Dec 4, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

πŸ‘‹ Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,414 words (5 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚾️ The drug that makes ballplayers "immortal"

In his latest piece for The Athletic, former big leaguer Lars Anderson talked about his experience using Adderall as a performance-enhancing drug (PED) while playing in Japan and how much it improved his on-field performance.

  • "I had boundless amounts of easily-controlled energy," writes Anderson (subscription). "But the most striking difference was my inner state: All I wanted to do β€” all I cared about in the moment β€” was baseball."
  • "I was utterly in the moment. And what a relief it was. There was a clear mission: Win this next pitch. And then the next one. And the next one. There was no tomorrow, only the everlasting now."

The big picture: Amphetamines were once super common in baseball. "Greenies" (real medical name Dexedrine), which were rumored to have been brought back by players who served in WWII, were passed around casually for decades.

  • It wasn't until 2006 that MLB began testing for amphetamines, which meant the days of pre-game coffees spiked with greenies were over.
  • Players responded by "going legit" with Adderall prescriptions, and by 2013, 9.9% of them had one.

Why it matters: The process for MLB players to acquire Adderall prescriptions is thorough, but since it's so easy to get pills (from, say, a friend) and hard to test for (stays in urine for four days and blood for just 46 hours), its use could be more rampant than anyone realizes.

  • At the same time, there are athletes β€” like those in the general population β€” who have ADHD and genuinely need Adderall to function, especially in a sport like baseball, which requires such intense focus.
  • So, while many believe Adderall is a PED and that taking it is cheating, there are enough players using it as a legitimate form of medication that the conversation surrounding the drug remains more nuanced than, say, steroids.

The final word: "We all agree that athletes with poor eyesight should be allowed to wear glasses or contacts; we also generally agree that competitors should not be allowed to inject anabolic steroids that turn them into the Hulk," writes Anderson.

  • "But the fact remains that there is a world that exists between those two poles that is far more nuanced and not easily navigable, and we β€” even those of us who tried it β€” are still working out where Adderall fits."
2. πŸ€ The rise of the 50-point game
Expand chart
Data: Basketball Reference; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

At the start of the decade, 50-point games in the NBA were a special occasion. Now, thanks to an offensive revolution sparked by the deep ball, they're a weekly occurrence.

The backdrop: During the 2009-10 season, only three players scored 50 points in a game: Brandon Jennings (55), Andre Miller (52) and Carmelo Anthony (50). The following season, there were only two: LeBron James (51) and Melo again (50).

  • In other words, over the course of two full seasons, the entire NBA managed only five 50-point games.

Fast-forward: In March 2019, the NBA managed seven. And this season, we've already seen another seven: James Harden (60, 59, 50); Damian Lillard (60); D'Angelo Russell (52), Giannis Antetokounmpo (50) and Kyrie Irving (50).

Last night: Harden dropped 50 in a bizarre double-OT loss to the Spurs that might have to be replayed due to a blown call.

3. 🏈 CFP rankings: Utah to No. 5; top 4 unchanged
Screenshot: @CFBPlayoff (Twitter)

With the top four sports unchanged, Utah moved to No. 5 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, with Oklahoma moving to No. 6 and Baylor gaining two spots to No. 7.

  • The case for Utah: Four of the last five teams ranked No. 5 entering conference championship weekend went on to make the playoff. So a win over Oregon could put the Utes through.
  • The case for Oklahoma: If they beat Baylor and Utah loses, they could earn their fourth playoff berth in six years. And even if Utah wins, the Sooners could leapfrog them if they win in more impressive fashion.
  • The case for Baylor: If they beat Oklahoma and Utah loses to Oregon, the Bears could get in. Remember: Just three years ago, this program was in complete disarray following Art Briles' dismissal.

Of course, this is all assuming LSU beats Georgia and Clemson beats Virginia. If Georgia wins, they're in. If Virginia wins, things could get weird.

Go deeper: Projecting all 41 bowl games, including the College Football Playoff (ESPN)

4. πŸ“Έ Last night in college hoops
Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

LOUISVILLE, Ky. β€” Junior Jordan Nwora had 22 points and 12 boards, and No. 1 Louisville held No. 4 Michigan to a season-low 26% shooting mark in an impressive 58-43 win.

Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

EAST LANSING, Mich. β€” Freshman Vernon Carey Jr. (26 pts, 11 reb) and sophomore Tre Jones (20 pts, 12 ast) led No. 10 Duke past No. 11 Michigan State, 87-75, as Mike Krzyzewski improved to 12-2 against Tom Izzo.

Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. β€” Senior Devonte Green scored a career-high 30 points and helped fuel a late spurt with two big shots to lead undefeated Indiana past No. 17 Florida State, 80-64.

5. πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ Every state's most popular sports team
Credit: Reddit
  • America loves football: An NFL team is the most popular team in 21 states, and a college football team is the most popular team in 17. That's 38 of 50 states.
  • The Bronx (and beyond) Bombers: Thanks to the Yankees owning three of them (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut), MLB has the most popular team in eight states β€” five more than the NBA (Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah) and seven more than the NHL (Nevada).
  • Big Blue Nation: Kentucky is the only state where a college hoops program is the most popular sports team.
6. πŸ’ NHL awards watch

Connor McDavid. Photo: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

ESPN's Greg Wyshynski released his updated NHL awards watch for December.

  • "A month ago, the Buffalo Sabres were the talk of the NHL. Now they're outside the playoff picture, which impacts the MVP and coach of the year derbies."
  • "A month ago, Pekka Rinne was the clubhouse leader for the Vezina Trophy. Now one wonders if he's still the unquestioned starter for the Nashville Predators."

Hart Trophy (MVP)

  • Leader: Connor McDavid, EDM
  • Finalists: Nathan MacKinnon, COL; David Pastrnak, BOS

Norris Trophy (top defenseman)

  • Leader: John Carlson, WSH
  • Finalists: Dougie Hamilton, CAR; Roman Josi, NSH

Calder Trophy (top rookie)

  • Leader: Cale Makar, COL
  • Finalists: Quinn Hughes, VAN; Victor Olofsson, BUF

Vezina Trophy (top goalie)

  • Leader: Darcy Kuemper, ARI
  • Finalists: Jordan Binnington, STL; Connor Hellebuyck, WPG

Selke Trophy (best defensive forward)

  • Leader: Sean Couturier, PHI
  • Finalists: Patrice Bergeron, BOS; Mark Stone, VGS

Jack Adams Award (best coach)

  • Leader: Barry Trotz, NYI
  • Finalists: Dave Tippett, EDM; Rick Tocchet, ARI
7. Dec. 4, 1909: 🏈 The inaugural Grey Cup

The Grey Cup. Photo: Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

110 years ago today, the University of Toronto Blues beat the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club, 26-6, in the first-ever Grey Cup (the Canadian Football League's Super Bowl).

  • By the numbers: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have made the most appearances (25), while the Toronto Argonauts have won the most titles (17).
  • Fun fact: The CFL briefly expanded to the U.S. in the mid-90's, and the Baltimore Stallions made the Grey Cup twice, losing in 1994 and winning in 1995.
  • ICYMI: The Blue Bombers won this year's Grey Cup two weeks ago, beating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 33-12.

Go deeper:

8. The Ocho: β›° Climbing is having a moment

Photo: Dina Rudick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Elite athletes like Alex Honnold and popular films like "Free Solo," which chronicles his ropeless ascent of El Capitan, have brought increased exposure to rock climbing β€” and come August, the sport will make its Olympics debut.

The big picture: While climbing continues to mature as a competitive sport, it's also gaining popularity among young urbanites, who appreciate the workout.

  • "Young professionals flock to [climbing gyms] after work because the exercise is intense, unstructured and sociable," writes NYT's Kate Dwyer.
  • "These gyms may be one of the last urban locales where talking to strangers is encouraged."

What they're saying: Three-time U.S. National Champion climber Sasha DiGiulian, 27, believes the climbing industry is expanding in tandem with the boutique fitness world (Barry's, SoulCycle, etc).

"They're opening these boutique studios that are dedicated to optimizing your fitness in order to 'train for your next adventure,' is their slogan. They're not even the traditional sense of climbing, it's climbing broken down into a fitness class. That definitely didn't exist even five years ago."
β€” Three-time U.S. National Champion climber Sasha DiGiulian, per NYT

The other side: Celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak doesn't think rock climbing provides a good enough workout to rival popular fitness classes.

  • "Most of the muscles that people really need to strength-train β€” hamstrings, glutes, lower back, rhomboids, triceps β€” are not really worked during rock climbing," he told the Times.
9. 🏈 NFL trivia

The Panthers fired Ron Rivera yesterday following an eight-plus season tenure that saw him win 54.2% of his games and make one Super Bowl appearance (2015).

  • Question: Rivera had been the seventh-longest tenured NFL head coach (hired in 2011). Who are the only six head coaches with longer active tenures?
  • Hint: Three NFC, three AFC.

Answer at the bottom.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Best song on the new Coldplay album" Baker

Trivia answer: Bill Belichick (hired in 2000), Sean Payton (2006), Mike Tomlin (2007), John Harbaugh (2008), Jason Garrett (2010), Pete Carroll (2010)