Sports Week: NBA Fighting and NFL Boredom

From an NBA courtside brawl to mediocre football, New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden covers the week in sports with Tony Cox.

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TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox in for Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Well, it's Friday and it's time again for a little sports talk with our resident sports expert William C. Rhoden, author and sports columnist with The New York Times.

Hello, Bill.

Mr. WILLIAM C. RHODEN (The New York Times): The great Tony Cox.

COX: Hey, listened that - I don't know where to begin. There is so much to talk about. But why don't we begin in the Mile High City where NBA hopes are mile high?

Mr. RHODEN: You've got so many ways to go without that question, but you know, you can't make this stuff up, Tony. You know, now, here you have this tremendous fight in New York.

COX: Right.

Mr. RHODEN: And now, as a result of a fight, the difference - I just get the best scorers in the league. They land - they end up with Allen Iverson, you know.

COX: What a week for George Karl, isn't it?

Mr. RHODEN: Oh, my goodness, yeah, here is, you're supposed to get punish, right?

COX: Right.

Mr. RHODEN: Your leading scorer throws this tremendous roundhouse sucker punch and David Stern is going to send this message and blah, blah, blah, blah and everybody is cheering in the street and the next thing you know you replaced Carmelo with Allen Iverson, you know. I mean so what's the punishment?

COX: Absolutely. Well, you know, a lot of people have been talking about Billy King, the 76ers GM, because it was almost like a fire sale that he had to give up Allen Iverson. I mean Andre Miller is not garbage but he's no Allen Iverson, let's face it. A good deal or a bad deal on Billy King's part?

Mr. RHODEN: Well, I think that he's - you see, he's dealing with damage control. You know, the guy - Allen is not coming to practice and all that. I think that it's not a great deal for Philadelphia, you know. And I think Billy King is going to take some heat for it.

Because you're right, you pull this tremendous plug out and there's a huge hole there. There's a hole cordially in the city. There's a hole in terms of point production. There's a hole in terms of leadership, you know. The only plus in this is that the 76ers save face and as you know, Tony, this is a bottom-line business. This is not face - it it's about saving face, the Denver Nuggets wouldn't have Allen Iverson.

COX: Absolutely. Talking about the bottom line, $500,000, the fine that David Stern levied against both clubs in addition to the individual fines and the 15-game suspension for Carmelo Anthony et al. Now, we know David Stern has been trying to control his league's image but is it working?

Mr. RHODEN: The fines, I think, were appropriate. They had a fight and it got out of control and I think you had to punish people. I'm more concerned with some of the language and imagery around the fight, you know, people calling this a brawl. People are calling this, quote, black eye, a black cloud. You know, I don't like that kind of stuff, Tony, in a league that's 97 - 87 percent black. I don't like that.

And people are trying, you know, go from a fight, which happens every single day in hockey, every single day to some type of comment on, you know, society and black America. It was a fight. It was a bunch of professionals. The Knicks are getting killed at home by the media. They're getting booed at home. They were frustrated and frankly, I think, that what they did, competitively, they drew a line and said listen - enough is enough.

COX: Well, let me ask you this, is there a point that you have to say, if you're a David Stern or if you are the commissioner of the NFL or the NHL, that look, enough of this is enough because you are impacting the bottom line with your behavior?

Mr. RHODEN: Well, yeah but you can't - you've got - in each of the sports you've mentioned, sports that are based, particularly football, on violence. You know, it's violence. In baseball, you've got the brush-back pitch throwing at somebody's head is a routine part of the game, you know, this isn't war.

I mean this is competitive sports and people have been doing this stuff for years. I mean Pat Riley is probably laughing at this stuff. I mean his whole reputation. And the Knicks was built on enforcers and making sure - I mean sports, Tony, as you know, is basically - a lot of game of intimidation. You can't control this stuff. I mean if there's a fight breaks out - and the reason we're talking about this, Tony, in the NBA is because there have not been a lot of fights. There was a fight a couple of years ago. Now, that was a brawl.

COX: Now, that was a brawl.

Mr. RHODEN: That was a brawl.

COX: Okay.

Mr. RHODEN: That was a brawl. There's was a brawl in Detroit and then there was this fight - two years. There have been - this stuff does not happen a lot. And I think that's why we're talking about it because it is unusual. Because people, the athletes, usually do have their emotions pretty much in check.

So I just think that because it's a large number of African-American men doing this stuff, I think it becomes a little more dramatic and impactful. And if the question is, well, do they need to just always check themselves? Well, yeah. But I just think that we're going - we can't go overboard with this stuff. It doesn't happen every single day.

COX: All right we spent most of our time talking about the NBA because there was a lot of stuff to talk about. So that cuts down on what I can ask you now as far as the NFL is concerned because we are headed toward the playoffs.

Mr. RHODEN: The playoffs.

COX: All right. Who do you like so far?

Mr. RHODEN: You know - everybody. This is like the complete - this is like -

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: What kind of answer is that?

Mr. RHODEN: No, no, man. Because it's so mediocre that anything - I mean to be honest, man, I think the Jets could end up representing -

COX: The Jets?

Mr. RHODEN: The Jets, yeah, the Jets. That's how even this stuff is. There's no great team - do you see a great team out there?

COX: So you don't think that it's going to come down to the Pats or the Charges or the Colts -

Mr. RHODEN: No. Maybe -

COX: Really?

Mr. RHODEN: Maybe the Chargers - the Colts are fatally flawed.

COX: Okay.

Mr. RHODEN: The Colts - and I love Tony Dungy and all but you cannot go into the playoffs with no defense, you know, with people who can run against you like it's touch football.

COX: All right. So what about in the NFC? Now the Bears, you know, they've been doing their thing pretty much all season long but New Orleans well, until lately they were kind of on a - they had some momentum on this. Who do you like in the NFC?

Mr. RHODEN: The dream is over. I'm from Chicago. I do like the Bears. Now, that they've got Tank “The Gunrunner” Johnson.

COX: You can keep him -

Mr. RHODEN: Yeah, Jeff -

COX: Out of the lineup, maybe.

Mr. RHODEN: That's another -

COX: That's another story for the next time.

Mr. RHODEN: That's another show. But I do like Chicago but even they're flawed with Rex Grossman. So, you know, just for the sake of - I would say Chicago and that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

COX: As always, Bill, thank you very much and one more thing have a Merry Christmas.

Mr. RHODEN: Hey, Tony, merry Christmas to you. Happy holidays to all.

COX: William C. Rhoden is an author and sports columnist for The New York Times.

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