One of the main reasons I have been an avid sports fan since I was a kid is because sports are a great metaphor for life. True team players succeed, courage is rewarded and comeback stories are ripe with drama and heartbreak.
Last week, the heartbreak and drama surrounding two major New York sports figures dominated the headlines: NY Yankees ace reliever Mariano Rivera suffered a freak knee injury shagging flies (Huh? When's the last time a pitcher caught a fly ball in a game? Never!) and Knicks star forward Amare Stoudemire losing a boxing match with a fire extinguisher.
On the surface, both of these injuries were avoidable and thus make loyal sports fans cringe with a strange mixture of sadness and contempt, especially for Stoudemire, who took out his frustration in a very self-destructive way that hurt both him and his teammates.
But if you really think about it, Stoudemire has had a year that would have led many mere mortals to self-destruct: his brother tragically passed away earlier this season, his bad back has flared up repeatedly and he has had to share the ball and spotlight with Carmelo Anthony, a man who probably still doesn't realize that the word team has no "I" in it (sorry for that cliche, but nothing would have summed it up better).
Two years ago, Stoudemire came to New York to lead the Knicks back from a decade in the barren wilderness of play off-free basketball. Like Pedro Martinez did for the New York Mets awhile back, Stoudemire sent a signal to other superstars: the Garden swimming pool is not that cold; pinch your nose and jump in with me. So, Carmelo came, Tyson Chandler came, Baron Davis came and the Knicks started to assemble a team that looked like a genuine playoff contender.
But in basketball, like life, chemistry is often more important than superior biology. Each player must submerge their ego and vainglorious chasing of stats and the spotlight so the team could win more than 60 percent of the time.
One of the few players in the NBA today who exhibits this consistently is San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan. He makes everyone around him better and quietly his team has been in the hunt for a championship almost every year for more than a decade.
This is what players in the past have done and it is now a dying art: think Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Earl Monroe, Scottie Pippen, Walt Frazier, Wes Unseld. And the list goes on.
Each realized that the measure of their success was not in the box score, but in the win column. They were team players and it saddens me that this generation has to search desperately to find players who know the meaning of teamwork, finding the open man and pass first, shoot later.
On Sunday, Amare Stoudemire found redemption on the basketball court after his unnecessary injury sidelined him for one game. It wasn't quite Willis Reed limping onto the court in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers in 1970, but Stoudemire showed his team and his loyal fans that he is a rare athlete who can thrive despite playing with one good hand, in a sport where two good hands is generally needed for every facet of game. For helping lead the Knicks to its first playoff victory in 11 years and also blending well with teammate Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire gave Knicks fans a shred of hope that there is a light at the end of the long, championship-less tunnel.
Which brings me to Mariano Rivera, perhaps the most dominating sports figure of this generation since perhaps Michael Jordan. Without much debate needed, Rivera is the best closer ever. His presence over the years has made opponents desperate not to be trailing the Yankees by the eighth inning, or else it was lights out.
His injury, sustained in practice, was at first crushing to the Yankees hopes of challenging for the World Series this year. But like the consummate professional he is, Rivera came back to the clubhouse within 24 hours to cheer his teammates on and vowed he will be back by next year, when he will be 43 -- ancient in sports today.
They don't make too many athletes like Stoudemire and Rivera anymore. Their grit and courage make them exemplary role models for this generation.
We should all learn that it's not how many times you get knocked down in life that matters.
It's how many times you get up, dust yourself off and get back into the game.
Tom Allon, a former sportwriter, is a Liberal and Democratic candidate for
Mayor of New York City in 2013.
Follow Tom's campaign on Twitter: @TomAllon4Mayor
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