Sports

A remark for the ages, &c.

Jeff Van Gundy before a game in Houston on January 18, 2020 (Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports)
On Jeff Van Gundy, LeBron James, Kelly Loeffler, Leonard Bernstein, Donald Trump, Roberta McCain, and more

As Game 5 of the NBA Finals ticked to a close, Danny Green, of the Los Angeles Lakers, had a winning shot — but missed it. After the game, he and his fiancée received death threats.

Commenting on this during Game 6, Mark Jackson said, “We’re better than that, as a people.” His fellow commentator, Jeff Van Gundy, said, “I’m not sure we’re better than that.”

Have you ever heard such a cold-eyed remark? On television? It is one for the ages, I think.

(Van Gundy, as you may know, is a former NBA coach. So’s his brother, Stan. Mark Jackson, too, is a former NBA coach, as well as a former NBA player.)

• The Lakers beat the Miami Heat, in six. Thinking about LeBron James, I thought of William F. Buckley Jr., and Paul Johnson. WFB once said of Johnson that he was so “routinely excellent,” people tended to take him for granted. Therefore, he was underrated.

Oh, another anthologizable article? Oh, another classic, or soon-to-be classic, book? Ho-hum.

So it is with LeBron James, I think. He is so routinely excellent, people can underrate him — highly rated though he is.

James has now been to the NBA Finals ten times. He has led his teams to four championships. Yes, teams: three of them, three different jerseys. He has four Finals MVPs (and four overall MVPs).

Years ago, shortly before he retired, Jim Leyland, the baseball manager, said, “No one knows how hard it is to win.” No one knows what goes into it. What it takes to keep winning, if you have won before. LeBron James makes these championships look relatively easy. But no.

He is outstanding in every aspect of the game: shooting, passing, rebounding, defense, mental toughness, stamina — you name it. And don’t forget the “intangibles,” such as “leadership.”

It is exciting to be living in his times: as in the times of Babe Ruth, Jack Nicklaus, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, and other greats we could name. Human achievement is satisfying to all of us, somehow, even if we can’t break 100, skate, or sink a free throw.

Don’t you agree?

• The coach of the Miami Heat is Erik Spoelstra. He looks Southeast Asian, at least in part. How’d he get that Dutch name?

His mom is indeed Filipino. But his dad is a Dutchman from Michigan. (I tell you this as a Michigander myself, though not a Dutchman.) His grandfather was a well-known sportswriter for the Detroit News: Watson “Waddy” Spoelstra. This Spoelstra, the sportswriter, grew up in Grand Rapids and went to Hope College (in Holland, Mich.).

Can’t get Dutcher than that.

(You know the expression in West Michigan, don’t you? “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.”)

Go Spo.

• Kelly Loeffler, the U.S. senator from Georgia, wants you to know that she is conservative. Very, very conservative. Her latest ad says she has a “100 percent Trump voting record.” Does that make you a conservative? It depends on what you mean by “conservative.”

The ad also says that she is “more conservative than Attila the Hun.” An actor playing Attila grunts such things as “Eliminate the liberal scribes!”

We’re a long way from “a shining city on a hill,” y’all.

I think the last time we heard about Attila the Hun in politics was in 1975, when Frank Rizzo, in Philadelphia, said, “I’m gonna make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.”

Ah, sweet politics.

• The Republicans’ Senate nominee in Delaware, Lauren Witzke, issued a tweet:

Most third-world migrants can not assimilate into civil societies.

Prove me wrong.

I’m not sure the candidate knows what “civil society” means. I’m also not sure she knows about the history of the United States.

In any case, I thought of a song, from Bernstein’s Candide. You know the one: “I Am Easily Assimilated.” It is a comic take on the Jewish experience.

The Old Lady sings,

I was not born in sunny Hispania.
My father came from Rovno Gubernya.
But now I’m here, I’m dancing a tango! . . .

I am easily assimilated.
I am so easily assimilated.

Bernstein’s people came from Rovno Gubernya, incidentally (in Ukraine).

