Aug 31, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Happy Monday! Let's sports.

  • 💔 RIP, Coach: Legendary Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson has passed away at age 78, according to reports. A huge loss. We'll have a tribute tomorrow.
  • ⚾️ Down goes Oakland: The Athletics are the latest MLB team with a positive COVID-19 test, which led to the postponement of Sunday's game against the Astros. All 30 teams have played on the same day just three times this season.

Today's word count: 2,067 words (8 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏈 College football's COVID kickoff

Photo: Butch Dill/Getty Images

The first college football game of 2020 took place on Saturday night in Montgomery, Alabama.

  • Recap: Central Arkansas beat Austin Peay, 24-17, in front of hundreds of fans. 2,000 were permitted, but photos suggest less than half that number showed up.
  • Highlight: "College football in America returned at 8:07pm local time [and] immediately went off the rails," writes ESPN's Alex Scarborough, as Austin Peay scored a wild TD on its first play from scrimmage.
  • Backdrop: Both teams' conferences (Southland and Ohio Valley) delayed football until the spring, leaving non-conference games like these as the only option for the fall.

The state of play: Most FBS schools are pushing forward, while others look towards the spring, leaving the small universe of college football as fractured as it's ever been as September approaches.

  • Who's in, who's out: 76 schools intend to play FBS football this fall, while 54 will not. BYU is the only FBS school west of El Paso, Texas, that will play.
  • More opt outs: LSU star Ja'Marr Chase, the nation's top WR, became the latest projected first-round pick to opt out of the season to enter the NFL draft.
  • Campus cases: The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents grew at least 25% this past week in counties with Power Five schools, per USA Today. During the same period, the national average fell 9%.

📆 Coming up: This weekend's slate features nine games, highlighted by BYU vs. Navy on Labor Day night.

2. 🎾 The quietest U.S. Open ever
Table: Axios Visuals

New York's Billie Jean King National Tennis Center was transformed into a field hospital for coronavirus overflow in April. Today, it welcomes the 128 participants of the 140th U.S. Open, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

  • Yes, but: It won't welcome any of the 30,000 daily fans it normally draws, with strict safety protocols barring entry for any non-essential personnel.

The bubble: The venue was turned into a bubble for the recently concluded Western & Southern Open, and will operate similarly for the U.S. Open.

  • Players must stay in one of two nearby hotels — or a private home vetted by the USTA — and they're not allowed to go anywhere except the venue.
  • Testing is done every four days, but only after returning two negatives in the first 48 hours after arrival. (Frenchman Benoît Paire, the No. 17 seed, tested positive on Sunday and has been replaced by an alternate.)

The field: With so many top players opting out for health reasons amid the pandemic, the field is wide open. Well, at least on the women's side.

  • Women: Six of the top 10 players are out, and No. 7 seed Naomi Osaka is dealing with a hamstring injury that caused her to withdraw from the Western & Southern finals on Saturday.
  • Men: With his Western & Southern Open title, No. 1 ranked Novak Djokovic improved to 23-0 in 2020. He's the heavy favorite with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both opting out.

Go deeper:

3. 🏀 NBA playoffs: Murray Magic, Mavs sent home
Jamal Murray. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Behind another 50-point game from Jamal Murray, the Nuggets beat the Jazz, 119-107, to force Game 7, guaranteeing that at least one series will go the distance this year.

  • Game MVP: Murray was ridiculously efficient (17-24 FG, 9-12 3PT), and scored 21 of his 50 points in the fourth quarter.
  • Why it matters: The 23-year-old has now scored 142 points over his last three games (with just five turnovers!). The only players with more points over a three-game span in playoff history? Jerry West and Michael Jordan.

The duel: Only four players have ever had multiple 50-point games in the same playoff series: Jordan in 1988, Allen Iverson in 2001, and Murray and Donovan Mitchell in this series. These guys are superstars. Game 7 is going to be incredible.

  • Murray this series: 34 ppg (58.5% FG, 57.4% 3PT, 91.3% FT)
  • Mitchell this series: 38.7 ppg (54.8% FG, 55.4% 3PT, 94.6 FT%)
Screenshot: @ringer (Twitter)

What he's saying: It was an emotional game for Murray, who wore custom sneakers with images of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and was feeling the heavy weight of the past few days during his postgame interview.

"These shoes mean a lot. In life, you find things that hold value to you, things to fight for, and we found something worth fighting for as the NBA — as a collective unit. ... These shoes give me life."
— Murray

The big picture: Games resumed following the NBA's historic strike, but "the players know they still have leverage," writes The Ringer's Paolo Uggetti. If the league and owners don't follow through on the course of action they outlined, "then we won't play again," said Anthony Davis.

More NBA:

  • The Clippers eliminated the Mavericks behind Kawhi Leonard's stellar performance (33 pts, 14 reb, 7 ast, 5 stl). The season is over for sophomore sensation Luka Dončić, but the future couldn't be brighter in Dallas.
  • The Celtics crushed the Raptors, 112-94, in Game 1 of the East semifinals. Toronto has lost two games since the season restarted — both to Boston.
  • Elsewhere: The No. 1 seed Bucks eliminated the Magic on Saturday, and the No. 1 seed Lakers knocked out the Trail Blazers.

