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Lewis Hamilton committed to helping Mercedes end slump

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Lewis Hamilton is coming off a crushing defeat for a record eighth Formula One championship and on the verge of the first winless season of his 16-year career.

His Mercedes has been a beast to drive all season and a flaw in its design created a bouncing effect that causes his teeth to chatter and his back to ache. New teammate George Russell outranks him in the season standings — Russell is fourth, Hamilton is sixth — and a 24-race schedule is looming for next season, when Hamilton will be 38 years old.

Many thought he’d quit the sport when he lost last year’s F1 championship to Max Verstappen in a controversial series of calls in the December season finale at Abu Dhabi, but he returned for what will go down as arguably one of the most difficult seasons for the driver who holds the F1 record with 103 career victories.

Now comes word that Hamilton has opened talks with Mercedes on a multi-year contract extension on the deal that expires at the end of next season.

Ahead of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil, where earlier this week Hamilton was awarded honorary citizenship, The Associated Press asked Hamilton why he wants to continue to race into his 40s and why he didn’t quit F1 following the injustice he believes he was dealt last year in Abu Dhabi.

He used an analogy of a rare day off he had last week to explain how he’s wired. He’d traveled to Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California, where Hamilton spent eight hours in the wave pool.

“I was in the pool the whole time, and I fall and I stumble off of a wave and I get back up and try to do it again. And I continue to do that, and that’s just something in my DNA,” Hamilton told the AP. “I love this sport. I love racing. I would have definitely said at the end of last year that I lost a bit of the love for it, because as you know, it was difficult.

“But I just refuse to let that moment be a deciding factor in my life and my career. And I still feel fit and focused and there’s no stopping. You know? We want to get number eight.”

It won’t be this season as Verstappen clinched a second consecutive F1 title last month, and despite the progress Mercedes has made in improving its car this year, the team still can’t challenge Red Bull on speed for wins. Verstappen, meanwhile, has won a record 14 times this season and heads to Interlagos hoping to extend Red Bull’s winning streak to nine consecutive races.

Hamilton, however, is coming off consecutive consecutive runner-up finishes to Verstappen that have buoyed Mercedes.

“Even though we’ve had the most difficult year this year, I feel that we have climbed mountains together as a team,” Hamilton told AP. “It’s been one of the most beautiful experiences to see everyone working so hard. And you know, we just had two seconds in a row and that feels like wins for us.”

Hamilton last November won in Brazil to start a three-race winning streak that sent him into the Abu Dhabi finale tied with Verstappen for the championship. Hamilton dominated the entire race until a late caution scrambled the finish and the since-fired race director broke from protocol in his rulings.

It allowed Verstappen to pass Hamilton for the win and the championship, and Hamilton vanished from public view immediately after the race. He told the AP that two month period after Abu Dhabi was the hardest he’s ever had to work on his mental health.

“It was one of the hardest times of my career, for sure I struggled,” Hamilton told the AP, explaining how he surrounded himself with immediate family, put down his phone, and avoided social media and all news. He also went to the beach with his niece and nephew and let them bury him in the sand.

“So I get up every day and focus on being present and making the most of the time that I had and creating memories. It was to keep myself in a happy place and not focus on racing.”

Hamilton has not won since that three-race streak ahead of Abu Dhabi, which wasn’t really what he expected when he re-emerged at the end of January to begin preparations for 2022. Mercedes wasn’t aware it had taken a wrong turn in the development of its car and would need the entire season to undo the damage.

“You just pivot. Instead of how do we get on top of this car and fight for the championship, it was ‘OK, we’re most likely not going to be fighting for the championship, so how do I steer this ship that’s going in the wrong direction? How do I keep this team motivated?’” explained Hamilton. “We have dug deeper and become a stronger, more complete team. So I know that when we build the car that I dream of, next year, I know as a team we are more solid and have a better foundation than ever before.”

That Hamilton isn’t planning to retire anytime soon is not a surprise to Russell, who has found his fellow Englishman to be the consummate professional and teammate. Russell said Hamilton is dedicated to turning Mercedes around.

“He’s definitely not lifted his foot off the throttle pedal, and he’s definitely the last few races performing probably better than ever,” Russell said. “For me to have the opportunity to be his teammate, to go directly head-to-head with him and grow on this journey that we’re on together, because it really does feel like a journey that the two of us are on, along with the rest of the team, in trying to bring Mercedes back to winning ways.

“I think we’ve got a really, really great relationship, transparent relationship and yeah, be great to be teammates for a number of years to come.”

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Source: https://apnews.com/article/sports-formula-one-lewis-hamilton-max-verstappen-george-russell-adca289c13b10a229594563c466421f8

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Stewart heads to New York on 1st day of WNBA free agency

Breanna Stewart couldn’t turn down a chance to play in New York and potentially help the Liberty win their first WNBA championship.

The most coveted free agent this offseason, who won the WNBA MVP award in 2018, announced on social media that she was going to New York with a photo of her in a Liberty shirt on Wednesday. Stewart had spent her entire career in Seattle since the Storm drafted her No. 1 overall in 2016. She won championships with the team in 2018 and 2020.

