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Saturday Sports: NBA finals, Caitlin Clark and internet trolls, Jerry West passing

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

It's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KURTZLEBEN: The NBA Finals - the Mavericks hang on. Caitlin Clark and the growing spotlight on women's basketball. And remembering Jerry West, the NBA logo himself. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us now. Good morning.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning. How are you?

KURTZLEBEN: Great. We have a basketball-full segment here. Let's start with the NBA Finals. The Dallas Mavericks are still alive, for now. They crushed the Celtics at home last night, 122 to 84. And they avoided getting swept, but they're down in the series by 3 games to 1. So do the Mavs really have a chance at the title?

BRYANT: Well, as long as you're playing, you've got a chance. No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the NBA Finals...

KURTZLEBEN: Ah.

BRYANT: ...Or in any playoff series for that...

KURTZLEBEN: Wow.

BRYANT: ...Matter. But if you're breathing, you're still alive - if you're the Celtics, you come in. You've got the champagne on ice. You've got championship number 18 ready. And you go out and play the absolute worst game of the season - not really what's going to build confidence. However, you are going home. There's a Game 5 in Boston on Monday. And this is the one that you're supposed to close up. Most teams don't sweep anyway. The Celtics haven't swept a series since 1959, so it wasn't a huge expectation. But no one expected them to go out there and play as badly as they did.

KURTZLEBEN: All right, well, let's turn to the WNBA and it's young star player Caitlin Clark. We talk about her a lot. This week, the Indiana Fever rookie made news off the court for speaking out against online trolls who have used her name to denigrate other WNBA players. So is the league prepared to deal with this growing spotlight it has and, unfortunately, the harassment of players that seems to come with it?

BRYANT: Well, I think that it's complex. I think one of the things about Caitlin Clark that's been really interesting here is that this is one of those cultural moments where the country is talking about you without talking about you. They're talking about all kinds of other grievances, and you're simply the perfect storm. You're the avatar for it. You look at what's been happening with Caitlin Clark, and it's not just online trolls. It's media. It's professionals. It's very well-respected people. She's a flashpoint.

There's a flashpoint between Black men and Black women in terms of support there. You're talking about the growth of a sport. You're talking about the transition from college basketball, which is essentially sort of a white girl ponytail sport that dominates there. And then you're moving into the WNBA, which is a Black, queer league. So you're dealing with the cultural impact there. You're dealing with a whole bunch of casual fans, who don't cover this sport or don't watch this sport, suddenly getting involved because of the celebrity phenomenon.

So you've got this perfect storm of all of these issues that really have nothing to do with Caitlin Clark, and she happens to be in the middle of it all. So for me, I just find it is a fascinating moment, but I also refer to some of the great writers - the great women writers who are really on top of this - Louisa Thomas of The New Yorker, Rachel Bachman, Wall Street Journal - a lot of good writers out there who can put this into the perspective. And maybe some of the old guard need to stand down and let some new voices talk.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, finally, basketball fans on every level mourned the passing of Jerry West this week. It just seems like the word great doesn't really do justice to a man who was selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame not once, not twice but three different times, does it?

BRYANT: Yeah. It's so sad. And you lose Jerry West. You lose the great Bill Walton. You lose Chet Walker during the NBA Finals. And you also get - you know, Jerry West was everything, in terms of he's the logo of the league. He - four dynasties, though. He built the Lakers as a player. He built the Lakers twice as an executive. And also, let's not forget the Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry. He signs Kobe Bryant with the Lakers. He is everything. Incredibly sad, but boy, what a life.

KURTZLEBEN: That's Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Thanks again, Howard.

BRYANT: Thank you. 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.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.