April 26, 2016 | by Steve Almond
There is a fine late-night row to be had over which of George Plimpton’s sports books ranks as his most daring. Plenty would nominate Shadow Box, in which our slender hero gets his nose flattened by light heavyweight champion Archie Moore. Others would agitate for Open Net—a perilous venture into the world of pro hockey—and still more, Paper Lion, which culminates with Plimpton nearly becoming the first quarterback ever decapitated during a scrimmage.
Fine and rousing as these accounts may be, I am here to tell you that the distinction belongs to Mad Ducks and Bears. I assert this knowing full well that this is the author’s most obscure athletic odyssey, little known even to devout Plimptonians. Read More »
April 18, 2016 | by James McWilliams
The loneliness of the long-distance runner.
In the early 1970s, John Tarrant, a British ultramarathoner who set world records in the forty- and hundred-mile distances, suffered a hemorrhaging stomach ulcer that occasionally sent him to the hospital for tests and blood transfusions. Tarrant despised the interruptions to his training schedule, and during at least one stay, he ducked into the bathroom, changed into running gear beneath his hospital gown, and snuck outside for a quick five-miler. As Bill Jones recounts in his book The Ghost Runner, Tarrant sacrificed everything for his sport—his work, his family, and, evidently, his better judgment. Read More »
April 5, 2016 | by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Reflections on the end of the regular season.
The last two weeks of the NBA regular season, things get turned on their heads. It’s like someone switches off the gravity, or even the gravitas, and concerns that were once at the bottom float up to the top. At this point, the best teams are what they are. They know they’ll start the playoffs at home against an overwhelmed opponent. They know that the potential for injury or complacency—the secondhand smoke of an excessively long season—is their most dangerous rival. They play these last games competing more against the limits of themselves than anything else.
The Warriors and the Spurs, still by far the two best teams in the league, are chasing records: the Warriors, 69–8 as I write this, have a better-than-even chance of topping the 1995–1996 Chicago Bulls’s record of 72–10; the Spurs are three home victories from having gone the entire season undefeated in their own arena, a feat no NBA team has ever accomplished. Read More »
March 15, 2016 | by Chris Bachelder
Why do we still watch sports?
When my ten-year-old daughter overheard me telling a friend that The Throwback Special is about a group of men that convenes each November to reenact the play in which Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann suffered his gruesome leg injury, she had a question.
“Dad,” she said, looking serious and perplexed. “I have a question.”
“What is it?” I said.
“Isn’t that mean?” Read More »
March 1, 2016 | by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious,” Einstein wrote in The World As I See It. “It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
Thus far, the NBA has been far from that cradle this season. There’s not a lot of mystery when you have two superior teams—when the best players in the game are playing like the best players in the game. The results have, for the most part, certified reasonable assumptions as truths. Read More »
February 18, 2016 | by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
This past weekend, Toronto became the center of the NBA universe as the NBA All-Star Weekend, with its various constellate events—the celebrity game, the skills competition, the three-point contest, slam-dunk contest, and other haute nouveauté—once again went down with its familiar mix of gauche, sizzle, and panache. I was asked more times than I can remember if I’d be in Toronto for the festivities but I maintained my proud record of never having attended an All-Star game. That won’t change anytime soon.
I get All-Star Weekend, really I do. I understand where it’s coming from and how it can be considered exciting. The best basketball talent in the world all gathered in one place for one weekend and something with something that seems somewhat like a game of basketball eventually happening in the end. I get it. Give me Westbrook, Curry, Thompson, Leonard and Green on the court at the same time. Give me Wall, Wade, George, Anthony, and James on the court at the same time. I get it. I want to anoint my soul with it. But it’s simply not my thing. I watch out of habit far more than out of awe. And at some point I realized that to be the objective of it anyway: to be accounted for more than having a profound feeling. It is what it is. And I can live with that. Read More »