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So far Joe Levin has created 36 blog entries.

The Perfect Competition for These Wild Times

The Perfect Competition for These Wild Times

When Thomas Waerner and his 10 sled dogs pulled into Nome, AK, late Tuesday night, they were entering a very different world than the one they left ten days prior. At that time, Waerner was also one of the only people on Earth experiencing that particular type of pride and joy that comes with dominating a sporting event, the champion of the Iditarod, a competition that’s known as “The Last Great Race.” This year, more than ever, it lived up to that billing. As league after league suspended their seasons and tournaments, the Iditarod carried on—and it was the perfect competition for these crazy times.

The famed dog sled race through the Alaskan wilderness has its origins in a crisis eerily reminiscent of our own. In the winter of 1925, the city of Nome was facing an outbreak of a sickness marked by—what else?—a pronounced cough, fever, and body aches, and the town’s only doctor was out of medicine to treat it. No ships could access the local port; it was iced over, and it was too dangerous to deliver anything by plane. So, a relay of 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs was organized to transport the serum from the southern town of Seward to Nome. Working day and night, they got the treatment to Nome in 5 ½ days and saved the town. Today’s mushers follow a similar path to the one those dog teams ran to keep a pandemic at bay.

The Iditarod […]

2020-03-20T16:33:20+00:00

The Healing Power of Sports

The Healing Power of Sports

A month after Pearl Harbor, baseball’s owners were scrambling. At a time when so much in the world appeared unknown and dangerous, was it worth continuing to play ball? During World War I, the MLB season had been cancelled, and for guidance as to whether the 1941 season would suffer a similar fate, commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis petitioned the president. He sent a handwritten letter to the White House, noting, “The time is approaching when, in ordinary conditions, our teams would be heading for spring training camps. However, inasmuch as these are not ordinary times, I venture to ask what you have in mind as to whether professional baseball should continue to operate.”

President Roosevelt responded immediately, and his letter was front page news across the country. “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” he said. “There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

As a result, baseball continued throughout the war, even as stars like Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg were drafted into service, and indeed, Roosevelt was right. Baseball was a welcome respite from the grim newsreels; by 1945, attendance had climbed to its highest mark in MLB history.

Baseball provided a sense of normalcy, as well as an escape. It’s a role that […]

2020-03-13T12:58:36+00:00

All Betts Are Off and So Are the Red Sox

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All Betts Are Off and So Are the Red Sox

You would think that they would have learned by now. About a century ago, the Red Sox traded Tris Speaker–one of the greatest hitters to ever live–to cut salaries after winning a World Series. Four years later, they sold Babe Ruth for a pile of Yankees cash. This time around, it’s Mookie Betts packing his bags, who despite having played for only six seasons, is already the tenth most valuable Sox player of all time, at least according to WAR. Betts is exactly the type of player a team dreams of developing. He should have been in Boston for his entire career, his number 50 retired, a beloved icon like Williams and Ortiz.

He would have been, too, if not for some cheapskates.

Fans and owners have always had a complicated relationship. It’s the owner’s team—they own it after all—but every sports franchise also belongs to its fans. The generations of support earn some kind of sweat equity, and in that way, an owner is really more of a patron. An owner is supporting something that’s not just for them, and in return, fans have no choice but to trust that their benefactor is a benevolent one.

For the owners, there’s a certain responsibility that comes with that agreement. They don’t need to put a winning team on the field every year. And they don’t need to lose money consistently, […]

2020-02-07T07:43:32+00:00

Kobe Was Simply One of a Kind

I have a lot of favorite memories from working with Kobe and could never narrow it down to just one. So here are two:

Early on in the edit for Muse when we were deciding what we really wanted the tone of the doc to be, we’d have these all-hands-on-deck meetings in our edit bunker down in Newport Beach. Oh yeah, WE BUILT AN ENTIRE EDIT ROOM down in Newport where Kobe lived because he demanded it. He said there was no way we were editing a film about him up in L.A. I argued with him about this, and eventually pretty much everything else, but there was no version of him that was willing to compromise. So…Newport it was. Anyway, back to the brainstorm. At one point, one of our collaborators made a reference to Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky and how maybe we could emulate the opening of the film–capturing its brewing intensity and sense of foreboding. Everyone loved the idea and there was growing enthusiasm the more we discussed it. Except for Kobe, who remained quiet. I asked him what he thought and he just shook his head. He hadn’t seen Black Swan, so didn’t really have an opinion. I told him we could probably pull up a link online and watch it together so he could check it out and react to it.

