Jul 8, 2021

Axios Sports

👋 Good morning ... This just in: The Olympics will be held without spectators as Tokyo enters another state of emergency.

  • 🎾 Live now: The Wimbledon women's semifinals are underway in London (Barty vs. Kerber, 8:30am ET; Plíšková vs. Sabalaneka, 9:45am).
  • ⚽️ Poll results: 63% of Axios Sports readers think the World Cup should remain a quadrennial event as opposed to being held every two years.

Today's word count: 2,024 words (8 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: 🏒 Lightning strikes twice

Photo: Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Nearly a year after being crowned kings of the bubble, the Lightning edged the Canadiens, 1-0, in front of a capacity home crowd Wednesday night to win their second straight Stanley Cup.

Why it matters: The Lightning are the ninth franchise to repeat as champions and fifth non-Original Six team, joining the Flyers, Islanders, Oilers and Penguins.

"It's like we won two completely different Stanley Cups, and that's what makes it extremely special for us. You do one without fans and then you do one in your own building. We couldn't have written the script any better."
— Coach Jon Cooper
Chart: Axios Visuals

Notes:

  • Dynasty, confirmed: The Lightning have 70 playoff wins since their 2015 run to the Final (lost to the Blackhawks). That's 28 more than any other team — and an average of 10 wins per postseason.
  • Champa Bay: Prior to 2020, the Lightning, Buccaneers and Rays had a combined four championship series appearances and two titles. In the last two years alone, they have four appearances and three titles.
  • Utter domination: Over the past two postseasons, Tampa Bay had a +50 goal differential and never lost two games in a row.
  • Three-Pat: Pat Maroon, who won the 2019 title with the Blues before moving to the Lightning, is the first player to win three straight Stanley Cups since multiple players did so with the 1980s Islanders.
  • Playoff MVP: Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) and had a series-ending shutout for an NHL-record fifth consecutive time dating back to the 2020 final.

End of an era ... Wednesday's game was NBC's last NHL broadcast for at least seven years. ESPN and TNT, the ice is yours.

🎥 Watch:

2. 🚨 Buzzer: A modern sports startup tale

Courtesy: Buzzer

Buzzer, the mobile platform that wants to reinvent how fans consume live sports, recently closed a $20 million Series A funding round headlined by two GOATs: Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.

  • Buzzer is a big idea: Help fans experience more live sports moments through personalized notifications (i.e. Steph Curry is heating up!) and micropayments (i.e. watch the final two minutes for 99 cents).
  • It's also a modern sports startup tale. From athlete investors to a culture and values born out of a pandemic, Buzzer is reflective of our current moment.

Under the hood:

  • Athletes on the cap table: In addition to Jordan and Gretzky, stars like Patrick Mahomes, Naomi Osaka, Devin Booker, Sabrina Ionescu, Christian McCaffrey, LaMelo Ball and Connor McDavid are also involved. The athlete-as-investor playbook is still relatively new, but it has quickly become invaluable for sports and fitness startups.
"One of the goals at Buzzer is to advance and amplify underserved sports, like women's sports. Right now, there is an increase in awareness and cultural currency happening in the WNBA, yet there are still barriers for fans to tune into games."
— Renee Montgomery, Atlanta Dream part-owner and former WNBA player, now an investor in Buzzer
  • Team owners as investors: Buzzer's latest round was led by existing investor Sapphire Sport and new investor Canaan Partners, but it also includes 10 principle ownership groups from the major U.S. sports leagues, including Lerner Enterprises (Nationals), David Blitzer (Devils and 76ers) and Stephen Pagliuca (Celtics).
"These are entities that are increasingly becoming more erudite, more forward thinking, participating earlier. ... Every league, every team owner, every network ... they're all trying solve the same thing in media: How do we provide more personalization, solve for mobility and ultimately make live sports rights more valuable?"
— Michael Spirito, Sapphire Sport partner
  • Born amid a pandemic: Buzzer's first 11 hires in early 2020 were all people who'd been furloughed or laid off. It was a deliberate choice that has helped the team connect despite being remote and "bred a culture of gratitude and empathy," says founder and CEO Bo Han.
  • Born amid a racial reckoning: 1% of Buzzer's cap table and 1% of its net profits are dedicated to furthering and advancing communities of color, and users will be able to round up their micropayments 1% to support those efforts. "That set the tone for the type of investors we were able to attract," says Han. "You're resonating with people's heart."
3. ⚽️ England ends 55-year drought

Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Harry Kane scored an extra-time goal to lift England past Denmark, 2-1, and into Sunday's European Championship final against Italy.

