June 21, 2012

By JIM ARMSTRONG | Associated Press

 

TOKYO (AP) — Former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo is doing his bit to help basketball continue to grow internationally.

Appointed as the NBA's global ambassador in 2009, Mutombo is in Japan to conduct basketball clinics with the Basketball Without Borders program.

The four-day camp in Japan is attended by the top 50 young basketball players from 18 Asian countries.

Samuel Dalembert of the Houston Rockets, Vladimir Radmanovic of the Atlanta Hawks, Corey Brewer of the Denver Nuggets and former NBA player Yuta Tabuse of Japan also are taking part in the clinics.

"We bring our knowledge of the game and pass it on to young people," Mutombo said. "I am proud to say that there are now about 200 or 250 young men who took part in Basketball Without Borders who are now playing in American high schools and colleges."

When he started his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets in 1991, Mutombo was just the third African player in the league following Manute Bol and Hakeem Olajuwon.

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June 21, 2012

By JON KRAWCZYNSKI | Associated Press

 

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Percy Harvin made it known that he wants out of Minnesota.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said there’s no way he’s going to let that happen.

Unhappy with several issues with the team that drafted him in the first round in 2009, Harvin requested to be traded, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

A few hours later, Spielman said the organization considers the star receiver a cornerstone player and will work to resolve any issues that have Harvin upset.

“We have no interest at all in trading Percy Harvin,” Spielman said. “We drafted Percy Harvin here. He’s a key part of our organization. He’s a key part of our football team. Any issues that are out there, or reported, we always handle those internally, and we’ll continue to handle those internally.”

The situation seemingly came out of the blue this week, surprising many Vikings players and coaches when Harvin voiced his frustrations with the team on Tuesday at the opening of a mandatory minicamp.

“I just put it this way: There’s a lot of different things that have to be sorted out,” Harvin said Tuesday. “Just haven’t been really happy lately. We’ve got a couple of things to work on. I’m here in the classroom. We’ll go from there.”

He is due to make $915,000 in the fourth year of a five-year rookie deal. That total is much lower than veterans Micheal Jenkins and Jerome Simpson, with neither coming close to his production on the field.

Requesting a trade now would be a curious move if his main motivation is a new contract. Most players in similar situations first voice their concerns, then threaten to holdout of training camp before going as far as to request a trade.

Spielman would not say if money was an issue but also reiterated the organization’s approach to signing players to extensions.

“Our philosophy has always been as players enter the last year of their contract we have a history of extending players going into the last year of their contract,” Spielman said. “And that's been our history.”

Harvin has emerged as perhaps the most versatile and dynamic player on the team. He earned respect in the locker room for his willingness to play through injuries and still produce late in last year’s miserable 3-13 season. In May, Harvin showed up at voluntary workouts despite still recovering from shoulder surgery and spoke of asserting himself as a leader and encouraging other players to participate in the team’s offseason program.

He caught 87 passes for 967 yards and six touchdowns last season, rushed for another 345 yards and two scores and also returned a kick for a touchdown during a sensational year.

But indications are that Harvin’s issues go far deeper than just money. His role in the offense, which diminished greatly last season when the Vikings reached the red zone, and the organization’s decision to go into a rebuilding phase coming off of consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC North combined with his modest salary all figure to factor into his mindset.

Harvin dealt with migraine headaches and numerous other minor injuries as the result of his punishing style of play, missing one game his rookie season and two in 2010, which brought concerns about his durability over the long term.

He played in all 16 games last season, establishing himself as one of the game’s top slot receivers and one of its most dangerous kick returners.

“Percy is a phenomenal player on the field,” Spielman said. “And you look at his statistics he had last year and how important he is to this franchise. He’s a vital part of us moving forward with this team.”

After making the NFC title game as a rookie, the Vikings have taken significant steps backward the last two seasons. They are centering their rebuild on Harvin, Peterson, who is recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee, and second-year quarterback Christian Ponder.

Harvin is far and away Ponder’s best option in the receiver corps that includes non-descript veterans Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu, rookie fourth-round picks Jarius Wright and Greg Childs and Simpson, who will be suspended for the first three games this season after being arrested on drug charges while with the Cincinnati Bengals.

