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The art of sport

Fall is the time for athletes to show their beauty

Posted: Thursday September 13, 2007 2:22PM; Updated: Thursday September 13, 2007 2:22PM
Diana Taurasi's first WNBA Finals appearance has allowed her to show off the magic of her game.
Diana Taurasi's first WNBA Finals appearance has allowed her to show off the magic of her game.

Autumn has finally arrived, pregnant with promise for anyone who savors sports. This is the time when all the detritus that clings to sports like barnacles on a boat, melt away and we see the art that lies beneath. Unless you find yourself in any way connected to a certain blue tinged university in Ann Arbor or a certain pro football franchise in New England, there is no better time of year than now.

For sports fans, this is the period when the abstract becomes concrete and the questions of summer are answered without pity. Stanley Horowitz once wrote, "Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all."

This is the stretch where the major season in golf and tennis exits stage right. The country club recedes to the shadows for the season of mass entertainment: the NFL, college football, the NBA and the NHL.

It's also the period where the shock of the new becomes conjoined with the crescendo of champions. For those who write off the WNBA, as if daring to watch would cause a crippling identity crisis, the fall brings the finals and this year they have delivered the Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi center stage - a player with a game so smooth, butterflies skid off of her skills.

Then there is Jeff Gordon, trying to eke out his fifth Nextel Cup championship. The man has 21 top-10 finishes in 26 races, yet still trails Jimmie Johnson to the frustrations of his fans and delight of his detractors. (Gordon is so polarizing in NASCAR he makes Barry Bonds look like Gandhi.) Oh, yes, and there is also this musty exercise known as the World Series.

Fall requires the sporting mind to become nimble without a moment's hesitation. The painful stretch of the August baseball season magically morphs into the heat of the pennant racec. The snooze of an NFL pre-season that often feels like outtakes from Dazed and Confused, becomes a blast furnace of intensity. And in the NBA, an offseason where most players live happily below the radar screen, it becomes time to finally show in practice how exactly they spent their offseason.

Fall is the time when A-Rod will either hit this postseason or he won't (assuming the Yanks make it, about as safe an assumption as the sun setting in the West.) LaDanian Tomlinson and Clinton Portis will either prove that they really didn't need training camp or they won't. Taurasi will either overcome people's hesitancy about women's hoops through her individual artistry or she won't. Eli Manning will become either Robert Kennedy to Peyton's John, or he'll be Fredo Corleone. Rajon Rondo will either be able to captain the Celtics 30-something all stars, or Danny Ainge will be looking up Kevin Johnson on his Rolodex. (Hey, he's still younger than Kevin Willis.)

This just yet another reason why sports is superior to what passes as politics in this country. Athletes can't hide behind spin, parsing speeches, and opinions. No one strikes out, looks out at the booing home crowd and shouts, "That's your opinion!" A quarterback doesn't throw five picks and say, "Everything is going according to plan." The coach of your favorite team -- not even Bill Belichick -- wouldn't tell fans, "You're either with us or against us."

It's understandable how the uninitiated might ask if the fall sports schedule is excessive. They wonder whether sports suffers from a crisis of over production: too many games, too many athletes, too much coverage. But that misses the entire point of the mosaic. A mosaic isn't like some jambalaya, where everything is thrown in a pot, you stir and serve. A mosaic is only as radiant as its individual parts. It's the individual parts that create a fall mosaic with such wicked, infinite grace: Opening kick off. Opening tip. The first Monday night. Game 7.

These are the times where all the drills, practice and repetition translate into divine inspiration. These are the times when athletes become artists.