The LeBron James Won and the NBA Bubble Worked Edition

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S1: The following podcast includes explicit language not restricted to words, beginning with F. S, B and Q.

S2: Hi, I’m Stefan Fatsis, and this is Slate’s sports podcast, Hang up and listen for the week of October 13th. Twenty twenty on this week’s show, we’ll talk about Costas Antetokounmpo, Talin, Horton Tucker and the other members of the Los Angeles Lakers who got some help from LeBron James and Anthony Davis and won the twenty twenty NBA bubble finals four games to two over the surprising Miami Heat. We’ll also discuss Dak Prescott, Alex Smith and the moral dilemma of watching NFL players suffer gruesome on field injuries and then returning from those injuries. And finally, we’ll assess the French Open, where Rafael Nadal of Spain won his ridiculous 13th French title and 20th major and teenager EGA should be on tech of Poland, won her first professional tournament.

S3: I’m the author of the book Word Freak. In a few seconds of Panic, I’m in Washington, D.C. Joining me from Palo Alto, California, is Slate staff writer and Slow Burn Season three host Joel Anderson. What’s up, Joel?

S4: Good man. How are you doing? Doing all right. I had my first Carvel ice cream cake this weekend.

S5: By the way, did you have Fudgie the Whale? Is that a kind of a Carvel ice cream cake? Yeah, Fudgie the Whale. And I think Fudgie the Whale was the one. If you flip it upside down, it was Santa Claus at the holidays. They use the same mold.

S4: You know what? I was too busy cutting into it to know exactly what the shape was.

S3: I do a mean Tom Carvel impersonation. He did local commercials in New York when I was growing up. This is Tom Carvel. Come on down. Get down to the well, wait, Carville.

S4: Like some sort of local creamery or something like that.

S3: It was a I think it started in New York. Tom Carvelle was actually Tom Karvelas, some dude who started an ice cream store.

S4: Oh, of course. You know the background on that one.

S3: Welcome to my world. Josh Levine is off this week, but if you miss him, you can buy his book, The Queen in paperback and listen to slow burn season for filling in for Josh from Bethesda, Maryland. Not far from where I am is Louisa Thomas. She’s a staff writer at The New Yorker, the co-editor of Losers Dispatches from the Other Side of the Scoreboard, and the co-author with her husband, the former NFL lineman John Urschel, of Mind and Matter a Life in Math and Football. Welcome back to the show, Louisa.

S6: Great to have you to be here. Looking forward to certainly doesn’t think someday in our my new neighborhood.

S5: Great to have you on the show and in the DC area. Yes.

S4: LeBron James of the L.A. Lakers closed down the bubble on Sunday, running away with the NBA finals in a Game six blowout of the Miami Heat, the Lakers title clinching was an anticlimactic cap of what Dan Divine of the Ringer called the most chaotic, unprecedented and unforgettable season in NBA history. It’d be hard to disagree. The NBA postponed its season for four months because of the pandemic, had its first wildcat strike for racial justice in recent memory and watched its presumptive favorites, the Bucs and the Clippers, implode in the conference semifinals. The most predictable thing about the NBA was how it ended this season with LeBron James of the Lakers as champions him for the fourth time and the Lakers four record tying 17th time. Now losing your lead for The New Yorker was the twenty nineteen twenty NBA season ended as everyone always knew it would end like Buena Vista, Florida, in October with J.R. Smith taking off his shirt. But other than shirtless J.R. Smith, will you remember most from this one of a kind of basketball season?

S6: I don’t think any of us are going to forget that disruption and the season for a long, long time, really a disruption in the sports world. But aside from that, in some ways, I think it’s fitting that my lasting impression of the end of it, it’s going to be J.R. Smith, because I think there’s something about the concentrated format and the fact that everyone was there that really provided a showcase for some of the league’s most vivid personalities, especially among its superstars. It seemed like every week there was a new not a new AINULT, but someone exciting to follow. You know, it’s Damian Lillard, you know, just draining long threes. There was a dunk that it was the dynamic between Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. It was Anthony Davis. It was LeBron James. It was Jimmy Butler. I mean there was every week it sort of seemed like there was someone everyone was talking about, everyone was excited about and I’m not going to lie. I had a lot of reservations about the construction of this bubble, but it did bring me a little bit of joy, you know, in a time in which I felt like I needed it. And so I’m going to be grateful for that.

S5: You know, it brought us joy and it also brought stability. I mean, I think in retrospect, what we’re going to remember about the season was, yes, LeBron James defining, again, his own greatness, doing it with a third team, doing it under these insane circumstances. But at the same time, we’re going to remember the fact that somebody was able to do something successfully during the pandemic. They had no positive tests. The bubble was, you know, psychologically debilitating on everybody that was in there. But everybody also persevered and got it done. It was sort of America as America, as we sort of would hope it would be during a crisis like this. You know, it took the the riches of the NBA to make this happen. And that’s obviously exclusionary for much of the rest of the country. But at the same time, they did it and they did it right. And it worked.

S4: Right. I mean, that’s the kind of American exceptionalism you’d hope that we could take our examples from. Right. The NBA coming together, you know, people with all these differing interests coming together and for better, a common cause, you know, prevailing in some sort of ways. You know, it’s I mean, it’s a real testament. I can’t think of another league other than, you know, the WNBA, the NBA. I guess the NHL sort of pulled it off a little bit as well. But it’s just it’s just shocking as the NFL is the league with all the resources, the attention of America. And they’re going through their thing right now. And we’ll talk about that in another segment. But you have the NBA really provided a model. But for me, you know, at the end of the game, I really just got to thinking about how incredibly lucky the NBA is to have LeBron as the face of the league. You know, he’s this unprecedented athlete who came in with unprecedented, high, justified all of that. He became a voice. He developed a little bit of charisma because, I mean, if you remember those early, like LeBron James, he was a little stiff, you know what I’m saying? But he’s he’s come around on that and he’s just divisive enough to be interesting and no hint of scandal. There’s no gambling thing with him. There’s no, you know, any of the other stuff that you that is coming out with other other stars. So the NBA won’t have this again and they really need to appreciate it.

S6: I do think that giving credit to the NBA is the kind of model for the rest of us. While I totally share that view, it’s a little bit like saying we should be more like Denmark. You know, there is there are certain advantages that the NBA is smaller than, let’s say, the NFL. It didn’t have to do an entire season. You know, there are and also it has very smart, kind of coherent leadership and buy it from the players. I mean, there’s sort of like it’s really is an argument for culture. I mean, to be honest. I mean, it’s the fact that all the players bought in, you know, from the start, there was never any kind of question of there was maybe a little bit of, you know, maybe somebody crossed the line picking up some takeout or whatever. But other than that, maybe someone went with a. A men’s club. But, you know, aside from these two kind of prominent a couple of prominent examples, really, everyone bought in, no one was saying, do we really need to do this? Or if they were saying that, they were saying it quietly enough that it never made it out into the press. I thought that that was really impressive. I mean, there was a real sense that everybody knew what the stakes were, that it was going to be extremely hard, that maybe wasn’t even worth it, you know, but at the same time, everybody did it and there was that kind of buy in and commitment that I really do feel is maybe lacking in some other areas. But, yeah, I do also think it’s worth noting that the NBA has had certain kind of structural advantages and certain cultural advantages that other leagues and other parts of society don’t have.

S4: Well, yeah. I mean, some of that is that I mean, they trust their leadership, the workforce, trust the leadership and the leadership trust the workforce. And they work together in concert together. Right. And that’s not that’s not necessarily anything that’s going on a lot of other institutions across our country.

