Mar 18, 2020

Axios Sports

πŸ‘‹ Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 2,042 words (8 minutes).

1 big thing: 🐐 The G.O.A.T. ships out of Boston

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Tom Brady is no longer a Patriot, which is devastating for some (please pray for Mark Wahlberg), exciting for others (huge day for Bills Mafia) and shocking for everyone.

  • What's next: Less than 12 hours after Brady's announcement sent shockwaves through our quarantined world, news broke that he intends to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers β€” a reality that I'm still unable to process.

Why it matters: Brady's departure ends perhaps the greatest run in the history of American team sports and leaves New England in unfamiliar territory.

  • After being famously drafted in the sixth round (199th pick) of the 2000 draft, Brady joined an organization synonymous with failure and, together with Bill Belichick, turned the Patriots into the sports team of the 21st century.
  • In the course of 20 years, he became, without question, the greatest QB to ever live and, in a league built for parity, led the Patriots to 13 AFC title games and nine Super Bowls, winning six (and earning Super Bowl MVP four times).

What they're saying:

  • Patriots owner Robert Kraft: "Tommy initiated contact last night and came over. We had a positive, respectful discussion. It's not the way I want it to end, but I want him to do what is in his best personal interest. After 20 years with us, he has earned that right. I love him like a son."
  • Belichick: "Sometimes in life, it takes some time to pass before truly appreciating something or someone, but that has not been the case with Tom. He is a special person and the greatest quarterback of all-time."

By the numbers:

  • 249 wins: Including the playoffs, Brady and Belichick have 249 wins together, which is over 100 more than any other QB-coach duo in the Super Bowl Era.
  • 16 of 17 titles: The Patriots have won 16 of the last 17 AFC East titles, and the only time they didn't (2008) was the year Brady tore his ACL in Week 1.

The last word, per SI's Michael Rosenberg:

"There have been some storybook endings in sports. John Elway. Jerome Bettis. David Robinson. But those are rare for a reason: So much has to align.
"The player has to be good enough to still win but not so good that he wants to keep playing. The team has to win a championship. And then, when everything is going so well, the player has to be humble enough ... or more focused on other priorities, to walk away. That does not really describe Brady."
2. 🏈 Why Tom chose Tampa
Screenshot: @espn (Twitter)

From a fan's perspective, Brady in a Buccaneers uniform looks like a Photoshop session gone wrong, and not just because of those hideous uniforms (thankfully, they're getting new ones). This tweet sums it up quite nicely:

  • "Tom Brady on the Bucs is something that would've happened in like Year 12 of franchise mode in Madden 08 and you would've seen it and said 'I hate how fake this game gets when you play deep into this mode.'" (@talkinhoops)

The other side: From Brady's perspective, the Bucs have a lot to offer.

  • Money/respect: With $235 million in career earnings, money likely wasn't Brady's top priority, but Tampa Bay offering a deal near the top of the market (reported $30 million a year) is more about respect than dollar signs.
  • Supporting cast: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are arguably the best WR duo in the NFL, and Brady's history with TEs suggests he's the right guy to unlock O.J. Howard's full potential. The Bucs also have a top-10 offensive line.
  • Different energy: "I think the Buccaneers are getting a guy that really wants to enjoy the last little bit of his career and Bruce Arians is perfect for that," said Hall of Famer Steve Young. "[Tom] loves football and you've seen him love it in a unique Patriot way β€” now I think you'll see him love it in a unique Tom Brady way ... and just have a lot of fun."

🎠 QB carousel: Philip Rivers signed with the Colts (one year, $25M); Teddy Bridgewater signed with the Panthers (three years, $63M); Drew Brees signed an extension with the Saints (two years, $50M).

3. πŸ€ Kevin Durant tests positive for COVID-19

Photo: Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Kevin Durant is one of four Nets players who tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of positive tests among NBA players to seven (Utah's Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, plus Detroit's Christian Wood).

  • Durant: "Everyone be careful, take care of yourself and quarantine. We're going to get through this," he told The Athletic (subscription).
  • What's next: The Lakers, who were the last team to play the Nets, will be tested today and begin a 14-day self-quarantine.

The big picture: While health officials across the country struggle to find tests for the general public, NBA teams appear to be playing by a different set of rules.

  • The Nets had players "tested by a private company, and the team paid out of pocket," per ESPN.
  • The Thunder secured test kits through "alternative" means, per NYT.

