'Shop Talk': Lakers Claim NBA Title

In this installment of the Barbershop host Michel Martin talks with freelance writer and author Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre. They discuss the epic Game 7 in the NBA between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Other topics include the World Cup, and Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King's comments that President Obama favors black people.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, civil rights attorney and reporter Arsalan Iftikhar and´┐ŻSports Illustrated´┐Żreporter Pablo Torre. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop, how are we doing?

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney, Reporter): Doing good, man. Great.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Yo.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right, Arsalan, we don't want you to have, like, a Petraeus moment where you kind of pass out, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: But, you know, let's just get right to it, all right?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: That NBA fatigue there.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah. The L.A. Lakers are NBA champions yet again. They beat their longtime archrival, Boston Celtics, 83 to 79 in a winner take all game, Michel.

MARTIN: I really don't want to reveal too much about Arsalan's state here. But he's still wearing his green pants, but his eyes are a little red. That's all I want to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: All right. It was a tight game. There's no shame in that. I mean, how can you be ashamed when you go to game...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: There's some hate going out there.

MARTIN: Well, I know. But when you go to a Game 7. But I'll just play the final seconds. Arsalan, you can cover your ears if you need to.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: All right.

MARTIN: All right.

Mr. IZRAEL: Drop it.

(Soundbite of basketball game)

(Soundbite of crowd shouting)

Unidentified Man: Rondo looking. Get to the (unintelligible) turns, back out. Rondo pivots, dribbles, puts up a three. Won't go. Rebound Gasol. Gets it out to Odom, Odom throws it (unintelligible). The Lakers repeat back to back titles. The L.A. Lakers, the 2010 NBA champions.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh man. Thanks, Michel. So, Pablo...

MARTIN: Sorry, Arsalan.

Mr. IZRAEL: You're the sports dude here. So, going into yesterday's Game 7, sports nuts were talking about legacies were on the line, especially, especially for Kobe. What does this win mean for him?

Mr. TORRES: You know what? The best way to explain this is...

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

Mr. TORRES: Well, for me was by following Marcus Jordan, which is Michael Jordan's son Twitter account last night. He tweeted that no one should compare Kobe Bryant to what his dad did. And though Kobe Bryant won last night, I have to agree with the young Jordan. Kobe Bryant had a great, you know, series. He's averaged 28 points a game. You know, obviously won another championship, one more than Shaquille O'Neal, as Shaq also pointed out last night in another Twitter posting.

But the gulf between Michael Jordan and the next best player still remains wider than the gulf between the best player in any other sport and the second best. There really is no debate in my mind that Michael Jordan remains the ultimate. And Kobe Bryant, a top ten player maybe, but not Michael Jordan.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. A-train, do you concur, I mean, through your tears?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, let's not forget that, you know, nobody really ever gave the Boston Celtics any chance of getting to the NBA Finals. You know, a lot of analysts take them to be upset by the Miami Heat in the first round. We shocked the NBA nation when we beat LeBron James in Cleveland. We spanked Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals and we took the Lakers to the last 11 seconds of Game 7. And let's also not forget, one of the...

MARTIN: All the more impressive after that drubbing in Game 1. I mean, I was I have to give you props, Arsalan, because I was writing them off after Game 1 because that was a blowout, so I give him props. I have to.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know and, you know, I predicted Celtics/Lakers here in the Barbershop, and you know, I got that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yes, you did.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And, you know, let's also not forget that our center, Kendrick Perkins, was out for Game 7. And, you know, the big rebounding disparity was really, really the difference in the game.

MARTIN: You know, can I - just something that I meant to ask you all along.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Sure.

MARTIN: Why are you a Celtics fan? You're from Chicago.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: This is a question I've also been wondering.

MARTIN: You know what I'm saying?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Now you know.

Mr. IZRAEL: Inquiring minds want to know.

MARTIN: It's like he's grandfathered in because he comes in here with these green pants every week. So I forgot to ask, why are you a Celtics fan?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know what?

Mr. TORRES: You finally asked.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Since the age of four I just loved Larry Bird.

Mr. TORRES: And there you go.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And I have just been a Boston Celtics fan ever since.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, all right. You know what, Pablo? The big question coming on to the West Coast, will Phil Jackson return?

Mr. TORRES: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, even the owner, Jerry Buss, Kobe, they have they got their doubts. What do you think?

Mr. TORRES: You know, logically, Phil Jackson doesn't really have anything else to prove. I mean, Red Auerbach's record is out there, obviously. He's within shouting distance of that. He has been.

