January 09, 2014

LAWT WIRE SERVICES

 

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- Dennis Rodman sang "Happy Birthday" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before leading a squad of former NBA stars in a friendly game Wednesday as part of his "basketball diplomacy" that has been criticized in the United States as naive and laughable.

Rodman dedicated the game to his "best friend" Kim, who along with his wife and other senior officials and their wives watched from a special seating area. The capacity crowd of about 14,000 at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium clapped loudly as Rodman sang a verse from the birthday song.

Rodman said he was honored to be able to play the game in the North Korean capital and called the event "historic." Some members of the U.S. Congress, the NBA and human rights groups, however, say he has become a public relations tool for North Korea's government.

The government's poor human rights record and its threats to use nuclear weapons against rival South Korea and the United States have kept it a pariah state. Kim shocked the world in December by having his uncle, once considered his mentor, executed after being accused of a litany of crimes including corruption, womanizing, drug abuse and attempting to seize power.

Rodman, 52, has refused to address those concerns while continuing to forge a relationship with Kim, whose age has never been officially disclosed. The government did not say how old he turned Wednesday but he is believed to be in his early 30s.

At the start of the game, Rodman sang "Happy Birthday" to Kim, who was seated above in the stands at the stadium, and then bowed deeply as North Korean players clapped.

To keep it friendly, the Americans played against the North Koreans in the first half, but split up and merged teams for the second half.

The North Korean team scored 47 points to 39 for the Americans before the teams were mixed. Rodman played only in the first half and then sat next to Kim during the second half.

"A lot of people have expressed different views about me and your leader, your marshal, and I take that as a compliment," Rodman told the crowd. "Yes, he is a great leader, he provides for his people here in this country and thank God the people here love the marshal."

Rodman is the highest-profile American to meet Kim. He has carefully avoided getting involved in overtly political activities, saying that he is not a statesman and instead is seeking only to build cultural connections with the North through basketball that may help improve relations between Pyongyang and Washington.

Rodman has been slammed in particular for not using his influence with Kim to help free Kenneth Bae, an American missionary in poor health who is being confined in the North for "anti-state" crimes. In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Rodman implied that Bae was at fault for being held captive.

Bae's sister, Terri Chung, said his family couldn't believe what Rodman said.

"Here's somebody who is in a position to do some good for Kenneth and refuses to do so," Chung told KOMO Radio in Seattle on Wednesday. "And then after the fact, instead, he decides to hurl these unqualified accusations against Kenneth. It's clear he has no idea what he's talking about. I'm not sure who he's talking to, where he's getting his information, but he's certainly no authority on Kenneth Bae."

The U.S. State Department distanced itself from Rodman and said it did not want to "dignify" his activities or comments in Pyongyang by commenting on them. But spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the department was open to speaking with Rodman on his return.

"We have not reached out to him. We've said before, if he wants to reach out to us, we're happy to hear from him and what he has to say," she told reporters.

The game is a new milestone in Rodman's unusual relationship with Kim, who inherited power after the death of his father in late 2011 and rarely meets with foreigners. He remains a mystery to much of the outside world and until recently, his birthday was also not widely known, though it was quietly observed elsewhere around the capital Wednesday.

Along with Rodman, the former NBA players included ex-All Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker. Also on the roster were Craig Hodges, Doug Christie, Charles D. Smith and four streetballers.

Members of the team, who average in their late 40s, said they came because they believed the game would be a good opportunity to create a human connection with the people of the isolated country. But some said they have been concerned by the negative reaction they have seen from the media and critics back home.

"This was a test of faith. We stepped out into the unknown," said former New York Knicks player Smith, who has played similar games in other countries and has acted as the team's spokesman to balance Rodman's famously outspoken character.

Smith said he was gratified to see the North Korean crowd enjoy the game, but he added that he had mixed emotions about the two-hour event.

"Emotionally, I don't know what to feel," he told The Associated Press afterward. "I'm indifferent. I'm not totally overjoyed."

