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Saturday Sports: Kobe Bryant, Super Bowl LIV


And it's time now for sports.


MONTAGNE: The NBA and the country rattled by the death of superstar Kobe Bryant, an offense-heavy Super Bowl? - I hope so - and a Super Bowl ad that's already raising eyebrows. We're joined by ESPN's Michele Steele. Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE STEELE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: All right, lots to talk about here. We should start, though, with the big and incredibly sad news from this past week. Last Sunday, Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna - Gigi, as she was known - and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash - huge shock for the NBA and the country.

STEELE: Oh, absolutely. You know, Renee, it's really been a week unlike any other that I've ever seen in sports. You know, I woke up this morning early for this show, saw a tweet from an NFL player who said that he's never cried so much for someone that he's never met. So you can only imagine the depth of grief in the spaces that Kobe inhabited in the basketball world.

So as such, the NBA announced this week that they are going to honor Kobe and his daughter Gianna at the All-Star game in Chicago in just a couple of weeks here. You know, all players on the team that's captained by LeBron James, they're going to be wearing the number two. That was Gianna Bryant's old number on her youth team. And all players on the team captained by Giannis Antetokounmpo - of course that's the Bucks' superstar player - they're going to be wearing Kobe's old number - number 24.

Every player in this game is also going to be wearing nine stars on their jerseys, representing everybody who was on that helicopter. And finally here, the NBA is also going to change the format of the All-Star game itself, Renee. At the end of the third quarter - I've never seen this before - they're going to turn off the game clock and aim for a target score, so to speak, that's 24 points higher than whatever the leading team has at that point. Of course, 24 is a tribute to Kobe's jersey number, as well. He's going to be weighing very heavy on everybody's minds in the next couple of weeks.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, normally, this week's big sports story would be the Super Bowl tomorrow - San Francisco and Kansas City, two high-powered offenses. So this - hey, should be an exciting game? (Laughter).

STEELE: Let's hope. Let's hope. That's the expectation at this point. You know, if you remember last year, the Super Bowl - one of the worst, at least in recent memory in my opinion. I remember it being tied at 3-3 entering the fourth quarter. We're expecting just the opposite of that from the Chiefs and the 49ers tomorrow. They're both led by coaches who are really considered offensive masterminds in their own right and have a bunch of young, gifted, very, very fast players on both offenses.

Now, the question, of course, is whether KC's quarterback Patrick Mahomes can be stopped or at least slowed down by guys like Richard Sherman and the rest of the Niners No. 1-rated pass defense. You know, that's a really interesting aspect of this game for me - is that the Niners defense has been so, so outstanding this year. They haven't needed their quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to be great, whereas you can't say the same for Kansas City. And as they say, Renee, defense wins championships. But this is a real toss-up. We'll see what happens.

MONTAGNE: OK. We have 30 seconds to talk about the commercial that is controversial.

STEELE: Yes. The league is going to be airing a PSA tomorrow, a two-minute-long PSA really highlighting sort of social justice causes and police brutality, as well. It's part of the NFL's $90 million Inspire Change Initiative that they're doing with the Players Association. And it's really raising some eyebrows not because of the message so much but the messenger. You know, the NFL has been criticized for mishandling the player who tried to bring attention to the exact same issues, Colin Kaepernick, who, of course, remains without a job while the team that he once led to a Super Bowl takes the field again tomorrow, Renee, in the big game.

MONTAGNE: That's ESPN's Michele Steele. Thanks.

STEELE: Anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.