Why you should care
Because uncertainty is more fun than dominance.
This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.
It didn’t take long for most NBA superstars to drop Team USA like a bad habit. At least for one non-Olympics cycle.
Ahead of this fall’s FIBA World Cup, which begins Aug. 31, most NBA A-listers have declined to ball this summer. Of the 29 players competing to make the 12-man roster that will be finalized this weekend, Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA participant. Gone are the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. In their place? Names like Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox and Donovan Mitchell.
And we couldn’t be happier.
This has the potential to be the most fun Team USA roster in years. Sure, a now-legitimate concern that America won’t win gold has some fans panicked about returning to the Dark Ages of 2002 — when a disinterested U.S. squad placed sixth. But these young players can continue America’s decade-plus of dominance. It’s time to turn the page.
Like Davis in 2012, Kevin Durant in 2010 and Carmelo Anthony in 2004, the young U.S. reps are about to take early steps toward greatness. Thrust into leadership roles against tough international professionals while learning from Gregg Popovich — not to mention proven vets like Walker, Kyle Lowry and the GOAT — they’ll learn what it takes to be great.
It’s fun to root while America wins world titles, but predictability has marred international basketball since 2004. With this talented, unproven group of Americans, that’s no longer the case. We do know that a team like Spain will whoop that ass if taken lightly.
Regardless of the outcome, the unknown is half the fun. Molding young superstars is the other.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
New England Revolution at Seattle Sounders (Saturday at 4:00 pm EST on ESPN+)
Unbeaten in five straight road games under coach Bruce Arena, New England heads west in the match between two teams pushing for a playoff spot.
- New England (+295)
- Seattle (-115)
Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers (Saturday at 9:00 pm EST on NFL Network)
Will Ezekiel Elliott’s eventual replacement emerge for the Cowboys? Will post-injury 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo look sharp? Yes, we’re asking you to pick the line in an NFL preseason game.
- Cowboys (+4.5)
- 49ers (-4.5)
Ones to Watch
Simone Manuel. Back at the 2016 Olympics, Simone Manuel, then a 20-year-old national champion swimmer at Stanford, became the first African American woman to win an individual swimming gold. Well, that same #BlackGirlMagic was on display at the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, last week. Not only did Manuel successfully defend her title as world champion in the 100-meter freestyle, but she also set a new American record in the process. In fact, Manuel completed a sweep of the 50- and 100-meter freestyles in South Korea, the first American woman to capture both world championships. Counting team relays, her total haul during the eight-day event included four gold and six silver medals. Out of competition, Manuel is using her platform to help lower the drowning rate within the Black community. She’s working with the USA Swimming Foundation, Akron (Ohio) Area YMCA and LeBron James’ I Promise School to deliver swimming lessons to all students this summer — with plans to go national in the future.
Josh Jacobs. With the new-look Oakland Raiders taking the NFL preseason’s spotlight on this season of HBO’s Hard Knocks, most conversation centers around head coach Jon Gruden, quarterback Derek Carr and the addition of All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown. There’s certainly no shortage of headlines with that trio — the latest, of course, being Brown’s frostbitten feet via excessive cryotherapy. But no player has the potential to spark success in Oakland more than rookie running back Josh Jacobs. A first-round pick (24th overall) out of Alabama, Jacobs looks ready to take a starting backfield role immediately. Even as the running back position becomes devalued in the modern NFL, one key to building a contender is having a breakout backfield talent on a rookie contract. That’s exactly what the Raiders have in Jacobs, whom Gruden will utilize as both a between-the-tackles rusher and pass catcher. As long as he is healthy, Jacobs could see 300 touches and become a favorite to win rookie of the year.
Baseball’s Wild-Card Race. If the Boston Red Sox have even the slightest hopes of repeating as World Series champions, they’d better start doing their best New York Mets impression. Wait, what? That’s right. Entering the season, who would’ve thought that, come Aug. 8, Boston would be four games over .500 (60-56) but still an astonishing 16 games back of the New York Yankees for the AL East crown and six games behind Tampa Bay for the second wild-card spot? After losing nine of their last 10, including a sweep by the Bronx Bombers, the Red Sox need to mount a comeback. And quickly. Which brings us to the Metropolitans. Left for dead before the All-Star break, the Mets have climbed to 59-56 and now sit just a half-game back of a wild-card spot in the National League. That NL race is much tighter, with six teams all within 3.5 games of the wild card. But after adding Marcus Stroman to a loaded rotation, and having won 13 of their last 14 games, the Mets are riding a wave that can’t be stopped. Oh, wait, this is the Mets we’re talking about …
Prehistoric Premier League. Premier League football officially returns this weekend after what must be the shortest offseason in all of sports. Do these lads ever get a break? Whatever the case, the world’s top footballers shouldn’t expect any breaks from officials this season now that Big Brother is watching them. Yes, to the chagrin of football traditionalists, the EPL will become the latest professional sports league to institute video-assisted replay (VAR), ensuring that not even a wisp of what Harry Kane calls a beard will go unchecked if offsides. VAR has been used by other top European leagues, the 2018 World Cup in Russia and this summer’s Women’s World Cup in France. Like an electronic strike zone in baseball, touchdown reviews in the NFL or challenges in tennis, VAR is seen by many as a natural progression. But it also has detractors who fear it could slow the game down and reduce its spontaneity and passion. They’re not wrong. To this point, the Premier League says they’ll use VAR only for “clear and obvious errors” and “serious missed incidents” for goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity.
The World’s Best Rugby Team Is Bleeding Top Players … to Japan, by Stephen Starr in OZY
Lured by pay that the country’s clubs and franchises cannot match, and a growing financial crisis afflicting rugby at home, New Zealand’s top national players are leaving in unprecedented numbers for Japanese clubs, giving up careers with the national team in the process.
Whatever Happened to Villanova Basketball Star Shelly Pennefather? ‘So I Made This Deal With God.’ by Elizabeth Merrill in ESPN
Shelly Pennefather is one of the best women’s basketball players to ever live, but in 1991, she gave up her career to become a cloistered nun at a monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. Now known as Sister Rose Marie, she is only permitted to physically embrace her family and friends once every 25 years.
‘We’re Lab Rats’: A Baseball League Where Stealing First Is OK by Tyler Kepner in The New York Times
There were Bees and Ducks on the field at New Britain Stadium last week, but all of them were really a different species. “We’re lab rats, which is fine,” said Wally Backman, the manager of the Long Island Ducks, in his office Tuesday night.
Rick Fox Shares New Details Regarding Controversy, Sale of Echo Fox LCS Franchise Slot, by H.B. Duran in The Esports Observer
Over the past several months, esports organization Echo Fox has been the subject of controversy involving racism and financial trouble. Co-founder Rick Fox finally opened up about the ordeal this week.
Two weeks ago, 23-year-old Nathan Patterson was at Coors Field to watch a Rockies game when he turned heads by throwing 96 mph at a speed pitch challenge. Turns out that was the second time in six months that Patterson’s viral speed pitch prowess had caught the eye of MLB scouts. The Oakland A’s signed Patterson to a minor league deal last week, and he has since signed on with MLB superagent Drew Rosenhaus. Never give up on your dreams, kids (especially if you’ve got a canon).
— Christian Patterson (@cpatterson_7) July 15, 2019