Other Sports

Sports briefs: Jan. 14

Boxing

Ali 'still a big kid,' gearing up to celebrate his 70th birthday

Muhammad Ali is turning 70, but the boxing great is still a "big kid" who enjoys his birthday parties, his wife said.

The three-time heavyweight champion reaches the milestone Tuesday, but the festivities will start early. Ali will be surrounded by friends who are gathering Saturday evening for a private birthday party at the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville.

"Muhammad likes celebrations that involve him and are centered around him," Lonnie Ali told reporters before giving a speech Friday at the Ali Center. "He's still a big kid in that area. He loves birthdays."

Lonnie Ali said it's the first of five parties for her husband over the next couple of months. Other parties will be in Las Vegas, California and Arizona, she said.

"That's the way to celebrate your 70th," she said.

She said the champ will be surrounded by close friends and people who have been fixtures in his life at the party Saturday night, including his famed trainer Angelo Dundee. The party is doubling as a $1,000 per person fund-raiser for the center, a cultural and education complex that also features a museum focusing on Ali's long career as a boxer, social activist and humanitarian.

"The lessons this man knows innately ... are the things we're trying to pass on to future generations, to encourage them to be great and find greatness within like Muhammad as a young man here in Louisville," Lonnie Ali said.

Befitting his celebrity status, Ali's party Saturday evening will include performances by singer John Mellencamp and others.

The guest list includes NBC journalists Matt Lauer, Ann Curry and Bryant Gumbel, three-time heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis, Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari.

Lonnie Ali said the boxing legend has mixed feelings about the landmark birthday. "He's glad he's here to turn 70, but he wants to be reassured he doesn't look 70," Lonnie Ali said.

NASCAR

Busch says he's found fun in racing again

Kurt Busch said he wanted racing to become fun for him again when he split with Penske Racing. With an underfunded team that likely won't compete for many wins, Busch said his passion is back.

"The pressure is not there," Busch said Friday on the second day of testing at Daytona International Speedway. "It's not going to take winning to make me happy. Right now, it's just going to the track and having fun."

Busch, the 2004 NASCAR champion, goes into the 2012 season with Phoenix Racing, a team that leans on Hendrick Motorsports for support. The team had only two top-15s last season — a pair of 12th-place finishes by Landon Cassill and Bill Elliott.

Still, Busch thought it was a perfect fit for him as he recovers from a tumultuous 2011 season that led to a mutual split with high-powered Penske Racing. Driver and team parted ways in December after yet another public meltdown.

He has said he realized his behavior stemmed from being too tightly wound, too sponsor conscious and having an inability to relax and be himself. Busch believes a step back from the pressure cooker will help him personally and professionally, and he said in December he has started seeing a sports psychologist.

"If I'm going to sit there and tell stories to my grandchildren, this is not what I wanted to tell them," he said. "So in looking at the big picture, I've got to understand what it takes to be a competitive driver and to harness that fire in my belly the right way and to put it together in a 2004-style effort.

"When things are going smooth, this is a tough freight train to stop. When things are going rough, that's what I have to polish up on and knock the rough edges off."

■ NASCAR is making gains toward breaking up the two-car tandem racing that's taken over at Daytona and Talladega. Rule changes sent speeds soaring over 200 mph in Friday's test session at Daytona International Speedway. Kurt Busch posted the fastest lap of the day at 206.058 mph. But he was being pushed around Daytona in a two-car tandem by Regan Smith. Kyle Busch was clocked at 205.813 while pack racing.

Golf

Every has early 2nd-round lead at Sony

Matt Every is finally making news for his golf. With birdies on his last three holes Friday, Every had a 6-under 64 to take a two-shot lead in the Sony Open among the early starters in the second round in Honolulu. David Hearn shot a 66 and was one shot back.

Every made headlines in the summer of 2010 when he was arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana charge in a hotel room during the John Deere Classic. He denied possessing marijuana, though he was suspended for three months.

Brendon de Jonge had a 62 and joined the group at 7-under 133. Steve Stricker was five shots back.

Robert Rock opened up a one-shot lead at the Joburg Open on Friday before thunderstorms interrupted play for a second straight day in Johannesburg.

Horse racing

Jockey Gomez sidelined by broken heel

Jockey Garrett Gomez had surgery Thursday for a broken left heel that will keep him out of the saddle for four to six weeks. Gomez was injured Sunday before the Daytona Stakes at Santa Anita when his mount Silver Summation unseated the 40-year-old rider before flipping over backward leaving the paddock.

Etc.

Report: Yanks, M's swap young stars

The Seattle Mariners agreed to trade right-hander Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees for catcher Jesus Montero, a swap involving two of baseball's top young talents. A source confirmed the trade to The Associated Press. The person also said there could be two other players involved in the swap, with the Yankees expected to send 24-year-old pitcher Hector Noesi to Seattle for 19-year-old righty Jose Campos.

In addition, another source told the AP that the Yankees have reached a deal with free-agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda on a $10 million contract for one season. The 36-year-old righty was 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA for the Dodgers last season.

■ Relief pitcher Kerry Wood is returning to the Chicago Cubs. Wood has reached agreement on a $3 million contract for 2012 with a $3 million club option for 2013. The 34-year-old righty went 3-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 55 games last year. He missed the end of the season because of a tear in his left knee that needed arthroscopic surgery.

■ Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby skated with his teammates for the first time in more than a month on Friday but still has no idea when he'll be cleared to practice, let alone see action in a game. It was the first time he's been on the ice since developing concussion-like symptoms following a loss to Boston on Dec. 5. "The symptoms are getting a lot better, but I wouldn't say (I'm) symptom free," Crosby said.

■ NCAA President Mark Emmert was given a two-year contract extension. The executive committee unanimously approved the extension Friday that will keep Emmert in office through October 2017.

The last word

Eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl said only Andy Murray could have tempted him to return to the tennis scene 17 years after the end of his playing career. Lendl, who lost in four Grand Slam finals before winning the 1984 French Open, agreed in December to start coaching Murray, the 24-year-old Scot who is still seeking his first Grand Slam title after losing in three finals:

"I see the parallels between his career and my career and I want his career to end up like mine."

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