Smith said he and the other players did not join Rodman in singing the birthday song.

"We always tell Dennis that he can't sing. He is tone deaf," Smith said. "He did it alone."

Parent Category: News
Category: Sports

January 09, 2014

LAWT WIRE SERVICES

 

World No.1 Tiger Woods has cracked $US1.3 billion ($1.45 billion) in career earnings by leading the Golf Digest 50 income list for 2013, with Australian Adam Scott coming in eighth.

The 14-time major champion topped the list for the 11th time in its 11-year history with $US83 million, including an estimated $US71 million off the course and more than $US12 million in prizemoney.

Golf Digest magazine reported on its website on Tuesday that Woods' winnings of more than $US155 million reflect less than 12 per cent of his career earnings, with $US1.16 billion coming from endorsements since his pro debut in 1996, a figure that continues to increase even after his infamous sex scandal and ensuing divorce.

Second on the Golf Digest list was Phil Mickelson at $US52 million, with an estimated $US45 million in endorsements and other non-prizemoney income.

The US left-hander won last year's British Open and hopes to complete a career grand slam by winning this year's US Open, an event where he is a record six-time runner-up.

Arnold Palmer, the 84-year-old golf icon whose popularity helped spawn the television riches of today's players, was third at $US40 million, largely from licensing deals in Asia.

Jack Nicklaus, who turns 74 on January 21, ranked fourth at just over $US26 million. The record 18-time major champion joins Palmer and Gary Player for the annual honorary tee shots that mark the start of the Masters each year.

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Category: Sports

January 02, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — The Boston Marathon bombing was selected the sports story of the year December 27 in an annual vote conducted by The Associated Press.

Two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the April 15 race in an area packed with fans cheering the passing runners. Three people were killed and more than 260 injured, including at least 16 who lost limbs.

Authorities say brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechens from Russia who emigrated to the United States as children, planned and carried out the bombings in retaliation for U.S. involvement in Muslim countries.

Ninety-six ballots were submitted from U.S. editors and news directors. Voters were asked to rank the top 10 sports stories of the year, with the first-place story receiving 10 points, the second-place story nine points and so on.

The marathon attack received 761 points and 67 first-place votes. It was also second in AP’s national/international story of the year poll.

The No. 2 sports story, Lance Armstrong's admission of doping, had five first-place votes and 517 points.

The top five stories were grim: terrorism, performance-enhancing drug use, legal settlements, murder charges. The first on-field action came in at No. 6 — the Boston Red Sox’s worst-to-first World Series title, though even that was tinged by the city’s heartache less than seven months earlier.

Here are 2013’s top 10 stories:

1. BOSTON MARATHON BOMBINGS: The throngs of spectators lining the streets at a storied big-city marathon were once a wholesome scene of civic pride and friendly support. April’s attack came as a haunting reminder that the crowds at a high-profile event are also a vulnerable target. Bag searches and metal detectors were a common sight at games the rest of the year. As victims persevere on prosthetic limbs, the 118th edition of the world's oldest marathon is set for the spring, with security undoubtedly heightened but runners determined to take part.

2. LANCE ARMSTRONG: The disgraced cyclist was also the No. 2 sports story last year. In 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stripped him of his record seven Tour de France titles, releasing mounds of evidence that he used PEDs to win them. In January, after years of defiant denials, Armstrong finally admitted it, telling Oprah Winfrey: “It’s this myth, this perfect story, and it wasn't true.”

3. NFL CONCUSSION SETTLEMENT: The NFL’s settlement of lawsuits brought by thousands of former players will cost the league $765 million but won’t end the turmoil over head injuries in football — or the litigation. The retirees, who had accused the NFL of concealing the long-term dangers of concussions, will be eligible for compensation for certain neurological ailments. The league did not admit to any wrongdoing after mediation resulted in a settlement in August.

