May 23, 2013

By JOHN MARSHALL (AP Sports Writer)


PHOENIX (AP) -- Brittney Griner can dunk.

Not only on breakaways and not those squeeze-it-over-the-rim ones that just don't look right.

One-handed, two-handed, on the move, off a drop step, even on alley-oops, though she hasn't pulled that one off in a game - at least not yet.

Emphatic, too, unlike any woman before her.

Griner's dunking dexterity has made her a celebrity, a regular on the sports highlight shows and a recognizable name even to casual sports fans.

But she is far from a dunking novelty act.

Long, athletic, dominating defensively, offensively gifted, ferocious rebounder, gregarious and honest, the Phoenix Mercury center has the kind of star power that may reach well beyond her 7-foot-4 wingspan.

''Even if people don't know her or know about her game, they've heard about the girl that can dunk,'' said Minnesota Lynx guard/forward Seimone Augustus, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 WNBA draft. ''So they're going to want to see what she can do on this level.''

Griner was the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, the top peg on a top-loaded board that also included stars-in-the-making Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins.

Delle Donne figures to help Chicago reach the playoffs after the Sky just missed last season and the Tulsa Shock are hoping Diggins will team with Candice Wiggins to create an unstoppably-quick backcourt.

The 6-foot-8 Griner faces a much taller order.

Not only is she being counted on to lead the Mercury to a third WNBA title, she's expected to open a gateway from the WNBA to new fans across the U.S. and beyond.

No pressure at all for a 22-year-old.

''It's our responsibility (to watch out for her), but it's also our responsibility to help the league,'' Mercury coach and general manager Corey Gaines said. ''And it's not just Phoenix. It's not just the WNBA. It's the world now. The world wants to know about her.''

What fans know most about Griner is her ability to dunk.

Once reluctant to try the rarest of shots in the women's game, she embraced it during her final season at Baylor, throwing it down 11 times on her way to a record 18 for her career.

Griner's ability to dunk with such ease separated her from her peers, gave her an identity beyond the confines of a sport that has always been outside the reaches of the spotlight shining on the above-the-rim-all-the-time men's game.

But one shot, no matter how eye-popping it may be, does not define Griner's dominance.

There have been players as tall her in the women's game, but none with her graceful athletic ability.

With a stride likened to a gazelle and agility usually found in players much shorter, Griner has a dominating synergy to her game, altering the way opponents play at both ends.

On offense, her ability to shoot over defenders, get to the rim or score on a variety of jump hooks and turnaround jumpers forces teams to collapse, opening up shots for perimeter players.

Griner has even more of an impact on defense, not just by blocking shots - she had more of those than any man or woman in NCAA history - but with a long-armed presence that has shooters constantly looking over their shoulders, altering their shots inside or shooting from a range where they're not as comfortable.

Indiana may be the defending WNBA champions and Minnesota has four All-Stars, but teaming Griner with players like Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner has made the Mercury the favorites to win this year's title; 33 percent of the league's general managers to pick them to do it.

''She's going to have an impact,'' said Lynx forward Maya Moore, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft. ''There's no one really like her so she's going to create a unique challenge for teams defensively and offensively. I think it's going to be a fun challenge. She's going to do things that other players can't do.''

She's also being counted on to do more than swat shots and rattle rims.

The WNBA has had its share of players who came into the league with plenty of hype, from Chamique Holdsclaw to Taurasi to Candace Parker.

Few have generated the kind of buzz Griner has circulating around her.

The Phoenix sports market, which can be blase about local teams unless they're winning, seems to have embraced Griner's arrival, with her image repeatedly splashed across the local newspapers, not to mention a multi-story banner of her dunking hanging from downtown building across from the US Airways.

The Mercury have, not surprisingly, crafted their marketing and ticketing promotions around Griner, but so have other teams around the league, touting home games against the No. 1 pick to potential ticket buyers.

Television has hitched onboard as well, with Griner and the Mercury appearing on six of the 14 games on ESPN and ABC, starting with Monday's home opener.

Griner also became the first openly-gay athlete to sign an endorsement deal with Nike and seems to have the kind bubbly, goofy-in-a-good-way personality that will allow her to shoulder the weight of all the expectations being placed upon her wide shoulders.

''She likes the spotlight in a positive way where she's not going to crumble under it,'' Taurasi said. ''She's not going to hide under any rock. I think she's done a great job of being who she is no matter what. It tells a lot about her character, about the way she was brought up and now it will translate to the basketball court.''

On the court, Griner will have a learning curve.

Many times in college, she could just turn and shoot over defenders. That won't always be the case in the WNBA, which also is far more physical than the college game, as she found out the first day of training camp.

Griner still needs to learn the nuances of the pro game and Gaines' up-tempo system - she had to be taught how to work a pick-and-roll at the start of camp - and has started working on the skyhook, recently taught to her by the master, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Griner tends to pick up things quick and has been a quick study in her short time with the Mercury.

