Trump Pressures Georgia Secy. of State to Help Him Cheat

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

By Terrance Turner

The President of the United States is still trying to overturn the election.

The Washington Post has released audio of a phone call yesterday between President Donald Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). In the call, Trump repeatedly pressures Raffensperger to recalculate the vote totals in Georgia so that Trump can win the state’s 16 electoral votes. “Trump alternately berated Raffensperger, tried to flatter him, begged him to act and threatened him with vague criminal consequences if the secretary of state refused to pursue his false claims,” the Post reports.

“During their conversation, Trump issued a vague threat to both Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, the secretary of state’s general counsel, suggesting that if they don’t find that thousands of ballots in Fulton County have been illegally destroyed to block investigators — an allegation for which there is no evidence — they would be subject to criminal liability.”

On the call, Trump says: “You know what you did, and you’re not reporting it. You know, that’s a criminal — that’s a criminal offense. And you know, you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. But they are shredding ballots, in my opinion — based on what I’ve heard — and they are removing machinery, and they’re moving it as fast as they can. Both of which are criminal finds. And you can’t let it happen, and you are letting it happen.”

Trump also implies that if Raffensperger doesn’t help him invalidate the election results (which have been audited three times), it could affect the crucial Senate runoff elections on Tuesday. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Georgia’s two Republican senators, are up for re-election in those runoffs — which will determine control of the U.S. Senate. Trump suggested that failure to help him “find” votes would affect turnout.

“You have a big election coming up and because of what you’ve done to the president — you know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam,” Trump said. “Because of what you’ve done to the president, a lot of people aren’t going out to vote, and a lot of Republicans are going to vote negative, because they hate what you did to the president. Okay? They hate it. And they’re going to vote. And you would be respected, really respected, if this can be straightened out before the election.”

The president refuses to accept that he lost the state — and the 2020 election. “There’s no way I lost Georgia,” Trump said, a phrase he repeated again and again on the call. “There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.” In fact, President-Elect Joe Biden won the state of Georgia by 11,779 votes. Trump needs one vote more than that to win. “So look,” Trump says on the recording. “All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”

Trump repeatedly made baseless allegations of voter fraud on the call –which have been debunked by several news outlets. Associated Press reporters Hope Yen, Jeff Amy, and Michael Balsamo fact-checked several of Trump’s claims. “We have a number of things. We have at least 2 or 3 — anywhere from 250-300,000 ballots — were dropped mysteriously into the rolls,” Trump said on the call. “Much of that had to do with Fulton County, which hasn’t been checked.”

“There’s nothing mysterious or suspect about it,” write Yen, Amy, and Balsamo. “He is describing a legitimate vote-counting process, not a suden surge of malfeasance […] Trump appears to be referring to large numbers of voters that were tabulated in the early hours of Wednesday morning after Election Day and later.” Georgia had large stacks of mail-in ballots that had to be counted after polls closed and after in-person votes were counted.

“We think that if you check the signatures — a real check of the signatures going back in Fulton County — you’ll find at least a couple of hundred thousand of forged signatures,” Trump says on the call. The AP writers push back: “That has no basis in reality. It would be impossible for anyone to have forged hundreds of thousands of signatures on mail-in ballots in Fulton County because there were only about 147,000 mail-ballots,” they state.

But it wasn’t just his doing: the Post adds that advisers were supporting Trump in this fact-free charge of fraud. “It was clear from the call that Trump has surrounded himself with aides who have fed his false perceptions that the election was stolen,” writes Washington Post reporter Amy Gardner. “When he claimed that more than 5,000 ballots were cast in Georgia in the name of dead people, Raffensperger responded forcefully: ‘The actual number was two. Two. Two people that were dead that voted.’ But White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows replied, “I can promise you there are more than that.”

Another Trump lawyer on the call, Kurt Hilbert, accused Raffensperger’s office of refusing to turn over data to assess evidence of fraud. He also claimed to know of at least 24,000 illegally cast ballots that would flip the result to Trump. There is no proof of that.

In fact, an audit in Georgia’s Cobb County was conducted just four days ago. The audit found no evidence of fraud: The Hill quoted Raffensperger as saying that there was “a 99.99% accuracy rate in performing correct signature verification procedures.” That audit is the THIRD review of the vote total in Georgia. Previously, statewide votes were recounted by hand and then by a machine. Both tallies reaffirmed the original vote count, according to Raffensperger. On the call, he repeatedly rebuffed Trump’s calls for further action and reaffirmed that the election results were legitimate.

Unfortunately, some Republican senators have chosen to disagree. A group of at least 12 GOP Senate members, led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have pledged to challenge the presidential election results when Joe Biden is certified on Tuesday, January 6. Cruz and 11 others — Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Senators-Elect Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) — will object. Cruz told Fox News this morning that he and his colleagues “will, together, object to certification in order to force the appointment of an emergency electoral commission to perform an emergency audit of the election results to assess these claims of fraud.” Yesterday, the 12 issued a statement that reads, in part:

Congress should immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the Commission’s findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.

“Accordingly, we intend to vote on January 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given’ and ‘lawfully certified’ (the statutory requisite), unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed.

“We are not naïve. We fully expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise. But support of election integrity should not be a partisan issue. A fair and credible audit-conducted expeditiously and completed well before January 20-would dramatically improve Americans’ faith in our electoral process and would significantly enhance the legitimacy of whoever becomes our next President. We owe that to the People.

WE HAVE A DEAL!

By Terrance Turner

As a government shutdown looms, President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill. Axios reports (and CNN confirms) that the president will sign the current bill, which provides $600 checks for most Americans. The bill also includes $300 per week in enhanced unemployment insurance for 11 weeks. Further additions include $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium.

Also included are $319 billion for small businesses, including $284 billion for loans given through the Paycheck Protection Program and $15 billion for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions. Other features are $13 billion in increased SNAP and child nutrition benefits, $82 billion in education, and billions for vaccine distribution and COVID-19 testing.

