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Pots And Pans

The sports gods have finally given us a few new champions in the last year

But are they favoring the Golden State Warriors?

A few days ago, I blasted off for a journey to explore the outer reaches of my imagination and landed at the North Star Cafe, an interstellar sports bar where the sports gods hold their regular meetings.

The North Star is a spare and dark place dominated by big-screen TVs displaying games from all over the universe, not just our world. Dressed in generic sports uniforms, their faces ever-changing in color and other racial characteristics, the sports gods sit behind a velvet rope at a discreet table. And I, having tipped a host to gain a coveted table, sit behind them eavesdropping.

“Let’s talk about major league sports in the United States,” Mother Nature, who runs the meetings, begins. “Jude, are you ready with your report on athletes who supposedly couldn’t win the big one who did win the big one … long-suffering fans that were put out of their misery when their favorite sports franchise won a championship?”

Jude — inspired by St. Jude, the patron of lost causes — rises, takes off his football helmet, clears his throat and says, “Well, right off the bat we got Sloane Stephens in tennis winning her first Grand Slam. We have the Philadelphia Eagles winning their first Super Bowl and the Washington Capitals winning their first Stanley Cup. The Houston Astros winning their first World Series …”

Mother Nature, Mama N to her intimates, smiles and glances subtly in the direction of the bar, where her favorite bartender is about to send over Mama N’s favorite drink: a double milk and honey with a cherry ambrosia chaser.

Mama N pauses and reaches for her drink, which she knows will be there. She takes a sip and says, “I know there are more, but all I need are the highlights, the top plays, if you will. You know how this whole ‘can’t win the big one, long-suffering fans’ mess works my nerves. That way of looking at sports reduces all the games, all the athletes’ coaches, all the managers and all the fans to players in one weary drama with annual weary sequels: ‘The quest for the championship.’ And every year there is a new group for us to consider: Who do we help get out from under the burden of not being able to win the big one or playing on a team with long-suffering fans? But it’s worth it. Remember how that Michael Jordan cried when he won his first championship with the Chicago Bulls?”

The sports gods give each other high fives.

“OK,” Mama N continues. “Are the Times here? ” Dressed in baseball jerseys, they raise their hands.

“So Tom Brady in the NFL and the Williams sisters in tennis?” Mama N says. “How long they got?” Long married, the Times, mother and father, speak in stereo, always together, sometimes in counterpoint, but always in harmony.

“That Brady boy is 40. Says he sees the end coming, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to embrace it. He acts like he intends to be the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback for life, at least win his sixth Super Bowl ring. He’s drinking a lot of water and he’s sworn off white flour, white sugar and salt. Dude doesn’t eat or drink anything that would put a smile on your face. As for Venus and Serena, they are in their late 30s, but what of it? We’re sure you heard Venus when she said she had infinity inside of her. They both do. We can’t talk in terms of seasons or years with them. With all their Grand Slam victories and Olympic gold, each can still win anywhere and at any time. They will play until they don’t play. Besides, we’re kinda looking forward to Serena, who just had her first baby, winning a Grand Slam with one of her grandbabies looking on.”

More high fives.

From out of nowhere, or so it seems, a tall figure joins the sports gods’ table wearing a basketball uniform. Mama N smiles in spite of herself and says, “You’re right on time. Breaky, baby. You’re next.”

The sports gods murmur.

“I know you’re new, just getting started and all that,” Mama N says, “but we can’t have the sports god in charge of the breaks favor one player or his team as much as you’ve favored the Golden State Warriors the past two seasons. It’s not a good look.”

The god of the sports breaks smiles and quickly covers his mouth with his hand, which bears a tattoo of the number 23. There is also a ring on his finger with the number 23. And he wears a stud earring in his left ear with a 23 on it too.

“OK, I hear you,” the god of the breaks says, “but I love me some Draymond Green. He’s changeable: the kind of guy who might punch somebody for stepping on his foot in a corner bar … the kind of guy who might buy everyone in the bar a round of drink … I like changeable. Besides, he’s sweet and generous too. I can see him going to his grandmother’s house with a bushel of peaches in his arms.”

“And don’t forget he’s pledged $3.1 million to Michigan State …”

More murmuring from the other sports gods.

And Mama N affects a scolding voice. The sports god of the breaks is her baby boy and her favorite. “I don’t care how much you like Draymond. During the NBA playoffs in 2017, Kawhi Leonard goes down when he’s leading the San Antonio Spurs against the Warriors. This past season, both Chris Paul of Houston and LeBron James, the king, for heaven’s sake, get hurt playing against the Dubs in the playoffs. I don’t know what’s going to happen next season in the playoffs, but I do know one thing for sure: If a key player gets hurt during the playoffs while playing against the Warriors, I’m sending you back to handling the breaks in cow chip tossing contests. You hear me, Kurtis?” Mama N named the god of the breaks Kurtis.

Mother Nature affects a Caribbean accent and continues, “You know running the sports gods is not my main job. It’s a side hustle. I’ve got weather to handle. Everybody’s weather, everywhere, not just in sports. I’m the one that controls or tries to control rain, snow, cold and heat. Especially the latter. He’s been acting a fool all around the world. So let’s take a quick look at the sports future in the U.S. and I can go back to more important business. What are we going to do about Tiger Woods and the Cleveland Browns?”

While fidgeting with his Draymond Green ring, the sports god in charge of sports breaks talks.

“This has got nothing to do with me. Tiger’s great. He’s won 14 majors, second all-time to Jack Nicklaus and his 18. If Tiger’s healthy and not distracted, he won’t need any breaks. He’ll put it all together and win a tournament. But let’s make things interesting. Let’s put the SPPCB in effect, just in case.

More murmuring from the other sports gods. They love it when the SPPCB, the sports pundit palaver consensus boomerang, goes into effect.

Kurtis continues: “We wait until the sports pundit palaver consensus concludes that Tiger can’t win. At 42, he can’t keep up with the younger stars, even at his best. Everybody says so on TV, on the radio and in sports columns at the big-city dailies. Some even go so far as to assert that Tiger’s punishing himself for the rampant marital infidelity that cost him his marriage and his reputation. Won’t, can’t let himself win. Then Tiger wins. Won’t all the scribblers and jabbermouths look dumb: The nonsense they put out comes back to smack them in the face. Again. Sweet.”

More high fives from the sports gods.

“And the Browns,” Mama N asks, “what happens to them?”

The god of sports breaks smiles his biggest smile. “That’s easy,” he says. “They win.”

Mama N flicks lint from her hockey goalie uniform and grinds a spiked heel into the North Star’s hardwood floors. “Are you trying to tell me that the Cleveland Browns are going to win the Super Bowl? This season?”

The sports god in charge of the breaks winks, pleased with himself. “No, I’m not saying that. Do you think my mother raised a fool? I’m just thinking they win some regular-season games. After only winning one game over the last two seasons, each victory will feel like winning the Super Bowl to their long-suffering fans. Or we can fix it so LeBron James comes back to Cleveland as a Browns wide receiver and …”

Mother Nature clears her throat and says, “I think we’re done here.” And Jude, sometimes known as Quixote Corazón, rises again to lead the sports gods in the song that closes their meetings. It begins: “To dream the impossible dream …”

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.