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Monday, August 4, 2008

Soap Box Derby Thrives in Video Game Age

It may not be flashy, computerized, or even very fast, but there are few pursuits more "American" than the All-American Soap Box Derby.

Racers head down the track towards the finish line as they compete during the 71st running of the All-American Soap Box Derby at Derby Downs on Saturday, July 26, 2008, in Akron, Ohio.
(Ed Suba Jr./Akron Beacon Journal/AP Photo )

Over 500 racers from 43 states gathered in Akron, Ohio, recently to compete in the 71st annual racing event, where contestants age 8 through 17 race their non-motorized cars down a nearly 1,000-foot slope to win scholarships and merchandise prizes.

Aaron Hill, 12, answered succinctly when asked what he likes about racing.

"The part where you go down the hill," he said.

Young racers have been racing down the hill at the Derby Downs, this three-lane, cement-paved Ohio racing park, for over 75 years. Derbies have been held here annually since 1936, with the exception of World War II. Contestants don't use wooden soap boxes anymore, but sleek, colorful fiberglass racers that the kids put together from kits purchased directly from the Soap Box Derby.

As their cars waited for the metal starting barriers to drop last week, racers huddled in their small seats, ready to manipulate the brakes and steering contraptions below the hull. They wore helmets for protection as they swished down the hill.

Between heats, Matthew Miszewski, 12, gave a reporter an inside tour of his bright red racer, which had yellow flames painted on the side.

"You ... have your pulley system, which helps braking," Miszewski said, pointing to a thin metal wire strung along the base of his car. "There's also steering cable, right there, my main weights, front and rear axles."

With no computer mouse and no motor, the soap box might seem like a relic of the days of soda jerks and sock hops.

And, in fact, the derby has been struggling a bit in this Internet age. Gone are the days of stands packed with more than 50,000 spectators, as in 1936, when 15-year-old Herbert Muench of St. Louis took home the title. And rarely does the race make national headlines, as in 1952, when 11-year-old Joey Lunn from Thomasville, Ga., won the race, only to smash his car on the kickboards past the finish line. Lunn escaped with just cuts and bruises.

This year, an estimated 15,000 people came to watch. The race is having financial difficulties, and 2008 marks the first time in 10 years the derby has no corporate sponsor.

"It's a different world," said Soap Box Derby president and CEO Jim Huntsman, as racers sped by on the track nearby. "But not everybody's into computers and technology. We still have our niche in the world."

And plenty of kids still seem to revel in that niche.

"It's real life, it's not on a screen," said 8-year-old Katy Williams when asked why she'd rather race than play video games.

And while there's only one kid to a car, it's clear the derby is a family affair.

Matt Williams, Katy's father, said he probably has even more fun with soap box racing than his daughter does.

"As opposed to, like, soccer or other sports, where you're just cheering from the sidelines," Williams said, "it's you and your kid. Putting the car together, working on race day, putting it on the ramp. You're all a team."

Courtney Rayle, 16, of Washington, D.C., won top honors in this year's master category, the most advanced of three racing divisions. A 10-year racing veteran, according to local news reports, Rayle took home a gold trophy and $5,500 in scholarship money.

Original here

If Team USA Fails to Win Gold Again, Will Whores Be to Blame?

Team USA, undefeated in meaningless games against international competition thus far this summer, is having a grand ol' time in Asia right now. But as much fun as it is to beat up on hairy foreigners, there's nothing quite like visiting some of the finer brothels the region has to offer. Just ask LeBron, Carmelo, and D-Wade.

Wait, what?

There's absolutely no way to confirm the veracity of this "report", so do with it what you will. BlackSportsOnline got word of the story from China's version of The National Enquirer, and here's the badly mangled bit of linguistic magic that the Google Translator spit out.

Hong Kong paparazzi after a special interview for the provision of services NBA superstar female technicians, three female technicians at the beginning of work before, have learned about the identity of the person, such as James, has more than once because of previous service for celebrities, so they do not show Special surprise, it is said that the three VIPs only to the 200 Australian dollars as a tip, it is hardly generous.

"Female technician." Now, there's something an enterprising young person can proudly put on their resume. As for the not so generous tip for services rendered, just think of what those monied Greeks could do for you, LeBron.

Original here

Don't streak, get drunk or sleep outside

By Paul Majendie

BEIJING (Reuters) - Do not sleep outdoors to save money at the Olympics. It is banned to "maintain public hygiene and the cultured image of cities."

Do not let the stifling summer heat tempt you into streaking, do not get drunk nor set off fireworks nor wave "insulting banners."

Anyone with mental illnesses or sexually transmitted diseases is banned. Smoking is not allowed at Olympic venues.

The rules on the organizers' official website say it all:

"Foreigners must respect Chinese laws while in China and must not harm China's national security or damage social order."

The security-obsessed authorities are taking no chances with the 500,000 tourists set to hit Beijing for the Games.

A battery of surface-to-air missile launchers are being deployed around the showpiece sites.

No detail is too trivial.

Lighters have been banned on domestic flights. Commuters are being asked to take a swig from water bottles on the subway to ensure they do not contain suspicious substances.

All public swimming pools in Shanghai will check shampoos and body wash.


Authorities have promised "civilized and convenient" security checks but have been accused of obsessive stage management -- visa restrictions have been tightened for visitors and Beijing is being rid of petitioners, the homeless and migrant workers.

Up to 1,000 Chinese families are opening up their homes to Olympic visitors, a move that would have been unheard of before the reform and opening up of China in the 1980s.

But the hosts could still be in for a culture shock.

Retired school teacher Yuan Xioaoqing, who is opening up her home, said "Foreign students like to stay out all night on the weekend. But in more intellectual and traditional Chinese households there is no way the kids would go out like that."

Beijing has learnt a lesson from the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Dog meat is off the menu in the Chinese capital during the Olympics in case animal rights groups are offended.

Exotic names and alarming translations abound in Chinese restaurants which are being given a linguistic makeover, though only in select restaurants.

Out goes the traditionally named "husband and wife's lung slice" appetizer which is being replaced by the more linguistically correct "beef and ox tripe in chili sauce."

But no mention was made of the many popular establishments that have donkey on the menu.

The authorities have also worked hard to eliminate "Chinglish" from road signs and menus in the run-up to the Olympics, even if efforts have been a little hit and miss.

Gone is the infamous "Racist Park" signpost for the Ethnic Minorities Park.

Anyone hoping to scoop up a bagful of cheap pirate movies or music could be in for a disappointment. The city has announced a round-the-clock drive to stamp out bootleg sellers, but pirated DVDs are still available if you know where to look.

Yet however much they are obsessed by security and a burning desire to portray the squeaky clean image of a well ordered society, the Chinese insist the welcome will be warm.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said: "China is a safe place. Please be assured. China is a nation with great hospitality and courtesy."