The bill is attached to a $1.4 trillion omnibus bill, which provides funding to keep the government open. That makes it a legislative behemoth: a $2.3 trillion, 5,593-page bill with a host of objectives and goals. After eight months of deadlock and negotiation, the bill was finally agreed upon last week. It passed with overwhelming (and rare) bipartisan support.

But on Tuesday, the president blindsided lawmakers by attacking the bill, calling it “a disgrace”. In a video posted online, Trump complained that the bill had alnost nothig to do with COVID-19. “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people,” he said.

“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000,” he added. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi agreed. “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week,” she wrote on Twitter. “Let’s do it!”

The Democrats did indeed bring a bill with $2000 payments to the congressional floor, but House Republicans rejected it. Instead of working with Congress on a new bill, the president departed the White House with First lady Melania Trump to begin his end-of-year vacation at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. He has spent much of the weekend golfing in West Palm Beach. Lawmakers delivered the legislation to him in Florida, per the Times.

Meanwhile, unemployment benefits expired at midnight, leaving millions in jeopardy of losing benefits. As the New York Times explained: “States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, meaning that if the president does not sign the bill by Saturday [Dec. 26], benefits will not restart until the first week of January. But they will still end in mid-March, effectively trimming the extension to 10 weeks from 11.”

As of Nov. 28, there were 14 million people receiving unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs, an increase of 958,000 from the previous week, Axios’ Dion Rabouin reports. The Associated Press says that about 9.5 million people rely on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program alone (including the author). That program made unemployment insurance available to freelancers, gig workers and others who are normally not eligible. After receiving their last checks, those recipients will not be able to file for more aid after Saturday.

  • 1.4 million Americans filed unemployment claims for the first time earlier this month, with 935,000 filing for traditional unemployment benefits and 455,000 filing claims for the PUA program.
  • The current bill would extend the period that unemployment can be collected until March, per the New York Times.

This sudden decision came as a shutdown loomed. Per the AP, the government was scheduled to shut down at 12:01 am Tuesday when funding ran out. That placed pressure on everyone, Trump included. As the weekend progressed, lawmakers — both Democratic and Republican — urged the president to sign the current bill now and push for the $2,000 payments later. “I think the best thing to do is sign this and then make the case for subsequent legislation,” said Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. He warned that the president’s legacy would be adversely affected.

“I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks,” Toomey said on Fox News Sunday. “But the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior, if he allows this to expire.” (If Trump had merely sat on the bill, it would expire after 10 days, forcing lawmakers on Capitol Hill to start all over with new legislation.)

On ABC’s “This Week” this morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized the president’s obstruction: “What the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel,” said Sanders. “Many millions of people are losing their extended unemployment benefits. They’re going to be evicted from their apartments because the eviction moratorium is ending. We are looking at a way to get the vaccine distributed to tens of millions of people. There’s money in that bill.”

Sen. Sanders is correct in asserting that renters will face eviction if the bill is not signed. But there are other pressing problems affecting many out-of-work Americans — problems that will be exacerbated if no deal is reached:

  • Nearly 12 million renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities by January, per WaPo — showing that people are running out of money for basic needs.
  • The U.S. poverty rate jumped to 11.7% in November, up 2.4 percentage points since June — making this the biggest jump in a single year since the government began tracking poverty 60 years ago, the Washington Post reports.

J.J. Watt Delivers Epic Rant After Latest Loss for Texans; Watson May Seek Trade

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 27, 2020 (Updated Dec. 30, Jan. 7)

Photo from Getty Images.

The Texans lost. Again.

It’s not the first time that’s happened this season. Two weeks ago, the Texans lost in a blowout: 36-7, to the Chicago Bears. That loss officially eliminated them from playoff contention.

Last week, the Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts. With less than 30 seconds left, Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee fumbled at the two-yard line. It was the second time this season the team has lost to Indianapolis after a goal-line fumble. The Texans lost to the Colts, 27-20.

Today, they lost again, to the Cincinnati Bengals. Quarterback Deshaun Watson had his shoulder grabbed by Bengal Sam Hubbard, causing a strip-sack with 1:28 left. Cincinnati sealed their historic road win with a field goal. Despite Watson’s three touchdowns, the Texans lost, 37-31.

It’s their fourth straight loss. After a season in which their coach was fired, their best receiver was traded, and their offense stifled, the Texans have lost 73% of their games. They are now 4-11.

Defensive end J.J. Watt was visibly frustrated after the loss. In a postgame press conference, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year delivered an angry, emotional rant peppered with curses. He expressed recognition of his privileged position and sympathy for Texans fans. But Watt also called out his teammates for a lack of professionalism.

“We’re professional athletes getting paid a whole lot of money,” Watt said. “If you can’t come in, put in work in the building, go out to the practice field, work hard, do your lifts and do what you’re supposed to do, you should not  be here. This is a job. We’re getting paid a whole lot of money. There are a whole lot of people that watch us and invest their time and money into buying our jerseys and buying a whole bunch of s–t. And they care about it; they care every single week. We’re in Week 16, and we’re 4-11, and there’s fans that watch this game, that show up to the stadium, that put in time and energy and effort and care about this. So if you can’t go out there and you can’t work out, you can’t show up on time, you can’t practice, you can’t want to go out there to win, you shouldn’t be here.

Because this is a privilege. It’s the greatest job in the world. You get to go out and play a game. If you can’t care enough, even when you’re in week 17 — even when you’re trash, when you’re 4-11 — if you can’t go out there and give it everything you have and try your hardest, that’s bulls–t,” he said. “There are people every week that still Tweet you, that still come up to you and say, ‘Hey, we’re still rooting for you, we’re still behind you.’ They have no reason whatsoever to. We stink. But they care, and they still want to win and they still want you to be great. That’s why. Those people aren’t getting paid. We’re being paid handsomely. That’s why. That’s who I feel the most bad for, are our fans, the people who care so deeply in this city, and love it and who truly want it to be great. And it’s not. And that sucks as a player, to know we’re not giving them what they deserve.”

