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    Simona Halep went to work a long way from home in the off-season, out near the desert, not taking a day off. Her focus was on getting fitter in a bid to win a third major title, to go with the championships at Wimbledon last year and her career breakthrough at the French Open in 2018. Garbiñe Muguruza climbed Kilimanjaro, got away from it all. She didn't want to dwell on two relatively barren seasons since her Wimbledon win in 2017. After contrasting preparations, Halep is back in the Australian Open semifinals for the second time in three years, and Muguruza has made it for the first time at Melbourne Park. .The pair of two-time major winners will play off for a spot in the final after winning their quarterfinals in straight sets on Wednesday. Both have already won Wimbledon and the French Open and have been ranked No. 1, and are bidding for their first Grand Slam title on a hard court. “Any Grand Slam, it's a priority. I will not just choose one,' Halep said. “But, of course, it's going to be great if I will be able to win one on hard court.' There are three major winners in the last four, with reigning French Open champion Ash Barty playing No. 14 Sofia Kenin in the other women's semifinal Thursday. The top-ranked Barty is trying to end a drought for Australians at home: The last woman to win the singles championship was Chris O'Neil in 1978. Halep has been close before at Melbourne Park. She saved match points in the third round and in the semifinals in 2018 before losing the final in three sets to Caroline Wozniacki. “It's the opposite this year. It's better, though. I feel with more energy going to the semifinals. I feel more confident. I feel my game,' she said. “All in all, I'm confident.” The 28-year-old Romanian said that tough loss to Wozniacki was the catalyst for her breakthrough win that year at Roland Garros, where she beat Muguruza in the semifinals. On Wednesday, she needed only 53 minutes to beat first-time major quarterfinalist Kontaveit 6-1, 6-1. “Perfection doesn't exist, but I'm very happy with the way I played. I felt great on court. I was moving great. I felt the ball, like, really, really good,' she said. “It was a great match.' Halep spent three weeks in Dubai, her first offseason away from home, so she could focus fully on 2020. “No days off,' Halep said. Kontaveit held the opening game at love. From then on, it was all one way as Halep went on a relentless, 11-game roll. Seeded fourth, Halep has advanced to the last four without dropping a set, and said she feels like she's playing her best tennis. Muguruza was ill at the start of tournament and lost her first set 6-0 before recovering to beat U.S. qualifier Shelby Rogers in three sets, conceding just one further game in the match. She has followed that up with wins over two top 10 players — Wimbledon and U.S. Open semifinalist Elina Svitolina and No. 9 Kiki Bertens. The 26-year-old Spaniard took a little more than 1 1/2 hours to eliminate No. 30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-3 in the quarterfinals, with both players struggling with their serves with the sun shining brightly at one end. The win earned Muruguza a spot in the Grand Slam semis for the first time since Roland Garros in '18. The loss dropped Pavlyuchenkova to 0-6 in quarterfinals at majors; she has entered 49 Slams without reaching the final four once. Her time on the mountain was “definitely was a life-changing experience,” Murgurza said, although she couldn't explain how because it's too complicated in a tournament environment. “But it definitely had an impact on me, not as a tennis player, but just in general,” she said. “Being through such a tough challenge, I think, yeah, did many things inside of me.” Asked to compare 2016 and 2017 to her most recent two years, she deflected a suggestion that the last two were like being 'in a coma.' “I would say I think those years were less successful if you compare them with my previous years,” she said. 'That's how I see it. I don't see it at all as a coma. I just think you struggle as a player, and there is moments where things don't go your way. “You just have to be patient and go through the rough moments, just hang in there and it will come back again.” ___ More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Khris Middleton dedicated the best game of his career to Kobe Bryant. Middleton scored a career-high 51 points, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 151-131 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night. Middleton, hoping to be chosen an All-Star reserve for the second straight year on Thursday, helped the Bucks hold off a determined second-half Wizards rally. Middleton also had 10 rebounds and six assists while hitting 16 of 26 shots and 7 of 10 3-pointers, topping his previous career best of 43 points. He said he was thinking a lot the past few days about Bryant, who was killed along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash Sunday. “Kobe was one of my favorite players growing up besides (Michael) Jordan,” Middleton said. “I took a lot from his game. Everybody says Mamba mentality. To go out there and put on that type of performance, I definitely can dedicate that game to him as a thank you for