Original here

Beijing Olympics: Police state wastes goodwill, says stadium designer

Members of a police Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team march in front of the National Stadium, better know as Bird's Nest on the Olympic Green in Beijing. Photograph: Teh Eng Koon/AFP/Getty Images

China is wasting international goodwill with an Olympic security operation that makes the country look like a police state, according to the artist behind Beijing's spectacular new stadium.

Ai Weiwei, one of China's most influential intellectuals, says the government is using the "terrorist threat" as an excuse to strengthen its power.

"With the use of modern technology, the control is tighter than China ever had before," he told the Guardian. "This is an exercise of state power. People's rights are heavily violated. Is this an Olympics or some kind of warfare?"

Since the completion of the landmark "Bird's Nest" stadium, Ai has distanced himself from the state and the Olympics, refusing to attend the opening ceremony and becoming an increasingly outspoken advocate of political reform.

He feels China is spoiling the atmosphere of the games with an overzealous security operation. According to domestic media, the authorities have mobilised 100,000 police, installed 300,000 surveillance cameras, and sited anti-aircraft missiles next to the stadium. There are three rings of checkpoints on roads into the city, and ID inspections have been stepped up.

"I think it is a shame, it's a loss," said Ai. "The original idea was to invite the international community to China, share the same values, celebrate humanity and goodwill, to speak about peace and social harmony. But today, you see police everywhere; in every neighbourhood there is tight security, not just in Beijing, but everywhere in China. People really live in a police state."

Ai is unusually outspoken in a country where several critics of the Communist authorities have been imprisoned and public support for the Olympics is high.

In part, this is explained by his background. He spent his early years in remote Xinjiang, where his father, Ai Qin, one of China's greatest modern poets, was exiled and forced to clean toilets. "My father's generation fought and lost for ideology. Many of them lost their lives because they wanted a just society. But now we put up with shit like this," he says. "To me it is not a choice of whether or not to speak out, it is a matter of dignity of life."

Ai conceived the Olympic stadium's steel lattice design with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. Its mixture of chaos and order, he says with pride, is a model for society. The most important feature of the stadium, he says, is transparency. It is intended to invoke an atmosphere of openness and freedom.

"From whatever direction you look at it, you share the power. There is no decoration. The concept looks simple, but it provides the best watching experience for everybody because there are no pillars."

He dismisses claims that he has turned against the structure he helped to design. "I don't criticise the stadium. I criticise the government's use of the Olympics for propaganda. I am disappointed that the system is not able to turn this historical event into political reform."

Until last year, he had a low profile outside the art world, but has since started a blog that criticises the authorities and used his status to push a political message.

"I surprise myself," he says. "I have become more political. After the article in the Guardian [last year, when he first dissociated himself from the games], I have become the only person who can speak out. If I don't there will be total silence."

"I speak out because I trust Chinese people. And also because I trust people in government want to make a better society. I don't see them as enemies."

Compared with many of his peers, he is optimistic about the prospects for reform and open debate, comparing the intellectual climate to that of the late 80s before the Tiananmen Square crackdown stifled talk of political reform for two decades.

"This year people both inside and outside the party have understood the problems more clearly. It is so obvious that it cannot go on any more. There is much more talk about the need to be open."

The fact that Ai can criticise the authorities in public is a step forward from his father's generation. His blog has not been censored. In part, he thanks the Olympics for shining light on dark corners.

"It looks like China is becoming more distant from the rest of the world, but actually it is becoming closer. Before, we lacked communication and it seemed everything was all right. But the Olympics is a wonderful thing for China. It shows all the problems. The Chinese government are very willing to learn from it."

Rather than covering up its faults, Ai says the government needs to show the reality of modern China. "To show your weakness is power. You don't need to pretend. No one is perfect in this world. Telling people the old system is not working is not shameful. We all know that."

But other countries also need to learn. "It is the same for the outside world. For a long time there was a lack of communication, so there are a lot of cliches about China [that] are outdated. But before they find something else they can relate to, they have nothing else to use."

Despite his reputation, Ai's political influence is restricted because the audience for his blog is limited and no domestic mainstream media organisation can report his criticism of the Olympics. "I am sure some journalists agree with me but they know it cannot be published," he says. "When anybody is denied freedom of expression, it is a loss for the whole society."

When the games are over, is there a danger that the system will close again?

"Some things are hard to return to the way they were. Take the internet and the flow of information. When you open the window and see blue sky and feel fresh air, nobody wants to close it again."

Original here

You’re telling me to wear what? Chinese are ordered to smarten up for Olympics

Beijing?s 15 million residents have been given their sartorial and social instructions from the Capital Spiritual Civilisation Construction Commission

If the men of Beijing think they can still emerge from their homes of a morning – unshaven, a bit smelly, still in their pyjamas and slippers – and saunter down to the supermarket or the public lavatories, they can think again: the etiquette police are in town and it is time to spruce up for the Olympics.

Even clothes that Chinese citizens of both sexes would consider smart may not be good enough: white socks worn with black shoes are out, leather skirts are frowned upon, bright nail varnish is a no and woe betide anyone whose colours clash.

Beijing’s 15 million residents have been given their sartorial and social instructions from the Capital Spiritual Civilisation Construction Commission, which has ruled on everything from what (and what not) to wear, how to shake hands and the etiquette of smoking and queueing. With the eyes of the world on Beijing, its residents will not be allowed to put a foot wrong or show a hair out of place.

Zheng Mojie, deputy director of the commission, said that campaigns over the past two years to stop spitting on the street and to teach people to queue had shown results. “The level of civility of the whole city has improved and a sound cultural and social environment has been assured for the success of the Olympic Games.”

The authorities, though, have deemed that more is clearly needed and have issued booklets to four million households across the city. The directions on etiquette stretch to thirty-six areas of behaviour and run to nine pages on an official website.

There is advice on shaking hands, how to use chopsticks at a banquet and personal grooming. “Men’s hair should not cover their eyebrows, ears or touch their collar,” the guide says. “Women should comb their hair appropriately for age, occupation and situation.” Men should shave daily, women should wear light make-up and both sexes should keep their mouths clean.

Rules are already in place ordering taxi drivers to go easy on their garlic consumption so that visitors will not be assailed by the bad breath of a cabbie who had pork and chive dumplings – a cheap favourite – for lunch, and even breakfast.

There should be no public displays of affection, feet should be kept slightly apart or in the shape of a V when standing and a handshake should not last more than three seconds. The first should not be much of a problem in a society that is traditionally conservative – although young couples can be spotted at dusk cuddling on park benches.

As for dress, the booklet advises against more than three colour groups in clothing and exhorts women to avoid clashing colours. Shudders of horror will greet anyone who has rolled up his trouser legs – a popular sight among men trying to ease the summer heat on trains and planes or in official meetings.

Naked chests in public places will also attract a scolding – although the booklet gives no specific instructions on a particularly popular summer vogue among Chinese men: rolling up one’s vest so that it rests just below the nipples and exposes the belly to the summer breezes.

