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Looking Back On The Year In Sports


Time now to talk sports. This year we had a lot to celebrate in the sports world. Think summer Olympics in London. Also a lot to deplore. There were steroids in the world of bicycling and another NHL lockout. So much to cover, we reached out to NPR's sports gurus Tom Goldman and Mike Pesca. They've covered many of the top stories this year and they join me to talk about some of their favorite moments.

Hey, guys.



GREENE: Our sports gurus, guri, whatever we call you, whatever we...

PESCA: Guros.

GREENE: Guros. Let's, before getting to, you know, tougher stuff, let's start with some of the fun moments. You guys were both in London for the summer games. Tom Goldman, take the first stab. What was your favorite Olympic moment?

GOLDMAN: Second Saturday night of the games. In less than a two hour period, Team Great Britain, which had a sluggish first week, won three track and field golds and it really kick-started the Olympics for the host country. They won the men's long jump, the women's heptathlon, and then the men's 10,000 meters. Mo Farah of Great Britain won the gold. His training partner and friend Gaylen Rupp of the USA won the silver.

Now, I've heard a lot of delirious crowds, but this was the loudest. British reserve was torn to pieces. Going into the race, African nations had won every Olympic 10k since 1988, and Farah and Rupp's coach, former distance great Alberto Salazar, said after the race that a big part of what these guys did was overcome the sense that the Africans were unbeatable.

GREENE: Mike Pesca, I assume that you and Tom weren't like shadowing each other, going to the same events. You might have some different memories from the games?

PESCA: Yeah, exactly. We're like the president and the vice president. We...

GREENE: You're apart all the time.

PESCA: Exactly. So, you know, one of the greatest events that anyone in the stadium will always remember is Usain Bolt's win in the 100. And he kept on winning. He won the 200. He won the relay. But Bolt was the standout athlete of the games. He combined athleticism with a sense of branding. And the great thing about Bolt, I think, is that he has ego, enough ego to make himself great, and yet it doesn't become overbearing.

Sure, if I'm, you know, Tyson Gay, literally crying on the track when I came in fourth, I might think it was little bit overbearing, but it was a fun ride to go along with Usain Bolt.

GREENE: I mean when you're the fastest human in the world, you can have a little bit of an ego, right?

PESCA: You need it, yeah.

GOLDMAN: Now, David, one other highlight for me, Claressa Shields of the USA won a gold medal in the new sport of women's boxing. Alas, it has not paid off for her like gold has for other Olympians with lots of endorsements and appearances. And you can chalk that up to this being a combat sport and I think there's a little skittishness about highlighting that, especially with a woman boxer.

It's too bad. She's got a great personality and she's a terrific athlete.

GREENE: Let's go to the NBA. A huge name, Lebron James, once the darling of Ohio then the bane of Ohio. He gets an NBA championship.

GOLDMAN: He became King James this year. He'd been hyped as that long before he won a title. It was nice to see after his public humiliation the season before with his no-show at critical moments in the finals versus Dallas, and he was, of course, the villain for leaving his hometown, Cleveland, for the beaches of Miami. He stayed pretty classy through it all, and the way he changed his game around and he rediscovered his joy in basketball, it was fun to watch, finally winning that title.

PESCA: Don't you think it shows the kind of collective idiocy we were involved with, especially during the season when there seemed to be no reason to think that Lebron James wasn't a great player? I mean too many people hung on for too long saying it was character flaws that was getting in the way of a championship and then he obliterates the Thunder in the final. It's like, oh yeah, he is the greatest.

GOLDMAN: And I think that's a great way to define sports fandom in general, collective idiocy. I think you've hit on something, Mike.

PESCA: It's what we strive for in a sold-out area, yeah.

GREENE: And here we are three sports fans who can be given that label.

PESCA: Who are idiots.

GREENE: Yeah, exactly. It was - 2012 was a giant year in a lot of ways because the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. The New York Giants won the Super Bowl at the beginning of the year.

