Watching the first game of the NBA playoffs was a magical start to the post season. Derrick Rose and his supporting cast made a jaw dropping turn around with only 48 seconds left in the game, and for anyone who saw it they know this is the reason we have words like exhilaration.
I'm a film professor by trade and if I were teaching my class story structure, I would describe the moment that the Bulls reclaimed the lead as "The Climax." However, if you were writing a screenplay, the last 48 seconds of the movie would be awfully late for the climax. Your audience would be bored to tears. Though the film would never actually get made because the producers at Paramount wouldn't even cast eyes your script before it was thrown in the slush pile.
But this is why sports leagues have the greatest stories on earth, and why the NBA could give Universal a run for its money when it comes to riveting narrative structure. If you follow the story of any given team or athlete, there are twists and turns that modern storytellers would not dare take. These true-life stories take risks and unfold in unpredictable ways over days or even decades. What's better, the characters are real and their pain is visceral. Anyone who's seen a couple of 7-foot tall, musclebound beasts crying like wee babes in the locker room (whether for joy or sorrow) can tell you that.
I don't have to explain any of this to tried and true fans; they live and die by the stories of their legendary teams, the defining moments that make heroes epic and villains dastardly. But, there are some people who simply don't get it.
As a film student at Indiana University, the world I inhabited was divided into two: frat boy sports enthusiasts swilling PBR while watching the NCAA tourney and the wispy hipster art kids swilling PBR while watching esoteric shoegazer shows. My life primarily fell into the latter category, and therefore I didn't follow anything athletic except for watching skaters grind ledges at the public library.
During that time, I heard so many bohemians express utter confusion at why anyone would follow sports. To them it seemed plebian, trivial, fit only for lemurs or Neanderthals -- or Neanderthal lemurs. I even had a girlfriend once tell me she could never date a guy that watched football.
I passively accepted this mentality for a long time, but something happened. After a string of stoned graffiti artists and pretentious sculptors, I started dating a film school student who watched Sergio Leone movies and ESPN. I began to reclaim the girl who loved the game. It was inevitable. I grew up in Chicago during the Jordan era; it was a glorious time for anyone old enough to remember. Plus, I had the kind of Dad who took me to see Edward Scissorhands and Bulls' games. I'd paint my toenails while he watched the Bears, White Sox games were always on the radio in the background when he grilled burgers, and he made my sisters and I learn the mascots of every Big 10 football team. So perhaps my vertical was a little more sick, I'd have a Ph.D. in Hoops rather than an MFA in Film.
It took a few years of vacillating between both worlds before I realized how much art and sports have in common. It's all about the story. For who is Van Gogh but the man who cut off his ear, and Mike Tyson but the man who bit off another's? Picasso and Matisse were both friends and rivals, not unlike Jordan and Barkley. The Babe and Orson Welles were both at the top of their field and had a legendary appetite for fame, women and food. Stringer Bell may have nuanced depth as a ruthless businessman who runs Baltimore drug trade, but who is more complex than Carmelo Anthony? The sports anti-hero participated in "Stop Snitching," a video that suggested residents of Baltimore who gave information to the police would face violence, but also gives as much money to charity as Martha Stewart. Is Joe DiMaggio & Marilyn Monroe any less intriguing and tragic than Romeo & Juliet?
And those are just the characters; we aren't even talking about the story. Shakespeare's Tempest takes 200 pages to unfold, but the perfect storm of the Boston Red Sox took 86 years. And if the dramatic flair of a century long curse wasn't enough, during Game 4 of the World Series that year a total lunar eclipse colored the moon red over the game. Beat that William.
From the anticipation of the draft to the championship game, the narrative of a season is laced with heroes, villains, incredulous athletic feats, bitter failure and fate that can change in a split second -- all leading to a single moment of triumph or tragedy, usually both at once. And then, of course, you have next season to do it all over again, to build upon the legacy or pray your team will be vindicated.
No, the worlds or art and sport aren't nearly as far apart as we think. After all, Derrick Rose fans know he has more than a little in common with this quote from The Tempest: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, rounded with a little sleep."