Aug 5, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,4789 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: 📆 High school sports hang in the balance
Data: MaxPreps, Axios research; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

As local governments go to war over whether high schools can open, the fate of the fall sports season hangs in the balance.

  • The state of play: The National Federation of State High School Associations has offered a 16-page guide to help states resume athletics, but with so many organizations and school districts involved, there has been little uniformity.
  • The majority of states have announced delays or postponements for some or all fall sports, while 15 are still planning to hold normal fall sports seasons.

Why it matters: Whether seasons start as scheduled, get delayed or move to 2021, high school athletes will be impacted in myriad ways.

  • Exercise: Physical activity levels of high school athletes have declined 50% since May, according to a recent University of Wisconsin study.
  • Mental health: That same study suggests two-thirds of high school athletes are experiencing depression and anxiety due to canceled seasons.
  • Recruiting: A reshuffled high school sports schedule could negatively impact recruiting, and multi-sport athletes will face difficult decisions if seasons overlap (as is the case in California).

Go deeper: What a school day looks like in a pandemic (Axios)

2. 🏀 WNBA players escalate political protest
Screenshot: @chicagosky (Twitter)

WNBA players wore T-shirts on Tuesday endorsing the Democratic opponent of Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the co-owner of the Atlanta Dream who has criticized the league for dedicating its season to the Black Lives Matter movement.

  • The shirts had "Vote Warnock" printed on them, a reference to Atlanta pastor Raphael Warnock, one of the top Democrats running against Loeffler in a special election in November.
  • The players' union called for Loeffler's ouster last month, but WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told CNN that the Georgia Republican, who owns 49% of the Dream, would not be forced to sell the team.

What they're saying: The idea to publicly support Warnock came from Seattle Storm legend Sue Bird, who said players quickly realized calling for Loeffler's removal was just playing into her hands, and that supporting her political opponent would be more impactful in the grand scheme of things.

  • "[V]oting is important. ... So, what a great way for us to get the word out about this man, and hopefully put him in the Senate. And, if he's in the Senate, you know who's not," Bird told ESPN.
  • "Honestly, I think that [Loeffler] wants the league to push her out. She wants that to be part of this statement that she's making that, 'Oh, Black Lives Matter is divisive. They pushed me out because they feel differently,'" added Elizabeth Williams, who plays for the Dream.

The other side: "This is just more proof that the out-of-control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them," Loeffler said in a statement. "It's clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball."

3. 🏒 NHL bubbles: 'Canes advance, Leafs get even

Sebastion Aho celebrates after scoring his second goal. Photo: Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

After losing to them four times in the regular season, the Hurricanes completed a three-game sweep of the Rangers in Toronto to become the first team to advance through the qualifying round.

  • 🎥 Highlight: Sebastian Aho scored two goals in Carolina's 4-1 win, and his second one was a thing of beauty. As I used to scream at the top of my lungs while playing "NHL 11" against my sophomore year roommate: "Dangles!"
  • Looking ahead: The Henrik Lundqvist era is likely over in New York now that the Rangers have been sent packing. Long live the King.

Toronto scores:

Edmonton scores:

Today's slate: Islanders vs. Panthers (12pm ET); Predators vs. Coyotes (2:30pm); Lightning vs. Bruins (4pm); Avalanche vs. Stars (6:30pm); Penguins vs. Canadiens (8pm); Oilers vs. Blackhawks (10:30pm)

4. 🏀 NBA bubble: Nets, Dončić make history

Rodions Kurucs (L) and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot. Photo: Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images

The Nets pulled off the largest NBA upset in 27 years on Tuesday, beating the Bucks, 119-116, in a three-point shootout, despite missing their nine best players.

By the numbers:

  • +19 spread: Brooklyn closed as consensus 19-point underdogs thanks to a makeshift roster that featured just one player, Garrett Temple, with more than four starts this season.
  • 108 threes: The two teams attempted a combined 108 three-pointers, which is a new NBA record.
  • 1,291 points: That's how many points the Nets' active roster had scored this season. Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo, who didn't play in the second half, had scored 1,762 alone.

The backdrop: The Nets' two best players, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, are sidelined with injuries; Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince tested positive for COVID-19 and skipped the restart; Wilson Chandler opted out.

  • On top of that, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen didn't play after combining for 83 points in Sunday's win over the Wizards that all but wrapped up a playoff spot.
  • And 40-year-old Jamal Crawford, who was making his debut after sitting out all year, pulled his hamstring just five minutes after checking into the game.

What they're saying:

"I'll always remember where I was when I saw the Backup Backup Nets beat the best team in the NBA — unfortunately, I've been here since March, and I'll still be here next week when the Bucks kick the hell out of the Nets in the first round."
— Rodger Sherman, The Ringer

More NBA:

  • Luka Dončić (34-20-12) became the youngest player in NBA history to post a 30-point, 20-rebound triple-double. Highlights.
  • Devin Booker dropped 35 points and hit the bubble's first true buzzer-beater in the Suns' 117-115 upset win over the Clippers.
  • Jaren Jackson (torn meniscus) will miss the rest of the season, a huge blow to the Grizzlies (currently No. 8 seed).
5. ⚾️ MLB non-bubble: New-look Marlins, Papa Trout

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Miami Marlins took the field last night for the first time since the team's coronavirus outbreak, beating the Orioles, 4-0, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

The state of play: Miami's roster looked ... a little bit different.

