Griner: 1st practice ‘everything I wanted it to be’

PHOENIX — Brittney Griner knew throughout her time detained in Russia that Sunday, her return to the court as a member of the Phoenix Mercury, would come — at some point.

She just didn’t know when.

Griner said after her first training camp practice that she had been convinced her next practice wouldn’t come until she was let out of a Russian jail after her nine-year sentence had been completed, which, doing the quick math in front of a handful of cameras, Griner estimated to be Oct. 25, 2030.

“If it was the full nine, I think that would’ve been my release date,” Griner said. “Would’ve been a lot different. I don’t know if I would’ve been on the court at that point. But, yeah, I just kind of prepared myself for the long haul, honestly. You never know. But, when it came quickly, I was really happy and I knew I couldn’t wait to get back on the court.”

That happened late Sunday morning, and after the two-hour workout, Griner said she felt “so good” but understood there are still challenges, both mental and physical, that she’ll have to navigate during her leadup to the regular season, which begins in about three weeks.

“It’s everything that I wanted it to be, just finding my groove, just getting back into it,” Griner said.

Sunday was the culmination of a 100-day plan to prepare Griner for her first practice, said coach Vanessa Nygaard, who added that Griner had been progressing throughout the offseason.

“She was super diligent in that work and she was able to go fully through practice today, so we’ll continue to just push her and I think it’s as-she-can-tolerate, but she did it phenomenally,” Nygaard said.

The last time Griner, 32, took the court as a member of the Mercury was on Oct. 17, 2021, when they lost the WNBA Finals to the Chicago Sky — 560 days ago. From a basketball standpoint, Griner said, she’s not the same player now that she was then, but she feels she can return to that level.

“Am I where I want to be? No, because last time I was with my team I was against Chicago in the Finals, and as much as I want to be ‘Finals BG’ right now, it’s not the case,” she said. “So, just kind of giving myself some grace and my teammates just picking me up. But I feel like I’m at a good spot to start a training camp though for sure.

“I mean I didn’t fall out, they didn’t have to get a stretcher or oxygen or anything, so I guess I’m doing pretty good.”

Griner’s trademark humor, sarcasm and light-heartedness were on display as she sat on cushioned chair, facing a handful of cameras in the corner of the Mercury’s practice gym.

She made light of some of the challenges of returning to the court. The two-time WNBA defensive player of the year joked that she needs to remember to pick up her feet when she runs down the court so she doesn’t trip, but also said there were practical challenges, like getting her conditioning back, trying to remember the plays and all the little things on defense.

For now, Griner said, the challenges she faces are a 50-50 split between mental and physical.

Griner said she felt like a newbie in some ways Sunday, since she had never been coached by Nygaard. When some of the rookies asked her questions about their new coach, Griner had to remind them of that.

“I was like, ‘Well, I was locked up so I don’t really know too much,'” Griner said. “I was like, ‘I guess I’m little bit of a rookie in training camp right now.'”

Griner’s teammates, some of whom have been around her for about four months now since she returned from Russia, didn’t treat Sunday with any sort of tenderness or care.

The jokes were out in full force.

Asked what it was like to have Griner back on the court, Sophie Cunningham quipped: “Terrible. Gosh, it sucked.”

She added with a smile, “No, it was absolutely amazing. Just to have her vibe, her smile, her warmth and her experience, it’s a total game changer. She’s the best in the league — in the world, in fact — and so just to have that presence back was awesome.”

Diana Taurasi followed suit.

“She’s annoying as always. So, she hasn’t lost that,” Taurasi said. “No, it’s obviously, personally, I’m just, I’m happy she’s back. I’m happy she’s back on the court. I’m happy to see her with a smile on her face, and now it’s time to do a lot of work ’cause there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Just seeing Griner on the floor almost brought Nygaard to tears.

“It’s a miracle, right?” Nygaard said. “Let’s not forget. Let’s not forget. I was just so happy to see her today. I welcomed her back today. I almost cried. She’s great. She’s great energy. She’s a dominant player, she’s unguardable, she also has such a great spirit about her. So lots of positives for [the] Mercury having her with us.”

Another part of her return to the court Sunday was the emotional aspect.

Griner said she had not taken the time to process the emotions of going through her first official practice until minutes after it ended. She said she stayed in the moment while she prepared for it, then took a few moments to gather her thoughts while the sounds of basketballs dribbling and sneakers squeaking filled the air.

