Jul 27, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Lots of sports happened this weekend, and I tried to fit everything in a single Monday newsletter — ya know, like the good old days. We're back, baby!

Today's word count: 1,910 words (8 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚾️ A weekend of (weird) baseball
"BLM" in stencil on the mound at Fenway Park. Photo: Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Baseball. Is. Back. But not for long! Every team has played three games, meaning the 60-game season is already 5% over, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

The backdrop: Opening Weekend was a poignant reminder of the world we currently live in, with empty ballparks, players kneeling and "BLM" stenciled on mounds across the country.

Indians starter Shane Bieber. Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

Three stars:

  • ⭐️ Indians RHP Shane Bieber: The 2019 All-Star Game MVP struck out 14 batters across six innings in a 2-0 win over the Royals. His 14 strikeouts are the most in an MLB opener since Randy Johnson also fanned 14 in 1996.
  • ⭐️⭐️ Twins DH Nelson Cruz: The 40-year old hasn't hit fewer than 22 HR since 2008, and he might just keep that streak going despite the short season. Weekend statline: .538 BA, 3 HR, 2 2B, 10 RBI. The ageless wonder.
  • ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Cubs RHP Kyle Hendricks: "The Professor" tossed MLB's first Opening Day complete game since 2013, shutting down the Brewers 3-0.
Angels OF Michael Hermosillo catches a flyball as stuffed animals and cardboard cutouts look on. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Storylines:

  • Everybody loses: Zero unbeaten teams remain, marking the first time since 1954 — when there were only 16 MLB teams — that nobody started 3-0.
  • Positive tests: Juan Soto tested positive for COVID-19 before starting the Nats' season opener, Matt Davidson tested positive after starting the Reds' season opener, and the Marlins played on Sunday despite four positive tests.
  • Worst to first: Four 2019 last-place finishers — the Orioles, Tigers, Marlins and Padres — are currently in first place.
  • Arguing calls in 2020: Rookie manager Derek Shelton staged baseball's first socially-distanced umpire argument, then picked up his first win as the Pirates beat the Cardinals 5-1 on Sunday.
The Blue Jays' new home, pictured here in 2013. Photo: David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images
  • Buffalo Blue Jays: It won't be ready until Aug. 11, but "Toronto" will play its home games at Sahlen Field, where the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons usually play.
  • Stanton smash: Giancarlo Stanton has already hit a 459-foot blast and a 483-foot missile whose 121.3 MPH exit velocity made it the second-hardest hit HR in Statcast history. (The hardest was 121.7 MPH, hit by...Stanton.)
  • AL West aces struggle: Corey Kluber lasted one inning (shoulder) in his Rangers debut; Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani failed to record an out in his first start since Tommy John surgery; and reigning Cy Young winner Justin Verlander will miss extended time (forearm strain).
  • New-look extras: As a reminder, all extra innings this season will begin with a runner on second. The first instance was Friday's game between the Angels and A's, which featured a Shohei Ohtani TOOTBLAN ("thrown out on the bases like a nincompoop") and a Matt Olson walk-off grand slam.

Go deeper: 30 teams, 30 first impressions (MLB.com)

2. Elsewhere in sports
Jesse Lingard celebrates after putting Manchester United up 2-0 against Leicester City. Photo: Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

⚽️ Premier League: A remarkable year in England ended with Manchester United and Chelsea qualifying for the Champions League at the expense of Leicester City, while Watford and Bournemouth were relegated and Aston Villa was saved.

  • Final standings: 1. Liverpool (99 pts), 2. Man City (81), 3. Man United (66), 4. Chelsea (66), 5. Leicester City (62), 6. Tottenham (59), 7. Wolves (59), 8. Arsenal (56), 9. Sheffield United (54), 10. Burnley (54). See the bottom 10.
Shea Groom celebrates with her teammates after putting the Houston Dash up 2-0. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

⚽️ NWSL: The Houston Dash won the NWSL's Challenge Cup with a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars, which have now lost two straight title games.

  • By the numbers: The Dash, which joined the NWSL in 2014 as its first expansion team, didn't concede a single goal in three knockout stage games.
Atlas attackman Chris Cloutier scoring the game-winner against the Waterdogs. Photo: Premier Lacrosse League

🥍 PLL: The Premier Lacrosse League's 16-day quarantine tournament began this weekend in Utah. Highly recommend scrolling the league's Twitter feed for highlights, in-game player interviews and more.

