May 7, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

☕️ Good morning! Congrats to the Bruins for advancing to the Eastern Conference finals and to the Avalanche for staving off elimination.

  • My apologies to all fans of NC State, Cal, Florida, Georgia and any other school with a rightful claim to the "Quarterback U" moniker that I failed to mention yesterday. Keep the replies coming! Love the passion.
  • Also, as some of you suggested, we're going to do a statistical analysis to prove once and for all who is most deserving of the nickname. Data > opinions. Stay tuned.

Lots of basketball today. Let's hoop.

1 big thing: 🏀 Can the traditional big man be saved?

Illustration: Axios Visuals

The NCAA men's basketball rules committee will gather this week to vote on some 54 proposals, the most significant being whether the free throw lane should be widened from 12 to 16 feet — the dimension used in the NBA.

Why it matters: If the change is made, it would allow more room for drivers and cutters. But it would also require players to post up two feet further from the basket, which could eventually lead to the disappearance of the traditional center.

  • If the change is not made, it would not only protect the role of the traditional center but also "tap the brakes on the rush to mimic the NBA, which ... has virtually eliminated post play," writes The Athletic's Seth Davis (subscription).

The big picture: In addition to having the world's best players, the NBA also has just 30 teams. In Division I alone, there are 353 — and those teams feature a much wider range of talent levels and coaching styles.

  • So, do you change the rules — and, in this case, the literal lines on the court — to better prepare the country's top talent for their future professional careers?
  • Or do you keep things as they are, thereby allowing a more diverse crop of players to flourish and avoid being phased out?

What they're saying:

  • Texas coach Shaka Smart: "I think the closer we are to the NBA, the better it is for us. The NBA is where all the players want to be eventually. The more our game can mirror theirs, the harder it is to paint us as being so much different."
  • Tennessee coach Rick Barnes: "I don't think anybody in college wants to mimic the NBA. I think we've got a great game, and it is suited for a lot of different people that can play it. We don't all have to be the same."

The bottom line: The rules committee votes on proposals every other year, and thanks to the analytics boom and three-point revolution happening in the pros, most of their recent decisions have come down to one simple question:

  • Should college basketball follow the NBA's lead? Or is it better to remain its own distinctive brand of hoops?

Go deeper: As basketball's big men play more like guards, high school coaches face a dilemma

2. 📸 Photos 'round the world
Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tiger Woods received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation's highest civilian honor, during a ceremony at the White House yesterday. Full list of all recipients.

Photo: Tom Dulat/Getty Images

DUBAI, U.A.E. — The Ladies European Tour held the world's first professional day-night golf tournament at Emirates Golf Course in Dubai. 23-year-old Nuria Iturrios of Spain (10-under-par) came out on top.

Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO — Sailing teams from France, Great Britain, China, Japan, Australia and the U.S. raced against each other in the San Francisco Bay this past weekend during SailGP, with Australia winning the international competition.

Photo: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

MERZOUGA, Morocco — Competitors ride their bikes during Stage 4 of the 14th edition of Titan Desert 2019 mountain biking race. Josep Betalú of Spain made history, becoming the first rider to win the race four times in a row. Highlights.

3. 🏀 Bucks push Celtics to the brink; Rockets even series

Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images


Go deeper:

  • Best stat: Through four games, the Warriors have 452 points and the Rockets have 451. This series is going the distance. Mark it down.
  • Best collection of overlooked talent: The Blazers-Nuggets series includes ... Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum (both unranked out of HS); Seth Curry and Torrey Craig (both unranked and undrafted); and Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic and Will Barton (all second-round picks).
  • Best Monday performance: Giannis Antetokounmpo became just the third player in the last 35 postseasons to put up 35 points and 15 rebounds in fewer than 35 minutes, joining young Hakeem and prime Shaq.
  • Best new nickname: Kawhi Leonard Is The Terminator.
4. 🏒 Blues, Stars prepare for Game 7
Photo: Steve Nurenberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars prepare for tonight's Game 7 (8pm ET, NBCSN), the question is: who has the advantage?

