Jan 28, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

💔 Good morning. In case it got buried in your inbox, here's my Kobe Bryant tribute from last night. Thanks for bearing with me as I navigate how to best cover this.

Australian Open update...

  • Men: Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will meet in Thursday's semifinal, and the other two semifinalists will be decided today (Wawrinka vs. Zverev) and tomorrow (Nadal vs. Thiem).
  • Women: American Sofia Kenin will meet Ashleigh Barty in tomorrow's semifinal, and the other two semifinalists will be decided today (Kontaveit vs. Halep and Muguruza vs. Pavlyuchenkova).

Today's word count: 1,137 words (4 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏀 Kobe Bryant's transcendence
A giant mural of Kobe and Gianna Bryant on a basketball court in Manila, Philippines. Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

Nope, still doesn't feel real. The world is at a standstill.

  • 12 NBA teams played games yesterday, but the only thing anybody wanted to do was watch ESPN's re-airing of Kobe Bryant's final game.
  • The tennis continued in Melbourne, but a darkness lingered.
  • The Sharks game was on at a local pub here in San Francisco, but everyone inside was reading Kobe articles on their phones. Watching videos. Shaking their heads.

Super Bowl Opening Night, traditionally one of the zaniest events of the season, took a more somber tone, as players and coaches grappled with the news.

  • Following a moment of silence, fans attending the event at Marlins Park broke out into "Kobe" chants.
  • "Not enough words in my vernacular to describe what Kobe means to me," said 49ers CB Richard Sherman.
  • "He made me respect football like he respected basketball," added Chiefs DE Frank Clark.

The bottom line: It's remarkable how insignificant the biggest sporting event in America feels right now.

Go deeper:

2. 📸 Photos 'round the world
Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — Fans gathered at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa. to pay their respects to the school's most famous alumni. "His presence was always here," said one recent graduate. "He would come back and sit on our bench and cheer us on. He always came back. He never left the community."

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Murals have popped up all over L.A. as the city mourns. Text from my uncle, who lives there: "The guy who stocks produce at my grocery store had a little transistor radio on his cart — listening to local radio — and crying. Was at LAX earlier and everyone just looked like zombies."

Photo: Maria Tan/AFP via Getty Images

MANILA, Philippines — A memorial wall near the "House of Kobe" gym built in honor of his 2016 visit to the Philippines. "Sport is the vehicle through which we change the world," said Bryant in 2018. "The next generation is going to carry [us] forward."

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

HARTFORD, Conn. — A jersey honoring Gianna "Gigi" Bryant sat on the UConn bench ahead of the Huskies' exhibition game vs. Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Team USA. She'd always dreamed of playing there one day.

3. ⛳️ Premier Golf League: A mysterious new tour

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Several players and agents have been approached about participating in a new star-driven global golf tour called the Premier Golf League (PGL), according to multiple reports.

Details: The tour would consist of 18 events and feature 48-player fields, 54-hole competitions (so three days with no cut) and $10 million purses. The mysterious entity behind the tour is also reportedly exploring a team concept similar to Formula One racing, plus an identical women's format.

The backdrop: 25 years ago, Greg Norman and Rupert Murdoch attempted to get a similar concept off the ground, but the PGA Tour squashed it like a bug.

  • "[W]ho possesses more might and moxie to pull this off than the former world No. 1 and Fox media mogul? That's the only question that matters right now," writes the Golf Channel's Randall Mell.
  • "That doesn't mean this isn't worth talking about, but we can't begin to take it seriously until we know who's behind it."

What they're saying: "Those guys have been talking to a few of us for six years,'' said Rory McIlroy at the Farmers Insurance Open this weekend.

