Whiplash and the Price of Greatness

While watching Whiplash last weekend, I was struck by the connections between the character Andrew and the greats we all know and love.  The movie – which everyone should run out to see as soon as possible – examines what it means to be great.  The cost, apparently, of being great is staggeringly high.  It is, in fact, everything.

The movie first: earlier this year I tried to figure out what the best movie I saw this year was.  Whiplash blew them all away, handily and then some.  The final twenty minutes are so intense there were long sections where I completely forgot to breathe.  Whiplash is a pretty straightforward movie plot wise: Andrew is a student at a prestigious music school in NYC, he gets noticed by the leader of the Jazz band, named Fletcher (played by JK Simmons, best known to Oz fans as the psychotic Vern Schillinger, a character basically reprised in full minus the Nazi stuff).  It turns out that while Fletcher is a great conductor, he does not necessarily believe in just having a good band, but rather wants to foster greatness through whatever means possible.  This “teaching” includes berating and beating students, forcing them to practice at all hours and challenging them constantly.  The idea circles around to what he feels are the worst words in the English language “good job”, which celebrate mediocrity instead of pushing for more greatness which only comes through loss and brutality.  You can guess where this goes with poor Andrew who wants to be great at any cost and regardless of suffering.  After a particularly grueling round of practice this is evident when Andrew drops his bloody, torn hand into a bucket of ice.  Even then he still cannot get the tempo of the piece right and you see he has to give more, even when there is seemingly nothing more he can do.  To be great, the movie argues, you must be torn down and rebuilt completely.   Watch it and prepare to be blown away: for me this was one of the best movies I have ever seen.

How does this connect to the sports world?  How did Michael Jordan become great; and what did he have to sacrifice?  Many would argue that he too, sacrificed everything in order to become the greatest of all time.  LeBron too may have to do much of the same – and just how is he pushing Tristan Thompson to be more?  The Cavs have turned it on and many of their players are having among their best individual seasons and LeBron’s influence is a major part of that.  Are the Cavs players willing to sacrifice everything to win a championship for the city of Cleveland?

Very few athletes reach the peak of their sport, but all have had to sacrifice in order to even make it to the pros.  No one can accurately judge the cost of greatness except those who achieve it, and only those who are truly great, like Andrew, can judge whether or not it was worth it.

The 2014 Sporties Awards

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2014 Sporties our annual celebration of the best of Sport and the Sports world.  Let’s dive right in shall we:

Game of the Year – Last year of course featured the absolutely bonkers Auburn / Alabama game in addition to the Brady vs. Manning Bowl in which Brady staged an incredible comeback.  This year the contenders are much fewer and farther in between.  There were a couple of crazy baseball games and a couple of crazy football games.  However, the most exciting game I watched?  No question it was the bonkers World Cup match between the US vs. Portugal game which came down to the absolute wire and featured some of the top players in the world playing out of their minds.

Shocking World Cup Moment of the Year – Brazil gets tuned up by eventual champs Germany.  It was relentless, wave after wave of unstoppable strikers and you began to feel worse and worse for Brazil fans.  Simply awful.

Championship Dominations – One theme of the year was definitely beat downs in the finals: the LA Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Seattle Seahawks all cruised to victory over, in some cases, more ballyhooed opponents.  I will also not neglect to mention the Canadian hockey team and their punishing win over the US in the Olympic Finale.

Series of the Year – The best series of the year took place in hockey, and featured the LA Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks in a war that served as the real Stanley Cup final.

Breakout of the Year – The biggest winners of the World Cup was the Men in Blazers who are single handedly bringing soccer to the masses of America through their insanely brilliant show.  During the biggest sports event in the world, the two men locked themselves in a small room nicknamed “Bob Ley’s panic room” where they proceeded to break down football and culture simultaneously.  When they got home it was a quick shift to NBC Sports where they continued to have the highest rated podcast and a shockingly well rated TV series.  They are stone brilliant and they are now both a must watch, and must listen.

Pod of the Year – After the praise I just gave the Men in Blazers, you would rightfully assume they have won the Pod Award…but this is actually a battle that stretched beyond the sports world!  Three of my must listen pods: the aforementioned Blazers, Hollywood Prospectus and SerialHollywood Prospectus is highly entertaining and funny, and includes the occasional deep dive into the movies of David Fincher or the music of Taylor Swift.  It is fun and light and takes pop culture analysis to a whole new level.  Serial tells the story of a 15 year old murder allegedly committed by a young man named Adnan Syed.  The podcast is hypnotic and brilliantly conceived as we wander through the murky depths of a story where we may not want to hear the outcome.  A truly powerful experience; and a very addictive one as I powered through four pods believing I was only on the first one.  Wait?  Isn’t that only three pods when I actually mentioned four?  Yes, because it is high time someone gave praise to the true return of the Starters.   Last year I was almost out on them, as their 44 minute shows were simply not enough time to properly appreciate them.  Given that their time as “The Basketball Jones” was astounding and creative, it felt a little bit as if they were being contained in a small box that stripped away all their talent.  This year I was on the edge of being out completely when I heard they were cutting down to 22 minute shows.  I was done: I tried, but all their zany antics had been stripped away simply because there was not time.  In some ways it was good because it focused their great and insightful basketball minds.  However…it was putting them in a box.  I was done.

And then I heard the news.  On Fridays, the Starters would be unleashing “the Drop” a return to their old, off the walls ways.  Welcome back boys.  Before the first pod I waited with trepidation and had not looked forward to a pod like that for some time.  When I listened, all my fears vanished.  The boys were back.  In the following weeks, they have truly returned to their off the walls roots where their crazy energy and unstoppable hilarity continues.  What a glorious return.  Another year and you might be the pod of the year: right now it is the Blazers for their consistency.

Sports Books of the Year – I read some great sports books this year, many about football (American and otherwise).  The best: League of Denial by Mark Fairinua and Steve Farinua  / Showtime by Jeff Pearlman / Michael Jordan by Roland Lazenby / The Football Business by David Conn and Against Football by Steve Almond.  Another must read is the William Hill Sports Book winner: Night Games by Anna Krien which takes the microcosm of the misdeeds of the Australian Rules Football league and expands it through the sporting world.  An interesting take on the lengths teams will go to in order to protect their players and the depths players will sink to in order to fit in.  An important achievement and must read book.

Team of the Year – The Kansas City Royals because no other team did what they did, with the expectations that team had coming into the season.  Even in defeat they are worthy.  Runners up: San Antonio Spurs, Team Canada and Seattle Seahawks.

Off Field Moment of the Year – LeBron James returns to Cleveland…as read by Frank Caliendo playing Morgan Freeman.  Runner Up: Wait, is that Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter?  What could they possibly be discussing?  Is it possible for all the evil in the modern world ensconced in one luxury box?  Another runner up: remember when Bob Costas got pink eye in Russia?

Sportie Man of the Year – No one and I mean no one, gives Sidney Crosby enough credit.  He deserves to be the Sportie Man of the Year because he guided one of the most dominating hockey teams through a grueling slate to the finals.  It did not look good and certain points but the best players truly shine when it matters most and the way Crosby dominated at both ends of the ice in the final was astounding to watch.  He deserves more recognition for the way he dominates his sport in an especially competitive time: remember when Ovechkin or Crosby was a serious question?  Now it is likely Crosby or Toews.  Crosby though is our Sportie Man of the Year.