S3: Absolutely right. And I think, you know, it’s not fashionable to to praise sports commissioners, but in the case of the NBA, it’s genuine. And Adam Silver has demonstrated over the last few years since he took over from David Stern that he is eminently thoughtful, that he is eminently likable, and that he is agreeable to conversation, to negotiation, to listening to his constituents, to listening to the employees in this league who are the players. And I think it’s healthy to recognize that. And, you know, Bend Oliver in The Washington Post. And what of all the ones that I’ve read sort of the best summation of the bubble life and the end of the bubble? And, you know, he points out that, you know, he points out that there was a personal kindness, in his words, to the way that NBA leadership responded to players and journalists and staff who made the bubble work. And, you know, he said that it’s difficult to articulate that without sounding like you’re a victim of Stockholm syndrome. But it’s true the NBA had the billions of dollars at its disposal to enact an operation like the bubble, but they seems like they use them judiciously, you know, in the service of the players and in the service of the fans, too.

S4: I mean, this sounds ridiculous. And I know it’s a very political point, but I wouldn’t be mad if Adam Silver was in charge of our national response to the coronavirus as opposed to the person that’s currently in charge of it. Right. I mean, that’s not how it would sound ridiculous in a vacuum if you just said that five, six years ago that the NBA commissioner is somebody that you trust more than the person that’s theoretically in charge of the federal government’s response. But it actually like if they if they made that decision today, they’re like, all right, Adam Silver is going to come in and take it over here through the rest of twenty twenty, I’d be like, oh, man, we have we have a chance now. We have some hope of possibly getting all the resources that we need and getting through this and, you know, in time. So there’s definitely that. But, you know, I you know, getting back to the game, at least for me, did you all see game five? Did you all watch Game five that night? Like, I’ve never seen a better I mean I mean, maybe I’ve seen better games, but in terms of, like, individual spectacle, I can’t ever remember a time when I’ve seen anything like that, though, coming down to the wire, the sort of face off aspect of it.

S6: Yeah, it was. I mean, I actually thought I thought that the basketball threat was, generally speaking, with a few exceptions, really high quality, really exciting, you know, and it only seemed to get better, which is something that, you know, you can’t always say it looked like even the finals, we’re going to be a few games then. And we ended up with something that was not if not a classic, then something at least that the league can be proud to have showcased.

S3: Well, there aren’t sports, you know, often about sort of our expectations versus reality.

S5: And, you know, we were not expecting Jimmy Butler to be the equal of LeBron James in terms of taking a team, putting it on his back and bringing it within a couple of games of winning a championship. And that game five was, you know, it was a great game overall, but it was that, you know, how often do we get to see what truly a dynamic one against one match up? Not necessarily every time up and down the court, but in terms of leading their teams and wanting to be the player that that does it. That was a remarkable game.

S6: I felt like it also did help explain why they were doing this in some sense. I mean, it was such a great example of what, you know, the best of sports can be. I mean, I wasn’t watching that thinking like, well, you know, there are two hundred thousand people. I mean, all of the context really matters throughout this. But it was such a vivid individual example of how much fun and how important feeling, actually, even though there’s in some sense nothing at stake, it felt like there was something really important and human, you know, going on in that game.

S5: Right. Bunjil, I think that was an. Important aspect to the whole experience, a kind of humanize the players, we got to see them performing not in the usual way where they, you know, put on suits after the game and depart in a limo. And we think that they’re living in this rarefied world. But we got to see them as sort of, you know, stuck in this place that any of us would struggle to endure for two or three months the way that they did. And we also got to see them devoting because they were in this concentrated environment. A lot of their efforts to what they all said and demonstrated really matter to them, which was having a voice on social justice issues.

S4: Yeah. I mean, you know, we got to see Paul George talk about the, you know, the mental toll of being in the in the bubble. We got to see Jamal Murray after that game he had and the Western Conference finals, you know, sort of collapses to his knees and emotionally and all of these other moments that you typically don’t get when you’re just watching basketball, when you’re just watching TNT and you’re watching ESPN during the playoffs, that kind of stuff doesn’t come up. But this was definitely a unique experience. And much like even like the footage of them walking off the floor for the strike right there, watching the Bucs leave the floor, like that’s that’s something that we’ll never forget. And, yeah, I mean, you can only do that through a bubble. Like, actually, it will be really interesting to see what the NBA does for an encore here, because I imagine trying to convince everybody to get back into a bubble for months at a time is going to be impossible. And it was so emotionally draining. So, I mean, you almost think that maybe they should just wait it out and see, like, where we’re going from here on out, because trying to top that, trying to recapture what they were able to pull off here in the last few months, it just doesn’t seem like it’ll be possible.

S6: It is true. And I also think that that’s a really important point, that one of the things that they succeeded in was not just showcasing the basketball on the court, but, you know, really kind of demonstrating that these were complex, thoughtful people who were and also that there weren’t there wasn’t that reality TV aspect where you felt everything was sort of done for the cameras. They were living literally in a TV set, you know. But on the other hand, I think the strike was really and the kind of the drama that surrounded it in the players meeting and things like that was evidence that these were people who were actually seriously grappling with very real issues and really feeling things and really trying to think through things and learning, you know, and I felt like we got a kind of really rare window into people doing what I hope people are doing across the United States. But I think it’s rare to get that. And it’s even rarer from the sort of protected bubble that athletes normally live in. You know, in some ways there was an inverse like the bubble. Let us give us a glimpse into the bubble.

S5: You know that most people normally live in the head of the players union, Michele Roberts, who’s black, said after the season ended about the players. They’ve learned to respect each other as a man and therefore can empathize with each other as men. And I think we struggle to attribute or assign these sort of genuine kinds of emotions to athletes. And I think that hearing people like Michelle Roberts, Erik Spoelstra, the Heat coach, set it after the final game to but hearing that this really was important and that there was this evolution in the way that the players fought and talked to each other and got along and considered their roles as elite athletes in society, those were all real and it feels genuine. And more than anything, I think that the credibility that the NBA deserves and the credit they deserve is making a collective statement that didn’t feel manufactured, it didn’t feel fake, it felt like from the heart. And, you know, we saw that with the strike, but we also saw that with the continued articulation of genuine goals and policy ideals from so many players led by LeBron James and Joel. I think let’s take it there for a little bit before we finish up. But LeBron not only, you know, did something on the court to cement his legacy as the greatest or second greatest player. Who cares? But we’ll talk about that in the bonus segment of all time. But he was able to sort of carry the burden of being the spokesman for the players on this monumental social justice effort.

S4: Yeah, I mean, he’s clearly been positioning himself to take on that role for years. And you can see that there probably is a little bit of a generational divide, though, because some of the younger players did not want to play, you know, like the Kairys or the Jaylen Brown do a little bit more skeptical. Right. Of the NBA owners and in their intentions and following up on the things that they said they would do. But, yeah, I mean, LeBron, in terms of growing into his voice, has just been sort of amazing. I mean, there’s no reason for him to be as good at any of this stuff as he is, you know what I mean? Like, it’s not like he had Grant Hill’s background, you know, where he grew up, you know, Wellesley and Yale graduates and had all of this other stuff, like he kind of came into this on his own. And I just don’t think we can ever underestimate the extent to which, like, that guy is sort of one of. One, that he’s a really special dude and it would be enough if he was just playing basketball and was just sort of like, you know, who I try to stay out of politics or whatever. But he’s actually just decided to stick his face into the buzzsaw, which says something about him and says something about the people around him who he’s had to surround himself with. And one other quick thing. I would say that kind of the circle back to what we said about getting a chance to view the players. I think the players have always been like this. I think that they’ve always been active within their communities. I mean, studies always show that black athletes, black men are always, you know, active in their communities in terms of giving back money, time. All of these are the sort of things. But we got a window into it for the first time this time. Like this is the sort of stuff that we’re not actually privy to a lot of the times. And so we got to see it. And I think it’s valuable. But I also think it’s not surprising that a lot of people decided to fixate on ratings and weakness and all this other stuff because, you know, they don’t like to think of these guys as athletes.

