February 27, 2014

LAWT Wire Services

 

GREENBURGH, N.Y. —Raymond Felton is determined to keep personal turmoil from affecting what was already his most trying season professionally.

A day after his arrest on felony weapons charges, Felton returned to practice with the New York Knicks on Wednesday, saying that was “not a distraction” to the team.

Felton spoke for less than a minute and did not take questions. He thanked family, friends and teammates for their support and insisted his thoughts were on the Knicks’ game Thursday night in Miami.

“This is not a distraction to this team,” he said. “I’m focusing on finishing out this season, finishing out these games with my teammates and going down to Miami, focusing on this next game at task versus the defending champs.”

The Knicks are barely hanging on in the playoff race and Felton’s struggles have been among their biggest problems. Slowed by nagging leg injuries early, he’s averaging a career-worst 10.4 points on 40.3 percent shooting for a team with a 21-36 record.

He’s also dealing with the breakup of his marriage, and he was arrested early Tuesday after authorities said a lawyer for his wife turned into a police precinct a loaded semi-automatic handgun allegedly belonging to the point guard, claiming she no longer wanted it in their home.

Felton was released on $25,000 bail, and his next court appearance is scheduled for June 2.

Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he never considered not letting Felton play against the Heat.

“The bottom line is Ray is a part of our team, and as his coach I’m going to support him and make sure he’s doing everything the right way from here on out, and to try to get him to just concentrate on basketball and practice and playing games,” Woodson said.

Felton was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree and criminal possession of a firearm. The firearm charge is punishable by up to four years in prison. The weapons charge is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

He had turned himself into police not long after a 110-108 loss to Dallas dropped the Knicks farther back in the playoff race. His wife, Ariane Raymondo-Felton, filed for divorce last week, according to court records, and Felton acknowledged recently dealing with personal problems.

He said he wouldn’t comment on the case, referring any questions to his lawyer.

“But other than that, I’m here to concentrate on this team, finish this season out with the New York Knicks and see what happens, man,” Felton said. “Trying to make it to the playoffs. We’re 5-1/2 games out, 25 games left, so I’m really focusing on that with these guys, with the team and trying to make that happen.”

Felton was playing well in his first stint in New York before he was traded to Denver in the middle of the 2010-11 season as part of the package for Carmelo Anthony. He had a dismal 2011-12 season for Portland, admitting he reported out of shape because he wasn’t sure if, or when, the lockout might end.

Yet the Knicks surprisingly re-signed him that summer, a move that paved the way for them to let Jeremy Lin leave as a free agent. Felton rebounded with a strong performance last season in helping the Knicks to their first Atlantic Division title since 1994, but neither he nor the team has been able to build on that.

Felton has played better lately, and center Tyson Chandler said he was focused at practice Wednesday.

“He seemed like he was no different,” Chandler said.

Felton still could face punishment from the NBA, though likely not until the legal process has been completed. He is set to earn $3.8 million next season and has a player option that would pay him $4 million in 2015-16, and any attempt by the Knicks to void his contract would be met with a strong challenge from the players’ association.

For now, Felton and the Knicks are just trying to salvage the season.

“My job is to continue to coach and try to get guys to do the right thing on and off the basketball floor. I take pride in that, so when things creep in like this, it’s a surprise, but again we’ve got to get through it,” Woodson said.

“Again, I don’t know the legal part, the severity of it. All I know is Raymond is still with us and I’m on Raymond’s side in terms of trying to make sure that he’s doing the necessary things to play basketball and I'm going to continue to do that.”

Notes: The Knicks plan to sign veterans Shannon Brown and Earl Clark to 10-day contracts Thursday and have them available to play against the Heat. ... Anthony missed practice for personal reasons but will be with the team in Miami.

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February 27, 2014

LAWT Wire Services

 

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Deron Williams took a moment to snap a few photos of Brooklyn teammate Jason Collins at their shootaround in Portland.

He couldn't help it: The NBA's first openly gay player was surrounded by a throng of cameras and microphones, and at least for the next week or so, Collins will be the face of the Nets wherever they go.

The 7-footer was signed to a 10-day contract on Sunday. He played in a 108-102 victory over the Lakers that night, with two rebounds, five fouls and a steal in just under 11 minutes.

Before Wednesday night's game against the Trail Blazers, Collins said accepted the both the interest and scrutiny that has come with his return to the league.

"I'm back playing basketball, so of course I'm enjoying this," he said.

After Portland, the Nets visit Denver, where the attention will become even more intense. The family of slain Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard is expected to make the drive for the game Thursday night against the Nuggets.

Shepard was tortured and murdered in 1998 because he was gay. Collins wears his No. 98 jersey in Shepard's honor. He wants to keep the details of any meeting with Judy Shepard to himself.

