|The Write Space and Time|
Jan. 25, 2011 -- Just a couple of weeks ago I sat glued to ESPN, like most college women's basketball fans, waiting to see if history would happen. UConn was at Stanford and college basketball's longest trail of wins was in potential jeopardy. Early in the game as the broadcasters attempted to define the phenomenal Maya Moore's game: they proclaimed her "the best catch and shoot player in the world." And they reminded us often. "She's the best catch and shoot player in the world! " "In the world! In the world! In the world!" And the truth is: she very well may be. But I couldn't help but laugh, thinking about the verbal gyrations we in sports go through sometimes to talk about ball. Why must everything be quantified? Why must a player or a play or a move be smothered in hyperbolic gibberish? Why can't we just talk about what it is that makes it worth talking about instead of drowning the play or the player's art form in gush?
Obviously it's not as easy as it might seem to call it like it is, whether you're in the world of sports or not. I know it's starting to seem like I watch a lot of TV, but did you catch any of the Golden Globes? Natalie Portman won in the category of Best Actress for her role in Black Swan, and though I haven't seen it, I'm sure the honor was well deserved, however, in her emotional acceptance speech (the one in which she thanked her grandmother for creating her mom so that her mom could create her so that she could create another), she recognized her mother who is the "greatest parent in the world," and then a bit later her father, who is the "greatest parent in the world." I hate to be a legalist, but truly, it would not be possible, per definition, for each of them to be. Plus, I couldn't help but wonder, then, who was better: mom or dad? And, really, how would you know who was the greatest parent in the world anyway? You haven't been anyone else's kid.
Stages and microphones and audiences seem especially fertile for this rampant hyperbole. Folks on the dais are emotional; they've poured their heart and soul and brains into a feat and the extremes appear all that's left available from where they stand (or sit) so spent. Sports' press rooms might be the most pungent breeding ground of all. Here athletes are asked about their teammates and their opponents in such broad generic terms that they most always turn out being "great."
"He's a great player."
"She's a great shooter."
"He's a great passer."
"She's a great defender."
Where exactly are all the adequate guys? If everyone's great then, once again, per definition, isn't it impossible for anyone to be?
In sports, particularly, it seems, we're all wound up about comparing. People want to know: What's the greatest game ever? Who's the greatest player ever?
"Could anything really matter less?" is the response I continually cough and gurgle on. We came from 27 down to beat Cal in a tournament a couple of years ago and people wanted to know if that was the greatest comeback ever? Ever? Parameters please. I don't know anyone actually qualified to decide that, especially not me. Ball and games and plays and players are rarely found in piles at either end of the spectrum. Most of what goes on is littered along the middle somewhere. Much like the moments of our mostly ordinary lives. Maybe that's the very reason we have so much trouble simply calling it as it is.
I think I secretly long for John McPhee, who wrote about Bill Bradley's play as being "integral," to play-by-play my world of sports. If he did, the "well coached teams who are better than their records" would be nowhere to be found. He would have never been a player on a team who lost to a team "who wanted it worse than they did." He would not be caught dead "working real hard." McPhee would make you feel like you were watching it happen as you read about it or heard it told to you. And he wouldn't use "great" or "ever" to do it.
Everybody wants to know, today, in my gym, if our game on Wednesday versus Texas A&M is the most important game of our Big 12 schedule to date? You bet it is. It's our next one. So the follow up is: "It's a home game and later in the year you'll have to return to College Station. Does that make this a `must win'?"
What does that even mean? There is just so much I do not know.
But I know this: Maya Moore can really shoot it and Natalie Portman's parents obviously did a fine job raising her. And for the record, in case you were wondering, Blake Griffin is good.