Aug 3, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

๐Ÿ‘‹ Happy Monday! I have officially moved from San Francisco to Washington, D.C.

  • As a New Jersey native, I missed the East Coast dearly and am thrilled to be back. But man, it's going to take me some time to readjust to the humidity. Sheesh.

Tonight on "Axios on HBO": An exclusive interview with President Trump on the pandemic, the upcoming election, Russian bounties, and more.ย Here's a clip.

Today's word count: 1,832 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: ๐ŸŽ“ Pac-12 players threaten opt-out

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A group of Pac-12 football players have threatened to opt out of the season unless the conference addresses systemic inequities and concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

Why it matters: College football players have never had more leverage than they do right now, as the sport tries to stage a season amid the pandemic. And their willingness to use it shows we've entered a new age in college athletics.

What they're saying: In a letter published by The Players' Tribune, the players demanded increased health and safety protections, a commitment to social justice and the redistribution of football revenue.

  • Health and safety: Players want COVID-19 liability waivers to be prohibited and universal safety measures. They're also seeking medical insurance for six years post-eligibility.
  • Social justice: They're demanding that the Pac-12 form a permanent, civic-engagement task force to address social injustice.
  • Revenue redistribution: Perhaps most boldly, players asked for 50% of each sport's revenue to be evenly distributed among athletes.

The big picture: When nationwide protests erupted, college athletes were not shy about using their platform to enact change, and just last week a group of SEC football players voiced concerns similar to the Pac-12 on a private call with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

  • Ultimately, the pandemic itself will likely dictate the state of the fall (or spring) football season more forcibly than administrators' decisions or the players' refusal to accept them.
  • But among those three factors, the players' initiative stands out as the most impactful regarding the future of college sports.

The bottom line: In recent months, college athletes have shown us a newfound awareness of their power. Now, as SB Nation's Steven Godfrey puts it, "they're showing us the accompanying resolve."

2. ๐Ÿ˜ท Pandemic expedites sports tech evolution

The pandemic has fundamentally changed how teams, leagues and other sports organizations operate.

Why it matters: Some of those changes are temporary, but others will likely be permanent โ€” and in some cases, COVID-19 merely sped up a technological evolution that was already well underway.

Two prime examples...

Rafael Nadal reacts to a Hawk-Eye challenge decision. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

1. Robot refs: In an attempt to reduce the number of people on site, the U.S. Open (Aug. 31โ€“Sept. 13) will replace line judges with an automated system called Hawk-Eye Live, NYT reports.

  • Hawk-Eye has been used in the past to challenge calls, but now it will go from serving as quality control and aiding the broadcast to being the first and final word.
  • The system uses recorded voices to shout things like "out" and "fault," and when a line call is particularly close, the voice projects more urgency. Like GPS systems, different voices โ€” and languages โ€” can be used.
A woman undergoes an iris scan at Clear's booth at Grand Central Station. Photo: James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

2. Facial recognition: Multiple teams and leagues are testing facial-recognition technology and biometric screening to make admitting fans into stadiums as safe and touchless as possible.

  • Starting next year, LAFC fans will be able to use an app called Clear, which some airline passengers already use to speed through security. The Mets are testing the same system this season for players and coaches, and the NHL is using Clear to screen players and personnel inside its bubbles.
  • How it works, per WSJ (subscription): One camera measures the fan's temperature, while a second determines if they're wearing a mask. The fan then pulls down their mask to allow the camera see their face, which is linked to their TicketMaster account. If they have a ticket, they're allowed entry.
  • The big picture: The transition from physical to digital tickets has been underway for a decade. This is the next stage in that evolution, and the pandemic sped up the process. Someday soon, you'll probably be buying hot dogs with your face.
3. ๐Ÿ“บ Today's 21-game slate

Twenty. One. Games. That's what our three major sports leagues have generously offered up today โ€” at least until the next MLB game gets postponed.

NBA: Six games.

  • Game 1: Raptors vs. Heat (1:30pm ET, NBA TV)
  • Game 2: Nuggets vs. Thunder (4pm, NBA TV)
  • Game 3: Pacers vs. Wizards (4pm)
  • Game 4: Grizzlies vs. Pelicans (6:30pm, ESPN)
  • Game 5: Spurs vs. 76ers (8pm)
  • Game 6: Lakers vs. Jazz (9pm, ESPN)

MLB: Nine games.

  • Game 1: Indians at Reds (6:40pm)
  • Game 2: Phillies at Yankees (7:05pm)
  • Game 3: Mets at Braves (7:10pm, FS1)
  • Game 4: White Sox at Brewers (8:10pm)
  • Game 5: Pirates at Twins (8:10pm)
  • Game 6: Royals at Cubs (8:15pm)
  • Game 7: Giants at Rockies (8:40pm)
  • Game 8: Dodgers at Padres (9:10pm)
  • Game 9: Athletics at Mariners (9:10pm, ESPN+)

NHL: Six games.

