Sports Highs, Lows During 2010

It's our last chance to discuss the year's highs and lows in the world of sports. Host Scott Simon talks with NPR's Tom Goldman.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Christmas Day - last chance to discuss the year's highs and lows in the world of sports. We'll going to get to that in a moment. First, the NBA's offering a Christmas present of its own: four of the six division leaders play today. The main event: the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers hosting the all-studded star Miami Heat. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN: Merry Christmas, Scott.

SIMON: And ho, ho, ho to you, too. Before we talk about Kobe and LeBron - and I think the eight other players who will be on the floor - let's get to Orlando versus the Boston Celtics.

GOLDMAN: Yes, yes, a game that takes on more significance after what happened late this week. Orlando, as you may know, took the dramatic step of blowing up its lineup a quarter of the way through the season - not something a lot of teams do. They worked out a multi-team trade for several players, including the formerly gun-toting Gilbert Arenas from Washington. Late this week, there are signs it may have worked.

The Magic easily beat the best team in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs. Today, Orlando plays the second best - the Boston Celtics, as you mentioned. If Orlando beats Boston, it shows we may have been talking about the wrong team from Florida all along.

SIMON: Well, let's get to them because this Lakers-Heat game is looking awfully big - because after calling them the Miami Tepid earlier in the season, the Miami Heat and LeBron James have really come on.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. They've won 13 of their last 14. The game against the Lakers certainly won't decide anything today, but it is an early test for the Heat to gauge where they're at. Miami may not have Dwayne Wade, one of its big three. He's got a knee that's hurting. The other two of the big three, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, are playing well. Miami is playing great defense.

Now, on the other side, even though the Lakers are leading their division and they've won eight of their last 10, they're getting criticized for not playing with intensity befitting a two-time defending champion. Well, exactly. When you're a two-time defending champion, you don't have to prove anything until the playoffs.

So for the Lakers, today's game could help shut up the skeptics if the Lakers play well. With all the attention on Miami since LeBron's decision - cue the drums - last July, the Lakers' victory could swing back attention to the champs.

SIMON: By the way, no coach ever, in the history of professional sports, has been better at revving up the sense of urgency you need in the playoffs than Phil Jackson. Did it six times with the Chicago Bulls, might I point out. But speaking of the decision, was that a real low point in this sports year?

GOLDMAN: It was one of them. I include it in the category Men Behaving Badly in Sports During 2010. You had the canned, made-for-TV moment when LeBron announced his departure from Cleveland and...

SIMON: And he just couldn't manage to call the team owner, or anybody else in Cleveland, to let them know what he was going to do - not even two minutes before.

GOLDMAN: Exactly, enraging most of northeast Ohio. You had Tiger Woods imploding. You had Brett Favre hobbling through a really bad season that included a scandal of his own.

On the college level, young men in trouble. Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton with a cloud of suspicion still hanging over him. And just this week, five key players for Ohio State's football team were suspended next season. They still get to play in their big BCS bowl game, coming up in early January. The NCAA said, well, they didn't really know what they were doing - and has a lot of skeptics kind of climbing the walls over that.

SIMON: Maybe it's a new sign of gender equality, but there's also some bad behavior on the other side of the divide. Word came in Thursday: One of the great former UConn stars tested positive for a banned substance while playing pro basketball in Turkey.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. You're talking about the great Diana Taurasi, perhaps the greatest of the great line of UConn women basketball stars. There are still questions lingering over her positive test for a stimulant. But she's a great pro. She will always be linked to her UConn greatness. Certainly, this is a bit deflating after the excitement about the current UConn team this week, when they broke the record for consecutive victories.

SIMON: There were some great moments this year, too, though, weren't there? I mean, let's begin with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl.

GOLDMAN: Yes. As far as a great athlete uniting a city and a region, Brees leading the Saints to their first-ever Super Bowl victory - and what that did for the people of New Orleans and the entire Gulf region, still emerging from Katrina, was really special.

And looking north to Canada, a couple of ice dancers, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir - most people have forgotten them - but they uncorked this near-perfect performance in ice dancing at the Vancouver Olympics. It energized a Canadian team, that energized an entire nation. And we ended up leaving Canada saying we had witnessed, really, one of the great Winter Games in history.

SIMON: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

GOLDMAN: Thanks, Scott. Same to you.

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