April 04, 2013

By CHARLES ODUM (AP Sports Writer)


Brian Banks said signing with the Atlanta Falcons is his second-biggest accomplishment.

The biggest was Banks' exoneration of rape charges one year ago.

Banks, 27, signed with the Falcons on Wednesday, giving him an opportunity he said he did not believe would be possible when he spent five years in prison and five years on probation following his conviction of rape and kidnapping charges a decade ago.

''I felt at the time in order for me to exit prison with a sane mind and be able to just function as a person I had to let go of certain dreams and goals I once held in life, football being one of them,'' Banks said.

Banks said he ''couldn't have asked for a better place to be'' than with the Falcons.

''I can't believe this is happening,'' he said. ''It's surreal.''

Banks was a 16-year-old junior and had made a verbal commitment to sign with Southern Cal when a Long Beach Poly high school classmate accused him of the rape.

The woman recanted her claim and offered to help Banks clear his name after he was out of prison. That helped lead to the conviction being overturned by a California court and Banks' record cleared on May 12, 2012.

Banks said he read every book he could find while in prison and also learned to value every opportunity.

''It's almost impossible to explain, the feeling of not having freedom, to be stripped away of your freedom, of your dignity, the respect you once had,'' he said. ''To lose it all and watch the world pass you by as you sit inside a prison cell, knowing you shouldn't be there, knowing you're there because of another person's lies, to lose it all and then get it all back, it's a very humbling, spiritual feeling that you just don't want to take anything for granted.

''I've had the opportunity to see both sides of the human spirit. ... My journey has been crazy but my journey has been a learning experience that is unlike any other.''

The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Banks will be given an opportunity to win a spot on the team at inside linebacker. He met with Falcons coach Mike Smith at the team's facility Wednesday.

''I had a really amazing one-on-one conversation with him,'' Banks said. ''He congratulated me and said he was happy for me to be here but this was just the beginning of a long road to making that next step and making that 53-man roster. We both agreed that I don't expect any handouts or any favoritism. I'm here to work like everybody else and the result of my hard work will be whatever they deem necessary.

''All I can do is my best and however the turnout will be, I thank God for the opportunity.''

Banks will participate in Atlanta's offseason workouts, which begin on April 22.

The Falcons are the first NFL team to sign Banks, but he has had chances with other teams. He took part in the Seattle Seahawks' minicamp last June following workouts with Kansas City and San Diego. He had one tackle in two games with Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League (UFL).

Banks also worked out for the Falcons before the 2012 season.

''We had a chance to work him out last year and have been monitoring his progress since then,'' said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff in a statement released by the team. ''He has worked extremely hard for this chance over the last year and he has shown us that he is prepared for this opportunity. We are happy that Brian will have a chance to live out his dream of playing in the NFL and we look forward to seeing him on the field.''

Banks has become a spokesman for the California Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongly accused.

He said he is working with producer James Moll on a documentary about his story. He said publishing companies are interested in a book.

Parent Category: News
Category: Sports

April 04, 2013

By JANIE McCAULEY (AP Sports Writer)


Free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha reached agreement on a one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday that could pay him as much as $3 million this year.

Asomugha's representative, Ben Dogra, said that Asomugha is expected to sign his new deal Wednesday. He was busy taking high school students around his familiar Bay Area turf on Tuesday in an effort to show them their future options and college choices.

The contract has no guaranteed money. Asomugha is due to earn a base package of $1.35 million with salary and bonuses, and could make an additional $1.65 million in incentives for playing time, awards such as the Pro Bowl and reaching the playoffs.

''He's excited to be a 49er and feels it's a great football team, and he's returning home,'' Dogra said in a phone interview. ''It's such a unique set of circumstances that he's coming back. It's not about the money for him. He wants to play for a winner. He had a very good visit with them 10 days ago and again over the weekend. He thinks they have a great chance to win a Super Bowl and he wants to be part of it. He has a chip on his shoulder, in a good way.''

The former All-Pro was released by the Philadelphia Eagles on March 12 after two disappointing seasons - and now he is ready to help the 49ers return to the Super Bowl and win after losing 34-31 to the Ravens on Feb. 3 in New Orleans. Now, he gets another start right back where his football career began.

The 31-year-old Asomugha spent his first eight NFL seasons, from 2003-2010 with the Oakland Raiders, who selected him 31st overall in the first round of the 2003 draft out of nearby California in Berkeley. He made three Pro Bowls during his time with Oakland.

