Oct 7, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

πŸ‘‹ Happy Monday! So much happened this weekend that it would have been humanly impossible to fit it all into a newsletter. But I tried anyway!!!

  • πŸ”₯ Breaking news: The Washington Redskins have fired head coach Jay Gruden, per multiple reports.
  • πŸ“Ί Monday Night Football: The Browns (2-2) travel west to take on the undefeated 49ers (3-0), who are 5-point favorites as of this morning.

Today's word count: 1,756 words (6 minutes)

1 big thing: πŸ€ Tweet gets Rockets banned in China

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

A single tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey escalated into a geopolitical crisis over the weekend, pitting America's democratic ideals and the NBA's progressive brand against the influence of Chinese money.

The backdrop: On Friday night, Morey tweeted an image that read "Fight for Freedom. Stand for Hong Kong" in reference to the pro-democracy protests that have been going on there for months.

  • He quickly deleted the tweet after it caused an uproar, and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta followed that up by publicly clarifying (on Twitter, of course) that Morey was "NOT" speaking for the Rockets and that the organization was "NOT" political.
  • Morey apologized on Sunday, tweeting that he was "merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event." But the damage had already been done.

The backlash: The Chinese government, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) and multiple Chinese businesses have severed ties with the Rockets.

  • The most shocking: Months after paying billions of dollars to extend its streaming deal with the NBA, Tencent Holdings has "suspended all reports/streaming of Houston Rockets." For reference, nearly 500 million people in China watched the NBA on Tencent last season. It's basically their "League Pass," and now the Rockets are effectively banned.
  • As for the CBA severing ties, that was particularly notable since its president is Yao Ming β€” one of the best players in Rockets history and the man responsible for making them (and the NBA) so popular in China.
  • Meanwhile, on the Rockets' front, The Ringer reports that ownership has "absolutely discussed" whether Morey should be removed, and 2 people I spoke with said they expect Morey could be gone by tomorrow unless the NBA steps up and supports him.

The stakes: The NBA views China as the key to future international growth and has significant business interests there.

  • At the same time, it has positioned itself as the most progressive of the major American sports leagues by supporting social activism and letting players have their own voice. Will those values be upheld now that the league's bottom line stands to be affected?
"I understand financial/political realities at work here. But Morey was simply advocating for civil/humanitarian rights β€” the same values the NBA regularly espouses and purportedly stands for. If the league allows a team official to be fired for doing so, it undermines it all."
β€” B/R's Howard Beck, via Twitter

The NBA's response: NBA commissioner Adam Silver will be in China this week to watch the Lakers and Nets play 2 preseason games, so this story could develop quickly. For now, here's the league's official statement:

  • "We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.
  • "While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals' educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them.
  • "We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together."

What they're saying:

  • Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: "As a lifelong Houston Rockets fan, I was proud to see [Daryl Morey] call out the Chinese Communist Party's repressive treatment of protestors in Hong Kong. ... We're better than this; human rights shouldn't be for sale & the NBA shouldn't be assisting Chinese communist censorship."
  • Nets owner and Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai: "I don't know Daryl personally. I am sure he's a fine NBA general manager, and I will take at face value his subsequent apology that he was not as well informed as he should have been. But the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair."

The bottom line: A high-stakes showdown with a foreign government is far beyond anything the NBA has had to navigate in the past, but there's no running from this β€” and the league's actions over the next few days will speak volumes.

2. 🏈 AP Top 25: Bulldogs, Buckeyes tied at No. 3
Expand chart
Data: AP; Table: Axios Visuals

Ohio State and Georgia are tied at No. 3 in this week's AP poll, while Florida surged to No. 7 following a huge win at home over Auburn, who fell to No. 12.

Coming up: Next week is loaded with Top 25 matchups.

  • (1) Alabama at (24) Texas A&M
  • (5) LSU vs. (7) Florida
  • (6) Oklahoma at (11) Texas
  • (10) Penn State at (17) Iowa

Go deeper: Bowl projections (ESPN)

3. ⚾️ Back-to-back-to-back-to-back baseball

There's a full slate of playoff baseball coming your way today, with the Astros, Braves, Dodgers and Yankees all 1 win away from advancing to the next round.

Astros at Rays, 1:05pm ET (MLBN)

  • Where things stand: Astros lead 2-0
  • How we got here: The Astros have suffocated the Rays with dominant starting pitching, getting a combined 14.2 innings of shutout ball from Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
  • Today's starters: Rays veteran Charlie Morton will look to win his 2nd potential elimination game in 6 days, this time against his former team. As for Houston, they'll be hoping Zack Greinke (18-5, 2.93 ERA) can mimic JV and Cole's brilliance.

Braves at Cardinals, 3:07pm ET (TBS)

  • Where things stand: Braves lead 2-1
  • How we got here: After surrendering 7 runs in a wild Game 1, the Braves held the Cardinals to zero runs in Game 2 and 1 run in Game 3 β€” the latter of which they won, 3-1, by erasing a 1-0 deficit in the 9th.
  • Today's starters: The Braves have yet to name a starter, while the Cardinals are going with youngster Dakota Hudson, who has been lights out at home this season (9-2, 2.75 ERA).

Dodgers at Nationals, 6:40pm ET (TBS)

  • Where things stand: Dodgers lead 2-1
  • How we got here: After splitting the first 2 games, the Dodgers used a 7-run 6th inning to beat the National, 10-4, in Sunday's Game 3.
  • Today's starters: The Dodgers will turn to 39-year-old left-hander Rich Hill (4-1, 2.45 ERA in 13 starts), while the Nationals will counter with 35-year-old right-hander Max Scherzer (11-7, 2.92 ERA).