what he did for the game.” Milwaukee (41-6) scored a franchise-record 88 points in the first half, finished with its highest total of the season and won its ninth straight game despite the absence of star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who sat out with a right shoulder injury. Bradley Beal led the Wizards (15-31) with 47 points, his second straight 40-point game and sixth of the season. “We didn't show any resistance early in the game,” Beal said. “Then in the second half we were a totally different team. We got aggressive. We were physical on defense. We were physical on offense, attacking.” Milwaukee led from wire to wire and by as many as 32 points but the Wizards rallied in the third quarter, putting up 41 points to cut their deficit to 117-104 entering the fourth. Washington got within seven points in the final period but could not get closer. Eric Bledsoe had 34 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for the Bucks. Donte DiVincenzo added 16 points and a pair of late 3-pointers to clinch the victory. Middleton responded with 13 points in the fourth quarter as he scored the most points by a Bucks player this season. He pounded home a dunk to reach 51 points and give the Bucks a 13-point lead late in the final quarter. “He's an All-Star,” DiVincenzo said. “He did it last year. He's doing it again this year. When we're struggling we just go to Khris. We have that confidence in him. He knows not to force it. He's an amazing player. He knows he can pick his spots and get others involved.” The previous high by a Bucks player this season came when Antetokounmpo had 50 points on Nov. 25 against Utah. The Bucks came out firing from deep, hitting eight of their first nine attempts from 3-point range. Milwaukee converted 14 of 22 shots in the first quarter on the way to a 42-28 lead. And they kept going in the second. Middleton hit his fourth 3-pointer of the half to give the Bucks a 69-43 lead with 5:46 left. Middleton nailed two more 3s to finish the half 6 for 6 from 3-point range and with 28 points. “He got in a rhythm pretty early,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It was coming off his hand well. He had a good pop, a good bounce. I think everybody was feeding off him, celebrating him because he's such a good player and such a good teammate.” The Bucks sank 14 of 24 3-pointers in the half as they grabbed an 88-63 lead at intermission. The previous franchise mark for points in a half was 87 set against New Orleans on March 14, 1979. Milwaukee shot 56.6% from the field (50 of 90) and sank 19 of 37 3s. KOBE SALUTE The Bucks organization opened the night with 24 seconds of silence to honor Bryant, marked by a countdown on the 24-second clock above both baskets. The game started with a 24-second violation taken by the Bucks, with players on both benches standing and the crowd standing and applauding. The Wizards then took an 8-second violation as the teams honored Bryant, who wore jersey Nos. 24 and 8 in his 20-year career with the Lakers. STAR STATUS Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry said he believes the team should have at least three All-Stars when reserves are named Thursday for the Feb. 16 game in Chicago. Middleton seems a likely pick but Lasry made the case for point guard Eric Bledsoe and center Brook Lopez as well. The Eastern Conference coaches pick the All-Star reserves. Antetokounmpo was chosen as a starter and team captain. “Khris absolutely deserves to be an All-Star,” Lasry said. “It gets tiring after a while. Everybody talks about how you should be a team and you should do things together. Here we are the best team. We’re doing everything the right way. The Warriors had four All-Stars. When the Hawks were leading (the East), they had four All-Stars. The fact that we have to talk about Middleton and Bledsoe should be reserves. We should have Middleton, Bledsoe and Brook.” TIP-INS Wizards: Coach Scott Brooks said he thinks the Bucks are better than they were last year, and he credits their painful six-game Eastern Conference finals loss to Toronto for that. “They’ve got the championship hunger and they’re ready,” Brooks said. “They obviously had a tough playoff series loss last year. Sometimes that helps. You have that chip; you have that scar that needs to be there. Not too many teams come together and win a championship the first go-round. They have everything. They’re built to win a championship this year.” … Former Bucks player Gary Payton II came off the bench for the Wizards. Guard Jordan McRae (sprained right ankle) was not with the team after averaging 15.9 points in the past 18 games. Bucks: Antetokounmpo sat out with right shoulder soreness, but Budenholzer did not think it would be an injury to keep him out of the lineup too long. “It’s been bothering him for a few days actually,” Budenholzer said. “I guess there’s a silver lining coming off the game in Paris. It’s been three or four days since we played and it will be another couple until Friday (vs. Denver). So, he gets a good chance for his body to resettle a bit and hopefully his shoulder is in a better place by Friday.” If he returns Friday, Antetokounmpo will have played just one game in 10 days dating to last week … Backup center Robin Lopez returned after missing the trip to Paris due to illness and contributed 10 points in 16 minutes. UP NEXT Wizards: Host Charlotte on Thursday. Bucks: Host Denver on Friday.
