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Saturday Sports: Albert Pujols' historic homerun, controversy for the NBA

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's a stressful world. And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Pujols, Pujols, 700 - that's a Cub fan talking about a Cardinal. And another controversial week for the NBA. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Good morning, Howard.

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

SIMON: I am fine, thanks.

BRYANT: You're surprising me, Scott Simon, I have to say.

SIMON: By rooting for a Cardinal?

BRYANT: Yes. How can a Chicago Cub be so excited about a St. Louis Cardinal? What is happening here?

SIMON: Well, you make exceptions for the greats, you know? And that's certainly Albert Pujols. They - the Cardinals won last night 11-nothing. But Albert hit two home runs, and the second was his 700th. Boy, that puts him into some esteemed company, doesn't it?

BRYANT: It sure does. And it's a moment like this where the rivalries do have to go away, 700 home runs. That is Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth territory - and now one more. And that's it. It's the most exclusive company of home run hitters in history. And you wouldn't have thought that Pujols was going to get there because it looked like his career was pretty much over at the middle of this season. He comes back and has a renaissance second half of the season and makes history doing it.

SIMON: Also, Yankees beat the BoSox. Aaron Judge had a single, but I read a website headline - he's still stuck at 60. Stuck?

BRYANT: Exactly. He is just...

SIMON: We should all be so stuck.

BRYANT: I think we can still say just one shy, one shy of the - of tying the Roger Maris American League record for single-season home runs at 61. And the amazing thing about this, though, Scott - I do have to say - is that he is still 13 home runs shy of the all-time record from - by Barry Bonds back in 2001.

SIMON: Yeah. Some of us don't recognize that record, Howard, as you know. Because of steroids - let me not be mysterious. On to basketball, the NBA isn't playing yet, but it's sure causing a lot of headlines, isn't it?

BRYANT: It's incredible. It really is. If you go back and you look at the - two of the last four defending conference champions - the Phoenix Suns in 2021 and the Boston Celtics in 2022 - both of them wracked by scandal. Robert Sarver, the owner of the Suns and the WNBA Phoenix Mercury, suspended for a year for fostering a toxic workplace culture - and in response to his suspension, he puts the team up for sale, both of his teams up for sale.

And then, in Boston, you've got the Celtics head coach, Ime Udoka. After a monthslong investigation by his own team, by the Celtics, he receives a year's suspension - really a rare thing for an off-court infraction. And the waste that's been left by this over the past 24, 48 hours has been incredible in terms of the Celtics being very slow in their response and exposing their female employees to a scandal that had really nothing to do with virtually all of them.

SIMON: Yeah. And finally, (imitating crying) I've cried, and so has everybody else in London yesterday.

BRYANT: Oh, Scott, yes.

SIMON: Roger Federer played his last game, teaming up with his longtime rival, Rafael Nadal, in a doubles match. Boy, it was emotional.

BRYANT: Yeah, at the Laver Cup, it's - this is the stuff, and it's very, very sad. And, boy, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal last night at Laver Cup - incredible emotion. And think about where we are right now - end of an era. This is the greatest era of tennis any of us have ever seen. And to have Nadal and Federer on the court together for Roger's last match was something. And let's not forget, this is coming off the heels of the U.S. Open...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Where Serena Williams retires as well. Boy, tough, tough times in tennis, but really amazing.

SIMON: Yeah, tough but amazing. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks so much.

BRYANT: 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.