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UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS

LeBron James on Play-offs, Donald Sterling; Kurt Busch Takes on 1,100 Miles in One Day; White House, NFL Team Up to Prevent Concussions

Aired May 30, 2014 - 22:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, on UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS, unparalleled. LeBron James reveals the man behind the player.

LEBRON JAMES, NBA STAR: When I'd win a play-off game when I was younger, I was excited. Out of my mind. You would lose and I was the worst person in the world.

ANNOUNCER: Unrelenting. NASCAR star Kurt Busch pushes the limits of what one man can do in a day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now Kurt Busch up in the ninth spot.

KURT BUSCH, NASCAR DRIVER: Do 1,100 miles in one day, there's going to be the mental challenge, the physical challenge.

ANNOUNCER: Unmatched. One of the NFL's best players makes the catch of the year.

J.J. WATT, DEFENSIVE END, HOUSTON TEXANS: This is my buddy Trey, and all those of you who don't believe that Trey is my friend we leave this touchdown.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL NICHOLS, HOST: Welcome to UNGUARDED. From one of the most competitive postseasons in recent memory to the daily soap opera of Donald Sterling and the Clippers, there is no sport getting more attention right now than the NBA, and there's no one more qualified to talk about it all than LeBron James. This days, the NBA's best player has also become one of its most influential leaders, and we sat down to discuss how, as he nears 30, he has grown up right in front of us.

Of course, this is the playoffs, so there is also the matter of LeBron's Miami Heat trying to close out the Indiana Pacers tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has not disappointed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get back the no call. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He missed it and that will end the game. So we look at game six.

NICHOLS: So, what have you learned over the years about closeout games, because it is always so hard to match the desperation of a team that is fighting for its playoff life?

JAMES: It is very difficult. This is always the hardest game, but you come in with the same mind-set as you did when you wanted to win the first one, wanted to win the second one, wanted to win the third one. You understand that the team is trying to save their lives and play with a lot of desperation. And you see that.

NICHOLS: When you think back to your early playoff days, early conference finals, the finals against the Spurs that you played, what's the difference between LeBron James and what you knew then versus now?

JAMES: I'm just a smarter, more seasoned basketball player. More veteran. I mean, I've been in it so many times that I kind of know what to expect.

For me at a younger age, I was never even keel. You know, I would win a playoff game, when I was younger, I was excited, out of my mind. And you would lose, and I was the worst person in the world.

NICHOLS: Do you ever look or see old tape of yourself at that age and think, "Oh, boy"?

JAMES: Absolutely, absolutely. He had a lot to learn, but the guy here today is still learning, as well, so I think the best teacher in life is experience.

NICHOLS: You're not a prodigy anymore. You spent the first five or six years of your career identified as the young one. Now you've got the Kevin Durants of the world coming up. What is it like to feel that difference, to feel that, "OK, I'm not the one trying to get people ahead of me, but there's guys nipping at my heels"?

JAMES: Well, I mean, it's definitely different for me, because I spent so many years in the adolescent stage, and you kind of just go with the process. And you understand that there's always going to be guys before you and after you.

Right now in the present I just take care of what I can. Control what I can and being a part of this franchise and a part of this team and being a leader of the team, you try to put us in a position to help us succeed. At the same time, I understand you see those guys, those younger guys coming for you, for sure.

NICHOLS: And you had Kevin Durant out to your place in Akron to train with you?

JAMES: Man, we just got done lifting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. JAMES: Putting in work in the weight room.

NICHOLS: You've given advice to Paul George. Is there ever a point in the back of your head somewhere, say, when you see K.D. win the MVP and you were clearly the other guy who could have won it, you say, "Maybe I shouldn't have helped my competition like that"?

JAMES: No, absolutely not. You know, absolutely not. I feel like, you know, me playing the game is a small token of what I have to give to this game. You know, me giving my knowledge to guys, younger guys coming up after me, you know, I have no problem with doing it, you know, because I'm not going to be able to play this game, you know, forever. Even if I'm competing against these guys, you know, for -- I'm not going to give them tips where I'm competing against them, you know, but at the same tie I don't mind lending a hand.

Me and K.D., man. Just trying to get better, man.

NICHOLS: Did Michael Jordan, did anybody do that for you?

JAMES: No.

NICHOLS: Does that surprise you, now that you are at that stage?

JAMES: No, I think it's who you are. I mean, you can't expect for someone to do something that they're not comfortable with or not accustomed to doing. I think for me it just came naturally.

NICHOLS: You've taken on more responsibility as you've gotten older in general. Most recently you spoke about the Donald Sterling issue.

DONALD STERLING, CO-OWNER, L.A. CLIPPERS: I'm not a racist, but those words came out of my mouth, I guess.

