Rob Gronkowski Releasing Rare Digital Trading Cards ... Cashin' In On NFT Boom

Exclusive
NFT IS THE FUTURE!
TMZSports.com

Rob Gronkowski's gettin' in on the EXPLODING digital sports memorabilia market ... the NFL superstar is releasing his own limited edition, virtual trading cards.

TMZ Sports talked to 31-year-old Gronk ... and the 4x Super Bowl champ broke the news on his new side hustle.

RG -- with biz partners Adam Richman and Joe Silberzweig -- linked up with artist Black Madre, Gronk's good friend ... and created 5 (very limited) trading cards.

But, no cardboard here -- the cards are part of a digital collection Rob's calling his Championship Series NFT Collection.

NFT stands for non-fungible token -- essentially a digital card that can't be duplicated -- and Gronk believes they're the future of the trading card world.

"I think having digital trading cards now is just gonna be unique and it's gonna blow it out of the water. Actual trading cards, I think will always be there, but I think it's leading towards a way where everything's digital."

Trading cards (and all sports memorabilia) have blown up over the last few years. In fact, a 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractors Kobe Bryant rookie card just sold for $1.8 million.

Rob -- starting Thursday at 7 PM ET on crypto marketplace, OpenSea.io -- is dropping 5 cards featuring original, hand-drawn artwork ... celebrating his Super Bowl XLIX, LI, LIII, and LV championships.

Each SB card comes in only 87 editions (Rob's jersey #) ... with the exception of the 5th card -- the holy grail -- a Career Highlight Refractor Card signed by Gronk.

If that wasn't cool enough ... the winner of that card will have an opportunity to go to a Bucs game next season and meet Gronk, in-person.

The cards are only available via auction later this week ... good luck!!

Pepe Le Pew Creator Chuck Jones Daughter Rejects Rape Culture View ... Cites a 2021 Lens

Exclusive

Pepe Le Pew was never meant to be interpreted as rape-y, but the times have caught up with him to make it seem that way ... so says the daughter of the guy who first drew him.

Linda Jones -- whose father, Chuck Jones, is credited as the creator and original animator of Pepe and other Looney Tunes -- tells TMZ she strongly disagrees with the notion the suave skunk contributed to rape culture, as suggested in an NYT op-ed.

On the contrary, Linda says she doesn't think anyone who ever watched Pepe was inspired to go out and rape, or even harass, people. She gets pretty literal, saying Pepe never raped another character on the show -- which, okay ... that's a given.

Still, LJ just doesn't think Pepe should be canceled or shelved over this -- because the OG running gag with him was never meant to be predatory ... she says it was more about how much he stunk as a suitor, despite thinking he was desirable.

She does admit Pepe's grabby approach toward Penelope Pussycat certainly doesn't look good by today's standards ... but insists folks who were watching him in the '50s, '60s and '70s were NOT thinking of that dynamic as normalizing rape culture.

Perhaps that was wrong or ignorant of audiences back then, she muses, but that just wasn't the vibe, nor the intention -- as she explains her pops, Chuck, was a super liberal dude, and was never out to hurt people. Linda says the purpose of Pepe was pure comedy.

As for axing Pepe from the new 'Space Jam' movie entirely ... Linda tells us that's Warner Bros.'s prerogative -- and that if they choose to give him a break for a while, so be it.

She did suggest something interesting to rebrand Pepe and capture the spirit her father intended -- write him as a perpetual job-seeker who keeps getting rejected, but constantly changes up his routine thinking he's the perfect candidate.

Now that's #progress.

UK UFC Star Leon Edwards On Royal Family Racism Claim ... 'Unacceptable' & 'Heartbreaking'

Exclusive
IT'S A SHAME
TMZSports.com

“It’s unacceptable, obviously. It's heartbreaking to hear what [Meghan Markle] went through, what she’s still going through.”

That's Leon Edwards -- one of the baddest MMA fighters alive -- who is also a Black man that was raised and still lives in the United Kingdom ... commenting on Markle's shocking allegations during her interview with Oprah.