📆 Tonight's slate (TNT): Heat (0-0) vs. Bucks, 6:30pm ET; Rockets (up 3-2) vs. Thunder, 9pm.

4. ⚽️ The most dominant team in sports

Photo: Juanma/UEFA via Getty Images

Lyon beat Wolfsburg, 3-1, in San Sebastian, Spain on Sunday to win the Women's Champions League for an unprecedented fifth time in a row.

  • Why it matters: Lyon is one of the most dominant teams in sports, winning the past 14 French league titles and averaging an absurd 4.6 goals per game against domestic opponents since 2015. Did I mention the club hasn't lost so much as a game since 2016?
  • Star power: USWNT stars Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Hope Solo have all played for Lyon, and 2018 Women's Ballon d'Or winner, Ada Hegerberg, is currently on the team. They're loaded, year in and year out.

The big picture: The gap between Lyon and the rest of the world remains fairly wide, but it's beginning to shrink now that men's powerhouses like Manchester City (just signed USWNT stars Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis) and Bayern Munich are investing more money in their women's teams.

📆 Coming Friday: The global rise of women's soccer

5. 🌍 Sports around the world
Photo: Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

🇨🇦 TORONTO — Brock Nelson scored two goals, both set up by Josh Bailey, and the Islanders beat the Flyers, 3-2, on Sunday night to take a 3-1 series lead.

  • More from Sunday: The Golden Knights beat the Canucks, 5-3 (VGK leads 3-1), and the Stars beat the Avalanche, 5-4 (DAL leads 3-1).
  • Tonight's slate (NBCSN): Lightning (up 3-1) vs. Bruins, 7pm ET; Stars (up 3-1) vs. Avalanche, 9:45pm.
Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

🇫🇷 NICE, France — The 107th Tour de France began its 2,156-mile journey around France on Saturday, roughly seven weeks later than its traditional July start date.

  • How it works: Teams have up to eight riders and 22 staffers, and all members must receive regular testing and remain sealed off from the outside world.
  • The 2020 travel pack: One team brought its own mattresses and hypoallergenic sheets and has a "designated shopper," whose job is to raid the nearest supermarket and simply leave the day's supplies "at the edge of the bubble," per WSJ (subscription).
Photo: Francois Lenior/AFP via Getty Images

🇧🇪 SPA, Belgium — Lewis Hamilton paid tribute to Chadwick Boseman after winning the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday. He's now two wins of away from tying Michael Schumacher's all-time Formula One record.

Barcelona fans protesting against the club boss outside Camp Nou stadium. Photo: Matthias Oesterle/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

🇪🇸 BARCELONA, Spain — La Liga sided with Barcelona in the Lionel Messi contract dispute, saying Messi's current deal is still valid and that any club that wants to sign him away will have to trigger the $834 million release clause.

6. ⚾️ MLB snapshot: Deadline day, Trea on fire

Trea Turner is on fire. The Nationals are not. Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

🔁 Trade deadline spotlight: The deadline is today at 4pm ET, and while 2020's general uncertainty and expanded playoffs should yield a less active market than usual, teams won't be completely silent, Jeff writes.

  • The Padres have made the most noise thus far, acquiring multiple veterans for what they hope will be their first playoff appearance since 2006.
  • What to watch: The Indians could trade their third star pitcher in 13 months, as rumors swirl around righty Mike Clevinger, though his asking price is (rightfully) thought to be "ridiculous."
  • Trade tracker: Every deadline deal (MLB)

📊 Power rankings: The AL Central is stacked, the Yankees' injury-bug is a problem and the Padres are for real.

  • 1. Dodgers (26-10), 2. Rays (24-11), 3. Athletics (22-12), 4. Indians (21-13), 5. White Sox (21-13), 6. Padres (21-15), 7. Twins (20-15), 8. Yankees (19-13), 9. Braves (19-14), 10. Astros (19-14)
  • 11. Cubs (20-14), 12. Rockies (17-17), 13. Phillies (14-15), 14. Blue Jays (18-14), 15. Marlins (14-15), 16. Brewers (15-18), 17. Mets (15-19), 18. Cardinals (12-13), 19. Reds (15-19), 20. Giants (17-19)
  • 21. Tigers (16-16), 22. Nationals (12-19), 23. Orioles (14-19), 24. Diamondbacks (14-21), 25. Red Sox (12-22), 26. Angels (12-23), 27. Rangers (12-21), 28. Mariners (14-22), 29. Royals (13-21), 30. Pirates (10-21)

👍 Three up:

  • Stay hot, Trea: Since beginning the year 7-for-38, Trea Turner has been on fire. He had eight straight hits this weekend, and his 15-game hit streak has raised his average to .360, tied with teammate Juan Soto for best in the majors.
  • Dodgers dingers: Cody Bellinger's two-run HR on Sunday gave the Dodgers 57 long balls in August, breaking the NL record. Now they'll keep pushing for the most series victories to start a season in the majors since 1969.
  • Yaz 2.0: Giants OF Mike Yastrzemski, grandson of Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl, has gone from a career minor leaguer to a legit MVP candidate at age 30. His 2.1 WAR is second only to Padres superstar Fernando Tatís, Jr.