Watch the now-viral moment below.

UPDATE (Dec. 30): The Texans have closed their facility today after two players (safety Eric Murray and linebacker Whitney Mercilus) tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. According to the Houston Chronicle, players were not allowed to enter the team facility. Instead, they did a walk-through on the practice field and then met virtually.

“Because we have had some positives, we are basically not letting the players into the facility,” Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel said on Zoom from NRG Stadium. “But we are having a walkthrough where we’ll work for about an hour and then they’ll leave. They are not using the facility. They come in. We walk through and they leave. We are hoping to cut down on the interaction with players when you’re not on the football field. Everybody is wearing masks and we’ll get some fundamental work done we need to get done.”

UPDATE: The Texans lost their final game of the season to the Tennessee Titans (who win the AFC South). After the Texans’ 41-38 loss on Sunday, Watt and quarterback Deshaun Watson shared a poignant moment. A video has surfaced of the two walking back to the locker room after the loss. “I’m sorry,” Watt tells Watson. “We wasted one of your years.”

UPDATE (Jan. 7, 2021): Rumors are swirling that Watson may be seeking a trade. NBC Sports’ ProFootballTalk intimates that “Watson has quietly broached with teammates the possibility of requesting a trade.” Trading him would result in a cap charge of $21.6 million. 

Veteran Houston Chronicle sportswriter John McClain seems convinced that Watson’s not going anywhere, and a KHOU sports reporter tonight snarkily remarked that the trade story “was written for some clicks on a website.” But just moments ago, NFL reporter Ian Rapoport revealed that Watson is unhappy with the Texans organization (who isn’t?) after being left out of crucial personnel decisions:

“Watson offered his input on potential general manager candidates, but the Texans neither considered nor consulted with those endorsed by their franchise quarterback, league sources told ESPN. “Additionally, the Texans did not inform Watson that they intended to hire Caserio, and he found out about the hire Tuesday on social media. That contributed to Watson taking to Twitter that night to post “some things never change….”

Albert Breer says that Watson advocated for Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to be head coach — but the Texans refused to even interview him, further irking Watson. Over the weekend, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Watson is still angry about the Texans’ “insensitivity to social justices, including hiring practices,” alluding to the team failing to interview Eric Bieniemy. (UPDATE: the Texans finally did request to interview Bieniemy today, Jan, 12. But the window to contact him has closed.)

Rapoport adds that Watson has not spoken to Texans brass in days — though they have tried to call him. This gives new grist to the rumor mill that Watson may be looking for greener pastures. At least one former Texans player is suggesting that some teams may be interested in Watson:

UPDATE: A Texans legend has weighed in on the situation. Legendary Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson set tongues wagging with a tweet today: “If I’m @deshaunwatson I will stand my ground,” Johnson wrote. “The Texans organization is known for wasting players careers. Since Jack Easterby has walk into the building nothing good has happened in/for the organization and for some reason someone can’t seem to see what’s going on. Pathetic!!!”

Johnson’s tweet took a shot at Texans VP of football operations Jack Easterby, which generated lots of online chatter. But former Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins backed Johnson up, quoting Johnson’s original tweet and adding: “When Dre speak listen.”

UPDATE: Former Texans tight end Joel Dreessen also backed Johnson. Asked for comment, Dreessen tweeted: “All I know is when Dre would speak, he was always worth listening to. I don’t know Easterby at all, but it pains me to see how badly the Texans have been put in reverse. Whether it was him or BOB [former head coach Bill O’Brien] who chased off players like Duane, Clowney, Hopkins…& gave up 1st round picks.”

Alvin Kamara Explodes For SIX Touchdowns; Saints Beat Vikings In Shootout On Christmas

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 25, 2020

In an unusual move, the NFL gave football fans the gift of football this Christmas. It would prove to be a memorable matchup. One team was battling to win the NFC South; the other was merely fighting to stay alive and get to the playoffs. But only one team would prove victorious.

This afternoon, the New Orleans Saints battled the Minnesota Vikings in a NFC showdown. The Saints scored right out of the gate: running back Alvin Kamara ran right through the Minnesota defense to score a touchdown. His 40-yard TD run put the Saints ahead 7-0. (No wonder he’s been named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl.)

The Vikings answered back right away with a running play of their own. Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook raced into the end zone for a touchdown, tying the game. New Orleans quickly put together a drive of their own: Jared Cook made a big catch, and RB Latavius Murray’s subsequent catch made it 1st and goal. After a pass interference call on the Vikings, the ball was moved to the one-yard line. Kamara scored again, pulling past defenders to cross the goal line. It was 14-7.

After the Vikings went three-and-out, the Saints took over again. This time, the Vikings defense prevented them from scoring a touchdown. But New Orleans tacked on a field goal to add three points. #23 for Minnesota found the end zone, cutting the Saints’ lead. It was 17-14. But then, Alvin Kamara scored again, rushing to the end zone for his third touchdown of the game. That put the Saints ahead 24-14 at the half.

In the second half, the Saints weren’t as dominant. A costly interception by Brees led to paydirt for Minnesota. The Vikings cashed in on the turnover. Irvin Smith, Jr. caught a TD pass from Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. They missed the extra point kick, though. So it was 24-20 with about 9:40 left in the third quarter.

But then…

With 4:38 left in the third quarter, Alvin Kamara scored his fourth touchdown of the day (!!!). Alvin Kamara is the first Saints player EVER to have four rushing touchdowns in a game, according to Bleacher Report. His historic achievement gave the Saints a 31-20 lead. But the Vikings clapped back with another TD, adding seven points before the third quarter ended.

