The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: ‘What’s so great about great?’

September 18, 2011
Share this story:

     The word “great” is perhaps the most overused (and imprecisely used) word in the English language.

     He’s a great man, that’s a great suit, it’s a great day.   That girl sure has a great, uh….well, a great you fill in the blank.   Everything is great, great, great.

Is this skinny little twerp the greatest ever???

Is this skinny little twerp the greatest ever???

     And perhaps in no theater of Human Endeavor is the word great more overused than in Sports.   Great player, great game, great team, great halftime commercial, great great great, man, it gets nauseating after awhile.

     But every once in awhile, not often, but occasionally, the word fits.   It fits when we lifelong sports aficionados are allowed to witness a true display of athletic greatness the likes of which we rarely, if ever, have been allowed to see before.   It happened just last week at the Unites States Open tennis tournament.    Men’s final.   And the author of this splash of greatness was a skinny guy from Serbia, a comedy-loving chap who also excels at doing impressions.   On this day he did an impression of the greatest tennis player (at least for one day) that ever whacked a fuzzy ball.

     Novak Djokovic.

     Novak Djokovic was already the Number-One-ranked player in the world when he stepped onto the court at Flushing Meadows, New York, two Sundays ago, to face Number-Two-ranked Rafael Nadal for the men’s title.   He was “Numero Uno” even if you, maybe, have never even heard of him.   But even though this year he had already won two of the three major championships yet held, the Australian and British Opens (the latter better known as Wimbledon), and even though he had won 63 of his 65 tennis matches this year, he had not yet done anything that this reporter would deign to term truly “great”.   Very good, very very good, amazing, improbable, remarkable, sure.   But not “great”.   Not quite.   Not yet.

     Plus he had a very difficult task in front of him.   On the other side of the net was Nadal, a 10-time major winner who had—these last three or four years—reduced the alleged Greatest Player Of All Time, Roger Federer,  to his personal whipping boy.   Nadal is universally conceded to be the strongest, fittest, and fastest man in tennis.   Not to mention perhaps the best shot-maker.   Perhaps Nadal was before this day considered, in fact, the greatest all-around tennis player who ever stepped on a court.   The absolute gold-standard.   The perfect product of tennis evolution.   There were plenty of people who thought so, going in.   Including me.

     One thing that made this a wonderful match is that Nadal and Djokovic are both baseliners.   No quick over-and-done-with serve & volleyers are these two.   They are by far the two best groundstrokers in the game.   And so, right from the bell, they began to slug it out.

     Nadal himself played a fine match.   I doubt if anyone else who ever played would have stood up to his usual onslaught of powerful groundstrokes and relentless speed and fitness.   But on this day, Djokovic was fitter and faster than even Nadal!!!    Nadal was bathed in sweat, while Djokovic was perky and dry.   (Oh, sure, Novak did receive and no doubt benefitted from a relaxing massage early in the 4th set from the tournament trainer, a delightful back rub whilst lying on the ground, but perhaps he had simply learned what I myself learned long ago; that whenever you have a chance to receive a relaxing massage, by all means do so.).   And suddenly, Djokovic also the faster of the two, moving beautifully from sideline to sideline, with effortless speed and grace, and getting everything, everything, back.

     Playing against Djokovic is like playing against a pong machine.   Remember pong?   It was that tennis video game from back in the 80s, the one with the satisfying beep sound?   You could either play another human or play the computer.    Trouble is, the computer never let you win a point.   The electronic ball always came back, albeit with that satisfying beep sound.   That’s what playing against Djokovic is like.   The ball always comes back.   Beep beep beep.

     And it’s not like Nadal wasn’t hitting him with everything he had.   He was pounding away at Djokovic with that powerful forehand of his, that lobster-like left-arm hammer, the tennis equivalent of beating somebody senseless over the head again and again and again.   Boom boom boom.   No tennis player he had ever encountered had consistently overcome that lobster-like left-arm forehand, including Federer.   And including the Djokovic of previous years.   Boom boom boom.   But you know what?   Most of them were coming back.   Beep beep beep.

     And not just coming back.   And this is the key to the Serb’s greatness on this day.   Those shots came back to Nadal at impossible angles, at ridiculous speeds!   Never before—I am sure—had a tennis player turned defense into offense so many times with a single swing of his racquet as effectively as Djokovic did on this day, to a player as magnificent as Nadal.   There were over 20 rallies with more than 15 shots in this match.   Unheard of.   And “The Djoker” won most of them.

     Nadal won the 3rd set, 7 to 6.   It was a gritty, gutty last stand.   But in the other three sets which he lost, he won only 5 of the 23 games.   ‘Nuff said.

     Truly, all you need to know about how “great” Djokovic was, was to see the look on Nadal’s face.   He simply could not believe his mighty forehands were coming back to him, with such depth, at such impossible angles, and with such power.   His handsome Spanish face was twisted with confusion.   It was the expression of a beaten fighter.   It was the same look I saw on Borg’s face when he knew that McEnroe was better, the same look on Becker’s face when he knew that Sampras was better, and the same look on Federer’s face when he knew that Nadal was better.   Nadal has played Djokovic in six finals this year, including Wimbledon and the US Open.   Six.   He has lost every time.   He knows that Djokovic is better.

     So congratulations, Novak Djokovic.   You have had the greatest year in tennis history.   Does that make you the greatest player of all time?   Hard to say.   Sampras won 14 majors, Borg 11, Nadal 10, and Federer 16.   You have “only” four.   So far.   But on this one great day in New York, two Sundays ago, you were surely the GREATEST and most unbeatable specimen of tennis player that God has ever placed upon this earth….




