May 31, 2012

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP)

Boxer Paul Williams was driving his modified sport motorcycle too fast for conditions when he crashed into an embankment, police said Tuesday.

Williams was paralyzed and has no movement from the waist down after Sunday's crash in Marietta, northwest of Atlanta, his manager George Peterson said.

The 30-year-old athlete severed his spinal cord after falling on his back and head when he was thrown from his motorcycle, Peterson said.

Williams was driving at a high rate of speed which was too fast for conditions,Mariettapolice said in a statement Tuesday. Police say he could not negotiate a curve, and the bike slammed into the embankment.

Williams, a fighter known as ''The Punisher,'' is from Aiken, S.C. He was in metro Atlanta to attend his brother's wedding.

He was scheduled to fight Saul ''Canelo'' Alvarez on Sept. 15 in Las Vegas but that event has been canceled, Peterson said.

Williams is among the most versatile and unusual athletes in boxing, making him a highly undesirable opponent for the world's best fighters during his lengthy, successful career. He has competed effectively in an impressive three weight classes against much shorter foes, even comfortably making the 147-pound welterweight limit despite his lanky 6-foot-2 frame.

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Category: Sports

May 24, 2012

HOUSTON (AP) — Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson is the latest former player to sue the National Football League and seek compensation for head injuries.

Dickerson is the lead plaintiff among 15 men named in the suit filed Monday in federal court in Houston. Other plaintiffs include former Minnesota Vikings player John Randle and the estate of Ernie Stautner, a longtime Dallas assistant coach and former player in Pittsburgh.

More than 1,000 former NFL players are suing the league, saying not enough was done to inform them about concussion dangers and not enough is done to take care of them today. The league has said any allegation it intentionally misled players is meritless.

The lawsuit was first reported by the Beaumont Enterprise.

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May 24, 2012

By BARRY WILNER | Associated Press

 

ATLANTA (AP) — The NFL’s move to make thigh and knee pads mandatory equipment for the 2013 season already has drawn criticism from the guys who will have to wear them.

 

Not long after Atlanta Falcons Presi­dent Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said at an owners meeting Tuesday that the league can apply the decision unilaterally, the players union and several members expressed their dissatisfaction.

 

First, the NFL Players Association argued that the move should be negotiated.

 

“Any change in working conditions is a collectively bargained issue,” the union said in a statement. “While the NFL is focused on one element of health and safety today, the NFLPA believes that health and safety requires a comprehensive approach and commitment. We are engaged in and monitor many different issues, such as players’ access to medical records, prescription usage and the situation with professional football’s first responders, NFL referees.

 

“We always look forward to meeting with the NFL to discuss any and all matters related to player health and safety.”

 

Then the players spoke up.

 

“I hate that,” Raiders linebacker Travis Goethel said. “I don’t want that at all. I don't like having anything restricting my movement in my legs. If you get hit in the thigh, it really doesn’t do too much to help you out.”

 

Added Broncos cornerback Drayton Florence:

 

“My opinion is that I don’t want to wear them, but you have to follow the rules and policies. I just think that’s a way for them to kind of cover themselves with things that have been going on in the past” such as concussions suffered in collisions with knees or thighs.

 

Commissioner Roger Goodell can't see any downside to extra protection. He noted that the NFL and union have been discussing hip, knee and thigh pads for three years.

 

“I believe the technology has improved, the pads are far better than a decade ago, they allow better performance and are more protective. Every other level of football uses the pads.”

 

Goodell pointed out something a Nike executive told him recently: NBA players are wearing more pads from the hips down than NFL players.

 

“There is something wrong with that,” Goodell said.

 

Should a player not have the pads on when he enters a game in 2013, he will be sent off the field by a game official.

 

“It’s the same as if he ran on without a helmet,” McKay said. “It is a safety rule.”

 

The pads rule would not go into effect on the field until next year so equipment manufacturers can work on safety and comfort.

 

Goodell said he expects evidence in the Saints’ bounties case would be made public after all the player appeals and grievances have been heard. Release of any documents also could be delayed by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s defamation lawsuit against Goodell after the commissioner suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season.

 

Goodell said he has “not spent a lot of time” on the lawsuit in which Vilma contends the commissioner made false statements that tarnished Vilma’s reputation and hindered his ability to earn a living playing football.

