👋 Welcome back! Today marks 6,000 days since the Cleveland Browns last appeared in a playoff game (Jan. 5, 2003).
Today's word count: 1,270 words (~5 mins).
1 big thing: ❤️ Sports matter, until they don't
If sports didn't matter, I would never have started this newsletter. Sports matter, and they matter a lot.
- And yet, few things in life can go from "extremely important" to "the least of our concerns" quicker than sports. So yes, sports matter … until they don't.
What's happening: The Boston Bruins trounced the St. Louis Blues 5-1 last night to force Game 7, and initially, that was extremely important ... until it wasn't.
- Driving the news: Late last night, Boston icon David Ortiz was shot in the Dominican Republic. Fortunately, his father says he's out of surgery and expected to recover.
- Details: The security footage, which I'm absolutely not sharing, shows a man come up behind him and fire a shot into his back. Another video shows the assailant being captured and beaten up by witnesses.
The bottom line: Sports give us teams to root for, moments to cherish and athletes, like David Ortiz, to adore. More importantly, sports willingly take a backseat to things of much greater significance (like a man's life).
- And in those moments, it's as if we're all on the same wavelength — athletes, fans, everybody. We take a sport we love and instantly downgrade it to a "silly little game," then turn our attention to what matters: life.
The bottom line: Once the Ortiz news broke, Game 6 became far less meaningful. Now, Game 7 becomes far more meaningful. Boston will be playing for Big Papi — and an entire nation will have him in their hearts.
Love you, big guy.
2. 🏀 The rise of Nick Nurse
There are plenty of storylines heading into Game 5. Will Kevin Durant play?! Will all of Canada be celebrating in the streets tonight?! Is the Warriors' dynasty over, or can they do what the Cavs once did to them?!
The forgotten man: Those storylines are all deserving of the spotlight (and the exclamation points), but for my money, the best story is one we've spent far too little time on: the rise of Nick Nurse.
- The Raptors head coach has been masterful through four games, making subtle adjustments and pulling all the right levers.
The backdrop: 20 years ago, Nurse was coaching across the pond. Now, he's one win away from an NBA title.
- 1985–1993: Nurse played basketball at the University of Northern Iowa. Once he graduated, he immediately got into coaching and became the youngest head coach in the country when he was hired at Grand View University.
- 1995–2006: While Steve Kerr was draining threes in the NBA, Nurse was coaching in the little-known British Basketball League and even made a pitstop in the now defunct USBL.
- 2007–present: He coached two G League teams before being hired as a Raptors assistant in 2013. Five years later, he became a rookie head coach at age 51, and less than one year later, he's here. Spectacular.
3. ⚽️ Women's World Cup, Day 4
- Group A: France 4, South Korea 0 — Norway 3, Nigeria 0
- Group B: Spain 3, South Africa 1 — Germany 1, China 0
- Group C: Brazil 3, Jamaica 0 — Italy 2, Australia 1
- Group D: England 2, Scotland 1
- First big upset: Australia's poor defense cost them in a shocking 2-1 loss to Italy.
- Weekend MVP: Brazil's Cristiane Rozeira, 34, is the oldest player in Women's World Cup history to record a hat trick.
- What is a handball? A controversial VAR ruling in England's 2-1 win over Scotland exposed the problem with soccer's handball rule: it's way too vague.
- For the Gwinn: Germany's Giulia Gwinn scored the game-winner against China, whose upset bid fell short thanks to two blown opportunities.
- Ticket snafu, take two: Last month, news broke that hundreds of fans who purchased group tickets wouldn't be able to sit together. And now, some tickets aren't even working. You had one job.
- Group D: Argentina vs. Japan (12pm ET, FS1)
- Group A: Canada vs. Cameroon (3pm, FS1)
4. 🎾 French Open: By the numbers
Men's champion: Rafael Nadal
- 12: Rafael Nadal defeated Dominic Thiem, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, to earn his 12th French Open title — the most ever at a single Grand Slam tournament.
- 93-2: Nadal's overall record at Roland-Garros is one of the most preposterous things in the history of not just sports, but the world.
