CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Now it's time for a special edition of the Barbershop in honor of turkey day. We're going to talk about, of course, sports, and maybe a little gratitude as well.
Sitting in their chairs for a shape-up this week, writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael. Also, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. Dave Zirin as well. He's the sports editor at the magazine The Nation. They're all here with me in our Washington studios. And joining us from our bureau in New York is Pablo Torre. He's a senior writer with ESPN.com.
And with that, take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: C. Headlee, thank you so much.
HEADLEE: You're welcome.
IZRAEL: Good to have you back on the show.
HEADLEE: Thank you. Nice to be here.
DAVE ZIRIN: Hey.
IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop.
PABLO TORRE: Yo.
IZRAEL: How we doing?
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: What's going on? Gobble, gobble.
IZRAEL: Gobble, gobble, gobble. All right. Let's get right into it. With a preview of the Thanksgiving NFL games, we've got the Dallas Cowboys versus the Washington Redskins, New York Jets playing the New England Patriots, and last but not least, the Houston Texans up against the Detroit Lions. Detroit, I said.
Guys, give me your pick. D.Z., Dave Zirin, you're up first.
ZIRIN: Oh, absolutely, first and foremost, there is no way that the burgundy and golden from Washington are going to lose to the Dallas Cowboys in the Boss Hog Bowl down there in Dallas. That's just not going to happen. RG3 will beat trick-or-treat Tony Romo, no problem.
Patriots-Jets. I'm from New York City, but I got to tell you, this Patriots team is nasty, scoring almost 40 points a game, dropped 59 on the Colts last week. That is all about the Patriots.
Now, these Houston Texans - their quarterback, Matt Shaub, went 43 for 55 last week and might not even be one of their three best players. Those are crazy video game numbers. The Texans look like the best team in the AFC. That's where the smart money is, not that I'm advocating gambling.
IZRAEL: Pablo, P Dog, what about your hometown Jets, brother?
TORRE: Yeah. You know, the thing that troubled me this week was Rex Ryan, for the first time, said he wasn't going to trash talk the Patriots, which reminded me of...
IFTIKHAR: I wonder why.
TORRE: It's kind of like Rex Ryan, like at his private soliloquy is like Jean Valjean where he has this existential dilemma. Does he abandon? You know, if he speaks, he is condemned.
ZIRIN: Pablo, you know, put on Twitter that - you know that moment when the housekeeping staff at the hotel walks in on you when you're playing "Les Miserables" at top volume? So we got a serious "Les Miserables" sportswriting fan here. Jean Valjean reference too? My goodness, Pablo.
TORRE: I telegraphed - I telegraphed this reference...
IZRAEL: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to National Public Radio. A-Train.
TORRE: I know. Right?
TORRE: So I pick the Patriots, in other words.
IZRAEL: OK. All right. So you pick the Patriots. All right. So A-Train, you're the fanboy. Who's your favorite?
IFTIKHAR: Well, my favorite, sadly, is the Buffalo Bills, but they will not be circling any wagons this year. I have to cosign both Dave and Pablo. I think that the Redskins will beat the Cowboys. I think the Patriots will put a whomping on the Jets, and the Texans really are the team to beat in the AFC right now.
IZRAEL: Well, insofar as Cleveland's still got a team...
IFTIKHAR: Do they?
IZRAEL: I don't know. I got to check. I got to check my Twitter. Celeste, you want a piece of this?
HEADLEE: Look, I have to give the Lions a little love here. Look, they're at home. Kid Rock is playing. Say what you will. The Texans have a weak pass defense and the Lions have one of the highest scoring offense in the league. So come on. There is a chance that the Lions at home could upset the Texans and bring it home, and so I'm going to go with the Detroit Lions.
IZRAEL: You know, and I didn't mean any harm, WCP in Cleveland. You know I love you and...
IFTIKHAR: You'd better say that.
HEADLEE: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. You're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. It's an all sports shop in honor of the holiday.
We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikar, sports editor Dave Zirin, and sportswriter Pablo Torre. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thanks, Celeste. You know, the Browns are playing in the football game of my heart. But anyway, let's move on.