JAMES: We talked about a lot. I think the most important thing that we understand is that Adam Silver is moving forward. You know, he's not just for the owners, he's for the players, as well. And the direction that they're going in, we're all for it. So we look forward to the next step, and we'll go from there.

NICHOLS: And you're expanding your reach off the court, as well. You're set to be in not just one but a couple different movies during the off-season.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you get the check I sent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hope it was enough.

JAMES: It wasn't.

NICHOLS: What made you decide you were going to take a hand at this.

JAMES: It's just something that I have a lot of fun with. Obviously, I've watch a lot of movies over my life, and to be able to join the cast of so many great actors and actresses that they do on an everyday basis. So we'll see what I have to give.

NICHOLS: Are you going to be as good at that as you are playing basketball?

JAMES: No, I know what my day job is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES: Well, we know how "Space Jam" worked out for Michael Jordan, so we're going to have to see how LeBron does.

All right. Stick with us, because we have a fascinating mix of stories tonight. Up next, we're going to get a firsthand account of what it's like to compete in two different professional sporting events in one day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSCH: That's the part of doing 1,100 miles, and executing perfectly all day. It's tough to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NICHOLS: I'm Rachel Nichols, and welcome back to UNGUARDED.

All right, so let's say you're going to drive about 1,100 miles, basically taking the kids from New York City to Disney World. Now imagine doing it at around 200 miles an hour in front of a combined half a million screaming fans.

This past Sunday NASCAR driver Kurt Busch attempted the double: competing in the Indy 500 in the afternoon, then flying down to Charlotte to race in the Coca-Cola 600 in the evening. Here's his firsthand unguarded account of his crazy day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRAPHIC: On May 28, 2014, NASCAR driver Kurt Busch attempted to become only the second man to complete the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. 1,100 miles attempted... in his own words.

Double Outlaw Pt. 1: The Indianapolis 500

BUSCH: The whole atmosphere of Indianapolis and the 500, it's a grand stage, and the world is watching.

My experience level on the Indy car side is zero. I'll tell you it's motorsports, but it's two completely different disciplines.

Going into something that I've never done before, there's, of course, the Thursday in one city, Friday in another city. Saturday in another city. Sunday in both.

I do things for a reason. Over the last couple of years working with the Armed Forces Foundation, I've seen a lot that our military has gone through, and with this being Memorial Day weekend, to me it's an easy way to reflect and to show respect for our military.

And to do 1,100 miles in one day, there's going to be the mental challenge and the physical challenge. And when you see these men and women who have served, that's the inspiration to go out there and do this.

I walk through Gasoline Alley Sunday morning. It hit me at that moment, of this was the 98th running of the Indy 500; and so many races have been won, and the hardship of it, as well. The bad side effect is injuring yourself. Motorsports is a dangerous game. It's a risk.

Is your heart telling you to do it? Is your brain telling you not to do it? But I felt as if this was the most prepared I've ever been in my life for something that I didn't know what I was getting into.

It's 1,100 miles starts right now.

First half of the race was going to be a learning experience. And I started to get comfortable with the car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Check in on Kurt Busch in his bid in his first Indianapolis 500. He took the green flag in 12th position. Kurt running in 15th now.

BUSCH: You have to use a sixth sense that you wouldn't think of in racing, and it's sound. Well, you think that the motor drowns out sound. It does, but you can hear other people's motors. And when somebody is close to you, you need to listen for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kurt Busch in that last run moving up. He's handled it like he's a veteran.

BUSCH: The check mark was lap 150. Accidents are going to start to happen, because drivers are now putting their cars on edge. So I knew turn two would be a tough corner, and it was for me all day long. Others are likely to have trouble there, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Caution, crash. There was debris in turn two.

BUSCH: I saw the impact, and when these cars hit the wall, they literally look like they explode. And I had to go as hard left as I could at a rate to not spin the car.

If you get into the grass it's going to suck you in, spin you around and your day is going to be done. I was lucky enough to not touch the grass and to not have shrapnel hit the car.

To run my first ever Indy car race, you know, sixth place is an achievement that I'll have forever. I've got 600 more miles to go and do. This finish is nice; let's keep building on it.

It took 47 minutes to get from Indy to Charlotte. I felt like with the doctor and the nurse checking my vitals, plugging the I.V. in and giving me my next bottle of fluids, that I needed these people to help me with the next steps. That was my zone out of the 500 and zone in on the 600.

When I got to Charlotte, everybody was very proud that a NASCAR guy could go up there and compete with those open-wheel guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kurt Busch now behind the familiar wheel of his Hoss Animation Chevrolet.

