Sports as an analogy for life might be an overused cliche*, but only because the best cliches are often pretty accurate. Why do we watch sports (or America's Got Talent) if not to witness competition, the very definition of living, or at least a reasonable hand-drawn facsimile? After all, we're all of us here because we won a race. I've never understood, nor completely trusted, anyone who dislikes sports for this very reason. We enjoy the best of fiction because it feels personal, it stimulates our imagination, it inspires us, and -- ideally -- makes us examine our world in a different way. Here's the thing about sports: they do the same thing, only they're real.
That's the greatest thing about sports. I don't believe the infinite monkey theorem is possible, just as I don't believe that, if I were given infinite time, I would be able to turn myself invisible**. Sure, the former is based on mathematical chance, the latter on scientific impossibility, but neither, infinite time withstanding, would ever happen. There are miracles, and there are miracles. Only the one in italics exists.
And those italic-miracles exist in all aspects of our lives. We use phrases such as "dumb luck," "close call," "happy accident***;"
or, for the more spiritually inclined, "karmic justice, "cosmic balance," and "manna from Heaven****," to explain the incredible. They're not really miracles, but then again, they're not not miracles.
For the collective population of Earth, nowhere are "miracles" more abundant as they are in sports. They happen all the time. A Spartan example is the Red Sox in '04, down 0-3 to the Yankees in the ALCS, winning four straight and then going on to win the World Series; or (and my apologies to a certain Bostonian who may read this) David Tyree's helmet catch in Super Bowl XLVI. Keep in mind that those are very well-known sporting events; if you were to take into account how many times the incredible regularly occurs at all levels of sport -- every scrappy pick-up game, every amateur competition around the world, the time I was drunk and got three bull's-eyes in a row*****, this -- you would marvel at how often sporting triumphs occur.
Of course, there are two tales to every struggle. A W for one is an L for another. And so it goes. In daily life, in war, in Mario Kart******, those who reap don't always sow, and those who sow don't always reap (especially in Ohio). Sometimes life isn't fair. God doesn't always favor the humble, but neither does he reward the grandiose. Because there is no god. Win or lose, it's all up to human competition. And when "miracles" happen, it's a marvel to behold, but rarely is it "fair."
I experienced my greatest sports epiphany******* under the most unlikely of circumstances. I am a huge fan of the Miami Heat. (Check the archives of this hallowed blog if you doubt my sincerity.) After basking in the glow of the second Heat title in seven years and the first for the then much-maligned LeBron James, the 2012-2013 NBA season was a roller coaster of emotions. With NBA League Pass********, I watched almost every regular season game (I missed one: the Heat-Celtics nail-biter, which was spoiled for me because I checked Facebook on my phone at 7 AM KST, forgetting that the game had a 1 PM EST start time). It was AMAZING.
The playoffs, however, were an entirely different animal. Working a day job, it wasn't possible for me to watch most games in real time. During the regular season, I would avoid social media and wait until I got home to watch the games on League Pass. The Heat won 66 games during the regular season, including 27 in a row, so this was usually a pleasant experience. Except when it wasn't. (See: Bulls, Chicago the)
I don't think many people watched the Heat as closely as I did, but it was apparent during the season that the Heat had a major flaw in its defense. It's rim protection was atrocious, like a bleeding carotid and a stabbed jugular. Some of that was stanched when the Heat signed Chris Andersen in January; but, come the playoffs, you can't leave a gaping wound like that around the basket to be exploited.
Exploited they were. Milwaukee was easy fodder in the first round, but after dropping Game 1 to the Bulls in the Eastern Conference semis, the sharks started circling. We know how that turned out: four straight wins for Miami to advance to the Conference Finals. Then, Indiana.
-- Intermission --
I shouldn't have this much invested in basketball. I'm a relatively well-adjusted man with a beautiful wife, a beautiful daughter, and a dachshund that can run faster than lightning (or at least faster than the dude in QWOP). But here's the thing: I have middle child syndrome. I always want to be bigger, more defiant, smarter, and more virtuous than the people who have slighted me or put me down. I think that is a natural human emotion, even if it isn't a very good one.
