I watch sports for the beauty of the game.
Sometimes it lies in the physical prowess it takes to be the best, as it does at the line of scrimmage in football. Sometimes it’s all about the athlete’s mental fortitude, as it is for a golfer who just bogeyed and needs to remain composed on the next hole. And sometimes it’s about the actual aesthetic of the way the game appears, as with long sequences of ball movement by one team in basketball or soccer.
Every sport is different, but each has its own beauty.
It didn’t always used to be this way for me. Like most sports fans, I started cheering for one team I had a connection with, typically a geographical one. I loved the narratives that unfolded, but I eventually got discouraged by the distaste that came with putting down another team simply for the success of my own. I also felt no need to cheer for a team so passionately in a competition where I had no legitimate stake in a team as a fan.
Focusing on the “beauty” by no means intentionally distances me from the competition itself, but rather, it allows me to appreciate the actual skill it takes to do something. By this, I mean that I actually appreciate every pass in soccer or every shove at the line in football, because I try to understand what went into that play both strategically and physically.
This ideology has tended to serve me well in watching, understanding and — of course — arguing about sports. While there may be no intent on my part to separate myself from the narrative of play, it certainly happens with this type of focus on sports, and sometimes that prevents me from seeing (or caring about) the narrative as beauty itself.
I recall that a lot of people were displeased with me when I said that I didn’t really care about the fact that true freshman Tua Tagovailoa led Alabama to a national championship in January after replacing two-year starter Jalen Hurts. To me, it wasn’t about the fact that Tagovailoa was a freshman, but rather that he made some incredible plays and validated a strategic coaching decision by Nick Saban.
But sometimes, the narrative and the drama are simply too big to miss. And when this takes place, I only further reaffirm my love for sports.
When you familiarize yourself with a group of athletes and can begin to relate to what they are thinking and saying both on and off the field, you learn to develop love, hate and respect for them — for reasons other than which team they play for.
This happened to me on Sunday. When the underdog San Antonio Spurs played an incredible game against the Golden State Warriors, I saw heart and emotion — the parts of sports analysis that are not quantifiable — on display. Backs against the wall, the Spurs put it all on the floor for their fans and for their head coach Gregg Popovich, who was absent while grieving the passing of his wife last week.
In the grand scheme of things, this game doesn’t mean much. The Warriors will almost certainly advance to the next round of the playoffs. But something about seeing the passion exuded by 40-year-old Manu Ginóbili after every big play of his 16-point, five-assist performance off the bench just got me.
I watched, I was inspired, and I cried.
Realistically, the Spurs had no business winning this game, and it just as well could have been a mild, 10-point Warriors win that would ultimately be forgotten. But instead, Spurs fans and basketball fans alike were treated to an emotional display of sport, an outpouring of love for Popovich. And this power of athletics to unite communities emotionally is exactly what I love about sports.
After writing about sports for seven semesters of my life, I know my perspectives have been challenged and my focus for enjoying sports has certainly changed. But in its purest form — which admittedly doesn’t always manifest — sport is a fair fight, where we get to watch the best athletes do what they do at the peak of their abilities.
My parting words from this Vik-tory lap? Don’t take it for granted. Don’t hate a player strictly because they aren’t on your team. Don’t fail to appreciate the nuance of something like Ginóbili’s performance in an otherwise trivial first-round playoff game. And if you’re a real sports fan, don’t forget to appreciate the beauty of the sports you enjoy.