The Amazing Pro Basketball Finals

Talking sports with the Bryant Park Project sports guy, Bill Wolff.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Thanks, Mark Garrison. So, Mike Pesca....

MIKE PESCA, host:

Yes.

MARTIN: Did you watch sports over the weekend?

PESCA: There were some sports to be watched out of the corner of my eye, but you see, it's funny, because I have a one year old, and when you have a young kid, it's really hard to watch sports.

MARTIN: You would think, right, Bill Wolff?

BILL WOLFF: It ain't that hard.

MARTIN: Back in the old role of BPP sports analyst and enjoying the new role of proud papa, Bill Wolff still made - carved out a little bit of time to take in some sporting action while babysitting.

WOLFF: That's true.

MARTIN: It's kind of like babysitting. Did you have the little baby with you while you watched?

WOLFF: Well, I was sitting and there was a baby there, so that's babysitting. And while you babysit, unless the baby is really going wild, you can, in fact, watch the sports, which is exactly what he and I did. He's a huge sports fan.

MARTIN: He's like six days old.

WOLFF: He should be introduced. His name is Isaac, and we call him Ike, or you know, you can call him superstar, whatever you like. And he's now a week old. A week old as of 6:36 p.m. tonight. So he's made a tremendous amount of progress. He himself,= a great athlete, a huge fan of sports. But watching his reactions to the sports gave me a lot of insight into how the rest of the world probably feels about each individual sport. For instance, Saturday afternoon golf...

MARTIN: Yes!

WOLFF: Asleep.

MARTIN: Sleeping, good.

WOLFF: OK. Slept right through it. Didn't care. Didn't care. Just peacefully sleeping, and this is a guy with a category-five cry. Like, when he's not happy, it blows windows out of adjacent buildings, and he was dead asleep watching golf.

PESCA: Do you think he knew the decorum of the game? Keep the cry and the golf claps and the golf cry. Does he have a golf cry?

WOLFF: No, I think he knew Tiger Woods wasn't playing...

PESCA: Yeah, yeah.

WOLFF: Is what I think.

MARTIN: So he snoozed. OK, so what about, say, some NBA action?

WOLFF: Crying watching the Lakers, he hates the Lakers.

MARTIN: OK, good.

WOLFF: Which I, you know...

MARTIN: I do, too, Isaac.

WOLFF: Of course, you hate the Lakers. And I think that has proved that sports preference is genetic. It is inherited. It's nature versus nurture and all that nonsense, it's all nature. He hates the Lakers and cried throughout until at which point the Lakers lost and he calmed right down. So, I think he hates the Lakers.

And then I had a little NASCAR on from Darlington, the track too tough to tame on Saturday night. And you all know, of course, that Kyle Busch won the race, but that's not the important point. The important point is he slept through that, too. So apparently golf and NASCAR? Extremely boring. And the NBA is a little bit more exciting.

MARTIN: Well, let's drill down, as we say, a little bit more on that Lakers game. Things were kind of rough, right? There was some kind of flagrant foul that left poor Ronnie Price with a bloody gash over his eye?

WOLFF: Well, yeah, it's the playoffs. The thing about pro-basketball is that the regular season is really long. It is 82 games. And it's six months long. So they tend, the players tend, to not be too intense for most of those 82 - I mean, they're intense, but they're not going for the kill in any of those 82 games because you simply couldn't sustain that intensity over such a long period of time.

The playoffs come, and it changes - the game - I mean, Pesca will tell you. It gets much more rugged and the teams are each - are all sending each other messages like if you try to dunk you are going to get hammered in the face by one of our guys, so don't even try to dunk.

So there's a much - it becomes much closer to hockey once the playoff season starts. And Utah - the Lakers are playing Utah - the Lakers I would say are significantly favored. They have the best player in the game, and that's Kobe Bryant, they have excellent, tall players, Pau Gasol the Spaniard came there in mid-season. He's excellent.

