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Remembering Muhammad Ali; NBA Finals Update

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The sports world is mourning the loss of one of the greatest athletes of all time. Muhammad Ali died Friday night. He was not just a boxing champion. He was also an outspoken civil rights activist. We'll talk more about the champ's legacy with Mike Pesca in a moment. But first, we're going to turn our attention to the NBA finals. And game two's tonight.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have some work to do. Mike, hi there.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello. How are you?

MARTIN: I am well. So tough loss Thursday night for Cleveland?

PESCA: It was quite a tough loss. I think Cleveland came into the finals knowing intellectually, perhaps, that the Warriors are this great team. They hadn't beaten them in a half-dozen games, going back to last year's finals and not even coming close. But the Cavaliers, they had a pretty easy time in the Eastern Conference. In fact, LeBron, while his team - LeBron James - was tied two-two against the Raptors said, I have had my back against the wall.

I have faced adversity before. And this ain't it. So talk about taking an opponent casually. But he did. Well, guess what, LeBron? This is it, this now in the NBA finals 'cause if they don't win and if they go down two-nothing, I hate to say a game is a must win. Actually, I don't. I like to say it because it makes it more dramatic.

And this is something akin to a must win. And the way they lost was so crazy because Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the shooting guards, the backcourt of the Warriors, had the worst combined scoring game all year. And the Warriors still won easily. Shaun Livingston led the Warriors in scoring. He had not done that all season.

It's the first time any player has led a team in the NBA finals.

MARTIN: I didn't even know who that guy was. And all of a sudden, he's like the rock star.

PESCA: No one does. Right, the other Warriors are like, is this guy on our team?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PESCA: No, he's a very good player. But the point is he's not the stars. And if the Cavaliers have such a tough time with Steph and Klay missing shots, what are they going to do when they get on track? It could be tough.

MARTIN: So what is with the Cavaliers strategy? I mean, they're just a star-based team or do they need - do they even have a bench to put out there?

PESCA: Yes, they have a bench. But I don't think the key is their bench. I think the key is their second and third best players, at least offensively, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. And Kyrie Irving, I think, wanted to prove that he was as good as Steph Curry. He's not. Kyrie should play his game and stop dribbling around the perimeter so much and looking to light it up.

I mean, there are definitely adjustments they could make. But I think this is just concentration and getting serious and limiting all those turnovers that led to Warriors' points.

MARTIN: Lastly, let's turn to Muhammad Ali. I mean, this is a man with such a multifaceted, complicated, amazing life. It's hard to sum up a legacy in a minute or so. But what are your thoughts on the legacy he leaves behind?

PESCA: When ESPN, at the end of the century, talked about the greatest athletes of the last century, of the 20th century, they named Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali. And I think Michael Jordan benefited from recency bias. It's got to be Muhammad Ali and maybe Babe Ruth as the two greatest athletes. By the way, all three of those athletes were flawed.

And we love them for their flaws. But the great thing about Muhammad Ali, I mean, no one has transcended a sport or really an industry, his job, his profession, more than Muhammad Ali did. The civil rights era was writ across Muhammad Ali. And let's just say this, he's known as the greatest 'cause he dominated his sport. In a way, his sport predeceased him.

I mean, boxing has been on the wane for so long. And yet, Muhammad Ali passes and we still say, this is the most compelling figure that most of us have ever seen in our lives.

MARTIN: Mike Pesca, he is the host of Slate's The Gist podcast. Mike, thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.