An Athlete For The Ages

I never got to see Babe Ruth up at bat in a baseball game, watch Jesse Owens run and jump, or cheer as Jim Brown carried the football on a sweep . . . but I am getting to watch LeBron James play basketball.

Every once in a while, an athlete comes along that is so spectacularly gifted that they break all the records, bust through every preconceived notion, and change their sport and the expectations about it in fundamental ways.  Babe Ruth singlehandedly turned baseball from a bunt and steal, scratch for a run, “small ball” game to one in which home run hitters and big innings were what brought fans to the ballparks.  Jesse Owens set records that lasted for decades and thumbed his nose at Hitler and his racist notions about a “master race” while doing so.  Jim Brown crushed every NFL rushing record then in existence and was such a dominant player, in size, speed, and power, that he is probably one of the few NFL players of his era who actually could have played, and starred, in the modern league.

And, then, there is LeBron James.  He hasn’t had quite the same impact on his sport as Ruth, Owens, and Brown, because he’s working against a much longer history of NBA players — but he’s still steadily moving up the all-time records lists, routinely scoring 30+ points in the playoff games when the challenges are the greatest, and winning, winning, winning, wherever he plays.  He’s probably not going to catch Bill Russell or Michael Jordan when it comes to winning championships, or score the most points every year, but in every game he is the dominant player and, to use Reggie Jackson’s phrase, the “straw that stirs the drink.”

And, speaking as a non-athlete, it’s pretty amazing to watch a barrel-chested, 6-foot-8, 270-pound man who can run like a deer, jump out of the gym, dunk from the free-throw line, shoot three-pointers, and block shots from the cheap seats.  He’s basically unguardable, and he imposes his will on every contest.  Watching LeBron James play is simply an awesome spectacle.

Let’s not engage in petty arguments about whether LeBron James or Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time, or worry about whether LeBron’s team wins the championship every year.  Let’s just savor the fact that we’ve got an athlete for the ages in our midst, and we’re lucky enough to watch him work his magic in real time.

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Looking For The Political “Glue Guys”

Sociological theory holds that every successful organization needs “glue guys.”  Coaches of sports teams agree.

“Glue guys” are the people who do the little things that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet, or the balance sheet, but that are crucial to moving the overall endeavor in the right direction.  On a basketball team they take the charge, dive for the loose ball, and cheer like crazy for the team when they are on the bench.  In an office, they might bring in a dozen doughnuts for no reason, take the new guy in accounting to lunch during his first week, or try to smooth ruffled feelings so a minor incident doesn’t become a major blow-up.

The “glue guys” typically aren’t perceived as superstars, and often their contribution is just assumed.  But if the “glue guys” leave, suddenly the office or the the offense doesn’t run quite so well, the prima donnas start battling for attention, and bad feelings start to grow.  Before you know it, people are hogging the ball and communicating with each other through passive-aggressive notes stuck to the front of the office microwave.

When I reflect on our dysfunctional political environment, I wonder if the real problem is that we lacki those political “glue guys” — the Senators and Representatives who, in the past, could swallow their pride, work with people in the other party, keep their word, and forge a fair compromise that would allow the necessary work to get done.  Now, it seems, everyone acts like a superstar — they raise huge amounts of money, they send countless overwrought e-mails soliciting even more cash by presenting opposing views in the most dangerous possible light, and when the party talking points get circulated they dutifully go on MSNBC or Fox shows and say pointed, terrible things about the other side.  How many of these preening politicos would take a charge or dive for a loose ball to try to, say, develop a rational approach to immigration issues?

I think we need more of the “glue guys” in Washington, D.C.  The question is, how do we accomplish that in our modern polarized, money-saturated, poll-driven political system?

The Year’s Best Buzzer-Beaters

We fans need to train and prepare for the NCAA Tournament, too.  To help everyone get ready for the miracle finishes, Cinderella stories, and upset specials that will come our way this weekend, Webner House hereby offers this compilation of the best basketball buzzer-beaters of 2013.  Some of them are pretty spectacular.

It’s time for the Big Dance!

The Heckler

Last night, while watching the Buckeyes battle Northwestern on the hard court, I watched a hairless referee botch another call.  I could restrain myself no longer.  I stood up from my seat and yelled:  “Hey Baldy!  Get your head out of your ass!”

Kish was shocked, and perhaps neighboring fans were, too.  She yanked me down and pleaded that I never do that again.  In particular, she said, I should never comment on someone’s physical appearance.

I’m sorry that I called Old Chrome Dome “Baldy,” but I had to get his attention, because he clearly blew the call.  His scalp condition was such that I doubt my effort was the first time he had been called “Baldy.”  In fact, I’d imagine he responds to “Baldy” routinely, perhaps even when that name is shouted by his mother and members of his family.  So why not use a word that he might hear and recognize?

As far as the rest of the comment goes, I encourage heckling at sporting events.  If you’re going to don that striped shirt and whistle and judge other people, you’ve got to expected to be judged yourself.  If Mr. Clean is going to blow a call to the detriment of the Buckeyes, he needs to understand he’ll be called on it.

I think heckling can get out of hand when it becomes profane (sorry, I don’t think “ass” really qualifies) and violent, but a little needling of the ref is part of what should be a home court advantage.  I’d rather be an occasional heckler than a fan who never stands up, cheers, or chants.