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Week In Sports: Lockouts And Milestones


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: The NHL and the player's union hit the boards all week, but will there finally be hockey? Would anyone notice? Kobe Bryant became the youngest-ever player to hit 30,000 points. Where does that put him in the pantheon? We're joined now from the studios of WHRB in Cambridge, Massachusetts by Howard Bryant, ESPN.com and ESPN the magazine.

Howard, morning.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. I have been to the Pantheon, and it is terrific. At night as well.

SIMON: Yes, no, no. I've been there too, and I don't know as they put the statue of Kobe in there yet, but is there going to be an NHL hockey season?

BRYANT: Well, you'd think that there's going to be because they're very close to having the big issues worked out. It still wouldn't surprise me if with all the emotion and all the anger that gets with it that they end up canceling the season. But at this stage I think that you're going to try to salvage. I think at some point they're going to try to salvage maybe a 40, 50 game season, the way that the NBA did in 1999.

I think the big question naturally for the NHL, too, is - and how much are they going to lose from the casual fan from this? This is the second time in eight years that they've shut down their sport. And that's not really a good way to do business.

SIMON: I want to move into the NFL. Greg Schiano, the coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs, this week suggested doing away with kickoffs, instead allowing teams to have a 4th-and-15 at their own 30. They can either punt away or go for the first down. Now, does this proposal say that pro football is taking the concussion problem seriously or that they misunderstand what we've learned about what causes long-term brain injury?

BRYANT: Well, I think it's a little bit of both actually. I think what it really comes down to is to me when you suggest getting rid of kickoffs at this time with health and safety being such an issue in the NFL, it is the first real radicalization of the rules of the game attributable to health and safety, attributable to brain injury, attributable to all of the different issues that we've been talking about for the last few years. And I think it's the first true acknowledgement that the NFL knows that it's in serious, serious trouble.

But on the other hand, what it also is is that the entire concussion issue, as we've talked about in the past, suggests that concussions are an issue that can be dealt with, when the real issue with football is simply an accumulation. Bruce Smith, the great hall of fame defensive end, would say that football is a Sunday morning car crash every single week. And there's really nothing you can do to get rid of that.

However, to suggest that, OK, let's get rid of kickoffs says to the NFL - at least to me - it says that, hey, we know that we have to radically change this game. We have to radically change the rules. We have to radically change the way we've done business for the past 75 years.

SIMON: Because to emphasize, I think, what we've learned over the past couple of years particularly, the damage is cumulative. And...

BRYANT: That's exactly right.

SIMON: ...and it's inflicted not necessarily on these spectacular kickoff runs with my hero Devin Hester often makes - of the Chicago Bears - but it happens in practice where people aren't watching.

BRYANT: Sure. It's practice. It's practice, and it's also an accumulation of having done this pretty much every day since you were eight or nine years old. I mean, that's the thing about this game that people don't seem to understand, is that it's not just the head. It's getting hit in the organs. It's getting hit in the kidney, getting hit in the back, getting hit all the time for decades. And it's a very difficult thing to accept because you're clashing.

You know, you've got two issues that are really colliding. One, is the actually safety of the game. And two is this cultural question of, hey, you guys know exactly what you're doing. You know exactly what you're getting involved in when you do this. And this is simply the price of your gladiator lifestyle.

SIMON: Finally, the NBA, Wednesday Kobe Bryant became just the fifth player ever to reach 30,000 points. He's the youngest to do it. Does he stand alongside Michael Jordan and Bill Russell?

BRYANT: Well, I hate to say to you being the Chicagoan that you are, but to me, Scott, I have said this over and over again. I haven't seen anybody - Michael Jordan's the best basketball player that I've ever seen. Kobe Bryant is a very, very close second in terms of everything that you could ask an individual to do on the basketball court.

I think the hard part with Kobe has been, unlike Michael Jordan who didn't have the sort of scandal that he had in his career, whether or not Kobe would be more celebrated had he not had some of the problems that he had earlier in his career. But as a basketball player - LeBron James included - Kobe Bryant is as a good a player as I've ever seen, and he's just terrific. There's nothing you can say about him as a player that would say anything in terms of him - even compared to Jordan. He's as good as it gets.

SIMON: Howard Bryant. Thanks so much.

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