Playing in the 49ers' talented secondary means more to Asomugha at this stage of his career than a hefty pay day. Before his release in Philadelphia on the first day of free agency last month, he had been due to make $15 million this season, including $4 million guaranteed, after signing a $60 million, five-year deal with the Eagles in 2011.

''He believes in karma and timing,'' Dogra said. ''He wants to show everybody it's not about the money for him. He wants to prove something. He could have walked away and retired. He wants to play for a winner. He's inspired. He wants to be part of a great team and take care of unfinished business from last year. He wants to end this on his terms. Hopefully, he can get a ring and stay happy.''

Parent Category: News
Category: Sports

March 28, 2013

By Tracie Cone

Associated Press


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- With the clock clicking down, Sacramento city officials took their last shot at keeping the NBA Kings in California’s capital by approving a public-private deal to build a new 18,500-seat arena and retail center downtown.

The city council’s approval of the arena Tuesday was the last step in what has been a full court press by Mayor Kevin Johnson to keep Sacramento’s only major league sports team from bolting to Seattle, where a new ownership group and arena deal awaits. He now must convince NBA owners to block the Maloof family from initiating the move, a deal made public in January.

Since then, the mayor, himself a former NBA All-Star, has scrambled to assemble a group to buy the team, convince Commissioner David Stern to consider a counter offer, and get approval for the financial deal that would build a $448 million arena on the site of a shopping mall — a development many say will revitalize a problem area in its bustling city core.

Next week, Johnson will present the arena plan and purchase offer to an NBA committee. The following week, the NBA Board of Governors will vote on whether the team can be sold, and whether it will stay or move.

“We want the folks of Seattle to get a team, we wish them well, but we want to keep what’s ours,” Johnson said after the 7-2 vote to approve the arena. “We’re going to New York to talk about the viability of this market and the love affair we’ve had with our team.”

The Sacramento investment group includes Silicon Valley software tycoon Vivek Ranadive, 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and billionaire Ron Burkle, co-owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Johnson announced late Monday that Paul Jacobs, CEO of the international technology company Qualcomm, also agreed to become part of the Sacramento bid.

“We have four billionaires who have said that Sacramento is worthy. It's been a long time since people have validated us in this way,” said city councilmember Steve Hansen, who voted in favor of the deal.

The NBA has said the aging Sleep Train Arena in the suburbs four miles north of downtown no longer is adequate.

“We’re in competition to keep the Sacramento Kings from being taken away from us,” said City Manager John Shirey as he began outlining the arena plan for council members. “We’ve known all along that we need to present the NBA a first-rate, quality place for them to play.”

The Seattle group, led by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, has had a deal to acquire a 65 percent stake in the team for $341 million.

The Chamber of Commerce, labor groups and fans spoke in favor of the arena deal, saying that keeping the Kings saves 800 jobs and creates 6,500 more during the construction and downtown revitalization process.

The plan was opposed by several groups and speakers, some of whom asked the council to take more time to study whether the deal is good for the city. City officials reached a preliminary arena agreement Saturday with the investment group, but the late negotiations left little time for community members to study the proposal before the vote.

“Mr. Mayor, your attempts to pull off an upset win could adversely affect this community for decades,” said attorney and professed Kings fan Jeffrey Anderson, who asked the council to put the plan before voters or he would file a lawsuit to stop it.

Other speakers said the timing of the deal was ironic given that nearby Stockton is in bankruptcy court after over-extending itself with debt, including a minor-league hockey arena.

Development partners compared their vision of a downtown arena to other projects that have revitalized urban areas such as the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the new Barclays Center where the Nets began play in Brooklyn this season. Architect AECOM, tapped to build a new Kings arena, recently completed the Barclays venue.

“I have a lot of faith in this site. It's nothing short of world class,” said AECOM's Bill Crockett.

The arena will be built on the west end of city center on the site of the Downtown Plaza, an aging mall that has lost more than half of its sales revenue in the last 10 years as stores have moved to the suburbs. It’s just blocks from Interstate 5, a short walk from Amtrak and sits at a gateway to downtown and the city of 475,000.

The city’s share is $258 million, the bulk of which would come from event parking collections and ticket surcharges. Nearly all of the city’s parking lots are used by government workers who vacate downtown after 5 p.m. The city would own the arena.

