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Will Lebron - Durant Matchup Go Down In History?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barber Shop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, with us in Washington, D.C. Also in Washington, Paul Butler. He is a law professor at George Washington University. He's heading to Georgetown University next month. Also here in D.C., Gautham Nagesh. He is an editor for Congressional Quarterly and founder of the sports website, Stiff Jab. And New York City Sports Illustrated reporter, Pablo Torre.

Jimi, take it.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

PAUL BUTLER: Good. What's up, man?


IZRAEL: Gautham.


IZRAEL: G, what's up, man?

TORRE: It's lonely here in New York.

MARTIN: I know. That's so sad.

IZRAEL: P-Dog, what's good, man? We got Paul Butler in the house. What's up, prof?

BUTLER: All right, man. It's great to be here.

IZRAEL: Well, it's good to have you back in. All right. Let's get things started. You know, the Jerry Sandusky trial got underway this week. The former Penn State assistant football coach is accused of sexually abusing minors and the testimony has been horrifying. A lot of witnesses say Sandusky abused them for years.

Now, people are asking if they could have done more, even football star, LaVar Arrington.

MARTIN: Well, let me explain this for people who may not know the whole story. LaVar Arrington is a former NFL linebacker for the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants, but before that, he played for Penn State. And one of the witnesses talked about wearing Arrington's jersey and having photos taken with him. The context is this. You know, that was part of the lure of like how Sandusky kind of lured kids into his web is by taking them to fun things and introducing them to fun people.

But Arrington wrote this really powerful blog, just about how he didn't know, that he somehow didn't pick up that something was wrong and this is what he had to say during a Washington Post Internet show. I'll just play a short clip.


IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks, Michel. So that seems to be the question everybody's asking. What more could have been done? Professor Butler, I understand you mentor foster kids. How do you gauge when something serious is going on or it's just dealing with teen angst?

BUTLER: It's hard, man. You know, I feel LaVar's pain. I volunteer as a mentor for foster kids and it's true. Teenage boys are often sullen. Are they sullen because they're going through something horrible or is just sullen teenage angst? It's hard to know, especially if you don't have those personal conversations and, frankly, men often don't have those kinds of intimate conversations that seem kind of touchy feely, but now we know the cost of not having them can be tragic, man, at least, the consequences.

IZRAEL: Pablo Torre, Mr. Sports Illustrated, what do you think? Should people like Arrington or other people in the Penn State football family feel any responsibility at all?

TORRE: Well, I think it's clear that this is something harder than, you know, turning a blind eye. This isn't a set of good Samaritans who kind of turned their backs - or would-be good Samaritans who turned their backs. I think, with this case, the thing that makes it all the more torturous for somebody who missed it is that it's clear now, in this trial, that Jerry Sandusky wasn't this brilliant master of disguise, the covert criminal master mind. You know, he was a guy who was, if anything - who was too obvious, in some ways.

He had - the book he wrote was called "Touched." He wrote love letters which have emerged in trial. He had a waterbed. You know, all of these things that are so over the top and that's even beyond just the sheer witness accounts of it happening in showers and public places. You had janitors and assistant coaches, everybody brushing past this. I think that - I think it's not just - the part about this case that's so staggering is that it's not just one guy who could have done something, or LaVar Arrington. It's 10, 12. Who knows how many people who brushed by this and all of them separately decided, for the reason Professor Butler said, maybe, to keep it to themselves.

MARTIN: Well, you know, but I think that what's troubling here and what's hard here is that, on the one hand, you see - I don't think having a waterbed means you're, you know - I'm just saying I don't think - that's not a marker of being - I mean...

IZRAEL: Yeah. Let's go ahead and put that out there.

MARTIN: Let's just - could we just - but not that that's the most important thing about it. I'm just saying that the issue, I think, a lot of adults are worried about an overreaction, an over-correction. I mean, there are a lot of jurisdictions now where, say, teachers and other caregivers of kids can't hug a kid. Well, if you've ever worked with kids, especially little kids, sometimes, a kid needs a hug. So then adults are worried about, you know, the over-correction, so perhaps they don't, you know, push - it's like - it's almost like you can't figure out what's the right middle ground here between kind of overreacting and then causing harm by not letting adults step in when they need to step in and then under-reacting, which seems to be the case here.

You know, Jimi, you - I don't know. Well, I don't know. Gautham, you want to weigh in here?