CONCERNS ABOUT ARCHIE'S SKIN
CBS

Of course, Markle told Winfrey that someone in the Royal Family had conversations about baby Archie's skin color ... implying it might be too dark for the role of Prince.

TMZ Sports talked to 29-year-old Edwards -- who moved to England as a 9-year-old -- about the allegations of racism made by MM.

“[Meghan's] a new mom, know what I mean? Just got married. This should be a fun time in her life. Should be enjoying her family, enjoying her baby, but this is what she has to deal with," Edwards says.

"I think that’s part of the UK. There's racism, but it’s very hush racism, right? It’s not like in America, there’s blatant racism sometimes. But, in the UK, it’s like very down low racism, but it's there, and it's sad to see in 2021.”

We asked Leon if the Royal Family was in need of major changes given the allegations ... and he said it's absolutely time.

“You can’t keep an old monarchy in 2021. You can’t do that. They need to come up to date with the times. Hopefully, like I said, I wish [Meghan] well, and she can get through it.”

BTW, Edwards has a huge fight Saturday against Belal Muhammad at UFC Fight Night 187. We talked to him about his next move ... and whether he still has beef with Jorge Masvidal.

That's coming soon, but here's a sneak peek ... Leon says he's swinging on sight -- whether in the Octagon or on the street.

Dak Prescott Signs $160 Million Contract ... With Dallas Cowboys

Breaking News

The NFL's biggest offseason storyline finally has an ending ... Dak Prescott has reached a long-term contract agreement with the Dallas Cowboys -- and dude just got PAAAAAIIIDDD!!!

The 27-year-old superstar has agreed to a 4-year, $160 MILLION deal with Dallas ... and, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, it includes a league-record of $126 million guaranteed.

Schefter also reports Prescott will make $42 million per season in the first 3 years of the deal ... and could make a total of $164 million with incentives.

Prescott's signing bonus is $66 million and he has a no-trade clause in the deal, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport added.

The money is huge and it's sure to create salary cap drama for Dallas ... but it's still welcome news for the Cowboys and their fans regardless.

Dak and Dallas tried to get a deal done all last offseason ... but couldn't make it happen -- reportedly quarreling over the length of the prospective contract.

Prescott played on the franchise tag last season ... and it seemed the two sides were possibly headed for yet another franchise tag season this year after negotiations still dragged on the last few months.

But, the two sides were finally able to hammer out a deal on Monday ... with the Cowboys saying they'll formally announce the contract at a news conference Wednesday.

MLB's Rheal Cormier Dead At 53 After Cancer Battle ... Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer

Breaking News

Rheal Cormier -- a longtime MLB reliever and a Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer -- died Monday after a battle with cancer, MLB confirmed.

He was 53-years-old.

The left-handed pitcher threw for several teams over his 16-year MLB career ... but had his most notable season as a pro with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2003, going 8-0 with a 1.70 ERA.

Cormier ultimately pitched for the Phils, Cardinals, Red Sox, Expos and Reds ... and finished his career with a 71-64 record and a 4.03 ERA.

Details surrounding his cancer diagnosis and subsequent battle with the disease are unclear ... but several of his former teammates were crushed to hear the news of his passing Monday.

"RIP 'Frenchy' ... Rheal Cormier lost his battle with cancer," Dan Plesac said on Twitter. "One of my all time favorite teammates. Big heart, spent 2yrs sitting next to him in the @Phillies bullpen (2002-2003)."

"He made everyone he played with better...keep throwing that 3-2 splitter in heaven. RIP my friend."

Added Jim Thome, "Rheal was one of the most vibrant people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing."

"He loved baseball, but he always put his family first. Frenchy was the kind of guy who would do anything for you and I’m lucky to have called him my friend for many years."

"Our time spent together in Philadelphia as teammates was unforgettable. He will be greatly missed but never forgotten."

Cormier -- who grew up in Canada -- was a 6th round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1988. He later made his first appearance with the team at the big-league level in 2003.

