Over the past calendar year, sports fans have been spoiled. Championship games have provided an embarrassment of priceless spoils. Thrilling, back-and-forth contests have built to spectacular finishes and heroic, last-minute exploits.
Kris Jenkins’ three-pointer. LeBron James’ chasedown block and Kyrie Irving’s triple. Rajai Davis’ stunning homer and Ben Zobrist’s perfectly placed double. Deshaun Watson’s drive.
These winner-take-all games have all followed the same basic script with the action and tension building to a nail-biting apex. Resolution has come in poetic and unexpected ways. The communal and heart-racing experiences couldn’t have come at a better time, both for sports as a whole and the consumers that rely on them for escapism.
We need each and every transformative moment. We need to be reminded why we watch. We are at the same time insatiable and ignorant of what satiates us.
2016 was a year wrought with strife. It is not an over-exaggeration to suggest a contentious political climate and election has ripped at some of society’s most important fabric. Sports is not a magic elixir or a cure-all. But it can, and has, carved out a precious few hours where everything else recedes into the background, where getting lost in the present is the reflexive human response.
Perhaps, deep down, there’s an antiquated and naive Norman Rockwellian part of my soul. Perhaps, I’m placing too much importance on the trivial in believing that these games have provided a catharsis. At the same time, dismissing the unique blend of serenity and anxiety brought on by the deciding minutes of championship matches seems disingenuous.
There is something special about these snippets of time. The action seems to rev up. Everything is moving at breakneck speed in the present when we know full well that what’s happening will last forever in history. The mind understands that both everything and nothing are at stake.
Replicating this feeling outside the sphere of sports is difficult. And it’s a reminder why we watch, why we suffer the oftentimes irritating trappings.
The 24-7 news cycle breeds discontent. The noise of Take A or Take B so often distracts from the plot. It is not hyperbole to say that transcendent moments bring us back, that they conjure up memories of that first spark sports provided. Forgetting the flaws and shedding the baggage is freeing and rewarding for viewers who can allow themselves the indulgences of just, you know, enjoying the game.
Legacies will be debated and blame metered out in the morning. The length of games will be fretted over. These topics are the ancillary garnish too often billed as the main course — including on this website. But the truth of the matter is that they are nothing without the red meat of epic competition.
There is something so basic and pure about the decisive championship moments. Fate lies in the hands of the players. Nothing is determined and unpredictability is king. Fans and neutral parties know, deep down, that they are powerless. Disappearing into something bigger, something quickens the pulse.
In an era where entertainment options have never been greater, sports are under an unprecedented pressure to deliver. Time and time again over the past 10 months, they have.
So go ahead. Label all these flowery words and the cheese-covered sentiment ripped from the 1950s. Say that it’s overdramatic. But to me, this year has been a constant reminder why it’s been prudent to exert so much time and energy to something that means nothing. It’s reaffirmed long-held beliefs in the wonder sports can unlock.
That’s a good thing. And if it can’t be appreciated now, it never will.