Current Events in Sports, from the Sofa. Neil Simon said "Sports is the only entertainment where, no matter how many times you go back, you never know the ending". Touché. When we’ve listened to an album, seen a film, read a book, tried a dish, or travelled somewhere, we know what to expect. We know the experience. But every time that we get settled on the sofa, surrounded by all of the pertinent paraphernalia (a soda, a varied selection of snacks, the mobile phone turned off, the radio in the background, the utmost excitement, anger ready to jump out), to watch a sporting event, however trivial and minor it might be, many factors come into play that nothing and nobody can equal. Every game, every race, every marathon, every mountain top, every set, every final is different, new, unknown, an experience where if you are emotionally involved with it you go through mood changes that often even beat orgasm and ecstasy. All of this from the point of view of the spectator, of course, which is the best way to experience the sporting spirit. This month we are inaugurating a new section dedicated to commenting on the sports events that have most caught our attention these days. Nine key points. Without sweat, pain, or injuries.
1. Right in the midst of the NBA playoffs, writing these lines with the Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, and Los Angeles Lakers already in the conference finals (or semi-finals of the competition, for neophytes), waiting for the results of the contest between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, Kobe Bryant can’t think of anything better to do than to pose for the L.A. Times with the look that we see in these pictures. First reaction: stupor, incredulity. Second: blinking, surprise. Third: inconsolable crying. A more disconcertingly homosexual photo session than this one has never been seen. That look somewhere between a homo pilgrim, an affected Berber, and a segregationist cotton-picker who has manicures and does his eyebrows has made an impression. But maybe what most catches the eye in these photos isn’t the utterly gay pose, or the portfolio’s delirious styling, but rather the fact that a member of the publication’s staff has deliberately darkened the player’s face. You can see for yourself (we have attached a routine photo of the player) that this Bryant is as black as tar, who knows whether as an indispensable accessory for the concept hidden behind the session, or whether as some sort of racial reaffirmation. In any case, this is the most hilarious moment of the season’s end, a real provocation so that the rival fans can really go to town with the same old pictures. In Utah, of course, they took advantage of the occasion and gave us clear, direct allusions, as the photo shows. Can anyone imagine what would happen in Spain, Italy, or England if, for example, Leo Messi, Gennaro Gatusso or Wayne Rooney appeared in a major Sunday newspaper magazine looking like that?2. What would happen is that they would be the stars of “ Sálvame Diario”, of course, the leading program on today’s Spanish television. In fact, another of the stellar moments of recent weeks has something to do with what I was saying a few lines ago. The picture of FC Barcelona players Gerard Piqué and Zlatan Ibrahimovic squeezing each other affectionately could go unnoticed in any other corner of the world—after all, it is the capturing of a moment of excitement and friendship between two team mates. It’s nothing that we don’t see in the celebration of every goal. But in “Sálvame Diario” they knew how to turn it up a notch, to show the photo with sensual music, hot comments, and a lot of homo filling, in order to make something silly into an excuse for national ridicule and humorous taunting. Of course nobody counted on the Swedish forward’s reaction to so much Spanish kidding: his response to the program’s female reporter, "you come over to my house, and you’ll find out whether I’m gay,” put an immediate stop to the joke. Below a picture of that moment for the viewing pleasure of those who roll around like a cat having its belly rubbed when they see rude answers to purely, perfectly rude actions.3. Footballers and gay aesthetics, Part II. A few days ago, a special report appeared in Vanity Fair about the World Cup, which starts in barely three weeks, with photographs by the renowned –and also somewhat tiresome– Annie Leibovitz. An issue put out for the sole purpose of activating and stirring up the hormones, both male and female, of everyone who has made big football stars into their current sexual idols and icons. The cover doesn’t lie: Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba in their underwear, with the flags of their respective countries, showing off pectorals, abdominals, and quadriceps. And although it’s true that at first sight it seems that Drogba is fairly hung like a horse, which was the popular legend that we all had in mind, the impact of the photos has left no one indifferent. Inside, there are more stars: Kaká, Landon Donovan, Pato, Muntari