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Saturday Sports: Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, NBA Cup final, Army v Navy

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Shohei, Shohei, where wilt thou sign? And the NBA crowns a new kind of champion tonight. ESPN's Michele Steele joins us. Michele, thanks for being with us.

MICHELE STEELE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: We're on the verge of the biggest free agent signing in baseball history. Shohei Ohtani, the reigning AL MVP, reportedly close to deciding which team's billions he'll accept. What do you hear?

STEELE: Yeah. Ohtani. Scott, it reached a fever pitch this week. I would say that it's still at a fever pitch. We're just coming off baseball's Winter Meetings. And at one point Friday, 4,000 people were tracking a private jet flying from Anaheim, where he played, of course, for the last six seasons, to Toronto. In fact, a respected insider said he was on that flight. Blue Jays fans were going nuts. As it turns out, it was just a guy from "Shark Tank." Ohtani never left Southern California. There was all this speculation he was going to announce yesterday. People were excited. They were ready for it. Of course, the entire baseball world has been waiting with bated breath. The Dodgers, the Blue Jays, the Giants, Angels and Scott, the Cubs...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...Have all been said to be involved in the bidding. But Ohtani's camp has been very secretive about which teams they're visiting and interested in.

SIMON: Is there some kind of sign - I'm told there is - in the name of Shohei Ohtani's dog, which I hope is named Ernie Banks?

STEELE: (Laughter) Yeah, I'm working to confirm that, Scott. This is the thing. When these negotiations, these talks, these visits are so cloak and dagger, people have been glomming on to any sign that their team might be in the mix here. And my colleague Pablo Torre at ESPN had floated a rumor that he heard the dog's name, Ohtani's dog's name, is directly related to one of the teams he's considering. And that's why Ohtani's people are not telling reporters what the dog's name is. You know, he had that dog with him when he accepted the AL MVP award. Can you believe it? I can tell you the dog is not named Oakland Coliseum.

SIMON: Ha.

STEELE: That much we know.

SIMON: All right. NBA's first in-season tournament wraps up tonight, a final between the LA Lakers and Indiana Pacers. Has this mid-season tournament accomplished much of anything?

STEELE: Yeah, you know what? I think Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, should send a thank you card and perhaps a nice little gift basket to LeBron James because LeBron James, the biggest star in the league, has treated this thing seriously.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: He is playing like he's in his 20s, not almost 39 years old. He is bought in. Lakers are bought in. So the NBA is bought in. And you know what? It's brought some excitement to a new event that fans might be slow to embrace otherwise. So LeBron is treating this respectfully. And so other players are picking up what - the tone that he's setting.

SIMON: Army-Navy game today in Foxborough, Mass. Army is a three-point favorite. But, Michele, is it fair that they get to use tanks? I mean what do we expect?

STEELE: (Laughter). Yes, it is fair. Navy will be using F-18s and submarines. So leveling the playing field a little bit. No, but seriously, we can expect one of the most electric atmospheres in college sports. Rows of Navy Midshipmen, rows of West Point cadets - they're going to be filling the stands this afternoon for one of what I think is one of the best traditions in college football. It's the 124th Army-Navy game. This year, it's in Foxborough, Scott. I think given how the Patriots season has gone, it might be one of the better games played in Foxborough this year.

SIMON: (Laughter).

STEELE: Navy leads the series 62 to 54. My dad's from Maryland. So on that note, go Navy. Beat Army.

SIMON: Oh, all right. Michele Steele of ESPN, thanks so much for being with us. And we will talk to you soon.

What if Shohei Ohtani's dog is named Waveland Avenue? One can hope.

STEELE: Ooh.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: Now, that's intrigue. 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.

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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.
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