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Isaiah Thomas's emotional goodbye, Sharapova's strange welcome and more in this week's sportswriting

Plus we have excellent profiles on Colin Kaepernick and Gennady Golovkin.

US Open - 4th Round - NYC Source: Dubreuil Corinne/ABACA

1. When Maria Sharapova stepped onto the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium last Wednesday, to play Hungary’s Timea Babos in the second round of the U.S. Open, none of the scorn that has surrounded her in the locker room since her return from a fifteen-month doping ban was evident in the stands. Sharapova, a wild-card entry to the tournament, was coming off a victory over the No. 2 seed, Simona Halep, two days before, and the crowd clapped more loudly for her than for Babos—though Sharapova trailed in the early going and lost the first set, 7–6.

The crowd gasped along with Sharapova at her missed shots. And they leapt to their feet when she ultimately won the match, in three sets. Those who couldn’t pack into the stands stood outside, watching on a large monitor. Somehow, one of the richest athletes in the world, marred by a doping scandal, was cheered like an underdog. “I’m happy to see her playing again,” Ilyse Jarman, a fan at the match, said between sets. “Her ban was her ban. She served her sentence.”

Mary Pilon writes for the New Yorker on Maria Sharapova’s strange welcome at the U.S. Open

NBA: Playoffs-Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

2. It’s funny, I’d just been celebrating.

When I got the call from Danny, I was leaving the airport — my wife, Kayla, and I were coming back from having celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary. We’d gone to Miami for a couple of days — and now we were back in Seattle, driving home.

I missed the call, must have been doing something in the car. Danny left a text.

“IT, call me when you can.”

Sounds dramatic, but that’s actually a pretty normal text from Danny. Could’ve been about all sorts of things. So I called him back, still driving and not really thinking much of it. He knew I’d been on my trip, so he asked me a few questions about it. I’m sure I asked him how he was, maybe how the family was doing. Again, you know, just that normal sort of talk.

And then somewhere in there, it was just like … it was barely anything. This little pause in the conversation. And that’s when he told me.

“I just traded you.”

Isaiah Thomas penned a heartfelt goodbye on the Players Tribune to Boston after his trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers was confirmed

Philippe Coutinho File Photo Source: Peter Byrne

3. Henry’s distance from Merseyside has not helped in the past because he has not been around to cast judgements for himself. He has instead relied on the opinions of his appointments, which have been bad ones too often – meaning that he has only acted when it has been too late, contributing towards a generally negative impression of his and Fenway’s intentions.

Having decided that Coutinho would stay, he could not afford to back down particularly when the transfer market did not map out exactly the way Liverpool or its febrile supporter base would have wanted in terms of incomings. Fenway have been determined to change Liverpool’s reputation and by not relenting to Coutinho’s wishes, for the time being at least, it sends a message to their own players as well as rivals that this is not a selling club.

The Independent’s Simon Hughes with the inside story of why Liverpool couldn’t buckle and sell Philippe Coutinho to a man they used to know

49ers, Rams, Football Source: Keith Birmingham

4. The standout college quarterback went to the meeting alone that winter night, looking to join. The fraternity brothers at Kappa Alpha Psi, a predominantly black fraternity with a small chapter at the University of Nevada, knew who he was. He was a tall, lean, biracial junior, less than a year from graduating with a business degree.

“When he came and said he had interest in joining the fraternity, I kind of looked at him like, ‘Yeah, O.K.,’” said Olumide Ogundimu, one of the members. “I didn’t take it seriously. I thought: ‘You’re the star quarterback. What are you still missing that you’re looking for membership into our fraternity?’”

His name was Colin Kaepernick, and what he was looking for, Ogundimu and others discovered, was a deeper connection to his own roots and a broader understanding of the lives of others.

John Branch pieces together an excellent profile of Colin Kaepernick for The New York Times

Canelo-Golovkin Los Angeles Media Day Source: Chris Farina

5. It is, conservatively speaking, about 9 million degrees inside Abel Sanchez’s boxing gym in Big Bear Lake, California, and still his prized fighter, world middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, is in the ring doing chin pushups — wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants.

Yes, chin pushups. Arms behind his back, his chin rests on a towel, bearing the full weight of his 170-pound frame. He dips within inches of the canvas and rises back up. At the end of the set, he turns on his back, wraps the towel around his head and face, loops a rope with a weight attached to the end of it around his neck and does a set of what can only be described as blind, hanging, weighted neck crunches. Golovkin conditions each part of his sinewy frame like this, in rigorous isolation drills. The chin must withstand pain. The neck must be strong enough to absorb punches. To give him strength to fight inside, he works his forearms — which he often has trouble fitting in the sleeves of a normal dress shirt — with resistance bands and a homemade contraption of steel and rope pulleys that his trainer affectionately calls “the machine.”

Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN goes deep into the Gennady Golovkin story ahead of his upcoming bout against Canelo Alvarez

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