The fourth quarter commenced, and it was all Saints. New Orleans’ already-explosive offense combusted in the final quarter. Kamara having yet another rushing touchdown. Kamara celebrated in the end zone, holding up his white-gloved hand and counting on his fingers: one, two, three, four, five.

The Saints powered down the field, deftly employing running plays and hurtling towards another 1st and goal. A catch by Burton took New Orleans all the way to the one-yard line. Kamara could’ve run in for another score, but coach Sean Payton elected to keep him out, drawing boos from the crowd. It was Taysom Hill who ended up scoring, with a 1-yard TD rush that made it 45-27.

The Vikings wasted no time getting into the red zone. A series of successful plays took them to 1st and goal. But the Saints defense broke up three consecutive plays. On 4th and goal, the Vikings went for it. Adam Thielen caught the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, but a Saints defender pushed him out of bounds from behind. A shoving match broke out between the Saints and the Vikings, and referees had to physically separate the players. In the end, the ruling on the field was for a touchdown, and two of the Saints defenders were flagged for unnecessary roughness. Those rulings drew boos from the crowd.

The referee ordered a two-point conversion from the one-yard line, but Cousins’ throw to Justin Jefferson was unsuccessful. The score was 45-33…but not for long. Saints Adam Trautman had a dramatic catch-and-run, evading Vikings defenders to reach the one-yard line. And then….the unthinkable happened. Alvin Kamara pushed past defenders to (barely) break the plane, scoring his SIXTH rushing touchdown. In doing so, Kamara ties an all-time record: That is the most rushing touchdowns by an NFL player in one game since 1929.

The Saints won, 52-33. With this win, they clinch their division. Their 52 points are the most that the Minnesota Vikings have allowed since 1963. The Vikings are eliminated from playoff contention with this game. The Saints win the NFC South for the fourth season in a row. They improve to 11-4.

So what was the key to Kamara’s sensational performance? “The O-line, kudos to them. They get the game ball, for sure. They did everything they had to do,” Kamara told Erin Andrews after the game. When asked about that Taysom Hill TD that could’ve gone to him, Kamara smiled. “I wasn’t worried about it,” he said. “Taysom was like, ‘Man, my bad.’ I was like, ‘Nah, it’s all good. We can spread the wealth.” And spread the wealth they did, for a phenomenal win.

NBA on Christmas Day: Historic Feats on Both Sides as Heat Beat Pelicans

By Terrance Turner

Every Christmas, basketball fans get a gift: a slate of five NBA games. The Miami Heat and New Orleans Pelicans opened this year’s series at American Airlines Arena. Though the Pelicans battled mightily — and even narrowed the lead to five — the Miami Heat went on a late run to seal a dominant win. The Heat won, 111-98. It’s their first win of the season.

The Heat led by as much as 23 in the first half. The high-powered offense was helped by small forward Duncan Robinson, who had six three-pointers before halftime. That’s the most three-pointers in a first half on Christmas in NBA history. The home team drilled 13 three-pointers in the first half alone, also a record.

But the Pelicans fought back. With about three minutes left in the half, Zion Williamson fought for his own rebound and then made a basket to top an 8-0 Pelicans run. He and Ingram helped New Orleans go on a 15-3 run to narrow the lead. The game was 66-53 at the half.

In the second half, Miami maintained its lead throughout. But New Orleans again threatened to overpower them. Williamson and Ingram combined to mount a formidable Pelicans surge. With six minutes left in the third quarter, the two had scored 24 of the last 26 points for their team. According to Bleacher Report, Ingram’s ability to hit from the outside all while gliding through the defense to get to the free-throw line helped keep the offense afloat. Williamson also overpowered Miami’s bigs on multiple occasions, who couldn’t do much more than foul the Duke product as they attempted to prevent him from taking over.”

As the quarter’s final minutes ticked down, the two got some help from Josh Hart. With just 1:57 left in the third quarter, Hart had a nifty steal from the Heat and then a dunk to make it 81-70. He also hit the first three by either team in the third quarter to cut the Heat’s lead to ten. The score was 83-73. Ingram turned a nifty two-pointer into a three-point play — and then hit a three with 0.6 left to make it 79-88 as the third quarter ended.

Things slowed down conserably in the fourth quarter, with fouls and turnovers by both teams. Pelicans player Eric Bledsoe delivered a hip-check to the Heat’s Bam Adebayo as they battled for the ball. Somehow this play necessitated a three-minute review to determine whether the common foul was flagrant. After much discussion, the referees decided that it was indeed a flagrant 1. That gave Miami two shots and ball possession. Commentator Richard Jefferson disagreed with the call, and so did many NBA fans:

On a brighter note, J.J. Redick finally hit a three of his own, cutting the Heat’s lead to six: 91-85. That set a record: Redick has the most career three-pointers on Christmas Day in NBA history. But in the end, New Orleans was no match for Miami. The Heat went on a 16-3 run in the fourth quarter to win, 111-98. Miami standouts Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, and Avery Bradley scored key baskets down the stretch. Six Heat players in all finished in double figures, per Bleacher Report. Among them:

  • Duncan Robinson, F, MIA: 23 PTS, 5 REB, 7-of-13 3PT
  • Bam Adebayo, C, MIA: 17 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL
  • Goran Dragic, G, MIA: 18 PTS, 9 AST, 4 STL

By contrast, Josh Hart was the only Pelicans player to score more than eight points. Ingram finished with 28 points, and Williamson had 32 (with 14 rebounds). Zion Williamson is one of only two players to score 30 points on Christmas before turning 21. The other player to achieve that feat? LeBron James.

In Revealing Documentary, Superstar Influencer Answers: “Who Is Country Cowboyy?”

By Terrance Turner

He’s one of the biggest social media influencers in Houston. He generates thousands of views among more than 76,000 followers on Instagram. He hosts large-scale events at packed clubs. He lives in a luxury penthouse in Midtown Houston. But who is “Country Cowboyy”? In a revealing documentary short, directed by business partner Prinston Hicks, we get the answer.