More:

  • ⚽️ MLS: Orlando City, Philadelphia, Sporting KC and NYC FC have secured their spots in the quarterfinals. Today's Round of 16 slate: San Jose vs. Real Salt Lake (8:30pm ET); Seattle vs. LAFC (11pm ET).
  • 🏀 WNBA: No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu struggled in her debut; the Atlanta Dream, last year's lowest-scoring team, exploded for 105 points; See all scores.
  • ⛳️ PGA Tour: Michael Thompson won the 3M Open, clinching his second Tour victory seven years after his first. Do yourself a favor and watch his emotional post-round interview. I love sports.
  • ⚽️ Serie A: Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus beat Sampdoria to win the Serie A title for the record ninth straight season.
3. 🏒 NHL teams arrive in Toronto and Edmonton
Table: Axios Visuals

Sunday was NHL move-in day, as the 24 teams set to participate in the league's restart arrived in Toronto (East) and Edmonton (West), where they'll be separated from the general population and tested daily for COVID-19.

Details:

  • Schedule: Exhibition games start tomorrow, and real games begin on Saturday.
  • The bubbles: Fences have been erected to mark each bubble boundary. Hotels, arenas and other facilities are all within walking distance in both cities, and players will use tunnels and other sealed-off walkways to get around.
  • Traveling parties: 31 players and 52 total people, per team.
  • Food: Each bubble has 14 restaurants for players and staff, including pop-ups featuring local chefs.
  • Entertainment: There's space for indoor activities like ping pong, and each arena has dedicated lounges where players can relax or watch other games.
  • Deliveries: A concierge service in each city will work with outside companies to deliver food, pharmaceutical needs and other products.

Toronto:

  • Arena: Scotiabank Arena
  • Hotels: Hotel X (top five teams) and the Fairmont Royal York (remaining seven teams).
  • Other facilities: The Maple Leafs' training facility, Ford Performance Centre, will host all practices. Additionally, BMO Field (home of Toronto FC and the CFL's Toronto Argonauts) will be used as an outdoor recreational space.

Edmonton:

  • Arena: Rogers Place
  • Hotels: JW Marriott (top six teams) and Sutton Place (remaining six). Both connect to Rogers Place via an overhead walkway.
  • Other facilities: Practices will be held at Rogers Place and Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre.

👀 Look: Each arena's ice setup (Twitter)

4. 🏀 Microsoft will bring fans to NBA games

Photo: Microsoft

The NBA will use Microsoft Teams to allow fans to virtually appear at its upcoming games and interact with each other via video conferencing, Axios' Ina Fried writes.

  • How it works: The league will combine Microsoft's new "together mode," which displays users' faces against the same backdrop, with 17-foot-tall LED screens that wrap around the court, allowing hundreds of fans to participate.

In addition to virtual fans, the NBA and its broadcast partners are also offering new camera angles to enhance the at-home viewing experience.

  • Games will feature up to 31 cameras, and new angles include a courtside camera that simulates being about 10 rows back, and a "below the rim" camera that captures action close to the basket.
  • On top of that, all viewers will have the chance to compete in challenges and impact visual effects in the Walt Disney World venue through a virtual cheering experience in the NBA app, on NBA.com and with Twitter hashtags.

The big picture: As leagues and teams resume play, they're experimenting with how best to mitigate the fanless environment. Some are using cardboard or digital fans, while others are leaving seats empty.

5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 7)
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.

7. Detroit Pistons

Few franchises boast eras as dominant — or monikers as catchy — as the Detroit "Bad Boy" Pistons, who reached five straight conference finals (1986-1991), won two championships and engaged in countless brawls.

  • Year established: 1948 (as the Fort Wayne Pistons)
  • All-time record: 2,753-2,927 (.485)
  • NBA Championships: 3
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 6

Starters:

  • Isiah Thomas*, G (19.2 pts, 3.6 reb, 9.3 ast, 18.1 PER/80.7 WS)
  • Joe Dumars*, G (16.1 pts, 2.2 reb, 4.5 ast, 15.3 PER/86.2 WS)
  • Grant Hill*, F (21.6 pts, 7.9 reb, 6.3 ast, 22.4 PER/60.0 WS)
  • Ben Wallace, F (6.6 pts, 11.1 reb, 2.3 blk, 16.5 PER/65.9 WS)
  • Bob Lanier*, C (22.7 pts, 11.8 reb, 3.3 ast, 22.8 PER/91.6 WS)

Sixth man: Bill Laimbeer, C (13.5 pts, 10.1 reb, 2.1 ast, 16.3 PER/98.4 WS)

Bench:

