Dec 13, 2019

Axios Sports

🎉 Happy Friday! I got WAY more selfies/replies than anticipated yesterday (which is awesome), so I need a few days to go through them all. I'll share the final result on Monday.

  • To be included, reply to this email with a selfie (bonus points if your Axios Sports newsletter is visible), along with your name, hometown, favorite athlete and whatever else you want to add.

🙏 Get well, David: Former NBA commissioner David Stern underwent emergency surgery after a "sudden brain hemorrhage" yesterday afternoon. Prayers to David and his family.

Today's word count: 1,751 words (6 minutes)

1 big thing: 🏀 The NBA's first-quarter All-Stars

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With the NBA season roughly a quarter of the way through, I've put together my Western Conference and Eastern Conference All-Star teams.

The intrigue: With 2019 All-Stars Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Victor Oladipo sidelined and Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Blake Griffin and Nikola Vucevic missing significant time, the door is open wider than usual for first-time selections.

  • James Harden (HOU): He's averaging 38.7 points per game, which is absurd. But this might be even crazier: Harden has missed more three-pointers (228) than all but three players have attempted.
  • Luka Dončić (DAL): It's difficult to describe what this kid has done so far (more on his performance last night below). At just 20 years old, he's averaging a near triple-double and leading the NBA in touches (96 per game), a testament to his rare playmaking ability.
  • LeBron James (LAL): 17 years ago yesterday, the world was officially introduced to LeBron James when he made his national TV debut as a member of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Now, at age 34, he's averaging a career-best 10.8 assists and has the Lakers looking like title favorites.
  • Kawhi Leonard (LAC): The reigning Finals MVP has morphed into an elite passer (his 5.3 assists per game are more than double his career average), which is not fair. Catch him tonight against the Timberwolves (9:30pm ET, ESPN).
  • Anthony Davis (LAL): "The Brow" looks like a virtual lock to win Defensive Player of the Year, and his instant chemistry with LeBron in year one can't be overstated. So impressive what they're already able to do to defenses together.

Reserves: Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN), Devin Booker (PHX), Damian Lillard (POR), Donovan Mitchell (UTAH), Paul George (LAC), Nikola Jokić (DEN), Brandon Ingram (NOP)

On the bubble: Andrew Wiggins (MIN), Rudy Gobert (UTAH), C.J. McCollum (POR), Montrezl Harrell (LAC), Russell Westbrook (HOU)

  • Kemba Walker (BOS): I almost gave this spot to second-year Hawks sensation Trae Young (they have almost the same exact Player Efficiency Rating), but Walker gets the nod for leading a better team and playing better defense. "I just told the team ... 'If you want to be special, then model after Kemba,'" Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently.
  • Bradley Beal (WSH): With John Wall sidelined, Beal ranks fifth in the league in scoring (27.4 ppg) and 12th in dime-dropping (7.0 apg), all while directing a top-five offense whose second-best player is ... Rui Hachimura.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL): The coolest thing about Giannis is that he's humble, and the craziest thing about Giannis is that he just keeps getting better. "Sky's the limit" is the ultimate cliche, but it might not apply to any other athlete more than it applies to him.
  • Pascal Siakam (TOR): No player has ever won the Most Improved Player Award twice, let alone in back-to-back seasons. Yet Siakam, last year's winner, is making a strong case. I'd put him in third, right behind Dončić and Hornets breakout star Devonte' Graham.
  • Joel Embiid (PHI): Two days after Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal criticized him for not playing hard enough, Joel Embiid responded with a spectacular performance in Boston (38-13-6). Some nights, he's unguardable.

Reserves: Jimmy Butler (MIA), Trae Young (ATL), Andre Drummond (DET), Malcolm Brogdon (IND), Ben Simmons (PHI), Jayson Tatum (BOS), Domantas Sabonis (IND)

On the bubble: Bam Adebayo (MIA), Spencer Dinwiddie (BKN), Zach LaVine (CHI), Khris Middleton (MIL), Graham (CHA)

2. 💵 Sports betting map: 18 months, 18 states
Expand chart
Reproduced from American Gaming Association; Graphic: Axios Visuals

Since the demise of the federal ban on state-authorized sports betting 18 months ago, 18 states (plus Washington, D.C.) have joined Nevada in legalizing sports wagering.

  • Legal (13 states): Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia
  • Passed bill (6 states + D.C.): Colorado, Illinois, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, D.C.

The others:

  • Active bills (4): Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio
  • Failed legislation (19): Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington
  • No bills in 2019 (8): Alaska, Florida, Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Driving the news: New Jersey sports bettors wagered $562+ million in November (86% via online bets), eclipsing the state's previous record of $487 million, set in October. Overall, sports betting has generated $4+ billion in wagers for New Jersey this year.

3. 🏈 8-team playoff model "circulating around" CFB


The four-team College Football Playoff is bound to expand, and according to multiple reports, details are now being openly discussed among conference commissioners and fellow wielders of power.

Driving the news: A Power 5 AD told SI's Ross Delenger that a "specific 8-team playoff model is circulating around the CFB world that would incorporate bowls, including a bowl-sponsored national championship game."

The model: Five automatic bids for the Power 5 champions, two at-large bids and one Group of 5 bid. That means this year's playoff would have looked like this:

  • No. 1 seed LSU (auto) vs. No. 8 seed Memphis (Group of 5)
  • No. 4 seed Oklahoma (auto) vs. No. 5 seed Georgia (at-large)
  • No. 2 seed Ohio State (auto) vs. No. 7 seed Baylor (at-large)
  • No. 3 seed Clemson (auto) vs. No. 6 seed Oregon (auto)

Note: The debate would have been over the No. 7 seed. I chose Baylor, which finished No. 7 in the final CFP rankings, but Florida (ninth in CFP rankings, sixth in AP poll) would have been in the conversation.

