LeBron Jumps Teams; World Cup Final
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Time for sports.
Mr. LEBRON JAMES (Pro Basketball Player): We'll make the world know that the Heat is back.
(Soundbite of cheering)
SIMON: Well, they got hotter by signing two superstars and a supernova. Cleveland gets burned and the rest of the world - nah, most of the world, I guess, is going to watch the World Cup Final tomorrow.
Joined now by Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Good morning, Howard.
Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (Senior Writer, ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine): Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: And before we get to the LeBron James story, let's start with what the rest of the world considers the main attraction and the World Cup Final tomorrow between La Roja, Espana and the Orange, the Netherlands. Who do you like?
Mr. BRYANT: La Furia Roja. Well, I like the Orange. I couldn't help it. I thought that the Dutch, Argentina, the United States are the teams that I was going to watch. I like the Dutch simply because of their history. It's a long-suffering, very, very talented side that had always been very close. Always good but not great, always very, very good but not favored and this is their best chance to win since 1978.
SIMON: And how do they do those bicycle kicks while wearing wooden shoes...
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: ...is just beyond me.
Mr. BRYANT: Well, yeah. They call them klompens in Dutch.
And for Spain, wonderful for Spain to have been the number one team in the world for two years until Brazil replaced them, right about two months before the World Cup began. It's an amazing statistic that they had never been in a final until tomorrow.
And I think the one great thing about all of this is that you've got the 80-year history of the World Cup and for the first time in a long time, you're going to have a first time champion. There's only been seven World Cup champions, and now you're going to have an eighth.
SIMON: This'll be exciting. On to the LeBron James extravaganza, okay?
Mr. BRYANT: And don't you feel bad for rooting for him in the playoffs?
SIMON: Well, but I feel better than ever about being a Cavs fan. I didn't like the result, now that he's signed up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade and on the Heat, and kind of hoping for a stacked deck down there. But overall, was the hoopla, the hype good for sports or society?
Mr. BRYANT: No, I think it's bad for sports. But once again, I'm fighting the tide. I was very concerned about the journalistic issues that came with a man in the news cycle having his own one hour special. I was very concerned about...
SIMON: That was ESPN, if I'm not mistaken, Howard. I believe you know that name from your paycheck.
Mr. BRYANT: I know it, but what can I tell you? It was - then again, but we made the argument as well, that this is no different than a presidential candidate trying to get airtime on one of the networks. So this is the way things are going. This is the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, this is their generation and this is how they do things.
SIMON: But I presume they wouldn't have let a presidential candidate go on for 15 minutes before they asked him the high hard one.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BRYANT: Yeah, it's true. But then my problem with LeBron, as well, was the immodesty of the event. He has proclaimed to be a team player - and clearly this is only about him - and there's no reason. Many, many great players have changed teams over the years and what I would like to know, if I ever have the chance to ask him the question - which I probably will at some point over the next few months - is why was this entire circus necessary?
And it was very clear this whole thing has been orchestrated for years by those three players, which is fine. This is - Marvin Miller would happy: The players have finally won.
Mr. BRYANT: That they have an immense amount of control over their destinies, which is how it should be.
SIMON: I have to ask. Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert was withering and he said a lot of things we might dismiss as wounded love. But more seriously, he essentially accused LeBron James of quitting...
Mr. BRYANT: Of quitting.
SIMON: ...on his team at pivotal games. Is there anything to that?
Mr. BRYANT: I think there's a lot to that. And if you watched those series - I remember watching Game 5 and then finally Game 6 when it was clearly over, and the whole team looked like they quit, but LeBron James in particular.
We were watching this game and I remember specifically then saying, these guys don't look like they're into it. And if you remember the press conference afterwards, LeBron James was already talking in the past tense. He didn't talk about his teammates. He didn't talk about his coach. He talked about his team, meaning his management team. And so, this is the wave of the modern athlete.
The modern athlete is an individual corporation. I'm not quite sure it's very good for sport, or good for team work, or those different things that sport says it's about. This is about business and it is on both sides.
SIMON: And in the 25 seconds we got left, the Heat have I think immediately made themselves the most hated team since the Roman centurions.
Mr. BRYANT: And also one of the best. It's a super power team now. They clearly followed the model of the Boston Celtics in having a big three. My problem is that LeBron James's basketball team won 127 games over the past two years. Are they really going to do better this year?
SIMON: I hope not.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Cleveland still rocks for me. Howard Bryant, thanks so much.
Mr. BRYANT: My pleasure.
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