Darrell Edmond, Jr. grew up in Houston. He loved to entertain people even from an early age. “I always wanted to entertain people using my personality — only because I had so much of it,” he recalls, describing himself as “energetic” and “captivating”. But his surroundings made that goal difficult. Growing up in “the hood” — Fondren and West Bellfort, in Houston’s Southwest side — made it hard to find a niche. “In the hood, if you’re not hood, you don’t feel like you fit in,” he says in the film. “I didn’t feel like I belonged there.”

As Edmond moved through high school, his sense of alienation was only compounded by a devastating loss that would change his life forever. In 2011, while in 11th grade, Edmond was at home with his cousin when his father came in. “We was sittin’ in the back room, and my dad walked in. And he said: ‘Yo, I think Trey just got shot.’ So, in that moment, honestly, I saw a bunch of flashes and moments of me and my brother together.”

Edmond says he didn’t really know how to process the fact that his brother was gone. Even now, as he discusses the loss in the documentary, his thoughts tumble out in a multilayered river of words. “My brother, actually — with everything that’s going on right now, and it’s just kinda crazy to say it — it’s still goin’ on to this day,” he says, referencing the ongoing issues with police killings that have led to protests across the country. “Like, this was back in 2011; it’s 2020 now, you know what I’m saying? He was shot by the police. So it was one of those situations, like I said…I just — it was — it just knocked at my door, like, ever so aggressively. I just remember the highlight reel; it was a highlight reel of all of our greatest moments. But one of the things that it forced me to do in the future was to really make sure that I didn’t spend my time in the streets.”

Instead, he spent his time at THE Texas Southern University, located in Houston’s Third Ward. At TSU, D.J. (as he was known to classmates) worked his way to prominence. “What I did was I cut my way into every single social circle,” he says, “and what I mean by that is: literally, I taught myself how to cut hair in high school. So I took that same skill and I leveraged it up to the tops of different social circles. So all types of people, who did all types of different things […] I was able to barter my way up to the top of, you know, the fraternities, the guys going to all of the parties,” he explains. “So I got an opportunity to see how they work, constructing business.”

“It was pretty cool because it was almost like a college lifestyle dream, you know I’m saying? Like the thing that you would imagine in your brain, like: ‘I’m going to college’. I actually lived that. And not only that I got good grades, too. You know what I’m saying? But fair enough, I did wing my way through college, but that’s neither here nor there.” (As someone who took a film class with D.J., I can assure you: he was definitely “winging it”.)

“But I got an opportunity to meet some of the coolest people. Like, I didn’t cross or anything like that, but I knew all of the Greeks. I knew all of the fraternities. I knew all of the people in the band;  I knew all of the football players. I knew all of the people that threw the parties. I knew all of the people in SGA, UPC — all of the top organizations. I was the go-to person for entertainment.” 

“But,” he cautions, ” it wasn’t big enough.”

What he was about to accomplish, though, would be bigger than anything he had ever imagined.

Rockets Trade Star James Harden to Brooklyn Nets

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 23, 2020 (Updated Jan. 13, 2021)

The Houston Rockets were supposed to begin their NBA season at 7:00 pm tonight, playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in Houston’s Toyota Center. But tonight’s game has been postponed in accordance with the team’s Health and Safety Protocols. The NBA released a statement saying that three of the Rockets have tested positive (or inconclusive) for COVID-19. Four others are quarantined due to contact tracing. Additionally, Rockets star James Harden is unavailable due to a violation of Health and Safety Protocols.

Two days after reportedly hurling a basketball at a teammate during practice, Rockets superstar James Harden is now unable to play. ESPN reporter Tim McMahon tweeted earlier today: “Rockets are working with NBA office to review video of James Harden at a strip club. If the video circulating on social media is verified to be recent, it is a violation of league’s COVID protocols, which could put Harden’s availability for tonight’s opener in jeopardy.”

Harden responded to the report on Instagram, writing (in part): “I went to show love to my homegirl at her event (not a strip club) because she is becoming a boss and putting her people in position of success and now it’s a problem. Everyday it’s something different.” McMahon responded by quoting the tweet, adding: “By doing so, he violates the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols, which prohibit players from going to bars, lounges or clubs or social events with more than 15 people.”

Meanwhile, fellow Rockets John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins may also be ineligible for tonight’s game due to contract tracing. This is despite the fact that Wall, Cousins, and Harden have all tested negative for COVID-19. ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne adds: “James Harden tested negative for Covid-19 on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, league source tells ESPN. The league is still reviewing his situation and eligibility for tonight’s game.” So Harden’s night at the club might cost him a spot on the starting roster tonight.

The club in question appears to be very near Toyota Center, where the Rockets will play in tonight’s home opener. The Houston Chronicle adds: “The venue was listed as private, but several Instagram users tagged The Velvet Room on Main, located near downtown about a mile from Toyota Center.” This isn’t the first time Harden’s partying has posed an issue: he missed practice on Dec. 6 because he was in Las Vegas, apparently at a nightclub. Just days before, Harden was seen maskless in Atlanta, celebrating the birthday of rapper Lil’ Baby. Harden gifted the “Emotionally Scarred” rapper with a Prada bag, filled with Honey Buns, bands of cash, and a Richard Mille. “He got me a Prada bag, ’cause he Prada me,” Lil’ Baby said at the time.

This is far from the only issue between Harden and the Rockets, though. Harden has requested a trade, and he skirted questions about his future when he spoke to reporters this week. But the writing is on the wall: Harden is visibly unhappy in Houston, and he and the Rockets appear headed for an ugly divorce. But how did we get here?

To hear McMahon tell it, the seeds of trouble had been planted years before, with a Rockets culture that often catered to its star. In fact, one former staffer described the Houston Rockets’ culture thus: “Whatever James wants.”

