CLEVELAND (AP) — Kobe Bryant remembers giving a pair of his sneakers to LeBron James as a gift and offering the teenager some advice.
The years in between have passed in a blur.
On his final visit to Cleveland to play against James on Wednesday night, Bryant reflected on his relationship with a player who once hung a poster of him on his bedroom wall in Akron, Ohio, and has grown into a valued friend.
And as gets ready to say goodbye to the NBA after two decades, Bryant was stunned to learn that James, too, is on the back half of his career.
“Is this his 10th year?” Bryant asked, before being told that James has been in the league longer. “Eleventh year? Thirteenth year! He’s a true, true vet. It’s strange. To me, it still seems like he just got into the league. Pretty crazy. … He might retire soon, too.”
Bryant was at ease during his interview session with reporters before the Los Angeles Lakers played the Cavaliers. This is Bryant’s sendoff, his farewell tour, and the 37-year-old is trying to savor every moment.
When he was in high school and on the verge of becoming a household name, James met Bryant before playing against Carmelo Anthony in an All-Star game in Philadelphia. It was then that Bryant dropped some knowledge on James.
“I remember sitting down and talking with him,” Bryant said. “The advice I gave him, because he would have so much coming at him, was focus on the game. Stay true to the craft. Everything else would sort out. That was the most important piece of advice I could give him.”
Before the opening tip, Bryant shared a heartfelt hug with James near mid-court. Bryant also spent a moment with Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, his teammate for three seasons with the Lakers.
On several occasions this season, James has spoken with reverence toward Bryant, one of the game’s most celebrated players with whom he is often compared. The two didn’t always have the strongest connection, but is has matured over the years, helped by them playing together on the U.S. Olympic team.
Bryant and James once seemed on a collision course to meet in the NBA Finals, but the matchup never materialized, disappointing a basketball world wanting to see the greats go head-to-head with everything on the line.
“We never crossed paths unfortunately,” Bryant said. “I just wanted to win the damn thing. I didn’t care who we played. For the fans it probably stinks because it would have been a great matchup, but from a player’s perspective it doesn’t matter who you play. … Just want to win the championship.”
Bryant recalled previous visits to Cleveland, including the 1997 All-Star Game when he participated in the dunk contest as a rookie. That year the showcased the game’s Top 50 players, a who’s who of hoops immortality that had Bryant in a daze.
“Man, I remember walking around the hotel, I remember walking around this arena, and just running into a great after great after great after great after great,” Bryant said. “I grew up watching all of these players. So I watched all of the classic videos, the films, the books. So to see these players all walking around, it was pretty amazing.”
This weekend, Bryant will take his All-Star bow. It will be the last time he mingles with his peers, who will undoubtedly honor him throughout the festivities in Toronto.
Bryant’s career has come full circle.
“I can’t wait to be around them and talk to them and see how far the game has progressed, see all this young talent the different generations of players,” said the 16-time All-Star. “To me, LeBron is still young. I can’t fathom this is his 13th season and the generations that come after him — the Durant generations, the Curry generations. There are so many generations in between that. It’s going to be fun for me to be around.
“When I first played in an All-Star game, imagine an 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid walking into a locker room and here’s John Stockton with his little itty-bitty shorts. There’s Barkley. There’s Clyde Drexler. There’s Gary Payton. I was a 19-year-kid.”
CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former investigator for Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings.
Lorenzo Davis alleged he lost his job because he determined several police shootings were unjustified. He argued his free speech rights were violated. The lawsuit gained attention after the release of a video showing a white police officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old.
U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras ruled Wednesday that Davis wasn’t entitled to protection under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment because he was acting as a government employee, not as a private citizen.
Davis’ lawyer, Torreya Hamilton, says she’s considering an appeal. She also plans to file a lawsuit in Cook County alleging violations of state law.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Twitter set out to build a virtual town square bustling with billions of people. But it’s starting to look more like a novelty stand as the masses flock to other services that strike a more personal chord.
The San Francisco company showed no user growth at all in a fourth-quarter report released Thursday, the clearest signal yet that the one-time trendsetter is struggling to remain relevant. That leaves it with 320 million monthly users — roughly one-fifth the size of Facebook.
CEO Jack Dorsey is working hard to reconfigure the decade-old service. That’s trickier than it sounds, since he also needs to avoid alienating a core of devoted users who depend on it to tweet their thoughts and track issues that matter to them.
Dorsey took a step in that direction Wednesday, announcing plans to tweak Twitter’s timeline to highlight tweets that the service will appeal the most to each user, instead of only presenting them in reverse chronological order. He also has hinted that Twitter may lift its long-standing 140-character limit on the length of each tweet.
“We have some really weird rules … that just nobody understands,” Dorsey told analysts on a conference call, mentioning Twitter’s arcane punctuation requirements for replying to messages. “We need to fix things.”
