Posts tagged with "playoffs"

Basketball illustrated by Mina Tocalini for 360 MAGAZINE.

NBA Finals 2020 Viewership Drops 50%

The sports world is one of the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with many major sports all over the world coming to a complete halt. Even after many leagues returned it was clear that the “new normal” will have a significant effect on the entire sports world. With the pandemic throwing many sporting calendars and seasons in chaos, the makeshift calendars proved detrimental to viewership numbers. According to data presented by Safe Betting Sites, the 2020 NBA Finals recorded a 50% drop in viewership compared to the 2019 Finals.

COVID-19 Positive Tests  Suspended NBA Season “Until Further Notice”

On March 11, 2020, The Utah Jazz were scheduled to play the Oklahoma City Thunder despite the threat of COVID-19 already rising in other parts of the world. This was until The Jazz’s star centre Rudy Gobert of France tested positive for the virus. This prompted the league to cancel the game merely minutes from tip-off. The league subsequently suspended the remainder of the 2019-2020 season until further notice. In June it was then announced that the season will be restarted on July 31st with an improvised schedule taking in consideration teams current position on the standings when play was suspended. It was agreed that seeding games would be played for all teams that finished within six games of a playoff spot when play was halted.

Season Restarted Under “Bubble Conditions”

As part of the plans for a restart, the NBA instituted a strict medical protocol leading up to the restart as well as during the entire playoffs were played. The games were played in controlled venues within Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida which was popularly referred to as “the bubble.” The entire playoffs were played in the bubble with no physical fans in attendance. Many players likened the experience to their days as AAU players before their NBA careers.

The 2020 NBA Finals pitted the Eastern Conference Champions Miami Heat against the Western Conference Champions, LA Lakers. The finals are traditionally played sometime in June but the pandemic forced an almost 4-month delay with Game 1 played on September 30. This delay, as well as the unique atmosphere the bubble brought, were a clear contributor to the significant decline in viewership numbers.

Tumultuous Time In US History Leads To  Decrease In Ratings

The 2020 NBA finals saw an average viewership of 7.5 million viewers. This is a 51% drop compared to the 2019 Finals which recorded an average of 15.14 million viewers. It is also the lowest number of average viewers of any Finals in the last two decades. Expectedly, the 2020 Finals also saw the lowest TV ratings in the last two decades with a rating of 4 compared to 8.8 in 2019.

At around the time of the improvised Playoffs, the US  was going through a tumultuous time in its history in several aspects that also contributed to the decrease in viewers. The COVID-19 pandemic was still ravaging through several states which completely altered many people’s daily routine. The pandemic also meant that sports bars and other venues such as casinos were unavailable and thus the Finals reached far fewer people than in previous years.

The delay in the playoffs also meant that the Finals were staged closer to the critical November 2020 US Presidential elections which meant that people’s focus was dramatically shifted. This combined with the pandemic meant more people were tuning in to news programs rather than sporting events.

Significantly, before and during the NBA’s restart the Black Lives Matter movement was also in full swing as cities around the US protested the infamous death of George Floyd in the hands of police. Another shooting of an African-American man in the city of Milwaukee prompted the Milwaukee Bucks to boycott their playoff game against the Orlando Magic and refused to take to the court. After discussions were held NBA players agreed to play on deciding instead to use their platform to bring awareness to social justice causes. This included wearing NBA jerseys with social justice messages chosen by the player. While the move was commended by many, the polarizing nature of the issue meant that the NBA inevitably lost some viewers who had opposing views.

Trevor Bauer x Lids

All-star Cincinnati Reds pitcher and 2020 Cy Young Award finalist Trevor Bauer has partnered with Lids, the leading sports retailer.

In the 25-year history of Lids, Bauer is the first MLB player to partner with the company. Lids will become the exclusive headwear retailer for Bauer.

Bauer caught attention for his personal merchandise and custom cleats during the 2020 baseball season, and he will unveil several limited-edition custom hats, shirts and customizations throughout the year, all of which will be available nationwide.

