Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

While the countdown to the start of the Olympics continues, basketball and hockey are getting close to finishing their playoff seasons - although commentator Frank Deford says you could be forgiven for not noticing.

FRANK DEFORD: It's the climax of the hockey and basketball seasons, but both have potential playoff visibility problems. Let me explain.

OK, the NBA first. As you know, basketball is the most individualized, celebrity-ized team game. Like movie stars, the best players are known by their first names: LeBron, Kobe, Dirk. Every basketball superstar wants to take his talents to a hot dog, big-time market - or at least marry a Kardashian.

So, for goodness sakes, why is San Antonio once again the best team - and what is the matter with the Spurs' perennial star, Tim Duncan? Who? Tim Duncan is not only not known just as Tim, he is not even known as Duncan. In fact, he is always called Tim Duncan, to make sure we remember who he is.

Tim Duncan just doesn't get it. He's happy playing down there in San Antonio. He never tries to get his coach fired. He even likes his coach, Gregg Popovich, who everybody just calls Pop. Pop doesn't get it, either. He's been quietly coaching the Spurs since 1996. And even though he is the coach of the year again, he doesn't think he is either a genius or a guru.

Tim Duncan has, himself, been hiding in San Antonio since 1997, after he graduated from college with honors. He is so weird - he never even gets in the columns. So it's really not even going to seem like the NBA if Tim Duncan and Pop lead San Antonio back to the championship. Of course, outside the Greater Alamo area, maybe nobody will even notice.

Now, that's the exact problem the whole, entire, complete National Hockey League has. This is because what we used to call "the sports world" is actually now ESPN world. And of all the major leagues, ESPN doesn't carry the NHL. As a consequence, the NHL is like a tree falling in the forest because pretty much, if a sport isn't on ESPN, then it doesn't count as a sport. Poker became a sport when ESPN started showing it.

Angry hockey people even tabulate the few minutes that ESPN deigns to mention the NHL. ESPN replies that hockey is not in the "national discussion." The NHL is just not like LeBron or Kobe or baby bumps or Mitt Romney's dog. In fact, to ESPN, the NHL is rather like Tim Duncan. Hockey fans say that the NHL can't be in the "national discussion" unless ESPN discusses it because in American sports today, that's how you get national - you get on ESPN.

ESPN might have a problem, though. The New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings may very well end up playing in the NHL finals. Is ESPN even bigger than L.A. and New York together? Stay tuned.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Commentator Frank Deford, one of the few people in the history of this broadcast to refer to the Greater Alamo area. His latest book is a memoir, "Over Time, My Life as a Sportswriter."

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DEFORD: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford