Floyd Mayweather wants to end any questions few had about him after last May’s majority-decision win against Marcos Maidana, in a world title 147-pound rematch on Sept. 13.“The rematch with Mayweather is the only fight that really motivates me,” Maidana said in the release. “I feel I earned it in the ring and Floyd owed it to me. I’ve already proved that I don’t care if the man I have in front of me is the best pound-for-pound champion. I was close to ending his reign last time. On Sept. 13, he will not get away undefeated.”Mayweather won a majority decision — 117-111, 116-112 and 114-114 — to unify 147-pound world titles in a competitive fight, one of the most competitive and entertaining of his career.“Marcos Maidana is a tough customer and he gave me a fight that had me work for the victory,” Mayweather said in a news release. “His style is difficult at best, but with experience comes a way and will to win. I’m not one to give second chances in the ring, but I want to give the fans what they want to see. I will be as prepared as I always am when I step in the ring on Sept. 13. I only see the outcome one way and that’s another successful night for me and my team.”Although most thought Mayweather (46-0, 26 KOs), 37, did enough to win, Maidana (35-4, 31 KOs), 30, of Argentina, disputed the decision and had given Mayweather his most difficult fight in years.Mayweather also probably picked Maidana because he is essentially out of established opponents to face since a showdown with fellow champion Manny Pacquiao — the one fight the public has demanded for years — is not even up for discussion, given their different promotional and network alliances. And that’s even before an argument over the financial split, drug testing and numerous other issues.“It was such a great fight in May and I know everywhere I’ve been going the fans have been saying that and that Floyd should fight him in a rematch,” Mayweather Promotions chief executive Leonard Ellerbe told ESPN.com. “So why not? Maidana thought he won the fight. Floyd knows he won the fight. It was a tremendous fight.”Ellerbe said they considered other potential opponents, but he declined to name names.“I don’t want to get into the names. It comes down to that the first fight was a great fight, and this is a fight that fans wanted to see again,” Ellerbe said.The fight will be promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, which has promoted all of Mayweather’s fights since 2007. That is noteworthy is because last month, in the wake of the resignation of Golden Boy chief executive Richard Schaefer, who is very close to Mayweather, Ellerbe told ESPN.com that they would no longer work with Golden Boy.
I need LaVar Ball to succeed, man. I need them to become mega millionaires. Like I need this to happen.— Mel Blunt (@KNGSHxT) December 7, 2017 InstagramIt looks like the relationship between the Ball family and the UCLA Basketball program is done forever.As ESPN reports, LaMelo and LiAngelo Ball — ages 16 and 19 respectively — just signed with the sports agent Harrison Gaines and will skip college to play overseas. LiAngelo played for the storied UCLA Bruins until he was suspended for shoplifting in China last month. Afterwards, his dad LaVar Ball pulled him out of school completely. The eldest brother Lonzo Ball played for the university as well, but just one year before he headed to the NBA to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. The main reason for sending LaMelo and LiAngelo overseas is so they can be teammates, their dad explained.“I don’t care about the money,” said LaVar. “I want them to go somewhere where they will play them together on the court at the same time. The priority is for the boys to play on the same team.”In October, the 50-year-old father withdrew LaMelo from Chino Hills High School, and the original plan was to enroll him in UCLA in two years time. “He’s not going to play college basketball,” said LaVar.It seems getting his boys to play competitively again is another reason LaVar wants to send them overseas since LiAngelo was suspended from UCLA. Moreover, there’s a good chance that his stock would’ve fallen come NBA Draft time. So far, there have been a few overseas teams that have expressed interest in the two younger Ball brothers but nothing has been confirmed yet. “I don’t know the deals and who is offering what,” LaVar stated. “I’m letting Harrison handle all that, but I know there are a few teams interested. I just need to get them playing again.”Plus, no matter what country LaMelo and LiAngelo will play in, their dad said he’ll be there with them periodically, as well as other family members.“There will be three people with them all the time,” stated LaVar. “I’ll go back and forth and probably stay out there a while at first.”Of course, it didn’t take long for people to chime in with their opinions about the Ball brother playing overseas and not going to school. “How does it feel to know you’ve completely ruined your two youngest son’s chances of making it pro?” one person wrote on LaVar’s Instagram page.“What was the whole point of Gelo and Melo getting scholarships to UCLA if you’re just pulling them right out?” another person asked. “You know how many people would die for a scholarship?”Related news: LaVar BallTrump Says LaVar Ball Is a ‘Poor Man’s Don King’LaVar Ball Isn’t Backing Down from Michael Jordan, Says He Could ‘Beat Him with One Hand’LaVar Ball Pulling AAU Team Off Floor Over ‘Bad’ Call Earns Immdiate Scorn from Disgusted Twitter UsersOthers, however, came to the father’s defense and compared him to Hollywood parents like Kris Kardashian. Some folks also told people to mind their business.