Bauer said he has been a Lids customer for many years.

“As I’ve become more invested in design and branding in recent years, the opportunity to collaborate with such an iconic retailer, especially as its first MLB athlete partner, is really meaningful,” Bauer said.

Lawrence Berger, co-founder and partner at Ames Watson and Chairman of FanzzLids Holdings, said Bauer is equally impressive on and off the mound.

“Lids has been the leading headwear retailer for years, in large part due to the popularity of baseball hats, and we cannot think of a better individual to be our first MLB athlete partner than Trevor. We look forward to combining his passion for design with our talented creative team to make some incredible merchandise and content,” Berger said.

Bauer is the reigning MLBPA Players Choice NL Outstanding Pitcher and a finalist for the 2020 National League Cy Young Award, which will be announced Wednesday.

Bauer puts his season up against those of Jacob deGrom, who won the award in 2018 and 2019, and Yu Darvish, who debuted in 2012 with Bauer and is eyeing his first Cy Young Award, as well.

Bauer posted his career-best earned run average in 2020 of 1.73, second best in baseball only behind Cleveland Indians ace Shane Bieber. He won five games and anchored a Reds pitching staff that landed the seventh seed in the playoffs.

He also garnered attention for contributions to baseball as a whole with his self-titled YouTube channel and Momentum, an athlete-driven media company with the goal of connecting fans to the game.

Momentum uses authentic player stories to affect the public perception of baseball. With over 500 original pieces of audio and video, Momentum has built popular series like Bauer Bytes and Live At Bats. Its content has also been distributed through digital channels and partners like PlayersTV and FOX Sports.

You can follow Bauer on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

You can also follow Lids on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Los Angeles Dodgers Win 2020 World Series

The 2020 World Series was one that baseball fans won’t forget anytime soon. A season that struggled to get off the ground and faced a few pandemic outbreaks ended with the most difficult gauntlet of a playoff format in baseball history. 9 wins later, the two best regular season teams in baseball clashed.

The season closed in Arlington with a battle between the little team that fully embraced modern baseball analytics and a team that, well, fully embraced modern baseball analytics but had way more money.

The Tampa Bay Rays, a team with the third lowest payroll in the entire league, were expected to be a team that put pitching and defense first, and that’s exactly what they did. Even with Brandon Lowe becoming the team’s breakout star on offense, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow and the “stable” of arms Tampa Bay bullpen made the Rays the best team in the American League.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, were expected to be one of the greatest teams of all time. The offseason acquisition of Mookie Betts, arguably the second best player in baseball, put them in conversation with the Yankees in the late 1920s and the Big Red Machine for the best offense of all time.

Impressively enough, Mookie Betts was the only superstar on the team that wasn’t homegrown or brought to prominence by the Dodgers. Justin Turner, Max Muncy and Chris Taylor were all reclamation projects, and platoon outfielder A.J. Pollock was signed in free agency, but almost the rest of the Dodgers core, including the pitching staff, was a product of incredible scouting, drafting, developing and extending.

LA finished the season with 43 wins, a pace that would have been good for 116 in a 162 game season, which would tie the regular season record. They even seemed to get better as the year went on, with Cody Bellinger finally coming around toward the end of the season and Corey Seager emerging as the player the Dodgers hoped he’d become when he won Rookie of the Year in 2016.

The Dodgers faced little adversity in the playoffs until the National League Championship Series, going up against the Atlanta Braves. The Braves had arguably the hottest offense in baseball, complete with the likely MVP of the National League in Freddie Freeman.

While the Braves jumped out to a 2-0 series lead, something seemed to click for the Dodgers in the seventh inning of game two. They couldn’t quite overcome a 7-0 deficit, but they picked up some momentum scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and four more in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The next day the Dodgers came out swinging with 11 runs in the first inning, basically ending the game before the Braves ever had a chance to answer. Behind five strong innings from Julio Urías, the Dodgers went on to win game three by a score of 15-3.

