Julius Erving Gordon Should've Won Dunk Contest ... But It Was Super Close!!

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IT'S OKAY TO TIE
TMZSports.com

Julius Erving's one of the GREATEST DUNKERS in the history of basketball ... and he tells TMZ Sports that Aaron Gordon deserved the dunk contest win!!

We talked to Dr. J -- who was in the building for the dunk contest -- at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. on Monday ... and we asked the hoops legend if the Orlando Magic star was robbed by the judges in Chi-town.

"I don't know if robbed is the right term, if it had ended in a tie, I don't think anybody would've been upset. But, a contest like that going into basically 2 overtimes. Third overtime. You hate to have a loser."

BUT, forced to pick a winner, Dr. J -- who won the inaugural ABA Dunk Contest in 1976 -- says Gordon's final dunk was justtttttttt a little better than Derrick Jones Jr.'s jam.

"I think [Gordon's] last dunk was cleaner. Neither one of them were 50's because they had shot their load in terms of their best stuff."

Of course, AG literally jumped over the biggest dude in the NBA -- 7'5" Boston Celtics giant Tacko Fall -- but somehow, someway, Scottie Pippen, Chadwick Boseman and Jones’ ex-teammate Dwyane Wade only gave him a 9.

Gordon missed tying Jones and forcing another round of dunks by 1 point ... and flat-out beating him by 2 points.

After the contest, Gordon -- who also took an L via a controversial decision in 2016 -- declared he'd never again compete in the dunk contest.

Mike Trout Calls for MLB to Punish Players ... In Astros Cheating Scandal

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@RhettBollinger

Here's a side of Mike Trout you don't see very often -- he's PISSED -- claiming MLB should punish the Houston Astros players who cheated their way to a World Series victory.

Trout -- the best player in baseball -- went off on the situation to reporters at an L.A. Angels spring training workout on Monday ... saying the players are getting off WAY too easy.

"They cheated," Trout said matter of factly ... "I don't agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything. It was a player-driven thing."

"It sucks too, because guys' careers have been affected. A lot of people lost jobs. It was tough. Me going up to the plate knowing what was coming -- it would be pretty fun up there."

Trout added, "It's sad for baseball ... it's tough."

The 28-year-old -- an 8-time All-Star and 3 times A.L. MVP -- said he noticed the Astros trash can banging during the 2017 season but didn't connect the dots until now.

"I lost some respect for some guys ... all the stuff coming out, it's tough to see."

As for the players accused of cheating, MLB commish Rob Manfred says he gave immunity to players who cooperated with the MLB's investigation ... which means no major punishment to the individuals.

A lot of people are PISSED -- claiming MLB needs to strip the Astros of their World Series title ASAP. But, so far, it doesn't appear like that's gonna happen.

NBA's Antonio Davis MJ & Pippen Better Than Kobe & Shaq ... 'Shaq Can't Guard!!!'

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PASSIN' THE TORCH
TMZSports.com

Shaquille O'Neal ain't going to like this ...

Ex-NBA stud Antonio Davis says Shaq and Kobe have NOTHING on Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen when it comes to the best duo in league history ... telling TMZ Sports it's all 'cause of Shaq's defense!

"Shaq can't come out and guard nobody!" Davis says.

The debate's been raging on for YEARS ... and when we got AD out at NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago on Saturday -- he told us there's no need for an argument anymore.

"I don't care what nobody says," Davis tells us. "Hands down. I don't care."

Of course, there's a lot of people in the hoops world that would disagree with Davis ... Shaq and Kobe won 3 titles together and both dudes have legit claims to be considered top 10 players ever.

Then again, Jordan and Scottie won 6 championships together ... and MJ is considered the game's best-ever -- so maybe Antonio's got a point?

By the way, we got Antonio's take on the NBA's G.O.A.T ... and ya gotta hear why he says it's impossible to label just one player with that title.

Mike Tomlin Upset w/ Myles Garrett Interview ... Claims It's Unfair to Mason Rudolph

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Mike Tomlin is DOUBLING DOWN on his support of Mason Rudolph -- claiming there's zero evidence the QB used a racial slur against Myles Garrett ... and he feels a new interview with Garrett was unfair to Rudolph.

The Pittsburgh Steelers head coach appeared on ESPN's "First Take" on Monday and criticized the network for what he believed was a slanted piece against his quarterback.

Remember, Garrett told ESPN's Mina Kimes that Rudolph had called him a "stupid n*****" moments before Garrett swung a helmet at his head during a Steelers vs. Browns game in Nov.