What they're saying: The federal guidelines for all testing still prioritize people who are showing symptoms, but the "alternative sources" supplying NBA teams clearly were willing to make an exception, writes Axios' Sam Baker.

  • In cases where players had come in contact with someone who had tested positive, those exceptions may be warranted.
  • But that's not the standard right now, because our testing capacity is still ramping up, and therefore the CDC is still trying to encourage the most efficient use of this limited resource.

The bottom line: To see NBA teams so easily able to obtain a scarce and potentially life-saving test, while anecdotal reports circulate of doctors who can't get them even for symptomatic patients, does not seem like the neutral, risk-based, status-blind process we want from our public health system during a crisis.

πŸ₯ Go deeper: Read/subscribe to Vitals, our daily health care newsletter.

4. πŸ† Simulation Madness: Top of the bracket
Bracket: Axios Visuals
Midwest (Indianapolis)

Note: 🚨 = lower seed won

  • Kansas 71, Marquette 59: Devon Dotson, KU (17 pts, 7 reb); Markus Howard, MARQ (24 pts)
  • 🚨 North Texas 83, Auburn 81: Umoja Gibson, UNT (27 pts, 6-10 3PT); Samir Doughty, AUB (27 pts, 5 reb)
  • Duke 80, Iowa 68: Vernon Carey Jr., DUKE (18 pts, 9 reb); Luka Garza, IOWA (22 pts, 14 reb)
  • 🚨 Arizona State 78, Kentucky 73: Remy Martin, ASU (24 pts, 6 ast); Nick Richards, KU (18 pts, 12 reb)

Highlights: Led by guards Javion Hamlet and Umoja Gibson (combined 42.5 ppg), C-USA regular season champ North Texas β€” which began the season 4-7 β€” has been the surprise of the tournament, while Kentucky failed to reach the Sweet Sixteen for just the third time under John Calipari.

West (Los Angeles)
  • Gonzaga 86, LSU 78: Corey Kispert, GONZ (28 pts, 4-5 3PT); Darius Days, LSU (15 pts, 7 reb)
  • Oregon 73, Yale 49: Payton Pritchard, ORE (16 pts, 7 reb, 8 ast); Paul Atkinson, YALE (19 pts, 7 reb)
  • Seton Hall 69, Indiana 68: Myles Powell, SHU (24 pts, 10-12 FT); Trayce Jackson-Davis, IND (21 pts, 4 blk)
  • San Diego State 71, Texas Tech 57: Yanni Wetzell, SDSU (16 pts, 10 reb); TJ Holyfield, TTU (20 pts)

Highlights: The top four seeds in the West Regional all advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, with Seton Hall's Myles Powell (24 ppg, 68% FG), Oregon's Payton Pritchard (20.5 ppg, 9 ast) and Gonzaga's Filip PetruΕ‘ev (19.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg) living up to their All-American billing.

5. πŸ† Simulation Madness: Bottom of the bracket
Bracket: Axios Visuals
East (New York)

Note: 🚨 = lower seed won

  • Dayton 94, Florida 82: Obi Toppin, DAY (23 pts, 10 reb); Noah Locke, UF (19 pts)
  • Maryland 85, Richmond 75: Jalen Smith, UMD (25 pts, 16 reb); Nick Sherod, RICH (14 pts)
  • 🚨 Penn State 70, Villanova 68: Myreon Jones, PSU (22 pts, 6 ast); Justin Moore, VILL (24 pts, 5-6 3PT)
  • Florida State 72, West Virginia 63: Trent Forrest, FSU (16 pts, 4 stl); Oscar Tshiebwe, WVU (8 pts, 17 reb)

Highlights: Player of the Year candidate Obi Toppin (25.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) led Dayton past Florida and into the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2014 when they lost in the Elite Eight to ... Florida. Meanwhile, Penn State is in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2001.

South (Houston)
  • Baylor 70, Rutgers 59: Jared Butler, BAY (20 pts, 4-8 3PT); Montez Mathis, RUT (13 pts)
  • Ohio State 69, Vermont 54: Kaleb Wesson, OSU (15 pts, 12 reb); Anthony Lamb, UVM (19 pts)
  • 🚨 Cincinnati 64, Michigan State 60: Tre Scott, CIN (16 pts, 14 reb); Cassius Winston, MSU (11 pts)
  • 🚨 Illinois 87, Creighton 75: Ayo Dosunmu, ILL (27 pts, 5 ast); Ty-Shon Alexander, CREI (21 pts)

Highlights: Led by first-year head coach John Brannen, Cincinnati's defense has carried the Bearcats to impressive wins over defending champ Virginia and preseason No. 1 Michigan State. Next up: Illinois, which is in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2005, the year they lost to UNC in the title game.

