CARLSBAD — Former world heavyweight boxing champion Ken Norton will be making a comeback when he competes in the second Gordon's Gin Sports Celebrity Tennis Tournament Monday through Thursday at the La Costa Resort Hotel & Spa courts.
Norton, who was seriously injured in an automobile accident last winter, says he is anxious to return to competition, along with 40 other outstanding athletes in this mixed doubles, round-robin event.
"I came from the intensive care ward in the hospital to a wheel chair to a walker, crutches and a cane, " Norton said. "I'm going to play even if I have to do it in a wheel chair," said Norton, who was a crowd favorite last year.
"Besides, I've spent too much money on tennis lessons," he added. And he did need lessons.
Norton, who broke Muhammad Ali's jaw in two places when he won the World Boxing Council championship in 1973, couldn't crack and egg with his serve last year.
A beginner, Norton once hit playing partner Reggie Theus of the Sacramento Kings in the back of the head with his "high, hard one" (first serve). Theus did not even look back.
The field of 40 in the four-day affair includes male and female athletes from 12 sports, including 16 Olympic gold medal winners.
Among those competing will be Bill Walton of the world champion Boston Celtics, Kiki Vandeweghe and Bob Lanier; football standouts Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Rolf Benirschke, Steve Largent, and Jim Zorn; swimming stars John Naber, Debbie Meyer and Steve Lundquist; track greats Wilma Rudolph, Wyomia Tyus and Dwight Stones; Candy Costie Burke and husband Doug; Tauna Vandeweghe; Ann Meyers; and Suzy Chaffee.
Each player has six different partners daily and will play four-game sets with each. After three days of this format, the eight players with the most points are pairs according to standings. Four teams meet in semifinal matches Thursday morning and the surviving pairs play later Thursday for the championship.
Earl (The Pearl) Monroe, former New York Knicks standout, and Theus, won last year's inaugural event.
Admission is free and competition begins at 10 a.m. daily.