ZIRIN: And they're losing constantly.
IZRAEL: Right. Stop.
TORRE: You just had a coronary.
IZRAEL: Stop, stop. I'll never be able to go back home. So let's...
TORRE: That's what you're aiming for.
HEADLEE: Oh, come on now.
IZRAEL: All right. Hold on, hold on.
TORRE: Sorry, sorry.
IZRAEL: Let's make a fast break and talk about basketball and what's going on in the basketball court. After a rough start to the season, the L.A. Lakers are turning things around. They fired head coach Mike Brown earlier this month. Now they're winning again with former Knick chief Mike D'Antoni. He's taken over.
Zirin, you're dealing with the L.A. egos, you know, you know, and it takes skill. Is the new man - is he up for the job?
ZIRIN: I absolutely think so. Love Mike D'Antoni. Admittedly, no Phil Jackson, who's on that Mount Rushmore of all-time coaches, but Mike D'Antoni - you're talking about somebody who's got a great relationship with Kobe Bryant. He has a mind meld with point guard Steve Nash. They share a brain. Can't think of a better person not named Phil Jackson to coach this team.
IFTIKHAR: Yeah. And that's the problem with it - the not Phil Jackson part.
IFTIKHAR: I mean...
ZIRIN: Threw you a softball there, man.
IFTIKHAR: You know, you talk Mount Rushmore. I mean, Phil Jackson is the Mount Everest of NBA coaches - 11 championship rings. You know, there were leaks in the media that, you know, they were serious in talks and then, you're going to pick Mike D'Antoni? Now, a lot of people are saying well, you know, Steve Nash can't run the triangle. Listen, if you brought Phil Jackson into the Lakers, Steve Nash would run the triangle, the pentagon, the hexagon and the dodecahedron. So, you know, I think it was a bad move on the part of the Buss family. They made a bad move picking Mike Brown in the first place. And, you know, I think if D'Antoni succeeds, it's only going to be because of the star power that he has on the court.
IZRAEL: No. You know what? You'll never hear this much multisyllabic ridiculousness in ESPN. So let's...
TORRE: That is true. I can tell you that. I...
IZRAEL: Pablo? Pablo? P-Dog. Oh, I'm sorry. That's right. Ooh. I didn't mean to hit you people in the mouth like that. But anyway. So...
ZIRIN: It's OK.
IZRAEL: You know, D'Antoni's old team, you know, the Knicks, they look like they're ready for Social Security. The necks and backs are cracking. You know, but they're winning, you know, are they for real? Seriously?
TORRE: So far they are. And you know, it pains me to utter those words because as a native New Yorker, as a guy who grew up a Knicks fan, who had since had a very emotionally complicated relationship with that franchise for a variety of reasons, I'm waiting for this to collapse. The wheels are going to come off at some point, that's what I'm saying. But, these guys, I mean the oldest roster in NBA history - and granted, in the world of sports an average age of 33 qualifies as the oldest roster in NBA history. But, you have Kurt Thomas, whose 30, whose 40. You have Rasheed Wallace, who is 38.
TORRE: Marcus Camby is 38. You know, and they play...
ZIRIN: And a 36-year-old rookie.
TORRE: And exactly. And Pablo Prigioni, the other - the Pablo power rankings.
IZRAEL: Thirty-six-year-old rookie?
IZRAEL: Holy mackerel.
TORRE: But here's what it comes down to with the Knicks. Carmelo Anthony is happy with Mike Woodson, that coach, who replaced Mike D'Antoni, in fact. And Carmelo Anthony being happy and trying hard is the key to the Knicks being good. And he, as long as he does that - and it seems like he's set to do that - he has an even larger chip on his shoulder this year, I think the Knicks are going to be in it.
ZIRIN: In other words, he's master of the house, Pablo?
IZRAEL: Master of the house.
TORRE: Great to catch your eye, Dave. Great to catch your eye.
HEADLEE: Oh, man. Oh, come on. No, you're not going to start singing here, you guys.
IFTIKHAR: Now, and...
