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Nike announces sponsorship deal with McIlroy

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Nike announces sponsorship deal with McIlroy

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are on the same team now - at least when it comes to sponsorship.

McIlroy officially made the switch to the swoosh on Monday as Nike confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in golf, announcing it had signed a multi-year deal with the top-ranked Northern Irishman.

The deal means Nike now has golf's two biggest names representing its brand, as Woods has been with the sportswear company since turning pro in 1996. Nike did not disclose any financial details of the deal, but industry observers have estimated that McIlroy will be paid up to $20 million a year to use the company's equipment and apparel.

The partnership with McIlroy was announced in a lavish ceremony in the United Arab Emirates ahead of this week's Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, where he will use the company's equipment for the first time. The event opened with a hologram of McIlroy swinging a club and included a video showing Woods, Roger Federer and Wayne Rooney welcoming him to Nike.

``Rory is an extraordinary athlete who creates enormous excitement with his on-course performance while, at the same time connecting with fans everywhere,'' said Cindy Davis, president of Nike Golf. ``He is the epitome of a Nike Athlete, and he is joining our team during the most exciting time in Nike Golf's history. We are looking forward to partnering with him to take his remarkable career to the next level.''

McIlroy said he was ``really excited'' to start the season and insisted he has made a ``seamless'' adjustment to his new equipment, especially his driver.

``As soon as I hit it, I knew it was going in the bag straight away,'' McIlroy said. ``It blew me away. My ball speed was up. My numbers were good. I'm hitting it further. I thought I hit it far before but this is taking to new level. That's great.''

McIlroy's switch to Nike had been widely expected. In October, McIlroy cut ties with Acushnet Co., which had supplied him with Titleist and FootJoy gear since he turned pro five years ago. And this month, Jumeirah Group announced it was not renewing its five-year sponsorship deal with the Northern Irishman.

McIlroy insisted he's not making the switch because of the money.

``I don't play golf for the money, I am well past that,'' McIlroy said. ``I'm a major champion and world No. 1, which I have always dreamed of being, and feel this is a company that can help me sustain that and win even more major titles. At the end of 2013, if I have not won another major I will be disappointed.''

The deal comes in the wake of a career year for McIlroy, in which he became No. 1 and won his second major. He insisted in an interview with The Associated Press that all the attention hasn't rattled him and that he has struck the ``right balance,'' although he acknowledged it took some time getting used to the top ranking.

``I guess when I first got to No. 1 after Honda, I might have struggled with it for a few weeks,'' said McIlroy, who temporarily relinquished the title to Luke Donald before finishing the year at the top.

``It was a big goal of mine going into last year trying to get that. I probably achieved it a bit faster than I thought I would,'' he said. ``(Then) I sort of didn't have a goal. I was like, `what's next?' I had to reassess. It was a good lesson for me. Now that I've got back to No. 1, I felt I handled it a lot better.''

McIlroy and Woods have already developed a friendly rivalry lately, and they will likely be seen together even more often from now on.

Nike already unveiled a new commercial entitled ``No Cup is Safe'' that begins running Wednesday featuring McIlroy and Woods on the driving range - with each trying to outdo the other. The players first take turn aiming at the driving range hole and then start hitting more spectacular targets, with balls going into wine glasses at a wedding and a soup bowl in a restaurant. It ends with McIlroy picking up his water glass to find Woods' golf ball.

``How did you do that?'' McIlroy asks. Woods retorts: ``You'll learn.''

McIlroy said the two have a mutual respect for each other, but that it's too soon to say they have a real rivalry on the course.

``I don't know if you can call it a rivalry yet because we haven't battled each other down the stretch of a major,'' McIlroy told the AP. ``It's not like we have been playing in the final group of a tournament and we are battling each other. Hopefully at some point that can happen this year and it would be great to be part of that.''

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Wizards coach Scott Brooks issues strong defense of John Wall after win over Clippers

Wizards coach Scott Brooks issues strong defense of John Wall after win over Clippers

After his team showed resilience in erasing a 24-point lead to beat the L.A. Clippers on Tuesday night, head coach Scott Brooks swept aside an opportunity to fire back at critics of himself and his team following a barrage of negative headlines in recent days.