“What he does with his kids doesn’t concern you.” He’s helping Gelo,” wrote Instagram user Scott James Jr. “What he’s doing to Melo is questionable. How is that deflecting when you criticize this man for creating a different path for his kids like Hollywood parents do all the time.”Between creating his own shoe and fashion brand, and sending his kids overseas instead of college, it’s clear that LaVar is taking unprecedented steps to get his boys to the NBA. So far, at least in Lonzo’s case, his plan has worked, despite some of the backlash.But is what that Instagram user said correct? Did papa Ball just ruin his boy’s chances of getting to the NBA?To get an answer we reached out to former ESPN employee, Sports Anchor and reporter Derwin Worrell, who said things may be challenging for the Balls, but they still have a good chance of making it in the U.S.“They can still get to the NBA without going to college,” Worrell told Atlantic Black Star. “They will have less exposure by playing overseas. But some NBA teams have great scouts overseas, so if they can really play, they will get noticed and because of the Ball name, NBA teams will definitely be watching.”Basketball fans and other folks familiar with the Balls will surely be watching too, just to see if LaVar’s master plan of sending his kids overseas will work out.Wonder if Lavar Ball ever stopped and asked his kids “what do you want to do?”— Rod Bridgers (@rod_bridgers) December 7, 2017 If people think Lavar Ball is sending his kids overseas just because of basketball y’all crazy, this is a smart man, he just want to promote the BBB brand, that man not stupid y’all better put some respect on his name, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BAG 💼💯💯💯@bigballerbrand— Coach Twin (@twintowers504) December 7, 2017 LaVar Ball reminds me of the little league Dad who coaches his kid and thinks the kid is way better than he really is. #TheBalls— Tony Patelis (@CollegeHoopNews) December 7, 2017 Lavar Ball is absolutely tanking the futures of his sons and I’m already getting excited for how depressing the 30 for 30 is go to be— Matt Kulka (@kulkanator) December 7, 2017 Thank you Lavar Ball for pulling your sons out of the US basketball systems now they can be Europe’s problem— chris.barry (@beardog40) December 7, 2017 The NCAA is garbage, Lavar Ball is right, and in 20 years he’ll be seen as a prophet. Don’t you @ me either.— Kazeem Famuyide (@RealLifeKaz) December 6, 2017 Lavar ball one of the goats— Davir Hamilton (@EspnHam9) December 7, 2017 Lavar Ball is the Kris Jenner of basketball.— rae-rae ♍️ (@ThatsSoRavii) December 7, 2017 Lavar Ball out here turning the tables 😂😂😂😂😂😂— 8Eye™ (@JaimeBoyer) December 7, 2017
Left: Neil deGrasse Tyson, a celebrated astrophysicist, and Fabiano Caruana, the No. 2 ranked chess player in the world, chatted about baseball. Right: Peter Thiel showed up for the decisive tiebreaker round and had a grandmaster at his side to explain the games live. After the match — after the trophy presentation and the cake and the champagne — our photographer and I tracked down the Norwegian contingent at an after-after-party at a steakhouse a couple miles uptown. It was a festive scene. Holiday garland and lights festooned the bannisters and the restaurant was a cozy respite from the cold and rainy November day outside. Carlsen was sitting at a far table in the crowded dining room with about 50 others. He was eating. With a fork. Like a person. It was odd to see him with something other than a chess piece in his hand.I wanted to talk to him. I’d been watching him for hours most days for the past three weeks. But honestly I had no idea what I’d say. Carlsen famously hates interviews. But I was saved. “No questions. Definitely no,” his manager, Espen Agdestein, told us. “He’s very tired. We’re just relaxing.”I’m not Carlsen. But I understood. Left: While waiting for the title ceremony, Magnus Carlsen is finally able to relax with his father by his side. Right: Following his defeat, Karjakin was clearly disappointed while speaking to the Russian media. He confirmed rumors about travelling to New York with a Virgin Mary icon. Left: Magnus Carlsen, 26, at the World Chess Championship’s opening gala at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Right: Sergey Karjakin, 26, tests the overhead lights in the playing hall. All photographs by Misha Friedman There are other internal chess-world squabbles. Agon Limited, the match’s organizer, filed an application for a restraining order and injunction against a number of popular third-party chess websites, just before the match began. The websites’ alleged transgression? Relaying chess moves live, which Agon saw as a violation. The application was denied by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, who wrote that “robust reporting of factual data concerning the contestants’ moves” best served the public interest. Agon’s CEO, Ilya Merenzon, told me that the company would continue to pursue the matter in court, and was also proposing legislation to cement their rights to the games they organize.I discussed the case with Macauley Peterson, the content director for chess24, one of the defendants, on the floor of the venue during one of the early games. He kept glancing away from me at people walking by. He said he was worried about who might be eavesdropping.The tournament’s organizers have declared their own victory, though, bragging