Dorsey added that he expects the new timeline formula will attract more users. “It does improve the experience fundamentally,” he said.
Flatlining user growth also suggests that Twitter’s previous effort to make the service more accessible — Moments, a tool that compiles tweets about major events in a graphic, online magazine style — hasn’t done much to get people excited since its October debut.
By one measure, Twitter’s user numbers actually declined in the fourth quarter. Excluding people who only receive Twitter alerts as text messages, the company said its monthly active users dropped from 307 million in the third quarter to 305 million in the fourth quarter.
Dorsey, however, said those numbers “bounced back” to third-quarter levels in January. Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto said the company is seeing more new users as well as “resurrected” users who had previously enrolled and went inactive for a time.
Twitter lost another $90 million during the final three months of last year, preserving its profitless history. Revenue rose 48 percent from the previous year to $710 million, providing some measure of hope that the service can still be turned into a viable of business.
That lackluster performance has hammered Twitter’s stock, now down more than 50 percent since Dorsey returned as CEO last summer. The shares shed another 52 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $14.46 in extended trading after the fourth-quarter numbers came out.
Perceptions of Twitter are souring on both Main Street and Wall Street, according to Marcus Messner, an associate journalism professor and social media specialist at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“Twitter is looking kind of old now that there are younger, sexier platforms out there,” Messner said. “When you think of Twitter, it is not where you want to be if you want to be an innovative user of social media.”
Instead, people — especially teenagers — are gravitating to Snapchat and two other services owned by Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
Even Facebook, two years older than Twitter and seen as an old-fogey hangout by teens and young adults, continues to attract far more new users — and keeps people coming back to find out what’s going on with their friends and family.
WhatsApp now has more than 1 billion monthly users while Instagram has more than 400 million, including 100 million added during the first nine months of last year. Snapchat, another photo- and video-sharing service, has about 100 million daily users. Twitter, meanwhile, added 28 million users during all of 2015.
Twitter’s biggest problem stems from its inability to make most of its users feel personally connected to what’s being shared on the service, according to Gartner Inc. analyst Jennifer Polk. “It’s really a very shallow, superficial interaction on Twitter,” she says.
In contrast, users on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are regularly interacting with people they care about. That makes them more likely to share information about themselves, which in turn can help those services sell targeted ads designed to pique an individual’s interest.
Polk thinks Twitter has to act fast to avoid a vicious downward spiral: “If Twitter keeps falling further behind in this race, they are going to lose engagement with their existing users, and then they are going to lose insights into those people and they are going to lose advertisers, too.”
AP Technology Writer Brandon Bailey contributed to this report.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Twitter is tweaking the way that tweets appear in its users’ timelines in its latest attempt to broaden the appeal of its messaging service.
The change announced Wednesday moves Twitter closer to a formula that Facebook uses to determine the order of posts appearing in its users’ news feeds.
It’s a risky move for Twitter because it threatens to infuriate many of its 320 million users who like things the way they are. But the company can’t afford to stand pat with its user growth slowing dramatically and its stock price plummeting by more than 50 percent since co-founder Jack Dorsey returned as CEO last summer.
Investors initially applauded Twitter for shaking things up: Its stock gained 58 cents, or 4 percent, to close at $14.98. But it then shed 13 cents in extended trading after the company released a fourth-quarter report that showed its service didn’t add any users during the final three months of last year.
Like Facebook, Twitter is shifting to a sorting system that relies on algorithms to track which tweets seem to matter most to individual users. Based on that analysis, Twitter will begin featuring tweets that it believes will be most likely to capture a user’s interest at the top of the timeline.
That is a departure from the traditional presentation of Twitter’s timeline, which has always shown tweets in reverse chronological order so the most recent messages appear at the top of a user’s feed. The real-time feed will now appear below the tweets picked out by Twitter.
Users initially will have the option to turn on the algorithmic system by going into their settings and choosing “Show me the best Tweets first.” That choice began to slowly roll out to Twitter accounts Wednesday.
Twitter plans to automatically convert users’ timelines to the new system, allowing them to turn it off if they want. The revised presentation is a spin-off of a feature called “while you were away” that Twitter introduced about a year ago.
“We think this is a great way to get even more out of Twitter,” Mike Jahr, senior engineering manager for the company, wrote in a blog post.
Although Twitter has built one of the Internet’s best-known communication networks, it has been struggling to attract new users and those who have signed up haven’t stuck around for long because they found it too difficult to find content they like.
During the first nine months of 2015, for instance, Twitter added 28 million users while Instagram, a photo- and video-sharing service owned by Facebook Inc., picked up more than 100 million users. Instagram now has more than 400 million users, making it larger than Twitter even though it is four years younger.
Dorsey, who helped start Twitter Inc. nearly 10 years ago, is hoping the revised presentation of tweets will prove more engaging to newcomers without alienating the messaging service’s most loyal users. He already had to quell an uprising last weekend after news of revised timeline leaked out and triggered an avalanche of posts with the tag “RIPTwitter.”