Clayton Kershaw fed the narrative that he struggles in the playoffs in game four giving up four runs over five innings on the way to a Dodgers loss. The boys from Chavez Ravine proceeded to play near perfect baseball the rest of the way, riding their bullpen in games five and seven and Walker Buehler in game six. A missile from defending MVP Cody Bellinger in game seven was the deciding factor and the exclamation point on LA’s third NLCS victory in the last four years.

The Dodgers met the Rays in the World Series, who were coming off a game seven themselves against the Houston Astros. Again, the Rays relied on pitching and defense to get through the playoffs, but they brought the hottest player in the playoffs into the World Series in left fielder Randy Arozarena.

When accounting for adjusted salary for his time in the majors and the shortened pandemic season, Arozarena made $90,000 in 2020. For reference, the two highest paid left fielders for the Dodgers, Joc Pederson and A.J. Pollock, made more than $10 million last year. Arozarena out-homered the Pederson-Pollock duo in the 2020 playoffs ten to two.

Unfortunately for Arozarena, he was the only member of the Rays consistently hitting. Just as the Rays had done all season, it was a new guy delivering the big hit every night. Mike Brosseau did it in game five of the American League Divisional Series against the Yankees, Kevin Kiermaier came up with a few clutch hits and Manny Margot played a big role in downing the Astros, but Arozarena seemed to be the only one the Rays could consistently count on.

Game one was proof of that as the Rays were shut down by Clayton Kershaw, who set the tone to repave his playoff legacy. Kershaw went six innings in the first game of the World Series, giving up just one run before exiting. Dodgers MVPs Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts both homered on the way to an 8-3 Dodgers victory.

The Rays evened the series in game two on the back of Brandon Lowe, who hit two home runs, driving in three runs. Rays third baseman Joey Wendle drove in two more on a fourth inning double and another on a sixth inning sacrifice fly. Homers from Chris Taylor, Will Smith and Corey Seager weren’t enough for the Dodgers as Blake Snell and the Rays bullpen held off the LA offense.

Though a score of 6-2 might not seem like a punishing victory for the Dodgers, they owned game three. The Dodgers current ace, Walker Buehler went six innings, striking out ten Rays batters and giving up just one run on a Willy Adames double. The bullpen trio of Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol and Kenley Jansen picked up where Buehler left off, giving up one run on a Randy Arozarena home run in the ninth. The Rays sent just 31 hitters to the plate.

Game four is the game that will go down in history. When everyone looks back on the 2020 World Series, they will probably remember games four and six. It might have been the craziest game of the year, and it happened on baseball’s biggest stage.

Two lefties started the game for the Dodgers and Rays, with Julio Urías and Ryan Yarbrough on the hill, respectively. Justin Turner opened the scoring with a home run in the first inning for the second night in a row. Corey Seager homered in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 2-0, a score that would hold for one inning when Randy Arozarena launched his second home run of the World Series and his record-breaking ninth of the postseason.

Heading into the top of the sixth, the Dodgers had a 3-2 lead, which they extended on a double from utility man Kiké Hernández. That set the stage for Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe, who launched a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to put the Rays on top for the first time in the game.

The Dodgers answered quickly on a Joc Pederson single that scored Corey Seager and Justin Turner, giving the Dodgers a 6-5 lead. The battle was just beginning, as Kevin Kiermaier homered in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at 6, only for Corey Seager to give the Dodgers the lead once again with an RBI single in the top of the eighth inning.

It was quiet until the bottom of the ninth inning, when the unlikely Rays postseason MVP Randy Arozarena stepped up the the plate with two outs and a man on first base. Arozarena worked a full count from Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, eventually drawing a walk to put runners on first and second base. That would bring up the most unlikely of heroes.

Brett Phillips didn’t even make the ALCS roster. He was with the Kansas City Royals before being traded to the Rays on Aug. 27. He originally pinch ran earlier in the game with little expectation of getting a plate appearance, but with the way Rays manager Kevin Cash uses his bench, the Rays were out of options. Phillips was going to bat.

