8.20.2008

Made Flesh



Frank Deford
was on NPR this morning talking about how stupid it was to try to compare Michael Phelps to competitors from other sports, and while he obviously has a legitimate point, I can't help but think of Amare Stoudemire when I watch Usain Bolt. It's the irrepressible swagger in the starting blocks, the preternatural cool under pressure, and more than anything, the sheer physical dominance over his opponents. Like Amare, Bolt manages to look like a man among boys, while at the same time seeming himself to still be a child. It's this rawness that prompted NBC announcer Ato Bolden to proclaim that, although he had just pulled off a astonishingly commanding victory in the 100 meters, Bolt had horrible technique. Or to lament to millions of viewers before the 200 final that Bolt was "still clownin."

For anyone who thinks I'm insulting Bolt--already one of the greatest sprinters of all time--by comparing him to a mere three-time All-Star who's never advanced past the Western Conference Finals, remember back to the 2005 playoffs. At the age of 22 (the age Bolt turns tomorrow), Amare was clearly the best player in a Suns-Spurs series that featured two former MVPs still in their prime. Bolt is that Amare Stoudemire, the pre-injury Amare for whom the sky was literally the limit. He put together STAT lines like 42 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 blocks, and seemed like he was only scratching the surface of what he could be. Even Lebron has failed to exhibit that kind of almost casual supremacy, and despite his youth, King James has always seemed much older and wiser than his years (see Wednesday's tie picture).



And don't even think about mentioning the name Jordan. For today's sports fan, Michael Jordan is the standard to which we hold all other athletes. Tiger Woods is the "Michael Jordan of golf" or Roger Federer is the "Michael Jordan of tennis." It's gotten ridiculous. Deford is tearing his hair out. And, anyway, the "Michael Jordan of track" is clearly Carl Lewis: the greatest of his generation, transcendent all-around talent, loved by all, but who hung around a little too long. While he may yet scale the same heights as Jordan, Usain Bolt is something different.

Bolt, like Amare before the microfracture, has the kind of talent and presence that make a non-believer like me want to get religion. I'm reluctant to suggest in any way that Bolt doesn't train as hard as Phelps or anyone else, but there is something about him that makes me want to use words like "blessed" or "predestined." Or, better still, Bolt is beatific.




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29 Comments:

At 8/20/2008 11:55 PM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

Bolt is pretty fuckin awesome, in the original sense of the word as well as the modern. I'm also at a loss trying to think of anyone with a name that fits more perfectly with his sport. "Duncan" is a mere homonym, after all, Homer Bush wasn't a slugger, and there's no Tackle McSmash playing football, at least until I pick up a copy of Madden.

 
At 8/21/2008 1:28 AM, Blogger Austin said...

the football equivalent, or at least the only one i can think of, has to be Rock Cartwright of the skins, the fact that he plays fullback only compounds its fitting-ness.

It is rare to see an athlete such as Bolt whose transcendent greatness is evident as soon as the pistol fires. The race was over before the first 100m curve was even close to being rounded, it can even be argued the race was over before the blocks were even taken, as i had never seen such unabashed posturing by a track and field athlete, or nearly any athlete before. The fact that he knows he is great enough to pull of those theatrics at the Olympics, the athletic stage where humility and reservation is supposed to triumph, speaks volumes about how special he is.

i <3 usain bolt

 
At 8/21/2008 2:24 AM, Blogger T. said...

It's the equivilant of throwing off an off the backboard pass to yourself for a dunk . . .for the last shot of game 7 of the NBA Finals.

It's audacious. I like it. Showboats rule.

 
At 8/21/2008 4:42 AM, OpenID gpietras said...

He really should have turned around and finished the race running backwards.

 
At 8/21/2008 5:38 AM, Blogger ZombieJesus said...

Did anyone else have flashbacks to Maniac Magee when they saw this race?

 
At 8/21/2008 8:25 AM, Blogger Notorious D.I.G. said...

Amare? Are you kidding? I mean seriously...

Amare put up big numbers while losing 4 out of 5 games. I've seen Vince Carter do that. Hell I've seen. Hell I saw Harold Ellis do similar thinks in a 5 game hot streak with the Clips.

Usain Bolt dominated the best runners in the world. Not only did he win, but he also set world records.

That Amare was pure potential. Bolt is potential, plus the goods. If anything it's like rookie Magic switching to center in game 6 of the Finals and putting up 42pts 15rebs, 7asts, 3stls to clinch the Larry O'Brien.

