The evolution of a Spanish basketball star turned NBA player, from the perspective of a fellow player:
"I was playing in Spain at the time, and was there as the nation slipped into inescapable Rubio-mania. In the grocery store people wanted to talk about him; in our locker room we laughed about the boy who turned the ACB, the second best league in the world, into his personal And1 mixtape. He was the next Pistol Pete, the next Magic. There wasn’t a comparison too far-fetched.
"I remember watching his team, DKV Joventut, on TV and mentioning to a friend that he played so calm and free, so relaxed under immense pressure. And it was striking, the way he played each game as if it was happening in the park before he had to race home to set the table for the family dinner. But it wasn’t just his highlights that fascinated me. He reminded me of the basketball I grew up watching. This was before APBRmetrics and Hollinger’s stats parsed every minutia of detail into digestible numbers, quantifying a lot but inevitably missing the raw, visceral effect of watching a player play. It was a time, in short, when it was easier to see the game purely subjectively, and as art. And it was impossible to see Rubio as anything but an artist."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 29, 2012
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2272 words)
A writer and his wife participate in a centuries-old Scandinavian tradition known as "Wife-Carrying," a sport where male competitors carry a female teammate while racing through an obstacle course:
"And then my wife and I are 15 yards up the hill, and I am breathing hard, making it work. This isn't so bad, I think. Like John Candy in Spaceballs, I say to myself, 'I could carry two or three of these.' Maybe a wife and a kid (that's not allowed yet).
"'Divot,' Megan shouts. I adjust. I'm a quarter of the way through. I'm a Wife-Carrying natural! This is the best decision that I, no that we, have made in… and I'm pitching forward into a swampy patch of October grass. Just like that, I'd broken a vow I'd made to my father-in-law. As if to maximize the surreal quality of this day, he'd driven up to watch the competition, and now I'd dropped his daughter. Seven-second penalty.
"'It's a lot more physical than people give it credit for,' Darcy Morse, the organizer of the race, warned when I signed up, and all at once I believe her. Suddenly, I feel like John Candy in Spaceballs. But I throw Megan onto my back again and come to the first obstacle, the Pommel Log. I'm over it, but I'm behind the couple we're racing against, and starting to hear sympathy cheers. 'You can do it,' say some good-hearted Mainers with the sweet inflection of wincing, hopeful mommies."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 4, 2012
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2790 words)
What are your career options when you are seven feet tall? A tall writer meets a tall wrestler:
"Paul Wight, bless him, seems to think of his massive size as a gift from God, not a devil's bargain. There was a moment earlier this year when Wight was rumored to be fighting Shaq at this year's Wrestlemania. If that had happened, it would've been the collision of the two most genially cartoonish giants in sports, the two guys who come off most like enormous eight-year-olds. I wanted to talk to Wight for this piece because, among the giants I've seen on TV, he seems the least tortured by his height. After all, he's voluntarily spent the last 17 years in a grandly ridiculous, mortally dangerous line of work -- strapping on his comic-book caveman singlet and pretending to fight hulking musclemen across the globe, risking crippling injury every time he lets one of them lift him.
"There are plenty of reasons why I could never do what Wight does. Even though we're nearly the same height, he weighs more than two of me. And the two afternoons I spent in a pro-wrestling training ring a decade ago taught me how much it hurts to wake up the morning after you've been learning to theatrically flop on canvas. But mostly, I've never been able to imagine performing my height. I've gotten used to people staring at me, but I've never learned to like it. I played basketball in high school, but I sucked at it, and hated sucking at it. I never bothered to learn how to play the game effectively beyond the obvious lumbering rebounds and shot-blocks. I fouled out of games on purpose if I was in a bad mood. I told myself that I wanted to do something with my brain and not my body, like that was even my choice to make, or like there was any real divide. So now I'm a writer, and I spend entire days living in my own house, only leaving to take my dog on walks or to take my kid to the park. Truthfully, I was too lazy and too self-conscious to ever do jack shit athletically. I'm a writer because it's what I've always wanted to be, but god knows my height probably had something to do with that desire. Pro wrestling is pretty much the opposite of anything I could ever do. I am not like Paul Wight."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 13, 2012
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2582 words)
In the early 20th Century, six-day bike races were some of the biggest sporting events in the U.S.--not to mention grueling and dangerous:
"In the four corners of the old Chicago Stadium, faux-Greek sculptures depicted the premier indoor athletes of the day: a boxer, a track runner, a hockey player, and a bicyclist. Though outdoor road races were king at the turn of the century, promoters figured out that track racing on a wooden, banked, 1/6-mile oval could sell more tickets. Instead of watching the competitors whiz by once from the side of a street, people could pack into arenas and see them run thousands of laps."
