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.
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.
He was all smiles atop a snowy Andorran mountain when the cover officially broke for his 2021 look, full of ebullient chatter about Repsol Honda’s loaded history and the on-track challenge of a new bike and the ultimate teammate that awaited him. Any idiot could see it, any child could tell: Pol Espargaro was ready, practically jumping out of his seat with nervous energy at the chance to wring its neck, the neck he’s been hearing and reading and seeing he might be pretty good on for years now. “If only Dani would retire,” messageboards clamored. “If only Honda hadn’t thought of Jorge first,” journalists mused. Through it all, Pol shrugged, smiled, overdelivered. Then came the offer. Now comes the reckoning.
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.
The value of things is not the time they last, but the intensity with which they occur.
If you watched the MotoGP season finale at Portimão in Portugal, you saw two titles decided by razor-thin margins in Moto3 and Moto2. Congratulations to Albert Arenas (who felt like an inevitability despite his tenuous grip on Moto3 all season) and Enea Bastianini (who never felt like an inevitability on his way out of Moto2 until he suddenly became one), two guys who had to fight every lap to manage not just their race positions but also their points gap over their respective pursuers. They were both enthralling races that ended with champions as worthy as any of the alternatives. Good for them.
“A man is severely injured in a mysterious accident, receives an outrageous sum in legal compensation, and has no idea what to do with it” is a pretty simple story idea, but that’s verbatim the pitch for Tom McCarthy’s Remainder. The publisher’s blurb is elegantly written around what he does wind up doing with it, so if that doesn’t sound like something you want to know, it’d behoove you to stop reading here. The real spoiler that’s not a spoiler is that if you’re reading this, you already know everything’s going to end in motorcycle racing anyway.
It was already daylight by the time I got home on Sunday. That meant I spent half my weekend sleeping, which I might’ve done anyway thanks to the bonus hour and also because I’ve grown increasingly slothful as my brain prepares for the cold, barely able to reset the clocks that hadn’t already switched automatically. Which is funny, sort of — temperatures were supposed to be in the 70s all week. For most of my life, that wouldn’t have been unusual. I had no excuse other than the one everyone uses: psychic browbeating.