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Saturday Sports: Women's Soccer Lawsuit, LeBron James, Celtics


And I come to work every week just say it's time for sports.


SIMON: The Boston Celtics play LeBron's LA Lakers tonight. But who cares? Neither team's had a stellar year, and the U.S. women's soccer team has filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer just ahead of the FIFA Women's World Cup. ESPN's Howard Bryant joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: I am fine thanks.

BRYANT: And, by the way, of course you care. It's still Celtics-Lakers. It doesn't make a difference what year it is.

SIMON: I agree.

BRYANT: It's Celtics-Lakers.

SIMON: And you know I care about LeBron. I'd care about LeBron if he was playing for a high school team, particularly if he was playing...

BRYANT: He actually is playing for a high school team this year.

SIMON: Oh, oh wow, wow, wow, wow.

BRYANT: That's Boston shade for you.

SIMON: Well, tell us - 538 gives the Lakers a less than 1 percent chance of making the playoffs. If LeBron had stayed with Cleveland, he might have been - they might have made it to the playoffs. And I'm beginning to wonder, Howard, is anybody going to want to see "Space Jam 2?"

BRYANT: Well, it's been an interesting year for the Lakers and especially when LeBron James comes and joins the - one of the iconic, one of the two iconic franchises in the NBA that this was supposed to be a magical year, and it's been a massive disappointment. The Lakers are 30 and 35. They're out of the playoff race right now. Let's not forget what LeBron James has done. He's not only made the playoffs every year for the last eight years, he's made the finals every year for the last eight years. There's only one other guy superstar level who has done that, and it's Bill Russell back in the 1960s when they won eight straight championships. And so looking at what the Lakers have done - it's really fascinating, too, because LeBron has actually been part of the problem. His defense has been terrible. He's actually been really unprofessional in a couple of different examples...

SIMON: Kicking the ball.

BRYANT: ...Rolling the ball down court and having it knocked out of - he's just not focused. And it's been really strange to see. It's not impossible that they could go on a little streak and make the playoffs maybe as an eighth seed. But, you know, they'd play the Warriors in the first round and pretty much get hammered, so this has been a lost season for the Lakers.

SIMON: And what about the Celtics? They just haven't gelled.

BRYANT: Well - and the Celtics were supposed to be the team that was going to - they were going to play the - they were going to play the Warriors in the finals. And they're 10 games behind Milwaukee. They've been inconsistent all season long. And I really do think that one of the big problems that they've had, and the Lakers have had the exact same problem, is they had this public love fest trying to acquire Anthony Davis.

And I think in the Celtics' case, they've gone out of their way to sort of alienate their own team. I mean, what - how do you really get a team to get up and play for you when you've pretty much signaled to the world that you're willing to trade everybody on the roster for a guy you don't even have? And so it's been a really difficult gelling process for them. Kyrie Irving can leave at the end of the season. People are saying whether he's going to join the Knicks or go sign with another team. So they have all kinds of distractions. And it really has not come together.

I think another thing that happened with them is that when you are told that you are a great team before you play your first game of the season, it's kind of hard to adjust to the fact that maybe you're not that good and you really have to grind every single day. And we'll see what they do. However, they did beat the Warriors in Oakland last week by 33 points, so it does show you what they're capable of.

SIMON: Twenty-eight members of the U.S. women's soccer team are suing the federation for gender discrimination, demanding equal pay. They feel that almost nothing was done of their previous complaint back in 2017. They're picking an especially propitious time to make the case, too, aren't they?

BRYANT: Well, as they should. This is what we call leverage. You've got the World Cup coming. They're a three-time World Cup champion. This is ongoing, and this is one of the issues that we've seen over the last several years in terms of equal pay. They want equal pay compared to the men. They want - they're the better team of the two.

SIMON: Yeah, and they're the crowd pleasers, too.

BRYANT: They're the crowd pleasers and yet they get fewer - they get demonstrably fewer bonuses. They get demonstrably worse playing conditions. They feel like second-class citizens. And let's not forget we were in the same situation two years ago when the women's hockey team had to boycott or threaten to boycott not playing in the world championships to strike a deal with USA Hockey. So when this is happening right now - you know, Scott, I watched "Captain Marvel" last night. And it was just so wonderful to see that - and it's a great movie. Marvel makes better movies than DC. But the real issue is all of this is a pander if you're going to talk about women being upfront and being out front if you're not going to pay them. It's got to be equal pay.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

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