Jul 29, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! I'm off the rest of the week, so Jeff Tracy will be your guide for the return of the NBA (tomorrow) and NHL (Saturday). I'll be back Monday to recap it all.

Today's word count: 1,865 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 😷 The labs testing the leagues

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The NFL, NBA and MLS have all enlisted the same company, BioReference Laboratories, to handle coronavirus testing during their respective restarts, Jeff Tracy and I write.

Details:

  • NFL: Testing will reportedly cost around $75 million, and will be evenly paid for by all 32 teams. The fee includes 120 tests per team per day, with the option to add additional tests for $125 each.
  • NBA: Players receive both a nasal and saliva swab every other day, administered by the ~100 BioReference employees living in the bubble. The samples are driven 75 minutes away to a lab in Melbourne, Florida, for analysis.
  • MLS: Like its Disney World counterpart, players are tested every other day. There hasn't been a positive test among the 24 participating clubs since July 10. Tests take 12–15 hours to process.
Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

Market impact: Shares in BioReference's parent company, OPKO Health, are up nearly 300% since the start of the year, and the stock has surged since testing began in the NBA and MLS bubbles.

The big picture: COVID-19 testing in sports has become a hot-button issue, with some concerned that leagues are consuming limited resources while many Americans either can't get tested or have to wait too long for results.

  • BioReference chairman Jon Cohen pushed back against that narrative, saying the company's work with sports leagues hasn't impacted its ability to test the general public in Florida and other states where it has facilities.
  • "Our current capacity is somewhere in the vicinity of 50,000 to 70,000 tests a day," he told The Athletic's Joe Vardon (subscription). "So the amount of testing we're doing for the sports franchises is minimal compared to our total testing."

Other testing partners:

2. ⚾️ Marlins madness; benches clear in Houston
Marlins Park sits idle. Photo: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

The Marlins coronavirus outbreak saga is far from over. What began as a few postponed games has turned into a weeklong hiatus with no clear end in sight, Jeff writes.

Timeline:

  • Sunday: Four Marlins test positive ahead of their series finale against the Phillies but decide via group text to play anyway.
  • Monday: The Marlins positive test count rises to 13, prompting MLB to postpone their two-game series against the Orioles, as well as the Phillies' Monday night game against the Yankees.
  • Tuesday: MLB pauses all Marlins games through Sunday and all Phillies games through Thursday, then announces that the Yankees and Orioles will play a newly-scheduled, two-game series beginning today in Baltimore.

Looking ahead: The 60-game, 66-day schedule leaves little wiggle room as it is, so it's unclear when or how teams will make up their missed games.

  • There's precedent (1981 strike) for seeding playoffs based on winning percentage rather than number of wins in a season with uneven games played.
  • Could a 27-26 Phillies team keep a 30-30 team out of the playoffs?
Joe Kelly and Carlos Correa exchange words. Photo: Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Meanwhile, on the diamond ... Benches cleared in the first game between the Astros and Dodgers since it was revealed that Houston illegally stole signs en route to a 2017 World Series title that came at L.A.'s expense.

  • The fireworks occurred after Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw high-and-tight pitches to Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa in the sixth inning, then exchanged words with Correa after striking him out.
  • Final: Dodgers 5, Astros 2
3. 🎬 Now streaming: "The Weight of Gold"
Michael Phelps' record 22 gold medals. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

"The Weight of Gold," a documentary exploring the mental health challenges that Olympians often face, premieres tonight on HBO (9pm ET/PT).

  • Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all-time, who has also been vocal about his struggles with depression, executive produced the film.

What they're saying: "We have to do something," says Phelps, who estimates that "a good 80%, maybe more" of Olympians experience "post-Olympic depression."

"It's very, very simple. Athletes most likely don't get help for depression, or mental health issues, because they can't even admit that it's an issue. Because that that is so fundamentally at odds with being a competitor."
— American figure skater Sasha Cohen, 2006 silver medalist

🎬 Watch: Official trailer (YouTube)

