Apr 17, 2020

Axios Sports

๐ŸŽ‰ Happy Friday! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,738 (7 minutes).

1 big thing: ๐Ÿ€ Sabrina is coming to Brooklyn

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

If (when) she's taken with the No. 1 pick in tonight's 2020 WNBA draft (7pm ET, ESPN), Sabrina Ionescu will become the face of a rebuilding project in America's biggest market โ€” a role she's uniquely suited to play.

  • The player: Ionescu finished her Oregon career with 26 triple-doubles, more than twice as many as anyone else, male or female. She's the only player in NCAA history to accumulate 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds.
  • The team: The New York Liberty are expected to take Ionescu first overall, and after trading away All-Star Tina Charles on Wednesday, they own five of the top 15 picks in the draft. The roster is primed for a rebuild and Sabrina will be handed the keys.
  • The venue: Nets owner Joe Tsai bought the Liberty from James Dolan in 2019, and is moving the team โ€” which just got a fresh rebrand โ€” from a small arena in White Plains, New York, to Brooklyn's Barclays Center.

The big picture: Ionescu redefined women's college basketball and will enter the WNBA with as large a profile as any player in recent memory.

  • The Ionescu-led Ducks outdrew Oregon's nationally-ranked men's team in home attendance, and her achievements were frequently amplified by NBA admirers like Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant, who she grew close with before he died.
  • Tonight, with the WNBA draft airing on ESPN's main network for the fist time, Ionescu will be the star of the show โ€” and it's hard to imagine a better landing spot. The stage is set.
"I'm definitely, hopefully excited for the opportunity to play there at Barclays Center, and just the marketability that there is in New York. ... [T]he hustle and bustle is something that I think could be not only beneficial to myself as a person but as a brand and for women's basketball."
โ€” Sabrina Ionescu, via WSJ
Sabrina Ionescu and Satou Sabally. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

What to watch: The draft will be held virtually, and ESPN has sent players lighting kits and tripods so they can be interviewed following their selections.

Top 10 prospects:

  1. Sabrina Ionescu, PG, Oregon
  2. Satou Sabally, SF, Oregon
  3. Lauren Cox, PF, Baylor
  4. Chennedy Carter, SG, Texas A&M
  5. Bella Alarie, SF, Princeton
  6. Tyasha Harris, PG, South Carolina
  7. Megan Walker, SF, UConn
  8. Ruthy Hebard, PF, Oregon
  9. Crystal Dangerfield, PG, UConn
  10. Beatrice Mompremier, PF, Miami

Go deeper: Latest mock draft (ESPN)

2. ๐Ÿ€ Top recruit skips college for G League

Photo: John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jalen Green (above), a consensus top-three recruit in the class of 2020 and the potential No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft, is skipping college and taking his talents to the G League.

Driving the news: Green will be the centerpiece of a new one-year developmental program designed to prepare young players for life in the NBA, per multiple reports.

  • He will earn $500,000, a substantial increase from the $125,000 salary the league was offering to high school players last year, plus a full scholarship if he wants to work toward his college degree in the future.
  • Green will join a "select team" based in Los Angeles that will play a reduced schedule. The team has no affiliation with an NBA franchise and will have the flexibility to compete against international teams and global NBA academies.

What they're saying: After two top recruits in the 2019 class (LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton) chose to play professionally in Australia over the G League, the NBA sweetened the pot to lure players uninterested in college basketball.

"We have kids leaving the United States ... to go around the world to play, and our NBA community has to travel there to scout them. That's counterintuitive. The NBA is the best development system in the world, and those players shouldn't have to go somewhere else to develop for a year. They should be in our development system."
โ€” Shareef Abdur-Rahim, G League president, via ESPN

What to watch: Isaiah Todd (below), a five-star recruit once committed to Michigan, is expected to sign with the G League and join this same "select team."

Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The bottom line: The game just changed. We'll explore this further on Monday.

Go deeper: Inside the 2020 recruiting class (Axios)

3. ๐Ÿ’ต DraftKings inches closer to going public

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

DraftKings is one step closer to going public, after the SEC approved its reverse merger with blank-check acquisition company Diamond Eagle and sports betting enterprise solution SBTech, writes Axios' Jeff Tracy.

