September 12, 2013

 

By Kenneth Miller

Assistant Managing Editor

 

The forever evolving rags to riches journey of the world’s No. 1 women’s tennis player Serena Williams is beginning to catapult into a sports stratosphere where only the elite athletes of all-time hang out.

After winning her 9th singles championship in 2013, the younger sister of Venus Williams is not just relishing in the soils of her impressive U.S. Open championship, but also bidding to become the greatest female athlete in history.

Don’t trip over your tennis racquets just yet, but after Grand Slam title number 17 to move to within 7 of all-time Margaret Court’s 24, the 31-year old who learned the game on the uneven asphalt courts of Compton is smoothly gliding into rare territory.

From the time she was the No. 1 ranked on the junior United States Tennis Association tour at 10-years old when she blistered competition in rolling to a 46-3 record, Serena Williams loved the taste of winning.

Daddy Richard rolled out the older Venus first, breaking age barriers at 14 on October 31, 1994, but while incubating the gem that was to follow at the same age in 1995.

Now, all grown up and having surpassed Venus in the sibling rivalry and striking the fear of God into ever opponent she faces on any surface, grass, hard-court or clay, it’s time to examine her alongside the greatest female athletes ever.

Keep in mind that Serena is far from being done as a professional tennis player and in addition to enduring a recent life health scare has also had to carry the weight of the murder of her sister Yetunde Price and the divorce of her parents Richard and Oracene.

She has a combined 31 career major championships including doubles competition with sister Venus and four Olympic gold medals, including two singles.

Her lofty credentials include winning 80 percent of her career tournaments, 79 of 99 and on every surface; 34 on hard court; 10 on clay; 6 on grass and 5 on carpet.

Moreover, she has captured the most prestigious Wimbledon and U.S. Open championships five times each.

Oh, by the way she owns a career .500 record against arguably the greatest women’s player of all time Steffi Graf.

She has earned close to $60 million in prize money plus another $30 million endorsements for cool $90 million.

The only argument that anyone can have against Serena as the best female athlete of all time, is that she’s feisty, confident, soulful and sexy –all the more reason fro me to love her.

Many would consider the best female athlete to be Jackie Joyner-Kersee who was the first American to win gold for the long jump and the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the seven-event heptathlon. She's ultimately won three golds, a silver and two bronze, making her the most decorated female athlete in Olympic track and field history.

Following Joyner-Kersee would have to be the late Florence Griffith- Joyner, also known as "Flo Jo," who starred at the 1984 Summer Olympics winning a silver medal in the 200-meter run. During the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Griffith-Joyner took home three gold medals and a silver. She still holds world records in the 100 and 200 meters.

Althea Gibson opened the doors for Serena and Venus. Her great talent was in tennis, but in the 1950s, most tournaments were closed to African-Americans. Gibson kept playing until her skills could no longer be denied, and became the first African American to play at Wimbledon.

"I have never regarded myself as a crusader. I don't consciously beat the drums for any cause, not even the negro in the United States," Gibson said of her pioneering efforts.

Wilma Rudolph would certainly have to be in the conversation. Born a sickly child who had to wear a brace on her left leg, Rudolph She overcame her disabilities through physical therapy and hard work, and went on to Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals at a single Olympics in 1960, at the Summer Games in Rome.

Another track and field sensation Allyson Felix earned back-to-back Olympic silver medals at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. She earned her first gold that year, with the women's 4-by-400-meter relay team. Felix became a three-time Olympic gold medalist in 2012; at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, she won two gold medals, in the women's 200 and the 4-by-100-meter relay.

Alice Coachman made history at the 1948 Olympics in London when leapt to a record-breaking height of 5 feet, 6 and 1/8 inches in the high jump finals to become the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, but that alone would not even qualify her as best.

Basketball icon Sheryl Swoopes would have to be in the mix. Swoopes was the first professional basketball player signed by the WNBA and was often referred to as the female Michael Jordan.

Swoopes won three Olympic gold medals and is a multiple WNBA MVP. She is also the first woman to have a Nike shoe named after her.

Another hoop star Teresa Edwards won four Olympic gold medals (1984, 1988, 1996, 2000) – an Olympic record -- and a bronze medal (1992). Edwards also won the USA Basketball Player of the Year in 1987 and 1991.

Cheryl Miller’s achievements on the basketball court are undeniable. She was a four-time All-American, and she also won three Naismith Player of the Year trophies while at USC.

However, Lisa Leslie-Lockwood is probably considered the best basketball player ever.

Leslie-Lockwood was a three-time WNBA MVP and a four-time Olympic gold medal winner. She was considered a pioneer and cornerstone of the league during her WNBA career. In 2011, she was voted in by fans as one of the Top 15 players in WNBA history.

Billy Jean King won a wealth of Grand Slam titles in singles tournaments, doubles tournaments, and even occasionally in tournaments that she didn’t even attend, but it doubtful she could beat Serena.