McMahon’s article asserts that Harden calls the shots on both the playing roster and coaching staff. He also exercised considerable sway on travel and playing schedules, too. If the Rockets had two or three days between games, Harden would likely call for an off day and charter a private jet to party in Las Vegas or another city. He always gets an excused absence from practice after the All-Star break for that very reason.

“If they have multiple days off, everybody knows: James is going to fly somewhere else and party,” a member of last season’s coaching staff told McMahon. “But he’s going to come back and have a 50-point triple-double, so they’re OK with it.” Indeed, Harden had his third triple-double in six games back in January 2019. His 43-point performance led to a dominant Rockets win — one of 53 wins in the 2018-2019 season. The previous year had been even better.

Powered by Harden’s brilliant performances, the Houston Rockets won a franchise-record 65 games during the 2017-18 season. Harden was named league MVP, per ESPN. The Rockets jumped out to a 3-2 lead in the Conference Finals. But thanks to 27 missed three-pointers — and Chris Paul’s raggedy hamstrings — the Rockets lost the last two games of the series in their home stadium! That loss to the Warriors marked the beginning of the end for the Paul-Harden era in Houston.

McMahon reports that the relationship soured leading up to the summer of 2019. Paul reportedly grew frustrated that Harden would disengage from the offense whenever the ball wasn’t in his hands. “Harden quickly tired of Paul barking about his concerns, which included lobbying coach Mike D’Antoni to implement more structure and movement,” writes McMahon. Things deteriorated further when the Rockets lost in the playoffs to the Warriors.

In June 2019, Yahoo! Sports’ Vincent Goodwill reported that the relationship had become “unsalvageable”: “Paul went to Rockets management and demanded a trade, and Harden issued a “him or me” edict following the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors, sources said. The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise.” Harden denied the report, saying: “Me and Chris had constant communication, and we’re good.”

Yet Paul was gone a month later. The Rockets were reportedly willing to go another season with its unhappy stars…until Russell Westbrook became available. Harden pushed hard for a deal, saying he’d demand a trade if Houston didn’t make it happen. The Rockets agreed, trading Paul for two draft picks and some swap options. Harden was soon reunited with Westbrook, his OKC teammate (and childhood friend).

Initially, things worked beautifully. In a February game vs. the Boston Celtics, Westbrook and Harden combined for 62 points. That capped a month where they were ranked second and third, respectively, in NBA scoring. Westbrook averaged about 33 points during the month, while Harden averaged 31.9. They’re the first pair of teammates in NBA history to average 30 points and 5 rebounds apiece.

Everything seemed to be working — and then the pandemic happened. COVID-19 forced the league to suspend its season in March 2020. Over the spring and early summer, a plan was formed to return to play. The NBA resumed play on July 30 in the “NBA Bubble” — the sprawling ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida. There, the Rockets lost in the conference semifinals to the Los Angeles Lakers (the eventual NBA Champions).

On Nov. 11, a bombshell report in The Athletic revealed that Rockets star Russell Westbrook wanted out of Houston. Why? “Westbrook has informed team officials that he has been uneasy about the team’ accountability and culture,” three Athletic reporters wrote. “Westbrook, sources say, has made it known for quite some time that he would like to see significant changes to the Rockets culture. Specifically, his desire for more team-wide accountability, discipline, and culture have been the focus of talks with team officials.”

ESPN’s Tim McMahon put it more bluntly: “Houston’s casual culture appalled Westbrook. In Oklahoma City, despite the fact that he enjoyed the same sort of superstar privileges as Harden has had in Houston, the Thunder operated with the discipline of a military unit under Westbrook’s watch. The Rockets were a stark contrast,” McMahon wrote on Dec. 16. “With the Rockets, scheduled departure times were treated as mere suggestions by Harden and others.”

“Nothing ever starts on time,” a former Rockets staffer told McMahon. “The plane is always late. The bus is never on time…it’s just an organized AAU team.” But that laissez-faire attitude didn’t sit well with Westbrook. McMahon asserts: “Westbrook didn’t tolerate tardiness.” Case in point: on one occasion in “the bubble” in Florida, Harden waited to undergo testing for COVID-19 until just before the Rockets began watching film. Westbrook grew impatient: “Start the film!” he barked. “Start without him!” Then-coach Mike D’Antoni explained that they’d just have to start the film over when Harden arrived, but Westbrook was still peeved. But that was the way it was…

Once the pandemic began and “the bubble” was filled, Houston’s bubble burst. After yet another player loss (this time to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers), the Rockets were at a crossroads. Westbrook wanted out. Within days of the bombshell Athletic story about his quest for accountability, Westbrook requested a trade. The Rockets acquiesced. They traded Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a lottery pick in early December.

Now, the may have to do the same with James Harden.

UPDATE: After back-to-back losses to the Lakers — including last night’s 117-100 Lakers win — it may be the end of the road for James Harden in Houston. In a Zoom postgame interview last night, Harden was blunt about the 3-6 Rockets: “We’re just not good enough,” Harden said. “Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It was clear these last few games from the beginning of the game. [The Lakers] were just aggressive. A veteran team, obviously, a championship team. One of the best teams we have in this league.”

Harden also expressed a belief that the situation may be unsalvageable. “I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can,” Harden said. “This situation is crazy. It’s something I don’t think can be fixed. Thanks.” With that, Harden rose and left the room.

One of Harden’s teammates had a lot to say about that. When asked how he felt about Harden’s comments, newly acquired Rocket DeMarcus Cousins was blunt: “Obviously, it’s disrespectful. But everybody has a right to their opinion. You know? We feel a certain type of way about some of his actions. You know, this is — this is the nasty part of the business that kind of gets swept under the rug. You deal with these type of things, and you know, when guys are in positions of being, you know, franchise players and whatever that may be, it’s usually sometimes a nasty breakup. Like I said, that’s all part of the business,” Cousins continued.

