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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NBA group impressed by Oklahoma City’s bid to land SuperSonics

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—Commissioner David Stern and three NBA owners believe Oklahoma City should be the future home of the Seattle SuperSonics.

To make his relocation request a reality, Sonics owner Clay Bennett now needs to win over at least 13 more of his peers.

After a tour of the Ford Center and a presentation from Oklahoma City and state officials, Stern said Tuesday a subcommittee of three NBA owners would suggest approval of the SuperSonics’ move by the rest of the league.

“We made important progress today,” Bennett said. “A lot more to be done, but a very important step. I think it was a very successful day and we look forward to the next step.”

Gov. Brad Henry, Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops and numerous other representatives of the city, state and sports community came out to welcome Stern, New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz, Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon and Los Angeles Lakers vice president Jeanie Buss as Oklahoma City brought out fancy cars and hard facts to woo its first major-league sports franchise.

“It was a pretty full presentation and pretty much a tour de force on behalf of Oklahoma that I’d say impressed the members of the committee greatly,” Stern said.

While the relocation would mean a move to a much smaller market, Stern said he was encouraged by the amount of support from area leaders and fans, and the revenue potential the team would have in a downtown arena being remodeled with $121 million in public funds approved by 62 percent of the voters earlier this month.

“When you come to a place like Oklahoma, you look for the single-team market as opposed to, for example, a market that has three or more professional sports leagues in it,” Stern said.

When asked about a group of Seattle businessmen who have offered to fund half of a $300 million renovation at KeyArena, the Sonics’ current home, Stern rejected the option.

“The reason that this journey began was because KeyArena was not an adequate arena going forward and there were a lot of recommendations made for another arena … but the tax revenues and the various contributions weren’t forthcoming,” Stern said.

Stern said the site of KeyArena doesn’t have the potential for expansion present at Oklahoma City’s downtown arena. Bennett has said the Sonics “don’t have a prayer of succeeding in KeyArena.”

Katz, Simon and Buss will meet with the remaining four members of the relocation committee—San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt, Miami Heat managing general partner Micky Arison, Chris Cohan of the Golden State Warriors and Ed Snider of the Philadelphia 76ers—likely by telephone and make a formal recommendation to the rest of the league’s owners.

All 30 owners will vote on the SuperSonics’ relocation request during an April 18 meeting, with a majority needed for approval. The Sonics also have a federal court case scheduled for June to determine whether they can break their lease with Seattle that runs through 2010.

On Tuesday morning, City Council members in Oklahoma City approved terms of a 15-year lease with the SuperSonics that would require the team to pay the city $1.6 million annually to use the Ford Center and another $409,000 per year to be able to resell the arena’s naming rights.

Former Oklahoma state Rep. Wanda Jo Stapleton voiced concerns to the council that the lease leaves the city in position to pay for any cost overruns on the Ford Center renovations and the construction of an approximately $24 million practice facility funded by the sales tax extension.

“It’s in black and white there that the city will pay for the cost overruns, and there could be tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns because they’ve given the team owners free rein to make any changes, whatever they want, during the entire construction period,” Stapleton said. “It’s just a blank check, that’s all it is.”

City Manager Jim Couch assured Stapleton that the lease would allow the city to make any cuts necessary to keep the project within its budget.

“We have a very good history of building stuff on time and being financially responsible,” mayor Nick Cornett said.

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Hottest Student Bodies: Top 50 Universities Ranked By Looks

In honor the NCAA tournament, the greatest sporting event known to man, Pop Crunch has ranked the top 50 universities by the attractiveness of their women.

This might seem like an easy job, but I can tell you after sifting through thousands of pictures of hot girls that it … really is an easy job and a lot of fun to boot. A lot of things went into these rankings, including the attractiveness of cheerleaders, the locations of the schools (the sunnier the better - hot girls gravitate towards warm weather), and the popularity of tailgating/drinking/partying. But mostly these rankings come from the gut, as Stephen Colbert would say, the only part of your body worth trusting.

Enjoy, here are the Top 50 Universities Ranked By Looks:

Click Here For Schools 41-50

Click Here For Schools 31-40

Click Here For Schools 21-30

Click Here For Schools 11-20

Click Here For Schools 1-10

Have you seen The PopCrunch Show?

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Canseco: I introduced A-Rod to steroid distributor

NEW YORK (AP) - Jose Canseco says in his new book that he introduced Alex Rodriguez to a steroids distributor and that A-Rod pursued Canseco's wife, according to the Web site of freelance writer Joe Lavin.

Lavin says on the Web site that he obtained the book, "Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and The Battle to Save Baseball," on Monday from a bookstore in Cambridge, Mass. The book is due to be released April 1.

Lavin writes Canseco's book discusses A-Rod, Roger Clemens and Magglio Ordonez.

He says Canseco claimed he didn't inject Rodriguez but "introduced Alex to a known supplier of steroids." Lavin also says "Canseco claims that A-Rod was trying to sleep with Canseco's wife."

"I really, absolutely, have no reaction," Rodriguez said Tuesday when asked about the claim relating to the steroids distributor. As far as the allegation regarding Canseco's wife, Rodriguez responded:

"I don't know how to answer that."

Canseco writes about the infamous June 1998 party at his house. Brian McNamee, Clemens' former trainer, has said Clemens spoke with Canseco at the barbecue and soon after approached the trainer about using performance-enhancing drugs. According to Lavin, Canseco wrote that Clemens did not attend.