Let the debating begin, but in the meantime I consider it Serena-Love!

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September 05, 2013

By RAF CASERT

AP Sports Writer

 

BRUSSELS — Usain Bolt plans to retire after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Bolt said Wednesday he wants to win more gold in Rio, set another world record in the 200 meters next year, and perhaps win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.

“So far, (it) is after the Olympics in Rio,” Bolt said of his retirement plans. “I think if I am in great shape, I’ll go there and do what I have to do. I think it will be a good time to retire on top.”

Winning another three golds in Moscow last month made him the most decorated athlete in world championship history with eight gold and two silvers. He has six gold medals from the Olympics.

“If I want to be among the greats of (Muhammad) Ali and Pele and all these guys, I have to continue dominating until I retire,” Bolt said ahead of his final race this season in the 100 at Friday’s Van Damme Memorial.

Bolt won the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and at last year’s London Games. He won the same triple at the 2009 worlds before repeating that feat in Moscow last month.

At 27, Bolt has the experience to know that a lax season midway between Olympics can hurt him. In 2010, a soft entry into the year and subsequent injury cost him almost a full season.

“I kind of didn't do much in the offseason and then got injured and had to start from scratch. So this season, I will not make that mistake again,” Bolt said.

Like 2010, next season has no major championships, but Bolt is thinking of new goals for 2014.

He already owns the 100 and 200 world records and shares the 4x100 with his Jamaican teammates. He acknowledges the 100 record of 9.58 seconds will be extremely tough to better, but he hopes to improve on the 19.19 he ran in the 200 in Berlin four years ago.

“I have learned, I have mastered the art of running the turn,” Bolt said of the 200. “So if I can stay injury free and be in good shape, then it is possible for me to definitely go after the world record.”

As a Jamaican, Bolt can compete in the Commonwealth Games, too, something he has yet to do. Next year, the event will be held in Glasgow, Scotland.

“I have never been to Com­monwealths and so it is always good to add to your collection of gold medals,” Bolt said.

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September 05, 2013

By Nekesa Mumbi Moody

AP Entertainment Writer

 

NEW YORK -- After LeBron James won his second NBA championship this year, he talked about the improbability of his journey — ascending to world fame despite growing up with challenge after challenge in the inner city.

Now James plans to explore that theme as part of "Survivor's Remorse," a new show he's developing with Starz. While he won't star in the half-hour sitcom, he'll be one of the executive producers of the show, which will explore the lives of two men from the streets who attain fame — one is an NBA star and one is not — and how they deal with friends and families in the wake of that success.

"I think the main thing for me is, first of all, making it out of a place where you're not supposed to. You're supposed to be a statistic and end up like the rest of the people in the inner city — (and) being one of the few to make it out and everyone looking at you to be the savior," the Miami Heat superstar said in a phone interview last week.

"When you make it out, everyone expects for — they automatically think that they made it out and it's very tough for a young, African-American 18-year-old kid to now hold the responsibility of a whole city, of a whole community. I can relate to that as well," said James, who was 18 when he came to the NBA and is now a 28-year-old veteran.

James is developing the show with his longtime friend and business partner, Maverick Carter; Tom Werner, the producer behind classic shows like "Roseanne" and "The Cosby Show"; and actor Mike O'Malley, who will be an executive producer and is the show's writer. Paul Wachter will also be an executive producer.

"It's definitely not an autobiographical series about my life or LeBron's life; it's fictional characters living in a fictional world," said Carter, before adding with a laugh: "LeBron is actually too famous, he would screw the show up if I tried to make a show about him."

The show is based in North Philadelphia instead of Akron, Ohio, where the two are from: "More people can relate to it," explained Carter of Philadelphia.

Still, Werner said the inspiration for the series started in part with conversations he had with Carter, and later James, about their lives.

"I think the juxtaposition of great wealth — and then you go back to your home in Akron and the neighborhood that you come from — the chasm is a fairly big one, and I think it's some very interesting story material," he said.

Werner, James and Carter have worked together since 2011. They are part of Fenway Sports Group, and Werner is the chairman of the organization, which combines sports, media and entertainment. Werner said they were "delighted" to bring the show, which is in development but has no firm timetable to air, to Starz.

Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said the show would be different for the channel, whose original programming includes the recently launched "The White Queen."

"It's a contemporary piece, which we've been trying to find," he said. "But mostly it's an opportunity to bring us into a world where guys as producers and a terrifically talented guy as a writer who I think are going to take the audience on an interesting, fun and I would bet funny ride."

However, there will be serious subjects tackled in the show. Werner compared "Survivor's Remorse" to shows like "Roseanne," which dealt with difficult situations with humor interspersed with serious moments.

"Nobody's getting killed, nobody's dying from cancer on this show," Carter said. "It's light-hearted, but its real-life stories."

James said though it's been years, survivor's remorse is still something he feels.

