February 21, 2013

By KRISTIE RIEKEN |

Associated Press

 

Michael Jordan turned 50 on Sunday, February 17 giving this year's All-Stars a chance to reflect on his illustrious career and how much he still means to the sport.

In a weekend filled with the NBA's greatest players, Jordan was the topic no one could stop talking about. Though he hasn't played since the 2002-03 season, Jordan's influence still permeates the league and its players.

"Every kid that wanted to play basketball, that could play, that couldn't play, you tried to emulate Michael Jordan," Heat star Dwyane Wade said. "That's why there will never be another one of him. He’s the first of his kind. Everything he did was groundbreaking. He did it with so much flare and so much pizazz that even today people are still trying to be like Mike."

Jordan won six titles and five MVP awards during a career spent mostly with the Bulls that began in 1984.

Jordan was in Houston this weekend, and celebrated his birthday early with a private bash on Friday February 15 at the Museum of Fine Arts with guests including LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard is so impressed with Jordan that he said he's like a real version of Superman.

"Be Like Mike" was more than a marketing campaign. It was a dream for many of today's players.

"He's amazing," Howard said. "He's one of the reasons why we played basketball. He inspired us to do great things. I hear his voice sometimes on commercials, it makes you want to get out there and try to do something."

Jordan retired twice before finally leaving the game for good at age 39. Some people wondered this weekend if he could still play in the NBA, despite reaching the age where he qualifies for an AARP card.

Wade believes this day will be a time for Jordan to reflect on his storied career and appreciate his family and health.

"Kind of look back at all the things he did, so many years ago in the NBA that still live on today," Wade said. "What he's been able to do to stay this relevant, in this role, the way he has, is phenomenal."

Though he isn't seen often, Jordan is never far from the game. He is close to a group of players through his Jordan Brand apparel and as the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. He ignited one of the debates of the weekend when he told NBA TV he would chose Bryant over James based on the number of championships each has won.

"If you had to pick between the two, that would be a tough choice, but five beats one every time I look at it, and not that (James) won't get five, he may get more than that, but five is bigger than one," Jordan said in the interview, which aired Monday night.

Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks counts Jordan as one of the most influential in his decision to play basketball.

"He changed the game, transcended the game," Anthony said. "He changed the way people coached the game from a mental aspect. From a training aspect, how you approach that, he changed that. So for me as a kid to see that and see somebody go through that and succeed, that was motivation."

Jordan, who retired for the last time with more than 32,000 points, is perhaps known as much by the younger generation of stars for his namesake Nike shoe as for his basketball skills.

"The imprint he's had on the league, he's an immortal," Bryant said. "Everything that he's done from the business aspect to his professionalism to his work ethic to the global appeal of the game has been something that carries on for generations and generations."

Jordan didn't make himself available to the press during All-Star weekend. James said this week that he wasn't too concerned with the TV remarks.

"At the end of the day, rings don't always define someone's career," James said. "If that's the case, then I would sit up here and say that I would take (Bill) Russell over Jordan. I wouldn't. I wouldn't take Russell over Jordan, but Russell has 11 rings and Jordan has six. Or I'd take, I don't know, Robert Horry over Jordan. I wouldn't do that. But it's your own personal opinion."

"Patrick Ewing is one of the greatest of all time," he continued. "Reggie Miller is one of the greatest of all time. Sometimes, it's a situation that you're in, it's the team that you're in. It's about timing as well."

One of the most common sentiments echoed by players this week when talking about Jordan was disbelief that he was turning 50.

"Time actually flies," Bryant said. "Him turning 50, this will be my 17th year, my 15th All-Star Game. Where did the time go?"

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February 14, 2013

By Michael Dean

Special to the NNPA from Arizona Informant

 

Before there was Charlie Sifford, Ted Rhodes, Bill Spiller or Lee Elder, there was John Brooks Dendy, the self-made golfer from North Carolina who made a name for himself in the 1930s.

