Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tiger, The Celtics, and Remembering Two Giants

TIGER

What’s bigger than the Celtics’ destruction of the Lakers? That would be Tiger’s apparent destruction of his left knee. Let me tell you something, this is a HUGE deal for many reasons. First of all, this is the most dominant athlete in the world, and he is being sidelined for the first time in his career right after one of his greatest moments. The only situation that we’ve seen, in my estimation, that comes close is MJ walking away to play baseball at his apex. Granted, the situations are different, but just like MJ’s decision, Tiger’s injury has huge and chilling ramifications for his sport. For example, just as I have always contended that the Rockets’ two titles had to feel somewhat hollow because they didn’t have to slay MJ, whoever wins this year’s Open Championship and PGA Championship will have to endure a lifetime of being known as the guys that won because Tiger didn’t play. Fair or not, that is how it is going to be. In fact, if I were Phil Mickelson, I think I would almost rather not win either championship. I mean, can you imagine walking off the 18th green at Royal Birkdale Claret Jug in hand only to have the first question asked be, “Phil, is this win cheapened by the fact Tiger is back in Orlando?” Again, it might not be fair, but it is going to happen to whoever wins the Jug and the Wanamaker Trophy. And, in some strange way, if this happens to Lefty, I can’t help but think it will do more harm than good to his legacy. Weird, but true.

While Tiger’s injury is undoubtedly going to have historical ramifications for this year’s British and PGA, it is also going to have huge historical ramifications on this year’s U.S. Open. What ramifications, you ask? People, we thought it was amazing that Tiger managed to win at Torrey Pines with what we thought was a banged up knee that was in the process of healing. Now, we know that Tiger won the U.S. Open on a ruptured ACL, two tibia fractures, and was not able to walk as recently as two weeks ago. I’ve never been in more awe of an athlete, not even MJ during the “Flu Game.” Go ahead and brace yourself because an enormously bold statement is coming your way…..are you ready???? Okay, here it is: What Tiger Woods just did over 5 days at Torrey Pines was the greatest athletic accomplishment I have ever seen period! Before you go nuts and start screaming that it’s not possible to bestow this status on a golfer, I want you to stop and think about it. And then, I would invite you to try to convince me that a greater example of perseverance, fortitude, ability, “clutchness”, and pure greatness exists in the world of sports.

The Champs

So, the Celtics absolutely humiliated Kobe and the Lakers on their way to hoisting their 17th banner. Honestly, what can I say about this? I mean, I could obnoxiously gloat that I picked the C’s to win in 6 games and predicted Paul Pierce would win the MVP and cement his status as a legend. I could do that, but that, of course, is not me! All kidding aside, I picked the C’s before the series because of two things: 1) I thought Pierce had the ability to take over games and will his team to victory at home; and 2) I thought the Celtics were tougher than any team the Lakers had faced and played better defense than anybody else in the Association. What I didn’t count on was that the Lakers would be a complete disaster on defense and Ray Allen would be much more “Jesus” than “The Artist Formerly Known as Ray Allen” or the “Decomposing Corpse of Ray Allen.” Honestly, I think Ray Allen could easily have been the MVP of this series, and I think his play is the biggest story of this series. Why? Well, after the Cavs series I made the comment that the C’s better find a way to win this year’s title because Allen was washed up and the Big 3 would be no more. Well, it’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last, but I was completely wrong. In the Finals, Ray Ray proved he is far from washed up. He looked quick and confident, and his stroke was as pure as ever. With Ray being Ray, KG’s maniacal competitiveness, Pierce’s consistency and toughness, and Rondo’s constant development, this team is certainly not done yet.

R.I.P. TIM RUSSERT & JIM MCKAY

On a much different note, last week we lost one of the true giants in journalism, Tim Russert. This loss came less than a week after the passing of another journalistic giant, Jim McKay. While Russert’s field was politics and McKay’s was sports, they both left and indelible mark on our society through their work, and they were both among the best television journalists we have ever seen. Earlier this week I sent an email summarizing my thoughts on Russert’s and McKay’s deaths, and I am sharing it with you below:

Even more than all the things you mentioned about Russert (professionalism, preparation, knowledge, objectivity, etc...), the thing that always struck me as his greatest attribute was the joy with which he performed his job. Honestly, have you ever seen a person enjoy their job more and want to share that joy with an entire nation than when Russert would run electoral numbers on his white board on Election Night? He was truly a fixture in my life on Sunday mornings, and I have to admit I am a little embarrassed about the sadness I feel as a result of the death of a man I never met.

As for McKay, I have vague memories from my childhood of his time hosting the Olympics and Wide World of Sports. That being said, I have vivid memories of all the wonderful human interest pieces and historical pieces he composed over the past few decades at the British Open and the Olympics. In my mind he was much like Vin Scully. That is to say, he sounded like a sports broadcaster should sound, and you always knew the gravity of the moment when McKay made an appearance. With Schapp and McKay gone, I am left wondering who now holds the torch as the Nation's Sports Journalist Laureate, if you will? Is it Costas? Kornheiser? Wilbon? I just don't know the answer, but I know there is a huge void to fill.