“I devour great prose about sports, and will read the same piece sometimes dozens of times, in an attempt to learn more about the craft and, frankly, to be entertained. Great writing is one of the world’s last great turn-ons.” — Monte Burke, writing for Forbes.com
Exactly my sentiments. I’m a sports wimp, the kind that watches gladiatorial contests from behind splayed fingers, the type that siblings want to throttle for screaming at importune moments. So thank god for Twitter, where streams of manic real-time updates allow me to feel the adrenalin minus the gore. Nothing trumps gore — as long as I know the outcome in advance.
But I’m a wimp who also loves the drama of grim contests, of men and women pitted against each other — and the world — and those moments when the yakking of pundits die down and there is only the self’s primal roar.
Sometimes that inner rage allows one to go past all barriers and triumph. Sometimes, even that won’t stave off a hungrier soul. Life is strange. Sometimes, even the twin powers of will and genius just ain’t enough.
That’s why sportswriters are a great vicarious thrill. They’re there, eyes wide open, while I cringe behind a sibling or an offspring or a friend. So they get to savor all the color, the sweat flying from those bodies, the blaze in the eyes or the moment the fire dims and dies.
Tennis, baseball, basketball, skating, gymnastics, soccer, boxing — my skill sets are zub-zero all around; I’ve never flown high or whizzed around defying gravity. Certainly, I have never thrown a punch at anyone. But I’m a fan, even when I’m oblivious to game rules.
It’s the movement, the character, the conflict that draw me in. And when they’re good, sportswriters can wield magic wands that lay down word movies you can savor long after Parkinsons, psychosis and tax woes have devoured the warriors.
I’d recommend Burke’s list of great sports pieces for anyone who aspires to be a writer. Sports are a distillation of life’s contests. They have everything — pain and triumph or defeat, politics, sex, racial tension, chips as huge as mountains and grace seldom found elsewhere. It’s about people transcending life’s elements. What’s there not to plumb?
For the second Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley duel, there were some gems. Perhaps, the others will crop up tomorrow. For now, the best of the batch:
Beautiful writing here. Almost an elegy, but not quite. Yet respectful. Very honest.
“LAS VEGAS — As the final rounds unfolded on Saturday night, Manny Pacquiao stalked Timothy Bradley. He followed Bradley into corners, around the ring, everywhere but into Bradley’s lap between rounds. Pacquiao wanted a knockout. In many ways, he needed a knockout. He looked for the knockout.
He did not find one.
This is where Pacquiao is at now: not at the end of his career, but near it. He is still an elite boxer, one of the two best of his generation, still very, very good. But the old Pacquiao, the guy whose left hand dizzied and dismantled foes, the guy who knocked out Ricky Hatton and stopped Miguel Cotto? He’s gone. Has been for a while now.
The old Pacquiao has been replaced by an older one.
That happens. That’s boxing, perhaps the sport where the aging process is most pronounced. No one is immune, not even a transcendent talent like Pacquiao.”
Bishop also wrote the best of the Pacman flashback articles. A cinematic lede draws you sweetly in:
LAS VEGAS — The Greyhound bus rumbled south from San Francisco, a boxing champion unknown outside the Philippines seated near the back. Manny Pacquiao was headed toward Los Angeles.
That was 2001, before Pacquiao became fighter of the decade, a Congressman and a millionaire. The boxer who now rides buses with his likeness splashed across both sides did not even have his own row. He weighed about 122 pounds. He was 22. He spoke no English. He possessed a left hand and a vague plan and the experience of 34 professional fights. Yet for Pacquiao, this trip was a luxury, the bus more like a limousine. He came from poverty that extreme, grew up without shoes, sold flowers and donuts and fish caught from the ocean on the street.
“The Greyhound, that’s the beginning,” Pacquiao said this week. “The beginning of it all.”
He serves up delicious tidbits: Suitcases of cash! Bob Dylan! Roach betting!
And it ends with a lyrical run of wisdom:
“Those who fret over Pacquiao’s loss of aggressiveness, or killer instinct, have forgotten where it came from, the poverty that forged it, the improbability of his rise. His savagery came from somewhere and lessened when his life went somewhere else. It’s hard to find a comparable story in sports, let alone boxing.
“I can’t think of non-American fighter who didn’t come from south of the border who was ever able to become a consistent attraction in America,” Merchant said. “Much less a star. Much less a superstar. Much less somebody who people who don’t care about boxing have an idea about.
“That just doesn’t happen.”
Bill Dwyre’s LA Times article has a slick lede. But the glory prose is towards the end:
“Bradley hotdogged again at the end of the sixth, and it became stranger and stranger as it became clearer and clearer that Pacquiao was winning the match.”
“Manny Pacquiao summons up vintage form to regain his crown” by Matt Christie of The Guardian has a great summary of what we all felt in the run-up to the MGM battle:
“The atmosphere beforehand crackled with that sense of anticipation. Watching Pacquiao these days is not like it used to be when he was the undisputed king of his trade. Not so long ago we thought he was superhuman, and his slayings were guilty pleasures. For this bout, a loss was just as likely as a win, and as the idol made his way to the battleground, hearts rattled like alarm clocks.”
ESPN’s report shows two fighters in their best behavior. No trash talk. All grace and clear, crisp self-assessment from victor and vanquished.
I thought the writing of Kevin Lole of Yahoo was so-so. But give him props for really putting the spotlight on what a thug Bob Arum really is. And the man pontificates on thuggery. Sheesh.
Which articled moved you the most?
Do share any great article you stumble on.