that the 20-day biennial championship had drawn some 10,000 spectators to its location in the South Street Seaport. But that’s less than, say, half the average attendance of the worst team in baseball for any one of its 81 home games this year. And the event’s only two main sponsors were PhosAgro, a Russian producer of phosphate-based fertilizer, and EG Capital Advisors, a Russian investment management company. Not exactly Nike and Coca-Cola. Left: A branded vodka bar assured VIPs were sufficiently entertained throughout the tournament. Right: Ekaterina, a Karjakin family friend, flew in from Moscow just for the tiebreaker round. Spectators in the VIP lounge. A production team from Russia created an atmosphere for VIPs more often seen in Moscow than Manhattan. Tickets were expensive, but there were a lot of young fans at every game, especially on weekends. You had to elbow your way through knots of onlookers to get anywhere in the venue’s sprawling VIP wing. Men in suits and expensive shoes crowded around TVs, watching the games and sipping martinis. The room was at a low murmur — equal parts English and Russian with an occasional dash of Norwegian. The clinking of glasses and the ratatat of ice in cocktail shakers punctuated the chess talk.Like a Russian nesting doll, a VVIP section had been set up for Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire, and company within the VIP section. It was newly roped off and closely monitored by scary-looking bodyguards. Thiel, a Donald Trump supporter and a strong chess player himself, and Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire venture capitalist, sat at a board inside. With apologies to Beyoncé, it was $6 billion at a chess table. Accompanying them: Bennett Miller, who directed “Foxcatcher,” about the wrestling-obsessed murderer and multimillionaire heir to the du Pont fortune, and the Icelandic grandmaster Hedinn Steingrimsson, who was giving them a private analysis of the ongoing championship game taking place just a few yards away.A buffet and wine bar had been installed for the guests from Silicon Valley who’d arrived that day, and bored-looking members of their entourages lolled on large couches, poking at iPhones. Word around the venue was that the billionaires had paid $50,000 for these privileges. (The match’s organizer wouldn’t comment on the figure.) Much later in the evening, some other journalists and I raided their buffet, eating what must have been thousands of dollars worth of cold mini tacos.“Are you security?” the writer Brin-Jonathan Butler asked one of the well-dressed, well-built men keeping close watch over the well-heeled chess lesson.“Something like that,” he responded ominously. “I wouldn’t bother them, if you don’t mind.”This World Chess Championship scene was somewhere at the intersection of Bond film, Trump fundraiser and museum gala. Watching an elite chess match in person is at once enjoyable and discomfiting. You follow the players’ actions — their moves, their mannerisms — for long stretches of time. You hang on each one and imbue it with meaning. You become so familiar with their moves that you can rattle them off later from memory: “queen to h6,” say, or “rook to e2.” You try to understand why the players did what they did. The moves can be beautiful or inscrutable or frustrating or disappointing. You try to imagine what you would do if you were in one of their chairs. You try to predict what they will do next. You try and make sense of their postgame explanations. But you aren’t them, and you can never really understand.On Wednesday, the final day of the World Chess Championship, hundreds crowded into the Fulton Market Building in lower Manhattan to watch, trying to understand. Magnus Carlsen, the defending champion, No. 1-rated player in the world and the closest thing the sport has to a rock star, was facing his challenger, Sergey Karjakin of Russia, in a series of speedy tiebreaker games. The 12 lengthy games that had stretched over the previous 19 days — I attended 11 in person — ended tied and the two grandmasters were back in their chairs in a soundproof glass box to break the deadlock. It was the biggest day in chess in many years. Carlsen, the former wunderkind, was clinging to his title and his legacy, while Karjakin and the Russians were hoping for a return to the days of Soviet chess hegemony. On the fourth game of the tiebreaker, and the 16th of the match, Carlsen attacked the Russian’s king, Karjakin resigned and the two shook hands. It was over. Despite the high-powered, moneyed interest, and its prime New York City location, the match was sparsely covered by the American press — as chess is generally — and given little attention outside the core chess world. It’s unlikely to increase the game’s reach or exposure as the organizers may have hoped. That did happen once in the States — in 1972 — but that was because of Bobby Fischer.The troublesome shadow of Fischer stretches over every conversation of chess’s success and future in the U.S. He was the best American player of all time, and its only modern world champion. His legacy is stained by his vocal anti-Semitism, and comments that he was pleased with the terrorism on Sept. 11, among other things. But in his chess prime, he carried the U.S. on his back while sitting at the board, having taught himself the game, largely alone, in a shabby Brooklyn apartment. And he won.While this year’s championship lacked the colorful characters and Cold War narrative of Fischer’s title run — although some journalists tried to revive them — it did have some of the controversy.Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the game’s international governing body, FIDE, was absent from the match, having been sanctioned by the U.S. for business connections with the Assad regime in Syria. Ilyumzhinov is no stranger to controversy. He insists he was abducted by aliens. They were wearing yellow spacesuits and nabbed him from his Moscow apartment in 1997, taking him away to a distant star. He considers chess “a gift from extraterrestrial civilizations.” But despite the controversy and the finances, what’s really missing from chess is a character.The U.S. has three players in the world Top 10, any one of whom could have a shot at challenging Carlsen for the title in two years. They’re undeniably fantastic players. But they seem less like compelling national characters — and less like artists — than Fischer did. They’re technicians, raised in a computer-chess age. Carlsen ended the match and extended his world championship reign with a beautiful move on Wednesday evening — whether he’d admit its beauty or not — sacrificing his queen to entrap Karjakin’s king. But in one of the postgame press conferences, Carlsen said chess was a sport and a science. For art, he said, you’d “have to look elsewhere.”
In many ways, Thursday’s pivotal Game 5 between the Raptors and Bucks embodied the topsy-turvy nature of this Eastern Conference finals series as a whole. Milwaukee, the winner of the first two games, dominated the early portion of the contest, only for Toronto, which took Games 3 and 4, to come storming back.But down the stretch, three things broke what had been a stalemate in both the series and the game: the Raptors’ ability, once again, to grind Milwaukee’s fast-paced offense to a halt in the half-court; Leonard’s playmaking reaching new, impressive heights; and Toronto’s knack for repeatedly winning a handful of key 50-50 plays during the final five minutes. Those factors lifted Toronto to a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series as things head north for Game 6 on Saturday.Early on Thursday, it looked like the Bucks might run Toronto out of the gym, with Milwaukee taking an 18-4 advantage before closing the first quarter with a 10-point lead.But even in winning that quarter, the reality was that the Bucks still hadn’t solved their biggest issue. While Milwaukee generally scored at will when it managed to get out in transition — where Giannis could have his way, Eurostepping around people like a Lamborghini making aggressive lane changes — the club still wasn’t productive enough when forced to run its half-court offense.According to advanced stats site Inpredictable, Milwaukee’s offense is scoring a dismal 96 points per 100 possessions when forced to take the ball out after a basket in this series — way worse than the 114 points per 100 plays the Bucks get following a defensive board, and way way worse than the 132 points per 100 plays they score after forcing a Toronto turnover.The Bucks can score in the half-court much of the time, but it has been far more of an uphill climb when Toronto throws down its trump card by deploying neutralizer Kawhi Leonard on Giannis. The Bucks have been almost 29 points less efficient per 100 possessions this series1From 114.4 points per 100 possessions to 85.6 points per 100 possessions. when Antetokounmpo is guarded by Kawhi, according to data from Second Spectrum. (There were hints in the regular season that Leonard — a break-in-case-of-emergency defensive option because of all the offensive weight he shoulders for the Raptors — could limit the Greek Freak. According to the NBA’s matchup data, the likely MVP took just three shot attempts in the 31 regular-season possessions Leonard guarded him.)Milwaukee again got nothing out of Nikola Mirotic, who’s been ice cold this series at just 19 percent (6-for-31) from deep and is a -37 through five games. (The Bucks are +37 in the series with Mirotic on the bench.) It also didn’t help to get a bad shooting night from Khris Middleton, who finished with 10 rebounds and 10 assists but had just 6 points after scoring 30 in Game 4.By contrast, the Raptors got another great performance from reserve Fred VanVleet, perhaps feeling less burdened now after the birth of his child; VanVleet hit seven triples, all uncontested.If Toronto comes back from its 2-0 hole to win this series — something that’s only happened five times in 72 tries since the conference finals moved to a best-of-seven format — VanVleet will have played a huge role in the feat. In the last two games alone, he’s hit more threes than he did over his first 15 games of this postseason. And after shooting just 28.6 percent from deep in last year’s playoffs, and 20 percent from three over the first two rounds of this year’s playoff run, he’s hitting better than 52 percent of his attempts (12 of 23) in the Eastern Conference finals.Speaking of 3-pointers, Kawhi hit five Thursday night, including a couple late, where he punished the Bucks for switching (something they don’t often do) center Brook Lopez onto him at the top of the key.More noteworthy than Leonard’s triples, though, were the career-high nine assists he logged — every single one of which led to a Raptors’ 3-pointer. (Toronto finished with a franchise playoff record 18 threes on the night.) Those nine threes he assisted are tied for the most by a single player in a playoff game over the last 20 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group.2With Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams and Blake Griffin.