“No,” he said. “I’ll watch it tonight and we can talk about it tomorrow.” I agreed to the plan.

The following morning, I met him in his office. It couldn’t have been […]

2020-01-27T22:04:09+00:00

The Winding Road to the Super Bowl

The Long Road to the Super Bowl

It’s never easy getting to the Super Bowl, but the journey was especially circuitous for many of this year’s participants.

Let’s start with the coaches. Kansas City’s Andy Reid has his fingerprints all over the league: seven of his former assistants are head coaches, but he’s only reached the Super Bowl once before–with the Eagles–and many blame his clock management for their loss to New England. Before last weekend, he was 1-5 in conference championships, and many have also pinned those losses on some of Reid’s questionable decisions. That being said, the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Reid is “beloved.” All around the league, coaches, players, and owners adore the guy. You could see it after the game last Sunday, as Reid was trying to make his way to his family and kept getting stopped by players to give him a hug. “I don’t know a coach that deserves it more,” said former Chiefs and Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil.

On the other sideline is Kyle Shanahan, son of Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan, who handed his son the NFC Championship trophy last weekend. Kyle is only 40 years-old, three years removed from taking control of the 49ers, and already, Super Bowl ghosts follow him. He was the Falcons offensive coordinator in Super Bowl LI, when he kept dialing up pass plays even after Atlanta had a 28-3 lead. 31 unanswered points later, Tom Brady was hoisting another Super Bowl trophy. […]

2020-01-24T08:10:01+00:00

One Final Piece of Patriots Magic

One Final Piece of Patriots Magic

When a team like the Patriots—preseason Super Bowl favorites that started 8-0 and handily won the AFC East—loses the way they did last week against the Tennessee Titans, the typical fan reaction is sadness, anger and disgust.

That’s not what happened in Foxborough this past Sunday night. A pick six might have ended Tom Brady’s legendary New England career, but the attitude in the locker room, in the crowd, and for Patriots fans across the country was something much different–acceptance, appreciation and deep gratitude. For a franchise that has had its share of miracles, this felt like one final piece of magic.

Dynasties don’t typically end in glory, and it’s even rarer when they end with a modicum of dignity. Consider the Golden State Warriors, whose final year included Kevin Durant and Draymond Green getting in shouting matches on the bench. Shaq and Kobe took as many shots at each other as they did on the court. Patrick Roy, the great Montreal Canadiens goalie, walked off the ice in the middle of a 1996 game after a disagreement with his coach and never played a game for the Habs again.

There were rumors of tension in New England, but they never amounted to anything more than a whisper. The crowd showered Brady with chants all game long on Sunday. Robert Kraft heaped praise on his quarterback, and then remarked, “How lucky we’ve been.” Brady, at his locker after it was all said and done, repeated to reporters, […]

2020-01-11T18:31:44+00:00

Why the Washington Nationals Won the World Series

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THERE’S NOTHING LIKE A GAME SEVEN

Faith. That’s how the Nationals won the World Series earlier this week. It’s what they held onto when they were 19-31 nearly two months into this season. It’s what they believed in when they were down two runs late in the do-or-die Wild Card game. It’s what they remembered when the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS came down to extra innings. And it’s how they won on the road against the Astros. And then again. And again. And again.

We talked last week about the Baseball Gods, and in response, our co-founder Gotham Chopra said that the Nationals have that team of destiny feel to them. That’s code for saying that Washington had the Baseball Gods on their side. Ryan Zimmerman explained the victory in simpler terms. “We were just ourselves,” he said.

In the end, it was some combination of the two. The Baseball Gods have been breathing life into the Nationals since late May, and the Nationals never questioned it. They just let it happen. They believed. Every player did.

There’s Ryan Zimmerman, who’s been with the team since as long as it’s existed, back when they played at RFK Stadium, when they lost 100 games in a season.