Women and girls get their fair share of fashion tips. Those of all ages should opt for slim skirts, but anyone with thicker legs should choose darker stockings. “Young girls can wear skirts three centimetres to six centimetres above the knee – but never too short. For middle-aged and older women, the skirt should be at least three centimetres below the knee.”

Leather skirts and transparent garments are not advised. “Clothes should not be too small, otherwise this makes people feel you are unreliable.” And fat people should avoid horizontal stripes.

These are just the latest in a slew of rules. A ban on spitting – accompanied by hefty fines – was introduced in 2006. However, few men pay attention: the pavements are splattered with gobs of phlegm and the espresso-machine sound of hawking can be heard everywhere.

Campaigns involving nearly a million volunteers are under way to to give etiquette tips at schools, universities and government offices. In some districts university students have been encouraged to visit villages and help to educate rural people.

Some of the advice may be such a cultural contradiction as to be impossible to implement. Don’t press others to drink at a banquet, and don’t fight over paying the bill. Both are essential to a successful evening.

A dressing down


Men should not allow their hair to grow over eyebrows, ears or collar

Sport pyjamas in public

Roll up trousers

Bare chests

Wear white socks with black shoes

Wear high collar if they have a short neck

Women should not wear leather skirts, transparent garments, clashing colours or more than three colour groups at once

No resident should display affection in public

Fight over who settles the bill

Press others to drink at a banquet


Men should shave daily

Plant their feet slightly apart, in the shape of a V

Women should wear light make-up

Comb hair appropriately for age, occupation and situation

Darker stockings should be used to cover thicker ankles

Match the length of skirt to age. Young girls can wear skirts three centimetres to six centimetres above the knee

All residents should go easy on garlic and clean their mouths

Original here

Pre-Olympic eclipse to darken western China

A full solar eclipse will sweep across the Arctic and Siberia before ending in western China, where it will kick off the month in which Beijing hosts the Olympic Games.

The eclipse was due to begin in Canada, track across Greenland and eastern Russia and end around sunset on Friday (local time) to the east of Xi'an, China's ancient imperial capital.

Eclipses were dangerous omens for ancient Chinese astronomers, but this one comes exactly a week before the torch is lit in Beijing for the opening ceremony of Games designed to restore China's pride and showcase its achievements.

Planeloads of cheerful foreign eclipse chasers converged on Jiayuguan, in Gansu Province, and in the hot deserts of Xinjiang, to watch the sky go dark and a halo wreathe the hidden sun.

"I've come all the way from California for this. It's going to be my 11th eclipse, I try to see them all," Dave Balch, a cancer care advisor wearing an eclipse T-shirt, said.

Scientists studying the sun's surface prepared for a brief glimpse of the faint outer corona that is normally obscured by the sun's brightness.

"Nowadays, the equipment works well enough that we do have time to look up at the eclipse," Jay Pasachoff, a professor at Williams College who travelled to Novosibirsk, Russia for his 47th eclipse, said.

"It's very dramatic and awe-inspiring when the darkness suddenly comes. That's why thousands of tourists go to see."

Hundreds of millions of people will not have to go any further than their front doors on July 22, 2009, when the next solar eclipse will cross India and northern Bangladesh, then run along the Yangtze River from Chongqing to Shanghai in the most populated path ever.

Original here

Hungarian Grand Prix

By Sarah Holt

Heikki Kovalainen celebrates his win in Hungary
Kovalainen became the 100th winner in Formula One history in Hungary

McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen captured his maiden win at the Hungarian Grand Prix as team-mate Lewis Hamilton kept his title lead despite finishing fifth.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa gifted the Finn victory after his car ground to a halt with just three laps to go.

Massa jumped both McLarens at Turn One and the race looked to be his after Hamilton suffered a punctured tyre.

But bad luck hit Massa and Kovalainen took the flag ahead of Toyota's Timo Glock and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.

Fernando Alonso matched his best finish of the season for Renault in fourth ahead of former team-mate Hamilton, whose fifth place was decent damage limitation.

Renault's Nelson Piquet, Jarno Trulli in the second Toyota and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica collected the rest of the points.

Ferrari will be left ruing what might have been after Massa's retirement ended their hopes of halting McLaren's winning streak at the Hungaroring.

After struggling to match their rival's pace in the last two races at Silverstone and Hockenheim, the team were on the verge of reigniting their faltering campaign thanks to Massa's audacious passing move at the start.


The Brazilian had sent a plume of smoke into the air as he nipped past Kovalainen and then squeezed polesitter Hamilton into Turn One.

Given McLaren's dominance in practice and qualifying, Massa's brilliant injection of pace suggested he was running light on fuel and, with a 3.5-second lead under his belt, he came in at the end of lap 18.

One lap later, Hamilton, who was struggling to get his tyres going, followed suit but took on board enough fuel for a longer middle stint.

But the Englishman did not get the opportunity to test his tactics of trying to stay out on the track long enough to eclipse Massa.

With the Brazilian four seconds ahead in the distance, Hamilton suddenly lost pressure in his tyres on lap 41.

The Englishman, renowned for pushing his tyres hard, wobbled across the track at Turn Four with a punctured left-front tyre and there was nothing he could do but wend his way back to the pits.

Forced to run the rest of the race on the super soft tyres, it was a case of salvaging as many points as possible as he fed back into the field in 10th.

Meanwhile, Massa waited patiently behind Kovalainen for the Finn to make his second stop and eventually retook the lead at the end of lap 48 - just 22 laps from victory.

But there was yet more drama to come in a race full of surprises.

As he powered down the straight, Massa's engine blew taking with it 10 points and the lead in the drivers' standings.

I salvaged the best of the worst - it's nowhere near as bad as it could have been
Lewis Hamilton
Kovalainen, who was confirmed as a McLaren driver for 2009 on Thursday, suddenly found himself in the unusual position of leading the race for the chequered flag.

And the 26-year-old cruised to his first victory in his 28th race to become the 100th Grand Prix winner in Formula One history.

"It's fantastic," said Kovalainen. "A great moment, something I've been targeting for many years - hopefully this is the first of many.

"At the end I tried to put pressure on Massa and hoped something would happen and it worked out that way.

"There have been various incidents this season that have happened when I've been in a position to fight for a victory, so I'm very glad to get this first win."

More significantly, Kovalainen's victory saw him protect Hamilton's advantage in the drivers' standings.

The Englishman now leads a closely-fought title race on 62 points, five points clear of Raikkonen with Massa three points further back.

And Hamilton was relieved to see his title rivals fail to eke out too much advantage from his misfortune in Budapest.

"I salvaged the best of the worst," he said. "What can you do when you get a puncture?

"It's nowhere near as bad as it could have been. I could have had Felipe and Kimi right at the front.

"It was a surprise that we weren't as quick as we should have been. We were quick at the beginning but struggled with our tyres."

Massa was clearly hugely disappointed after his afternoon.