Tomlin not only said he doesn't believe Garrett -- citing investigations by the Steelers and the NFL -- but knocked ESPN for not doing more to represent those findings.

"It was a thorough investigation done by us and the Nation Football League, I don’t think that was represented during that piece [that aired on ESPN]," Tomlin said.

"These accusations are serious, not only in terms of Mason Rudolph’s character but his professional pursuits."

"Nobody on that field as a member of the Cleveland browns or Pittsburgh Steelers corroborated what was said by Myles Garrett. That was founded by us and the National Football League, and at no point during that piece this weekend that was stated."

As for Rudolph, he adamantly denied using the n-word during the game -- and says he's already lawyered up and is considering taking legal action against Garrett.

Harriet Tubman Debit Card Spikes Bank Numbers ... What Controversy?!? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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The bank under fire for its Harriet Tubman debit card design says its sales are the only thing on fire ... 'cause new and old customers are clamoring for the new debit card.

We're told OneUnited Bank -- claiming to be America's largest black-owned bank -- is seeing exponentially larger volume than usual after debuting the Harriet Tubman card. We're told the bank is seeing 10x their normal volume in terms of bank account sign-ups, account holders requesting to switch to the new debit card design and banking inquiries.

OneUnited Bank

It's only been 72 hours ... but OneUnited knows when they've got a huge winner 'cause they saw similar numbers back in 2016 after partnering with Killer Mike's #BankBlack movement.

The goal back then? Move money to black-owned banks. OneUnited claims more than $50 million in deposits was moved to black-owned banks across the country. This time around, OneUnited feels it's got a hit on its hands based on the early numbers.

As we reported ... OneUnited caught flak for the design but its president, Teri Williams, doubled down and said the bank stood behind its Tubman design. She added the bank is "unapologetically black" ... so expect the card to stick around for a while.

Van Jones Dwyane's Brave for Supporting Zaya ... Other Parents Will Follow

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LEADING BY EXAMPLE
TMZ.com

Van Jones says Dwyane Wade is setting a good example for other parents when it comes to his kid, Zaya ...  and he's sure more and more families will follow suit.

We got the CNN host out in Chicago this weekend and asked him to weigh-in on Dwyane revealing this child wanted to identify as a female, and change her name from Zion to Zaya. Check it out ... Van says it was a brave thing to do, and it'll have a ripple effect.

He basically explains that someone of D-Wade's stature coming out in support gives other parents a permission structure to do the same with their own kids who might be in a similar situation. So, in other words, Van thinks Dwyane's actions will carry over beyond right now.

And by that, he means less suicides, less self-hatred ... and a lot more love and acceptance.

MEET ZAYA

Nobody seems to have been as well-spoken about the subject than Zaya herself, who said she wants to be a role model to others. Dwyane captured the pep talk, and it's clear ... she's a smart cookie.

Pete Buttigieg on Rush Limbaugh I Love My Husband, So Deal With It ... Steve Bannon Backs Him

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HE'S ONE TO TALK
CNN

Pete Buttigieg is firing back at Rush Limbaugh's homophobic remarks with poise and class -- and interestingly enough ... he's got Steve Bannon supporting him here.

Mayor Pete went on CNN Sunday to talk about the campaign, Nevada, polls and attracting voters of color -- but he was also given the opportunity to respond to the conservative radio host's recent controversial POV ... that Trump would easily defeat a gay opponent.

MR. MAN'S WATCHING
The Rush Limbaugh Show

PB was pretty measured, but also firm. He says he loves his husband, Chasten, and doesn't care who knows it. More importantly, he won't take family advice from someone like Rush -- who says Pete seems to enjoy making a show out of kissing a man on stage.

Pete corrects the record there as well -- telling Dana Bash he usually just hugs Chasten.

A STAND-UP GUY
TMZ.com

As we've reported ... DT himself has actually taken the opposite stance, saying he doesn't think Pete being gay would affect voters all that much -- and certainly shouldn't hurt his electability.

Welp, as it turns out ... Trump's old campaign pal, Steve Bannon, feels the exact same way. We got him out in NYC as he was leaving the FOX News studio and asked him about it. You gotta watch this for yourself because Steve is incredibly strong in his statement to us.

Long story short, Bannon doesn't think Pete's "sexual preference" (cringe) is a talking point whatsoever ... so move on, America.