4. BASEBALL DRUG BANS: Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension was the longest of the 13 announced in August for players connected to a Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing banned PEDs. The Yankees’ slugger was the only one to contest the penalty, and the year ends with an arbitrator yet to rule. In July, Ryan Braun, the 2011 NL MVP who had previously denied using banned substances, accepted a 65-game suspension.

5. HERNANDEZ ARREST: On Jan. 20, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had nine catches for 83 yards in an AFC championship game loss to Baltimore. Just more than five months later, he was charged with murder. Prosecutors accuse him of shooting a friend to death on a secluded gravel road for talking to the wrong people at a nightclub. Hernandez awaits trial amid revelations of a history of violence by the player.

6. RED SOX WIN: Boston’s 2011 season ended with a collapse and tales of fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse; 2012 ended with a last-place finish and 93 losses. New manager John Farrell and his bearded sluggers embraced "Boston Strong" and tied for the best record in the majors in a turnaround few predicted. With timely hits up and down the lineup throughout the playoffs, the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in six games for their third World Series title in a decade.

7. RAVENS SUPER: The power came back on, and Baltimore held on. Ravens coach John Harbaugh beat younger brother Jim's San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in the Super Bowl in an unprecedented sibling showdown. But the game will be remembered most for the 34-minute outage at the Superdome in New Orleans. Baltimore star linebacker Ray Lewis rode into retirement with a ring.

8. AWESOME AUBURN: The Tigers’ turnaround from a 3-9 record to the national title game was stunning enough. Even more shocking was how they did it. A deflected 73-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left gave Auburn a 43-38 win over Georgia on Nov. 16. The play that ended their next game will go down as one of the most memorable in college football history: Chris Davis’ return of a missed field goal attempt more than 100 yards to beat No. 1 Alabama 34-28.

9. TE'O HOAX: Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o struggled in Notre Dame’s lopsided loss to Alabama in the national title game Jan. 7. Nine days later, his name became forever linked to a most bizarre sports story. That tragic tale about his girlfriend’s death told over and over as the linebacker starred for an undefeated team? She didn’t exist. Te’o insisted he was duped into believing the woman he never met in person was real.

10. HEAT TITLE: One more free throw or one more defensive rebound, and the San Antonio Spurs prevent Miami from repeating as champion. Instead, Ray Allen made one of the biggest shots in NBA Finals history, knocking down a second-chance 3-pointer with 5 seconds left to send Game 6 to overtime. The Heat won in the extra period and again in Game 7 to give LeBron James another title.

Parent Category: News
Category: Sports

January 02, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) — Kansas City and San Francisco will have plenty of clout in Honolulu if they don’t make it to New Jersey for the Super Bowl.

The NFL revealed Friday that the Chiefs and 49ers each had eight players voted into the Pro Bowl, including running backs Jamaal Charles of Kansas City and Frank Gore of San Francisco.

Denver quarterback Peyton Manning was selected to his 13th Pro Bowl after receiving the most votes among fans, 1.43 million. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was second among fans with 1.2 million votes.

The NFL combines votes from fans, players and coaches to determine 86 of 88 Pro Bowl players; the other two players are long-snappers selected by Pro Bowl coaches. Voting ended Thursday.

Under a new format this year, NFL greats Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will divvy up the players in a two-day draft before the Jan. 26 game. Offensive and defensive players with the most votes who don’t make it past the divisional playoff round will serve as active player captains.

Charles said Friday night on a reveal show on the NFL Network that he should be picked first.

“I think I got the best skillset of anybody on the roster,” Charles said. “I think I can play wide receiver and then put the ball in my hand, also. The only thing I can't do is throw the ball.”

Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly said he’ll be fine wherever he’s picked.

“I don't know, you got to get the guy who scores points,” he said.

The schoolyard-style selections mean it’s likely teammates will be forced to play on opposite sides. Players on the winning team will earn $53,000 while the losers will get $26,000 under the collective bargaining agreement.