S6: They just want them to get up there and do the one thing that, though, that does kind of suggest the value of some of the conversations they were having, though, and also the impact of LeBron. LeBron, before the season, before the resumptions season started, announced that he was starting this organization more than a vote that was focused on combating voter suppression, particularly among African-American communities. And, you know, was the kind of thing that LeBron does. You know, he stops and he creates this community of celebrities and, you know, throw some money at a problem. And it was splashy. And I didn’t really think too much of it, you know, other than this was the evolution in where he was going with this. And then I also had a little bit of skepticism during the walkout or the wildcat strike, which he sort of tried to turn that into. The compromise that they came to basically was that the stadiums were going to be polling places and there was going to be a little bit more concentration on what was sort of his issue is obviously crucially important. But there was a little bit of dissonance between the action that the Milwaukee Bucks had taken and where it ended up. That said, the NBA had some understanding. There were about very low voter registration numbers among NBA players coming into coming into the summer. I think it’s now at above 80 percent. And on some teams, that’s one hundred percent. And, you know, I really think that a lot of people are speaking really eloquently. And there’s this kind of a new understanding also not just about what’s happening at the presidential level, but, you know, on local levels as well. And I think that those conversations are only happening because LeBron started them and a lot of ways and this this stuff is really, really important right now. And and I think that that hit that impact is pretty clear. And those statistics are probably as important as any triple double.

S1: He pulled off another good statistic, LeBron, more than a vote. A collective announced the other day that they’d signed up 10000 volunteers to work in black electoral workers as poll workers. Not that.

S3: On Sunday afternoon in Dallas, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott ran for nine yards, was tackled, and it was immediately clear that something was wrong. The camera zoomed in and we saw Prescott’s right foot rotated clockwise, 90 degrees. It was a compound ankle fracture. A bone pierced his skin. Prescott underwent surgery and is, of course, done for the season. Meanwhile, in Landover, Maryland, on the same field where six hundred and ninety three days earlier, his own lower leg bone pierced his skin. Washington quarterback Alex Smith returned to play. Smith’s brutal recovery included 17 surgeries and an infection of flesh eating bacteria that nearly required his leg to be amputated. Let’s listen to a clip after Smith took the field against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

S7: You saw his wife, Elizabeth, and the kids in the crowd. I mean, what a nervous moment this must be for them. And they love it.

S3: That was Fox Sports is Brandon Gaudin with the call and Darrell Johnston with the nervous laughter. Joel, the cruel juxtaposition of these two events on Sunday had the effect on me anyway of reinforcing the awfulness of both. Smith’s return didn’t feel especially heroic, and Prescott’s injury felt a little more foreboding than it might.

S5: What did you see in these events?

S4: Well, you know, for me, I don’t necessarily see them as connected. And I know I’m really threading the needle there when I say it, because decs injury was like horrifying and deflating. But to me, it was ultimately part of football. Right. So I’ve been watching injuries like that the entire time I’ve watched football in my life. So I saw what happened to Joe Theismann. I saw what happened to Napoléon McCallum. I don’t know if people remember Napoléon McCallum is a raiders running back whose leg basically got bent all the way around Marcus Lattimore, University of South Carolina and so on and so forth. You know, my very first spring football game at CCU, one of my teammates broke his ankle in the exact same way. So in recent years, though, I’ve become a little bit more squeamish about all this. I know that this is ultimately how the game unfolds. And so it’s just a part of the bargain. And maybe it should be that way because as a football fan, it should now be ecstasy and like violence. Right. Like, we should be grounded in the the fact that it is very dangerous. It should affect us. But I think that Alex Smith is different because though his injury falls into that grotesque injury category, everything that happens after that is different to me. Like he had 17 surgeries, as you mentioned, cost him tissue and muscle, almost had an amputation. And then he’s walking around with a limb. There was this Project 11 documentary about Alex Smith and his comeback. And what I took from it most was that limp. And so if injuries are part of the game, so as rehab, so is training, so is the medical expertise that teams and players call in during times of traumatic injury. And if all those elements fall into place and they say a player can return, I usually don’t spend too much time fretting about it. But this is different man. Like, he clearly looks compromised and like he can’t protect himself out there. And usually once players are, like, visibly diminished, you never see them as players again. Right. Like, normally when you see a football player and he’s like limping in such a way, that guy is no longer a football player. So that’s sort of what I took from it. But I maybe you saw something else. Maybe I’m being a little too dismissive of decs injury. I don’t know.

S6: No, I mean, I have to say that I saw Doc’s injury during the flow of the game, but on a highway and I wasn’t really prepared for what I saw. You know, I had seen reference to gruesome injury and things like that. But still seeing the clip, I mean, I caught my breath and my stomach just turned over, not unlike, I have to say, Alex Smith’s wife, who, you know, the broadcast that love that. But she said afterwards that she felt like she was going to vomit when he ran on the field.

S8: I just thought with the Dak Prescott, you know. Yeah. The thing is, the violence isn’t a consequence of football. It’s part of football. You know, every play is danger. It’s sort of the point. Every play is a crisis that needs to be resolved in the physical danger is part of why we watch, if we’re being honest with ourselves and things like that happen and they happen again and again. Yeah, Alex Smith’s story is different because it involves something that happens probably at the you know, the infection. Part of it is what was so worrisome and ultimately life threatening. It wasn’t the fact that he got tackled by huge, enormous people. So I would say that DACS injury, yes, I would say I’d agree withdrawal DACS injury was sort of seem part of the game, whereas Alex Smith’s comeback seems something that was not really supposed to happen because nothing that had happened to him was really supposed to happen. And there was something really kind of alarming about it, because we had to watch and be hit again and again and again. I mean, he was sacked six times and just a little more than a half of, you know, half of a football game. And it was scary. You know, it was really something to see him.

S3: Stand in there and watch this enormous watch, Aaron, Donald Trump on top of him and just on the floor, Donald just jumped on his back like he was giving him a piggyback ride.

S9: And there was something actually a little bit perverse about it. I felt like I mean, he ended up getting like thirty seven yards, which is only 20 more yards than surgery he had. It’s not like he was in there holding his own, you know. I mean, he was surviving. He was surviving. And there was something that might have seemed like heroic if he stood in there and maybe taken one sack and made one throw or whatever. We just celebrated it. But he it looked like he was a kind of pinata out there. But at the same time, you know, I also think that if anyone knows how scary and violent and gruesome football can be, it’s all you know, it’s not like he didn’t know what he was getting into.

S5: Right. So to me, it’s about framing. You know, all three of us have in our own ways close encounters with football. And we are all have seen up close the damage that the game can do and are, you know, fully aware of it on a personal level, like how violent it is and what it means to play football. What troubles me, I think the most is the way that Alex Smith type stories get framed. I mean, it is framed as this heroic recovery that we want to feel good about it. You know, we want to have goosebumps. Seeing Alex Smith trod on the field is a testament to perseverance and hard work and the will to get back what you lost. Les Carpenter did a long piece in The Washington Post about Smith getting back on the field, and he talked to Smith’s wife, Elizabeth, extensively. And for all of the quotations, the one thing that she doesn’t talk about, you know, she talks about the struggle of going through physical therapy and worrying about whether she’d ever walk again and about his dedication and determination to get better. But the one thing that isn’t in there is whether she actually agreed that putting a helmet on and getting back on a field was the right thing to do. It all felt like Alex Smith was determined to do this. So he was going to do this. Whether it made sense for him, for his family or for the Washington football team isn’t really something that gets talked about.