Jussie Smollett Osundairo Bros. Praying for Him ... To 'Finally Tell the Truth'

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WE CAN HANDLE THE TRUTH
TMZ.com

Jussie Smollett's alleged accomplices in staging a hate crime are speaking on camera for the first time since Jussie was hit with felony charges again ... and they're practically pleading for him to come clean.

The Osundairo brothers -- Abel and Ola -- were leaving Fina Estampa restaurant in Chicago Friday afternoon when they opened up about Jussie ... and how they feel about the whole debacle.

Ola starts by telling us they are praying for Jussie to "build up the courage to finally tell the truth" ... clearly implying they're sticking to their story -- that it was all a hoax perpetrated by Smollett.

TOOLS FOR THE CRIME
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Abel, who's walking with his brother and their lawyer, Gloria Schmidt, goes on to say the brothers feel remorseful for being involved in the incident and causing people pain ... especially real victims of hate crimes who may have been marginalized because of what they did.

As we reported ... Jussie's facing a new 6-count indictment for allegedly lying to law enforcement about his "attack" back in January 2019. He also still has to deal with the City of Chicago's lawsuit against him for around $500k in investigative costs.

The Osundairos have said they remain "fully committed to the public knowing the truth" and will cooperate with the renewed investigation, and tell us if that means testifying ... they'll do what needs to be done.

Justin Bieber I Want to Protect Billie Eilish ... Cries in New Interview

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Justin Bieber seems to see himself in Billie Eilish -- whom he says he wants to protect at all costs from going through the same sort of hell he did as a rising child star.

Biebs sat down with Beats 1's Zane Lowe for a new interview to plug his new album, "Changes," and during the convo ... Billie was brought up. Justin says he wants to let her do her thing, but also notes ... if she ever needs him, he's just a phone call away.

Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.

JB even tears up talking about her, adding that he wants to protect her and shelter her from the sorts of experiences he went through growing up. It's incredibly touching.

As you know ... Justin's been through a lot over the years, including arrests, lawsuits, self-admitted substance abuse, depression, relationship woes ... and on and on.

The honest moment certainly caught Billie's eye -- she captured a snippet of the interview and posted it to her own Instagram ... adding photos of her when she was younger, which show she was a huge Bieber fan. Clearly, the love here goes both ways.

As for Billie -- who's got an older brother, Finneas, navigating the music industry with her -- she's a rock star right now, and at the young age of 18 to boot. BE has racked up several Grammys already for her debut album, and is heading up the new Bond theme song.

In any case, it would appear she appreciates Justin looking out for her. She captioned her post, "stream changes." Both the interview and the new album are on Apple Music, and streaming platforms everywhere.

'Bachelor' Contestant Victoria F Sorry for 'White Lives Matter' Shoot ... It Was to Support Fish!!!

'Bachelor' contestant Victoria F is finally addressing a controversy that's been dogging her for a minute now -- issuing a mea culpa for being part of a 'White Lives Matter' campaign.

The model -- who's currently still in the running for Peter Weber's final rose -- took to social media Saturday with a Notes-written apology for her eyebrow-raising shoot, which she posted on her Instagram story. It says, "I would like to sincerely apologize for my involvement with We Love Marlins. My intention was only to support an endangered species."

She continues in her post, "I want to say that I unequivocally reject the beliefs of the white lives matter movement or any propaganda that supports racism of any kind. I would like to specifically apologize to people of color that are affected by racism daily."

MarlinLivesMatter.com

VF finished by saying, "It was never my intention to add fuel to the racial fire in this country. This has truly been an educational moment for me and I hope to be a voice against racism moving forward. I hope I can be shown grace as I navigate through this process."

The timing of her apology is interesting ... as we reported and as 'Bachelor' nation now knows, Victoria is in the final four group of girls who are taking Pete to their hometown.

HOMETOWN HANGIN'
TMZ.com

We knew about the 'WLM' campaign -- which was meant to be a 'BLM' pun to raise awareness about over-fishing white Marlin -- but it went unaddressed as the show continued. About a week ago, however, Cosmo scrapped Victoria from their digital cover because of it.

No word if she ends up going the distance with Pete -- rumor has it he doesn't choose any of the remaining girls -- but it seems her post-'Bachelor' life demanded she speak on this.

American Airlines Passenger Threatens Defamation Lawsuit Against AA

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Wendi Williams, the woman whose reclined seat was repeatedly punched by a passenger on an American Airlines flight, is ready to pick another fight ... this time with the airline!!!

Wendi tells us she met with an attorney Friday to discuss legal options she can take against AA ... and she's threatening the airline with a defamation lawsuit!

