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Category: Sports

There Can Only Be One
You’re starting to hear the question more and more these days: Who is the greatest basketball player of all time? Michael Jordan or Lebron James? You hear the question, but you seldom hear a definitive answer.

The “correct” answer for a long while has been MJ, with his high-flying acrobatics and multiple championships. But now Lebron has amassed such an impressive portfolio of performances and statistics that we can no longer fall back on that no-brainer response. As King James has caught up with the reputation Air Jordan, the evasions and weaseling by sports pundits has become more and more difficult to watch.

“You can’t really compare them” is the most common cop-out. The game has changed, these weaselers say, conditioning is different now, they come from two different eras, it’s apples and oranges, blah blah blah. It should be pointed out that the people making these excuses for not having an opinion are getting paid to have opinions. Don’t they realize that every time they hem and haw over this choice that their credibility takes a hit? This is sports we’re talking about, after all, not something of real importance.

This is not to say that passion for sport is without merit. Sports are a safe way to release our combative instincts in a peaceful world, and they should be honored for that. That is all the more reason not to go squishy when it comes to a question like this one. I am not interested in your caveats and your provisos and your it’s-too-haaard. I don’t listen to sports talk for reasoned debate and balanced detachment. I want strong positions, hotly defended.

Still waffling? I’ll make it easy for you. If you honestly don’t think you have a position, try this simple thought experiment: you’re down at the playground choosing up sides for a game of roundball, and the field of candidates includes every player who ever played, each at the peak of their powers. Who do you pick, Jordan or James? (And please, don’t give me Bill Russell or Oscar Robertson.)

You know very well what answer immediately leapt into your mind. But if you still need confirmation, let me ask you this: What if the game is just one-on-one, and you’re betting the house on the outcome…who wins?

Same answer, right? Lebron, of course.

Now stop wasting my time.
We Are the Champions
I’ll admit it. I can’t drain the three from half court the way Steph Curry does. I might be able to heave it in once in a hundred tries, but not with such grace and ease — and certainly not with such regularity. There is no way I could pick the hot grounder in the style of Brandon Crawford, either, much less plant and throw in one smooth, powerful motion. I am not a professional athlete.

But I am a fan, and I can appreciate these feats. My sinews twitch sympathetically when I witness that kind of physical mastery. It is as if my muscles are dreaming of such acts themselves, imagining greater versions of something similar they might have done.

What’s more, I have never brought tens of thousands to their feet, roaring their approval for my on-field heroics. I’ve had my moments, but never that kind of acclaim. Such ovations are reserved for a special few.

I am fine with that. When I root for Steph Curry, I can feel his basketball wizardry as if it were my own. Through Brandon Crawford, I can exhilarate in the cheers as if I were on the field with my teammates, hoisting the World Series trophy in celebration. This is the single greatest benefit of sports fanhood — being a vicarious champion.

And even though I find myself drifting away from the brutality of football, I can still stand at the very peak of that sport. This week I shared that mythic moment with journeyman back-up QB Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles. We rose to the moment with our against-all-odds, career-defining, MVP performance in the clutch. We basked together in the glow of victory. I have no bruises to show for my borrowed triumph, no gaudy ring, no winner’s purse. But I am fulfilled.

A paycheck? No thanks, I’m in it for the glory.
Little Big Man
The last time I was 5'6" tall I was an eighth grader. That's not exceptionally tall for a boy of that age, but it's above average. I remember hoping at the time that the trend would continue and I would grow up to be six feet plus as a man.

Well, here I am now, all grown up. And though I sometimes fantasize about being twelve or thirteen again, I never wish that I would shrink back down to my height at that age. It's better to be tall, I've always thought, no matter what.

But now - or at least this week - I have reconsidered my position. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to be five feet, six inches. Or even five-five, as long as I was Jose Altuve.
Rootless
These are difficult days in the universe of baseball. Or at least in my universe. The San Francisco Giants, world champs in three of the last seven seasons, can’t catch a break this year. They don’t stink, exactly, but they don’t smell of roses either.

As we emerge from the All-Star break, it is the universe of the Los Angeles Dodgers that gives off the fragrant aroma of good fortune and high hopes. With the irrepressible Astros of the American League, they share the best record in major league baseball. At the points where L.A.’s universe overlaps the Giants’, interestingly, we lead 6 wins to 4. That, however, is faint consolation to me and my last-in-the-West team. We can’t hit, we can’t pitch, and our world-class horse Madison Bumgarner hurt his pitching arm…dirt biking.

The Dodgers, by contrast, can do no wrong. Their horse, Clayton Kershaw, is his usual dominant self. Their starting third baseman has the highest batting average in either league. Last week they came from behind to win with a walk-off walk that was preceded by three other walks. The baseball gods aren’t just smiling on Da Bums, they’re grinning from ear to ear.

Now, I have friends who are Dodgers fans. Everybody knows a few. They’re always very nice about the Giants. Root for them outside the rivalry and all that. At the very least, I appreciate the gesture. This year, though, it is L.A. who is on the crest of the wave, and now my friends wish to seduce me into rooting for the Dodgers. “Your boys are out of it,” they say. “Why not root for us?”

As I say, these are difficult days in my baseball universe. I am not a Dodger hater, but I know that I cannot root for them to win it all. It would run counter to the fundaments of my rooting philosophy. I recall that my father stressed a geographical rationale in his rooting patterns. Once his team was eliminated from contention, he rooted for the team whose ballpark was physically closest to ours. That, in this case, would be the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sorry Dad, but no. I’m not sure where L.A. ranks in my hierarchy of second choices, but it is not near the top. Could the Bosox swear allegiance to the Evil Empire in a similar situation? Would Auburn ever root for the Crimson Tide? Of course not. And to my bluish friends: it’s not personal, it is an axiomatic rooting principle — right there in your copy of the Rooter’s Bible.

Things have changed since my father’s day. The Giants/Dodgers rivalry has evolved since moving west. It was a spirited match-up in New York, but now a whole new dimension has been added. In The Big Apple, neither team was ever going to dislodge the Yankees as the alpha dog. But now the Yanks are out of the picture, and the Giants and Dodgers contend for bragging rights to the biggest state in the union. It has turned into, if not a blood feud, then the kind of classic rivalry that divides the universe into opposites. Like matter and antimatter, those two realities cannot intermix.

So I must focus, as Buster Posey does, on the next pitch. I cannot be distracted by yesterday’s game or “maybe next year” or solicitations from the antimatter universe. I am caught between my default position (hang tough, we can still win this thing) and mathematical elimination. I’ve just got to keep playing.

If I were to look forward (though it would be a violation of the proper rooting posture), I can imagine that mathematics might well catch up with the Giants this year. For the sake of this writing, then, let me entertain the possibility that I might end up rooting for some other team to win it all. Who would that be? As a nod to my father, let me suggest one geographically appropriate answer: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

So you see, my Dodger friends, it’s not personal. I’m rooting strictly by the book. If the Giants fall, it’s go Angels. The Rooter’s Bible tells me so.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee