As NBA Season Nears, Europe Lures Players
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
The journey that is the NBA regular season begins Tuesday. It kicks off with last season's champions, the Boston Celtics. That team takes on a rival that would love to steal that title - the Cleveland Cavaliers led by Lebron James. At the same time, there's a little duel going on in professional basketball between the US and Europe. Stefan Fatsis joins us now as he does most Fridays to talk about all this. Hello, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Michele.
NORRIS: So it seems Europe is starting to snatch away some NBA players. What's the appeal?
FATSIS: Money. The most prominent affection this off season was Josh Childress. He's a Stanford grad. He played four seasons for the Atlanta Hawks. He's a good player. But Olympiakos of Athens offered him a three-year $20-million contract to go play in Greece, and that's more than he could have earned in Atlanta. We're going to see more of this. Olympiakos is owned by shipping and steel billionaires - these two brothers. They're making noise about offering huge money for Kobe Bryant or Lebron James and there are other owners in Europe who have the cash to do it, too. Now, NBA Commissioner David Stern says he's not worried about top players getting poached. And if one did, I think it might speed up the league's efforts to add franchises in Europe which is absolutely on their radar.
NORRIS: So the NBA owners are on notice - lock up your stars or work hard to keep them happy. There's one new team in the NBA this season not in London or Berlin, but in Oklahoma City. How on the heck did that happen?
FATSIS: Well, for a long painful answer, talk to someone in Seattle where the Seattle Supersonics joined the NBA in 1967, won a championship in 1979 and were sold in 2006 to a group led by an Oklahoma City businessman. He said he didn't intend to move the team, but he quickly did after failing to get a new arena in Seattle. There was a lawsuit. Ultimately the owners agreed to pay Seattle $45 million to break the team's lease - not one of the brightest moments in David Stern's tenure but welcome to the Oklahoma City Thunder whose regular season debut is next Wednesday.
NORRIS: I like the name. Stefan, since the season is just beginning, is there a particular player we should be looking out for?
FATSIS: Yeah. The player that we wanted to look out for last year - Greg Oden. He was the number one draft pick in 2007 by the Portland Trail Blazers but he ended up sitting out his rookie season because of a knee injury. He's a seven-foot tall, big man, topic out of Ohio State, versatile, unselfish. He may wind up reminding people of David Robinson, the former San Antonio Spurs center, commanding court presence and good guy. Oden has a great reputation. He's going to debut in the NBA on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.
NORRIS: Finally, the NBA will play 1,230 regular season games. We know because we counted them. And I understand that there are people who write previews of every single game. Is that really true?
FATSIS: Yeah. One small group of people and true fans will already be familiar with these guys. They write the blog, Free Darko, which really believes that the NBA is much more metaphysical than physical. They don't write about the games so much as they do - the intellectual content of the games. I love these guys. So this year, they decided to foretell every game and it helps to either be deeply into the NBA to understand this or to just have a sense of the absurd. And let me read one now. Here's the preview for the January 2nd game between the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors. And here's what they write: Forward Chris Bosh's steering half-time river dance performance does not inspire the Raptors who lose by 10.
NORRIS: Thank you, Stefan.
FATSIS: Thanks, Michele. Have a good weekend.
NORRIS: That's Stefan Fatsis. He talks with us about sports on Fridays.