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Saturday Sports: NBA Finals, French Open, Stanley Cup

Jun 2, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: J. R. Smith - he earns more than $12 million a year to play basketball for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but not for keeping track of the score. And the Williams sisters back in action together at the French Open. We catch up on sports with espn.com and ESPN The Magazine senior writer Howard Bryant.

Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. You're being kind this morning to J.R. Smith, aren't you?

SIMON: Well, we spoke yesterday, and I was - I got a few jokes off my chest. It's too painful for me to relieve those last 48 seconds. Could you do it for us while I sob?

BRYANT: Forty-eight seconds? The last 4.7 seconds.

SIMON: Yeah, OK. Yes, OK.

BRYANT: Very, very simple, so...

SIMON: So remind us what happened, and what...

BRYANT: Tie game.

SIMON: See, I'm crying. Go ahead. Yeah?

BRYANT: Tie game at 1:07. J.R. Smith is at the - I'm sorry. George Hill is at the line, misses the free throw.

SIMON: Yeah?

BRYANT: And J.R. Smith gets the rebound, thinking his team has a 1-point lead. And instead of going back up for the game - for the score-leading basket, decides to dribble out to half court where LeBron James has to remind him, it's a tie game. And the memes went crazy. And of course, the game goes into overtime. Golden State blows out the War - blows out the Cavaliers, and now, they're really up against it. They were up against it before, Scott. This was a tall ask for the Cavaliers to beat this team, and now, giving one game away like that, this might be like the '95 Finals with Orlando and Houston where Orlando blew a game they should have won and ended up getting swept. And so, it's going to take - and Lebron James scored 51 points. It was one of the greatest efforts that we've ever seen.

SIMON: He's in another dimension. I have never seen, in these playoffs, such a sustained stretch of excellence. And, if I may, I saw Michael Jordan close up in the last two years.

BRYANT: Yeah, he's tremendous, and it got wasted. And if they're not careful, we're going to watch another great LeBron James performance go for not.

SIMON: I see the Cavs coming back more inspired than ever and J.R. Smith becoming the unlikely hero in the seventh game.

BRYANT: They better.

SIMON: I never give up. Listen, early tie in the Stanley Cup Finals. I just can't get used to a championship series between hockey, between Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas. How do you like this series so far?

BRYANT: Well, this is what expansion has done, but it's a great series so far. You've got a lot of energy, and that's the thing about sports, obviously. You've had championships in Carolina. The Carolina Hurricanes have won a Stanley Cup. The Florida Panthers have been in the Stanley Cup. The Tampa Bay Lightning have won. So these warm-weather climbs, you know, we've seen that before. But I think the real thing is Ovechkin versus the City of Las Vegas, and that one of these teams is going to win the Stanley Cup for the first time. And what a cruel joke it would be if Las Vegas, first year in the league, wins a championship against the team that has essentially been tortured. The Washington Capitals have been in the league for 50 years. They've been close and just haven't gotten there.

SIMON: Yeah, they can say, oh, what was so rough about that? Listen, Venus and Serena Williams have reached the third round of the French Open in doubles play just in time to mark the publication of a new book by you called "Sisters and Champions". I read it last night. I loved it. They are sisters first, aren't they?

BRYANT: Yeah, and it's a children's book. And this is something - it's a sweet book, Scott, and it's something - it isn't really often that I get to write about joy. And there's a lot of joy in this book. And Floyd Cooper's illustrations are terrific. And when I write a sentence, it's not often that I'm trying to produce a smile. And here, here I did. I think that it's a lot of fun to celebrate the greatest champions that this country's ever produced. And when parents are reading the book to their kids, and when their kids are reading themselves, I hope it gives them joy, too. And I can't think of a better subject than the greatest pair of siblings to ever play professional sports. I think we need a good story, and this is one.

SIMON: Howard Bryant. He's author of "The Heritage" and "Sisters And Champions" - "Sisters And Champions". Howard, thanks so much. And, by the way, Cleveland still rocks.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.