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Saturday Sports: The Year In Sports


It's time now for sports.


FADEL: A look back at a year of surprise champions in professional sports, two of them right here in D.C. The U.S. women's soccer team, on the other hand, was no shocker, but their success opened up space for some hard conversations this year. Joining us to talk about it all is ESPN's Howard Bryant. Morning, Howard.

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

FADEL: Great. So we're so used to dominant franchises in sports - the Yankees, the Lakers, the Bruins, the Patriots. The Pats won the Super Bowl this year. But we had so many other teams come out of the woodwork to win it all. Give us a rundown, Howard.

BRYANT: Yeah, it was a great year in terms of waiting and waiting and waiting and maybe next year, maybe next year. But for a lot of franchises, next year was actually this year. I think that, obviously, in basketball, the big story in the NBA was Kawhi Leonard going to Toronto for one year. No one knew if he was going to stay or go after the season, but during that season, the Toronto Raptors went and won their first championship, knocking out the Golden State Warriors, ending that dynasty - at least for the time being.

You also had the St. Louis Blues, who had been to the Stanley Cup. They lost to the Bruins in 1970 and, for the first time in their 52-year history, came back and they won the Stanley Cup.

FADEL: Yeah.

BRYANT: And it was just a fascinating year on so many different levels because I always say, eventually, everyone's going to win if you play long enough. But I think that people begin to become very pessimistic that their team will never win. And obviously, in D.C., you had the Washington Mystics, and then you also had the Nationals. The Nationals were in Montreal, and they had never won in Montreal. And they moved to D.C. in 2005 and got their first championship. And, of course, the city hadn't had a World Series champion since 1924.

And, of course, the Mystics - fantastic, as well - Elena Delle Donne. And what was great about her this year was that she was hurting. They didn't - no one thought that they had a chance to win that championship once she injured herself in the postseason. And then they hung on and beat Connecticut in five games. So it was quite a year for individual - for teams, as well as some individuals.

FADEL: Let's talk about those individuals. Actually, let's talk about women. We can't talk about champions in 2019 without mentioning the U.S. women's soccer team. What made them such a special group?

BRYANT: A lot of things made them special. One is that they're just so darn good. They're always - they're battling on and off the field. I think that's one of the great things about that team. And you've got wonderful stars - obviously, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe. And they were just so - I think the thing I really liked about that team was their charisma. You - they were showstoppers, and that's one of the things that we watch when we watch sports. We just don't watch who wins and loses, but you also watch who stood out.

And it was on the field that they were great and that they were favorites and that they won as favorites, which is very, very difficult to do sometimes, but also that they're battling off the field. They're battling equal pay. They're battling equal treatment. They're constantly in legal battles with their federation.

FADEL: Right.

BRYANT: And so they are a model in a lot of ways for battling on the field, but also making sure that they get treated fairly because they are more successful than the men, and yet, they make less. And so they are constantly in a struggle, whereas most times when you win the championship, you get compensated as such. But this team - they've got to fight in the courtroom, and then they also have to fight on the field.

FADEL: And they really brought a lot of attention to that issue that goes beyond sports - about pay inequities and...

BRYANT: Well, it's a nonstop issue. And I think that's one of the things that we realize you want sports to be...

FADEL: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Your sort of - your escape, but it's not an escape.

FADEL: Right. That's ESPN's Howard Bryant. Howard, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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