👎 Three down:

  • Reds pitchers vs. Cubs outfielders: Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward each hit two HR in the Cubs' 10-1 win on Sunday, the first time in MLB history that all three starting outfielders hit multiple HRs in a game.
  • Arizona reeling: The Diamondbacks have lost 10 of their last 11 games after a promising 13-11 start, dropping them to last place in the NL West.
  • Wild Saturday: Not one, but two games ended in a walk-off, wild pitch.

Weekly awards tracker: Nelson Cruz, MIN (AL MVP); Shane Bieber, CLE (AL Cy Young); Fernando Tatís, Jr., SD (NL MVP); Yu Darvish, CHC (NL Cy Young)

7. Aug. 31, 1894: ⚾️ "Sliding Billy" steals seven
Billy Hamilton, pictured in 1897 as a member of the Boston Beaneaters. Photo: Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

126 years ago today, Billy Hamilton stole an MLB-record seven bases, leading the Philadelphia Phillies to an 11-5 win over the Washington Senators.

Why it matters: The 5-foot-6-inch Hamilton, nicknamed "Sliding Billy," was the most prolific base stealer, hitter and run scorer of the 19th century.

  • Stealing bases: He ranks third on the all-time list with 914 stolen bases, trailing Rickey Henderson (1,406) and Lou Brock (938).
  • Getting hits: He won two batting titles (1891 and 1893) and finished his career with a .349 average, good for seventh all-time.
  • Scoring runs: Hamilton had more career runs scored (1,697) than games played (1,594), which is insane. In 1894, he scored 198 runs in 132 games, a record that may never be broken (Babe Ruth's 177 runs in 1921 is the closest).

The big picture: Due to the era he played in, when rules were different and fewer statistics were saved for posterity, Hamilton remains one of Cooperstown's most anonymous Hall of Famers.

"Hamilton was completely invisible in the literature of the sport up to 1960 and was not elected to the Hall of Fame until 1961. He left no legend behind him, no stories, no anecdotes.
— Bill James in "The New Historical Baseball Abstract"

A century later, one of the few active players with enough speed to break Hamilton's single-game steals record is named ... Billy Hamilton. The baseball gods demand we remember the name — even if history forgets it.

Go deeper: Billy Hamilton biography (Society for American Baseball Research)

8. The Ocho: 🏆 Elite Average Games 2020
Screenshot: Sportsbet (YouTube)


9. 🎥 Highlights: Sundays are for putting

Jon Rahm celebrates his playoff-winning putt. Photo: Keyur Khamar/PGA Tour via Getty Images

Two of the best putts you'll ever see happened within an hour of each other on Sunday at the BMW Championship.

  • First, Dustin Johnson rolled in an impossible-looking 45-foot birdie putt on the final hole to force a playoff with Jon Rahm.
  • Moments later, Rahm faced an even longer and more difficult putt — a 66-footer that he sent at a nearly 90 degree angle to the top of the ridge, down the slope and into the cup.

What they're saying: "I played an unbelievable putt ... and then Jon made an even more ridiculous putt," said Johnson, who missed out on the $1.7 million payday (he got a measly $1 million). "I still can't believe what just happened," said Rahm.

🎥 Watch:

  1. ⛳️ Rahm's putt
  2. ⛳️ Johnson's putt
Bonus: 🏁 NASCAR trivia

Jimmie Johnson poses with a painting presented to him at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson was knocked out of playoff contention on Sunday, meaning he'll end his career with seven Cup Series championships, tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most ever.

  • Question: Who ranks fourth all-time with four titles?
  • Hint: Born in 1971.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Coach Larry on the left. His son, Blake, is holding the ball in front. Photo: Larry A.

Larry A. writes:

"I coached my son Blake in several sports from the time he was first old enough to play tee-ball to his high school days.
"My favorite sport to coach was soccer because most parents in the 1980s didn't understand the rules that well, so they weren't as negative as they were in Little League. They mostly just cheered when their kids actually kicked the ball.
"I coached every year starting when all the kids moved like a swarm of bees around honey when the ball was in play. I went to coaching clinics and really committed myself to learning the game, hoping to pass that down to the players.
"As my son and his teammates grew older, they began to understand their positions on the field and how to move the ball, and in their last year together before high school, they were playing soccer the way it's meant to be played.
"I have one memory from that last year of my son and his teammate Brad moving the ball down the field on a breakaway, passing back and forth to each other like a basketball fast break.
"Blake made the last pass to Brad who kicked the goal. It was perfectly executed and the most satisfying coaching experience I've ever had.
"All those years of coaching, captured in one beautiful moment that I will forever share with my son. I'm now 80 years old and still get goosebumps when I think about 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.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Future youth soccer coach" Baker

Trivia answer: Jeff Gordon