Culture of Hoops

Desperately Seeking Elysium: Sports in the Wake of Tragedy

Image courtesy of Daxis/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Daxis/Flickr.

It’s the execrable new normal: Blink and you’ll miss it.

I’m not talking about the violence running rampant around the nation, oh no. Not that brand of normal. I’m talking about the seconds of peace drifting between the jarring intervals – the brief intermission peaking through the blood, screams, hate, and painfully hypnotic ennui. They’re too far, too few, too brief, those very seconds of calmness. Chaos is the new majority – peace, handicapped by contradiction, the new minority. Under a peculiar amount of justifiable sedation, history often believes that it is doomed to repeat itself. Acts of evil separated by mere hours has triggered some sort of catastrophic swerve of events that now aims the present backwards and carves it into some riotous Indian summer. And beneath all the madness that ensues, we willingly turn our faces away from the sun and lay prone as humanity itself becomes the floating debris of a question best left unanswered.

It’s 2016… and we’re as backwards as ever.

While clawing at those moments of peace, we pause for breath and tend to turn to something that allows us some room to distract. For most of us in this field that very something is the world of sports. Seems rather trivial to those on the outside, but it indeed is not.

July 7, 2016

The city of Dallas, Texas is a sports city.


Four professional teams line the Metroplex and form the NFL/MLB/NHL/NBA square that encompasses the civic: The Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, the Dallas Stars, and the Dallas Mavericks. Most people outside the state don’t quite grasp Texas’ implacable fixation with sports, but they don’t have to.

The morning of Thursday, July 7, basketball Twitter was ablaze with commentary surrounding the close of the NBA free agency. As I drove in from downtown late Wednesday evening, my back to the city lights not yet tinted a mourning azure, I received a Bleacher Report notification regarding the Mavericks’ newest acquisition, small forward Harrison Barnes. Owner Mark Cuban had tweeted out a photo of Barnes handcuffed to general manager Donnie Nelson while a smiling Rick Carlisle held up Barnes’ contract in satisfaction. Since this was a dig at the whole DeAndre Jordan fiasco that went down the previous year, those writers and bloggers and fans who cover/pay attention to the Mavericks were rather garrulous on the social media site the following morning.

My Twitter feed was a cluster ball of FA rants and raves surrounding the Mavs (not to mention the cause-and-effect of Dwayne Wade’s departure from the Miami Heat) and I was thankful for the mild distraction basketball provided during those sardonic few days.

Like many, I was in a state of perpetual sadness lined with anger at the senseless slaying of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Castile of St. Paul, Minnesota, 32, was shot five times by a police officer during a routine traffic stop as he reached for his back pocket to retrieve his ID after informing the officer that he was licensed to carry a firearm. His fiancé, who was in the passenger’s seat, filmed the fatal scene while their four-year-old daughter sat in the back seat. This had happened days after the video of Sterling, 37, who was gunned down by police in Baton Rouge, went viral.

The FA frenzy was a necessary distraction for me and those around me. Compared to the events going on in the country, of course NBA talk seemed insignificant or rather esurient, but for me it was a need.

Then the night started to fall, and the innocent bubble this California native lived in my entire life popped.

You never think it will happen to your city. Or in my case, my adopted city. The city I spend countless hours and countless steps treading as I run from concrete to hardwood during the NBA season. I had moved to Texas three years ago to take care of my grandparents, and the lure of the city – and the lure of the Mavericks – convinced me to stay after they passed. I had spent my entire life spending summers here, so the move wasn’t a culture shock.

I’ve only watched horrific tragedy strike in other cities, cities like Orlando, Boston, and NYC. I’ve only watched the scenes unfold safely inside the fog projected by the electrical currents of my television from thousands of miles away. On Thursday night, only 10 miles separated me from the nefarious blood shed while mere feet separated those I’ve become close with.

During a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, a 25-year-old sniper posted high above the West End, claimed the lives of five police officers who were among the 100 officers protecting the 800 protesters: senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, Sgt. Michael Smith, officer Michael Krol, officer Patrick Zamarripa, and officer Brent Thompson.

Sirens screamed throughout downtown minutes after the piercing “POP, POP, POP” of the assassin’s weapon echoed off nearby buildings as the sun set over a city now reeking of gunpowder and blood.

First thing I did was locate a close friend and fellow Mavericks writer who lived near the scene before sending a veritable plea of encouraged safety to a friend in California. A friend who, like the fallen, wears the badge.

Drowning in the aftermath of the chaos can be abstruse to those not in the sinking boat. I watched my good friends and Texas natives walk around in a haze of bleakness and horror. When driving into downtown the following evening, I couldn’t help but notice that the normally traffic-ridden streets were barren, the mood austere. A great deal of the Dallas sports’ media often keep tabs on each other via Twitter and we all were checking in to make sure none of us had drowned ourselves inside a bottle of whiskey (a great deal of us got dangerously close, however). We took solace in the arms of our families, on the shoulders of our friends, and yes, within the warmth of our vodka. But in a city such as this, we find the best solace is offered in a world that’s more than familiar to us: the sports world.

I’m reminded of the bitter aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, when once the repellent and noxious smell of rotting terrorist was lifted from the area, sports teams around the country united in honoring the city of Boston. From the hostile juxtaposition of Yankee Stadium (the Boston Red Sox’s arch nemesis) to the cerulean waters of McCovey Cove in San Francisco, teams played Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” during the 8th inning sing-along out of respect for Fenway Park and the wounded city.

Right after the events of 9/11, we watched our world change dramatically because our innocence had been so violently ripped from us on our own ground. For weeks, Americans struggled to find normalcy in a castrating wake, the color of our world forever dimmed by supercilious rage. However, even though we absentmindedly turned our back on a beloved pastime, sports hadn’t turned its back on us. We witnessed uplifting bouts of kindness such as the New York Yankees and the New York Mets visiting firehouses and pulling together shattered communities. Such a simple gesture was not done in a publicity-stunt type of fashion, but rather as a genuine healing act of goodwill. They continued to play without shoving it in our faces.

And Dallas will do the same.

As tough as this city is, we need sports as a succor, especially during a dark hour. They are our vital escape from the cruelty of humanity – our personal anti-depressants, if you will.

So in the coming days, we will turn back to sports for comfort.

We will go back to mocking Mark Cuban’s FA tactics.

We will go back to praising Dirk Nowitzki’s loyalty to the city.

We will go back to fearing Kevin Durant and the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors.

We will go back to cringing at the Rangers’ bullpen.

We will go back to questioning Stephen Curry’s life-alert like shoes.

We will go back to living.

And we will heal.

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