6. πŸ“Έ Yesterday in photos
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

BOSTON β€” A sign reading "Thank you Tommy" and a bouquet of flowers sits alongside the TB12 Performance & Recovery Center.

  • "With his dimpled chin and half-crooked smile, Brady had just enough smooth, movie-star glamour to have wide appeal, and just enough of a chipped edge to make him seem New England's own." (New Yorker)
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS β€” Construction continues at Allegiant Stadium, the $2 billion, glass-domed future home of the Las Vegas Raiders and UNLV Rebels, who are both scheduled to begin play at the 65,000-seat facility this year.

Photo: Matt King/Getty Images

SYDNEY, Australia β€” The National Basketball League (NBL) called off the remaining games of the grand final series between the Sydney Kings and Perth Wildcats after the Kings withdrew due to coronavirus concerns.

  • The Wildcats, who were one win away from claiming their record ninth championship, were reportedly "happy to go ahead" with Game 4, but the Kings declined.
7. March 18, 1995: πŸ€ "I'm back"
Michael Jordan talks to the press on March 20, three days after announcing his return to basketball. Photo: Brian Bahr/AFP via Getty Images

25 years ago today, Michael Jordan announced his return to the NBA after a 17-month retirement with an iconic, two-word phrase that let all challengers to the throne know they were playing on borrowed time: "I'm back."

  • In his first 17 regular-season games after returning β€” again, from a 17-month hiatus β€” Jordan averaged a remarkable 27/7/5 in 39 minutes a night.
  • His heroics were enough to drag a 34-31 Bulls squad to a 47-35 record and a first-round playoff win, but they ultimately fell to Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway and the Magic in the next round.

The book of MJ:

  • Chapter I: Jordan led the Bulls to the NBA's first three-peat (1991-93) since Bill Russell's Celtics won eight in a row three decades earlier (1959-66).
  • First retirement: MJ retired in his prime to pursue his lifelong dream of playing Major League baseball, but he struggled to gain traction in the White Sox farm system and never advanced past AA ball.
  • Chapter II: In his first three full seasons back, Jordan led the Bulls to yet another three-peat, playing in all 246 regular-season games and averaging 40+ minutes and 30+ points per game during all three postseason runs.
  • Second retirement: Seven months after winning his sixth NBA title, MJ retired again, leaving his mark on Chicago with his legendary title-winning shot over Utah's Bryon Russell.
  • Chapter III: A year after retiring, Jordan joined the Wizards as part-owner and later as a player for his final two NBA seasons. His best game as a Wizard came in December 2001, when he dropped 51 on Charlotte. Who knew his ownership of the Hornets went back that far?

What's weirder: Brady on the Bucs, or Jordan on the Wizards?

Jordan waves to the crowd after being taken out of his final NBA game on April 16, 2003. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

πŸŽ₯ Highlights: MJ's final game (YouTube)

8. The Ocho: 🎾 Quarantine tennis

Credit: @Ben13Porter (Twitter)

"The coronavirus may take our sporting events, but it will never take our FREEDOM [TO PLAY SPORTS WHILE QUARANTINED]!!!"
β€” William Wallace, "Braveheart"

Go deeper: A running list of makeshift 'sports' being invented due to social isolation (SB Nation)

9. 🏈 NFL trivia
  • Question: Who was the starting QB for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they debuted in 1976?
  • Hint: He's more known for his coaching career.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 😷 Coronavirus dashboard
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
  • U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3am ET: 6,496 now in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. β€”Β Total deaths: 114
  • Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3am ET: 198,178 β€” Total deaths: 7,954
  • Federal government latest: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday, "Americans need cash now," as theΒ government is considering sending Americans checks in the next two weeks.
  • Market impact: Dow closes up more than 1,000 points as the White House looks to prepare a $1 trillion stimulus.
  • 2020 latest: As primary results for Arizona, Florida and Illinois roll in, DNC chair urged states to expand voting options amid coronavirus outbreak.
  • What should I do? Answers from Axios experts.
  • Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "If North Texas beats Kansas, I might enroll" Baker

Trivia answer: Steve Spurrier