Kobe & Gigi Bryant The Grove Shines Nine Rays of Light ... For Special Tribute

LIGHTS TO THE HEAVENS
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The Grove honored Kobe, Gigi Bryant and the 7 other lives lost in a tragic helicopter crash by doing something it had never done in its 18-year history ... shutting off its famed rooftop sign and blasting a special lights tribute.

The famed L.A. mall beamed 9 rays of light Monday as the sun set ... and they joined together as one in the heavens to honor the victims from the January helicopter crash. Billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso, who owns The Grove, said it's the first time The Grove has EVER turned off its famous Grove sign.

L.A. and the rest of the world said one last goodbye to the NBA legend and Gigi on Monday in front of a packed Staples Center crowd. We got Caruso leaving Craig's later that night and he said the tribute was a one-night event.

Caruso also tells us how he got the idea to honor the victims. Our guy asks Caruso if The Grove will erect a Kobe statue ... and Caruso's response should come as no surprise.

A TRIBUTE TO THEM ALL
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BTW ... Kobe was no stranger to The Grove. He'd drop into the mall's famed Nike store every now and then. He also had a meet and greet at the mall's Barnes & Noble when he was there to promote his book "The Mamba Mentality: How I Play" in 2018.

#MambaOut

Joe Burrow Won't Boycott Bengals If Drafted #1 ... 'I'll Show Up'

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"I'm not going to NOT play."

That's Joe Burrow making Bengals fans feel A LITTLE better -- telling media at the NFL Combine he won't hold out (or force a trade) if selected with the #1 pick in the NFL Draft.

"I'm a ball player," Burrow said ... "Whoever picks me, I'm going to go show up."

The former LSU superstar -- who just won the Heisman Trophy -- hasn't exactly sounded stoked about potentially going to Cincinnati.

But Burrow is pointing the finger at the media -- saying, "You guys [in the media]  kind of took that narrative and ran with it. There has never been anything like that from my end."

As for recent comments about having "leverage" going into the 2020 Draft -- Burrow explained he was referring to his workout at the NFL Combine -- saying he won't be pressured into doing drills he doesn't feel like doing.

Burrow insists he was NOT trying to imply he would force his way out of Cinci.

In fact, when asked about the likelihood of being drafted by the Bengals, Burrow pointed out the team is located about 2 hours from his home in Ohio ... and he he could go home for dinner if he wanted to.

So, ya still think Burrow will suit up for the Orange and Black for Week 1?

Tyson Fury Hero's Welcome In England ... Party at the Airport!!!

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Tyson Fury has finally returned home to England ... and turned the airport into a nightclub!!!

There were HUNDREDS of fans lined up to greet the 31-year-old heavyweight champ at Manchester Airport on Tuesday morning ... including a DJ who pumped music to the pumped-up crowd.

Fury LOVED IT -- and played along to the crowd as he continued to celebrate his victory over Deontay Wilder.

Tyson had a few marks on his face -- but overall, he looked pretty good ... much better than his last fight anyway (remember, they had to sew his face shut after that gnarly gash).

"Thank you, everybody, for coming to support me," Fury told the crowd ... "God bless!"

Meanwhile, Deontay Wilder has said he wants a 3rd crack at Fury and will exercise the rematch clause in his contract.

No word on when that will take place -- but whenever it happens, ya gotta think Wilder will cool it on the ring walkout costume next time around ... maybe get carried to the stage like Tyson!

Congrats, champ!

Kobe Bryant 8th Grade Yearbook Hits Auction Block ... Signed 'How Bout Those Lakers' As 13-Year-Old

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Iconic Auctions

Kobe Bryant was purple and gold as a 13-year-old -- signing his middle school friend's yearbook with "How bout those Lakers" -- and now the book can be yours.

Iconic Auctions has the super-unique piece of memorabilia on the auction block ... and it's pretty amazing.

In 1992, Kobe -- who just returned to the U.S. from Italy -- attended Bala Cynwyd Middle School in Pennsylvania ... where he played on the basketball team.

Bryant arrived midway through the school year, so he didn't have a standard school photo. He only appeared in the boys' basketball team photo.