“It’s a little emotional thinking about it because it’s like the thing that you love the most and you don’t know if you’re going to have it or if it’s going to be completely gone, and not the way that you want it to be gone,” Griner said. “Not on your own terms.

“So just being here right now means everything.”

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Battles Erupt Over Japan’s Plan to Demolish Meiji Jingu Stadium

TOKYO — Over a span of nearly 100 years, Meiji Jingu Stadium in central Tokyo has been the scene of numerous important events. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played there on a barnstorming tour, the novelist Haruki Murakami was inspired by a trip to the stadium to write his first novel and just last year Munetaka Murakami of the Yakult Swallows hit a record-breaking home run into the stadium’s stands.

An ambitious redevelopment plan, however, would have the stadium razed and replaced with a modern facility. The plan has come under intense scrutiny from disparate groups that include fans of baseball history, followers of the country’s rugby history and conservationists who are concerned about how the various projects would affect the Jingu Gaien district, a historic green space that features century-old trees provided by the industrialist Shibusawa Eiichi, known by some as the father of Japanese capitalism.

“This is like building skyscrapers in the middle of Central Park in New York,” Mikiko Ishikawa, an emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo, told The Associated Press of the redevelopment plan. “Tokyo would lose its soul.”

On a barnstorming tour of Japan in 1934, Babe Ruth hit five home runs at Meiji Jingu.The New York Times

Part of that soul lies in Meiji Jingu, Japan’s second-oldest baseball stadium to Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya. The ballparks are Nippon Professional Baseball’s answers to Major League Baseball’s Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago.

In the redevelopment plan, Meiji Jingu and a neighboring venue, the Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, which opened in 1947 and was used as a soccer venue during the 1964 Summer Olympics, would be demolished in phases. The new versions of the two stadiums would swap locations.

The goal of the project is to modernize the various facilities involved, which are far out of date, and to create a better environment for moving between the stadiums. Open spaces would be created and enlarged and the hope is that it would be a hub for tourism and for people to enjoy the various sporting events that would be held there. The entire project, which includes skyscrapers and a hotel, is scheduled to be completed by 2036.

At that point it will have been just over 100 years since a lineup of M.L.B. stars played five games at Meiji Jingu during a tour of Japan in 1934. Ruth put on a show by hitting 13 home runs, five of them in Meiji Jingu. The ripples of that tour are still felt, as the Japanese team compiled to take on the Americans went on to form the Yomiuri Giants, a team that would dominate N.P.B.

Forty-four years later, Haruki Murakami was in the stadium’s bleachers having a beer when he was so inspired by “the satisfying crack when the bat met the ball” that he purchased a pen and paper on his way home and immediately began writing the novel “Hear the Wind Sing.”

The group Save Jingu Gaien includes, from left, Wakako Hara, Natsuka Kusumoto, Rochelle Kopp, Takeshi Kubota, Mao Kawaguchi, Jun Fukumori.Joshua Mellin for The New York Times

In 2022, it was Munetaka Murakami (no relation to Haruki) who took a turn making history, slugging his 56th homer of the year at the park and breaking Sadaharu Oh’s single-season record for a Japanese-born player.

Beyond the stadium’s history, the plans have raised concerns because the relocations would have the new baseball stadium run adjacent to a notable avenue of century-old ginkgo trees that are celebrated with an annual fall festival.

The New Jingu Gaien planning website promises to “preserve the four rows of ginkgo trees and pass on to future generations the beautiful scenery with a good view of the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery.”

But the Japanese ICOMOS National Committee, which consists of a panel of experts involved in cultural heritage preservation, says the plan does not properly address the tree line nor offer scientific data about the issue.

Rochelle Kopp, a management consultant who works with Japanese businesses, has organized a petition to rethink the Meiji Jingu development, and has partnered with other activists who are concerned about how the plans will affect the trees.

The area around the stadium is known for its green space, much of which would be affected by the redevelopment plan.Joshua Mellin for The New York Times
Protests have erupted, many of which are focusing on the potential destruction of trees in the area.Stephen Wade/Associated Press

“The roots have branches out as far as the top of the tree, which means they’re branching out pretty far,” Kopp said of the trees. “Tree experts have said, if you put this wall on the stadium, which is going to have piling going 40 meters into the ground, that is going to, for sure, damage the rest of the tree.”

In response to the criticisms, the developers have adjusted the plan for fewer trees to be felled, but activists have said that the trees’ complex roots systems could still be compromised and that the amount of sunlight the trees receive will be affected by the new surrounding buildings.

There are other concerns about the plans as well.

