Wednesday Sports in Brief

NBA

NEW YORK (AP) — Vanessa Bryant spoke publicly Wednesday for the first time since the helicopter crash that killed her husband Kobe Bryant, one of their daughters and seven others, taking to Instagram to thank people for the global outpouring of support since the tragedy.

She also announced the formation of a fund to help support the other families that were affected by the crash.

“Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them,” Vanessa Bryant wrote. “We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately.”

The Bryants would have celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary this April. They had four daughters including Gianna, the 13-year-old who died in the crash.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The crash that killed nine people including Kobe Bryant has led to calls for crash-warning systems to be installed in more helicopters, but regulators and pilots worry that the instrument can trigger too many alarms and prove distracting.

“Another warning system screaming at you isn’t going to help,” said Brian Alexander, a helicopter pilot and aviation lawyer. “You don’t want to inundate the pilot.”

The death of the basketball star on Sunday has highlighted the debate over the merits of what’s known as the Terrain Awareness and Warning System, or TAWS, which would have sounded a voice alarm if the aircraft was in danger of hitting the ground or some object, such as a tower or a wire.

It is required in medical helicopters but not in commercial ones like the one used by Bryant.

National Transportation Safety Board officials say it is too early to tell whether a TAWS on Bryant’s Sikorsky helicopter could have prevented the crash. But they think it should have been installed on the aircraft, and they criticized federal regulators for not carrying out the NTSB’s recommendation over a decade ago to mandate such equipment on helicopters with six or more passenger seats.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers ended practice with a few somber, almost plaintive laughs. As they left the court, they all passed under the oversized 8 and 24 outlined in white on the black wall above the door to their locker room.

Anthony Davis and several other Lakers paused and looked up at Kobe Bryant’s two retired numbers for a moment before they moved forward.

The Lakers are still grieving and mourning Bryant’s death Sunday in a helicopter crash along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others. Los Angeles’ players and coaches returned to work Wednesday at their training complex with a determination to keep Bryant and the victims in their thoughts while getting on with the business of basketball and life.

“We want to represent what Kobe was about, more than anything,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve always wanted to make him proud, and that’s not going to be any different now.”

NFL

MIAMI (AP) — Stopping short of saying the Rooney Rule is not working, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell noted Wednesday the league needs change to its minority hiring policy.

Though the league requires teams to interview minority candidates, only two African-Americans have been hired for 19 open head coaching spots over the past three years. The league has only two minority general managers among the 32 teams.

“Clearly we are not where we want to be on this level,” Goodell said at his annual Super Bowl news conference.

“We will have a series of meetings which we’ve already scheduled over the next month to get that kind of dialogue going, to continue the dialogue to try to determine what are the solutions so we can have those better outcomes,” he added.

The Rooney Rule, which has been adopted by other leagues and businesses, calls for a minority candidate to be interviewed for head coaching and executive openings such as general managers. Critics have said those interviews are often simply token responses to the rule and that the minority candidates are not seriously considered for those positions.

Goodell also addressed negotiations between the NFL Players Association and the league on a new labor deal. The current 10-year contract runs out in March 2021 and there is optimism on both fronts that a new deal would be finalized before this March when the 2020 league year begins.

CLEVELAND (AP) — Andrew Berry has quickly gotten to work on restructuring the Browns.

A day after Berry was officially hired as Cleveland’s new general manager, the team parted ways with assistant general manager Eliot Wolf and vice president of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith, a person familiar with the Browns’ latest front office shakeup told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

College scouting director Steve Malin also has left the team, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the moves have not been made public.

And while the Browns change their front-office makeup, new coach Kevin Stefanski has been assembling his staff. He’s hiring former NFL quarterback and coach Alex Van Pelt as his offensive coordinator, the person said. Van Pelt spent the past two seasons as Cincinnati’s quarterbacks coach.

— By AP Sports Writer Tom Withers.

MLB

HOUSTON (AP) — Dusty Baker has been hired to replace AJ Hinch as the manager of the Houston Astros.

The team announced the hiring on Wednesday and said Baker will be introduced in Houston on Thursday.

The 70-year-old became the oldest manager in the big leagues. Hinch was fired Jan. 13 just an hour after he was suspended for the season by Major League Baseball for his role in Houston’s sign-stealing scandal.

Baker’s hiring was a sign the AL champions wanted to add a veteran presence to a franchise reeling from the dismissal of Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. Baker has 22 years of managerial experience, starting in 1993 with the San Francisco Giants.

A three-time National League Manager of the Year, Baker last managed the Washington Nationals, who let him go after a 97-65 season in 2017.