After signing tight end John Carlson from Seattle, there has been a lot of talk about the Vikings going to more two tight-end sets to take advantage of him and second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph. That could also be a concern for Harvin, but offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said he was unaware of any problems Harvin had with the playbook. Musgrave said he planned to get the ball to Harvin even more this season.

“We’re looking forward to getting him on the field and as an offense we’re looking forward to having a better year,” Musgrave said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Harvin attended the team’s morning practice Wednesday, leaving the field before reporters asked questions. Peterson said he hadn’t spoken to his friend about it but planned to have a conversation to try to help smooth things over.

“I wouldn’t say it’s distracting. It’s more bothering. It’s like, we definitely don’t want to lose this guy. ... I’m sure the organization will do what it has to do to keep this guy around,” Peterson said. “If it was me, I would make sure that we kept him around. But we’ll see.”

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June 14, 2012

By RACHEL COHEN | Associated Press

 

NEW YORK (AP) — Not urban legend: The Dream Team really did lose to a group of college stars.

 

A new documentary commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the Olympic gold medalists has the footage to prove it. The video shot at the time so coaches could analyze practice will now be televised to the world.

 

"The Dream Team" premieres Wednesday night on NBA TV, chronicling the future Hall of Famers — led by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — who became the first NBA players to compete at the Olympics at the 1992 Barcelona Games. All 12 members sat down for fresh interviews.

 

NBA Entertainment cameras followed around the team during the Olympics, and some of that footage aired in various forms then. This is the first time all the behind-the-scenes moments have been shown together in one place.

 

"A lot of these things, we all kind of heard these stories," executive producer Dion Cocoros said. "'Hey, I heard they lost to the select team. Did they really have these intense practices?' To show it takes it to the next level. A lot of this has been discussed for 20 years but never seen."

 

The players participated in individual interviews from September through March. Each seemed to add a new anecdote or observation that the next Dream Teamer was asked about.

 

"It really sparked almost like a memory in them when we'd mention something they hadn't thought of in a while," Cocoros said.

 

In the 90-minute film, Jordan recalls his initial reluctance to commit to the team, signing on only after hearing that so many of his fellow superstars were on board. There's footage of the Dream Teamers going at each other in practice with the vigor of a playoff game.

 

Off the court, the players reminisce about all the topless bathers when they trained in Monte Carlo. Another clip shows John Stockton, camcorder on his shoulder, walking around Barcelona with his family and trying — unsuccessfully — to get fans to recognize him.

 

As far as that one loss, Mike Krzyzewski, a Dream Team assistant, insists in the film that coach Chuck Daly "threw" the scrimmage as a lesson to his players during pre-Olympic preparations in San Diego by not making adjustments and using Michael Jordan very little. Still, it would seem any combination of five of the future Hall of Famers should have been able to defeat the college kids without any strategizing.

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June 14, 2012

By DAVE SKRETTA | Associated Press

 

One of boxing’s major sanctioning bodies will review Timothy Bradley’s controversial split decision victory over Manny Pacquiao, the first step toward what promoter Bob Arum hopes will be “clarity” in the judging of the fight.

WBO President Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel said in a statement Wednesday that the WBO’s championship committee will review video of the fight with five “recognized international judges” and make a recommendation. He said the WBO does not doubt the ability of the scoring judges.

Most reporters seated ringside and the vast majority of fans inside the MGM Grand arena on Saturday night thought Pacquiao had easily defended his welterweight title against Bradley.

The first surprise came when ring announcer Michael Buffer announced that there was a split decision, and the biggest surprise came in the reading of the scores. Jerry Roth had it 115-113 for Pacquiao, while judges Duane Ford and C.J. Ross had it for Bradley by the same score.

The Associated Press scored the fight 117-111 for Pacquiao.

“The public saw the fight and they’re outraged, and we need clarity here,” Arum told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We need those responsible to investigate, to see what happened, how the judges could be so off.

“Was there any funny business going on? Or no funny business? Did they have a conversation with each other?” Arum asked. “We need to get clarity. The public is demanding it.”