Robert Whiting, an American author and journalist who has lived in Japan for most of the last 50 years and has written several books on Japanese culture, first visited Meiji Jingu in the 1960s, he wrote, “when there were no seats in the outfield, just a grassy slope where you could sit and watch the game, spread out a blanket, drink beer and look at the sky between innings.”

Whiting has organized his own petition against the development because of concerns about the loss of heritage, the potential damage to the current trees and the overall environmental impact of the project.

Even at a preseason game, Swallows fans came out to Meiji Jingu in force.Joshua Mellin for The New York Times

“It’s going to make for a less pleasant experience for fans,” he said.

While the issues surrounding the redevelopment project are complex, some detractors are simply focused on losing the experience of seeing games in a venue with so much history.

Lilli Friedman, a Temple University student on a study abroad program, grew up a Yankees fan in New York. She said she has become a passionate fan of Japanese baseball and that she “loves the history and being outside” at Meiji Jingu, which evokes the “same feeling as when I used to go to the old Yankee Stadium.”

“Coming from a Yankees fan standpoint, I don’t know anyone that didn’t prefer the old Yankee Stadium to the new one,” Friedman said. “I think there’s something to be said for even if it’s not the flashiest, newest stadium, keeping an environment that people really connect to, and have memories of, has a really special history especially because it’s such an endangered species now.”

If the project continues as planned, the baseball stadium will switch places with a rugby stadium. The process is expected to be completed by 2036.Joshua Mellin for The New York Times

Ex-Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Advocates Killing Ambassadors

A former children’s rights commissioner for Russia said during a recent broadcast of Russian state TV that murdering ambassadors is “within the framework of international law.”

Pavel Astakhov, the children’s ombudsman from 2009-2016, made the comment on a television program hosted by Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov while making a reference to Poland’s ambassador to Russia.

Poland is frequently the target of inflammatory rhetoric on Kremlin-backed media outlets due to the NATO country being one Kyiv’s strongest allies in the war that Russian President Vladimir Putin launched on Ukraine in February 2022. Along with taking in many Ukrainians displaced by the war, Poland has supplied Ukraine with large supplies of munitions, including powerful Leopard 2 tanks.

The Kremlin’s children’s rights envoy Pavel Astakhov speaks during a press conference in Moscow, on February 28, 2013. During a recent interview on Vladimir Solovyov’s show Astakhov said he believes murdering ambassadors is not a war crime.

Julia Davis on Sunday shared a translated clip of Astakhov’s television appearance on her Russian Media Monitor YouTube account.

During the appearance, Astakhov brought up how protesters in Poland who opposed Russia’s war in Ukraine poured red paint over Russia’s ambassador to Poland, Sergei Andreyev, while he was visiting the Soviet Military Cemetery in Warsaw last year.

Astakhov then said he wonders why the Polish ambassador to Russia has yet to be “found floating in the Moskva River” after Andreyev was doused in paint, according to Davis’ translation.

Astakhov said he believes “retaliatory measures for unfriendly actions” is not a crime and part of the nature of war.

Astakhov resigned from his role as Children’s Rights Commissioner in 2016 after public outcry over his comments on 14 children who died in a shipwreck, according to the Kyiv Post.

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry via email for comment.

While Astakhov’s comments were mostly condemned on social media, many also said they weren’t surprised to hear such remarks from a former Russian official.

“The whole theme of the Russian approach to the Ukraine war seems to be, ‘We’re the good guys here. Sure, there are mass graves found in every city we occupied and then retreated from. But don’t make us get nasty,'” Thomas E. Ricks, an author who frequently covers the military and national security issues, wrote on Twitter about Astakhov’s remarks on murdering envoys.

Along with featuring guests who have often expressed ant-Ukrainian sentiments, Solovyov himself has also made headlines for making controversial statements.

Earlier this month, Solovyov called for destroying Kyiv as well as the capitals of Poland and Germany. Weeks before, he unleashed a rant on his radio show Polniy Kontakt (Full Contact) about “screwed up pacifists in Russia” who oppose the country deploying nuclear weapons.

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Stars pay tribute to Stephen Curry after 50-point NBA playoff game

Stephen Curry put the Golden State Warriors on his back.

In Game 7 of his team’s first-round NBA playoffs series against the Sacramento Kings, Curry put up a performance for the ages: 50 points on 20 of 38 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and six assists. Curry’s Herculean effort gave his team a 120-100 win and will send them to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals.