S8: I actually found the focus on her to be really interesting, you know, on the broadcasts, on social media and that story. Yeah, that’s actually where I got this quote that she was going to vomit, you know? I mean, it was sort of it was sort of like, this is so great. And yet there are these sort of little hidden, you know, question marks, a little sprinkle like Easter eggs throughout the piece. But I also think that to me, she came across as really conflicted. It wasn’t clear to me that she thought that it wasn’t worth it at all. And she was clearly proud of him and thought he was amazing that he has set his mind to do this and had done it. And there was a real dignity into what he was doing and her the way she was describing it at the same time. Yeah, it’s terrifying. And that’s the role that I’ve been in, in football. You know, I’ve been in the stands watching someone come off of in my case, it was a very serious concussion. And, you know, the first time he’s out on the field, I think it was kickoff return, which is like the most dangerous play in football, you know, and it’s just like, are you in that moment? Are you like, is it cool? You know, is it happy? It’s exciting. Now, it’s like just kind of terrifying. But, you know, at the same time, she was being used as a sort of proxy, I think, and people were projecting onto her what they wanted to feel. And I think that to the extent that you’re uncomfortable with it, you’re focused on the part of her that is really uncomfortable with it. And it’s the extent that you want to celebrate it. You’re focused on the part of her that is really proud and happy. And this is her life. And so for a lot of us, this is part of life. For a lot of fans, even football is part of life. And they want to they feel a lot of things, probably, but certain things kind of come to the fore. And this is one of those examples in which they are just up there.

S5: Yeah, there are a lot of a lot of emotions because Joel, I mean, it’s easy to say, look, Alex Smith has made about one hundred and ninety million dollars in his NFL career. Why on earth would he want to do this? And it’s also important to put yourself in the mind of an athlete like Alex Smith. That determination isn’t, you know, isn’t made up. You didn’t have to go through this. He didn’t have to prove anything to anybody. So there is something driving him and other athletes like him to want to get back out there.

S4: Well, I mean, I thought that he was doing this because you do want to have the use of that leg again. Right. So I thought that, like rehab, the carrot of NFL football was what was going to help him get through rehab. And then he’d get there and he Blackheart, I did it. I got back close enough to where I could play in the NFL. And that was great. And it is worth thinking about. He was the third string quarterback up until a week ago. Right. Which is where you get into how poorly manage the Washington football team is. Once again, like I mean, they spent all of this offseason trying to rebrand and pretend things are different over there, but. Ultimately, I mean, they’re still mismanaging things and I mean, you know, I guess if Alex Smith is ready to go, he’s ready to go. But I just don’t think that a responsible franchise, a responsible leadership, would have allowed him to be in that situation right on a rainy field with a shitty offensive line, you know, useless game.

S3: They dress to quarterbacks, benched their first round draft pick that they’ve maybe rushed too soon into a roll of of responsibility and now are basically throwing under the bus and talking about trading. This is not a good situation. If I were Alex Smith, I’d be worried that Kyle Allen is going to get hurt and I’m going to have to play every down.

S4: I mean, there was no need to run off Dwayne Haskins this early. There was no need to run Kyle Allen out there. They already know he’s not a good quarterback. I mean, Carlisle. And since high school has lost every quarterback job he’s had, he lost his job at Texas A&M. He lost his job at University of Houston. He lost his job. He didn’t have a job at the Carolina Panthers, but then he lost the job that he had. So I don’t understand what made Ron Rivera or anyone else think that he was the answer. So this is all just a piece of them not having a contingency plan like them, just like believe it, they want to see something in Kyle Allen that actually is not there. And in that way, they’re putting Alex Smith in danger because the third string quarterback, a lot of teams don’t trust a third quarterback. Right. Especially when roster spots are so valuable in the league. So I could theoretically see why they may have not thought there wasn’t a chance that he was going to play out there. But I just I mean, come on, man. You do get set six times, you guys. We’ll just go to the Wildcat, you know what I mean? Yeah.

S3: Anybody could have signed Andy Dalton and felt like we can have a serviceable veteran quarterback to back up someone we don’t trust. Washington obviously did not do that. Also Kaepernick.

S4: Yeah, I mean, Alex Smith is still playing. Colin Kaepernick is not. I mean, Colin Kaepernick beat Alex Smith for starting role like a decade ago almost at this point. And Alex Smith is up there limping around, playing compromise. I’m sure Colin Kaepernick, if they sit him out there, maybe he would have got to six, six times to, but it probably would not have looked like that. All right.

S3: Before we move on, let’s talk a little bit about the status of the NFL schedule I just checked. And the Tennessee Titans, who have had twenty four positive coronavirus tests dating back to September 24th, announced that they had no new positives on Tuesday morning for a second straight day. And the NFL is saying that they will host the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday night in a game that had already obviously been rescheduled. The New England Patriots game was postponed last weekend. They’re supposed to play next Sunday. Now, the game was supposed to be Monday night. A Bears practice squad player tested positive on Monday, and the league has had to reschedule a lot of games already. This is not the NBA, Louisa.

S9: This is not the end. And I maintain that it would have been impossible for the NFL to do what the NBA did. But at the same time, this goes back to kind of what I was saying about the NBA. The NBA not only created a bubble, they created a culture where everybody knew what the rules were, they knew the expectations and they followed them whether or not they wanted to. And when they didn’t, they were punished. And we obviously don’t know of examples where there was rules that were broken and we didn’t hear about it. But for the most part, I think we can confidently say that there was a pretty good buy in from the players and from the coaches and from everyone involved the NFL could have done. That’s the part the NFL is really failing. You know, it seems like players felt empowered to go hold private practices. It felt like there were a number of radars that showed up at a charity event not wearing masks. Some of these things have been subsequently addressed by new protocols. But the point is that there is the sense that not everybody involved really understood, either understood or was willing to follow what you needed to do to make sure that everything that’s happening now didn’t happen. And that’s what’s so disappointing to me. It’s less that they didn’t create like this, you know, kind of biosphere biodome or whatever, and more that they really didn’t establish a culture in which people understood the rules and followed them.

S4: Right. Even before we went into this, there was already some dissension, right. That we knew that they were arguing over the terms and how people were going to set up these protocols and abide by them. And so, you know, I saw Patriots quarterback Jason McCourty say something like, you know, the league office and players unions don’t care, and that for them it is not about our best interests or our health and safety. It is about what can we make protocol wise. That sounds good, looks good, and how can we go out there and play the games? And I would argue that that’s always been the league’s ethos, but it is even more pronounced during a deadly pandemic. I mean, we we see how little investment these entities have in the health and well-being of their players all the time. I mean, just a few months ago, they were arguing over whether or not to add a 17th game to the schedule. Like we know that it’s not good and healthy for them to play more regular season games, but they’ve done that in. Of the potential health costs, right? And so it’s just it’s just exacerbated during all of this. And to your point, Lisa. I totally agree. Like, normally I’m not a dude who blames individual actors at the expense of institutions. But here’s the thing. You agree to go back there, you agree to play football and you agreed to abide by these protocols. So if you’re not going to do that, then, yeah, you should be punished. I don’t know. Doug Farat, USA Today said that, you know, he thinks that they should probably be suspended for the rest of the year. I don’t know if that seems very excessive because that punishes other teams, too. But I do think that they should suffer some sort of serious consequence because they’re not they’re not just putting themselves at risk. They’re putting everybody around them at risk. And that’s always been the problem with this pandemic, is that it’s not about the risk you take for yourself. Is that the risk you put other people in that don’t know that you’re taking these risk?

