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Giannis Antetokounmpo leads all players in first returns of All-Star fan vote

Bucks forward is ahead of LeBron by 7,336 votes

9:40 PMIn the words of Tarlaysia Hatch, the daughter of hip-hop artist Lil Boosie: I told y’all.

On Thursday evening, the NBA released the first returns of fan voting for the 2018 All-Star Game, and lo and behold, who was the No. 1 vote-getter?

Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Milwaukee Bucks forward, who is second in the league in points per game (29.1), received 863,416 votes during the first 12 days that fan ballots were open. That total is 7,336 votes higher than the closest player, Cleveland Cavaliers forward and four-time MVP LeBron James (856,080) and 96,014 votes higher than the Western Conference leader, Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (767,402), a regular-season and Finals MVP.

Warriors guard Stephen Curry (735,115), a two-time MVP (and the first unanimous selection in league history), Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (438,469), last season’s MVP after averaging a triple-double, and Houston Rockets guard James Harden (602,040), this season’s MVP favorite, all received fewer votes than Antetokounmpo.

Which is to say the 23-year-old, backed by American and Greek voters (and possibly those from Nigeria, the birthplace of Antetokounmpo’s parents), is quite possibly the most popular player in the NBA. Who would have thought?

But to remain objective (still read The Undefeated’s season-long series on Antetokounmpo’s MVP candidacy), other players also received votes:

For this year’s All-Star Game, the top vote-getter from the Eastern Conference and Western Conference will each serve as a captain and choose from a pool of the other players voted in for each team. As was the case last year, fan voting accounts for 50 percent, while current players and media members account for 25 percent each.

Starters and captains will be revealed on Jan. 18, with reserves announced on Jan. 23. Two days later, on Jan. 25, rosters will be revealed, leading up to the All-Star Game on Feb. 18 in Los Angeles.

Hue Jackson is spared, Jim Caldwell is not, now Jackson needs to win some games

Browns plan to bring back coach after 0-16 mark; Lions fire coach after winning season

9:09 AMOne has to look hard to find anything positive in the winless Cleveland Browns’ season, which mercifully ended Sunday after a 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cleveland joined the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only NFL teams to finish 0-16.

The Browns were a complete mess from start to finish. Former general manager Sashi Brown, who was fired Dec. 7, paid the price for this season’s ineptitude. But front-office makeovers are nothing new for this franchise.

What is surprising, however, is that the Browns don’t plan to make a coaching change. Head coach Hue Jackson, who’s African-American, will return next season, the team says. During two seasons with the Browns, Jackson is 1-31. His only victory came in Week 16 last season against the then-San Diego Chargers.

Compare that to the Detroit Lions, who on Monday fired Jim Caldwell, who is also African-American. Caldwell was let go despite posting a winning record in three of his four seasons with the Lions. Detroit made the playoffs twice under Caldwell, going 0-2, and missed the postseason this year at 9-7.

Considering the dearth of head coaches of color in the league – the number fell to seven with Caldwell’s firing – it’s good that the Browns appear to be giving Jackson every opportunity to prove he’s the right man for the job. And Jackson still has a lot to prove.

Sure, the Browns’ player personnel department has made some colossal errors. Remember: Cleveland passed on star quarterback Carson Wentz. Still, it’s hard to go winless during a 16-game schedule, as evidenced by the fact it has only happened twice.

It’s fair to say that Jackson needs to show a whole lot next season. He has to win some games.

Gettleman hiring keeps diversity numbers for NFL general managers the same

Give the Giants credit for interviewing two black candidates

8:07 AMOn Thursday, the New York Giants announced the hiring of Dave Gettleman as the team’s new general manager.

Gettleman, who was fired from the same position with the Carolina Panthers in July, replaces Jerry Reese, who was relieved of his duties along with Giants head coach Ben McAdoo on Dec. 4.

The hiring keeps the number of black general managers in the 32-team league at four — Rick Smith (Houston Texans), Ozzie Newsome (Baltimore Ravens), Reggie McKenzie (Oakland Raiders) and Chris Grier (Miami Dolphins) — after the Cleveland Browns fired Sashi Brown on Dec. 7.

Although the Giants didn’t end up replacing Reese, who is African-American, with another black GM, they did take the league’s diversity hiring initiative, the Rooney Rule, more seriously than most other front offices have. The rule requires teams to interview at least one candidate of color for every head-coaching or senior football operations position, although some teams hold what are essentially “token” interviews with black or brown candidates to check off a box.

The Giants, on the other hand, interviewed two black men for the position: Marc Ross, the team’s current vice president of player evaluation, and Louis Riddick, an ESPN analyst and former player, pro scout and director of pro personnel.

Kevin Abrams, the Giants’ interim general manager, also interviewed. Gettleman returns to the Giants after having spent 15 seasons with the team, mostly as director of pro personnel. In Gettleman’s four-year tenure with the Panthers, the team made the playoffs three seasons in a row from 2013-15, including a 15-1 record and Super Bowl appearance in 2015. He was not a favorite of some of the franchise’s best players.

Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., running back DeAngelo Williams and cornerback Josh Norman sent parting shots at Gettleman when the Panthers announced his firing.