17th Annual Sports Legends Awards Honor Superstar Athletes




Public Invited to Spinal Cord Research Benefit Dinner on Saturday, February 23

Downtown Los Angeles, For The Paralysis Project of America

Traditional Memorabilia Auction Expanded To Feature 10-Day Online Bidding Opportunities Beginning Tuesday, February 12 at www.paralysisproject.cmarket.com

LOS ANGELES (Feb. 8, 2008) – Basketball’s Kevin Johnson, boxing’s Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, hockey’s Luc Robitaille and thoroughbred racing’s Jose Santos will return to the limelight on Saturday, Feb. 23, when these memorable sports superstars are honored and their spectacular careers celebrated at the 17th Annual Sports Legends Awards at The Omni Hotel in Los Angeles. Johnson will be presented with the annual John R. Wooden Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Paralysis Project of America’s annual awards ceremony, benefiting spinal cord research, is open to the public. Serving as the event’s emcee will be veteran sportscaster and sportswriter Diana Nyad, a Hall of Fame distance swimming standout in her own right, who was an honoree in 2007.

Also being honored will be Hall of Fame motocross champion and ESPN Supercross analyst David Bailey, who will receive the 2008 Bill Shoemaker Award for media awareness of the spinal cord injured and for his public advocacy for a revolutionary new safety device to be worn by motocross racers – the Leatt Brace.

Tipping off the evening’s festivities at 5:45 p.m. is a reception, featuring autograph opportunities with current and former Sports Legend Award honorees, as well as a sports memorabilia auction and Diamond Bar and Big Screen TV raffle. The dinner begins at 7 p.m., followed immediately by the Sports Legends Awards presentation at 8 p.m.

For the first time in the event’s 17-year history, bidding in the sports and entertainment memorabilia auction officially begins with an Online Auction running Tuesday, Feb. 12 (5 a.m. PT) through Thursday, Feb. 21 (5 p.m. PT) at www.paralysisproject.cmarket.com. It concludes with the Live Event at the Sports Legends Awards ceremony between 5:45-8 p.m. PT on Saturday, Feb. 23.

Sports Legends Awards honorees are selected annually for their contributions to sports by The Paralysis Project of America’s Business and Sports Councils. Headed by co-chairmen Bob Seagren and Gary Stevens, the Sports Council includes former Sports Legends Award winners Pepper Davis, Jim Hill, Rafer Johnson, Jim Knaub, Jack Kramer, Ann Meyers Drysdale, Joe Morgan, Don Newcombe, Bill Sharman, Al Unser, Rogie Vachon, Jamaal Wilkes and John R. Wooden.

“The 2008 class of Sports Legends are superstar athletes who continue to display the heart of a champion,” says Catherine Lepone, executive director of The Paralysis Project of America. “Their participation is a tribute to those who have suffered a life-altering injury that challenges their ability to walk or compete in sports activities as they once did.”

“This year’s honorees are not only sports heroes but outstanding citizens, and we’re extremely thrilled that the public will have a tremendous opportunity to meet and mingle with their favorite sports greats during our 17th Annual event,” says David G. Geffen, president of The Paralysis Project of America Board of Directors.

“We’re also opening up our sports and entertainment memorabilia auction to a wider online audience beginning February 12,” Geffen adds. “We’ll have a wide collection of memorabilia available at www.paralysisproject.cmarket.com, and all proceeds from the auction will continue to directly support important fund raising efforts for spinal cord research.”

A few of this year’s Sports Legends auction items will include: an exclusive two-ticket package to the IRL’s 2008 Indianapolis 500 that includes two Gasoline Alley pit passes and lodging donated by former Sports Legends honoree Andy Granatelli, as well as numerous group ticket and luxury box packages for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Kings, L.A. Avengers and L.A. Galaxy. Tickets to the 2008 Prime Time Emmy Awards also will be on the auction block.

2008 Sports Legends Awards Honorees

Johnson, born in Sacramento, Calif., broke the school scoring record at the University of California, Berkley, en route to his selection in the 1987 National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. After one season, “KJ” was traded to the Phoenix Suns where he spent the remaining 12 seasons of his illustrious NBA career. The 6-1 point guard became a three-time NBA All-Star, four-time NBA All-Pro and Most Improved Player (1989), as well as a gold medalist on the U.S. World Championship team in 1994. He posted a career average of 17.9 points and 9.1 assists per game, and retired in 2000 as one of only four players in NBA history to average 20 points and 10 assists per game in three different seasons. During his 13-year NBA career he compiled 6,711 assists, but that total has been far surpassed off the hardwood thanks to his generous commitment to the well being, education and future of young people. While competing in his third NBA season, Johnson created the faith-based St. HOPE Foundation (www.sthope.com), an organization to assist the inner-city community of Oak Park in his hometown of Sacramento. Today, St. Hope serves more than 2000 children, and in the last 15 years has been responsible for renovating nine buildings, providing 282 jobs through 14 new businesses, and opening multiple charter schools with a total of more than $11 million in development.