Dendy grew up in Asheville and fell in love with the game of golf at an early age.  He had scuffled around and found some discarded club heads with no shafts. He whittled down broom sticks, fitted them in the heads and began playing whenever he could.  He also began caddying at Asheville Country Club and by his early teens had developed a game that was hard to beat.  Some of the members of the club took notice and quietly encouraged him.

At 18, Dendy had completed high school and was preparing to head to Paine College in Augusta, Ga. to play football.  Because of his golfing prowess, a few members of the country club extended Dendy the financial assistance to enter the Southern Open at Lincoln G &CC in Atlanta and to the chagrin of homegrown heroes Howard Wheeler and Hugh Smith, Dendy won.  During the awards ceremony, Dendy relinquished his amateur status and accepted the $50 prize money for first place.

Excited by his good fortune, his family encouraged him to compete in the 1932 United Golfer’s Association – Negro National Open in Indianapolis.  Dendy had never been that far away from home before and was only comfortable on the golf course.  The virtual unknown whipped his competitors with ease earning the trophy and the $100 prize money.

In the pre-tournament “Calcutta,” Dendy had been purchased for $400 and the bettor won big so he gave his man a $500 bonus for winning, five times the amount of the winner’s check.  On his long trip home, Dendy never slept for fear that someone may attempt to rob him. He would go on the win National Open in 1936 and successfully defended in 1937.  He also won the Southern Open again in 1934 and 1936 after breaking through in 1932.

One of the most legendary stories told about John Brooks Dendy occurred in Jacksonville, Fla. in 1933.  He had been invited to participate in an 18-hole exhibition and was pressed for time because the bus that he was on developed problems along the way.  He arrived at the course, went to the first tee, and without warming up, cut the dogleg with his drive on the 342 yard opening hole.  When he got to the green, he found his ball in the cup for a 1. He then played the next three holes 2-3-4, all of them birdies and finished the day with a score of 59.  The 1-2-3-4, six-under par start, made Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

By 1940, Dendy hadn’t made any headway financially playing golf, so he opted to take a job as a locker room attendant at Asheville CC and later worked at Biltmore Forest CC where he served until he retired in 1980.  He didn’t play much golf in his later years and died in 1985.  Throughout his storied career Dendy won 52 tournaments, including three National and three Southern Open Championships.  He was also a friend of heavyweight champion Joe Louis and the two often partnered successfully in money matches in Chicago and across the country.  “Lest’ We Forget.”

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February 14, 2013

Associated Press

 

USA Track & Field is hitting the road to try to take advantage of the passion of the millions of recreational runners in the country.

The governing body will hold a new national road race in the fall, open to both amateur and elite competitors. The 7½-mile event an­nounced Wednesday will have a combined $100,000 purse for the top men and women. Several thousand other entrants, with the demographics sponsors crave, will also take part.

The race is part of a three-year deal between USATF and Neustar, an information services company. It will be called the .US National Road Racing Championships in reference to Neustar’s .US domain name.

The date, location and course will be announced in the next few weeks. The unusual 12-kilometer distance was chosen because it's in the middle between 5K events and marathons — and for the simple fact that it is unique.

Marathons and other shorter events have become big business, attracting participants that many companies want to target.

“These are business owners; these are professionals,” Neustar senior vice president Alex Berry said. “These are folks that are college educated; they have advanced degrees.”

But USATF had been missing out — the governing body had never before fully owned-and-operated a road race. The deal with Neustar allows USATF to bring in new revenue and to market itself to amateur runners who may associate the organization only with competitions like the 100-meter dash, said CEO Max Siegel, who was hired in April.

USATF says the deal is its biggest single-event sponsorship in more than a decade.

“It has been a high priority of ours for people to make the connection between USA Track & Field, as an organization and a federation, to lifestyle running,” Siegel said. “So it’s been a challenge, but it’s something we’re aware of and addressing in a very deliberate way.”

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February 14, 2013

By PAUL ELIAS

Associated Press

 

A lawyer for Barry Bonds urged a federal appeals court on Wednesday to toss out the slugger’s obstruction of justice conviction, saying a rambling answer he gave while testifying before a grand jury was not a crime.