"Obviously, it's extremely special and I'm very much looking forward to meeting them," he said.

Collins wore the No. 98 with both the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards for Shepard even before coming out. The jersey wasn't yet ready for the game against the Lakers (he wore a spare jersey with his name hastily added), but he was set to wear No. 98 again against the Blazers.

"We were very touched," Judy Shepard told the New York Daily News about the jersey. "For him to make that tribute to Matt was meaningful to us."

The jersey was already the biggest seller of the day Tuesday on NBAStore.com, and the NBA said it was selling well again Wednesday.The league doesn't provide the number of jerseys sold.

For all the attention he's getting, Collins is not a distraction for the Nets, who are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, inside the playoff cutoff.

"He understands how to play the game the right way, and we saw that in L.A.," coach Jason Kidd said.

Collins publicly announced he was gay last May, and he joins several other athletes to come out, including Robbie Roberts of Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy, Brittney Griner of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, and NFL draft hopeful Michael Sam, a defensive end who played at Missouri.

Since coming out, Collins has become an advocate for LGBT rights. He was in Portland just last week, appearing before a group that's advocating to get a measure on the November ballot that would legalize gay marriage on Oregon.

In 2004, voters passed a measure that amended the state constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Campaign organizers hope to make Oregon the first state to overturn a constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage.

Collins said for now, however, he just wants to focus on the Nets.

"There are only so many ways you can write the story or tell the story," he said, "and then it will just be about basketball."

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February 20, 2014

By ANTONIO GONZALEZ

Associated Press

 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors have made another move in hopes of finding a reliable backup to point guard Stephen Curry.

The Warriors acquired Steve Blake from the Los Angeles Lakers for reserve guards Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks on Wednesday night, adding a veteran ball-handler to their beleaguered bench.

Word of the deal started to spread just before the Warriors played in Sacramento and the Lakers hosted Houston, with the three players involved saying goodbye to teammates and coaches in the locker room. Both teams confirmed the trade before halftime of their games.

“We think this just bolsters the bench and gives us some more options, some more weapons and a player when you give him the ball you know you can trust him,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said during intermission in Sacramento. “We just think it was a chance to improve our roster and that was our justification.”

The trade gives Golden State a savvy veteran off the bench without sacrificing any of its core players or moving into the league’s luxury tax.

The Warriors used a $4 million trade exception they got in the deal with Denver that landed free agent Andre Iguodala last summer. The team is about $400,000 under the luxury tax, Myers said.

The Warriors were hoping Blake would be uniform when they host Houston on Thursday night in Oakland.

Blake, who is making $4 million in the final year of his contract, averaged 9.5 points and 7.6 assists while starting all 27 games he played for the injury-depleted Lakers this season. The Warriors are counting on the 33-year-old veteran to improve a bench that has been searching for a solid ball-handler since Jarrett Jack left for Cleveland in free agency last summer.

The Warriors acquired Jordan Crawford and Brooks from Boston in a three-team trade on Jan. 15. Golden State sent struggling backup Toney Douglas to Miami in that deal.

Crawford has been, at times, a prolific scorer but is still learning how to be a better distributor and playmaker on a Warriors team that has plenty of shooters. He entered Wednesday averaging 6.3 points and 2.2 assists in his first 13 games with the Warriors after starting for the Celtics while Rajon Rondo was injured.

“We like our core, and I think our core likes each other. I think it’s a core that can win,” Myers said. “And our bench, for whatever reason, struggled early on. Anything we could do to fortify it, we tried to do without removing what we consider our core.”

The Lakers received some salary cap relief and a pair of young and unproven players in the deal.

Brooks appeared in just seven games with the Warriors and never caught on in Mark Jackson’s rotation. Bazemore, best known for his animated cheering on Golden State’s bench, also struggled in limited action the past two seasons.

Both had split time with the team's NBA Development League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors, but should get more of an opportunity with the rebuilding Lakers.

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February 20, 2014

By Kitty Oliver

Special to the NNPA from the Westside Gazette

 

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Greater Fort Lauderdale is also making history by preserving it.

Plans are underway for the American Tennis Association, the country’s oldest organization for Black tennis players, to establish a permanent home for recreational tennis and the training of future professional players. The project will create a Black Tennis Hall of Fame, as well, to showcase historical memorabilia on the contributions of African Americans to the sport – items that have only been seen so far in a limited way in occasional traveling exhibitions.

The ATA, founded in 1916 in Washington, D.C., created a circuit of clubs and tournaments for Black tennis players who were excluded from the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association.  Since then, the mostly-volunteer organization, now based in Maryland, has remained in the forefront of the sport, challenging the racial barriers of segregation, cultivating promising young talent, providing a vital social network for African American professionals (notables include Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe), and influencing younger Black stars such as the Williams sisters and Sloane Stephens.

As a first step, the ATA has moved its annual National Championship Tournament to Greater Fort Lauderdale using four professional tennis venues throughout the county. More than 3,000 amateur adult and youth tennis players and their families are expected again this year in late July and early August for the 97th annual event.

According to Philadelphia oral surgeon Dr. Franklyn Scott, president of the ATA, “There is so much history of African Americans in tennis but it has only been told sporadically, and a lot of people have benefited from this history. The goal is to bring African American tennis enthusiasts and players together on a regular basis to enjoy the sport in the top vacation destination for African American travelers in the U.S.”

VStarr Interiors, a firm co-owned by tennis great Serena Williams, has created a design for the headquarters. Sites are being considered in Fort Lauderdale’s historic Black Sistrunk community as part of a larger economic development effort where tourism is playing a big part.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau (GFLCVB) is spearheading the initiative, partnering with Greeks and Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the ATA. “Everything we do is about community partnerships and relationships that encourage growth,” said Albert Tucker, Vice President for Multicultural Business Development, who has been leading the charge.

The multicultural market has become one of the fastest growing segment in the travel industry, he pointed out.  For a long time, however, marketing to this group was not aggressively pursued by many segments of the travel industry.  Over a decade ago, the GFLCVB, led by president Nicki E. Grossman, recognized the area’s appeal to African American, Caribbean American and Hispanic travelers and a full-service Multicultural Business Development Department was created within the GFLCVB specifically to market to the multicultural traveler and pursue large-scale events, groups and convention business.

Culturally, the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County area now rivals Queens County, NY as the most diverse multi-ethnic urban area in the country where African Americans, Caribbeans and Hispanics represent more than 50 percent of the population.  People of color make up more than 60 percent of the 131,000 Broward residents directly employed in the hospitality industry and comprise almost a quarter of the 11 million visitors to the area each year.

Black travelers comprise the lion’s share of the market and Greater Fort Lauderdale has hosted a wide range of African American professional organizations, including the World Youth Netball Championships with  the estimated economic impact in excess of $10 million; the 100 Black Men of America who came in 2010 and will bring their conference back to the area in June; the Biennial Conference of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters; the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives; the United States Hispanic Contractors Annual Conference; the National Bowling Association, which brought more than 10,000 bowlers and their families resulting in an economic impact of  $14.5 million; and groups of Black accountants, government officials and gospel artists.

The National Urban League, the most influential civil rights organization in the country, will convene its star-studded annual conference for the first time in Fort Lauderdale in July, 2015. The Urban League’s new state-of-the-art multipurpose Community Empowerment Center is part of the historic Black Fort Lauderdale Sistrunk Boulevard corridor, a hub of cultural and economic revitalization which includes the landmark African American Research Library and Cultural Center and the Midtown Business and Arts District.

Black organizations are drawn to the area by events such as the annual Jazz in the Gardens music festival held March 14-16 this year featuring top national talent in jazz, R&B, hip hop and gospel; by international cricket, soccer, and Australian rules football matches; as well as world-class African American and Caribbean cultural presentations.  As Albert Tucker of the CVB notes, “We want people to recognize that we’re not just the ocean. We’re about community, which is thrusting Broward County into the national and international spotlight.”

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February 20, 2014

By TIM DAHLBERG

Associated Press

 

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — The first time Ed O’Bannon went up against the NCAA he was an 18-year-old with some serious talent and even more serious aspirations to play basketball at UNLV.

Against an organization bent on destroying Jerry Tarkanian and his band of Runnin’ Rebels, it was no contest. O'Bannon got the news he would not go to the college of his choice while on the road with a traveling basketball team.

“I cried,” he said. “I had worked my tail off to be good enough to accept a scholarship and be part of that team. What kid at that time didn’t want to go to UNLV? For the NCAA to take that away was absolutely upsetting.”

Nearly a quarter century later, O’Bannon is getting a rematch. His landmark suit demanding college players get some of the hundreds of millions of dollars they generate every year could change the way big time college athletics are operated.

All because of a chance encounter a few years ago at a friend’s home, where a certain bald headed, left handed forward wearing a UCLA uniform in a video game looked awfully familiar. It was O’Bannon, leading his team to the national championship in 1995.

“Initially it was, wow, pretty cool. I was fired up,” O’Bannon said. “But I immediately went from being fired up to being embarrassed. Then I thought, this is BS.”

To O’Bannon it was simple. The NCAA was making money off his image, and so was the video game company. He and the other players portrayed were getting nothing.

O'Bannon and others filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, challenging its ban on paying athletes. The suit also named video game maker Electronic Arts, which settled for $40 million in September and said it would no longer make video games featuring college teams.