GOLDMAN: I see what you did there.

GREENE: Oh, you liked that.

GOLDMAN: And not to take - yes, not to take anything away from them. I'm not sure that those teams were the stories, as subjective, but they won. They're deserving winners. There are athletic reasons that they won. But for me in the sport of baseball especially, I got to cover a couple times, do a couple stories on R.A. Dickey, pitcher for the Mets, who's unique in so many ways.

He doesn't have a tendon in his arm, which kind of confounds medical science, that he's not screaming in pain every time he opens a door, let alone pitches. He's 38. He pitches a knuckle ball, which is this old craft that no one in the league pitches, and there's a - he calls it a Jedi council of old knuckle ball pitchers who advises him, and he does it well. He won the Cy Young.

And the great thing about him - when I said Jedi council, that maybe gives you an insight into some of his interests away from baseball. He loves literature. He loves fantasy, and so I asked him about his habit of naming bats after swords from "The Lord Of the Ring" series. I gave him some "Lord Of the Rings" trivia. Narsil, a fictional sword featured in the Middle Earth series, was owned by who?

R.A. DICKEY: Narsil.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. It was later re-crafted and renamed Anduril.

DICKEY: Oh, Anduril.


DICKEY: So that would - that was Elrond.

GOLDMAN: Close. It was Aragorn.

So that's not the typical Major League Baseball clubhouse conversation, and that's why R.A. Dickey is one of the more refreshing stories I've come across in sports.

GREENE: I can see the image of Yoda, like, on the mound giving him advice during games.

GOLDMAN: The Force is strong with him.

GREENE: Yeah. Okay. So we've covered the NBA, the NFL, major league baseball. I mean there is another big professional league, the National Hockey League, in U.S. What's - thoughts? No thoughts.

PESCA: I think that's...

GREENE: We might have a season.

GOLDMAN: Looks at watch uncomfortably.

GREENE: So we move on. They deserve that for now, don't they?

PESCA: If you want some information, no games through January 14. NHL, no hockey looming.

GREENE: Maybe no season at all.

PESCA: If some deal doesn't get done by January, kiss the season goodbye, which they've done before.

GOLDMAN: Second time in eight years. It would be disastrous.

GREENE: We'd be irresponsible if we didn't mention what seemed like another disaster, in many ways, and that's Lance Armstrong's spectacular fail. Tom, you covered Armstrong extensively.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. So much said about this this year, what a profound kind of fall from grace in many people's minds. He remains an incredibly polarizing figure. People still love him. Many more now don't love him. And, you know, we're going to see what happens with him in 2013, as far as new legal cases with companies trying to reclaim money from Armstrong, whether he'll, in fact, turn over trophies and yellow jerseys from his Tour de France victories, which he's required to do.

Keep an eye on a new group called Change Cycling Now. It's committed to lifting the sport out of its doping past and sending it forward on a different and what it says will be a cleaner, more honest path forward.

GREENE: We don't want to end on a negative note. Let's go positive. Each of you give me one hope prediction for 2013 in the world of sports.

PESCA: I hope that the New York Jets, the team I was raised to root for, puts something in front of their name before the word stock other than laughing. Rising stock.

GOLDMAN: Rising stock.

PESCA: Just get that laughing out before the stock.

GREENE: Okay, Mike uses this moment to promote his own team. Tom Goldman?

GOLDMAN: I hope my son has great success as an eighth grade basketball player and my daughter has great success as a varsity player as a junior in high school.

GREENE: Well, that is very inspiring, Tom. And I'm just going to join Mike in the (unintelligible) and say go Pittsburgh Steelers next year.

PESCA: See, but that's plausible, David.

GREENE: Exactly.

PESCA: What I said about the Jets...

GREENE: That's not plausible at all.

PESCA: That's the realm of fantasy.

GREENE: Mike Pesca, Tom Goldman, this was fun. Thank you, guys.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

PESCA: Sure thing, David.

GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.