Appellate specialist Dennis Riordan argued that Bonds was not formally or specifically charged with the felony that he was convicted of committing. A federal jury in April 2011 found baseball’s all-time home runs leader guilty of obstruction for saying he was a “celebrity child” when asked about injecting steroids.

Prosecutors asked Bonds during his December 2003 grand jury appearance whether Greg Anderson, his personal trainer, ever gave him “anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?”

Bonds referred to his father, former major leaguer Bobby Bonds, when he responded “that’s what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that — you know, that — I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see ...”

That particular exchange wasn’t included in the indictment originally released in November 2007. The omission is “the dagger in the heart of this conviction,” Riordan argued.

Further, Riordan said that Bonds ultimately answered the question when put to him again and denied receiving any substance to inject.

Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wondered aloud if Bonds’ direct denial undercut the government's argument that Bonds intentionally misled the grand jury.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Merry Jean Chan countered that the denial was a lie because Bonds’ former personal assistant, Cathy Hoskins, testified that she witnessed Anderson inject Bonds. Chan said Bonds’ denial and his other rambling answers to the same question throughout his grand jury appearance added up to obstruction.

“He answered the question falsely each time,” she said.

Bonds and his legal team are asking a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the lone felony conviction stemming from Bonds’ 2½ hours of testimony in December 2003 before a grand jury investigating performance enhancing drug use and sales among elite athletes. Bonds, who was rejected by voters last month in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, wasn’t required to attend Wednesday’s highly technical hearing, though Riordan said his client expressed a desired to watch the proceedings in person.

Riordan said outside court that he advised Bonds to watch from afar rather than personally attending the 35-minute session San Francisco. A local television station was given permission to show the hearing live and streamed at least a couple of segments on the Internet.

“His presence would have been a distraction,” Riordan said.

Legal experts who have followed the case closely since his grand jury appearance in December 2003 are divided over Bonds’ chances before Daly Hawkins and Judges Mary Schroeder and Mary Murguia, each of whom was appointed by a different Democrat president and all of whom are based in Phoenix, home of San Francisco’s division rival Diamond­backs and about a 20-minute drive from the Giants’ Scottsdale spring training facility.

One set of analysts argue that appellate courts are reluctant to overturn jury verdicts absent an overwhelmingly obvious mistake. They say that U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, who ran the trial, is a respected jurist who has few of her cases overturned.

“There is a definite overriding respect of a jury’s verdict,” said Howard Wasserman, a Florida Inter­national University law professor. “Typically, it’s pretty hard to get a jury’s verdict reversed.”

On the other hand, there are those lawyers who argue that Bonds stands a good chance to clear his name.

“The government’s biggest hurdle is that testimony obstruction cases are usually based on blatant, undeniable lies to questions at the heart of an investigation,” said William Keane, a San Francisco criminal defense attorney. “Here the prosecution limps in with only a single rambling, unresponsive, unimportant answer that is literally true.”

Regardless of the outcome, University of New Hampshire law professor Michael McCann contends that the case was ultimately a loss of the U.S. Department of Justice. In a case that put a superstar athlete at the defendant’s table, the jury deadlocked on three charges of making false statements

“The main thrust of the government’s original case was that he lied when he denied taking steroids,” said McCann, who also edits the popular Sports Law Blog. “That’s not what he was convicted of. Obstruction was not the main charge.”

If Bonds’ conviction is upheld, he will have to serve 30 days house arrest.

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February 14, 2013

By GARY GRAVES Associated Press

 

Kentucky received the news it dreaded Wednesday when freshman forward Nerlens Noel was declared out for the season with a torn ligament in his left knee.

Noel tore his ACL on Tuesday night when No. 25 Kentucky lost at Florida. An MRI revealed the injury, and the 6-foot-10 forward will have surgery in the next two or three weeks.

The projected recovery period is six to eight months.

Noel's injury deals a serious postseason blow for the defending national champions, who had appeared to be gaining some footing after struggling earlier this season while trying to blend in four freshmen. Leading the way defensively for the Wildcats was Noel, who began Tuesday first in the nation with 4.5 blocks per game.

