Monday, April 5, 2010

A bike racer, a basketball team and a cartoonist walk into the media ...

This past weekend was a nice contrast in sporting events. Saturday, Michigan State University lost to Butler in the NCAA semifinals. Sunday, Fabian Cancellara won the Tour of Flanders. The former is a basketball tournament; the latter is probably my favorite bicycle race. The bicycle had to be searched for if you wanted to follow it, and I did. The basketball you had to work to avoid, and I did.

I'm not a sports snob. I'm not above following Michigan State basketball. I enjoy it, in fact. But I don't have what it takes to watch it on television, or, in our non-television household, online in real time. Since I don't follow basketball closely enough to enjoy the nuances, and because I get a little offended by breathless commentators and showboating players telling me what to be impressed by like I'm watching some kind of sit-com laugh track on steroids and Red Bull, the game itself is kind of boring - one basket starts to look like another when there's a hundred or so per game - unless I identify with one of the teams, and when I do that I get way too stressed out. So it's not that I'm above watching basketball. On the contrary, it's more like I'm not up to it.

I didn't follow the Tour of Flanders live, either - I was in Detroit being interviewed on WXYZ TV's Action News, which, apologies for not flagging anyone sooner in my overloaded state, and then I went for a long run around Royal Oak, Huntington Woods and Berkley, simply because I could. But I sure did check it out when I got home and was delighted to see that Fabian Cancellara had won, and in classic Cancellara form, by surviving a punishing pace over the hills and cobbles until everybody - him included - was beaten to a pulp, and then pulling away from the very best and daring them to keep up and now I'm starting to sound like one of those breathless commentators who annoy me.

I don't know Cancellara, but he seems likeable enough, he races with style, he's stronger than hell, and when he wins he wins in a fashion that somehow just seems honest. People choose favorite pro athletes for far sillier reasons, so I buy into the fan ethic enough to follow Cancellara.

I imagine things for a living, but I'm not so sure I can imagine what it's like to be that good. Nobody wins every race, but Cancellara has shown an ability to eventually win the ones he wants to. He's won three world championships, Olympic gold, Paris-Roubaix, Milan-San Remo, the Tour of (his native) Switzerland, a bunch of Tour de France stages and more. He really wanted Flanders, I'm told, and now he's won that. Now, when sports is serious business, it is tortuous and tiered. Every level you rise, it only gets tougher. Being elite doesn't mean you get beat any less, it just means you have to travel farther for the privilege. So when I see someone that good, that successful, so strong that the quest is not to win a race, or even a classic, but to win one of the few classics you haven't won yet, now, that grabs my attention.

And truth be told, when MSU's basketball team has a season like this one, that grabs my attention for the same reasons. All I have to do is avoid it being thrust at me long enough to search it out myself.

A very important side note
While I don't know Fabian Cancellara or anybody on the Spartan basketball team per se, I do know their team doctor, Jeff Kovan. He's my sports doctor, too, and he is the Fabian Cancellara of physicians. That alone makes me identify closely with the team. And probably why, when I do watch them play, I identify with them enough to ponder aneurysm. Since Jeff has been a little busy these past few weeks, one of his colleagues was kind and professional enough to fit me in and look at my shoulder before Saturday's Alcatraz swim weekend. I'm confident I'll get the go-ahead to swim without worry, but now I'm still a little nervous about a whole 'nother MSU outcome of sorts. Go Green.


Elaine Howley said...

Dang, that swim crept up fast! Hope you're getting psyched!

Robert (xcskimt) said...

You writing is how I feel about following my favorite college teams (Wisconsin badgers) and bike racing. I'd rather be out biking/running than tuned into a TV or computer screen. I prefer the highlights.