"It was a near-perfect race, one of my best - but it's one of the most frustrating races in my career," he said afterwards.

"I was not in trouble, the tyres were not in trouble, I was just saving the car for the end of the race, but maybe it was not enough.

"As you saw, everything was perfect - then you know what happened, and it did so without warning, without the slightest indication."

Toyota underlined their progress in the battle between the best of the rest with Glock and Trulli both getting in the points.

Felipe Massa walks away from his stranded car in Hungary
Massa waves goodbye to 10 points as his car grinds to a halt

The 26-year-old Glock stayed out of trouble with an excellent drive, capturing his first podium after he made the most of his fifth place on the grid.

His performance was even more creditable given that he had only just been cleared to get back behind the wheel after his high-speed crash in Germany.

"I couldn't believe it when I saw Felipe's engine go and I was P2, so this is remarkable after the race in Hockenheim and the big crash," said Glock.

"To get a podium is just a perfect weekend."

Raikkonen went some way to restoring his title challenge with his first podium in three races.

But the defending world champion left it late to mount his challenge, eventually overtaking Alonso and then chasing Glock hard before Massa's crash saw the team urge him to pull back.

"We could have managed to do the race a little better, and I was stuck behind Alonso all the way to the second stop," said Raikkonen.

"We just need to sort out the problems and then we will be fighting for wins."

Piquet followed up a podium at Hockenheim with a sixth place but Kubica, in front of hordes of Polish fans, trailed in eighth - his worst finish of the season.

Englishman Jenson Button will probably be satisfied to finish where he started for Honda in 12th just behind Red Bull's Scot David Coulthard.

The drivers will resume battle in three weeks' time in Valencia which makes its Formula One bow as host for the European Grand Prix.

Results from Hungarian Grand Prix:

1. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1hr 37min 27.067secs

2. Timo Glock (Ger) Toyota +00:11.061

3. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 00:16.856

4. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 00:21.614

5. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 00:23.048

6. Nelson Piquet (Brz) Renault 00:32.298

7. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 00:36.449

8. Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 00:48.321

9. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull - Renault 00:58.834

10. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 01:07.709

11. David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull - Renault 01:10.407

12. Jenson Button (GB) Honda 1 lap

13. Kazuki Nakajima (Jpn) Williams - Toyota 1 lap

14. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams - Toyota 1 lap

15. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Force India - Ferrari 1 lap

16. Rubens Barrichello (Brz) Honda 2 laps

17. Sebastien Bourdais (Fra) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 3 laps

ret. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari 67 laps completed

ret. Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India - Ferrari 62 laps completed

ret Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 22 laps completed

Key: ret = retired

Fastest Lap: Kimi Raikkonen, 1:21.195, lap 61.

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Bear thrills at Senior Open

By Tom Kensler

A black bear runs across the 13th fairway during the second round of the 2008 U.S. Senior Open Championship at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Friday, August 1, 2008. Courtesy: USGA.ORG (USGA Museum | John Mummert)

COLORADO SPRINGS — Well, everybody predicted Broadmoor East would become a bear of a golf course.

But during Friday's second round of the U.S. Senior Open, things got even more hairy than usual. An adult black bear wandered onto the course during the noon hour, crossing several fairways on the back nine before heading for the West Course through a drainage pipe. The animal later found another drainage pipe and left The Broadmoor property.

"I never heard of such a thing," said Fred Funk, who, at 6-under-par 134, takes a two-stroke lead over Eduardo Romero into Saturday's third round after both shot a 1-under 69 on Friday. Funk was on another area of the course and did not see the bear. But word spread quickly.

The bear crossed the forward tee box on No. 14 soon after one of Funk's top challengers, Mark McNulty, hit his drive. Tom Watson heard somebody shout "Bear!" while he was in the middle of a backswing. Bernhard Langer stopped his pre-shot routine and waited until the bear got out of sight. Television golf analyst Dottie Pepper ran the other way on the 13th fairway.

"It would be pretty scary if (the bear) got a little panicky and some spectator or some of the golfers were too close," Funk said. "That wouldn't have been an issue if a caddie had got too close," he added, attempting to add some levity to what could have become a dangerous situation.

The tournament field figured to have a "Shark" (nickname of Greg Norman) and a "Walrus" (Craig Stadler) but who could have guess that a black bear would join in?

"You don't get that every week," John Cook said.

Teeing off early, Funk got in the clubhouse at 6 under par through 36 holes, a score that stood up to the afternoon challengers. Romero, an Argentine who quietly moved up the leader board as befitting of his nickname "El Gato" (the cat), sits in second place at 4-under-par 136.

Tom Kite, Cook and McNulty are four shots back at 138.

Funk recorded four birdies against

First-round leader Fred Funk reacts after hitting a shot on to the green on the 11th hole in the second round of the 29th U.S. Senior Open Championship at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday, Aug. 1, 2008. (AP | David Zalubowski)
three bogeys despite playing with a stiff left shoulder.

"That was strange," Funk said. "On the (practice) range, I felt the best I have in a year and a half, two years. Nothing was hurting, and I was like, 'What's wrong with me?" Then, walking on the second shot on the 10th hole (his first hole) all of a sudden my neck started grabbing and I really couldn't hit through the ball."

Funk received an on-course shoulder massage from a tournament physical therapist and mostly kept the ball in play. "It got looser on the front nine (his second nine), and actually that was pretty good," he said. "Fortunately, I could turn my neck to the left; I couldn't turn it to the right. I've had it where you can't swing or you can't go to the left. But with this, I could look up. I got through it.

"The irony of it is that I felt so good on the range and then I felt (poorly) on the whole back nine."

Funk, who hasn't won since the opening tournament of the 2008 Champions Tour, overcame a shaky start Friday which left him three over par on the day through his first eight holes. But he made a two-putt birdie at the par-5 ninth, and then rolled in a 20-footer for birdie at the 339-yard No. 2.

He tapped in for another birdie at the 560-yard, par-5 No. 3 after narrowly missing an uphill eagle putt from 12 feet. But Funk's best effort might have been a bogey save on the 478-yard, par-4 No. 11, when he two-putted from 60 feet after having to lay up with his second shot after driving into the rough.

"I wasn't really frustrated (after the bad start) because I felt like I was still playing pretty good and I thought I could make some birdies," Funk said.

Romero, a big hitter who set up a birdie on the 510-yard 17th with a 390-yard drive, is accustomed to playing at a high elevation in his hometown of Cordoba. And he is well aware that an Argentine, Roberto De Vicenzo, won the inaugural U.S. Senior Open in 1980. De Vicenzo is Romero's mentor and hero.

"Yes, yes, I know," Romero said, almost sheepishly. "But it's two more rounds. "I played good today. I'm going to be playing in the last group tomorrow (with Funk). I like that."

With tougher pin placements, the course seemed to play a couple of shots more difficult on Friday.

"The USGA put some on us today that almost defy imagination," Kite said of the cup locations. "The greens are so treacherous. If you get on the wrong side of one of those ridges, it is really tough to get it down in two putts.

