So how are you liking our new millennium so far, kids? Me, I'm thinking Vinko Bogatoj. Vinko was the Slovenian ski-jumper from a distant decade (1970 to be precise), who took that horrific fall at some World Championship and became the painful embodiment of the agony of defeat. It was Vinko's cringe-producing stumble and tumble that became the center piece of ABC's Wide World of Sports opening montage every Saturday afternoon. His death-defying fall made him an immortal but little did I know that Mr. Bogatoj would become a metaphor for the century and millennium to follow. As it turned out, he was truly a man ahead of time. Vinko began at the top of the mountain fell horrifically and never quite reached rock bottom. Ten years down, 990 to go. We still have time.
No sense in rehashing the first decade of the two thousands. It hurts too much. But as we say good bye to the decade with a zaftig zero in front of every single year (fitting don't you think?), I offer up three examples of where I think we seem to be entering the "teens". The good, the bad and the ugly. Let's begin with the ugly and work our way back.
For the record, Eldrick the Tiger was born five years after our friend Vinko took his physical fall from grace. Tiger's fall is melodramatically more painful and incredibly less graceful. It tells us much about who we are and where we are, than it does about the ironic and iconic Mr. Woods. We are forever seeking heroes and role models without kicking the tires. The body looks good, but what's under the hood? And then when we discover we have a lemon on our hands. It is never our fault. (See Frank Rich's brilliant column last Sunday in the New York Times).
Charles Barkley is my role model for defiantly declaring he is not a role model. Warning: Choose your role models at your own risk. Most of us can get past celebrity and political indiscretions, but hypocrisy is a significantly more difficult hurdle to clear. Tiger's triple bogey in his heretofore publicly perfect life, will likely make it a long slog before he even gets back to par, if he ever does with his once worldwide fan base. And here we are in the age of "reality" and tabloid television, magazines and newspapers when a TMZ can replace the NYT for too many information consumers, as a major source of news. Tiger's travails have been the dominant story of the holiday season, the voyeuristic gift that keeps on giving.
Now to the bad, but also so very 21st century. The evaporating sport of boxing has but one fight in its immediate future that is transcendent, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, the two best and most compelling fighters on the planet. What was at first to be a sure thing, an event that could generate nine figures separated by two commas and create a buzz that boxing so desperately needs, isn't so certain anymore. Mayweather is seemingly misnamed as he has always been stormy weather, a cantankerous sort who is easy to admire for his considerable skills, but not so easy to like. Pacquiao fresh off beating the bejesus out of Miguel Cotto last month is boxing's poster child at the moment. At the moment.
Just when you thought it was safe to embrace this boxing event, Mayweather has demanded that both fighters submit to Olympic drug testing, that is to say blood testing which is more precise and detailed than urine testing. It doesn't seem like a particularly unreasonable request. Pacquiao responds by saying he doesn't like needles and is superstitious about having blood drawn within days of a fight. Thanks, but no thanks says Pacquiao, urine tests on the house! But blood? Uh-uh. Mayweather, always a superb counter-puncher has backed his possible opponent into a corner, with a powerful lead jab, making it seem Pacquiao has something to mask.
Superstition seems a rather weak defense. Pacquaio suggests three blood tests, one when the fight is announced and one that is a full month away from the proposed March 13th bout. And the final exam after the final bell. A presumably impartial United States Anti-Doping agency, if it is to become involved would want, need and demand blood testing as it see fits, not ground rules set by Pacquiao or Mayweather for that matter. Where else but in the early 21st century could a 100 million dollar fight never answer the bell because of drug testing, a lovely leftover from millennium past. "Pretty Boy" Floyd has knocked down Pacquiao without ever laying a glove on him. Pacquiao, a knockout machine who has seven different world titles ranging in weight from 112 pounds to 145 simply looks like he has something to hide.
Superstition of blood testing? Is that all you got, Manny? Puh-leeze. Walking under a ladder? A black cat crossing in front of you? Sounds more like my dog ate my homework. If Pacquiao bails out on the fight whether he likes it or not, fair or not, what is the inescapable conclusion? If he ultimately acquiesces, in this sport of physical strength and psychological insecurity, Mayweather has secured a place inside Pacquiao's head, while reversing the roles. Mayweather has transformed himself into the good guy, while Pacquiao's reputation has taken a hit, by bobbing and weaving on a question that should be blood simple. Drug testing BEFORE a fight, a deal breaker? To save this fight, and his reputation, the Filipino has no choice but to agree to the Olympic standard blood tests. Oh, and there is this little matter of 25-million bucks at the end of the rainbow.
Now to the good, the really good of the 2nd decade of the 3rd millennium. I just saw Avatar. Watching the much-hyped James Cameron film, really experiencing it more than merely seeing it, I came away with the same wow factor I felt the first time I heard Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. It was music, rock music but presented in a markedly different way than we had ever experienced before. It remains 40-something years later a transcendent historical musical milepost.
For me, I came out of the theater discarding the 3D shades, with that same sense of creative wonderment. It has the Wow factor. The 3D in the movie is wondrous without being gratuitous. Even if you are not a sci-fi geek, and admittedly I am not, this movie is the goods. And oh by the way, it sports a relevant story, even if it is 140-years into the future. Jon Landau famously said in that last millennium of ours, that he had seen the future of rock n' roll and his name is Bruce Springsteen. I think we have seen the future of film making and viewing and it's named Avatar. At least in the movies, I've got to admit its getting better, getting better all the time. I hope.