He ultimately pitched for Team Canada in two Olympics ... and was inducted into the country's baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.

RIP.

Creighton's Greg McDermott Reinstated ... After Suspension For 'Plantation' Comment

Breaking News

Creighton head coach Greg McDermott is making his return to the bench this week ... one game after he was suspended for making a racially insensitive comment in a post-game speech last week.

As we previously reported, McDermott admitted to using a "plantation" analogy after a 77-69 loss to Xavier on Feb. 27 ... saying, "Guys, we got to stick together. We need both feet in. I need everybody to stay on the plantation. I can't have anybody leave the plantation."

McDermott apologized for the comment -- he even offered to resign from his position -- and was suspended from the team last Thursday.

The school has officially ended that punishment on Monday ... with Creighton AD Bruce Rasmussen saying McDermott "demonstrated a commitment to growth" in the days following the incident.

"I believe his apology, his commitment to grow from this, to learn, and regain the trust of his student-athletes and others impacted by his words," Rasmussen said.

The school says McDermott will also participate in a program with the Racial Equity Institute, which helps educate people on racism in institutional and structural settings.

McDermott now rejoins the #17-ranked Bluejays just days before the Big East tournament ... which may not be a coincidence.

Josh Allen Rookie Card Sells For Over $200K ... After Breakout Season

Breaking News

One person is so confident Josh Allen's breakout season was not a fluke ... they just invested nearly a quarter of a million dollars into the Bills star's rarest rookie card!!

The guys at Goldin Auctions say a 1-of-1, signed Allen piece just sold for $210,330 ... a staggering number (the highest price tag ever for an Allen card) considering the QB has only made 1 Pro Bowl in his first three years in the league.

But, the gamble could pay off ... Josh's growth in year 3 in the NFL was so big, he has the potential to be a future MVP -- which could make the card explode in value.

The piece is perhaps the most unique Allen rookie card ever created -- it features an NFL logo jersey patch as well Josh's signature in bold, blue ink.

The card has a MINT 9 grading, while the autograph has been given a perfect 10 grading by Beckett. The back of the card Topps card certifies the whole 1-of-1 package is the real deal.

Of course, if Allen regresses in year 4 in Buffalo ... it could be a tough loss.

But, hey, nobody said gambling was easy ... good luck to the buyer from here!!

Kobe Bryant Ticket From Last NBA Game Sells For Over $40K ... Autographed By Mamba

Breaking News

A signed ticket from Kobe Bryants epic last NBA game ever -- when Mamba dropped 60 points -- just sold for over $40K at auction!!

The April 13, 2016 game will never be forgotten ... Bryant had one of the greatest final performances in sports history.

Then 37-year-old Mamba single-handedly delivered his Los Angeles Lakers team to victory over the Utah Jazz -- scoring 15 of the team's final 17 points.

Kobe -- who knocked down big shot after big shot -- finished the game with 60 points ... capping off his 20-year, Hall of Fame career.

A ticket from the game (section 302, Row 2W, Seat 2) was on the auction block at Goldin Auctions ... and after 42 bids, it ultimately sold for $40,590.

The identity of the buyer is not known.

What's interesting ... the Staples Center attendance for Kobe's last game was listed at 18,997. Now, all those tickets obviously weren't adorned with Kobe's signature.

But, gotta figure a whole bunch of people are thrilled to see the ticket sell for the price of a nice car.

MLB Spring Training Geese Attack Each Other In Outfield!!!

Breaking News

Cubs, Diamondbacks ... and fighting geese?!

An MLB spring training game featured all of the above on Sunday ... and the video from the diamond was wild!!

During Chicago's tilt with Arizona at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. ... some geese decided to crash the party in the outfield, and one of the birds bit the hell out of another!!

Check out footage the Diamondbacks' broadcast team shot ... you can see a goose flew at another and ripped feathers straight out of its backside.

