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Latest In Sports: When The Basketball Stars Are Benched

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Basketball season's in full swing, but that doesn't mean it's too early for the greatest player to get a little rest. We're joined now by Howard Bryant of espn.com and the author of the forthcoming - actually it's out this week - "Legends: The Best Players, Games And Teams In Basketball." Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine. Thank you. The Cleveland Cavaliers lost to Memphis Wednesday night - 93 to 85.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Yes.

SIMON: But who cares? They're the Cavaliers. They're going to make the playoffs. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love all took the night off, didn't even get on the team plane. Is this fair to fans?

BRYANT: This is completely unfair to fans, and it is the new trend in basketball - started a few years ago by Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs - where he decided as his players got older - Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and, of course, the great and now retired Tim Duncan - that they needed to rest during the season to be ready for the playoffs, to be ready for the championship run because the postseason in basketball is nearly two months long.

And so Popovich would decide when he was going to rest his players, and he would just pick games in the schedule that, hey, you guys, you know, back to back - back-to-back games they're just not going to play. And now that Cleveland is doing the same thing, a lot of teams are doing it. And it's awful for the fans, especially during Christmas season where the Memphis Grizzlies are - it's a Western Conference team, so Cleveland only comes in once. You pay good money to watch LeBron James, and he's not even there. He's not even - not only not in street clothes, he's not even in the state.

And so I think this is a really bad precedent. I understand it because, let's face it, we know what turns - what it turns into later in the season if a team is too tired and they suddenly fall apart in the postseason. But it's really not good business.

SIMON: Well, so I got a couple of practical suggestions, which is, you know, more than what I usually have. So let me run them up and have you shoot them down, OK? I went to a Broadway show the other night. Nathan Lane was out with bronchitis and the theater offered refunds. My wife and I still went, but could a team offer refunds?

BRYANT: I think they could. I think it's - I don't think they ever would because I think they look at it as the same as injury. When you buy the ticket, you take the risk of whether a player is going to be healthy or not healthy. I actually like the suggestion more of how about just some common sense? How about when you're playing a Western Conference team or an Eastern Conference team when you're in the other conference, that if you're only going to come in there once, you owe it to the fans.

Tickets are $125. A family of four is paying $600 just to walk in the door. If that team is only coming into that city once, those guys should play if they're healthy. I really appreciated what the former 76er Allen Iverson said last night being inducted into the 76ers Hall of Fame that my coach and I would have a problem if he rested me if I wasn't hurt. I gave the fans everything I had every night. That's a pro right there.

SIMON: Another suggestion, OK? Satchel Paige, the great, great - some say greatest pitcher of all time - he technically co-owned the Kansas City Monarchs so he got a percentage of the gate. He couldn't pitch every day, but he'd throw an inning or two every game just so the fans could come out to see Satchel Paige. Could LeBron and Kyrie just play five minutes then rest?

BRYANT: Yeah, I would like it better. I mean, I think the coaches wouldn't do that because it only takes a minute to go out and get hurt or it defeats the purpose. You're still preparing to play. I think that, at the very least, come in and go do some sort of public appearance or something. The player - the fans are paying huge money for these guys to appear. Do something for them in return.

SIMON: OK, Golden State Warriors are on a tear again, with a lineup that includes every big NBA star but LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Wilt Chamberlain. Should they worry about burning out?

BRYANT: No, they're the best team in the league, and I think that they learned their lesson last year. I think they're good. I think that Kevin Durant is obviously the great addition. And they are - they're terrific. You always have to worry about health, but if you're the best team, just keep playing and do what you're supposed to do.

SIMON: You've got this book, "Legends: The Best Players, Games And Teams In Basketball," don't you?

BRYANT: I do. And it's - actually I'm really...

SIMON: And I'm going to get it. You've got both Michael Jordan and LeBron on the cover so...

BRYANT: And Dr. J. And as a child of the '80s, I loved doing this book because it's my time when I was a kid. But I also really enjoyed writing about LeBron and Steph Curry and all the great players today. It really is one of - it's my favorite of the three "Legends" books that I've done.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much for being with us. Happy holiday to you and your son, my friend.

BRYANT: And to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.