Yeah, that's the kinda shit Bolt just did.

 
At 8/21/2008 9:23 AM, Blogger Ian A said...

Thanks for dooming Bolt to offseason microfracture surgery!

 
At 8/21/2008 10:14 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Austin said it: I've never seen that kind of swagger in any Olympic athlete, really, and it's refreshing as hell. I loved when he said in his post-race interview with the phenomenally annoying Bob Neumeier that he does actually feel anxiety, but he is really just trying to enjoy himself. I feel it's pretty rare to see athletes just being irrepressible, enjoying being there, even BEFORE they win or do something great.

I can't blame Michael Phelps for being amazing. But NBC's panting desire to turn the whole thing into a historical romance as it happened was unbearable, and it satisfied sports pieties just way too neatly.

Obviously, athletes prepare for their events differently, and not everyone is going to find dancing and clowning the right thing, but at least Bolt isn't afraid to show that this could, you know, be fun.

As for comparison to other athletes, I think Notorious hits it with Magic as a rookie in the finals.

 
At 8/21/2008 10:35 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

My point, which maybe wasn't expressed very well, was that Bolt is everything we wanted Amare to be, but rather than being potential, he actually did it. Like if Amare had a whole season of 42, 16, and 4.

 
At 8/21/2008 10:39 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Stop being so bashful. I get your point: It's not about how valid a champion Amare was or wasn't, but that he absolutely dominated while exhibiting tons of flaws and fueling himself with swag (somehow I didn't notice that Bolt popped his jersey at the end of the 100). There's a stylistic similarity, even if the big-picture results are different.

Also, the IOC isn't feeling Bolt.

 
At 8/21/2008 11:09 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Rogge's comments about Bolt are ridiculous. He wasn't disrespectful, just exuberant. After the 200 two of the other competitors chased him down and hoisted him up. Maybe Rogge should ask them how they feel before being a killjoy.

I think Shanoff agrees:

http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/the_sporting_blog/entry/view/11072/shanoffs_wake-up_call_bolts_double_gold

 
At 8/21/2008 11:19 AM, Blogger Christopher said...

I remember that Suns-Spurs series where Amare dominated, so clearly. Amre would just attack the rim of high screen and roll like he was gonna dunk from just inside the stripe ON EVERY SINGLE PLAY. He was literally a force of nature. That performance is actually most reminiscent of Adrian Peterson in his freshman year against UT. I was a Sophmore there and I remember thinking durinbg the first game I saw Peterson, that "UT was never gonna beat OU while I went to school there" Amare instilled that same sort of fear in me. Also, both guys have suffered pretty sever injuries and have come back strong...But (I'll steal Bron's quoate on Phelps) No one is on the same planet as Usain Boalt. He was JOGGING in the prelims and still got 1st. He makes you forget that the other guys in that race are the next fastest people in the world.

 
At 8/21/2008 11:28 AM, Blogger Christopher said...

Sorry for all the misspellings. I typed that with my eyes closed.

 
At 8/21/2008 11:33 AM, Blogger Dean said...

Don't focus too much on STAT's stats. It is widely known that the Spurs let Black Jesus get his, while Nash and Marion were put on lockdown. The result? Let's just say, Amare didn't have any gold medals wrapped around his neck.

I can't wait until the National 1-on-1 Basketball League takes off. Shoals might soil a 3 pack of Fruit of the Looms.

 
At 8/21/2008 11:35 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

That's cruel and unusual, and not just because I initially read it as "three-pack of Fruit Roll-Ups."

2-on-2, at least.

 
At 8/21/2008 12:12 PM, Blogger Graydon said...

I think recluse's clarification of Amare as potential, Bolt as actuality is key, and subsequently the whole point makes a lot more sense. Because I gotta be honest, before you said that I kind of thought to myself, "what the hell is he talking about?" I mean, Amare is a physical specimen, no doubt about it. But notorious D.I.G. is right. To honestly say that Amare "dominated" a series where the Suns lost 4 out of 5 is a little absurd. And honestly claiming that he was more dominant than Duncan out there? Sure, Duncan isn't nearly as flashy or as energizing, but Duncan was the essence of dominant: cool, calm, unrelentingly efficient. So much of Bolt's magnetism comes from the post-victory joyousness, something we can't accurately gauge in relation to Amare because Amare hasn't won shit.

We've gotta get past talking about Amare in terms of what we wanted him to be, and starting looking at him for what he is.

