Thursday Sports in Brief

MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

LeBron James has been selected as The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for the third time.

In 2018, he continued to excel on the court, opened the “I Promise” school for at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and further used his voice as an activist who bristled at being told to “shut up and dribble.”

James went to the NBA Finals for the eighth consecutive year. He changed addresses again, leaving his Cleveland home for the second time to join the Los Angeles Lakers in the biggest move of free agency over the summer.

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James received 78 points in balloting by U.S. editors and news directors announced Thursday, while Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts was second with 46. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals was third, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was fourth and Triple Crown winner Justify was fifth.

NFL

METIAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints veteran tight end Ben Watson says he’s retiring after this season.

Watson turned 38 this month and is in his 14th NFL season out of Georgia.

His announcement came through an NFL Films video about his family that was posted on Thursday. Watson also confirmed his decision with reporters after Thursday’s practice.

Watson has caught 33 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns this season in helping the Saints capture the top playoff seed in the NFC.

BASEBALL

WASHINGTON (AP) — Anibal Sanchez has a new team and his same catcher.

The Washington Nationals agreed to terms on a two-year, $19 million contract with right-hander Anibal Sanchez on Thursday.

The deal includes a team option for 2021.

Sanchez, 34, will add depth to Washington’s new-look rotation after boosting his appeal with a comeback season for NL East rival Atlanta. The Nationals signed Patrick Corbin to a six-year deal earlier this month.

Sanchez said the two-year deal was important at his age.

NHL

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed forward Jake Guentzel to a five-year, $30 million contract extension Thursday.

The extension runs through 2023-24.

The 24-year-old Guentzel joined the team midway through the 2016-17 season, helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. He led all players in the playoffs that season with 13 goals, second-most by a rookie in league history. He had 21 points to tie the NHL rookie record and five game-winning goals to set an NHL rookie mark.

MMA

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jon Jones is defiantly defending his role in the decision to move UFC 232 from Nevada to California on six days’ notice after he tested positive for low levels of a banned steroid.

The former light heavyweight champion gave a passionate, occasionally bizarre performance Thursday at a news conference ahead of his title fight against Sweden’s Alexander Gustafsson at the Forum in Inglewood, California, on Saturday night.

Jones (22-1) expressed regret for the enormous inconveniences caused by his latest failed doping test, which cost the UFC and the card’s other fighters millions in earnings.

RUNNING

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand athlete William “Bill” Baillie, who once held world records in the now obscure 20,000-meter and one-hour running events, has died. He was 84.

Athletics New Zealand said Baillie died on Christmas Day.

At the time Baillie broke the records they had a higher status than today and were held by Czech great Emil Zatopek.

Baillie set both marks in the same race in Auckland in 1963. In one hour he covered 12 miles, 960 yards, 7 inches or 20.19 kilometers, after reaching the 20K mark in 59 minutes, 28.6 seconds.

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

BUENA, N.J. (AP) — An attorney for a New Jersey high school wrestler forced by a referee to cut his dreadlocks before a match to avoid a forfeit says the boy’s family won’t pursue legal action.

The Buena (BYOO’-nah) Regional school board held an emergency meeting Wednesday night.

The board said the Buena High School wrestling team won’t compete in events officiated by referee Alan Maloney.

Wrestler Andrew Johnson had his dreadlocks cut minutes before the match Dec. 19.

Johnson, who is black, had a cover over his hair, but Maloney, who is white, said that wouldn’t do. Maloney didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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