Williams is bristling over what an American Airlines rep told TMZ -- that the whole seat-reclining incident started when she first reclined and knocked over the other passenger's drink. Wendi claims it never happened. BTW, even if she did, it would have been an accident and no big deal.

She believes she was slandered when AA accused her of being disruptive, spilling a drink and also all the things that the flight attendant said to her on the plane -- that she was the bad person in the dispute -- all defamatory, Williams says. BUT ... she's not interested in suing the passenger, although she's told us she'd like to see him prosecuted for assault.

Wendi also claims she was respectful to everyone else on the plane and didn't make a scene. Remember, she previously told us a flight attendant handed her a passenger disturbance notice for refusing to delete her video of the man behind her punching her chair.

PUNCHY PASSENGER
CatersNews.com

As for the reclining-seat debate ... Wendi says the airlines should be the ones determining if it's an issue, not fellow passengers.

Wendi's also got another threat for AA ... telling us, "They have pushed me way too far, literally and figuratively." Them's fighting words ... as in lawsuit.

AA's drawing its own line in the sand ... a source at the airline tells us Wendi reached out Tuesday asking for compensation, but she won't see any money because AA sees this as a passenger vs. passenger dispute.

We're also told AA won't be referring the incident to authorities, and it's up to Wendi if she wants to go down that road.

PUNISH HIM!!!
TMZ.com

As we previously reported ... Wendi is worried the repeated whiplash from the seat punches may have damaged her vertebrae -- she says she has a medical history -- and she wants AA to fork over some money to pay for an MRI and possible medical bills.

Vegas Police Bartender Wouldn't Serve Our Officers ... We're 'Disgusted'!!!

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TMZ/Getty Composite

Two cops walk into a bar, but they're refused service ... this ain't a setup for a joke, it allegedly happened in Vegas ... and now police are PISSED!!!

Here's the deal ... two Las Vegas Metro Police Department graveyard patrol officers say they were refused service from the bartender at The Lodge Cactus in Enterprise, NV when they stopped by Thursday for a bite on duty.

The officers say the bartender started shaking his head "no" as soon as they approached the counter, and motioned his fingers across his neck as if to say, "stop." The officers say they asked to take a seat and order some food, but claim the bartender told them, "We don't serve you guys here any more."

At first, the cops say they thought the bartender was joking ... but when they realized it was for real, they left the establishment without further incident.

Las Vegas Police Protective Association President Steve Grammas tells TMZ ... they are "disgusted" this happened, but believe restaurant management supports law enforcement and they're actively talking with ownership to resolve the issue.

The Lodge tells us folks from the corporate office came to the restaurant Friday, grabbed surveillance video and interviewed the bartender.

LVMPD also tells us ... it's a private restaurant and they can refuse service to who they want.

We're told the police department's been in touch with the restaurant, and they regret the incident, telling the cops the actions of one employee doesn't define the establishment and the bartender has been placed on indefinite suspension, which could become permanent.

Harriet Tubman Bank Prez Stands by Debit Card Design 'We Are Unapologetically Black'

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OneUnited Bank

1:45 PM PT -- OneUnited Bank prez and chief operating officer Teri Williams is doubling down and standing firm behind the Harriet Tubman debit card. She tells TMZ the bank is "unapologetically black." What's more ... Williams says the debit card design had been in the works since 2016.

ALL ABOUT LOVE
TMZ.com

Harriet Tubman's image on a debit card would stir plenty of debate -- but Harriet Tubman doing the "Wakanda Forever" pose on that card is really pissing off a lot of people.

OneUnited Bank -- which says it's America's largest black-owned bank -- announced the limited edition card Thursday ... in honor of Black History Month. The image on the card shows Harriet making fists, with her arms crossed over her chest.

It's the pose that was popularized in the movie, "Black Panther" a couple years ago. Y'know ... the gesture of solidarity for all citizens of the fictional African nation of Wakanda.

Alamy

Despite the fact OneUnited is black-owned, the bank got dragged online, almost immediately after announcing the card. Most of the hate ripped the bank for making a buck off Tubman's image and pandering to black customers.

There's just one problem with all the outrage -- Harriet's NOT shouting out King T'Challa on the card. Not according to OneUnited Bank ... which says the gesture is American Sign Language for love.

They ain't lying ... that is ASL for love, although that fact is probably lost on millions of Marvel movie fans. Of course, that doesn't address the "cashing in" criticism.