“I decided to go to New York as I wanted to continue to be great. And I wanted to go to the place where I think I can help this league become better, to raise the standard,” Stewart said in an interview on ESPN. “I feel like why not go to the biggest market in all of sports. I’m excited to go after their first championship.”

The 28-year-old wing has averaged 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in her WNBA career. She missed the 2019 season with an Achilles tendon injury.

“New York is a basketball city and I can’t wait to be a part of it,” Stewart said.

Coming to New York brings Stewart closer to home. She grew up in Syracuse, which is an hourlong flight away. She’ll also have a shorter flight to Spain to visit relatives of her wife, Marta.

New York representatives, including coach Sandy Brondello and co-owner Clara Wu Tsai met with Stewart in Turkey last week. Stewart had narrowed her choices to Seattle and New York before choosing the Liberty.

The move turns the Liberty into an instant championship contender. New York, one of the WNBA’s original franchises, has never won a championship. The Liberty already added 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and Kayla Thornton through a three-way deal to complement 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu.

“I think this group has a ton of potential, a lot of amazing players,” Stewart said. “The selflessness helps us set ourselves apart from everyone else.”

The news was met with elation on social media by Jones, Ionescu and Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, who said on a podcast that he had reached out to Stewart to get her to come to New York.

Stewart was the second big-name free agent to announce her intentions to play for another team. Candace Parker said last weekend she was going to sign with the Las Vegas Aces and did so on Wednesday.

“As I’ve gone through free agency this time around, of course I’m thinking of where I can compete for my third championship, but the words home and family are what I kept coming back to,” said Parker, a longtime Southern California resident. “After evaluating the landscape together with my family, we’ve decided the Las Vegas Aces are the right organization for us at this point in our lives. To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

Wednesday was the first day that free agents could sign contracts. Other moves announced included:

— Brittney Sykes and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough with Washington.

— Lexie Brown and Stephanie Talbot with Los Angeles.

— Teaira McCowan with Dallas.

— Alysha Clark and Cayla George with Las Vegas.

— AD Durr and Nia Coffey with Atlanta.

Many free agents were waiting for Stewart to make her decision, including Courtney Vandersloot.

Vandersloot announced on social media late Tuesday night that she wasn’t returning to Chicago, where she had spent her entire career. She has led the league in assists six times during her 12-year career and helped the Sky win the 2021 WNBA championship.

“To the Sky organization who drafted the little guard from a mid-major and believed in me from the jump, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Vandersloot wrote on Instagram. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have realized my dreams because of you. Although I never planned for this day to come, I have decided it is time for me to pursue a new beginning.”

Stewart and Vandersloot are currently playing together in Turkey.

“My message to Sloot is she knows I love to play with her, but I’m going to support her in any decision she makes,” Stewart said. “Free agency is hard. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for everybody. It’s not only basketball these decisions are made behind. It’s life.”

While Stewart and Vandersloot will be playing for different WNBA teams, Brittney Griner, who is also a free agent, announced in December when she returned home from her 10-month ordeal in Russia that she planned to remain with the Phoenix Mercury. Her long-time Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi is also a free agent, but she too is expected to go back to Phoenix.

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Pat Riley: Kareem never had potential, ‘only greatness’

Pat Riley remembers just about every detail surrounding the events of Dec. 29, 1961. It was a cold night in Schenectady, New York. A little snowy, the roads a little icy. And when the bus carrying the opposing team from New York City arrived, all of Riley’s Linton High teammates peered out the window.

They saw a giant.

Long before Riley and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were winning NBA championships together as coach and player with the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s, they were opponents. Riley and Linton beat Power Memorial and Lew Alcindor — Abdul-Jabbar’s name before converting to Islam — 74-68 that night.

Abdul-Jabbar, then a 6-foot-10 freshman, was held to eight points because he spent virtually the entire game in foul trouble. He has told Riley several times over the years that Linton won because Riley’s father — a lifelong baseball man — had his umpiring friends refereeing the game.

“Which we did,” Riley acknowledges.

Riley knew it then and came to appreciate it even more years later — there were only a few ways to stop the player who would eventually spend nearly four decades as the most prolific scorer in NBA history. Abdul-Jabbar is on the verge of being passed by the Lakers’ LeBron James, the 38-year-old who was nearly nine months from being born when the unforgettable center made one of his signature sky hooks on April 5, 1984 to overtake Wilt Chamberlain and become the league’s scoring leader.

“Kareem was a guy that never had any potential. He just had greatness,” said Riley, now the president of the Miami Heat and one of the few who has worked with both Abdul-Jabbar and James. “You could see that. When you can bypass potential and you move right to greatness as a high school player, and then college and then the pros … there are very few like him. There’s a handful. Two handfuls, at the most.”

James is one of them, going from high school straight to the NBA, and now in his 20th season, he is now just 89 points away from passing Abdul-Jabbar’s record. The Lakers play Thursday in Indiana, then Saturday at New Orleans.