  • John Altobelli’s team knew there was only one way to honor its late coach — by playing on his favorite day. Altobelli’s Orange Coast College baseball team opened its season as scheduled on Tuesday against Chula Vista Southwestern. The game occurred two days after Altobelli, his wife and their 13-year-old daughter were killed in the helicopter crash that also took the life of Kobe Bryant and five others. “They didn’t so much ask me. They told me,” athletic director Jason Kehler said about the team's decision to play. The game at Wendell Pickens Field was a celebration of Altobelli’s life and the 27 years he devoted to his program. More than 2,000 people were on hand on a sunny day at a field that seats 500. Fans were lined up and down the first- and third-base lines. Altobelli’s son J.J., a scout with the Boston Red Sox, and his 16-year old daughter Lexi watched from an area reserved for family along the first-base line near the Pirates dugout. After the game — which Southwestern was leading 7-6 when it was called due to darkness in the ninth inning — the team lined up to hug J.J. and Lexi. “I went down and hugged Lexi probably every single inning because she needs it,” interim manager Nate Johnson said. “I told the team they need us.” Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa were among the eight passengers killed along with the pilot Sunday morning when the helicopter chartered by Bryant plowed into a cloud-covered hillside in Calabasas. The Altobellis, Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who was also killed in the crash, were on their way to a youth basketball tournament in which Alyssa and Gianna were to play. There was a banner with Altobelli’s uniform number, 14, on the left-field fence as well as flowers and cards honoring the family on a wall behind home plate. Many fans were wearing No. 14 T-shirts that read “Forever A Pirate.” “This is a fraction of the impact that John had. Today speaks to that,” Kehler said. “We couldn’t ask for more than this. We want to make sure that John and his family get the recognition they deserve. He deserves to have his story be told.” Kehler, Johnson and Altobelli's brother Tony spoke during a pregame ceremony. Johnson paused a couple times as he reflected on his former boss and his family. “They made everyone feel like an Altobelli or a Pirate. That’s why so many people are wearing 14 today,” Johnson said. “I know if (Keri) were here she would be judging me on everything I’d be doing. (Keri) really ran this team.' ”If you heard Alyssa laugh she would make you laugh. She lit up any room she went into. John loved his family and was so proud of his team. We’re going to do our best to honor him in everything we do moving forward.” Johnson said Alyssa's goal was to attend Oregon, because her favorite basketball player was Sabrina Ionescu. J.J. attended Oregon after playing for his father at Orange Coast. Tony Altobelli — who is also Orange Coast College's sports information director — said his younger brother's death was emotional for everyone, including umpires. “It was touching. The only thing that could come to my mind is could you imagine my brother making an umpire cry? I know he would have loved it,” Altobelli said. Despite dealing with his own grief, Altobelli announced the game and carried on his usual duties. “In days like this I wasn't John's brother, I was the SID at Orange Coast College doing something for my brother. That was the only way I could get through today,” he said. John Altobelli, 56, won more than 700 games at Orange Coast. The American Baseball Coaches Association named him its coach of the year last year after he guided the Pirates to their fourth state title. He also managed the Brewster Whitecaps for three seasons in the Cape Cod Summer League. Among the players he coached there were New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge and New York Mets infielder Jeff McNeil. McNeil told ESPN that Altobelli took a chance on him and credits him with being drafted. Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole, who lives in Newport Beach, attended the game and watched from the Orange Coast dugout for an inning. Johnson said his team was trying too hard early. The Pirates committed three errors the first five innings and fell behind 7-1 in the sixth. They scored four times in the sixth and added a run in the seventh. “It was a good day. It stinks that we didn't finish it,” Johnson said. 'It still doesn't feel real to me. When I was making in-game decisions, I kept a seat open. You're making decisions that the man who mentored you made the last seven seasons. “Today, this team ran themselves. I put the guys out there that I thought Alto would want to see and I felt like were playing with emotion for him.” ___ More AP coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant: https://apnews.com/KobeBryant