Arum’s powerful promotional company, Top Rank, has staged thousands of fights over more than four decades, including some of the most significant in the history of the sport.

He said that the scoring of Saturday night’s fight was among the worst he’s ever seen.

“It puts boxing in a very horrible light,” he said. “I’m looking for the sport to do damage control, and the only way it does damage control is if you do a full and complete investigation.”

Arum submitted a formal request to the Nevada Attorney General's office on Monday asking for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the fight. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the senior senator from Nevada, also has asked for an investigation.

Jennifer Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Attorney General’s office, said in an email to the AP that Arum's complaint is currently under review.

“We are treating the complaint like any other complaint our office receives,” Lopez said. “We do not confirm or deny if we have an ongoing criminal investigation.”

The Nevada State Athletic Commission’s executive director, Keith Kizer, said this week that he has no plans to review the fight, even though he acknowledged having Pacquiao ahead.

Commission chairman Skip Avansino told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he was content with the scoring, while Ford defended his scorecard in an interview with the newspaper.

“I thought Bradley gave Pacquiao a boxing lesson,” Ford said. “I thought a lot of the rounds were close. Pacquiao missed a lot of punches and I thought he was throwing wildly.”

Arum believes the decision — along with the Nevada commission’s reluctance to conduct its own investigation — could provide the impetus for a federal commission to provide oversight for the sport, which has long battled the perception that it is rife with corruption.

“If the commission here in Nevada will be in intransigent, and won’t cooperate, we have to have a federal commission,” Arum said. “We have to examine who these are on the commission, how they got there, how they operate. Something is broke.”

Stats compiled by Compubox showed Pacquiao landing 253 punches to 159 for Bradley, and having a 190-108 edge in power punches. Pacquiao landed at 38.5 percent to 27.7 percent for Bradley.

The decision ended Pacquiao’s 15-fight winning streak, but also sets up a potential rematch later this year. There has been talk that it could happen in November.

Perhaps by then, Arum will have the clarity he is seeking from their first fight.

“Any other sport — football, baseball — the commissioner’s office would investigate,” he said. “I’m not saying hang anybody, but let’s get clarity here. Let’s get a complete report as to what happened. They could say, ‘Hey, all three judges had a bad night.’ That's possible, too. I’m not leaping to conclusions. I want to know as well as anybody else.” 

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June 14, 2012

By DOUG FERGUSON | Associated Press

 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Beaten down at Augusta, now the man to beat at the U.S. Open.

The expectations that have followed Tiger Woods this year are a lot like the fairways at The Olympic Club — up, down, often sideways.

He couldn’t close out tournaments the way he once did. He lost his putting stroke. His left Achilles tendon might be more of a problem than he was letting on. He had his worst finish ever at the Masters. He missed a cut.

And in the midst of such a gloomy outlook, Woods won by five shots at Bay Hill and delivered an uppercut fist pump at Memorial when he chipped in for birdie to complete a stunning rally for his second win of the year.

So when the question came up Tuesday at the U.S. Open — whether Woods had to win a major to end such prognosticating — he all but rolled his eyes.

“I think even if I do win a major championship, it will still be, ‘You’re not to 18 yet’ or ‘When will you get to 19?’ It’s always something with you guys,” Woods said. “I’ve dealt with that my entire career, ever since I was an amateur and playing all the way through and to professional golf. It hasn't changed.”

Even so, this U.S. Open figures to go a long way toward figuring out how close he is to returning to the top of golf.

Woods couldn’t stop talking about how the U.S. Open presents the toughest test players face all year — so tough that he probably won’t be talking to Phil Mickelson, his longtime rival who will be playing with him in the opening two rounds.

“This is one of those championships that I think the guys talk the least to one another because it's so difficult,” he said.

Woods looks as equipped as ever.

Two weeks ago, he played so well at Muirfield Village that he was ranked in the middle-of-the-pack in putting and still rallied from four shots behind to win. He has talked about playing well in spurts, and conceded after that win — the 73rd of his PGA Tour career — that he hit the ball great all four rounds.