The investment group will contribute $189 million to the arena construction and would be responsible for all capital improvements.

The 18,500-seat downtown arena also could host hockey, concerts and family entertainment. The development would include 475,000 in office space, 300,000 in retail space, 250 hotel rooms and 600 housing units.

The arena term sheet includes a 35-year non-relocation agreement with two five-year extensions that would keep the Kings in the city until the last quarter of the century.

Parent Category: News
Category: Sports

April 04, 2013

By Kenneth D. Miller

LAWT Assistant Managing Editor


It had been eight years since the last Lakers NBA championship when general manager Jerry West pulled off the coupe of the century in trading for a super star center named Shaquille O’Neal in 1996.

Shaq arrive at the same time West managed another brilliant maneuver in drafting a high school phenom from Lower Marion High School in Philadelphia we recognize today as Kobe Bryant.

Few knew what to expect when O’Neal arrived from Orlando where he managed to lead the Magic to an NBA Final and also lead the league in scoring.

After all many of us had become so spoiled by the five championship reign of Magic Johnson and the million dollar smile that Johnson wore that when he announced he had contracted HIV it was like losing a family member.

So, when O’Neal arrive with an equally wide grin and a jovial personality to boot it was precisely what we needed, but championships are what we really craved. After all this is the Lakers we are talking about, Showtime, big parties and long parades.

When O’Neal got the news that he was traded from the Magic where he won NBA Rookie of the Year during the 1991-’92 season, he thought it was a joke.

He subsequently called Jeanie Buss to confirm what he thought was a rumor and, Jeanie passed the phone to her late father Dr. Jerry Buss, and he confirmed the trade and told him “we’re gonna take care of you big fella.”

Unlike another former Orlando Magic center that nearly mirrors the fate of O’Neal, Shaq embraced coming to Los Angeles and the challenge to follow in the giant footprints left in the sand by Magic.

The Lakers won their first title with O’Neal four years later in 2000 and three NBA championships later and a trio of NBA Finals MVPs, it turned out that O’Neal had actually taken care of the Lakers instead.

There are many African American NBA millionaires who play in areas that sit center of blithe urban neighborhoods, community’s strife with poverty, gangs and drug abuse.

For the most part, many of them rarely frequent those communities, they seldom embrace those communities, they collect their fat NBA paychecks, and reluctantly sign autographs and peddle you over priced sneakers through Nike or one of the other shoe companies.

But, not Shaquille O’Neal. He came to Los Angeles and gave it a big 7-foot-1 bear hug, not just the stars sitting in the courtside seats, but the kids who would not have enjoyed a Christmas gift if it weren’t for him.

And, he didn’t do it for publicity. After all, he was raised by a mother and father who taught him the value of giving back.

He identifies with the kids who didn’t have a father and those who were raised by a step-father, because his biological dad left his home long before he was a two-time All America and National Player of the Year at LSU.

He knew what it was like to have a stepfather who cared for him as if he was his own, thus he respected more than just the game of basketball---he respected life.

If you were to randomly talk to the street hustler on the corner to the gang banger in the ‘hood, you will discover that Shaquille O’Neal was universally respected and loved because he respected them.

It is not easy being a multi-million dollar super star athlete, playing a game dominated by Blacks and other Blacks feeling a belonging to you although they have never met you.

Magic before him, who was reared by two doting parents in Lansing, Michigan, understood that.

The eight years that O’Neal spent here as a player, he also spent here as a member of the Black community.

He didn’t peddle Nike’s and Reeboks, he produced his own shoe the Dunkman with a silhouette of him dunking a basketball and they sold in Pay Less, not the high priced Mall. You could get a pair for less than $40 bucks.





O’Neal gave the Lakers the best eight years of his life, he had matured into a grown man who realized there would be life after the ball stopped bouncing and understood that his legacy was defined by championships on the court.

He dominated while Kobe matured just as he did, and then the Lakers traded him to Miami where he teamed with Dwayne Wade and won another title.

However, it was a trade that hurt O’Neal personally and set the Lakers back. It was one that many thought and still believe was spurned by Kobe which is why he is not a revered as he should be.

Shaq would move on to collect the $100 million contract the Lakers refused to pay from the Heat and at every opportunity would ridicule Kobe and even performed an infamous rap about his former teammate.

He would go on to play with LeBron James in Cleveland, a stop in Phoenix and a last dance with the hated Boston Celtics.

