Axios Sports

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April 06, 2021

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

⚾️ MLB update: The league is moving the 2021 All-Star Game to Denver's Coors Field after pulling it from Atlanta over Georgia's voting-law changes.

Today's word count: 1,620 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏆 Bears trounce Zags for first title

Baylor celebrating
Photo: Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

For the first time ever, the Baylor Bears are national champions, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

Final score: Baylor 86, Gonzaga 70

  • All-American Jared Butler (22 points, seven assists) was named the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, becoming the first player to drop 20 points and seven assists in the title game since Carmelo Anthony in 2003.
  • Wild stat No. 1: This was the fifth national championship game between the AP preseason top two teams — and No. 2 is now 5-0.
  • Wild stat No. 2: Since seeding began in 1979, Baylor is the third team to win the national title without any McDonald's All-Americans, joining 2002 Maryland and 2014 UConn.

Between the lines: Baylor jumped out to a 29-10 lead behind a barrage of threes and an offensive rebounding clinic; and though the Bulldogs briefly narrowed that deficit, they never really made it a game.

  • Baylor led the nation in three-point shooting (41.2%) and had no trouble unleashing that weapon, starting five-for-five from deep and ultimately draining 10 triples. They've now won 34 straight games in which they've hit at least that many.
  • Gonzaga's season comprised a record 27 consecutive double-digit wins, but after escaping with an overtime victory over UCLA, the magic wore off. Jalen Suggs' buzzer-beater gave the Bulldogs their last lead of the season.
College Basketball Hug GIF by NCAA March Madness - Find & Share on GIPHY

By the numbers: Baylor's win gives the state of Texas just its second title (Texas Western, 1966).

  • The Big 12 (or Big Eight, as it was known before expanding in 1996) adds a third team to its trophy case with Baylor joining Oklahoma State ('45, '46) and Kansas ('52, '88, '08).
  • There are still just seven undefeated champions, and none since Indiana in 1976. Gonzaga is the third team whose only loss came in the title game (1961 Ohio State; 1979 Indiana state).

The big picture: The game itself didn't live up to the billing, but the fact that Baylor and Gonzaga were the opponents in such a highly-anticipated championship matchup is undeniably good for the sport.

  • Gonzaga's transformation from a nobody to a perennial power and Baylor's rebuild from a program devastated by scandal and tragedy to the class of a Power Five conference is the stuff of Hollywood, but we're witnessing it in real time.
  • Blue bloods will always factor into the narrative — even in down years like this — and Cinderellas are what make March Madness so great. But the Bears' and Bulldogs' ascension shows there's always room for a new story.

🎥 Watch: "One Shining Moment" (Twitter)

2. 📸 Pics du jour: Packed house in Texas

Packed baseball stadium
Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Rangers hosted the Blue Jays Monday afternoon in front of the largest crowd at an American sporting event in more than a year.

Baseball fans
Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

By the numbers: The near-capacity crowd of 38,238 fans topped the Daytona 500 (30,000+) and the Super Bowl (24,835), both of which were held in February.

Rangers fans
Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The backdrop: It was the first time fans were able to attend a Rangers regular-season game at Globe Life Field, which opened in 2020 but was closed to fans because of COVID-19.

Go deeper:

3. 🏀 Kings will offer Bitcoin as salary payment

Animated illustration of a hand holding a rotating glowing golden pixel coin
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Sacramento Kings will become the first major sports franchise to offer a bitcoin payment option to all players and staff, Coindesk reports.

  • What they're saying: "I'm going to offer everyone in the Kings organization ... as much of their salary in bitcoin as they want," team chairman Vivek Ranadivé said on Clubhouse on Monday.
  • The backdrop: Russell Okung made headlines in December for becoming the first NFL player to convert some of his salary into bitcoin.

Why it matters: As bitcoin gains popularity, mainstream adoption by well-known organizations like the Kings effectively acts as marketing for all forms of cryptocurrency.

  • It's also great marketing for the organization, itself. The Kings will get plenty of press out of this and can position themselves as a "forward-thinking franchise."

Why it doesn't: An athlete getting paid in bitcoin is no different than an athlete getting paid in dollars, then using those dollars to buy bitcoin.

  • It eliminates one step, which is certainly valuable for athletes who don't want to buy bitcoin themselves. But this isn't as groundbreaking as some might lead you to believe.

4. ⚽️ Champions League: All eyes on Haaland

Erling Haaland
Photo: Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

The Erling Haaland sweepstakes will be top of mind this afternoon when Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City play the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal, Jeff writes.

Driving the news: Haaland, Dortmund's 20-year-old Norwegian striker, is the most sought after player in Europe and a rare generational talent.

  • He's scored 35 times for Dortmund this season despite touching the ball less than his own goalkeeper, per WSJ (subscription), and he scored 20 Champions League goals faster than anyone in history (14 matches).
  • Haaland's agent, Mino Raiola, has created a public spectacle regarding his client's potential destinations in the hopes of drumming up maximum interest and driving up the price.
Data: The Athletic; Table: Axios Visuals

By the numbers: 17 of the top 20 most expensive transfers ever have come in the last five years, including the first two to fetch $200 million (Neymar in 2017 and Kylian Mbappé in 2018, both by PSG).

  • Haaland is unlikely to command a record-breaking transfer, but could still find himself in the top five of the list above.
  • His release clause, reportedly worth $91 million, kicks in next summer, and some believe his transfer fee could double that number.