or Eto’o, among others. No homo, but it seems fairly clear that of all of the participants in the article, the best-endowed is Eto’o. And we’re all thinking the same thing: those guys are screwing everybody. In this sense, I have a real anecdote. They say that a journalist and a player from the BBVA League were going out to eat together, and when they saw the crowd of women looking the player up and down and relentlessly pursuing him in the street, the journalist, astonished by the situation, couldn’t help himself, and he asked him: “Hey man, can you really take this?” The football player’s masterful answer was, “It depends on the weight.” If in the 80’s, adolescents’ sexual icons were pop stars, and in the 90’s they were young, flashy Hollywood actors, today this role is played by footballers. And they’re thrilled, of course.4. Not everything is strong men, firm muscles, and Adonis in shorts. Thanks to Nike, the heterosexual male public, as well as girls who like girls, have been able to enjoy an especially recommendable proposal. It is the counterpoint of the Vanity Fair session, no more nor less than an Umbro campaign, the football brand par excellence that Nike bought at the end of 2007, starring the spouses of some elite footballers. We all know that the wives of athletes never let you down, and this specialised casting is a good demonstration. It is enough to take a look at the video to see why footballers are the most envied men on the planet. And going over the line-up, it is clear that my favourite selection for the World Cup isn’t Spain but Argentina, followed closely by Uruguay.5. I thought that I would end the review of football current events with a brief comment on the winners of the most outstanding European leagues. But there is a more relevant bit of news than Chelsea’s victory in the Premier or Bayern Munich’s in the Bundesliga—it seems, although it hasn’t been officially confirmed, that Real Madrid player José María Gutiérrez “ Guti” is leaving the Spanish league to go to Turkey, to take his last chance in sports and to wreak havoc on Istanbul nightlife with Dani Güiza. Drama. Tragedy. Group suicides. The Apocalypse. How will we live without Guti in our football? Will there be a morning after his departure? Spain needs someone like the Madrid centre fielder, the absolute sublimation of a “half-breed” turned into a pop icon, a night owl, an intermittent talent, a universally lazy person, gossip magazine idol, fundamental point of reference for “the beautiful people” of the Spanish capital. Hateful and God at the same time, the Madrid team’s enfant terrible, a heartfelt hater of the Barcelona team, every declaration Guti made had something to sink your teeth into, every nocturnal appearance could end up lasting forever, every entry onto the field in the middle of the second period could turn out fantastic or with indiscriminate booing from the crowd. He’s leaving us. The Spanish Beckham? NOT: Beckham was always the British Guti.6. The post-Final Four hangover from Euroleague basketball continues. Regal FC Barcelona strolled into Paris and took the easiest European Cup in its entire history. Twenty points, with the cap and without working any harder than what was barely necessary, practically with one hand tied behind their backs. In terms of sports, the balance of this weekend in the French capital can be summarised easily: the final was at the same time as the fourth game of the Cavaliers-Celtics series. If Barça hadn’t participated in the aforementioned final, would anybody really rather have seen the most important game in the European tournament than the fourth playoff in the NBA conference semi-finals? European basketball isn’t going well; it doesn’t capture anyone outside of the fans’ affection for their clubs. Nobody is questioning the audience success of the television broadcast of the final, but the rest of the year the competition’s share is pathetic. As a spectacle, the Euroleague only saves itself when it’s an epic contest (the Partizan-Olympiacos semi-final, for example) or when the game is played much better than average (which is the case with Regal Barça), but daring to compare European basketball with American, at least in their respective competitions (the area of selections is another world) is a heresy. And it’s not only the sports itself, it’s also the atmosphere, the feeling, the show. It is enough to say that the moment of the greatest glamour and social revelry of the Final Four was provided by Joan Laporta and his entourage, who wanted to emulate Jack Nicholson and Spike Lee with a performance next to the court, in the first row, at 3,000 euros a seat, the kind of thing that makes a mark. Belly about to burst, raging celebrations of baskets, give me 5 with out-of-control executives, and especially the absolutely dumbfounded faces of the Russian magnates in the same row. It was a scene from Dante to give some domestic colour, one hundred percent local, to an event that is decaffeinated, even with the Paris organisation itself, which couldn’t care