Zion Williamson opened with a joke – about himself.

A monthslong recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery is finally behind the New Orleans Pelicans’ rookie and top overall draft choice. And when Williamson discussed the long wait for his highly anticipated NBA regular-season debut on Wednesday night against San Antonio, he poked fun at himself for apparently dozing off while sitting on the bench during a couple of recent games.

“If ya’ll saw me meditating on the sidelines, it’s been very difficult,” Williamson said with a grin. “But it’s finally here. I finally get to go back out there.”

The whole league and basketball fans around the world seem to be as excited as he is.

In four preseason games, Williamson averaged 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds before being sidelined to have surgery on Oct. 21, the day before the regular-season opener. The initial prognosis was a 6- to 8-week absence, but the Pelicans took a cautious, comprehensive approach with their prized draft pick that lasted much longer.

• David Stern was remembered as a mentor and a leader, a Little League parent and a loyal friend.

To Magic Johnson, he was an angel.

Johnson tearfully recalled Stern’s firm support after the Hall of Fame player learned he had HIV, and how it was the former NBA commissioner allowing him to play in the 1992 All-Star Game despite some players’ fears that kept his spirits up during the darkest time of his life.

“That game saved my life,” Johnson said.

Johnson was one of the speakers at a memorial service for Stern, who died Jan. 1 at age 77 after suffering a brain hemorrhage a few weeks earlier.

Radio City Music Hall was filled with what Commissioner Adam Silver called one of the greatest collections of basketball talent in one location, from mighty big men Bill Russell and Yao Ming to dazzling distributors such as Johnson and Isiah Thomas.

Stern spent 30 years as commissioner, the league’s longest-serving leader, and Silver noted that few people in the room would have had the opportunities they did in life without Stern, whose longtime office at NBA headquarters was just a block away.

• The Portland Trail Blazers acquired veteran forward Trevor Ariza from the Sacramento Kings.

Portland also got Wenyen Gabriel and Caleb Swanigan from the Kings in exchange for Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and two second-round draft picks.


NATIONALS: Franz-Peter Jerosch of Yarmouth and Analise Gonzalez of North Reading, Massachusetts, placed seventh after  a score of 38.26 in the short program of the Junior Pairs of the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships at Greensboro, North Carolina.

Jerosch, who is from the Skate Club of New York, and Gonzalez, of the Skate Club of Boston, are scheduled to be the first pair to compete in the free skate on Wednesday, beginning at 2:45 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.


CZECH LEAGUE: Akim Aliu, the player who helped prompt a new discussion about racism and coaching behavior in hockey, is heading back to the ice.

Aliu, 30, signed in the Czech Extraliga for the remainder of the season. He joins HC Litvinov with 14 games left in the season, giving him a chance to display his game to any NHL teams interested in signing him.

The Nigerian-born Aliu, who was raised in Ukraine and Canada, said last fall that veteran coach Bill Peters directed racial slurs toward him while with the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs.

Peters resigned as Calgary coach after comments from Aliu and another player who said Peters kicked him and punched another player while with the Carolina Hurricanes.


MAJORS: With Los Angeles fans reeling from news that two of the Dodgers’ recent World Series opponents were linked to a cheating scandal that tipped off batters to what pitch was about to be thrown, the City Council voted to ask Major League Baseball to strip the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox of their World Series titles.

Council members acknowledged that the vote was purely symbolic. The goal was to send a message that cheating shouldn’t be tolerated, said Councilman Gil Cedillo, who introduced the motion along with Councilman Paul Koretz.

• Free-agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna and the Atlanta Braves reached an $18 million, one-year deal that puts him on the team he helped beat in the playoffs last October.

Ozuna hit .429 with two home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in their five-game win over the Braves in the NL Division Series.


INJURY: Super-G world champion Dominik Paris will miss the rest of the Alpine skiing season after damaging his right knee in a training accident in Austria.

The Italian ski federation, FISI, said Paris tore his anterior cruciate ligament and fractured his fibula in a crash during super-G practice in Kirchberg.


MLS: The LA Galaxy signed Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, bringing the Mexican star back to North America after a lengthy career in Europe.

The striker will participate in his first training session Thursday.

Hernandez is a designated player for the Galaxy and the effective replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who signed with AC Milan this winter after two outstanding seasons stateside.

Hernandez, 31, is the top goal-scorer in the history of the Mexican national team.

• Atlanta United surrendered another big part of their MLS Cup-winning squad, trading midfielder Julian Gressel to D.C. United after failing to reach agreement on a new contract.

Atlanta acquired $650,000 in targeted allocation money in 2020 and another $100,000 in 2021, with the possibility of receiving an additional $350,000 if Gressel reaches certain performance-based incentives with D.C. United.


TENNIS: Top-ranked doubles player Robert Farah was provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation pending a disciplinary hearing into his positive doping test.

The ITF formally imposed the suspension hours after the Australian Open began.

Farah had been due to play in Melbourne with long-time doubles partner Juan Sebastian Cabal until announcing his doping case last week. The pair won the last two Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Farah denies wrongdoing and blamed his positive test for the steroid Boldenone on eating contaminated meat in his native Colombia.

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