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Saturday Sports: Racism At Fenway Park, NBA Playoffs

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I wait all week to be able to say time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The NBA playoffs continue, but does it sometimes look more like hockey? We're joined now by Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Hey, Scott, good morning.

SIMON: Morning. And, you know, before we go to the playoffs, I know you've talked - been talking about this all week, but I want to ask you about what happened at Fenway Park. Monday, Adam Jones with the Baltimore Orioles heard racial taunts from a fan, bag of peanuts was thrown toward him.

Then there were reports, I believe, on Wednesday night of racial taunts directed at a woman who sang the national anthem. It's Boston. There is history there. Have the Red Sox done the right thing in response?

BRYANT: You know, well, it's an old story with a new chapter, Scott. And this is something that Boston has - the fans and the organization obviously over the several decades, they've earned it. It's not hyperbole. The Red Sox, as we all know, have had incredible racial problems from going back to - from 1945 up to the present. And I think that equally old with a new chapter is the response from a lot of the fans and a lot of the talking heads in the media responding to this by saying, well, you know, this is just a few bad apples. And why do we all get lumped into this? Well, because it's been happening for so long. And also to the players who play for the Red Sox.

You had David Price, the pitcher who signed a $217 million contract earlier this January, saying that he was subjected to racial taunts from the home fans. And so when I heard all of this, I wasn't surprised. I think the good news in all of this is that the Red Sox finally after all of these years are starting to take this seriously.

They've decided to maybe even ban some of the people they've ejected for life as a way of finally saying, listen, this is not what we want to be. And that's not going to change until the Red Sox decide that, hey, we don't want this in our ballpark. And they're the ones - and I think the fans - if the fans don't want this, and if the Red Sox don't want this, then maybe it's time for them to join up and make it clear that this is not how they want to be represented.

SIMON: Let's stay in Boston for a moment to talk about the NBA playoffs. The Celtics lead the Washington Wizards 2 games to 1. The technical fouls are flying. Isaiah Thomas of the Celtics says, quote, "we don't like them, and they don't like us, that's just what it is." Howard, why can't they get along?

BRYANT: Well, it is my favorite cliche - these two teams don't like each other. And here it actually does - it actually does fit. And part of the reason is is because you've got Isaiah Thomas who's the great 5-foot-9 - if that - point guard. I was out with Charles Barkley the other day who said he's not 5'9". And so I said...

SIMON: I'm sorry, you were out with Charles Barkley the other day? I can't let that pass. That's just, I mean, you hang together?

BRYANT: Oh, that's what I do for a living, Scott.

SIMON: What?

BRYANT: Oh, yeah, we were hanging together. No, I was in the green room at the Colbert show with him doing a story. It's nothing.

SIMON: All right.

BRYANT: So anyway, but they're laughing about the fact that you've got him. And you've got this amazing point guard for Washington, John Wall. And they're going at each other. And it's good old playoff basketball, where some of these, you know, these teams, they battle with each other, and they fight. And then actually in this game, they're actually fighting.

So it's very strange to not have, after all these months and all these years playing for a championship, to not have some bad blood. And these two guys - these - both these two players are fantastic, but these two teams really - they are not friends.

SIMON: You know what Charles Barkley said to me the other day?

BRYANT: No, I don't.

SIMON: Nothing. I've never met him.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: But let me talk about the battle of the Great Lakes briefly, LeBron and the Cavaliers against the Toronto Raptors. The Cavs seem to be getting back at the Raptors for the War of 1812. There was concern they were in decline. What's happened?

BRYANT: And remember how they did, they started the season very poorly. And once again, LeBron James has proven he's just as good as we've ever seen. And when I watch him, I just realize that maybe, just maybe these comparisons to Michael Jordan aren't so crazy after all when it's all said and done.

SIMON: You know, even I will say that. And I'm going to add what all the little kids growing up on the skid say - Cleveland rocks, Cleveland rocks.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine. Thanks so much for being with us, Howard.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SMITHS SONG, "THE HEADMASTER RITUAL")

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.