 

“I’ve been around this league for 30 years and you are going to make decisions that will not be unanimous — it just doesn’t happen, particularly in a game where there is a lot of emotion, a lot of passion,” Goodell said. “What I have to do is what is in best interests of the game long term.

 

“You watch Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue, you are part of the decision-making process, and you see how they go about it. You watch other leagues, try to take in every perspective.

 

“You don’t worry about a popularity contest. You can’t.”

 

The owners also voted to move the trading deadline from after Week 6 to after Week 8, and to allow one “marquee” player placed on injured reserve to return to practice after the sixth week of the schedule and to the lineup after the eighth week. That player must be on the 53-man roster after the final preseason cut.

 

Terrell Suggs, the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, could fall into that category. Suggs recently underwent surgery for a torn Achilles tendon. If the Ravens believe Suggs can make it back by midseason, as the linebacker has predicted, they could use the IR special designation for him.

 

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft likes the adjustment because he knows firsthand how devastating an injury to a star player can be.

 

“It’s good because I think it keeps the excitement in the game,” Kraft said. “I know when we lost Tom Brady there was a feeling he could have come back at the end of the year. It would have been great for the fans, and I think every team has someone in that category.”

 

Goodell said the league is closer to a decision on what to do with the Pro Bowl, which he called “not a competitive game” in January. He wants more discussions with the players about how to improve the quality of the game, but dropping it entirely still is possible.

 

“The issue is we recognize it is an all-star game, but we also believe fans expect more from an NFL game,” he said. “If we believe we can achieve that, we want to give them every opportunity to do that.”

 

Only New Orleans, site of next year’s Super Bowl, and Honolulu are being considered if the Pro Bowl is held.

 

The league approved the Buffalo Bills playing one regular-season game every year from 2013-17 in Toronto, extending that international series. Expansion of the international series in London could come as early as next year, Goodell added.

 

While Cowboys and Redskins executives were in the owners meetings, they learned that their grievance against the NFL and the NFLPA over reductions in their salary caps was dismissed. Dallas loses $10 million over this season and next, and Washington loses $36 million.

 

Washington general manager Bruce Allen said the team is “obviously disappointed.” Asked how losing another $18 million might inhibit the Redskins, he said: “We’ll see. We’ll have time to talk about it.”

 

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May 24, 2012

By GREG BEACHAM | Associated Press

 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol spent the final minutes of the Los Angeles Lakers’ final game arguing in Oklahoma City, disagreeing on the best way to run a pick-and-roll play.

It might have been the tandem’s last few minutes together with a franchise that has little patience when even great players stop bringing home rings.

The Lakers were eliminated in the second round for the second straight year Monday night with a five-game loss to the Thunder. Although the Lakers had a solid season despite getting no real training camp to make the enormous switch from coaches Phil Jackson to Mike Brown, they weren’t as good as the NBA’s best.

That likely means changes for a franchise and a fan base that considers seasons ending before June to be abject failures.

“I’m really not used to it, so it’s pretty odd for me,” Bryant said of another early-by-Lakers-standards exit. “I’m not the most patient of people, and the organization is not extremely patient either. We want to win and win now, so I’m sure we’ll figure it out. We always have. I’m sure we will again.”

In Lakerland, it’s easy to forget that the large majority of NBA franchises would be quite pleased by a 41-25 regular season, yet another Pacific Division title and a decent performance against the Thunder, clearly a top-four team. Many teams would be excited to retool a roster topped by Bryant, four-time All-Star big man Gasol, and emerging All-Star center Andrew Bynum, who frequently dominated during his best pro season.

But no franchise has the incredibly high standards of Bryant and the 16-time champion Lakers, who don’t even acknowledge division titles that would be a significant achievement for other teams. A second-round playoff loss to a better team caused panic and widespread soul-searching Tuesday.

“Come hell or high water, we’re going to be there again,” said the 33-year-old Bryant, who has repeatedly stated he’ll never leave the Lakers. “It’s just something about the Lakers organization.”

While general manager Mitch Kupchak contemplates his moves, most of the armchair GMs already agreed on Job No. 1: From the hours after the Lakers’ final loss well into Tuesday morning, the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in Los Angeles was “(hash)IdTradeGasolFor.”

Gasol endured his toughest season since arriving in Los Angeles in early 2008, dealing with uncertainty and disappointment after the NBA rejected a trade that would have exiled him to Houston last December for Chris Paul. The genial Spanish 7-footer averaged a career-low 17.4 points while failing to find a consistent role in new coach Mike Brown’s offense before struggling mightily in the playoffs.