  • "I'm still quite a traditionalist, so to have that much of an upheaval in the game I don't think is the right step forward. But I think it might be a catalyst for some changes on this tour that can help it grow and move forward."
  • "But I love the PGA Tour ... I certainly wouldn't want to lose what's been built in the last 40 or 50 years, tournaments like this, tournaments like Riviera in a couple weeks' time, everything that we have gotten to know and love."
4. 🏀 Men's poll: Baylor stays on top
Expand chart
Data: AP; Table: Axios Visuals

Baylor is No. 1 in the Men's AP poll for a second straight week, bringing a rare bit of stability to the top of the rankings in what has been a wildly unpredictable season.

  • The Big Ten's big six: The Big Ten has six ranked teams, which is twice as many as any other conference. The ACC, Big 12, Big East and SEC each have three, while the Pac-12 and AAC have two.

Go deeper: Overachievers, underachievers by conference (ESPN)

5. 🏀 Women's poll: Oregon moves up to No. 3
Expand chart
Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals

Oregon moved up to No. 3 in the AP women's poll after beating rival Oregon State twice in a 48-hour span.

  • The Big Ten's big four: No. 17 Maryland, No. 18 Iowa, No. 20 Indiana and No. 23 Northwestern are part of a logjam at the top of the Big Ten during one of the league's most competitive seasons in years.

Go deeper: Behind Kobe and Gigi Bryant's shared passion for women's basketball (NowThis)

6. 📊 By the numbers
Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images
  • 🏈 24 years old: All eyes (even Jimmy G's) were on Patrick Mahomes as the Chiefs and 49ers faced the media ahead of Sunday's big game when the 24-year-old will become the fifth-youngest QB to ever start a Super Bowl, trailing Dan Marino (lost in 1985), Ben Roethlisberger (won in 2006), David Woodley (lost in 1983) and Jared Goff (lost last year).
  • ⚾️ 8 teams: A Nolan Arenado trade is "all but inevitable," argues The Athletic's Jim Bowden (subscription), and "there are approximately eight teams that could make sense as a trade partner for the Rockies." They are: Yankees, Astros, Rangers, Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals, Nationals and Cubs.
  • 🏀 1-8,378: The Kings trailed the Timberwolves by 17 points with 2:49 left in the fourth quarter last night and won 133-129 in OT, marking the first time since play-by-play data has been tracked that a team won after trailing by 17 or more in the final three minutes. Teams had previously been 0-8,378.
7. Jan. 28, 2018: 🎾 Fed wins 20th Grand Slam
Photo: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Two years ago today, Roger Federer beat Marin Čilić to win his record sixth Australian Open title and become the first man to win 20 Grand Slams.

"Last year we were calling this a Federer revival. I don't think it's a revival anymore. It's a whole new chapter — Federer re-writing the rules for what's possible for an aging player. ... You're lucky, folks. You lived in an era in which you can order a burrito on an iPad, and you saw Serena and Roger."
— Jason Gay, WSJ

Go deeper: Federer's emotional speech (YouTube)

8. The Ocho: 🇦🇷 Cycling is beautiful

Photos from the 2020 Vuelta a San Juan, a road cycling race currently underway in Argentina.

Photo: Maximiliano Blanco/Getty Images
Photo: Maximiliano Blanco/Getty Images
Photo: Maximiliano Blanco/Getty Images
9. 🏈 NFL trivia

Photo: Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Image

Philip Rivers and the Chargers appear headed for a breakup after 16 seasons together.

  • Question: Rivers is sixth on the NFL's all-time passing TD list with 397. Who are the five players ahead of him?
  • Hint: Two are active.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🏈 The second-most random football player

SB Nation's Matt Ellentuck asked his Twitter followers to name the second-most random basketball player they could think of, and the results made me so remember so many guys.

  • A few favorites: Landry Fields, Chris Copeland, Tony Battie, Ramon Sessions, Detlef Schrempf, Ronny Turiaf, Eduardo Najera, Norris Cole and the one-and-only Kevin Pittsnogle, who is now a special education teacher.

💬 Question for you: Who is the second-most random football player you can think of?

Reply here.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Look at all of these comments" Baker

Trivia answer: Drew Brees (547), Tom Brady (541), Peyton Manning (539), Brett Favre (508), Dan Marino (420)