🏀 New kids on the block
The GIST: With seven weeks left in the regular season, a couple of NBA rookies are proving they could be the key to their teams’ postseason chances: No. 1 draft-pick Zion Williamson and No. 2 draft-pick Ja Morant are putting up points, setting records and, most importantly, winning.
Williamson: The New Orleans Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery last year and selected Zion Williamson, a freshman from Duke. Then, like an unwritten Alanis Morrisette lyric, Williamson tore his meniscus during the preseason and wasn’t able to start his rookie year until January 22nd. And since then, he’s been nothing but clutch.
- After putting up 35 points last night against the Los Angeles Lakers, Williamson is the first teenager (oh yeah, did we mention he’s only 19?) to record 11 straight 20+ point games. He’s also leading his team with an average of 24.1 points per game. The Pelicans are sitting just outside of a playoff spot right now, but they’ll move up in no time if Zion stays in #BeastMode.
Morant: If you believe the elementary school kid phrase, “First is the worst, second is the best,” then you’re going to want to hear about Ja Morant. Picked up by the Memphis Grizzlies last year, Morant’s stats aren’t as jaw-dropping as Zion’s, but he’s still putting up steady numbers to boost his team into an eighth-seed playoff spot after missing the last two postseasons.
- Morant had the best game of his young career on Saturday in a lopsided 105–88 win over the Lakers (aka the best team in the Western Conference). Morant recorded 27 points and then dedicated his performance to a Twitter troll who told Ja he “didn’t have the fire” in his eyes anymore. Nothing like proving the haters wrong.
Elsewhere in the NBA: The injury bug has a stronghold on a few favorites this season. Steph Curry, star of the once dynastic (but now worst-tastic) Golden State Warriors, is still out after breaking his hand on October 30th . He was supposed to be back in the lineup yesterday, but his hand is keeping him out just a little longer. Welp.
🏈 I am legend
The GIST: It’s been a month since the NFL season ended, and the question on everyone’s mind is: where will legendary quarterback (QB) Tom Brady play next season? And with free agency just two weeks away, we’re oh so close to finding out an answer. The suspense is killing us, too.
Remind me, what’s free agency?: When a player’s contract expires, they become a free agent and are able to sign with a new team (or the same one, if they want). In most professional sports, all player contracts expire on the same date. NFL free agency begins on Wednesday, March 18th, so as of that day, players whose contracts expired after the 2019–20 season are free to sign anywhere.
Got it, so tell me about Tom Brady: Tom has played for the New England Patriots for his entire mind-blowing 20-season career, winning six Super Bowls (the most of any player) along the way. But the 42-year-old’s contract is set to expire (technically, he signed with the team until 2021, but that contract was just for weird money reasons and will be void as of March 18th) and if the Pats don’t sign him before March 18th (which is highly unlikely) then we might have to get used to seeing Tom in a new jersey come September.
Okay. So, where will Tom play next season?: Nice try. We’re good, but we’re not that good. Brady has kept very tightlipped about his future, and even though he’ll turn 43 in August, he has said he will play one more season in the NFL. But (cover your eyes, Pats fans) it’s not looking good for a New England return.
- Just this weekend, Brady and Pats wide receiver Julian Edelman were at a college basketball game together, and when Edelman assured fans on-camera, “He’s coming back!” Brady gave a super uncomfortable smile and shook his head. So we guess that leaves 31 other possibilities...
Any other big name free agents?: If it weren’t for Mr. Bundchen hogging the spotlight, Philip Rivers would be the top free agent. Rivers was the QB for the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers (they changed locations in 2017) since 2004 and started every regular season game since 2006. Whoa.
- At the end of the season, the Chargers said they wouldn’t re-sign Rivers, but the father of nine (!!!) believes he still has one more good year in him (he’s 38, BTW). Despite six career playoff appearances, he’s yet to win a Super Bowl, so this season will be his all-or-nothing.
Any other news?: Always. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) board of representatives has decided that its membership (aka all NFL players, about 2,000 of them) will vote on the proposed collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Many big-name players have been actively opposing the proposal, but the NFL needs only a majority to pass the agreement. No date has been set yet for when Jeff Probst will tally the votes, but we’ll let you know.