NAGESH: I think the concern is valid, because, for example, we're trying to start a boxing gym in Northwest D.C., and one of the first things you encounter is this fundamental question about trust. Who can you trust around kids with no supervision? In my view, almost no one. I think that's what this trial really shows. I think that one of the things about them is the victims are chosen -specifically, people who are unlikely to report this. That is why they're victims. They go to the second mile, because they don't have anywhere else to turn to. And he's preying on the most vulnerable types of people.

I can understand the soul-searching of someone like LaVar Arrington. I don't think he's responsible, necessarily, personally, but it speaks to when we're helping kids, what are we doing? Are we giving them a good afternoon, a good experience? Are we trying to understand what they're dealing with? And I think that we have to ask those questions.

MARTIN: You know, what I like about this, though, I will say if there's one good thing to come out of this really disturbing, really terrible situation - I think he used the right word, Jimi, which is horrifying - is that, you know, I have both, you know, girls and a boy. And one of the things I appreciate is, like, that now I think maybe now people will pay attention to what's going on with boys.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Because I know that, you know, you're just - your tendency is to be vigilant when it comes to your daughter and not letting your daughter just go to anybody's house or the piano teacher or whatever and...

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: ...and just being more careful about - where with boys, it's like, oh, go on out there, you know.

NAGESH: Yeah, that's great point.


MARTIN: And I just think that if it raises the level of concern about the circumstances we put the boys in, I think that, you know, this will never change what's happened to these young men, but at least that lesson will be learned. Jimi.

IZRAEL: Well, I don't know. For me, as a parent, you know, I've always been opposed to, you know, the culture of fame, where, you know, you let your kids spend the night over somebody's house because they got a bunch of monkeys and they sang on a couple of records or, you know, they run a ball up and down a field. I'm sorry, no. I'm sorry, that's - I'm not down with that. My kid can't spend the night over your house because you run a ball up and down a field. You know, as a matter of fact, I wonder, in this day and age, if before you mentor kids, I wonder, should there be some kind of training you should have to go through, some kind of certification? You know, just because you're on television, that doesn't - Flavor Flav is not qualified to watch your kid for the night, just FYI.


IZRAEL: You know, I mean - so just because you're on TV or the Kardashians or Snookie, just because you're on TV, this kind of fame ball(ph) ...

MARTIN: Or wear a clerical collar. Let's just say that. Something we talked...

TORRE: True.

IZRAEL: Yeah. That doesn't make you a mentor, you know.

MARTIN: I feel you.

BUTLER: But a lot of these kids they just don't have any men in their lives. That's the problem. And you can't blame their moms for wanting to expose them to, like, adult role models, somebody who's responsible...

IZRAEL: Uncle?

BUTLER: Yeah. Yeah. So, everybody, we've got to step up. We can't leave it to the celebrities or the football coaches. I think, you know, every normal guy who can do this has a role to play.


IZRAEL: Yeah. What about Big Brothers and Big Sisters? They got those everywhere. We need to get with that, and not just, like I said, any yahoos on TV.

NAGESH: I think that's exactly the problem, is that people - the kind of people who could make a positive difference aren't always involved, and it's left to the people who really have ulterior motives, occasionally, who take issue. I mean, just this last week, The New York Times reported that the Horace Mann private school in New York City was the site of some very similar sorts of abuses against some of the most elite young men in the country, and they didn't feel like they have anywhere to turn, because it was a very male-dominated environment where you don't talk about that sort of victimization.

So the kids have to feel like there's someone they can go to who's not going to expose them to their friends and make them feel like they're different and ostracized. I think an outlet that they can tell, a place that they can go, a number they could call would make a huge difference.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, CQ editor Gautham Nagesh, law professor Paul Butler, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. All right. Well, let's move on to some good sports news, at least for Miami fans. Miami...

MARTIN: The Heat.

IZRAEL: The Miami Heat...


IZRAEL: ...head on to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder last night in game two of the NBA finals. The score was 100 to 96. P-Dog, Pablo, people are calling Lebron James and Kevin Durant the best matchup since peanut butter and jelly...


IZRAEL: ...since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. As the pro sports guy, what do you think?

TORRE: Yeah.

BUTLER: I'm sorry.

IZRAEL: Go ahead.

BUTLER: Pablo, Paul. I got confused.

MARTIN: Pablo.

IZRAEL: I'm sorry. Yeah. Pablo.

TORRE: Yeah. Yeah. I think it's, I think that's fair, you know. I think it's - we should always be skepticism - be skeptical, have skepticism of those kind of lofty comparisons. But this is the first matchup where we could really put two guys on a, you know, the boxing style heavyweight fight poster: Lebron versus Durant. Now, those guys are not alone. They have excellent teams around them. But in terms of an individual superstar comparison, this is the best since Magic and Bird in the '80s, in my opinion. It's of that vintage.

