Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

January 21, 2021

πŸ‘‹ Good morning! Let's sports.

Trivia answer: 1,649 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ The changing tide

Biden at the podium

Photo: Patrick Semansky/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is unlikely to leverage sports as a culture war in the same way that President Trump's did, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

The big picture: The longstanding tradition of champions visiting the White House β€” dating back to the 1860s but becoming a more regular practice in the past half century β€” changed significantly in the past four years.

  • By the numbers: Just one of the 14 major basketball champions under Trump visited the White House, and most weren't even invited.
  • Across other sports, champions who did accept their invitations were put under a cultural and political microscope. Which players opted out of the visit, and why, tended to dominate the storyline.
  • Moreover, some teams used their snubs as an opportunity to make not-so-subtle statements. The 2018 Warriors, for example, toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture before hanging out with President Obama at his D.C. office.

We don't know how Biden will proceed, but the two presidents' vastly different relationship to sports offers interesting insight.

  • Trump has long used sports for professional and political gain. He owned a team in the fledgling USFL and has 17 golf courses around the world; 14 of 24 Medals of Freedom he awarded went to sports figures; his vitriol toward Colin Kaepernick and the NFL spanned his entire term.
  • Biden has a more sentimental view of athletics. He's long used sports for personal growth, crediting them with instilling the confidence to overcome his stutter and delivering his family a sense of healing over the years.

Between the lines: The sports headlines these men choose to engage with, and the manner in which they do so, speaks volumes.

The bottom line: After the election was called for Biden in November, Draymond Green and LeBron James traded tweets to celebrate the White House's pending return as a champions' destination. The tide, it seems, is turning.

πŸ“† Coming tomorrow: Joe Biden, the football player (and soccer dad)

2. πŸ€ Irving returns, but new-look Nets fall

Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving returned from his personal "pause" to score 37 points in his first game with Kevin Durant and James Harden.

  • Irving: 37 pts (15-28 FG, 3-8 3PT); 3 ast in 48 mins
  • Durant: 38 pts (12-25 FG, 3-9 3PT); 12 reb; 8 ast in 50 mins
  • Harden: 21 pts (6-14 FG, 3-6 3PT); 10 reb; 12 ast in 51 mins

Yes, but: Brooklyn's "Big 3" couldn't keep up with Collin Sexton, who scored 42 points (including 20 straight in OT) to lead the Cavaliers to a 147-135 (2OT) win.

More NBA:

  • Joel Embiid scored 42 points to lead the Sixers past the Celtics, 117-109. Looking like an MVP candidate.
  • Cole Anthony hit a buzzer-beating three to lift the Magic past the Timberwolves, 97-96.
  • Clint Capela became the fifth player over the last 35 seasons with 25 points, 25 rebounds and five blocks, joining Shaquille O'Neal, Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon (2x).
  • The league postponed Friday's Wizards-Bucks game due to COVID-19 protocols. It's the 17th game postponed this season and the sixth straight Wizards game to be called off.

3. πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ Fuller caps off a year of breakthroughs

Sarah Fuller
Courtesy: Biden Inaugural Committee

Sarah Fuller, the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game, introduced Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman to hold the office, during Wednesday's inauguration.

The backdrop: Fuller was one of the many women who broke sports barriers in 2020. Consider the last few months, alone:

The big picture: In addition to these individual accomplishments, women's sports as a whole experienced a year of breakthroughs, both on and off the field.

4. πŸŽ“ Change at the top of college sports

Chart: Sara Wise/Axios
Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

On the heels of a stressful year in college athletics, some of the most experienced and powerful administrators are leaving their posts.

Driving the news: Two of the longest-tenured Power 5 athletic directors will depart in the next several months, while another retired over the summer.

  • Jim Phillips, the longtime Northwestern AD, will become the new ACC commissioner when John Swofford retires next month.
  • Kevin White announced last week that he will step down in August after leading Duke's athletic department for 13 years.
  • Dan Guerrero retired in July after 18 years at UCLA. He's now president of the U.S. International University Sports Federation.

🚨 Just in: To add to the shakeup, news broke late Wednesday night that the Pac-12 and longtime commissioner Larry Scott have agreed to part ways on June 30.

  • Once Scott leaves, only Bob Bowlsby (Big 12) will be left among the Power 5 commissioners who launched the College Football Playoff.
  • With Swofford (ACC) retiring next month and Kevin Warren (Big Ten) just 16 months into his tenure, three of the Power 5 conferences will have hired new bosses within a 21-month period.

5. 🏈 Rivers hangs 'em up

Philip Rivers exits the field

Photo: David Eulitt/Getty Images

Philip Rivers announced his retirement on Wednesday, ending a prolific, 17-year career with the Chargers and Colts, Jeff writes.

By the numbers: The eight-time Pro Bowler known for his unorthodox throwing motion and legendary, non-cursing trash talk also put up some epic numbers.

  • 63,440 passing yards ranks fifth behind Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.
  • 421 passing TD ranks fifth behind the same foursome.
  • His 240-game streak of regular season starts is second only to Favre (297) among QBs.
  • More importantly, he transformed the Chargers into a winning team. They went 35-77 in the seven years prior to his arrival and 76-36 in the seven years after, while winning the division in each of his first four seasons as the starter.

