Luka Dončić is the best player on Earth right now, plus Shilo Sanders’ bankruptcy

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Good morning! We’ve all made 10 on a par 3, right? Guilty.

While You Were Sleeping: Luka Dončić is a savage

We had two spectacular road performances in playoff action. Briefly: 

  • The Dallas Mavericks are heading to the NBA Finals after a breathtaking 124-103 Game 5 win over the Timberwolves in Minnesota. Luka Dončić scored 20 of his 36 points in the first quarter. Kyrie Irving added 36 of his own. The Wolves never had a chance, and now the 25-year-old Dončić — playing better basketball than anyone on Earth right now — will play in his first Finals, while Irving returns for the first time since seven years ago with Cleveland. It’s also fun that Irving is playing the Celtics, a team he left on bad terms. We’ll have plenty more on this over the next week, but for now, listen to our postgame podcast breakdown.
  • In New York, the Florida Panthers used two third-period goals to take a 3-2 lead over the Rangers with, fittingly, a 3-2 win. Florida is one win away from its second straight Stanley Cup Final trip, though last season’s surprise run as a No. 8 seed feels so far away now. This team is nails. Game 6 is Saturday. 

Whew. Moving on:

Quick Explainers: Wait, a star college athlete is bankrupt?

Try explaining this idea to someone in, say, 2019: Shilo Sanders, college son of head coach Deion Sanders, filed for bankruptcy despite making hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sounds loony, but the reality is a little darker: 

  • Sanders, 24, has played at South Carolina, Jackson State and now Colorado. He’s cashed in on his NIL opportunities, claiming in his filing that he made around $400,000 over the previous two years. He’s appeared in a Starz show, done commercials for Google, KFC and Oikos and walked the runway in Paris for Louis Vuitton’s fall-winter fashion show in Paris.
  • Yet in October, a Texas court issued a $12 million judgment against the DB after an alleged assault against a former security guard at his high school. He filed for bankruptcy shortly after, and estimates his net worth at around $320,000, though the security guard’s lawyers say that number should be higher — and that the athlete specifically has hidden the true amount of his NIL earnings. 

Details about the incident are disputed, but this does bring to light the new financial realities of the NIL world, in which a college athlete’s net worth can be the heart of a legal matter. Christopher Kamrani has a complete breakdown of the issue, which I highly recommend.

News to Know

Nelly’s startling struggle
Nelly Korda — who recently won a record-tying five straight LPGA Tour starts — carded a 10-over 80 yesterday in the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open. The disastrous day included a 7-over-par 10 on the par-3 12th hole. For Gabby Herzig, it was shockingly relatable (same). Per Gabby and our numbers man Justin Ray, the cut line will probably hover around 7-over, so Korda will need to have a solid under-par round today to clear it … and only four players finished Round 1 under par (Yuka Saso leads at 2-under).

Kickoffs by a running back?
The Chiefs are considering removing Harrison Butker from kickoff duties, though it has nothing to do with his recent controversy. Special teams coach Dave Toub said yesterday that he might deploy either safety Justin Reid or RB Louis Rees-Zammit because of the NFL’s new kickoff rules, which encourage returnable kicks — so having another tackler on the field is paramount. Reid already has experience kicking, while Rees-Zammit is plenty familiar with kicking thanks to a rugby background.

More news

Oh No: The Mets are Mets-ing again

Luke Hales / Getty Images

There is futility, and then there is the Mets’ existence. That may sound overly simplistic and harsh, but any Mets fan will tell you the same. The fruitlessness — no matter what the team tries — keeps happening over and over again. 

Yesterday’s extremely Mets incident — which saw reliever Jorge López get ejected, throw his glove into the crowd, say afterward he was the “worst teammate” on the “worst team in the whole f—ing MLB” before getting demoted — is another entry in the misery database. 

It was also further exposed the bigger problems in the “new” era of Mets baseball: 

  • Over the last two years, the Mets and new owner Steve Cohen have seemingly done what you’re supposed to do: invest money in star players. Cohen has done it more than any other MLB owner, spending hundreds of millions to capitalize on a championship window.
  • The window might have been a mirage. A magical 2022 season produced a 101-60 record and … an opening-round loss to the Padres. But hey, things were trending upward, right
  • Bzzt. Wrong. Injuries cursed last season, which ended with a 75-87 record. This year is much of the same: the Mets are currently 23-33, 5.5 games out of a wild-card spot. No matter what new boss David Stearns says, contending this year looks unlikely.
  • What’s worse: the Mets have the highest payroll in baseball this year ($307.8 million) for the oldest roster in baseball (average age 30.6). They also led MLB in payroll last year ($343 million). 

There is a glimmer of hope, both for Mets fans and baseball fans at large: new ace Kodai Senga should make his debut at some point this summer, though his cryptic comments about his ongoing rehab are cause for concern. 

Nothing can be normal with this team. Go Mets?

Watch This Game

NHL: Oilers at Stars
8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
This series has been full of bangers, and I expect nothing less here. Can Edmonton’s revamped lineup break through?

College softball: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State
9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2
We have no NBA game this evening, which is all the more reason to see this Women’s College World Series elimination game. It’s always tough to see a team reach the CWS and then go two-and-BBQ, but it makes for entertaining TV. 

Get tickets to games like these here.

Pulse Picks

I was moved by Ted Nguyen’s story on Dat Nguyen, the NFL’s first Vietnamese player who had a profound impact on Ted and other Asian kids of his generation. Make time for this today.

Everything really is new in New England. Jeff Howe wrote an insightful story on the new Patriot Way being implemented for a storied franchise stuck in its recent nadir. 

Something I was shocked to learn from our Athletic FC newsletter: It costs loads more to watch Champions League and Premier League games in the UK than in America. 

It has been a dramatic and messy month at FC Barcelona. Pol Ballus has a great recap of the “Xavi out, Xavi in, Xavi out again” saga, with Hansi Flick now in charge. Exhausting, really. 

Reminder that our Full Time podcast has been relaunched with host Meg Linehan and new host Tamerra Griffin. This week they’re talking Emma Hayes’ bally-hooed USWNT debut. Listen here

Most-clicked in the newsletter yesterday: Our report on the arrest warrant out for Chiefs lineman Isaiah Buggs, who is accused of animal cruelty in Alabama

Most-read on the website yesterday: A stunning report about the lifetime ban for U.S. figure skating coach Dalilah Sappenfield.

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(Photo: David Berding / Getty Images)

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