There’s Stephen Strasburg, who was compared to Walter Johnson as a rookie, then told he was too fragile to be a true ace, and then pitched the most dazzling game of the […]

2019-11-01T00:39:50+00:00

The Baseball Gods Are Here to Have Fun

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THE BASEBALL GODS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN

There’s an old phrase that people throw around when something inexplicable happens on a baseball diamond. There are unbelievable turns of events in any sport, but they seem to happen in baseball the most. When they do—when there’s a home run that floats out of the park seemingly because of a cosmic gust of wind, or when there’s a grounder that worms its way around infielders and into the outfield for a late-inning RBI—we throw up our hands and declare that the only explanation is that the Baseball Gods are out there having a little fun. The Red Sox breaking the Curse of the Bambino by completing an epic comeback against the Bambino’s Yankees? Baseball Gods. The Cubs finally winning a World Series when their drought reached 108 years? Baseball Gods. When you realize that there are 108 stitches on a baseball? Well, you get the idea.

The Baseball Gods are having a field day right now. If you’ve watched these playoffs or this World Series, you know what we’re talking about. It was there in the ALCS, when the Astros, having led all game, gave up the lead in the 9th inning. With Houston up to bat, second baseman José Altuve—fan favorite and Astros lifer—stepped into the batter’s box against Aroldis Chapman, the filthiest pitcher of his generation. With two outs, Chapman left a slider hanging, something that never […]

2019-10-25T04:50:46+00:00

Let the Marathon Record Stand

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JOY AROUND THE WORLD

Eliud Kipchoge grew up in eastern Kenya and every morning, he’d run to school. Wouldn’t it have been cool if  he had a stopwatch, a log of how quickly he could make the trip, trying to beat the bell? How old must he have been when he first broke the 10-minute mark? Did he even break a sweat?

Last Saturday, all of Kenya—with the rest of the world—watched Kipchoge run, and this time, there was a stopwatch. We kept looking back and forth, back and forth, seeing if he would actually make it. In a special event in Vienna, Kipchoge, the greatest marathoner in the world, was trying to run 26.2 miles in under two hours. One hour, 59 minutes, and 40 seconds after he started off, he crossed the finish line. In his hometown of Eldoret, crowds had gathered to watch a broadcast of the feat. It looked like they were watching the World Cup. When he finished, there was elation.

It was a landmark achievement, one that Kipchoge and race organizers compared to man walking on the Moon. The Atlantic wrote of the limitations of that comparison, “Running’s original moon landing, the sub-four-minute mile, took place back in 1954. Yesterday, Kipchoge launched running to Mars.”

Almost immediately after the cheers faded, though, skeptics started crowing. The run would not count as a world record, because it wasn’t an official marathon. Kipchoge ran on […]

2019-10-18T03:30:40+00:00

The NBA, China, and the Purpose of Sports

Lost in Translation

Jesus brought basketball to China. Okay, that might be a stretch, but it’s not exactly wrong. Missionaries did it in the early 1890s, a handful of years after James Naismith first hammered peach baskets to the wall of a Massachusetts YMCA. They built courts there, and now if you enter the walls of the Forbidden City, you’ll find basketball courts between centuries-old palaces, just waiting for a pickup game.

The Chinese army brought Chinese basketball to America. And yes, that is exactly true. Mao Zedong banned all Western influences and culture—Beethoven, bibles, and baseball were all taboo—but basketball was always encouraged, especially in military camps. He viewed the game as a way to increase comradery and project national strength. For many years, only two sports were allowed in the country: basketball and ping pong. When Wang Zhizhi became the first Chinese national to play in the NBA in 2001, he was a member of the People’s Liberation Army and was ordered to report for duty back in China after every NBA season.

It was Yao Ming, though, who tied the NBA and China at the hip. More than 200 million Chinese fans watched Yao’s first NBA game (compare that to the 98 million Americans who watched Super Bowl LIII this year). In 2008, over a thousand people lined up for the opening of Beijing’s NBA Store. Just a month ago, the country hosted the FIBA World Cup. This week was supposed to be a celebration of the union between country […]

2019-10-11T17:07:58+00:00
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