In each of those communities he was bigger off the court than he was on it. His power dunks had began to fade by then. Injuries to his massive frame piled up, limiting him to a bit player.

His personality remained enormous, his smile seldom dimmed and so when he returned for his jersey retirement celebration on Tuesday April 2 it was only right the game against the Mavericks was an after- thought.

Shaq hovered over Staples Center one more time, his No. 34 to be a lasting reminder of his lively personality, the candid jokes, the big rigs of Christmas gifts to the kids in the hood, and oh all those NBA titles.




Shaq Stats

2 NBA scoring titles

First-team All-NBA selection 8 times

4 NBA Championship teams

3 NBA Finals MVP awards

15-time All-Star

3 All-Star Game MVP awards

1 of the 50 greatest players in NBA history

Parent Category: News
Category: Sports

March 28, 2013

By Kam Williams

LAWT Contributing Writer


Gymnast Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas was born in Virginia Beach on December 31st, 1995. At the 2012 London Summer Olympics, she won gold medals in both the team and individual all-around competitions.

Gabby is the first African-American gymnast as well as the first woman of color of any nationality in Olympic history to become the Individual All-Around Champion. She is also the first American gymnast to win gold in both the gymnastic individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympic Games.

She was introduced to gymnastics by way of a cartwheel. Her older sister, Arielle, a former gymnast and competitive cheerleader, was determined to teach the toddler the sport she loved. Gabrielle immediately picked up her older sister’s love of the sport and soon taught herself how to do a one armed cartwheel.

Gabrielle vividly remembers flipping around the house and off the furniture from the age of four. After a couple years of poking and prodding, Arielle convinced their mother to allow her little sister to train at a local gym. Once formal training began, another two years was all it took for her to be crowned the State of Virginia’s Gymnastics Champion.

Gabby soon reached her peak at her local gym, quickly accumulating numerous victories and top finishes over the next few years. The task became clear: she had to convince her mother to allow her, the youngest, to move across the country in pursuit of her Olympic dream.

This would allow her an opportunity to train with elite coach Liang Chow in West Des Moines, Iowa. Gabrielle left Virginia Beach at 14 to live with her host family, the Partons, while training with Mr. Chow. Under his tutelage she did develop the skills needed to reach the Olympics, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Here, Gabby talks about her autobiography, “Grace, Gold & Glory,” and about “Raising the Bar,” her inspirational book about how to achieve your dreams.

Kam Williams: Hi, Natalie. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to speak with your daughter. You must be a very proud momma.

Natalie Hawkins: Yes, I’m in­credibly proud of the fight, determination and drive that I’ve seen in her and in my other kids as we’ve supported her through this journey. It’s just a wonderful feeling! But I have her right here for you.

Gabby Douglas: Hi, Kam.

LAWT: Hi Gabby. I’d like to let you know how impressed I’ve been not only with your performances, but with the grace and poise you’ve exhibited off the floor. So, I’m very honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.

GD: Thank you. My pleasure.

LAWT: I have a lot of questions for you from fans, and I will be mixing their questions in with my own. What does it mean to you not only to represent your country in the Olympics but to make history by becoming the first and youngest American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions?GD: Words can’t even describe how much it means, because of all the hard work, sacrifice and effort I put in at the gym, and also because of how much my family supported me and sacrificed their dreams for mine. It also means a lot to me, knowing that I became the first African-American to win the individual all-around gold medal. Not many girls in gymnastics look like me, so I’m honored and delighted to put a new face on the sport.

LAWT: Grace Sinden says: Your muscles must get sore. What do you do for sore muscles?

GD: Yes, Grace, my muscles do get very sore, but I have a massager. They call it “The Stick,” and I just rub it on my muscles. I also take ice baths and Epsom salt baths, and sometimes have to take Advil or Tylenol.

LAWT: Grace also says: Your talent requires a lot of concentration. Is there anything special you do to help you concentrate and keep your balance?

GD: Yes. Gymnastics does take great focus and concentration. What I do is look to my coach. He keeps me focused. And I meditate to get myself confident before the competition floor. That helps keep me focused, too.

LAWT: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier asks: What interested you in writing your autobiography, “Grace, Gold & Glory,” at such a young age? Did you keep a diary?

