Quick, what words come to mind when I say, “sports”?
Many of you probably thought (with varying specificity) somewhere along the lines of, “athletes”, “team”, or maybe even “business.” Since you’re reading this article however, (and assuming you paid notice to the title) I hope you were also thinking of the word, “storyteller.” Beyond all the initially obvious descriptors, sports should be recognized as society’s best storytellers.
I often jokingly say to my non-sports fan brother whenever I change the channel to ESPN’s Sportscenter, that “the only thing better than watching sports, is watching people talk about sports”, as he scoffs in disgust. I’m teasing (mostly), but let’s think about that for a second. How do these sports analysts on TV and radio (and now heavily populating web media) manage to talk about sports every day, all day, year-round? As a fan, I’ll be the first to say that while some of it can be argued as manufactured hype and sensational reporting, it is primarily due to the sheer volume and depth of legitimate stories to tell.
As the NBA regular season has just come to a close, why don’t we revisit a sampling of the events – the stories – that took shape over the past few months.
Highlights of the 2012-2013 NBA Regular Season:
- Jeremy Lin in an off-season move that shocked the basketball (and business) world, signs with the Houston Rockets and not with New York, the city that birthed “Linsanity.” And, in a surprising twist and contrary what most cynics thought – he actually doesn’t suck in his second year as a starter.
- The Miami Heat, with 27 straight victories and approaching the record for longest win streak in history, are beaten on national television by the Chicago Bulls, who played the entire season without their best player, Derrick Rose. The Bulls would later reprise their role as “streak killer”, ending the 13-game consecutive win streak of the New York Knicks.
- Stephen Curry, with fewer shots taken, breaks the NBA single season 3-point shot record in the final game of the season, setting a new record of 272 made.
- Brandon Knight hits the deck. And then again.
- The Los Angeles Clippers, long time bottom feeders and once the general consensus worst team in the league (depending on who you ask and whether or not you were a LOLKNICKS era fan), overtook the Lakers as “the team” in LA this past season.
- Kobe Bryant, one of the game’s biggest stars, led one of the sport’s most storied franchises, the Lakers, through a difficult stretch where each game essentially meant competing for their playoff lives. After playing nearly every crucial minute of the previous seven games, Bryant finally goes down with a serious Achilles injury that forcibly ends his season…and possibly his career.
- Those same Lakers, now without their leader, scratch out a #7 seed in the playoffs in the final game of the regular season, ensuring them a match up with their longtime rivals, the San Antonio Spurs, and a chance for a new hero to emerge. Or a former hero to choke.
- And hits the deck again.
- Carmelo Anthony becomes the first New York Knick since Bernard King nearly 30 years ago to win the individual NBA scoring title, while leading the team to their highest playoff seed in a decade.
- James Harden, after years of being relegated to the “third option” on his previous team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, will face them head to head in the first round of the playoffs, now playing as a leader and the number one option on the Houston Rockets. (Unless you’re Taiwanese and consider Jeremy Lin as always the #1 option.)
Let’s look at what we have here – Based on actual events? Check. Emotional underdog tales? Check. Controversy and drama? More than enough to go around. And that’s all just in one regular season. I use this NBA season as an example for the purposes of framing the article, but these types of stories are not simply limited to professional leagues, to basketball, or even to American sports. These stories are told all the time by every sport all over the world, each with their own little nuances scattered across their vast histories.
Other moments in sports you may recall:
- The New Orleans Saints winning the Superbowl after Hurricane Katrina.
- Mike Piazza’s game winning home run in the New York Mets’ return to Shea Stadium after 9/11.
- USA vs. USSR in the “Miracle on Ice.” (spoiler: USA wins)
- Zinedine Zidane’s red carded headbutt in the 2006 World Cup finals.
- Lance Armstrong kickin’ it with Oprah and being stripped of all 7 Tour de France titles.
Once upon a time…
Sports tell stories that bring people together. They make you love and hate, they make you laugh and cry. They make you hope with anticipation, shudder in fear, and facepalm in disappointment. And if you’re not a fellow Mets fan, yes, those descriptions still apply.
Box scores and the highlight reel footage are merely pieces of the overall story. Sports not only tell the stories, but they also create the environment and stage for them to be told. In that way, sports aren’t just the storytellers, they’re the campfire, the singalong, and the drunk guy playing the guitar. (And if you’ve witnessed “Malice at the Palace“, they’re sometimes that off chance that a crazy forest bear will attack.)