So there it is. Gone. All gone. The American nightmare has begun. There is no basketball, no hockey, no track, no lacrosse, no baseball, no nothing…it borders on tragedy…sort-of. All local sports have been sidetracked by the brand-spanking-new COVID-19 (sounds like a phone number from the land-line era) — which all of us peasants know as the non-scientific and plebian corona (think Mexican beer) virus (think common cold, with a twist), as well as the vicarious world of sports viewing: no NBA, no NHL, no MLB, no NCAA, no NASCAR, no NFL, no XFL, no MLS, no WWF and even, unthinkable as it may become: no more BLT, no more FBI, no more CIA and even no more BB King. No more abbreviations…no nothing, no sports to watch while we while away the hours thinking of things to do while we while away the hours thinking of things to do…
Like the rest of you out there, I am at a loss. I miss those letter combinations. And even some of the games. So, thankfully, in our CE (Common Era), there is always YouTube Games of yore. The olden times. The BCE (Before the Common Era) of TV sports-watching. Before instant gratification took over there was the “tape delay” or “area blackouts,” where major sports events were not available on TV at the moment they were happening. A case in point: the 1970 NBA Finals between the then-beloved New York Knicks of Reed, Frazier, Debuschere, Barnett and Bradley and the unbeatable Los Angeles Lakers of superstars Chamberlain, Baylor and West…were on tape delay; including Game Seven from “the world’s most famous arena” (hype from NYC) — Madison Square Garden (MSG: actually the third incarnation of that hallowed arena on 33rd Street — the two previous at Madison Square on 23rd Street and then 48th Street on the Upper West Side) — on tape at 11 p.m. (the game was played at 7 p.m.). Only radio could bring you the game “live,” with a young Marv Albert screaming “YES!!!!!” after every Knicks’ basket.
As big a fan as I was, I couldn’t listen. I was out on my job on the Upper West Side. I was census-taking. Going door-to-door in that then odd coalition between Seventh and Eighth Avenues of out-of-work actors, the Hassidim, junkies, “working girls,” retirees and Elia Kazan the film-director (On The Waterfront), for the Federal Government. I never knew who, or what, was behind those doors on West 78th and 79th Streets. And because of that unknown (another story for another time) I never saw that seventh game of the 1970 NBA Finals (only snippets) …until yesterday. On YouTube.
So I never heard those 19,500 Knicks’ fans rise as one as an injured Willis Reed (the Captain, the Heart of the team) limped out onto the court at the last moment, his hip shot-up with cortisone — it was deafening — and watch Wilt Chamberlain’s shoulders slump in acknowledgment (Wilt was always a head-case), and at the tip-off saw Reed hit a jump-shot from the key, and after a Laker miss, hit another from the exact same spot. It was just 4-0 Knicks, but I knew, THEY knew — those listening to Marv — that the Knicks had the game in hand. They ended up winning their first-ever NBA championship. And Reed? He ended up playing the first minutes of each half and finished with just those two baskets in the first minute. (In an aside: 35 years ago there was a knock at my then storefront studio on Rosendale’s Main Street. Looking out the peephole all I saw was a belt-buckle, and behind that my friend Adrienne, waving at me. I opened the door and there he stood…Willis Reed. All 6-9, 260 pounds of him. My sports hero. Retired as a player and then the coach at Creighton University. I tried not to fawn, but it was difficult).
So, YouTube. There you can find whatever it is you desire from the world of great moments in sports: Ali vs. Frazier in the Manila Thrilla; the Yankees’ Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game; New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson pennant-winning “shot heard ’round the World” against the Dodgers; Brazilian soccer great Pele in the Men’s World Cup; Megan Rapinoe’s clinching goal to win the Women’s World Cup, or, like me, the Knicks championship final from 1970…and much much more to while away the hours and days thinking of what to do in self-quarantine.
Or, you can just go outside and play. Not in an organized fashion (better to be aware), but just play. If you’re a frustrated varsity, JV, modified, Little League player with your season in ashes: you can still go out and shoot some hoops — no, not at the “world’s most famous arena”, but at a park. Or play some baseball/softball. The Zen game is designed for COVID-19…you’re usually anywhere from 40-90 feet from another human and the only thing you have in common is the ball (bring your own bat), and the old horse-hide can be rubbed down with dirt and hand-sanitized between innings. Or, you can just have a catch with someone. It’s still the game itself that matters. If you want to hear 19,500 fans chanting your name, you’ll have to wait (or go to YouTube), but if you want to feel that electric charge through your arms when you hit a baseball/softball or that transcendent moment of burying a three-pointer from the top of the key…then go and play some ball.