  • Alexander Zverev began 2020 with three consecutive losses, which meant he had plenty of problems -- and plenty of time on his hands ahead of the Australian Open. So he showed up early and got to work, spending up to seven hours a day practicing in the week before the decade's first Grand Slam tournament. That extra time paid off. And how. Zverev, a 22-year-old from Germany, reached his first major semifinal by overcoming a terrible start Wednesday at Melbourne Park and putting together a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka. “I hope,” Zverev said, “this will be the first of many.” After ceding the opening set in 24 minutes, Zverev regrouped and recalibrated his strategy, using all of his 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) frame to get to balls along the baseline and stretch points until Wawrinka faltered. It worked. Zverev's sometimes-shaky serve -- he was double-faulting once per game while losing all of his matches at the season-opening ATP Cup -- was suddenly terrific, and Wawrinka's barrel-chested baseline bashing weakened, as if he might be injured. How bad were things earlier in January for Zverev? “I've been struggling with my forehand, my backhand, my volleys, my drop shot, my return. My waking up in the morning. My everything,” he joked Wednesday. “It was not only my serve.' Zverev also was self-deprecating before his first-round match last week, saying that he knew he couldn't win the championship. After his opening victory, he pledged to donate all of the champion's prize money, a little more than 4 million Australian dollars — about $2.85 million — to relief efforts for the wildfires raging around the country if he were to go all the way. Just two matches to go now. Wawrinka's backhand is a one-handed tour de force that is not only his signature stroke but is among the most respected and feared shots in all of men's tennis. But it let him down on this day: He finished with five winners and 31 errors on that side, 18 unforced and 13 forced. It all added up to Zverev getting to the final four at a major in his 19th appearance. He had been 0-2 in quarterfinals. “I’ve done well in other tournaments ... but I never could break that barrier in a Grand Slam,' he said. On Friday, Zverev will take on No. 1 Rafael Nadal or No. 5 Dominic Thiem for a berth in the final. Nadal vs. Thiem was scheduled for Wednesday night local time. The other men's semifinal is Thursday, with defending champion Novak Djokovic facing 20-time major title winner Roger Federer for the 50th time. Both women's semifinals are Thursday: No. 1 Ash Barty of Australia vs. No. 14 Sofia Kenin of the United States, and No. 4 Simona Halep vs. unseeded Garbiñe Muguruza. None has won the Australian Open; Halep was the runner-up in 2018. Halep and Muguruza -- both two-time major champs, both former No. 1s -- advanced Wednesday with straight-set victories. Halep, who has yet to drop a set, required 53 minutes to dismiss No. 28 Anett Kontaveit 6-1, 6-1, before Muguruza eliminated No. 30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-3. 'Perfection doesn't exist,' Halep said, 'but I'm very happy with the way I played. I felt great on court. I was moving great.' Zverev and Wawrinka, a dozen years older at 34, played on the steamiest afternoon of the tournament so far, with the temperature in the mid-80s Fahrenheit (about 30 Celsius) and no breeze to speak of. Wawrinka had a far tougher trek to the quarterfinals, with a pair of five-set wins along the way -- including over No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, the 2019 U.S. Open runner-up, in his previous outing -- while Zverev hadn't dropped a set. Yet it took merely 16 minutes for Wawrinka to move out to a 5-0 lead by grabbing 20 of the match's first 26 points, helped immensely by Zverev's issues controlling the ball: He accumulated nine unforced errors and just one winner in that span. Soon enough that set was done. “I was getting ready to (explain) to the press why I lost in straight sets, to be honest,” Zverev said. But Zverev changed tactics and made things competitive in the second set, thanks in part to getting into a real groove while serving, taking all 20 points in those games. That allowed him to play more freely in his return games and he broke to go up 5-3 when Wawrinka shanked a backhand on one point, then netted a forehand on the next. Zverev shook his right fist and bellowed, 'Come ooooooooon!' One more hold at love later, he evened things at a set apiece. Right then, suddenly if briefly, the quality of play devolved significantly at both ends of the court. Breaks were traded to open the third set as 10 of its initial 13 points came via unforced errors by one man or the other. Soon, though, Zverev was straightened out for good, while Wawrinka had more and more struggles. A backhand into the net gave Zverev the only other break he needed to collect that set. A backhand long let Zverev break for 1-0 in the fourth, and another backhand into the net put Zverev up a double break at 3-0. Notice a pattern? ___ More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Joel Embiid had to do it like the kids on the playground, a yell of 'Kobe!' as he shot a fadeaway in the one-night-only No. 24 jersey he wore for his basketball idol. Embiid buried the bucket to give him a tidy 24 points — and yes, eight defensive rebounds — in a somber night in Philly dedicated to Kobe Bryant. Embiid returned early from a hand injury, in part to help the Sixers in their push for a better playoff seed in the East, but also because he wanted to honor Bryant. Embiid was a teen in Africa when he first got hooked on basketball watching Bryant in the 2010 NBA Finals. Bryant's style and swagger inspired the 7-foot Embiid to give up volleyball and convince his father he had a new direction in his promising athletic career. 