Today’s lesson commenceth with the Queen herself. Beyoncé, if you have to ask.
At last week’s NBA finals game between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors, a lady leaned across Beyoncé to talk to her husband, Jay-Z, a move that didn’t please B, whose regal features creased in annoyance.
When her fans discovered who the woman was, the death threats we have come to expect from social media warriors followed quickly. The woman was Nicole Curran, wife of Warriors majority owner Joseph Lacob, a fact which — taken in conjunction with the preceding story elements — seems connected to my query. What is the Irish version of the NBA?
In America, the NBA is not the most popular sport — that honour belongs, in terms of balance sheets, to the NFL.
But it’s certainly the most relevant, the best example of the sports-entertainment complex. Its practitioners are the best-known and most recognised, it’s run better than other sports, its practitioners are more politically aware than the other sports, and even marginal events — matters so tangentially related to the actual sport as Beyoncé’s dissatisfaction with some random person — can seep into the news cycle.
One of the interesting aspects of the NBA’s relevance is how it has overtaken its competitors. Baseball dominated American sport for decades, only to be overtaken by American football. Boxing has been and gone. Soccer hovers always on the periphery.
But professional basketball’s relevance is a potent weapon because it’s adaptable to the moment, and seems — recently, anyway — to match the temper of the times.
NBA champions the Golden State Warriors have twice decided not to make the traditional visit to the White House because of Donald Trump’s presence there. And little wonder with a coach like Steve Kerr, who has lambasted the NFL for “playing to the fanbase. Basically just trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people.” This is even more interesting — not only is Kerr an articulate on politics he’s also
willing to criticise another sport and, implicitly, champion his own sport’s primacy.
This doesn’t happen in US sport, and it certainly doesn’t happen here. Nobody with any credibility worth mentioning disses another sport because of a polite ecumenism everyone is happy to pay service to, for the most part.
Basketball has some huge advantages not only in the US, over its US competitors but over the big sports here in its intimacy, which relates in turn to its appeal as the most relevant sport.
Everyone can relate to Steph Curry because he earns his living, basically, in his pyjamas. Basketball players’ grimaces and winks are easily available to us. In Gaelic games, soccer, or rugby, that isn’t the case unless you’re literally sitting on the sideline, or a cameraman goes in for an up-the-nostrils shot. The distance is real, not imagined.
Is that — the surrender to proximity, the stripping away of distance — the way forward for one of those sports, or one not even mentioned here?
Can an Irish sport seize the initiative and distance itself from its competitors by embracing the peripheral agents like... the Beyoncé memes?
It may be that one sport will seize that initiative because of the whispering voice in the small hours, the one that asks the most obvious question about your most beloved sport. Just how entertaining is it, when all things are considered? And how can it be improved and updated, dosed intravenously with relevance, uploaded to the sports-entertainment complex?
Trump leaves golf in the rough
So, Donald Trump was in Doonbeg last weekend, as you know well.
His visit revealed a good deal: not about the US president, but about ourselves.
Whether you refer to the locals in the west Clare village cheering for Trump or the lofty opinions expressed by some Irish people a long way from Doonbeg, there was a lot to unpack, as they say.
If you think someone should be declared a winner from the visit, it’s hard to think of an individual — or even a company, or indeed any kind of entity —who came out of the weekend as an undisputed victor.
The big defeat must be the game of golf, however.
Could anyone honestly say they were encouraged to take up the sport having seen the footage from Doonbeg golf club last week?
Finding offence where none to be found
A couple of Limerick people were in touch during the week — not commenting on my searching analysis of Limerick-Waterford last weekend, my sage evaluations of the tactical ebb and flow, but asking what my problem was with Shannonsiders tucking into brunch last weekend in Waterford.
The answer: absolutely none, of course.
My point was that the scene was pretty unusual — according to last week’s match programme there hadn’t been a match special Limerick-Waterford train for a championship game since 1930, so it was bound to be uncharted territory for (presumably) everyone in attendance.
I think a couple of people felt that by drawing attention to the size of the Limerick crowd strolling Waterford’s quays and hills early last Sunday week, I might have been implicitly criticising the size of their following in previous years, which is a level of paranoia that is new to me.
Nor was I saying that all, or any, supporters decked in green were the worse for wear after a heavy Saturday night enjoying the fleshpots of Waterford. I was up and around myself on Sunday morning and nothing stronger than milk passed my lips the evening before: if I was up early I naturally presumed everyone else arose with a song in their hearts, not a furred tongue and a pounding headache.
For the record, the crowd dressed in green and white tucking into The Granary’s tasty Full Breakfast were in good humour last weekend and a credit to their county. No-one suggested otherwise.
Which probably proves something about the touchiness of county followers, if nothing else. I dread to think what the messages would have been if Limerick had lost.
Recommended without reservation
Kevin Barry is back with a new book, good news for anybody who likes to read. Like yourself.
The one-time Examiner columnist has now published Night Train To Tangier.
According to its publisher it is “drenched in sex and death and narcotics, in sudden violence and old magic, but it is obsessed, above all, with the mysteries of love.”
For this particular constituency, though, it’s about two hard chaws, one from Togher and the other from Farranree, waiting on a ferry in southern Spain. Recommended without reservation.