The most realistic target for the record-breaker is Tuesday in Los Angeles against Oklahoma City or — perhaps symbolically — next Thursday in L.A. when the Lakers play host to the Milwaukee Bucks, the team that Abdul-Jabbar started his NBA career with.

This past October, Abdul-Jabbar — on his Substack page where he discusses and offers opinion on a variety of topics, often nothing to do with sports — wrote that when James passed Kobe Bryant for No. 3 on the all-time scoring list in 2020, he “knew it was just a matter of time before he passed me too.”

Abdul-Jabbar added that every time a record is broken, all people are elevated.

“When I broke Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring record in 1984 — the year LeBron was born — it bothered Wilt, who’d had a bit of a one-sided rivalry with me since I’d started doing so well in the NBA,” he wrote. “I don’t feel that way toward LeBron. Not only will I celebrate his accomplishment, I will sing his praises unequivocally.”

The relationship between Abdul-Jabbar and James seems complicated. Abdul-Jabbar was outside of the Cleveland locker room during the 2016 Eastern Conference finals as James was jogging by; the two embraced and shared a few kind words, prompting James to discuss the respect he has for Abdul-Jabbar and others who paved the way in his postgame remarks.

Abdul-Jabbar also has lauded James “as a community leader and athlete.” But he criticized James for not doing more with his platform to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. And earlier this season, James said he has “no relationship” with Abdul-Jabbar.

There are ties that bind them, though. Both are champions. Both have worked to promote social justice and spoken out against racial inequality. Abdul-Jabbar played 20 years in the NBA; James is in Year 20. Abdul-Jabbar set the record while playing for the Lakers; James will do the same.

And If nothing else, James’ pursuit of the record may have exposed a generation or two that never saw Abdul-Jabbar play to how great he was.

“We have to always acknowledge those who come before us, those who’ve paved the way,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “You think of all those points Kareem scored and he had, what, one 3-pointer? You think about all of that, and these kids get to learn about a different era. It’s high, high-level education in the game of basketball, particularly NBA basketball.”

When Abdul-Jabbar broke the record, Riley said Magic Johnson — then the Lakers’ point guard — made sure he was the one who got the assist on the play. Johnson nearly put himself back into the game against Utah in Las Vegas that night when Abdul-Jabbar was two points away.

Years later, when the Lakers from those championship teams of that era gathered in Hawaii last summer for a reunion, Abdul-Jabbar was a day late because of personal matters. The Lakers in 2022 celebrated his arrival the same way they did the record-setter in 1984.

“He felt special because he was special, because he is special,” Riley said of the man who once stood shoulder-to-shoulder alongside an embattled Muhammad Ali during the boxing champ’s legal troubles in the late 1960s, and counted Bill Russell — another basketball giant and social-change champion — as a mentor. “He was treated as the patriarch by all the players. It was a great week for him. He was engaged, came to everything we did, gave some spontaneous talks. And he’s a shy guy, but he felt very comfortable in his group.”

Riley coached Abdul-Jabbar in Los Angeles and later lured James to Miami for a four-year run starting in 2010. He sees in James much of what he saw in Alcindor when that bus pulled into Schenectady in 1961.

“It’s all about LeBron right now, and it should be, with his unique career and unique opportunity to do this,” Riley said. “Training, travel, personal chefs, personal trainers, all that stuff has come into play since Kareem. I hope people realize Kareem’s story as well and how different it was. He went to college for four years; LeBron came out of high school. But they both dominated from Day 1. They both turned potential into greatness from Day 1.”

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Eagles reserve lineman accused of rape ahead of Super Bowl

CAMBRIDGE, Ohio (AP) — Josh Sills, a reserve offensive lineman for the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, has been indicted on rape and kidnapping charges that stem from an incident in Ohio just over three years ago, authorities said Wednesday.

Sills, an undrafted free agent who appeared in just one game this season, was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. That means he can’t practice, play or travel with the team as it prepares for the Super Bowl.

The NFL announced the move Wednesday and said the issue is being reviewed under the league’s personal conduct policy.

The rookie, who played at West Virginia and Oklahoma State, was indicted Tuesday by a Guernsey County grand jury in Ohio and ordered to appear in court on Feb. 16, four days after the Eagles are to play the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

His attorney, Michael Connick, said the allegations are false and that Sills will be aggressively defended.

Sills was listed as a backup guard and played just four snaps on special teams against the Cardinals on Oct. 9, the one game he played. He was on the inactive list for most of the year, including this past Sunday in Philadelphia’s conference title victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

“The organization is aware of the legal matter involving Josh Sills. We have been in communication with the league office and are in the process of gathering more information. We have no further comment at this time,” the Eagles said in a statement.

The indictment accuses Sills, who is from Sarahsville, Ohio, of engaging in sexual activity that was not consensual and holding a woman against her will on Dec. 5, 2019.

A statement issued by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said the incident was immediately reported, and that the county sheriff’s office conducted a detailed investigation.

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