Jul 8, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,888 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏆 The year of the asterisk

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

American sports leagues are back, and COVID-permitting, we're finally entering the period of uninterrupted sports bliss we've been anticipating for months, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

The question: Given the unusual circumstances, it's worth considering how each season will be remembered years from now. So we pose the question: Do sports in 2020 need an asterisk?

The answer is complicated, given the wide-ranging continuum of where these seasons stood when the pandemic upended the world, along with the decades of history, tradition and statistical records that each league must honor and respect.

  • The NBA and NHL had both nearly completed their regular seasons, so division champions, statistical leaders and individual awards can be viewed without any real caveat. But what if LeBron James and the Lakers win the championship at Disney World? Will it truly be considered his fourth "ring" and the team's 17th?
  • MLS hit pause eight days after kicking off, and MLB and the NWSL had yet to even start. Entire "seasons" played amid a pandemic will surely yield more spirited debates regarding their legitimacy.

The big picture: Sometimes, asterisks are used to convey context and indicate that further explanation is necessary. Other times, they have a more negative connotation and indicate that something should be taken with a grain of salt, or perhaps dismissed altogether.

  • Convey context: Most everything written about the year 2020 will be followed by some sort of asterisk or parenthetical to remind people of the unusual circumstances. But that doesn't automatically mean the accomplishments therein are any less worthy.
  • Negative connotation: Barry Bonds' steroid-aided HR record doesn't have an official asterisk, but perhaps it should. Applying one (which plenty of people do in their own minds) indicates that it wasn't earned on a level playing field and should be taken with a grain of salt, or perhaps dismissed.

The bottom line: Sports in 2020 are unlike anything we've ever seen. But we can still enjoy them for what they are and let historians worry about applying the asterisks later.

  • And who knows, perhaps those asterisks will ultimately have a positive connotation, ensuring that future generations of fans respect each 2020 sports title as something special, rather than dismissing them as flukes.
"A lot of people say that there's gonna be a star next to this championship. I feel like, at the end of the day, this is gonna be the toughest championship you could ever win."
Giannis Antetokounmpo
2. ⚽️ MLS kicks off today
Graphic: Axios Visuals

The MLS is Back Tournament kicks off tonight at Walt Disney World (8pm ET, ESPN) with a hometown clash between Orlando City, which played its home games there in 2014, and first-year franchise Inter Miami, Jeff writes.

  • Worth noting: Though all 26 teams were slated to participate, FC Dallas has withdrawn due to nearly a third of the team testing positive for COVID-19.
  • In related news: Nashville's opening match, originally scheduled for tonight, has been postponed after five players tested positive.

How it works: The tournament is broken into a group stage (July 8–23) and a knockout stage (July 25–Aug. 11).

  • Group stage: The top three teams from Group A, the top two from Groups B–F and the next three teams with the best record advance to the Round of 16. All group stage games (three per team) count towards regular season records.
  • Knockout stage: Beginning with the Round of 16, the remainder of the tournament will be played for two things — a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League and a share of the $1.1 million prize pool. These games do not count towards the regular season.
  • Remainder of season: After the tournament, MLS hopes to conclude its regular season in teams' home markets. No schedule has been set yet.

Derbies galore: Thanks to the format, fans will be treated to four great intra-"state" rivalry matches in the group stage.

  • Orlando vs. Miami: The tournament opener is the first Florida Derby in 19 years.
  • LAFC vs. LA Galaxy: El Tráfico is just two years and six meetings old, with LAFC finally getting its first win in last year's playoffs.
  • Toronto vs. Montreal: The 401 Derby pits Eastern Canada's dual powers against each other.
  • Cincinnati vs. Columbus: The "Hell is Real Derby" debuted last season, with each side picking up a win (they tied the third game).

Go deeper: Team-by-team preview (ESPN)

3. ⚾️ The push to bring baseball to Nashville
Photo: Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images

MLB wants to eventually expand to 32 teams, and Nashville, Tennessee has emerged as a potential landing spot.

Driving the news: The Music City Baseball group, which hopes to bring a team to Nashville through expansion or relocation, gained considerable clout Monday when former GM Dave Dombrowski joined the effort, USA Today reports.

