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Bryant hailed as 'true Olympic champion' by IOC president

Bryant hailed as 'true Olympic champion' by IOC president

Kobe Bryant was “an outstanding and true Olympic champion,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Monday. The basketball great, who was killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Sunday, helped the United States win Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2012 London Games. Bryant also worked with the Olympic hosting bid for Los Angeles, the city where he won five NBA titles with the Lakers. When Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Olympics, men’s basketball will be played at the Staples Center, where Bryant played with the Lakers. “He embraced the power of sport to change people’s lives,” Bach said in a statement published by the International Olympic Committee. “After retiring from the game he loved so much, he continued to support the Olympic Movement and was an inspiration for the Olympic Games LA 2028.” Bryant narrated the final filmed segment of the L.A. bid team’s presentation in July 2017. He was a member of the bid's board of directors. “There are so many different cultures represented here, so many different ethnicities represented here,” he said of Los Angeles in the video. “It’s an opportunity to learn no matter where you look.” The 41-year-old Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people who died in the crash in Calabasas in foggy weather conditions Sunday morning. “We will all miss his energy and his humble nature,' Bach said. 'Our thoughts are with his family and friends and all the other victims.” International basketball federation secretary general Andreas Zagklis described Bryant as a “sun in the basketball universe, shining on and off the court.” ___ More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

In Italy, Bryant to be mourned for a week's worth of games

In Italy, Bryant to be mourned for a week's worth of games

In the country where he grew up, Kobe Bryant will be mourned for an entire week. The Italian basketball federation said Monday it has ordered a minute's silence to be observed for all games “in every category for the entire week.” “It’s a small but heartfelt and deserved gesture to honor the life and memory of Kobe Bryant, an absolute champion who always had Italy in his heart,” the federation said. “Kobe was and will always be linked to our country.” Bryant lived in Italy between the ages of 6 and 13 while his father, Joe Bryant, played for several teams in the country. He returned to Pennsylvania for high school. Kobe Bryant spoke fluent Italian and often said it would be a “dream” to play in the country. That dream almost came true when Bryant nearly joined Virtus Bologna in 2011 during an NBA lockout, only for the deal to fall apart. “We’ve lost a friend,” read a front-page headline in the Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy’s leading sports newspaper. Bryant, an 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died Sunday with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California. He was 41. “All of the NBA players are important, because they’re legends, but he’s particularly important to us because he knew Italy so well, having lived in several cities here,” Italian federation president Giovanni Petrucci told The Associated Press late Sunday night. “He had a lot of Italian qualities,' Petrucci added. “He spoke Italian very well. He even knew the local slang.' Pistoia, one of the teams that Joe Bryant played for, tweeted a message with a picture of Kobe Bryant during a recent trip to the Tuscan town. “We saw him play at the PalaCarrara during halftime of his father Joe’s games,” Pistoia said. “He had a strong bond with the city of Pistoia and it was just a few years ago that he came to pay us a visit. May the earth rest lightly on you #Kobe.” Italian coach Ettore Messina worked with Bryant as an assistant for the Lakers. “He was a supernatural,” Messina told the AP late Sunday while traveling with his current club, Olimpia Milano. “To hear him speak and joke in our language and to remember when his father played here and he was a kid drew a lot of people to the NBA,” Messina said. “He was also always very attentive to help Italian kids arriving in the NBA and to help them enter such a tough and competitive world. He also did that with me when I arrived at the Lakers and I’m still very grateful to him for that. It’s very sad that his family has been devastated like this.” ___ More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports ___ Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Court gets recognition, without addressing Australian crowd

