This fall — man, this is very tough — this fall, I’m gonna take my talents to Cambridge and join the Harvard Crimson.
With those few words, I know that I have irrevocably changed the lives of you, my 14 readers. The world of sports columns will never be the same again.
“King”-sized egotism aside, this summer, we have seen a change in the world of professional sports, and it goes much deeper than any one man’s Decision — this summer we witnessed (too easy) a paradigm shift in the sporting world, with implications that we are only beginning to comprehend.
This might seem an outlandish claim as we now find ourselves with nothing but Major League Baseball on TV to keep us company during the dog-days of August, so let’s look back over these past several months and see where we stand. At the very least, maybe we can provide some clarity as to what I should do with my LeBron James poster.
It began in late April with the beginning of the NBA and NHL Playoffs, but of course, we were all studying then. Those who so foolishly and irresponsibly overlooked their studies might have caught the first-round series in the NBA’s Western Conference between 21-year-olds Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the defending NBA Champions, Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers. Sure, the kids lost in a close game 7, but they demonstrated poise, maturity and humility that earned them new fans and considerable respect.
Undoubtedly, it was nice to see Los Suns of Phoenix push through to the Western Conference Finals during the first days of Arizona’s fascist state, but the rest of the NBA post-season was rather uneventful. Oh, except for that one thing when that one guy gave up and let down that one city’s generation of dreams.
Meanwhile, we had some serious action over in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with 14 overtimes and four series going the seven-game distance. I will never forget the adrenaline rush during the Philadelphia Flyers’ overtime victory over the Boston Bruins in game four of the second-round series in the East that sparked their push to the Stanley Cup Finals. It was a surge of emotion and passion that I knew transcended my fan partisanship — this was true sport.
So we had a competitive NBA Finals, a nail-biting Stanley Cup that, at least for me, seemed to indicate a boost in the sport’s popularity. We had continued dominance at the Tennis majors by Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, an uneventful bike race and a small soccer tournament.
What? To think that it took this long to even mention the World Cup! Reflecting back over those weeks, however, it is hard to capture the emotion, the enthusiasm that the event inspires. It sneaks up on us, hiding behind qualifying games and work-up matches. But then it hits us, in full force. Three matches a day.
With the United States fielding a team of real contenders, this year had an even more special feel. I have never sung the National Anthem, “America the Beautiful,”“My Country’Tis of Thee, “or recited the Pledge of Allegiance (all repeatedly and boisterously) with so much national pride as I did down on Stone Street in New York’s Financial District on the afternoon of the USA-England match.
And then there was Landon Donovan’s stoppage time goal against Algeria. It is impossible to write anything about that, to describe the moment in some way. Attempting to fit it somehow into a discussion of the state of professional sports seems almost irreverent. Only the buzz of the vuvuzela can really do it any justice — the World Cup is timeless, feeding from some archaic and transcendent human energy. The World Cup is sport at its pinnacle.
Quite the contrast from this year’s Tour de France. Ever since the doping-gate scandal broke out in professional cycling, especially surrounding the (former?) hero Lance Armstrong, it has made any serious fan skeptical. For years, I watched nearly every stage of the tour and became fascinated with the technicalities of cycling races. This year, I couldn’t be bothered, and when I heard that Lance Armstrong crashed and was dropping out of the race, it seemed only fitting.
And then we found ourselves in mid-July with the MLB-only diet as the sports world took its annual vacation.
In the vacuum that ensued, we got a few more LeBron-Wade-Bosh “Will it work?” articles hashed over for the 15th time. It almost felt like a relief when season two of “Favre-Watch” started.
After the mockery that he made of himself last off-season, I was genuinely repulsed to hear that days after announcing his retirement, Favre said he would be back. I was surprised to notice that my disappointment was not shared. Even the often outspoken duo of Wilbon and Kornheiser hashed it out on PTI, submitting to their role in what has become the annual off-season news-filler.
Only in a post-Decision world is the kind of John Kerry flip-flopping Brett Favre pulled on us in mid-August excusable.
So where does LeBron James fit into all of this?
Somehow, the hour-long ESPN special devoted to LeBron James’s choice of teams stands out as the biggest sports spectacle of this past summer, despite this laundry list of real sports stories. It indicates something nasty about what our society values, something that I hesitate to dwell on knowing I was one of the millions who devoured LeBron James news all summer like a post-Toad’s wenzel.
The Decision was not a sports story, but the story of one man’s ego. Sports stories are about little 12-year-old Robbie Wilson’s Auburn, Wash., teammates allowing him to fulfill his dream and pitch the last two outs in this summer’s Little League World Series, despite it being his first time on the mound. Sports stories uplift us, inspire us, awe us. They unite us in a dimension of humanity in a way that only something as innocent as a game can do.
I may or may not burn my LeBron poster like theother disenchanted fans. I’ll let you know when I make my Decision.