4. 📊 By the numbers
Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson. Courtesy: Minnesota Lynx
  • 🏀 3,361 rebounds: Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles became the WNBA's all-time leading rebounder on Tuesday night, passing former teammate and current assistant coach, Rebekkah Brunson.
  • 🏈 25 players: That's how many NFL players have opted out of the 2020 season so far. Six are Patriots, including team captain Dont'a Hightower.
  • ⚽️ 8 teams left: Minnesota beat Columbus on penalties, and Portland beat Cincinnati on penalties. The quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament are now set: Philadelphia vs. Kansas City; Orlando City vs. LAFC; San Jose vs. Minnesota; NYC FC vs. Portland.
  • ⚾️ 24 years old: In the past month, Patrick Mahomes has signed the richest deal in NFL history and become a part owner of the Royals. He's 24.
  • ✍️ $8/month: Former Deadspin writers, who took part in a staff rebellion last year, have launched Defector Media, a new subscription sports media outlet that they will own and operate themselves. Cost: $8/month.
5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 5)
Expand chart
Player data: Basketball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

We're ranking the all-time rosters for all 30 NBA teams. Note: Rosters and stats based only on time spent with this specific team. Thoughts? Email me at jeff@axios.com.

5. Philadelphia 76ers

If "The Process" truly worked, the Sixers should be adding a fourth ring soon, bringing this storied franchise into the 21st century in earnest. If not? Well, they're still the darlings of NBA Twitter with nearly 14 feet worth of unicorn superstars on the roster.

  • Year established: 1949 (as the Syracuse Nationals)
  • All-time record: 2,896-2,719 (.516)
  • NBA Championships: 3
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 11

Starters:

  • Allen Iverson*, G (27.6 pts, 3.9 reb, 6.1 ast, 21.5 PER/79.7 WS)
  • Hal Greer*, G (19.2 pts, 5.0 reb, 4.0 ast, 15.7 PER/102.7 WS)
  • Julius Erving*, F (22.0 pts, 6.7 reb, 3.9 ast, 22.0 PER/106.2 WS)
  • Charles Barkley*, F (23.3 pts, 11.6 reb, 3.7 ast, 25.3 PER/106.1 WS)
  • Wilt Chamberlain*, C (27.6 pts, 23.9 reb, 6.8 ast, 26.6 PER/71.2 WS)

Sixth man: Dolph Schayes*, F (18.5 pts, 12.1 reb, 3.1 ast, 22.0 PER/142.4 WS)

Bench:

  • Moses Malone*, C (21.0 pts, 12.0 reb, 1.3 ast, 22.3 PER/46.4 WS)
  • Maurice Cheeks*, G (12.2 pts, 3.0 reb, 7.3 ast, 17.0 PER/87.7 WS)
  • Billy Cunningham*, F (20.8 pts, 10.1 reb, 4.0 ast, 19.4 PER/63.2 WS)
  • Andre Iguodala, G/F (15.3 pts, 5.8 reb, 4.9 ast, 17.1 PER/61.2 WS)
  • Chet Walker*, F (16.2 pts, 7.9 reb, 1.8 ast, 15.8 PER/50.3 WS)
  • Bobby Jones*, F (11.2 pts, 6.7 reb, 1.4 blk, 15.8 PER/28.1 WS)

Notes:

  • Iverson is one of just six players to average 30+ points per game in at least four different seasons, joining Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan.
  • Erving is the only player to win MVP in both the ABA (3x; 1974-76) and NBA (1983).

ICYMI ... 30. Grizzlies, 29. Timberwolves, 28. Hornets, 27. Raptors, 26. Pelicans, 25. Pacers, 24. Clippers, 23. Mavericks, 22. Nets, 21. Cavaliers, 20. Bucks, 19. Hawks, 18. Wizards, 17. Suns, 16. Kings, 15. Magic, 14. Nuggets, 13. Trail Blazers, 12. Rockets, 11. Knicks, 10. Thunder, 9. Jazz, 8. Heat, 7. Pistons, 6. Bulls

Stats, explained: Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a measure of a player's per-minute productivity (20+ is elite); Win Shares (WS) attempts to divvy up individual credit for team success (6 per season is elite).

6. July 29, 1948: 🥇 The Austerity Games
Dutch sprinter Fanny Blankers-Koen winning the 80 meter hurdles in record time. Photo: Keystone-France/Getty Images

72 years ago today, the Summer Olympics began in London.