  • 18 players tested positive during the outbreak, and none have been cleared to return. As a result, 18 of the 30 players on Miami's current active roster were not on the team's Opening Day roster.
  • How it works: Every team has a 60-man player pool, with 30 comprising the active roster (will be trimmed to 28 tomorrow), three forming a traveling "taxi squad," and 27 at an alternate training site, ready to be called upon if needed.

What's next: The Marlins and Orioles will play a doubleheader in Baltimore today. The first game is set for 5:05pm ET, and the teams will take a 30-minute break before playing again.

The big picture: The Marlins' outbreak appears to be in the rearview, but the Cardinals' problems are only just beginning, with 13 members of the organization testing positive, leading to another postponed series and more questions about the feasibility of a bubble-less season.

🎥 Highlights:

6. Aug. 5, 2001: ⚾️ An impossible comeback

Kenny Lofton scores the game-winning run. Photo: David Maxwell/AFP via Getty Images

19 years ago today, the Indians came back from 12 runs down to beat the Mariners, 15-14, in extra innings.

  • Why it matters: Cleveland's improbable comeback tied the MLB record for the largest deficit ever overcome in a win, matching the 1911 Tigers and 1925 Athletics.
  • The backdrop: The Mariners sat at an astonishing 80-30 when the game began and went on to win a record 116 games. The Indians were at the tail-end of a dominant decade and won their division with a solid 91-win campaign.

Game summary:

  • Mariners start strong: Through three innings, Seattle rattled off 11 hits and took a 12-0 lead, extending it to 14-2 by the fifth.
  • Vital middle relief: Indians reliever Mike Bacsik was tasked with keeping it close. He failed in the third inning, but stayed in the game for five more, allowing just two more runs.
  • Cleveland comes back: The Indians chipped away with three runs in the seventh, four in the eighth, and five with two outs in the ninth.
  • The winning hits: Omar Vizquel ripped a game-tying, bases-loaded triple to force extra innings, and Jolbert Cabrera singled home Kenny Lofton in the 11th to give the Indians a historic win.

Go deeper:

7. 🎬 Now playing: "Red Penguins"

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

"Red Penguins" is a new documentary that tells the story of what happened to Russia's premier hockey team after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

  • A group of American investors, including the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins and actor Michael J. Fox, purchased a 50% stake in the team and sent in a brash marketing whiz to rebrand them as the Red Penguins.
  • For a time, the marketing gimmicks and goofy new mascot worked, and the team became the talk of Russia. But soon enough, the mob got involved and it descended into madness.

What they're saying: "'Red Penguins' starts to look like a non-fiction version of a Scorsese movie as we see the butchered remains of a number of figures who were perceived to have crossed the mob," writes film critic Richard Roeper.

  • "Thanks to this superb film from director [Gabe] Polsky, we now have the definitive record of one of the craziest chapters in the history of ice hockey."

Go deeper:

  • Watch: Trailer (YouTube)
  • Rent: Apple TV, Google Play and other TV/streaming options
8. The Ocho: 🦶 Insane hacky sack routine
Source: Evan Lovely (YouTube)

Footbag, more commonly known as hacky sack, is no joke, Jeff writes. There's an International Footbag Players' Association (IFPA) and everything.

  • Each year, they host a World Footbag Championships, which includes both freestyle (video above) and net, a glorious combination of hacky sack and sepak takraw.

🎥 Watch: 2017 finals (YouTube)

9. 🎾 Tennis trivia

Rafael Nadal during the 2019 U.S. Open, which he won. Photo: Dominick Reuter/AFP via Getty Images

Rafael Nadal has joined Roger Federer in opting out of the 2020 U.S. Open, making it the first Grand Slam without Nadal or Federer since the 1999 U.S. Open.

  • Question: Who won the men's singles title at the 1999 U.S. Open?
  • Hint: Four-time Australian Open winner.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports

Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

John D. (Pittsburgh) writes:

"Football is religion in Western Pennsylvania. Growing up, you either played or found yourself perusing the stadium and eating walking tacos on Friday nights. It didn't matter how good or bad the team was, there was nowhere more important to be.
"For me, I played three years of varsity football on a team that went 1-27. Not a misprint — one win and 27 losses. We were booed at a pep rally, fell victim to three coaching staff changes in three years, and didn't stand a chance in the once-daunting Parkway Conference.
"It took years to rebuild trust in the student body and find kids who were excited about football. Finally, the school landed the right guy in head coach Ryan Linn, and for the first time in 18 years, the Moon Area Tigers clinched a share of the conference title during a 9-3 campaign in 2019.
"My best friends to this day were football players. We look back fondly on our 'misfortune,' knowing it made us stronger and more prepared for life's real challenges.
"I love my alma mater, and as I await word on the 2020 season, I know that, win or lose, high school football will always be the bedrock of small towns across America just like mine."

✍️ 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. We'll be telling your stories until they run out.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Feeling bubble-y" Baker

Trivia answer: Andre Agassi