Yankees at Twins, 8:40pm ET (FS1)

  • Where things stand: Yankees lead 2-0
  • How we got here: The Yankees have won a major league record 12 straight playoff games over the Twins, including 10-4 and 8-2 victories in Games 1 and 2.
  • Today's starters: Luis Severino (1-1, 1.50 ERA in 3 starts) will take the mound for the Yankees, while Jake Odorizzi (15-7, 3.51 ERA) will try to help Minnesota stave off elimination.
4. πŸ“Έ NFL Sunday in photos
Photo: Justin Berl/Getty Images

PITTSBURGH β€” In the scariest moment of the day, Pittsburgh QB Mason Rudolph was knocked unconscious after a helmet-to-helmet hit during the Steelers' OT loss to the Ravens. Thankfully, it sounds like he's OK.

  • Surreal image: The Steelers have watched Ryan Shazier battle to regain the ability to walk after suffering a spinal cord injury in 2017. Pretty surreal seeing him (above, in sweatshirt) walk Rudolph off the field.
Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

ARLINGTON, TEXAS β€” Aaron Jones (182 scrimmage yards, 4 TD) led the Packers past the Cowboys, 34-24, as Green Bay improved to 5-0 at JerryWorld. Are the Cowboys even good?

Photo: David Eulitt/Getty Images

KANSAS CITY β€” The Colts used a balanced pass rush to upset Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, 19-13, on Sunday Night Football. Coming into the game, Kansas City had scored 26+ points in an NFL-record 25 straight games.

Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images

HOUSTON β€” Will Fuller IV (14 rec, 317 yds, 3 TD) and DeAndre Hopkins (7 rec, 88 yds) were blessed by Deshaun Watson's presence, as he became just the 3rd QB in the Super Bowl era to record a perfect passer rating, 400 yards and 5 TD. Unreal.

Elsewhere: The Raiders ran all over the Bears in London ... Panthers QB Kyle Allen improved to 4-0 ... Teddy Bridgewater looked awesome ... Buffalo's defense looked dominant ... the Cardinals got a win ... and even Tom Brady thought it was ridiculous how many Patriots fans were at a Redskins home game.

5. πŸ“Š By the numbers
Photo: Kathryn Riley/Getty Images
πŸ€ 26 minutes

League MVP Elena Delle Donne overcame a herniated disk/pinched nerve in her back to help the Mystics beat the Sun, 94-81, and take a 2-1 lead in the WNBA Finals.

  • Final numbers: Delle Donne, who "looked something like a bionic woman" with a face mask, knee brace and back support, scored 13 points in 26 minutes β€” an encouraging sign considering her availability had been in doubt.
⚽️ 34 goals

Carlos Vela set the new single-season MLS scoring record with 34 goals, breaking Atlanta United Josef Martinez's record of 31, which he set last year.

  • The big picture: Sunday was the final day of the MLS regular season, which means the playoff bracket is officially set. Take a look.
πŸ₯Š 40-1-1

Gennadiy Golovkin improved to 40-1-1 with a win over Sergey Derevyanchenko at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, but it didn't come easy.

  • Go deeper: "[W]hen the scorecards were read, the Garden crowd, which had cheered raucously for Golovkin ... now showered the arena with boos. That's how much respect Derevyanchenko [had] earned." (Yahoo Sports)
6. Oct. 7, 1984: 🏈 Payton passes Brown

Photo: David Eulitt/Getty Images

35 years ago today, Bears RB Walter "Sweetness" Payton passed Jim Brown as the NFL's all-time rushing leader. Here's the footage.

The big picture: Payton held the top spot for nearly 2 decades before Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith passed him in 2002. Meanwhile, Brown β€” who only played 9 seasons β€” has fallen out of the top 10.

All-time rushing leaders:

  1. Emmitt Smith (18,355 yards)
  2. Walter Payton (16,726)
  3. Barry Sanders (15,269)
  4. Frank Gore* (15,081)
  5. Curtis Martin (14,101)


7. 🏈 CFB trivia

On Saturday, Joe Burrow became just the 6th QB in LSU history to throw 20+ TD in a season, while also moving within 6 of tying the school record (28).

  • Question: Who holds the school record?
  • Hint: First-round pick this century.

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: πŸ’° Poker world rocked by scandal

A poker player named Mike Postle is under investigation for cheating during live-streamed poker games, and the fallout has produced one of the most fascinating gambling scandals in years.

  • The "investigation" is being led by a podcaster/YouTuber named Joe Ingram, who has analyzed hours upon hours of footage and is joined by an army of internet sleuths who have turned a poker forum into a detective's office.
  • The story has gotten so big that Scott Van Pelt mentioned it on "SportsCenter" last week, describing the mystery surrounding Postle's alleged cheating as an "internet wormhole."

Go deeper: Here's The Ringer's David Hill after spending hours traveling down that wormhole:

  • "It's like a Where's Waldo? puzzle. It's so hard to find him, but once you do, you can never not see him .... And now that everyone is looking for the signs that Postle is cheating, they are everywhere."
  • "While his neighbors keep their phones on the table, he always keeps his phone on his chair between his legs .... He almost never brings his left hand up above the table. He puts his head down to glance at his phone before he makes decisions. It all seems so obvious now."
Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Song of the day" Baker

Trivia answer: JaMarcus Russell (2006)