Brooks did, however, take the time to address one particular angle of the whole mess. He issued a passionate defense of his star point guard, John Wall, who has been at the center of the controversies surrounding the organization.

Brooks and Wall had an altercation last week during practice that led to Wall receiving a fine from the team. Brooks spoke at length about the incident itself at shootaround. After Tuesday's win, he honed in on a specific criticism of Wall, that he is out of shape and not giving an honest effort on the floor.

"John, he's been taking hits. Let's face it," Brooks said. "You hear all the reports that he's heavy. The guy has seven percent body fat..."

"He's in great shape. I like the way he plays. He plays hard."

Brooks went on to point out how Wall hasn't been playing at 100 percent for much of this season. Wall has dealt with a deep thigh bruise and it's partly to explain for the Wizards' 6-11 start.

The overall numbers look about how they should for Wall.

He's averaging 21.5 points, 7.9 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 44.4 percent from the field. But his defense has been lacking and he's not getting the assists he usually collects because he hasn't had the same burst in transition.

Playing through injuries is always tricky for professional athletes. When people know they're hurt, that effort is often appreciated. But when the injuries aren't disclosed, fans and members of the media can only draw conclusions based on what they see.

Brooks explained in detail why he thinks Wall should be cut some slack for his start to the season.

"He's a warrior. There's a lot of guys that I've seen in my playing career that they love to sit out. They're just talented and they've got talented contracts. They sit out and you can't do anything about it. You admire and you appreciate and you celebrate the guys that play hard. You don't have to tell the world that he's banged up," Brooks said.

"He didn't say one word and I wasn't gonna say it. It's over. He's feeling great. He's fought. He's not gonna tell the world 'look at me, I'm sore.' He doesn't want your sympathy. He just fights and he plays the right way. He plays hard."

Brooks is clearly trying to stick up for his star player and change the current media narrative.

As long as the Wizards win, that shouldn't be hard to do.

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Emotional John Wall opens up about trade rumors, coming arrival of son after comeback win

Emotional John Wall opens up about trade rumors, coming arrival of son after comeback win

The subject of trade rumors and reports of in-fighting at Wizards practice over the past few days, John Wall proved his worth to the Wizards on the court Tuesday night. 

Washington trailed the Clippers by as many as 24 points, but Wall helped orchestrate a furious comeback which concluded in a 125-118 Washington win. Wall led all scorers with 30 points and dished out eight assists. 

After the game, Wall opened up to NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller about the cloud of controversy which has surrounded the Wizards this week, as well as a far more serious matter in his personal life: he's gonna be a dad soon!

"It's amazing, man. All the heart and effort and drive I've had for this organization, this team, to hear certain things like being traded, I try to stay focused," he told Miller. "Focused on getting ready to have my new son, trying to turn this organization around, this franchise around and win some games."

"All it is is go out there and compete, dog. All of us go out here and compete, that's one thing I always did since day one is give everything I got. And to hear those type of things, it's kind of funny. It's frustrating at the same time, but I've been through worse things. I just stand over top of all that."

And as his coach, Scott Brooks, has been preaching over the last few weeks, Wall believes the only way the Wizards turn around their season is if they show one thing: effort. 

"It's just about effort, man. Effort and heart," he said. "I've been preaching that since I've been here from day one, and in the second half we gave a lot of effort and heart. That's why we came back and fought hard, and got a great win that we needed."

"In the first half, we didn't play with no energy, no sense of urgency, and they beat the brakes off of us. We got to find a way to dig deep, and we made some big shots and got some big stops."

"It's not where we want to be, it's not where we started. Dealing with injuries, dealing with those type of things, you make no excuses. Whoever step between these lines, you go out there and compete, and that's all I ask for the14 guys, including myself, is to go play hard.

It's far too early to declare it as such, but if the Wizards can build off of Tuesday's performance, it may very well be looked at as the night Wall and Washington turned their season around. 

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