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Basketball's All-Star Weekend Kicks Off


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: And it's halftime for the NBA - the All-Star game in prime-time tomorrow before the run off to the playoffs begins. Meanwhile, stars who are much shorter have a title taken away amid charges of Chicago-style chicanery. Howard Bryant, from ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine, joins us now. Howard, thanks very much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Hello, Scott. Good morning.

SIMON: I bet you had to schlep through the snow up there in Massachusetts, didn't you?

BRYANT: Oh, no, Scott, no, no, the snow's already here. It's just three degrees out, that's all. We can handle this. We're New Englanders. It's easy.

SIMON: OK. All right, I don't think either of us, when the season began, said that Memphis, Golden State and Atlanta would have the best records at midseason, did we?

BRYANT: No, we definitely did not. However, if you believe the statistics, there are three teams in the NBA - and Memphis, Golden State and Atlanta are them - that have a 70 percent winning percentage. And there's never been a team at the All-Star break with that winning percentage that didn't win an NBA championship. One of those three, if the stats hold, is going to win a championship. And it's just amazing because I think that, obviously, San Antonio was terrific and with LeBron James leaving Miami to go to Cleveland you would think that they would be the favorite. And instead you've got a couple of really wonderful stories.

Golden State changes coaches from Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr, and they just have gone on a winning streak the whole season. They've been unbelievable - 42-and-9 record, but I think that the real surprise is the Atlanta Hawks. And I love watching this team because I've never been an Atlanta Hawks fan. I never thought that they were a particularly tough team. They never pass the ball particularly well. They always struck me as a little weird and a little selfish. But this year, my goodness, they are really playing well and they pass the ball. They're a joy to watch. I love watching basketball when teams share the ball. And Atlanta, if you're a purist, if you like watching really good, flowing basketball, they are fantastic.

And then there's Memphis, which - Memphis is a big, rugged team. You've got Marc Gasol and Mike Conley the point guard. And they made a great trade to get Jeff Green from Boston and they really look like one of those tough teams with a good, low post game that could surprise you. So you've got three teams that you hadn't thought of and two of them haven't been to a championship in their cities ever, and Golden State hasn't won a championship. They haven't even been to the finals since they won it in 1975. So if everything holds it's going to be a different looking playoff this year.

SIMON: But I tell you what could upset the stats, which is why they go ahead and play the games.

BRYANT: That's right.

SIMON: Cleveland rocks.

BRYANT: That's right.

SIMON: I mean, they had a rocky start when LeBron came back and a new coach, but they've won 14 of the past 16 and, I don't know, does anyone look better when they're on?

BRYANT: And only - you know, LeBron James has only been to the finals the last three years in a row, so absolutely. I think that when you look at what they've done, the chemistry of the Cleveland Cavaliers - actually it's four years - the chemistry is what's been a problem. It's obviously going to be difficult when you have all these changing parts come together. But, once again, best player wins and LeBron James to me is still the best player in the NBA, so it doesn't even matter. He doesn't - the Cleveland Cavaliers doesn't - they don't have to finish first. You don't want play LeBron at home or on the road and so if they start to really pull it together, if they can keep this streak going, they're going to be a pretty interesting wildcard as well.

SIMON: I'm heartsick about Jackie Robinson West. They won the Little League World Series title, first African-American team to do that, celebrated in Chicago, their hometown.

BRYANT: And the White House.

SIMON: Yes, celebrated with President Obama. The league stripped them of their title because it turns out some of the kids lived out of the team boundaries. Why is that just being discovered now?

BRYANT: Well, I think that's one of the big problems with this. I think that you've got two major issues with this. One is punishing the kids for an adult-run league; and secondarily, you've got a problem with the vetting system. How is this not vetted beforehand? Why do you have such an embarrassment now? I think it's really terrible for the kids. I think it's terrible for everything. I mean, this was a big and people loved it. And you've got these major networks profiting off of kids that are innocent. They're just playing baseball and now you have this happen so late in the game.

SIMON: We're both sentimental fathers. Do think at least one of the kids should've said to their coach not all these kids are from our neighborhood?

BRYANT: Well, I don't think that's really what happened. I think it was one of the coaches or - and it happens and ends so quickly that the - there's really nothing that the kids can do about it. And it's something that should happen ahead of time. This should happen before the tournament begins and it's the Little League's fault and the kids are paying the price. It's just no good.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine, thanks so much.

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

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