S3: Two things before we wrap this up. One is that in terms of the protocols themselves and like the Titans actually playing a game on Tuesday, it doesn’t seem clear in reading what epidemiologists say that this makes any sense at all that the NFL is still sort of basing the team’s ability to play in a player’s ability to return on how many consecutive negative tests they get. That’s not accepted wisdom. And the second part is players are starting to push back against the NFL. You know, the players that are feeling like they are being placed potentially in dangerous positions are starting to fight. Like you mentioned, Joel, Jason McCourty at the Patriots, Melvin Gordon also was upset that their game was canceled on the Broncos game, was canceled after having to practice all week. Like there isn’t planning and forethought going on here. I’m not so sure that shutting the Titans season down entirely wouldn’t make some sense. It might be, you know, the healthiest step that the league could take. And it would give all the Titans opponents a bye week, an extra week off which no NFL player ever will complain about.

S4: Screw him. I mean, they’re no longer the Oilers, so I have no more emotional investment in them.

S1: I wanted to let you know that in our bonus segment for Slate plus members, Joel, Louisa and I will engage in some goat talk. LeBron or Michael, who’s better? Do we care?

S3: Like all pandemic sports, this year’s French Open was weird. It was delayed, of course, it was cold in Paris with players dressed in leggings and mock turtlenecks. Some fans were allowed in the stands, which seemed wrong given a surge in coronavirus cases in France. Serena Williams withdrew early with an Achilles injury, and Roger Federer was missing entirely after knee surgery, and the winners couldn’t have been more different. Thirty two year old Rafael Nadal once again demonstrating greatness and 19 year old EGA Jovian tech introducing herself to the tennis world. But Luisa, the winners did share one thing in common. Neither dropped a set and root to their titles. Let’s start with Rafa. He crushed Novak Djokovic in the final six love six two seven five twenty of major title tying Federer for the most all time 13 French wins is absurd. It’s five more than anyone has won at any other major. Why can’t anyone touch Nadal on Roland Garros as Clay?

S10: Oh, I think we should start by acknowledging that no one can really touch him on any other surface, with the exception of Novak Djokovic. Had Nadal decided to come to New York earlier this year, actually just last month, he would have come in as the defending champion. So that said, there are certain aspects of his game that are very well suited to the clay Roland Garros. His spent the way he has his forehand with his kind of extreme Western grip, causes his balls to dive down and leap up really high, especially when the conditions are hot and dry, as they usually are in June. This is October. The conditions were damp and cold. What was so incredible about his performance here was that it wasn’t actually very well suited to him, at least as we’ve come to understand his game. And he was pretty unhappy throughout. He thought it was cold. He thought they said it’s not good tennis, whether it was dangerous, you know, and that the Ballston sued him and all the stuff. And he still comes out. And in one of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen absolutely crushes Novak Djokovic. And the thing is, in the first set of that match, Djokovic played pretty well. I mean, with an exception of an overreliance on the dropshot, he was playing as really the best player in the world to play. And he lost that set six zero and at all to his incredibly immense credit, wasn’t even really working, is what we know as his best shot, his insideout forehand. He was really kind of playing backhand a backhand who is playing a strategically good match. And he yeah, I actually think of the very many incredible performances I’ve seen from not Rafael Nadal. This is up there. And even Djokovic, who knows this game better than anyone, said that he was surprised.

S4: Well, let me ask this question then. As a non tennis noer, how often is tennis played in weather like this? Because I think that that’s something, you know, the idea that they’re wearing like sweats and wearing all these, you know, weird, like warm weather clothes, I this seems like also you wouldn’t be able to move quite as well. But maybe I’m sure there have been no advancements in tennis clothing technology. But I assume that this is not common for them to play in cool rainy weather and so on and so forth. Right.

S11: It’s not tennis players are a little soft that way. Let’s be honest. Close to the roof close. Yeah, exactly. So tennis actually has an indoor season. You wouldn’t know it because if you’re following tennis as a casual fan, none of the slams are indoors. I think actually actually. Oh, the fans are indoors sometimes now because everybody’s got a roof. But there is an indoor tennis played in Paris in the fall indoors. It’s played in London in November indoors. But we don’t see a lot of that. And players also to players aren’t really used to being exposed to the elements, as it were. It happens there was a particularly notable French Open a few years ago when the conditions were monsoon like and cold. But that was big news because it’s not usually like that. Most players are used to as Victoria Azarenka, you know, who is one of the top players in the world from number one, she actually walked off court, you know, when she was being told to stay on when it’s rain, she says, and she’s walking.

S9: You don’t understand. I’m from Florida. All right. Look, I live in Florida.

S3: It’s like they were complaining more about, like, the chilly temperatures. Yeah. Paris, which, like, I would kill for then when it’s one hundred and ten degrees in Australia during the Australian Open. Yeah.

S4: Yeah. That’s a shocking to me. It seems like cool weather. Cool, cool weather is good for running for instance. Right.

S3: Like but I don’t know, it’s not good for hitting tennis balls as hard as you can because physics. Yeah. And that was one of the complaints at the tournament overall. And you mentioned that Nadal was whining about the tennis balls. There were new tennis balls introduced. They didn’t bounce quite as high. The the the the courts are down if there had been drizzle or rain. So it. Changes everybody’s game. And like you said, Louise, the fact that Nadal still destroyed the field in those conditions, feeling that way is is crazy. But you said, like, he’s obviously dominant on other surfaces as well and has won all of the majors at one point or another. But at the French Open, it’s insane. He has a lifetime record on INSETs at the French Open of two hundred and ninety eight and twenty seven. That’s nuts. I mean, ninety eight percent winning record at this tournament.

S11: Yeah, it’s unprecedented. And there’s not really anything I’d be hard pressed to think of another streak like this in sport across the world because. Yeah, I don’t think I mean it’s always easy to say we’ll never get to see this again. I feel like you said that when Roger Federer on 20 slams and here we are, you know, but but it’s hard to imagine someone winning 13 slams and doing it with the kind of relentlessness that Nadal has done it. It’s just incredible. And, you know, why stop now? And hopefully we’ll go back there in a few months.

S3: Right. And Nadal, 34, Federer. Djokovic is, what, 30 to Federer’s 39. So the goat conversation among especially Nadal and Federer was sort of revived after this tournament, again, because that’s what people do in tennis. But both of these players kind of don’t want to have that conversation. Nadal said that he cares about tying Federer for the most majors, but he also said, I’m a big fan of the history of sport in general. For me, it means a lot to share this number with Roger. And then Federer tweeted out this incredibly generous, long statement of congratulations. I mean, these players, you know, this feels like genuine respect and back and forth and whether or not Federer wins another major not looking great right now, I guess it’s possible. But he’s going to get passed by Nadal and they both might get passed by Djokovic in the end.

S11: And that’s are the other two speakers, genuinely, fondly about the man nipping at their heels. But I do think between them, there is a lot of real not only respect, but admiration.

S4: Yeah, I mean, I guess that’s that’s pretty interesting to me because you think that, like, normally those go conversations, the way that they happen, that they create this this tension around the guys because you can’t run away from it. It’s always there. I don’t like I don’t know a lot about Rafael Nadal, but, you know, Roger Federer, the only thing I know about him for the most part besides is like excellence is that he seems fairly milquetoast. Does does it make sense, you know, to be like, no, maybe not. That’s like a very gentle person. Does that make sense to Atik? Swiss, Swiss? Yeah, just like not very, you know, nothing that would be inflammatory, nothing divisive about him. And so, like, that’s why I’m like, you know, maybe having one of those guys involved in it naturally is going to take the steam out of a conversation about who’s better and not. If one guys is like, I don’t care. You know, like if Kawhi was in the conversation for Goat, it’d be like, well, what do you feeding off of with Kawhi? Because it’s just nothing there, right? He’s just that dude.

S11: And it all is very humble. I mean, and in a way that seems genuine as well. I mean, it was really striking throughout this tournament, actually, how he kept calling attention to what was happening around the world and talking about his sadness inside was the word that he used. He wasn’t you know, other players were saying, let’s we’re here to play tennis, let’s stick to tennis. And he was saying, no, this isn’t a serious moment and we need to treat it with gravity. And and yet, you know, still to what we’re we’re here to do.