But, really, I mean he's going to go down as, again, even if you tie Red Auerbach, I think people are not going to automatically consider him the best ever. Phil Jackson, that is. So for me I don't really see any reason to come back, but someone pointed out a great bit of symmetry to me last night which is that Phil Jackson wins all of his titles in three-peats or has been, at least on the road to doing that now. So maybe he comes back next year, gets that third in a trio. And, again, you know, makes it another championship.

But for me I don't think the guy really has anything else to prove. I mean, we know who he is. Another championship isn't going to do that much, in my mind.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I mean he's real Zen, so, I mean, maybe he'll meditate it and...

Mr. TORRE: Right.

MARTIN: Well, that's one of the things - I think people, maybe other people agree with this, is it's kind of a love it or hate it thing about Phil Jackson, because the fact that he's so Zen is what some people love about the guy. Because, you know, is he curing cancer out here? No. Excuse me. It's basketball. On the other hand, I think it's the kind of thing that makes people crazy. It's like that oh, L.A., they've won all in basketball.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He does it really well. I mean, he does it really well, and I think that the same thing goes for Kobe Bryant. Independent of how you feel about the Lakers and you can sort of love and hate on them, just like people love and hate on the Yankees and anybody else who are sort of dominate in their game. But you got to appreciate the talent behind people like Kobe and the fact that Phil Jackson knows how to coach a basketball team.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And that - you can get beyond that and just appreciate somebody who does their job well, and he certainly does it at another level. It's also telling that people have to go back to compare Kobe Bryant to a player like Michael Jordan, and iconic figure who isn't even playing anymore. You know, it's like when George Brett was chasing 400, they're, like, comparing him to Ted Williams.

When they start comparing you to somebody, you know, back in the day as an icon, you've already sort of won the debate. So it speaks well for Kobe Bryant that they're even making that comparison to Jordan.

MARTIN: That's true.

Mr. IZRAEL: The R has spoken.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That is true.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Word.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Arsalan Iftikhar and Pablo Torre.

Back to you Jimi.

Actually, I feel I have to say this.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

MARTIN: You know, there is another sporting event going on in the world.

Mr. IZRAEL: Really?

MARTIN: Haters. It's called World Cup. It's only the biggest sporting event in the world.

(Soundbite of snoring)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. TORRE: What is this world of which you speak?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: How many more days till football season starts?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: The real one, the galaxy.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Break up.

MARTIN: Who was doing that snore? Is that Ruben, is that you?

Mr. TORRE: Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I said no, how many more days until football season? That's all.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It is football season.

MARTIN: Excuse me, how exciting is this? I mean the U.S./Slovenia tying? Two -nobody gives - talk about people that nobody gives a chance to. And the U.S. has actually tied England, and now has tied Slovenia. I'm sorry. You guys, what's wrong with you people? What's wrong with you people?

Mr. TORRE: No, I am totally psyched for this. And I was, you know, I was again, a big three - you know, I've never really been a hockey fan but, you know, basketball, baseball, football was my religion. The World Cup, I mean, working in sports journalism and getting a sense of what this means to the rest of the galaxy, as you said, I mean, our sports are so relatively tiny...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Right.

Mr. TORRE: ...and provincial. And it's kind of sad in that kind of existential way you realize that these are other countries, flying to South Africa, going insane. And Slovenia...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Right.

Mr. TORRE: ...of course, a population with all of two million people scoring a goal for each of those million against the United States and its juggernaut.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

Mr. TORRE: But you wonder why soccer isn't going to catch on or will it ever catch on. And again, its success in this tournament is going to be so huge for American sporting consciousness going forward, in my mind.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well said, Pablo? Well said.

MARTIN: I'm going to do my part here. I'm going to play the goal that the U.S. just scored to tie against Slovenia. Here it is.

(Soundbite of ESPN's broadcast of the World Cup series)

Unidentified Man: ...passed it off to lie it down. Bradley has done it. USA (unintelligible), the comeback kids strike again. Michael Bradley for the USA -what a moment.

MARTIN: I'm just bringing out my inner sport caster here. I've always wanted to go to the videotape. I've always wanted to do it. Thank you. Thank you for letting me have that.

Mr. TORRE: Everything is cooler when it's announced with a British accent.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: That's true. And, you know, we...

Mr. IZRAEL: I was going to say that. Yeah, he sounds like dude from "Hell's Kitchen."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ruben.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I can think of one thing that isn't cool, even in a British accent, and that is we are cleaning up this oil as fast as we can.

Mr. TORRE: Yes. Touche.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Touche.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well played.

