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
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
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
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
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
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