When yearbooks were issued, Kobe's buddy asked him to sign the autograph page ... and what Mamba wrote was pretty prophetic.

Iconic Auctions

"In a few years you probably will be dunking on me. Not!! How bout those Lakers. Your friend Kobe Bryant #24"

Kobe was just 13 years old in 1992 ... and wasn't a member of the Los Angeles Lakers (or the NBA) until June 1996.

Of course, Bryant -- even back then -- wore (and signed) one of the numbers, #24, that would eventually hang forever in the rafters of Staples Center.

Iconic tells us they expect the yearbook to sell for over $20k ... when the auction closes this weekend.

Zayn Malik & Jake Paul Beef Sparked by Hotel Run-In ... No Bad Blood Lingering

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Jake Paul and Zayn Malik's online shouting match -- via Gigi Hadid -- got started with what sounds like a hard snub to come get crazy with the YouTube broskis.

Sources close to Jake tell TMZ ... both he and Zayn were staying at the same hotel in Vegas over the weekend, and they were even on the same floor with rooms next to each other. We're told that after the fight, Jake was making his way back to his room when he spotted  Zayn and co. getting off the elevator. Jake asked if they were partying, plain and simple.

Now, what happened next is a little hazy -- because what we're hearing from Jake's side sounds much different than what we've heard from Zayn's side of things. Per our Jake sources ... Zayn fired back with a rude line ... "IDGAF if you have a good night."

We're told Jake was taken aback by the abruptness of the remark, but he let it go and just went to his room and kept raging with his brother, Logan, and their friends. At the fight, Jake almost got into it with a member of the crowd ... seems it was that kinda night.

CRAZINESS IN THE CROWD
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Anyway, we're told Jake ran into Zayn again in the hotel hallway a bit later and attempted to clear the air about their spat. But, according to his account, Zayn got even testier ... yelling at Jake and asking "Who the f*** do you think you are?!" It didn't end there.

Our sources say Zayn even challenged Jake, asking if he wanted to "test" him. Doesn't sound like things got to that level -- but clearly, the feud spilled onto Twitter ... and roped in Gigi.

She stepped in on behalf of Zayn and shut Jake down, calling him "ugly" and "irrelevant." We're told Jake doesn't hold a grudge, acknowledging they were both in the wrong ... and that booze was likely a factor on both sides. The implication ... Zayn was drinking too.

It doesn't appear that people close to Zayn agree with that characterization though -- we're told Jake was drunkenly pestering Zayn to come party, even though Zayn had already said no. No mention of ZM boozing -- just JP. In other words, this was a one-way street.

Whatever the case, here's to hoping they can bury the hatchet ... or avoid each other, at the very least.

Don McLean Loved Tyson Fury's 'American Pie' ... 'A Thrill For Me to See!'

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MUSIC TO MY EARS
TMZSports.com

Don McLean says he saw Tyson Fury sing his #1 song, "American Pie," after beating Deontay Wilder in Vegas Saturday night .. and tells TMZ Sports he thought it was AWESOME!!!

After Fury got the TKO against Wilder in the 7th round, he took the mic during the post-fight interview and said, "I said I'd sing a song tonight didn't I?!" .. and delivered his version of McLean's 1971 classic "American Pie!"

"He did very well," McLean tells us, "I would say he's the #1 bar room singer. Excellent job!"

McLean says he was even more ecstatic when the WHOLE CROWD joined the new heavyweight champ ..and they also KILLED IT -- word for word!

"The thing that knocked me out was that everybody, all the old folks, young folks, everybody knew all the words. Kind of a thrill for me to see that!"

And, he hopes Fury does it again 'cause he's down to get in the ring and sing with him.."That would be fun!"

"I'm looking forward to hear him do it again and winning again!"

McLean is actually on tour right now, so we asked since Fury got some time now, if he can join him ... and ya gotta hear what he says!

Joe Burrow RIP To My NFL Career Thanks, Tiny Hands!!!

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Joe Burrow's NFL career might be over before it even began ... and it's all because of his small mitts!!!

Of course, the Heisman winner and projected #1 overall pick's small paw dilemma was revealed prior to the NFL combine this week ... with his hand measuring 9 inches from thumb to pinky -- which would tie for the smallest QB hands since 2008.