S5: I mean, yeah, he said many people in the world are suffering. And he that was earlier in the tournament. And then after the final in his, you know, the normal on court interviews where the players always thanked their teams for ten minutes and thanked their opponent for and try to be as gracious as possible, he drew attention to the fact that this was difficult, you know, and that we are all in this together. We have to stay positive. We will together go through this and win. And Nadal, while his English is excellent, he is always even more genuine and open when he is speaking his native Spanish. And so to see him sort of over the years sort of become more comfortable having these more heartfelt kinds of conversations is really touching. He’s a good guy, right? Yeah, he seems that way. I mean, yeah, it’s hard to know with super superstar athletes, but he definitely radiates that, especially as he gets later in his career. Right. Let’s talk about FinTech a little bit. You know, I said that they don’t have much in common and Nadol. But she idolizes the DOL, right, Louisa. And she plays she’s modeled certain aspects of her of her game after Nadol. And more than that is modeled.

S11: Certain aspects of her behavior after Nadal, absolutely, in fact, there is a kind of there is a little bit of an irony there because she’s not right. She was she’s now ranked inside the top 50. But coming into the French Open, she never won a title. She’s 19 years old. She’s sort of known for her interest in punk rock more than her results on the tennis court. But she yeah, she really has talked about she she said that she learned tennis by playing like PlayStation, tennis or whatever. The video game probably got it wrong. And I apologise for gamers out there. But, yeah, she, with the exception of it all, was the one that she did accept was a role model for her. And you can actually see it watching your game. She has this high forehand follow through like a buggy whip in certain situations and kind of talks towards her body in a way that is reminiscent of Nadal. One big difference is that she actually really crowds the court. She is not afraid to really charge and take tables early. And Nadal sometimes camps way back. And I feel like a Yugoslavians act was hitting balls from almost the service line at some point. I mean, she was really enjoying attacking. And she’s also a great mover and great defender. And yeah, I mean, I was totally blown away. I can’t say I saw it coming, to be honest. But then again, not many did, including possibly herself.

S4: I don’t want to be the person that makes it all about Serena Williams. Right. But Serena checked out of the tournament with an injury earlier. Right. And so I see that like of the past fourteen grand slam champs not have been first time winners and they’re all like really young like her. Right. And I’m just wondering, what do you I remember watching Serena play in the semis of the US Open and thinking, man, she’s like she moves great anymore. Right. And I just wonder, like, it just seems to me that, like, maybe she won’t ever win another grand slam because it just seems like with the youth and like the power and all the athleticism of these younger players, that maybe it’s a sort of a sign that she might not be able to get back up there again. But I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into this. I don’t know.

S11: I think that she is, since coming back from giving birth, put herself in a position to win again and again and again. And that is the first thing you have to do in order to win a grand slam. So I don’t want to say that she’s not going to do it because, again, the fact that she was just in the semis last month, you know, that’s that’s a match. She was upset. That’s a match she could have won. And then who knows what happens when you get into a final. That said, I don’t think that it’s in any way an inevitability, and that is because there are a lot of really young, talented, fearless players who are coming after her and players who have learned from her and players who have adopted both aspects of the game and a kind of fearlessness from her and playing tennis and her incredible defenders and incredible movers. And, yeah, I mean, she’s still the best server in the game, I would say, for the most. Well, I mean, there’s the Pliska parts of the world and stuff. But but generally I would say that she can do things that still can do things that no one else can do. That said, you know, I wish there weren’t so much attention and being put on this quest for number twenty four and granted that the tensions are only there because she has done it. She and her coach have talked so much about this goal, I don’t think people would be as obsessed with it if she weren’t had suggested that this was her goal. Because what she’s done making all these finals, making some news at this point in her career, that by itself is an incredible achievement. And one thing that, you know, this kind of run of new champions shows is how hard it is to win a major and how hard is to come back and do it again. And, yeah, I mean, I think I think that there is a lot of actually positives to take from her run at the US Open. But that said, I think it’s also reinforced how difficult it is to do this.

S3: Joel, you mentioned nine different winners in majors in the last 14. Luis, is this a sign of depth in women’s tennis or is it a sign that nobody, with the exception of Naomi Asaka, is breaking through consistently?

S10: I think the answer is that there’s a lot of depth and that’s you can see the quality of matches even in the early rounds. It’s made for really exciting grand slam tournaments. You can tune in the second round and see a match that is knock your socks off. Good when that’s not necessarily true is on the men’s side. I do think that it is hard. It is hard to follow through. It’s hard to win seven matches over the course of two weeks. In these circumstances. My hope is that some of these rivalries will develop. We already had the Australian Open champion making the final of the French Open. We’ve had players hanging around in the top five. I think there’s a little bit more consistency than people usually give the women credit for. But yeah, I mean, the women’s game, I think, is an incredibly strong position because of its depth.

S3: And now it is time for after bawls, Yugoslavian tech was the first Polish player ever to win a grand slam. And as I was watching the final, they mentioned a Polish player from the 1930s that had made the finals were lost three times. It turns out just Viðga, Genzel Juska and I have no idea if I’m pronouncing that correctly. I’m doing my best.

S5: Jens Joska Gin’s, which also made it to the finals of Wimbledon, the US and the French, and in thirty seven and thirty nine. Most important, though, she has gotten a star in Poland, sort of like the Walk of fame in Hollywood. Tennis stars Ali honored her with with a star nurse.

S12: Luisa, what is your Jega, Gemzar, Joska, my Viðga dance Gentec change because TSCA, as it happens, was one of her great rivals, Alice Barbel.

S9: Alice Marvel was a tennis star in the nineteen thirties. She was a four time winner for ourselves, which would later become US Open. She also won Wimbledon the last time in nineteen thirty nine before it was shut down for World War Two, and she later turned pro.. Because back in those days you couldn’t make money playing tennis and she needed money because she did not rise up through the tennis establishment was born poor as daughter of a California logger who died when she was eight. Her brother actually supported the family as a teenager by becoming a cop in San Francisco. She didn’t pick up tennis until she was 15 years old and she was seventh in the nation before she had ever taken a lesson. The lessons came from a Svengali like Coach Eleanor Tennet nickname Teach. You really reconstructed her game and also introduced her to Hollywood. She was a fixture at Hearst Castle. She became friends with Carole Lombard. I mean, she really kind of had this kind of amazing Hollywood life, both literally at Hollywood. And as we would imagine it, she actually collapsed on the court in France and was diagnosed with tuberculosis, told she would never play tennis again and came back to win a major. So she is quite the story. She was a singer and she helped actually segregate tennis when she really shamed the United States. I think it was the Nancys Tennis Association at that point into allowing Althea Gibson to play. So, yeah, incredible story. I read her memoir a few years ago called Courting Danger, and it turned out that she was also a spy during World War Two and had all these adventures and had married this army officer and had gone to reunite with a former lover in Switzerland who had been with the Nazis in order to extract secrets and all the kind of incredible story. And I thought first I thought, I’m going to make a movie. And then I turned the movie. Rights are already taken, of course, by famous people are attached. And I thought, I’m going to write a book. And I started looking into it and it all started to unravel. I started talking to the military historians and I thought, well, she wouldn’t probably have a gun. She would have been given a knife, you know, and that actually doesn’t make sense when you look at the map, like where she’s saying she was going. And then I started requesting documents point for vaccine. I was trying to find anything I could. There was no record of a marriage. There was no record of of really anything when it came to her wartime exploits. Everything else was true, you know, with the Delaware, with the Dupont estate. And there was you know, if she had said that, well, Dupont was a someone who was in love with her. And sure enough, there all these letters in which she’s clearly financially supporting the fight and expressing certainly some kind of real fondness, if not, you know, romantic attachment, I sort of became more and more intrigued and more and more confused. And then I went to the International Hall of Fame, which has an archive. And there are several versions of this story that she tells in her memoir. One of them is a TV script that’s written by Rita Mae Brown, who was Martina Navratilova? S girlfriend for a for a time, and also a very prominent feminist activist who to whom she became close later in her life anyway. So I realized that she was telling a bunch of tall tales. I never figured out why someone actually has just written a book about her. Robert Weintraub has written The Divine Miss Marble, and he very scrupulously and rigorously debunks her many tall tales while also communicating what an incredible life she really did lead. But she remains to me a mystery because he never really figured out why she said what she said. And I still don’t know.

