Jul 21, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,671 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: 📆 California delays HS sports until December

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The fall high school sports season in California will be postponed until at least December, the California Interscholastic Federation announced Monday.

The new calendar: The three typical high school sports seasons — fall, winter and spring — will be played between December and June and compressed into either fall or spring seasons.

  • Football — a staple of fall Fridays — will now take place in winter and spring, with the last game played no later than April 17, 2021.
  • Basketball and baseball will now overlap and end in late June, forcing multi-sport athletes to make tough decisions.
  • Athletes will be permitted to participate on club teams at the same time as their high school seasons in a temporary suspension of CIF rules.
Screenshot: @latsondheimer (Twitter)

The big picture: The fall high school sports season has also been called off in New Mexico, Washington, D.C. and Virginia (football only so far).

  • Eleven other states — Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia — have delayed the start of football, in most cases by a few weeks.

What to watch: Texas, Florida and Georgia — the three biggest high school football states besides California — are still moving forward with fall seasons.

  • The first games in Texas are still scheduled for Aug. 27, per USA Today.
  • The Florida High School Athletic Association voted Monday to retain its fall sports start date of July 27.
  • The Georgia High School Association voted Monday to push the season back two weeks, with a proposed start date of Sept. 4.

The bottom line: California's revised high school sports calendar isn't ideal for multi-sport athletes and will present facilities challenges. But it also might give the state's 800,000+ athletes their best shot at playing their respective sports.

2. 🏟 Inside Globe Life Field
Globe Life Field in April. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

When photos of Globe Life Field first surfaced, the internet roasted the aesthetics, likening it to a Costco. But the Rangers are confident that they will have the last laugh, sticking true to the old adage that "it's what's on the inside that counts," Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

  • Why it matters: The Rangers' new home, which will host an exhibition game today before Friday's home opener, could usher in a new era of ballpark design.
  • The backdrop: Ballparks have followed a logical evolution over the past 160 years, transforming from temporary wooden structures, to unique parks that fit their surroundings ("Jewel Box" era), to concrete doughnuts (multi-use era), to modernized versions of classic designs (retro era).
Courtesy: Texas Rangers

Details: Globe Life Field, which replaces Globe Life Park (across the street, built in 1994), was designed with both the past and future in mind.

  • Seat placement: With revenue-generating suites becoming more of a priority in recent years, seats have been moved higher up and farther away from the field. In an attempt to reverse that trend without the drawback of view-obstructing support columns, architects cantilevered the upper decks.
  • Smaller capacity: Fewer seats means more common areas, where fans can socialize and turn a sporting event into a night out with friends. This trend has been gaining steam for over a decade, as teams try to bring young people back to the ballpark.
  • Stadium location: The average retro era park is just 3.17 miles from the nearest City Hall, per FiveThirtyEight, but Globe Life Field is 16.8 miles away. Like Atlanta's Truist Field, it is meant to be the anchor of a larger development plan, rather than a standalone ballpark.

The bottom line: Ballpark construction has long been a product of external factors — where does it fit, how else can we use it, etc. — but Globe Life is more focused on optimizing the interior, and could provide a glimpse of the future.

3. 😷 The bubbles are working

The most recent test results:

Go deeper: Is it a problem that sports gets fast test results and you don't? (WSJ)

4. 👴 The summer of the aging role player
Giphy

Young athletes are the future, but in the strange ecosystem that is sports in 2020, veteran players could be just what the doctor ordered, Jeff writes.

The state of play: In the NBA and MLB in particular, rule changes, condensed schedules and the basic need for warm bodies have thrust aging role players into the spotlight.

  • NBA: Jamal Crawford (40), J.R. Smith (34) and Joakim Noah (35) are among the free agents signed in recent weeks to plug holes on rosters impacted by COVID-19.
  • MLB: With the universal DH temporarily adopted to protect pitchers, bat-first veterans like Daniel Murphy (35), Howie Kendrick (37) and Hunter Pence (37) will get the opportunity to regularly contribute in the National League without managers having to worry about wear-and-tear or defensive ineptitude.

The big picture: Much like playoff contenders relying on the experience of their wily vets, teams in 2020 will lean on older players more than ever to provide a sense of calming perspective amid bizarre circumstances.

  • Taking it a step further, the "it's a sprint, not a marathon" reality of this summer's condensed schedule should give older players a chance to contribute physically in ways a full season might not allow.

The bottom line: In sports, few things compare to a great story. And what could be better, in this year so short on good news, than an over-the-hill role player shifting his team's fate when you least expected it?

5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 10)
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.

10. Oklahoma City Thunder

It seems no matter where they're located, the Thunder/Sonics attract absurd talent. Arguably the most athletic guard, the best defensive guard, the second-best shooter and perhaps the single biggest scoring threat in league history all sharing one court.

