Sep 8, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

πŸ‘‹ Good morning! Hope you enjoyed the long weekend. Let's sports.

  • πŸ€ Last night in the NBA: In the East, the Celtics destroyed the Raptors, 111-89, to take a 3-2 series lead. ... In the West, the Clippers outlasted the Nuggets, 113-107, to take a 2-1 series lead.
  • πŸ€ Tonight in the NBA: In the West, LeBron James goes for playoff win No. 162 (most ever) against the Rockets. ... In the East, the Bucks (down 3-1) continue their quest to become the first team to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. Teams are 0-139 all-time.

πŸ“† Coming up: The rest of the week is going to be jam-packed with football.

  • Wednesday: πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ Political football, plus NFL fantasy rankings
  • Thursday: 🏈 NFL season preview, plus TNF picks
  • Friday: 🏈 CFB season preview, plus virtual tailgate playlist

Today's word count: 1,677 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: πŸ₯‡ Heroes of the Paralympics

Great Britain's Jonnie Peacock celebrates winning gold in the men's 100m at the 2012 Paralympics in London. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

The 16th Summer Paralympics would have ended this weekend in Tokyo, but the pandemic had other ideas, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

  • Why it matters: The Paralympics is one of the biggest sporting events on Earth, and its recent surge in popularity has helped change how the world views disabilities β€” and human potential.
  • The event's success has given the disabled community a global platform to show that there's nothing "less than" about them, and that platform is only getting bigger as 2021 approaches.

The backdrop: The Paralympics was the brainchild of Ludwig Guttmann, a Jewish neurologist in 1930s Germany who was forced out of his job when Adolf Hitler came to power.

  • His family escaped to England in 1939, where he took up a post at the Stoke Mandeville spinal injury center for soldiers and realized that the power of sport could be used to both mentally and physically rehabilitate his patients.
  • In 1948, with London hosting the Olympics, he organized the first annualΒ Stoke Mandeville Games.
  • By 1960, the event had grown to include 400 athletes and was officially recognized as the 1st Paralympic Summer Games in Rome. Since then, it has run parallel to the Olympics.

The big picture: By 2008 in Beijing, the Paralympics had become a huge success, and in 2012, the event grew even bigger with 3.8 billion viewers worldwide.

  • Disaster nearly struck in 2016 when, just five weeks shy of the Rio Games, the IPC learned that the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee had spent all the money earmarked for the Paralympics on the Olympics.
  • Fortunately, government funds were secured at the last minute, and the event was a rousing success. A record 4.1 billion viewers tuned in, and in-person attendance actually outdrew the Olympics.

Meet the athletes: Netflix's new documentary, "Rising Phoenix," dives into the history of the Paralympics, while highlighting athletes' journeys from tragedy to triumph. A few heroes from the film:

  • Matt Stutzman: An American archer born without arms whose preternatural ability to use his feet made him a silver medalist in 2012.
  • Tatyana McFadden: A Russian-American track star born with spina bifida that left her paralyzed from the waist down. She's among the most decorated Paralympians of all time, with 17 medals across various events.
  • Jean-Baptiste Alaize: A French long jumper who was born in Burundi during that country's civil war and lost his leg at 3 after a machete attack. He's a four-time, U-23 world champion, still looking for his first Paralympic medal.

The last word:

"The Olympics are where heroes are created; the Paralympics are where heroes come."
β€” Ian BonhΓ΄te, director of "Rising Phoenix"

πŸŽ₯ Watch:

2. ⛳️ PGA Tour: One season ends, another begins

Dustin Johnson won the Tour Championship on Monday, earning him a $15 million bonus and "the knowledge he is playing better than anyone with the U.S. Open just more than a week away," ESPN's Bob Harig writes.

What's next: The 2020-21 season starts on Thursday at the Safeway Open in Napa, California. It features 14 tournaments that were either postponed or canceled due to the pandemic and 50 total events, the most since 1975.

Key dates: Six majors will be played in the next 310 days, including back-to-back Masters in November and April.

  • Sept. 17–20: U.S. Open (Winged Foot, New York)
  • Nov. 12–15: The Masters (Augusta National, Georgia)
  • April 8–11: The Masters (Augusta National, Georgia)
  • May 20–23: PGA Championship (Kiawah Island, S.C.)
  • June 17–20: U.S. Open (Torrey Pines, California)
  • July 15–18: The Open (Royal St. George's, Kent, England)

Go deeper: Full 2020-21 schedule (PGA Tour)

3. πŸ’ Hockey's final four

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Just four teams remain in the race for the Stanley Cup, with the conference finalists converging in Edmonton to finish out the postseason, Jeff writes.