IFTIKHAR: This is Arsalan. I don't mean to jump all over Pablo's empire state of mind here, but let's not forget that last year during the NBA playoffs, the New York Knicks won their first playoff game in 10 years. So, you know, I'...
HEADLEE: Aw. You're raining on the parade.
IFTIKHAR: I am raining on the parade because it's only going to matter come playoff time when you have to win a seven-game series...
TORRE: It's true.
IFTIKHAR: ...win best four out of seven. I still think that my Boston Celtics are the only team in the East that can give Miami a run for their money. They were six minutes away in game seven from taking out the Heat. I think is going to be Celtics and Heats in the Eastern Conference Finals and I think it's going to be LA Lakers and Oklahoma City in the West.
IZRAEL: Speaking of giving Miami a run for their money, there's somebody that might be the next LeBron James but maybe without all that hubris.
IZRAEL: And I'm sorry, Lebron. But, you know, there's this is dude over in Iowa, Iowa, Grinnell College guard Jack Taylor. He broke the NAAC - no, NAACP.
HEADLEE: They have scoring record?
IZRAEL: The NC...
TORRE: All the more impressive because he's white.
HEADLEE: He got the Thurgood Marshall award last night, you know.
IZRAEL: No. No. He broke the NCAA scoring record last night.
ZIRIN: Outscored Du Bois.
IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HEADLEE: In the video is going viral. Taylor earned 138 points in a single...
IFTIKHAR: He didn't earn it. He dropped.
HEADLEE: Yeah. That's right.
IFTIKHAR: Learn the lingo. He dropped 138.
HEADLEE: Yeah. Here's Jonathan Coachman interviewing Taylor after the game on ESPN "SportsCenter."
JONATHAN COACHMAN: So at what point did you say I'm having a pretty good game, keep feeding me the rock?
JACK TAYLOR: Well, it was actually at halftime. I thought I only had about 30 points at halftime. But coach came in and told me I had 58 and the team was really excited about that and wanted to continue giving me the ball.
IZRAEL: Thanks, C. Headlee. He then he was on a video game. That's the truth.
IFTIKHAR: Well, he was on a video game.
IZRAEL: A-Train, you want to...
IFTIKHAR: Dude, all I know is, you know, why didn't the coach of the opposing team start double, triple teaming this kid after he dropped 50? I...
HEADLEE: Maybe he was enjoying it.
IFTIKHAR: Listen I would've taken the mascot. I would've taken my grandma off the bench and been like don't let that kid shoot.
IFTIKHAR: That. That - but the guy dropped dimes. It was awesome.
IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. And he was averaging nearly - well, averaging 24 points per game before last night. So I mean, he was a beast anyway.
TORRE: Yeah. But in terms...
ZIRIN: One hundred and thirty-eight points, zero assists.
IZRAEL: Mm-hmm. Tell it, Dave.
ZIRIN: Took over 100 shots. Made less than half of them. The rest of his teammates combined took 26 shots. He took 40 shots than the entire North Carolina team did last night. Look, I watched it. I kind of felt like the way I watch when I see that guy Kobayashi when the hot dog eating contest. It's very impressive, but it's kind of gross.
IFTIKHAR: This is Dave Zirin, our resident player hater.
TORRE: My favorite stat from this game is that there is another guy on the opposing team, David Larsen from Faith Baptist, 70 points...
TORRE: ...on 34 of 44 shooting. And he had one assist, one more than Jack Taylor. That guy...
TORRE: ...to me is my player of the year.
HEADLEE: Thanks. That's Pablo Torre up there in New York.
IZRAEL: So, we've talked about football. Talked about basketball. I think there's, there's another sport out there for sure, right?
HEADLEE: Not right now.
IZRAEL: Who knows that we'll hear these sounds coming up anytime soon.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Now picked up by Al Ovechkin. Here he comes. Ovechkin, trying to draw it through. Now he scored. Well, Alexander Ovechkin, when it looked like it was no longer possible, he still got it done.
