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Basketball

🏀 Save the date

June 29, 2020
GARY A VASQUEZ/USA TODAY SPORTS
GARY A VASQUEZ/USA TODAY SPORTS

The GIST: With less than five weeks to go until the beginning of the end of the NBA season, we finally have a schedule and some important games to mark along with it.

Remind me, what’s the set-up?: Twenty-two of the NBA’s 30 teams will play in the league restart at Disney World. Sixteen of those teams were in playoff positions when the regular season paused on March 11th, and the other six were within six games of a playoff position.

  • The teams will each play eight seeding games in a two-week span to determine their place in the postseason, which will start in mid-August. Up to seven games (!!!) will be played every day during the seeding period, with tip-offs scheduled anywhere from noon to 9 p.m. ET. Heck yes.

Got it. So when’s opening night?: Thursday, July 30th. It’ll start with a doubleheader, with the Utah Jazz taking on the New Orleans Pelicans ahead of the highly anticipated Battle of Los Angeles, where the LA Clippers will face the LA Lakers.

  • And it’s kind of fitting that the Jazz get the first game considering Jazz player Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID-19 test (and, btw, he’s still not totally recovered) caused the NBA to suspend their game (and then the whole season) literally minutes before their matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Poetic.

And all the big names will be in the lineup?: While some players have opted out of the season for health or activism reasons, the majority of players will play. LA Lakers LeBron James and Anthony Davis and Houston Rocket James Harden will all be in the lineup, and Milwaukee Buck Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronounced YONNIS ANDEDO-KOONPO) is set to make his return from a March knee injury.

  • Speaking of big names, the NBA and Nike (the league’s athletic wear sponsor) are planning to allow players to replace their last name on their jersey with messages of support for social justice causes (e.g., the Black Lives Matter movement) and charities.
  • This comes after Las Vegas Ace Angel McCoughtry made a similar ask of the WNBA last week. Women do always know best.

🏈🏀🏆 It wasn’t over, it still isn’t over!

June 29, 2020
GRANT HALVERSON/GETTY IMAGES
GRANT HALVERSON/GETTY IMAGES

🏆🏀 In solidarity

June 25, 2020
BUBBA WALLACE/TWITTER
BUBBA WALLACE/TWITTER

The GIST: As many leagues begin to walk the walk after talking the talk about social justice and racial equality, a troubling incident in NASCAR demonstrated just how much work needs to be done.

Oh no. What happened?: Ahead of Monday’s GEICO 500 race at the Talladega Superspeedway, a rope knotted to resemble a noose was discovered in Bubba Wallace’s driver stall. As NASCAR’s only Black driver and due to his push for equality within the sport, it was assumed to be a targeted symbol of hate.

  • NASCAR’s president Steve Phelps told Wallace about the noose, with NASCAR posting on their social media before calling for an FBI investigation that ultimately found the rope was actually a pulley for the garage door and had been up since October 2019.

No harm, no foul?: No way! Wallace commended the league and the FBI for taking the threat seriously and acting fast to protect him, but has since faced an onslaught of social media backlash. Wallace reacted on CNN, saying, “I'm mad because people are trying to test my character and the person that I am and my integrity,” and likened the past few days to “just short of pure hell.”

  • While outsiders have been cruel (likely forgetting/ignoring that NASCAR brought this to Wallace’s attention first), Wallace’s NASCAR opponents have rallied around him, showing that this sport is finally taking some inspiringly positive steps on the road to change.

And what are other athletes up to?: Washington Mystic Natasha Cloud and Atlanta Dream Tiffany Hayes are opting out of the upcoming WNBA season to join Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery to focus on advocacy and social reform. Incredible.

  • Las Vegas Ace Angel McCoughtry will play this season and has started a petition to allow players to wear the names of people killed by police instead of their own last names on the back of their jerseys.
  • And NBA stars Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin are using their influence to fight for justice for Julius Jones, a former basketball player who played for Griffin’s father in high school. Jones is currently on death row for a 1999 murder but maintains his innocence and is backed by compelling evidence. Here’s to change.

🏀 They woke up like this

June 22, 2020
USA TODAY SPORTS
USA TODAY SPORTS

The GIST: For weeks, NBA players have been debating whether returning to play will take momentum away from the protests surrounding George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead of simply talking about it, some WNBA players are getting sh!t done.

How so?: Last week, the Atlanta Dream’s Renee Montgomery tweeted that when the WNBA returns next month, she won’t be there. Why? The two-time WNBA champ is skipping the 2020 season to focus on fighting for social justice instead.

  • Montgomery will use her foundation, the Renee Montgomery Foundation, to help facilitate change for young Black people through sport and will host speaking engagements and events around Atlanta, her adopted hometown.

She’s an inspiration: And she’s not alone. Montgomery is following in the footsteps of her former teammate Maya Moore, a four-time WNBA champion (yes, she’s a BFD) who took an indefinite sabbatical ahead of the 2019 season to focus on criminal justice reform.

  • In January, Moore informed her team (the Minnesota Lynx) that she would sit out for a second straight season, after spending 2019 advocating for the release of Jonathan Irons, a man wrongly convicted 23 years ago for burglary when he was just 16. Irons’ conviction was overturned earlier this year, largely thanks to the work put in by Moore.

These women are incredible — will they still get paid?: Nope. Montgomery and Moore are not only giving up playing the game they love while in the prime of their careers, they’re also giving up the paycheck that comes along with it.

  • So yes, they’re literally giving up everything to fight for social justice and reform. Feel free to give them a round of applause — we sure are.

🏈🎾🏀 Around and around and around we go

June 18, 2020
 TOM PENNINGTON/GETTY IMAGES
TOM PENNINGTON/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: Sports are coming back. But, unfortunately, so are some athletes’ positive COVID-19 test results.

Oh no. Who?: Most recently, several players from the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys have tested positive, including Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is the third NFL player, and arguably one of the biggest stars in sports, to be publicly named.

  • Despite this, the NFL still seems to be planning for a normal regular season with fans (!!!) and for training camps to start in late July. Does this seem dangerously (in a literal sense) optimistic to you or is it just us?

Yikes. What about college football?: Many of the most prolific NCAA football teams — including Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Alabama — have reported coronavirus cases among their players recently as well. Not good. Oklahoma State linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga said he tested positive after attending a protest in Tulsa.

  • The NCAA is continuing to monitor the situation before making any drastic decisions, but yesterday, the Southern Heritage Classic — an annual matchup between Tennessee State and Jackson State played in Memphis in September — became the first NCAA football event to be canceled because of coronavirus. And we’re thinking it won’t be the last.

Wow. Can you give me some good news?: For sure! The PGA Tour tested all players, caddies and staff ahead of today’s RBC Heritage tournament (the second event since the season restart), and for the second week in a row, there wasn’t a single positive test. Let’s polite golf clap to that.

  • Speaking of golf, the LPGA is returning on July 31st. The women’s tour has added a new tournament called the LPGA Drive On Championship, which will kick off the season with back-to-back events in Ohio. Mark your calendars.

Amazing! Keep it rolling: Despite rumors that the WTA and ATP’s US Open would be canceled, it’s now officially scheduled to start on August 31st, thanks to New York governor Andrew Cuomo giving it the go ahead. Thanks, man! While not everyone is happy about the announcement, Serena Williams is stoked so we’re stoked too.

  • And on Monday, the WNBA officially confirmed that the regular season will start in late July and will feature 22 games followed by a traditional postseason. Untraditionally, there won’t be any fans, and all teams will play, practice and live at the IMG Academy in Florida. Quite the destination these days.

And...I’m afraid to ask...what’s up with the MLB?: Don’t be afraid — we have progress! The MLB and the players union are talking again, and they seem to have come to an agreement on a “jointly developed framework.” The new plan would have the season start on July 19th with players receiving their full salaries for the amount of games played (as they wished).

  • The number of games is a sticking point, though. The suggested number was 60, but there seems to be some flip flopping on that. The league and union still have work to do (someone call these guys a couples’ counselor), but one thing’s for sure: the players are ready.