BUSCH: We were in 15th. That's when I started to settle in on, all right, we survived the first chunk of the race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See Kurt Busch in the 41. He's fighting to stay on the lead lap right now.

BUSCH: There was a lot that I remember around lap 136, and we weren't quite having the perfect day. I said, you know what? This is what soldiers do. You've got to soldier on. It might be muddy. It might be dirty. It might be miserable. I'm not giving up.

That's the part of doing 1,100 miles and executing perfectly all day. It's tough to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been a long night in Charlotte for Kurt Busch. A left rear shock absorber problem.

BUSCH: That's part of motorsports. Having mechanical failures. It takes perfect execution to win in this day and age.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His concern now is something completely different. He says he's down at least two cylinders in that 41 machine. Right now he says it's not going to last much longer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kurt Busch's long day of racing Indianapolis and Charlotte is over. Kurt Busch has blown an engine.

BUSCH: It was quiet. The motor wasn't running. The 1,100 miles wasn't going to be achieved. And at the end of the day, I gave it my all. This was a five-month journey.

GRAPHIC: Busch completed 906 of 1,100 miles.

BUSCH: Can't let the mood here with the car dampen what happened up in Indy today.

If you had to ask me right now would I do it again, I'd love to do it again. No regrets at all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NICHOLS: Although Busch didn't win either race, he didn't walk away empty-handed. He was awarded the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year trophy. Not bad.

All right. When we come back we're going to discuss the crisis in sports that had President Barack Obama demanding change yesterday. And later in the show, a heartwarming story from NFL defensive stud J.J. Watt. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NICHOLS: Welcome back to UNGUARDED. I'm Rachel Nichols.

There was a time when athletes joked about getting their bell rung, and hardly anyone seemed to notice. That time is long gone. The NFL is battling multiple lawsuits from former players. Scared parents are pulling their kids from youth sports, and yesterday the issue reached the White House, as President Obama demanded change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need more athletes to understand how important it is to do what we can to prevent injuries and to admit them when they do happen. Right? We have to change a culture that says you suck it up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NICHOLS: Well, I want to welcome in our guest now. Chris Nowinski of the Sports Legacy Institute was with the president yesterday. Chris may actually win for most unusual career path. He played football at Harvard, then became a pro-WWE wrestler. Then, after suffering a concussion himself, became instrumental in the examination of the brains of several high-profile athletes.

I also want to welcome in Ted Johnson, three-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots but also suffered multiple concussions as a player and has become a leading voice for change.

Welcome, guys.

CHRIS NOWINSKI, SPORTS LEGACY INSTITUTE: Thank you.

TED JOHNSON, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Thank you. Good to be here.

NICHOLS: Chris, when you look back at where you started, just trying to convince people there might be a link between athletes committing suicide, having problems, and concussions, what does the president's involvement say about where we are in this debate right now?

NOWINSKI: Yes. It was really an amazing day for all of us who were researchers and advocates in the room yesterday, because when the president is speaking about this issue, there really isn't a higher place to go. So I was just so excited that it's reached that level and that level of consciousness in the United States now.

NICHOLS: But you guys heard the president. There's still tremendous pressure on athletes to play even when they have concussion symptoms and, Ted, what happened in your experience?

JOHNSON: Yes, I know. It was -- it was in the summer of 2002 I got in -- I got a concussion in a preseason game, and then four days later, I was pushed out there. I got another concussion. I got my bell rung, and I got dinged at least two or three times a week for the rest of my career when I got those two back-to-back.

So that's where the long-term problems happen. If you don't let the first one heal and you get a second one, that's when you can really have issues.

NICHOLS: And how much of a problem is it, though, in the NFL, where fans, what they love about the game are the hard hits and the toughness and there's this culture of bravado.

JOHNSON: Yes, I mean that's -- it's a very shame-based kind of injury, because it's the invisible injury, if you will. And so you have to take people's word for it.

NICHOLS: Absolutely. And, Chris, the NFL spends such a long time denying there was a problem here. To what degree do you feel like they've truly reversed themselves? How genuine is it, the efforts we're seeing from them now?

NOWINSKI: My biggest concern is the voice of the NFL is now trying to take in telling what to do with our kids. Because we have to remember, the NFL's 32 billionaires that are trying to protect their business, and they're trying to say football is safe for everybody, no matter if you're 5 years old or you're 25 years old.

You know, I'm glad they're putting up money, because they're putting up more money than other leagues are. But they also have a huge responsibility, and I think someone needs to speak up for the youth athletes. And I think the president really played that role yesterday.

NICHOLS: And, Ted, I saw you shaking your head a little bit there when asked about the NFL's genuineness here.