  • After a 12-year hiatus due to WWII, these were the first Summer Games since 1936 in Berlin. Germany and Japan were not invited, and the Soviet Union was invited but chose not to attend.
  • The event came to be known as the Austerity Games, because of the rationing imposed by the post-war economy. No new venues were built, and food and equipment were provided by other countries.
17-year-old American Bob Mathias (right) after winning gold in the Decathlon. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Highlights:

  • Dutch sprinter Fanny Blankers-Koen, a 30-year-old mother of two, was the star of the Games, winning four gold medals (100m, 200m, 80m hurdles, 4x100m relay).
  • In the decathlon, 17-year-old Bob Mathias — who later served four terms as a U.S. Congressman — became the youngest male to win Olympic gold.
  • Medal count: The U.S. won the most medals (84), followed by Sweden (44), France (29), Hungary (27) and Italy (27). Host nation England finished 12th (23).
Wembley Stadium during the 1948 Olympics. Photo: Haywood Magee/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well."
— Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics

🎥 Watch: 1948 Opening Ceremony (YouTube)

7. 📚 Good reads

Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field. Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

🏈 Bubbles are working for other sports. Why did the NFL decide against one? (Kevin Seifert, ESPN)

"[T]he league's plan amounts to a 'virtual football bubble,' but its essential structure — strict rules while at the team facilities and stadiums, with guidelines against high-risk behavior when in the community — makes the NFL's defenses fundamentally similar to those that have already broken down in baseball."

⚾️ Nomar Garciaparra's full career wasn't enough for Cooperstown — but it was still damn good (Neil Paine, FiveThirtyEight)

"Maybe the most improbable aspect of the Red Sox's success — which included the first 0-3 comeback in MLB playoff history — was that Garciaparra wasn't present for any of it."

🥇 What happened to Milorad Cavic? (John Gonzalez, The Ringer)

"At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Milorad Cavic lost the 100-meter butterfly to Michael Phelps by one one-hundreths of a second. Or maybe he won and there was a timing error. It depends on who you ask, what parts of the internet you read, and how deep down the rabbit hole you go — a place Cavic still finds himself 12 years after one of the closest and most controversial races in history."
8. The Ocho: 🇺🇸 Hooverball
Herbert Hoover, 31st president of the U.S. Photo: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Hooverball is like Newcomb — the volleyball-esque game that involves throwing instead of hitting a ball over the net — but with a far more presidential backstory, Jeff writes.

The backstory: After being elected president in 1928, Herbert Hoover traveled by boat to South America to meet other heads of state. While aboard, sailors played a game called bull-in-the-ring, which was essentially monkey-in-the-middle.

  • Hoover loved the game and hoped to turn it into an organized sport upon his return to Washington, D.C.
  • His physician was immediately on board, hoping the exercise would help the generally-idle president be more active and fit.
  • They later added nets, and their medicine ball workouts turned into an organized game regularly played by cabinet members on the White House lawn. They called it "Hooverball."

How to play: Teams of four take turns tossing a four-pound medicine ball over a net, hoping to land it in their opponent's box without it being caught to score a point. No intra-team passing. Toss from the spot of the catch.

The resurgence: Hooverball never achieved mainstream popularity, but in 2003, the world of CrossFit discovered the long-lost sport and added it as a workout.

Go deeper:

9. 🏈 NFL trivia
Chart: Axios Visuals

Chargers DE Joey Bosa has agreed to a five-year, $135 million extension that will make him the NFL's highest-paid defensive player by average annual value ($27 million/year).

  • Question: Eight NFL defensive players make $20+ million annually (see above). Where did each of them play college football?
  • Hint: Six Power 5 schools, two Group of 5 schools.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Giphy

The NHL returned to the ice for the first time in four months, with six teams playing exhibition games in Toronto and Edmonton on Tuesday night.

🎥 Highlight: Philadelphia's Scott Laughton scored the goal of the night, a gorgeous OT game-winner that reminded me of a quote from American author, and noted sports fan, David Foster Wallace:

"Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports; but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.
"The human beauty we're talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms.
"What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings' reconciliation with the fact of having a body.
"There's a great deal that's bad about having a body. If this is not so obviously true that no one needs examples, we can just quickly mention pain, sores ... illness, limits — every last schism between our physical wills and our actual capacities.
"There are wonderful things about having a body, too, obviously — it's just that these things are harder to feel and appreciate in real time.
"Great athletes seem to catalyze our awareness of how glorious it is to touch and perceive, move through space, interact with matter.
"Granted, what great athletes can do with their bodies are things that the rest of us can only dream of. But these dreams are important — they make up for a lot."

Go deeper: "String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis" (Amazon)

Kendall Baker

Be back soon,

Kendall "Un-Deadspin" Baker

Trivia answer: Joey Bosa (Ohio State), Myles Garrett (Texas A&M), Khalil Mack (Buffalo), Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh), DeMarcus Lawrence (Boise State), DeForest Buckner (Oregon), Frank Clark (Michigan), Chris Jones (Mississippi State)