What to watch: Haaland's suitors include the usual suspects like Barcelona, Real Madrid, and today's opponent, Manchester City — a move that makes a lot of sense on the surface.

  • Man City is among the world's richest clubs and is set to lose all-time leading scorer Sergio Agüero this summer. Haaland's father even ended his career there in 2003.
  • Yes, but: A transfer would require Man City to radically break from tradition, as the global giant has never paid more than $78 million for a single player.

Quarterfinal slate:

  • Today, 3pm ET: Man City vs. Dortmund; Real Madrid vs. Liverpool
  • Tomorrow, 3pm: Bayern vs. PSG; Porto vs. Chelsea

5. ⚾️ MLB rosters: 28% foreign-born players

Jazz Chisholm
Jazz Chisholm. Photo: Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images

28.3% of MLB players were born outside the U.S., according to the league's annual report. That's down slightly from a record 29.8% in 2017.

  • By the numbers: There were 256 such players of the 906 total on Opening Day rosters, injured lists, the restricted list and the paternity list.
  • Of note: Marlins 2B Jazz Chisholm is the first Bahamian-born player on an Opening Day roster since MLB started keeping records.

Players by country:

  • Dominican Republic: 98
  • Venezuela: 64
  • Cuba: 19
  • Puerto Rico: 18
  • Mexico: 11
  • Canada: 10
  • Japan: 8
  • Colombia: 6
  • Curaçao: 5
  • South Korea: 4
  • Panama: 2
  • 1 each: Aruba, Australia, Bahamas, Brazil, Germany, Honduras, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Taiwan

6. 💵 UFC's new board: Emanuel, Musk, White

Ari Emanuel
Ari Emanuel. Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Endeavor, the Hollywood entertainment company led by Ari Emanuel, has agreed to acquire 100% of the UFC, according to an SEC filing.

  • The backdrop: Endeavor, which already owns 50.1% of the UFC, is planning to go public via IPO. The company planned to do so in 2019 before pulling back at the last minute, citing market volatility.
  • Between the lines: Endeavor is perhaps best known for representing movie stars, but the majority of its revenue comes from creating and licensing content — much of it sports.

The intrigue: Also included in the filing was the news that Elon Musk has joined Endeavor's board of directors. Talk about a Hollywood trio ... will they be selling tickets to board meetings?

  • Emanuel was the inspiration behind Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold character on "Entourage."
  • Musk is the second-richest man in the world and seemingly makes headlines with every tweet.
  • Dana White is as loud, brash and opinionated as the fighting promotion he helped build.

Go deeper: It's act two for Endeavor's IPO (L.A. Times)

7. ⚡️ Lightning round

Sam Darnold
Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

🏈 Darnold trade: The Jets traded QB Sam Darnold, the No. 3 pick in 2018, to the Panthers for three draft picks: a sixth-rounder this year and a second-rounder and fourth-rounder in 2022.

🏀 New UNC coach: North Carolina will hire longtime Roy Williams assistant Hubert Davis to succeed him as head coach. Davis, who played for Dean Smith, will be the first Black coach in the program's history.

🏒 Canucks COVID crisis: Vancouver's outbreak has now affected 17 players and three coaches. The team hasn't played since last Thursday and will continue self-isolating until at least Sunday.

🇫🇷 French scandal: More than 400 French sports coaches and other adults are accused of sexual violence of mostly girls under the age of 15, a year-long investigation by the country's sports ministry found.

📺 Good read: Aaron Rodgers wants to be the permanent host of "Jeopardy!" (Claire McNear, The Ringer)

"I don't think I'd need to give up football to do it. They film 46 days a year. I worked 187 this year in Green Bay. ... It would be a dream job for sure, and I'm not shy at all about saying I want the job."

8. ⛳️ April 6, 1958: Arnold's first Masters win

Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer receives his green jacket from Doug Ford. Photo: Augusta National/Getty Images

63 years ago today, Arnold Palmer won the 1958 Masters — his first career major championship.

What happened: Palmer (-4) outlasted fellow Americans Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins (-3) to claim the tournament's $11,250 first-place prize.

  • The final round was colored by a controversial ruling in Palmer's favor, when a would-be double-bogey on the 12th hole was retroactively scored a par.
  • In short, Palmer felt he deserved relief on a bad lie, played a provisional just in case, and was granted said relief a few holes later.

Fun fact: Two weeks later, SI's Herbert Warren Wind coined the nickname "Amen Corner" in his piece about the tournament, which centered largely around that 12th-hole controversy.

"On the afternoon before the start of the recent Masters golf tournament, a wonderfully evocative ceremony took place at the farthest reach of the Augusta National course — down in the Amen Corner where Rae's Creek intersects the 13th fairway near the tee, then parallels the front edge of the green on the short 12th and finally swirls alongside the 11th green."

The big picture: Palmer went on to win seven majors, all in a seven-year span from 1958 to 1964. His four Masters victories ('58, '60, '62, '64) ranks third behind Jack Nicklaus (six) and Tiger Woods (five).

🎥 Watch: Remembering Arnold Palmer (PGA Tour)

9. 🏀 NBA trivia

Nba Players Association Idk GIF by NBPA - Find & Share on GIPHY

Nikola Jokić (No. 41 pick in 2014) has a chance to become the lowest-drafted MVP in NBA history.

  • Question: Which two players currently hold that honor?
  • Hint: Both were drafted No. 15 overall. Neither are American.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🎥 Monday's top plays

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Click to be inspired" Baker

Trivia answer: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Steve Nash