Why it matters: This marks England's first appearance in a major tournament final since beating West Germany at the 1966 World Cup, ending an agonizing 55-year drought.

What they're saying ... Roger Bennett of "Men in Blazers," a Liverpool native turned U.S. citizen, emails me:

The English song and fan chant "It's Coming Home" has always seemed like the epitome of English brilliance to me. Such a meta joke. Taking the big dream that every English person feels ahead of every single tournament, despite knowing full well it will end in tears, shattered dreams, and collective trauma.
For years, that song has allowed millions of English fans to manage their own worst fears in the process. The song is a bit like a sporting version of "Born in the USA" because the chorus sounds so optimistic, but the verses are filled with an overwhelming sense of failure, regret, longing and lament.
Wednesday was the day the song's meaning changed. It now sounds like a song about tenacity. About never giving up. About dreams long harbored being even sweeter when they are finally, belatedly, made real.

Go deeper: Before England could celebrate, it had to suffer (NYT)

4. 🏀 Spalding's "Last Dance"
Expand chart
Data: Basketball Reference; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The NBA will change ball suppliers next season, ditching Spalding after 38 years and returning to Wilson, the league's partner for the first 37 years of its existence, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

Looking back on two eras ...

The new Wilson balls. Photo: Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

The Wilson era (1946–83): Despite James Naismith in 1894 personally asking sporting goods manufacturer A.G. Spalding to make a ball for his newly-invented game, the NBA launched with Wilson.

  • Top scorers: 1. Wilt Chamberlain (31,419 points); 2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (29,810); 3. Elvin Hayes (26,911); 4. Oscar Robertson (26,710); 5. John Havlicek (26,395)
  • Celtic pride: Though the Lakers made the most Finals appearances (18), they won "just" eight rings while Boston went an astonishing 14 for 15. Now, they're tied with 17 each.
  • Dawning of a new era: Magic Johnson and Larry Bird debuted in 1979, kicking off the age of the culturally transcendent superstar.
Photo: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Spalding era (1983–2021): Speaking of culturally transcendent superstars, Michael Jordan debuted in 1984. If basketball has a line of demarcation between past and present, this is it.

  • Top scorers: 1. Karl Malone (36,928); 2. LeBron James (35,367); 3. Kobe Bryant (33,643); 4. Jordan (32,292); 5. Dirk Nowitzki (31,560)
  • Player empowerment: James' "decision" in 2010 may have been poorly executed, but it paved the way for a brave new world of stars carving their own path through the league's changing landscape.
  • Three-point revolution: In Reggie Miller's rookie year (1987-88), teams took five threes per game. In Ray Allen's (1996-97), they took 16.8. In Steph Curry's (2009-10), they took 18.1. This year? 34.6.

The bottom line: Spalding basketballs have had a great run, co-starring in countless historic games and splashing through nets for nearly four decades. Now, it's Wilson's turn to shine again.

📆 Tonight ... Bucks at Suns, 9pm ET (PHX leads 1-0)

5. 🌍 The world in photos
Photo: AELTC/Ben Solomon/Getty Images

LONDON — Eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer was overpowered by Hubert Hurkacz in the quarterfinal, losing at the All England Club possibly for the last time.

Photo: Tim da Waele/Getty Images

MALAUCENE, France — Stage 11 of the Tour de France saw the peloton trek up Mont Ventoux twice. Here are extended highlights from the day.

Photo: Eugene Hoshiko/Getty Images

TOKYO — IOC president Thomas Bach arrived in Tokyo this morning. Hours later, Japan announced that there will be no fans at the Olympics. We'll go deeper on this story tomorrow.

6. ⚾️ Conservative group runs MLB ads

Screenshot from Consumers' Resarch

A conservative group, Consumers' Research, accuses Major League Baseball of catering to "woke politicians," in a seven-figure ad campaign ahead of next week’s All-Star Game, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.

Why it matters: Conservative groups are increasingly working to "name and shame" organizations for perceived partisan positions — often attempting to influence the C-Suite by buying ads on CNBC.

