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Saturday Sports: Hard Chargers And Ravenous Raptors


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News - I'm Scott Simon - where BJ Leiderman writes our theme music. Here it comes. Time for sports.


SIMON: Basketball, football and litigation - America's favorite sports. Howard Bryant from espn.com and ESPN The Magazine joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Hey, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. Let's begin - but not as good as the Toronto Raptors. Let's begin with the NBA. They're not just lucky, are they? They completed their season sweep of the Warriors, the Golden State Warriors, this week - beat them by 20 points. What's going on in Toronto?

BRYANT: Yeah, and they won that game on the road, as well. And that is - it's a great one.

I know people talk about the 82-game season, and none of the games matter until the playoffs or whatever. But if you are the Toronto Raptors, and you were struggling for respect, you've never been to the NBA Finals, you were the best team in the league in your conference last year - or so you thought you were - and you won more games than you'd ever won before, and then LeBron James came in and blew your doors off...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...And then you fired your coach, you need these victories. And it's important to measure yourself against the greatest team of this era, the Golden State Warriors. And so to beat them twice in a season, I agree with what Steph Curry said. We're after the game. He said, hey, if we meet them in the playoffs, it's 0-0. Nothing matters from here.

That's OK when you've won three championships - quite a different story when you're the Raptors, and you've got Kawhi Leonard, and it's a very, very different team. I always say - we've talked about this so many times on this show - that the NBA is a best-player-wins league, and Kawhi Leonard is the best player, I think, in the Eastern Conference. He didn't even play...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...In that game, and they still won. So it shows you how much confidence this team has now.

SIMON: And now to the NFL and the AFC, where the Los Angeles Chargers - still a little uncomfortable to say that.

BRYANT: San Diego...

SIMON: Yeah. I...


SIMON: Well, Stephen Smith said San Diego again this week - didn't he? - several times.

The Los Angeles Chargers are also for real. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs with a 2-point conversion in the last few seconds Thursday night, even though there were some questions raised about it. How are they doing it?

BRYANT: Well, I think they're a very good team. And I think that one of the interesting things about the Chargers, especially - we talked about the Raptors earlier. The Chargers are in a very similar boat. If you go back and think about this history of this team, they haven't been to the Super Bowl - they've never won the Super Bowl. They haven't been to the Super Bowl since '95, when they lost to the 49ers.

And you think about this team having all these players - when they had LaDainian Tomlinson and Shawne Merriman and Antonio Gates. And now they've got Philip Rivers, who's the old man of the conference now. And this might be their best team.

And I think that what's funny about it is that, on the one hand, the NFL is - it's a mediocre league. You know, they - the game is set up for every team to pretty much have a chance at winning because of the rules. But they're 11-3, and they're right up there. They're tied with the Chiefs. They're a game and a half ahead of the Patriots.

And so maybe this is how it works the same way it worked with the Philadelphia Eagles last year - that the best team that you've had in your history isn't the team that wins, but maybe this is the one that gets there.

SIMON: I want to close this week, Howard, by talking about - asking about Russell Beckman, a Green Bay Packers fan. He lost a court case this week. He - you know, he's one of these Packer fans that puts the cheese stuff on. He wants to stand along the sidelines at the game tomorrow and wear his Packers gear at a pregame event. The Bears won't let him do it. Firstly, I am appalled that this winds up in court.

BRYANT: Yeah. I think, on the one hand, it looks like one of these quirky stories where you say, well, wow, this is sort of kind of funny news of the weird. But on the other hand, you look at it, and you say, why is this in court in the first place? On the one hand, I understand it. It sounds...

SIMON: And the Bears are being small-minded - no doubt about it. Yeah.

BRYANT: But it also sounds like classic trolling. You have these events, and you do them for your fans. And why would you have a Packers fan on the Bears sideline? Now, the guy paid his money, obviously. He's a season ticket holder.

On the other hand, you also recognize that this is - once again, there's no reason to do this. There's no reason, if you are a real, true Packer fan, why are you on the sideline of the Chicago Bears other than simply being a nuisance? I understand that.

And I think, on the other hand, you also look at it, and you say - you also say, well, this isn't something that belongs in a courtroom. This is something that should be fun. But if it does end up in a courtroom, then I suppose that maybe the republic is not collapsing after all. There's room for this.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.