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My two favorite sports are basketball and soccer, for a number of reasons, but the main one is this: they are simple and accessible.
You don't need a bunch of equipment or space to play -- you only need a ball and a few people. As a matter of fact, you don't really need anyone else. Give me a basketball and hoop, or else a piece of aluminum foil and a trash can, and I can entertain myself for hours. Roll a round object -- anything sufficiently round and fairly bouncy -- at an able-bodied European, and he won't betray his age in the American way by stooping to pick it up; he'll juggle it with his feet, astounding you with his agility and quickness. I've seen soccer balls roll away from pickup games towards seemingly out-of-touch businessmen in suits, and they spring into action: three swift flips, a kick and a smirk. A thing-or-two shown. But I digress. Suffice it to say that you can't play golf on a street corner; you can't toss a football to yourself.
For these reasons, among others, a free charity basketball or soccer game is pretty much the most awesome event you can put on. All you need is a patch of wood or grass or turf and some people worth watching, and the rest takes care of itself. And best of all, the crowd can be right up on the edge of the action. Football and baseball games need sidelines, walls, boundaries, helmets -- not so here. Golfers and tennis players need even more space and/or quiet -- and who wants to be quiet when they're excited? Nobody, that's who.
Now take your charity soccer or basketball game and put it in New York. Since you're forced to choose, you need basketball players playing soccer or soccer players playing basketball. Take this basic concept, add a ridiculous amount of legendary talent from international soccer and the NBA, plus thousands of people who braved torrential downpours to get a glimpse of greatness, and you have Steve Nash's Showdown in Chinatown (or whatever it's called) quite possibly the greatest thing that's ever happened on a Wednesday.1
I am by no means a knowledgeable soccer fan -- most of what I know has been Wikipedia-ed or gleaned through hours of painstaking FIFA video game play -- but because I aspire to be a polymath, because I am widely considered the world's most reliable source, and because I was there and you probably weren't, I will share with you a few of my many observations:
There are moments I have undoubtedly neglected to mention, but any omissions are inadvertent. There were so many things going on it was hard to catch all of it and take pictures at the same time. This was my second year attending the game -- last year's Chris Bosh was Baron Davis -- and it only got bigger and better-organized. Every thing went up a notch. Last year people had to fight for a view; this year they had seats available. Last year I literally had to crawl in the dirt under a broken fence to get in; this year I managed to politick a wristband. It might be hard to do next summer, what with the World Cup and everything, but somehow, somewhere, I hope it can happen again. It's been said that there are better ways to spend an afternoon, but not by reliable witnesses.
1. If you are an astute soccer fan, you know that the U.S. had a huge win against Spain the other day which sort of goes against my "greatest thing on a Wednesday" claim. If you are a basketball fan, a good comparison is Digger Phelps' Notre Dame win over UCLA. Spain is/was the number one team in the world, huge win streak, even longer unbeaten streak -- it's one of the biggest wins in U.S. soccer history. And then there's the whole rest of the world to consider, so perhaps a more accurate claim is that it was "the greatest thing to ever happen on Wednesday, June 24th between 6 and 8pm EST on the corner of Rivington and Chrystie Streets," but somehow that didn't have the same ring to it.
2. Also unconfirmed, but I hope it's true -- from Davids' Wikipedia page: "Davids played against Los Angeles Galaxy on 6 December 2008 in an exhibition match as part of an Oceania XI All Star team, despite the fact he is not from Oceania and has never played for an Oceanic club or national team." That's true love for the sport when you would literally play anywhere, and for anybody, just to get a chance at a competitive game.
3. There were a ton of different nationalities represented there, and tons of media. Fox Soccer Channel had a lot of cameras there, apparently for a documentary of some sort, and this Italian reporter claimed that it was being shown live on French TV, but I'm not entirely sure I believe that. Either way, the world was well represented. With players from Colombia, Holland, Argentina, France, Canada, Romania, Ivory Coast, etcetera, pretty much everyone in the crowd had someone to root for. Even Hasheem Thabeet showed up, taking a break from his pre-draft preparations. No word on who his favorite soccer player was. Probably Henry. Henry's everybody's favorite.
(All photos courtesy of Coleman Collins.)