Now, the tiny hands didn't stop Burrow from leading the LSU Tigers to a perfect season and posting some of the best QB numbers the sport has ever seen ... but people like to freak out over this kinda stuff.

Burrow decided to break his silence over the reports on Monday ... and he faced the music with some good, old-fashioned comedy gold!!!

"Considering retirement after I was informed the football will be slipping out of my tiny hands. Please keep me in your thoughts," Burrow tweeted.

Great response from the young fella ... after all, the whole storyline seems a bit trite at this point when Kyler Murray's 9.5-inch hands did just fine last season.

Vanessa Bryant Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit ... Claims Pilot was Reckless

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2:47 PM PT -- A rep for Island Express tells us, "This was a tragic accident. We will have no comment on the pending lawsuit." It's interesting the company has referred to the crash as an accident as you must prove negligence to win a lawsuit.

Vanessa Bryant has just sued the company that owned the doomed helicopter that crashed, killing Kobe, Gigi and 7 others ... claiming the aircraft should never have been placed in the peril it was in before the Jan. 26 accident.

The lawsuit alleges Island Express was only allowed to fly under visual flight rules, and the conditions the day of the crash were not conducive for such flying. As we reported, the fog was extremely low and the pilot was in blinding conditions before the mishap.

The lawsuit also says the pilot was going 180 miles per hour in the heavy fog in a steep decline in the moments before it crashed in Calabasas, CA.

The lawsuit claims the pilot failed to properly monitor and assess the weather prior to takeoff, failed to obtain proper weather data prior to the flight, failed to abort the flight when he knew of the cloudy condition, failed to maintain control of the helicopter and failed to avoid "natural obstacles" in the flight path.

The suit says Island Express engaged in unnecessary and needlessly risky means of transportation under the circumstances.

The suit also asks for damages for "pre-impact" terror -- damages for the emotional trauma Kobe and Gigi suffered as the pilot struggled to get out of the clouds before the crash.

The lawsuit also says the pilot, Ara George Zobayan, was disciplined in 2015 for violating the visual flight rule minimums by flying into an airspace of reduced visibility.

The lawsuit also claims the helicopter was not safe, although it doesn't say what was unsafe. It could be the basis for the claim is that the helicopter was not certified to fly in bad weather.

The lawsuit does not list an amount of damages sought, but Vanessa is asking for punitive damages, claiming the pilot and Island Express were reckless, and the damages could be untold millions.

The suit seeks damages for loss of love, affection, care, society, service, comfort, support, right to support, companionship, solace or moral support and expectations of future support and counseling. The suit also seeks money for loss of financial support and for burial and funeral expenses.

Originally Published -- 9:26 AM PT

Jose Altuve Fans Boo The Hell Outta Astros Star First AB Since Cheating Scandal

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Announcer: "Now batting ... Jose Altuve."

Fans: BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That's how it went down at Spring Training in West Palm Beach on Monday when the Houston Astros star made his first plate appearance since the cheating scandal.

Shocked, right?!?

Altuve didn't seem fazed by the chilly reception -- in fact, the guy hit an RBI double against the Detroit Tigers all by himself without any help from high-tech cameras and trash cans!

There was another awkward moment in the game ... Altuve was technically hit by a pitch -- though it was truly accidental. He was clipped in the foot by a breaking ball in the dirt.

Remember, Astros manager Dusty Baker has expressed concern about pitchers throwing at Altuve and other Houston players involved in the cheating scandal -- he doesn't want vigilante justice.

But, again, that didn't seem to be the case this time around ... but it's a loooong season.

Final score ... Astros 11, Tigers 1.

Kobe & Gianna Bryant Vanessa, MJ & Shaq Share Touching Memories at Memorial

REMEMBERING MAMBA
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12:24 PM PT -- Shaq just spoke about Kobe, and his eulogy was full of levity and laughter as he recounted stories about him and Kobe when they dominated the NBA for years.

