by Chris Foss
One of ESPN’s newest “30 for 30” documentaries, This Magic Moment, follows the fashion in American pop culture of late by taking us back to the 1990s (indeed, sometimes I get worried that the Macarena is about to make a comeback), specifically to the time when it seemed as though the Orlando Magic were the team of the future in the NBA. Graced by the presence of most of the core Magic players and executives, the documentary does a superb job of showing one of the great “what ifs” in sports history.
This Magic Moment illustrates how much of a sports backwater Orlando was as late as the 1980s, and therefore the gamble the NBA took in granting prospective ownership a franchise. College football was king in Florida before the Magic and the Miami Heat were formed in 1986. These two teams represented a big breakthrough, though, for pro sports in Florida. In the 1990s, the Florida (now Miami) Marlins and Tampa Bay (then Devil) Rays arrived in MLB, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars, not to mention various busted MLS experiments. The Magic led the way in this new wave of pro sports in the state. Even the early years of bad Magic teams saw the Orlando Arena packed to the gills. The club successfully hosted the 1992 All Star Game where Magic Johnson returned for the first time after contracting HIV.
Photo of an outfit only the fanatical would consider placing their child in.
by Keith Aksel
There’s no obvious reason for me to support the Cincinnati Bengals. Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I was conveniently located between Cincinnati and Cleveland, ultimately giving me the option to pick either the Browns or Bengals to follow. My mother and her family lived in the Marion, Ohio area (about 50 miles north of Columbus) for generations before I came along. They all grew up rooting for the Cleveland Browns and Indians, and it makes sense that I would have followed in their footsteps. But, I didn’t. I had no personal connections to Cincinnati- no family members or friends were from there- yet I dove in headlong as a Bengals fan, following my father who years before I was born made a choice to follow the Black and Orange.
My dad and had no ties to Ohio sports, or any American sports for that matter. He emigrated from Turkey to the US in the late 1970s by himself, bringing only a love for soccer with him (which he also passed on to his sons). As the story goes, when he first met my mother’s family in Marion, her four brothers inquired about his favorite American football team. Having little knowledge of the game beyond the major teams in the area, he wisely asked my uncles first which team they supported. “Cleveland,” they emphatically replied. My father’s response to this would prove enormous for not only his sports future in this country, but that of his next generation. “You like Cleveland? OK, I guess I like Cincinnati.” And so it began. A small contrarian moment led to a now decades-long quiet feud between the Cincinnati-loving Aksels and the Cleveland-loyal, and appropriately-named, Brown family.
Today, Chris concludes his two-parter on his experiences as a bowler across his lifetime.
by Chris Foss
After struggling through the first semester of college, my best friend and I determined to turn things around, and we formed the Willamette Bowling Club. Born at a far-flung AME bowling alley in the far east of Oregon’s state capital, our club averaged around four bowlers a week, sometimes just two, sometimes half a dozen. Attendance increased during my sophomore year, perhaps thanks to a move to a closer, cheaper bowling alley. But funding for our effort wasn’t forthcoming from the student government. Maybe we should have lobbied harder. Eventually, I became more distracted by research projects, causing me to miss more weeks of bowling club. One fanatic among us was itching to take over the club presidency, so I resigned at the end of the year.
I did study abroad in England, an experience that left me feeling simultaneously exhilarated, lonely, cosmopolitan, and nostalgic. It was time for a return to something simple that would make me feel re-connected with my real home in Oregon. Bowling was the cure to my post-travel blues, posited a friend, and with three other buddies who were expert bowlers, we ventured into a summer league at the Milwaukie Bowl near my parents’ house. Another classic old alley. We mingled with old-timers, the working-class, high-school kids. I frequently craned my neck during breaks in the action to catch the latest NBA playoffs action. Miami beat Dallas for the title. OK, gotta go bowl my turn. Damn, another 7-10 split. 70 one game, 125 the next, just squeaked out 102 in our last effort.
by Chris Foss
In the aftermath of World War II, bowling was one of America’s favorite sporting pastimes; major bowling tournaments even got network TV coverage. Today, however, bowling seems a dingy backwater, even a nostalgic throwback, and bowling alleys all across the country are closing. Over the next two weeks, I reflect on my personal relationship with bowling and how it changed over the course of my life. Later this year, I’ll look at the demise of bowling as a national phenomenon and what that (perhaps) says about contemporary American life.
From Throw Momma Off the Train, to The Big Lebowski, to Bowling for Columbine, to the poorly-lit ESPN telecasts of tournaments that play during NFL Sundays, bowling has been derided in the popular culture of my lifetime as the pastime of rednecks, losers, even teenage killers. Many bowling alleys smell like smoke, serve terrible concessions, and dole out ripped shoes and chipped bowling balls to patrons. Bowling is, however, also an American tradition. Even today it remains the ultimate birthday party, corporate bonding gathering, and school outing. From an early age, bowling was in my bloodstream, as a touchstone that served to mark important times in my life.
by Keith Aksel
Today we finish up the series on gray areas in sports. Thus far, we’ve covered mystical catch criteria in football, stalling in wrestling, PKs in soccer, and strike zones in baseball. All are events in their respective sports that at some level leave their citation up to the discretion of officials. We’ll now take a look at gray areas in two other sports: basketball and hockey. Afterward, we discuss the significance of gray areas, all so you can watch the NBA and NHL finals with a more knowing eye.
Basketball- Flagrant Fouls
Like strike zones in baseball, we see flagrant fouls cause a ruckus on an almost nightly basis. An offensive player drives to the bucket seemingly unobstructed. Then at the last moment, a defender’s arm swoops in to inhibit the player’s progress. If the defender ended up mostly grabbing the offensive player’s arm instead of the ball, a foul can be called…but what type of foul?