A reporter asked Cousins: “As someone who signed here as a free agent, do you feel betrayed? Do you feel like it was unfair to you to have chosen to sign here […] and then have the star player want to leave?” Cousins was equally forthright in his answers.

“Me, personally, I don’t feel betrayed at all. My interest was playing with John Wall to be brutally honest,” Cousins said. “With that being said, the disrespect started way before any interview — just the approach to training camp, showing up the way he did, the antics off the court. I mean, the disrespect started way before, so this isn’t something that all of a sudden happened,” Cousins said. “Like I said this is the nasty part of the business, Cousins said. “It is what it is.”

ESPN’s Tim McMahon asked: “At this point, is there any way that you guys can play with James harden again?” Cousins answered: “I don’t really think that’s a question for us. I think that’s a question for him: will he ever be willing to play with us again? I don’t know. Quite honestly, don’t care.” Follow-up question: “And when you talk about disrespect, what specifically are you talking about?” McMahon asked.

“I just feel like there’s a way about handling business,” Cousins responded. “He can feel however he wants to feel about the organization or whatever his current situation is. But the other 14 guys in the locker room have done nothing to him. So for us to be on the receiving end of some of the disrespectful comments and antics, it’s completely unfair to us.”

“I wasn’t disrespectful to anyone,” Harden now claims. “I just made a comment that the team as a whole wasn’t good enough to compete for a title.” But those comments came days after The Athletic reported that at least two teams are interested in acquiring Harden. The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers both made offers to the Rockets, per reporters Shams Charania and Sam Amick. But only one of those teams would prevail.

BREAKING (Jan. 13, 2021): The Houston Rockets have traded Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in a massive blockbuster deal. The Rockets will receive four first-round picks and four pick swaps, all of which will come from the Nets — except for a 2022 Milwaukee pick currently owned by Cleveland. Houston will also receive Caris LeVert, Dante Exum and Rodions Kurucs, according to CBS Sports.

Chiefs Best Saints for Ninth Straight Win

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 20, 2020

It got close late, but the Kansas City Chiefs got the win today in New Orleans. The Chiefs edged the New Orleans Saints to win today’s highly anticipated match, 32-29. It was the Chiefs’ ninth straight win. That gives them a record of 13-1 for the season — the best record in the NFL.

According to Sports Illustrated, the Saints won the opening coin toss and gave the Chiefs the first opportunity with the ball. “Patrick Mahomes and company came out with a good play to start the drive, getting a first down quickly. However, the Saints defense was able to counter and get off the field on a 3rd-and-5 after Mahomes couldn’t hit Tyreek Hill. Drew Brees officially returned to the field for New Orleans, but the team’s first drive resulted in a three-and-out after he couldn’t get Tre’Quan Smith for the conversion.”

The second Chiefs drive resulted in their own three-and-out. The Saints had an early interception on Mahomes, courtesy of Marcus Williams. But an illegal contact penalty by Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins wiped that out. Jenkins followed up by making a 5-yard tackle for loss on a Tyreek Hill catch. New Orleans would hold firm on the next plays, forcing a punt after a great pass breakup down field from C.J. Gardner-Johnson on Mecole Hardman.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees got picked off by L’Jarius Sneed, giving the Chiefs the ball. They cashed in a few plays later. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce for a big third-down conversion and then scrambled 13 yards to the Saints’ 11-yard line. Then he found wide receiver Tyreek Hill for a 5-yard touchdown, giving the Chiefs a 7-0 lead.

They would add to that lead later. After a three-and-out by the Saints, the Chiefs took over and scored again. Mahomes connected with Kelce for a touchdown early in the second quarter. That gave Kansas City a 14-0 lead as the quarter got underway. (Kelce’s 10 touchdowns this year tie a career high.) The Saints got the ball. QB Drew Brees found WR Emmanuel Sanders for a 51-yard completion. Three plays later, he connected with Taysom Hill for the touchdown. That TD capped a 7-play, 66-yard drive for New Orleans and put them on the board, 14-7.

With 10:21 left in the quarter, both teams embarked on unsuccessful drives. Both teams ended up having to punt. Andrus Peat got hurt on the Saints drive and limped his way to the locker room. After another unsuccessful drive, Chiefs punt returner Demarcus Robinson got stripped of the ball. It went out of the end zone, resulting in a safety. The score was 14-9 at the half.

In the third quarter, the Saints went 75 yards in 4 plays, per SI. They hit paydirt when Brees hooked up with running back Latavius Murray for a 24-yard scoop-and-score. That gave them the lead, 15-14. But a two-point conversion attempt was no good. So it remained a one-point game in the New Orleans Superdome…but not for long.

On their drive, Mahomes stunned viewers and announcers with a dramatic scoring play. He launched a narrow pass to receiver Mecole Hardman, who caught the ball, planted his foot, and then dragged the other to make the catch. At first it appeared that the catch and been out of bounds, but upon replay it was clear that Hardman — somehow — had made the catch. It put the Chiefs ahead 21-15.

There was a wild sequence in the fourth quarter. Saints defender Cameron Jordan tangled with #77 from the Chiefs and was flagged for unnecessary roughness. The referee later added that Jordan had thrown a punch, which connected. Jordan was disqualified from the game. On the very next play, Mahomes tossed the ball to running back Le’Veon Bell, who rushed in for the touchdown. Kelce surged into the end zone for a successful two-point conversion. That gave them a commanding 29-15 lead.

The Saints would score afterward, courtesy of RB Alvin Kamara. That made it 29-22. But the Chiefs tacked on a field goal (by Harrison Butker) to extend the lead. The Saints countered with another score of their own, but it was too late. The Chiefs won, 32-29.

This was a significant game on several fronts. This was the first meeting between quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees. It was Brees’ first game back in nearly a month — he suffered 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung (!!!) in the last game he played. And his return was against a quarterback his own kids love.