One memorable moment he recalled ... Shaq said some of the other Lakers players had complained to him about Kobe not passing -- and Shaq said he'd talk to him. He told the crowd that he reminded Kobe there's no "I" in team, and said Kobe responded, "Yeah, but there's a 'ME' in that motherf***er." The crowd howled with laughter.

Ending on a serious note, Shaq said he knew Kobe was in heaven with Gianna teaching her new moves ... and that they'd meet again one day. Shaq called Kobe his little brother and got a standing O from inside STAPLES.

12:09 PM PT -- Michael Jordan choked back tears while talking about his relationship with Kobe, detailing how the Lakers superstar would seek advice in all aspects of life ... and not just basketball.

MJ says Kobe could be a "pain in the ass" ... but admired his passion. Jordan said he felt like a big brother to Bryant.

Jordan even joked that he wasn't trying to get too emotional during his speech ... saying he didn't want another Crying Jordan meme taking over the internet.

11:58 AM PT -- Kobe's longtime agent, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, just gave a heartfelt speech about his best friend, and actually made a pretty stunning revelation ... KB was actually texting him from the chopper before he and the rest of the passengers perished.

Rob says Kobe was asking if Rob knew a baseball agent in Southern California who might be able to help a friend's daughter get an internship with a team. That kid, as it turned out, was Lexi Altobelli -- the surviving daughter of the Altobelli family. Her father, John, mother Keri and sister Alyssa, were three of the 9 people total who were killed.

He made it clear one of Kobe's final acts on this Earth was attempting to help someone achieve something great, and he only had others' best interest at heart up until the end.

11:11 AM PT -- Vanessa Bryant just gave an incredible speech -- remembering Gianna as an amazing daughter who would have changed the landscape of womens pro sports in America.

Vanessa says Gianna was laser-focused on making the WNBA and being the best player in league history.

She also remembered Kobe as a loving father and devoted husband who took pride in doing all of his daddy duties after his NBA career wrapped up.

After her speech, Michael Jordan helped walk her off the stage while the crowd gave her a passionate standing ovation.

10:45 AM PT -- Jimmy Kimmel is making the opening remarks at the memorial -- fighting back tears while remembering his friend.

10:33 AM PT -- Beyonce sang the opening number at the Kobe tribute .. performing her song, "XO." She followed that up with "Halo." It's a very emotional scene at Staples.

10:28 AM PT -- The stars have begun to arrive to the memorial ... Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, Kris Jenner, Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union, Magic Johnson and others are on hand. As are Michael Phelps, Alex Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez, G-Eazy, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry and more.

6:33 AM PT -- Michael Jordan is in town -- clearly here to honor Kobe at Monday's memorial -- and on Sunday night, he had dinner with fellow NBA legend Jerry West at Craig's in L.A.

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No word as to what role MJ will have at the memorial -- but his friendship/competitive rivalry with Kobe was legendary. MJ was Kobe's idol growing up -- and the two grew to be close friends.

When Kobe passed away, Jordan said, "I loved Kobe -- he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much."

Thousands of Kobe and Gianna Bryant mourners are just hours away from packing Staples Center for a ceremony celebrating the Mamba and Mambacita's lives ... and TMZ Sports will live stream all of it.

The event is expected to be incredibly moving and emotional. As we reported, the demand to attend the memorial was unprecedented.

THOUSANDS of people applied for tickets -- more than 88,000 just in the first 5 hours.

The Staples Center only holds 20,000 ... and many of those tickets had already been accounted for with Kobe's family, friends and the NBA community.

We're told officials wrestled with the idea of moving the event to the L.A. Coliseum -- which seats closer to 80,000 people -- before ultimately settling on Staples. After all, it's where Kobe played for 20 years and became a beloved figure in Los Angeles and around the world.

Tributes are popping up all over the city. Check out this mural in the Hollywood-area near The Grove.

Mega

We're told just like Michael Jackson and Nipsey Hussle's memorials -- which were also held at Staples -- streets around the building will be closed off for security and traffic control.

Law enforcement is urging fans without tickets to stay home and watch the broadcast on TV or online. The ceremony will NOT be broadcast on the screens outside Staples.

It's unclear who will speak at the memorial ... with dozens of people close to Kobe and Gigi wanting to take the mic to say kind words about the Lakers legend and his daughter.

