NBA world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant

The NBA world suffered a devastating blow on Sunday morning when Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash.

The 41-year-old, a father of four, died on Sunday when the helicopter he was in caught fire and crashed into hills in Calabasas, California. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed there were no survivors.

As the devastating news spread on one of the most tragic days in the history of sports, the NBA world took time to mourn one of the NBA’s greatest legends, extend their prayers and share their memories of Bryant.

Basketball legend Kobe Bryant, RIP

Kobe Bryant, 41, has died in a helicopter crash. He was 41-years-old. Four others were killed in the crash in Calabasas, California. From ESPN:

A 6-foot, 6-inch small forward with the ability to swing up front and play point or shooting guard, Bryant entered the NBA straight out of high school. In 1996, he became the youngest player in NBA history.

He won five NBA titles in his time with the Lakers, as well as two Olympic gold medals playing for the United States. Now fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, with 33,643 points, Bryant won two NBA Finals MVP awards and one NBA regular-season MVP nod in 2008.

A native of Philadelphia, Bryant was selected No. 13 overall in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets before being traded to the Lakers. He wore both No. 8 and 24 with the Lakers, both of which were retired by the franchise.

image credit: Keith Allison (CC BY-SA 2.0)

NBA Legend Kobe Bryant Killed in Helicopter Crash

CALABASAS, California — Former Los Angeles Laker and five-time NBA Champion Kobe Bryant reportedly died Sunday in a fatal helicopter crash in the Los Angeles area that killed four others, according to multiple outlets including the Los Angeles Times and ESPN.

A call for a downed helicopter in Calabasas went out at 10:01 a.m. local time, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. People who were out mountain biking in the area and reported the downed helicopter.

“Unfortunately there were no survivors,” Los Angeles County Fire Captain Tony Imbrenda told reporters Sunday.

Bryant tweeted the day before the crash congratulation LeBron James for surpassing him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list Saturday night. It’s unclear why the 41-year-old basketball legend was on the helicopter and who he was with.

County officials said firefighters were able to extinguish the flames and are working to preserve evidence for investigators.

NBA athletes, officials and fans mourned the loss of Bryant, who was considered one of basketball’s greatest players of all time.

“May your memory be a blessing,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tweeted.

Retired forward Paul Pierce expressed his disbelief on Twitter and said “This is not real right now.

Kobe Bryant killed in helicopter crash, per report

NBA legend Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash, TMZ reports. Bryant was reportedly among several people on a helicopter that crashed in Los Angeles, killing all five on board.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the helicopter crashed on Sunday morning in hills above Calabasas. The fatal crash was confirmed by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department on Twitter. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has confirmed the tragic news.

The 41-year-old starred in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers for 20 seasons. He retired as one of the NBA’s greatest scorers and a five-time NBA champion.

As word of Bryant’s tragic passing spread, the NBA world offered prayers, shared memories and remembered one of the most important players in the history of basketball.

No further details have been reported at this time. Our condolences and prayers go out to the families and friends of the victims of Sunday’s crash.

UPDATE – 1:15 p.m. PST

ABC News reported that Bryant’s four daughters were on the helicopter with him and were killed in the crash.

Coronavirus patient showed mild symptoms on flight

OTTAWA – The first Canadian patient diagnosed with a novel form of coronavirus began showing signs of illness on the plane that brought him back from the disease’s epicentre., Canada’s Chief Public Health officer said Sunday as she stressed the risk of future infection is low.

Dr. Theresa Tam said the man in his 50’s, currently in stable condition in a Toronto hospital, showed mild symptoms on the flight that brought him back to the country from China earlier this week.

Tam said authorities are now working to help track some of his fellow passengers, but said the case demonstrates that the country’s public health protocols are working.

“The patient has been managed with all appropriate infection and prevention control protocols, so the risk of onward spread in Canada is low,” Tam said at a morning news conference. “Nevertheless it would not be unexpected that there will be more cases imported into Canada in the near-term given global travel patterns.”