Kevin Durant, Patrick Mahomes and more paid tribute to Curry on his latest incredible playoff performance.

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Curry sets G7 record with 50 as Dubs moves on

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors punched their ticket to the Western Conference Semifinals after defeating the Sacramento Kings 120-100 in Game 7 of their first-round series.

And it’s all thanks to Stephen Curry.

Curry erupted for 50 points on 20-of-38 shooting — the most points ever scored in a Game 7 in league history. Curry is the first player in Warriors history with 40 points in a Game 7. He scored 17 in the fourth.

The help Curry got was limited, as Klay Thompson went 1-of-10 and Jordan Poole scored just five points in the first half. Through the first 24 minutes, the Warriors appeared to be outmatched by the Kings. Yet they trailed by just two at halftime.

And finally midway through the third quarter, the Warriors woke up. They slowed the Kings on defense, taking control of the pace and attempting 10 more shots. Thompson gave the Warriors timely buckers — he and Curry scored or assisted on 30 of the Warriors’ 35 third quarter points.

Golden State grabbed 23 rebounds to Sacramento’s nine, 13 of which were offensive, tied for the most they have had in any quarter in the last 20 seasons, regular season or postseason. Once again, Kevon Looney was a game-changer, grabbing 10 of the Warriors’ third quarter rebounds, eight of on the offensive glass.

Looney’s presence on the boards was a defining factor for the Warriors — not just in Game 7, but throughout the series, as the margin on the glass was critical in each game.

Game 7 mirrored Golden State’s series as a whole: they looked outmatched early, missing five of their first 3-pointers. Meanwhile, the Kings were cooking. But somehow, the Warriors stayed close. And when it mattered, they mustered up enough down the stretch to slam the door shut.

Golden State was the 22nd defending champion to trail 2-0 in a best-of-7 series. With this win, it became the fifth team to come back and win the series. The Warriors are now 1-9 in a best-of-7 series where they trail 2-0 all-time.

They will now face the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semifinals, with Game 1 being played on Tuesday at Chase Center.

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Gov. Hochul Severs Ties With Top Political Adviser in Face of Backlash

Gov. Kathy Hochul and the adviser, Adam Sullivan, agreed that he should step down after The New York Times detailed how his guidance and behavior were questioned by others.

A top political adviser to Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York abruptly informed colleagues that he would resign on Sunday, citing a New York Times report that called into question his political counsel and described a toxic work environment under him.

The adviser, Adam C. Sullivan, was not a paid employee of the state but had been the de facto head of Ms. Hochul’s political operation, overseeing her 2022 campaign. She had also deputized him to help steer the state Democratic Party.

In an email Sunday to colleagues, including the party’s chairman, Mr. Sullivan apologized for his behavior and said he and Ms. Hochul agreed he should relinquish his responsibilities.

“In retrospect, I can see the toll that the campaign took on me,” he wrote in the email, sent just after 5 p.m. “And after some serious thinking, I think it best if I take some time away from politics and the campaign environment and get healthy.”

Ms. Hochul, a Democrat, confirmed Mr. Sullivan’s resignation in a separate brief statement. The departure comes at a politically inconvenient time, as she is putting the final touches on a $229 billion state budget that is a month overdue.

“I was disappointed by what was described in The New York Times story about Adam, and he and I agreed that he should step back,” she said.

A longtime friend and adviser to Ms. Hochul, Mr. Sullivan, 42, amassed considerable influence after she unexpectedly became governor in August 2021. He helped build her administration, oversaw her widely criticized campaign for a full term and recently took charge of reviving the embattled state party.

Without a defined job title and no social media profile, he operated largely out of public view from his home 1,700 miles away in Colorado. After The Times drew attention to it last week, the arrangement drew harsh criticism from fellow Democrats, who bristled at the idea that Ms. Hochul had paid an out-of-state consultant — one who possessed few relationships to political actors in the state — more than $500,000 to help steer her governorship.

Mr. Sullivan also faced dissent from within Ms. Hochul’s campaign team and the executive chamber. The Times’s report cited more than 15 colleagues who said that Mr. Sullivan had disparaged subordinates, especially young women, froze out aides who disagreed with him and often shifted blame to others when the campaign faltered.

The aides and advisers who spoke to The Times all requested anonymity for fear of retribution, but said they believed Mr. Sullivan was pulling down Ms. Hochul’s political standing.

In his email on Sunday, Mr. Sullivan apologized “to anyone who felt harmed in any way by my behavior.”