Earlier this year, Canseco gave an affidavit to congressional investigators stating Clemens was not there and that he had never seen Clemens "use, possess or ask for steroids or human growth hormone."

Lavin wrote the Ordonez reference was "that old yarn of one player injecting another with steroids, possibly in the buttocks." Canseco and Ordonez were teammates on the 2001 Chicago White Sox.

The New York Times reported in January that Canseco offered to keep Ordonez "clear" in the book if the Detroit outfielder invested in a movie project promoted by Canseco, claims Lavin said Canseco wrote he denies.

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Japanese suffer at the hands of MLB's imperalism

I've always had a deep admiration for Australians' ability to awake at all hours of the night to watch major sporting events. Whether it's the Ashes, formula one, a World Cup, or the British-based ex-pat crowd rising and shining to catch the Australian Rules Grand Final, they'll be there, beer in hand.

They deserve credit for such dedication; it's 6am and I'm wearing a semi-permanent snarl as I watch the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox play the 2008 MLB season-opener, live from Japan. Yeah, 6am isn't that bad, but on a workday, it's just early enough to bitch and moan about. I can't match the Oz's early-hour enthusiasm, or their ability to scull down suds at daybreak.

Most baseball fans across North America are still snoozing, especially as you head west. A quick office survey on Monday revealed that I would be the only one catching baseball fever live this morning; even the lone office representative of the Red Sox Nation surprisingly admitted that he would be under the duvet rather than watching Big Papi (David Ortiz) and co perform for fans in the Far East. That said, they are not a representative sample - you'd be a fool to doubt that most baseball-obsessed Sox lovers weren't glued to their televisions from stroke of six.

As for the A's, whose die-hards have been awake since 3am west-coast time, their biggest gripe should be that their club has been ignored in the build up to this two-game set, so much so that I wondered if the Sox would be the only players taking the field at the Tokyo Dome. Actually, for a few hours last Wednesday, we wondered if Boston would even make the journey as players threatened to boycott the 18-hour flight to Japan unless coaches, training and clubhouse staff received stipends for making the trip. Ultimately, a deal was worked out, and the Sox were (likely reluctantly) on their way.

It was the second time that these festivities dodged a bullet. The star of the show, Boston's much-hyped import, Daisuke Matsuzaka, considered a national treasure by Japanese fans and one of the main reasons the Sox are in the country, nearly missed the trip as he and his wife awaited the birth of their second child. Luckily for organisers, wife Tomoyo fulfilled her end of the bargain, delivering the goods in time that her husband could make his highly anticipated homecoming. Dice-K may have been better off staying home; he's been in all kinds of trouble, giving up two runs on three hits while walking four in the first two innings alone.

So there's been a fair bit of drama in the lead-up to the third Opening Day series to be played in Japan, which leads to the questions: is it really worth it? Why are there regular-season games being played in the Tokyo Dome - again?

The short answer is, of course, money. Look no further than the A's and Red Sox uniforms. As Manny Ramirez bails out Matsuzaka with a two-run double, tying the score at 2-2 in the sixth inning, he is doing so with a sponsor's logos on the side of his jersey and on his helmet, something that makes a US baseball fan's eyes pop out. The company that is sponsoring this MLB endeavour, the newspaper giants Yomiuri Shimbun, which also own the Yomiuri Giants, Japan's version of the Yankees, aren't about to let a thing like baseball tradition stand in the way of profit, and shame on MLB for allowing it to happen.

North American professional leagues have made a habit of wetting their beaks abroad, mostly in Japan, for some time. The NBA began the season in Yokohama as far back as 1990. The NHL followed suit seven years later, and last October the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks opened the season with two games at the O2 Arena in London. The Mets and Cubs played in the first MLB Opening Day series in Japan in 2000, and the NFL ventured to Mexico City in 2005, then landed in Wembley last autumn.

I don't have a problem with leagues trying to increase the global popularity of their sport while selling their product abroad; after all, Five and NASN play a valuable part in that concept in the UK. In baseball's case, however, the continual milking of Japan smacks of baseball imperialism.

MLB went to Japan eight years ago looking to make further inroads in a country that counts baseball as its national game. Since then, Nippon Professional Baseball officials have watched their biggest stars - Ichiro, Hideki Matsui and now Matsuzaka - leave for greener pastures and a large majority of their clubs sit in the red, while MLB rakes in $275m in a six-year Japanese television rights deal. As many critics point out, the Japanese game suffers from major mismanagement (note the sponsor of the series, and that Japan's new season is currently an afterthought); however, MLB must share some of the blame for the recent decline of the health of the league, the only other circuit on the planet that approaches North American quality. Such erosion is no doubt damaging to the overall growth of the sport.

On the other hand, MLB's recent trip to mainland China, a country with little baseball experience, is good for the growth of the game, as is the work MLB does in Africa. Starting the World Baseball Classic was a progressive move that will further help the sport grow globally, making the loss of baseball at the Olympics a bit less painful. Regular-season games in Japan are just a money grab, and no longer do anything for the overall expansion of the game, in the same way that the proposed 39th Premier League game wouldn't make football any more popular around the world.

Incidentally, the Sox have just emerged victorious on Opening Day, 6-5, thanks to a Ramirez double in the 10th inning. Another Japanese import, Hideki Okijima, was credited with the victory. Unfortunately, the biggest loser was the league from which he came.

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