RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Time now for sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Tonight the best of the best in the NBA will take to the courts. Rivals become teammates. The smack talk comes fast and furious but with a wink and a nod most of the time. The NBA All-Star game is not a game of consequence. It's just pure fun. It's also as good a time as any to check in with the state of play at this point in the basketball season. And so we bring you Mike Pesca to make that happen. Good morning, Mike.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Yes, we were once rivals. And here we are on the same stage...
MARTIN: Were we rivals?
PESCA: ...Talking about basketball.
MARTIN: Come on. OK, so I'm guessing there are going to be a lot of Golden State Warriors on this All-Star team 'cause they are really good.
PESCA: Yes, the team will be lousy with Warriors or wonderful with Warriors. Golden State's on a pace to win 75 games. Stephen Curry, reigning MVP, is on a pace to have 100 more three-pointers than anyone in NBA history. The only thing that would stop him from that goal are either his health or perhaps he shall become disinterested. I suspect that won't happen. And the amazing thing about Golden State, which - I mean, every year there's a team that's the best and every generation or epoch there is a team that lays claim to being the best of all time. But they are so aesthetically pleasing. Call your friends if the Warriors are on TV and you have any interest in basketball.
MARTIN: What does that mean, just quickly, aesthetically pleasing in basketball? Like, it's just pretty?
PESCA: I'll put my finger on it exactly. The balls fly through the air in an amazing way. That's the most - I think that's the most captivating thing about sports, when things are flying like a dunk or a home run or a long bomb in football.
PESCA: And the Warriors have more long balls flying than any team, and those balls splash down in the hoop. So I think that's aesthetically pleasing.
PESCA: They pass well, too. Yeah, and the other fascinating aspect of how good the Warriors are is that there's another team almost as good, the San Antonio Spurs. And we would be talking about them as one of the great Spurs teams ever, which is saying something 'cause they're the best team in the last decade, if it weren't for the Warriors being a few games above them in the standings.
MARTIN: But there's another really big team out there called the Cleveland Cavaliers.
PESCA: Right, so if we say that the Western Conference finals will be the Spurs against the Warriors, there looming is Cleveland, LeBron James. Now, they fired their coach midseason, which you could say there's a crazy move. But they don't care about being the best team in the East or they don't care about being a really, really good team. They care about doing something to possibly get an edge on this Warriors team that beat them in the finals. And that - just the possibility - the probability of that is one of the best things, why I say that right now the NBA is the best league going in the world of sports.
MARTIN: Because the teams are so good and they're facing off? What do you mean?
PESCA: No, I think it's that. I think the game is fun to watch.
PESCA: But if you compare the NBA to every other sport in the world, they all have their complications - their ethical complications in a lot of cases. You know, football with concussions or...
MARTIN: Yeah, domestic violence.
PESCA: ...Let's say you want to make a claim for soccer, the world's sport. FIFA's in a shambles and the Olympics are in a shambles. And baseball, the ratings, people aren't as interested in baseball as the NBA. And plus, they recently had a steroid scandal and they're still going through it.
MARTIN: Well, wasn't there - sorry to interrupt you but not - but what about that guy Donald Sterling who was the former owner of the Clippers? That racist - all those racist remarks and he got pushed out. That's a scandal.
PESCA: Yes, so my point isn't that basketball's without scandal. It's that how they handle it. And if you look at that, Adam Silver, new as NBA commissioner, came in and he orchestrated Sterling's having left. So I would judge a sport based on not the fact that bad things pop up every once in a while, players are going to get arrested, tragedy is going to happen unexpectedly. How do you deal with that? How the NBA dealt with that, contrast that with how the NFL dealt with Deflategate or, going back a few years, how baseball originally dealt with steroids. I mean, I just think the NBA is right now the sport that you can enjoy with the least complication other than pure sport itself.
MARTIN: Mike Pesca, host of The Gist on Slate. Thanks, Mike.
PESCA: You're welcome.
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