  • The group already includes Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa and three-time World Series champion Dave Stewart.
  • What's next: The goal is to present an official expansion proposal to MLB at the 2021 Winter Meetings in Nashville.

Details: The team would be called the Nashville Stars, the first MLB club to be named after a Negro League team, and the plan is to build a privately-funded, 42,000-seat stadium in honor of Jackie Robinson.

  • They also hope to become the first MLB team to have Black ownership, and only the second in all major U.S. sports (Michael Jordan, Charlotte Hornets).

The backdrop: The Houston Oilers moved to Nashville in 1997 and later became the Tennessee Titans, while the Nashville Predators debuted in 1998. Nashville SC was the city's newest addition, staging its first MLS match in February.

4. 🏀 Inside the basketball bubbles
Screenshot: Chris Chiozza (Instagram)

NBA players have arrived at Walt Disney World — and chicken is on the menu.

  • What's next: Players will isolate in their rooms for a couple days, and the only people they'll see are the technicians sticking swabs up their noses.
  • The food: Players won't be eating like this for long. Once they're finished quarantining and can explore the hotel, meals are expected to vastly improve.
  • Latest news: Bradley Beal (shoulder) won't play and the Nets are extremely undermanned.
Screenshot: Atlanta Dream (Instagram)

WNBA players have arrived at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where some of them will be washing their clothes in a very sketchy laundry room.

  • What's next: After some players complained about housing on social media, the league sent out a player survey seeking input on their concerns and is proactively working to address them.
  • Details: Most players who took to social media are staying at The Lodge, a hotel run by IMG that was built in 2017. Everyone else is staying either in a second hotel on campus, or in fully furnished "villas" on site. See all lodging.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.). Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Meanwhile, WNBA players are calling for the removal of Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) as co-owner of the Atlanta Dream after she urged the WNBA to reconsider its decision to allow players to put "Black Lives Matter" on their warmup jerseys, suggesting American flags be put on their jerseys instead.

  • "There is no place in the league for her," said Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker.
  • The WNBPA tweeted out the story on Loeffler's opposition to the jersey plan, along with the caption: "E-N-O-U-G-H! O-U-T!"
5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 19)
Expand chart
Player data from 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.

19. Atlanta Hawks

For the first half of the Celtics' mega-dynasty (11 titles 1957–69), the Hawks were their chief rival, meeting them in the finals four times and winning the title in 1958. More recently, Atlanta has enjoyed plenty of regular season success but has made just one conference finals since 1970 (swept by Cavs in 2015).

  • Year established: 1949 (as the Tri-Cities Hawks)
  • All-time record: 2,766-2,853 (.492)
  • NBA Championships: 1
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 7

Starters:

  • Mookie Blaylock, G (14.9 pts, 4.6 reb, 7.3 ast, 18.4 PER/58.4 WS)
  • Lou Hudson, G (22.0 pts, 4.9 reb, 2.9 ast, 18.0 PER/73.5 WS)
  • Dominique Wilkins*, F (26.4 pts, 6.9 reb, 2.6 ast, 22.1 PER/107.4 WS)
  • Bob Pettit*, F (26.4 pts, 16.2 reb, 3.0 ast, 25.3 PER/136.0 WS)
  • Dikembe Mutombo*, C (11.9 pts, 12.6 reb, 3.2 blk, 18.9 PER/44.4 WS)

Sixth man: Al Horford, F (14.3 pts, 8.9 reb, 2.7 ast, 19.1 PER/64.2 WS)

Bench:

  • Pete Maravich*, G (24.3 pts, 4.2 reb, 5.6 ast, 18.9 PER/25.6 WS)
  • Walt Bellamy*, C (15.6 pts, 12.2 reb, 2.8 ast, 16.7 PER/30.6 WS)
  • Joe Johnson, G (20.9 pts, 4.2 reb, 5.2 ast, 18.1 PER/44.7 WS)
  • Cliff Hagan*, F (18.0 pts, 6.9 reb, 3.0 ast, 19.5 PER/75.1 WS)
  • Lenny Wilkens*, G (15.5 pts, 4.9 reb, 5.5 ast, 14.9 PER/47.6 WS)
  • Doc Rivers, G (13.0 pts, 3.5 reb, 6.8 ast, 18.0 PER/52.0 WS)

Notes:

  • Mutombo is second only to Hakeem Olajuwon in blocks (3,289), and he sits just outside the top 20 in rebounds (12,359).
  • Pettit and Kobe Bryant are the only two players with four All-Star Game MVPs. He's also just ahead of Mutombo on the all-time rebounds list (12,849).