The key will be making sure all the other outside elements don't interfere with what her main purpose is: help her team win basketball games.

''I'm up for it,'' Griner said. ''I don't want to be one of those players that locks herself away and be non-accessible to the fans, media. I want to be accessible to everybody.''

That's what the Mercury and the WNBA would like that to see.

Well, that and a few dunks.

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May 23, 2013

Special to the NNPA

from The St. Louis American


In his new book, co-written with Hugh Delehanty and entitled “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success,” Phil Jackson breaks down what separated Jordan from Bryant, the biggest stars and personalities that he coached during his Hall of Fame career.

The Los Angeles Times, which received an advance copy of the 339-page book, provided some details of Jackson’s Jordan and Bryant comparison.

In terms of advantages, the biggest that Jordan has over Bryant comes in the leadership department, according to Jackson.

“One of the biggest differences between the two stars from my perspective was Michael’s superior skills as a leader,” Jackson writes. “Though at times he could be hard on his teammates, Michael was masterful at controlling the emotional climate of the team with the power of his presence. Kobe had a long way to go before he could make that claim. He talked a good game, but he’d yet to experience the cold truth of leadership in his bones, as Michael had in his bones.”

Jackson, who coached Jordan to six titles with the Chicago Bulls and Bryant to five with the Los Angeles Lakers, also compared the players’ defensive skills and accuracy. Once again, Jackson sided with Jordan.

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May 16, 2013


Associated Press


DALLAS — NBA owners voted Wednesday to reject the Sacramento Kings’ proposed move to Seattle, the latest in a long line of cities that have tried to land the franchise.

The vote followed a recommendation made last month by the NBA's relocation committee and may have finally brought an end to an emotional saga that has dragged on for nearly three years.

A group led by investor Chris Hansen has a deal to buy the team. Hansen hoped to move the franchise to Seattle and rename it the SuperSonics. The original Sonics were moved to Oklahoma City in 2008 and were renamed the Thunder.

Commissioner David Stern said the league will spend the next 24 to 48 hours talking to the Maloofs, the team’s owners, about working out a deal with a competing ownership group in Sacramento.

The Maloofs reached an agreement in January to sell a 65 percent controlling interest in the team to Hansen's group at a total franchise valuation of $525 million, topping the NBA-record $450 million for Joe Lacob and Peter Guber to buy the Warriors in 2010. Then Hansen increased his offer to $550 million, which implies buying the 65 percent stake for about $357 million.

Following the relocation committee's unanimous recommendation on April 29 to deny the move to Seattle, Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dug deeper into their pockets in a final attempt to sway the NBA Board of Governors. They raised the valuation of the Kings to $625 million, or $406 million for the Maloofs' interest in the franchise, and offered a $115 million relocation fee, nearly four times what Clay Bennett paid to move the Sonics.

Hansen’s group also guaranteed owners that the franchise would pay into the league’s revenue-sharing system in Seattle and not collect money as it has in Sacramento.

They were aggressive and bold public statements that had been lacking from the Seattle group through much of the process while Sacramento openly made its case in the public eye.

As a backup, the Seattle group negotiated a plan to buy a minority stake in the Kings with the Maloofs retaining majority ownership and keeping the team in Sacramento.

It's the second time since 2011 that the Maloof brothers have made plans that would have ended in relocation for the Kings. The first target was Anaheim, Calif., but Sacra­mento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former All-Star guard, convinced the NBA to give the city another chance to finance a new arena.

Johnson delivered on a promise for a plan for a new downtown arena with help from Stern, but the Maloofs backed out, saying it didn't make financial sense.

The Maloofs had another surprise when they announced a deal with Hansen’s group, which includes Ballmer and members of the Nordstrom department store family.

Johnson fought back again, this time lining up an ownership group led by TIBCO software chairman Vivek Ranadive and getting the Sacramento City Council to approve a non-binding financing plan for a $447 million arena with a $258 million public subsidy.

The potential Sacramento ownership group also includes 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, former Facebook senior executive Chris Kelly and the Jacobs family that owns communications giant Qualcomm.

Seattle has been without an NBA franchise since the Super­Sonics moved. Led by star Kevin Durant, the Thunder have made the playoffs four straight seasons, reached the Western Con­ference finals in 2011 and lost to Miami in last year’s NBA finals.

The NBA’s relocation committee, coincidentally headed by Bennett, voted unanimously last month to reject the bid to move the Kings.

In a letter sent to the relocation and finance committees during its April 17 meeting, the Maloofs said they preferred to sell to the Seattle group and expressed discontent with Sacramento’s latest bid, saying it falls “significantly short.”

Stern has said the offers are in “the same ballpark,” and has reiterated his long-held stance that expansion is unlikely right now.