Down to his last strike, the career .202 hitter flicked a ball into center field. Kevin Kiermaier score easily, but a bobble from Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor caused the Rays third base coach to send Arozarena to the plate in an attempt to score the winning run. Arozarena fell down on his way to the plate, which should have ended the inning.

The throw to the plate from Taylor was cut off by Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy, who relayed the ball to LA catcher Will Smith. Smith was unable to hang onto the throw, and the ball rolled to the backstop, allowing Arozarena to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. The long shot hero scored the Rays most valuable postseason player, and the sight of Arozarena pounding on home plate for the eighth run is something that will be burned in the memories of baseball fans forever.

Game five saw Clayton Kershaw take the hill once again to face Rays hard-throwing right hander Tyler Glasnow. Again, Kershaw set out to rewrite his playoff story, going five and two-thirds innings, striking out six and giving up two runs. Joc Pederson and Max Muncy both homered for the Dodgers on their way to a 4-2 victory.

Game six had the Rays up against a wall forcing them to send out their horse, Blake Snell. Randy Arozarena immediately launched a ball into the right field seats off Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin for his record tenth homer of the postseason. Snell was mowing down Dodgers hitters through five and one-thirds innings before giving up a single to catcher Austin Barnes.

The most talked about decision of the World Series came next, with Kevin Cash removing a blistering hot Snell from the game before facing Mookie Betts, who hit .208 against left-handed pitching in 2020. Right-hander Nick Anderson took the hill for the Rays, and Betts proceeded to slap a double down the left field line. A wild pitch with Corey Seager at the plate scored Barnes and advanced Betts to third, then Seager grounded a ball to first base, scoring Betts, who looked like he was out to prove he’s the best baserunner in the game this postseason.

The Dodgers went up 2-1, but for Rays fans and players, it must have felt like the score was 12-1, as the Rays couldn’t get a single thing going the rest of the game against the Dodger bullpen. Betts swatted a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning for an insurance run, and Julio Urías slammed the door over the last two and one-third to give the Dodgers their first World Series victory since 1988.

Corey Seager took home the trophy for World Series MVP, but Clayton Kershaw really stole the spotlight. The eight-time All-Star, three-time Cy Young winner and 2014 MVP Award winner picked up the first ring of his career in his tenth postseason. He was a lock for the Hall of Fame before 2020, but now he’ll get to make his induction speech wearing at least one World Series ring, and with the litany of young talent and financial resources at the fingertips of Dodgers management, he figures to eye a few more before he calls it a career.

In probably the worst story of the night, third baseman Justin Turner exited the game early because of a positive test for COVID-19. When it was announced at the conclusion of the game, it was a difficult moment for everyone who knew Turner had been with this Dodgers team the entire way. Outside of Kershaw, he might have been the most deserving of a celebration.

He even sent out a tweet thanking everyone for checking in on him and saying he could’t believe he couldn’t be out on the field to celebrate winning the World Series. The story went sour when it appeared that Turner actually did celebrate on the field, presumably placing everybody he came in contact with in danger.

The MLB released a statement saying Turner was adamant about celebrating on the field despite security officials advising him not to leave an isolated space. The story is still developing, but fans obviously voiced their discontent via social media, and it made the success of what MLB called their “bubble” to that point seem moot. While the disappointment for Turner being unable to celebrate a title that he was such a key part of is palpable, it is difficult to justify his actions exposing players, families and fans to COVID-19.

Turner, along with Pedro Baez, Kiké Hernandez, Jake McGee, Joc Pederson, Blake Treinen and Alex Wood, is set to become a free agent after not receiving a qualifying offer from the Dodgers. It is yet to be seen how this will affect him in free agency, or he could return to the Dodgers where he is already one of the organizations most beloved players.

The 2020 baseball season ended about as well as anyone who has lived through 2020 could have predicted, but baseball fans who were worried about 2020’s title feeling cheap seem to have come around to the idea that this title was equally or more trying to achieve. 60 games or 162 games, the 2020 Dodgers will go down in history.

