Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why I Watch Sports


I once asked Herb Sturz about what drove him to do public interest work. I can't remember his exact words, but he told me that his instinct was always to fight for the underdog and that he always sought out opportunities in his career to do just that. The pull of a good underdog story is one of the primary reasons that I follow professional sports. They don't come along very often, alas.

Happily, this weekend saw two unbelievable stories involving two of my favorite teams: the Knicks and Arsenal. The Knicks story is basically inescapable if you happen to live in New York: with their two most heralded players out of the lineup, the Knicks have gone on an unexpected winning streak led by the cast-off point guard Jeremy Lin. Lin is a true rarity in the NBA: a Harvard grad and an Asian-American. The odds that he would lead the Knicks in scoring for the past week must have been astronomical. Happier still, Lin is a pass-first guard whose high basketball IQ seems to have infected the rest of the team. The two adjectives I would have used to describe the Knicks prior to Lin's emergence were "selfish" and "unwatchable." No longer.

Less of a long shot than Lin but still utterly surprising and delightful is the story of Thierry Henry's return to Arsenal. Henry left Arsenal five years ago as their all-time leading scorer. He briefly went on to greater glory with Barcelona but then time and age seemed to catch up with him. His performances for the French national team were unexceptional and soon he found himself in the soccer backwater of New Jersey playing for the Red Bulls in MLS. With Arsenal toiling through a mediocre season and struggling to score goals, they sent out the bat signal for Henry, bringing him back just for a month during the MLS off-season. No one quite knew what to expect of his return. There were many who worried that he would tarnish his legacy by playing poorly. But just the opposite has happened: the legacy has been burnished by three goals in substitute appearances, including yesterday's game winner in the 90th minute at Sunderland. It has been a rough year for supporters of Arsenal, but Henry's goal put a spring in my step all weekend.