SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And it's time for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: No need to take in any NBA stars - a new TV contract will raise the team's salary cap before players have to start bussing tables at Applebee's. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us from Portlandia.
Good morning Tom. How are you?
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: I am good. How are you?
SIMON: I'm just fine. Well, I'm so happy because you know, players, they were struggling before. What are the dimensions of this new deal, potentially?
GOLDMAN: You know, Scott, being a fan of major pro sports in this era means you don't blink at the fact that many athletes make unbelievable sums. But we are blinking this week, Scott.
SIMON: (Laughter). Yes.
GOLDMAN: If you could see me, I'm blinking.
SIMON: Yeah, I can hear it. Yeah.
GOLDMAN: (Laughter). The salary cap is the amount a team is allowed to spend on player's salaries. The cap next year per team is about $66 million. The year after, it will explode to about 90 million - biggest one-year increase ever. Now, as you mentioned, it's due to the league's enormous new TV and media deals - I think you mentioned that - pumping billions into the league and raising the cap. The NBA wanted to phase-in the cap increase over a few years so there wouldn't be the jolt of one huge increase, which could hurt competitive balance in the league. But the players' union voted against that, so the jolt's going to happen.
SIMON: Well, and is this going to concentrate the money in the largest markets - New York, Chicago and LA?
GOLDMAN: It may, and it may concentrate the best players. At least, that's one of the owner's worries. The jolt is expected to unleash a frenzy of free-agent activity in the summer of 2016 with this flood of cash. The biggest stars - LeBron James, Kevin Durant - they could command tens of millions more than they normally would, bringing their annual salaries into the neighborhood of about 30 million a year. Now, big-market teams like the Lakers and the Knicks, who are currently horrible but rich, could get better very quickly by attracting the best players. Also, Scott, there's talk this enormous influx of cash will prompt a work stoppage as soon as 2017, when players and owners can re-open their current contract. Both sides have wanted a bigger piece of the revenue pie. With that pie about to become that much bigger, players and owners are expected to clamber even more.
SIMON: At your suggestion, Tom, I saw highlights of the Cleveland-San Antonio game, which is on too late for me to see. Have you ever seen a better regular season game?
GOLDMAN: Well, not during this regular season. San Antonio cared, which the Spurs often don't with this much time left in the regular season. All the best players played their best - playoff, you know, feel to the game. And especially the 57-point man, Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving. Wow.
SIMON: Wow. You know, I think LeBron James and Kyrie Irving aren't like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. You know what I think?
SIMON: They're like Michael Jordan and Michael Jordan.
GOLDMAN: (Laughter). They were Thursday night. I mean, this is a point guard's league. And this season, Irving is establishing himself along with Golden State's Steph Curry as the best of an incredibly talented group. Their offensive abilities are mesmerizing, just tremendous stuff. The way they drive to the hoop, the way Irving was shooting and sinking three-pointers, stopping not on a pinhead - not on a dime, but a pinhead. It was mesmerizing.
SIMON: Tom, who writes our theme music?
GOLDMAN: Well, that would be BJ Leiderman, Scott.
SIMON: OK. And moving on, Bill Walton and Dave Pasch on ESPN at the Pac-12 Tournament the other night in Las Vegas - let's play a clip. They're becoming Oscar and Felix of basketball broadcasters.
(SOUNDBITE OF ESPN)
BILL WALTON: So while you are in here glorifying hate, glorifying dirty play, glorifying flagrant fouls and selfish individual play, I'm going to celebrate the birthdays of peace and love with Jack Kerouac, Liza Minnelli and James Taylor, who have all been big-time headline performers right here in Las Vegas, the peaceful relaxing meadows in the heart of the Mojave Desert.
DAVE PASCH: "SportsCenter" is up next here on ESPN.
WALTON: Have you ever been to a volcano when it was erupting?
SIMON: (Laughter). Let's all go see the volcano today, kids. Was that prompted by anything going on on the court?
GOLDMAN: No. It was prompted by his brain. Bill Walton, as you can hear, is the master of the hilarious non sequitur. He outdid himself. Pasch, who wanted to return things - you know, who was promo-ing "SportsCenter," he's the straight man - the polar opposite of the counterculture, Grateful Dead-worshiping Walton. They are an odd but great couple. And they'll be at it again tonight, Scott, for the Pac-12 Championship Game featuring Oregon and Arizona, and maybe more volcanoes.
SIMON: Yeah. Yeah, worth tuning in, you know, just for the transitions. Tom Goldman, thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VOLCANO")
JIMMY BUFFETT: (Singing) Don't want to land in no San Diego, don't want to land in no Buzzard's Bay. Don't want to land on no Ayatollah. I got nothing more to say. I don't know, I don't know, I don't know where I'm gonna go when the volcano blow...
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