  • East: Lightning vs. Islanders (TB leads 1-0)
  • West: Golden Knights vs. Stars (DAL leads 1-0)

The intrigue: Tampa Bay is the only remaining team with a championship this century (2004), so whoever raises the Cup will be ending a sizable title drought.

Let's meet the finalists ...

Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Record: 43-21-6
  • Established: 1992
  • Stanley Cups: 1 (2004)
  • Player to watch: RW Nikita Kucherov had four assists in Game 1 and scored his 34th career playoff goal, moving him past Martin St. Louis for most in franchise history. He's a goal-scoring, assist-making machine.

New York Islanders

  • Record: 35-23-10
  • Established: 1972
  • Stanley Cups: 4 (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983)
  • Player to watch: LW Josh Bailey. He's never been one to stuff the stat sheet, but the lifelong Islander leads the team with 17 playoff points (2G, 15A).

Vegas Golden Knights

  • Record: 39-24-8
  • Established: 2017
  • Stanley Cups: 0
  • Player to watch: Defenseman Shea Theodore leads the team with six goals (including this lovely finish) and 10 points.

Dallas Stars

  • Record: 37-24-8
  • Established: 1967
  • Stanley Cups: 1 (1999)
  • Player to watch: Defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The playoff leader in assists (16) makes the Stars go. Dallas has outscored opponents 27-17 with him on the ice this postseason, while getting outscored 39-26 with him on the bench.

πŸ“† Tonight: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 8pm ET (NBCSN)

4. πŸ“Έ Photos of the weekend
Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

NEW YORK β€” The first player to beat Novak Djokovic in 2020 was Novak Djokovic. You've likely seen what happened by now and maybe even read one of the hundreds of thinkpieces. My two-second take: Pretty lame, but I get it.

  • Men's quarterfinals: With Djokovic out, the remaining field is a glimpse into tennis' future. No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem is now the heavy favorite.
  • Women's quarterfinals: Two Americans play today. N0. 28 seed Jennifer Brady, who has yet to drop a set, takes on No. 23 seed Yulia Putintseva (12pm ET), and unseeded Shelby Rogers takes on No. 4 seed Naomi Osaka (7pm).
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

LOUISVILLE, Ky. β€” Authentic (8-1 odds) won the 146th Kentucky Derby, giving Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez his third Derby win and trainer Bob Baffert his sixth, tying Ben Jones for the most victories in the race's history.

  • The backdrop: There was no roar of the crowd. No lines at betting windows. No outrageous hats or mint juleps. Before the race began, hundreds of protestors circled Churchill Downs and a plane flew overhead with a banner that read: "Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor."
  • Betting way down: Betting dropped 52% from last year's record amount. Churchill Downs attributed the decline to the lack of on-site wagering and a prohibitive favorite (Tiz the Law, who finished second).
Photo: Mairo Cinquetti/NurPhoto via Getty Images

MONZA, Italy β€” AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly claimed his first Formula 1 win at a wild Italian Grand Prix that saw Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari all left off the podium for the first time since 2012.

Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

WORCESTER, England β€” What a photo. Taken during a rugby match between the Worcester Warriors and Bristol Bears.

5. πŸŽ“ What if colleges offered a sports major?

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

"Creating a sports performance major wouldn't solve every problem in athletics," writes WashPost's Sally Jenkins, "but it would at least be a profoundly clarifying reordering."

  • "Players would be required to write and reflect and make more direct connections in their real, chosen course of study ... which would equip them to be more than just ephemeral competitors."
  • "Coaches would be faculty members required to teach to broader classrooms, which would sort out the cheaters and poseurs from those who truly know how to impart principles of organization, leadership and collaboration."
  • "Athletic departments would become answerable to an academic dean. ... Our commitment to nonrevenue sports and women's sports would be much clearer."

The big picture: This is the basis of renowned academic Drew Hyland's lecture titled, "The Sweatiest of the Liberal Arts: Athletics and Education."

  • Hyland says this reordered system would look similar to ancient Greece at its peak, "when holistic education, the development of a whole person, meant something," writes Jenkins.
  • "Athleticism, Hyland points out, is a Socratic exploration: Know thyself."

Keep reading.

6. πŸ“Š By the numbers
Photo: Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images
  • ⚾️ 938 steals: Hall of Famer Lou Brock, who led the Cardinals to two World Series titles in the '60s and retired as the all-time leader in stolen bases (surpassed by Rickey Henderson), died Sunday at 81. RIP, Sweet Lou.
  • πŸ’ 292 days sober: Senators forward Bobby Ryan won this year's Bill Masterton Trophy after his emotional comeback from the NHL/NHLPA players assistance program where he underwent treatment for alcohol abuse.
  • πŸ₯ 8th and final spot: Ireland Lacrosse has given their spot in the 2022 World Games to the Iroquois Nationals, who were denied a spot because they're not a sovereign nation (despite Native Americans inventing the sport). "It's simply the right thing to do," said Ireland Lacrosse CEO Michael Kennedy. Awesome.
  • 🏈 3 of top 5 prospects: Three of Mel Kiper's top five NFL draft prospects have now opted out of the season: No. 2 Penei Sewell (Oregon OT), No. 4 Ja'Marr Chase (LSU WR) and No. 5 Micah Parsons (Penn State OLB). A fourth, No. 3 prospect Justin Field (Ohio State QB), won't play this fall, barring changes.
2019 Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell opted out of the season on Monday. Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
7. Sept. 8, 1998: ⚾️ McGwire hits No. 62

Photo: Robert Seale/Sporting News via Getty Images

22 years ago today, Mark McGwire ripped a line drive to left field off Cubs righty Steve Trachsel that snuck over the wall for his 62nd HR of the season, breaking Roger Maris' 37-year-old record.

  • As he rounded the bases, McGwire received congratulatory handshakes from the entire Cubs infield, ending in a hug with the catcher. For a moment, even his opponents were simply witnessing (and appreciating) history.
  • That history got a lot more complicated when MLB's rampant steroid use during that era was exposed. In 2010, McGwire finally admitted using them.

The backdrop: This was the climactic moment during McGwire and Sammy Sosa's epic home run chase of 1998.

  • McGwire entered September with 55 long balls, and it took just over a week to pass Maris en route to an even 70 on the year.
  • Sosa reached 62 just five days later and ended at 66. Fun fact: Sosa has three of the eight 60-homer seasons in MLB history, but none led the league.

What came next: Just three years later, Barry Bonds had his first and only 50-homer season, slugging 73 long balls to re-set the record that still stands.

πŸŽ₯ Watch: "Long Gone Summer" (ESPN+)

8. The Ocho: πŸ‡°πŸ‡· Jokgu
Screenshot: Great Big Story (YouTube)

Jokgu is like four-on-four volleyball β€” with your feet. And with a history that dates back over 1,300 years, it's the only ball sport that originated in South Korea.

Watch video (2:25)

9. ⚾️ MLB trivia

Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Mike Trout hit his 300th career HR on Saturday, becoming the fastest player in MLB history to reach 300 career HR and 200 stolen bases (1,235 games).

  • Question: Whose record did he break?
  • Hint: Spent the majority of his career on the West Coast.

Answer at the bottom.

Bonus: ❀️ Why we love sports
Danny Napoleon (L) and Mets manager Casey Stengel circa 1965. Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

Mitch B. (New York) writes:

"The year was 1965. I was nine years old and loved the New York Mets, no matter how much they lost.
"One night, my dad let me stay up late to watch them play the Giants on our new black-and-white TV.
"In the eighth inning, the Mets had a runner on base and Danny Napoleon β€” a player we'd rushed from the minors β€” was brought in to pinch hit.
"I began to cry and my dad said, 'Why are you crying? You don't own the team. Besides, I have a feeling Napoleon will get a hit.'
"I told my dad, 'Danny Napoleon is terrible. The Mets will never win.' He replied, 'You never know what will happen; let's see.'
"Giants pitcher Bob Shaw wound up, fired a pitch and Napoleon blasted a triple, scoring a run. He later scored himself to give the Mets a 2-1 victory. He'd done it.
"I'm 63 years old now, but I still remember that moment when my dad saw the future. He was already bigger than life to me, but he remained 10 feet tall forever after that night.
"And Danny Napoleon β€” a virtually unknown athlete, who played 80 games in his unremarkable major league career β€” taught me never to quit.
"Shortly after my dad died in 1999, I found a Danny Napoleon card at a baseball card show. It sits in the table next to my bed to this day, and I will never part with it."

✍️ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or a story about sports having a positive impact on your life? To share, simply reply to this email.

10. πŸŽ₯ Top plays
Source: @NBAonTNT (Twitter)

Labor Day Weekend was full of top plays, but arguably the two best happened in the span of an hour on Monday night.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Long live Danny Napoleon" Baker

Trivia answer: Willie Mays (1,295 games)

Editor's note: The first item has been corrected to show that it was the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee (not the International Olympic Committee) that spent funds earmarked for the Paralympics on the Olympics instead.