Mar 2, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Happy Monday! Welcome back.

Today's word count: 1,876 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🦠 More sports hit by coronavirus
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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry.

The global death toll from the coronavirus rose to 3,038 last night, as officials confirmed the virus had killed a second person in the U.S. Just like the first death, it occurred in Evergreen Health hospital in Washington state.

The latest sports headlines:

  • Tokyo Marathon: With most participants and all spectators asked to stay home, athletes ran along empty streets at the Tokyo Marathon — an event that was meant to be part of a big buildup to the Olympics, but instead showed the challenge Japan faces with the 2020 Summer Games just months away.
  • Italian soccer: Multiple Serie A matches were postponed over the weekend to help contain the outbreak in Italy, which has reported the third-most cases of any country (1,128), trailing only China (79,251) and South Korea (3,150).
  • U.S. pro sports: Officials from the NBA, NHL and MLB say they are all consulting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations on a regular basis.
  • Baseball: The World Baseball Softball Confederation has postponed its final qualification tournament for the Tokyo Olympics. The six-team event, originally scheduled for April 1–5 in Taiwan, will now take place to late June.
  • College basketball: The National College Players Association, a nonprofit advocating for the rights and safety of collegiate athletes, has called on the NCAA to consider holding March Madness games without fans.
2. ⚽️ Bizarre scene in Germany

Photo: TF-Images/Getty Images

Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim refused to play the final 10 minutes of their match on Saturday in protest of derogatory signs directed at Hoffenheim's billionaire owner Dietmar Hopp.

The backdrop: Hopp, who co-founded German software giant SAP and played for Hoffenheim's youth team, has pumped gobs of money into the club since taking over in 2000, fueling its rise from the fifth division to the Bundesliga.

Between the lines: "While that kind of spending is much more commonplace in American sports, it is frowned upon in Germany, which has a rule written specifically to protect against it," writes Yahoo Sports' Joey Gulino.

  • Hopp was granted an exception by the Bundesliga, and while other clubs also have exceptions, fans consider Hoffenheim the most "inauthentic and symptomatic of everything wrong with modern soccer," adds Gulino.
  • This weekend was not the first time Hopp has been targeted by opposing fans, and similar protests have been levied against RB Leipzig owners Red Bull, who are accused of using the club as a marketing ploy for their energy drink empire.

The big picture: This story serves as a great reminder of how much sports culture differs globally. As leagues like the NBA continue to expand, it's worth remembering that while the language of sports is universal, sports fandom — and the role that money plays in sports — is not the same from country to country.

"I understand this can be a hard thing to process for a lot of people in [England] because the culture is so different. I think what Hopp has done is to our mind not wrong at all. ... German fans see it as unnatural that a wealthy individual makes a club bigger and better than it should be. That's just part of the German football culture."
— Soccer writer Lars Sivertsen, via BT Sport

What to watch: If players are willing to make a statement like this in support of a billionaire owner, hopefully they'll start to do the same for their black teammates who continue to be targeted by racist abuse.

More soccer:

  • Premier League: For the first time in 44 Premier League matches (422 days), Liverpool lost, falling 3-0 to 17th-place Watford.
  • MLS: 2018 MVP Jose Martinez tore his ACL in Atlanta United's season-opener, a 2-1 win over expansion team Nashville SC.
  • El Clásico: Real Madrid 2, Barcelona 0 (Highlights)
3. 🏟 Ballmer nearing deal to buy The Forum

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the 1982 NBA Finals at The Forum. Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Speaking of billionaire owners pouring their own money into sports teams, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is in advanced talks to purchase The Forum from the Madison Square Garden Company, per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Ballmer's plan to build a $1 billion arena near The Forum triggered multiple lawsuits, including three by MSG, so purchasing the Forum from them would clear a major hurdle in the Clippers' pursuit of a new home.