ICYMI ... 30. Grizzlies, 29. Timberwolves, 28. Hornets, 27. Raptors, 26. Pelicans, 25. Pacers, 24. Clippers, 23. Mavericks, 22. Nets, 21. Cavaliers, 20. Bucks

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 8, 2015: 🏈 Redskins lose trademark

Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Five years ago today, the Washington Redskins' trademark was officially canceled on the grounds that the term was disparaging to a "substantial composite of Native Americans."

Why it matters: This was neither the beginning nor the end of a decades-long battle over the use of the term (the Redskins got their trademark back in 2018), but that battle appears to be reaching its tipping point ahead of the 2020 season.

The backdrop:

  • 1992: Suzan Shown Harjo — of the Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee Nations — filed a lawsuit against the team claiming certain trademarks are not legal if they are "disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous, or disreputable."
  • 1999: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office sided with Harjo and canceled the trademark, but an appeals court reversed the decision, citing insufficient evidence.
  • 2014: Amanda Blackhorse — of the Navajo Nation — filed a suit similar to Harjo's, which not only won but was also upheld on appeal (five years ago today). Result: The Redskins kept their name but lost their trademark.
  • 2018: A second appeal of the Blackhorse suit was successful thanks to some fancy legal footwork, and the Redskins got their trademark back.

The bottom line: For decades, the cultural and legal sides of this debate have danced around each other. Given the current climate — and pressure from sponsors — culture may finally win the day.

7. 📸 Pic du jour
Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

SYDNEY, Australia — A man wearing a face shield watches a rugby match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Bankwest Stadium.

🎥 Highlights: Here's what he saw (YouTube)

8. The Ocho: 🐦 Pigeon racing
Pigeons are loaded into a truck before the race. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Pigeon racing involves releasing specially trained pigeons, and timing them as they fly back to their homes. Last month, it became the first "sport" to return in England.

A pigeon is registered ahead of transportation. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

RFID tags and other devices are used to record each pigeon's exact arrival time. Races are often won by a matter of seconds and can vary in distance from 60 miles to 600 miles.

The start of the race. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Further reading:

  • A racing pigeon named Armando was sold for $1.5 million last year, more than three times the previous record
  • There was a cheating scandal in Shanghai two years ago that involved training pigeons to believe they had two homes. Wild story.
9. ⚽️ Soccer trivia

Photo: Justin Tallis/Pool via Getty Images

Christian Pulisic scored his third goal in five games to lift Chelsea past Crystal Palace, 3-2. He now has eight goals in 21 career Premier League appearances.

  • Question: Who holds the American record for most Premier League goals with 57?
  • Hint: He retired last decade.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Frank Robinson circa 1966. Photo: Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images

Cory C. (San Jose, Calif.) writes:

"In 1967, I was a sixth grader at Bay Harbor Elementary (Miami Beach), serving as the school's sports editor. Miami didn't have a baseball team and my parents were from Baltimore, so I was an Orioles fan — and basking in the glory of their 1966 World Series title.
"The O's held spring training in Miami and it was well known where they stayed. One day, I decided I'd try to interview Frank Robinson, the reigning league MVP and my sports hero.
"I called the hotel and asked to speak to Mr. Robinson. Much to my surprise, they patched me through to his room and he answered. I asked if I could interview him for my school paper. He said, 'Sure.'
"For the next 20 minutes, Frank Robinson and I chatted about baseball. It was the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. I was in heaven.
"I ended the conversation by telling him I'd be at the game with my dad that weekend, and he invited me to come down to the dugout and say hello. When we arrived at the ballpark, that's exactly what we did. He signed our program and was as kind as possible.
"They say you should never meet your heroes because they're sure to disappoint you. Well, I met mine, and he treated me like a friend."

✍️ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or an example of sports having a positive impact on your life? If you'd like to share, simply reply to this email. We'll be telling your stories until they run out.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Rare footage of Bob Pettit" Baker

Trivia answer: Clint Dempsey