Later in the game, a goose plopped down next to Cubs outfielder Rafael Ortega ... and, given the events that had taken place earlier, you can tell the dude wasn't exactly thrilled to have the bird so close to him!!

Of course, spring training and uninvited feathered friends aren't exactly new ... remember when Randy Johnson drilled a dove with a fastball in 2001??

Yeah ... take note, geese, and stay in the outfield!

Michael Jordan Game Worn AJ 1's Sell For $529K ... MJ Used Kicks To Recruit HS Hooper To UNC

Exclusive

9:08 AM PT -- The game-worn, autographed Jordan 1's just sold for a whopping $529,770 at auction. There were 56 bids for the AJ 1's with the awesome back story. It's unclear who dropped the cash on the kicks.

Michael Jordan’s signed, game-worn Air Jordan 1’s are on the auction block ... but the coolest part about the kicks is the backstory -- ‘cause MJ used the J’s to recruit an H.S. hooper to UNC.

According to MEARS Auctions -- the peeps behind the sale -- there was a grandma in the mid-1980s who had a grandson who could ball his ass off.

He was one of the best players in the nation, and tons of schools -- including Jordan's alma mater, the University of North Carolina -- pulled out all the stops while recruiting him.

Legendary UNC coach Dean Smith personally visited grandma -- who was very tight with her grandson -- and he didn't hesitate to use his secret weapon ... Michael Jordan.

Of course, Jordan was a superstar at UNC. In 1981, he was the ACC Freshman of the Year. As a sophomore, he hit the NCAA Tournament-winning shot against Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown squad.

MJ left Chapel Hill after his junior year ... and was the 3rd overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft (s/o Sam Bowie 😬).

Coach Smith arranged a meeting between granny and MJ ... and in early 1985, she traveled to Chi-town for a Bulls game.

After the game, grandma was escorted to a private area of Chicago Stadium ... where Jordan -- still in his white and red uniform -- approached her.

Michael pitched grandma on the awesomeness of UNC ... passionately explaining why her grandson should play in Chapel Hill.

Before MJ bounced, he removed his Air Jordan 1's -- left shoe size 13, right size 13.5 -- signed both sneakers, and gave them to grandma.

Now, the AJ 1 ain't just any old shoe ... it's one of the most iconic ever created, and is credited in part with giving birth to sneaker culture.

Grandma held on to the kicks for 35 years ... before passing away. The sneakers were then gifted to an unknown person -- who put them on the block at MEARS.

Unfortunately, the consignor does not want the identity of the player revealed ... but we do know that MJ's hard sell did NOT work.

The grandson ultimately decided to play ball at another university.

Now you can own the historic pair of J's -- with the crazyyy backstory -- if ya have the money.

Auction ends this Saturday ... best of luck!!

Originally Published -- 3/4 12:50 PM PT

NBA Zero New COVID-19 Cases ... After All-Star Weekend

Breaking News

The NBA All-Star Game did NOT turn into a super-spreader for COVID-19 ... with league officials saying there were ZERO new cases throughout the weekend.

Remember, there was great concern over hosting all the league's best players in one city during a global pandemic ... with players from LeBron James to De'Aaron Fox expressing their concerns leading up to the event.

But, the league says all the festivities went off without a hitch in Atlanta ... announcing all testing for players, coaches and officials came back negative throughout the weekend.

In fact, the Association says all participants were tested 3 TIMES to make sure there were no on-court infections, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

As for the game, Team LeBron beat Team Durant 170-150 in a crazy, highlight-filled matchup ... with Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo taking MVP honors after going 16-for-16 from the field.

COVID-19 protocols did play a bit of a role in the game, as Sixers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were pulled before tip-off due to contact tracing.

Now, the players have a few days off before the second half of the season picks up later this week.

Hopefully, the trend continues the same for the rest of the season.

Blazers' Anfernee Simons Nearly Kisses Rim To Win NBA Dunk Contest

Breaking News

Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades AND the NBA Dunk Contest ... 'cause Blazers guard Anfernee Simons took home the top honors Sunday night after nearly kissing the rim!!!

