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Saturday Sports: Stanley Cup Games Begin, Big Ten Decides To Play


Now we go to sports. The Stanley Cup games begin, bringing two Sunbelt teams to play for the Cup in Alberta. And Big 10 football will be played after all. We're now joined by ESPN's Howard Bryant. Howard. Thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Tampa Bay and Dallas, two Sunbelt teams playing in Lord Stanley's Cup finals in Edmonton, right? And...

BRYANT: Hot-weather teams in - up in the Great North.

SIMON: First game is tonight. What do you look for?

BRYANT: Well, what I look for is a very aggressive Tampa Bay team. I really enjoy this match up for a couple of reasons. One, obviously this has been a crazy bubble year where things are totally unpredictable. But at the same time, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been knocking on the door for several years now. And they were close in 2015. They lost to your Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup. They were a great team last year and got upset by Columbus in the first round. And that's what - sometimes what happens when you go out and you have high aspirations to win a championship and you go out and get disappointed the way they did. They stayed focused. They were a great team during the regular season. They hung in there during the pandemic. And when it was time to come back, they stayed focused. They...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Destroyed the Boston Bruins who were - had a better record. And now they're here. And so they are finally doing what they've been set out to do. They're facing Dallas, which is a totally - a team in the opposite direction. The Dallas Stars have had four coaches in four years, and they've made the playoffs three times in the last 13 years. And suddenly, because of this weird bubble year, here they are. But they're a great team as well. They've played really well. The best teams - I think the two best teams...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Are playing each other terms of how they've played during this sort of summer hockey tournament.

SIMON: Quick NBA question as the playoffs continue - are we beginning to look like fools for ever thinking somebody other than LeBron's Lakers would win in a shortened season?

BRYANT: Well, only if you decided to ride with the Los Angeles Clippers - massive disappointment there. But I also giving enormous credit to the Denver Nuggets who...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: We've never seen before in the NBA where you've got one team come back from 3-1 twice in the same post-season.

SIMON: Yeah, they've been great.

BRYANT: And so good for them for being tough and resilient and really taking out the Clippers who - this was supposed to be the great enormous battle of Los Angeles, Clippers versus Lakers, with Kawhi Leonard on one side and LeBron James on the other. And guess what? It didn't happen. And it didn't happen because Nikola Jokic and Murray are just two really great players. And they outplayed Los Angeles. And then, of course, Los Angeles goes in last night and destroys Denver. But as we've seen from Denver the first couple of rounds, losing the first game doesn't mean a whole lot against that team. I still think it's going to be a good series.

SIMON: They only wake up after three loses.

BRYANT: (Laughter) After four games - then they start playing.

SIMON: Big 10 said a few weeks ago they wouldn't play football because they didn't want to risk the safety of their student-scholar athletes. Now they say, well, we will play. I wonder what went into their revision, Howard. Do you have any idea?

BRYANT: Yeah. You know, presidential pressure, parental pressure, more and more pressure, money pressure. I've been wrong about this all year, Scott. I really did think that the hypocrisy of having no students on campus was going to prevent the schools from putting athletes on the field. But obviously, they've made it very, very clear that these athletes are not student athletes. They're revenue generators. And I was very surprised that it wasn't more of a debate. But it's not. There's going to be football on the field and television contracts to be fulfilled.

SIMON: ESPN's Howard Bryant, thank you so much for being with us. Talk to you soon, my friend.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.