Lamar Odom has been a pretty good player, very versatile, very tall. The Lakers were favored over Utah, which is really a young team and sort of a mish-mash of parts that don't necessarily look like they fit together. But having won the first two games in Los Angeles the Lakers came to Salt Lake City in the altitude and with the crazy fans wearing the powder blue shirts. And Utah beat the Lakers twice. They beat them again yesterday.

MARTIN: Ouch.

WOLFF: In an overtime game because they have this - unbelievable, we've all heard of Chris Paul, right? Everybody on NPR knows Chris Paul because he was on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" And he's a really cool guy. And he plays for the New Orleans Hornets. And he's really excellent and he's six feet tall.

MARTIN: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, oh, yeah.

WOLFF: Are you making fun of me?

MARTIN: No, I really - it really did require the Wait reference, but now I do remember that guy. He's so nice.

PESCA: Like Chris Paul, you provided the assist.

WOLFF: There you go. So everyone knows about Chris Paul, well there's a guy who plays for Utah, Deron Williams, D-E-R-O-N, Deron, not DeRon, but Deron. And he is equally excellent, it's just that he plays in this nether-region known as the Mountain Time Zone knows as Salt Lake City. And Deron Williams is phenomenal and he took charge. He won them the game - he won Utah the game yesterday.

MARTIN: We've got...

WOLFF: So now Utah and LA are tied up at two. Excellent series.

MARTIN: We've got a little clip of Deron Williams after the game, let's listen to what he has to say.

WOLFF: Oh, OK.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. DERON WILLIAMS (Basketball Player, Utah Jazz): We started into the overtime, and we still had the energy to compete and to bring it, and I think that's what we did. You know, we got stops when we had to - made free throws, make shots. And it was a big win for us.

MARTIN: Oh, that's exciting. You know...

WOLFF: He's clearly well-trained in the art of post-game cliche.

PESCA: The least exciting thing he did all day was that clip.

WOLFF: He's very advanced for his age.

MARTIN: Growing up in Idaho, we didn't have our own sporting teams as you might know, so we - we cheered for the Utah Jazz. So go Jazz.

WOLFF: Boise State Broncos?

MARTIN: Yeah, I know, but they're not professionals. Professionals...

WOLFF: And I must say any BPP listener who hears this segment and wonders what should I be doing with my very limited disposable free time, in terms of sports, the NBA playoffs are excellent. There are a number of incredible players and great match-ups going on. Not just Utah and LA, which is great.

MARTIN: Like exceptionally excellent. Not excellent like they're excellent every year, this is exceptional.

PESCA: They're all close.

WOLFF: Yes. They're really, really good. Utah versus LA is really good. San Antonio against New Orleans is one of the great contrasts. The veteran San Diego Spurs, the defending champs, they're a little bit older, and they're big and strong and a little bit plotting slow, but excellent.

MARTIN: Didn't they play last night?

WOLFF: They did.

MARTIN: What happened in that?

WOLFF: In fact, San Antonio - New Orleans is this young and upcoming team and of course they play in New Orleans so that is all part of the story. And they have this great Chris Paul who is absolutely, unbelievably great. No one denies that. And they won the first two games in New Orleans and everyone said, well, the Spurs are finished. They're over the hill. they are exposed as old and plotting. Well, not really. The Spurs crushed them last night, crushed New Orleans last night in San Antonio, to tie that series at two to two. When Tony Parker, who's married to Eva Longoria, of what do you call it...?

MARTIN: "Desperate Housewives."

WOLFF: And the great Tim Duncan, who is so great...

MARTIN: I love that guy.

WOLFF: That he's underrated - dominated New Orleans and now we have a two-two series tie between San Antonio and New Orleans and that is a, I think, Mike would agree, that is an excellent series. Totally interesting, total contrast in styles between the teams in the character of the teams, the age of the teams, the makeup of the teams. And there they go, see who's better. So, that's an excellent on.