Gasol, who will make more than $38 million over the next two seasons, handled the scuttled trade with his usual grace, but his fans and teammates weren’t always so generous. Bryant called Bynum the Lakers' second scoring option during the season, but called out Gasol for not scoring more in the postseason, ripping into Gasol after Game 4 last Saturday.

“This team always has a huge desire and goal to win the championship, and when you fall short, it’s frustrating,” Gasol said. “It has been a crazy year and a lot to deal with. ... Unfortunately, we had tough losses and things didn’t really go our way for the most part. You just have to regroup and digest this loss and this season, and learn from it and move on.”

The 24-year-old Bynum was outstanding for most of his seventh NBA season, averaging 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.93 blocked shots while staying healthy. But just when most Lakers fans are ready for Bynum to sign a maximum contract extension, he provided one more reminder of his questionable maturity and leadership potential when he didn’t shake hands with the Thunder after managing just 10 points and four rebounds in Game 5.

Bynum has made numerous immature mistakes over the past year, which began with rampant rumors of his own departure for Orlando in various trades for Dwight Howard.

“Change has never bothered me. I’ll play anywhere,” Bynum said. “I’ll come back a better player.”

Yet Bynum also raised a key point: The Lakers were a work in progress all season long after Brown replaced 11-time NBA champion Jackson, requiring a dramatic adjustment in everything from a new offense to practice structure.

“I think we need a full training camp,” Bynum said. “We never really got adjusted to the system. A lot of the times we came out and we weren’t doing it together. I really think it’s going to depend on being able to close out quarters and close out games. All throughout the season we would give up leads and not close quarters, and it hurt a lot.”

The Lakers made other changes that hampered their championship hopes, trading valuable big man Lamar Odom for nothing when his feelings were hurt in the preseason. Los Angeles also dealt emotional leader Derek Fisher at the trade deadline while landing replacement Ramon Sessions and surprising big man Jordan Hill. Fisher is outmatched as a starting NBA point guard, but his leadership and five championship rings were missed.

Sessions has a player option for next season after a tantalizing but inconsistent debut, while most of the Lakers’ reserves will be free agents. Los Angeles had one of the NBA’s least impressive benches, so a wholesale overhaul of the bottom of the roster couldn’t really hurt.

The Lakers also endured another year of the drama that seems inevitable for this high-profile franchise. In the last month alone, they dealt with Metta World Peace’s seven-game suspension for throwing a vicious elbow, Hill’s felony assault charge from his time in Houston, playoff hero Steve Blake’s Twitter death threats for missing one shot, and Magic Johnson’s declaration that Brown would be fired if the Lakers didn’t survive the first round.

All that upheaval is nothing new to Bryant, who got a concussion and a broken nose in the All-Star game. But leave it to the mercurial World Peace to declare the Lakers’ plight might not be as terrible as many believe.

“I don’t feel that way, but I’m not the general manager,” World Peace said. “I don’t know how many rings Mr. Kupchak has, so I know he’s going to make the best decisions. He’s a competitor. He’ll do what it takes, but the players have to put in the time. The only way it’s going to happen is if we do it together. We have to be committed to each other, and this year we weren’t as committed collectively. That hurt us.”

 

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Category: Sports

May 24, 2012

By ANTONIO GONZALEZ | Associated Press

 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Sitting along the shore and staring at one of the world’s most majestic metropolitan views, Joe Lacob leaned over to hear fellow Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber whisper in his ear.

 

“Man,” Guber said, “we got to do this.”

 

And with that, the franchise’s new vision started to come into focus.

 

The Warriors, NBA Commissioner David Stern and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee officially announced Tuesday that the Bay Area's only NBA team will try to move back to scenic San Francisco. The earliest the team could leave Oakland would be 2017, when it can escape its lease at Oracle Arena.

 

“We can turn this dream into a goal by giving it urgency,” said Guber, the movie mogul and Mandalay Entertainment’s chief executive. “We will play here in 2017. Take that as a promise that we will fulfill. There will be a world-class entertainment venue. We’re all-in.”

 

The still-in-the-works project has a spot picked out that few can match.

