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“This isn’t looking good.” One of the people I was watching with was referring to a spilled glass of red wine on a hotel bed in Chelsea, but he may as well have been talking about the shot Steph Curry had just made with 3:11 left in the fourth quarter to put the Golden State Warriors up 90-79 on the Oklahoma City Thunder. At the time, it felt like the final nail in the coffin, and ultimately, it was. In between, the Thunder bothered to make it interesting, drawing the 11-point deficit to four before finally succumbing to the Greatest Regular Season Team Ever™.
Game 7 was a perfect microcosm of the series as a whole: frustrated at a lack of belief in their team, Oklahoma City shot out to a surprising, sizable lead on the backs of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook before Golden State roared back, jumping ahead on (what else?) a Curry three-pointer midway through the third quarter and never looking back. For all their efforts, the inevitable remained the inevitable, and now the Thunder face a summer of potentially franchise-altering uncertainty. Meanwhile, the team by the Bay, gold embodied, continues basking in its own sunlight, on the way to another NBA Finals.
“Stand out of my light.” So goes the punchline in Plutarch’s retelling of the one and only meeting between Alexander the Great and Diogenes of Sinope, the Cynic philosopher, the latter of whom had only the preceding request for the Macedonian king. To take the tale at face value, there couldn’t have been too many duos less alike in ancient Greece around 336 BCE. As powerful as almost any human being ever, Alexander is infamous for having wept at the notion that he had no worlds left to conquer. Diogenes sought out poverty, thriving in destitution and sleeping in a ceramic jar.
As cavernous as the gap between Diogenes and Alexander was, so, too, is that between the teams meeting in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League Final. With a cursory glance, one may suspect that the teams share few similarities. Part of that, of course, comes with comparing any team to Real Madrid in the European Cup; having won ten of them, more than any other club, gives you an air of esteem and pomp without parallel. Their opponents in this case, however, are achingly familiar with flying close to the sun as their wings start to melt. Like Alexander after meeting Diogenes, Real may leave San Siro stunningly impressed with the exploits of Atlético Madrid.
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Inevitability in sports is simply an extension of the existing tension between favorites and underdogs. What seems inevitable at any given time in any given sports is that which the rest of the sport attempts to topple. A certain pursuit of destruction of the status quo keeps the standard-bearers honest and the rest earnest. What is remains; what will be, will be.
For so many reasons, both external and internal, the Golden State Warriors have seized the NBA’s current moment. What LeBron James is to the Eastern Conference, the Warriors have become to the entire league, the defining signpost any opponent must pass on the way to a championship. Once a seemingly burgeoning dynasty, however, the Thunder isn’t here for the noise. Now, after a franchise-altering trade and a series upset of the NBA’s most consistent team, nothing is inevitable in Oklahoma City.
So, Canada. The stereotypes abound for our neighbor to the north, from being polite to the point of apology to a seeming national mandate to wear flannel and grow beards to an unconscious appetite for maple syrup and Molson. At the moment, the country’s greatest export is a former teen actor-turned-living PBR&B emoticon who has enough #VIEWS to spawn several generations of memes. Innocuous, vaguely socialist and definitely non-confrontational: this is the Canada we know and love°.
A nation with seven (7) NHL teams and only one NBA franchise has this season seen its hockey teams fail to produce a single playoff participant – when half the league goes to the playoffs – and its basketball team reach its final four. Thus far, the Toronto Raptors have played two seven-game series and are arguably lucky to have escaped both on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Nevertheless, Toronto did make it, and though the spectre of the league’s most dominant player awaits them, it would seem foolish to write off the resident reptilians.
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There’s a moment at the very beginning of “Sloop John B,” the closing track of the first side of the album but the first recorded for it, right after the initial glockenspiel tone, that acts as a sort of timeout, as if to give the listener a chance to breathe before launching into another lament. Critics have sometimes met the song, adapted from a Bahamian folk standard, with confusion, wondering where the tale of a doomed ship and its crew fits in alongside the other tracks on the album.