Tam said the Ontario patient did not report his flu-like symptoms upon first landing in Toronto, but did share his recent stay in Wuhan with first responders when he sought medical help the next day. The man remains in hospital, where Ontario health authorities said he’s being held in a negative-pressure room used to contain airborne illnesses.

Despite her concession that future Canadian cases are expected, Tam said close, prolonged human-to-human contact is usually necessary for the disease to spread.

The news of Canada’s first coronavirus patient comes as authorities around the world grapple with the new type of virus, which originated in China but has since spread to Europe and North America.

There are more than 1,975 cases so far, including three in France and two in the United States.

While 56 people have died of the virus in China – most of the deaths have been older patients – the World Health Organization has not declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2020.



Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

NFL’s Saints fight to shield emails in Catholic abuse crisis

NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints are going to court to keep the public from seeing hundreds of emails that allegedly show team executives doing public relations damage control for the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese to help it contain the fallout from a burgeoning sexual abuse crisis.

Attorneys for about two dozen men suing the church say in court filings that the 276 documents they obtained through discovery show that the NFL team, whose owner is devoutly Catholic, aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.”

“Obviously, the Saints should not be in the business of assisting the Archdiocese, and the Saints’ public relations team is not in the business of managing the public relations of criminals engaged in pedophilia,” the attorneys wrote in a court filing. “The Saints realize that if the documents at issue are made public, this professional sports organization also will be smearing itself.”

The Saints organization and its attorneys emphatically disputed any suggestion that the team helped the church cover up crimes. In a statement Friday, the Saints said the archdiocese sought its advice on how to handle media attention that would come from its 2018 release of its list of more than 50 clergy members “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

“The advice was simple and never wavering. Be direct, open and fully transparent, while making sure that all law enforcement agencies were alerted,” the team said.

The team added that it has “no interest in concealing information from the press or public” and that it “merely requested the court to apply the normal rules of civil discovery.” However, attorneys for the Saints argued in court papers this month that the 2018-19 emails were intended to be private and should not be “fodder for the public.”

The archdiocese is also fighting the release of the emails.

The National Football League, which was advised of the matter by plaintiffs’ attorneys because the Saints’ emails used the team’s domain, has not commented on the case. NFL policy says everyone who is a part of the league must refrain from “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the NFL.

A court-appointed special master is expected to hear arguments in the coming weeks on whether the communications should remain confidential.

The Associated Press, which has extensively covered clergy sexual abuse in a series of stories over the past year, filed a motion with the court supporting the release of the documents as a matter of public interest.

“This case does not involve intensely private individuals who are dragged into the spotlight,” the AP argued, “but well-known mega-institutions that collect millions of dollars from local residents to support their activities.”

Ties between local church leaders and the Saints include a close friendship between New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Gayle Benson, who inherited the Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans basketball team when her husband, Tom Benson, died in 2018. The archbishop was at Gayle Benson’s side as she walked in the funeral procession.

Gayle Benson has given millions of dollars to Catholic institutions in the New Orleans area, and the archbishop is a regular guest of hers at games and charitable events for the church.

Attorneys for the men suing the church say “multiple” Saints personnel, including Senior Vice-President of Communications Greg Bensel, used their team email to advise church officials on “messaging” and how to soften the impact of the archdiocese’s release of the list of credibly accused clergy.

“The information at issue bears a relationship to these crimes because it is a continuation of the Archdiocese’s pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behaviour,” wrote plaintiffs’ attorneys Richard Trahant, John Denenea Jr. and Soren Gisleson. “And the Saints joined in.”

Attorneys for the Saints acknowledged in a court filing that the team assisted the archdiocese in its publishing of the list but said that was an act of disclosure – “the opposite of concealment.”

