Monday, June 11, 2012

June: Paradise for Sports Fans

Posted By on Mon, Jun 11, 2012 at 8:49 AM

I come closest to bliss in the month of June. Father’s Day has become my favorite holiday and I enjoy celebrating my wedding anniversary on the 11th. Sentimental reasons aside, though, the month annually delivers a weekend like the one just past, overstuffed with championship events that run the gamut from equine greatness to icy might. It’s the kind of weekend that leaves a fan — a sportswriter — dizzy with observations.

• Not since 1994 has a golfer with a Memphis championship on his resume won a major title (Nick Price at that year’s PGA Championship). With Dustin Johnson having claimed the 2012 FedEx St. Jude Classic, this drought will end soon. Just shy of his 28th birthday, Johnson is the biggest rising star to win in Memphis in at least two decades. He’s been on the short list of Now Generation stars since his 8th-place finish at the 2010 U.S. Open. (He tied for second at the British Open last year.) Seeing Johnson edge a field of contenders that included reigning U.S. Open champ Rory McIlroy made Sunday’s final round one of the most memorable in the 55-year history of pro golf in Memphis.

• On the subject of former Memphis champions winning majors, it was nice to see Maria Sharapova (2010 champ at The Racquet Club) complete a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open. On my list of most-distinctive physical attributes among athletes — one that includes Rollie Fingers' mustache and Karl Malone’s biceps — Sharapova’s legs are near the top. If she weren’t a tennis player, she’d win the Olympic high jump.

As for the men, there are no more adjectives to fit the brand of tennis Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic play across the net from one another. (Consider Nadal's career plight. Having endured a rivalry with Roger Federer that included eight Grand Slam finals — six won by the Spaniard — Nadal has now done battle with Djokovic in the last four Grand Slam finals. It’s like Muhammad Ali following up Joe Frazier with Mike Tyson.) These two titans of their sport exchanged 44 shots in a single rally (during the opening game of the fourth set). Next time you’re playing with your favorite partner, try keeping the ball in play for 44 shots. Then imagine each of those shots an attempted winner. Breathtaking.

• I was disappointed (yet again) that we don’t have a Triple Crown to celebrate. But I was thoroughly impressed by the decision of I'll Have Another's handlers to remove the Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ from the Belmont Stakes. The amount of money dangling before owner J. Paul Reddam is hard to imagine, and would have been impossible to count had his horse become history’s 12th Triple Crown winner. But that dollar figure would have been swallowed by the agony of seeing I'll Have Another pull up lame in the most grueling event in horse racing. What could have been? We may be left to wonder. In the meantime, Reddam can count plenty of cash with I'll Have Another's stud fees.

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• We have the NBA Finals most fans wanted: LeBron James and his Heat against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Top two vote getters in this year's MVP balloting for all the marbles. I can't imagine a greater contrast between communities: the city that gave us Crockett and Tubbs against the city that gave us ... dust bowls? Two cities that didn't have teams when Magic and Bird were in their prime. Maybe the next two weeks will validate the dreamy construction of the Heat roster. But I like the Thunder in six, with Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka performing the role Dallas’s Tyson Chandler did last year.

• This year’s Stanley Cup Final is missing the NBA’s star power (as it usually does). Even with teams from greater New York and Los Angeles, there’s not much to draw a casual fan. Until you watch. Entering Game 4 on June 6th, the New Jersey Devils were but supporting players for the 8th-seeded Kings’ romp to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. But then New Jersey’s 40-year-old goaltender, Martin Brodeur, played like the three-time champion he is, holding L.A. to a single goal in each of the next two games. The Kings will have a chance to skate the Cup at the Staples Center Monday night, while the Devils will have a chance to force a Game 7 back in Soprano country. It’s gripping stuff, fairly standard for June.

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