  • In May, Consumers' Research launched a similar seven-figure campaign against Coca-Cola, American Airlines and Nike.

The backdrop: In April, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred moved the game from Atlanta to Denver because of Georgia's new voting law. "Why is he making baseball political, anyway?" the ad asks. MLB declined to comment.

7. ⚡️ Lightning round
Twitter: @RaysBaseball

⚾️ Another no-hitter*: On the same night the Lightning won the title, the Rays tossed a combined seven-inning no-hitter in a doubleheader sweep of the Indians.

⚽️ Seattle makes history: The Sounders beat the Dynamo, 2-0, on Wednesday to establish a new MLS record of 13 unbeaten results to begin a season.

⚾️ HR Derby field finalized: Pete Alonso (Mets), Joey Gallo (Rangers), Trey Mancini (Orioles), Shohei Ohtani (Angels), Matt Olson (A's), Salvador Pérez (Royals), Juan Soto (Nationals), Trevor Story (Rockies). See bracket.

🇺🇸 Kinley can play: The Pentagon has approved the request of cornerback Cameron Kinley to delay his Navy commission so he can play in the NFL, reversing course after initially denying him that chance.

8. 📆 July 8, 2014: Germany 7, Brazil 1

Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Seven years ago today, Germany humiliated host nation Brazil, 7-1, in the 2014 World Cup semifinal.

"If we win the Cup, then we go to heaven. But if we lose, then we all go to hell."
José Maria Marin, Brazilian Football Federation president

Why it matters: The match was a national humiliation for Brazil and snapped a 62-game unbeaten streak at home in competitive matches, dating back to the 1975 Copa América.

  • Germany's win marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup semifinal and sent the Germans to their record eighth final, where they won for the fourth time, defeating Argentina.
  • Miroslav Klose scored his 16th career World Cup goal, surpassing Brazil's own Ronaldo as the tournament's all-time leading goalscorer.
Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The match: Both countries reached the semifinal with undefeated records in the competition and were ranked No. 2 (Germany) and No. 3 (Brazil) in the world, trailing only Spain.

  • First half: The Germans scored their first goal in the 11th minute, with Thomas Müller finding the back of the net on a corner kick. Then came the avalanche — four goals in six minutes. Halftime score: 5-0.
  • Second half: André Schürrle scored twice to give Germany a 7-0 lead before Brazil — which was notably missing Neymar (injury) and Thiago Silva (yellow cards) — scored a goal in the final minute.
  • Wild stats: Brazil finished with more possession (51%), more shots (18 to 14), more shots on goal (13 to 12) and more corners (7 to 5).
Photo: Andreas Gebert/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

The aftermath: Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari called it "the worst day of my life" and resigned a week later. Players walked off the pitch in tears, and offered apologies to the people of Brazil in the days that followed.

  • The result, 7-1, ("sete a um" in Portuguese) has become a metaphor in Brazil for a crushing defeat, and the term "and a German goal" is sometimes used describe something that happens repeatedly.

Go deeper: A party at the end of the world (ESPN)

9. 🐝 Spelling trivia

Source: Giphy

Today's trivia question is in honor of tonight's Scripps National Spelling Bee, which remains a national treasure.

  • Question: How do you spell Coach K's last name?
  • Language of origin: Polish.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🏈 1 fun thing: Blockbuster in Cabo

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

The Rams got Matthew Stafford in a blockbuster trade in January, but until now no one knew how closely the NFC West's balance of power was tied to one night in Cabo, Jeff writes.

Driving the news: Rams coach Sean McVay joked with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan Wednesday on The Ringer's "Flying Coach" podcast about the night the Rams landed Stafford.

  • Turns out, Stafford, McVay and Shanahan were all in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, at the same time.
  • While Stafford and McVay were discussing the possible trade at their hotel, Shanahan was just down the road, studying film of Stafford and pondering a deal.

But Shanahan was on vacation, and after hours of film study he wanted a night out with his wife.

  • That's when someone called him and said nothing would happen until the following day, that he could relax and head out to dinner.
  • Whoops. 10 minutes into dinner, Shanahan got a text: McVay and the Rams had finalized a deal for Stafford.

The last word: "If it makes you feel any better, it came together faster than I thought, too," McVay told Shanahan Wednesday.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Wilson!!!" Baker

Trivia answer: Mike Krzyzewski

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