In its statement, the team said its executives and ownership “remain offended, disappointed and repulsed by the actions of certain past clergy. We remain steadfast in support of the victims who have suffered and pray for their continued healing.”

A handful of Saints emails that emerged last year in the clergy abuse litigation included an October 2018 exchange in which Bensel asked an archdiocese spokeswoman whether there might be “a benefit to saying we support a victims right to pursue a remedy through the courts.”

“I don’t think we want to say we ‘support’ victims going to the courts,” Sarah McDonald, the archdiocese’s communications director, replied, “but we certainly encourage them to come forward.”

The fight over the emails is part of a flurry of claims filed against the archdiocese over its employment of George F. Brignac, a longtime schoolteacher and deacon who was removed from the ministry in 1988 after a 7-year-old boy accused him of fondling him at a Christmas party. That accusation followed claims that Briganc abused several other boys, including one case that led to his acquittal in 1978 on three counts of indecent behaviour with a juvenile.

Church officials permitted Brignac, 85, to act as a lay minister until local news accounts of his service in 2018 prompted his ouster and an apology from the archdiocese. The AP last year reported that Brignac, despite his supposed defrocking, also maintained access to schoolchildren and held leadership roles as recently as 2018 in the Knights of Columbus.

Following a new wave of publicity – in which Brignac told a reporter he had touched boys but never for “immoral purposes” – Brignac was indicted last month on a rape charge that could land him behind bars for the rest of his life. The prosecution came more than a year after a former altar boy told police that Brignac repeatedly raped him beginning in the late 1970s. Police said the abuse began when the boy was 7 and continued until he was 11.

The archdiocese, meanwhile, has settled several lawsuits against Brignac and included the former deacon on its credibly accused list.

A lawyer for the archdiocese, E. Dirk Wegmann, said earlier this month that the plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking the release of the emails are engaged in a “proverbial witch hunt with respect to decades-old abuse” and want to give the messages to the media to “unfairly try to tar and feather the archdiocese.”


AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in New Orleans and Barry Wilner in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

Jim Mustian, The Associated Press

Belinda Stronach tells AP: Horse racing got ‘a wake-up call’

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – There was a frothy cappuccino in a tall glass mug on the table in front of Belinda Stronach. She was seated on a white couch, looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows to survey another sun-drenched day at Gulfstream Park.

“It’s so nice,” she said, “when it’s like this.”

Thing is, these moments are few and far between.

The chairman and president of The Stronach Group – which owns and operates several horse tracks, including Santa Anita – said in an interview with The Associated Press that the deaths of about 40 horses at that track alone in the last 13 months is “a wake-up call” that the sport needs to listen to very closely.

“My daughter is 26, my son is 28 and they’re both extremely conscious about the environment, about animal welfare and so are all of their friends,” said the Newmarket, Ont., native who was also a member of Parliament from 2004 to 2008. “They won’t come to a horse race unless they feel that we’re doing everything we can to take care of the horses and that the horses have a quality of life from the time they’re born to aftercare, after racing. They’re not unique. That is the generation of today. I’m that way as well.”

The Pegasus World Cup Invitational series, run at Gulfstream on Saturday, was run under no-race-day-medication rules for the first time. Stronach made that call relatively late in the planning process, knowing the timing of that decision would cost her event some big names – Eclipse Award winner Maximum Security, the disqualified would-be winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby, among them.

But these days, she insists, safety has to outweigh all other concerns. With the sport in North America starting to pivot quickly toward medication-free racing anyway, Stronach decided to change the Pegasus rules basically on the fly. The no-race-day medication policy has long been in place at tracks around the world, and horses seem to break down far less frequently as a result.

“You have to compliment Gulfstream Park and The Stronach Group to take a step in that direction,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “It’s probably overdue that we go with no Lasix and other medications. … We have to make some changes and they’re making the change.”

Horseplayers apparently didn’t mind the new rules. Gulfstream had a total handle Saturday of $41.8 million, up 10% from last year when there was medication allowed in the Pegasus races.