MISLEADIN' SIGNS
TMZ.com

We got "Dear White People" actor Obba Babatunde to weigh in on the issue, and his take is interesting. He tells us it very much seems like good intentions, but in this day and age ... it's easy for the message to misconstrued.

Originally Published -- 7:15 AM PT

Wendy Williams Apologizes to LGBTQ+ Community ... I Was Out of Touch!!!

I WILL DO BETTER

Wendy Williams is saying sorry for comments she made on her Thursday show, which were hurtful to the LGBTQ+ community ... and vows to do better.

The talk show host has been taking heat after she did a segment on Galentine's Day that turned controversial when she went off on gay men planning to celebrate the unofficial holiday ... because she felt it's a women-only occasion.

2/13/20
NOT FOR YOU!!!
Wendy Williams Show

Wendy said, "I don’t care if you’re gay. You don’t get a [menstruation] every 28 days ... you can do a lot that we do, but I get offended by the idea that we go through something you will never go through."

That was contentious enough, but then she added ... "And stop wearing our skirts and our heels" and suggested women don't have anything for themselves anymore.

Wendy's taking it back now, saying she didn't realize how she came across until she re-watched herself ... but promises she didn't mean to cause any harm, and never does the show in a place of malice.

Williams says she was just trying to have a conversation, but she understands now she may have been "out of touch" Thursday and says she will learn from it.

Aside from a failed attempt at using "bon vivant" in her apology, it's pretty clear she wants to make it up to the community and move forward.

Delta CEO If The Passenger Behind You Declines ... Then Don't Recline

ASK FIRST, THEN RECLINE
CNBC

Well, this is pretty shocking ... the head honcho at Delta seems to think the woman on the American Airlines flight who reclined her seat -- only to have the passenger behind her treat her seatback like a punching bag -- was out of line.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian appeared on CNBC's "Squawk Box" Friday, said it's an etiquette issue ... if a passenger knows a tall person is sitting behind them, they should ask permission before they recline. Presumably, that means if the person declines then the passenger can't recline.

That certainly isn't the way our users feel -- by a 2-1 margin they support the woman on an AA jet who put her seat all the way back, only to have the dude behind her attack the seat like a boxer in training.

PUNCHY PASSENGER
CatersNews.com

Of course, the counterargument to what Bastian believes is that the airline configures the plane, so it should design it so people can recline without interfering with the person behind them. If that's not the case, it's on the airline.

American Airlines Passenger AA Threatened to Have Me Arrested Over Guy Hitting MY Seat!!!

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TMZ/CatersNews.com Composite

Wendi Williams, the woman whose seat was repeatedly punched on an American Airlines flight, says SHE nearly got tossed off the flight because she refused to delete the video of the encounter.

Wendi tells us a flight attendant handed her a passenger disturbance notice for refusing to delete her video of the man behind her hitting her seat. She says the flight attendant even threatened to remove her from the flight if she didn't delete it. As you can see, the document warns she could be federally prosecuted.

Wendi says she ultimately complied but adds she later found the video in the "recently deleted" folder on her iPhone. She later posted it, and as you know ... it's gone viral.

As for that notice ... it outlines, "threatening, intimidating or interfering with a Crewmember; smoking; drinking alcoholic beverages not served by a Crewmember or creating an alcoholic-related disturbance" ... none of which describes Wendi's behavior, according to her.

PUNCHY PASSENGER
CatersNews.com

Wendi finds the threat ironic since it came while she was recording someone rudely punching the back of HER seat ... simply because she reclined it during their Jan. 31 American Eagles flight, operated by Republic Airways.

She told us on "TMZ Live," the man was punching and shoving her seat way more violently prior to her turning on her phone to capture his behavior. As a result, she has some serious medical concerns.

PUNISH HIM!!!
TMZ.com

Wendi says the repeated whiplash may have caused damage, given her medical history. She says she's had multiple back surgeries over the years and has titanium fused to her spine. She's worried the repeated blows might have damaged her vertebrae.

She wants to get an MRI but says it's too expensive. Wendi wants the airline to pony up the dough and cover her medical bills.

As we reported, Wendi also wants the passenger behind her to be identified, so she can press charges for assault. She also wants the flight attendant fired for the way she handled the ordeal -- giving the man booze, and threatening her.

A rep for American tells us they'll continue to look into the matter and that they tried to deescalate the situation by asking Wendi to stop filming. We're told the whole thing started when she first reclined her seat and knocked over the male's drink. The rep adds that the whole thing would not have been an issue if both passengers would have just been respectful to each other.