5-at-10: PGA Championship picks, ESPN lands a superstar, NBA draft ponderings

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, watches his tee shot on the 17th hole during a practice around for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Oak Hill Country Club on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Rochester, N.Y. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

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PGA Championship

So the PGA Championship — dare we say the Chuck Cunningham, Richie's older brother on "Happy Days" of majors and golf events, yes, it's part of being an all-timer, but just a small part — starts tomorrow.

Yay. I guess.

I want Rory to win, but can we trust?

I want the stars to contend, but Rahm vs. Koepka at Augusta was closer on the entertainment scale to insurance seminar than instant classic.

I want Phil to be in the mix, but the quiet, humble beaten-down-by-life-and-some-kind-of-Keto-diet Mickelson that has emerged post-LIV controversy is kind of creepy.

I want a traditional all-time venue like Oak Hill to be a star, but I think the weather may dictate that more than the surroundings.

So, wants are a situational frustration I suppose, even if I am going to give heavy consideration to picking Rory to win, even though he gagged so hard at Augusta, several patrons offered acid reflux meds.

(Counterpoint to Rory's gagging, he skipped the next event and got some real negative press for the first time in his career. That's motivation. Plus, his wife grew up near Oak Hill and Rory's a member there. Hmmmmmmm.)

If we were holding a contest, and I will share some of these thoughts on the afternoon Plays email later today, too, here's some of the action I will invest in.

— Dustin Johnson at 30-to-1 to win, and plus-260 to finish top-10. Gang, DJ is still at or near the top of a very shortlist when everyone brings their A-game to the course. And considering the way he's played on the LIV and the things he has said, he believes his A-game is in the bag this week.

— Tony Finau, another guy that could merit sprinkles across multiple betting options this week. And with the exception of Rahm and Scottie Scheffler, Finau likely has been the best week-in, week-out PGA player for the better part of the last year.

— Rory, for the above reasons. And because I want to root for him if that makes sense.

— In terms of extreme betting value, I think big-game hunting Patrick Reed and consistently underappreciated Sahith Theegala are awesomely priced. Each is plus-750 to finish top-10 and at plus-18000 to win. (Lean more on the former than the latter, but still.)


Oh, my pick to win. Xander Schauffle. Or Rory.

ESPN's big addition

Trying to remember the last headline that portrayed good news for Disney.

Fights at the Magic Kingdom among patrons. Fights with the Florida governor. Fights in courtrooms with investors. And that's just in the last week.

Maybe this one counts for the land of Mickey: ESPN (owned by Disney of course) has lured sports-broadcasting superstar Pat McAfee to Bristol.

McAfee has crafted his attention-gathering niche by being unique, vibrant and true. He's entertaining on almost every platform, and his insertion into the ESPN megaverse will be quite interesting to watch.

In a lot of ways he's the anti-Greeny in terms of style and shock-appeal.

But that's not entirely fair because Greeny is also very entertaining, and will continue to be the straight man on a variety of ESPN vehicles on TV and radio.

Which brings us to McAfee, who reportedly got a monster deal — in the eight-figure annually neighborhood, and we all know that is a glorious neighborhood — and where he will fit in the ESPN rotation.

He's glorious on College GameDay, and that figures to continue. But he's also bringing his entire crew that made the Pat McAfee radio show one of the most popular around with one of the most loyal fan bases.

You don't pay that much money for an entire show — no matter how popular — just to leave it on YouTube or other streaming platforms, right?

Could McAfee and Co. be the next morning show? Do you know anyone who regularly listens to the Keyshawn, Jay-Will and Max show on ESPN national?

Now it's not all rosy and rah-rah, even though adding McAfee is a true star signing for the Mothership.

Because the monster deal comes right in the middle of a multi-layer layoff process at ESPN.

NBA draft chatter

I love the draft. You know this.

In fact, the draft love started with the NBA draft back when we knew all the college basketball superstars in the early and mid-1980s.

There was the race to get Ralph Sampson. There was the Bowie miscue-y. There was the Len Bias nightmare. (Sorry, Spy. He was my favorite, too.)

There was another pick in that famed 1984 draft — some kid named Stockton from some school named Gonzaga — that my best friend mocked mercilessly because the highlights looked like he was playing at a large high school in Gwinnett County.

That was likely my first draft whiff. Not my biggest, mind you since, I was over-the-top in my QB Josh Allen criticism a few years ago. So it goes.