MARTIN: Bring it back.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I want to offer my personal apologies to the people of the Gulf.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Nice. Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: But I got to have my life back.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: On the World Cup, I honestly, I mean...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...break out the vuvuzelas. I mean, this World Cup has been about the underdog. You know, here we have Slovenia, you know, essentially leading their group with U.S. and England. The U.S. had to come back and tie the game with an 82nd-minute goal by Michael Bradley. You had Switzerland essentially shocking the world by beating Spain one-nil. You know, I think one of the reasons - touching on what Pablo said about why soccer hasn't really done too well here in the U.S. - is mainly because of a lot of people complaining about ties. You know, they don't like...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. TORRE: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: They don't like games ending in one-one ties.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: They don't understand the concept of the strategy behind that. But, you know, I think that this is as big, if not bigger, than the Olympics every four years.

Mr. TORRE: Well, and just to jump in real quick.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Pablo.

Mr. TORRE: The interesting thing to me about America and soccer has always been that all our kids play soccer, you know?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Correct. Correct. Right.

Mr. TORRE: Every suburban family. You know, the soccer mom is an institution in America.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Correct.

Mr. TORRE: And yet, it never translates to the elite levels of athleticism. Maybe it's because of the pro leagues not having that financial incentive. You're not getting our best athletes. But Americans want to see a winner. They want to root for a winner, as nonsensical as that may be as far as the sort of aesthetics of sport goes. And again, this U.S. has as much pressure on it as any other one in America's sporting history because they understand that they're the ones - they're the lever that's going to push America forward or keep them sort of trailing behind the rest of the world as far as this all-important game goes.

MARTIN: And can I just ask briefly, Pablo, if I can ask you: What do you think of ESPN's coverage? We just got that clip from them that we played, by the way.

Mr. TORRE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Any thoughts about that? Because, you know, when reporting on the Olympics, people always complain, well, it depends on what your point of view is. You know, some people complained it's too soppy and it's all about the, you know, who's, you know...

Mr. TORRE: Yeah, the soft focus.

MARTIN: The soft focus. I kind of like the soft focus, but then a lot of people complain that it's so U.S.-centric that you don't get the sense that this is an international sport.

Mr. TORRE: That's a great point.

MARTIN: Any thoughts on that, Pablo?

Mr. TORRE: ESPN has really, and impressively, they've really ramped up the coverage more than in '06. In '06, when it was in Germany in the World Cup, they really, you know, again, were going for that American-centric perspective. But as we saw, as evidenced by said British accent, you know, they've hired guys who are the best announcers in the English Premier League, you know, these guys who know soccer forward and backward, grown up with the game, are legitimate and respected in the football world, not just, you know, American sports. And so they've done a great job.

I mean, they've really invested a lot of money. And ESPN, as much as anybody, I think - second only to the United States national team - had as much invested in this World Cup. And they've done a very good job, I thought, as far as advertising, getting the word out and really doing justice to the game.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right.

MARTIN: Jimi, are you watching it? Are you watching it? I have to ask.

Mr. IZRAEL: Who, me?

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: No. I'm, you know, I'm watching it vicariously through my significant other, but otherwise...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: ...I am totally, totally, totally disengaged. But can we go ahead...

MARTIN: Hater. Go ahead.

Mr. IZRAEL: I know, right? Can we go ahead and switch gears to politics, and Iowa's Republican Congressman Steve King? On Monday, he blasted the Obama administration for favoring blacks over whites. Michel?

MARTIN: Here we go. Really. On G. Gordon...

Mr. IZRAEL: I know.

MARTIN: ...that respected journalist - not - G. Gordon Liddy...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...on his radio program - I'll just play you what he said, and you all can talk about it. Here he is.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right.

(Soundbite of "The G. Gordon Liddy Show")

Representative STEVE KING (Republican, Iowa): Eric Holder said that white people in America are cowards when it comes to race. And I don't know what the basis of that is, but I'm not a coward when it comes to that, and I'm happy to talk about these things, and I think we should. But the president has demonstrated he's got a default mechanism in him that breaks down the side of race. It favors the black person. In the case of Professor Gates and Officer Crowley, that was a case where he knew nothing about it, inserted himself into it, and concluded that the cop had operated on a race bias or a racist basis. And then he ended up having to have a Beer Summit because of that.

MARTIN: Let me just clarify for the rest, that Eric Holder - he's referring to Eric Holder, Attorney General Eric Holder's comments. Eric Holder did not say that white people are cowards.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He said Americans...

MARTIN: He said Americans are, and that is not - so there you go. There you are.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: We're a nation. We're a nation of cowards.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what? Thank you, Michel. Ruben?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yes, sir.

Mr. IZRAEL: Now, is it just me? King is really not the most progressive thinker in the room.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Any room. Any room, right?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Look, I follow...

