On the day Meadowlark Lemon died I went that evening to watch the movie Creed, a continuance of the Rocky Balboa saga.
One had nothing to do with the other and yet everything connected; the real sports icon to the celluloid icon for me.
I was nine when my parents took me to see the Harlem Globetrotters. It would be the first of several visits over the years to watch these men in those red, white, and blue uniforms taunting, teasing and of course beating their traveling foils the Washington Generals, all the while amusing and amazing young and old alike.
No matter how many times I’ve seen the Trotters, even calling one of their games a few years back for HDNet, it’s special. A large reason is that passage of time frozen in carefree delight for a couple of hours, nine years old forever in the moment.
There was no one like him. “The Clown Prince of Basketball.” Meadowlark. I remember it as vividly as if it happened this morning, that first time I saw him making hook shots from mid court. Mid court! Swish the net snapped? More than one or two! So, etching in the neighborhood of six or eight. And behind the back passes long before anyone would hear of Pistol Pete Maravich or Magic Johnson, Meadowlark was a wizard with the rock.
When the act moved toward the stands and the cluster of us wide-eyed kids with mouths agape we all knew Meadowlark had personally given that wink and smile to me, not that other youngster. I swear he was looking straight at me. We all could make that claim, such was the terrific showman who had that “it” factor. Whatever “it” is, charisma; presence; command; charm, he had it all.
A few years later I walked into a darkened theater to see a movie about boxing. I was always skeptical about a sports movie, most tried too hard to manufacture the drama that is inherent if allowed to naturally evolve.
But more than any another boxing movie there was this actor, Sylvester Stallone, who I couldn’t remember seeing before, delivering a nuanced character that ventured into a new level of empathy and evoked genuine moments of heart tugs even for the cynical. This, in spite of the unrealistic title match. Rocky was more about a guy, not a hero but a relatively ordinary man with relatable ordinary friends in an extraordinary moment.
Most of us left the theater wanting to drink eggs, run steps as dawn broke, and pound our fists into a side of beef. At lest for a few hours. Most of all we wanted to see this character once more, where would he go next? Take us along. Who knew there would be so many journeys?
Forty years later Stallone’s creation still stirs emotions. Rocky is synonymous with fighting the odds for generation after generation. Even an aging Stallone and his Rocky touches all of us with a few more years on us.
We can’t suspend time but there’s nothing more rewarding than spending time with old friends, even those we never actually got to meet like a true legend Meadowlark or a fictious Rocky Balboa.
Even more so this time of year as another is hours away and reflection runs the gamut of sentiments. We seem to remember losses and wins more right now, we want lists and the best of this and that.
Years down the winding road life takes us, some will look back at their impactful sports figures in spaces such as this.
It might be about American Pharoah, the athlete who didn’t speak, but had a nation talking with a Triple Crown triumph. Or the most talked about MMA fighter ever in Ronda Rousey being dropped cold by a soft spoken preacher’s daughter, Holly Holm. It might be Tom Brady deflecting questions and tacklers winning a fourth Super Bowl or Serena Williams who defies age and dares opponents or Floyd Mayweather Jr, money until the end but will he really stop at 49-0?
Of course it could be about the gifted actor Michael B. Jordan reprising Adonis Creed yet again to surpass the Rocky record.
It’s always about memories, and sports delivers every year.
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