  • Chauncey Billups, G (16.5 pts, 3.2 reb, 6.2 ast, 20.7 PER/73.6 WS)
  • Dave Bing*, G (22.6 pts, 4.2 reb, 6.4 ast, 18.3 PER/56.0 WS)
  • Richard Hamilton, G (18.4 pts, 3.4 reb, 3.8 ast, 17.2 PER/54.0 WS)
  • Larry Foust, C (15.0 pts, 10.9 reb, 1.9 ast, 21.9 PER/57.5 WS)
  • Bailey Howell*, F (21.1 pts, 11.8 reb, 2.3 ast, 20.3 PER/53.9 WS)
  • Andre Drummond, C (14.4 pts, 13.9 reb, 1.6 blk, 22.1 PER/60.4 WS)

Notes:

  • Billups is one of the most unheralded superstars in recent memory: 3x all-NBA, 2x all-defense, Finals MVP and the fifth-best free throw shooter ever (89.4%).
  • Thomas had the numbers — ninth-most assists (9,061), 18th-most steals (1,861) — but his essence was never clearer than in his 25-point third quarter on a freshly sprained ankle in the 1988 Finals.

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

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 27, 1996: 🥇 Olympic Park bombing
The Olympic flag flies at half-mast after the Centennial Park bombing. Photo: Wally McNamee/Corbis via Getty Images

24 years ago today, three pipe bombs were detonated at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Games, killing two and injuring 111.

  • Centennial Park was designed as the Olympics' "town square," and on the night of July 26, it hosted a concert with thousands in attendance.
  • American terrorist Eric Rudolph planted his bombs in a bag under a bench near the sound stage, and they were detonated at 1:20am local time.

The falsely accused: Security guard Richard Jewell found the bag before it detonated and alerted the authorities, who began evacuating the area. Unfortunately, the explosion occurred before the evacuation was complete.

  • Despite Jewell's heroism, he was implicated in the attack and spent 88 days being scrutinized by the public as a "person of interest" before his name was cleared.

The aftermath: Rudolph ultimately carried out three more bombings, killing one and injuring six, before he was arrested in 2003. He's currently serving four consecutive life sentences in prison.

🎬 Trailer: "Richard Jewell" (2019)

7. 📚 Good reads

Germany's Jacqueline Loelling competes in skeleton at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

🥇 Sledhead (Matthew Futterman, NYT)

"Sledding athletes are taking their lives. Did brain-rattling rides and high-speed crashes damage their brains?"

🏈 The Jamal Adams trade resets the Jets' future — and shows the Seahawks are all-in on the present (Robert Mays, The Ringer)

"Seattle sent New York two first-round picks in a deal to land the young superstar. It's a lot to give up for someone who doesn't play what is typically considered a premium position, but Adams isn't a typical safety."

🏀 Tom Thibodeau's relentlessness drove him to Knicks "dream job" (Howie Kussoy, NY Post)

"Thibodeau, 62, will become the Knicks' 30th head coach. He is the first to never have been married."
8. The Ocho: 🎱 Poolball
Giphy

Poolball combines pool and soccer. Lionel Messi would own at this, but the question is: How would the world's best pool player do?

9. 🏀 NBA trivia

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

Nuggets rookie Bol Bol has been the talk of Orlando, showing off his unique blend of size (7-foot-2), athleticism and shooting range.

  • Question: Bol's father, 7-foot-7-inch Manute Bol, has the 18th-most blocks in NBA history (2,086). Who has the most?
  • Hint: Won multiple championships.

Answer at the bottom.

Bonus: 📸 Pic du jour
Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Speaking of Manute, this photo of him standing next to 5-foot-3-inch Muggsy Bogues breaks my brain every single time I see it.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Alex and his mom during their Duke visit. Photo: Alex K.

Alex K. (Sacramento) writes:

"When I was in eighth grade, basketball was my life. I was a huge Duke fan and had a (pipe)dream of one day playing there.
"My ever-supportive mother decided if I wanted to eventually go to Duke, we should visit. So, over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2000, we made the cross-country trip from Sacramento, California to Durham, North Carolina.
"During our visit, we somehow scored seats right behind the team bench for Coach K's 500th win at Duke. They named the floor after him that night, and that year's team — led by Jay Williams, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and Nate James — would go on to win the national championship.
"Later that evening, one of the Duke assistant coaches let me shoot around on the court and gave me a behind-the-scenes tour that included Coach K's office. The following day, we watched Julius Peppers and UNC absolutely dominate the Duke football team.
"My mom and I packed so much into the short weekend that every time we stopped to eat, the only restaurant still open was Waffle House. It was one of the best weekends of my life. Thanks, mom. And thank you, Duke!"

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

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Quarantine QB" Baker

Trivia answer: Hakeem Olajuwon (3,830 blocks)