Whatever Your Sport, It's Time To Get Your Game On

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It's a great time for sports fans, because there's something going on for everyone right now. There's the NFL draft, NHL and NBA playoffs, and the baseball season is under way. Guest host Linda Wertheimer talks sports with NPR's Tom Goldman.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer and it's time now for sports.

This is a great time for sports fans because it's all happening now. We've got the NFL draft, NHL and NBA playoffs, and the baseball season is going on quietly in the background.

NPR's Tom Goldman joins us from Portland. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Tom, let's start with the NFL draft. I mean, as entertainment it is a strange phenomenon. Football cap - fans mark their calendars and watch the deadly process of general managers filling the holes in their roster. Don't even get me started on ESPN's Mel Kiper.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: You don't like the hair?

WERTHEIMER: I don't know. No, I don't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: I used to have hair like that; that great pompadour, alas, never again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mel Kiper, Jr. - King Kiper, as he's known - now in his 27th year of draft analysis for ESPN. He has helped turn the draft into that phenomenon you're talking about, a chance for football crazies to dress up and paint their faces and scream in the springtime. And as we heard the first night, Thursday, boo lustily when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took the stage. They booed him because of the ongoing lockout, of course.

WERTHEIMER: Now, this year's draft is interesting if only because of how that lockout is changing the general manager's priorities.

GOLDMAN: Right. Yeah, the lockout has shut down all business in the NFL including the annual free-agency period in March. So you had a very limited free agent period last month; that was before the lockout began on March 12th. And as you say, the free-agency period is this time for many teams to fill needs with proven veteran players. And then the tradition is often to supplement in the draft.

This year, because of the lockout, teams are relying more on the draft to fill needs and will use free agency once the lockout ends, and that happens as the way to supplement. So, as it was described to me, it's kind of a cart-before-the-horse phenomenon this year.

And, Linda, a good example of that, teams are filling their needs in the draft this year with four quarterbacks taken in the first 12 picks. The quarterback is the most important position in football. Many teams need a good starter and there's more demand than supply coming out of college ranks. But several teams decided the certainty of getting a quarterback in the draft was important, considering the current uncertainty with free agency.

WERTHEIMER: So what is the status of the lockout? Players were momentarily able to head into their clubhouses and get their playbooks.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, more craziness, more confusion yesterday morning. As you said, teams opened up the facilities, let players come in and work out. This was after the league failed to stop a judge's ruling from earlier in the week that lifted the lockout.

But, now follow me closely here.

WERTHEIMER: Okay.

GOLDMAN: The NFL took the request for a stay to a federal appeals court in St. Louis. Late yesterday, that court granted a temporary stay, giving the NFL the legal right to reinstate the lockout, which it did. So again, players can't go to team facilities.

Now, this temporary stay is in effect at least until Monday morning. Then the court may - is expected to take up the issue of a longer stay, one that would keep the lockout in place while the court hears the NFL's appeal of the decision to lift the lockout.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: That appeal - bear with me. That appeal could take one to two months. So really, Mel Kiper, Jr.'s draft analysis is a lot easier to follow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: It's sad to say, though, that the draft ends this weekend and the only action football fans will be able to follow, if they choose to do so, will be in the courts.

WERTHEIMER: So, Tom, let's move on to the NHL.

GOLDMAN: Whew.

WERTHEIMER: The NHL playoffs are in the second round.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, they're great. The first round was fantastic. You had four series went to the maximum seven games. Arguably the best series in the last few years was when last year's Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, they clawed their way back from a 3-0 deficit only to lose in overtime in the seventh game to Vancouver. Good second round match-ups, Washington versus Tampa Bay, Detroit versus San Jose.

I would suggest people find a big, flat-screen, high-definition TV so you can see the puck and enjoy the hockey action.

WERTHEIMER: And we'll end on the NBA. Last night, the Memphis Grizzlies won their first-ever playoff series, to knock off San Antonio.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: What does this mean?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, a lot of people are saying it's the end of a great San Antonio Spurs run. They've won four championships since 1999, really a dynasty in pro sports when that doesn't happen anymore.

They say, hey, we just lost in the first round; but let us, you know, not just talk about the potential demise of the Spurs, but herald a young, tough athletic Memphis team that really beat the San Antonio team. They move on to play Oklahoma City in the second round. That should be a terrific match-up.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thank you very much for joining us.

GOLDMAN: Linda, it's always a pleasure.

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