  • The logical answer is the Blues, who have the momentum after winning Sunday's Game 6 by a score of 4-1 and will be playing in front of their home crowd. However, they've curiously won just two of their six home games this postseason, so all bets are off.
  • Instead of attempting to predict who will win this hockey game — a seemingly impossible task this postseason — perhaps we'd be better served by examining these two franchises' shared history.

The backdrop: The Blues were one of six teams added to the NHL in 1967, along with the Minnesota North Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and California Seals. The North Stars would, of course, relocate in 1993 and become the Dallas Stars.

  • St. Louis reached the Stanley Cup finals in each of their first three seasons, capitalizing on a playoff format that required an expansion team to make it there. Unfortunately, they were swept all three years and have failed to reach the finals since.
  • On top of that, many of the Blues' superstars have gone on to win titles elsewhere, most notably Brett Hull, who won his first Stanley Cup with — you guessed it — the Stars in 1999.
  • Recent history: The last time either team played a Game 7 was against each other, with St. Louis defeating Dallas 6-1 in the 2016 second round.

Go deeper:

5. 🎮 Esports is trying to find its Little League

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

From Mike Sykes: The esports industry figured out how to create crossover stars and form partnerships with major leagues. Some organizations are even diving into content. Yet, no one has been able to create the industry's equivalent of Little League Baseball.

The problem: No matter a player's skill level, marketability is just as essential for turning pro. Without it, great players can be overlooked. When great players are overlooked, the industry loses.

  • Put it this way: The Patriots never find Tom Brady without NCAA football. Can you imagine the NFL without Tom Brady?
  • "This is the only competition where that's true," Shawn Smith, CEO of Harena Data tells Axios. "Players have quit esports altogether because of that."

The big picture: The same infrastructure esports is trying to create already exists in traditional sports. The industry just hasn't figured out how to copy it yet.

  • "We need some analog of Little League Baseball. It's really a broader initiative," Cloud9 gaming's president Dan Fiden tells Axios. "In traditional sports, that infrastructure gets folded into schools. In a perfect world, ours might too."

Driving the news: That infrastructure is coming and it's happening right now.

  • Cloud9's "Path to Pro" is taking its first steps with the goal of creating esports communities where gamers can team up and play together under actual coaches.
  • Denmark's Ministry of Culture just developed a plan to build out the grassroots infrastructure that includes a panel tackling issues in seven key areas native to esports.
  • Harena Data created the GyoScore beta system where players are able to register their scores and results from different esports for pro scouts to evaluate.

The bottom line: Esports has been able to build immense value without a proper professional path. Once a true pipeline is built, the industry's growth could skyrocket.

Go deeper: Esports eyes high schools, colleges as talent pipeline

6. 🏀 May 7, 1994: Upset in Seattle
Photo: Jim Davidson/AFP via Getty Images

25 years ago today, the Nuggets became the first No. 8 seed in NBA history to upset a No. 1 seed when they beat the Seattle SuperSonics 3-2 in a best-of-five first-round series.

Details: The 63-win Sonics (best record in the league) won the first two games handily but dropped the next three, including a 98-94 Game 5 loss on their home court.

  • Dikembe Mutombo dominated the series defensively, averaging 6.2 blocks per game to go with 12.6 points and 12.2 rebounds.

Watch: Game 5 footage

7. 🏀 NBA trivia

This past weekend, Nikola Jokic became the seventh player in NBA history with four triple-doubles in a single postseason.

  • Question: Who are the other six?
  • Hint: Two are active players, two starred for the Lakers, one starred for the Bucks and one coached the Bucks.

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: 🚎 European Tram Driver Championship
Source: Giphy

Yup, it's a real thing. Brussels hosted this year.

"On 4 May 2019, tram drivers from all over Europe celebrated the 8th European Championship in Brussels with a record number of 25 teams from 21 European countries."
"The competition was based on the daily challenges of the tram pilots. For example, when estimating the lateral distance, the aim was to correctly assess obstacles such as parked cars in order to ensure an accident-free crossing. Further disciplines: speed estimation with covered speedometer, target braking ... and the popular tram bowling."
Kendall Baker

See you tomorrow,

Kendall "Need more tram bowling in my life" Baker

Trivia Answer: LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Jason Kidd and Oscar Robertson.

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