Jul 14, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,909 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏀 The NBA's YouTube generation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The NBA bubble at Walt Disney World demands a documentary and will surely get its own "30 for 30" one day. But as the action begins to unfolds, it's clear that the players, themselves, will be the primary storytellers.

  • Why it matters: The most unique sporting event in history (just ahead of every other event this year) will be documented by its participants, making it less of a traditional "sports season" and more of a must-see reality show.
  • The intrigue: Many NBA players already have experience capturing their lives on camera, creating content for social media and building their brands beyond basketball through things like music and eports/livestreaming.
Screenshot: @MatisseThybulle (Twitter)

Inside the bubble: Players are finding creative ways to stay busy while they self-quarantine and wait for the season to resume on July 30 — and, like most young people, they're posting everything on social media and getting others involved.

  • 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle vlogged his trip from Philadelphia to Orlando, providing a first-person POV of what it's like to arrive in the bubble.
  • Multiple players engaged in a beer shotgun challenge. Miami's Meyers Leonard shotgunned a Coors Light in record time, declaring himself "King of the Bubble."
  • Dallas' Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell, aka DJ Ice-o and DJ Q, hosted a self-quarantine balcony dance party."
  • A Twitter account (@NBABubbleLife) has already been created. Its mission: curate all the player-generated content and "bring the bubble to your timeline."

The big picture: There are a handful of NBA reporters inside the bubble, but they won't be permitted to do most of the things they typically do as reporters (mingle in the locker room, talk to players, overhear conversations, land "scoops").

  • In many ways, they're not there to cover basketball so much as they're there to cover the bubble, itself. How are players adjusting to their bizarre new reality? How is the league handling health and safety? Things like that.
  • The focus of that coverage will shine an even brighter light on the players' off-court personalities, and the inner workings of an NBA team (ya know, the stuff we don't normally get to see until something like "The Last Dance" comes out and blows ours minds).

Coming tomorrow: We'll speak with the NBA reporters inside the bubble about what their experience has been like so far, and how they plan to cover the event.

2. 🏟 Dormant sports stadiums, repurposed

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the pandemic struck and sports were shuttered, hundreds of venues suddenly became sleeping giants, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

  • Why it matters: Some have since been repurposed, and it's fascinating to watch America's sports cathedrals — often among the largest and most prominent structures in their respective cities — take on new roles.
  • Some of those changes are temporary, but others could fundamentally change how communities view and use sports venues.

What they're saying: Sports architect Matt Rossetti touched on that last point in an interview with The Athletic (subscription):

"What I think and what I hope is [sports venues] will become more wedded to the fabric of cities, so they're no longer standalone facilities that light up only when there are events. ... There should be civic uses ... so they become more part of a community rather than a folly for billionaires."
Screenshot: @PawSox (Twitter)

Temporary uses:

Permanent changes?

  • Voting sites: The Hawks, Pistons and Bucks have all offered their arenas as voting locations for the 2020 election. The idea is that large groups could pass through while staying six feet apart, but perhaps these massive, centrally-located venues will continue to be used for voting post-social distancing.
  • Movie nights: Miami's Hard Rock Stadium has transformed into a drive-in movie theater, which has reemerged as a popular form of entertainment during the pandemic. There's no reason teams couldn't set up regular movie nights post-COVID.

The bottom line: Multiple stadiums across the country have turned some very sour lemons into lemonade during the pandemic, repurposing themselves and serving their communities, even as sporting events and concerts are on hold.

3. 🏀 Delle Donne says WNBA denied opt-out request
Elena Delle Donne. Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Elena Delle Donne's request to be medically excused from the WNBA season was denied, the league's reigning MVP said Monday night.

Why it matters: Delle Donne, who has had Lyme disease since 2008, says the decision by the WNBA's independent panel of doctors is at odds with the advice she received from her personal physician.

What they're saying:

  • Delle Donne's doctor told her that she's at high risk for contracting and having complications from COVID-19.
  • But the WNBA's doctors deemed her not to be high risk and advised that she should be permitted to play in the bubble.
  • For reference: Lyme disease is not included on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's list of underlying conditions that could put someone at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The state of play: Had Delle Donne been medically excused, she would have earned her full salary for the season. Now, if she chooses not to play, the defending champion Washington Mystics wouldn't have to pay her.