GD: I had kept many diaries, but I would start one and not finish it, and then start another one and not finish it. [Chuckles] I wrote the book because I had to overcome many challenges and hardships. I wanted to share my story to let anyone facing hardships know that your dream is still possible.

LAWT: Patricia also asks: If Hollywood decides to turn the book into a movie, who would you like to play you?

GD: I’d like to play myself, to be sure to capture my personality and my style.

LAWT: Tell me a little about the book the new book, “Raising the Bar.”

GD: Raising the Bar is all about my life now, since the Olympics. It’s kind of a picture book for younger readers.

LAWT: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: It’s been a while since the magic of the gold—how’s it goin’ now that things have quieted down—or have they?

GD: It depends on the month. I’ll have a period when it quiets down, and then I’m traveling and on the go-go-go again.

LAWT: Larry Greenberg says: I have a 5 year-old girl with an amazing, natural inclination towards gymnastics. Do you have any advice for her? And in a similar vein, Keith Kremer says: My 9 year-old daughter, Olivia, would like to know what advice you have for little girls who love gymnastics.

GD: Since they’re so young, I would tell them to just have fun competing at Level 6 and Level 7. At their age, they’re just fine getting gift bags and going to banquets. I would tell them to be patient, take it one step at a time and just enjoy the ride. But also keep your goals and what you want to achieve in the back of your mind. I’d also tell any girl who continues to love gymnastics enough to want pursue a college scholarship to keep pushing yourself 100% in the gym every single day.

LAWT: Patricia also asks: Do you plan to go to college? If so, where would you like to go, and what are you thinking about majoring in?

GD: I would love to go to college, but right now my focus is on doing another Olympics. I can’t say where I’d like to attend yet. I’d have to visit some campuses to get a sense of the atmosphere, and what I like and don’t like. I still have a little bit of time.

LAWT: What message do you have for young people who have big dreams but are not focused enough to put their plans into action because they believe in instant success without hard work and sacrifices?

GD: That’s a hard question to answer, because even if you have the talent, you still have to push yourself. I don’t think dreams magically appear, that’s why they’re called dreams. But if you do want to make that dream a reality, then you have to push yourself. It takes a lot of hard work, and if you don’t have the focus, then it’s going to be all the harder. If you have a big dream, it takes all of the above to achieve it: passion, the focus and the effort. That’s definitely my advice.

LAWT: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

GD: I’m reading John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” right now. But the last book I finished was “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder.

LAWT: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?

GD: I was just working out, so I had my music on. I think the last song was “Stomp” by Kirk Franklin

LAWT: What is your favorite dish to cook?

GD: I rarely cook, but I really like to eat seafood.

LAWT: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

GD: Clothes designer? Well, I recently wore Donna Karan, and it was just fabulous! I love her clothes, so I’d have to pick her.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

GD: [Giggles] I don’t know. That’s a good question. When I look in the mirror, I see Gabby Douglas.

LAWT: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

GD: That’s a hard one. I don’t know.

LAWT: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

GD: I think I’d be a black panther.

LAWT: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

GD: What pops in my mind is my mom making pancakes and waffles for me and my siblings one night when we couldn’t fall asleep hiding in a tent after telling each other ghost stories.

LAWT: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?

GD: Invisibility.

LAWT: Would you choose that because it’s hard to find privacy now that you’re such a big celebrity?

GD: [Chuckles] Yeah, kinda.

LAWT: The Michael Ealy question: If you could meet any historical figure, who’d it be?

GD: Anyone? Martin Luther King. He’s pretty amazing.

LAWT: Attorney Bernadette Beek­man asks: What is your favorite charity?

GD: I’ve been so busy, I haven’t settled on a favorite one to work with yet.

LAWT: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?

GD: Whew! I would love to be remembered as someone who inspired young girls never to give up on their dreams.

LAWT: Are you willing to give me a Gabby Douglas question that I can ask other celebrities?

GD: Yeah, I have one. Ask them: If you had to choose another profession, what would it be?

LAWT: Thanks again for the time, Gabby, best of luck with both books, and continued success with your gymnastics career.

GD: Thank you, Kam.  Here’s my mom.

LAWT: Thanks again, Natalie. Gabby’s even more graceful and charming than I expected.

NH: Absolutely! Thank you, Kam. It’s been a pleasure.

To order a copy of Raising the Bar, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0310740703/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

To order a copy of Grace, Gold & Glory, visit:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0310740614/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

Parent Category: News
Category: Sports

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