     And now.   For the not-so-great category of Sport, we go directly to the NFL to review the 2nd week of regular-season action.

     Not-so-great was the Chicago Bears’ offensive line.   If the Bear coaches don’t call more running plays they are soon going to be indicted for homicide, because they’re going to get QB Jay Cutler killed….

     Not-so-great was the lack of defense yesterday, allowing—among other things—Tom Brady and Cam Newton to become just the 6th and 7th quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for over 400 yards in back-to-back games.   Come on!   It took 91 years for the first five guys to throw for over 400 yards twice in a row, and in three hours two more guys were allowed to do it???   Whatever happened to the expression “defense wins football games”?   Gone the way of the Dodo….

     Not-so-great were the Oakland Raiders, who managed to build up an impressive 18-point halftime lead versus the Buffalo Bills and then (predictably) blow it….

     Not-so-great were the Arizona Cardinals for allowing journeyman turnover machine and grinning leprechaun Rex Grossman to beat them from behind in the 4th quarter….

     Not-so-great was Michael Vick.   His Eagles were running over, around, and through the Falcons’ defense like a college team versus a high school team.    But then Vick, formerly employed as a dog drowner and strangler, made three really, really dumb turnovers and the Eagles lost a game they should have won by 20 points.   And then he got hurt and left the game spitting up blood….

     Not-so-great were the Baltimore Ravens, who, fresh off their tremendous dismantling of the Steelers, managed to get blown out by the sluggish, rebuilding Tennessee Titans.   It’s a week-to-week league, folks….sorta like having a relationship with the opposite sex….or the same sex, if you happen to lean that way.   Surprisingly good one week, unfairly rotten the next.   And I don’t know about you women, but if you’re a man you never know for sure why it changes so suddenly….

     Not-so-great are the Kansas City Chiefs.   They lost to the Detroit Lions 48 to 3.   No I’m not kidding.   The Lions had never beaten a team by 45 points before, ever.   No I’m not kidding.   In two games so far this year, the Chiefs—who actually made the playoffs last year—have been out-scored 89 to 10.   No I’m not kidding.   And just to add injury to smelly-ness , the Chiefs’ best player, all-pro running back Jamaal Charles, was injured and is out for the year with a torn-up knee, on a play where he collided with the Lions’ mascot.   No I’m not kidding….

     And finally, not-so-great yesterday was the Sports Philosopher.   Last year (some of you may recall) a staggering 12 of my 14 “best-bets” covered the spread.   But yesterday, all three of the picks I made for LaVerne Online earlier in the week failed to cover.  (And “failed to cover” is a phrase you never want to hear, whether you’re a stallion in the barn or a sportswriter making football picks….)

     But that’s football.   Surprisingly good one week, unfairly rotten the next.




     But you wanna know what was really great that happened during the last week of Human Existence?   I’ll tell you.   First of all, remember my column from a few weeks back, when I was describing a road trip my son Rob and I took up to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe over the summer?   Well, you might recall I took that opportunity to vent a little over a truly bogus traffic ticket I received just outside of Bishop on the I-395.   Here’s the column:

     Anyway, I was going to go ahead just pay the damn ticket, pay the damn $243-dollar fine and accept that my auto insurance premiums were going to skyrocket, because everyone knows you can’t fight City Hall, right?—But I must be getting crotchety in my middle age because it soon became apparent that I was having a hard time emotionally just accepting the fact that some pimply-faced corrupt traffic cop was giving me a phony quota-padding citation for going 58 in a 35, 58 in a 35, when I wasn’t even speeding!  

     So I resolved to fight it.   I sent in a form, whereby if you live a long way from Bishop you get to explain your side of the incident.   I prattled on and on about how I was going super-slow, just like all the other out-of-towners who wished to avoid getting caught by a speed trap in a cheesy hick town, I used a lot of big words and flowery phrases, I applied geometric logic to prove my points, and I basically declared that I would not sit still for being a punching bag for local mediocre traffic  cops dedicated to merely filling the financial coffers of Inyo County and that I expected this blight upon my personal escutcheon to be cleaned off of my record immediately and my $243 dollars to be refunded.   I was quite animated about it.   Of course I knew it wouldn’t do any good….  

     I mailed in the letter and the $243 dollars (they make you pay bail in advance of fighting a ticket, the assumption being you’re gonna lose), and then I forgot about it.

     Fast forward to last week.   I got a letter from the Inyo County Courthouse.   My system shuddered with dread.   I opened it.   And imagine my surprise and delight when the letter read….NOT GUILTY!   The note went on: “Clerk shall refund to the defendant the following amount”: $243!!!   And finally, my favorite part of the court order….it declared that the arresting cop’s performance had….are you ready?…“multiple deficiencies”.   Duh.   The biggest deficiency of course being he was a lying little Caesar with no morals, little intellect, and the Napoleonic complex of a kid who wasn’t breast-fed.   And I beat him.   I love it.

     It just goes to show you that if you fight it out, anything’s possible.   Even in the NFL.   So no matter what their record is right now, don’t give up on your favorite team just yet.   I, for one, am in great spirits.   Cuz even though my Bears lost last week, I beat the system, I beat City Hall.   I fought the law, and the law didn’t win….

     Now THAT’S what I call great.

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image002

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and lover of a good tennis match between two young Europeans he outweighs by 70 pounds.    Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels* and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it on,, or…it’s easy!  (Aren’t you at least curious???)




Leave a Reply