The sport or the champion - Who is to be thanked more?
Their achievements remain benchmarks, their mannerisms breed cults, their victories and defeats give us the highest highs and lowest lows.
He was the greatest - mighty and nimble and in his own words he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. Muhammad Ali conquered the ring and the hearts of the people around it and then went on to do so with everybody that came across him.
He will be remembered as one the greatest all-rounders to have played the game, taking batting and bowling to unknown realms and delivering on both stupendously. He famously held the record for the highest test score for more than three decades before it was overhauled by another genius from his region. Sir Garfield Sobers remains one of the most respected personalities in the cricketing world and this fact alone in a way summarizes his contributions to the game.
They came in when they were very young and have been on the professional circuit for about 20 years now. Who knew then that those two girls would redefine tennis and success - decimating opponent after opponent and setting up many a clash with each other at a slam final after slam final- transforming those exalted championship matches upon whose reputation the game was built into petty home affairs!
The Williams sisters were relentless, they were powerful, brutal and most importantly bloody skillful. In a book that’s hoping to tell us the story about tennis- their names will appear often, often when the game was celebrating and was on a rendezvous with glory!
No team in the world has been more successful. Barely any spoken in the same measure of aura as this one. How they forged a team that came from little known islands strewn in the Atlantic is a legend. How they transformed it from just another team to one that was feared the world over is stuff that should give goosebumps to most.
They could hammer all your bowlers if they batted first, they would inevitably knock you over if they bowled, you could be worried about your life but still remain in awe as Viv, Holding, Clive, Richardson, Garner et al. rubbed shoulders with you. It came to a level where their reputation came before them- who else could have done it but the West Indies’ cricket team of the 70s and 80s?
They ran like their life depended on it. They ran like they owned the track and purely based on timings and statistical replay of their achievements - they surely did. It was not one or two but at least half a dozen champions that one can count.
While most of them are past their best years and some have even retired, Usain Bolt – the fastest man on earth is still running. He is still training to perhaps get faster. The best marathon runners on the planet are still running- running in amateur events and championships all alike. Wherever they have run, they’ve won immense admiration for their relentless perseverance and impeccable work ethic.
They call him the greatest basketball player of all time. In the high-flying world of the NBA, very few have flown as high as this man. Michael Jordan remains one of the most popular even years after retiring from the game. No other sportsperson was marketed so effectively and he will go on to be remembered as much for his brand as he will be for his wizardry on the court!
He was called the prince, but he had his eyes set on bigger conquests. He set such high standards of batting that most great batsmen remain dwarfed by some of his records. When he was classy and when brutal it appeared was a matter of his choice.
Watch some of his great knocks and you will be left pondering over how much more, if it was possible, that you could admire a batsman. His appetite for big runs leaves him with a huge burden to carry- The highest individual test and first-class scores in the history of the game. Not for nothing is Brian Lara one of the few geniuses who chose to make cricket their game.
This realisation struck me last week when the world was mourning the loss of one of its biggest icons. Reading all that that was written about Ali, it was hard to miss his struggle for securing rights of people who had been living as outcasts owing to racial discrimination. To barely read about what he went through when he was humiliated at a restaurant was gut wrenching. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live in a society so crippled.
Today, the very fact that we celebrate sport through the achievements of each of the champions that I tried writing about in the earlier paragraphs is an ode to the universality of sport, and to how it is a platform for social and cultural exchange. It is an equation as much as a competition. Their achievements remain benchmarks, their mannerisms breed cults, their victories and defeats give us the highest highs and the lowest lows. They are ours!
Who would have known that as we squabble amongst us citing the superficial differences that exist, that we would be having the privilege of watching these sportspersons play and seeing their ascent to the summit? In a world that is afflicted by xenophobia and by racial discrimination, it is realisations such as these that are required as a cure and to heal the wounds.
One broke the back of despair and the odds to play a sport one loved, to excel at it and be the best in the world - becoming a lamp of hope to all those that needed. One was an avenue that was preserved as a bastion of the affluent until champions rose elsewhere and it had to become a medium of their expression – letting them pummel the walls of discrimination to usher humanity into a level playing field.
Who can we thank more- the sport or the champion?
What would they have been but for their sport is a question that has no answer but what is certain is that sport would have been terribly poorer even if one of them had chosen to choose anything else!