JOHNSON: I think we have come a long way. There was not mandatory baseline testing when I retired in 2005. There is now. There wasn't an independent neurologist on the field when I played. There is now.

In 2011 the players negotiated a new CBA. They got less hitting in practice. A lot of my concussions, Rachel, I got in practice. So they're not hitting nearly as much. They're not putting the pads on nearly as much, and for that reason, I think they're going to cut down on a lot of the -- a lot of the concussions.

NICHOLS: And it is always going to be tough on the players in all sports, because the burden is going to be on them. We don't just see it in the NFL.

In the NBA this past week, Paul George of the Pacers got a concussion during a game and then came back later and said, "I'm sorry I reported it," because then he had to go through the concussion protocol and almost missed a game. So obviously still a lot of work to be done,.

I want to thank you guys so much. I really appreciate your time. All right. We're going to take a quick break right now. But when we come back, one of the NFL's best players, J.J. Watt, lets us in on how he helped turned heartbreak into happiness. You're going to want to stick around for that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WATTS: Show him that we're friends, and let's give him a reason to believe. And I wanted to show off his arm. His arm is crazy good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NICHOLS: Welcome back. I'm Rachel Nichols.

And while a lot of football fans know Houston Texans star J.J. Watt for his sack totals or his stint as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, he showed recently that his biggest muscle may be his heart.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICHOLS (voice-over): It all started with a chance meeting. An NFL star who decided to stop in the right place at the right time.

WATT: After wins I usually go over by the fence out by the players' parking lot and just say hi to some of the fans, thank them for coming out. And at the end of the line was this boy, and everybody was like, "Go see him, go see him."

TREY BRANDT, FAN: I asked for his autograph. And he started to come over the fence, and he actually gave me a hug.

WATT: We took a picture and talked for a couple of minutes, you know.

NICHOLS: After all, hundreds of other times that's where it had ended for J.J. Watt. But there was just something about 11th grader Trey Brandt. He and Watt kept in touch. They developed a friendship. But Trey had a problem.

WATT: Trey told me, "Yes, J.J., nobody believes that you're my friend. I go to school, and I tell everybody that I'm best friends with J.J. and they always say, 'No, Trey, he's fake. That's not real. Like, he's not your friend'."

NICHOLS: Trey was getting teased, something that had rarely happened before at Katy High School. Watt decided to do something about it.

WATT: I was like, "Listen, nobody is believing you. Let's show them. Let's show them that we're friends, and let's give them a reason to believe."

NICHOLS: Watt invited Trey to make a video.

WATT: I'm J.J. Watt. This is my buddy Trey. And all those of you who don't believe that Trey is my friend believe this touchdown. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fires into the end zone. Touchdown. Go.

BRANDT: He made that video, because he didn't like how the kids here at school were treating me.

WATT: And it was just a little video to kind of show his kids at school that he was my friend, and it kind of took off.

I'm J.J. Watt. This is my buddy Trey.

NICHOLS: Watt posted the video on Instagram and Facebook, where more than half a million fans follow him.

WATT: The next day I got a call. I was talking to Trey. He goes, "J.J., I'm so popular. Everybody in the school sees the video. It went viral. Did you see it? Did you see it?"

And I'm like, "Yes, buddy, I saw it. It's pretty cool."

NICHOLS: Not only did the video prove Trey and Watt were friends. It also showed off Trey's passing arm.

WATT: A lot of people asked me, how many takes did you have to do to get the pass? It was the first take. I ran out. He hit me right on, in stride. So he's pretty impressive.

BRANDT: I threw that pass to show anybody in the NFL, I'd be a great quarterback for Texas.

WATT: What's up?

NICHOLS: So when Watt organized a softball game with fellow NFL play attorneys to raise money for his charity this spring, who better to throw out the first pitch than his friend, Trey?

WATT: After I saw his arm and I was like, I've got the perfect guy. And Trey -- so I asked Trey. He said, "Absolutely. I'd love to do it." So I'm pretty excited. I think he's going to bring some heat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

NICHOLS: Trey and J.J. A quick photo after a football game and enduring friendship.

WATT: I knew that we'd take a picture and that he'd share that picture. I never saw it leading to where it did, and I never -- I never saw a friendship coming out of it. You know, but you never know where friendships start.

BRANDT: It's really cool to be a part of his life, and he's a great guy. I love him a lot. He is one of the best players in the NFL.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NICHOLS: Love it when we can cheer for a guy off the field as loudly as we do on the field. All right. That is it for us this week, but you can follow me on Twitter, like us on Facebook or visit us on the Web at CNN.com/Unguarded. And of course we'll see you right back here next Friday night on UNGUARDED, where the end of the game is just the start of the story. Good night.