Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. The NBA playoffs are in full swing, but don’t overlook the WNBA.
In today’s SI:AM:
What to know as the WNBA tips off
The WNBA season gets underway tonight with a slate of four games, including the defending champion Sky taking on the Sparks. The league’s other four teams begin their seasons tomorrow, featuring the Sun and Liberty in ESPN’s first broadcast. Here is what to look out for as the season begins:
- How to watch: WNBA games will air on several different platforms. NBA TV will air the most games (46), followed by CBS/CBS Sports Network (40). ESPN (including ESPN2 and ABC) will air 25 games. There will be 20 games streaming on Facebook Watch, 17 on Prime Video and 12 on Twitter.
- Who to watch: This is almost certainly the final season for 41-year-old Sue Bird, so be sure to appreciate her greatness while she’s still around. The other person who will garner plenty of attention is new Aces coach Becky Hammon, whom Las Vegas hired from the Spurs to replace Bill Laimbeer.
- On the move: A few big names switched teams this winter, including Liz Cambage, Stefanie Dolson and Tina Charles.
- What’s new: The 2022 season will be the league’s first 36-game regular season, an increase from the previous 34-game standard. (The 2021 season was shortened to 32 games due to the pandemic.) The league has also tweaked the playoff format to do away with single-elimination postseason games. Instead, the first round will be a best-of-three.
- Title favorites: Ben Pickman ranks the Sun as the best team in the league. Connecticut had the best record in the league last year but was upset by the eventual champion Sky in the playoffs. The Sun return reigning MVP Jonquel Jones and added point guard Courtney Williams after her breakout season with the Dream last year.
The league has grown in popularity in recent years (TV ratings are on the rise), but it still has issues. Perhaps the biggest talking point in the days leading up to the season opener has been the roster crunch teams face. Storm forward Breanna Stewart spoke out this week about the restraints of the league’s hard salary cap, which led some teams to trim their rosters to 11 players (one less than the 12 they are permitted to carry).
“What the general public forgets at times, it’s not always about the best 11 players, it’s the best 11 players that fit under your salary cap,” Sun coach Curt Miller said this week. “And that is two different statements. The best 11 players aren’t always the best 11 that fit under the salary cap. So you have to make tough decisions to fit under a league that has a hard salary cap.”
The Sparks’ Chiney Ogwumike suggested that a WNBA version of the NBA’s developmental league could be a solution to teams having to cut draft picks, but that isn’t an overnight fix.
The best of Sports Illustrated
In today’s Daily Cover, Michael Pina looks at Desmond Bane and his lethal shooting stroke that caused headaches for the Timberwolves and has the Warriors paying attention:
“On the whole, these playoffs have placed a spotlight on what Bane has been doing all year, and how important his outside shot is to Memphis’s offense. After finishing second in three-point percentage during the regular season (only Clippers guard Luke Kennard was better than Bane’s 43.6%), Bane is 29-for-64 from deep in the postseason. Those 29 makes are more than any other player. That 45.3% is ridiculous.”
Check out our staff’s picks and predictions for the WNBA season. … Jeremy Woo ranks the top 100 prospects in the NBA draft, which is a month and a half away. … Emma Baccellieri breaks down why pitchers love throwing the “sweeper” now.
Around the sports world
The Mets pulled off a miraculous comeback, scoring seven runs in the ninth to beat the Phillies. … An on-course microphone picked up Sergio Garcia saying “I can’t wait to leave this tour” after a dispute with a rules official. … Magic Johnson has reportedly joined a group of investors looking to purchase the Broncos. … Joe Buck will be the lead voice on ESPN’s alternate broadcast of the PGA Championship. … A new book about Phil Mickelson claims he once had $40 million in gambling losses. … The NBA has suspended the Grizzlies’ Dillon Brooks for tomorrow’s Game 3 as a result of his hard foul on Gary Payton II in Game 2.
The top five...
… best parts of Shohei Ohtani’s game against the Red Sox:
5. Throwing 99 pitches for 81 strikes (better than any pitcher this season)
4. All 11 of his strikeouts
3. His reaction after his final K of the afternoon to end the seventh
2. Forgetting his batting gloves were in his pocket when he went back out to the mound
1. Hitting a line drive so hard (103.7 mph off the bat) that it knocked his own number off the scoreboard
Mother’s Day is this weekend. (I hope you already bought flowers.) On Mother’s Day in 2010, Dallas Braden of the A’s threw a perfect game. Who made the final out for the Rays?
- Gabe Kapler
- Willy Aybar
- Dioner Navarro
- Reid Brignac
Yesterday’s SIQ: How many consecutive games did Yankees shortstop Everett Scott appear in between 1916 and ’25, setting a new major league record?
Answer: 1,307. Scott’s streak remains the third-longest in baseball history, behind Cal Ripken Jr. (2,632) and Lou Gehrig (2,130).
