Michael Jordan is facing the camera. It’s May 7, 1989, and Jordan has just made the winning shot in Game 5 of the first round of the NBA playoffs. He is rising, effortless, his legs swinging open like scissors. Craig Ehlo, behind and to the left of Jordan, is sinking, crumpling into profile, making himself thin. Jordan swings his arm in sync with Ehlo; they are nearly perfect mirror images of each other. They hit the ground, magically, at almost exactly the same time, drifting in the same temporal current.
Time in a sporting event is, like accordion bellows, structural and flexible. On some throws the ball seems to stay suspended in the air for a long time, slowing time along with it, and accelerates as it reaches the players, like the moment the last of a liquid gurgles down a drain. On the TV of a bar in the Vienna airport I once saw a goalkeeper let a ball, leisurely struck, slip through his hands and go dribbling into the net; the scoring player swung wildly around, mouth tensed into a perfect circle, eyes blaring at nobody, kicking at the place he had just been standing as if he were abusing himself in the immediate past. A giftedly swift athlete makes others slow more than they themselves seem fast. Often, near the end of close games, time itself becomes a commodity, and infinitely valuable—where before the clock ticked on, ambient, it is now neurotically watched, brooded over, and stopped at strategic points. The moment of this transfiguration is variable, unique to each individual game, and sudden. All at once, it is late, and seconds are to be collected and held like a squirrel hoards nuts. Read More