The Soul of Sports

For as much as I love video games, DnD, poetry, and other “nerd” stuff I also have a deep connection to sports. My family is a sports family steeped in the rivalry of the University of Oklahoma (where I graduated from) and Oklahoma State University. We all had to have our favorite sports teams whether we liked it or not and for a long time I was a begrudging indulger of physical competition. I still cannot really enjoy a game without knowing the end result because I like the nuance and the little moments of sports that you get with knowing what the end will be and being able to let go.

I became obsessed with basketball about three years ago and since then have watched every finals since 1980 at least once and the ones before that I have watched most of too though they are harder to find. I became obsessed with stats, records, comparing stars, and then I met the human side of sports when I came to Bill Walton and Michael Jordan. For me humanity is hard to grasp outside of poetry but both of those basketball players, one the GOAT and the other an injury-prone but legendary player, show to me the true meaning of sports in completely different ways.

Michael Jordan: the serial killer of basketball that devoured all the stars of a generation, even the fleeting ones, just because he could. Watching Game 6 of the ‘98 Finals, or the Flu Game, or the Shrug Game one is faced with a perfectly human example in a superhuman mask. Those games, and many others, have Jordan playing Hamlet, both devious and insane, doomed to understand life but to not really face reality around him. Jordan destroyed others, we looked up to him; Jordan held grudges, we forgave him; Jordan talked enough trash to fill a dump, and we loved him because in his core he was just as imperfect in his perfection as we were.

MJ’s HOF speech just proved the imperfection. It was excruciatingly awkward as Jordan turned back to twenty year old feuds only he remembered and he got knocked for it by the press, rightly so, but also it showed the chink in the persona with the skin underneath, strange but there.

Then there is Bill Walton, the big redhead, humble, kind, and tortured. He is the us that tries and tries but never makes it fully there, in most people’s eyes, because the world just would not let him. His body rebelled against him so much he is still feeling the pain and the face of the past hurts him. I remember when I first read and watched Bill Walton because I was intoxicated: here was grief, beauty, betrayel, and brilliance all rolled into one. It may be unfair to make a story out of a persons life but in the end all lives are stories to be told and heard.

Reading Bill Simmons’ “Big Book of Basketball” one gets to see a personal interaction between the sports writer and the basketball player that is haunting as it breaks down the essence of Walton’s play; the book talks about Walton the great player but also Walton the injured aging man. The Walton I find I love the most, again whether this is fair to him or not I don’t know, is the injured aging man because he shows how in the end, despite all our greatness and achievements, we become King Lear raging against the storm trying to find meaning in all of this. Life and death work that way, by its nature life is unfair, but the story can be moving even after we are gone.

Maybe some think I read too much into a game, I probably am, but in the face of existence and the wide swirling of that storm where we find meaning and shelter is individual and important. It is a limited sense we live as, we are only ourselves, and so when we can briefly touch another being, through sports or literature or art or anything else, it is a moment of transcendence that bridges all into one. I hope we can all find that in the things we love but for me it comes sometimes in the form of grown men and women throwing a ball through a hoop. Wherever you can find don’t give it up: we can all rage against the storm.