Oct 9, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

⚾️ Good morning! 2 baseball teams will see their seasons end tonight.

  • 5pm ET: Cardinals at Braves (TBS)
  • 8:30pm ET: Nationals at Dodgers (TBS)

🎉 P.S. ... Exciting news: Season 2 of "Axios on HBO" returns later this month on all HBO platforms. Catch the next episode on Sunday, Oct. 20 at 6pm ET.

  • Today's word count: 1,414 words (5 minutes)
1 big thing: 🏀 The tweet that woke up America

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Every so often, a sports story breaks into the mainstream, and sportswriters begin to salivate at the chance to write about a topic that's "bigger than sports." The NBA-China story is something else entirely.

  • This is a high-stakes political battle between the world's most populous country and one of America's most visible entities, with its 2 newest owners, Tilman Fertitta and Joe Tsai, playing major roles.
  • Meanwhile, LeBron James — the face of the NBA and one of the most outspoken athletes in all of sports — is literally in China as we speak, preparing to play a set of preseason games (if they don't get canceled).

Why it matters: For years, journalists and politicians have been trying to alert the U.S. public to the China threat. In the end, it may have been a since-deleted tweet from an NBA general manager that finally woke Americans up.

  • "Coverage of [Morey's tweet], and the response to it from China and the NBA, has already earned more attention than dozens of other stories in recent years documenting similar questionable relationships between U.S.-based companies and Beijing," writes CNBC's Jake Novak.

The latest: The Chinese government has canceled the Nets and Lakers fan events, and their 2 preseason games — scheduled for Thursday in Shanghai and Saturday in Schenzen — could be next, with fans calling for a boycott.

  • "I would be shocked if these Lakers-Nets games happen in China. There's a growing fear of protests and drawing police presence. And I don't see what the upside is for the NBA, at this point," tweets ESPN's Pablo Torre.

What they're saying:

  • On NBA critics: "It's more than a little ludicrous for everyone from Ted Cruz to Beto O'Rourke to suddenly hand the NBA and the Rockets the tab for American toadying to authoritarians in Beijing. ... Yes, the NBA has made a mutually beneficial commercial accommodation with China. … You have a problem with that or consider it gutless? Then you have a problem with literally hundreds of American companies." (Sally Jenkins, WashPost)
  • On Adam Silver: "The long honeymoon between Silver and the media is officially over. ... For sportswriters, it's almost a relief. We can start covering Silver like a sports commissioner, not like our pal." (Bryan Curtis, The Ringer)
  • On Silver's upcoming meetings: "[I]t is wonderful that he is due to be hobnobbing with powerbrokers in Shanghai and Shenzhen over the next few days. This is the equivalent of your warring relatives all sitting down together at the same wedding. Get a little water under the bridge, you know? They need each other and couldn't break up if they tried." (Henry Abbott, TrueHoop)

Go deeper: My colleagues have lots of great additional coverage.

2. 🏈 Week 6 NFL rankings
Expand chart
Table: Axios Visuals

A good team: For the 6th straight week, the Patriots sit atop the rankings, and that likely won't be changing anytime soon, as they'll face a banged up Giants team tomorrow night (no Saquon Barkley, no Sterling Shepard and maybe no Evan Engram).

A bad team: Meanwhile, at the bottom of the league, the Redskins — fresh off the firing of Jay Gruden — are imploding. ESPN's Scott Van Pelt, who grew up in the D.C. area, went off on owner Dan Snyder in a 4-minute rant:

"Rock bottom isn't a moment. It is a seemingly perpetual state. And I've been trying to find the parallel for the systemic collapse that has happened here and I just cannot."
— Scott Van Pelt
3. 📸 Photos: Rays win, Sun survive, U.S. Rugby loses
Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — In Game 1, the Rays got Verlander'd. In Game 4, Verlander got Rays'd. Tampa Bay chased Houston's ace early and won yet another elimination game to even the series and force Game 5. Final score: 4-1.

  • What's next: The series finale will take place in Houston tomorrow night. Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 4.15 ERA this postseason) vs. Gerrit Cole (1-0, 0.00 ERA). Let's goooo.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

UNCASVILLE, CONN. — The Sun used a balanced attack (every starter had at least 14 points) to beat a limited Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics, 90-86, and force a decisive Game 5 — the 4th time in 5 years that the WNBA Finals has gone the distance.

  • What's next: The Mystics host Game 5 on Thursday (8pm ET, ESPN2), where history will be on their side, as the home team has won 4 of the past 6 WNBA Finals Game 5s.
Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

KUMAGAYA, JAPAN — American flags could be seen throughout the stadium during the Rugby World Cup Pool C match between the U.S. and Argentina that took place while you were sleeping (afternoon in Japan).