Scott (nicknamed “Deacon”) began his career with the Red Sox and was part of three World Series–winning teams in Boston before being traded to the Yankees ahead of the 1922 season. He won a fourth ring with New York in ’23.
His games-played streak began June 20, 1916. It was in danger of being snapped in April ’23 after he sprained his ankle in an exhibition game, just as he was nearing the 1,000-game milestone. But Scott was able to stay on the field and extended the streak to 1,000 games on May 2 against the Washington Senators.
Scott wasn’t much of a hitter but was praised for his steady defense at short. As he aged into his 30s, though, his glove wasn’t as reliable as it had been, and beginning with the 1924 season, manager Miller Huggins contemplated benching him to allow him to recuperate from nagging injuries, according to Scott’s SABR biography.
By that time, Scott’s streak had reached epic proportions. He had long since passed George Pinkney’s major league record of 577 straight games and in 1923 surpassed that of a longtime minor leaguer named Perry Lipe, who appeared in 1,127 consecutive games.
Scott played every game in 1924, but the streak died early the following season. “Yankees pitchers supposedly went to manager Miller Huggins to complain about Scott’s defense early in the season,” Ken Murray of the Baltimore Evening Sun wrote in ’90. On May 6, Huggins put Pee-Wee Wanninger in the starting lineup at shortstop, ending Scott’s streak. (Wanninger, coincidentally, was the man Lou Gehrig pinch-hit for to begin his own famous streak later in the season.)
“Scott was angered by the move, and returned to Indiana for a few days to consider his options. He insisted that he was not upset by the end of the streak, but rather that he had been playing better and expected to play,” Ray Birch wrote in Scott’s SABR bio.
Though Scott would later return to New York and rejoin the Yankees, he was waived on June 17 and claimed by the Senators. He played one more season in the majors and three in the minors before retiring in 1929. Also an accomplished bowler, Scott owned bowling alleys and pool halls in Indiana after his baseball career was over. He died in ’60.
From the Vault: May 6, 1996
How do you write a profile of a subject who has no interest in talking with you? It’s one of the biggest challenges for a journalist but it has resulted in some of the best magazine pieces in history. The most famous example is Gay Talese’s 1966 Esquire article “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” which is still taught in colleges. More recently, there is David Foster Wallace’s 2006 New York Times story “Roger Federer as Religious Experience.”
Michael Bamberger’s 1996 profile of Albert Belle isn’t as high-concept as those stories, but it does share the same difficulty of having an unwilling subject. Actually, “unwilling” isn’t strong enough. Belle was outright hostile.
“Politely you ask him for an interview. Earlier on this March day he said, ‘How you doing?’ recognizing you as a fellow human being. Now he knows why you exist. He says, ‘Sports Illustrated can kiss my Black ass.’”
Belle was as famous for temper as he was for his big bat during his 12 years in the majors. Infamously, during the 1995 World Series, Belle blew up at current ESPN anchor Hannah Storm, who was then working as a reporter for NBC Sports:
“According to witnesses, Belle walked in and started shouting, ‘All you media a-------, get the f--- out of here now.’ Most of the reporters left, even though their presence was sanctioned by Major League Baseball. Storm, preparing to conduct an interview, stayed.
“‘I'm talking to you, you a------!’ Belle screamed at Storm. ‘Get the f--- out!’ Storm did not budge. Belle's tirade lasted five minutes. Only when he was finished did Storm begin to shake.”
Belle was fined a record $50,000 during spring training as punishment for the outburst.
Lashing out at Storm was just one example of Belle’s lousy relationship with the media. Bamberger relates another anecdote about Belle accusing Cleveland Plain-Dealer columnist Bud Shaw of rooting through his locker. ESPN’s Roy Firestone attempted to do a profile of Belle and spent three days reporting from Cleveland spring training in Florida only to have Belle bail on the interview.
His hatred for reporters likely cost Belle at least one MVP award. In 1995, he became the first major leaguer ever to record 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season, leading the big leagues in both categories. But the MVP, voted on by baseball writers, was narrowly awarded to Mo Vaughn, who received 12 first-place votes to Belle’s 11. Belle also finished third in MVP balloting in ’94 and ’96.
Bamberger’s piece details numerous instances of his volatile temper but also includes input from those close to him who say he was a different person around those who knew him best. It also addresses his attempts to better himself. During the 1990 season, Belle spent two months in a rehab facility seeking treatment for alcoholism. It was during that time that he started going by Albert (he had previously been known as Joey, a nickname taken from his middle name, Joquan). His decision to seek treatment was a relief to Belle’s team (the franchise now known as the Guardians), Bamberger wrote, because “[a]lcoholism gave a socially acceptable name to erratic behavior.” That behavior, though, continued after he completed the rehab program.
The 1996 season was Belle’s final one in Cleveland. He signed a five-year, $55 million contract (the richest in baseball at the time) with the White Sox the following winter. His career ended in 2000, after two seasons in Baltimore, due to a degenerative hip ailment.
Check out more of SI’s archives and historic images at vault.si.com.