  • What's next: Diamond Eagle's shareholders will vote April 23 on the merger, which is expected to go through.
  • Why it matters: With this deal, DraftKings will become "the only vertically integrated U.S. sports betting and online gaming company," per Variety's Dave McNary.

Background: DraftKings was founded in 2012 as a platform for daily fantasy sports (DFS) โ€” a market already dominated by FanDuel, which launched three years earlier.

  • In 2017, the FTC blocked a merger between FanDuel and DraftKings, citing fears of a monopoly.
  • In 2018, after PASPA was overturned and gaming legislation could be made at the state level, DraftKings Sportsbook โ€” the first legal, online sports betting venue โ€” was born.

The bottom line: Despite the global economy grinding to a halt, the environment surrounding this deal should allow the business to flourish in the long run.

  • DraftKings is a marketing behemoth, SBTech offers best-in-class infrastructure, and whenever we emerge from this crisis, more states will have regulated sports betting markets than ever before.
4. ๐Ÿ“บ Coming Sunday: "The Last Dance"


"The Last Dance" finally begins airing this Sunday night (9pm ET, ESPN), with back-to-back, hourlong episodes each Sunday for the next five weeks.

  • ๐ŸŽฅ Watch: Highlights from the final game of MJ's career, 17 years ago yesterday.
  • ๐ŸŽง Listen: The radio broadcast from Jordan's first minor league at bat with the Birmingham Barons.
  • ๐Ÿ“ˆ By the numbers: The top audience for a documentary premiere in the "30 for 30" era remains "You Don't Know Bo" (3.6 million viewers on Dec. 8, 2012). Given our current circumstances, "The Last Dance" could smash that number.

๐Ÿ’ฌ Latest from MJ:

  • On the doc: "When people see this they are going say, 'Well he wasn't really a nice guy. He may have been a tyrant.' Well, that's you. Because you never won anything. I wanted to win."
  • In the doc: "Look, winning has a price. ... I pulled people along when they didn't want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn't want to be challenged. .... [But] you ask all my teammates. The one thing about Michael Jordan was he never asked me to do something that he didn't f--king do."
5. ๐Ÿ– Dusty Baker and the birth of the high five
Courtesy: ESPN

Yesterday was National High Five Day, but it's never too late to celebrate, right?

Jeff writes: Astros manager Dusty Baker is credited with inventing the high five, though he's always been sure to note he was merely on the receiving end of the inaugural celebration offered by his teammate, Glenn Burke.

The backstory: The year was 1977, and on the final day of the season, the Dodgers were one Dusty Baker HR shy of becoming the first team ever with four 30-HR mashers.

  • In the sixth inning, Dusty put one over the center field fence, and as he rounded third he noticed excited rookie Glenn Burke waiting in the on-deck circle with his hand cocked back high above his head.
  • "It wasn't necessarily that [Burke] had innovated something so much as that he was so overwhelmed with joy and pride in what Dusty Baker had just done that the high five came out of him," said journalist Jon Mooallem.
  • When Burke hit his first career dinger in the very next-at bat, Dusty returned the favor by high-fiving him outside the dugout, and the celebration stuck.

Driving the news: With high fives on hiatus at the moment, Dusty's trying to make the magic happen again with #TheNextHighFive, a social-media-fueled partnership with SC Johnson and Save the Children.

  • Burke, who was baseball's first openly gay player and sadly died from AIDS-related complications in 1995, isn't here to help the cause, but his spirit lives on in the act.
"Think about the feeling you get when you give someone a high five. I had that feeling before everybody else."
โ€” Glenn Burke

๐ŸŽฌ Go deeper: 30 for 30 Shorts: "The High Five" (ESPN)

6. April 17, 1951: โšพ๏ธ Mickey Mantle's debut
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

69 years ago today, a 19-year-old right fielder named Mickey Mantle made his major league debut for the Yankees, going 1-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI in a 5-0 win over the Red Sox.

  • Why it matters: The Mick went on to have one of the greatest careers in MLB history, winning seven World Series and three MVPs across 18 years with the Yankees.

By the numbers:

  • 10 WAR x 3: There have been just 60 player-seasons of 10+ WAR in MLB history, and Mantle is one of eight players with at least three of them.
  • Triple Crown: Mickey is one of just 15 players to win the Triple Crown, batting .353 with 52 HR and 130 RBI in 1956.
  • 172 OPS+: His career adjusted OPS of 172 is seventh-best all time behind Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig, Mike Trout (!!!) and Rogers Hornsby.

