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Saturday Sports: Sports betting scandal in the NBA; NHL, NBA playoffs

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now, as they say on the T-shirt, it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: A lifetime ban for an NBA player as playoffs begin in the NBA and the NHL. Howard Bryant of ESPN and Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. Jontay Porter of the Raptors...

BRYANT: Wow.

SIMON: ...Banned by the NBA for life. Let me read from the commissioner's statement. He was banned for, quote, "disclosing confidential information to sports bettors, limiting his own participation in one or more games for betting purposes and betting on NBA games." Now, when pro sports leagues opened the door of legalized gambling, they said, look. It's not 1919, Shoeless Joe Jackson making 6,000 a year. Pro athletes now make millions, and they won't endanger that by gambling. Was that naive?

BRYANT: Not only was that naive. It was ridiculous. It's not about the money. It's about the action. And I think that it makes sense, Scott, that you wouldn't think that a player who was making 30 or 40 or $50 million a year would risk that over gambling. But when has gambling or any of these other vices...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Been - when has it been a rational decision? And Jontay Porter was not that guy. He's not his brother, Michael Porter Jr, who plays for the defending champion Denver Nuggets. He was not that superstar guy. He was a fringe guy. And as we've seen in tennis, the fringe players are the ones who are the most vulnerable.

And when you look at NBA minimum, it's still $1.2 million a year. And when you read these numbers, it appears that the commissioner was saying that he also, essentially, bet on his team to lose. And one of those bets, I think the payout wasn't to him necessarily, but the total of that bet was $80,000. So here is a player who essentially threw away an NBA career essentially over something less than $100,000. It's a really sad story. But what we also see here, too, is that the NBA and all the other sports have decided that, we are going to allow this. There's too much money on the table.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: There's too much potential. And the individuals are going to take the fall. And he's the first one to get the lifetime ban in the NBA.

SIMON: Let's move into the playoffs. The New Orleans Pelicans clinched the 8th seed of the Western Conference in the NBA. Miami clinched the 8th seed in the East. This means a first round rematch - Miami and the Boston Celtics. Boston had obviously an outstanding regular season performance, but people are doubting they're on their way to the title. Why?

BRYANT: Yeah, well, because they're trying to do something that we've never seen before. Is it possible for an NBA team to shoot more than half of their shots from three-point land and be last in the league in two-point attempts and, you know, not go to the free throw line and win a championship? We've never seen that.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Even the Steph Curry Warriors were - you know, led the league in two-point shots, and they never led the league in three-point attempts when they won the championship. And the Celtics have a lot to prove here. And so it's going to be fascinating watching them. And this is a not just a rematch. This is the third year in a row that the Celtics and the Heat have played. Remember, the Heat beat them last year at Boston Garden as a 7 seed...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: I'm sorry - as an 8 seed, and the Celtics were a 2 seed. These two teams do not like each other. We're also going to watch Denver, the defending champions, and to see what they do. And I'm also really fascinated to watch that young team that no one is talking about, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: It's going to be a great postseason.

SIMON: Quickly, Stanley Cup playoffs start this weekend. What are you looking for?

BRYANT: Bruins and Toronto. Toronto hasn't won a Stanley Cup - haven't reached the Stanley Cup since 1967.

SIMON: That's amazing.

BRYANT: The best team, of course, this year has been the New York Rangers. So you've got some original six action there. But don't forget the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights as well. Tough year for them, but they're still the champs until somebody knocks them out.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, who covers sports for ESPN and Meadowlark Media. Howard, thanks so much. Talk to you soon, my friend.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.