Reporter Tracy Wolfson said that Brees’ three sons want Chiefs jerseys for Christmas — one boy wants a signed jersey from Mahomes, another a jersey from Hill, another from running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Speaking of Edwards-Helaire, he suffered what looked like a gruesome leg injury towards the end of the game. But it may not be as severe as it appeared: he reportedly has a high-ankle sprain and a strained hip. Edwards-Helaire may be rehabbed in time for next month’s divisional playoff game.

Update (Dec. 21, 2020): Both Mahomes and Kelce have been selected for this year’s Pro Bowl. They are among seven Chiefs to be voted into the game; the Packers and Seahawks also have seven players apiece. Kelce is also nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which honors players for excellence on the field and for their volunteer/charity work.

Clemson Wins Big In Rematch With Notre Dame

By Terrance Turner

They lost in double overtime in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame on Nov. 7. But the Clemson Tigers tonight avenged their only loss of the season. They won today’s match against the Fighting Irish 34-10. Their dominant performance earned them their sixth ACC Championship. A key ingredient of their winning formula today was the star turn by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (who missed the first match versus Notre Dame, due to COVID-19).

Lawrence had an interception early, and Clemson went scoreless on the opening drive. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish scored first with a successful field goal drive. Clemson’s defense necessitated another field goal on a subsequent drive. But Notre Dame’s kicker missed the field goal attempt, leaving them with only three points.

Clemson cashed in. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence launched a pass to receiver Amari Rodgers, who took off for the touchdown. That 67-yard reception gave Clemson a 7-3 lead. They extended the lead later, after a daring sequence. Lawrence escapes a sack to run six yards. Then, on 2nd and 4, Lawrence found E.J. Williams for a 33-yard touchdown. Clemson later added a field goal to make it 17-3.

On a later drive, Lawrence acted as blocker! He stopped a Notre Dame safety from tackling Clemson running back Travis Etienne. Then, on 4th and 1, Etienne took off, running footloose and free into the end zone. That rushing TD made it 24-3 at the half.

There were no points scored in the third quarter…until Lawrence got off to the races. With 3:43 left in the quarter and a ball tucked into one arm, Lawrence sprinted 34 yards for another touchdown. His stunning score made it 31-3. After missing two games due to a positive COVID-19 test, Lawrence has stormed back to put his team ahead by four touchdowns. In the end. Lawrence was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after he completed 25-of-36 passes for 322 yards, with two passing touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown and a season-high 90 yards, the second-most of his career.

That was pretty much all she wrote. Clemson’s Nolan Turner was disqualified in the fourth quarter for targeting (on a helmet-to-helmet hit to a Notre Dame player). Notre Dame eventually did score a touchdown, but it was for naught. Clemson won 34-10, winning the ACC Championship. Lawrence becomes the first quarterback to win three ACC Championships.

“This team has been through a lot this year,” Lawrence said, adding that “we’ve gotten so much better. I’m really proud of this team.” And for good reason: the Tigers avenged their only loss this season and are now 11-1. This is the 4th straight Clemson Senior class with 50 wins in four years. “Of all the teams I’ve had, this team deserves it the most,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. He added that achieving 10 wins is hard in any season — “but in this season, it’s almost miraculous.”

Swinney added: “It would be a cryin’ shame if the Heisman didn’t attach their name to Trevor Lawrence.”

QB Trevor Lawrence acknowledges the crowd during today’s ACC Championship Game.
Photo courtesy of Twitter.

Ashanti Tests Positive for COVID-19 Ahead of “Verzuz” with Keyshia Cole

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 12, 2020

Photo courtesy of Variety.

Singer Ashanti has tested positive for COVID-19. This forced her to bow out of a planned “Verzuz” with singer Keyshia Cole. Ashanti made the announcement tonight via Instagram, writing: “Hey y’all I can’t believe I’m saying this but I tested positive for COVID-19. I’m ok and not in any pain. I’m actually down to do the Verzuz from my house… we’re trying to figure it all out!!!”

 But Verzuz wasn’t down for that, writing: “Unfortunately, we have to postpone tonight’s @Ashanti vs @KeyshiaCole #VERZUZ. Ashanti tested positive for COVID-19 beforehand, and we cannot put anyone at risk in the process. First time this has struck us so close to showtime. We apologize to our incredible audience! Get well soon, Ashanti. Wear a mask, stay inside, and take COVID-19 seriously. It’s truly affecting our community.”

For the uninitiated: “Verzuz” is a music event in which two artists alternate playing versions of their greatest hits. Fans typically determine which singer “won” the battle via comments on social media. Past participants include singers Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight, Monica and Brandy, and Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. Rappers Jeezy and Gucci Mane also took part (albeit in tense and controversial fashion).

Ashanti scored a string of hits in the early 2000s, including several number one singles. In fact, the singer broke records by having three top ten songs (“Foolish,” “What’s Luv?” and “Always on Time”) on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the same week. She is the first female artist ever to do so.

In 2001, Ashanti was featured on rapper Ja Rule’s “Always on Time” and rapper Fat Joe’s single “What’s Luv?”. In February 2002, “Always on Time” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Ashanti’s first number one single. “What’s Luv?” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard chart in April. Just two weeks later, Ashanti’s single “Foolish” (which she co-wrote) hit No. 1 on the Hot 100. With that feat, Ashanti became the first female artist to occupy the top two spots on the Billboard singles chart.

That same week (April 19, 2002), Ashanti’s self-titled debut album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart. It sold over 503,000 copies in its first week of release. The album set a Soundscan record for the biggest opening week sales for a new female artist, according to Empire Online. Ashanti eventually sold six million copies worldwide, according to Jet magazine. It won Ashanti a Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album.

The Verzuz battle has been rescheduled to Jan. 9, 2021.