  • Year established: 1967 (as the Seattle SuperSonics)
  • All-time record: 2,323-1,957 (.543)
  • NBA Championships: 1
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 4

Starters:

  • Russell Westbrook, G (23.0 pts, 7.0 reb, 8.4 ast, 23.7 PER/96.9 WS)
  • Gary Payton*, G (18.2 pts, 4.2 reb, 7.4 ast, 20.1 PER/123.8 WS)
  • Ray Allen*, G (24.6 pts, 4.6 reb, 4.2 ast, 21.8 PER/38.2 WS)
  • Kevin Durant, F (27.4 pts, 7.0 reb, 3.7 ast, 25.0 PER/107.9 WS)
  • Shawn Kemp, C (16.2 pts, 9.6 reb, 1.8 ast, 20.8 PER/67.6 WS)

Sixth man: Spencer Haywood*, F (24.9 pts, 12.1 reb, 2.4 ast, 20.1 PER/38.0 WS)

Bench:

  • Jack Sikma*, C (16.8 pts, 10.8 reb, 3.3 ast, 18.1 PER/79.0 WS)
  • Serge Ibaka, C (11.6 pts, 7.4 reb, 2.5 blk, 17.5 PER/47.6 WS)
  • Fred Brown, G (14.6 pts, 2.7 reb, 3.3 ast, 17.7 PER/63.2 WS)
  • Detlef Schrempf, F (16.6 pts, 6.3 reb, 4.0 ast, 18.0 PER/53.7 WS)
  • Gus Williams, G (20.3 pts, 3.0 reb, 6.0 ast, 20.2 PER/52.1 WS)
  • Dale Ellis, G (20.9 pts, 3.9 reb, 2.0 ast, 18.3 PER/45.5 WS)

Notes:

  • Allen has hit more three pointers than any other man in history (2,973), and that will remain true for at least another two years (Steph Curry's at 2,495).
  • Westbrook has more triple-doubles (146) than anyone not named Oscar Robertson (181). This year was also the first time in four seasons that he didn't average a triple-double.

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, 15. Magic, 14. Nuggets, 13. Trail Blazers, 12. Rockets, 11. Knicks

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 21, 1957: 🎾 Althea makes history (again)
Althea Gibson in 1957. Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Getty Images

63 years ago today, Althea Gibson won the U.S. Clay Court Championships in River Forest, Illinois, making her the first Black tennis player to win a major tournament on U.S. soil.

The big picture: Gibson made a career out of both excellence (11 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed) and barrier-breaking.

  • 1952: First Black player to earn a No. 1 world ranking.
  • 1956: First Black player to win a Grand Slam, claiming victory at the French Championships (pre-Open era French Open).
  • 1957: Two weeks before winning at River Forest, Gibson became the first Black champion at Wimbledon, and later that summer she became the first Black woman on the cover of both Sports Illustrated and Time.

What they're saying: Last year, the Harlem native was honored with a long-overdue statue at the U.S. Open's Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York.

"This is not just a player who won a ton of titles — this is someone who transcended our sport and opened a pathway for people of color. If there was no Althea, there'd be no me ... Everything she had to do was three times harder than it was for the normal person."
— Katrina Adams, the first Black USTA president

Go deeper: Althea Gibson gets her due at last (NYT)

7. 📸 Photos 'round the world
Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images

DONEGAL, Ireland — Competitive Gaelic Athletic Association matches have returned in Ireland with limited spectators. Unclear if sheep count.

Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

BERLIN — Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova returns the ball against Czech Republic's Petra Kvitová during day six of bett1ACES tennis tournament.

Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

PERTH, Australia — Spectators take in an Australian rules football match. Such a wild sport.

8. The Ocho: 🛒 Shopping cart soccer
Source: Team Rabenfront (YouTube)

Shopping cart soccer isn't exactly real, but it's not photoshopped, either, Jeff writes.

  • What's happening: Teams in the Kreisliga — a low-tier, amateur German league — put on a full exhibition match to (jokingly) show how soccer could be played safely while maintaining social distance.
  • If you ask me, there's nothing "safe" about this. I can almost feel the cart's wheel ramming my shin just watching that video. (And if you ask Eleanor Shellstrop, I think she'd agree.)

🎥 Watch: Game highlights (YouTube)

9. ⚽️ Soccer trivia

Lionel Messi won his record sixth Ballon d'Or last year. Photo: Kristy Sparow/Getty Images

The Ballon d'Or, the most prestigious individual trophy in soccer, has been canceled for the first time in its 64-year history due to the pandemic.

  • Question: Lionel Messi is one of four non-European men to have won the Ballon d'Or this century. Can you name the other three?
  • Hint: All three are retired.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Tim Taylor hoists the Stanley Cup in 1997. Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Kenneth P. (Detroit) writes:

"It was tough growing up a Red Wings fan in the 1980s. They were bad and then they were just barely good enough to make the playoffs, only to meet Wayne Gretzky and the juggernaut Oilers.
"After graduating from high school, I pursued a higher calling in the seminary that brought me to Europe for much of the 1990s.
"Two years in Spain and four years in Italy meant I was far from my beloved Red Wings just as they were getting good and even dominant. Call it bad timing.
Kenneth meeting Pope John Paul II. Photo: Kenneth P.
"In the spring of 1997, I was studying in Rome while the Wings were making a run for The Cup — their first in 42 years. There were 350 of us studying together from more than 30 countries, and 10 of us were from Detroit.
"To say there was a scarcity of hockey information in Rome would be an understatement. So we hatched a plan: we would take turns calling home the day after each game to get updates. It would be a team effort.
"Two weeks later, 10 young men from Detroit huddled in a basement in the Eternal City.
"We watched Darren McCarty score a magnificent goal that rivaled the beauty of so many masterpieces throughout Rome, and embraced each other when the Red Wings hoisted the Stanley Cup.
"The distance disappeared. I was home again. Sports made that possible."

✍️ 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 "Two days 'til Opening Day" Baker

Trivia answer: Ronaldo (2002), Ronaldinho (2005), Kaká (2007)