While discussing favorite movies with friends this past weekend, a close friend of mine folded his arms as he leaned back in his chair and proclaimed with a scowl, "I don’t do sports movies. Sports are a waste of human potential."
Given that he is an outspoken opponent of most things aerobic, we weren’t necessarily shocked at the sentiment, though perhaps caught off guard by such a strong statement (especially since this is Seattle, land of passive-aggressive euphemisms).
We all granted him that sports culture in the U.S. has spun completely out of control. As a fellow educator who works with him on a daily basis, I also granted him that the number of youth who dedicate their energy to "Hoop Dreams" at the expense of all else to their own detriment could be considered a waste of human potential. Even among the few who do make a living playing sports, most hit their peak at 30. To dedicate oneself to an endeavor in which people generally peak at 30 is almost contemptuous of human life.
My other friend countered that what makes sports great is watching people strive to be the best at something they love. Furthermore, the very fact that the average person cannot do the things professional athletes do routinely is worthy of our attention. The fact that many youth do waste potential on sports is a failure of the adults who pressure them to do so, not the youth following a dream. Sports are not a waste of human potential, but almost a celebration of the human body and perhaps more importantly, the human spirit.
After 5 to 10 more minutes of pontificating about the existential value of sports to humanity, we ended the discussion, exhausting the arguments of our "aerobophobic" friend. However, I coincidentally decided to watch the recently released documentary Sonicsgate about the Seattle Sonics relocation to Oklahoma City last night and was unexpectedly brought back to the discussion through the words of writer Sherman Alexie.
I try to appeal in my columns and talking to people. What’s the thing you love – the thing you love the most – what’s that thing? And what would you do for it? To keep it, to have it? What’s that thing?
We had Ray Allen here. Ray Allen is very likely the best shooter who has ever lived. There is likely nobody on the planet who has ever able to do this one thing better than Ray Allen. I mean, imagine that: in this city lived a human being who was better at their thing than any human who ever lived. He lived here, he played here. There were 41 nights a year – 50 nights a year – when you could have gone and seen that.
It’s the ultimate expression of the human endeavor. The ultimate expression of the human spirit. The ultimate expression of human dedication. The way in which one man, through hard work – through years of hard work – through his own passion, through his own poetry became the very best in human history at one thing. And people let that go.
While it may be possible to challenge the claim that Allen is the best shooter ever, the point remains that the realization of human passion through sports is actually an amazing thing to behold.
If I dare extend Alexie’s thought, watching women’s sports are even more gratifying in that they work hard to be best at the thing they love in relative obscurity. For most female athletes, there is no celebrity status or life altering financial rewards – it’s purely striving to be the best for the sake of doing so.
Seattle has been spoiled with regard to women’s sports by the luxury of watching Sue Bird become among the best female point guards of her time and Lauren Jackson become one of the best female basketball players ever, injuries notwithstanding. We are lucky to be witnesses.
Basketball, to my mind, is a credit to human potential – the best individuals are not only good at one thing, but have the ability to use that thing effectively in collaboration with others to achieve a collective goal. Rather than a waste of human potential, the fluidity and collaboration required in basketball is almost an unrealized vision of what we’re capable of. For some reason, that never ceases to impress me.
A note to Detroit Shock fans: Although I recognize losing your team is probably painful, it pales in comparison to the slow death the Sonics had to go through. Alexie said that he wouldn't want one of a handful of struggling NBA franchises to come to Seattle because he wouldn't want other fans to suffer the loss of their team. However, the suffering that Seattle Sonics fans had to go through is likely unparalleled in sports history and I'm not forgetting teams leaving in the middle of the night. They were repeatedly disrespected and then the city completely sold them out...and now the city's first of two professional sports championships belongs to Oklahoma City. It's sickening...and the movie captures all of that pain extremely well.
To watch the movie online, see its website at http://sonicsgate.org/.
I was feeling the soundtrack for Sonicsgate too. Worth checking out.