Court gets recognition, without addressing Australian crowd

Margaret Court was present but didn't address the crowd at a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of her calendar-year Grand Slam in 1970, a tricky event for Australian Open organizers trying to balance recognition of the achievement with their responsibility to promote inclusion in sports. Court's criticism of homosexuality has been condemned by current and former players, and prompted some to call for her name to be removed from one of the Australian Open's main arenas. Martina Navratilova, who won 18 major titles, has been a vocal critic of Court's anti-gay comments. 'It's just unfortunate because I think what Margaret Court doesn't realize is how many people she hurts with her rhetoric,' Navratilova said Monday, before the anniversary ceremony. “She can believe whatever she wants but she's actually hurting people and that's not OK.” The 77-year-old Court received a trophy from Rod Laver, who last year celebrated the 50th anniversary of his second Grand Slam, before the night match Monday between Nick Kyrgios and top-ranked Rafael Nadal. A video tribute was also played on the big screens. Some of the crowd was still filing into Rod Laver Arena when the brief ceremony was completed, a couple of minutes before the night session was due to begin. Court won an all-time record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, including 13 before the Open era. Serena Williams has 23, but hasn't added to her collection since winning the 2017 Australian title. Court has been a minister at a Pentecostal church in Perth, Western Australia, since 1990s and made many of her controversial comments in that role. John McEnroe criticized Australian Open organizers for going ahead with the ceremony, describing the former player in a video for Eurosprot as Tennis Australia's “crazy aunt.” “There’s only one thing longer than a list of Margaret Court’s tennis achievements — it’s her list of offensive and homophobic statements,' McEnroe said in the video. “You can’t separate the person from her achievements.” Jelena Dokic, who had a career-high No. 4 ranking and reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 2000, said it was challenging for Australian Open organizers to balance the sporting achievement from the individual. “It’s hard to go past her winning 24 Grand Slams, as an athlete, which is incredible,' Dokic told The Associated Press. '(But) I absolutely do not agree or support anything (Court) has said. It’s extremely discriminatory and very hurtful. It’s very hard to go past. “Everyone has extended the olive branch to (Court), the rest is up to her,” Dokic added. “Sport is a place where we should give everyone a chance, it’s about everyone coming together — it’s all about inclusion and giving everyone a chance.” Mats Wilander, who won three of his seven Grand Slam singles titles in Australia, made an oblique reference to Court's attitudes. “I played on Margaret Court today, and I think it’s too slow,” he said. Asked to explain the connection, he reiterated: “What I’m saying is, the court is too slow. That court needs to keep up with the other courts!” ___ G'BYE BRYANS Bob and Mike Bryan lost a third-round doubles match at the Australian Open, making it the last appearance at Melbourne Park for the American twins who have combined to win six of their 16 doubles majors at the season's first Grand Slam tournament. They lost to fourth-seeded Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek 6-3, 6-4 on Monday on Melbourne Arena. The Bryan brothers first played in Australia in 2000, reached their first Australian Open doubles final in 2004, and won the title for the first time two years later. In a span of dominance, they reached five consecutive Australian finals — winning four. The 41-year-old Bryans announced last year that 2020 would be their last season on tour, so Melbourne is the start of a long farewell. Bob brought the family along for the ride. He told the crowd after the match that he and Mike played a final in Melbourne in 2012 — the one they lost in the five-year streak — on the due date for his daughter, Micaela. His little girl, who was born not long after, on Jan. 31, 2012, was standing beside the court for the speech. So he beckoned her on court for a group hug with her dad and her uncle Mike, and they all said goodbye. ___ HUMBLE BRAG Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's fourth-round win over Angelique Kerber guaranteed there would be a first-time Australian Open champion this year. The 28-year-old Russian won a junior title in Australia 12 years ago, beating Caroline Wozniacki for that title, but has never been past the quarterfinals since graduating to the main draw in 2009. Wozniacki won her first and only major title in Australia in 2018, and she retired from the tour last week after a third-round loss at Melbourne Park. That has sharpened Pavlyuchenkova's focus on her career, and she's concentrating on being more patient and taking her opportunities. She was asked if she was in career-best form after a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over Kerber, who has won three majors, including the 2016 Australian title. “Let me be humble here. I'm not going to say, ‘I'm not playing my best tennis.' Not at all,' Pavlyuchenkova said. “I feel like I play good, of course. But I still feel like I can improve a lot of things. It gives me more confidence or belief that there is still room for improvement.' She will next play two-time major champion Garbiñe Muguruza, who beat ninth-seeded Kiki Bertens 6-3, 6-3. Kerber was the last former Australian titlist left in the draw after Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Wozniacki were knocked out in the third round. ___ More AP Tennis: https://www.apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports