Nov 7, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

πŸ‘‹ Happy Thursday! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,524 words (<6 minutes)

1 big thing: πŸ€ The NBA's "load management" issue

Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the second time in eight games, Kawhi Leonard missed the front end of a Clippers back-to-back, nixing what was supposed to be a battle between the reigning MVP (Giannis Antetokounmpo) and the reigning NBA Finals MVP (Leonard).

  • In his absence, Antetokounmpo (38-16-9) became the sixth player in NBA history with three straight 30-15-5 games, and the Bucks won 129-124.
  • It was entertaining, but it wasn't what fans thought they were getting when they saw Bucks-Clippers on the schedule. And ESPN, which broadcast the game nationally, probably wasn't thrilled.

The backdrop: This is part of Leonard's "load management" plan, which he also used with the Raptors last year. He missed 22 games during the regular season and crediting that rest with helping him play 39 minutes a night in the playoffs en route to a championship.

  • The NBA, which can fine teams for sitting healthy players for nationally-televised games, approved of Leonard's rest, saying it was "comfortable with the team medical staff's determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games."

Why it matters: This is the second straight week that Leonard sat out of ESPN's Wednesday night showcase, elevating the load management debate to the national stage and reflecting poorly on the league's product.

  • One potential solution would be to ensure that no nationally-televised games involve back-to-backs, although that would just be masking a problem. At that point, why not just shorten the season and/or eliminate all back-to-backs? (This might be the best solution.)

What they're saying: "I believe the league has a long-term problem," said ESPN's Doris Burke. "Kawhi not playing, to me, is ridiculous at this point."

  • "The Clippers obviously have a responsibility to Kawhi and to winning and to long-term, but the league is and should be concerned that their best players are not playing on nights when they're on national television."

The bottom line: Load management flat-out stinks for fans, but unfortunately, it isn't a problem with a clear fix because the overarching issue is the relative unimportance of the regular season.

2. πŸ₯‡ Catching up with Michael Phelps

Photo: Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

It's been a busy three years since Michael Phelps swam his last race at the Rio Olympics. He and his wife, Nicole, have welcomed three baby boys and he has his own swim brand, all while dedicating time to important issues like mental health and water conservation.

I caught up with Michael on the phone. Some highlights from my conversation with the most decorated Olympian ever...

On mental health:

  • "I competed in the last five Olympics, and I can say that through my career, I didn't feel that people cared about my mental well-being as much as they cared about my physical well-being. And I think we should pay attention to our mental well-being way more than anything else."
  • "I found myself at the darkest place I've ever seen because of things I'd gone through. I compartmentalized my life for years because I was afraid to say anything. But being able to overcome those obstacles and now talk about them and potentially change even one life is a dream come true."

On saving water:

  • "This is my third year as a global ambassador for Colgate, where our mission is to get as many people as possible to save water. Naturally, water has been a big part of my life, and just the thought that we could one day not have clean water β€” that's scary.
  • "We can take five seconds to turn off the faucet while brushing our teeth. We can try not to take 15-minute showers. These are things we have to make sure we're paying attention to."

On the running shoe debate (Running is currently embroiled in a debate over high-tech sneakers. It's reminiscent of swimming's polyurethane suits, which were banned in 2010 after hundreds of world records fell in a matter of months.)

  • "In terms of [Eliud Kipchoge] being able to break the two-hour marathon barrier β€” you're showing people that things they thought were impossible are possible, which is great."
  • "As for the technology aspect, I think it does take away from the sport. That was my argument with the swimsuit β€” it wasn't really swimming. You didn't have to do as much work because when you got tired the suit helped you stay on the surface. You felt like Superman because you could float. So there might be some similar things with the shoes, I'm not sure."
3. 🏈 Week 10 NFL rankings
Expand chart
Table: Axios Visuals

Coming up (full schedule):

  • Tonight: Chargers at Raiders
  • Sunday night: Vikings at Cowboys
  • Monday night: Seahawks at 49ers
4. πŸ€ Wednesday night hoops
Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images

UNC 76, NOTRE DAME 65 β€” Cole Anthony scored 34 points (most ever by a UNC freshman in a debut) and added 11 rebounds and five assists, as the No. 9 Tar Heels cruised past the Fighting Irish.

Photo: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

VIRGINIA 48, SYRACUSE 34 β€” Kihei Clark (10 pts, 11 reb, 7 ast) and Mamadi Diakite (12 pts), the only two returning starters from last year's team, helped the defending champs suffocate Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.

