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Welcome to Conversion By Immersion

Conversion by Immersion

My name is Bryan, and I’m about to end a 41-year old personal drought of ignoring soccer.

Make no mistake, I’m a huge sports fan. I spent the first 21 years of my life becoming a man in Massachusetts, where everyone – including aunts, grandmothers, and your middle school paperboy – can tell you the weakest spot in the Red Sox lineup at any point in July.

The same goes for Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I’ve lived for the past 20 years after chasing my wife here (I caught her). I’m in Eagles country, and the fact that I didn’t just refer to them as the “Super Bowl LII Champion Philadelphia Eagles” probably just pissed off half of my wife’s side of the family. Eagles fans, so annoying, amirite?

Most of you reading this in the United States have a similar story. I’m not sure if a $69 test from Ancestry.com would confirm it or not, but fandom for specific teams is just in our blood. From the Trailblazers in Portland to the Cardinals in St. Louis to the Cowboys in Dallas, it’s an unassailable feature of American culture.

And with the 21st World Cup starting up this week, I’m also well aware that this is how most of the world feels about the game of soccer.

I, certainly, do not.

I know enough about soccer. I understand an offsides trap. I know it’s called a “Table” and not “Standings,” and that being in the bottom 3 […]


This Should Be Your World Cup Team

The Case for El Albiceleste

Cheering for Lionel Messi and Argentina is the only sensible move for the World Cup. You can’t change my mind.

The World Cup, which starts Thursday, has lots of great storylines, but only one team you can cheer for, because of one player.

If asking a generational superstar to foist spare-parts teammates on his back and drag them up a seemingly insurmountable summit to avoid humiliation before everyone feels like he’s about to ride into the sunset feels like déjà vu, watch re-runs of the Warriors parade from Tuesday (and also Argentina’s opening game of Group Play against Iceland on Saturday at 4 p.m.).

This situation requires a heroic effort from Messi, making him the perfect protagonist. He’s arguably the greatest footballer ever, and yet rooting for him doesn’t come with the stigma of being a front-runner. He’s never won a single title with the national team, but he’s had the heartbreaking moments of near-victory: World Cup final loss in 2014, back-to-back Copa America finals losses the next two years. This year, Argentina nearly missed the World Cup for the first time since 1970, but then Messi saved the day with a hat trick (of course).

Plus, he comes conscience free! He never did an excruciating TV special to declare he was taking his talents to South … Korea.

If you tell Steve from work you’re pulling for La Albiceleste (The White-and-Blue Sky), he might give you a hard time, but don’t worry, he’s just projecting insecurities. Seriously, though, evaluate […]


King’s Court

There’s been a basketball-related cloud hanging over this entire NBA Finals, and I’m not talking about the fact that we all already know who will win.

It showed up for the first time in full force last night as the series shifted to Cleveland and Quicken Loans Arena filled to the brim with wine-and-gold jerseys. Underneath the glamor and glee projected by the arena and those jamming the streets outside simmered a fear that’s about to boil. The prodigal son, the best basketball player ever — don’t @ me — might leave them again.

With the Warriors almost certainly assured victory, LeBron James’ future is the most pressing question for Clevelanders and NBA fans and will be the feature story for the offseason, the most entertaining part of the NBA calendar. Don’t get it twisted: LeBron might stay. It’s possible. But futility in the Finals, apparent miscommunication with owner Dan Gilbert and consistent upheaval on the court and in the executive suite seem to point to his likely exit.

This leaves Clevelanders in an awkward situation and creates a fascinating dynamic that Quicken Loans Arena showcases every night, because LeBron puts not just the team on his back like Atlas but parts of the city as well.

When LeBron returned in 2014, the city forecasted hundreds of millions of dollars generated long-term because of him. Last year, one Harvard study found that, within a mile of his home court in Cleveland and Miami, the number of restaurants and bars increased by 13.7 percent and […]


GOATs, Game 7s, and Legacies

Church of the NBA

My favorite thing about sports is greatness.

