Good Sports

I am not a follower of sports. Nor am I like those progressives who reject sports out of hand for the violence and rabid competitiveness. Sports reflect the best and worst of human nature.

The best sports documentaries are consistently produced by HBO. Books on sport, especially baseball, can be brilliant works that tell rich stories. And TV’s best sports-based show hits its last season.

Documentary film: Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals — Anyone who decries sports should watch this tale of two basketball rivals and superstars, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird, from their college years through their 1980s professional careers with, respectively, the L.A. Lakers and Boston Celtics. These two very different men, one Black the other white, one from a city and the other a small town, overcame competition, race and all that divided them to foster a mutual respect and affection.

Documentary film: Broad Street Bullies — Ice hockey can be a brutal sport, and in the 1970s, the Philadelphia Flyers went from a fumbling expansion team to a championship powerhouse through a style of play laced with aggressiveness and tainted with violence. And in the process brought together a city sorely in need of inspiration and solidarity. The yin/yang of hockey’s sometimes-violent nature and how winning can thrill and motivate is captured here in a powerful way that parallels the similar dynamic in Martin Scorsese’s dramatic film Raging Bull.

Book: Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella — The novel that inspired the film Field of Dreams is (as is often the case) so much richer, deep and inspirational than the popular and excellent movie. That work purged the story of one major line in which the hero all but kidnaps reclusive author J.D. Salinger to come along on his actual and metaphorical journey to renewal. A masterpiece of magical realism, it’s a captivating read that is as much about life and humanity as it is about baseball.

TV: Friday Night Lights — What may be the most moving, innovative and redolent of real life series ever on network TV (with an assist from DirecTV that kept it alive for NBC to show after it aired on the paid service) wraps up in way that is revelatory and heartwarming in its fifth and final season. But along the way, the turn it took in the previous season to the poor and black side of the small West Texas town where it takes place brings even greater gravitas and dramatic power to its last episodes.

Filmed in almost documentary style with characters that are as human and believable, it feels as real as television ever has, and for this true fan, has never failed to engage and satisfy.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1/15, 2011


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