By making Twitter easier and more engaging to use, Dorsey is also hoping the company can sell more advertising so it can begin to make money for the first time in its history.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Palmer Luckey doesn’t just want to sell a bunch of virtual reality headsets. He wants buyers to use them every day.
The founder of Oculus told a group of developers working on VR content Wednesday that the immersive medium’s success should be measured by time— not necessarily money — spent on it.
“We can sell a bunch of things that will sit on a desk and stay dusty,” he said on stage at the Vision Summit. “I wouldn’t consider that successful. If we can make things that people use every day, that’s a good sign for the future of virtual reality as an ecosystem.”
Oculus’ technology surrounds wearers’ eyes with 360-degree views of virtual worlds that are either created inside a computer or captured with several cameras. The headset tracks a users’ movement and can be used with Oculus’ wand-like Touch controllers to create an interactive experience.
The Facebook-owned company is scheduled to launch the Rift headset March 28. Oculus incited sticker shock in January when it announced the consumer edition would cost $599 — or $1,499 when bundled with a high-powered PC required to use it.
“We shipped a couple hundred thousand developments kits, but that’s nothing on what we plan on doing this year,” teased Luckey.
The first-ever Vision Summit was organized by game engine purveyor Unity, which unveiled a tool Wednesday that allows VR designers to create and manipulate virtual worlds while wearing headsets.
Luckey announced that the Rift would come with a four-month trial of a professional edition of the Unity engine, so that all Rift buyers “could be a creator, not just a consumer.”
Unity CEO John Riccitiello cautioned the 1,400 attendees at the Hollywood & Highland Center that 2016 will not be the year that VR sees mainstream adoption and that the technology has been “overhyped” by the media.
“It’s going to be bigger in the long run,” said Riccitiello, who previously served as president and COO of video game publisher Electronic Arts.
Riccitiello projected 1 billion consumers will own VR technology in 5 to 10 years, pointing to the similar growth of such technologies as smartphones.
While VR on smartphones is now available with headsets like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear, higher fidelity experiences won’t be available until the launch of the Oculus Rift, Sony’s PlayStation VR and Vive from HTC and Valve.
PlayStation VR and Vive will be available later this year for yet-to-be-announced prices.
Valve co-founder Gabe Newell sent the Vision Summit audience into an Oprah Winfrey-like frenzy when he announced that all the developers in attendance would receive a free Vive system.
“You get a Vive, and you get a Vive, and you get a Vive,” the veteran game designer joked.
The conference continues through Thursday with such talks as “Emotional Presence in Virtual Reality” and “VR in the Classroom.”
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/derrik-j-lang .
NEW YORK (AP) — Burger King is looking for a new crown: Hot Dog King.
The Miami-based chain says it plans to put hot dogs on its menu nationally for the first time starting Feb. 23. It may seem like a jarring addition for those who know the chain for its Whoppers. But Burger King says its ability to flame-grill meat makes hot dogs a natural fit on its menu.
“This is probably the most obvious product launch ever,” said Alex Macedo, president of Burger King North America.
With the launch, Burger King says it will offer hot dogs at all 7,100 of its U.S. restaurants — more U.S. locations than any other chain. Smaller chains that sell hot dogs include Dairy Queen and Sonic Drive-In.
The move comes as Burger King works to push up sales amid intensifying competition, with McDonald’s offering breakfast items all day to spark a turnaround, while Wendy’s offers a “4 for $4” deal to get customers in the door. In 2014, Burger King’s sales rose 2.1 percent at established locations in the U.S. and Canada. Parent company Restaurant Brands International Inc. reports results for 2015 next week.
Macedo said hot dogs would build on the chain’s momentum given their growing popularity, including at trendy eateries.
Tests of the hot dogs in a handful of cities last year resulted in unspecified sales increases, according to Burger King. The food-review website The Impulsive Buy noted the hot dogs seem “small and not quite substantial enough” but otherwise gave them a positive review.
Still, fast-food history is riddled with menu flops, and Burger King is no exception. In 2013, for instance, the chain launched lower-calorie fries called “Satisfries.” They failed less than a year later.
Macedo recalled another Burger King failure from the past.
“At some point, they tried popcorn. They would give it away for free to guests in the restaurants. I wasn’t here, but I hear a lot about the popcorn days,” Macedo said.
Burger King’s “Grilled Dogs” will come in two varieties. The “classic” hot dog will be topped with ketchup, mustard, chopped onions and relish, and 310 calories. The company suggesting franchisees sell it for $1.99. A chili cheese version has 330 calories, with the suggested price of $2.39.
To get workers excited, Burger King says it enlisted Snoop Dogg and Charo to star in training videos for making the hot dogs. The company says they’re internal company videos, but the chain may be planning to use them in some way for marketing purposes.
Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi