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Saturday Sports: Trump's Comments, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron

Jun 16, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: President Trump told Fox News NFL players should just shut up their yaps and not mix sports with politics. And a star in San Antonio wants to leave for the bright lights of Hollywood. Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: The president says keep quiet and play. Do you foresee professional athletes going, whatever you say, Mr. President, mum's the word?

BRYANT: No. It doesn't work that way. And I know - it seems, Scott, I know we talked about this with my book, "The Heritage," just a couple of weeks ago.

SIMON: I'm sorry, did you have a book out now?

BRYANT: (Laughter) Oh, goodness. Yes, I do. And what's funny about...

SIMON: Oh, "The Heritage," I've heard great things about that. I heard an interview about it, but go ahead.

BRYANT: You are so funny, Scott. But it seems like we talk about this all the time, every day. We're not talking about things on the field anymore. But this is the issue. It's where we are. The power of the player is the issue in sports. I mean, off the field, you've got the president attacking opinionated players. They're making $15 million a year, so what are they complaining about? And then you had Ted Cruz before that. What - did he complain that the players were driving Lamborghinis and were talking so loud about protest? So on the one hand, we laud J.J. Watt for using his power to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief, but then we tell the players to shut up and dribble when they try to fight mass incarceration. This is not going away.

This is - it's really something that's interesting when it comes to the power of what players - and whether the fans themselves sort of appreciate that we're in this new era where players are powerful on the field and off the field. And then on the field, of course, LeBron James once again is a free agent. And as you know, when he's a free agent - we've seen it twice now - wherever he goes the balance of power shifts in the NBA. He's got more power than the teams. He's been in the finals eight straight years. So we know that LeBron now is the engine in when you're looking at where these - you know, what the balance of power is going to look like in the NBA.

SIMON: You know what it's beginning to remind me of, Howard? It's - you know, there was a time when, for example, big-name actors, household names were just studio employees in Hollywood. But now they put the project together. If you get a name attached, that can get the movie made. If you put LeBron James on a team, they become a contender.

BRYANT: That's right. And that's exactly that power shift that we're talking about. Usually in the off-season, you're thinking more about the team. What is the team going to do? Who's the team going to trade? Who's the team going to acquire? Now, the players themselves are the ones who are controlling this. And you see a lot of the conversation after the Golden State Warriors won the championship, people are blaming Kevin Durant for going to Golden State and creating a super team. But on the one hand, this is something that happens all the time on the management side. Coaches are under contract all the time, and then they pick up and leave and switch teams. We're looking at - one of the big things that's going to happen this summer is Kawhi Leonard, the great star from the San Antonio Spurs, just said yesterday he wants to leave and he wants to go to either LA or New York. It's obvious that Kawhi doesn't like the calm and quiet of San Antonio. He wants bigger, brighter lights.

So on the one hand, we see college coaches and we see coaches break their contracts all the time. But on the other hand, we're going to see Kawhi Leonard exercise his power even though he's under contract. And you know he's going to be criticized for not honoring that contract, for trying to force a trade. But this is what power is. When you have that leverage, you use it.

SIMON: Yeah. Quick question, though, which might sound a little dated - how do you get fan loyalty?

BRYANT: Well, I think people root for players now and I think that the teams I think one of the things that teams have to do as well as they try to keep their players. They have to work very hard at keeping them. And what you're seeing now is that teams have become less loyal. When they see that a player's contract is up, they move them out before the player has the power to leave himself.

SIMON: Yeah. Even if LeBron James leaves Cleveland, who wouldn't understand? And Cleveland still rocks. Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.