to break the news that the injured Wally Szczerbiak was practicing and likely to play in an upcoming game. Saunders barred him from practice for a week.

``Loose lips sink ships,'' McHale playfully chided him once. But all was clearly forgiven because Stephenson even appeared in the team's official photo in 2002-03.

Sam Mitchell could always hear Mike coming before he saw him. The hum of Stephenson's motorized wheelchair or his howl of excitement always getting the forward's attention for some basketball talk.

``I looked at Mike as an able-bodied person,'' Mitchell said. ``He got around differently than me, communicated differently than me. But he didn't let his disability become a disability. Why should I treat him that way? People would always tell me how nice it was for us to spend time with him. I felt honored that Mike took time out to spend time with us. I felt like he was doing us a favor.''

He had a sports blog and a Twitter account and would pepper reporters with sharp, insightful questions about how players fit into the system, who was on the trade block and how much patience owner Glen Taylor would have with the coach on the job at the time.

``He studied up on things,'' Saunders said. ``He knew a lot about the game, about our players. He couldn't accept that he had a disability.''

That's how he was raised, to be as independent as possible. And his enthusiasm was infectious.

``He led a good life,'' Randy said. ``A lot of people felt sorry for them when they met him but he didn't want any sympathy. He just wanted to be friends.''

Stephenson overcame cerebral palsy, overcame almost any obstacle put in front of his wheelchair. But he couldn't overcome the pneumonia that returned regularly thanks to his insistence on eating by mouth rather than through a tube. His doctors warned him that eating that way could cause food to aspirate in his lungs and bring on pneumonia. But Mike just loved food too much, and eating was another activity that made him just like everyone else.

The bouts got more difficult as time went on, the latest coming on Dec. 14. It caused him to vomit, which is extremely dangerous for someone in his condition. By Monday doctors told them ``a decision had to be made,'' Randy said.

Rather than endure it any longer, Randy said Mike decided to enter hospice care and say goodbye.

``I hesitated,'' Randy said. ``But Mike just kept shaking his head yes. He knew what was going to happen.''

A funeral was scheduled for Saturday in Elkton and he will be laid to rest in Dexter, where his parents live. The Timberwolves planned to honor him during their game on Wednesday against McHale's Houston Rockets.

One thing is for sure, the kid his parents were told to leave behind won't be forgotten anytime soon.

``Mike was a true fan,'' Mitchell said. ``He loved the players and he loved the Timberwolves. Through the good times and bad times, he was always right there in the tunnel.''

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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Blazers' C.J. McCollum has a theory on DeMarcus Cousins signing with the Wizards to reunite with John Wall

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Blazers' C.J. McCollum has a theory on DeMarcus Cousins signing with the Wizards to reunite with John Wall

Blazers guard C.J. McCollum has a theory that may sound familiar to Wizards fans. The star shooting guard now hosts a podcast and said on his most recent episode that he could see DeMarcus Cousins teaming up with John Wall in Washington.

McCollum's Blazers happened to lose in the first round to Cousins' Pelicans, though Cousins did not play in the series due to injury. Now, McCollum has offered thoughts on his future.

Here is what McCollum said about Cousins potentially going to Washington on his Pull Up podcast, as transcribed by SLAM Magazine:

"No slight against the homie. I think he’s a very, very good player. But you just have to look at the team roster and try to figure out what’s best for that roster moving forward...

“I think team success, playoff success, factors in to decision-making with personnel moving forward. Obviously, Jrue Holiday, Rondo, AD will have input on what they decide to do going forward. So that’s something to keep an eye out on in the free agency.

“And if that is the case, Boogie would jump out in to the market as a free agent and be a very hot commodity, and could potentially team up with the Washington Wizards.

“You heard it here first. You heard that here first. You know that Kentucky connection, man. I could see that happening. That’s just something to think about going forward.”

The funny part of those quotes is that McCollum said "you heard it here first." Wizards fans, of course, have been banging that drum since, oh, 2010 when the two were drafted.

As it has often been throughout the last eight years, a reunion of Wall and Cousins is unlikely. Yes, Cousins is expected to hit free agency, but the Wizards currently do not have the money to sign him. They are in the luxury tax and would have to move some big contracts to make room.

Cousins is also coming off a torn Achilles injury. That creates major questions about his future and how much money teams will offer him. 

If healthy, Cousins would fit nicely with the Wizards who will need to get younger at the center position at some point. It just doesn't seem like a good bet given all the factors in play. 

You can listen to McCollum's full podcast here.

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NFL Draft 2018 Redskins live blog: First round draft updates, analysis

NFL Draft 2018 Redskins live blog: First round draft updates, analysis

The 2018 NFL Draft is finally here. It's time to file away the mock drafts and frame your big boards for memory.

Tonight, Thursday April 26, the best college football players in the country will learn which franchise they will begin their professional football careers with.

The NFL Draft is the biggest non-sporting event on the sporting calendar, and the 2018 edition is no different. Taking place at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas, the 2018 NFL Draft is sure to be bigger than ever, with four quarterbacks and a freakish running back all vying for the top pick.

The Cleveland Browns are on the clock, and will make the first overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft around 8:30 p.m. tonight.

The Washington Redskins have the No. 13 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and won't make their draft pick until around 9:45 p.m. ET.

But we are keeping you up to date on all things NFL Draft with our life blog and draft tracker.

NFL Draft 2018 Redskins First-Round Tracker and Live Updates:

PreDraft Coverage:

5:05 PM - We did a  bracket challenge for Redskins fans, giving you the chance to vote on who the Redskins should take at No. 13. If it were up to Redskins fans, Georgia LB Roquan Smith would be the choice.

4:45 PM - Since we are on the subject of the Edmunds brothers, let's ask and answer this question: When and where will both Tremaine and Terrell go?

4:30 PM - One option for the Redskins at No. 13 is Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds. He just so happens to be the focus of an exclusive NBC Sports Washington webseries. "E-Boyz" takes a look at draft prospects Tremaine and Terrell Edmunds, as well as their brother Trey, a running back for the Saints and their father, Ferrell, and former two-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Dolphins.

E-Boyz — Ep. 1: The Players
E-Boyz — Ep. 2: Ferrell
E-Boyz — Ep. 3: Danville
E-Boyz — Ep. 4: Celebration

4:10 PM - The first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft won't be announced for another four hours. But we have a lot to prep. Let's get started with draft music. Players in the green room get to select their walkup music. Josh Jackson deserves to be the No. 1 overall pick. 

4:00 PM - Welcome to our live update tracker of the 2018 NFL Draft. The draft doesn't get started until 8:00 p.m. But there is a lot to go over until then.

Here is a good place to start. 

- Draft Day Primer: JP Finlay goes over all the Redskins' options
- Top Prospects: RB options for the Redskins
- Top Prospects: WR options for the Redskins
- Need To Know: Rich Tandler's Seven-Round Redskins Mock Draft
- Mega-Mock Predictions: DC Media choose No. 13 pick