5. ⚽️ Champions League, Matchday 4 (Part 2 of 2)
Expand chart
Data: UEFA; Table: Axios Visuals

The Champions League's fourth matchday came to a close yesterday, with teams from Groups A, B, C and D going head-to-head across Europe.

  • Three tickets punched: Juventus (def. Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1), Bayern Munich (def. Olympiacos 2-0) and PSG (def. Club Brugge 1-0) all secured spots in the knockout stage with victories.
  • Goal of the day: Tottenham scored a hilarious goal that looked like a "FIFA" glitch in their 4-0 win over Red Star Belgrade.
  • Weird substitution: An injury and red card forced Manchester City's right back Kyle Walker into goaltending duty. He saved a free kick and avoided trouble the rest of the way in a 1-1 draw with Atalanta.
  • ICYMI: Yesterday's recap of Groups E, F, G and H

What's next: Each team will play two more games, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the knockout round, while the third-place team enters the UEFA Europa League. Next matchday: Nov. 26–27.

P.S. ... Australian soccer's governing body announced a "landmark agreement" with the players union to close the pay gap between the men’s and women’s national teams." (NYT)

6. πŸ“Š By the numbers
Screenshot: @dwil (Twitter)
🏈 11 teams

30 of the 62 FBS coaches are in favor of expanding the College Football Playoff field, according to an ESPN survey. One of them is Jim Harbaugh, who has clearly put some thought into this.

  • The Harbaugh Plan: 15 games. 11 teams. The first six teams are made up of each Power 5 conference's top team and the top-ranked non-Power 5 team. He then suggests using the BCS system to rank teams 6-11 (see above for how the 2018 field would have shaped up).
πŸ’΅ 19th state

Colorado became the 19th U.S. state to legalize some form of sports betting yesterday in a surprisingly close vote (51%–49%).

  • Details: "Starting next May, Colorado's 33 casinos can offer in-person and online wagering on professional, collegiate, motor and Olympic sports."
πŸ‘Ÿ 31 of 36 podiums

31 of 36 podium winners (aka. first, second or third place) at this year's World Marathon Majors were wearing a version of the same shoe β€” the controversial Nike Vaporfly.

7. Nov. 7, 1991: πŸ€ Magic retires due to HIV

Photo: Bill Nation/Sygma via Getty Images

28 years ago today, Magic Johnson shocked the sports world when he announced that he was retiring from basketball after testing positive for HIV.

Why it mattered: Johnson's announcement gave a new face to the disease and raised awareness, while his positive outlook let people know that HIV wasn't the death sentence many believed it to be at the time.

"Life is going to go on for me, and I'm going to be a happy man. When your back is against the wall, you have to come out swinging. I'm going to go on, going to be there, going to have fun."

What came next: Despite his retirement, Johnson was voted as a starter for the 1992 NBA All-Star Game, where he scored 25 points to earn MVP honors. He also competed in the 1992 Summer Olympics as a member of the "Dream Team."

  • Two years later, after becoming a prominent spokesman for HIV/AIDS awareness, Johnson re-joined the Lakers as interim coach. He then returned as a player in 1996 before permanently retiring the following offseason.

Go deeper:

8. The Ocho: πŸ‘‹ The slap champ is back
Credit: High Noon on Twitter

Russian farmer Vasily Kamotsky, who was crowned the slapping champion at the Siberian Power Show earlier this year, won't stop slapping people in the face.

Full video.

9. 🏈 CFB trivia

Of the 11 different head coaches who have led teams to the College Football Playoff, six had never been head coaches when they were hired to lead those programs.

  • Question: Can you name all six?
  • Hint: Two were at ACC schools, two were at Big 12 schools, one was at an SEC school and one was at a Pac-12 school.

Answer at the bottom.

10. πŸ‘Ÿ "I was the fastest girl in America..."
Screenshot: @runmarycain (Twitter)

"At 17, Mary Cain was already a record-breaking phenom: the fastest girl in a generation, and the youngest American track and field athlete to make a World Championships team."

  • "In 2013, she was signed by the best track team in the world, Nike's Oregon Project, run by its star coach Alberto Salazar. Then everything collapsed."

From NYT: "I was the fastest girl in America, until I joined Nike"

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "James Wiseman looks enormous" Baker

Trivia answer: Dabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher, Lincoln Riley, Bob Stoops, Kirby Smart, Mark Helfrich