4. 🏀 Coach K "glad" California bill passed

Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Speaking at ACC media days, Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski spoke in favor of California's Fair Pay to Play Act, saying he was "really happy" that change was being enacted.

"I'm glad it was passed because it pushes the envelope, it pushes the issue. We've had our head in the sand a lot for college. We're not good game planners for the future. We're reactionary. We don't set the pace."
— Mike Krzyzewski

Why it matters: Coach K is the highest-profile college coach to support significant change on the name, image and likeness front. His Hall of Fame peers, UNC's Roy Williams and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, were far more reserved.

  • Williams: "We are all talking about something that we don't know what the crap it is. I mean, it's like putting me in charge of nuclear weapons."
  • Boeheim: "I don't know how you can make it a fair option. … And nobody knows, because if they knew they would say it."

Update: Coach K issued a full statement after his media day comments.

  • "While we have made significant progress in recent years, we have not always responded to the needs and rights of our players swiftly, and frankly, we're playing catchup after years of stagnant rules."
  • "I hope and trust that not only will there be a plan to put the student-athletes' best interests at the forefront, but that we'll also have a firm plan for implementation at the national level."
5. 🥇 Amid turmoil, U.S. gymnastics wins again

Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The U.S. women's gymnastics team, led by superstar Simone Biles, won its 5th straight world title yesterday at the Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

Podium:

  1. 🥇 USA (172.330 points)
  2. 🥈 Russia (-5.801)
  3. 🥉 Italy (-7.534)

By the numbers: Biles' 15th career gold medal brings her total medal count to 21, moving her past Russia's Svetlana Khorkina for the most by a woman and inching her closer to Vitaly Scherbo's record for both men and women (23).

The backdrop: "The U.S. women are here representing a federation on its fourth national team coordinator and fourth CEO in four years, as it continues to wrestle with its own handling of [Larry] Nassar," writes WSJ's Louise Radnofsky (subscription).

  • "USA Gymnastics has been scheduled for decertification by the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, a decision that has been stalled by its move to enter bankruptcy proceedings instead."
  • "It has no major sponsors, no national training base for the women's team, or the ability to make payments, including bonuses to its medalists' coaches."
6. Oct. 8, 1919: ⚾️ "Black Sox" lose World Series

The 1919 Chicago White Sox. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

100 years ago today, the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Chicago White Sox, 5 games to 3 (best-of-nine series), in the 1919 World Series. But it was the losing team that made history.

Why it matters: 8 members of the White Sox were accused of intentionally losing games in exchange for money from gamblers in what became known as the "Black Sox" scandal.

  • The 8 players — with names ranging from Arnold "Chick" Gandil to "Shoeless" Joe Jackson — were later found not guilty, though all were banned from baseball for life.

Go deeper: Black Sox Scandal of 1919 remains a contested story (Sports Collectors Digest)

7. 🏀 College hoops trivia

Question: Kentucky has the most wins in men's college basketball history, followed by Kansas, North Carolina and Duke. Which school is ranked 5th?

  • Hint: Their mascot is a bird and they are not a member of a Power 5 conference.

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: 🎳 The fastest bowling strike ever
Giphy

140 mph. Watch the full video.

9. 📚 Good reads
A view of the famous Old Well on the University of North Carolina's campus. Photo: Lance King/Replay Photos via Getty Images

🧠 The mysterious absence of critical data from UNC's renowned concussion research (Christian Red, The Athletic)

"At the heart of the 11,000-word paper … is the alarming possibility that decades of work on concussion research, data used by the NFL, NCAA schools, and even the Department of Defense, may now be invalid."

🏒 The worst sports franchise owner in North America is in Ottawa (Katie Baker, The Ringer)

"Move over, Dan Snyder and James Dolan — when it comes to pettiness, suspect accounting, shameless moxie, and team mismanagement, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk might be the best franchise destroyer on the continent."

⚽️ Germany rose and fell with Bastian Schweinsteiger (Luis Paez-Pumar, Deadspin)

"Bastian Schweinsteiger was three different players. The German superstar, who announced his retirement from soccer on Tuesday, is leaving behind one of the most peculiar careers in recent soccer memory."
10. 🦒 LeRaffe James
Screenshot: Twitter

There is an Instagram account (@leraffejames) that is an exact replica of LeBron James' account ... but giraffes. Here they are side-by-side.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Ben Simmons made a 3!!!" Baker

Trivia answer: The Temple Owls 🦉