In the week that Steve Price retired (from rugby league) and Tiger Woods returned (to golf) ... [and the week in which a bride/groom gave me a Black Caps jersey with "P-Dub" written on the back - how cool is that? - thanks so much Jess/Chris - I slept in it last night] ... I have been thinking about the sportspeople who I have enjoyed the most over the years.
I could include Steve Price and Tiger Woods in my list. With Price, it is that 'down-under' brand of charisma and leadership off the field that is so appealing. With Woods, we'll keep things on the field, shall we?! Yes, his skill - but also the mental pressure he is able to place on competitors. He is doing it again, even as I write. Watching the cream rise through the four days of a golfing Major is one of my great delights...
So here is my list of sportspeople who have brought me the most joy as a spectator:
The early rise and rise of Michael Campbell as a golfer. A Kiwi makes good on one of the biggest sporting stages of all - and with warmth and style. Unfortunately (!), I was doing the Lord's work, teaching at Totara Springs in Matamata, when he won his Major and I missed every single minute of that final round with Tiger. UGH! Double UGH! Triple UGH! Oh, the crosses we have to bear... Now you can see why I am so frustrated now. I wish he would talk less about how he is on the verge of being at his best. I wish he had more of that tiger-ish mental strength.
My three years of theological study in Chicago drew me into American sports and the turbulent life of a Chicago sports fan. It was the early 1980s and the situation was dire, but soon to be transformed with the Chicago Bears winning the Super Bowl and Michael Jordan being drafted by the Chicago Bulls. The internet reconnects me easily to this past - but nothing can match the joy of watching Ryne Sandberg at 2nd base for the Chicago Cubs at ivy-clad Wrigley Field and Walter Payton at running back, stepping and weaving for the Chicago Bears. They called him 'Sweetness'. I was introduced to him on a fuzzy 10inch black and white screen by my future brother-in-law in the basement of a house in Wheaton. Good times!
As a basketball player myself special mention must be made of the skills of Michael Jordan. He was just a freshman at North Carolina when I first saw him play - in the Final Four against the might of Pat Ewing and Georgetown. But the way he could take control of a game and hit that 'game-winning shot' was remarkable. I hold these joys much more lightly now because I think the salaries these guys make are obscene and perverse.
Football/soccer has never fully grabbed me. I try and I try, I really do. I tend to be a 'watch the highlights' person - until the World Cup rolls around. And yes, I did jump aboard the bandwagon in the year that Diego Maradona toyed with everyone else with both his feet and his hands.
Sportswomen do figure in my list as well! The Kiwis so often combine an infectious, winsome, unaffected style with a supreme skill in their chosen sports. Gee - they could teach the male counterparts a few lessons, starting with those boring, emotionless All Blacks. UGH!? Swimmer Anna Simcic was the first one I enjoyed watching. Then there was netballer Waimarama Taumaunu (who once flashed a smile my way on a street in Sydney - I almost fell over), soon to be followed by Bernice Mene. What about Sarah Ulmer? Or the Evers-Swindell twins? It goes on and on... So skilled, so natural, so warm.
Then I must touch down in West Indian cricket of the 70s and 80s. Oh, the joy of watching the swaggering brutality of Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards who batted in test cricket like it was Twenty20. His fastest test century is only marginally slower than the fastest T20 international centuries. Of course, as soon as you've seen the back of Richards, you have to face-up to the front of his fellow Antiguan Anderson Montgomery Everton Roberts coming at you at full speed. Good times - for a spectator like me.
I am a Kiwi, so let's talk the All Blacks. One would have to be that blond lad from Southland when we lived there. When Jeff Wilson burst onto the scene, it was magical. The other would have to be Michael Jones - as much for his skill as for his consistent Christian character in the public world. As a tackler and a Christian he continues to be about "it is more blessed to give than to receive".
... drum roll for my top three, please...
Erupting in joy and kissing everything in sight while visiting in a very reserved West Auckland home when Danyon Loader won his first gold ... and then cancelling class at Bible College so that we could watch him win his second gold. Sheer bliss.
Watching Nick Willis come around that final corner of the 1500m at Beijing and power his way to a bronze (and then a silver!). The entire family had to be at the screen in the middle of the night and the entire neighbourhood knew of my joy.
Yep, he has always been a controversial and unliked Kiwi. The talkback and reporting of his strained relationship with Ken Rutherford was one of my first insights into the Kiwi psyche, but watching Martin Crowe bat is my all-time favourite joy. A textbook in motion. If he had been from a country that played more test cricket and if he had played it on better pitches and if he had remained injury-free (a few big "if"s, I know), he would be remembered as the finest batsmen of his generation.
And Woods is now tied for third at the Masters. Amazing! And all the best, Price, for your farewell party in Sydney this evening. I hope you find a job in New Zealand.