S8: So I left my after ball is really a kind of unanswerable mystery about a fascinating life and possibly fascinating person. But we’ll never know.

S4: Globalization has just been really bad for the prolific liar, you know, it’s true. All right. And so, Stephan, what is your Jadwiga Gin’s of Alaska?

S3: Joe Morgan died on Sunday at age seventy seven, and it feels like a lot of Hall of Fame level athletes have been dying lately, which statistically, of course, probably isn’t true. Athletes die. All the time, people die all the time, especially when they hit their late 70s and early 80s, and in that regard, Joe Morgan is no different than any of us. But Morgan’s death and the apparent rash of famous athlete deaths right before him, Whitey Ford last week to Tom Seaver, Gale Sayers, Don Larson, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and all got me thinking about what it means when an athlete dies and why it affects us. I mean, it’s not like I knew Joe Morgan personally or any of the other guys I just mentioned, but they matter to us the same way they mattered when they played. We devote mental space to them. We invest emotion in them. We share feelings with them. But there’s a taxonomy of athlete death that I think we all unconsciously abide. There are the jarring taken to early deaths like Kobe Bryant that we all share in the same way, utter shock that a 20 or 30 or 40 year old human suddenly, horribly, unexpectedly departs, whether in an accident like Kobe or after an illness or maybe a suicide, like too many brain injured football players. It doesn’t matter. It’s just wrong. At the other end are the athletes who live long, full and competitively glorious lives. Whitey Ford was 91 when he died. Godspeed to the chairman of the board. Two hundred and thirty six wins, six World Series titles getting drunk with Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin at its shores. What a life. Don Larsen was 90. Perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Amazing. I mourn their passing, but I never watched them play. They are newsreel legends to me, white dudes in gray flannels who played against mostly other white dudes. Then there are the non players. Don Shula was 90, but I remember him on the sidelines in Miami like it was last Sunday. John Thompson was seventy eight when he went in August. NBA Commissioner David Stern was 77. He was a source on an interview subject of mine. They did their jobs at their peaks long after the time athletes do theirs. At their peak, their deaths are adult deaths. Process through the reality of my own adult life for me anyway. And I suspect for you, too, though, Joel and Louisa, you aren’t quite there yet. The deaths of athletes that come with the heaviest dose of personal profundity are the ones who are fixtures in your childhood. It’s the ones who are twenty or twenty five years older than you are, who you followed when you were between six and sixteen years old, when following sports really, really mattered. I’ve experienced a bunch of those this year and it feels like it’s for the first time, not because it is, but because I’m just more conscious of it. Maybe it’s the pandemic. Maybe it’s because athletes who played when I was a kid are actually in their late 70s now when, as I mentioned, people die. But it’s jarring. Joe Morgan was seventy seven. I was flapping my left arm against my side like Little Joe five minutes ago. Jim Kick is dead. What that Sports Illustrated with him and Larry Zanca on the cover. Miami’s dynamic duo that just landed in the mailbox. Lou Brock was eighty one. Jay Johnstone, Bob Watson, Jimmy Wynn, Wes Unseld. How did that happen? The most saddening death of the year for me. The most haunting one though was a guy you might not have ever heard of, Horace Clarke. Clarke was the second baseman on some terrible Yankees teams. The ones that I came of age with, an elementary school standout in a dismal Yankee era was the New York Times headline on his obituary in August, Clarke batted with his legs spread crazy, far apart. The stance that my brother and I imitated in backyard Wiffle ball more than any other. Clark played second base, had a good glove and a mediocre batting average, stole a few bases, had no power, reminded me of me out there. A friend texted to let me know that Hoft had died. Horace Clark rest in peace. He wrote No. I wrote back. Yeah, 81 years old. That’s not possible, I replied. It is so my friend said, The Grim Reaper comes for us all.

S4: Even Horace Clark said, I hate to hear that man, but yeah, I mean, shoot, I’m old enough. Steve McNair. When Steve McNair died, although he didn’t die of old age, I grew up watching Steve McNair and I was like, damn man, Steve McNair isn’t here anymore. So again, guess that goes into the Texan. That’s the category of shouldn’t have died yet because they’re not old enough to die for Fairpoint. But that’s just that, you know you know, the Kobe thing, too, right? Like, that’s another like Kobe is class of ninety six just like me. And I will I will probably remember that death for the rest of my life. So. But you’re not old enough to feel what I’m feeling at all. I’m not trying to get there and I just didn’t make it. I’m sorry.

S2: That is our show for today. Our producer is Melissa Kaplan. To listen to Pasha’s and subscribe or just reach out, go to Slate Dotcom, hang up and you can email us and hang up at Slate dot com if you’re still. Here, I’m guessing you might want even more hang up in our bonus segment this week. Let’s talk about the great basketball goat debate. LeBron or Michael.

S13: Michael Jordan is the boss of something from LeBron James. The best that other things know. But that’s not enough for us. You know, we have to have sort of our take and die on the hill that we’ve chosen. Special thanks to Louisa Thomas of The New Yorker for joining us this week. Thanks, Louisa. Thanks so much for having me. For Joel Anderson and Stefan Fatsis remembers Elmo Gayety and Horace Clark. And thanks for listening.

S3: Hey, Slate plus members, thanks for being Slate plus members, let’s talk some Goat Zócalo of ESPN, The Long Post NBA Finals piece headlined LeBron James versus Michael Jordan. Why they go to debate is different now. I’m not convinced that goat debates are ever different. They don’t really evolve, at least in terms of the substance of what you’re yelling about. But I guess there is a case to be made here that with every performance like he has demonstrated that he’s delivered and with every championship that he has, we tend to forget about the the six in the loss column in the NBA finals versus the four that LeBron James now has. And that’s not just about the wins and losses, Joel.

S5: I think it’s also about something about him as a human being that, you know, we’re giving you know, he’s a goat for more reasons than averaging a triple double in an NBA finals.

S4: Yeah, I mean, I just think that he’s been the face of the league for maybe the last 15 years, been in the finals nine of the last 10. And so would you have that sort of spotlight when you have had that much? I mean, the thing is, it’s like the finals are not the only version of success that you have as a basketball player, like you’re winning all these other playoff series. You’re having all these other iconic moments where he hits a three against the Orlando Magic or hits a game winning layup against the Pacers, like all these sorts of things are happening that are building his legend. So it’s sort of watered down, like the impact of the finals to me a little bit, because I’d like I know I know that he’s great. I know that he’s performed well and all these other series and throughout the course of his career. And if he just happens to come up short in the finals, well, I mean, we know why that is. We know that most often in these finals, he’s been on teams that don’t have as much talent as the other teams and he’s fighting uphill. So I think that that context is really important. And I’ve always just said and I said it from the game and I can’t remember which year it was against the Detroit Pistons where he scored like twenty five points in a row, twenty twenty five, twenty seven points in a row against the Pistons would know had a great defense. They were, you know, aging champions, but they were still champions at that point. The Eastern Conference champions. And the fact that he was able to do that, I said I’d never seen a basketball player better than LeBron when he’s at his best. And to me, like, that’s sufficient. Like, I don’t. You know what I mean? I don’t feel like I have to argue with people about if Michael Jordan is better or not. I’m just saying in that context, he’s the best basketball player I’ve ever seen in my life. But I know that that’s not sufficient. And I didn’t say you had a piece in losers that even sort of covers some of this right now.