Mr. Sullivan, a longtime friend of the governor’s who has worked with her since her 2011 special election to Congress, also suggested the break would be permanent.

Ms. Hochul would govern “without me interfering in any way,” he said. “I look forward to watching her success from afar.”

‘Zero Leads’: Dragnet Continues for Man Sought in Fatal Shooting of 5 in Texas

More than 200 law enforcement officers were searching for Francisco Oropesa on Sunday. “We do not have any tips right now as to where he may be,” an F.B.I. agent said.

A Texas gunman who was being sought in connection with the fatal shooting of five people on Friday night after a neighbor asked him to stop firing his weapon remained at large, the authorities said on Sunday.

The gunman, Francisco Oropesa, 38, refused a request by the neighbor to stop shooting because the noise was keeping his baby awake. Instead, the authorities said, Mr. Oropesa retrieved an AR-15 and opened fire at his neighbor’s home in Cleveland, Texas.

Mr. Oropesa, officials said, shot several members of the same family. Among the dead was an 8-year-old boy.

At a news conference on Sunday, the authorities said that more than 200 law enforcement officers were looking for Mr. Oropesa and that they had no leads regarding his whereabouts. They offered an $80,000 reward for his capture.

“We do not know where he is,” said James Smith, a special agent in charge for the F.B.I. in the Houston area. “We do not have any tips right now as to where he may be. Right now, we have zero leads.”

Sheriff Greg Capers of San Jacinto County said that there were 10 people inside the house at the time of the shooting, five of whom remained alive.

He said that Mr. Oropesa had been drinking when the neighbor, Wilson Garcia, approached him to ask him to stop firing his gun. Sheriff Capers said that Mr. Oropesa responded: “I’ll do what I want to in my front yard.”

The F.B.I. identified those killed as Mr. Garcia’s wife, Sonia Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Juliza Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 8.

Three other people were taken to hospitals after the shooting. The victims were all from Honduras, officials said.

The authorities had initially identified the man as Francisco Oropeza, but on Sunday afternoon, the F.B.I. said that his last name would be spelled with an “s” going forward “to better reflect his identity in law enforcement systems.”

Court records show that Mr. Oropesa had been charged with misdemeanor drunken driving in Texas in 2009 and convicted. The sentence in that case was not immediately available.

Eliza Fawcett and April Rubin contributed reporting and Kirsten Noyes and Jack Begg contributed research.

Crimea Oil Depot Blast Was Preparation for Full-Scale Offensive: Ukraine

The strike against an oil dept in the Russian-annexed Crimean region was part of preparations being done for the forthcoming spring counteroffensive, the Ukrainian Armed Forces announced on Sunday.

A Russian-controlled oil depot in Sevastopol, the largest city in the Crimean peninsula, dramatically caught fire in the early morning hours on Saturday. Mikhail Razvozhaev, the Moscow-installed local governor of Sevastopol, later said that the incident was caused by an attack from two drones, and that the fire at one point reached 21,500 square feet in size.

On Sunday, during a 24-hour national news broadcast. Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Armed Forces, confirmed that the strike on the oil depot was carried out by Ukrainian forces “in preparation for the broad, full-scale offensive that everyone expects.”

Humeniuk further claimed that the “enemy’s logistics were undermined” and that Russian officials in the region are now trying “to evacuate their families and leave Crimea themselves” in response to the attack.

Above, a photo of Ukrainian troops preparing for a forthcoming counteroffensive against Russia. Ukrainian officials on Sunday claimed responsibility for a recent strike against an oil depot in Crimea, calling it part of the “preparations” for the counteroffensive.
Scott Peterson/Getty Images

Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. Despite Russia’s continued insistence that the annexation was conducted based on a referendum from the Crimean people, the move has been widely condemned on the world stage, and many nations continue to recognize the peninsula as Ukrainian land.

During the recent year-long conflict with Russia, Ukrainian officials have frequently discussed the possibility of attempting to retake Crimea as part of the fight to push out the invading forces. Top Ukrainian government officials have claimed in recent weeks that Russian officials are fleeing the region in advance of the planned spring counteroffensive.

In his statements about the oil depot incident from Saturday, Razvozhaev insisted that the attack had not hurt anyone and that it would not have a disruptive impact on the energy situation in Crimea.

“I want to emphasize once again: The main thing is that no one was hurt,” Razvozhaev said. “With the rest—we’ll figure it out.”

Numerous reports of similar fires and attacks have emerged from Crimea over the last six months, particularly around Sevastopol. In addition to being Crimea’s largest city, it is also a key port that serves as the main base for Russia’s Black Sea Naval Fleet.

