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Saturday Sports: Lakers and Heat win; White House invitation for Georgia football team

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now to the dulcet theme music of BJ Leiderman. It's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The LA Lakers prevail, and the Georgia Bulldogs say no thanks to a White House visit. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us.

Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott Simon.

SIMON: The Lakers - I don't have to tell you - defeated the defending champion Golden State - hey, we're no longer in Oakland - Warriors, last night - 122 to 101. Lebron scored 30 points. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said his fingerprints are all over this game. What did you think?

BRYANT: I said goodbye to the champions. You and I have had this conversation for many, many years now, almost a decade, where the end result was the same. I'll believe that the Golden State Warriors aren't...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Going to be champions when somebody beats them four times, and finally, for the first time in a very long time, that we've seen them be taken out in the postseason without reaching the finals. They had won 19 straight series against Western Conference opponents. It was an NBA record. And they did not look like a championship team this year, but it just looked that maybe they had found a way. They were terrible on the road this season and yet won two games against Sacramento in the first round. But this Laker team completely retooled, made trades at the deadline, and suddenly they are four wins away from the NBA finals, believe it or not.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Incredible.

SIMON: Those finals are almost set. Philly and Boston play Game 7 tomorrow. Miami beat the Knicks last night, 96 to 92. What do you see in these playoffs?

BRYANT: Well, I see a lot of teams playing possum with the regular season. This load management and giving guys rest and not quite knowing who these rosters really are and - has really changed the complexion of the of the postseason. So you've got an 8 seed, Miami, taking out the Knicks, so they're in the Eastern Conference finals having - required a play-in game to get there. And then you have the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. They're a 7 seed. So these teams were never as bad as they looked during the season. And they started using the regular season as a way just to - as a weigh station to get healthy for the postseason. And now suddenly...

SIMON: Load management, that's called?

BRYANT: That's called load management, when, you know - or it's called consumer fraud, when you go...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Buy a ticket, and your - the best players aren't playing that night. But what it's done to the regular season - I'm sorry - what it's done to the postseason is now you've got some really low seeds playing for championships when they really weren't that good during the regular season. Also, shoutout to the Knicks as well. Great season for...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Them and sort of just ran into a buzzsaw. But the Miami Heat were in the Western - I'm sorry - Eastern Conference finals last year, and they're here again - very, very scary team.

SIMON: University of Georgia Bulldogs, national champion football team, declined to visit the White House. They say it's a scheduling conflict. But in recent years, we've seen a few players and teams declined to make visits. Are these ceremonial visits a victim of polarized politics?

BRYANT: Yeah. It's a victim of who we are today. And I think it goes back - I think, for me, remembering - I don't know when it really became super prominent for me. I think it was 2010, in Barack Obama's first term, when Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins chose not to go...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...To the White House. And then, of course, it just sort of spiraled from there after the Trump presidency. And now it seems to be - this used to be the great congratulations. This was the great perk of winning a championship.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: You got to go to the White House. How many of us ever get to go to the White House and are guests of the president of the United States? And today it's much more of a political statement. And this is what happens when you have a country as divided as we are right now. Suddenly, it's not a perk to go. And suddenly, it's something - it's a place where you make a statement.

SIMON: Yeah. I was deeply moved when President Obama received the Cubs at the White House despite being a White Sox fan. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media.

Thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF RITCHIE VALENS' "FAST FREIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.