Women's champion: Ashleigh Barty
- 2014: Five years ago, Barty put her tennis career on pause to become a pro cricket player. She returned to tennis two years later, and now she's the first Australian to win the French Open since Margaret Court in 1973.
- 9 out of 10: Barty is the ninth different woman to win a major singles title in the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments. Oh, and six were first-time winners.
Bonus: 📸 Pause for photos
HAMILTON, ONTARIO — Just one week after missing the cut at Memorial, Rory McIlroy shot a final round 61 to win the RBC Canadian Open in a landslide. Then he broke out a Kyle Lowry jersey.
- Reminder: The U.S. Open begins Thursday at Pebble Beach, where the rough is impossibly deep.
NASHVILLE, TENN. — With his team facing elimination, Vanderbilt's Kumar Rocker struck out 19 Duke hitters en route to tossing the first ever no-hitter in Super Regional history. He's a freshman.
- Bracket update: Vanderbilt, Texas Tech, Louisville, Mississippi State, FSU and Michigan (upset No. 1 overall seed UCLA) have advanced. ... Last two spots decided today: Ole Miss vs. Arkansas; UNC vs. Auburn.
MONTREAL — A heated Sebastian Vettel, who crossed the finish line first at the Canadian Grand Prix but came in second due to a time penalty for overly aggressive driving, theatrically swapped No. 1 and No. 2 signs with race winner Lewis Hamilton.
- Strong words: "People want to see us race, and [that] was racing," said Vettel. "I disagree with where the sport is now. It's not the one I fell in love with."
5. 🔦 Reader spotlight: Chris Simmons
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- Name: Chris Simmons
- City: Durham, N.C.
- Job: Associate vice president, Duke University
- Favorite team: Duke (all 27 teams)
- Favorite athlete: Serena Williams
- Favorite sports movie: "Bull Durham"
- Favorite sports social media follow: @Ringer
- Favorite song: "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds
- Favorite sports memory: Duke's 2010 win over Butler.
- Where/when do you read Axios Sports: At my desk.
6. June 10, 1944: ⚾️ 15 and in the big leagues
75 years ago today, 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall became the youngest player in MLB history when he took the mound for the Cincinnati Reds.
- The backdrop: The Reds desperately needed players to fill their WWII-ravaged roster, and one of their main targets was semi-pro pitcher, Orville Nuxhall. When he refused to leave his kids, they turned their attention to his son, Joe, who was dominating as a high school freshman.
- Playing/broadcasting career: Joe returned to high school and graduated four years later. He'd go on to play 15 seasons in the majors, where he was a two-time All-Star, and later became a beloved Reds announcer.
- Joe's legacy: Nuxhall passed away in 2007, but his memory will live on forever in Cincinnati. The address of the Reds' ballpark? 100 Joe Nuxhall Way.
7. ⚾️ MLB trivia
Edwin Encarnacion smashed two dingers yesterday to join the illustrious 400 home run club.
- Question: Who are the only other two active players with 400+ home runs?
- Hint: Both play in the AL.
Answer at the bottom.
8. The Ocho: 🐘 Somebody get this elephant a soccer contract
Looks like he/she could play some kickball and drill field goals, too. A true multi-sport athlete.
P.S. ... How about the other elephant just casually holding a soccer ball in his/her trunk? A lot going on here.
9. 👍👎 Thumbs up, thumbs down
📺 Thumbs up: "The Brotherhood" is a 14-minute ESPN special about high school QB Alex Ruiz, who had his leg amputated after a horrific tackle. Alex's attitude is phenomenal and the way his teammates support him ... I cried at the end.
🐴 Thumbs down: Two more horses died at Santa Anita Park this weekend, bringing the death toll to 29 since Dec. 26. The California Horse Racing Board has asked the track to suspend racing but management refuses to do so. Unbelievably disappointing.
10. 🥍 Top 10 plays: PLL, Week 2
Top 10 plays from Week 2 of the inaugural Premier Lacrosse League season (all in a single Twitter thread).
🎥 Watch: Hope you enjoy.