The NCAA, though, battles on. Lawyers are scheduled to go before a federal judge in Oakland on Thursday on a motion to throw out the suit, saying the NCAA has no rules that force athletes who want to be paid to go to school and that paying elite athletes would take away money used to fund other athletic programs.

The fight has become almost a crusade for O’Bannon. It’s not about money, he says, but the principle of fair play.

The man at the forefront of the crusade against the NCAA sells cars for a living. Six days a week, he’s at the sprawling Findlay Toyota dealership in this Las Vegas suburb, where occasionally customers recognize him as the star of the UCLA team that won the national title.

O'Bannon had wanted to come to Las Vegas much earlier, but his plans to play at UNLV fell apart when the Tarkanian was forced to resign under pressure from the NCAA for alleged recruiting violations. He signed with UCLA instead, and was the star of the team that went 32-1 and won the school's first national title since John Wooden retired 20 years earlier.

O’Bannon is fond of his days at UCLA, and proud of his accomplishments. But even then he knew something wasn’t right about a system that offered little more than room and board and books for his services.

“I remember sitting at study hall with my teammates and we were upset because practice ran late and we didn’t quite make it to the cafeteria in time,” he said. “You’re sitting there hungry and you’ve got no money in your pocket to go to KFC and eat. We were bringing all this money into the school and were not seeing any of it.”

O’Bannon was drafted ninth by the New Jersey Nets the year he was named MVP of the Final Four, but his NBA career never took off. He played three seasons for the Nets and Dallas Mavericks, then spent another seven years playing on teams in Europe and South America.

He made some money, and his family got to see a lot of Europe during his travels. He has no regrets, even if it wasn’t the career he envisioned.

“I thought I was going to be a multiyear all-star. I thought I’d have a Hall of Fame career,” O’Bannon said. “It was going to be nothing short of what Magic Johnson did. He was the player I saw as a benchmark of how a basketball career should be.”

O’Bannon and his wife, a school counselor, live with their three children in an upscale community. Baseball is actually his first love, but to keep his hand in basketball, he is helping out this season coaching his son’s high school team.

He’s proud of going back to UCLA to finish a degree in U.S. history, proud of being the person that could change the way the NCAA does business. He’s also proud of his job selling cars, where he feels like he is part of a team, much like in his playing days.

“I like to think of myself not as a sales person but more as someone who helps with the decision making,” he says. “What I don’t do is convince someone to purchase a vehicle. I tell people I’m still going to sleep well at night if you don’t buy. My existence doesn’t depend on whether you buy a vehicle that particular day or not.”

On a recent weekday O’Bannon said at a table in the showroom at Findlay Toyota, interrupted occasionally by other employees walking by or customers stopping to say hello.

Instead of selling cars, the 41-year-old was talking about the lawsuit that challenges the NCAA over its rules prohibiting little more than books, tuition and room and board to athletes.

“I do see a place for it (pay) in college sports,” he said. “I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with it.”

But the NCAA does, insisting that the model of student-athletes getting a college education in exchange for their talents on the court or field is a good one.

The organization takes in an average $771 million a year off the TV rights to its basketball tournament alone. It claims the suit’s demand for revenue from television licensing fees should be thrown out, because the NCAA has a First Amendment right to televise newsworthy events.

There are signs the NCAA is feeling the heat. At the organization’s annual meeting last month in San Diego, large conferences proposed a $2,000-a-year stipend to help athletes. The stipend was approved in 2011 but shelved after small and medium-sized schools argued that they could not afford the payments.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken recently ruled against giving the suit class-action status that could have expanded it to include thousands of former athletes, saying there was no way to determine which of the former players might have been harmed by NCAA rules. But O'Bannon's suit — tentatively set for a trial in June — can go forward and others could bring similar actions.

Marc Edelman, an associate professor of law at City University of New York who specializes in sports and antitrust law, said the lawsuit could alter the way the NCAA does business, with the possibility of college sports returning to the way they were operated prior to 1951 with the power resting at the school and conference level.

Then, he said, it would be up to the individual conferences to decide whether to pay players — and how much.

“Certain conferences such as the Ivy League will probably maintain status quo,” Edelman said. “Other conferences like the SEC might agree to improve financial conditions for student athletes as a way of inducing them to attend their schools. And conferences like the Big 10 will be conflicted. On one hand they will say they won’t pay athletes but if the SEC allows it some of the best student athletes might choose to go to SEC schools instead. That’s just the free market.”

O’Bannon said he'll be happy when that day comes.

“All I knew is something needed to be said,” he said. “My biggest thing was to bring awareness to this and to right a wrong. I’m not looking for money or a payday.”

Meanwhile, he’ll keep plugging away, working as hard at the dealership as he did on the basketball court.

“Whatever happens I’ll come into work the next day and do what I can to sell cars,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

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