Rafer Johnson, who won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1960 Rome Olympics and helped subdue Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin in 1968, died Wednesday. He was 86. He died at his home in the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, according to family friend Michael Roth. No cause of death was announced. Johnson was among the world’s greatest athletes from 1955 through his Olympic triumph in 1960, winning a national decathlon championship in 1956 and a silver medal at the Melbourne Olympics that same year. His Olympic career included carrying the US flag at the 1960 Games and lighting the torch at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to open the 1984 Games. Johnson set world records in the decathlon three different times amid a fierce rivalry with his UCLA teammate C.K. Yang of Taiwan and Vasily Kuznetsov of the former Soviet Union. On June 5, 1968, Johnson was working on Kennedy’s presidential campaign when the Democratic candidate was shot in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Johnson joined former NFL star Rosey Grier and journalist George Plimpton in apprehending Sirhan Sirhan moments after he shot Kennedy, who died the next day. Johnson later called the assassination “one of the most devastating moments in my life.” At 6-foot-3 and 200-plus pounds, he looked more like a linebacker than a track and field athlete. As a freshman at UCLA, where he received academic and athletic scholarships, Johnson won gold at the the 1955 Pan Am Games, and set a world record of 7,985 points. After winning the national decathlon championship in 1956, Johnson was the favorite for the Olympics in Melbourne, but pulled a stomach muscle and strained a knee while training. He was forced to withdraw from the long jump, for which he had also qualified, but tried to gut out the decathlon. Johnson’s teammate, Milt Campbell, a virtual unknown, gave the performance of his life, finishing with 7,937 points to win gold, 350 ahead of Johnson. It was the last time Johnson would ever come in second. At UCLA, Johnson played basketball for coach John Wooden, becoming a starter on the 1958-59 team. In 1958, he was elected student body president, the third Black to hold the office in school history. Johnson retired from competition after the Rome Olympics. He began acting in movies, including appearances in “Wild in the Country” with Elvis Presley, “None But the Brave” with Frank Sinatra, and the 1989 James Bond film “Licence to Kill.” He worked briefly as a TV sportscaster before becoming a vice president at Continental Telephone in 1971. Throughout his life, Johnson was widely known for his humanitarian efforts, serving on the organizing committee of the first special Olympics in Chicago in 1968, founding California Special Olympics the following year, and working for Peace Corps, March of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy Association and American Red Cross. In 2016, he received the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest award for extraordinary accomplishments. The school’s track is named for Johnson and his wife Betsy.
Wizards trade Wall to Rockets for Westbrook
The Washington Wizards agreed to trade guard John Wall, 30, and a protected first-round draft pick to the Houston Rockets for Russell Westbrook, 32, a nine-time All-Star who endured a trying 2019-20 season in Houston, where he averaged 27.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7 assists, and tested positive for the coronavirus and was limited by a quad injury . . . LeBron James agreed to a two-year, $85 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers through the 2022-23 season, which will coincide with James’ 20th NBA season. James’ agency, Klutch Sports, confirmed the deal during the first week of training camp for the NBA champions. The Lakers are still finalizing their new contract with Anthony Davis, who is also represented by Klutch CEO Rich Paul. The Los Angeles Times reported James, the four-time NBA champion who turns 36 in four weeks, is getting the maximum deal to extend his tenure in Los Angeles, where he moved two seasons ago after his second stint with his hometown Cavaliers. Davis and James teamed up last season to win the franchise’s 17th championship in the bubble in central Florida. James averaged 25.3 points and led the NBA with 10.2 assists per game last season before winning the NBA Finals MVP award while beating the Miami Heat in a six-game series . . . The Detroit Pistons reached a non-guaranteed deal with LiAngelo Ball, the brother of New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball and Charlotte Hornets lottery pick LaMelo Ball . . . The NBA said 48 players tested positive for the coronavirus since testing resumed last week. The league and National Basketball Players Association said 546 players were tested between Nov. 24-30 in the initial phase of testing after returning to team markets, with nine percent of the tests being positive.
Cubs release Schwarber, Almora Jr.
Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. were cut loose by the Chicago Cubs after helping the team win its first World Series title in more than a century, among 59 players who became free agents as part of the fallout from the coranavirus pandemic when their teams failed to offer them 2021 contracts. Cincinnati reliever Archie Bradley, Atlanta outfielder Adam Duvall, Colorado outfielder David Dahl and Minnesota outfielder Eddie Rosario also were let go by their club . . . The Milwaukee Brewers traded All-Star righthanded reliever Corey Knebel to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a player to be named or cash . . . The New York Mets agreed to a $5.1 million, one-year deal with lefthander Steven Matz, and finalized their $15.5 million, two-year contract with free agent reliever Trevor May.
Texas men win relocated Maui Invitational
Matt Coleman III hit a stepback jumper with 0.1 seconds left to help No. 17 Texas beat No. 14 North Carolina, 69-67, to win the relocated Maui Invitational in Asheville, N.C. Coleman finished with 22 points and was the tournament’s most valuable player for the Longhorns (4-0), who blew a 16-point lead late in the first half and fell behind with about 2½ minutes left. Coleman and Kai Jones both came up big in the critical moments for Texas, securing the Longhorns’ first Maui title in their fifth appearance in the tournament.
Maryland-Michigan called off by virus
Maryland football’s game at Michigan scheduled for Saturday has been canceled because of coronavirus cases in the Wolverines’ program, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel announced. “We have seen an increase in the number of student-athletes unavailable to compete due to positive COVID-19 tests and associated contact tracing due to our most recent antigen and PCR testing results,” Manuel said in a statement. This is the third game on Maryland’s schedule that has been canceled this season. The Terps couldn’t play back-to-back home games against Ohio State and Michigan State after a coronavirus outbreak in their program. During a two-week span, 23 Maryland players and seven staff members, including head coach Michael Locksley, tested positive for the virus. Maryland returned to play at Indiana this past weekend, losing 27-11, but now the Terps will have another disruption because of an outbreak at another school . . . Southern Miss hired Tulane offensive coordinator Will Hall as its new head football coach. Athletic director Jeremy McClain announced the hiring of Hall. He replaced Jay Hopson, who resigned after the Golden Eagles lost the opener to South Alabama.
Ronaldo sparks Juventus in triumph
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 750th career goal in the 57th minutes to help Juventus beat Dynamo Kyiv, 3-0, in Turin, Italy, and leave it with a chance of securing top spot in its Champions League group. Ronaldo scored his team’s second goal and also hit the bar after Federico Chiesa opened the scoring in the first half. Álvaro Morata completed the scoring in a game that saw Stéphanie Frappart became the first female referee to officiate a men’s Champions League match. Juventus remained second in Group G, three points behind Barcelona after the Catalan club won, 3-0, at Ferencváros.