In the summer of 2010, I was beyond elated when LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat. The best basketball player in the world on MY team? Yes, please, and thank you! I soon discovered, however, that none of my friends shared my enthusiasm. James was a traitor, a villain, a charlatan who had deceived a nation for his own misguided gain. And I was a by-product of his Decision. Suddenly I was a bandwagoner, a front-runner. I had to defend myself for liking the basketball team that I had followed for over a decade after moving to Korea.
I started to develop a complex. The hate got to me, eerily similar to how it appeared to affect LeBron's game. After the Heat lost the 2011 Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, I was a wreck. I called my wife after the Game 6 loss and told her that we needed to buy a dachshund. We named him Flash. He's awesome.
Sports, as they relate to human relationships, should, ideally, be an innocuous matter, if not among opposing fanbases then at least among family. Yet on the day the Miami Heat won the NBA Championship one year later, I received the most hurtful message from my brother: "You know your daughter is in Canada, right?" It wasn't a question, it was a venomous non-sequitur that floored me with its raw malice.
I had a very difficult time between 2005 and 2007. I got divorced, fought for custody of my daughter, wasn't granted custody, then ultimately was granted custody for reasons I won't disclose here. My parents have taken care of my daughter since then, and I visit her every year. She turned 10 this month and is a remarkable child. She will be a remarkable woman. That's one variable I'll bet my life on. I can't wait to see her this Holiday Season. So, yeah, I know my daughter is in Canada. Go light a cat's tail on fire, asshole.
-- End Intermission --
(Sorry for the digression. Rewind to paragraph 9 then fast-forward to this one to skip baggage claim and clear customs.)
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Indiana. Game 1: a last-second victory. Game 2: a tough loss. Then this message for Game 3: "You watching the game tonight? the Heat lose tonight, they lose the series." Spoilers: they didn't lose the game or the series.
They went on to the NBA Finals. Heat vs. Spurs. Basketball supremacy at stake!
And here's where I get salty. I'm fine with sports rivalries; they're great! But having no investment in one team and actively cheering for an opposing team's failure is the basest, ugliest, and cheapest aspect of sports "fandom." In what way does hoping one side loses rather than hoping the other wins a normal way to look at life?
I'm not sure if I've adequately expressed how much I was invested in (and irrationally motivated by) the 2012-2013 Heat, but the Finals solidified how much I could (again, irrationally) lose. When the Heat went down 2-3, there wasn't much mirth in the Forbes-Yoo household.
And then: June 19, June 18 EST by my reckoning. I woke up that morning trembling like a fiend looking for a fix. Fly or die, win or don't win. At work, I had to keep checking my phone for score updates. I was stuck in a meeting when the tide turned in the Heat's favor, and when I left the meeting midway through the 4th-quarter, the Heat were, miraculously, winning.
That didn't last. Sartre wrote that Hell is other people; I posit that Hell is having to follow a tight basketball game on a smartphone around other people. Because we were bug bashing a game that day, I stayed glued to my phone while munching on a Big Mac. When the Spurs took a 2-point lead late I stood up to...I don't know, escape? Hide somewhere? Jump out of an open window? I definitely knew that I didn't want to be around other people.
So I took the elevator downstairs to the basement. It was very, very hot (this isn't an Inferno allusion; the basement wasn't air-conditioned). Then I checked my phone. A 2-point Heat deficit became 3, then 4, then 5, all while I paced the basement and SAS MADE FREE THROW 1-OF-2 stared cruelly back at me on my phone.
Hope lost, I returned to the office and checked my phone just as LeBron hit a 3-pointer to, miraculously, make it a 2-point game. Then Kawhi Leonard missed a free throw. Then... And then...
* What that was was redundant.
** But isn't it pretty to think so?
*** I am one such happy accident. A certain 10-year-old I know is another.
**** I'm an agnostic, but I capitalize Heaven. Because when I was nine years old Belinda Carlisle told me it's a place on Earth, and I always capitalize proper nouns.
***** I've done it twice, actually, which makes the infinite monkey theorem a little less unbelievable.
****** And, really, minus the pain and dying part, they're all quite similar, aren't they?
******* On a professional level. My greatest amateur sports epiphany occurred in late 2011 when a then-8-year-old 18th Letter absolutely destroyed my wife and I in Wii Sports Bowling. You had to be there. There are zones, and there are zones. Good thing they don't test for PEDs in e-sports.
******** According to some articles I've read, League Pass's quality is awful in North America. I had a few small issues with the service during the season, but overall I will definitely re-up this coming late-October.