This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
When we talk sports, it's assumed we're talking the crème de la crème, such as the Olympians in Vancouver. There are maybe a dozen figure skaters of each gender, maybe a dozen who can perform those outrageously difficult jumps and spins and execute them artfully.
And so it goes with all the sports we watch and cover on a daily basis. Millions can play a round of golf but it's another world, the pros who pull a fade just a couple of inches to land deftly, not just on the green, but with the spin that draws the ball toward the hole.
OK, so we agree. We watch sports for the high of being awe-struck.
Yet, I had an experience in the middle of the Winter Olympics that reminded me not only of the real reason we watch sports, but why sports have forever been an integral part of civilized societies. I went to the season's final basketball game of a local elementary school. Eleven-year-old boys playing their hearts out, intelligently executing their coaches' teachings of the basics, all playing selflessly, no showboating, sharing the glory, giving credit when due to the other side.
I swear, I was so excited by the final wind-down of that game clock, the experience was every bit as exciting, and inspiring, as the Canada-U.S. gold medal hockey game in Vancouver.
I was there to root for Ben's team. The other guys were bigger and faster. Ben's squad obviously realized the import of the final game. Their coach quietly held their rapt attention before tip-off and they came out focused, grounded…and on fire. Sam the point guard came down the court with tremendous court sense, a miniature Steve Nash, his peripheral vision leading him to dish passes left and right, or to make a quick fake and then throw up a three-pointer. NBA guards could learn a thing or two from Ben's teammate, Steffan. This kid plays every defensive moment as if he's performing for UCLA scouts. He smothers his man, hands up and in constant motion. His eyes are alert, like a cheetah on the hunt. He constantly strips the ball and then flies down the court. Ben is tall and patrols the basket area with eyes riveted at once on his point guard and his opponents. He breaks free, Sam dribbles and fires a waist-high pass inside. Ben turns on a dime and banks off the glass for yet another basket.
Fifteen seconds to go and it's a tie ball game. The Ben team defense again throws their hustle into overdrive. They rebound, work their team chemistry down-court and go one basket up. The opponent calls time out and comes back with a game plan to get it to their biggest guy, the one who's been pretty much unstoppable all game long. Two seconds on the clock. The big guy has the ball in his hands.
He drives to the basket. Three of Ben's teammates press in. The ball goes up…..and it misses!
I almost had a heart attack, the whole thing was so well-played and so dramatic, from the first to the last second. The winners were humble. The losers were gracious. And I left beaming. Beaming to think this world of sports I've chosen to spend my whole life immersed in is a worthy world. A world defined by the exhilaration of effort and discipline, by mutual respect, learned and practiced skills, by overcoming momentary disappointment or embarrassment, by the collective energy that comes with camaraderie, and by the sheer joy of two evenly matched teams playing with every fiber of the best that's within themselves, right down to the final buzzer. And, in the end, that's the same emotion we feel when we watch the pros. Yes, we're in awe of their talents, in High Definition. But it's the soul of sports, it's the essence of what I felt in watching Ben's basketball game, that moves us.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
Banner image: Steffan and Ben