S12: We had a piece by Ryan and Len about that comment. I think it was LeBron the loser play our most provocative piece. So I know it’s not too you know, and it’s the largest number of people. But, you know, it sort of made the point that that, you know, we can forget about those losses in the in the loss column. But there there, you know, and they’re not on Michael Jordan’s ledger. And there’s something about one of the difficulties in these great debates is that we’re arguing a word that has no consistent definition. Who is the best? You know? Well, guess what? Michael Jordan is the best of some things. And LeBron James is the best at other things, you know, but that’s not enough for for us. You know, we have to have sort of our take and die on the hill that we’ve chosen. You know, and I do think that is a point that Zach makes in that piece. The seven talked about is a really good one, which is that LeBron James is is human in a way to us, in part because of everything he does off the court and also in part because he has had a few on Jordan esque performances on the big stage, you know, the most notably that eight point game in 2011. And he kind of can’t raise that. And it doesn’t really in my mind, it actually only in some ways elevates them in some respects because, you know, what do I think greatness is? I think greatness is being a great human being, you know, and Michael Jordan sort of defined greatness as being something that no mortal can touch. You know, LeBron James is mortal. Michael Jordan is not. Who’s better? I don’t know. I mean, what does it mean to be better?

S5: Right. And what does it mean to be considered the great test? You know, Zach runs through LeBron perceived failures and finals. You know, he doesn’t have game winning shots the way that Michael did that are indelible. That will never that will never forget, you know, he had those losses. But, you know, on the other side of the ledger that Zach also runs down. LeBron got there earlier. You know, we forget that LeBron came into the league right out of high school. Michael didn’t get to the finals, his first six years in the league. The Bulls didn’t get there. Yeah, they won six in a row when they finally did with Michael on the court. But it took a while to get there. LeBron was dragging teams to the final Cleveland teams when he was twenty years old. Twenty one years old, 22 years old, I think, and not that to me is also sort of underappreciated. But you know, the totality, Joel, like it’s fun to have this conversation, but the depth that LeBron brings is the thing that is non quantifiable, that it’s not like last shots and number of titles and number of losses. It’s like what kind of a player he is to.

S4: Yeah, it’s it’s like a complete body of work. Right? Like, you just look at everything and I mean, you know, we talk about this goat stuff, right. And when I was growing up, Magic Johnson was like, first of all, he was called Magic Johnson. Right, for a little bit, even though he’d won a championship in his rookie year with an amazing title clinching performance. And then all of a sudden he becomes traded. Johnson And but but then after that, he got to be the winner. He got to be the winner guy. And then Jordan toppled him. So, you know, to me, it sort of shows the futility in trying to do any of this. Right, because in 15, 20 years, Michael Jordan will be Oscar Robertson, man, you know, I mean, people won’t remember him like those moments that he had will be even less indelible. Like we they won’t come to mind as quickly as they do. And I think that they’ll be a generation of kids that grew up with LeBron as the player of their moment. And they’ll regard him in quite the same way. And like right now, a lot of people, when they’re arguing for Michael Jordan over LeBron, they’re arguing for their childhood memories of their memories of basketball that they grew up with more than anything else. Because, I mean, truth be told, and we all know this, right? Like there’s very little like if Michael Jordan is better than LeBron or LeBron is better than Michael Jordan, like it’s so imperceptible that it’s almost not even worth arguing about. And then Kareem Abdul Jabbar, like we talk about that Wilt Chamberlain, I mean, all these other guys that theoretically are part of that conversation. And we don’t even talk about them. And it’s just basically we’re just, you know, prisoner to our own memories of the prisoner to the to our memories in that way. And as soon as our memories get bad, then it’ll be somebody else, I think. I don’t know. Is that right? I don’t I’m open to being wrong about this. I’m not I don’t I’m not a partisan in this instance. I prefer LeBron, but that doesn’t have anything to do with anything other than like I just happened to see more of his career that I did. Michael Jordan, I don’t remember a lot of nineteen eighty six in nineteen eighty seven. Unfortunately, I’m convinced that I convince you. What did I convince you of. Who’s No. One, that I’m a prisoner to my memory. Yeah. As far as I’m concerned, I mean to be honest, I mean accumulation is the best, best outcome. I always come with it and I’m like, well you know, if they had to play one on one, I don’t think Jordan is beating the team. So I just give him that.

S12: I do think that everything you’re saying about that also the, you know, supporting cast is interesting. But it’s also interesting to me that LeBron has generally been more inclusive. You know, one of the reasons why a lot of people hold Michael Jordan up is that this is a relentless, like, egomaniacal, you know, vision of greatness, which is, you know, it’s a team game, but it’s Michael Jordan’s the best. And LeBron, you know, I was I was I was kind of touched, you know, when he accepted the NBA finals MVP, that he first thing he did was really embrace Anthony Davis. And it was a kind of acknowledgement that they were, in some respects, sharing this award and sharing that moment that I can’t really imagine Michael Jordan doing with Scottie Pippen, you know, even though obviously the rest of that of Michael Jordan’s cast was really important to to winning all those championships.

S4: But I think that’s sort of worth thinking about, to think about how much is his supporting cast hates them today. Michael Jordan, I mean, like after last night’s game, I like all of these people. I can’t win friends. Does he have off of those teams, people that think warmly of him, like really and truly, you know, which to me says something about greatness and like how how you go about and build teams and win and the way you go about doing it. I mean, it says something about us as a culture that, like Michael Jordan’s way is seen as the preferred way. Right. That that is, you know you know, that egomaniacal way. You know, he’s indomitable. And it doesn’t matter what’s in his way, whether it’s his teammates or anybody else, that he just goes out and does it. And I mean, you can just see how you know, how that has led us to a lot of other bad players in this country. Bye.

S5: By idolizing that LeBron James change the sport of basketball more than Michael Jordan did, arguably. I mean, he oh, he wow. He you know, he took he created agency. He made basketball players, the architects of their teams and their futures. He has done this with three different teams and won championships with three different teams. And I think that’s something that also belongs in the ledger, understanding the way that an athlete like LeBron at the peak of his sport, clearly the best player of his generation, is able to go beyond his own court skills and sort of realign the way that the public thinks about the the management of NBA careers and rosters and franchises.

S12: I don’t know if that’s a little bit of reason. Sea bass, I mean, in terms of the business aspect of the game, Michael Jordan’s impact is unquestionable. I mean, that’s a different business. It’s a different it’s a different business. And and the globalization of the game, I think Jordan was also a part of that. Brown is sort of ominous. But, yeah, I mean, doing different things. I mean, this speed is a little bit difficult because, again, like what we mean by the best of all time, right?

S4: I mean, we think I mean I mean, you could argue that Steph Curry has had more of an impact on the way the game was played today than even LeBron. Right. Like Michael Jordan. You know, after after his success, there was a bunch of teams trying to replicate that by finding six foot seven through six foot eight wings that are wiry and athletic. And so many people I mean, like they all changed basketball in their own way with LeBron. Did those kind of different that it’s difficult to replicate his model because to be to have that sort of agency and to be the sort of businessman that he is, you have to be LeBron James. You definitely have the greatest person of all time. Maybe we should just, you know, come in here. Yeah.

S3: Thank you. Slate plus members for being Slate plus members. Thank you, Louisa, for joining us this week. Thank you, Joel. And we’ll be back next week with more.