“The Ukrainian nights can be a bit chilly in the Springtime, so the Armed Forces of Ukraine generously helped the Russian invaders get warmed in the occupied Sevastopol,” Operation Starsky, the official Twitter account of a Ukrainian national guardsman, recently tweeted about the oil depot attack.

Newsweek reached out to foreign defense experts via email for insight and comment.

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‘This one’s on me’: Brunson self-critical after loss

NEW YORK — Jalen Brunson scored 25 points in a 108-101 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday, but after it was over, the New York Knicks guard took responsibility for his team’s downfall and failure to close the game.

“They finished the third quarter strong, finished the second quarter strong,” Brunson said of the Heat. “They had key moments in the game where we needed to finish strong, be strong, and that starts with me. Today I was horrific. Just very uncharacteristic by me — and this one’s on me. I got to be better. And we’ll go from there.”

What Brunson was referring to most was the fact he was 0-for-7 from the 3-point line and could not find any rhythm once the Heat’s tough defense got him away from the paint.

“I think inside the 3-point line I was pretty efficient,” Brunson said. “Outside the 3-point line, I was terrible. They’re a good team, great defense, well coached, experience, so you got to give them the credit, but for me I have to be better.”

It wasn’t just Brunson who was having issues from long range Sunday. The Knicks finished 7-for-34 from beyond the arc, missing multiple open looks that would have changed the game.

“The game tells you what to do, so if you’re open, you got to let it go,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They’re going to collapse and we got to make the right reads. And that’s it.”

Despite the loss, the Knicks remained upbeat about their chances in the series, especially given that they believe they will shoot better heading into Game 2 on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

“We can’t be discouraged,” Brunson said. “Playing in the NBA, a lot of it’s all confidence, and you got to stay confident, you got to stay poised and you got to stick together as a team. We just got to come back hungry, be better, fix our mistakes and move forward from there.”

Knicks guard Josh Hart echoed a similar sentiment.

“I don’t think there’s an opportunity that we let slip away,” Hart said. “This is going to be a tough physical series and every game’s different.”

The Knicks also remain optimistic that All Star forward Julius Randle will return to the floor at some point in the near future. Randle missed Sunday’s game because of a sprained left ankle, but got a workout in before the game and appears to be making progress towards a return.

“I don’t know how close [he was],” Thibodeau said after the game. “I know he worked out before, I just trust him and the medical staff to make that decision. So if he could go — I planned both ways, I planned with him going and planned if he didn’t go. Once they make a decision, that’s it and you live with it and you get ready with what you have. And so we have more than enough.”

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When the Broadway Lights Went Out, Two Theater Workers Found Love

Jhanaë Bonnick and Patrick McDonnell, who both worked in theater, connected on a dating app just before the pandemic began. They grew closer virtually with the help of “36 Questions.”

For three weeks after they matched on Hinge in February 2020, Jhanaë K-C Bonnick and Patrick Sean McDonnell tried to make plans to meet, but both were too busy with their jobs in theater. Then the coronavirus pandemic began and everything shut down.

Their first date, on March 19, was a viewing of the film “Always Be My Maybe” using Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party), an extension that allows subscribers in different places to watch TV shows or movies on the streaming service at the same time.

Soon they were texting each other every day. At the time, Ms. Bonnick, a Broadway stage manager, lived in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, and had no work since all the theaters had shut down. She has asthma, so she was nervous about catching Covid-19. “I was in my apartment with my roommate and her cats, just hanging out for a long time,” she said. Mr. McDonnell was working remotely for New York Theater Workshop as a special projects associate, and living with his parents in Carle Place, N.Y., where he grew up.

In search of a novel virtual activity for them to try, Mr. McDonnell came across the “36 Questions That Lead to Love.” (These are part of a study developed by psychologists to investigate conversations that can build intimacy between two strangers.) In mid-April, he suggested that for their first Zoom date, they ask each other the first 12.

After the ceremony, Ms. Bonnick headed to the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on West 46th Street for a preview performance of “Sweeney Todd.” She is the show’s assistant stage manager.Yun Li Photography
She was cheered on by the stage management team. “I checked the props in my wedding dress,” she said.Yun Li Photography

“I was like, lead to … what?” Ms. Bonnick said. “I’m panicking, texting my friends. What does this mean?”

Over the course of three consecutive Saturdays, they went through the entire list. Each conversation lasted around three hours.