The backdrop: The Forum was home to the Lakers from 1967 to 1999, an era in which the franchise won six NBA titles and built a modern sports dynasty led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

  • Other Laker legends like Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich, Jamaal Wilkes, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant played a few seasons at The Forum, too.

The bottom line: That hallowed Lakers ground could soon be owned by the rival Clippers, who have plans to carve out their own space and build their own image in their big brothers' old backyard.

From the vault: The ultimate sports bar: Athletes unwind at the Forum Club (L.A. Times in 1992)

4. 👟 Molly Seidel stuns the world (and herself)

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Running in her first-ever sanctioned marathon, Molly Seidel took second place at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials to secure one of three spots on the U.S. women's team for the Tokyo Games.

  • What she's saying: Following her performance, Seidel kept repeating the same words over and over while shaking her head: "What is happening?"
  • Meet Molly: Seidel was a four-time champion at Notre Dame, but she'd been off the grid since 2016. She revealed her battles with an eating disorder and other mental and physical ailments in a lengthy piece on Runner's World.

The backdrop: As I mentioned last week, this event played out amid an arms race in shoe technology.

  • All three male qualifiers and the third-place women's finisher wore shoes from Nike's controversial Vaporfly line.
  • The women's winner, Aliphine Tulimuk, wore shoes made by the French brand Hoka One One, while Seidel wore Sauconys.

Go deeper: At Olympic marathon trials, the agony of fourth place (NYT)

5. 🏀 This weekend in the NBA

Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Zion Williamson scored a career-high 35 points, but the Pelicans fell to the shorthanded Lakers, 114-112, last night thanks to LeBron James' 13th triple-double of the season (34-12-13), which ties him with Luka Dončić for most in the NBA.

  • The big picture: LeBron is 35 years old, leads the league in assists and has the Lakers sitting atop the West. Meanwhile, Zion looks like a man amongst boys at just 19 years old and absorbs contact like nobody I've ever seen.
  • Fun fact: Zion, who is just four years older than LeBron's oldest son (that's crazy), is the first teenager to score 20+ points in 10 straight NBA games. Watch him work.

The bottom line: Two of the most hyped athletes of the 21st century are now going head-to-head on basketball's biggest stage, and their first two matchups were somehow even better than advertised.

More highlights:

  • Russ takes charge: On a night James Harden struggled, Russell Westbrook put an exclamation point on one of the best months of his career with 41 points in a thrilling 111-110 OT win over the Celtics. Small-ball is working in Houston.
  • KP, the Unicorn: Kristaps Porziņģis is the only player to ever record 35 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and five 3-pointers in a game, and he's now done it twice — once with Dallas (last night) and once with New York in 2017.
  • Shake can't miss: Former G-Leaguer Shake Milton scored a career-high 39 points and tied an NBA record with 13 straight made threes (across multiple games) in the 76ers' 136-130 loss to the Clippers.
6. 📊 By the numbers
Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
  • 🏈 36.5 inches: Iowa's Tristan Wirfs (6-foot-5-inches, 320 pounds) set a new NFL combine record for O-linemen with a 36.5-inch vertical (higher than WRs Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb), tied another with a 10-foot-1-inch broad jump and his 4.85-second 40-yard dash was the fastest ever by a 320+ pound player.
  • 🏀 40th time: When No. 10 Creighton fell to St. John's yesterday, it marked the 40th time this season in men's college basketball that an AP top-10 team lost to an unranked opponent. There were only 27 such instances last season.
  • 💵 $17 million per year: Tony Romo made an average of $9.1 million per year playing QB in the NFL for 14 seasons. His historic new deal with CBS will pay him almost twice that — $17 million annually — over the next three years.
  • ⛳️ 21 years old: Sungjae Im, the PGA Tour's rookie of the year last season who lives week-to-week at hotels with his parents joining him in a separate room, backed up his reputation as an emerging star by winning the Honda Classic.
7. March 2, 1962: 🏀 Wilt scores 100
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

58 years ago today, Wilt Chamberlain scored an NBA-record 100 points in the Philadelphia Warriors' 169-147 win over the New York Knicks, breaking his own record (78 points) from three months earlier.

