Jordan Spieth will be gunning for his second major championship today. Stef Curry rules the NBA. Russell Wilson may have a permanent invitation to the Super Bowl. Bryce Harper is going to win the Triple Crown. There is a common theme among them, which is the inability to buy alcohol without an i.d. Youth is definitely being served.
Twenty-five years ago I would have been following each raptly, spending emotional energy either cheering for them or rooting against them. Like most American men, sports consumed a disproportionate part of my life and probably still does. Fan, after all, is derivative of fanatic. It is easy to see these devotions as silly time wasters. On the other hand, if you have ever played the game the achievements of our heroes remind us that excellence is possible, hard work has its rewards and a team can be greater than the sum of its parts. Almost nothing can stir the soul like a tightly played contest, good triumphing over evil.
Or maybe I should say nothing could stir the soul. Because as great as these young athletes are, they do not excite my passions like yesterday’s stars. Maybe it is the toll of seeing so many who I admire fail to uphold their end of the sports idol bargain. I could actually be more mature, with better ways to spend my time. I think, however, that at age 54 I have good old days syndrome. Sadly, I am a sports grandpa.
There will never be another Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana or Nolan Ryan. They do not change the faces on Mt. Rushmore so my icons are staying put, too. So this year’s Father’s Day ranks among the all-time best given the gift of David Robinson socks from Stance Socks’ NBA collection.
The Admiral is not the greatest player of his generation; he is “not even” the best player in .his franchise’s history, thanks to #21. David Robinson, however, wins the role model contest by a mile. As a lifelong Spurs fan, David’s arrival meant instant respectability. Over the years he doggedly carried the hopes of a one-horse town, but never could quite get us to the promised land. Just when it seemed he would have to wear the “no rings” badge for the rest of his life, the emergence of Duncan allowed him to complete his resume.
In winning those rings, David became the rarest of athletes, aging into the second-chair role gracefully. By allowing Tim Duncan to become the center piece of the Spurs while Robinson was still close to his prime, he laid the foundation for the greatest team of this century. Fifteen years later, we see Duncan making way for Kawhi Leonard. I have to believe the second transition was informed by the first.
When I don my socks tomorrow morning, they will remind me of all the slams and swats; the high post passes and emphatic rebounds. But most of all I will remember an athlete of exceptional grace, on and off the course. There will never be another one like him. I just wish the socks were of the compression variety. Varicose veins might be a problem soon.