"The difficulty is in getting in the proper section of the green and then trying to negotiate all these severe slopes. Then you're reading what the mountain is going to do to it. The altitude makes club selection a guessing game. And that mountain makes reading the putts a little bit of a guessing game."

Greg Norman shot 72 on Friday and wasn't pleased with the pin placements.

"I'm not going to make a comment on the golf course; the USGA should know better," Norman said, declining to elaborate.

Said Cook after his 2-over 72: "The course is right on the edge, right on the edge. The pin placements, on a scale of 10, were a 15. It was all I could do to survive.

"On No. 8, I was behind the hole with a five-footer. I didn't know how I could keep it within five feet of the hole. Luckily, it got a piece of the hole and I had a four-footer (coming back)."

When told of Cook's comments, the USGA's Jim Hyler, who is in charge of the daily course set-up, said, "At least he didn't say we were OVER the edge.

"We like where the golf course is. We have it pretty much where we want it to be. But the wind came up in the afternoon and that added to the difficulty.

"There were a couple of challenging hole locations, no question. The wind dried out things. When we see hot spots (on the greens), we'll suspend play and give them a drink."

Among the players who did not make the cut were Sandy Lyle (plus 9), Mark Wiebe (plus 9), Mark O'Meara (plus 9), Ben Crenshaw (plus 11), Curtis Strange (plus 11), Dave Delich (plus 12), Craig Stadler (plus 13), Peter Jacobsen (plus 14), Allen Doyle (plus 20), Dale Douglass (plus 21), Hubert Green (plus 24) and Audie Dean (plus 28).

Four of the nine players with Colorado ties qualified for the weekend: two-time U.S. Senior Open champion Hale Irwin (plus 5), Colorado Springs native R.W. Eaks (plus 5), Castle Pines resident Gary Hallberg (plus 5) and Mike Reid (plus 8), who played high school golf for Cherry Creek.

Funk was asked if the bear might be an omen for those competing in the U.S. Senior Open.

"(Jack) Nicklaus isn't here, so I guess that's a substitute," said a grinning Funk, referring to golf's "Golden Bear."

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Packers president Mark Murphy says team will welcome Favre back after QB is reinstated Monday

|AP Sports Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) _ Brett Favre is back. It remains to be seen whether he'll still be the leader of the Pack.

The Green Bay Packers reluctantly embraced Favre's forced return to the football field Sunday, after failing to come to a financial agreement that would manage to make Favre happy while staying retired.

And while it's not yet clear what role Favre will play once he reports to Packers camp Monday, Aaron Rodgers says he's ready for a potential competition with Favre after serving as his backup for three seasons.

"I'm a competitor. I'm going to compete," Rodgers said after a scrimmage Sunday night. "This isn't going to be easy. It's going to be a dogfight. And I know if they do open it up to competition, not a lot of people give me a chance, but I believe in myself and I'm going to be the best I can be and let coach decide from there."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he hasn't decided what direction his quarterback situation will take. Given Favre's track record of waffling on his football future, McCarthy first wants to talk to Favre on Monday before he makes any decision on opening the job up to competition.

"There have been no promises," McCarthy said. "Once again, there has been indecision throughout Brett's path back here to Green Bay. It's important for us to sit down and communicate."

The NFL announced Sunday that Favre will be reinstated and added to the Packers' active roster on Monday. Commissioner Roger Goodell had held off on granting Favre's request for reinstatement for nearly a week, hoping Favre and the team could resolve their standoff.

"Although we built this year around the assumption that Brett meant what he said about retiring, Brett is coming back," said team president and CEO Mark Murphy. "We will welcome him back and turn this situation to our advantage."

A private plane carrying Favre, wife Deanna and agent James "Bus" Cook arrived in Green Bay shortly after 8 p.m. EDT Sunday night. Favre exited the plane and waved to a crowd of a few hundred fans gathered at the airport — in a severe lightning storm, no less — before driving off in an SUV.

The reinstatement will become effective at 1 p.m. EDT Monday, when Favre will be added to the Packers' active roster. By reinstating Favre, Goodell is following through on a recent promise to force action.

"I'm happy," veteran receiver Donald Driver said. "I'm excited. It's good to have him back in the house."

Earlier this week, the team offered Favre a long-term, multimillion-dollar marketing agreement that likely would have kept him retired. But Favre's decision to report to camp makes such an agreement far less likely.

A trade remains a possibility. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on its Web site late Sunday night that the Packers have had preliminary contact with the Vikings on a potential trade for Favre.

"Frankly, Brett's change of mind put us in a very difficult spot," Murphy said in a statement released by the team. "We now will revise many actions and assumptions about our long-term future, all predicated on Brett's decision last March to retire.

"As a result of his decision, we invested considerably in a new and different future without Brett and we were obviously moving in that direction. That's why this wasn't easy. Having crossed the Rubicon once when Brett decided to retire, it's very difficult to reorient our plans and cross it again in the opposite direction — but we'll put this to our advantage."

Could reorienting their plans include a competition between Favre and Aaron Rodgers for the starting job? Team officials have maintained that if Favre returned to the Packers, it would be in some role other than as the starter — a job that belonged to Rodgers.

In his statement, Murphy said only that coach Mike McCarthy would "talk to the team and the quarterbacks about the plan moving forward, and after he has done that we will share it publicly."

Rodgers had a rough night in the Packers' annual "Family Night" scrimmage at Lambeau Field on Sunday night, as a few boos were mixed in with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd of 56,600 when he was introduced.

"Yeah, I take it personally," Rodgers said of the fan reaction. "But like I said, it's not the first time and it won't be the last time."

Rodgers hit his first pass of the night to Donald Driver, and drew a pass interference penalty on a deep pass to Driver on the next play. He then missed on his next six attempts, including several balls that seemed to bounce off receivers' hands.

After he threw another three incompletions to begin a simulated two-minute drill, Rodgers appeared to be heating up until he threw an interception in the end zone to safety Aaron Rouse.

McCarthy said Rodgers was "solid," and the offense struggled as a unit.

The Packers do not have another scheduled public practice until Tuesday afternoon. Favre's arrival in training camp could cause a major disruption to the team, although he may not begin practicing with the rest of the team right away.

Favre retired in March but has been having second thoughts. Team officials have insisted in recent weeks that they are moving on with Rodgers, though, causing tensions to rise between Favre and the team.

Team officials publicly have ruled out releasing Favre, fearing he would immediately sign with division rival Minnesota.

McCarthy has said the Packers had a plan in place should Favre report to camp. He first would have to pass a physical exam and a conditioning test, then may be limited to individual drills.

Rodgers remains the starter — for now, anyway.

"If we played a game tomorrow, Aaron Rodgers would be the starting quarterback," McCarthy said. "I'm not going to change any direction that we've gone with this football team based on the information I have here today. That's part of our conversation tomorrow, and we have all the confidence in the world in Aaron."


AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Catching Up With Jake Brown

By Chris Nieratko

For most of the sporting world, professional vert skateboarder Jake Brown will always be known as the guy that almost died skating the Mega Ramp at the 2007 X Games. His spectacular slam was broadcast and re-broadcast for days following. Within hours of the fall, a few hundred thousand people had viewed the carnage on YouTube. It says a lot about our society, doesn't it?

The sad part is that Jake Brown deserves to be regarded as so much more than a one-fall pony. He is the first vert skater in ages to make non-vert skaters take notice and care about vert again. His video part for his sponsor, Blind'sWhat If? was a high-octane, groundbreaking good time where he skated 12-foot high vert ramps like they were knee-high ledges.

Despite how he's remembered, and despite falling in a way that is more painful and gruesome than any possible football or hockey injury, Jake is upbeat, positive and dismissive about his fall. It's almost to a point that begs for a follow up doctor's visit for head trauma. I mean, hell, in this interview you'll hear the little guy say, "The fall wasn't that bad." Let's re-watch it again in Quicktime, shall we? It hurts me to see him hit the ground. It makes me not want to allow him to ever skate a Mega Ramp again. But for Jake it's just another day at work. And he'd do it again if he had to.

Are you sick of talking about almost dying on the Mega Ramp?
I guess. It gives me something to talk about. But it seems like it's the only thing people want to talk about. But I was able to go on Larry King as a result. That was pretty funny. That guy was pretty cool. A cool cat.

Did he understand skateboarding?
I don't think he understood too much about it but he understands people falling off buildings and sh*t probably.

Did you pick up any new sponsors as a result of almost dying?
No, not really.

Your Adidas flew off your feet as you were flying through mid-air. Quite good exposure for Adidas. Did they make you a part of the official team as a result of the accident?
No. I think they just want to see me skating again ... maybe make sure I'm still able to skate before they give me a contract.

Lance Dalgart

No handed 360s on Mega Ramp? Jake is Gnar Boots.

How long were you laid up after the accident?
Not skateboarding? I chilled for the first few months and then these past few months I started skating again.

It's nearly a year since it happened, how long did it take you before you went and skated the Mega Ramp again?
I just skated one the other day for the first time; it was pretty fun.

Were you sh*tting a brick?
Not really. I did a little bit when I was going up the quarterpipe but that was about it. I've skated the thing a million times before so it wasn't really that big of a deal.

It IS a big deal! The last time you skated it you nearly died. What was going through your head that day as you were flying through the air?
"Holy sh*t! I'm really in trouble." I did my best to try and turn to take it to my body and back. I had seen Pat Duffy slam right to his legs and break his legs and I didn't want to do that. And I didn't want to panic. I think if I would have panicked I would have ended up way more messed up. So I tried to take the whole hit to my body. I think I was knocked out for 5 or 10 minutes. The first thing I saw was Jason Ellis picking me up and I was like, "Do I get another run?" He was like, "No dude, you don't get another run." Then I asked if I at least made the 720. I asked him, "So what happened then if I made the 720?" He just said, "It wasn't good." It took me a few minutes to remember what happened.

Didn't you ask someone for a beer?
I went straight outside and smoked a cigarette. I was trying to go to the bar for a beer but I went to the hospital instead.

Weren't you calling people to come break you out of the hospital so you could go to the X Games parties that night?
Maybe, I don't know. Sounds like something I would have done.

I really don't understand how the hell you can skate a Mega Ramp again?
Why not?

Theo Hand

The man's made of some strong metal. Jake in the hospital after his notorious slam.

Because it almost killed you.
I'm here for skateboarding. It's not like I haven't taken a million slams before. Yeah, this might have been the hardest one I've ever taken, but so what? It's all the same. I plan on still skating everything. Whatever I can do, I'm gonna do. Skate vert, the Mega Ramp, film some videos—whatever it may be.

You ride for Blind skateboards and ex-vert pro Bill Weiss is your team manager. How is that for motivation? Does he ever tell you if you don't land your trick he'll do it for you?
Pretty much. He's the best. We were in Australia not too long ago and there's this quarterpipe contest and Weiss comes in flying off the street course, pushing 100mph, screaming, "Watch out! Watch out!" Goes to grab early like to do a McTwist and flies out like five or six feet, comes around to land on the coping but ends up putting his fist under his ass before he hits the coping so we called it The McFist. We hassled him the whole week about it. It was funny as hell. At least he invented a trick; The McFist. I don't know if he could pull that one again if he tried.

Are you competing in this year's X Games?
I should be. I want to be. Why? Are they gonna ban me?

Are you going to try the exact same run again on the Mega Ramp?
Hopefully not. I don't know if my body can handle it again. I fractured my vertebrae and fractured my wrist, contusions on my lung and liver. I don't know what a contusion is but it supposedly makes your sh*t bleed. The whiplash was pretty crazy too. If you watch the footage in slow motion it looks like my body almost folds in half, the wrong way, right at my chest.

I was there. It was nuts. Everyone was so psyched on the 720, screaming, going crazy and then it went dead silent while you were still in mid-air. It was like someone hit the mute button. I was three levels up in Staples Center in the Red Bull box suite and I could still hear you hit the ground; like a ton of bricks.
No way. Pretty funny, huh? It needed a drum roll, huh?

When you stood up, I said, "Yeah right!" I was sure you were dead.
I'm glad I can talk to you about it now and laugh. I'm just trying to get passed that and get skating again.

Did you pee blood at all?
I didn't pee blood. That would have been cool. I don't know, maybe I did. I was lying down in bed for three days afterwards. I didn't look at my piss. I don't even remember pissing actually.

You probably had a catheter.
Maybe. I don't remember.

I think you'd remember someone sticking a catheter up there.
Maybe it was a bottle or something I had. I'd remember a catheter, huh? That doesn't seem like the most comfortable thing.

lance Dalgart

Now that's Mega. Jake punches a Method into the sky about 20 feet above the lip.

Are you in training mode for the upcoming X Games?
I've just been skating a lot, going to physical therapy, and trying to get some massage work. I didn't do too much physical therapy through the whole rehab, just mostly massages.

Special massages?
No Happy Endings. Jut like deep tissue work. Insurance doesn't cover the rest.

Maybe if you say you broke your pecker they would cover the special massage.
Yeah, that would be good. Actually that wouldn't feel too good. I'd like to see their face if I submit bills for 200 massages.

As you're skating again, are there any tricks that feel weird?
My wrist has a pin in it so it doesn't really bend as far as it should and the strength isn't where it should be so I'm trying to get that back as good as possible.

So no eggplants?
I don't think an eggplant would be a good idea at this time. It's actually my eggplant wrist that has the pins in it, so if I tried one it would probably turn into a McFist.

That should be your encore this year: launch the Mega gap into an eggplant on the quarterpipe and destroy your wrist as a follow up to last year.
So bring the McFist to new levels?

