People ask why I love sports. For anyone who takes the time to research every match up, understand the consequences of draws and brackets, for any fan who plans their day around the TV so they can watch their favorite team or athlete showcase their craft, you understand. For anyone who just stared at the last comment with a raised eyebrow, keep reading. Sports is my source of drama. Sports has real stories with real people.
Sports is poetry in motion. They motivate humans to train, and, through blood and sweat, reach the peak of their physicality. Sports gives you heroes and villains, each with seemingly superhuman powers. Some come from humble beginnings, some have risen through extraordinary circumstances, and some might just be gifted with an out of this world talent and have everything go their way. In sports, you see these stories come to real life.
Not all superheros wear capes. Nope. Mine carry racquets, can dribble and dunk, maybe even fly, if only for a few seconds. One even carries a clipboard…
If you’ve read the Iliad, or attempted to sit through Troy for the sole purpose of abs and flowing locks, you know who I’m talking about. Roger Federer is brilliance on display each time he swings his racquet. Even as critics claim he is in the twilight of his career, he never ceases to draw an “ooh” or an “ahh” from the crowd (and I’m not talking about his flowing locks). The current GOAT of tennis is genius at controlling the pace of the game, switching from forehand to chips to drop shots. Seemingly unbeatable in his prime, he racked up 3 years of winning 3 of the 4 tennis grand slams. This display of pure dominance on the tennis tour has yet to be matched, though some have come close. From 2004-2007, he collected a 315-24 (93% win rate) win loss record, 11 grand slam titles, and, in 2006, made 16 finals out of the 17 tournaments me played, losing only to Nadal in each tournament where he made runner up that year.
And here is where he is Achilles. The greatest of all time with a very specific weakness. His heel is a left handed Spaniard on clay. Solidly the number 2 player on clay for those years, Federer couldn’t pull off the Roger Slam just as Achilles couldn’t win the Trojan War. But I sat, each May through June, hoping it’d be the year that he did. Each May was the hope, the anticipation of that final of Nadal v Federer, and each year, Achilles was shot in his heel. Each June, the high bounce to that smooth single handed backhand would get the better of him but still I watched, for Achilles, his crisp, clean ball striking, and those flowing locks on that bandana.
A loner, the dark knight. A man who seeks to understand his enemies, his situation, the game. A man who uses all resources at his disposal to learn and to better himself. A man who can’t stand the passiveness of others, and at times, didn’t understand why, given their gift, they wouldn’t seek to become the master of the game. A man who refuses to yield to the limitations of his human body.
Kobe Bryant was everything Bruce Wayne’s character embodied, down to being dark and brooding. And yes, I’m definitely in the Dark Knight camp over that dude from Metropolis. He learned, he worked, he hustled and gave everything he had to the 94 feet of hardwood each night. No physical injury short of a ruptured Achilles would keep him off the court. Even then, he still made two crisp, clean free throws with a stoic demeanor. If you had only tuned in for the free throws, you couldn’t tell the man was in pain. Physical limitations appeared to only be a small hurdle and he made me believe that, with the right mentality, the physicality required to reach a goal should never be the reason why you’d quit.
Just as Batman had his own team, his hand picked Robins, Kobe did his work, but only did it well with players he trusted. Even then, you see him take over when he felt the game was in his hands. And as he limped up to the free throw line for his two shots, you could feel the intensity, his mind alright working on how he’d return the next season, like a Dark Knight rising.
He made me believe man could fly. The hang time, the acrobatics, he made you believe every shot he took would go in before Steph Curry was born. Michael Jordan had no kryptonite, except maybe Father Time. But despite that, his legacy would never cease to fade.
“God in disguise” as Larry Bird once called him. If God dunked from the free throw line each Sunday, I’d go to church. With Jordan, Bulls fans knew he’d catch them before they’d even fall. The first three made them believe they were untouchable.
And just like Clark Kent, the man was lost after the passing of his father and dropped his red cape. Baseball was his North Pole and he searched within himself only to land back with his people. He returned to his city, to protect them from the Mailman, just as he had fought back against the Bad Boys and beat down the Knicks. And three times more, Chicago won. His statue, shining under the sun, is fittingly of him in mid flight.
She’s strong, fast, intense, and will destroy you, utterly destroy you on the tennis court. Her serve speeds match those of the men’s game: 120mph. Her backhands power across the net and past you if you run too close. Her forehands? If you blinked as she screamed, you’re too late – the ball is already past you and she’s won the point. Serena.
Serena is seemingly ageless too, winning grand slam number 23 at age 35. To put this in perspective, Michael Jordan retired (the 2nd time) at that age. Kobe Bryant dragged the ailing Lakers to the playoffs for the last time at 34. And Roger Federer? Sitting on grand slam number 18. No one in the women’s game can claim they have Serena’s number, on any court. She’s an all round force of nature. Oh yea, she won number 23 while pregnant. Just, wow.
All powerful. Controversial. I respect his talent and his game, but I find it hard to sympathize with him. LeBron James came from almost nothing, and for that I think it’s incredible that he’s been able to harness his skills on the hardwood and transform that into a basketball/marketing machine. From forming a Big Three with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to creating his own in Cleveland with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
He seems to work the invisible hand in his hometown. Coaches would come and go, but James was the constant. Players were traded and others signed for more money than the reigning MVP’s salary. His team decimates opponents in the East, and, for perhaps the 7th straight year, he’s in contention for the NBA Championship. But somehow, he’s still a bit salty and not satisfied. As we embark a potential round 3 of Golden State and Cleveland, you realize it’s kind of funny how GSW’s yellow is like that of the X-Men?
Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Johnny Dawkins, Jay Williams, JJ Redick, Jabari Parker, Kyrie Irving, Bobby Hurley, Shane Battier… I could name more, and I will: Chris Collins, Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer.
Talented these students are. A wise teacher to lead them, they have. Duke has a chapel and its name is Cameron. Coach K is worshipped, literally, as he enters the court. He’s mentored talent for the last 30+ years and doesn’t seem to be slowing down (plus I haven’t found a single gray hair on his head in any of the close ups during games). It’s hard to believe that he’s 70, especially when you see him hop up and down in protest to a call made by one of the refs.
His belief in his team speaks for the quality of his leadership. He told 19-, 20-year olds, who had their head down, that they would be champions. In 2010, the unexpected lot of non-lottery draft picks won the title. In 2015, unassuming freshmen led the team to their 5th overall championship. What’s next for the Blue Devils? Rebuild, but Coach K has been there before and he’s going to be there in the foreseeable future, so what’s there to worry?