“It works,” Ms. Bonnick said. “We fell in love.”

Mr. McDonnell said he appreciated that Ms. Bonnick “was willing to answer everything with a lot of vulnerability and thoughtfulness.”

Recently, Ms. Bonnick and Mr. McDonnell looked through the text messages they sent each other during those early months. “We were there for each other through the really weird parts of the pandemic,” Ms. Bonnick said.

They found ways to connect outside of the digital world, too. At one point, Ms. Bonnick, who rarely cooked or baked, mailed Mr. McDonnell a tin of homemade snickerdoodle cookies with a handwritten note. “She baked the cookies, she went to the post office in the middle of the pandemic, went to the trouble to overnight ship them,” Mr. McDonnell said. “That was the first time I thought, Is this what being in love is like?”

The couple matched on the dating app Hinge in February 2020 and got to know each other virtually during the pandemic.Yun Li Photography

The note Ms. Bonnick sent with the cookies began a tradition that they still keep up with. Every month, on the anniversary of their first date, on March 19, Ms. Bonnick leaves a Post-it note for Mr. McDonnell to find. And Mr. McDonnell writes her notes during the run of each show she works on. (For their wedding, Ms. Bonnick made Mr. McDonnell a box full of notes and photos, and he wrote her a letter and made a digital album of 36 photos, one from every month they had been dating.)

After more than three months of dating from afar, they finally met in person on Memorial Day, at Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. “We talked for a long time,” Ms. Bonnick said. When they were saying goodbye, both were wearing masks and didn’t know how to end the meeting physically. “In normal times, it would be a ‘Do we kiss now?’” Ms. Bonnick said. Instead, she said, “There’s a weird pause, and Patrick goes, ‘Is it OK if we hug?’” Disappointed, Ms. Bonnick went home and told her roommate, “Well, that was nice while it lasted.”

Ms. Bonnick was convinced that the hug signified coldness, but she was misreading the signs. Soon after, Mr. McDonnell texted her as usual, and their romance continued. They began seeing each other regularly in person.

That summer delivered a series of painful challenges that solidified their commitment to each other.

The groom prepares for the morning wedding ceremony.Yun Li Photography
He had worked at the New York Theater Workshop as a special projects associate. He is now a full-time security guard at Madison Square Garden.Yun Li Photography

Since receiving a bachelor’s degree in theater arts from State University of New York at New Paltz in 2014, Ms. Bonnick, 30, has worked in theater. In 2016, she had her big break as the production assistant for “Hadestown” at the show’s Off Broadway debut at New York Theater Workshop. She went on to work on shows like “The Cherry Orchard,” “Caroline, or Change” and, more recently, “Sweeney Todd.” But several months into the pandemic, she was wondering if her career in theater was over. All she could think, she said, was “I’ve spent five years investing in something that doesn’t exist anymore.”

She was facing challenges on a personal level as well. In late spring 2020, Ms. Bonnick’s maternal grandfather, Joseph Johnson, died, and in August, her paternal grandfather, Keith Bonnick, also died. The Black Lives Matter protests that began in late May raised difficult emotions for Ms. Bonnick. And she and her roommate found out on short notice that they had to move out of their apartment.

Mr. McDonnell, 28, who received a bachelor’s degree in theater from Brooklyn College in 2017, had held on to his job for the New York Theater Workshop when the pandemic began. He is currently working full time as a security guard at Madison Square Garden.

That summer, he faced a major health scare. “I had a massive tumor growing along the side of my jaw,” he said. “It started the size of a pea and by summer it was the size of a golf ball. I started going for tests. In mid-August, I had surgery to remove it.” When he went in for a follow-up, the doctors told him that the lump had been an extremely rare form of cancer called secretory carcinoma. “Luckily it was a clean removal,” he said.

Also that summer, Mr. McDonnell’s grandfather on his father’s side, James McDonnell, died, an event that deeply affected his family.

The bride wore a white, ankle-length JessaKae dress with puff sleeves.Yun Li Photography

Throughout it all, Ms. Bonnick and Mr. McDonnell leaned on each other. He came to Manhattan regularly to join the Black Lives Matter protests or to help out at New York Theater Workshop, which, along with other theaters, decided to open its lobby to give protesters a place to drink water, use the bathrooms or just rest. In the evenings, he would head to Ms. Bonnick’s apartment and stay overnight.