Instead of winning or doing bigger tricks each year, you should make your goal to have worse and worse slams.
I might just air into the grandstands then. "Watch out! I'm unstoppable!"

You should get a very tiny parachute, like they would use on a chicken, and pull that for comedic effect.
I'll just open up an umbrella on the way down. I'll put all my sponsors' logos on the umbrella.

What if you turned into a crappy version of Evel Knievel and you were paid money to keep slamming hard?
I mean, everyone has to live, right? It depends on how wrecked I'm going to get and how much they're willing to pay me to do it.


Would 50 G's be enough to ask you to do it again?
Sure. It really wasn't that bad.

You don't think it was that bad?
No. I'm still skating.

What was a bigger rush for you? Your Mega Oops or doing The Loop drunk?
I think it was pretty equal. There were some pretty crazy whip outs going through that Loop. Doing two backflips onto your head is pretty crazy, you know what I mean? I just didn't get as messed up long-term on The Loop is all.

Brian Schaefer of Skate Park of Tampa got sent to the hospital on The Loop. Who had the worst slam? You or him?
I don't know. What did he do? He broke fingers, got a concussion. I think his was pretty bad because he landed on his neck on the side of The Loop. He did one and a half flips to his neck. That could have been a broken neck. I don't know how he didn't break his neck. I'll say our slams were equally bad.

Is it true when you slammed you stunted your growth and you're not going to get any taller now?
I think that was done years ago. I'm a little over four foot tall. I'm kind of scared to measure myself. I might need some platforms.

After the fall did you ever think you were accident prone and scared to drive a car or touch electrical items?
No way, I felt unstoppable. I was running out into traffic. I didn't have a care in the world.

How do you feel about being remembered as "that guy" and nothing else to millions of TV viewing Americans?
I don't know. There's nothing I can do about it. I just have to continue on doing what I was doing. I guess it's good if they remember me at all.

Did you see a spike in your board sales as a result of your sudden stardom?
No, probably not. I don't think so. People probably saw me fall and were like, "I don't want to ride that guy's board. I'll end up falling on my head!" Which isn't true because it's the best board in the world!

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Cuban Wants Cubs, but Will Baseball Want Him?

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Mark Cuban, a suitor of the Chicago Cubs, has amassed nearly $1.7 million in fines, mostly for criticizing referees, as owner of the Dallas Mavericks.


Think of it: Mark Cuban as the Chicago Cubs’ owner, bonding with the Bleacher Bums at Wrigley Field, splurging for rounds of Old Style beer and screaming at umpires. The concept is almost Veeckian, as if Bill Veeck, the populist former owner of the Browns, the Indians and the White Sox, had had zillions of dollars.

Buying the Cubs is the latest project for Cuban, the owner of the N.B.A.’s Dallas Mavericks, but he is not alone in the expensive quest. Four other individuals and groups have given the debt-laden Tribune Company nonbinding offers of at least $1 billion for the team, its stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago, and 92-year-old Wrigley Field.

Cuban is reported to be the top bidder, at nearly $1.3 billion, but the auction will begin soon, after the applicants and their bankers delve further into the assets books.

“The Cubs are an amazing franchise and brand,” Cuban wrote in an e-mail message. “I think the owner of any major sports franchise has two jobs: first, it’s to work hard to win a championship year after year, and second, to be the caretaker of the franchise in the community.”

His eight years in basketball as the Mavericks’ owner have shown that there is no one in baseball like him, the closest being George Steinbrenner or Ted Turner as younger men.

Consider the roster of lesser-known buyers of baseball teams in recent years, and it’s obvious that even if Cuban never sits on an important committee, he will stick out, unlike Liberty Media (Braves), Ted Lerner (Nationals), Robert Castellini (Reds), Lew Wolff (Athletics), Mark Attanasio (Brewers), Stuart Sternberg (Rays) and Arte Moreno (Angels).

Cuban is loud, passionate and opinionated. He’s a media creature comfortable on multiple platforms, and he turned the once-comatose Mavericks into a perennial winner (though they have not won it all, just like the Cubbies, at least not since 1908). He has amassed nearly $1.7 million in fines, mostly for criticizing N.B.A. referees. As penance for insulting the chief of referees as incapable of managing a Dairy Queen, he spent a day at the chain serving up a promotional bonanza.

He’s a blogger, a gadfly, a scold and a serial e-mailer. He owns the HDNet channels, one of which employs Dan Rather.

He hosted a short-lived TV series, “The Benefactor,” and got the hook from “Dancing With the Stars” after samba-ing hurt, on a new artificial hip.

All he has done since reviving the Mavericks will inform his baseball dossier, just as baseball will peer into the pasts of his competitors: Thomas Ricketts, chief executive of Incapital, a bond underwriter whose family founded TD Ameritrade; a group that includes Leo Hindery Jr., the former head of the YES Network; Hersch Klaff, a real estate investor; and Michael Tokarz, who runs the MVC Capital investment firm.

Among them, only Hindery has a high profile, but it is nothing like Cuban’s.

And none have had an exchange on radio like the one Cuban had in May on Dan Patrick’s syndicated radio show. Imagine what his rivals or the sitting Major League Baseball owners thought when they heard him respond to Patrick’s line of questioning about whether pursuing the Cubs was like chasing the girl who’s “expensive and you may not have a shot at her.”

Cuban: “If there’s a hooker you want, it all comes down to price, right? And I think that’s a better analogy.”

Patrick: “So the Cubs are your hooker?”

Cuban: “Well, yes, bad choice of words.”

Bob DuPuy, the president of Major League Baseball, would not address the comment but praised Cuban’s Internet and technology expertise. “He’s been outspoken on issues, but we’ve had owners who are outspoken as well,” he said. With his tongue lodged somewhere in his cheek, he said, “I’ve not heard of him referred to as a loudmouth.”

But John Henry, the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox and a Cuban booster, wrote in an e-mail message, “The commissioner’s office abhors owners who speak their minds and fight for the rights of their respective franchises.” He added that he could think “of no one better suited to reverse the fortunes of the Cubs for the long term” than Cuban.

For all his excesses, Cuban, 50, is a successful owner. The Mavericks have averaged 57.3 wins in eight full seasons with him as their courtside benefactor, have reached the playoffs in each of those seasons and lost to Miami in the 2006 finals.

And he has not been fined in two years by N.B.A. Commissioner David Stern.

So it came to pass last week that Stern endorsed Cuban to join M.L.B.’s ranks; the sincere praise for him did not sound anything like a wish for Bud Selig, Stern’s baseball counterpart, to take Cuban off his hands, on a part-time basis.

“He lives in the here and the now,” Stern said. “In every issue we have to deal with, he freely expresses his views to me, some of which I’m happier to hear than others, but all are welcome.” He added, “He would be an effective owner in most businesses.”

In an e-mail message, Cuban wrote that the “biggest surprise to people will be how wrong the press always is in their characterizations of our relationship.”