⚽ Guess who’s back
The GIST: We have great news! Major League Soccer (MLS) returns this weekend with a fresh new season, two brand new teams and the same ol’ superstars. And we couldn’t be more excited.
How’s it all organized?: The MLS is made up of 26 North American teams (23 in the US and three in Canada), split into two conferences: Eastern and Western. Each team plays 34 games and the top seven teams from each conference in the regular season make it to the playoffs. Slim pickings.
And those two new teams are?: Nashville SC (SC stands for Soccer Club) in the Western Conference, and in the East, the highly anticipated Inter Miami CF (CF standing for Club Internacional de Fútbol), which is partly owned by English soccer legend, Mr. Posh Spice David Beckham.
Who won it all last year?: The Seattle Sounders took home the MLS Cup for the second time in four years, after beating Toronto FC (FC stands for Football Club...we know, there are way too many acronyms) in the final (again).
So how’s it looking this year?: The Sounders have a great shot at going back-to-back. Not only is their team stacked, but they also have the highest average attendance in the league, and that home field advantage is powerful. Toronto and Atlanta FC will be hot on their heels though, looking to repeat their 2017 and 2018 victories, respectively.
Tell me straight, is MLS really a big deal?: Well, it’s not a bloody big deal like European soccer, but it’s a work in progress. The MLS stock has been steadily rising over the past decade, with the average franchise value increasing from $37 million in 2008 to $313 million in 2019. The league also has the third highest per game attendance in North America, behind the NFL and MLB. A shock to us, too.
Awesome. When can I watch?: The season starts Saturday with a 1 p.m. ET matchup between D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids. Now’s the perfect time to pick a favorite team and watch this beautiful game as much as you watched Switching Goals. Check out the full schedule here.
🏅 Say it ain’t so
The GIST: Former International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president Dick Pound (seriously, that’s his name) gave us a scare earlier this week when he suggested that the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, set to start in late July, may be cancelled if the coronavirus becomes a true global pandemic.
- The IOC and Tokyo organizers have kiboshed the rumors though, saying, “Our basic thoughts are that we will go ahead with the Olympic and Paralympic Games as scheduled,” and that they’ll take every precaution to ensure the Games are safe. Phew!
But…: It’s not all good news. Dozens of sporting events have been cancelled or postponed, and others have banned fans in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading. Over in Italy, five Serie A (that’s the Italian premier soccer league) matches will be played in empty stadiums this weekend, while the PWHPA is postponing a three-game showcase that was set to take place in Japan next week.
🏀 Who run the world?
NCAA Basketball: No. 3 Oregon Ducks superstar Sabrina Ionescu (pronounced YOH-NESS-COO) had a day for the ages on Monday: she started the day with a heartfelt speech at Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial in Los Angeles, before hopping on a plane to the Bay Area (while dealing with the flu, NBD) and making Division I basketball history (yet again).
- Listen to this week’s episode of our new podcast, The GIST of It, for more on how the undisputed queen of college basketball is blazing a brand new trail for sports, period.
WNBA: Speaking of basketball legends, WNBA superstar Sue Bird — one half of our fave sports power couple — re-signed with the Seattle Storm on Tuesday, meaning she’ll return to the WNBA for a 19th season. The three-time WNBA champion holds the record for most WNBA games played, at 508, but missed last season after sustaining a knee injury in week one. Luckily for us, Bird rehabbed successfully and is ready to continue her legacy when the season starts in May.
Soccer: Last Thursday, the US women’s national soccer team, led by Megan Rapinoe (the other half of our fave sports power couple), announced they are seeking $67 million in their continuing lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation (USSF) for gender discrimination. The team filed the lawsuit last year in response to unequal pay, practice facilities and team resources compared to the men’s team.
- The USSF is asking for the case to be dismissed based on their theory that the players on each team do vastly different jobs and compete differently, saying, “Men are bigger, stronger, faster.” Excuse us while our eyes roll to the very back of our heads. The men have never won a FIFA World Cup, while the women have won four, so yeah, we guess winning is a vastly different job.
Tennis: One of the most divisive figures in tennis is retiring. Maria Sharapova, the Russian-born American player, announced her retirement yesterday at the age of 32. Sharapova began her professional career on her 14th birthday in 2001 and won 36 WTA titles, including a career Grand Slam (aka winning all four majors at least once).