It’s one thing to win a Grand Slam in the first place – to be physically gifted enough from the start, to train hard enough to be the best tennis player in your town, and then your region, and then your country, and eventually the world, at least for a moment. To do that once is a monumental feat, a testament to all the things we’re told we should aspire to cultivate.
On Sunday, Novak Djokovic won his nineteenth singles title and second French Open championship. Nevermind that he is now only one behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the men’s record for career Slams – he had to beat Nadal, the clay king and thirteen-time champion at Roland Garros to do it, and then overcome a two-set deficit, something he’d never done in a Slam final, to Stefanos Tsitsipas. All the while, he never looked in doubt.
While the world’s wealthiest men continue to do their best to disprove other, better-known examples, some truths remain universally acknowledged: parquet looks great on television; nobody will ever understand how to domesticize bears; the American education system is broken. Regardless of our individual solutions to these problems, it seems reasonable to suggest that we agree on these.
Another truth nearly universally acknowledged – and only nearly because there remains a small but growing populace, somewhere, whose entire existence seems strictly to hinge on the acceptance of counterpoints and “asking questions” when there aren’t really any interested parties in the answers, including themselves – is that Chris Paul is the Point God. On Thursday night, helming the Phoenix Suns, and staking his case in the playoffs for the first time in direct opposition to his Banana Boat buddy LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, Paul did his work, as always, leading the Suns to a continued rise.
Historically, there is a slight dispute over the first usage of the term “triple-double” in a basketball context – Philadelphia 76ers publicist Harvey Pollack stakes a claim, as does ex-Los Angeles Lakers PR man Bruce Jolesch. Fittingly, they are intertwined courtesy of the same player, Magic Johnson, who had seven triple-doubles the 1980-’81 season and would ultimately finish with 138 in his career.
That number was still 43 behind the career total of Oscar Robertson, who held the record for nearly half a century and had set his final total at 181, in 1974. That number stood until Monday night, when Russell Westbrook, now of the Washington Wizards, pulled down his tenth rebound against the Atlanta Hawks and, having already notched double-digit points and assists, broke the Big O’s record for career triple-doubles on his way to a 28-point, 13-rebound, 21-assist performance. Naturally, Westbrook barreled up the floor and promptly missed a three-pointer.
It’s almost guilt-inducing to laugh at anything right now. Aside from the scornful, halfhearted chuckles any of us get from seeing anything people with a higher Q-score than I have deem “newsworthy,” genuine joy begetting laughter is akin to heartbreak. For every laugh, there are countless tears, and even (especially?) if they’re happening elsewhere, you’re aware of them and their beholders, and you become innately attuned to that reflexive awareness. Laughing to keep from crying almost becomes communal.
The thing about laughter, though, at least usually, is that it’s spontaneous – we expect the things we love to make us smile, whether it be foster pet success stories, an ELI5 display and accompanying graphic of how light moves through space or a book by a favored author. This is trusted comfort, something we can at least give a courtesy smile, as if remembering the one dog, or the one gif, or the one line from a book we were forced to read in high school that brought us here.
The year before his namesake retired, Elgin Baylor Lumpkin was born in Washington, D.C. Eventually he would connect with Swing Mob, cover Prince and release an all-time single in “Pony,” right on time. That the other Elgin Baylor was named after a watch made sense in the prefab Neo-soul era for a guy whose legacy is, both fairly and unfairly, laying the groundwork for what was to come.
That first Elgin was an unparalleled talent for his time. He was the first player who left college early for the NBA, and the kind of basketball player for which you make compromises. To his detriment, so did he. A complete and selfless player on the court, Baylor never seemed to asked for anything, not even the championship ring the Lakers gave him after he retired in the middle of a season when they won. Baylor, who passed away Monday at the age of 86, was even more than that.
It’s been the longest, coldest, loneliest winter, and every time I look up – usually to take my eyes off the screen for the requisite twenty seconds-per-twenty minutes of screen time, or about as much as my stop light eyes can stand in the middle of the afternoon – it gets longer. Once again, winter is and has been upon us, beautiful falling snow giving way to the malignant ice, which has never done anyone any favors and, really, just ought to melt immediately, in between Jack Frost’s cosplay as Punxsutawney Phil.
Even in New York City – we’re the lucky ones as far as the past two weeks have gone, and among places you’d expect to not be doing so well in a February winter – seasonal depression is self-evident in almost anyone you encounter, as far as “encountering” a person can go these days: there is the lady on the muffled phone call, pulling from a cigarette in between listening; there is the shop owner, only going inside when a potential customer directs her in; there is the man on the street, literally pleading with his corgi to please join him on the street corner.
After all of that, Kevin Durant managed to play nine games with the Brooklyn Nets, only six of them alongside Kyrie Irving, before that team acquired another All-Star Wednesday afternoon. Joining Durant, Irving and DeAndre Jordan, the latter of whom Jarrett Allen had finally supplanted as the Nets’ starting center this season prior to the trade, will be one James Harden, Durant’s ex-teammate, the 2018 MVP and a revolutionary offensive genius.
Of course, Harden has become as confounding a teammate as he is an actual basketball player, and his uneasy exit from Houston begs many questions, not the least for which because of the destination. The ever-prickly Durant is playing at an MVP level; Irving is essentially AWOL; Harden openly ripped the Rockets organization Tuesday night, all but forcing his team’s hand. Now, those three find themselves together, apparently at their communal behest.
Something leaving us at precisely the same rate as it always has, however, is time. An unhuman entity forced us into our homes and away from our loved ones for long stretches; for once, it seemed, there was a problem that throwing federal government-level amounts of money wouldn’t fix. Most of us were forced to adapt; some didn’t, and died; others did, and died anyway. Time kept on slipping, in all its finite utility.
Under the circumstances, and with nowhere to go, it was up to us to spend a lot of time with ourselves. Election-year news cycles are Ringling Brothers productions gone awry in normal times, but taking in the news, even in the simple pursuit of attempting to stay anything like informed, was an especially depressing exercise in 2020.
What is “inessential”? Pieces of trivia are, by nature, tidbits and factoids that at best connect two seemingly disparate ideas to each other but, perhaps at their most quintessential, elicit nothing more than a “Huh, didn’t know that” from someone. There’s a reason trivia is (usually) a popular way for bars to kill time and fill people up with Miller Lite on non-sports nights; take that concept, turn the answers into questions, and voila: you’ve got a long-running syndicated game show.
Answer: this television figure, who died on Sunday at 80, hosted the longest-running iteration of Jeopardy! for 36 years. Who is Alex Trebek? Well, to many, he is so much more than the game show with which the rest of us will forever associate him.
We’ve somehow reached an age of instability so potent that most of us, on first glance, have no idea what day of the week it is, or month, but we all know the year. This has seemed to become increasingly frequent with each passing annum; it benefits the dying among us to stretch out time, generally, no matter if it hurts the rest of us one way or another.
At the same time: time measures as it is. James Brown, Isaac Hayes and Prince knew that. Iga Świątek, well, showed up. And wow(!), did she ever. She played it on the one, and she immediately undid favorite Simona Halep, among others. Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, went and stayed Rafa. Welcome to Roland Garros, as it stands in October.