OK, at the end of my last episode I said we’d be returning to more interesting sports. I, um… lied. I’m going to talk a little bit more about boring sports, and about how with skilled writing they can sometimes even seem interesting.
Let’s start with the NBA. God what a tedious business. I call it five-on-five pro wrestling. The players have so completely eclipsed the game they play that much more is written about their behavior than about their performance on the court. Not that that takes much. Ten men jog down the court. One of them scores a basket. If he scores with enough style points, the crowd cheers. Then the ten men jog to the other end of the court. Repeat.
I could easily forget that the NBA exists at all except for the extremely entertaining writing of Bill Simmons over on ESPN.com. Unlike so-called sports journalists, Simmons makes no pretense of being unbiased. He is a fan, and his writing is about what it means to be a fan, how it can lead to great heights and even greater despair. He lives and dies by his team and it is his experience as a fan, rather than the game itself, that is compelling. His long discussions about the most painful ways to lose are awesome. So, while I have no desire to actually watch a pro basketball game, I do enjoy Simmons’ columns, and when he talks about the gut-punch feeling of a fan when their team blows its most important game in decades, I feel it too.
Then there’s tennis. Tennis can be exciting, though with the dominance of the serve these days those epic Borg/McEnroe contests are lost forever. In their place we get a match that goes for eleven hours because neither man could break the other’s serve. Not really edge-of-the-seat material, but then along comes Xan Brooks to put it all into surreal perspective. He was live-blogging, updating as the match progressed, watching the endless play as it took its toll on athlete and observer alike. At around 3:45 in the afternoon, when the fifth set was a mere thirty games old, Xan begins to wax poetic:
On and on they go. Soon they will sprout beards and their hair will grow down their backs, and their tennis whites will yellow and then rot off their bodies. And still they will stand out there on Court 18, belting aces and listening as the umpire calls the score. Finally, I suppose, one of them will die.
The zombies come out later, the angel never arrives to take the players up to heaven. And that, my friends, is how you make a boring sport interesting.