To be honest, I’ve been losing a lot of hope.
Not that I believe this pandemic won’t pass — everything passes, that’s the strongest law of existence. No, the dread and hopelessness comes from waking up everyday to an increasing number of victims and hearing those in power lie about what is going on, exacerbating the situation.
During this time, I’ve been thinking about beautiful things. Not as a way to keep dread away — I neither want to drown in the pain of the moment, nor run away from it — but to plant a garden within the chaos. This is an exercise to remind us what will hopefully be waiting on the other side of this pandemic.
Here is a list of just seven beautiful sports-related things. These are personal to me as a fan, and as a semi-retired athlete:
- The comfortable aches and pains of practicing or playing a game: I still take time to go outside and exercise. Mostly I run hills, which are exhausting enough, but they’re no replacement for the tiredness my body feels after playing soccer, a game I’ve loved since childhood. It is a sweet feeling to be tired from joy. I even miss complaining about the aches and pains.
- Waking up ungodly early for European soccer games, and staying up late for West Coast NBA games: Both are wonderful to complain about. (And note: ungodly for the early games for me is anything before 10 a.m.) There is a specific happiness in the haze of early-morning and late-night sports watching. The drift in and out of sleep, being shocked out of stupor by a critical or highlight play. The sudden falling asleep and waking up confused, or dragging oneself to bed when the late game finally and mercifully ends.
- Great dribbles and crossovers: I’m biased as a dribbler myself, but I believe that dribbling is an incredible ability. Dribbling can be an out of body experience — such an instinctive act that it often feels that you, as the dribbler, are also watching yourself as a spectator in the moment. When I was younger, my friends would ask me how I managed to beat multiple defenders in a tight situation, and I would be as lost as they were. My body would see danger and react. The mind still plays an important role in the experience, but only by first gauging the situation and then minimizing itself, like a spark for the expert, the body, to take care of the rest.
- Trash-talking: I know some people like mean-spirited trash-talk, but my favorite is the playful trash-talk between friends. My introduction to the art was a friend in middle school who would ask if I ate my Wheaties every morning before destroying my team in volleyball later that day. Then a few months ago, I was in London playing for a team on which a friend of mine plays as a defender. We went at it every training session. The last practice, before I left, I went against him one-on-one with the ball. I pretended to turn around to pass the ball away, then hit that young man with a Cruyff turn so mean that he had to yell for his defensive partner to cover. At the end of practice, I recited the incident to him with helpful descriptions about how pained he looked while his body was moving one direction and mine was going the other.
- Opposing players helping each other up: I enjoy those tender moments that capture the nature of competition. Sports often involve intense battle, but they don’t need to involve ill feelings. Players are often friendly, if not outright friends with their opponents. In big rivalry games, it’s sometimes fun to see your favorite team has the same disdain for the opponent that you do. Otherwise, I like it when players take care of each other.
- Watching a fast player reach full speed: I believe we don’t do enough justice to the beauty of bodies in motion. Above all else, sports are a theater for athletes to showcase how they have maximized their physical potential. Few things are as breathtaking as watching a player like Gareth Bale go on a long run while making other highly-trained athletes look like part-time call center representatives. Moments like that make me feel like I’m witnessing something supernatural.
- Witnessing young players come into their own: There is a special thrill in watching a promising youngster do something — whether it’s a pass, dribble, tackle or just a minutes-long stretch of playing well — that appears to signal their arrival. This suspended NBA season saw the introduction of Zion Williamson, who was hyped up endlessly before his debut, but still had many doubters. He struggled for most of his first game, seemingly validating his critics, until, suddenly, he scored 17 points in three minutes during the fourth quarter. Just like that, a forgettable game became a pronouncement of his elite destiny.