ICYMI ... The 29th annual College Football Awards were last night, and Joe Burrow (three wins) and LSU dominated. See all the winners.

4. ⭐️ The future is now
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

BALTIMORE — 22-year-old Lamar Jackson (15/23, 212 yds, 5 TD; 8 car, 86 yds) broke Michael Vick's single-season record for rushing yards by a QB in the Ravens' AFC North-clinching 42-21 win over the Jets.

  • Fun fact: Jackson also became just the second QB in Ravens history to throw 30 TD in a season, joining Vinny Testaverde, who threw 33 in the team's inaugural 1996 season.
Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images

MEXICO CITY — 20-year-old Dončić (41-12-11) recorded his second career 40-point triple-double in the Mavericks' 122-111 win over the Pistons in Mexico City. All other players under the age of 21 in NBA history have a grand total of one (LeBron James).

  • More news from Mexico: The NBA announced last night that the Mexico City-based pro basketball team, Capitanes, will join the G League next season as its first team from outside the U.S. and Canada.
5. 🏀 The undefeated team without a home
Screenshot: @jloose128 (Twitter)

Only five D-I men's college basketball teams remain undefeated: No. 3 Ohio State (9-0), No. 12 Auburn (8-0), No. 25 San Diego State (10-0), unranked Liberty (11-0) and unranked Duquesne (8-0).

Let's talk about Duquesne: The Pittsburgh-based program is off to its best start in nearly half a century, and while the schedule hasn't been all that difficult, the Dukes have overcome a rather unique challenge: no home gym.

  • Duquesne is essentially homeless this season while the school spends $45 million renovating its basketball arena.
  • In the meantime, they're splitting their "home" games between three nearby sites: D-III La Roche, PPG Paints Arena (home of the Penguins) and D-I Robert Morris.

What they're saying: Without their own locker room (they've retrofitted an old racquetball court), Duquesne players typically throw on sweats after practice and shower at home.

  • "It reminds me a lot of high school," junior forward Marcus Weathers told The Athletic (subscription).
  • "We're like a D-III team playing for love of the game and the love of winning," coach Keith Dambrot says. "We have to generate our own energy. But in the long run, that should help us. We're playing for the right reasons."

P.S. ... Adding to the intrigue surrounding Duquesne is the fact that Dambrot was LeBron James' high school coach.

6. 🚑 Ex-NFL players charged with health care fraud

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

10 former NFL players, including Redskins great Clinton Portis, face felony charges for allegedly defrauding one of the league's retiree health care benefit programs out of $3.4 million by seeking reimbursements for medical equipment that was never purchased.

  • Six agreed to surrender: Portis, Correll Buckhalter, James Butler, Frederick Bennett, Etric Pruitt and Tamarick Vanover.
  • Four refused and were arrested instead: Carlos Rogers (Portis' longtime teammate in D.C.), Robert McCune, John Eubanks and Ceandris Brown.
  • More coming: The Justice Department also says it intends to file charges against two other players, including four-time Pro Bowl WR Joe Horn.

How it worked: The players targeted the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan, which provides tax-free reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical care expenses not covered by insurance.

  • The group's alleged ringleaders, McCune and Buckhalter, would recruit players to submit fake claims, often on expensive equipment like cryotherapy machines, then demand thousands of dollars in kickbacks for each reimbursement.

The big picture: There are more than 20,000 retired NFL players, many of whom lawfully rely on — and desperately need — these reimbursements. They're the real victims here, especially if the plan loses its tax-exempt status, as prosecutors suggest it could.

The bottom line: These players are accused of conspiracy, wire fraud and health care fraud, each of which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 or 20 years.

  • While it's safe to assume they won't be sentenced to decades in prison (especially if they lack criminal records), they do face the very real prospect of spending double-digit years behind bars.
7. Dec. 13, 1983: 🏀 NBA's highest-scoring game
Screenshot: DetPistonsOfficial (YouTube)

36 years ago today, the Detroit Pistons beat the Denver Nuggets, 186-184, in triple-overtime. The 370 combined points — despite there being only four three-pointers attempted all game(!) — are the most ever scored in an NBA game.

By the numbers: Isiah Thomas (47-17-5) led the way for Detroit, while Denver's Kiki VanDeWeghe scored a career-high 51 points to go along with nine boards and eight assists. In all, 12 players scored in double figures.

  • Pistons: Thomas (47), John Long (41), Kelly Tripucka (35), Terry Tyler (18), Bill Laimbeer (17) and Vinnie Johnson (12)
  • Nuggets: VanDeWeghe (51), Alex English (47), Dan Issel (28), Mike Evans (16), Richard Anderson (13) and Danny Schayes (11)

Go deeper:

8. The Ocho: 🏐 I'm obsessed with netball
Photo: Evan Barnes/Getty Images

The above photo is from an international netball tournament that just wrapped up in New Zealand. I am fascinated by this sport — which feels like a combo of basketball, handball and ultimate frisbee — and will be going deeper on Monday.

In the meantime ... Here's a cool NYT article from 2011 about the netball scene in Brooklyn. Read: "The sisterhood of netball."

9. 🏒 NHL trivia

Alexander Ovechkin has 255 career power play goals and needs just one more to pass Teemu Selänne for third on the all-time list.

  • Question: Who are the only two players in NHL history with more power play goals?
  • Hint: Both born in the 1960s.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 📸 Beautiful handwriting is so satisfying
Photo: Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Caption: "The handwritten notes of BBC radio reporter Nick Barnes sit ready in the press box before the Sky Bet League One match between Gillingham and Sunderland in Gillingham, England."

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Lamar or Luka?" Baker

Trivia answer: Dave Andreychuk (274) and Brett Hull (265)