less about basketball.7. Continuing with basketball. Two points. In the first place, NBA higher-ups are worried, especially David Stern, who, like a good Jew, knows how to handle all of the business aspects firmly and astutely—they’re worried about how quickly and easily the playoffs have been wrapped up so far. Because of sales and business logic, NBA wants the series to go on as long as possible: that means more games, more audiences, and more income, and also a fuller calendar. And this year the imbalance between teams borders on scandalous. Orlando Magic beat the Hawks 4-0, the same score with which Phoenix eliminated the Spurs, who initially seemed like they would give them a better run for their money, and who are now facing the decline of an era and a basketball saga. The same with the Lakers, who made quick work of Utah. We have reached the point that in the second week of May, we already have the conference final table almost filled out. The problem isn’t only business and financial, but also sporting. This overwhelming superiority doesn’t benefit the league, which is wondering right now whether it prefers a Lakers-Cavaliers final, because of the media pull of the James-Bryant face-off, or a Lakers-Celtics final, because of the historical rivalry and retro magic that always goes along with their games. The drama for the NBA, as some analysts say, would be for Orlando Magic, a team with much less social draw, to worm its way into the final again. But hopes are not pinned only on the final itself, but also on what could happen as a consequence of it. Will the future of Lebron James, whose contract ends in June, and who still hasn’t announced his future, be the same if the Cavaliers reach the final and get the gold ring as if they lose in the semi-finals against Boston? As impossible as it seems, people in the League offices are still dreaming of James’ arrival at Madison Square Garden, for various reasons. In a few days we’ll know, we hope with more hotly-contested conference finals.8. The second point about basketball has to do with the U.S. debut of the film “ Just Wright”, starring rappers Common and Queen Latifah. We haven’t been able to see it yet, but the American reviews speak of sentimental sap and abuse of stereotypes related to sports films with a taste for the Hollywood epic. It tends to happen. Fortunately, there are many varied, attractive basketball films, independent of the lens through which the sport is seen, and they don’t always resort to the same old clichés we’ve seen a thousand times before. Taking advantage of the opening of the seemingly failed “Just Wright,” it seems worth mentioning five basic titles in the relationship between film and basketball, which should be in places of honour in one’s DVD collection. I’ll go through them one by one below.
a) “ Hoop Dreams” is one of the masterpieces in the history of film. Period. An impeccable documentary that perfectly captures the essence of pre-university basketball in the United States.
b) “ Hoosiers” has some of the tics of the easy epic, but it is the fiction film that best portrays this sport from a retro, nostalgic perspective. Solid interpretations, historical fidelity, and very dynamic direction are its main calling cards.
c) “ Coach Carter” abuses the discourse and the message, but it’s worth watching only for Samuel L. Jackson’s performance, the precision of the sports scenes, and the story’s melancholic afterglow.
d) “ White Men Can’t Jump” is much more frivolous, free-and-easy, and anticlimactic than the three previous films, but it is the one that most ingeniously deals with street basketball and the sometimes-difficult relationship between whites and blacks.
e) “ He got game” isn’t Spike Lee’s best film, but it is solid, ambitious, and personal. Ray Allen stars in a successful story of redemption that goes beyond the purely sporting reflection.9. I’m ending with Tiger Woods—it could be no other way. The golfer has been in the news lately for two reasons. In the first place, because it has officially been made public that Woods had sex with 121 women while he was married to the Swedish model Elin Nordgeren. Considering that they were married in October of 2004, the numbers are very clear: an average of 24 girls a year, which is to say, an average of two affairs a month. It seems that in the clinic where he was trying to cure his sex addiction, he made a list of all of his skirmishes outside of his marriage, and they filled up four pages with names. All of this has coincided with his return to the green. And this return, for the moment, isn’t turning out like he wanted it to. During the first week, he got the worst scores in his entire career. And a few days ago, he was forced to drop out of a tournament because of a neck injury that might be related to the car accident that caused the whole sentimental crisis. The summary of this situation might be best explained with a tweet, a joke by Paul Azinger, who was the U.S. captain in the 2008 Ryder Cup: “Could this have been prevented with a Swedish massage?”