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Saturday Sports: Basketball Prepares For Life After COVID-19

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: AJ Hinch and Alex Cora are back as managers in Detroit and Boston. Is all forgiven in baseball's cheating scandal, or ignored? And the NBA already looking ahead to next season in what they hope is a post-pandemic world. ESPN's Howard Bryant joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Good morning, my friend. AJ Hinch and Alex Cora, of course, were both on the 'Stros (ph). Both were on probation for a season after the cheating scandal. Has Major League Baseball given them a second chance or ignoring a cheating scandal that should have had more impact on the game and on them?

BRYANT: Yeah, no question about this. This has been a really interesting sort of development. But however, it should be noted that it hasn't been new. I think when the scandal first hit, there was a lot of disappointment and a lot of anger in baseball that the commissioner, Rob Manfred, did not punish the players. And you saw that in spring training long ago before the pandemic. Remember that life back then, Scott? And...

SIMON: Sort of.

BRYANT: ...We were talking all about the retribution - that the other teams...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...During spring training were hitting the players, that Dusty Baker's team, they were getting plunked every game. Somebody was getting hit as a message to say, hey, this was unfair, and we don't like what you guys did. Even when the restart began, there had been questions about whether or not Alex Cora - well not - Alex Cora and AJ Hinch, if their suspensions were going to be extended because there were no games.

And so then when the games began, it so turns out that both of them were already looking for landing spots, that people inside the game had begun to rehabilitate them. And so even midway through the season, through the 60 games, there had been talk that AJ was certainly going to be back in the game, that Alex Cora was going to go back to Boston. There was talk that he was - that AJ was going to go to the White Sox because I think they had contacted...

SIMON: Yep.

BRYANT: ...Him. He ended up going to Detroit. And so, as it's all said and done, you look at this and you realize that there really wasn't much of a penalty for anybody. The suspension wasn't a year; it was 60 games. And so, in retrospect, you look at this and you say, did baseball even really care about this? Did anybody really take this seriously? Because it is back to normal right now. AJ's back in the game.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Alex is back in the game. And the players never got punished. And the great trash can scandal of 2019-2020 seems to have gone away.

SIMON: Yeah. NBA is looking towards the future - talking about a 72-game season for next year that would begin in December. And no bubble - they would play at home arenas. Is this smart and foresighted or premature?

BRYANT: Well, it's all kind of amazing because No. 1, what's today? Today's the 7, right? And so they want to have an NBA draft on the 18. They want to start the season on December 22. So I guess there's not going to be any preseason games. So everything is about to start for real...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Within the next 35 days. And so...

SIMON: I mean, LeBron's shoes are barely cool...

BRYANT: (Laughter) Exactly.

SIMON: ...At this point.

BRYANT: So this is sort of interesting. I think what I find - what it tells me, Scott, is that the financials are real and that when you look at the dollars that have lost - I know we talk about millions being millions like they don't really matter, but I think the NBA and the NBA Players Association of all the sports have the best relationship between labor and management. And for them to say, OK - they're not even really talking about health and safety right now. They're like, we need to restart. I think what that tells you is that the numbers are real, the financial figures are real. And the numbers that they're talking about are, if we start at 72 games right now before Christmas, we can recoup maybe half a million to a billion dollars. I think what it really tells you is, is that this may not be a greed play but a desperation play when they're looking at the balance sheet.

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

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMY GUERRERO'S "211") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.