Why you should care
The British Open is your one chance to quench your sports thirst for Zero Dark July.
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Zero Dark Thirty summer activated.
It’s common practice these days for athletes to take a social media hiatus during pivotal moments like the start of a season or a playoff run. Years ago, LeBron James famously coined the phrase “Zero Dark Thirty-23” as some sort of peculiar bat signal, a warning of sorts that the King was offline — emerging only to watch film, win titles and “accidentally” like the perfect booty on IG.
Mid-July is basically the opposite. With the Women’s World Cup, MLB All-Star Game, Wimbledon and a wild NBA free agency all yesterday’s news, sports fans jonesing for a fix are left with the World Series of Poker and baseball games that inspire little intrigue. And if their social media pages are any indication, the athletes are getting pretty bored too.
Between Dion Waiters shaming his fat shamers, Joel Embiid posing shirtless for Instagram likes, pretty much every athlete joining the #AgeChallenge-slash-Russian cyber threat and James going Full Dad on Taco Tuesday, one thing is clear: Ballers need to get back to ballin’.
Fear not: Help is on the way. In golf, a budding rivalry between strongman Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods takes center stage at the British Open this weekend. Tiger says Koepka snubbed him as a practice partner. Koepka, meanwhile, went full-on Iverson, saying he doesn’t practice because he’s just that good. We’re talkin’ ’bout … practice, right? Can golf quench the thirst of deprived summer sports fans? It’s a tall task, especially considering Woods and Rory McIlroy stunk up the course on Thursday and might miss the cut. But if weekend drama ensues, it might just hold us over for a lil’ bit.
At least until the U.S. Open and football season come around.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
Soccer: Philadelphia Union at Chicago Fire (Saturday at 7:30 pm ET on ESPN+)
First-place Philadelphia heads west to take on a Chicago Fire club pushing for a top-seven playoff slot.
- Philadelphia (-148)
- Chicago (+310)
Boxing: Keith Thurman vs. Manny Pacquiao (Saturday at 10:00 pm ET on PPV)
Thurman, a former unified world champion, will give 40-year-old Pacquiao everything he can handle in this legacy clash for the WBA welterweight title.
- Thurman (+115)
- Pacquiao (-145)
ONES TO WATCH
Julian Alaphilippe. French cyclist Alaphilippe has come out of nowhere to command a lead nearly halfway through the Tour de France. He’s hardly a favorite to hold the yellow leader’s jersey when the race completes on July 28, but through 12 stages, Alaphilippe remains 1:12 ahead of the second-place rider, Great Britain’s Geraint Thomas, while showing no signs of letting up. Ever since Alaphilippe took control of the yellow after Stage 3, few believed he could repeat a sustainable pace required of a field leader deep into the race. And yet Alaphilippe refuses to fall behind. “My Tour is already a success,” Alaphilippe said at a press conference on Tuesday. “I’ve never felt so good. I’m still quite fresh. I hope to surprise myself. Everything is possible, you never know.” Entering the mountainous Pyrenees region, Alaphilippe should at least hold yellow for a few more stages. After that, it’s anyone’s game. Only six other riders are within two minutes of the Frenchman.
Sifan Hassan. Over the weekend, Dutch sprinter Hassan ran a 4:12:33 mile at an IAAF Diamond League event in Monaco, France, breaking a world record that has stood since 1996. A world champion in the 1,500-meter indoor event who trains with Nike’s renowned Nike Oregon Project, the 26-year-old runner shocked herself and the field after starting the mile well off pace. And yet, she took more than two seconds off her previous best, completing her final 800 meters of the mile in a stunning 2:04. In the racing world, they call that a negative split. Hassan finished her final lap with the rest of the competition totally out of the frame on television. Great Britain’s Laura Weightman came in second with a time of 4:17.60. The Diamond League heads to Britain for an event at London’s Olympic Stadium this weekend, then visits Des Moines, Iowa, for the U.S. Track & Field Outdoor Championships on July 25.
NBA Rivalries. The past decade-plus of NBA action will be remembered as the superteam era. But after a flurry of free agency movement and a few shocking trades reshuffled the league’s entire fabric, superteams — or at least “power trios,” as we’ve come to know them — appear temporarily dead. So how will we view the decade ahead? A new era of NBA rivalries is arriving, driven not by regional loyalty but by the players themselves. Yes, this might just be the NBA’s next Bad Blood Era. From the ashes of a few superteams rises more than 10 clubs driven by superstar duos with title aspirations. They also have something to prove. Can James Harden and Russell Westbrook fit together? Is LeBron James a top-3 player anymore? Is this Kawhi Leonard’s league? Can Kyrie Irving ever lead a team? The biggest question of all is how a league full of superstars who gossiped, recruited and, in many cases, snubbed each other this summer will react on the hardwood. With Paul George versus Westbrook, Leonard versus James, Kevin Durant versus the Warriors, Irving versus the Celtics and Chris Paul versus Harden’s Rockets, next season will be chock-full of drama. Get your popcorn ready.
Youth Sports Specialization? The generational finger-wagging at highly specialized, overworked youth athletes is nothing new. For the most part, though, this criticism has been reserved for sports like baseball, where more and more pitchers are blowing out their arms at younger ages. Now we’re learning what it means for basketball players. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes outlines how modern AAU culture has produced a generation of players who are worn down from playing thousands more organized games but are also less mature physically by the time they reach the NBA. That lack of maturity plus the repetitive impact on bones and muscles leaves players injury-prone. LeBron James, the most famous player to have grown up in the modern AAU era, is approaching the 60,000-minutes-played mark, matched only by Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But how many of his peers’ bodies have broken down early because of specialization? James is the only active player remaining from his 2003 draft. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant, who currently ranks third all-time with 57,278 minutes played, credits his longevity to a lack of specialization while being raised in Europe.
That Time the King of the Streets Tussled With a Polar Bear, by Eugene S. Robinson in OZY
Mixed martial arts, a weird Frankenstein monster — equal parts circus sideshow, traditional martial arts event and tough-man competition — were not always entirely legal everywhere. Before the arenas and fanfare offered by the UFC, fighters used to square off just to prove they could.
How Gersson Rosas, a Colombian Immigrant, Became the First Latino to Run an NBA Team, by Ben Golliver in The Washington Post
Gersson Rosas will never forget his father’s “mandate.” The Minnesota Timberwolves’ new president of basketball operations was still young, acclimating to life in Texas, when he received the talk that set the framework for his future.
Sink or … Swim? Remembering Jean Van de Velde’s Infamous British Open Meltdown, 20 Years Later, by Elizabeth Nelson in The Ringer
The French golfer’s catastrophic 72nd hole at Carnoustie was not the stuff of abject failure, but a doomed folk hero undone by his danger-seeking. And it’s why we continue to think about it (and rewatch it) today.
Meet Joe Burrow: LSU’s Toughest Renaissance Man and Maybe Savior at Quarterback, by Ross Dellenger in Sports Illustrated
Joe Burrow is well-read on black holes, time travel and neutron stars. He’s a cartoon buff and a one-song guitarist. Oh, and he’s looking to be the savior at quarterback for an LSU program that badly needs one.
We’ll know on July 28 if Julian Alaphilippe is able to complete his shocking bid for the Tour de France yellow jersey. For now, the Tour’s most exciting videos come via what is becoming a concerning annual tradition: mountain bikers flying over the race. Really.