May 15, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

⚜️ Good morning! A brief recap of last night's action before we dive in...

  • Warriors 116, Trail Blazers 94: "By now, we all know that part of Steph Curry's magic is how he affects the game without scoring. … But waxing poetic about how Curry transcends the box score is nowhere near as enjoyable as witnessing him fill it up like he did on Tuesday night." (GS leads 1-0)
  • Bruins 2, Hurricanes 1: "When Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron or David Pastrnak scores, that's expected. When the Bruins' secondary scoring continues to find the back of the net, that's an added bonus. When Tuukka Rask plays at an inhuman level on top of that? That's unfair." (BOS leads 3-0)

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1 big thing: 🏀 Pelicans win the Zion lottery
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Data: NBA.com; Logos: SportsLogos.net; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

"Like a wild French Quarter dice game, the Pelicans walked into the lottery with a 6% chance at the top pick and walked out with Zion [Williamson] and a whole new future," writes Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel.

What happened: New Orleans winning the lottery capped a wild night that saw three teams jump way up in the draft order.

  • Winners: The Pelicans (projected to get the No. 7 pick, jumped up to No. 1), the Memphis Grizzlies (projected to get No. 8, jumped up to No. 2) and the Los Angeles Lakers (projected to get No. 11, jumped up to No. 4).
  • Losers: The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns all had the best chances to land the No. 1 pick (14%), but ultimately ended up with picks Nos. 3, 5 and 6.

The big picture: This year marked the first time since 2005 that the NBA's lottery system underwent any changes.

  • Prior system: Having the league's worst record gave you a 25% chance of winning the top pick, with each subsequent lottery pick having a lesser chance of winning. The league then drew for the top three spots.
  • New system: The teams with the three worst records have the same odds of winning (14%), followed by a much flatter percentage decrease for each subsequent lottery team. In addition, the NBA draws for the top four spots.
  • How it went: The NBA flattened out the percentages to make it less appealing to have a worse record (aka, "tank"), so the league must be thrilled with last night's outcome. This is exactly what they wanted to see happen.

Mock draft (via ESPN+):

  1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson, Duke
  2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant, Murray State
  3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett, Duke
  4. Lakers: Darius Garland, Vanderbilt
  5. Cavaliers: De'Andre Hunter, UVA
  6. Suns: Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech
  7. Bulls: Coby White, UNC
  8. Hawks: Cam Reddish, Duke
  9. Wizards: Sekou Doumbouya, Guinea/France
  10. Hawks: Jaxson Hayes, Texas

What's next: Can David Griffin convince Anthony Davis to stay in New Orleans? Could he be headed to L.A. now that the Lakers have another asset to trade? Mike Conley is likely on the move, but where will he go? Utah? Detroit?

  • The NBA offseason, and all the drama that comes with it, is officially off to the races. Meanwhile, the playoffs are still going on. This league!

🎥 Watch: Pelicans ticket office going nuts

2. 🏒 How an 80s pop song became St. Louis' rallying cry
Screenshot: YouTube

The St. Louis Blues are in the midst of a truly remarkable season that saw them win 29 of 43 games to go from last place in the NHL to the playoffs. And now, here they are: three wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.

  • Along the way, Laura Branigan's 1982 hit song "Gloria" has become a rallying cry of sorts for the Blues and the entire city of St. Louis — and the origin story is bound to make you smile.

What happened: On Jan. 6, five Blues players checked into Jacks NYB, a private club in South Philadelphia, to watch the Bears play the Eagles in the NFC wild card round.

  • One member kept yelling "Play Gloria!'" during every commercial break, and the resident DJ obliged, sending the room into a fracas each time.
  • Apparently, the club's members had made "Gloria" their song as they prepared for the city's annual Mummers Parade, where they had won first place in their division a few days earlier.
  • "They just went nuts when they heard it, and we loved watching it," Blues forward Robby Fabbri told AP. "We just happened to get a win the next day and made it our win song."

Fast-forward: "Play Gloria!" is now everywhere in St. Louis. Players are wearing custom shirts, radio stations are playing it non-stop, elementary school kids are dancing to it — it's bringing a whole city together.

  • Perhaps coolest of all, Jacks has turned into a Blues bar. Even the 76ers' NBA playoff run took a back seat to the members' new favorite team.
  • "They weren't looking for a song that night," said Jacks member Jerry Foschini. "This is one of them things that never in a million years could be planned. It's serendipity." Sports, man.

📺 Tonight, 8pm ET: The Blues return home to St. Louis for Game 3 after winning one of two games against the Sharks in San Jose.

3. ⚽️ European soccer's moment of reckoning

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

On the heels of an unforgettable 24 hours of Champions League drama that drove global audiences wild, a moment of reckoning is coming for European soccer following two bombshell reports.

Bombshell No. 1: Last Wednesday, the New York Times obtained a UEFA document that mapped out a vision of what the Champions League could become — a vision that appears to have been in the works for more than a year.

  • In short, 24 teams would no longer have to qualify through domestic play. This would turn the Champions League into a competition dominated by a small group of elite clubs and deepen the divide between the Liverpool's of the world and the hundreds of smaller clubs that make up European soccer.
  • Under this proposed system, Ajax — the proud Dutch club that made a magical run to the semifinals — would have found it extremely difficult to even qualify for the competition.