IZRAEL: That's right. You guessed it. That's the sound of hacky sack. I'm just kidding. That's actually watching the Capitals game from a while back. A legendary goal by star Alex Ovechkin, as he slid across the ice on his back. Dude, on his back? Seriously?
IZRAEL: Dave Zirin, the league is on ice right now over a labor dispute. Because you've got to have that money, especially if you're sliding across ice, right? But will things warm up in time to save the season?
ZIRIN: I'm guessing probably not. I mean, Gary Bettman has talked to the commissioner of the NHL, a person when he became commissioner bragged about the fact that he had never actually been to an NHL game, and who over-expanded the league throughout the 1990s - said I see the future of professional hockey and it is in the South and Southwest of the United States.
ZIRIN: This is Gary Bettman. He's the person who oversaw the canceling of the season a few years back. We're looking at that again. It's a disastrous situation, not just for players and not just for fans, but for everybody who derives some form of employment - from stadiums, from hockey games, from picking up an extra shift at the restaurant next to the stadium. So it's an absolute debacle. If we - if Gary Bettman was the president of the United States, he'd be impeached faster than you could say Andrew Johnson.
IZRAEL: Is it debacle or debacle?
ZIRIN: I say you say tomato and I say tomato.
HEADLEE: Well, if you're Dave Zirin.
IZRAEL: OK, I'm just curious. I mean I'm the one to be having said it wrong all this time, my whole life.
ZIRIN: You know...
IZRAEL: Pablo Torre? P-Dog.
TORRE: Yes. I mean this is - Gary Bettman, you know, he presides over lockouts, plural. He's done this before. The rhetoric so far has been exactly the same. The NBA, if you recall last year, started its season on Christmas, and the NBA is in a far better place financially than the NHL is. And the NHL, to me the problem is just the public awareness of the sport. As much as we kid about, what's hockey? You know, the reality is people aren't really missing the game. And I don't know if you're a sport that really needs to horn in on, you know, being the big four. You know, it used to be the big four, hockey, baseball, basketball, football. Now it's the big three very clearly, and hockey slipping away every day. And I don't know if they can really take months and months of proving that your sport isn't all that relevant.
ZIRIN: Although, in D.C., the Capitals are doing better than the Wizards.
TORRE: That's fair. That's fair.
HEADLEE: All right.
TORRE: That's not very hard, but that's fair. Sorry.
HEADLEE: Well, OK. Moving on there, a lot of people are going to spend Thanksgiving, not just watching sports, but playing sports, right, on their console?
IZRAEL: Absolutely. Absolutely. A-Train, now this is where, you know, you live because we're talking about video games, brother. You know, because...
IFTIKHAR: Don't hate the player.
IZRAEL: I'm saying, right? I mean Nintendo just dropped a bomb. They dropped the Wii U. It's their first new console in over five years. What's new, it's basically it's, it's a tablet.
HEADLEE: It's a bomb.
IZRAEL: It's a tablet.
TORRE: It's a literal bomb.
IZRAEL: You know, using the tablet as a controller. Now, you know, it's one of those things - now I want to run out and get it. But I want to wait till they get all the bugs out. I'm that guy. You know, I don't want to be the guy - 'cause I used to...
HEADLEE: You don't want to be a first.
IZRAEL: Yeah. I mean because I was one of the guys that like I bought a Dreamcast for me and my son and I like loaded up all the games.
ZIRIN: I had Dreamcast.
IZRAEL: And I was, like, now it's like Dreamcast where?
TORRE: That's true.
IZRAEL: You know, so I think with Wii U I want to wait. You know, what do you think?
IFTIKHAR: Well, I think that, I mean I think the Wii U is a gimmick. I think a lot of these companies are coming out with gimmicky things. What I think is most, you know, telling is the launch of, you know, new flagship games. So, you know, recently we had "Assassin's Creed 3," which recently came out, which I got on the first day. "Halo 4" is supposed to be the best of the Halo franchise. And I think now with the upcoming, you know, Thanksgiving, Black Friday into the holiday season sales, you're going to see a lot of volume move on a lot of these flagship games - like "Madden 13" and things like that.
