A day that should be celebrated
Game 7. Lakers-Celtics. Drama. Tradition. Suspense.
Hang on a sec.
I’m finding today quite fascinating as we look back through the sands of time, 16 years to be exact, to what I propose is the single biggest, strangest, most compelling day in sports ever.
It was a confluence of practically the beginning of our cult of celebrity and its crossover into the world of sports, a celebration of past greatness, the globalization of sports, the drama of competition and the joy of victory.
And no day, before or since, can really match it.
It was June 17, 1994 that the following events all occurred:
O.J. Simpson went on his surreal white Bronco slow speed chase along the freeways of Los Angeles.
Arnold Palmer, as big a sports icon as there may be, struck his last competitive shot at the U.S. Open.
The World Cup, which many believe to be the globe’s greatest single sports spectacle, began on North American soil in Chicago, a huge inroad for a game wildly ignored on this continent at the time.
The New York Knicks and Houston Rockets played Game 5 of the NBA Finals, a Knicks victory that set up a Rockets rally and the first of their two titles.
The New York Rangers celebrated a Stanley Cup victory in front of championship-starved fans in Manhattan.
Some day, eh?
And I would venture to guess the one thing that sticks in your mind is the Simpson chase and I don’t know exactly why but that’s what makes it so interesting to me.
Yes, it was the start of a sorry saga that captured our attention almost forever and it was one of the first true amalgamations of sports, criminal behaviour and obsession with minutiae that included race and class among its many facets.
I remember the day and night vividly, working on the desk that night at The People’s Wire Service the room was awestruck at the Simpson story.
But it also took the sheen off a day that should have been a celebration of all that is good in sports. We should have been wistful about Palmer, joyful at the World Cup unfolding, compelled by the Knicks and appreciative of the greatness of Hakeem Olajuawon and celebrating the fulfillment of a championship chase.
But we weren’t.
And we still aren’t.
Sports, at its very essence, should be an escape from life, it should be viewed as the best of the best trying their hardest to entertain us, to compete against each other, to test the limits of their abilities.
We cannot diminish the significance of the Simpson story and we mourn the needless, cruel loss of life; it was high drama.
But on that day, before the trial and all its histrionics, it was nothing but titillating television, talking heads and prying cameras doing little more than filling time.
It took away from what sports fans should want, all the good about the games and the people who play them at such a high level.
It could have been the most dramatic, fondly remembered day in the lifetime of sports fans of that era.
It was watching a car drive slowly on a freeway.
And that’s too bad.
I haven’t seen the sure-to-be-compelling installment of the brilliant ESPN documentary series 30 at 30 that covers this day but I certainly will.
And I will revel in Palmer and the football and the Knicks and the parade.
And I will think that a murderer stole the day.
And I won’t be happy.
Okay, now, basketball.
I have no clue.
(And shame all of you who just said, ‘we know that, Smith; you’ve proven that repeatedly)
But what I don’t have a clue about in this particular instance is who might win tonight, although if I had to make a bold prediction (and we know how I love those), I’d go with the Lakers.
What I want more than anything, though, is a classic game. I want the best players on each team to be the best players, I want Kobe to be magnificent and Pierce to be brilliant.
I want a great game because we haven’t had one yet in this series and it’s crying out for one.
Yes, we’ve had great performances – Bryant in the third quarter of Game 4, Ray Allen in Game 2 – but we haven’t had a great game.
Game 7s are often letdowns, for some reason known only in their psyches some players and teams can’t handle the enormity of it, and it would truly be a shame if this one turned one-sided quickly.
So if Kobe gets 40 and Pierce gets 34 and the Lakers win on some last-minute heroics, it’d be just fine with me.
And, yes, we’ll be here tonight just before 9 p.m. (after Mighty Yankees practice and I’m told we need it after dropping a narrow 15-3 decision on Monday) to put a lid on the whole in-game bloggy thingy.
Okay, here’s one from the mail to keep up with this discussion of Game 7:
Q: Hi Doug, love the blog. It's my first stop for basketball everyday!
The ESPN website has a "Greatest Lakers and Celtics of all time" by position. I was wondering who you would pick.
My Celtics would be: Russell, Garnett, Bird, Havlicek, Rondo.
My Lakers: O'Neal, Gasol, Bryant, Worthy, Johnson.
Cheers! Keep up the good work!
Lorne D, Tokyo
A: Okay, I’m going to guess that you might not be quite as old as I am. So I’m going to make some changes to your list.
The Celtics: Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Bill Russell.
The Lakers: Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, James Worthy, Elgin Baylor and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Let the discussion begin.
Oh, yeah, to get your cards and letters and missives delivered, just click here because I have a feeling we’ve got a big ol’ mailbag coming to get us through the weekend.
Today’s menu of workout fodder – and this is important because the 13th draft pick may absolutely be here today – includes:
Guard Eric Bledsoe of Kentucky, Xavier Henry of Kansas and Thomas Heurtel of France and forwards Patrick Patterson of Kentucky, Paul George of Fresno State and Tyler Wilkerson of Marshall.
Texas guard Avery Bradley was supposed to be back but he’s apparently banged up and won’t take part.
Of the six, it’s Henry, Bledsoe, Patterson and George who I find most interesting, they are distinct possibilities to be on whatever list of five or six that the Raptors end up having before next Thursday’s draft.
How that list shapes up is still very much in flux and I’m told they are even trying to put together another workout session at the beginning of next week.
But the information that becomes available today after seeing these kids go at each other and in drills will help immensely in winnowing their group of possible picks to a workable number.
That list will not be finalized until the middle of next week, though, after more video has been watched, discussions held and questions asked.
If it seems like a never-ending process, that’s because it is.