That Old Weird Horizon
Before I get serious, take a look at this list of records I'm too lazy to put on eBay just yet. And listen to the newest Disciples of Clyde-cast, featuring Kelly Dwyer. Will be posted here later in the week, but it's there for you, now. Thanks!
I have never felt a post as profoundly as the one I've labored over since Monday night. Various abortive attempts have included "I want to be free. The more we know, the more we want to tear it all down"; a discussion of whether the relationship between knowledge and ardor in sports was like or unlike that in sports; digging around for a Heidegger quote that worked out of context; a tangent on Cotto where I wrote just like Shoefly; and the question of elitism in non-snobby watching, i.e. "I get this shit so much better than everyone else around me."
But what I really should've done is listen to my heart, to pay attention to the largely sports-driven moods that have so thoroughly burnt, cleansed, and smushed me since Saturday. The long and short of it is this: I watch sports like an expert, even if I don't know what I'm talking about. I feel, but I also look for details and seek out analytic angles. We are all guilty (if that's the word) of this to some degree; no one is born into sports. Even those who don't know much are still, as highly-evolved cognitive beings observing an activity bound by rules and order, looking to make sense of it all. Greatness is always contextual, and if pushed to its logical extreme, at the distant horizon of Dr. Jack Ramsey we find either the grandest palaces of Jordan and Pippen, or the strike-team ambushes that strike heads from off of idols' shoulders.
Originally, I thought I'd come out of Manny/Jennings/John Wall/remembering Iverson blitz having hit on a new kind of fan experience. Call it innocence, call is blissful ignorance, throw out your favorite lines about the eyes of children or being on acid. As I watched Pacquiao/Cotto surrounded by a large extended family whose knowledge of boxing ranged from encyclopedic to nil, all of whom responded to Manny's space-and-time defying combos with the same oohs and aaahs (admittedly, unorthodox technique and cultural affinity played some role here), it dawned on me: There exists a type of athlete so crackling, inventive, and forceful, and elemental, that they become the great equalizer. It doesn't matter how intently you've followed their career, or a sport. When Pacquiao goes on the attack, Jennings launches into one of those trances where swagger, will, and basketball IQ find themselves in perfect harmony, John Wall hits a game-winner as if to say "enough, it's time to start this season", or Iverson's latest ugh-fest sends us all scurrying back to video of the young AI (funny how different those initials sound now as a nickname, almost like Roman numerals) . . . we find ourselves in a state of wonder that strips away all of our hours and hours of learning.
That was the thesis. These players are ultra-accessible because they tap into a different part of our psyche, infectious and impossibly popular because of the wonderment they inspire. And for those of us who have seen it (and them) all before, each time it happens, it's like we're seeing it for the first time, like we may never even have seen the sport before. I don't want to reduce it to pure aesthetics, or the quote I read somewhere (anyone?) about basketball appealing most to casual fans because of the highlights and sheer poetry of movement. I still maintain that the narrative of a football game is easier to follow, but whatever. I think that one of the reasons it feels natural to include a boxer in here is that, if on some level basketball attracts us with its spectacle of dashing, cutting, and leaping, then boxing is a fist-fight—pretty basic human experience—potentially raised to the level of magic and mystery.
I don't want to say they transform the mundane, because that completely undermines the competitive and technical aspects. However, these athletes affect hit us right in the reptile brain, and send us reeling from there. I don't really think this describes the typical viewing experience of the fan who knows not to ask. My sense is that, for the most part, sports become easier to invest one's self in the more you know about them, and vice-versa. The trick is that this class of athlete short-circuits this relationship. They don't transcend the burden of understanding, they tear down the very parameters by which understanding is so strictly tied into spectatorship. Call it ecstatic viewing, performance without description, or the belief that some moments in sports can cause sports to fall away and just sit there in front of you, beaming, as if their power were inherent, their expressiveness final, and their ends, inevitable, if not irrelevant.
This isn't Kobe ruthlessly working his way through the end of a game, but a wisp of a 20 year-old doing it all in one fluid motion, as if to come up for air would be to let in a host of distractions and contradictions for which neither he—nor we—need confront. Not during this window into a kind of sport beyond sport that never risks cheapening itself or its devotees. One that can't last forever and yet this past week, seems to have.