"I know doctors don't always agree with each other and that there are different opinions on certain things within the medical community, and now I have a player who is in an incredibly difficult situation because of the way things lined up."
— Erin Kane, Delle Donne's agent

In other news ... No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu and 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart will go head-to-head in the first game of the season when the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm kick things off on July 25 (Noon ET, ESPN).

4. ⚡️ Catch up quick
Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
  • ⚽️ NWSL: USWNT players Samantha Mewis (above) and Crystal Dunn each scored and the North Carolina Courage won their fourth straight game, beating Sky Blue 2-0. The two-time defending champions finished the group stage atop the field heading into the quarterfinals, which begins Friday.
  • ⚾️ MLB: Brian Urlacher, Travis Kelce and DeMarco Murray are part of an investor group that has joined Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez in their bid to buy the Mets. Other bidders: Hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen (highest bid so far, per reports) and Devils/76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer.
Courtesy: NFL
  • 🏈 NFL: The Oakley Mouth Shield, a product designed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, will be distributed to all 32 teams over the next week for testing purposes.
  • 🎓 College sports: The Patriot League canceled all fall sports due to the pandemic, becoming the second Division I conference to do so (Ivy League).
Source: @tigers (Twitter)
5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 15)
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.

15. Orlando Magic

Yes, having both Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal in the starting lineup looks weird. But I had no other choice (considered starting Horace Grant over Dwight but just couldn't do it). Thankfully, young Shaq was extremely agile, making this frontcourt partnership less unwieldy than you might think.

  • Year established: 1989
  • All-time record: 1,188-1,289 (.480)
  • NBA Championships: 0
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 2

Starters:

  • Anfernee Hardaway, G (19.0 pts, 4.7 reb, 6.3 ast, 20.2 PER/46.3 WS)
  • Tracy McGrady*, G (28.1 pts, 7.0 reb, 5.2 ast, 26.4 PER/48.2 WS)
  • Nick Anderson, G (15.4 pts, 5.3 reb, 2.8 ast, 16.4 PER/52.9 WS)
  • Dwight Howard, F (18.4 pts, 13.0 reb, 2.2 blk, 22.5 PER/87.5 WS)
  • Shaquille O'Neal*, C (27.2 pts, 12.5 reb, 2.4 ast, 26.6 PER/48.3 WS)

Sixth man: Horace Grant, F (11.3 pts, 8.2 reb, 2.1 ast, 15.9 PER/42.2 WS)

Bench:

  • Nikola Vučević, C (17.0 pts, 10.7 reb, 2.7 ast, 20.7 PER/45.4 WS)
  • Darrell Armstrong, G (11.7 pts, 3.3 reb, 5.1 ast, 17.6 PER/40.2 WS)
  • Rashard Lewis, F (16.3 pts, 5.1 reb, 2.1 ast, 15.5 PER/27.4 WS)
  • Jameer Nelson, G (12.6 pts, 3.1 reb, 5.4 ast, 15.5 PER/43.0 WS)
  • Dennis Scott, F (14.8 pts, 3.1 reb, 2.3 ast, 14.2 PER/28.3 WS)
  • Hedo Türkoğlu, F (14.5 pts, 4.5 reb, 3.9 ast, 15.1 PER/39.6 WS)

Notes:

  • McGrady is one of just six players with a 32/6/5 season, joining Michael Jordan, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain.
  • O'Neal is 10th all-time in points (28,596), 16th in rebounds (13,099), ninth in blocks (2,732) and tied for second with three Finals MVPs.

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

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 14, 1985: 🏈 The last USFL game

Former Redskins coach and Chicago Blitz part-owner George Allen. Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

35 years ago today, the Baltimore Stars defeated the Oakland Invaders, 28-24, in the last USFL game ever played.

The backdrop: The idea had been to create an NFL-caliber league played in the spring, and for a few years (1983-85) it really seemed to work.