"I live with that, knowing that I have to hold a huge burden and responsibility that a lot of people cannot even think about," he said.

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September 05, 2013

By BOB BAUM

AP Sports Writer

 

PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns and Michael Beasley have reached an agreement to terminate the contract of the troubled forward.

The move on Tuesday will cost the franchise $7 million, a $2 million savings from what Beasley would have been due had he simply been waived. It also represents a significant reduction in what the hit on the team’s salary cap would have been.

Beasley was arrested a month ago in suburban Scottsdale on charges of felony marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia. It was the latest in a series of incidents involving the drug that has plagued his NBA career after he was selected as the No. 2 overall draft pick out of Kansas State in 2008.

“The Suns were devoted to Michael Beasley’s success in Phoenix,” Suns President for Basketball Operations Lon Babby said in a statement released by the team. “However, it is essential that we demand the highest standards of personal and professional conduct as we develop a championship culture.

“Today’s action reflects our commitment to those standards.”

The Suns took a chance on Beasley despite his history of off-the-court problems.

In June 2011, Beasley was ticketed for marijuana possession and speeding in a Minneapolis suburb. He has acknowledged that while he was with the Miami Heat, he twice violated the NBA’s drug policy and entered a treatment facility in 2009.

But at the news conference announcing his signing of a three-year, $18 million contract with Phoenix, Beasley vowed that his marijuana days were over.

“I realize 10 minutes of feeling good is not really worth putting my life and my career and my legacy in jeopardy,” he said then, “so I’m confident to say that that part of my career, that part of my life, is over and won’t be coming back.”

But early on Aug. 6, his Mercedes was pulled over for a traffic stop and a Scottsdale officer said he smelled marijuana. Police said they found three marijuana cigarettes in the car Beasley was driving.

Lance Blanks was Suns general manager when Beasley was signed and enthusiastically supported the acquisition. Blanks was fired at the end of last season and replaced by Ryan McDonough, who hired new coach Jeff Hornacek and has overseen a wholesale change in the roster after the Suns compiled the worst record in the Western Conference and second-worst in franchise history.

“We have high standards for all of our players,” McDonough said. “We expect them to represent the team and the community in a positive manner both on and off the court.”

On the court, Beasley’s one season with the Suns was a disappointing one. He averaged career lows of 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 75 games while shooting a career-worst 40.5 percent from the field.

Beasley’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, did not respond to email or phone requests for comment. Beasley, 24, has played five seasons in the NBA, two with Miami, two with Minnesota and one with Phoenix. He is averaging 14.1 points per game for his career.

The Suns’ recent trade of Caron Butler to Milwaukee created $6 million in salary cap room to soften the financial blow to the Suns.

“The timing and nature of this, and all our transactions,” Babby said, “are based on the judgment of our basketball leadership as to how best to achieve our singular goal of rebuilding an elite team.”

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September 05, 2013

 

By RACHEL COHEN

 

Associated Press

 

 

 

NEW YORK — NFL Com­missioner Roger Goodell took issue with the notion that the league’s $765 million settlement with former players is a paltry sum compared to the sport’s revenues.

 

“This is a significant amount of money,” he said Wednesday. “The plaintiffs also agreed it was an appropriate amount. The mediator felt it was an appropriate amount.”

 

Goodell made his first public comments since the settlement to the lawsuits was announced last week. More than 4,500 former players, some of them suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or depression, accused the NFL of concealing the long-term dangers of concussions and rushing injured players back onto the field.

 

“We were able to find common ground to be able to get relief to the players and their families now rather than spending years litigating,” Goodell said at an event in Manhattan to promote February’s New York/New Jersey Super Bowl.

 

The settlement was announced last Thursday after two months of court-ordered mediation and is subject to approval by a federal judge. It does not include an admission from the NFL that it hid information from players about head injuries.

 

“We think it's the right thing to move forward and try to do what we can to help our players,” Goodell said.

 

Some former players questioned the size of the settlement, considering it stretches over 20 years and will be divided among thousands of people — and considering the NFL takes in more than $9 billion a year, a figure that will rise when new TV contracts start in 2014.

 

Goodell noted that those billions are revenues, not profits.

 

The settlement applies to all past NFL players and spouses of those who are deceased — a group that could total more than 20,000. It sets aside $75 million for medical exams and $10 million for medical research.

 

Individual payouts would be capped at $5 million for men with Alzheimer’s disease; $4 million for those diagnosed after their deaths with a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy; and $3 million for players with dementia.

 

The NFL’s litigation may still not be over. Four former players filed a federal lawsuit in New Orleans on Sunday against the league and helmet maker Riddell, claiming they hid information about the dangers of brain injury. They want medical care for past, current and future NFL players.

 

As the league and retired players debate what happened in the past, the NFL has promoted its initiatives aimed at making the game safer. Goodell appeared on “CBS This Morning” earlier Wednesday to help announce a program with Under Armour and GE to donate money toward projects that prevent head injuries.

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