'That was the turning point in my life,' Embiid said. 'It was watching Kobe. After watching, I just wanted to be like him.' Wearing No. 24 in honor of Bryant, Embiid powered Philadelphia to a 115-104 win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. Embiid and the rest of the Sixers wore No. 24 and No. 8 Bryant jerseys in warmups in honor of the Los Angeles Lakers star, who was killed Sunday in a helicopter crash. Embiid was granted permission from Hall of Famer Bobby Jones to wear the retired No. 24 instead of his usual 21 for his first game since he tore a ligament in a finger in his left hand. 'It was tough but that's how you honor him, you go out there and you do your best,' Embiid said. 'You work hard and you play through stuff.' The Sixers went 6-3 without Embiid, the first Sixer to be voted to three straight All-Star Games since Allen Iverson. Embiid had averaged 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds in 31 games this season. Against the Warriors, Embiid played with a splint on his hand that didn't affect him when he buried a 3 that sent the Sixers into halftime with a 59-54 lead. 'For his first game back, it was pretty impressive,' coach Brett Brown said. Philadelphia's Ben Simmons had 'Mamba Forever' and 'RIP Gigi' (for Bryant's daughter, among the nine killed in the crash) on each sneaker and scored 17 points. The Sixers were the latest team to honor Bryant in a pregame ceremony. Bryant led suburban Lower Merion High School to the Class AAAA state title at Hersheypark Arena in 1996, the school's first since 1943. His framed No. 33 Aces jersey was displayed at midcourt and the Sixers held a 33-second moment of silence of Bryant and the other eight victims in Sunday's crash. The Sixers rang a bell nine times and shone nine lights on the court during the solemn remembrance. The Sixers skipped pregame introductions for both teams and instead played a video of Bryant's last introduction in Philadelphia in a December 2015 game and images of him with Allen Iverson and Julius Erving. Yes, all teams have been affected by Bryant's death, but it struck particularly hard in Philly, where the former NBA star had a turbulent relationship with Philadelphia. His high school coach Gregg Downer spoke to the media for the first time earlier in the day, and wore Bryant's No. 33 Lower Merion warmup jacket. 'Once both teams got going, then it felt like a regular game again,' Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. 'But it took a little while.' The mood in the building also was tempered because the 10-win Warriors gave the Sixers a serious challenge. The Sixers were 12-point favorites but D'Angelo Russell, who scored a team-high 28 points, kept the Warriors within single digits for most of the fourth quarter. Al Horford buried a 3 and Shake Milton followed with another to push it to a 16-point lead and send the Sixers on their way to a whopping 22-2 record at home. REMEMBERING KOBE The Sixers also had a No. 33 logo next to the scorer's table, the names of the nine victims were displayed on the big screen, and Zhaire Smith swapped his usual No. 8 jersey for No. 7. The Sixers had retired No. 24 for defensive star and 1983 NBA champion Bobby Jones. Embiid called Jones for his blessing to use 24 for the night. 'I told Joel to play hard defense because that is what the No. 24 represents in my mind. I thanked him for the call, and I'm glad he and I had the chance to talk,' Jones said in a statement. TIP-INS Warriors: The Warriors practiced Monday night at Drexel, where guard Damion Lee played for three seasons. The Warriors also have former Villanova stars Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall on the roster. Both players won national championships under coach Jay Wright. Kerr joked he enjoyed practicing at Drexel but 'maybe next year we'll go to Villanova, if Jay lets us.' 76ers: Brown said he didn't address Bryant's death immediately before Tuesday's game. 'I'm coming in tonight to win,' Brown said. 'I think that's probably the greatest tribute you can pay to such an amazing competitor. I'm going to coach with that spirit.' WARRIOR WOES 'This season has to stand for something. We're obviously not going to the playoffs. We're not fighting for championships or division titles. It has to be about a season-long improvement, individually for the young guys, and collectively for the group. We've had our slip-ups, we've had some nights where it's been very frustrating, but all in all, can't argue with the overall effort these guys have given all season long.' - Kerr, on the 10-win Warriors. UP NEXT The Warriors play Thursday at Boston. The 76ers play Thursday at Atlanta. ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • A Washington Post reporter who had been placed on administrative leave after she tweeted a link to a story about a 2003 rape allegation against Kobe Bryant has been cleared to return to work, the paper said Tuesday. In a statement, the Post said that an internal review had determined that political reporter Felicia Sonmez was “not in clear and direct violation of our social media policy,” but that the tweets were “ill-timed.” Sonmez's tweet came in the hours after Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. “We consistently urge restraint, which is particularly important when there are tragic deaths. We regret having spoken publicly about a personnel matter,” the statement signed by managing editor Tracy Grant said. The paper had come under some intense internal criticism for having taken action against Sonmez. Hundreds of Post staffers had signed a letter from the Washington Post Newspaper Guild on Monday expressing “alarm and dismay” over the move and urging executive editor Marty Baron and managing editor Tracy Grant to ensure Sonmez's safety. The reporter's tweet had come amid widespread public mourning over the shocking deaths of Bryant and eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and drew considerable backlash on social media. The Post reported that Sonmez received threats of death and rape and had to move to a hotel after her home address was published online. Sonmez, who deleted the original tweet at the request of editors, received an email from Baron on Sunday saying: “A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.” Sonmez shared the email with an Associated Press reporter. A spokeswoman for the newspaper, Kristine Coratti Kelly, emailed Tuesday's statement to The AP but said the paper would not be commenting further. Sonmez did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment. In their petition Monday, the Guild members noted that Sonmez had “received an onslaught of violent messages” and “has gotten insufficient guidance from the Post on how to protect herself.” “We understand the hours after Bryant’s death Sunday were a fraught time to share reporting about past accusations of sexual assault,” Guild members wrote. “The loss of such a beloved figure, and of so many other lives, is a tragedy. But we believe it is our responsibility as a news organization to tell the public the whole truth as we know it — about figures and institutions both popular and unpopular, at moments timely and untimely.” Sonmez's initial tweet had linked to a 2016 Daily Beast story titled “Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession.” Bryant was accused in 2003 of raping a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He said the two had consensual sex, and prosecutors later dropped the sexual assault charge at the request of the accuser. The woman filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.
  • NFL teams paid more than a half-billion dollars to Week 1 starters who missed games because of injuries this season and players who ended the year on injured reserve, according to an Associated Press study. And the players sidelined the most in a league devoted more and more to speed: the fastest guys on the field, wide receivers. While much of the recent focus has been on protecting high-priced quarterbacks and limiting head injuries — concussions were up slightly over last year — keeping wideouts and the defenders who try to stop them healthy has occupied most of the NFL's medical personnel. Cornerbacks and safeties were second and third on the list. Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill missed four of the 567 games that 74 receivers were sidelined for in 2019, costing teams a position-high $72 million, according to the AP's analysis of players on injured reserve at the end of the NFL's regular season along with time missed by opening-game starters. The estimated $521 million spent on players checked by the AP doesn't include players who became starters after Week 1 and later missed games with injuries. Patrick Mahomes' top target, Hill hurt his collarbone in the season opener, just days after signing a three-year, $54 million contract extension. Fortunately for the Chiefs, he returned to form and helped lead them to the Super Bowl against San Francisco on Sunday. Asked about injuries for receivers, Hill said he's been hurt but never hit that hard by a defender. “That’s why you don’t get tackled,” the player nicknamed “Cheetah” and self-proclaimed fastest man in the NFL said Monday night. “You just got to learn how to juke better, baby, you know? That’s why we put those offseason moments in, you know?” The NFL keeps tweaking rules and tracking data from players in trying to keep them healthier. But concussions rose to 145 this year, 10 more than in 2018. The AP's analysis found concussions cost more in terms of salary and salary-cap hits on average, ahead of knee, neck and ankle injuries. More than 60% of injuries this season came in the lower extremities, with knees No. 1, according to the injury information released by the NFL last Thursday. The league has a task force studying those injuries to better prevent them. “This is a big deal this is not only from a player availability standpoint from a club perspective but from a player perspective,” said Leigh Weiss, a physical therapist and the New York Giants' director of rehabilitation. 