April 13, 2020

👋 Good morning! Welcome back. Starting today, we'll be sharing your fondest sports memories at the bottom of each newsletter. Scroll down to see today's submission from Patrick T. in New York.

Today's word count: 2,178 words (8 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏀 Taiwan builds a basketball bubble

One of the last Super Basketball League games before all games were moved to a smaller training center. Photo: Gene Wang/Getty Images

Taiwan's Super Basketball League is believed to be the world's only professional basketball league that is currently operational — a feat made possible by a swift response to COVID-19 (six deaths in a country of 24 million people).

Why it matters: Despite being much smaller than the NBA (five teams compared to 30), the SBL's game-night protocols and empty arenas provide a glimpse of what NBA games might look like if conditions allow for its return this season.

The state of play: The SBL has relocated all of its games to the HaoYu Basketball Training Center and essentially built a bubble around it, ensuring that the building never has more than 100 occupants.

  • The only people allowed inside are teams, referees, scorer's table officials, camera operators, TV broadcasters and journalists. Many wear masks.
  • When they arrive at the door, players are "greeted by league officials who check their temperature with a forehead thermometer and record the information next to each player's name," writes NYT's Marc Stein.
  • "It is assumed that a confirmed coronavirus case in the league would lead to an immediate suspension of SBL play, but no COVID-19 testing is done on site. Any player with a temperature above 99.5°F is refused entry."

What they're saying: Former Duke guard Matt Jones scored 29 points on Thursday night to lead Bank of Taiwan to an 85-77 win over Taoyuan Pauian Archiland, led by former G League All-Star Charles Garcia.

"It feels like an adult league. ... The only noise is from your teammates. I don't even drink Red Bull, but I'm drinking Red Bull now before a game to find energy. When I get a dunk, you want to scream, but you can't. It's pointless. So I just run back on defense."
— Charles Garcia, via NYT

The big picture: While the NBA will certainly be keeping tabs on the SBL, it will be paying much closer attention to the 20-team Chinese Basketball Association, which provides a more comparable case study as it looks to resume play.

  • The CBA's season was set to resume two weeks ago after a three-month stoppage, but that has been delayed until late April or early May.
  • "It's starting to be normal over here in China," tweeted former NBA guard Pooh Jeter, who said he and his Fujian Sturgeons teammates have begun practicing five-on-five.

2. ⚾️ Minor league baseball needs fans to survive

Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Despite being linked to MLB's billion-dollar ball clubs, minor league baseball teams are essentially just small businesses. And like most other small businesses right now, the pandemic has put their future in jeopardy, writes Axios' Jeff Tracy.

By the numbers: MLB's gross revenue in 2019 was $10.7 billion, 50% of which came from media rights deals. MiLB, by comparison, has an entirely different model, relying much more heavily on ticket sales and the in-stadium experience.

  • $864 million: MiLB grossed $864 million across its 160 clubs last year. That's $5.4 million per team, and a staggering 89% of that is used to pay operating expenses, according to data provided to Axios by MiLB.
  • $70,000 x 70 games: Minor league teams gross $70,000 per home game, which comprises over 90% of their annual revenue.
  • 15.6% reduction: With roughly 12 home games each month, teams lose 15.6% of their annual revenue with each month of lost games.
  • 3,400 full-time jobs: 160 teams, each with an average of 21 non-playing or coaching staff (whose wages are paid by their MLB club), means nearly 3,400 full-time jobs are at risk, plus another 32,000 part-time seasonal employees.

What they're saying: Add all that up, and you can understand why MLB's proposal of playing without fans isn't a viable option for the minors, where an extra rainout can be the difference between being in the black and being in the red.

"Our entire business model is people coming to our stadium. The concept of even playing a game in our stadium with no people is so far outside of our business model that it almost seems like a wasted effort to even ponder it."
— Scott Hunsicker, GM of the Reading Fightin Phils, via WSJ

The backdrop: Long before COVID-19 arrived, MLB proposed cutting 25% of minor league clubs as part of a massive restructuring plan. So it's safe to say these two parties didn't have the best working relationship at the time this crisis struck.

The bottom line: The way minor league clubs operate as small businesses is one of the many charming aspects of professional baseball in this country. But if they're left to fend for themselves, the whole system is in danger of collapsing.

3. ❤️ RIP, Colby Cave

Colby Cave
Courtesy: NHL

Oilers forward Colby Cave, who had been in a medically induced coma for nearly a week after suffering a brain bleed, passed away Saturday morning. He was 25, and by all accounts, a phenomenal human being.