Stern hesitated when asked if Cuban’s avoidance of fines since 2006 was evidence of a boomer’s mellowing. “His absence of mellow is in some ways his strongest trait,” he said.

The N.B.A. board of governors voted to approve Cuban as an owner in April 2000, but he had been making decisions, and blowing off steam, shortly after announcing his $280 million acquisition from Ross Perot Jr. a few months earlier. Dave Checketts, the president of Madison Square Garden at the time, said Cuban prompted some serious debate.

“Some powerful owners were against him,” said Checketts, the principal owner of the St. Louis Blues, who came to admire Cuban.

“It was the way he presented himself to us in the interview, wearing jeans and sneakers, and turning his nose up and acting like he was the smartest guy in the room. He was a smart-aleck kid.”

Checketts said that Russ Granik, who was then the league’s deputy commissioner, stood in opposition. Jerry Colangelo, who owned the Phoenix Suns, said: “Cuban was very outspoken and very opinionated, and we had information from people close to him. Most of what we gathered about him was not public, although today people are very familiar with him.”

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MLB May Soon Allow Players in Future Olympics

When you think of the Olympic Games very few people associated Olympic competitions with baseball. Maybe it has to do with regulations by the MLB not allowing their players to participate in one of the ultimate sports experiences in the history of man-kind. Foreign players and players who are not associated with the MLB are responsible for keeping the game of baseball in session during the summers that host the events.

The reason Major League Baseball does not allow players to participate is because of the games taking place just about mid-season during the All-Star break. So the options now lie on the table. Take a longer All-Star break with the addition of a few extra days, or scratch the idea of seeing the Major League players we all love or love to hate and baseball all together from the Olympic agenda.

Already, the International Olympic Committee has dropped baseball and softball from the 2012 Summer Games in London, and the sports would have to be voted back into a future Olympics.

This focus on baseball in the Olympics is now gaining more attention than ever, since it has been excluded in 2012. Many are blaming the MLB for ruining a world tradition.

Major League Baseball, the IBAF (International Baseball Federation) and the IOC are working diligently to have a system where our big leaguers are playing,” said MLB vice-president and Team USA general manager Bob Watson during the naming of the Beijing squad on Wednesday. “I think if Chicago or Tokyo would win Olympics for 2016, those countries are baseball countries, and they have venues.

“I believe they are trying to work up something, you have a few years to get a plan. There are a lot of moving parts but don’t rule it out.

Now that baseball and softball has been dropped from the Olympic Games the MLB is trying to avoid taking the heat for the games removal. Right?

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So Manny memories

We're going to miss the majestic homers, the pajama pants, the goofy antics in left field, and the bathroom breaks and cellphone calls from inside the Wall.

But we won't miss the fabricated injuries, lame excuses, and occasional no-shows. We won't miss watching Manny Ramirez dogging it down the first base line. His teammates and manager won't miss going to the ballpark wondering if Manny feels like playing tonight.

The Red Sox dumped Manny. In a deadline deal as shocking as the one that shipped Nomar Garciaparra out of town on the same date in 2004, the Sox traded Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team swap (including the Pittsburgh Pirates) that brings 29-year-old outfielder Jason Bay to Boston.

On paper, the Sox are not as strong as they were when you woke up this morning. They have parted with a 500-homer-hitting, surefire Hall of Famer who made eight All-Star teams in 7 1/2 years with Boston. A latter-day Jimmie Foxx, Ramirez was brought to the Red Sox by former general manager Dan Duquette and delivered the goods throughout his tenure. He won a World Series MVP Award in 2004, and "Manny being Manny" became part of our language.

From the start, Manny was a human bobblehead doll, a huggable cartoon character with savant hitting skill. Fans, especially youngsters, absolutely loved the guy. The Sox should brace for early backlash from the sizable faction of Red Sox Nation that will always worship at the Altar of Manny.

In the early years, most of Manny's off-field stuff was harmless. He'd skip the All-Star Game and the trip to the White House. He'd be late to spring training and we'd all chuckle. He was a perfect sidecar character for the Cowboy Up Sox of Kevin Millar, Bronson Arroyo, Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez, and Johnny Damon. One by one, those players left town and Manny was alone to carry the mantle of goofiness. He did it well and still put up the numbers.

Too bad his final days were so ugly. In the end, Manny had few friends in his own clubhouse and much of the fan base had turned against him.

In February, Manny came to spring training on time, and in great shape. He'd worked out at the Athletes'Performance Institute in Arizona over the winter. He spoke more freely with the media and seemed finally happy and secure with his place in Boston. He was in the final year of his contract, and there was a good chance that in the upcoming offseason, the Sox would trigger a $20 million club option to bring him back.

Then things started to happen. On a night when the Celtics were playing the Lakers in the NBA Finals, Manny slapped Kevin Youkilis, igniting a dugout scuffle. On June 29, Ramirez attacked 64-year-old traveling secretary Jack McCormick when the club official said he might have difficulty satisfying Manny's exorbitant, last-minute ticket request. The club sanctioned Ramirez privately, but there was no suspension. A week later, manager Terry Francona sent Manny up to pinch hit against Yankees ace Mariano Rivera. It was Manny's day off, and the slugger appeared totally disinterested, looking at three strikes without removing the bat from his shoulder.

During the All-Star break, Manny made remarks critical of Sox ownership regarding his past contract negotiations. Owner John W. Henry responded with an e-mail in which he said he was "personally offended."

Nine days ago, prior to the final game of a West Coast trip, Manny told Francona he was unable to play because of a previously unreported knee injury. The tipping point came one week ago when Manny pulled the same stunt before the first game of a three-game set with the Yankees.

That was it. The Sox decided they were done with him. They'd been Manny's prisoner too long. It was unanimous upstairs. Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, Theo Epstein, and Francona were all steamed. One teammate called Manny's bailout "a disgrace." The Sox sent him out for an MRI on both knees, then made sure the media knew he was not injured. They threatened to suspend Manny if he didn't play the next day. Manny played.

Then he started yapping. He said he was done with them. He said they didn't deserve him.

Theo and the minions went to work. Manny had stripped the Sox of most of their leverage, but they were intent on dealing him anyway. The Sox gave up a ton in this deal. They parted with their cleanup hitter. They gave up two prospects. They're paying Manny's salary. And they forfeited the two high draft picks they'd have gotten if they lost him to free agency. Bay is good, but he's not that good.

At the end, Manny didn't care about winning. He didn't care about anything except Manny and the ego-driven wallet measuring that motivates so many of today's superstars. He did the Sox no favors, shooting his way out of town, but he got what he wanted. He gets to play in Los Angeles for Joe Torre. He gets to work toward his next contract -- money he'll never possibly have time to spend.

Ultimately, this trade is a demonstration of how badly Boston wanted to get rid of Manny. It wasn't about home runs or on-base percentage. But it had to be done out of fairness to the manager and the other 24 Red Sox players who are here to win.

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