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/KAWHI-2.mp400:0000:0002:17Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.On some level, that assist total — along with VanVleet’s scoring — is perhaps the toughest box-score stat for Milwaukee to swallow, given that Leonard’s play-making for others was the one area that seemed safest to test. He also finished with 35 points of his own, making him just the sixth player in NBA postseason history to log seven 35-point games before the NBA Finals.Despite all this, though, the Bucks still had a chance at the end. But Toronto seemingly made every big play down the stretch. Over the last five minutes alone:The Raptors nabbed two offensive rebounds before capitalizing on the extra chances with a Marc Gasol triple, which put Toronto up by 7 points, 92-85, with 4:54 left.VanVleet hit a wide-open 3-pointer that Middleton couldn’t contest because of a great back-screen Gasol set on him during a kick-out pass from Kawhi. The shot broke a tie game with 2:21 left.Kawhi missed a three but then raced in to get his own board while Gasol was grappling with Antetokounmpo. The play resulted in Kawhi getting fouled and getting two free throws out of it.Confusion between Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon on who had VanVleet in the corner. Middleton, guarding Kawhi in a 1-on-1 scenario, pushed Leonard to his left, thinking he had sufficient help behind him at the rim. But because Lopez had moved toward the corner to cover VanVleet, the help wasn’t there, and Leonard got to the line again, where he made one of two.Kawhi missed an end-of-clock jumper, which glanced off the rim and somehow ended up in the hands of Gasol, who was subsequently fouled by Lopez with about 35 seconds left in the game. (It’s worth mentioning here that the Raptors were elite at coming up with loose balls all season.)Down by 3 points, the Bucks blew their last opportunity to tie things up when Brogdon dribbled the ball off his leg, and out of bounds, with just under 27 seconds left.The result, of course, was the 60-win Bucks — who hadn’t had a three-game losing streak all year, and entered Thursday 33-0 when leading going into the fourth quarter — snapping both those streaks at the worst possible time. Now they’ll head north, with their backs against the wall, while the Raptors seek to make history by clinching a spot in the NBA Finals on their home floor.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here. CARMELO is bullish on Kelly Olynyk, the 7-foot Canadian with flowing hair. So are the Celtics when he doesn’t hesitate with his shot and emerges as a floor-stretching weapon. CARMELO is not kind to Amir Johnson, who is typically an advanced stats darling. The Celtics signed Johnson for two years at $24 million because they believe he’ll give their defense a boost with pure hustle and an ability to help protect the rim. The Celtics love Jae Crowder’s intangibles and believe they got much more than a $35 million Jud Buechler in re-signing Crowder to a long-term deal this summer. Nate Robinson as the top comp? Is CARMELO making height jokes? (Even better, the Celtics traded away Robinson in 2011 as a throw-in to the Jeff Green/Kendrick Perkins deal.) It’s interesting that projections suggest that Isaiah Thomas will maintain his 2014 offensive impact, but regress defensively. The Celtics did a good job of masking Thomas’s defensive deficiencies by often putting versatile, defensive-minded players around him. Thomas was the main reason for Boston’s second-half surge last season, and he is the straw that stirs the drink. Somehow the “Swedish Larry Bird” nickname for Jonas Jerebko sounds a lot cooler than “Swedish Scott Padgett.” Here’s what is in store for the key Celtics players in 2015-16 (you can find Boston’s entire roster — and every other NBA player — here):You had Celtics fans at James Harden, CARMELO (and Paul George isn’t a comp Boston fans will sneeze at, either). OK, so Marcus Smart’s encouraging projections probably aren’t enough for Ainge to call off the hunt for an elite talent, but Smart, the No. 6 pick in the 2014 draft, is clearly Boston’s best hope for a homegrown star. He’s already a defensive menace, the question is whether he can confidently run an NBA offense. Jared Sullinger must prove he’s capable of staying healthy in what amounts to a contract year. The Boston Celtics didn’t just bring back 10 players from a second-half hot streak, they also added veteran big men David Lee and Amir Johnson to their roster. You’d have to be chugging the green Kool-Aid to expect Boston to maintain its second-half pace — the Celtics’ 24 wins in 36 games would put them at 55 wins (?!) on the season — but most fans do expect them to take another step forward after a 40-win season. For the first time in his brief NBA career, coach Brad Stevens will endure the burden of expectations, and that will start with getting this team back to the playoffs. Until GM Danny Ainge starts using the team’s surplus of future draft picks, Stevens will have to get there without an obvious superstar at the helm of his roster.Even without that superstar, FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO1Career-Arc Regression Model Estimator with Local Optimization. expects the Celtics to go 48-34. The Knicks signed top comp Robin Lopez to a four-year, $54 million contract this summer, so maybe Boston ought to consider a reasonable extension with Tyler Zeller before the end of October if he fits the team’s future plans.