But the NBA draft was on my mind during last night's NBA draft lottery, which the San Antonio Spurs won and ecstatically celebrated the right to draft 7-foot-4 point-center Victor Wembanyama.

During the lottery process, the praise for Wembanyama was all-encompassing.

Several ESPN folks called the long Frenchman the best draft prospect of all-time — better than LeBron, better than Akeem, better than even Sampson or Jabbar.

No expectations kid.

Then I could not help but wonder if there was some wink-wink, nod-nod chicanery at play.

The other teams in the running for the generational talent of Wembanyama — a 7-foot-4 guy with perimeter skills and shooting range with the ball in his hands and interior skills and extreme length defensively — were Charlotte, Portland, Houston and Detroit.

Quick, name a person in any of those organizations other than Trailblazers star Dame Lillard?

Now we all know the guy at the end of the bench for the Spurs, a place where two of the best all-time French basketball players — Boris Diaw and Tony Parker — played for many championship seasons.

And we know the NBA is about to need a young, marketable star — a fact that is even more clear after the discussions last night about gun-waving, Nino Brown-wannabe Ja Morant — and who better to craft that young star than Gregg Popovich, who may be as cranky as a Model T Ford but certainly helped shape Tim Duncan and David Robinson int model superstars in this league?

The lottery conversation also left me viewing the rest of the news of Tuesday's filled NBA through the prism of the draft.

Thoughts like: Is Nikola Jokic, who went for 34-21-14 last night in Denver's Game 1 win over the Lakers, the best draft pick in NBA history? The two-time NBA MVP and the current "baddest dude on the hardwood alive" went 41st overall (11th pick of the second and final round) in 2014. That draft also included Joel Embiid at 3, Andrew Wiggins at 1 and Julius Randle 7.

And thoughts like this, as Doc Rivers was canned by the 76ers: Was the 2017 the biggest botched chance for a true NBA super team when Philadelphia's process led the decision makers to trade up to No. 1 and take Markelle Fultz with Jayson Tatum going 3 to Boston, DeAaron Fox going 5 to Sacramento, Donovan Mitchell going 13 to Utah and Bam Adebayo going 14 to Miami?

Imagine any of those cats other than the failed experiment that was Fultz paired with Embiid for the last several seasons.

Yeah, it's all Doc's fault.

This and that

— Well, how did your Plays play out last night? If you are a follower of my afternoon email newsletter Plays of the Day, hopefully you made some cash last night. We were on the Lakers, who covered as a 6.5-road-underdog with an impressive fourth-quarter rally and narrow escape in a 132-126 Game 1 loss to Denver. We were also on the over 222.5 in that game, which was an easy outcome, and had Aaron Judge to go deep at plus-280 for half a unit. The Yankees slugger did leave the yard, so that's a tidy plus-3.2 units, which is a fine evening's work for watching sports, no? (And that's not even counting the $15 in bonus bets we got from the "Tuesday Dingers" promotion from FanDuel.)

— Speaking of the Yankees, last night's starting pitcher Domingo German was ejected for what is being called "an extremely sticky hand." Gross. Also heard that could make you go blind.

— We had a discussion about Shaq saying April Reece was the best LSU athlete in the storied history of Red Stick. It's hyperbole and bupkis, of course. But may we offer Ms. Olivia Dunne as the most impressive thing to wear the Purple and Gold. Oh my, and if you are wondering how an LSU gymnast can become one of the top NIL earners and among the biggest social media stars out there, well, here you go.

— C'mon Tom. You're Tom flippin' Brady, don't go getting hooked up with a Kardashian.

Today's questions

Which way Wednesday starts this way:

Which player hit more eye-poppingly mammoth homers than Ronald Acuña Jr., who hit one 450-plus feet to center last night? Seriously, Acuña's shots are the definition of no-doubters.

Which is a worse draft decision, the Blazers taking Sam Bowie, who got hurt mind you, or the 76ers giving up a first-round pick to pick Markelle Fultz over Tatum?

Which golfer are you picking this weekend at Oak Hill?

As for today, May 17, let's review.

The New York Stock Exchange was formed on this day in 1792.

Wow, 50 years ago today, the Watergate hearings started in the U.S. Senate.

On this day in 1875, the very first Kentucky Derby was held. Spy, what kind of hat did you wear?

Sugar Ray Leonard is 67 today.

Rushmore of "sugar" and enjoy yourselves a bit.