On to the Final Four

George Mason takes on Florida and UCLA squares off against LSU Saturday as the men's NCAA basketball tournament heads toward Monday's championship game. Scott Simon talks with Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Ron Rapoport about the pinnacle of March Madness.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Time now for sports. It's down to four. The 2006 NCAA Basketball Tournament has been one of the most exciting in years. Mere upstarts have turned into real contenders. The playoffs that began with 64 teams will shrink to just two after LSU faces UCLA today, and George Mason, the school and not the Founding Father, plays Florida tonight in Indianapolis.

Ron Rapoport is there in Indianapolis tapping his own glass slippers.

How are you, Ron?

Mr. RON RAPOPORT (Columnist, Chicago Sun Times): I'm good. I'm good, Scott.

SIMON: You know...

Mr. RAPOPORT: Not as good as George Mason, but I'm good.

SIMON: I don't know. I think you've got your strong points. I think there are two Cinderella teams. LSU, my gosh, they began this season with a hospice on their basketball court. And...

Mr. RAPOPORT: Yeah...

SIMON: Well, a hospital, I should say, not a hospice. Good Lord, a hospital field on their basketball court. And now of course they're in the Final Four. And I got to tell you, Glen Davis, the guy they call the Big Baby is, I think, one of the most appealing college basketball players in a long time.

Mr. RAPOPORT: Well, you're absolutely right, Scott. I mean, Glen Davis and a lot of the other basketball players, and other athletes at LSU, started this season in the Pete Maravich Athletic Center, which had been turned into this emergency triage station, working with doctors and volunteers trying to save the hurricane's victims, Scott. And Glen Davis, in particular, held an IV for two hours for a patient who finally died. And he said it changed him for life.

Since then, we've seen him become the Second Coming of Charles Barkley on and off the court. Here's a 300 pound guy who's as much fun to listen to as he is to watch play. He's a riot.

SIMON: Yeah. George Mason is a remarkable story. I can't recall, maybe Loyola was the last time a commuter school got this far in the playoffs. What keeps them together?

Mr. RAPOPORT: Blind luck. No. No. No. No. Seriously, Scott, the Patriots are the classic case of a good team that caught a few breaks...

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RAPOPORT: ... and then suddenly began to realize, hey, it's just basketball. We've been playing that all year long. They really benefited from the tournament format of one loss and you're out. And they're just the classic case of a team that caught a raise, a wave, and sees no reason to keep on riding it. This is one of the beautiful things about sports sometimes, Scott; when the players surprise themselves as much as the fans and anybody else.

SIMON: You're going to watch these playoffs and then get right back into the car to witness the opening of baseball. The Cleveland Indians versus the, did I say world champion Chicago White Sox?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RAPOPORT: Miss the raising of a World Series flag in Chicago, Scott, which happens once a century, like clockwork?

SIMON: Oh, you'd drive from Iceland to make it. But I do wonder, are you impressed by Commissioner Selig's announcement that former Senator George Mitchell, who just happens to be on the board of the Boston Red Sox, is going to lead an investigation into steroid use?

Mr. RAPOPORT: Kind of a conflict of interest there, don't you think? I mean, nobody doubts George Mitchell's bona fide, a standup guy. But here he is involved not only with the Red Sox, but also with ESPN. He's on the board of Disney. And they're doing a series on Barry Bonds, which has caused some problems within the company. So it's kind of, kind of an interesting choice, yes.

SIMON: Well, I wonder, is this investigation going to make it possible for Barry Bonds to pursue Henry Aaron's homerun total, to break his record of all-time career homeruns, by being able to shirk aside all questions about steroids, by saying, look, that matter is under investigation, I can't comment?

Mr. RAPOPORT: Well, I suppose it would, though I can't believe that the pressure isn't going to get to him. And Scott, I'm looking for Barry Bonds to have kind of a convenient injury or illness at some point pretty early in the season, the closer he gets to Hank Aaron. I just don't see him being able to stand up under this kind of pressure. I just think it's going to be something that's always there. Beyond that though, remember this time last year when Mark McGuire and Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, were testifying before Congress, what a crisis that was supposed to be? Well, baseball had its biggest year ever at the gate and I think it'll do so again this year.

SIMON: Okay, Ron Rapoport, a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times is at the NCAA playoffs in Indianapolis. Thank you, Ron.

Mr. RAPOPORT: Thank you, Scott.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.