Don’t get me wrong, I love winning too. There’s no bigger (Boston) homer than me, and watching one of the hometown teams win a ring or banner or cup is as amazing as it gets – and we’ve had a good run over the last 18 odd years – but if I am really honest and objective about it, witnessing greatness is probably the best part of being a sports fan. And the NBA – the playoffs in particular, the season in which we find ourselves again from mid-April to mid-June – may be the most sustained period to witness greatness in real time in any sport. It brings out the true believer in me. Right now, we’re seeing something historic with LeBron James aka King James, who just dispatched my Celtics en route to his 8th consecutive Finals appearance. It’s not entirely unprecedented of course, Celtics legend Bill Russell won 9 of 11 championships across a decade plus run, but what we’re seeing with the King and his breathtaking performances (he’s averaging 34, 9, and 9 through the Eastern Finals) has little equal in the modern era of the NBA.

What exactly is the modern NBA era? If it’s left up to me, I define it by when I became a hardcore fan which is probably the mid-eighties through right now. If that’s the playing field, then just think of how fortunate we have really been over the last 30+ years. On the heels […]


Sports Requires Presence

Motor Mecca

There’s nothing chic about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s a two-and-a-half-mile blacktop oval in Speedway, Indiana, a modest suburb of tidy homes, strip malls, trailer parks and pizza joints. It took an accident—a twist of history, not the fender-bending kind—to make Speedway the world capital of auto racing.

It’s not quite that anymore. NASCAR’s more popular and Formula 1’s cooler, but that won’t keep more than 300,000 fans from thronging the track next Sunday for the 102nd running of the Indy 500. They’ll have plenty of storylines to follow, and so will you if you watch the race. Can Japan’s Takuma Soto win twice in a row? Can Danica Patrick contend in the final race of her career? Can anyone top the lap speed record of 236 miles an hour?

Even if the answers are no, no and no, the thousands who’ll be there will have a day to remember. That’s one of the best things about bigtime sporting events—like concerts, revival meetings, or religious pilgrimages, they can’t fully be captured on film, the printed page or even an e-newsletter. You gotta be there. Because the big events are more than spectacle—more than any game, match, or race could be without the crowd. They’re experiences we share with others who care who comes out on top. If we didn’t care, sports would go out of business.

That’s right—fans are the ones who make sports matter.

One way we express our devotion is by traveling to shrines like the Indianapolis Motor […]


Newsletter – May 7, 2018

In the Beginning…

I f’ing hate Florida.

Let me qualify that. I hate the gun-toting, sanctimonious strain of intolerance you sometimes find in Florida. And don’t get me started on Mar-a-Lago. Of course there’s also a lot to like about the Sunshine State: the beaches, the Everglades, the heroism and activism of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

My real beef is with the Tampa Bay area. I’ve got nothing against the Bucs and certainly not the Rays, who made some sort of Religion of Sports history in 2008, when they changed their name from Devil Rays for religious reasons, and suddenly started winning. No, I fucking hate Tampa Bay because my hometown Boston Bruins have been locked in a second-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. And after watching thousands of Lightning fans cheer too many goals at Amalie Arena, Tampa represents everything wrong with the world, in my not so humble opinion.

When I “volunteered” to write our first Religion of Sports newsletter, the intention (and assumption, on behalf of our whole team) was that it would be a rhapsodic affirmation of the spirituality of sports. A celebration of what makes them mythic, and an affirmation of why they matter — how sports provide meaning and significance to athletes and fans, gods and worshippers, alike.

Then the worst happened. Yes, the Lightning zapped my Bruins.

I’ll be spending the next few days in a self-imposed sports exile, unable to eat, speak, or watch highlights.

This part of sports — living […]


How Gotham Chopra convinced Tom Brady to reveal himself for ‘Tom vs. Time’

For his follow-up to the acclaimed Religion of Sportsseries, documentary filmmaker Gotham Chopra turns his attention to superstar quarterback Tom Brady in Tom vs. Time, a six-part series exclusively on Facebook Watch. In collaborating with Brady, Chopra gained intimate access to the five-time Super Bowl champion, capturing content with him across the United States and beyond, to China and Costa Rica. In this Q&A, Chopra tells us about the making of the series, from the earliest discussions about the project with the famously guarded quarterback, to him eventually signing on, and a look behind the curtain of Brady’s complex world.

Q: You grew up in Boston as a massive Patriots fan. How hard was it to put your fandom aside in working with Tom Brady?