FiveThirtyEight More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (Mar. 28, 2017), we preview the Final Four in the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments. Next, is Colin Kaepernick being blackballed by the NFL? We investigate. Finally, we preview the American League and ponder who might take down the Red Sox, Indians and Astros. Plus, a significant digit on the Oakland Raiders’ upcoming move to Las Vegas.As promised, a photographic throwback to Kate Fagan’s days as a professional basketball player for the Colorado Chill.In the aftermath of the latest round of the men’s NCAA tournament, Neil explained why this year’s Final Four is built on defense.ESPN notes that the men’s Final Four is full of unfamiliar faces this year.FiveThirtyEight’s Benjamin Morris says UConn’s path to perfection has become much easier.ESPN’s Dan Graziano argues that no matter which side of the Colin Kaepernick debate you’re on, you’re wrong.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s chats previewing the AL East, AL Central and AL West.Significant Digit: $750 million, the public subsidy that was offered to the Oakland Raiders to move to Las Vegas. According to The New York Times, Las Vegas politicians raised taxes to supply this new funding.
Alexander Zverev, the 20-year-old tennis wunderkind now ranked fourth in the world, has everything a future champion could hope for. He’s tall — 6 foot 6 — yet coordinated. He has a strong serve and hits deadly forehands and backhands. Zverev already has six ATP titles, including two Masters titles he won by beating Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in finals. There’s just one problem: At Grand Slam tournaments, he’s a dud.There’s no obvious reason why: Zverev looks and trains like a Grand Slam contender. His serve and steady strokes should dominate in best-of-five-set matches, and by all accounts he’s in excellent physical shape. Yet at major tournaments, he struggles and, inevitably, stumbles. In his career as a pro, Zverev has never gone beyond the fourth round at a major, and he only got that far once. He never reached higher than the third round at the Australian Open and French Open, and he topped out at just the second round in the U.S. Open.When you compare Zverev to other current tennis stars, his Slam failures stand out. Active men’s pros who have won majors produced a range of results in their early years.1Through the year in which they turned 20. Rafael Nadal, the most astonishing youngster of the bunch, won 17 ATP tournaments through his age-20 season, including one French Open title. Nadal leads top pros with the highest overall winning percentage, followed by Djokovic, Andy Murray, and then Zverev. Through last year, Zverev even had a winning percentage of .407 against players ranked in the top 10, which was better than that of Federer and Djokovic at the same age, though still only good for fifth best on our list of standouts.2Behind Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, Stan Wawrinka and Murray.But at the Grand Slams, Zverev fades away. He has the second-worst winning percentage among this group, just barely ahead of Juan Martin del Potro. Djokovic, now the winner of 12 major titles, had reached one Grand Slam final before the end of his age-20 season. Andy Murray reached the fourth round at three of the Slams. Even Marin Cilic, who had a losing record in his early years, had a higher winning percentage than Zverev in Slams.Zverev’s early losses don’t seem to have anything to do with unlucky draws, either. Some matches, in fact, are the opposite: He blew wins that, by rankings, should have been his. In 2015, he lost the second round of Wimbledon to a wild card, the small, quick American Denis Kudla. In 2016, Zverev was seeded No. 27 at the U.S. Open when he lost to an unseeded Brit, Daniel Evans. Last year was the worst of all. At the French Open, he lost in the first round to Fernando Verdasco, a 33-year-old solid clay court player, but unseeded. And then at the U.S. Open, Zverev, ranked No. 4 in the world, couldn’t outhit the smaller and unseeded Borna Coric, who won in four sets. (Coric lost his next match.)So far at the Australian Open, Zverev has won two rounds fairly easily and will face another young opponent, 21-year-old Hyeon Chung, who is not seeded, in the third round. If Zverev gets through that round, he could next face Novak Djokovic, who is trying to make a comeback from his right elbow injury. In other words, this just might be an ideal Slam for a strong Zverev run.No matter what happens, though, Zverev has one thing working in his favor: time. Tennis champions are lasting longer these days, but Federer and Nadal won’t be around forever. And Zverev looks like he can still improve. If all goes well, maybe his Grand Slam story will change from struggles to dominance.