PUBLISHED: July 11, 2012
LENGTH: 8 minutes (2169 words)
On a percussionist's nerve-wracking audition for the Boston Symphony Orchestra:
"The classical audition ranks among the world’s toughest job interviews. Each applicant has 10 minutes at most to play in a way so memorable that he stands out among a lineup of other world-class musicians. Tetreault has prestigious degrees from the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music in London, and he’s studied under the world-renowned performer Christopher Lamb, but at his audition, the only thing that will matter is how he performs in the most pressure-packed few minutes of his life. If he squeezes his glockenspiel mallet too hard, choking the sound, or if he overthinks the dotted rhythm or fails to adjust to the BSO’s oddly scaled xylophone bars and misses a few notes, the whole thing will be over. Mark Volpe, managing director of the Boston Symphony, sums up the audition process this way: 'I want someone to be so brilliant that there’s no question.'"
PUBLISHED: July 1, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4389 words)
A writer digs into his grandfather's past and discovers stories about life as a professional basketball player in the 1940s for the Chicago Stags, part of the BAA (Basketball Association of America), which later merged with another league to become the NBA:
"Detroit’s coach gave Schadler the score: 'I have a wife and kids, and I’m keeping this money. I’ll see to it that you get yours at the end of the season.' Payment never came. It wasn’t just this game—two weeks had passed without Schadler, let alone any of the Vagabond Kings’ eight players, being paid a dime. The team was co-owned by two men, one of whom also owned a car dealership. The car salesman wanted out, and as a parting gift to the remaining owner (given out of guilt, and accepted out of an essential need) the Kings received two limousines. Since they couldn’t afford a bus, this became how they travelled around the country; hundreds of miles at a time, from game to game, in two limos—a confusing symbol for a failing league. Their lodging situation, though, screamed that the end was near. If a game was held in the vicinity of Detroit, team owner King Boring (yes, King Boring) began to shuttle the players to his home to sleep in his game room on air mattresses."
PUBLISHED: April 30, 2012
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3358 words)
His best-known novel, Et Tu, Babe
, was published 20 years ago, but now the writer has returned (with a new book, The Sugar Frosted Nutsack
) to a world that matches the absurdity of his pre-Internet work:
On Charlie Rose [in 1996], Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace and Mark Leyner sat together in the familiar round table, infinite-void-of-nothingness that is the Charlie Rose set. Each responded to Rose’s questions about the state of fiction more or less in character: Franzen, who had a wavy pageboy haircut that frizzed out untempered to nearly chin level, defended the classical novel as an oasis for readers who feel lonely and misunderstood. Leyner, wearing a robust, Mephistophelian goatee — perhaps fitting for the man Wallace once accused of being “a kind of anti-Christ” — said simply: 'My relationship with my readers is somewhat theatrical. One of the main things I try to do in my work is delight my readers.' Wallace looked much as we picture him now, posthumously chiseled into Mount Literature: the ponytail, the bearish features, the rough scruff on his jaw. He played the part of a calming, Midwestern-inflected mediator, saying, 'I feel like I’m, if you put these two guys in a blender. . . . '"
PUBLISHED: March 21, 2012
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3744 words)
Three-part travelogue on Muay Thai boxing camp. "In January of 2010, Neil Chamberlain left Brooklyn for a three-month tour of Muay Thai boxing camps in Thailand. While abroad he kept an online chronicle of his experiences that was followed voraciously by his family and friends. Neil returned from Thailand in early April; less than two weeks later he was dead at age twenty-eight, killed by a hit-and-run driver. In light of the brute intensities he’d so recently and lovingly chronicled, the cruel and sudden randomness of his passing was impossible to comprehend. Like many others close to him I’ve re-read this often since his accident, missing my friend, lusting after his sentences, wishing desperately that I could read even one more."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 7, 2011
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3224 words)