That summer “was one of the ways I knew and felt very confident that the relationship was built to last,” Mr. McDonnell said. “We spent time together either navigating these things directly or hanging out,” he said. “If we wanted an escape, we could have an escape. If we wanted to plan, we could plan. If we just wanted to be safe, we could comfort each other. There wasn’t any tension between us.”

Ms. Bonnick said that all of the challenges they faced that summer, along with having started a relationship talking on the phone or texting and having done the 36 questions early on, built a foundation of constant communication. Check-ins became a norm. “We don’t really fight now,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t disagree. If we disagree, we’re just having a different kind of conversation.”

Last summer, they started floating the idea of marriage. For Mr. McDonnell, the month of July carries particular significance. On July 2, 2008, when he was 13, Mr. McDonnell almost drowned at Jones Beach. The situation was dire enough that a helicopter evacuated him to a nearby hospital and he was kept there overnight. “Around that time every year I think about what it means to be alive and to have been so close to death,” he said. “Last July, I knew I wanted to be married to her and I didn’t want to wait much longer.”

The ceremony took place in the rehearsal room of the theater workshop.Yun Li Photography

Ms. Bonnick agreed. So that August, Mr. McDonnell arranged an outing in Port Washington, N.Y., with Ms. Bonnick’s parents, Karen and Hugh Bonnick; her brother Jalel Bonnick; his parents, Laura and Peter McDonnell; his aunt and uncle, Linda and Greg Pietrzak; and his cousin Jeffrey Pietrzak. His plan to propose on the dock as the sun set was almost thwarted when the arrival of Ms. Bonnick’s family from Staatsburg, N.Y., where her parents live, was delayed. Luckily, they made it, with 20 minutes to spare before nightfall.

“He got down on one knee at the waterfront during sunset and asked me to marry him,” Ms. Bonnick said. Afterward, the two families, who were meeting for the first time, went for dinner nearby at Finn MacCool’s.

Choosing New York Theater Workshop as the venue for the wedding was easy. Mr. McDonnell worked at the theater for four years, and Ms. Bonnick worked on four shows there, including “Hadestown” and “Slave Play.” “That was where we launched our careers and met many of our friends,” Ms. Bonnick said. (They never met through work, though Mr. McDonnell knew of Ms. Bonnick.)

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On March 19, 2023, Ms. Bonnick and Mr. McDonnell were wed in the theater’s rehearsal room in front of 44 guests. Their friend, Yang-Yang Chen, who was ordained by Open Ministry, officiated. They asked guests to test for Covid-19 if they felt unwell.

When choosing the date for the wedding, Mr. McDonnell and Ms. Bonnick quickly settled on March 19, their anniversary and a Sunday this year. But what they didn’t count on was Ms. Bonnick’s work schedule.

Forty-four guests were in attendance.Yun Li Photography
The couple enjoy a dance as newlyweds. They celebrated later in the day with a small group of friends and family at Dim Sum Palace on Second Avenue.Yun Li Photography

After the 10:30 a.m. ceremony and a brunch featuring mimosas, crepe cakes from Lady M Cake Boutique, and a coffee truck, Ms. Bonnick rushed across Manhattan, from Fourth Street to the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on West 46th Street, for a 3 p.m. preview performance of “Sweeney Todd.” Ms. Bonnick, the show’s assistant stage manager, walked in wearing a white, ankle-length JessaKae dress with puff sleeves. “All of my friends, the whole stage management team, were screaming,” she said. Afterward, she said, “I checked the props in my wedding dress.”

After the show, she met Mr. McDonnell and a small group of friends and family for dinner at Dim Sum Palace on Second Avenue. At some point, Ms. Bonnick and Mr. McDonnell realized that besides being their anniversary, March 19 was also the last day of winter this year. “It was the perfect time for a new beginning,” Ms. Bonnick said.

When March 19, 2023

Where New York Theater Workshop, New York

A Shared Commitment Mr. McDonnell and Ms. Bonnick will take each other’s last names, both becoming Bonnick-McDonnell. It was an “important statement of values for us, another marker of the commitment we are making together,” Mr. McDonnell said.

In Their Words As part of the ceremony, the couple asked guests to read passages of a poem called “A Spell for Reclaiming the Moment” by Adrienne Maree Brown. Ms. Bonnick’s close friend and former roommate, Madeleine Foster Bersin, read a passage from bell hooks’s “All About Love: New Visions.” “We wanted a balance between it feeling like a traditional ceremony and it feeling distinctly our own,” Mr. McDonnell said.

Rebirth For their rings, the couple chose aquamarine, the birthstone for March.

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