IFTIKHAR: I think it's, the games are going to be the thing that are going to drive things more than the consoles themselves.
IZRAEL: Dave, are you going to spill some - spill out some loot for a Wii U?
ZIRIN: Nah. I play Dominoes.
HEADLEE: Oh, come on now.
ZIRIN: That's where it ends.
HEADLEE: You're the player hater and a game hater.
IZRAEL: You're excused.
HEADLEE: What about you, Pablo?
IFTIKHAR: He plays - he plays...
HEADLEE: You're going to buy a Wii U, right Pablo?
TORRE: I have a Wii already. And the thing that troubles me about the Wii U, is that it's moving away from the whole exercise idea of the Wii.
HEADLEE: Yeah. It's true.
IFTIKHAR: Good point. Good point.
TORRE: That was a reason why I got a Wii, so I could convince myself that I was improving...
HEADLEE: Yeah. You...
TORRE: ...my general life by playing it.
HEADLEE: You're kind of in denial they are, Pablo. But listen...
ZIRIN: (Singing) He's on his own.
HEADLEE: Let's set this aside for a moment - especially the singing - and remember that tomorrow's Thanksgiving. So, you know, in the size of a tweet, in a one sentence, I want you guys to tell me what you're thankful for this year. Pablo, let me go with you first.
I'm grateful for power.
There you go. Hurricane Sandy. OK
TORRE: I saw people selling photos of my flooded street.
ZIRIN: I am thankful for turkey on the table, Wild Turkey under the table.
IFTIKHAR: I'm thankful for Barbershop fans nationwide who have been listening to us for five years. Go get your trip to fan comas.
HEADLEE: And Jimi?
IZRAEL: I'm grateful for my wife and my family.
ZIRIN: Oh, then makes us look bad. Thank you.
IFTIKHAR: Come on, man. That's a given.
ZIRIN: Thank you.
IZRAEL: Well, I guess it is. I just gave it.
ZIRIN: There you go. Good man. There you go. Useful for everybody.
IZRAEL: So run and tell that, homeboy.
HEADLEE: Do you guys, the rest of you want to take another crack at your - in light of what Jimi just said? Anyone want to make points with the...
ZIRIN: I still like my turkey and Wild Turkey.
IFTIKHAR: God, family, football and Barack Obama.
HEADLEE: That was cool.
TORRE: Wow. All in the same level.
HEADLEE: Pablo, you know, there's still time to go get a Wii U and make use of that power on Thanksgiving.
TORRE: Yeah. You know what? I played "Halo 4 last night." I'm going to stick with the killing virtual people for a while, I think.
HEADLEE: OK. All right. Well, I am grateful for the Barbershop. I'm grateful for all you guys.
ZIRIN: Aw. Likewise.
HEADLEE: I do want to mention, though, let me just mention to go back to the Detroit Lions for just a moment because...
IFTIKHAR: Oh, Lord.
IZRAEL: Oh, my god.
HEADLEE: ...I want to get this in. But since you mentioned Wild Turkey, I want to point out that Jimmy Jr., the football loving turkey, chose the Lions to win.
ZIRIN: Wow. Can't argue with that.
And he's probably going to be on a plate somewhere tomorrow afternoon, so.
HEADLEE: Done deal.
HEADLEE: No. They're not going to kill Jimmy Jr. Come on.
TORRE: But they will stuff him inside a duck and wrap him inside.
HEADLEE: No. Come on.
Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. Dave Zirin is a sports editor for The Nation magazine. He's also host of Sirius XM Radio's "Edge of Sports Radio." Arsalan Iftikhar, civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com. They're all here with me in D.C. Pablo Torre is up at our NPR studios in New York. He senior writer for ESPN.com.
Thanks, you guys and Happy Holidays.
IFTIKHAR: Gobble, gobble.
TORRE: Happy Thanksgiving.
IZRAEL: Yup, yup.
HEADLEE: If you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for the new Barbershop podcast. It's in the iTunes store or at npr.org. That' is our program for today. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE for NPR News. We'll talk more tomorrow. Have a great Thanksgiving.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.