Just like that, he became the betting favorite at Olympic Club to get his 15th major — and first since the 2008 U.S. Open — and resume his pursuit of the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus.

Then again, his win at Bay Hill made him the pre-tournament rage at the Masters, and he tied for 40th.

“I guess lately, we don’t know what to expect from him,” Steve Stricker said. “When he wins, we’re all eager to look ahead and think that he’s going to be back to where he was in the early 2000s or whenever he was at the top of his game. I think that just shows you the ability that he has, and what people see in the type of player that he is, and the type of shots that he’s been able to hit over the years, and the uncanny ability to just get it done and win golf tournaments.

“So when he does win one, I think that’s why we’re all quick to hop on his bandwagon.”

Woods sees a different trend from the first major of the year. He managed his game at Bay Hill, in part because of a sloppy start by Graeme McDowell that gave Woods a cushion and allowed him to play the shots he needed to win the tournament.

“When I went into Augusta, I did not feel comfortable hitting the ball up,” Woods said. “And I got back into a lot of my old patterns. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. But that’s what made playing Muirfield so nice. I had those shots, and I was doing it the correct way. And I had compression, hitting the ball high and hitting it long. That was fun.”

Olympic is all about hitting it in the fairway, and the right spots on the green.

The golf course is longer than when Woods tied for 18th in 1998, though that isn't the biggest change. The greens have been resurfaced, and they roll so fast that it's difficult to get the ball close. Plus, the USGA has shaved some areas off the green to form large collection areas. A slight miss could send the ball some 30 yards away.

Woods told of the par-3 13th during a practice round in which he hit the green, and the ball rolled down a slope and just inside a hazard.

“I think this probably tests the player more than any other championship,” Woods said. “We have to shape the ball. We have to hit the ball high. We have to hit the ball low. Our short game’s got to be dialed in.”

The difference for this U.S. Open is the variety that USGA executive ­director Mike Davis brings to the toughest test in golf. Instead of mangled rough around the greens, he has created areas of tightly mown grass that sends errant shots down the slope and gives players options of putting, chipping, flop shots, anything to get it close.

The tees can change. The 16th measures 670 yards, though there is an option to play it 100 yards shorter.

“He throws wrinkles at you,” Woods said. “But overall, I think this is just the most demanding test that there is in golf.”

Another wrinkle was putting Woods and Mickelson together, along with Masters champion Bubba Watson, for the opening rounds. Together, they have won 113 and 18 majors, with Woods doing most of that damage.

Woods and Mickelson last played together at Pebble Beach, where Mickelson dusted him and rallied to win in February. In the majors, Mickelson topped him in the final round of the 2009 Masters (won by Angel Cabrera), though Woods beat him soundly at Torrey Pines on his way to winning the U.S. Open.

“I don’t think we’re going to talk about a lot,” Woods said. “This is a major championship. We’ve got work to do.”

Mickelson seems to have embraced the grouping. His only concern is feeling “mentally lethargic” on Thursday and Friday of PGA Tour events, though he promises that won't be the case at the U.S. Open, where he has finished second a record five times.

Playing with Woods should cure whatever ails him.

“I get excited to play with Tiger. I love it,” he said. “I think we all do. He gets the best out of me. I think when it's time to tee off on Thursday I’ll be ready to play. ... The one player I’m most concerned about, if I play my best golf that may have a chance to beat me, is Tiger.”

This is far from a two-man show at Olympic, and it goes beyond the other guy in their group with a pink driver and a green jacket — Watson.

Rory McIlroy is the defending champion and got a shot of confidence from the St. Jude Classic last week, despite a double bogey from the water on the last hole that cost him a chance at winning. Giving his recent run of three missed cuts, McIlroy was happy to be playing Sunday, much less contending.

Luke Donald is No. 1 in the world and knows he will be taken more seriously if he can finally add a major. Ditto for Lee Westwood, No. 3 in the world, who has given himself more chances than Donald in the majors and still hasn’t won one.

But it starts with Woods, as it has since he won the first of his 14 majors as a 21-year-old at Augusta.

“It’s going to be a wonderful test,” he said.

 

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