But more importantly, when are we seriously gonna start the movement to get all-star weekend to include a one-on-one tournament?

 
At 8/21/2008 1:11 PM, Blogger Michael said...

All the comments reacting to this are missing the point (I think): we're looking at this through a FD-lens. Or at least we're supposed to be. The whole FD thing is about potential. It's not about winning. (Plenty of people have made this point plenty of previous times.) Sometimes, FD candidates get caught up in winning. It just happened with Bolt and most people seem happy about that. But when it happened with KG, remember, there was, like, a crisis of faith here with lots of folks.

As for Amare? Hell, he's practically living and breathing potential. The fact that Duncan actually came out on top (and in so thorough fashion) is not unsurprising, but it actually doesn't matter at all.

 
At 8/21/2008 2:21 PM, Blogger mindfeck said...

With all of the poses, Bolt was clearly showboating. It was very classless.

 
At 8/21/2008 3:12 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

Also there's the whole team sport/individual sport context.

Matt Le Tissier or Maravich weren't any less transcendent because they never won anything.

 
At 8/21/2008 3:25 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

A little Le God for those who might be interested:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8U5PpcUAGI

wv: gjccftdq: What Mark Crossley said around a meat pie after being the only person to save a Le Tiss penalty.

 
At 8/21/2008 3:28 PM, Blogger Graydon said...

Michael-
In a sense you're right, FD is very much about potential, not about winning. But in this particular instance I don't think you can detach Bolt's particular style/swagger from his success. For instance, his slowing up at the end of the 100 and still breaking the world record is only bad-ass because he is blowing everybody away. The nature of basketball makes it more open-ended, makes it more possible to be electrifying without being successful. That's why I disagree with Recluse's point, or at least before he focused it in the comments. I just don't think it accurately characterizes Amare or any type of "dominance" he possesses, whether it be actually winning or whatever other rubric we want to use to define dominant.

That being said:

"Like Amare, Bolt manages to look like a man among boys, while at the same time seeming himself to still be a child."

Great observation.

 
At 8/21/2008 4:30 PM, Blogger Joel said...

I LOVE that this guy's name is "Bolt"... My memory of fitting/tough names in sports is limited here to former Michigan football players, but names for defensive players in particular that stuck out to me were:

Jarrett Irons (linebacker)
Glen Steele (defensive tackle)
Mike Hammerstein (defensive tackle, bonecrushing sack artist)

Before my time was a guy named Ed Slaughter.

Granted, these could all be tough hockey names as well - but they somehow seem more appropriate to football, perhaps WWF wrestling, or U.S. Marines (Sergeants, likely.)

I hope that Bolt is not currently running at his peak - if he doesn't drop the WR to a 9.59 before he slows down, I think he will have lost an opportunity in the 100m to set a record to last decades. Let's hope not...

 
At 8/21/2008 6:13 PM, Blogger Jason Gill said...

I'm surprised this hasn't come up yet but Bolt is almost literally Vince Young in his last year at Texas.

The unorthodox physique, the effortless speed, the sense of victory prior to competition. Even Vince celebrating before he scored on the Rose Bowl fourth down smacks step by step of Bolt.

 
At 8/21/2008 6:40 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Jason--I like it. I would add, though, that Young doesn't have that seem playful, maybe even mischievous, quality that Amare and Bolt share.

 
At 8/21/2008 6:41 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

same, not seem.

 
At 8/22/2008 12:02 AM, Blogger BallerBlogger said...

Very interesting comparison Shoals.

I see the similarity. Not only was Stoudemire unstoppable in those pre-injury playoffs. But he dominated the greatest power forward of all-time in the process.

 
At 8/22/2008 6:30 AM, Blogger Notorious D.I.G. said...

I dunno. If you are more willing to attach yourself to '04 Amare, ahow you know in the comming years will be a loser and eventually quell to poor-Shaqism, rather than '79 Magic who you know dominates for a decade while being Showtime. I dunno. That seems like decidedly poor decisions making and terribly unFD...

 
At 8/22/2008 11:03 PM, Blogger Tyler Hurst said...

I was fortunate enough to see pre-injury Amare and Bolt and holy shit...I love these guys.

Bolt is captivating. The dude STOPPED accelerating 3/4 down the track, pounded his chest and spread his arms out and STILL set a world record.

He's a showboat and an entertainer. Love it.

 
At 4/13/2009 2:12 AM, Blogger 平平 said...

^^Thanks!!

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