From The Cheap Seats
Sometimes, as a sports fan, I end up watching sports that I'm not all that excited by. Two weeks ago, I watched the French Open finals, two thrilling tennis matches, full of the pure emotional triumphs that only sports can give. In most of life, there is no clear-cut winning or losing. In sports, on the other hand, there is, in the words of the old ABC Wide World of Sports lead-in, "the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat." Will anyone who saw it ever forget Steffi Graf, well past her peak, overwhelmed in the first set, coming back for a three set victory, which left her happier than anyone had ever seen her, and Martina Hingis crushed. Hingis, the petulant superstar, got a French crowd cheering in near unanimity for a German -- the last time that happened they were at gunpoint. When defeat came, she had been emotionally destroyed, hitting a serve underhand at one point near the end, collapsing at the end into her mother's arms, her tears reducing her to the teenager she is.
This week, it's been hockey. I'm not much of a hockey fan, I usually catch up with it during the real season, AKA the playoffs. I would've preferred Colorado play Buffalo, giving us a rematch of the Olympic goaltending battle, Patrick Roy against Dominick Hasek. That was not to be, as the South Stars displayed the defense that got them the best record during the season and finally made it to the finals. Dallas is the big favorite and I find myself rooting for Buffalo, which I supposed is my knee-jerk reaction to Dallas vs. Buffalo, whatever the sport -- I'm still licking my wounds from the Super Bowls.
This series has been hockey at it's absolute best, what used to be known as "playoff hockey", before that came to refer to lopsided, uncompetitive series, alternated with upsets rendering the regular season meaningless.
This has been 1-goal hockey, where third period leads are defended tenaciously. Hasek has been brilliant, single-handedly lifting his inferior team into contention. The second period of game four was a great example. The Stars put on a furious demonstration of forechecking, keeping the puck in the Sabres' end for minutes on end, only to be thwarted time and time again. Then suddenly it turned and it was Buffalo on the offensive, as if it was a heavyweight fight in which the aggressor had "punched himself out." Now they head back to Dallas tied and I will look forward to every minute of it.
One sport I do follow regularly is basketball…how about those Knicks? I confess, I was a Knick season ticket holder back in the glory days of Reed, Frazier, Bradley and company. Every time I see and hear that Garden crowd, knowing the intensity that New York fans bring to every shot, every foul, every pass, I feel a pull. It's been over 20 years since I've lived there and nearly as long since I've rooted for them, but the pull is there. Then I see Latrell Sprewell. As fans of teams, we are trapped sometimes, real fans can't easily switch their allegiances, nor should they. Certainly those who have invested time and heaps of money going to the Garden for sellout after sellout certainly have to root for the Knicks, which in this case means rooting for that piece of garbage. If they are to win, he will have to play great ball, he will have to be a hero, a key to city for a sociopath who should be ostracized, not lionized. I can't root for that.
Which fits neatly with my prediction. If the Knicks have a healthy Larry Johnson, even a semi-healthy Larry Johnson, they might have a shot. They could beat the Spurs with quickness. Without him, they just don't have the bodies. Hell, Dudley and Thomas had two fouls on them when they boarded the plane. If LJ can play some, and with some effectiveness, next week, the Knicks may make a series of it.
If there is an LJ, make it the San Antonio in 6
No LJ, no wins.
I also follow horse racing, which was pretty sad the last two weeks, with Charismatic being injured and Silver Charm being retired. Speaking of images, the one of Chris Antley, on his knee, holding Charismatic's leg steady so he wouldn't injure it further, is another which won't leave me soon. He saved the horse's life, which is a prouder moment for Chris than winning the Derby and Preakness.
There's a fine line between being a good horse and a champion. It's not always speed, it's heart. Thoroughbreds are bred to run, champions have a will to win, a need to compete. There was an old horse racing movie, IN OLD KENTUCKY, where Walter Brennan's crafty old trainer (Walter was always a crafty old something) called it "the look of eagles." Silver Charm had that, but last weekend in Kentucky, the scene of his greatest triumph, he didn't have it anymore. Bob Baffert's face after the race said it all, he was just befuddled by what he had seen. The horse had trained well, but he wasn't the same horse. So Baffert and his owners retired Silver Charm, not willing to have him be less than the champion he was. Enjoy making babies, Charm.