We write a lot for those who love sports here because that should be the essential point of a daily sports column, but there is a group of people who we’ve been neglecting.
Those who hate sports, who have no time for it at all, who believe athletic pursuits are a foolish waste of time? Well, they generally get little or no attention on these pages.
Let’s change that – for one day and one column only. Sports haters, this one is for you. Well, kind of.
It is a decision borne out of pity because this is a truly miserable, awful and soul-destroying weekend to be a hater of sports, quite simply because there is so darn much of it going on that it’s going to be pretty much unavoidable.
Now, unfortunately for the stray sports-phobe who somehow wound up on this page, I’m not informed enough to discuss the latest hot items in the art world, too old to be down with what’s poppin’ (ouch) in modern music, and not even close to being cool enough to be on the pulse with pop culture’s most recent developments.
What I can do, however, is try to tempt Mr. or Ms. Anti-Sports to dip their toe in the water by pointing out some of the nuances of the sports blockbuster that’s going to wash over us in the next few days.
There is no better place to start than the NBA Finals, which has been so far dominated by a team led by that guy from the State Farm commercials. No, not Jake, the other guy. His name is Chris Paul, he plays for the Phoenix Suns, and, if things hold, they’re poised to complete one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent sports history.
Over the last five seasons, the Suns have lost 159 more games than they’ve won (that’s a lot) and generally been one of the most downtrodden teams across all sports. But not now, not after Paul provided his veteran smarts, as Devin Booker continues to ooze calm magnificence and while the Milwaukee Bucks try in apparent vain to find an answer.
“Every time (Booker) hit a three you could tell it just melted them down,” Suns teammate Mikal Bridges said after Thursday night’s Game 2 win that established a 2-0 buffer, before the series switches to Milwaukee on Sunday.
If the hype of hoops doesn’t float your boat, what about an international flavor, as soccer celebrates its most monumental weekend outside of the World Cup.
On Saturday (8 p.m. ET on FS1), the Copa America final features a mouth-watering clash between storied foes Argentina and Brazil and a nostalgic twist that verges on the Shakespearean.
Remarkably, there are large numbers of Brazilians who will be openly rooting against their own country in the final. That, in soccer – never happens. The reason we are seeing it this time is because this may be the last chance for Argentina’s Lionel Messi, one of soccer’s all-time greats, to finally add a major title for his country – the only thing missing from his glittering resume.
The decision of so many Brazilians to cheer for what has been a historic rival has stunned Brazil star Neymar, who voiced his dismay. “I never attacked, nor would I ever attack Brazil, whether it is a sport, a beauty contest, the Oscars,” he said.
Meanwhile, over in Europe, England is gearing up to try to win its first major prize since 1966, having qualified for the final of the rescheduled Euro 2020, the latter stages of which are being played on home soil. London’s Wembley Stadium will feature the English taking on Italy on Sunday, a humdinger of a matchup with immense national pride and cultural ramifications at stake.
There will be celebrities aplenty on display, even members of the royal family, all gearing up for a spectacular party – while an experienced, highly-organized and in-form Italian squad conjures plans to send the host celebration crashing down.
Across London town, the upscale prestige of Wimbledon comes to its conclusion, all manicured lawns and old school traditions, culminating in Ashleigh Barty trying to extend her dominance of the women’s game as she meets Karolina Pliskova in the final, while Novak Djokovic, once thought to the be the third best player of his generation, is looking to enhance his claim as the best of all time. Djokovic faces Matteo Berrettini in the final and, if he wins it, will stand alongside record-holders Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam victories.
As we move into next week, there will be an abundance of anticipation for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET on FOX). It comes around every year but this one has a special feel to it. It will feature an appearance by a transcendent superstar, Shohei Ohtani, who will pitch and bat – two things he does ridiculously well – flouting both the sport’s historical norms and the realms of what it thought possible.
He’ll also kick things off as the top seed in Monday’s Home Run Derby, which is a fine introduction to sports for people who don’t understand games but can get on board with seeing people hit objects really hard, and really, really far.
And finally, it takes a lot to keep Conor McGregor quiet – OK, scratch that, let’s not be silly – you can never keep him quiet. Let’s just say it takes a lot to push him off the forefront of the sports bulletins, especially during a week when he’ll fight, on pay-per-view, in one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s biggest cards of the year, UFC 264.
Yet that’s what has largely happened this week, as the loud, brash and bombastic Irishman’s bout with Dustin Poirier has been overshadowed by a crazed gluttony of sporting treats that will make the next couple of days a wonderland of major event overload.
They’re only treats if you like sports, and remember, this column, this time, is aimed towards those who don’t. But if these words weren’t enough to sway you, in which case it’s a miracle you’ve kept reading this long, why not step out of the comfort zone this weekend to sample some of the finest of what sports has to offer?
Any fan will tell you there are no guarantees when it comes to sports, but as we are shaking things up a little, let’s turn that on its head and offer one anyway. You can set in stone that this will be a weekend of sports for the ages – and that you won’t be left disappointed.
Here’s what others have said …
Avi Creditor, Sports Illustrated: “Regardless of how they got there, a Brazil-Argentina final with this set of leading actors will be a sight to behold.”
Ryan Wood, Green Bay Press Gazette: “This Bucks-Suns matchup is so much better for The Finals than LeBron, KD or Steph reruns or the 23rd installment of Lakers-Celtics. Give me the new blood. Great to see.”
Alexi Lalas, FOX Sports: “Messi wants to beat you and humble you, Neymar still wants to beat you and embarrass you. Both have done exactly that in this Copa America. Now these two artists meet in the final. They are feeding off each other and it may help them create a masterpiece.”