Chopra:It was impossible. I met him for the first time in 2012 at his home in the Los Angeles hills and I had to keep it together. For any Boston sports fans who grew up with the embarrassment of the Patriots in the 1980s and ’90s, he’s basically synonymous with them becoming winners. But we became closer as he helped me make Religion of Sports, of which he is an executive producer.

How did you finally convince him to become the subject of a whole series?

Several years ago, I worked with Kobe Bryant on a documentary project called Kobe Bryant’s Muse. While working on that, I shared anecdotes with Tom and pestered him: “We should be doing this with you.” This lasted years! […]


Gotham Chopra reveals how he converted to the ‘Religion of Sports’

After workshopping the idea for five years, Gotham Chopra finally saw his Religion of Sports series debut in the fall of 2016 on the Audience Network. Its original six-episode run was a journey of the power of sports as passion – almost literally a religion for people on every continent on earth. Six more episodes followed a year later. Now, Chopra has pulled in Tom Brady and Michael Strahan as co-founders in Religion of Sports, the media company, and the team has bigger plans. In January, Tom vs. Time – an unprecedented look behind the scenes of the life of Tom Brady – debuted on Facebook Watch. Here, Chopra talks about the origins of Religion of Sports, some of his favorite moments and what lies ahead for the media business.

Q: Where did the idea behind Religion of Sportscome from?

Chopra: I feel like it’s my life! My parents were immigrants from India and I was the first of my family to be born outside of South Asia. I grew up in Boston and sports for me was sort of the classic cultural assimilation. My parents knew nothing about it and really only paid attention when I played sports in school. I totally bought into sports being such a fabric of the culture in the Northeast. I grew up a huge Patriots, Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox fan.

The “religion” part really came out of my upbringing. My father was a Western-trained physician who came to the United States in […]


Gotham Chopra chats with Hidden Remote on storytelling, sports and ‘Why We Fight’

When it comes to sports, Gotham Chopra sees every game, practice, or match as an opportunity for compelling and entertaining storytelling. It’s not about who is the best or who wins, it’s about capturing the drama within every athlete’s path. From overcoming injuries to relishing in the struggle it takes to get up and practice each and every day, it’s filming those unscripted stories that keeps Gotham inspired to create and work in film.

In a recent interview with Hidden Remote, Gotham discusses his beginnings in the world of sports, what it’s like to interview influential athletes and leaders, and his inspiration for Why We Fight, his project for the go90 network, that dives into the world of boxing and martial arts and the individual motivations of those who step into the ring.

Told from the perspective of Los Angeles-based golden gloves champ and pro-boxer Zack Wohlman as he travels the world, Why We Fight chronicles the hard road a fighter must face to achieve greatness — or simply to defeat their own demons. Executive producers Chopra and UFC woman’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey are on a mission to explore a bigger question. What pushes a fighter to dedicate body, mind and spirit to a sport that can take everything and still ask for more? The answers are as different as the people who choose this punishing path. Read Gotham’s full interview with Hidden Remote hereto learn more about the genesis of Why We Fight, or watch it here. […]


Kobe Bryant: The Man Behind The Jerseys

When Kobe Bryant ended his legendary NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016, he had quite a few wins, records and honors to his name.

As a five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star selection, Bryant wrapped up his career as the Lakers’ leader in points, games played, 3-pointers, steals and free throws. Bryant by the numbers is impressive, to say the least.

Come December, Bryant will be adding another record to the list: number of jerseys retired.

The Lakers recently announced that not one — but two — of Bryant’s jerseys will officially be retired when the Lakers play the Golden State Warriors on December 18, making him the first player in NBA history to have two numbers retired by the same team.

During his 20 years spent with the Lakers, Bryant proved just what it takes to be a top athlete — a story that’s captured seamlessly in Showtime’s documentary, Kobe Bryant’s Muse. The documentary showcases the grit, determination and heart that led to a celebrated career and, more recently, two retired jerseys.

Kobe Bryant’s Musetakes fans beyond the stats and goes straight to the man himself, highlighting the beginnings of his relationship with basketball and the highs and lows of his career, from wins and injuries to mentors and daily rituals.

From the retiring of two Bryant jerseys to the tale told in Kobe Bryant’s Muse,”one thing is for sure: Whether Bryant was donning the number 8 or 24, his story is anything but ordinary and his influence is […]

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