🐫 Good morning! Happy Hump Day from my family to yours.
- MLB: With the Brewers just a game back in the wild card race, reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich has been ruled out for the season (fractured kneecap) after fouling a ball off his right knee. Just the worst.
- NFL: Antonio Brown has been accused of raping his former trainer, according to a federal lawsuit filed yesterday. He has denied the allegations and plans to countersue.
- FIBA World Cup: Team USA is playing France in the quarterfinals this morning (tip-off: 7am ET, ESPN+). Argentina awaits the winner in the semifinals.
Today's word count: 1,149 words (4 minutes)
1 big thing: 🏆 40 years of champions
Sometimes, we can get bogged down in the day-to-day sports news and miss the big picture. So, I figured we'd start today's newsletter by taking a deep breath and zooming all the way out…
Parity rankings: Over the last 40 years, MLB has had 23 different champions, the NHL has had 18, the NFL has had 17 and the more top-heavy NBA has had 12.
- NFL: NFC teams have won just 7 of the 20 Super Bowls played this century. The Patriots, alone, have won 6.
- NBA: Western Conference teams have won a combined 21 NBA Finals since 1979, while Eastern Conference teams have won 19.
- MLB: Only 2 teams have repeated as World Series champions, and they both hail from the AL East (Yankees, Blue Jays).
- NHL: In the last 40 years, 3 teams in the 4 major sports have gone back-to-back-to-back (New York Islanders, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers), but the Islanders are the only team in the last 40 years to pull off the elusive four-peat.
2. ⚾️ Dodgers clinch 7th straight NL West crown
The Dodgers beat the Orioles 7-3 last night at Camden Yards to clinch their 7th straight NL West pennant.
Why it matters: In the divisional era (since 1969), only the Braves (1991–2005) and the Yankees (1998–2006) have strung together more consecutive division titles.
The big picture: ESPN's David Schoenfield on why fans should judge the Dodgers on 7 straight pennants, not the World Series crown they've been chasing since 1988:
"[T]his is a monumental run of excellence for the Dodgers [and] it's not simply because of money. The Yankees will win the AL East this year — their first division title since 2012. The Red Sox have won four World Series since 2003 — and finished in first place just five times.
"Of course, mentioning those World Series championships gets us to how a lot of fans — even Dodgers fans — may feel about this seventh title: Show me a ring.
"That's unfair. ... If you're a Dodgers fan and didn't enjoy the celebration in Baltimore because only the October tournament matters, then I don't know what to tell you. The journey is the joy."
3. 🏈 NFL Power Rankings, Week 2
These will come out every Wednesday. Great opportunity to send me hate mail for ranking your team too low. Hit reply! I'm ready for it!!!
4. 🏀 The WNBA playoffs have arrived
The WNBA playoffs start tonight, with the bottom 4 seeds facing off in a single-elimination doubleheader on ESPN2.
- 8pm ET: (8) Phoenix Mercury at (5) Chicago Sky
- 10pm ET: (7) Minnesota Lynx at (6) Seattle Storm
After that, the winners will play single-elimination games on Sunday against either the (3) Los Angeles Sparks or (4) Las Vegas Aces.
Meanwhile, the (1) Washington Mystics and (2) Connecticut Sun have earned double-byes and will play the winners of the first 2 rounds in the semifinals (best-of-five series format).
- Best team/player: The Mystics might be the best team in WNBA history, and they're led by likely league MVP Elena Delle Donne — the first WNBA player to join the exclusive 50/40/90 club.
- Best rookie: Lynx rookie Napheesa Collier speaks softly, but she looms large over the Rookie of the Year race (The Ringer)
- All-WNBA First Team (SB Nation predictions): F Delle Donne, Mystics; F Nneka Ogwumike, Sparks; C Jonquel Jones, Sun; G Odyssey Sims, Lynx; G Courtney Vandersloot, Sky
5. ⚽️ Soccer 'round the world
TEHRAN, IRAN — Sahar Khodayari, a 29-year-old Iranian woman, has died after setting herself on fire outside of a courtroom where she was being tried for sneaking into a stadium to watch a soccer match — something Iranian women are banned from doing.
- The fallout: Khodayari's death has sparked an outcry in Iran and throughout the world, with many calling for a soccer boycott until the ban is lifted.
HONG KONG — Thousands of Hong Kong soccer fans turned their backs and booed the Chinese national anthem prior to a World Cup qualifying match against Iran yesterday, per AP.
- Watch: The crowd broke out into "Glory to Hong Kong," which has become an anthem in their long-running fight for more democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
ST. LOUIS — The USMNT earned a 1-1 draw with Uruguay last night in an international friendly at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals.
- Highlight: Jordan Morris (No. 11 above), who grew up in Washington state and now plays for the Seattle Sounders, scored on a header in the 78th minute to tie the game.
Oh, also: Cristiano Ronaldo scored 4 goals in Portugal's 5-1 win over Lithuania in a European Championship qualifying match.
6. 🏀 KD speaks
Kevin Durant on…
- The Warriors: "As time went on, I started to realize I'm just different from the rest of the guys. It's not a bad thing. Just my circumstances and how I came up in the league."
- The Thunder: "I eventually wanted to come back to that city and be part of that community and organization, but I don't trust nobody there. ... The organization, the GM, I ain't talked to none of those people ... since I left."
- The NBA: "Some days I hate the circus of the NBA. Some days I hate that the players let the NBA business ... alter their minds about the game. I don't like being around the executives and politics that come with it. I hate that."
7. Sept. 11, 2001: 🇺🇸 A day we will never forget
18 years ago today, the world changed forever.
- Watch: "The Man in the Red Bandana" — a tribute to former college lacrosse player and volunteer firefighter Welles Crowther, who died after saving as many as 18 lives that day. Few stories have ever impacted me more.
- Look: "Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11" — a new exhibition (opened last year) at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum that examines the impact of sports in the days, weeks and months after the attacks.
8. The Ocho: 🏔 Mountain running
As the top commenter on YouTube put it, "I twisted my ankle just watching this."
Bonus: 🏀 NBA trivia
- Question: Who won more NBA MVP awards, Michael Jordan or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
- Hint: One of them won 6, while the other won 5.
Answer at the bottom.
9. 📚 Good reads
🏈 How the Romanskis Became the Oakland Raiders' Parallel to the Davis Family (Katie Baker, The Ringer)
"Sometimes it feels like change is the Raiders' only constant. But through relocations, helmet grievances, and more, the equipment-managing Romanski family has been a tentpole — and a throwback to the kind of organization Oakland forever wishes it can be."
🏀 For Gregg Popovich, the FIBA World Cup is Personal (Marc Stein, NYT)
"Popovich's national team career has never come close to approaching the fairy-tale heights of his two-plus decades as the former Division III college coach at Pomona-Pitzer (Calif.) know as 'Poppo' who went on to win five NBA championships in South Texas with the Spurs."
🎰 Inside the War Between FanDuel and DraftKings That Rocked the Gambling Industry (Albert Chen, book excerpt)
"The FanDuel founders knew the spending was outrageous, the deals value destructive. Still, at every turn, when asked if he would allow DraftKings to overtake them, the CEO always had the same answer: No f---- way."
10. 🍾 Heart of a champion
Gotta love this Dodgers reporter playing through the pain after taking champagne straight to the eyeball and clearly not being able to see. True professional.