Rita Azar Illustrates a Basketball Article for 360 MAGAZINE

Jaylen Brown x George Floyd Bill

by Justin Lyons

Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics wing, in a press conference Sunday said he would like to see the city of Boston pass the George Floyd bill.

Brown, who has been one of the more active players in social justice conversations throughout the NBA, was asked about the Celtics’ commitment to spend $25 million over the next ten years to fight social injustice.

He said it was a great step, and that change happens over a period of time, but he thinks there are things that can be catalysts for change right now.

“One thing I would like to see in Boston is the George Floyd bill enacted,” Brown said, adding that conversations need to be had about police and qualified immunity. “Some things just need to be held accountable, and hopefully Boston can be a place where a tone is set that can be transpired in other cities.”

Brown went on to say that he thinks Boston is moving in the right direction, but he would still like to see more companies and organizations be diversified as well as more opportunities for people of color.

“I’m proud to be a part of the Celtics organization. I’m proud to have an ownership group, or a leadership group, that’s willing to take these steps because they recognize that we need to live in a better, more forward progressing world.”

The George Floyd bill, or H.R.7120, aims to achieve a few goals.

First, it would lower the criminal intent standard to convict an officer of law enforcement. The standard currently requires that officers act willfully, while H.R.7120 would only necessitate that officers act knowingly or recklessly.

Second, it would limit qualified immunity, which grants officers immunity in lawsuits regarding violations of constitutional rights of civilians.

Third, it would allow the Department of Justice to issue authorizations to investigate departments demonstrating patterns of discriminatory practices.

It would also create a national registry of police misconduct, lay the bricks for prohibition of racial profiling and implement new standards for training regarding racial profiling and use of body cameras.

It passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 236-181, and it will move to the Senate.

Brown’s comments come just weeks after NBA players boycotted games on behalf of Jacob Blake, whom was shot seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and victims of police brutality everywhere.

A reporter asked Brown if he thought the boycott’s message was still effective even as players returned to the court.

“These issues have been here for a very, very long time, and they’re still going to be here regardless of if we protest or not or boycott or not. I think sports plays a huge role in society, and I’m very aware of that, so using our platform is something I’m always going to support,” Brown answered.

While he said the cure for racism might not come from the NBA, the players can always use their platform to let the world know that these issues are important.

Brown, who wears the word “Liberation” on the back of his jersey, scored 21 points and picked up eight rebounds to help the Celtics defeat the Toronto Raptors Friday by a score of 92-87. They advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals where they will meet up with the Miami Heat, who are playing on six days of rest after eliminating the Milwaukee Bucks in just five games.

The first game of the series begins Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. EST with the Celtics favored by a point and a half.

Rita Azar illustrates NBA basketball story for 360 MAGAZINE.

NBA Protests

by Justin Lyons

The clock struck 4:05 p.m. on Aug 26 in Orlando, and neither the Magic nor the Bucks were on the court for the tip-off of the fifth game of their playoff series.

Playing their home games just 40 miles from Kenosha, Wisconsin, it’s safe to say that the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police literally hit close to home for the Bucks players.

The Orlando Magic originally took the court for their game, but they decided to leave when it appeared the Bucks weren’t coming. That court was now empty aside from the NBA logos, the regulation markings and “Black Lives Matter” in bold text across the side closest to the scorer’s table.

Then, the tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski came at 4:13 p.m. Orlando time saying that the Bucks officially decided to boycott the fifth game of the series.

News broke later that the Rockets, Thunder, Trail Blazers and Lakers all decided to boycott their games, as well, in a show of unity.

It was the spark that started the fire, as basketball wouldn’t be played again until Aug. 29.

Bucks guard George Hill was one of the most outspoken players on the team regarding the shooting of Jacob Blake, making it very clear that he couldn’t continue to play basketball to distract from the reality of what’s happening in the United States.

The Brewers, the Milwaukee baseball team that plays its home games just a short drive from where the Bucks play, also decided to cancel their Aug. 26 game against the Reds.