Bombshell No. 2: Over the past four years, a series of leaks have exposed soccer's darkest secrets. They've also led to numerous investigations, including one into whether Manchester City cheated European soccer's financial system.

  • On Monday, news broke that investigators are going to recommend that Man City receive a one-year ban from the Champions League.

The big picture: The first story is not about the format of a competition, and the second story is not about a rules violations. Rather, "both are about something far broader and, in a way, far easier to understand," the NYT's Rory Smith writes:

  • "Both are about a struggle for control, between UEFA — the body that has overseen European soccer for decades — and the globe-straddling, extravagantly wealthy superclubs that provide much of its revenue."
  • "Both are about power, and who can exert it. And both are about who runs soccer — on whose behalf, and for whose benefit."
  • "Maybe the game should be run for the elite. Maybe the game should be run for everyone. Either way, we approach a crossroads [and] the direction we eventually travel will tell us ... where, precisely, the power now lies."
4. ⚾️ The latest in minor league housing: Funeral homes
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Minor leaguers often settle for less-than-desirable living arrangements, "but few residences are eerier than the funeral home where several Yankee prospects have lived," writes the NYT's Seth Berkman.

Details: The funeral home is in Old Forge, Pa., about five miles from the ballpark where the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders play (Yankees AAA team).

  • The top floor has two apartments: The larger one goes for $1,200 a month, while the smaller one goes for $800. Two Yankees prospects live there now and many more have called it home in the past.

What they're saying: Some past tenants loved the apartment, which has a reputation as being one of the nicer accommodations in the area. Others, not so much.

  • Current Yankee Clint Frazier moved in when he was traded to New York in 2016, but he only lasted a month. His breaking point came when he awoke one morning to the sounds of a funeral service. "That's when I was like, 'I've got to get out of this place,'" Frazier told the Times. "I would never in a million years go back."

Related: One of the most popular sports websites is run out of a church

5. 🏀 The WNBA landscape

Australian scoring machine Liz Cambage is rumored to be headed to Las Vegas. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

From Mike Sykes: The balance of power in the WNBA has shifted with three of the league's best players either on the move (Liz Cambage, reportedly), injured (Breanna Stewart) or taking the year off (Maya Moore).

Top contenders

  • Los Angeles Sparks (19-15 last year): Adding Chiney Ogwumike (3x All-Star) to the combo of Candace Parker (2x MVP) and her sister Nneka Ogwumike (21.5 PER) forms the best big 3 in the WNBA.
  • Washington Mystics (22-12): Elena Della Donne (27.3 PER) and Emma Meesseman (17.9 PPG) form the best offensive frontcourt in the league. Scoring will come easy.
  • Atlanta Dream (23-11): The Dream made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals and did it without one of their star players, Angel McCoughtry (ACL). Really deep squad with all the tools to get it done.
  • Las Vegas Aces (14-20): Assuming the Cambage trade goes through, pairing her with 2018 Rookie of the Year A'ja Wilson would make the Aces a contender overnight.

Playoff teams

  • Phoenix Mercury (20-14): Britney Griner (20.5 PPG, 2.6 BPG) is still a force, but Diana Taurasi missing time could mean a slow start in Phoenix.
  • Seattle Storm (26-8): With Breanna Stewart out for the year, a repeat is likely out of the picture for the defending champs. Carrying a team is a lot to ask of a 38-year-old Sue Bird.
  • Minnesota Lynx (18-16): Maya Moore's absence means more touches for Sylvia Fowles (17.7 PPG, 11.9 APG).
  • Connecticut Sun (21-13): Jonquel Jones will keep the Sun afloat, but they'll miss Chiney Ogwumike's production and efficiency.

Headed for the lottery

  • Chicago Sky (13-21): Courtney Vandersloot will make Chicago a tough out on her lights-out shooting alone, but she doesn't have many playmakers around her.
  • New York Liberty (7-27): Tina Charles is a legend, but the Liberty are young and haven't been able to stay healthy.
  • Indiana Fever (6-28): Cappie Pondexter's retirement hurts a team already suffering from a dearth of talent.
  • Dallas Wings (15-19): Skylar Diggins-Smith is taking the year off and Cambage is almost certainly on the move. Rebuild time in Dallas.
6. ⚾ May 15, 1991: The Queen comes to Baltimore

President Bush, Queen Elizabeth II and first lady Barbara Bush shaking hands. Photo: John Shelley Collection/Avalon/Getty Images

28 years ago today, Queen Elizabeth II attended her first baseball game, stopping by Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium to catch an Orioles game alongside then-President George H.W. Bush.

  • Three years prior, the Queen attending a baseball game had been lampooned in the film, "The Naked Gun," in which a hypnotized Reggie Jackson attempted to kill her.

What's next: If the Queen is itching for more baseball, she won't have to go far. The Red Sox and Yankees will play a pair of games in London next month — the first MLB games to ever be played in Europe.

🎥 Watch: Footage of the Queen arriving in Baltimore

7. ⚾️ MLB trivia

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his first career home run last night, becoming the youngest player in Blue Jays history to hit one (20 years, 59 days old).

  • Question: Who did he pass?
  • Hint: He's the current GM of an NBA team.

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: 🤷‍♂️ Barbie Jeep racing?
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Full video.

Kendall Baker

See you tomorrow,

Kendall "Pray for Stephen A. Smith" Baker

Trivia answer: Danny Ainge at 20 years, 77 days old (I made a thread about it)