When Vic Fangio was named defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears in 2015, he took the helm of a ship that was essentially already at the bottom of the ocean. Not only were the Bears mired in a four-season playoff drought, but Chicago was also coming off consecutive seasons in which it fielded arguably the worst defense in franchise history.“We obviously aren’t a good team,” defensive end Jared Allen succinctly put it in 2014 after the Bears allowed consecutive opponents to pile up 50-plus points, a feat that had no precedent in modern professional football.Now, Chicago is under the direction of head coach Matt Nagy, atop the NFC North and in the midst of a three-game winning streak for the first time since the beginning of the 2013 season. But seemingly all anyone can talk about is Fangio’s defense.In its most recent victory, Chicago dismantled Tampa Bay’s then-league-best offense in a 48-10 bloodletting. Chicago’s front seven had Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston, who made his season debut, running toward the nearest airport.Fitzpatrick and Winston haven’t been Chicago’s only victims, though.When it comes to getting at the quarterback, the Bears are off to the third-best start in franchise history. Even though the team had a bye in Week 5, its 18 sacks rank second in the league, one shy of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 19. One-fourth of Chicago’s 16 best single-game sack performances since 2015 came in the first four weeks of this season. At 4.5 sacks per contest so far, Chicago is on pace to tie the NFL single-season sack record of 72, a record the Bears set in 1984.Chicago’s 11.6 percent sack rate1Sack rate is the number of sacks of the opposing quarterback divided by the quarterback’s total dropbacks, including passing attempts and sacks. is 1.5 percentage points ahead of the next-best team. If the Bears can maintain that pace, they would set the the fifth-best mark since 1980, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. Chicago’s defense is collapsing the pocket better than perhaps any team.But here’s the remarkable thing about the Bears: They are racking up the sacks despite hardly blitzing.The Bears rank last in the league in blitzing, defined as sending five or more pass rushers at a quarterback who’s dropping back to throw, with 5.0 per contest, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information Group. If Chicago maintained its blitz average for the rest of the season, it would be the sixth-lowest rate since 2006, the first year for which data is available. Other teams have used this formula before. Most notably, Jacksonville last season was able to get to the AFC championship game and field one of the best defenses in football while ranking second in sacks and last in blitzes. Chicago’s defense is 7.6 points better than average this season, according to Pro-Football-Reference’s Defensive Simple Rating System. That’s the franchise’s best mark since the 1985 and 1986 campaigns, when the Bears went a combined 29-3 and won a Super Bowl.Blitz-less defenses aren’t always dominant; the 2006 Indianapolis Colts blitzed the least of any team for which data is available and were the fourth-worst defense in the AFC. But Chicago’s defense is dominating, leading the league in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average,2DVOA is a statistic that “measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent.” while ranking no lower than third in pass and rush defense.This weekend, Chicago travels to Miami to take on a Dolphins outfit missing several offensive linemen, setting the stage for more defensive highlights from the Bears. A franchise long synonymous with hard-nosed defense and strong play from the linebacker corps has re-established its identity under Fangio.Check out our latest NFL predictions. This is in no small part a function of the Bears’ new $141 million linebacker. Khalil Mack, who became the highest paid defensive player in NFL history after the Bears traded for him last month, is tied for fifth in the NFL in sacks (five) and tied for first in forced fumbles (four). In terms of pressure applied, Mack is ahead of the pace he set in 2016 when he was named defensive player of the year. In Week 3 of this season, during the Bears’ 16-14 win over Arizona, the Cardinals went as far as tasking three men with containing Mack. Late in the second quarter, after Mack beat every last one of those Cardinals, his teammate Akiem Hicks swooped in for the sack.Mack is not only a transcendent talent capable of getting to the quarterback on seemingly every snap; his play has also raised the performance of his teammates. Mack, Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Aaron Lynch and Roy Robertson-Harris have accounted for at least 1.5 sacks apiece this season. “Those boys inside can raise so much