NEW YORK (AP) — Bickering over Major League Baseball’s proposal to cut 42 farm teams escalated Wednesday with the exchange of acrimonious letters by the commissioner’s office and the governing body of the minor leagues.

MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem wrote some minor league owners view their affiliation with a big league franchise “as a commodity with a fixed value that is bought and sold for a profit similar to a taxi medallion.”

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of the minors, said in a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred that the motivation for MLB’s proposals was “related to the staggering difference in payrolls among MLB teams.”

In negotiations to replace the Professional Baseball Agreement that expires after the 2020 season, MLB proposed cutting the minimum guaranteed affiliation agreements from 160 to 120 and said it would drop Double-A teams in Binghamton, New York, and Erie, Pennsylvania, along with Chattanooga and Jackson, Tennessee. The plan would eliminate the 28 teams from four Class A Short Season and Rookie Advanced leagues that do not play at spring training complexes and would replace them with teams in a “Dream League” of unaffiliated players that would operate under the auspices of MLB. The amateur draft would be pushed back from June until later in the summer.

Talks are set to resume on Feb. 20.

CHICAGO (AP) — Kris Bryant has lost his service-time grievance against the Chicago Cubs, providing some clarity for the team and the All-Star third baseman with spring training on the horizon.

Two people with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed the decision on Wednesday. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because arbitrator Mark Irvings had not announced his ruling.

The grievance had hovered over Chicago throughout its quiet offseason. The decision means the 28-year-old Bryant has two years left before he is eligible for free agency, instead of becoming a free agent after the 2020 season.

Now that Bryant’s status is settled, the Cubs might decide to trade the 2016 National League MVP for financial flexibility and an injection of talent for their sagging minor league system. They also could keep the talented slugger in hopes of winning the wide-open NL Central for the third time in five years.

— By AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen.

WNBA

WASHINGTON (AP) — The WNBA champion Washington Mystics say reigning MVP Elena Delle Donne is expected to be ready for the start of the season after undergoing back surgery.

The Mystics said Wednesday that Delle Donne had minor surgery Friday in Dallas to repair an injury she suffered during the playoffs.

The team says an update will be provided at the start of training camp this spring. The 2020 regular season starts in May. The Mystics open the season May 16 against Los Angeles.

Delle Donne averaged just under 20 points a game for the Mystics last season. She played through the back injury to compete in all nine playoff games and help Washington win its first WNBA title in franchise history.

TRACK AND FIELD

LONDON (AP) — The indoor world athletics championships in Nanjing, China, have been postponed by a year because of the dangerous virus outbreak in the country, the sport’s governing body announced Wednesday.

World Athletics said in a statement that the event will now be held in March 2021 instead of March 13-15 this year.

The governing body said it made the decision “with regret” because of the spreading virus that has killed more than 130 people.

OLYMPICS

TOKYO (AP) — The city of Sapporo is the first to officially bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics and becomes the early favorite after the Japanese Olympic Committee approved its candidate file late Wednesday.

Sapporo was host to the 1972 Winter Olympics and could face competition from Salt Lake City in the United States, which is also being mentioned as a possible bidder, along with Barcelona and a bid tied to the Pyrenees.

Salt Lake held the 2002 Winter Olympics and Barcelona held the 1992 Summer Olympics.

OBITUARY

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Michael Wright, a former University of Minnesota football star who led grocery wholesaler Supervalu Inc. for 20 years, has died. He was 81.

Wright died Monday at his home in Wayzata of complications from pneumonia, Wright’s son, Adam Wright, told the Star Tribune.

A Minneapolis native, Wright excelled in both football and basketball in high school at St. Thomas Military Academy and became captain of the Gophers football team in 1959. Wright was drafted in the 1960s by teams in the National Football League, Australian Football League and the Canadian Football League. He took the highest offer, an $11,000 salary from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL, coached by another Gopher alum, Bud Grant.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Hall of Fame defensive end Chris Doleman, who became one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushers during 15 seasons in the league, has died. He was 58.

The Minnesota Vikings and Pro Football Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker offered their condolences in separate statements late Tuesday night. There was no word on the cause or timing of Doleman’s death, but he had surgery in January 2018 to remove a brain tumor.

Doleman played college ball for Pittsburgh before he was selected by Minnesota in the first round of the 1985 NFL draft. He spent his first nine seasons with the Vikings, collecting a league-high 21 sacks in 1989.

The 6-foot-5 Doleman also played for Atlanta and San Francisco before finishing his career with Minnesota in 1999. He collected 150 1/2 sacks in 232 games. He was a first-team All-Pro selection on two occasions, and also made eight Pro Bowls.