Losing my marbles: How to get your sports fix in quarantine

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I think I’m losing it.

Not in the sense of growing a quarantine beard or playing Animal Crossing too much.

I mean I’m losing it in the sense of, “Oh, my God, does life have value? Is God real? Are we in the Matrix? Was COVID-19 just a cover-up for government-bird replacement batteries?” And so on, as my mind turtles all the way down into existential oblivion.

This is partially due to the fact that I haven’t been outside in weeks and the only conversations I have had since this crisis began are with my dog, Teddy — he’s a good listener, but the language barrier is hard to overcome.

I think the crux of my insanity is this: It’s been nearly two months since all major sports leagues, professional and collegiate, have shut down. Gone are the days of arguing about Cal football with my friends, watching NBA basketball over a few beers and lamenting golf’s existence (look, if you’re 90 and can play the game at the same level a 25-year-old can, it’s not a sport).

It’s been rough, to say the least. What’s kept me from going off the deep end and floating off into the void, like George Clooney into space à la “Gravity,” are the modest sports replacements — little things that give me just enough of a taste of competition to keep the engines humming. With that in mind, here are my three temporary sports stand-ins to get the fix we all need.

 

Marble League 

The Marble League, formerly known as the MarbleLympics, is hard to describe, primarily because there is an experiential value to the game that words won’t do justice. On the surface, it sounds asinine — groups of different-colored marbles are divided into teams, and those teams compete in a multi-event competition against one another to find out who truly is the top marble. Once you watch, however, your brain subconsciously chooses a marble to win based on some nominal difference such as its color, name or success (go O’rangers!). That’s when the magic happens.

All of a sudden, you’re invested in this little marble, and every turn it makes down the track and every hurdle it jumps and every block it pushes, you watch, hoping that this conscienceless ball of colored glass beats out the competition and takes a spot on the podium. The dopamine rush that comes from a win and the agonizing pain of defeat, along with the wonderful commentary, set design and ESPN-esque graphics, make the Marble League a near one-to-one replacement of the sports experience. Tokyo 2020 may be postponed, but marbles wait for no disease.

 

“The Last Dance”

Before “The Last Dance” debuted a few weeks ago, talking about Michael Jordan was like talking about Hercules. Instead of killing the Nemean lion and capturing Cerberus, MJ was smoking cigars, playing with the flu and utterly dominating the world of basketball. Like mythology, the stories about Jordan seemed too good to be true, and the younger generations were beginning to forget or reject the validity of the demigod’s feats.

But after watching his contemporaries praise his play on the court and his accomplishments unfurl out episode after episode, it’s clear that the legend of Michael Jordan isn’t myth, but rather, history. “The Last Dance” is truly a time capsule, giving fans of this generation a chance to witness greatness of an earlier era. We may not get a conclusion of the 2019-20 NBA season, but we can watch 1998 play out before our very eyes.

 

iRacing 

Fans of NASCAR, Formula One or the “Fast and Furious” franchise can still find their niche with iRacing, an online video game that mimics professional race car driving, which has recently held competitions featuring pro drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and defending Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud. It lacks the thrill of cars going almost 300 mph, the rapid repairs a pit crew provides and the inherent sense of danger that comes with a real-life race, but the competitive atmosphere is nevertheless there. Coupled with commentary, graphics that look almost identical to reality and its own fair share of drama, iRacing has brought the joy of professional race car driving to millions of fans over the past few months. NASCAR is set to return soon, but for now, virtual races should scratch the itch.

When I lost sports, I lost a part of my identity. I no longer had my hobby, my community or my go-to place for escaping everyday life. But these replacements, however small, have helped me find some solace in a world that seems to worsen by the minute.

For now, I’ll tether my remaining sanity to marbles, documentaries and video games. And I will keep looking forward to the day when the current crisis is put to rest and sports — the most meaningful meaningless activity — returns.

Michael Brust covers esports. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeB_DC.