July 14, 2016 | by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Once upon a time, not too long ago, we knew what the routine was when it came to the end of an NBA season: the playoffs would come, a champion would be crowned, and—in the scoreboard–über alles style embraced more by basketball than any other sport—the losers would be banished to oblivion. The typical NBA fan can tell you how many championships Kobe Bryant won and yet pauses when asked to name the opponents he faced. No league is dragged along by its front-runner like the NBA is. If the league is, at its best, majestic, it’s also, at its worst, pharaonic.
The end of the season was once an estival balm. Summer would arrive to wash the past season clean. The break was essential. The players need a breather, but so do we, if only to dream a little. In the nineties, I, like most New Yorkers, used to think year after year that the Knicks had a chance against the Bulls. We know now which teams were the dynasties, but in the heat of competition, the outcomes never felt inevitable. Plenty of teams were quite good, and as they licked their wounds in the summer haze, they could reasonably think to themselves: Next year, why not us? Read More »
June 14, 2016 | by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
The finals get interesting.
And just like that, Monday evening blossomed into something both the rabid and the casual basketball fan will remember. The Cavaliers, down three games to one and facing elimination on the road—in the fortress that is the Oracle Arena, no less—rode their two superstars, who were both pulsing their brightest, to a dramatic 112–97 victory, dragging the resuscitated corpse of this NBA Finals back to the waiting arms of their fans in Cleveland.
Now a win at home—something they already managed in emphatic fashion in the third game of the series—would force a do-or-die game 7; the Cavs would have all of the momentum and every right to believe that the two best players in the building are dressed in Cavs colors. Just like that, this series has gone from the Coasters’ “Yakety Yak” to Donald Byrd’s “Emperor.” Read More »
June 7, 2016 | by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
I made a decision once the playoffs began to take a little break from this column. I know what you’re thinking: Who writes on basketball for an entire regular season and then takes a break when the playoffs start? Well … I do. It wasn’t a dramatic decision. I just wanted to step back, observe, and avoid—as strange as it may sound—the pitfalls of the playoffs. By “pitfalls” I mean the playoffs’ compulsion to repeat themselves and the accompanying impulse of the writer to search for particular significance in these repetitions. In other words, you’ve seen the Raptors–Cavs Eastern Conference Final before, countless times. The favorite wins the first two home games with relative ease; the underdog returns home to a raucous crowd and wins the next two games to even the series, stirring thoughts that the contest is evenly matched; and then, almost as if on cue, the underdog capitulates and vanishes. Read More »
June 2, 2016 | by George Plimpton
We Parisians kicked off our softball season last week with a game against DC Comics. It wasn’t what you would call a W—down twelve runs in the final inning, we came back to put a far less embarrassing defeat down in the books (final tally: 13 to 8)—but what we lacked in skill and precision we made up for in chutzpah: after our seven runs that final inning, our dugout roared such that our opponents seemed perhaps a bit deflated, making our loss all the sweeter.
We’ll go on to play such hard-hitting publications as The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, High Times (they’re up next), and a handful of others. But first, to celebrate the opening of the season, we’re sharing an essay by erstwhile editor and softball captain George Plimpton on playing right field, a position I’m all too familiar with. —Caitlin Youngquist
May 12, 2016 | by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Football, like painting, according to Leonardo da Vinci, is a cosa mentale; it is in the imagination that it is measured and appreciated. The nature of the wonder that football provokes derives from the fantasies of triumph and omnipotence that it generates in our minds. With my eyes closed, whatever my age and my physical condition, I am the star striker who scores the winning goal or the goalkeeper who throws himself in slow motion into the ether to make a crucial save. As a child, I scored stunning goals (in my mind’s eye, admittedly). The arms that I then raised to the sky in my parents’ deserted sitting room were as much a part of the ritual and the celebration as the goal that I had just scored. It was the celebrations, the congratulations, the kneeling on the pitch, the teammates throwing themselves on me and surrounding me, hugging me, showering me with praise, that I savored most, not the move itself, it was my narcissistic triumph that brought me delight, not at all the possibility that it might one day happen in reality, that I might one day be able to control the ball marvelously well with my foot so that, with composure, with mastery, with skill, in a real stadium, facing real opponents, on a real pitch, I might propel it with a very pure twenty-five-meter strike into the top corner of the opposing team’s goal, in spite of the hopelessly floundering goalkeeper’s desperate attempt to parry. Read More »
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 »