  • Qualifying round: Rangers vs. Hurricanes (12pm, NBCSN); Jets vs. Flames (2:30pm, NHLN); Canadiens vs. Penguins (8pm, NBCSN); Blackhawks vs. Oilers (10:30pm, NBCSN)
  • Round robin: Capitals vs. Lightning (4pm, NBCSN); Stars vs. Golden Knights (6:30pm, NHLN)
4. ๐Ÿ“Š By the numbers: Weekend edition
Milwaukee's Khris Middleton tries a three-pointer against Houston's Robert Covington and Danuel House Jr. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
  • ๐Ÿ€ 177-1: The Bucks are the first team in NBA history to lose a game in which they scored 110 points (116), held their opponent under 40% shooting (39.6%) and had a +25 rebound differential (+29). Those teams are now 177-1 all-time, per Elias Sports Bureau. ... Final score: Rockets 120, Bucks 116.
  • โšพ๏ธ 9 straight Ks: Tigers reliever Tyler Alexander struck out nine consecutive batters on Sunday, tying the AL record. In the end, Detroit lost 4-3 to Cincinnati in the first seven-inning doubleheader game in MLB history.
Nazem Kadri shoots the puck on goal with less than a second left. Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images
  • ๐Ÿ’ 0.1 seconds: Avalanche center Nazem Kadri scored a power-play goal with 0.1 seconds left in the third period, breaking a tie to give Colorado a 2-1 win over St. Louis in Sunday's round-robin game.
  • โ›ณ๏ธ 13th Tour win: Justin Thomas won the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational to become the first three-time winner on Tour this season and move to No. 1 in the world. The victory gives him 13 career PGA Tour wins, breaking a tie with Dustin Johnson for most in the last five seasons.
Aaron Judge hits a three-run dinger against the Red Sox on Sunday. Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images
  • โšพ๏ธ 5 straight games: Aaron Judge homered for the fifth straight game on Sunday, becoming the first Yankee in 13 years to accomplish the feat (A-Rod).
  • ๐Ÿˆ 8th Patriot: TE Matt LaCosse has opted out of the 2020 season, upping the Patriots' total of opt-out players to eight โ€” easily the most of any NFL team.
Ciro Immobile celebrates a goal. Photo: Marco Rosi/Getty Images
  • โšฝ๏ธ 36 goals: Lazio's Ciro Immobile won the European Golden Shoe (continent's top scorer) after finishing the season with a record-tying 36 goals in Serie A. Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski finished second with 34, and Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo finished third with 31.
  • ๐Ÿ€ 6 non-All-Stars: Pacers forward T.J. Warren dropped 53 points against the Sixers on Saturday. He's the sixth non-All-Star to score 50 points in a game this season, the most in NBA history.
  • โšฝ๏ธ 4 teams left: The MLS is Back Tournament semifinals are set: Portland vs. Philadelphia (Wednesday) and Minnesota vs. Orlando (Thursday). We'll be going deep with our match previews. Can't wait.ย 
5. ๐Ÿ€ Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 2)
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 atย

2. Boston Celtics

When asked why he didn't mind his reserve role, John Havlicek once said, "One thing I learned from Red Auerbach was that it's not who starts the game, but who finishes it, and I generally was around at the finish." It's no wonder they stand alone with 17 rings.

  • Year established: 1946
  • All-time record: 3,421-2,367 (.591)
  • NBA Championships: 17
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 11


  • Bob Cousy*, G (18.5 pts, 5.2 reb, 7.6 ast, 19.8 PER/91.0 WS)
  • Paul Pierce, G (21.8 pts, 6.0 reb, 3.9 ast, 20.6 PER/138.4 WS)
  • Larry Bird*, F (24.3 pts, 10.0 reb, 6.3 ast, 23.5 PER/145.8 WS)
  • Kevin McHale*, F (17.9 pts, 7.3 reb, 1.7 ast, 20.0 PER/113.0 WS)
  • Bill Russell*, C (15.1 pts, 22.5 reb, 4.3 ast, 18.9 PER/163.5 WS)

Sixth man: John Havlicek*, F (20.8 pts, 6.3 reb, 4.8 ast, 17.5 PER/131.7 WS)


  • Robert Parish*, C (16.5 pts, 10.0 reb, 1.5 ast, 19.8 PER/122.4 WS)
  • Dave Cowens*, C (18.2 pts, 14.0 reb, 3.9 ast, 17.2 PER/83.7 WS)
  • Sam Jones*, G (17.7 pts, 4.9 reb, 2.5 ast, 18.7 PER/92.3 WS)
  • Tom Heinsohn*, G (18.6 pts, 8.8 reb, 2.0 ast, 17.8 PER/60.0 WS)
  • Kevin Garnett*, G (15.7 pts, 8.3 reb, 2.7 ast, 21.1 PER/48.8 WS)
  • Bill Sharman*, G (18.1 pts, 3.9 reb, 3.0 ast, 18.2 PER/80.9 WS)


  • Russell's 21,620 rebounds rank second all-time (Wilt Chamberlain, 23,924) and his 11 rings (including eight straight and two as a player-coach) are the most ever.
  • Bird's combined accolades put him on the short list for top-five all time โ€” 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA, 3x champion, 3x MVP and 2x Finals MVP. The Hick from French Lick could flat out ball.

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, 10. Thunder, 9. Jazz, 8. Heat, 7. Pistons, 6. Bulls, 5. 76ers, 4. Warriors, 3. Spurs

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. Aug. 3, 1852: ๐Ÿšฃโ€โ™‚๏ธ Intercollegiate sports are born
The Harvard varsity crew team in 1933. Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

168 years ago today, the Harvard and Yale crew teams competed in the first-ever intercollegiate sporting event, racing along the waters of New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee.

The backdrop: In 1843, Yale established the nation's first collegiate crew team in the nation; one year later, Harvard added its own.

  • After nearly a decade of existing primarily for social purposes, Yale challenged Harvard "to test the superiority of the oarsmen of the two colleges."
  • Since then, save a few intermittent years when they were unable to compete, "The Race" has been an annual event between the two Ivy League linchpins.
  • Since 1878, it has taken place on the Thames River in New London, Connecticut.

Results: Harvard won the inaugural matchup by about four boat lengths, and the Crimson have dominated ever since to the tune of a 95-58 record.

๐ŸŽฅ Watch: Harvard vs. Yale โ€” a long tradition on the Thames (YouTube)

7. ๐Ÿ“š Good reads

Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images

๐ŸŽ“ Liberty University poured millions into sports. Now its Black athletes are leaving. (Joel Anderson, Slate)

"Public statements [by Black athletes] brought to the surface a tension that has been growing at the school, between a culture of subtle โ€” but persistent โ€” hostility toward minorities and Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr.'s manifest desire to turn Liberty's athletic program into one of the nation's best."

โšพ๏ธ Inside new Red Sox boss Chaim Bloom's wild first 280 days on the job (Joon Lee, ESPN)

"He's been in charge of the team for just over nine months. With everything that's happened so far, it feels more like nine years."

๐ŸŒŠ Taking a spear into the sea, and washing anxiety away (Damien Cave, NYT)

"I kept seeing people in Sydney carry spearguns to and from the ocean. To understand why, I held my breath and dived in."
8. The Ocho: ๐ŸŽฌ "The Speed Cubers"

Courtesy: Netflix

"The Speed Cubers" is a new 40-minute Netflix documentary about speedcubing, a sport that involves solving Rubik's cubes as quickly as possible.

  • Synopsis: The film focuses on two of the best speedcubers in the world: Max Park, an 18-year-old American with autism, and Feliks Zemdeg, a 24-year-old from Australia โ€” and an incredible friend to Max.
  • 10-second review: I went into this thinking it was going to be a quirky documentary about Rubik's cubes, but it ended up being a brilliant film about friendship. I ugly cried multiple times. See it immediately.


9. โšพ๏ธ MLB trivia
  • Question: Which team was the last to have back-to-back MVP winners โ€” but won by different players?
  • Hint: One player is still on the team.

Answer at the bottom.

10. โค๏ธ Why we love sports

Bill C. (Shaker Heights, Ohio) writes:

"After my wife passed away in 2013 following a lengthy battle with cancer, one friend gave me tickets to a minor league baseball game, along with a note to have a 'normal' night out with my daughter.
"Jes was just eight years old at the time, and her first ever trip to the ballpark would be to see the Akron Aeros, the Indians' Double-A farm club.
"Like a lot of young kids, she had little interest in the game itself, but immediately loved the atmosphere โ€” mascots, snack foods, the silly between-innings stuff that minor leagues are known for.
"Then she noticed that fans were keeping foul balls. I gently explained that she shouldn't get her hopes up, adding that I had been to about a hundred games and never even gotten close to one. You know where this is headed....
"Sure enough, halfway through the game, future Yankee Giovanny Urshela hit a ball that ricocheted into our section, and she made a beeline.
"There was a scrum of men, but being small and wiry apparently has its advantages, because she emerged with the ball, held up the prize and shouted, 'I got it!' The whole section erupted in cheers!
Jes with the foul ball. Photo: Bill C.
"I'm tempted to say that in that moment, I knew everything would be all right. But we're not living in a Lifetime movie; a foul ball won't heal a child's shattered heart.
"What I did think was that even as we were dealing with such profound loss, we were going to have some wins, too. And at the very least, we left that park smiling. But the story doesn't end there.
"As we were leaving, Jes mentioned that it was nice to have the ball, but it sure would be better if it were autographed. It was such a sweetly ungrateful sentiment that I had to share on Facebook.
"About a week later, a ball signed by Urshela showed up in the mail; one of my Facebook friends knew a guy who knew a guy who worked for the Aeros.
"In a summer filled with grief, sports brought joy. Twice."

โœ๏ธ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or a story about sports having a positive impact on your life? To share, simply reply to this email. We'll be telling your stories until they run out.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Drenched in sweat" Baker

Trivia answer: Tigers (Justin Verlander in 2011, Miguel Cabrera in 2012)