The rookie took a positive approach to the diagnosis, posting on Twitter, "Minor setback for a MAJOR comeback! I love you all and can't thank y'all enough for the prayers."

Noel was hurt with 8 minutes left in the Wildcats' 69-52 loss to the seventh-ranked Gators. He ran into the basket support after blocking a layup from behind. Noel landed awkwardly, dropped to the floor and started screaming while clutching his knee.

Noel had eight points, six rebounds and three blocks before the injury.

"I've been coaching for 22 years and this is the first injury we've had of this kind during the season, which makes it even more devastating," Kentucky coach John Calipari said in a statement.

"I met with Nerlens earlier today. The meeting was really positive, and I loved his attitude. The way he is already dealing with this injury lets me know that he is going to come back stronger than ever. ... Obviously this is not a career-ending injury and it's one that athletes bounce back from all the time."

The question is if Kentucky (17-7, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) can bounce back from the devastating loss.

With Noel out, 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein now must man the post for Kentucky after spending most of the season as Noel's backup. Cauley-Stein missed four games last month after having a procedure on his left knee, an absence that meant even more minutes for Noel.

The Everett, Mass., native clearly relished the extra work, which gave him a chance to display an array of skills. Besides his shot-blocking prowess, Noel was averaging 10.6 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game, with the latter two statistics both ranking 26th nationally.

He entered the game with three consecutive double-doubles and on a four-week run as the conference's top freshman. In his previous five games, Noel had blocked 26 shots.

Projected as an NBA lottery pick by some scouting services if he were to leave after the season, Noel's draft stock seemed unaffected by his injury. Several blogs still consider him a top-five selection, with others projecting him as a first-rounder.

While Kentucky has lacked a bona fide team leader, there was no doubt that the Wildcats seemed to feed off of Noel's intensity and athleticism. Calipari's wish has been for other players to display those some traits.

Now, the Wildcats have to rework the rotation without their biggest star. Kentucky's tallest player besides Cauley-Stein is 6-10 sophomore Kyle Wiltjer, whose game had recently blossomed along with Noel's.

Former Wildcats center Sam Bowie believes the injury might initially affect the team's psyche, especially with so many young players.

"His teammates will start to second-guess themselves, and that's just human nature," Bowie said. "You always say, 'We'll regroup; people have to step up and take their games to another level,' and that's been the politically correct thing to say, but realistically speaking it will affect the team mentally."

Considered the nation's top recruit last season, Noel led a four-man freshman class also including Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress that was expected to pick up where last year's championship team left off. Noel has often been compared to national player of the year Anthony Davis because of his size and shot-blocking ability.

While Noel downplayed the comparison, he made clear his pursuit of breaking Davis' single-season school record of 186 blocks set last year. A Kentucky-record 12 blocks during an 87-74 victory at Mississippi on Jan. 29 put him slightly ahead of Davis' pace, which was set over 40 games.

More importantly, Kentucky's victory over the then-No. 16 Rebels helped re-establish its credentials as an NCAA tournament team. Their first win over a ranked opponent was part of a season-best five-game winning streak that helped put the Wildcats back in the Top 25 on Monday for the first time since falling out Dec. 3 following consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Baylor.

Tuesday's game against Florida was supposed to be another big test, but Kentucky trailed by as many as 19 points before Noel's injury. The Wildcats seemed even more shaken afterward, and their winning streak vanished.

Kentucky visits Tennessee on Saturday before returning home next Wednesday against Vanderbilt, providing the Wildcats chances to sweep season series against both schools and stay in the SEC race.

Bowie believes Calipari is capable of motivating the Wildcats to overcome Noel's absence, band together as a team and return to the postseason — suggesting that urgency sometimes brings out the best performances.

"I still feel like they'll make the tournament," Bowie said, "but whether they have a legitimate chance of making a serious run, that will be determined. With Cal as coach, and I think they have plenty of personnel, they have a chance to be one of the 65 teams invited to the tournament."

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