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We all know people who turn their noses up at sports. The poor souls. They don’t know what they’re missing.
The last few days alone reaffirmed what most of us knew. There are times when sports feels as powerful as the finest films, the best theater productions, the greatest concerts.
Most of those feelings, obviously, come from teams from our towns, regions or schools. But recently, there have been national ties that bind.
Sunday night, the San Antonio Spurs finished off the Miami Heat to win the NBA championship. That in itself would be just another chapter in the league’s book. But the way the Spurs played in the Finals, with remarkable efficiency and beautiful ball-movement on offense, was enthralling.
A co-worker told me his wife has little interest in watching sports on television if it isn’t an Olympics. But she got wrapped up in watching the Spurs, saying they were “so fluid, it’s almost a ballet. ... It’s just so pretty.”
You read comments on the Internet from people urging youth coaches to show tape of the Spurs to their players. You heard people who weren’t NBA fans concede this was basketball at its best. You saw the Spurs not only win with style, but celebrate with grace.
To my knowledge, they didn’t tell anyone they were great. Which may be the greatest part of it.
The Spurs suffered a heartbreaking 7-game series loss to the Heat in last year’s Finals after holding a 3-2 lead. Instead of making excuses or assigning blame, they just came back this season and played a little better. If you can’t find something useful from that example, you don’t want to see it.
That was Sunday. Monday, the U.S. beat Ghana in the World Cup-opener for both.
The game wasn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it certainly was dramatic. The U.S. team scored 34 seconds in, then kept the lead while enduring an assortment of injuries. They were pretty wobbly after (and before) Ghana tied the game in the 82nd minute.
Immediately after the tying goal, ESPN’s announcers said hanging on and getting a tie would be a good thing for the U.S. But instead of tucking it in, the Americans played for the win. Four minutes later, the U.S. scored to retake the lead for good.
Roars were unleashed in gathering places for game-watches large and intimate all over the country. It was a goose-bumps moment.
No matter how the U.S. does in the rest of the tournament — and it doesn’t look like an elite team by any stretch — this was a point in time when a U.S. television audience of 15.8 million on ESPN and Univision cheered for the same team.
When does that ever happen, other than when the president announces we’ve killed the founder of Al-Qaeda?
We seldom rally around any one thing because we’re so big and diverse. And we have so much. Ghana, meanwhile, had to ration electricity Monday just so all its people could watch the game on television at the same time.
OK, OK. But for a day, the playing field was level against a country with 12 times fewer people. A 21-year-old U.S. player named John Brooks was pulled off the bench, directed a soccer ball off his head into a net, and made a lot of people in his country very happy.
“How about that U.S. team!” a neighbor hollered at me an hour after the game. It was someone I wouldn’t have thought would have even watched the contest.
Yeah. How about them.