Brewers star Christian Yelich said it was a unanimous decision from the team to not play.

“I think the Bucks spearheaded it for us,” Yelich said. “They started the discussion. It gave us a conversation to have. It was eye-opening for us, and we felt like it was the right thing to do.”

The NHL also joined in the protests, postponing games Aug. 27 and Aug. 28.

Later on the night of Aug. 26, Shams Charania reported via Twitter that the Lakers and Clippers, both of which are still contenders for the title, voted to boycott the rest of the season. LeBron James reportedly led the movement to cancel the season, which is no surprise given his history of fighting for social justice.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said the Bucks were able to get in contact with Blake’s father very quickly. Blake’s father was moved to tears by the gesture.

According to an article from ESPN, Antetokounmpo said, “Obviously, it’s gonna be games that you come in and score 30, 35, 50 or whatever the case might be, but that you’re going to remember. The way we felt, we’re going to remember the way we felt for the rest of our lives.”

The Bucks were eliminated from the playoffs Tuesday, which begs the question of how they will respond. Hill expressed disappointment that he had to be in the Orlando bubble instead of fighting for justice, so it should be interesting to see where the Bucks go from here.

Eyes are also shifting to the NFL, which starts Thursday. The entire nation will have its eyes on protests and social justice initiatives from a league that has been just as outspoken as the NBA.

Timberwolves Trade Jimmy Butler To Sixers

By Reid Urban

The Jimmy Butler era in Minnesota has finally ended.

The Timberwolves have agreed to send their star, along with Justin Patton, to the Philadelphia 76ers for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick. A trade call with the league to finalize the deal has been set for Monday.

For Sixers GM Elton Brand, this is his first major move since being named the GM a few months ago. This move will now allow the Sixers to have a third star on the team alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid without luring an impact player in the 2019 free agency period.

Mark Suleymanov of Hoops Rumors believes that this move could also take pressure off their 2017 first overall pick Markelle Fultz, as many had expected him to be the third star on that team. That has not worked out the way Philadelphia wanted it to yet.

Assuming that all goes well in Philadelphia, it could signal the way for both sides to reach an agreement on a long-term. In fact, it is believed Philadelphia wants to have the big three of Butler, Simmons, and Embiid around long-term. However, a major injury or poor play from Simmons and Embiid alongside Butler could diminish that possibility.

As for Minnesota, this trade ends the two-month saga of Butler asking for a trade request. This all started before training camps got underway before the season began, and this news of a trade request broke during a meeting between Butler and Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau. Although Butler didn’t initially report to camp, he eventually rejoined the team after the Wolves couldn’t find a trade partner right away. However, things took a somewhat sour turn with Butler’s expletive-filled rant in a preseason practice. Now, things have resolved themsleves, as Butler’s departure will give the team an opportunity to focus on a future centered around their young core in both Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

The Wolves will now add both Covington and Saric to their long-term plans. Saric won’t be a restricted free agency until 2020 and Covington is locked up through 2022. The team understandably didn’t want to take a step back in their roster-building process, having made the playoffs last season after a long absence out. As for Bayless, if the team can’t find a plan for him, he’ll be most likely bought out by the Wolves.

Looks like both teams got what they wanted in this deal. It gives Butler an opportunity to play with some stars and potentially become a long-term asset for the Sixers, while the Wolves get some players and a pick, in hopes that this trade will help them continue where they left off.

OLYMPICS x LIVE STREAM

The Winter Olympics in South Korea may be 14 time zones removed from the Eastern Time Zone of the US — but 43% of Americans say they plan to watch NBC’s live streaming content during the Games, with only 48% saying they did not have such plans.

A big chunk of the country — 63% — say they will watch at least some coverage of the Games, which begin Friday, February 8.  That is double those who said “no” (31%) to watching any coverage.

“That is a healthy number of people turning to devices other than television,” noted Rick Gentile, director of the poll, which is sponsored by the Sharkey Institute.   “You might call this the breakthrough year for streaming coverage making a big impact.”