This week, the California Horse Racing Board is expected to release a long-awaited report about the horse deaths at Santa Anita. The numbers – 37 last year, three more this month – sound appalling. PETA and other animal-rights groups have called for massive changes, or simply shutting down the sport altogether.

“There is an opportunity to evolve the sport and I think others are waking up as well and recognize that we have to evolve,” Stronach said. “We’re having very good discussions with other parties and other race track companies, race course companies to adopt similar measures. This is a global sport. Let’s move to the same standards. Let’s create a level playing field. Let’s move to the highest standards consistent with or better than international standards.”

The standards go beyond changing the medication rules. Stronach is looking at all aspects of the sport, even studying if the training and racing surfaces at Santa Anita can handle dealing with 420,000 horses in a year. She said experts have told her the surfaces are fine, but The Stronach Group is still looking at expanding its facilities at the nearby San Luis Rey Training Center.

“At the end of the day, it kind of comes down to horse population,” Stronach said. “We need a healthy horse population. You can only do with what you have available to you. It may take some time to build that horse population back up.”

Context, she said, is also important.

The Stronach Group said 420,000 horses ran or trained at Santa Anita last year. With 37 horses having broken down on the tracks there last year, that roughly works out to 0.009% per cent.

That’s a tiny figure. But to Stronach, that’s still too much.

“At Santa Anita, we have some incredibly challenging days,” Stronach said. “I mean, it’s extraordinarily stressful for everyone that works there to witness because it takes time for change to occur. But at the same time, there’s an opportunity we have before us where we can change things for the better.”

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

Raonic edges Cilic in straight sets to reach 5th QF in six years at Aussie Open

MELBOURNE, Australia – Milos Raonic is into the Australian Open men’s singles quarterfinals for the fifth time in the last six years.

The 29-year-old Canadian backed up a straight-sets upset of No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday with a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win over Croatia’s Marin Cilic in the fourth round Sunday afternoon.

“I did a lot of things really well. I had the idea of how I wanted to play and I was happy I could execute and sort of live up to that,” Raonic said.

As a reward, Raonic will get an opportunity to do something he hasn’t yet been able to accomplish in his career: beat Novak Djokovic.

The defending Australian Open champion defeated No. 14 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 later Sunday to set up a showdown with Raonic in the quarters. Djokovic has a 9-0 career record against the big-serving Canadian.

Cilic, part of Raonic’s generation of players and also a mainstay in the top 10 for many years,  has struggled over the last 12 months and watched his ranking tumble out of the top 30.

The 2014 US Open champion was hampered by a lower back issue Sunday, exacerbated by the four hours and 10 minutes he needed to upset No. 9 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in the previous round.

But there wasn’t a lot he could do as Raonic put on another serving clinic.

The Canadian fired 35 aces, bring his total through four matches to 82. No one has broken his serve, and only two opponents have even had opportunities. Chile’s Cristian Garin went 0-for-3 in the second round; Cilic went 0-for-4 Sunday.

“I was really struggling with my serve through the practice week. The first match, it didn’t feel necessarily that great because it was a little bit windy on that court,” Raonic said. “I just sort of found my rhythm. Once I get my rhythm and once I have continuity of playing, it comes for me. Serving is the most natural thing for me to do.”

Cilic did earn two set points in the third set. Raonic erased the first with a 225 kph ace. He erased the second with a 210 kph ace.

Through four rounds, Raonic has yet to drop a set. And only one of the 12 he has played has gone as far as a tiebreak.

A year ago in this Melbourne, Raonic also made the quarterfinals. With that, he returned to the top 15 in the rankings for the first time in 18 months. But later in the year the Canadian’s body let him down, in the way it so often has during his star-crossed career.

Raonic missed the French Open in early June, the US Open last September and then the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid in November.