Mancini, from of Youngstown, Ohio, followed in the footsteps of father Lenny, a 1940s lightweight boxing contender. A former Junior Olympian and successful amateur with a 43-7 record and 23 knock outs, Mancini entered the professional ranks at 18, when he won his first fight, knocking out Phil Bowen in the first round on Oct. 18, 1979. His all-out offensive fighting style and quick and decisive knockouts led to his “Boom Boom” nickname, and also caught the attention of major television networks where his career was heavily featured. In 1981 he won the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) Lightweight Championship belt from Jorge Morales, and a year later he captured the World Boxing Association (WBA) Lightweight Championship from Art Frias. Mancini retained the WBA title until 1984, when he was upset by Livingstone Bramble. He also lost the rematch in 1985. He retired from the ring in 1993 with a professional record of 295-5 with 23 KOs. At the height of his ‘80s success, Mancini parlayed his notoriety into an acting career, which he immersed himself in during and after his retirement, including appearances in numerous television shows and films, as well a producing credits for films such as “Turn of Faith” (2001).

Robitaille, a native of Montreal, Québec, and current Los Angeles resident, ranks as the highest scoring left wing in National Hockey League (NHL) history and the all-time Los Angeles Kings leader in goals scored. A future member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and an eight-time All Star, Robitaille retired following the 2006-07 season as one of the greatest players in NHL history after a 19-year professional career, compiling 1,394 points (668 goals, 726 assists) in 1431 career regular season games with the Kings, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. In 159 playoff games, including a run to the 2002 Stanley Cup with the Red Wings, he totaled 127 points with 58 goals and 69 assists. Originally drafted by the Kings in 1984, Robitaille became the first King to win the Calder Cup Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year, and later joined legendary Wayne Gretzky in leading the Kings to the club’s first Stanley Cup Finals in 1993. That season, Robitaille served as captain and set league single-season records for most goals (63) and points (125) by a left wing, marks that still stand. With 14 of his 19 seasons spent in a Kings uniform, his popular No. 20 jersey became only the fifth to be retired in club history on Jan. 20, 2007. Currently, he serving in his first season as L.A. Kings President, Business Operations, and along with his family, recently created the Shelter for Serenity, a disaster relief project that benefits victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes (www.shelterforserenity.org).

Santos, a current Florida resident, first raced horses at Club Hipico de Concepcíon at age 14 in his native Chile, before moving to the United States in 1984 at age 23 where his career blossomed. He became the top money-winning jockey four consecutive years between 1986 and 1989, winning the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 1988. He is a seven-time winner of Breeders’ Cup races and was victorious in the 1999 Belmont Stakes aboard Lemon Drop Kid, leading to his selection by his peers as the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award recipient. In 2003, Santos nearly pulled off the coveted Triple Crown, riding Funny Cide to wins at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes but finishing third in the Belmont Stakes. Santos’ career ended in 2007 in a three-horse racing accident in New York’s Aqueduct Racetrack that resulted in five broken vertebrae, a broken sternum and several broken ribs. Although he had designs on a return to racing later that year, doctors persuaded him to retire, which he did on July 30, 2007. A week later he was inducted into the Racing Museum’s Hall of Fame, after compiling career totals of 25,928 mounts, 4,083 wins and earning of $188,561,787, ranking him No. 11 on the all-time jockey rankings list.

Bailey, a native of San Diego, is the step-son of former professional motocross standout Gary “The Professor” Bailey. Turning pro in 1979, the 18-year-old Bailey rapidly became one of the leading young motocross riders and eventually earned a factory sponsorship by Honda for the 1982 season. In 1983, he captured his first American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) national victory in the Anaheim Supercross, and went on to win the AMA Supercross and AMA 250 National Motocross titles. The 1986 season marked the best of his career, when he competed in three series, Supercross, 250cc and 500cc motocross, winning 500cc series and finishing runner up in the other two. Tragically, his career was cut short when he crashed in a practice session in Lake Huron, Calif., just before the start of the 1987 season. The accident left Bailey with significant spinal cord damage, and he became paralyzed from the waist down. He withdrew from the industry and sport he loved for seven years before re-emerging in 1994 as a supercross commentator for ESPN. In 1999, Bailey was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Today, he continues his role as a TV broadcaster, and also serves as the spokesperson of the Full Circle Foundation (www.fullcirclefoundation.com), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping others with spinal cord injuries and contribute to finding a cure. For the past year, Bailey also has made a passionate plea to the top riders in the sport of motocross to start wearing the Leatt Brace, worn around the neck and shoulder to reduce the range of motion in the neck that a rider may endure during a severe crash. The goal of this device is to reduce the amount of paralyzing injuries that have seemed to have surged in recent years.

Nyad, a graduate of Lake Forest College and 2007 Sports Legends honoree, was arguably considered the greatest long-distance swimmer in the world for 10 years (from 1969-1979). In 1979, she stroked the longest swim in history, making the two-day, non-stop, 102.5 mile journey from the Island of Bimini (Bahamas) to Florida in a world record that still stands today. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986, the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2003, and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2006. In the 1980’s, Nyad embarked upon an illustrious career in television, radio, and print. She has served as a senior correspondent for Fox Sports News, hosted her own show on CNBC, and announced numerous sporting events for ABC Sports including three Olympic Games.

Complete ticket information for the 17th Annual Sports Legends Awards can be obtained by contacting Nicole Levitt of the Wide Angle Group at (310) 397-9267.

Net proceeds benefit The Paralysis Project of America (www.paralysisproject.org), founded by the parents of young people paralyzed by spinal cord injury, along with others dedicated to finding the ultimate cure for paralysis.

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Alyshia Kisor