Nattily Dressed, NBA Players Tip Off Season
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The NBA is keeping closer tabs on its players this year when it comes to what they're wearing. The new basketball season opened this week, and the players all look very natty in line with the new dress code. Also new this year in basketball: a minor league. Whether the NBA will have a new champion obviously remains to be seen. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal joins us now as he does most Fridays.
Stefan, I guess the players were stylin' and profilin'.
Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (The Wall Street Journal): Even Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers abided by Commissioner David Stern's no jeans, no caps, no throwback jerseys edict. And for the record, the league has apparently not responded to some players' request for a clothing allowance.
NORRIS: This week marked the regular season return of Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest. Artest was suspended for 73 games after brawling with fans in Detroit early last season. So what did we see?
Mr. FATSIS: Yes. Well, it was one the worst episodes of violence in the history of US sports, of course. Artest, certainly a character; off the court, he's almost universally described as having a heart of gold, but his issue has been his behavior on the court. He says he's learned his lesson, which cost him about $5 million in salary. David Stern said hello to him last night before their game in Miami. Artest responded that Stern's `a cool cat; I think he's from the hood.' And Artest seemed no worse the wear. He scored 22 points; Indiana beat Miami.
NORRIS: Also back in the game is Phil Jackson, who's always well-dressed, the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Mr. FATSIS: Well, he's trying to win a record-tying 10th NBA championship as a coach, but he's not likely to do it with the young team that he's got in Los Angeles. The Lakers are led by Kobe Bryant, who clashed with Jackson when he used to coach the team. Like Artest, Bryant is trying to make up with marketers and fans and get them to forget the past. In Bryant's case, it was allegation of sexual assault. The big mystery in LA, of course, is why Jackson came back. Ten million bucks a year for three years no doubt influenced him, but more likely, he loves the game, he loves LA, he dates the owner's daughter and maybe he wants to show that he can coach a team to a championship without a roster of stars.
NORRIS: Well, like the National Football League, the NBA has a vagabond team that used to play in New Orleans, but was forced to relocated after Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. FATSIS: Yeah. The New Orleans Hornets are now officially known as the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. Not exactly what you think of as a big-league city; the 45th TV market in the country. It's only had minor-league teams, but the city and its fans are showing the love. Nineteen thousand people turned up for the team's opener on Tuesday; that's 5,000 more than the Hornets averaged in New Orleans last year. The Hornets are going to play 35 games in Oklahoma City, a half-dozen in Baton Rouge. They have an option to play in Oklahoma City a second season, and Stern said this week that he'd like a decision by early 2006. I wouldn't be surprised if, like football's New Orleans Saints, the Hornets think about moving permanently.
NORRIS: Another new twist in the NBA this season: an official minor league, much like baseball. Stefan, tell us about that.
Mr. FATSIS: Well, the NBA revamped its struggling Development League. It cut the number of teams to eight, and the big change is that NBA clubs for the first time can assign players to an affiliate team. And the first two players sent down today were Dwayne Jones and Bracey Wright of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Each NBA team can send down two or three players. There are some restrictions, so don't expect to see Kobe Bryant playing for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds if he starts struggling. This is a great move for the NBA, especially because it'll get inexperienced players--and there are a lot of them on NBA rosters--playing time.
NORRIS: Stefan, finally, any predictions for the NBA championship?
Mr. FATSIS: No, I never predict. But it's hard not to like the San Antonio Spurs to win back-to-back titles. They've got the same core as last year--led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili--and they added two bona fide terrific players, Michael Finley and Nick Van Exel. Over in the Eastern Conference, Shaquille O'Neal's Miami Heat look to be the best in what is a vastly improved East.
NORRIS: Thank you, Stefan.
Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.
NORRIS: Wall Street Journal sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us on Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.
MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.