PESCA: So if the game started before 10 o'clock eastern, I would watch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WOLFF: Well, this is the problem, you - how old is the great Milo?

PESCA: He's a year and a month.

WOLFF: A year and a month. So does he sleep on a normal schedule?

PESCA: He's a good sleeper, sure.

WOLFF: See, I've got a guy who - it's disco time starting at about 11:15 p.m. He's silent all night long and then it is - he blows like a hurricane. So when the late game comes on, I'm up man.

PESCA: OK.

WOLFF: No problem, I can't really focus on the game...

MARTIN: So I'm the one out of the three of us with no children. I should be watching these games everywhere.

PESCA: Yeah, you have to watch sports for both of us and report in, please. Put together highlights for the next day, if you could.

MARTIN: That's not going to happen. OK, with our remaining two minutes, Bill, there was a bit of a scandal, a brouhaha in college ball over the weekend, I understand, right?

WOLFF: Well, there's a player, his name is O. J. Mayo. O. J. Mayo was the best high-school player in the country and he's been the best high-school player in the country, since you know, his sophomore year. But where would he go? This was this great question. And he wound up at USC, University of Southern California, the Trojans.

And he then, after one year, declared eligible for the draft. So he will be drafted next month, and he is a spectacular talent. But ESPN, who not only plays the highlights but does some investigating, discovered that Mayo "allegedly" has been accepting payments and gifts and all sorts of illegal stuff in the tens of thousands of dollars from a sports agent since Mayo was in high school.

Now that it's his college career is over, he has declared eligible for the draft, so there won't be real consequences for him. What are they going to do, suspend him from the pros? It will never happen. But it could put USC in some trouble. You can't have players accepting cash. And it brings up an old question, should players, athletes, especially the big talented ones, be allowed to accept money? It's been going on since they invented money and invented sports.

MARTIN: Yeah.

WOLFF: But every time it happens, everybody gets indignant and says this is a terrible problem and so here we go again. O. J. Mayo was accepting money, or allegedly - he denies it. He is accused or it is alleged that he was taking money as a high-school player before he even got to USC and a flat screen television and airplane tickets and money for his friends - it's that sort of stuff.

So it is a little bit of a scandal, and we will see where it goes. But to me it opens up the same old giant conversation, which is, should players simply - should they lift the ban on compensating these amateur athletes like O. J. Mayo? And you can get a pretty good argument going. It's a little bit like some of the drug legalization.

MARTIN: That's what I was going to say. If everyone's doing steroids and a couple of people get caught, then what does that mean?

PESCA: Not everyone's taking money. The Division III fencers are not on the take.

WOLFF: Listen, I was a water polo player and I can tell you, we were not taking money.

PESCA: Flush times.

WOLFF: But Rachel, it's true that, or compare it to marijuana laws. A lot a lot of people smoke marijuana and then somebody gets caught and a huge deal is made of it. But it always raises the question, what if they made that habit or that drug legal and took the crime out of it and restricted it the way cigarettes and booze, would that be a better solution? Well, the same question applies, obviously it's not drugs, which is a different conversation, but in certain ways, it's the same argument. Should they allow - it goes on all the time. Athletes get paid all the time.

MARTIN: And you can't regulate it, they've tried.

WOLFF: Well, it's very difficult to regulate evenly, you know, you catch one guy and a hundred other guys are getting away with it. And a lot of money is being made on the labor of these kids. O. J. Mayo is a guy who goes to college. he plays for USC. He sells tickets. He gets people to watch on television. There is revenue - he sees none of it. So that's the question and there is a scandal, and we will keep track of it as we raise our child to be clean and wholesome.

MARTIN: Wrapping it back up. Bill Wolff, friend of the BPP, sports analyst and daddy. Hey Bill, thanks so much, give our best to Alison and the baby.

PESCA: Ike.

MARTIN: And Ike.

WOLFF: See you later, guys.

PESCA: Bye.

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