The big picture: Rivers joins Eli Manning, who retired last year, as the second of what's likely to be a steady stream of aging QBs retiring from the NFL.

  • Namely, Tom Brady (2000 draft), Drew Brees (2001) and Ben Roethlisberger (2004), with Aaron Rodgers (2005) coming a few years after that.
  • They all helped usher in the passing boom of the last decade-plus, and while the league is in great hands with a crop of young stud QBs, it'll be strange to spend future Sundays without them on the field.

The question: Rivers' statistical prowess is undeniable, but does he have a Hall of Fame rΓ©sumΓ©?

  • He made the playoffs in seven of 17 seasons but never advanced past the Conference Championship, which he played in just once (January 2008).
  • Just two QBs in the Super Bowl era made the Hall of Fame without playing the final game of the year: Warren Moon and fellow Charger Dan Fouts.

Go deeper: Philip Rivers retires with a complicated legacy (The Ringer)

6. πŸ“Š By the numbers

NFL punter

Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

🏈 3.7 punts: NFL teams punted an average of 3.7 times per game during the 2020 regular season, the lowest figure in recorded pro football history.

πŸ€ 9 of 14: Across men's and women's college basketball, nine of the 14 games featuring ranked teams were postponed on Thursday. Certainly not ideal.

πŸ† 23 players: Tom Brady is one win away from playing in his 10th Super Bowl. 23 players in NBA/MLB/NHL history have played in 10 title games, but only one has done so in the last 30 years: LeBron James.

πŸ’ 3 unbeatens: The Golden Knights (4-0-0), Lightning (2-0-0) and Panthers (2-0-0) are the NHL's only remaining undefeated teams.

⚽️ 760 goals: Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 760th goal for club or country on Wednesday as he helped Juventus lift the Italian Super Cup. Does this give him the record for most ever? Some say yes, others say no.

7. 🌍 Photos 'round the world

Swimmer emerging
Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

SAN ANTONIO β€” The recently concludedΒ TYR Pro Swim SeriesΒ was the first legitimate prelims/finals meet in a long-course venue since March 2020, a week before the pandemic took hold in the U.S.

Rory McIlroy
Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

ABU DHABI, U.A.E. β€” Rory McIlroy takes a swing on the driving range prior to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, which features an $8 million purse.

Horse race
Photo: Mark Evans/Getty Images

SYDNEY, Australia β€” Horses round the final turn at Rosehill Gardens which has been hosting races since 1885.

Speed skater
Photo: Joosep Martinson/International Skating Union via Getty Images

HEERENVEEN, Netherlands β€” Netherlands dominated the 2021 European Speed Skating Championships, winning eight of 12 medals (four gold, three silver, one bronze). Russia, Czech Republic, Germany and Norway won one medal each.

8. Jan. 21, 1907: πŸ’ Thistles wins the Cup

Thistles players
The Kenora Thistles. Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

114 years ago today, the Kenora Thistles beat the Montreal Wanderers, 8-6, to capture the Stanley Cup.

The backdrop: In 1892, Lord Stanley of Preston introduced his famous cup as the trophy for Canada's best amateur hockey team. And up until 1914, any champion among the nation's various leagues could challenge the Cup holder for the trophy.

The game: Kenora, champions of the Manitoba Hockey Association, challenged Montreal (Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association) for the Cup.

  • Format: Two-game series; winner decided by aggregate score.
  • Series: Led by future Hall of Famer Art Ross (for whom the regular season points leader trophy is named) the Thistles won both games, 4-2 and 8-6.
  • Fun fact: Kenora was named after the three small towns it comprised β€” Keewatin, Norman and Rat Portage. Strong TriBeCa vibes.

The demise: Just two months later, the Wanderers challenged the Thistles and won, making them the shortest-tenured Stanley Cup champions ever.

  • After losing the Cup, numerous Thistles players retired or changed teams, and the club folded by the end of the year.

Legacy ... Kenora (current population: ~15,000) remains the smallest town to win a North American championship.

Go deeper: When the Thistles owned the Cup (Sportsnet)

9. πŸ€ NBA trivia

Bleacher Report GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Zion Williamson scored 20 or more points in 28 of his first 40 career NBA games, tied with Bernard King for fourth-most ever.

  • Question: Who are the only three players ahead of him?
  • Hint: All three have an "O" and an "N" in their last name.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ⚾️ Most HR by president (1921-present)

Babe Ruth and President Harding

Babe Ruth shakes hands with President Warren G. Harding at Yankee Stadium in 1923. Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

  • Trump: Mike Trout (134)
  • Obama: Albert Pujols (272)
  • W. Bush: Alex Rodriguez (364)
  • Clinton: Ken Griffey Jr. (351)
  • H.W. Bush: Fred McGriff (137)
  • Reagan: Mike Schmidt (259)
  • Carter: Mike Schmidt (152)
  • Ford: Mike Schmidt (87)
  • Nixon: Hank Aaron (218)
  • Johnson: Willie Mays (181)
  • Kennedy: Harmon Killebrew (139)
  • Eisenhower: Eddie Matthews (313)
  • Truman: Ralph Kiner (294)
  • FDR: Jimmie Foxx (353)
  • Hoover: Ruth (182)
  • Coolidge: Ruth (289)
  • Harding: Ruth (119)

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Wainscoting" Baker

Trivia answer: Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal