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Saturday Sports: Sporting Events Begin Return Toward In-Person Attendance

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And to quote a New Yorker cartoon this week, "now it's time for sports."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The NBA All-Star Game tomorrow in Atlanta - Team James versus Team Durant - family and friends only permitted. General audiences will return to sporting events, even though sports fan Dr. Fauci says he finds increasing the numbers of people inexplicable.

ESPN's Howard Bryant is rarely stuck for an explanation. Thanks very much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. You're quoting yourself from The New Yorker. I love that.

SIMON: I guess so, come to think of it. Yeah, all right.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: All right. I guess I could do that. There was outspoken opposition, including from LeBron James, about the NBA All-Star Game. Why have this no-meaning event in the middle of a pandemic and just endanger stars for their teams? What can we expect tomorrow?

BRYANT: Well, I think we're going to expect more of the same of what we've seen. There's going to be a - they'll play a basketball game, and I think there'll be plenty of people wondering why they're doing this. It's been really interesting, Scott, thinking about this. It's been a year. And I remember, a year ago today, I was getting on an airplane back from spring training, and everyone was talking about what was going to happen. And it is interesting now how it feels like we've simply embedded what we have into the culture. We talked about sports being this roadmap for what the country was going to look like going forward.

And a year later now, the same questions are coming forward that we are - it looks like we're getting close to trying to return to some sort of normalcy. And is sports jumping the gun on this? You see that we're going to see not full capacity crowds, but we're going to see crowds. Governor Newsom in California said he wants to see crowds on opening day for baseball. Indoors, we're going to see it for - in hockey and basketball. And the question now, as it was then, is, is sports doing this for safety or for money? And by now, it seems like we've got our answer.

SIMON: Well, I - you anticipated the question. I was going to ask, is sports returning in person - sports spectatoring - returning just in time or too soon? Is - should sports risk becoming superspreading events?

BRYANT: Well, I think that once we - I think we've got our answer in terms of when you look at what the sporting world has looked like. And it will be interesting to see what the books and the commentary and such look like over the next four or five years about this period. Was sports the uniting force, or was sports the great superspreader event? And once again, there - the opportunities for sports to lead have been pretty much squandered - except for the bubble. The one time where sports really got it right was the bubble. It looked like that was - you know, the basketball, hockey and WNBA - all of them got that right. And once they've gone back to full travel, none of these schedules have looked right at all. But once again, as we've gone forward, we've seen that the leagues have decided to sort of embed pandemic sports into their schedules. And the authenticity of it, once again, is just - it's stunning in a lot of ways that you feel like we're this close, and what is the rush right now?

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

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