“It was hard for me to skip Davis Cup, but I had to spend time, because I was ailing (with) a back issue throughout pretty much the whole year,” Raonic said. “I had to take time where I didn’t serve for about a month. But it allowed me to focus on other things, put other things together and get stronger, get fitter.”

The Canadian came into 2020 with guarded optimism.

“I was able to train for about six, seven weeks straight without any hindrances, no setbacks. I was thankful for that,” he said.

Raonic retained coach Mario Tudor, who first joined him on a regular basis at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. last summer.

But he changed up other elements. “I switched around the people that are with me, so the methods have been a little bit different in that sense. Everybody sort of rotated around what I was doing in the gym and also how I was rehabbing and these kind of things,” he said. “I spent two weeks in Boston to help focus on a few things there with a group of guys, and then I spent four weeks training down in the Caribbean.”

Raonic opened the season at the ATP Tour event in Qatar, where he lost his opening match to French left-hander Corentin Moutet. As a result, he arrived in Melbourne a little short of match play.

If he felt healthy, there was no way to anticipate that his big serve would arrive in vintage, devastating form.

Against Djokovic, five of the nine meetings have gone three sets. But only one of those has come in the last five years.

“I’m going to have to serve well, clearly. And then I think I’m going to have to get my return at a high percentage, make him play a lot of those points, and then try to be efficient on my service games,” Raonic said.

During his on-court interview after the victory over Schwartzman, Djokovic echoed similar sentiments.

“One of the key elements will be how well I’m returning, and how confident I am on my service games,” Djokovic said. “I’m really glad to see Milos healthy and playing on a really good level again. He’s a great guy, we speak the same language, and I’m glad to see him in the quarters.”

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski and partner Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia advanced to the quarter-finals of the women’s doubles tournament at the Australian Open. The No.6 seeded duo defeated American Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani of Brazil 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 in the third round on Sunday.

By reaching the quarters, the 27-year-old Canadian matches her best result in women’s doubles at the Australian Open.

In her only previous quarter-final appearance in Melbourne back in 2018, Dabrowski and former partner Yifan Xu of China fell to the eventual runner-ups – Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

Currently ranked eighth in the world in doubles, Dabrowski has a new partner in Ostapenko for the opening Grand Slam of the year. She split with Xu after last season.

Dabrowski also is still alive in the mixed doubles with partner Henri Kontinen of Finland.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2020.

Stephanie Myles, The Canadian Press

Magnificent new music video from Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli

My old pal Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs will release his first proper solo album, Random Desire, on February 21. Above is “Pantomima,” the first single/video for the album, and it’s a beaut. Directed by and starring Greg’s longtime collaborator Philip Harder, this magnificent short film is a take on the “All That Jazz” tale of choreographer/dancer Bob Fosse.

Greg tours Europe and the US starting in March. Black out the windows, it’s party time.

Dulli photo by Maciek Jasik

Ice cream treats for the Big Game

(KRON) – Gus Shamieh the President of CREAM introduced some Ice Cream treats that he says are perfect for Big Game parties.

The first is a Hot Chocolate Float – Add any scoop of ice cream to a cup of Hot Chocolate to make this delicious Hot Chocolate Ice Cream Float. A scoop of Mocha Almond Fudge makes a mocha chocolate masterpiece, or a scoop of mint chip creates an extra minty refreshment. Add Whipped Cream and sprinkle some diced walnuts and you have a winter favorite with a new twist.

Gus also introduced an acai flavored milkshake for a Big Game get together.      

CREAM is also holding a Big Game Promotion featuring a party pack of 20 assorted mini ice cream sandwiches for $49.99 available through February 3, 2020. 

CREAM, which stands for “Cookies Rule Everything Around Me” has over 30 locations in the U.S., and was started in the Bay Area, with its flagship store in Berkeley.

CREAM is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2020 and is best known for its build-your-own approach to warm, handcrafted ice cream sandwich combinations. 

For more information, head over to the CREAM website.