hell, it’s outrageous,” said hell-raiser Richard Dent, a Hall of Fame defensive end and a member of the vaunted 1985-86 Bears defense, in an interview with The Athletic.Blitzing requires a defensive player to eschew coverage in favor of pressure. Like so many other aspects of football, the blitz is a risk-reward proposition. Get to the quarterback quickly enough, and the play is over — and you may have even created a takeaway. Get to the quarterback a step late, and he will likely find a target in the hole you’ve left.Leaguewide, blitzing is trending down, largely because the game has gotten faster and offensive efficiency continues to skyrocket. It seems that defensive coordinators are content to send fewer pass rushers at the quarterback and instead rely on their secondary in coverage. In four consecutive seasons, the number of blitzes faced by quarterbacks has dropped, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information. Opposing quarterbacks saw a 17 percent decrease from 2013 to 2017 in total five-man blitzes.Long a proponent of blitz-scarce schemes, Fangio oversees an optimal situation in Chicago, where the Bears largely abstain from blitzing — yet they still manage to get to the quarterback.“I think the ideal thing is you’d like to pressure when you want to and not feel like you have to,” Fangio told The Athletic. “If you can get to that point, then you feel pretty good.”Fangio was well ahead of the trend of blitz-less defenses. He has held an NFL defensive coordinator role each season since 2011, when he took that job with the San Francisco 49ers, and over that stretch, his defenses have always been among the league’s most blitz-reluctant outfits.
There wasn’t much excitement swirling around Buckeye nation after the football team’s 24-6 loss in Miami on Sept. 17, but a change at the quarterback position followed by a win might have been just enough to get the fans back into it. The excitement began last Thursday, when coach Luke Fickell announced that true freshman Braxton Miller would be replacing redshirt senior Joe Bauserman as the starting quarterback. With his new responsibility, the young freshman impressed the crowd of more than 105,000 fans Saturday at Ohio Stadium as he earned his first career win as a starter, throwing two touchdowns to fellow freshman Devin Smith, while cruising to a 37-17 win over Colorado. Miller’s performance put a little swagger in the Buckeyes step and rallied the fans and his teammates. “His (Miller) stats are great, but the moves he was putting on guys, just making people look stupid — it was fun to watch,” said Kyle Morrison, a first-year in business. Fickell expressed his own excitement with Miller and his team. “We had to play with some emotion,” he said. “I think that’s what we wanted, to get back home and get that feel of emotion, get those guys on the sidelines, gets the students into it. And I think that’s what we saw out there today from the beginning of the game, really, to all the way to the end. We’re excited about those things.” And the students were into it. “It was electric,” Morrison said. “I thought they did a great job, the crowd was incredible.” For first-year Alex Allen, Saturday’s game marked his first visit to the ‘Shoe. “It was breathtaking,” Allen said. “It was overwhelming to see it all and realize I’m finally watching a game at The Ohio State University.” As for the intensity of the crowd, “It was crazy,” Allen added. “It’s Block ‘O’ so we had to be.” Fickell again mentioned the impact of the student body at home games in a press conference on Tuesday. “I think the one thing our guys enjoyed as much as I did is having students back on campus … Obviously the way we played is a boost, but it’s nice to have that behind you,” Fickell said. “Really want to thank them. Hopefully they continue to do the same things and get better each and every week.” That electric and crazy crowd will need to stick around Saturday as the Buckeyes play host to Michigan State (3-1), coming off of a blowout win against Central Michigan. “The crowd is going to be fantastic,” said Alex Grant, a second-year in actuarial science. “I know it’s going to be crowded like always.” But Buckeye fans are looking for more than positive energy in their first conference game. They’re looking for a win. “Hopefully we win,” said Andrew Scholl, a second-year in marketing. “It will be exciting. I mean, it’s Ohio State football, It’s always exciting.” And the Buckeyes have more excitement on the way. Not only does Big Ten play begin Saturday, it also marks a one-week countdown to the return of suspended key players, Dan “Boom” Herron, DeVier Posey, Solomon Thomas and Mike Adams. But it’s the return of another starter that has some fans excited for Saturday’s game. “Braxton Miller,” said Tyler Edwards, a first-year in exercise science. “We’re (students) going crazy about him.”