  • The lack of a salary cap helped the USFL attract impressive talents, including future NFL stars like Jim Kelly, Reggie White, Steve Young, Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie.
  • The short-lived league was marked by explosive expansion, millions of fans in the stands and highly-lucrative TV deals.

The franchises: Some lasted months, others years.

  • A-M: Arizona Wranglers, Birmingham Stallions, Boston/New Orleans/Portland Breakers, Chicago Blitz, Denver Gold, Houston Gamblers, Jacksonville Bulls, Los Angeles Express, Memphis Showboats, Michigan Panthers
  • N-W: New Jersey Generals, Oakland Invaders, Oklahoma/Arizona Outlaws, Orlando Renegades, Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars, Pittsburgh Maulers, San Antonio Gunslingers, Tampa Bay Bandits, Washington Federals

The downfall: In 1985, the league voted to switch to a fall schedule beginning in 1986 at the urging of the owner of the New Jersey Generals, who believed it would force the NFL to merge.

  • That vote ultimately triggered a domino effect that led to the collapse of the league, as most franchises failed to agree to terms with their NFL counterparts in the same market.
  • The name of the Generals' owner? Donald Trump.

Go deeper: The crazy rise and crazier fall of the USFL (Inc)

7. 📸 Photos 'round the world
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nevada — Ex-tennis pro Mardy Fish won the American Century Championship on Sunday, holding off former Bills DT Kyle Williams in the celebrity tournament. Rounding out the top 5: John Smoltz, Steph Curry and Case Keenum.

Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Brazilian adapted surfer Monique Aparecida de Oliveira Silva, who has cerebral palsy due to a lack of oxygen at birth, rides a wave during a training session. That is the face of pure joy, my friends.

Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

BRIDGETOWN, England — Competitive local cricket has returned in parts of England. Pictured here: Bridgetown Cricket Club vs. Morebath Cricket Club.

8. The Ocho: 🇳🇱 Dutch headwind cycling
Source: Tom Scott (YouTube)

The Oosterscheldekering — a massive barrier designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea — hosts an annual bike race where competitors cycle into a strong headwind.

  • By the numbers: The 2020 competition had 75 mph winds and was ultimately canceled because all the race equipment kept blowing away (lol).

Please enjoy.

9. 🏀 NBA trivia
Moses Malone in 1985. Photo: Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Moses Malone is one of four NBA MVPs who were traded twice after winning the award (traded from Houston to Philadelphia in 1982, then traded to Washington in 1986).

  • Question: Can you name the other three players?
  • Hint: Two won titles with the Lakers, while one is still active.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Y.A. Tittle steps back to pass in 1961. Photo: Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Timothy G. (New Britain, Conn.) writes:

"Growing up in New Britain, Connecticut, in the early 1960s, there was no more popular professional sports team than the New York (Football) Giants.
"The roster was full of big names like Sam Huff, Frank Gifford, Rosie Greer and Del Shofner. But no player contributed more to their success than the 'washed-up' QB they got in a trade with San Francisco: Yelberton Abraham (Y.A.) Tittle.
"During his four-year career with the Giants (1961-64), the future Hall of Famer led the team to three championship games and twice led the league in TD passes.
"As a 12-year-old who played youth football and loved the Giants, I never expected to get any closer to Tittle than the grainy black and white image that appeared on our TV each Sunday afternoon.
"But my luck changed when one of my teammates revealed that his dad, who had played for the Giants in the early '40s, was bringing Y.A. Tittle himself to our town to speak at a local sports banquet.
"My friend's dad told us that if we rode our bikes to Zenobi's Gas Station on Allen Street at 3:30pm on the appointed day, he'd show up with Mr. Tittle.
"We got there just in time to see a black Chrysler Imperial pull in with the Giants' QB behind the wheel. Y.A. emerged, greeted us in a southern drawl, and gave us each an autograph. A dream fulfilled."
Y.A. Tittle is remembered during a moment of silence at the 2018 NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony. Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

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

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Song I listened to while writing this" Baker

Trivia answer: Wilt Chamberlain (1964 and 1968), Shaquille O'Neal (2004 and 2008), Derrick Rose (2016 and 2018)