And I don't think it's there yet. I think Magic and Bird were special because, number one, they played back in college. I mean, they - this thing dated before the pros, and there was a certain symmetry, obviously, with race, black and white. And Lebron and Durant, you know, they're phenomenal, obviously, the MVP contenders. And they have their other kind of dynamic going, which makes this compelling, which is that it's not black and white in terms of race, but in terms of the black hat and the white hat - the villain in Lebron James, and the Oklahoma, prairie-raised, everybody's favorite young man, Kevin Durant. And so I think that's compelling (unintelligible).

IZRAEL: So it's kind of like Luke and Darth Vader, almost.

TORRE: A little bit.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah.

TORRE: Lebron is what you don't want to be, it seems, when you look at Kevin Durant.

MARTIN: I'm sorry. I'm throwing over on the black is bad...

BUTLER: Yeah, really. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...white is good thing. Please. Please. Let it go. Let it go.

BUTLER: And every - and every...

MARTIN: I'm sorry...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Paul.

MARTIN: ...I'm not having that.

BUTLER: And anything else that Pablo said, too, because the media tried to spin it as like...


BUTLER: ...oh, Lebron's the bad dude. What is he - why is he bad? Because he's a free agent. He took...

MARTIN: Because he likes himself.

BUTLER: Exactly. He took it under his control. And then we've got this like country mouse thing versus the glitzy, big city. But if you look at the owner...

IZRAEL: Country mouse, city mouse.


BUTLER: ...the guy who owns the Oklahoma City team, he's - they are not the best dudes in the world. They're, like, conservative. They're funding all these - sending all this money to Romney's campaign. So I just think that the way this is being spun is all wrong.

TORRE: First of all, I was parodying...

MARTIN: Step light, though, on that, because Kevin Durant is not a country mouse. He's from D.C...

TORRE: Right.

MARTIN: ...with as much love here. Much love for him.

TORRE: No. No. I just...

MARTIN: But there is that kind of modest, you know, kind of...

NAGESH: He's humble, and I think people really...

IZRAEL: He's a Bama mouse.

NAGESH: ...appreciate that. Whatever you...

MARTIN: Some people.

NAGESH: Whatever you think about Lebron, "The Decision" show has haunted him, I think. And people contrast that with Durant.

IZRAEL: Right.

NAGESH: That's where that's coming from.

MARTIN: Some people - I mean, but this whole thing about humility good, flash is bad is cultural, OK? Some of us like swagger.

TORRE: Yes. And I was, and to clarify, I was...

MARTIN: Some of us like people who swag. They like the fact that people have a big personality, OK? And it's not...

BUTLER: I hate to talk about race but it's also race, because black men, we have the swagger, some of us do, but it's not looked upon all that well.

IZRAEL: Yeah. I...

BUTLER: We get more cred when we're called humble.

NAGESH: I think it's absolutely true.

IZRAEL: I was just telling my wife this the other day. I cannot remember the last time I saw in print anybody suggesting that a white man be humble. I've never - I haven't seen that in the last 10 years that a - is that just me? When was the last time you - Paul, when was the last time you heard somebody suggest a white guy be humble?

BUTLER: You're right.

MARTIN: Let me just tell Pablo. Let me help Pablo out, here.

IZRAEL: Ray Clooney. Ray Clooney?

MARTIN: Let me help Pablo out here. Pablo is just saying I'm just reporting.

NAGESH: I'm from the Midwest, and there's a certain value on honesty placed there...

MARTIN: Where are you from?

NAGESH: I'm from Michigan. Yeah. And...

IZRAEL: I'm from the Midwest you, brother. I'm from Cleveland, and we got swagger in Cleveland. We made swagger in Cleveland. Are you serious?


NAGESH: Absolutely. And Detroit has swagger, I think, too. You know, it is a cultural thing. They're playing the two sides against each other. I think Lebron is the most popular player in the NBA, so clearly, people appreciate him. There's a lot of haters, also. People don't like his success. They don't like that he always - it seems to come easy to him.


BUTLER: Aw, please.

NAGESH: Kevin Durant maybe that's a little bit of the underdog thing.

IZRAEL: That's his fault.