'It’s their ability to make a team, it’s their ability to perform at the highest level, it’s their ability to stay healthy, and that to us is paramount.” Some other findings from the study: — Players making under $1 million per year are more likely to land on injured reserve than those who make more. Of the 248 players in the AP database making $1 million or less against the salary cap, 195 were put on IR (78.6%). For players making more than $1 million, 137 of 325 were put on IR (42.2%). — The San Francisco 49ers (15-3) are preparing for the Super Bowl despite leading the league in games missed due to injuries as counted by AP. The 49ers finished with 16 players on injured reserve, a group that includes running back Jerick McKinnon, who missed the entire season trying to recover from the torn right ACL that wiped out his 2018 season. The NFC champs also were without injured receivers Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd all year. San Francisco lost left tackle Joe Staley to a broken leg in Week 2 followed by right tackle Mike McGlinchey and fullback Kyle Juszczyk with knee injuries in early October. 'This whole season, ups and downs, we had injuries left and right,' 49ers tight end George Kittle said. “We had guys step up when they needed to from (Justin) Skule to (Daniel) Brunskill — to our defense, (safety) Marcell (Harris), (linebacker Dre) Greenlaw. We had guys everywhere stepping up the entire season.” As for the Chiefs, their opponent on Sunday? Only five teams lost fewer games to injuries counted by the AP. — The New York Jets finished the season with a league-high 21 players on injured reserve and had so many other injuries the organization is studying every step of the treatment and recovery process. Jets general manager Joe Douglas hopes 2019 was a “bit of anomaly.” “We are in the midst of that research,” Douglas said. 'We are doing a deep dive as far as what we can do to prevent this from happening again and what we need to implement to make sure that this amount of injuries doesn’t happen.” — When it comes to salaries, the Philadelphia Eagles lost the most with millions unavailable due to games missed — even as they scrambled to a 9-7 finish and the NFC East title. They placed 11 players on injured reserve with the receiving group taking a big hit: DeSean Jackson missed 13 games with an abdomen injury, Alshon Jeffery missed seven with different foot injuries and Nelson Agholor sat out six with a hurt knee. — Knees were the most costly injuries. Miami had offensive tackle Julien Davenport miss eight games with an injured knee that put him on injured reserve, though he returned. A knee injury cost cornerback Xavien Howard 11 games. The Dolphins didn't lose nearly as much in salary when undrafted rookie receiver Preston Williams hurt a knee in their first win of the season and missed the final eight games. “You never want to see a guy go down and get injured like that, but he’s such a talented player,” Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said of Williams. “He’s got such a bright future.” — Quarterback and offensive tackle, usually two of the highest-paid positions on any team, have a higher average cost per position ahead of wide receiver from missing games. QB average cost from injuries: $1,640,000; offensive tackle, $1,230,000; wide receiver, $883,000. ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • Shaquille O'Neal tearfully said Tuesday he never could have imagined anything like Kobe Bryant's death, remembering his former teammate as a great player whose kids called him “Uncle Shaq.' “The fact that we lost probably the world’s greatest Laker, the world’s greatest basketball player is just — listen, people are going to say take your time and get better, but this is going to be hard for me,' O'Neal said. “I already don’t sleep anyway, but I’ll figure it out.' O'Neal's comments came at the start of TNT's pregame show, as he sat on the court at Staples Center along with the rest of the network's studio team. TNT was supposed to televise a doubleheader, but the NBA canceled the Lakers-Clippers game that was scheduled to be the nightcap because the Lakers organization is still too devastated after the death of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash Sunday. O'Neal was working out with family members when he got the news and hoped it wasn't true. “I never could have imagined nothing like this,' he said. “I was thinking the other day I’ve never seen anything like this. All the basketball idols that I grew up (watching), I see them. They’re old.' O'Neal and Bryant teamed to help the Lakers win three straight championships from 2000-02, but they occasionally feuded and O'Neal was traded to Miami in 2004. He would win another title there, while Bryant would win two more with the Lakers. They eventually patched up their relationship and O'Neal said they texted frequently, though he said he hadn't actually seen Bryant since the final day of his career in 2016. O'Neal said he told Bryant to score 50 points and Bryant instead scored 60. “The fact that we’re not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony, we’re not going to be able to say, ‘Hi, I’ve got five (rings), you’ve got four,' the fact that we’re not going to say if we’d stayed together we could have got 10, those are the things you can’t get back,' O'Neal said. O'Neal's comments were his first that were televised since Bryant's death. He had previously only posted on social media and spoken on a podcast. He has been recovering from the death of his sister, and said he hadn't felt pain like Bryant's death in some time. He said he always said the same things to Bryant's children. “Hi, my name is Uncle Shaq,' he said. “I don’t know if they know me as a basketball player. Doesn’t matter. Just 'Hi, I'm Uncle Shaq.' Try to make them laugh and he would do the same thing.' ___ More AP coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant: https://apnews.com/KobeBryant ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Kobe Bryant’s remains among four identified so far following weekend helicopter crash that killed 9.