Hansen spent nearly two years working to get an arena plan approved by the city and county governments and spent more than $65 million buying land in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood where the arena would be built. Hansen has a five-year memorandum of understanding with the city and county on the arena plan.

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May 16, 2013 


AP Sports Writer


PHOENIX (AP) — Looking up to someone for one of the few times in her basketball life, Brittney Griner leaned into the 7-foot man in front of her, watching and listening as he flipped in one hook shot after another.

Once he was done, Griner took a turn, spinning and flipping up a few hooks of her own over outstretched arms that reached farther than her own lengthy ones.

After getting a crash course in professional basketball from some of the WNBA’s best players over the past week, Griner was given the lesson of a lifetime on Wednesday with a one-on-one session on the skyhook with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

One of the NBA’s greatest players teaching the nuances of perhaps the most unstoppable move in any sport? Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

“I went to legend school today and it was awesome,” Griner said at the Phoenix Mercury’s practice court inside the US Airways Center.

Griner had gone through a rapid learning curve during her first week of training camp, getting a firsthand look at how physical the WNBA really is while being taught things like the pick-and-roll and how to avoid being called for illegal defense.

The intensity ratcheted up when Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree, some of the best players in the WNBA, joined the team after playing overseas.

Wednesday’s session was something different entirely.

Griner has earned her own level of fame as the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft and one of the most heralded players in college basketball history.

But Abdul-Jabbar is on a different level: A Hall of Famer, six-time NBA champion, six-time MVP, one of the greatest athletes of a century and one of the most recognizable people in the world.

Even though she was too young to have seen him play in person —she was born a year after Abdul-Jabbar retired — Griner had seen footage of him and certainly knows who he is and his stature.

“I was star struck right there,” Griner said. “You know it when I don’t talk; I like to talk and you know I’m star struck when I’m just listening. I hit you with the yes sir, yes ma’am, I’m definitely star struck.”

The tutorial was put together by Mercury Vice President Ann Meyers Drysdale, who asked the NBA office to see if Abdul-Jabbar would be available to address the team and work with Griner.

He accepted and spent Wednesday’s practice watching from a perch above the court with his oversized feet — though a size smaller than Griner’s men’s 17 — poking through the rail.

Once practice ended, Abdul-Jabbar walked down to the floor and addressed the team before taking questions from the players and coaches.

After a group photo, he peeled off his sweat jacket, took off his blue UCLA hat and met Griner under one of the baskets.

Following a short discussion, Abdul-Jabbar had Griner play behind him in the post on the right block and gave her a few pointers about using leverage against the defender. He then started flicking up skyhooks, right-handed and left, then gave her a turn, providing running commentary the entire time. They switched to the left block for a few more skyhooks and chatted some more.

Griner didn’t look particularly comfortable with the shot at first, but seemed to be getting it down by the end of the 20-minute session, particularly after Abdul-Jabbar adjusted the way she was holding the ball.

“She did start to get it, how I used it,” he said. “Not everybody uses the same tool in the same way, so you’ve got to make adjustments to that. But I think with her potential and willingness to learn, she’ll do well.”

Griner seems intent on turning the lesson into something more.

Already tough to stop inside because of her size and athletic ability, the 6-foot-8 center would like to add the skyhook to her arsenal —eventually.

“You’ll see some hooks, but to do a true skyhook, that’s going to take a while to get it down perfect,” she said. “But you’ll definitely see once I get a feel. I definitely want to get that in there.”

If she does, Griner could become one of the most unstoppable players in the WNBA.

Abdul-Jabbar certainly did well with the skyhook, ending his career as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and a shot that has not been close to being matched for productivity and indefensibility.

Perfect what she learned from Abdul-Jabbar and Griner has the potential to be a game-changer the way he was.

“She’s a very talented athlete,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “She’s not just tall, she has some skills. She runs the court very well, she’s active. I think she’s going to have a great career.”

She certainly had a good teacher, at least for one afternoon.

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May 16, 2013

LAWT News Services


NEW YORK — Floyd May­weather Jr. is the highest-earning athlete in American sports for the second straight year.

The boxer is projected to make $90 million in 2013, according to Sports Illustrated’s annual list released Wednesday. Miami Heat star LeBron James is a distant second at $56.5 million.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees vaults into the rankings at No. 3 at $47.8 million thanks to a new contract signed before last season. Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers is fourth at just under $47 million.

Tiger Woods is fifth with $40.8 million, his lowest spot since SI started the list in 2004. He was No. 1 through 2011.

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose checked in at No. 7, although he hasn’t played a game since tearing his left ACL on April 28, 2012.

The top 50 include 25 baseball players, 13 basketball players and eight football players, with no female athletes for the fifth consecutive year.

The estimates combine salary, winnings and endorsements.

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