We broke the story, Bryant and his daughter were 2 of 9 people who tragically lost their lives in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.

Vanessa Bryant, who is expected to attend the event, said of the losses just days after the tragedy, "We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe -- the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna -- a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri."

The memorial stream will begin at 9:00 AM PT.

Originally Published -- 1:00 AM PT

Deontay Wilder's Fiancee My heavy Costume Hurt My Legs ... I Want A Rematch!!

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2:30 PM PT -- Deontay Wilder says the costume he wore to the ring Saturday night -- which weighed 45 pounds -- weakened his legs during the fight, per The Athletic's Lance Pugmire.

Wilder also says he is exercising the rematch clause in his contract ... and is hoping for a 3rd fight with Fury this summer.

Prior to the fight, DW told us his ring walk costume cost his $40,000.

Deontay Wilder wants ONE MORE SHOT at Tyson Fury ... so says his fiancee, Telli Swift, who's vowing the Bronze Bomber will be champion again.

Of course, 34-year-old Wilder lost the WBC heavyweight title to the Gypsy King on Saturday in a 7th round TKO. It was the first loss of Wilder's pro career.

Wilder has a rematch clause in his contract and everyone wants to know if Deontay will exercise it.

Now, some clarity courtesy of Deontay's fiancee -- who posted on Monday morning, "#WilderFury3 here we come!!"

Telli Swift buried the statement at the bottom of a long Instagram post praising Wilder -- in which she explains why she's confident he'll return to the top of the boxing world.

"Deontay, you showed us what Strength, Passion, and Courage looks like. You showed the world what it takes to Be A Champion."

"Most people have no idea just how hard you train, the blood, sweat, and tears you put into this sport for other people’s entertainment ... One moment in time does not define your legacy, your legacy is created throughout time and we will continue to do just that."

Swift ended her tribute saying "Continue to give god the glory so we can get back our belt!  #WilderFury3 here we come!! #thesagacontinues #stillourchamp #bombzquad."

And, get this ... BEFORE the fight, we asked Tyson Fury how he felt about a 3rd bout with Wilder -- and the comments he gave us are encouraging if you're hoping for a trilogy.

THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM
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Originally Published -- 12:21 PM PT

Derek Jeter MLB Debut Jersey Sells for $369K!!! ... From 1995 Season

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Derek Jeter's New York Yankees jersey from the legendary shortstop's FIRST Major League Baseball game just sold for $369,000 ... a record-setting sale price!!

21-year-old Jeter made his debut for the Yankees on May 29, 1995 ... when the Bronx Bombers took on the Mariners at the Kingdome in Seattle.

DJ batted 9th in the order ... and went 0-for-5 with a strikeout. The Yankees lost the game 8-7.

The NYY grey road uniform that DJ wore was recently put on the auction block at Goldin Auctions ... where a (very rich) fan paid $369k.

The uni is signed by Jeter ... and is also inscribed with "Game Used, 5-29-95 MLB Debut".

Jeter only played 14 more games in the '95 season ... and didn't have much success. He hit .250 with no home runs and 11 strikeouts.

But, EVERYTHING changed the next year -- Jeter became a superstar in 1996 ... hitting .314, batting in 78 runs and winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year.

Jeets also helped lead the Yankees to their 1st title in almost 20 years ... his 1st of 5 titles.

Derek ended up playing in over 2,700 games in his legendary career -- and was recently voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Sergey Kovalev Arrested for DUI

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TMZ.com

Boxing star Sergey Kovalev was arrested for DUI in Los Angeles early Monday morning, TMZ Sports has learned.

The 36-year-old former light heavyweight champ -- who recently fought (and lost to) Canelo Alvarez -- was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol around 2 AM.

During the stop, the trooper believed Kovalev was under the influence and arrested him for DUI. He was taken to a nearby station where he was booked.

Records show Kovalev was released on his own recognizance around 7:35 AM.

It's not Kovalev's first brush with the law ... in fact, the Russian star is currently in the middle of a felony assault case stemming from an incident where he allegedly brutalized a woman in 2018.