  • Fans call it The House that Kobe Built, and since Kobe Bryant's death in a helicopter crash mourners by the thousands have gathered daily outside the arena where the Los Angeles Lakers' legend made basketball history. Admirers, including some from as far away as China, continued to crowd the plaza leading to the Staples Center for a third day Tuesday as arena officials opened adjacent Chick Hearn Court to pedestrian traffic to allow the placement of still more memorials of flowers, balloons, photos, paintings, jerseys, hats, basketballs and thousands of heartfelt written messages. While most recognized Bryant, many also paid tribute to his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. They were among the nine people killed when their helicopter crashed Sunday morning. Giant electronic signs across from Staples Center flashed a photo of Bryant and his daughter with the words, “Forever in Our Hearts” and the names of all who died. Michael Velasco kneeled in prayer Tuesday before leaving a basketball he'd carried from central California. He had grown up in Sacramento Kings territory but recalled switching basketball allegiances after seeing Bryant score more than 30 points early in his career against Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls. “I said he’s going to be better than Jordan some day,' recalled Velasco, dressed in Bryant's purple-and-gold No. 8 jersey. He wore Bryant's other number, 24, when he played basketball in high school. Some in the crowd arrived in replica jerseys with 33 on them, Bryant's number when he played at suburban Philadelphia's Lower Merion High School. The Staples Center set up more than a half-dozen large white billboards with the words, “In Loving Memory of Kobe Bryant' for people to write messages. Three of them were covered before noon. Most visitors said they'd never met Bryant or, if they had, only fleetingly. Others had only watched him play on television. Still, many said they felt like they knew him and not just through his brilliant basketball career, but in the books he'd written, the Oscar-winning short film he'd produced and other endeavors since he'd retired in 2016. “He meant a lot to the sports world and then he tied it in with being a good family man,' said 23-year-old Bob Nam who grew up in Los Angeles watching Bryant play. “I think he’s probably inspired more people than anyone can imagine and it’s just so crazy that one day he’s here and the next he’s gone.' Feng Liu, vacationing from China, said Bryant was his favorite NBA player and the Lakers were his favorite team. He and his wife had planned to attend Tuesday night's game between the Lakers and rival Los Angeles Clippers before it was postponed in light of the tragedy. Tickets to Friday's home game against the Portland Trail Blazers were selling Tuesday on StubHub for about $700 to $1,000 for the cheapest seats. Those closer to the action were offered at prices ranging from $3,500 to $9,000, and the ticket agency promised to donate all of its fees to the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. On the streets near Staples Center, vendors were doing a brisk business selling memorial T-shirts and calendars with Bryant's image and words like “Legends Never Die” for $10 apiece. At Nike's website the link to Kobe Bryant gear led simply to a memorial tribute that concluded with the words, “We will miss him greatly. Mamba forever.” Michelle Rodriguez of Los Angeles wiped a tear as she gazed at photos of Bryant with his daughter and his teammates. “I think everyone could say we loved the team as a whole, but it was different when you saw Kobe play,' she said. 'And he was such an awesome man outside of basketball too,' she added. “All the work he did in the community, he's a hero to this city.' “I left my shoe for him,” said Louie Guerrero of Los Angeles, who arrived Monday pushing a stroller with his 2-year-old daughter, Lexie, decked out in a Lakers uniform. He had decided to add one of his official Lakers basketball shoes to the memorial after scribbling on it, “We Love You, Kobe.' He walked away with only a sock on his left foot. “The memories that he gave us as a family were great memories,” said Lawrence Perez or North Hollywood, who visited the memorial Monday with his wife, Maureen, and 15-year-old daughter, Desiree, all in Lakers gear. 'The greatest moment was when I got his autograph his rookie year,” Perez said. He said he had planned to bring the autographed ball to Bryant's Hall of Fame induction, expected later this year, and ask him to sign it again. “But that's not going to happen now,' he said softly.