The 21-year-old edged out Knicks rookie Obi Toppin and Pacers rookie Cassius Stanley to win it all during halftime of the All-Star Game ... showing off his INSANE hops in the process.

Simons' first dunk may have been the most creative of the night -- he grabbed the ball off a mini hoop 2 feet higher than the rim and brought it home for the slam.

There was a bit of controversy in the first round -- many believed Stanley's between-the-legs slam deserved a better score ... but ultimately, scored lowest out of the first three dunks.

Simons' second dunk was a tribute to one of his idols, Tracy McGrady -- throwing on a T-Mac throwback Raptors jersey for a one-bounce 360 dunk, which was good enough to earn him a spot in the finals.

Simons secured the win after his lips came within inches of the rim on his last attempt ... and even though his goal was to actually make contact with the rim, but at least it was enough to take home the hardware.

"In practice, I never actually kissed the rim, but I was like ... 'I gotta commit to it,'" Simons told the media after the contest.

"I tried to put a mouthpiece in last-minute, but it didn't fit in my mouth. I just scratched, and I'm just going to emphasize the smooch face so people know I'm next to the rim and trying to kiss it."

Save your teeth and still get the win?? Not a bad deal.

NASCAR's Kyle Larson Wins 1st Race Since N-Word Incident ... Bubba Congratulates

Kyle Larson was back in NASCAR's victory lane Sunday for the first time since he publicly used the n-word ... and Bubba Wallace was one of the 1st people to congratulate the guy.

Just 11 months after Larson infamously dropped the slur during a virtual race last April ... the 28-year-old smoked the field to win the Pennzoil 400 in Las Vegas.

And, not only was Bubba waiting for him on the winner's stage to give him a handshake and a hug ... the most famous Black driver in NASCAR also said he was "proud and happy" for Larson afterward.

"Told him way to keep his head thru it all!" Wallace said of Larson's win. "We all knew it was a matter of time.."

Added Larson, "It meant a lot to have Bubba come to victory lane ... He said congrats. He's always believed in me. So that was special."

As we previously reported, Larson faced tremendous backlash after a hot mic caught him using the n-word on a live race stream in April 2020.

THINGS GET RACY

He was fired from his racing team, dropped by major sponsors and suspended by NASCAR over it all.

Larson -- who apologized vehemently for the incident and insisted he was not racist -- was reinstated by NASCAR in October ... and was signed by Hendrick Motorsports a short time later.

Sunday's race was just Larson's fourth with the new team.

Bubba, meanwhile, has supported Larson from the start of the entire drama ... saying at the time of the incident, "I am not mad at him, and I believe that he, along with most people deserve second chances."

Bill Lester -- one of the most famous Black race car drivers ever -- also congratulated Larson for the win ... writing on Twitter, "You got your second chance and absolutely made the most of it! Your talent was never in question, only one of your decisions."

Serena Williams Praises Meghan For Oprah Interview ... 'So Proud Of You'

Breaking News

Serena Williams is praising Meghan Markle for her interview with Oprah ... saying MM showed strength and bravery by calling out "malicious, unfounded gossip and tabloid journalism."

Williams -- just hours after Markle's stunning revelations about the Royal Family aired Sunday night -- issued a lengthy statement on social media applauding her good friend for the talk.

"I know first hand the sexism and racism institutions and the media use to vilify women and people of color to minimize us, to break us down and demonize us," the tennis superstar said.

"We must recognize our obligation to decry malicious, unfounded gossip and tabloid journalism. The mental health consequences of systemic oppression and victimization are devastating, isolating and all too often lethal."

CONCERNS ABOUT ARCHIE'S SKIN
CBS

If you missed it ... Markle and Prince Harry accused the Royal Family of racism in a bombshell interview with Oprah -- claiming things got so bad, she contemplated suicide.

Meghan also said in the lead-up to her and Harry's wedding, it was Kate Middleton who made her cry -- not the other way around.