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, didn't he once say - wait, wait. Didn't he once say that if Obama were elected, terrorists will be celebrating in the street? You know, this guy, man, this guy, I don't know. So let me get this straight.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, he - yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Let me get this straight. So some folks say he's doing too much for black people.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: And some folks say he's not doing enough for black people. Okay, help me out.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm glad you zeroed in. I'm glad you zeroed in on that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I mean, there's a lot of things to say, and let's do it quickly. First of all, you know, everybody needs - the late night comics need their punch lines, and people like me writing columns, national columns needs to see people like King, because they say dumb things.

He said before that before that his solution to the immigration problem was to put up electronic fences, shock fences along the border because that's what we do in Iowa to keep out the cattle. You know, so that was good.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Okay. And then he talked about other things along the line. But you're absolutely right to point out this paradox. It wasn't just a few months ago that we were having this conversation that our friend Tavis Smiley, my old friend Tavis Smiley and others were complaining that Barack Obama wasn't doing enough for black people in advance of a black agenda, and there was a whole debate about that.

And then, the congressman comes in and seems to think somehow that he's bending over - the president's bending over backward for black people. He got the Crowley thing wrong.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He said that Obama had sided with Gates because of a racial, a perceived racial bias. Actually, what he said famously was that the police acted stupidly, not having anything to do with race.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And lastly, when I hear comments like this, here's my thing: I think that this congressman grew up at a time where all the presidents looked like him, dating back to George Washington. And he's finally had to deal with, like a lot of Americans, the idea of a black president. And there's a learning curve that goes attached to that. And when I hear comments like this, I don't learn a lot about Barack Obama, but I learn a lot about the people who are saying it. And what I've learned about this particular congressman is he has this racial hang-up that he's demonstrated again and again. The world is changing much too fast for Steven King. You know, that's the way it is.

MARTIN: I am fascinated, though, by what is the perception by which people decide that someone is tilting. Is there anything that a person of color can say at all that doesn't lead to that perception that you are favoring...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, if you're Clarence Thomas. If you're Clarence Thomas.

MARTIN: Yeah. If you - yeah, I mean if you...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: If you're Clarence Thomas. If you go the other direction and you're perceived as being someone who is - in the Latino community, if you have somebody who is over the top on immigration enforcement and over the top so that we're sort of seen as house trained, you know, potty trained, that we can be acceptable in that regard. But if you're not acceptable, if you stray off and start to think for yourself, you're going to get this kind of treatment.

MARTIN: Or even if you just describe an aspect of your own experience, does that make you - I don't know, Arsalan. What do you think?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I think that Steve King, you know, perfectly represents the wing nut, you know, paradigm of the Republican Party today. You know, they're plenty of, you know, conservative politicians out there who are really only looking out for the interest of, you know, conservative white Christian men in this country. And, you know, for...

MARTIN: But does that make them wing nuts?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No, not necessarily, but Steve King, with all of his rantings before, the one about the electric shock fence, the fact that he claimed that he was racially profiled as a white man in a business suit...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yes.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...which I find really laughable. You know, I think that Steve King definitely does quality for the wing nut wing of the Republican Party. What I'm trying to say is that, you know, when he disingenuously states that President Obama said that white people, you know, are cowards because of, you know, the dealing with race in America, that just shows that, you know, no matter what President Obama does, people are always going to hate on him.

MARTIN: Can I just before we let you go, and just to end on a happier note, I just I do have to say Happy Father's Day to the dads.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

MARTIN: And I'll say Happy Father's Day to the pre-dads out there. I know there are some pre-dads out there, including...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Pre-dads.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you want...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Get busy. Get busy.

MARTIN: Ruben, what do you want for Father's Day? Quick.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Just time with my kids. I'm going to get it, go over to my dad's house as well, have a barbecue and love on my kids.

MARTIN: All right. Happy Father's Day.

Mr. TORRE: There you go.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you want for Father's Day? I'll put a good word in, if I can.

Mr. IZRAEL: Same thing, ditto. Just time with my kids and, you know, we going to go outside. We're going to play soccer, as it happens.

MARTIN: All right. Okay. See, try not to hate. Try not to hate. All right. Happy Father's Day to the dads and Happy...

Mr. TORRE: Happy Father's Day, dads.

MARTIN: ...advanced Father's Day to the dads of the dads. All right.

Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego.

Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He joined us from New York, our New York bureau. Arsalan Iftikhar is here in our D.C. studios. He's a civil rights attorney, the founder of the muslimguy.com, a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He was here in Washington.

Thank you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. TORRE: Thank you.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Let's talk more on Monday.

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