I have been thinking through this topic in the voice of Marsellus Wallace when he talked to Butch in Pulp Fiction (helps me get down to brass tacks). However, we are in an alternate universe. Marcellus has since left crime and has become a preacher and has reconciled with Butch. Though they last met at a Buffalo Wild Wings, Wallace invites Butch back to the bar where it all began… First Take is on the TV…

Damn. ESPN is a televangelist network… It’s so apparent… Oh… You’re here…

Thanks for meeting me back here, Butch. I know this spot brings back some… unpleasant memories. 

Returns can be hard, Butch. Unpleasant ain’t the half. The Star Wars prequels were unpleasant but new. The Force Awakens was unpleasant but retread. Returns ain’t always Aragorn going back to Gondor–a pleasant return filled with nostalgia and hope. Like your daddy’s watch, Butch… You did everything for that watch. You’d do anything for that watch. 

The King returned to Cleveland and it was a beautiful sight to behold. Unless you a hater–or that Denethor, Skip Bayless, who worships at the feet of Jordan. His move to Fox Sports will be a mega(church) move. And well, we talked about Jordan worship already

But hate…. That’s just pride effing with us. It’s pride that didn’t give LeBron a pass last year when his team had no Kyrie and Kevin but say his championship is illegitimate because Draymond didn’t play, Iguodala was hurt, Bogut was hurt. Pride, Butch. 

They say the league fixed the series. You remember how I tried to fix your fight, Butch? Heheheheheheh. A fix… Wasn’t me or you that got the worse of that fix, was it? I think Wilson and Vega would agree… If they were still breathing. 

Don’t get antsy, Butch. Water under the bridge. 

Where was I? Oh yeah, the NBA and fixes. 

Did the league allow the Warriors to make it to the Finals when they didn’t suspend Draymond for striking another man in the testicles two times during the OKC series? But that’s neither here nor there. 

But we’re here to talk about Aragorn.

When you are the first person to win a championship for your region since Jim–I’ll stiff-arm Superman to hell–Brown… Well, Butch, that’s Tolkien epic. That’s magic. That’s Fresh. That’s like Lou actually taking Will on that road trip, instead of rejecting Will and making his own son murmur though tears, broken promises, and wasted statuettes: “Why don’t he want me, man?” Cuz let’s face it, Butch. There weren’t enough Uncle Phils in the world to hug the drought-stricken greater Cleveland area. 

Cleveland and northern Ohio was Gondor, living in the shadows and in full view of Mordor’s black clouds. The good ol’ days when the strength of men meant something were in the past. Factory and manufacturing jobs were once plentiful. But the hearts of men are easily corrupted by greed. The Great Eye unleashed his army of neoliberal capitalism in the form of Reaganomics and NAFTA, and those who were entrusted with much left their region with very little. The line of Kings was broken… Sports, economic, social drought–this cluster$@&% requires salvation.

And religion is the realm of holistic, symbolic healing. 

And I told you, Butch. Sports is a religion here. The plague has been stopped. Prayers have been answered. The drought has been ameliorated. The debt has been forgiven. Sacrifices have been made. The land has been healed. Because the King came home and suffered the cross of last year’s Finals, only to be resurrected this year. The mortals don’t see it. We cannot understand why we were drawn to the victory parade. Why did people make a pilgrimage to Cleveland like they were going to Jerusalem or Mecca? It’s because sports is the religion of the land, salary caps and all. 

LeBron is Zeus, but each team–no matter the sport–is a pantheon. And the pantheon is tied to the land. Crowds come to the arena to watch Zeus, Hermes, Athena, Ares, Hera, Poseiden, and Hades play for their local region against another region. Greek polytheism and ties to the land meets athletic flesh and fanatical faith. Postmodern henotheism at its best. 

Each region has its pantheon. Free agency is simply the wandering of the gods to foreign lands. Neoliberal henotheism at its best. 

You see what I’m competing with on Sundays? I’m competing with entertainment, the land, the gods, and sports…. 

Oh. You right, Butch… This is about King James, not King Jesus. 

The King has returned. 

Led all players in points, rebounds, blocks, steals, minutes, and assists. 

The King has returned. 

First team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the history of the NBA finals. 

The King has returned. 

But the Great Eye has not been defeated. Because the King is the Great Eye of Sauron to some other Aragorn. And Cleveland is Mordor to some other Gondor. Even Joshua and Moses looked like Pharoah to the Canaanites. It’s a henotheistic battle between living pantheons. And those who have gone on to glory… Heh.. Those forgotten gods are memorialized in rafters and stands. 

Sports is Religion here, Butch. And there are those in hot pursuit of the Ring of Power. 

Sports is a religion here, Butch. Stats are like Scripture, and folks quote stats like Bible Thumpers quote the Good Book. Folk don’t know the genealogy of Jesus, but know that West begat Chamberlain and Chamberlain begat Kareem and Kareem begat Magic and Magic begat Worthy… And then came the dark days of Campbell, Van Exel, Jones, Ceballos… And the land of LA awaited a Messiah’s return… And the eldest sports god,  “Mr. Basketball” West–great ancestor he was–gave us two. Yin and Yang. Shaq and Kobe… And now the Lakers await another second coming… They are awaiting their own King to return. Westbrook, perhaps?

Hehehehehe. Don’t look at me like that, Butch. You know I can get off on tangents. I’ll say it before, and I’ll say it again…

Theologically and religiously speaking, sports is the ritualized drama of humans struggling in a world of adversity, joy, creativity, and randomness. Team sports are the ritualized drama of human companionship losing and winning in life.

Don’t tell Mia about this Coke and rum I’m drinking. It ain’t even noon yet. 

©2016 M. J. Sales

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