Serena, who became good friends with Markle after they met at a Super Bowl party years ago, said she was "so proud" of the bravery Markle showed by speaking up.

"I know it is never easy," Williams said. "You are strong -- both you and Harry. I love you. I adore you."

Williams and Markle have grown so close over the years, Meghan's attended a bunch of Serena's tennis matches, and even invited the sports icon to her and Harry's wedding.

JANUARY 2020
NOT TOUCHING THAT
Australian Open TV

In fact, Serena was actually asked about Megxit after a tennis match back in early 2020 ... but she famously shut down the question immediately.

UFC's Andrei Arlovski Shoots Down Retiring at 42 ... 'F*** No!'

Exclusive
BATTLE OF THE BEASTS
TMZSports.com

UFC star Andrei Arlovski -- the former heavyweight champion -- says he has NO PLANS to retire at age 42 ... and wants to keep bangin' away until he's 45!!!!

Arlovski made his UFC debut at UFC 28 back in 2000 -- 21 YEARS AGO -- and has been fighting consistently ever since.

He won the UFC heavyweight title in 2005 -- and has been in wars with superstars like Francis Ngannou, Stipe Miocic, Frank Mir, Stefan Struve, Alistair Overeem ... you get the picture.

But, Arlovski's coming off a 2nd round loss to 27-year-old Tom Aspinall -- his 10th loss in his last 16 fights -- begging the question ... is he considering hangin' up his gloves???

"Oh, f**k no," Arlovski told us while out shopping in Beverly Hills ... "If the UFC doesn't kick me out, [I'd like to fight] probably like 2, 3 more years. We'll see. Why not?"

In fact, Arlovski is still calling for tough opponents -- "Someone tough and young!"

By the way, since Andrei has fought both Stipe and Ngannou -- we asked for his prediction on who will win that massive heavyweight title fight at UFC 260 later this month.

Ya gotta hear who Andrei's rolling with and why ... it's great insight from a dude who knows what both men are capable of.

LeBron James Wishy-Washy on COVID-19 Vaccine ... Wants to Keep Decision Private

LeBron James was just asked if he would get a COVID-19 vaccine when he's able to -- and rather than firmly come out and say yes, he waffled ... which is startling.

King James did a 20-minute-plus interview Sunday for NBA All-Star Weekend ... and at one point he was asked how he's been able to stay COVID-free and relatively healthy throughout the pandemic. Bron chalked it up to luck and faith ... saying he just follows the protocols handed down by the league to a T, going straight home after he plays in games/practices.

Another 'rona question was raised at the very end of the interview ... a reporter asked if he himself would get vaccinated whenever that became an option, and whether he'd encourage everyone in the Players Association to do the same. He also referenced Adam Silver's recent remark that he was gonna leave it up to NBA players and not make it mandatory.

Silver said ... "My hunch is that most players ultimately will choose to get vaccinated. They have to make personal decisions at the end of the day."

In response, LeBron said this about his own decision on the vaccine ... "That's a conversation that, you know, my family and I will have. And, probably pretty much keep that to a private thing." He said he was aware of Silver's comments, but insisted it was something to be discussed among the family and not in public, and that's where he was going to keep it.

That's fascinating, considering LeBron is by far one of the most influential people in the world ... and perhaps the second or third most influential African-American. The fact he's wishy-washy on whether he'll get it speaks volumes, and could well influence others in the community.

Of course, vaccinations have been a major issue in the Black community ... as many simply don't trust it -- due to a number of historical atrocities perpetuated onto African-Americans and other factors as well. But, many prominent Black role models have been trying to convince the Black community this vaccine is safe and worth taking ... like the late, great Hank Aaron.

Before he passed away in late January, Aaron made a point to get the vaccine and to do so publicly, as he wanted to put out the right message and have Black Americans follow suit. He said, in part ... "I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this. ... It’s just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country." LeBron feels differently, it seems.

Old news is old news!
Be First!

Get TMZ breaking news sent right to your browser!