Sport Critical Digest: 6.12.11

Written by  //  December 6, 2011  //  Critical Digest, Sport  //  4 Comments

The end of a collective bargaining agreement between the owners of the 30 NBA teams and the league’s players on July 1, 2011 brought about a lockout with issues of revenue sharing and structuring of a salary cap dividing the parties. Although, everyone knew an agreement would be eventually reached, with the standstill extending well into November, the season was put in serious jeopardy. But finally on November 26, the parties reached a tentative deal, which once ratified will signal the start of the season that will be shortened from the normal 82 games to 66. The end of the lockout brought forth a slew of superb articles in Grantland, including a piece by Jay Caspian Kang on why we will forget about the lockout, and the impact of social media on consumption of sports – and for that matter, all – news. The coverage also contained a terrific profile by Brian Phillips of the NBA’s commissioner, David Stern. “The old twinkle,” Phillips argues, “has been replaced by a bleary impatience.”

Also with the NBA season finally set to get underway, Longform.org aggregated a set of six wonderful stories “about the lives of great basketball players, on the court and off,” including David Halberstam’s immortal piece in the New Yorker in 1998 on Michael Jordan, which is a must-read, if you’re a fan of basketball or any sport for that matter.

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Gary Speed, 42, shockingly and suddenly, died earlier this week, apparently by taking his own life. As someone who grew up watching football in the 1990s, Speed, to me, represented a colossal figure, the archetypical professional that could never be discounted. Regardless of which club you supported, Speed was a player you respected – always fair, and always a threat to the opposition, with his pace down the wings in his early days, and his sense of positional awareness and tactical acuity in the latter part of his career. Speed scored in every season of the Premier League, right from its inception in 1992-1993 to 2007-08, his last season in the league with Bolton Wanderers. Tributes poured across all football grounds in England, including one at Elland Road, “As Leeds United staged what amounted to a communal public elegy for one of British football’s favourite sons of the past 20 years,” in the words of Barney Ronay. Speed began his career at Leeds, where he won his only league championship, the year before the Premier League’s foundation. Sky Sports produced a touching 4-minute video with many of Speed’s peers, including fellow Welshmen, Ryan Giggs and Mark Hughes, paying tribute to their one-time teammate. At a midtown bar in New York, Legends 33, hordes of Newcastle fans who had gathered to watch their game against Chelsea in the early Saturday morning hours, joined in the 1-minute applause prior to kick-off and continued with chants of “Speedo Speedo” throughout the course of the game. David Lacey, wrote in the Guardian, that “football matters precisely because it does not matter that much.” Nick Szczepanik’s touching obituary, again in the Guardian, and The Telegraph’s collection of images showcasing Speed’s careers are also worth looking at.

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In what has been a particularly depressing week for football fans, the flamboyant Brazilian, Socrates, 57, died, in Sao Paulo after suffering a septic shock. Socrates was the captain of a ridiculously talented Brazil team in the 1982 World Cup Finals when the country to the horror of its fans that extend to date failed to go past the second round. Socrates was also one of the few qualified doctors to play football at the highest level. Read the mandatory Brian Glanville obituary here; an interview that Socrates gave Alex Bellos last year, in which he discusses a new book that he was writing that was to release in time for the 2014 World Cup Finals, and Gabrielle Marcotti’s tribute in the Wall Street Journal.

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Staying with football, Sam Fayyaz has written a fine piece in The Run of Play comparing Fernando Redondo and Javi Martinez, titled Generalissimo. “There is something uncannily similar about the manner in which they impose themselves on a match: almost managerial or authoritarian without being brutal or grotesque in the way of a Nigel De Jong or Roy Keane. There is a kind of death-and-taxes inevitability about their centrality in the proceedings of any given match,” Fayyaz wrote. He also makes reference to Redondo’s sumptuous skill – a most ridiculous nutmeg of Henning Berg that I can see 100 times a day and not get bored – en route to assisting Raul in Real Madrid’s 3-2 defeat of Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions League quarterfinal in April 2000. The nutmeg, Jonathan Wilson later wrote, in the Guardian, had a substantial impact on the development of football tactics in the noughties.

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Captaincy has provided an impetus to Michael Clarke’s batting and in the first innings of Australia’s commanding triumph over New Zealand at the Gabba, he produced his third century in four tests; yet another splendid innings littered with the most sparkling drives. Read, Chris Barrett in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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Mukul Kesavan’s piece on why Tendulkar’s 100th ton sholdn’t matter, meanwhile has garnered much attention, so much so that the article, which first appeared in the Telegraph, has since been republished by Yahoo and Cricinfo. Kesavan says, amongst his other arguments, “The real cricketing illiterates are the people who believe that adding ODI centuries to Test centuries and arriving at a hundred gives you a heroic landmark. It doesn’t. This isn’t just a meaningless statistic, it’s a pernicious one, because it equalizes two different orders of achievement.” But aren’t all statistical appreciations inherently whimsical? Who is to say that a hundred should be feted while a well-made 88 shouldn’t? But for whatever reason, be it the decimal system or something else, the order of history has shown that hundreds have always been considered a significant achievement. Now, nobody – at least nobody in their right minds – is arguing that statistical feats are the only claim to greatness, but cricket is a game of numbers, and statistical attainments have always been treasured. Kesavan’s argument that to celebrate Tendulkar’s impending feat would result in equalizing two different orders of achievement also doesn’t cut it. That Tendulkar has been so successful in both formats of the game should, in fact, augment his claims to absolute greatness. Jacques Kallis, the second on the list of Test centurions – with 40 hundreds – has a total of 57 international tons; Ricky Ponting has a total of 69; Rahul Dravid and Brian Lara, fourth and sixth on the Test list, have 101 between them. All of this only shows how staggering Tendulkar’s achievement would be. And in any case, 100 100s has an amazing ring to it, and in the ultimate analysis, statistical appreciation is purely arbitrary, as Tim de Lisle pointed out in a piece in this year’s Wisden Almanack.

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Addendum: On Socrates, also read this piece by the always superb Alan Jacobs in The Run of Play. He writes: “He was the anti-Bartleby: Melville’s scrivener went through life saying, “I would prefer not to.” Sócrates went through life saying, “I prefer to.” I prefer to drink; I prefer to smoke; I prefer to back-heel the ball; I prefer to take penalties without a silly run-up. I even prefer to get a degree in medicine, to be Doctor Sócrates.”

4 Comments on "Sport Critical Digest: 6.12.11"

  1. Anisha December 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm · Reply

    I have to say, I loved the Kesavan piece (thanks for the link!) and not just because it features a crotchety old man harrumphing about the ills of non-test cricket (though that is pretty appealing as well). I’m tired of waiting for a “landmark”, which is only going to be an anticlimax when it arrives (much like the 35th test ton). And the notion that any centuries he scores after this dratted 100th (please let there be more) will be “surplus to requirement” is just terrible.

    • Suhrith December 6, 2011 at 9:19 pm · Reply

      Thanks, Anisha! Frankly, I haven’t been waiting for the “landmark” with bated breath, but I just think when he does get there, it will be a really nice moment and it will be something worth cherishing. And I if it happens in Melbourne, I sure hope it isn’t an anticlimax.

  2. Hiten Samtani December 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm · Reply

    Yes! Great feature, much wanted. A whole day’s worth of articles to read in class :)

    • Suhrith December 6, 2011 at 9:19 pm · Reply

      Thanks very much, Hiten!

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