"Colby was the kind of guy that is just salt of the earth. He is the epitome of a class act. Always being first to say hi, always a smile on his face. There is no better guy — husband, brother, friend — than Colby Cave. The world needs more Colbys."
— Chandler Stephenson, Golden Knights forward and longtime friend, via The Athletic

4. ⚽️ The six games that explain modern soccer

From the Hungary team that shattered England's delusions to Brandi Chastain's iconic penalty kick, here are the six games that explain modern soccer, according to NYT's Rory Smith (arguably the best soccer writer in the game).

Hungary and England
Photo: S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

Nov. 25, 1953: Hungary 6, England 3 (Friendly)

  • England's long-held belief that they stood atop the world of international football was dashed in one fell swoop, as Hungary came into their house and made them look, in the words of one reporter, "like a fire engine rushing to the wrong fire."
  • Smith: "Hungary had not only outplayed England, but out-thought it. Soccer would no longer be a mere physical contest. It was an intellectual one, too."
  • 🎥 Watch: Game footage

May 8, 1960: Real Madrid 7, Eintracht Frankfurt 3 (Euro Cup final in Glasgow, Scotland)

  • Real Madrid's fifth straight Euro Cup title cemented them as an all-time great dynasty, and ensured you'd never be able to utter the words "European Cup" without first thinking Real Madrid.
  • 🎥 Watch: Match highlights
1970 Brazil national team
Photo: Peter Robinson/Getty Images

June 21, 1970: Brazil 4, Italy 1 (World Cup final in Mexico City)

  • Pelé and his teammates had already won two of the previous three World Cups, but the 1970 squad transformed the sport into "joga bonito" (the beautiful game) and saw the 29-year-old reach the crest of his powers.
  • Smith: This was "the point at which, if England was the home of soccer's body, Brazil became the land of its soul."
  • 🎥 Watch ... Brazil in 1970: Football's most beautiful team

May 31, 1972: Ajax 2, Inter 0 (Euro Cup final in Rotterdam, Netherlands)

  • The second of three straight Euro Cup championships for Ajax was also its sweetest, thanks to the inimitable Johan Cruyff's ability to slice through a team known for its defensive prowess.
  • 🎥 Watch: Cruyff's two goals

June 8, 1990: Cameroon 1, Argentina 0 (World Cup group stage in Milan, Italy)

  • For a sport that had been dominated by Europe and South America to this point, Cameroon's victory over reigning world champion Argentina proved that soccer had officially gone global.
  • 🎥 Watch: Match highlights
Brandi Chastain
Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

July 10, 1999: USA 0, China 0; USA wins 5-4 on penalties (World Cup final in Pasadena, California)

  • True, the USWNT had won the inaugural Women's World Cup eight years earlier, but this one, in front of a home crowd, with stars like Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers, and unforgettable moments like Brandi Chastain's historic penalty kick, changed women's soccer — and women's sports — forever.
  • 🎥 Watch: Chastain's kick

5. ⚡️ Catch up quick

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
  • 😷 Coronavirus latest: The number of COVID-19 cases now exceeds 557,000 in the U.S., with more than 2.8 million tests having been conducted as of Monday morning, per Johns Hopkins. Over 41,800 Americans have recovered.
  • 🏒 Hobey Baker Award: Scott Perunovich, a junior defenseman from Minnesota Duluth who was taken by the Blues in the 2018 NHL draft, has won the 2020 Hobey Baker Award (top men's college ice hockey player).
  • 🏀 F-A-I-L: ESPN's HORSE Challenge, which featured players at their respective home courts communicating their shots via livestream, got underway yesterday. It was not good.
  • ⚾️ First HR of 2020: Kevin Cheng of the Chinese Professional Baseball League (which is in Taiwan) hit the first dinger of 2020!
  • 📺 SNL spoofs sports: During a special Zoom episode, "Saturday Night Live" spoofed the No Sports Era with a skit called "Sport Report," featuring reporter Bob Tisdale providing sports updates in a world without sports.

6. 📸 Photos 'round the world

Red Sox statue
Photo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

BOSTON — The "Teammates" statues of former Red Sox Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio wear makeshift masks.

Cardboard cutout fans
Photo: Gene Wang/Getty Images

TAOYUAN, Taiwan — The Rakuten Monkeys played their home opener in front of cardboard cutouts.

Hill with names written on sidewalk
Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

OUDENAARDE, Belgium — With the 104th Tour of Flanders postponed indefinitely, the famous Koppenberg hill has been painted with the names of healthcare workers.

7. April 13, 1997: ⛳️ Tiger's first Masters

Photo: Augusta National/Getty Images

23 years ago today, Tiger Woods donned the first of his five green jackets, winning the Masters and launching one of the greatest careers in sports history.

