Sports as theater: While We’re Waiting

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

As a fan of sport who loves watching the game’s best compete on the biggest of stages under the brightest of lights, I feel confident in saying we may never have another 12-month stretch as we have between June of 2016 and this past Sunday night. Rooting interests aside, the way the NBA Finals, World Series, and Super Bowl unfolded were each, individually, movie scripts on their own. For them to all occur sequentially? Fewer words can describe it outside of “incredible.”

Forget the odds and the math and the likelihoods and the line charts. The Cleveland Cavaliers did something that had never been done in the history of the NBA when they came back from a 3-1 deficit, laughing in the face of home court advantage, and won Game 7 in epic fashion. The Chicago Cubs would do something similar this past summer, but it was a game-tying home run from one of the most unlikely of sources—off of the most unlikely of sources—that would force extra innings in Game 7. Then Sunday night, with the Atlanta Falcons cruising through the game’s first 50 minutes, up three scores and the FOX Sports team displaying a graphic that read these types of leads resulted in a record of 93-0, fans were given a finish that made the “One Yard Short” finish of Super Bowl 34 look like a preseason game.

These three finishes, be they through the course of a seven-game series or a one-game win-or-go-home scenario, are so significant that we almost forget that the 2016 men’s basketball championship was decided on the first buzzer beater in college basketball championship game history when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins sank North Carolina, this after UNC guard Marcus Paige hit an absurd, double-clutch three-pointer to cap a comeback from a 10-point deficit. Months later, the football version of the collegiate championship would come down to Clemson’s final drive, coming back from a two-touchdown deficit to upset the favored Crimson Tide of Alabama. Had Kyrie Irving’s three-pointer come at the buzzer, we would have had two buzzer-beaters, the equivalent of such in football with two come-from-behind wins, and a World Series that went beyond nine innings. More rare than a Grand Slam in tennis or a Triple Crown in horse racing, it’s the sort of epic stretch of high-profile contests that defies logic, one that will be hard-pressed to ever, ever be repeated.

More rare than a Grand Slam in tennis or a Triple Crown in horse racing, it’s the sort of epic stretch of high-profile contests that defies logic, one that will be hard-pressed to ever, every be repeated.

The craziest part of it all? Jenkins’ three pointer in March, the proverbial start to the championship season, took place in the very confines where Brady became the first quarterback to lead his team back from a 25-point deficit to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy. This past March, Houston’s NRG Stadium housed a basketball court that gave us one of the most exciting finishes in the history of the March Madness tournament. The 2016 championship season effectively ended on Sunday night, the roof once again closed, with an improbable champion1 holding a trophy above his head.

Each team, each player, each coach… Outside of the games themselves, you have plenty of overriding narratives. LeBron James returns to Cleveland to make right and help the city win its first title in 50-plus years. The Chicago Cubs, after a century of failure, build a team that could be on the verge of a dynasty, leveraging a rain delay to triumph. The New England Patriots, for all their winning, had their quarterback suspended for the first four games of the season, traded their best linebacker midway through the year, and were without their best offensive play maker. The list goes on. I mean, J.R. Smith is an NBA Champion!

Given the teams that won in 2016, and how they went about doing so, it’s difficult to concoct a scenario that would be better. Sure, outright domination is fun if it’s your favorite team doing the dominating2, but for the casual fan, one who lives within the storylines, the last 12 months have been the sort of narratives that live in the heads of screenwriters. The NBA has a fun hashtag for their social media channels called #thisiswhyweplay. If anyone ever questions why you love sports as much as you do, all you need to do is point them to any of the championship games over the last year.


This week’s edition of #ActualSportswriting:

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  1. Based on game flow. []
  2. Think: 2007 Spurs, 2012 Miami Heat. []