San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman said he thinks it would be weird to have to tackle Gore or Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis.

“I might not tackle him,” Bowman said. “Just let him score and get his yards or whatever. Yeah, that’d be weird because that hasn’t happened since training camp.”

Rice and Sanders playfully bantered about possible selections, with Sanders saying he wanted players on his roster who haven’t been to many Pro Bowls.

“If you have five years or more, don’t even worry about it I’m not going to pick you,” Sanders said. “Go play for Jerry.”

Rice said later: “You’re trying to bait me - that’s not going to happen.”

Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman received 552,600 votes by fans, the most for any defensive player. Houston defensive end J.J. Watt had just under 410,000 fan votes.

San Francisco is set to send eight players to the game for the second year in a row, though its players missed the game earlier this year because they made the Super Bowl, losing to Baltimore.

Kansas City’s eight selections are up from six last year. The Chiefs are 11-4 this year — up from 2-14 last year — and the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs heading into a largely meaningless game for them against San Diego on Sunday.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Friday he has never been big on Pro Bowl selections.

“I’m happy for the guys when and if they make it. I’m proud of them for it,” Reid said. “But we don’t get caught up in all of the individual accolades. (We’re) just getting ourselves ready to play.”

Manning was one of five players selected from Denver, which has a shot at putting up the most points of any team in NFL history.

All but five teams had at least one player selected. Atlanta, Green Bay, Jacksonville and both New York teams had zero players selected.

Parent Category: News
Category: Sports

December 26, 2013

Associated Press

 

Former NBA star Dennis Rod­man arrived in North Korea on Thursday  December 19 to help train the national team and renew his friendship with the North's young leader, Kim Jong Un, a visit unaffected by the recent execution of Kim’s uncle in a dramatic political purge.

Rodman was met at Pyongyang’s airport by Vice Sports Minister Son Kwang Ho. He made no public comments, but told a mob of reporters earlier at Beijing’s airport that he expected, as on previous visits, to meet with Kim and make final arrangements for a Jan. 8 exhibition game in Pyongyang marking the leader’s birthday.

“I know (Kim) is waiting for me to come back. So hopefully we will have some conversation about some things that’s going to help the world,” Rodman said.

His visit comes less than a week after North Korea announced the execution of No. 2 official Jang Song Thaek, an unprecedented fall from grace of one of the most powerful figures in the country.

Jang’s execution marks North Korea’s most serious political upheaval in decades and has sent North Korea watchers speculating over the stability of the Kim dynasty. However, Rodman’s visit — should it proceed uneventfully — could be a sign that Kim is firmly in charge and unconcerned with any potential challenges to his rule.

Asked about the execution, Rodman said that had nothing to do with his visit. He said he wasn't worried about his personal safety in the North, despite the recent detentions of two Americans there, one of whom, Kenneth Bae, has been held for more than two years.

Rodman and Kim have struck up an unlikely friendship since the Hall of Famer traveled to the secretive Communist state for the first time in February with the Harlem Globe­trot­ters for an HBO series produced by New York-based VICE television.

He remains the highest-profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power from father Kim Jong Il in 2011.

Known as much for his piercings, tattoos and bad behavior as he was for basketball, Rodman has mostly avoided politics in his dealings with the North. He’s mainly focused on using basketball as a means of boosting understanding and communication and studiously avoided commenting on the North’s human rights record, regarded as one of the world's worst by activists, defectors and the U.S. State Department.

Defectors have repeatedly testified about the government’s alleged use of indiscriminate killings, rapes, beatings and prison camps holding as many as 120,000 people deemed opponents of Kim, the third generation of his family to rule.

Rodman said he planned to return to North Korea in two weeks with a roster of 12 American basketball players, but offered no names.

“I hope this game brings a lot of countries together, because as I said, sports it is so important to people around the world,” Rodman said. “So I hope this is going to engage American people, especially (Presi­dent Barack) Obama, to just to try to talk to them.”

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