  • Playing all 48 minutes, Chamberlain also set NBA records for field goals attempted (63), field goals made (36), free throws made (28), most points in a quarter (31) and most points in a half (59).
  • That season, Wilt averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game, the only 4,000-point, 2,000-rebound season in NBA history. And that week, he averaged 73 points per game, exceeding 60 in all of four of them.

The backdrop: The NBA in the early 1960s was nothing like today, so the events of March 2, 1962 reflect a much different time.

  • The game was played at Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a town of fewer than 15,000 people.
  • The game was not televised and no video footage has been recovered. There are only audio recordings of the game's fourth quarter.

Pregame:

"We get to Hershey about two or three o'clock in the afternoon. There were no hotels for us to stay in because we wouldn't do those kinds of things in those days. We went straight to the arena where we had to wait around for five or six hours before the game.
"In this arena they happened to have a shooting gallery, little penny arcade, so some of the guys went there and I started shooting rifles ... and I couldn't miss anything. So if there was ever a clue that I was gonna have a hot day, this was definitely the clue."
Wilt Chamberlain

Postgame: In the locker room, Warriors stat guru Harvey Pollack scribbled "100" on a white sheet of paper. The result was an iconic image.

  • Afterward, Chamberlain hopped in his Cadillac and "headed to Harlem to celebrate at his nightclub," writes SI's Richard Rothschild. "He didn't get to bed until 8am."

🎥 Go deeper: Wilt's 100-point game (YouTube)

8. The Ocho: 🏹 Archery dodgeball

Photo: Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Archery dodgeball, also known as archery tag or combat archery, was founded as a sport in 2011 and has since grown to more than 1,300 locations throughout the U.S.

How it works: Teams begin each round by racing to the central dividing line, where they grab as many foam-tipped arrows as possible and attempt to hit their opponents while simultaneously dodging — or catching — incoming fire.

  • Like dodgeball, if players are hit, they're eliminated. If they catch an arrow, the shooter is out and a sidelined teammate can return.
  • Unlike dodgeball, players can shield themselves behind inflatable objects.

What they're saying: "It's easy to think the most accurate shot wins, but really the game is more about being quick on your feet, being fast with the bow and having solid cardio conditioning," 37-year-old Darren Reckner, who trains regularly with his team, told WSJ (subscription).

9. 🎾 Tennis trivia

Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal launched his arms in elation following a 6-3, 6-2 win over 22-year-old American Taylor Fritz to claim victory at the Mexican Open on Saturday.

  • Question: This was Nadal's 85th career men's singles title, which ranks fourth all-time. Who are the only three men with more?
  • Hint: One is still active.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ⚾️ 24 days until MLB opening day
Giphy
  • Mike Trout hit a golf ball to outer space at Topgolf. Grip it and rip it, baby.
  • Where is Yasiel Puig? "One of the most entertaining winters in baseball history has obscured a freeze out of one of its most entertaining players," writes The Ringer's Michael Baumann.
  • Top 10 farm systems, per The Athletic's Keith Law (subscription): 1. Rays, 2. Braves, 3. Dodgers, 4. Diamondbacks, 5. Padres, 6. Yankees, 7. Blue Jays, 8. Marlins, 9. Cardinals, 10. Giants.
  • Sidearm and submarine hurlers now have an organization dedicated to advancing their cause. "We're like the field-goal kickers of baseball," said one former submarine pitcher. "We go over to the side and work on our stuff. No one wants to play catch with us."
  • How is Astros spring training going? Not well.
Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "If you can dodge an arrow, you can dodge a ball" Baker

Trivia answer: Jimmy Connors (109 singles titles), Roger Federer (103), Ivan Lendl (94)