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Saturday sports: NBA playoffs underway; Brittney Griner misses WNBA start


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: NBA playoffs, the WNBA season begins with an important absence and Shohei Ohtani making history. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us.

Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Howard, conference semifinals are underway in the NBA, and - fear the deer, and bring on the leprechaun - the Boston-Milwaukee series is tied at 1-1. They play again this afternoon. How do you see this series?

BRYANT: I see it as going all the way to the wire. The Milwaukee Bucks are the defending champions. And they're playing like it. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player in the world, and he's playing like it. There's so much great basketball taking place. I love this matchup. But there's so much great stuff happening in the Eastern Conference, and the Western Conference as well. And even in other sports, this is just a great, great moment for - you know, this is a great time of year. The NHL playoffs is also fantastic right now. So so much to watch if you're a sports fan.

SIMON: Staying on the subject of basketball - WNBA season began yesterday. Brittney Griner, the superstar center for the Phoenix Mercury, still detained in Russia over alleged drug charges. U.S. State Department declared this week she's been, quote, "wrongfully detained." What's the latest?

BRYANT: Well, that is the latest. And I think that what's been really disturbing about this is the change in tactics. I think that people have been trying to be very respectful of the process and hoping that by not making of an international deal out of it that the political process or the legal process would take its course. Obviously, Brittney Griner is the No. 1 priority. You saw that the Phoenix Mercury had Brittney Griner patches on their uniforms, and people now are beginning to be more vocal about it. But this is going to also have a major ripple effect on the economics of the WNBA and of the women playing over there.

The reason why she was there in the first place is the reason why so many other women play over there, is because she could earn a million dollars playing in Russia, but the salary here is $230,000. So I think this is going to - also, in addition to what is happening to Brittney Griner on a personal level - and, you know, that is obviously enough. But this is also going to, you know - it's going to restart an extremely important conversation on equal pay because most of those women - for their safety, they don't need to be over there anyway. They should be paid here in the United States and should be able to earn the type of salary so they're not putting themselves in danger trying to eke out a living playing basketball - or make a better living playing basketball.

SIMON: Kentucky Derby's today. But I want to ask you finally about a real champion.


SIMON: Shohei Ohtani pitched seven...

BRYANT: Unbelievable.

SIMON: ...Shutout innings for the Angels on Thursday against the Red Sox - struck out 11 players, batted in two hits himself. I think he also performed an appendectomy in the clubhouse after the game. Is there anything he can't do?

BRYANT: He can do everything. And he is the most unique player. And I got to say, this goes back to New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, who has been saying this ever since Ohtani got on the scene. He is the greatest player of all time. It sounded like hyperbole. But CC sent me a text the other day that was really true. He says, look, this guy is doing things that we did as Little Leaguers. He's turning the big leagues into the - into Little Leagues. And he's hitting. He's pitching. He's dominating as a pitcher and then dominating as a hitter as well. He won the MVP last year. And he's doing the stuff that we did when we were 12.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much. You did them when you were 12, not me.

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

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.