The Vault: Ralph Wiley, Part I
In 2004, sports journalism lost an influential and respected voice when the great Ralph Wiley died suddenly of heart failure at age 52. But the wisdom in his words endures, and his insights into universal themes will never lose their edge. He was an ESPN Page 2 columnist since the site began in 2000, and we remain humbled by the parts of his legacy that can be found among his hundreds of columns in our online vaults.
Here's a reminder to Celtics fans, Louisville fans and Kentucky fans: You can't have glory days without some sleepless nights worrying about the people entrusted to run a landmark organization with dignity.
"Deconstruction of Rick Pitino Blvd. in Louisville" (March 15, 2001)
The great UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden once said that to all his friends among the college basketball coaching fraternity, he wished one national championship. To his enemies, he wished two. Wooden was the sort of man you had to stay with.
Rick Pitino, on the other hand, said earlier in 2001, "I'm a wounded tiger," after he quit the Boston Celtics in the middle of the season. Took multi-millions to turn that NBA franchise around. He turned it around, all right. Pointed it right into the ground, then bailed out before impact, and took the only available parachute with him. They've done better since he left, righted the ship, didn't crash. They are the wounded tigers.
Once upon a time, Wiley was moved to study why fans held Tiger Woods' dominance in such awe. While there's little doubt as to the esteem Wiley had for the golfer when Woods had a mere eight majors in the bag, we can only wonder how Wiley would have countered this come 2009.
"These are the days of the Tiger Dynasty" (June 17, 2002)
What is it like, to live in the Tiger -- as opposed to the Ming -- Dynasty? You oughta know. You're doing it. But why is it the Tiger Dynasty, with all that's going on? What about him captures us?
ESPN runs a poll: Who is the the World's Most Dominant Athlete? Tiger gets nearly 55 percent of the vote, Shaq some 30-odd percent. The undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Lennox Lewis, gets something like 3 percent. Imagine this in the time of, say, Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali. It would not happen.
Wiley points out Venus Williams strikes a unique balance as an elite professional competitor -- she shows that her sensitivity toward her sister can rival her laser-focused quest for tennis titles.
"Venus can do whatever she wants" (Sept. 6, 2002)
In male-dominated sports, win-at-all-costs is our "mother's milk." So ironic. Venus doesn't live by our creed. Does that make her an underachiever, someone you wouldn't want your child to emulate?
Or does it make her better, more mature, more human, deeper than we can imagine? Does it make her our Amazon Mother, showing us a higher plane, a broader horizon, a new way to compete?
Hmmm. Was Cowboys fan Jim Bob Joe just a figment of Wiley's imagination, or is he someone still around who we can hire as a correspondent for Page 2 at ESPN.com/Dallas?
"Where have all the Cowboys gone?" (Aug. 9, 2002)
(Editor's Note: In the interests of equal time, and since R-Dub and Road Dog are deep in the throes of the dog days, today's column is by Jim Bob Joe, citizen of the great state of Texas, and the ultimate Dallas Cowboy fan. Subtitles will be applied, as needed.)
As if we don't got enough problems at quarterback. Gotta go with Quincy Carter, that ol' Georgia boy. Not that we wanna. We gotta. Don't see much of him in that HBO seer-ees (series) called "Hard Knocks." Quincy didn't want be on that there ESPN thing called "The Lahfe (Life)" neither. Gotta admire Quincy for that. Boy knows his place. We gotta use him under center, under that Gew-rode, because Chad, he ain't a-ready yit (yet). Won't take long. Boy's name is Chad. That's a Cowboy if I ever heard'a one.
Greg Hardy is a Page 2 contributor. It's all pop culture all the time at Twitter.com/HardyVision.