NAGESH: But, you know, I personally am rooting for the Thunder, but I don't think Lebron did anything wrong in terms of going to the Heat or anything like that. And it's a little tired now at this point.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of boxing, which we've been kind of doing, Pablo, I do hear what you are saying. Pablo is saying I'm just reporting, dudes. I'm just reporting.

TORRE: So I can't hear you from underneath this bus you ran me over.


MARTIN: Sorry. Not really. Gautham, though, people are still hot about the...

IZRAEL: Decision. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...talking about boxing. They're talking about that Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley fight last week, where Bradley was declared the winner. But CompuBox stats show that Pacquiao out punched Bradley significantly. Even the opponent sound surprised by the judge's decision. Let me just play a short clip. This is first of Pacquiao, and then Bradley.


IZRAEL: Wow. All right. Thanks, Michel. All right. Now, Gautham Nagesh, this is your joint right here. This is where you get down. You're the founder of the boxing and mixed martial arts website Stiff Jab. So tell us, was Pacquiao robbed?

NAGESH: In my opinion, yes. And that's an opinion that's commonly shared across the boxing world. There are a few notable exceptions, but something like 48 to three of writers surveyed by a colleague of mine, a writer I respect, said that they had Pacquiao winning this fight.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

NAGESH: Bad decisions are common in boxing.

IZRAEL: Right.

NAGESH: You see someone getting robbed every other week. But you rarely see the A side, the big-money fighter like Pacquiao, lose a decision in what is essentially his home turf, Las Vegas. So there are a lot of questions about this decision, and it's motivating people to call for some change, which happens usually, but people move on. In this case, they may not move on so quickly, because it is Pacquiao.


IZRAEL: People always want to change when it doesn't go their way, right?


MARTIN: But what's the rationale for it? I mean, Pablo, is there any defense? I mean, do the judges have any defense of their decision here? I don't...

TORRE: You know, it's - the fight was, I think - if a fight is close, it's not like you can say it's impossible for a person - especially someone who's sitting at ringside - to get it completely right. I mean, these things happen. I think Pacquiao won the fight. I think the larger issue is that, you know, boxing, in a perverse way, needed something like this to happen.

IZRAEL: Absolutely.

TORRE: You know, it's way more interesting that this happened than Manny Pacquiao destroyed Timothy Bradley, as a lot of people expected him to. It's way more interesting to talk about boxing - even in the way that we talk about a Kim Kardashian, you know, the reality TV star who we can't stop talking about, despite the fact that it's so frustrating and so, at times, vacuous.

You know, boxing has this existential crisis going on, but it's, you know, it's good from the PR perspective, from the discussion perspective that we're still - we still have it in our mouths.

IZRAEL: Well, you know, quantity of punches doesn't equal quality of punches, as far as I'm concerned. And that said, you know, controversy - like you said, Pablo, is good for the sport. On to the rematch, that's what I'm about. Yeah.

MARTIN: Really? Did you watch it?

IZRAEL: I did.

MARTIN: And you thought?

IZRAEL: I thought it could have went either way. I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Really?


MARTIN: Based on what?


MARTIN: I'm just saying. When you...

IZRAEL: Based on my two eyes, Michel.

MARTIN: Because you missed the fact that the guy - you were getting a sandwich every time that Pacquiao - what?


TORRE: The best part was that Timothy Bradley showed up at his presser in a wheelchair.

MARTIN: Oh, dear.


TORRE: That was the - just putting everything in perspective.

MARTIN: Paul, you want to weigh in on that?

BUTLER: You know, it reminds me of Bush versus Gore, because Gore won that won on points, too, but the Supreme Court tossed it to Bush.


IZRAEL: He went there.

MARTIN: He went right there.



BUTLER: So, you know, stuff happens. There's going to be a rematch. They're going to make zillions of dollars. Again, keeping on the same theme, Manny endorsed Romney over Obama, so I'm not feeling him either.


NAGESH: Though he is very close to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well, so he's got - he's a good politician. He's a congressman in the Philippines, so he knows how to play both sides of the aisle.


MARTIN: But I love that Paul's consistent. He goes right there.

IZRAEL: Right.


MARTIN: Campaign contributions, right there.

OK. Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. And Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He was with us from our NPR studios in New York. Gautham Nagesh is an editor for Congressional Quarterly and founder of the sports website Stiff Jab. And Paul Butler is a law professor at the George Washington University, heading to Georgetown next month. He's also a former federal prosecutor. Paul, Gautham and Jimi, here in Washington, D.C.

Thank you.

BUTLER: Thank you. Great to be here.

TORRE: Thank you.

NAGESH: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.


MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.