 

The Warriors unveiled some of the plans for the estimated $500 million, privately funded arena on a sun-soaked day at Piers 30-32. The waterfront site near the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge — one of the most beautiful views in one of the world’s most beautiful cities — is just blocks from the Giants’ ballpark and the downtown financial district.

 

“This natural amphitheater is second to none anywhere in the world,” California Lt. Gov. and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

 

A city fire department boat shot off water cannons and San Francisco-themed songs blared in the background at the end of an event that was all about smiles — and not shovels — with the project several years and road blocks away from reality.

 

Under the proposed deal, the city will provide the site and the Warriors will repair the crumbling piers at a cost of $75-100 million. There will be no new taxes and no money from the city's general fund.

 

“Absolutely, they have the money to do it,” Stern said of Golden State’s ownership group.

 

Little else about the financing plan has been announced — mostly because it's still in its infancy.

 

Renderings of the building on display show an arena with near floor-to-ceiling windows on the main concourse overlooking the towering Bay Bridge. The team and the city also hope the proposed arena will attract NCAA tournament games, concerts and other major events.

 

“We intend to build the most spectacular arena in the country for all Bay Area residents, not just San Francisco, to be proud of,” Lacob said. “An architecturally significant building on truly an iconic site. It doesn't get any better than this.”

 

The announcement came as no surprise to Bay Area fans.

 

Lacob and Guber have been working to return the team to the City by the Bay since buying the Warriors for a league-record $450 million in 2010. The Warriors played in San Francisco from 1962 to 1971 after moving from Philadelphia.

 

The proposed move is still sure to upset some in Oakland, the center of the area’s basketball prowess. Many NBA players past and present — Bill Russell, Gary Payton and Jason Kidd, among scores of others — rose to basketball fame in Oakland.

 

One aspect that hasn’t been a problem is fan support.

 

Despite only one playoff appearance since 1994, the basketball-booming Bay Area has supported the Warriors surprisingly well. The team ranked 10th in attendance this past season, averaging 18,857.

 

Lacob said the team has more season-ticket holders who live in San Francisco than Oakland and the fan base is split 50-50 between the East Bay and the San Francisco Peninsula. The franchise — once called the San Francisco Warriors — will remain under its current name, Lacob said, “until further notice.”

 

“It’s the Golden State Warriors and it's going to remain the Golden State Warriors for the foreseeable future and maybe forever,” Lacob said. He later added, “It comes down to what the fans want.”

 

The political push in San Francisco has only just begun.

 

Lee sent a letter to the owners this month saying the city would work with Warriors executives to bring the team to San Francisco in time for the 2017-18 season. The note, signed by all 11 city supervisors and numerous business and labor leaders, was sent a few days after Lee met with Guber in Los Angeles.

 

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan responded last week by sending the team her own letter to express the city’s commitment to keeping the Warriors — and the Raiders and A’s, who both need a replacement to the outdated Oakland Coliseum.

 

She expressed disappointment following Tuesday’s announcement and said Oakland’s proposal “was always a larger project than just one sports team,” and the city will continue to pursue all avenues for an arena.

 

That now seems like a lost cause.

 

“It’s been 41 years since the Warriors played here in San Francisco,” Lee said. “In my humble opinion, it’s time to welcome them home.”

 

Of course, building anything in San Francisco is never easy.

 

Overcoming the environmental concerns on the shoreline, the addition of a high-rise structure on the pier — not to mention the adjacent condominiums and businesses that could fight to keep their beautiful Bay Bridge views — and political wrangling in the politically charged city are among many obstacles for the project.

 

Lacob said it will likely take “two to two-and-a-half years” just to acquire all the permits. But he noted the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers headed some 40 miles south to Santa Clara for the 2015 season “created a great incentive on the part of the mayor and the city” to help the Warriors build an arena in San Francisco.

 

The Warriors are counting on the 16-mile drive between the team’s Oakland arena and the waterfront site in San Francisco to make all the difference.

 

Team executives believe more corporate sponsorship and national attention will follow in San Francisco and give the franchise the ability to land marquee free agents. Most teams that play at Golden State already stay and practice in San Francisco.

 

Warriors President and CEO Rick Welts called the move the “most important journey in the history of the Warriors.”

 

“You have to be a dreamer,” added Warriors executive board member Jerry West, the former Lakers star and symbol of the NBA’s logo. “And we have two owners here who have vision. And they’re putting their money where their mouth is.”

 

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