As we previously reported, Kovalev is accused of attacking Jamie Frontz -- who says the boxing star got violent after she rejected his sexual advances after the opening of a boxing gym in Big Bear, CA.

If convicted on the assault charge, Kovalev faces up to 4 years in prison -- though he has pled not guilty and is fighting the case.

Kovalev is 34-4-1 as a pro -- winning several light heavyweight belts during his outstanding career.

He most recently fought Canelo -- who ferociously knocked him out in the 11th-round of their Nov. 2019 matchup.

NASCAR's Ryan Newman Suffered Head Injury In Crash ... Vows To Return

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Ryan Newman provided a detailed update on his recovery following the horrific crash at the Daytona 500 ... revealing he suffered a head injury, but says he WILL return to the track.

Remember, the 42-year-old's car flipped several times and caught fire during the final lap of the Feb. 17 race ... and was rushed to the hospital for immediate care.

Miraculously, Newman was able to WALK out of the hospital on Wednesday ... just 2 days after the wreck.

Now, the Roush Fenway driver is giving a status report via his team's president, Steve Newmark ... saying he's nursing a head injury, but thankfully avoided internal organ damage or broken bones.

"I'm sorry that I can’t be at the track in person, but I asked Steve to take a moment to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude for all the support that was shown last week to both me and my family," Newman said in the statement.

"The outpouring of emotion from not only the NASCAR community, but across the country has been truly humbling."

Newman thanks the entire racing world for the support ... saying the calls and visits "has been truly uplifting."

“Most importantly, I have to thank the guys back at the Roush Fenway Racing shop that built me a car not only fast enough to lead the final seconds of the Daytona 500, but strong enough to do its job under great distress, allowing me to survive such an accident."

Newman says his team will have the #6 car waiting for him when he's back to 100% ... and he fully intends to get behind the wheel again.

Zamboni Goalie David Ayres Tryouts with Other NHL Teams? ... Not Interested!!!

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BACK TO THE ZAMBONI
TMZSports.com

Here he is ... David Ayres -- the Zamboni driver was called out of the stands to play goalie for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes team on Saturday ... and he's a rockstar!!!

The story is amazing ... the 42-year-old was sitting in the stands at the Maple Leafs vs. Carolina Hurricanes game in Toronto when both of the 'Canes top two goalies suffered injuries and couldn't play.

So, the 'Canes called for the emergency backup (there's one in the stands at every game who could play for either team if the situation deems necessary) ... and he strapped on the pads and got in the game!

Ayres was rusty at first, letting in 2 quick goals -- but he stepped up and blocked several shots to close out the game ... helping the 'Canes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3.

Now, the guy is turning into a superstar in front of our very eyes ... he hit up the "Today" show on Monday morning and on the way out, was stopped by fans for pics!

Ayres told TMZ Sports ... the fan reaction has been amazing -- with a bunch of his old coaches reaching out to give him props!

We asked if he would be chasing an NHL contract now that teams now he's legit -- but Ayres told us he completely happy staying as the emergency backup in Toronto.

Guessing at the very least he'll get some minor league offers in the near future -- so stay tuned on that!

As for compensation, Ayres was reportedly paid $500 for his appearance and allowed to keep his game-worn jersey.

FRAME THAT THING, BRO!

Israel Adesanya Apologizes for 9/11 Reference ... In UFC Trash Talk

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UFC superstar Israel Adesanya admits he took the trash talk too far by using a 9/11 reference about Yoel Romero ... and now he's apologizing.

Adesanya was promoting his upcoming clash with Romero at UFC 248 when he told the media ... "I'll touch him enough times and eventually he'll crumble like the Twin Towers."

Obviously, 9/11 similes don't go over with the public -- and the backlash was swift and severe.

But, Sunday night, Adesanya apologized for the comment -- explaining he didn't mean to disrespect anyone ... he just screwed up.

"I never made a joke about people dying or made light of the tragic event that was 9/11," Adesanya said.

"I was simply rambling and my brain worked faster than my mouth in a moment to chose the wrong euphemism."

"You speak on the mic enough times and you're bound to miss the mark with some bars. I did on this one and for that I'm sorry."

He added, "I'll be more careful in the future with my words."

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