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Religion of Sports S3:E1 – The Space Between

The Isle of Man TT is the most dangerous motorbike race in the world. Hitting speeds in excess of 200 mph, fatalities during the event are a statistical certainty. And yet, each year, the riders come back. What is it about the TT that pulls them in?


Shut Up and Dribble S1:E3

Original Air Date: Nov 17, 2018

The very public brawl known as “Malice in the Palace” is the catalyst for new NBA rules. But it is also an opportunity for players to own their brands and create both social and financial equity for themselves. The NBA begins its transition to a “players’ league,” with players reaching unprecedented levels of economic and cultural influence. The murders of Trayvon Martin and Erik Garner create a chance for NBA players to stand up and be heard. In the present turbulent political era, players are now unwilling to just “shut up and dribble.”

Watch on Showtime


Shut Up and Dribble S1:E2

Original Air Date: Nov 10, 2018

1984 brought the arrival of the one and only Michael Jordan. MJ breaks barriers when his out-of-context quote, “Republicans buy sneakers too” becomes a signature declaration for a generation of players. In the wake of the Rodney King riots in L.A., two black players, Craig Hodges and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, make their voices heard and pay the price. Allen Iverson rises and becomes a trendsetter unlike anyone before him, even though his defiant style on the court gets him only so far in the NBA.

Watch on Showtime


Shut Up and Dribble S1:E1

Original Air Date: Nov 3, 2018

Prompted by Laura Ingraham’s public criticism of LeBron James and other NBA players’ outspokenness on the current political climate, the first episode is an exploration of the league’s social and cultural influence across time. Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson risked their careers and paved the way for generations of future players. Julius “Dr. J” Erving’s style of play laid the groundwork for Larry Bird and Magic Johnson (and David Stern) to catapult the NBA into an era of higher visibility and prosperity.

Watch on Showtime


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 […]

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