SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
From politics to sports.
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SIMON: We've got conference championships going on in basketball and hockey. Can the Heat burn off the Pacers? Will this be the last rodeo for a great Spurs franchise or another gold ring? And four former champions are on ice in the NHL. Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine, the TV network and the website and the virgin cold-pressed olive oil joins us from the studios of New England Public Radio in Amherst. Howard, thank so much for being with us.
HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning Scott. How are you doing?
SIMON: I'm fine, thank you. Let's ask about hoops first. Can the Heat put away the Pacers, because Indiana keeps coming back.
BRYANT: Well, you've got Chris Anderson suspended retroactively for his push against Tyler Hansbrough in Game 5, and so he's not going to be there. They're going to be motivated to play. They should close this series out, but Indiana's a good team. I would not be surprised if this goes seven games. I think it has to go seven for Indiana's confidence, considering that this is a team that I think, match-up wise, will look at these games, especially after losing Game 1 they way they lost it, and winning Game 4 the way they won it, that they know they can compete with this team.
But once again the X factor is LeBron James. He is proving once again he's the greatest basketball player going right now. He is really, really picking up in the Michael Jordan-Kareem category and that may sound like hyperbole because his career is nowhere near over, but yes, he's that good and he's that much of a difference-maker.
SIMON: The San Antonio Spurs in the West closed out the Memphis Grizzlies in four straight games. How can they manage to be so good without becoming household names?
BRYANT: Well, they play in San Antonio. I think one of the things that people - it reminds me a lot of Hank Aaron, when people...
SIMON: Hey, Davey Crockett played in San Antonio.
BRYANT: And nobody forgot him, right?
SIMON: Exactly. Yes.
BRYANT: It's funny. He reminds me a lot of Hank Aaron, in that people used to say about Henry, well if he had played in New York or if he had played in a bigger market, people would have appreciated him more. The San Antonio Spurs are not the sexy team, not with LeBron James in Miami and not with Kobe Bryant and Shaq when he was going. They've always been, if not underestimated, they're not flashy and we have a thing for flashy in our culture.
They just go about their business and win, and here they are once again going for another championship. You've got a superstar, Tim Duncan, that doesn't make headlines. He keeps his personal life very private. You don't see him in the police blotter, you don't see Tony Parker or any of those guys in controversies or reality TV shows or any of that stuff. They're professionals. And as professionals, I think they get lost in the rest of the culture. But on the court, there's been nobody better the last ten years.
SIMON: NHL, we've got conference finals going on between four former champions. What do you make of this?
BRYANT: I love it. I think it's a fantastic storyline. It's the first time since 1945 that you've got four - the last four consecutive champions. The Penguins won it in '09, the Black Hawks won it in '10, the Bruins won it in '11 and the Kings won it last year, all the last four standing. I think it's fantastic, especially they they've done it. You've got the Black Hawks came back from 3-1; you've got the Bruins who were dead and buried against Toronto, down 4-1 with ten minutes left in Game 7 at home and came back and won that in overtime.
You've got Jonathon Quick, the defending champions of L.A. He's just the hot goalie and nobody can seem to score against him. And Pittsburgh, who is the flashiest, sexiest team going. I mean, they're so good. You watch them come across the line and you're thinking - when they're rolling, they are so good. They're so fast, they're so flashy, they've got so much speed, and Crosby's not even the leading scorer. Pascal Dupuis is their leading scorer.
And so, it's going to be a great series. I think the Bruins defense is in for a lot of pain this series, but I think that their depth and their toughness - and never go against a tough Boston team - Pittsburgh is clearly the favorite. And I love both of them. I love both series and I'm going to be watching all of it.
SIMON: Very quickly, French Open. I'll take the next 15 seconds. Is Serena Williams on a roll or what?
BRYANT: Serena Williams is unbeatable right now. Serena Williams has not even given up three games in her last 16 sets. Nobody can touch her. She's playing right now as though she's on a mission. She is playing against Martina Navratilova and the rest of them. She's playing against history. Ninety-seven and six in her last matches.
SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN. Thanks so much.
BRYANT: My pleasure.
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SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.