The album, of course, is the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, which was released fifty years ago today, originally to mixed reviews which have since gone almost entirely and overwhelmingly positive. Beyond critical reception, Pet Sounds has enjoyed the luxury of indelible influence, assuring its permanent place in the musical version of the United States’ Great books for its lush instrumentation, unthinkably cohesive vocals and relatively simple, ageless lyrics of hope, heartbreak, loyalty and alienation.
“This is my lowest point as a Philly sports fan” was the first post I saw on Facebook after the news broke that Sam Hinkie had resigned from his role as the General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers. Yes, it was a sincere post. I know because it was written by a close friend, one of many such friends and fellow Sixers fans echoing sentiments of pure anguish on my various social media feeds. To an outside observer, this type of negativity might seem out of place. Typically, change from top to bottom is welcomed by fans of a professional sports team that has finished near last place in the standings for three straight years. In that situation, any type of change could signify a much needed fresh start. It potentially marks the beginning of a so-called “rebuilding phase.”
This is similar to when a movie series reboots after a disappointing sequel. Reboots and rebuilds usually create a sense of hope that things will improve. Sometimes, that sense of hope appears to be the main impetus for the change, because hope can bring back fans who have given up on the team°. Of course, a large number of 76ers fans are atypical in this regard because they did not want change. They are even more atypical because they already had hope. Along with pride, hope might have been all they had.
Given the exhibition’s modest title, Van Gogh’s Bedrooms at The Art Institute of Chicago made for a considerable cultural experience before it closed this past week. Curators devised a show winding its way from a giant wall-sized map detailing all 37 of the Dutch artist’s chronicled residences to a serpentine timeline of his life wrapping its way into rooms replete with exotic pieces that influenced him, carefully positioned portraits and drawings, and even a life-sized imitation of the Yellow House’s bedroom itself. The whole thing culminated in the three Arles paintings arranged alongside one another in chronological order. For an exhibit about an alarmingly cramped bedroom, you got your money’s worth.
You had to, really – maybe it’s heartening to see from a cultural studies perspective but, as a sane patron, waiting in line for 90 minutes (or more during peak weekend hours) can turn from enriching to scut work, even if it is art’s most famous sleeping quarters.
It’s as curious a sight to behold as any in sport: a 5’11” rolling hill, officially listed at 265 lbs. but closer to 285 and probably more, steps to the plate in a Major League Baseball stadium, adjusts his batting helmet and looks toward his inevitably slimmer counterpart. Carrying his bat like the reluctant uncle drawn into a wiffle ball game at a family reunion, he assumes his stance, utilitarian if not necessarily poetic, and awaits the pitch.
Nominally but a starting pitcher for the New York Mets, Bartolo Colon is so much more: the lovable symbol of a generally likable franchise in an otherwise reviled sports city; a former Cy Young Award winner – and, yes, PED user – whose first appearance in a World Series had to wait until the age of 42; a hypothetical proxy for the man watching baseball on his couch after doing, or ignoring, yard work. What should seemingly hold him back, his ungraceful body, is precisely what carries him forth. And nothing in baseball has become quite so captivating as watching Colon at the bat.
For all the talk about sports being an escape from reality, the reason so many of us enjoy them is the same reason many people enjoy video games or trash television: they are just close enough to life itself that, for the time we spend indulging in them, we feel apart of something. Better yet, that something isn’t necessarily happening to us, like missing a green light or getting unexpectedly charged an exorbitant gratuity, so we can be as attached or unattached as we want.
Going a step further, sometimes sports can function as a perfect facsimile for life, really. Excessive hope leading to monumental disappointment; lowered expectations giving way to delightful surprises; and beauty presenting itself as madness, or vice versa. At various points over the last eighteen months or so, Leicester City F.C. has embodied all of these. Yet now, only one distinction matters to the team and its fans: champions of England.