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Saturday Sports: PGA merger; Messi heads to Florida; Denver Nuggets on the brink

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: A new champion in Paris, LIV Golf gobbles up the PGA, Lionel Messi to Miami, and Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Hiya, Scott.

SIMON: And we have a new women's French Open champion, don't we?

BRYANT: We have a new champion in Iga Swiatek, who's the old champion. This is her third championship now - incredible win for her. Had never dropped a set in a final. And Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic really pushed her. She was up - Swiatek was up - a set in 3-love. So it looked like it was going to be easy, and it was anything but easy - three-set battle, Swiatek on top, four major championships for her now - incredible.

SIMON: And of course, the men's final tomorrow - Novak Djokovic, 36 years old but still overpowering, will face Casper Ruud of Norway.

BRYANT: I feel bad for Casper Ruud. He came in last year as a finalist, as a first-time finalist against the great Rafa Nadal, and he was destroyed by Nadal. And I hate to say it, Scott Simon, but I kind of think the same thing is going to happen against Novak Djokovic tomorrow. Djokovic is so close to winning his 23rd major, to overtake Nadal, to pass Federer and Nadal after all these years. I think he's too close to it to have any other result, unfortunately for Casper Ruud.

SIMON: Of course, big sports news of the week, PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour merging - or is it a takeover? Rory McIlroy had been opposed. He now says it might be good for the game. Howard, I want to ask you about the fans. Can we follow sports, can we love them, can we care about them, if following sports means assisting a regime that commits human rights crimes?

BRYANT: Yeah, this is another battle for the hearts and minds of the sports fan and how much more fans can sort of absorb this. And we've gone through this over many, many years, Scott. We talk about this with the Olympics. We've talked about this with the World Cup just last year when it was in Qatar and some of these places where human rights is not very much of a priority. We've talked about it in labor with strikes and lockouts.

We look at what's happening in Oakland. We've talked about it with dastardly owners moving their teams and ripping the hearts out of their fan bases. The Oakland A's are essentially losing on purpose to move their team out of Oakland, where they've been since 1968, to move them to the desert of Las Vegas. And so...

SIMON: All at the same time baseball insists on keeping the - you know, the antitrust provision through all of this.

BRYANT: Exactly right. So all of these things are happening. The fans have been dealing with them for years. And the thing that always brings fans back is sports itself. People love their games, that the sport itself is always - there's something about the game that always brings us back.

When you see what - many people I knew, with LIV Golf, were like, I'm never watching golf again. And then they'll - something will happen. There'll be a Tiger Woods or another great player. Rory McIlroy himself came in and said, I feel like a sacrificial lamb here. And we turn our backs on it, and then something always brings us back because of the talent of these athletes, because the games are embedded within us.

But maybe with something like this - maybe this is the one where the PGA Tour really does pay the price. But the one thing we know about sports is that the power of these games always finds a way to get back into our hearts.

SIMON: Yeah. Let me ask you about Lionel Messi, Argentine national hero, announced he's leaving his pro club, Paris Saint-Germain. He won't sign with a Saudi soccer team, but MLS is Inter Miami.

BRYANT: Yes. And he made the point, I could have taken Saudi money and gone to some place that was going to pay me more. Leo Messi is a legend. This is a great spot for soccer fans in America as they build soccer in the United States. Who better as an ambassador? Even at 35 years old, at this stage in his career, people are going to come watch him play.

Once again, it's the power of sports. Look at the ticket sales in Miami. They cannot wait for his arrival. And so on the one hand, you have an example where sports is deflating people and then all of a sudden the Messi news has people excited in Miami.

SIMON: Denver Nuggets, a win away from becoming the champions, defeated the Miami Heat last night, 108 to 95. Next game is on Monday. What do you foresee?

BRYANT: Maybe there's a miracle, one more miracle, in Miami. But Denver is too good. And they've been waiting 47 years for this in that town - first trip to the NBA finals. And Jokic and Murray and the whole thing - they're just too good right now. And I love watching a team knocking on the door and absolutely doing what they came to do. One more win on Monday.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Speak with you soon, my friend. Thanks so much.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.