Some more:

I never learned a human language.
My father spoke a High Middle Polish.
In one half-hour I’m talking in Spanish!
Por favor! Toreador!
I am easily assimilated.
I am so easily assimilated.

If you’d like to hear Christa Ludwig sing it, with the composer conducting, go here. (The song is an ingenious blend of the shtetl and a tango.)

• Some of my friends like to play umpire with Trump. They “call balls and strikes,” just like Chief Justice Roberts, I suppose. But some things don’t easily lend themselves to umping, I wouldn’t think.

Take yesterday, when the president retweeted a tweet from “Oscar the Midnight Rider 1111.” Oscar said, “Hiden Biden and Obama may have had Seal Team 6 killed! EXPLOSIVE: CIA Whistleblower Exposes Biden’s Alleged Role with the Deaths of Seal Team- Claims to have Documented Proof. RETWEET!!!”

How do you call that? Stee-rike! A little outside?

Sometimes blatant unfitness is just blatant unfitness.

• An article in the New York Times was headed “Former Guantánamo Bay Commander Sentenced to 2 Years in Prison.” The subheading read, “The retired Navy captain was convicted of obstruction of justice in the search for a worker who drowned at the base following a drunken fight over an adulterous affair.”

The captain in question is John R. Nettleton. He had an affair with the wife of Christopher Tur, a commissary worker. He also had the aforementioned drunken fight with the man.

Shortly thereafter, the man, Tur, drowned. Nettleton was not charged with causing the death of Tur. Rather, he was charged with covering up the fight and lying about the affair.

Before the sentence was read, he said that, if he were in the judge’s position, “I honestly don’t know what I would decide.” He also said, “Command is an honor and a responsibility. I failed, and I know that I am accountable for my actions.”

I thought Nettleton’s remarks were stand-up — refreshingly un-modern. We live in an age of deflection and buck-passing. Apparently, Nettleton does not comply, for which: good.

• Roberta McCain has died at 108. She was born in February 1912, exactly a week before Arizona became a state. She had many distinctions, including being John McCain’s mother, and a friend of Bill Buckley’s. She was a beautiful woman. And she saw, and endured, and enjoyed, a lot in her life.

An obituary by Robert D. McFadden in the Times tells us many interesting things. I especially liked this:

After her husband’s death in 1981, Mrs. McCain and her identical twin sister, Rowena, took long driving trips through Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Once, when she was denied a rental car in Paris because of her age, she went out and bought a car.

• Whitey Ford, the Yankee great, has died at 91. “He could throw any pitch, any time, for a strike,” said Brooks Robinson, the Oriole great. My gosh, what testimony.

• A podcast? Here I am with David French, my old friend and colleague, on the state of the Union (which is bad).

• A little language? Dr. Anthony Fauci was talking about the spread of COVID-19, and in particular through gatherings of crowds, especially when people are unmasked. “The data speak for themselves,” he said.

“Data” as plural? Another reason to admire Fauci, for me, at least.

• A little music? Here is a post on Leontyne Price, the American soprano. “I attended 13 Price recitals,” I once told her. “So few?” she answered. I pleaded that I had gotten a late start.

I never heard her in the opera house. But there are many, many recordings, studio and live. The Metropolitan Opera has now released some live cuts, and I comment on them, in my post.

I also remark on the nature of recordings. Can they really substitute for being there? Sergiu Celibidache, the great conductor, said, “Listening to a recording is like kissing a photograph of Brigitte Bardot.” In all likelihood, he did not say “kissing,” but posterity has Bowdlerized his statement.

No, recordings are not substitutes. They are more like souvenirs. And they’re much, much better than nothing.

• A little ballet? This was sad, and understandable: “Wave of ‘Nutcracker’ cancellations hits dance companies hard.” Ballet companies depend on Nutcracker sales, for everything else they do. And . . .

Well, life is tough all over, I realize. (Wouldn’t you like to have been an early investor in Zoom?!)

• Two friends meet at an outdoor café. Their opening exchange is very 2020. “Nice to see you.” “You too! Gave me something to shower for.”

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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