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NBA stars will be back in action as the league begins its 2022-23 season

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

It's opening night for the National Basketball Association, as the league begins the season with a juicy doubleheader. First up, the 76ers play the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics. And then LeBron James leads the Lakers to the Bay Area to play the defending NBA champions, Golden State Warriors. Lots of storylines to ask sports columnist Dave Zirin from The Nation.

Dave, all right, let's start with the defending NBA champs, the Warriors. Two of their stars, Draymond Green and Jordan Poole, got into a highly publicized and caught-on-video argument, which led Green to punching Poole and later being fined. I mean, how do the Warriors rebound and just say, hey, we're all friends - we got to play a game now?

DAVE ZIRIN: Well, great to be here. That's a great question, too, because this is all going to come down to the captain-captain of the team, Steph Curry. Steph Curry is a future NBA Hall of Famer. He's coming off winning the Finals MVP. But now he has a task even bigger than defeating the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals - he has to keep this team together somehow. And the decision by Golden State Warriors management to not suspend Draymond Green for, really, walking up to Jordan Poole and punching him in the face is raising a lot of eyebrows.

Now, how that affects the team chemistry is one of the things that people are going to be keeping a close eye upon because this Golden State dynasty has always had as its hallmark this idea that they have this perfect chemistry as a team. You see the chemistry on the court in the way they pass the ball. But how the chemistry will exist off the court is anybody's guess.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, and Jordan Poole just signed a $140 million extension, and he says that Draymond Green apologized, so we'll see where that goes. Now, the NBA is still dealing with the fallout from the Phoenix Suns and their owner Robert Sarver's racist and sexist behavior. It's trying to find a new owner for the team. And it's also contending with the indefinite suspension of the Celtics head coach, Ime Udoka, for violations of team policies involving an inappropriate relationship with a female member of the staff. That is a lot to start off with for an NBA that has an image problem, I guess, right now.

ZIRIN: Well, certainly because this offseason has just been about scandal after scandal after scandal. And I've been looking back historically; nothing really compares to this - I mean, a franchise owner forced out of the team; a coach who brought his team to the NBA finals forced out of his job for a scandal in that regard; a scandal that we just talked about on the Golden State Warriors, the fact that there wasn't a suspension when these two other cases, there were serious punishment. How they're going to manage all of that as a league from an image perspective - let's just say I think they're thrilled that we're going to start talking about what's happening on the court instead of off the court.

MARTINEZ: And one of those things that might happen by midseason, Lakers superstar LeBron James could be passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time points scorer in NBA history. That was a record, Dave, that a lot of people thought would be unbreakable. So how might LeBron's legacy evolve or change once he passes that milestone?

ZIRIN: Unbelievable. It was once thought to be an untouchable record - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the standards in all of sports numerology, if you will, him having over 38,000 career points. What it's going to do is cement LeBron James as having perhaps the best career in NBA history. I mean, to be able to break this unbreakable record will have people look at the entirety of his incredible career and proclaim him, I believe, to be the greatest player - sorry, Michael Jordan - to ever take the court.

MARTINEZ: Ooh. That's Dave Zirin who said that. Send your emails...

ZIRIN: (Laughter).

MARTINEZ: ...To Dave Zirin, national sports columnist for The Nation. Dave, thanks.

ZIRIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.