  • By the numbers: Tiger's cumulative score of 18 under par set a Masters record (since tied by Jordan Spieth), and at 21 years and 104 days old, he became the youngest Masters champion ever.

The big picture: Tiger's career has, thus far, broken into three distinct phases.

  • 1997—2008: The apex. In these first dozen years, he cemented himself as one of the greatest golfers ever, winning an astonishing 14 of the 48 total majors. At that point, passing Nicklaus' mark of 18 majors was simply a question of when, not if.
  • 2009—2017: The fall. Between his infamous Thanksgiving weekend ride in 2009 and the Memorial Day DUI in 2017, Tiger's career — but more importantly, his life — went off the rails. After winning 14 majors among 65 total victories prior to 2009, he won just 14 tournaments (no majors) across the next 13 years as he battled various back injuries and inner demons.
  • 2018—?: Redemption and hope. 2018 showed promise, and his 2019 Masters victory signaled that this new version of Tiger could still make some noise, and maybe Nicklaus' record wasn't so far-fetched anymore.

ICYMI ... CBS replayed the final round of last year's Masters, and Jim Nantz interviewed Tiger at various points before, during and after the round. Made for some awesome TV.

8. The Ocho: 🏃‍♀️ The Quarantine Backyard Ultra

Zoom screenshot
Photo: Courtesy Personal Peak

Jeff writes: Even the most solitary of sports — distance running — is not immune to the coronavirus lockdown. And so, runners who've adapted to their new reality banded together in the spirit of competition and held the first ever Quarantine Backyard Ultra.

How it worked: For (at least) 63 consecutive hours, runners had to complete 4.167 miles every hour at any pace, targeting 262 miles. They used a combination of live-streaming and the honor code to ensure no corners were being cut, and the last man or woman standing was to be crowned the winner.

By the numbers:

  • 2,400 participants from 56 countries took part in the race, which was organized by Personal Peak, an online coaching platform for endurance athletes.
  • Lap 63: Just two runners made it to the 63rd lap, and as Michael Wardian headed out for another jog around his Arlington, Virginia, neighborhood, Radek Brunner — on a treadmill in the Czech Republic — seemingly missed the cue that a new lap had begun, leading to his disqualification.

What they're saying: NYT's Christine Hauser paints a vivid picture of how far-reaching and eclectic this race became:

"In Dubai, a Russian man ran around his living room for 20 hours. A Canadian, Matt Shepard, wanted to avoid frostbite so he ran part of the race inside a coffee shop. ... Greg Armstrong, of Lebanon, Tennessee, had to pause on his treadmill at one point to remove a snake from his house."

The bottom line: We already knew runners, particularly ultra-marathoners, were made of something different, stronger ... perhaps a little crazier. Still, it's nice to get indisputable evidence to back up that claim.

P.S. ... This isn't Wardian's first offbeat victory. He's also completed 10 marathons in 10 days, and holds the world record for fastest 50-kilometer run on a treadmill and fastest marathon while dressed as Elvis.

9. 🐝 Spelling bee

Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images

ESPN aired a seven-hour spelling bee marathon yesterday, revisiting some of the best national finals in recent years. With that theme in mind...

  • Question: How do you spell Coach K's last name?
  • Hint: Country of origin: Poland.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why sports matter

Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter records his 3,000th career hit. Photo: Michael Heiman/Getty Images

Reader Patrick T. (New York) writes:

"My parents split up when I was 11, and like a lot of young boys in the New York area, an intense love of the Yankees brought my father and I closer together. The 90s were a great time to be a Yankee fan and there was no greater Yankee to root for than No. 2 himself, Derek Jeter.
"The new stadium opened in 2009 and being the 'old-school' guy that he is, my dad had no desire to go. Finally, in 2011, I bought us tickets for his birthday and gave him no choice but to say yes. As the date approached, we realized we had a chance to witness Jeter record his 3,000th career hit.
"On the day of the game, we could sense the excitement in the air the second we got off the train, and Jeter's first-inning single had the whole stadium feeling like we were destined to witness history.
"To this day, it's still hard to put into words the feeling of the loving embrace my father and I shared after Jeter crushed that sinking off-speed pitch into the left field bleachers for hit No. 3,000. We haven't gone a summer since without going to a game together, and I have Derek Jeter to thank for that.
"I love you dad."
Reader submission
Courtesy: Patrick T.

✍️ Submit your story: What's your fondest sports memory? Maybe it's a moment you shared with your dad. Maybe you witnessed history. Could be anything! Reply to this email letting me know. We'll be sharing your stories all month.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Shushefski" Baker

Trivia answer: Krzyzewski