Premiere Week for the NBA

Co-host Renee Montagne speaks to sports commentator John Feinstein about the National Basketball Association season's 60th opening night Tuesday. Most of the pre-season talk has centered on two teams that didn't make the playoffs last season, and the NBA's dress-code controversy.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The National Basketball Association begins its 60th season tonight. Most of the preseason talk has centered on two teams that didn't make the playoffs last season and an issue that has nothing to do with wins and losses. Commentator John Feinstein joins me now.

Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's start off the court here. Commissioner David Stern wants to change the league's image. How is that going?

FEINSTEIN: Oh, not terribly well, Renee. He put out an edict before training camp saying that when players are representing the team, they must wear a sport coat and look business casual. Well, that's not what NBA players do. They like to wear throwback jerseys. I've known Tim Duncan of the Spurs since he was in college. I'm sure he owns a shirt with sleeves. And this is all about the league's corporate image. They want the big-money seat holders and spenders to feel comfortable with their players by getting them to dress the way they do, and it's not going over very well with the players.

MONTAGNE: And also the butt of a lot of late-night jokes.

FEINSTEIN: And it will continue. And again, I think what David Stern should have done was he just should have put out a request that coaches encourage their players to try to dress neatly when representing their team. It wouldn't have gone over 100 percent; it probably would have gone over 95 percent and then, as you said, David Letterman and you and I wouldn't be talking about it.

MONTAGNE: And how come it has happened that all the talk is about two non-playoff teams right now?

FEINSTEIN: Well, because the two non-playoff teams are the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks, who are two of the more storied franchises in league history in the league's two largest markets. Utter failures last year. The Lakers missed the playoffs for the first time in forever, only winning 34 games. And Phil Jackson, the Zen master, is riding back in on whatever a Zen master rides to coach the team. He and Kobe Bryant, who went through all sorts of controversy the last couple of years, including Jackson ripping him in a quote-unquote "tell-all" book last year. Now they're buddies together. Maybe they're doing yoga together. I don't know, but the Lakers are expected to be better.

And in New York, Larry Brown, the New Yorker, has come home the prodigal son quite literally. This is his 11th coaching job, and even though the Knicks have no players, they have a Hall of Fame coach and some hope.

MONTAGNE: Well, just quickly, back to the Lakers, I mean, Phil Jackson called Kobe Bryant uncoachable.

FEINSTEIN: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: Can they work together?

FEINSTEIN: Well, they can work together. That doesn't mean Phil's going to coach him. It means that Kobe will show up and will be a great player because he's healthy this year, and the Lakers will be better just because Phil will be sitting there over on the bench with his legs crossed.

MONTAGNE: OK. Let's get to the defending champions. Can they get into this conversation at all?

FEINSTEIN: Yeah, exactly. Other than Tim Duncan's shirts, this is a team that's won three titles, the San Antonio Spurs, in the last seven years. They have three great players under the age of 30: Duncan, Manny Ginobili and Tony Parker, and they will be a serious threat to repeat. And their only problem is, the West once again is so much stronger than the East.

MONTAGNE: And, John, your friend and co-author, Red Auerbach, the legendary leader of the Boston Celtics for the 16 title runs, is quite ill this past summer. How's he doing?

FEINSTEIN: He's doing great, Renee. In fact, tomorrow night he will be in Boston in his usual seat for the Celtics' opener. Think about this: He's 88 years old. This will be his 56th Celtics season opener, and he was there 60 years ago when the NBA began, and he'll be there tomorrow night. He's feeling great.

MONTAGNE: John, thanks very much.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein, whose new book is called "Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL." It's now out in bookstores.

This is NPR News.

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