Dreaming Of Spring And Baseball

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Host Scott Simon talks with Weekend Edition sports commentator Howard Bryant about how the NBA season is shaping up and why baseball has spring fever.


And time now for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: It's the showdown in L.A. tomorrow - east meets west - the NBA All-Star game. The Lakers' Kobe Bryant will face Kevin Garnett of Boston. Think they're going to compete for the championship in June? Join us for our mid-season checkup, Howard Bryant. Good morning, Howard.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (Sports Commentator; Senior Writer, ESPN): Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. So, what teams are in a good position going into the second half?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, obviously, the San Antonio Spurs are the best team in basketball in terms of record. They are absolutely the, the surprise of the year. And nobody seems to think that that team, with its age, was going to be able to compete with the Lakers and the Celtics, and the new look Miami Heat. But they have come out of the gate with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson and Tony Parker, and they've been great.

The question is whether or not anybody can beat the Los Angeles Lakers four times in post-season, as they are the two-time defending champions. I think for the first time in a long time, you've got four or five legitimate teams that I don't think anyone would be surprised if they won the championship. You've got Boston. You've got Miami, Los Angeles, and San Antonio, and the Dallas Mavericks who are another surprise this year who have been playing great basketball, and they've beaten the Celtics twice this year.

So finally, you've got some real parity in the NBA. Of course, my preference is always Celtics-Lakers. I like when the dynasties go at it. But I think that it's going to be a really, really good second half of the year.

SIMON: Well, let me ask about the Lakers, cause they lost to the rampaging Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Not a lot of teams have. They're loaded with talent, but are they missing some vital life essence, if you please, this year?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I think it depends on if you believe the Zen Master, Phil Jackson, in that when you've won a championship back-to-back years, it's really difficult to remain motivated. The NBA season is far too long. It goes on forever and so do the playoffs. The playoffs last two months. And so I think the Lakers are a little bored right now. And I think that Phil Jackson is playing a dangerous game, although he really doesn't have much of a choice, in that he believes that this championship team is going to turn it on once April and May roll around and then you'll see the Lakers in championship form.

However, as we've seen, many, many times it's very, very difficult to be a lackluster team and then suddenly decide to be good when you want to be. But they do have that much talent. And they also have Kobe Bryant who is the best player in the game. So let's face it, I still think they're fine. I'll believe it when I see it that somebody can beat them four times.

SIMON: Let me ask you quickly about two young players who are gathering attention this year. I've been following Derrick Rose since he was a star at Simeon Academy in Chicago. And put that little stuff about altering his grade transcript aside...

Mr. BRYANT: Okay.

SIMON: ...he sure helped bring the Chicago Bulls back.

Mr. BRYANT: Terrific. He is a terrific, terrific basketball player and he went number one after leaving Memphis. And he's been - he's on an MVP pace this year. He's clearly the engine that's turned that team around. The Chicago Bulls, hey, let's face it. We're talking about Boston, and Miami, and the Lakers, and everyone else. I don't think anybody wants to play Chicago four times, if you have to play them in the playoffs because of their talent and because he presents such a great match-up problem. It would not surprise me if he wins the MVP this year.

SIMON: And there is a rookie name Blake Griffin who's playing for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Mr. BRYANT: Yeah. And believe it or not, the Clippers are actually worth watching all because of him. And I got to admit, Scott, you don't hear this very often: I was dead wrong about Blake Griffin when he came out of Oklahoma. I didn't think he was going to be as athletic and as quick and as powerful, and as good a player as he's been this year. A really amazing talent if you like athleticism, if you like watching a guy play with that type of just the verticality that he has. He's been amazing this year. I never thought he was going to be this good.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, and you're in Scottsdale for spring training, right? Ten seconds - anything to say about the spring?

Mr. BRYANT: Oh yes, and it's just for you. I was with the Cubs yesterday and they're all talking about this being the year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRYANT: So get that parade ready in October.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Good, we have to book State Street already.

Howard Bryant, senior writer for, ESPN the Magazine, and ESPN the chalupa, thanks so much.

Mr. BRYANT: My pleasure.

SIMON: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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