Fun fact: Though Mickey's debut was on Opening Day, his first game in New York was actually three days earlier for the then-annual Yankees-Dodgers preseason series. In the booth for the Dodgers that day? 23-year-old Vin Scully.

Go deeper:

7. ๐Ÿ“š Good reads
Photo: Alex Menendez/Getty Images

๐Ÿฐ Why Walt Disney World would be the ideal spot for the NBA to salvage its season (Keith Smith, Yahoo Sports)

"Unlike many of the other locations mentioned as single-site candidates, Walt Disney World is private property. That includes not only the hotels and [ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex], but the immediate surrounding area as well. In effect, Disney can create a bubble ... with relative ease."

โšฝ๏ธ Boardroom infighting in Barcelona shakes team (Tariq Panja, NYT)

"Six resignations, a social media scandal and accusations of corruption shine an ugly light on FC Barcelona, the Lionel Messi-led soccer team."

๐Ÿˆ The NFL has more QBs than it knows what to do with. How did this happen? (Kevin Clark, The Ringer)

"As many as four QBs could be taken in the first round of the draft. Cam Newton and Jameis Winston are still without a team. Suddenly, there's an oversupply of competent passers in the league."
8. The Ocho: ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™‚๏ธ Smolball

Source: Janusz Smolinski (YouTube)

Smolball is another in the long line of wonderful, accidental inventions, like Champagne or potato chips.

  • Janusz Smolinski, a Polish camp counselor living in Switzerland in the 1970s, was supposed to have his kids play tennis. But with just two courts available, they grew tired of waiting for their turn.
  • Instead, he set up small soccer nets on either end of a field and had the kids play what amounted to team handball with tennis rackets.
  • Later, with more time to devise rules and determine the best equipment, a new sport was born.
9. ๐Ÿˆ Super Bowl trivia


In the 54-year history of the Super Bowl, only once has there not been a favorite (i.e. the spread was even and it became a pick 'em).

  • Question: Which Super Bowl didn't have a favorite?
  • Hint: Left shark.

Answer at the bottom.

10. โค๏ธ Why sports matter
Courtesy: Vincent L.

Vincent L. (Florida) writes:

"My dad attended Notre Dame when it was still synonymous with college football, so despite growing up in Miami Hurricanes territory in South Florida, Notre Dame football got priority over just about everything on Saturdays in our house.
"My dad always said the 1988 'Catholics vs. Convicts' game (Notre Dame vs. Miami) was the most satisfying win he'd ever experienced. So you can imagine his delight when, as a senior in high school, I began dating a future Hurricane.
"Notre Dame and Miami didn't play regularly anymore, which was good because I didn't want to have to choose between my girlfriend and my dad. But they met again in South Bend on Oct. 29, 2016.
"While the world wasn't paying much attention to a 4-3 Miami team play a 3-4 Notre Dame team, this was the biggest game of my life. My sister was a senior at Notre Dame, my girlfriend was about to become my fiancรฉ and my dad had just undergone 10 rounds of chemotherapy.
"At the tailgate, we were together as a family outside of a hospital room for the first time in what seemed like years. It was one of those perfect cloudless afternoons, and we were practically running into the stadium before kickoff.
"Notre Dame ended up winning on a Justin Yoon field goal in the final 30 seconds, and my girlfriend โ€” the only Miami fan in a sea of blue and gold โ€” snapped a photo of us to memorialize our win (see above).
"My dad and I walked out of the stadium that night together, with our arms over each others shoulders, for what would be the last time. He passed away eight months later.
"What I have left of him are the memories of looking to the sidelines after I scored a goal in youth soccer and seeing him losing his mind. The memories of competing in backyard pool basketball and never figuring out how to beat him in ping pong.ย And the memory of celebrating Notre Dame beat Miami one last time.
"In every crowd, there is a son, a daughter, or a friend creating a memory with someone they love โ€” and oftentimes it has nothing to do with whether or not there's a trophy on the line. Some people say sports don't matter. Well, I'd argue they matter an awful lot."

โœ๏ธย Submit your story:ย What's your fondest sports memory?ย Could be anything! Reply to this emailย letting me know. We'll be telling your stories all month.

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Ball don't lie" Baker

Trivia answer: Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 (Patriots 28, Seahawks 24)