If you are a sports bug as I am not, games whether soccer, tennis, baseball or basketball take not even second place to arts- related endeavours ; however, I must join the chorus applauding the Raptors’ success as NBA champions. And in truth, because public school gym classes introduced me to playing baseball and baseball, I at least have some understanding of scoring and the flow of the game. In deed participated briefly as part of an all girl basketball group, hardly a team, who called themselves The Spazes, one tiny highlight of high school life wherein I felt myself part of a team that was certainly accurately described by its name.
Because the men in my family are crazy sports people in spite of my best attempts, especially my son who was dragged around Europe several times to every church and art gallery, he has inculcated a driving passion for all things- sports in his own boys even though his oldest would rather roll around in the dirt and observe bugs when the runner goes to third. However, just as I once enjoyed the camaraderie of a few like poorly coordinated teammates, so too do my grandsons enjoy being part of a sports club, all similarly clad in logo marked shirts, and of course postgame snacks.
So reluctantly I too engaged in following the Raptors’ progress in the championship. Yes, perhaps unwisely we had given up our seats recently because of the crazy price of attending games, but I do now freely admit enjoyment of the initial Raptor beginnings that eventually grew into the impressive team that triumphed Thursday night. And yes, as an introspective person, I liked the controlled demeanour, the reserve and focus of Kawhi Leonard, his quiet way of being not flamboyant and causing a fuss: that interested me. In contrast to the mouthy spectaculars who seek to draw attention, Kawhi was the eye of a storm broodingly capable of vanquishing all that stood in his way.
The series went beyond sports; there was humanity in it , as all the best productions demonstrate. Not an instantaneous and clear, clean victory, there was drama, defeat, challenges as the Raptors had to battle their equals, particularly in the shape of Steph Curry and Klayman Thompson, seasoned competitors and at a one point loss early in the game last week put us on the nail biting, aggravating hold your breath edge. And in that game when Kevin Durant fell, succumbing to a calf injury, it was our Raptor boys who not only helped him off the court, but also shushed the crowd. Previously Fred VanVleet took an elbow to the head, losing a tooth and receiving 7 stitches beneath his eye too. So as in all riveting stories, there was blood and battle too.
Thursday night they came out hard, Kyle Lowry dropping ball after ball in the net. But not a game of discrete heroes, this basketball game was a thing of beauty achieved by team cooperation. Gasol, Ibaka, Danny Green, Iguodala, Siakom reassembled the ticking movement of a finely crafted clock, each humming together in harmony.
Even I did not go to the kitchen for tv watching snacks.
And as always Kawhi’s deep, controlled focus, watching, waiting, moving with the team kept drawing my eye to his positions on the court. Sure he missed four of his shots in the fourth quarter: and that drew my ire and worry that with in such a close game, the tide might turn and again, one or even two or three points could catapult our players into a sixth game so there was that extreme sensation, that cliff hanging, that tottering nervousness that drew us into the last seconds of a possible loss instead of a victory.
But wow. They won with two more free throws for Kawhi, his reward MVP, his second, placingin the same winner’s circle with LeBron and Karim. Double Wow.
And even the denouement of the game was great.Here Kawhi even waving his arms in the air, openly and finally giving into sweet smiles. The Raptors hugged each other, but also their opponents, the Golden State Warriors as if they had been rumbling a bit in the schoolyard after school, a get together with friends. Not those fast, hope you die, hand touches we see at the conclusion of baseball, but real meaty hugs, the ones that we only see men give one another in athletic endeavours, unafraid to display real, messy and true emotions. That they clung to one another unduly long, clapping backs, bussing cheeks, allowing the true feelings of success to spill over was a further endorsement of the game.
And Kyle Lowry who in-spite of taking Warrior fan abuse when he stumbled in the crowd second last round in Oakland but maintaining his cool also worked to demonstrate to kids who watched that one stupid move does not deserves another. Rather, he took the high road walked away, reported the action and the guy, a provocateur, Golden State Warriors minority owner Mark Stevens was fined $500,000 and banned him from games and all other team events for the next season. Shoving and name calling is not cool.
And last night Lowry brought his own boys on to the podium to stand with his Raptor teammates, to be part of something important. When Doris Burke interviewed him, reminding us that us that he was a North Philly boy, criticized for his limitations in height and ability, Lowry underlined that he was a kid who tried and tried and triumphed, shouting out one of life’s lessons: not to listen to people who would discourage you, but to respond to your inner voice and take your shot. And if you have been to North Philly as I have –and stopped in the ghetto by cops who ask you, white people, if you are lost, you would understand the struggles a kid in that neighbourhood needs to overcome : a hero just to emerge from that scene.
The girl in the wheelchair at the Tony Awards on Sunday, the Winner of best featured actress, Ali Stroker in Oklahoma! In her acceptance speech said much the same, encouraging by her success other talented actors to -cliched as it sounds-follow your dreams.
So, The Raptors games gave us an amazing show, the excitement, the back and forth of grabbing, taking, missing the ball- true collaborative teamwork, men like Kawhi and Kyle as role models to kids demonstrating control, energy, focus and body grace, and a narrative whose crowning achievements exemplified that every person no matter their size, their background, could play a game that resulted in the body’s victory.
So too kids can learn that getting up off the couch, practicing moves, relinquishing the IPad and computer games can be wonderful diversions. The muscles honed, the arms extended, the legs jumping must have lead the ancient Greeks into the creation of the first Olympics in Greece, from 776 BC through 393 AD. That fascination with the body, what the body can achieve must have driven them towards that pursuit of excellence.
So along with fascination of body potential ( I draw weekly from nude bodies ) , there is for watchers the exhilaration of team work that anticipates one another’s needs, and culminates in the expression of emotions of joy. Mind, body, spirit , brains required to gain the next level, figure out the riddles and move the players along towards a treasure pot and self- actualization.
As audiences, we cheered, we empathized, we applauded our champions, role models and exemplary proponents of not only how to play a game but how to lead a life.
That is why sports ( and arts) are essential to education and our governments must sustain not just the momentary celebrations but the daily ongoing programs that engender values and body worth in our kids and communities. Not cut them, enhance and support them.One day, one might grow up to be a Kawhi or Kyle.