Here's a Narrative: We Broke Sports
By Kyle Koster
Mere minutes into getting license to enjoy the greatest professional night of his career, Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone found himself in front of a microphone — once again — bitching about some nebulous narrative from people who don't matter and may or may not even exist. It's not his fault, of course, as this was always going to be the logical endpoint as the squeakiest wheels in sports media were given the most grease while athletes and coaches used their loud noises to motivate, inspire and distract from their awesome lives and accomplishments.
It happened slowly at first then exponentially faster in the past few years and now the frog's completely boiled and rendered completely unable to enjoy the moment due to thin skin. To be perfectly clear, Malone is a winner because he has the best team in basketball and a week off to prepare for the first NBA Finals in his franchise's history. But he — plus the straw and real men responsible for suggesting, we guess, that a two-time MVP isn't a great player — come off as losers in this discussion.
To the extent any real-world narrative exists, ESPN's Kendrick Perkins is responsible for creating it. Here's the thing, though. Perkins didn't say Jokic was a bum. The implication was that the Nuggets have the second- or third-best player in the league at their disposal. Which literally everyone believes, evidenced by the MVP vote. Hell, the only person who could have potentially disrespected Jokic was Mark Jackson, who simply forgot to check a box.
The team Malone vanquished was led by LeBron James, who has spent the past 10 years of his life being constantly denigrated for the sin of only being the second-greatest player to ever play the game on this planet. It's all incredibly stupid but it gets a few hundred eyeballs in front of a television show and helps the bottom line.
How are people still unclear on how this works? And to be perfectly clear, this isn't about Malone. He's just the most recent avatar.
It's about the profound sadness that comes with seeing those on the top of the world drifting into what amounts to a kissing cousin of political conspiracy instead of just enjoying the moment. At this point "narrative" is a helpful trigger word to alert the listener there's going to be some vague complaining that will not, under any circumstances, be backed up with specific examples or withstand any scrutiny.
Perhaps it's an overreaction to say that we've all worked together to break sports. Or at least break sports brains. Because in a sane world, those who achieve the most impressive things in their field should not give a damn what anyone in a suit paid to say controversial stuff on a platform has to say. And yes, it's easy for a person who is not being criticized to suggest simply turning the podcast or halftime show off.
But maybe it is that easy. Because really, who gives a shit? None of the conversation, no matter how one wants to twist it to find maximum disrespect, matters.
Jocks have long looked to the words of ol' Teddy Roosevelt, a heck of an athlete in his own right, shared in a jaunt to Paris 113 years ago for inspiration and a shield against the haters.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Credit where it's due. Teddy Ballgame nailed this one. Bloggers and pundits and talking heads are, quite simply, incredibly lame compared to the actual athletes. That cannot be stated enough. Personally, I don't even own a Chrysler Pacifica. I am forced to lease a Pacifica. Sometimes for dinner I'll make the kids Uncrustables and be too lazy to fix any inequitable heating issues. If footage of my Friday night run went public, I'd die of humiliation. So yeah, I have takes but their validity is clouded by an opaque layer of lameness and the stink of jealousy.
Industry stars with greater reach matter more in that they have a more significant conversation. If narrative is real, they can create it. But at the end of the day they are just shouting into microphones for attention and a desire to keep seven-figure commenting deals. Day traders who will say anything at any time no matter the consistency and congruence to their previous opinions.
They shouldn't matter yet they do when those who accomplish amazing things decide to rain on their own parades and look for dark clouds among the silver linings. It feels profoundly and irrevocably broken because what sane person would choose to take these wild detours from happiness and appreciating the once-in-a-lifetime moment?