SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Abracadabra - sports.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: The world-champion Boston Red Sox visited the White House this week - well, half of them anyway - hockey down to its final four. And we've nearly reached the conference finals of the NBA playoffs. Howard Bryant of ESPN joins us. Howard, thanks for being with us.
HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: One more week I guess I can say - if not more than one - fear the deer...
SIMON: ...Because the Milwaukee Bucks are already in the Eastern Conference finals after sweeping the Celtics under the rugs. Golden State finished off Houston last night for the - what? - fourth time in five years. And now, of course, two Game 7s scheduled for Sunday. What are we seeing that surprised you?
BRYANT: Well, the thing that surprised you is - more than anything else is the Boston Celtics come out, and they beat Milwaukee by 20 in Game 1 and then lose four straight. Milwaukee's a great team. It's going to be fun to see what they do. Yeah. I really think that Warriors-Bucks would be an amazing final, considering that they were the two best teams in the league this year. Of course, what Golden State did last night is incredible. You have Kevin Durant go out in Game 5. He gets hurt. You're expecting Houston to at least get this game at home, bring it back to a Game 7. And then, of course, let's not forget. You still have Steph Curry, two-time MVP. You have Klay Thompson, one of the greatest shooters who ever played the game.
BRYANT: Steph Curry has no points and three fouls at halftime and ends up going for 33 in the second half. And it was just a demoralizing defeat for the Houston Rockets. But once again, this is a championship-level team. This is one of the - one of those teams, like the Bruce Bochy Giants or the Red Sox in the 2000s or the Joe Torre Yankees. You know, don't - you can't kill them. You have to actually beat them. You leave the door open. And they're going to come back and do what they did last night - incredible, incredible performance.
SIMON: James Harden is so great. Houston is so great. They can't beat the Warriors. Who can? Can the Bucks?
BRYANT: Yeah. I think the Bucks can. I think that it's a believe-it-when-I-see-it thing for me, watching the Warriors. But there were moments where a tougher team could have beaten them. But once again, this is - it was like watching the Patriots in the Super Bowl where you're looking at them going OK. This is the year where they die. This is the year where you beat them. This is the year. And then their championship players come up with performances. You have to - you know, this is what separates them. This is why we watch these guys. This is why some of these players are so special. They've got it. The other guys don't when - you know, when the moments are on the line.
SIMON: Interesting storylines in the NHL. So you have the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks. And then the Bruins play the Carolina Hurricanes. Who do you see in the finals?
BRYANT: Well, I kind of like San Jose and Boston simply because I like the storyline of Joe Thornton - overall, you know, No. 1 pick for the Bruins, drafted by the Bruins, expected to be the next great Bruin, ends up going to San Jose. And to have him end his career playing for a championship against his former team is pretty good. Carolina's a good team. And, you know, they blew Game 1 against the Bruins. They had it. And they...
BRYANT: They played a really bad third period. St. Louis really, really tough team - I think that it wouldn't be surprising any of the combinations. But I kind of like Boston and San Jose.
SIMON: About half the Boston Red Sox visited the White House this week. What did we learn from the half that went and the half that didn't?
BRYANT: Well, I think what we learned, one, is that, you know, it's the same sort of combination that you have across the country. You know, the half - you know, the white players went. The players of color didn't go. The manager Alex Cora didn't go. I think that...
SIMON: Saying specifically it was...
SIMON: ...His dissatisfaction with administration policy in Puerto Rico.
BRYANT: Absolutely. And I think that David Price and Mookie Betts, the reigning MVP, said similar comments about not wanting to go. I think that the Boston Red Sox made a terrible mistake. I think they made a horrible mistake in terms of leadership by saying that there's no racial divide on the team. Clearly, there is. There's a racial divide in the country. And I think that people keep saying we want dialogue. We want dialogue. You had an opportunity for a dialogue here.
I don't blame the white players for going to the White House. I don't blame anybody for going to the White House in terms of the - how many citizens get to go to the White House by invitation? So I understand that. But I also understand that you cannot avoid what's taken place in the country. And I think the Red Sox blew it, to be honest.
SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much for being with us. Talk to you soon.
BRYANT: Thank you.
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