Ex-heavyweight champion Ken Norton dies at age 70
Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton, who beat Muhammad Ali and later lost a controversial decision to him in Yankee Stadium, died Wednesday at a Las Vegas care facility. He was 70.
Ken Norton Jr., a coach with the Seattle Seahawks, confirmed the death to The Associated Press before handing the phone to his wife, too distraught to talk.
Norton, the only heavyweight champion never to win the title in the ring, had been in poor health for the last several years after suffering a series of strokes, a friend of the fighter said.
"He's been fighting the battle for two years," said Gene Kilroy, Ali's former business manager. "I'm sure he's in heaven now with all the great fighters. I'd like to hear that conversation."
Norton broke Ali's jaw in their first bout, beating him by split decision in 1973 in a non-title fight in San Diego. They fought six months later, and Ali won a split decision.
They met for a third time on Sept. 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium and Ali narrowly won to keep his heavyweight title.
Norton would come back the next year to win a heavyweight title eliminator and was declared champion by the World Boxing Council. But on June 9, 1978, he lost a bruising 15-round fight to Larry Holmes in what many regard as one of boxing's epic heavyweight bouts and would never be champion again.
"Kenny was a good, good fighter. He beat a lot of guys," said Ed Schuyler Jr., who covered many of Norton's fights for The Associated Press. "He gave Ali fits because Ali let him fight coming forward instead of making him back up."
Norton finished with a record of 42-7-1 and 33 knockouts. He would later embark on an acting career, appearing in several movies, and was a commentator at fights.
Nationwide ends series sponsorship
Nationwide will end its seven-year run as entitlement sponsor of NASCAR's second-largest series at the end of the 2014 season and refocus its motorsports spending to other areas of the industry.
NASCAR announced a new deal Wednesday to extend Nationwide's contract as its official auto, home, life and business insurance partner through 2017. The insurer also becomes the presenting sponsor of the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award.
Nationwide plans to spend more on track sponsorships and in the Sprint Cup Series, where it recently funded the car of two-time Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Bristol and Richmond. Nationwide has a three-race commitment with Stenhouse this season, and has agreed to sponsor four Sprint Cup races next year.
"We've been thrilled with Nationwide as a partner and they've helped us grow our series tremendously as just the second partner in 31 years," NASCAR chief sales officer Jim O'Connell said. "We're pleased Nationwide is staying in NASCAR ... now we'll look for a replacement. It's an opportunity for us to get someone already involved in NASCAR involved in a bigger way, or perhaps bring in another Fortune 500 company that isn't already involved in NASCAR.
Sports in the courts
Miami Heat's 'Birdman' cleared
Miami Heat forward Chris Andersen was the victim of a wide-ranging Internet hoax that resulted in a raid of his Denver-area home last year, his lawyer said Wednesday, and prosecutors confirmed Andersen was cleared of wrongdoing in the "extremely complex" case.
Lisa Pinto, spokeswoman for the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office, told The Associated Press that the office is reviewing a 4,000-page report before charging decisions are made, but added that "based on the information that we have been able to obtain and analyze, we are not pursuing charges against Chris Andersen."
Andersen's lawyer and agent, Mark Bryant, said his client was duped by a woman in Canada who sought a relationship and gifts and who threatened a female acquaintance of Andersen's in California while impersonating the tattoo-covered fan favorite known as "Birdman."
Sgt. Line Karpish, a spokeswoman with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said Douglas County, Colo., authorities requested assistance on the case in May 2012, and that investigation led to the January arrest of Shelly Lynn Chartier, 29, of Easterville Manitoba.
Bryant said neither Andersen nor his acquaintance realized they weren't communicating with each other online or via cellphone texts but rather were communicating with Chartier, who impersonated one to the other.
Nebraska brass ready to move past leak
Chancellor Harvey Perlman and athletic director Shawn Eichorst said in a joint statement Wednesday that they believe head football coach Bo Pelini was sincere in his apology for what he said in an audio tape leaked to Deadspin.com this week.
"The comments made by Head Football Coach Bo Pelini in 2011, published Monday, are unfortunate and deeply concerning to us, as they would be to anyone who loves this university," the statement said. "Our coaches, staff and student-athletes must be held to a high standard and Coach Pelini's remarks were unfair to the legions of Nebraska fans and not what we expect from a representative of this university."
There was no mention of any disciplinary action taken against Pelini. Perlman and Eichorst declined interview requests. Messages were left for Pelini. The statement noted that Pelini, long known for his volatility on the sideline, has improved his demeanor over the past two years.
"Coach Pelini has given us his assurance that he understands the seriousness and inappropriateness of his comments," the statement said. "We believe he is sincere in his apology and in his regret. We are prepared to put the matter to rest. Our football student-athletes, coaches and staff deserve all of our support and we know the Nebraska faithful will be there for them."
■ Former Washington football coach Don James will begin chemotherapy next week for a malignant tumor on his pancreas, his family said in a statement released through the school Wednesday.
The 80-year-old James coached at Washington from 1975-1992 and led the Huskies to a share of the 1991 national championship. James went 153-57-2 with the Huskies and led the school to six Rose Bowl appearances.
Two Wizards out before camp opens
Just 10 days before the first training camp practice, the Washington Wizards announced Wednesday that starting center Emeka Okafor is out indefinitely with a herniated disc, and that reserve forward Chris Singleton will be sidelined approximately six to eight weeks with a broken bone in his left foot.
The injury to Okafor is particularly disconcerting. The team offered no timetable for his return, although Okafor said he was "positive" he'll play this season.
It's the second straight year the Wizards have lost a starter to a significant injury days for the opening of camp. Ex-Cat John Wall missed the first 33 games last season with a stress injury to his left kneecap, a major reason for the club's 29-53 record.
■ Deron Williams has a sprained right ankle and a bone bruise, but the Brooklyn Nets said their All-Star point guard will be ready for the start of training camp. The team said Wednesday that Williams was hurt recently while working out in Utah and is wearing a walking boot. Brooklyn has its first practice Oct. 1 at Duke University.
The last word
Andre Iguodala, signed by Golden State this offseason, has been scrimmaging alongside the team's prolific shooters and is excited about the Warriors' chances of contending for a title. When asked if Golden State's goal was 50 wins (the team won 47 last season) this year:
"I would say more than that."