Nathan's column: A few feats worth watching
There are many reasons to watch sports. Sometimes it's for the drama of the games, the thrill of two teams engaged in a close competition down to the final seconds before, if Twitter is to be believed, the referees totally mess things up for one or the other. Other times it's for pride, as if the successes and failures of athletes who might not have more than an in-season condo in your city reflect on you personally. And in some cases it's just a matter of stubborn obligation. You watch because, you know, the team is there. And it's Saturday afternoon. And there's really nothing else to do.
Timberwolves fans, you know what I'm talking about.
Then again, sometimes its nice to watch sports just to see other people do things you could never in a million years do. Athletes at the highest level of their sport look at ease doing things that would cause most people in the audience to break something or sprain something or lose control of their lunch. Possibly all three.
Usain Bolt lopes through an Olympic sprint in roughly the amount of time it would take me to realize the starting gun had been fired. Major League Baseball players throw a ball and swing a bat as if they were born to do it. Elite-level curling players can sweep like nobody's business.
I've been reminded of the basic genetic superiority of elite athletes a couple of times over the past week by Minnesota Gophers basketball player Rodney Williams. Williams has earned a reputation in his four years at the University of Minnesota for being almost superhumanly athletic. He dunks the ball so frequently and so ferociously that the school started keeping a running tally this year. Then again, there were a few games there in the middle of the season where a running tally of dunks was about the only interesting thing about Williams and the rest of his team.
I've never dunked a ball in a situation that didn't involve Nerf. I also can't reliably hit a mid-range jump shot in traffic. Although, in my defense, neither can Rodney Williams.
Finesse isn't the reason some overly optimistic analysts have been projecting Williams as future NBA player since the first time they saw him jump, though. For him, it's always been about raw athletic ability, a fact he showed off to spectacular effect with a late-game block last week that preserved an upset win over top-ranked Indiana and might have moved anxious Gopher fans out of what we'll call the Timberwolves Zone. By some estimates, Williams' hand was 17 feet above the Williams Arena floor when he deflected the Hoosiers' desperation three-point shot. By some other, more hyperbolic descriptions his fingernail just barely grazed the arena's rafters. On the way down.
It was incredible, one of those things that makes you marvel at what the human body is capable of accomplishing when it hasn't been stuffed with fried foods and sugary drinks.
On Saturday, he might have topped even that play, leaping up near the end of the first half, then seemingly pausing in mid-air to capture a poorly-thrown lob pass, send out a quick Twitter post (hashtag #checkthisout!) and then slam the ball through the hoop.
The crowd went crazy. Williams' teammates went crazy. As the teams filed into the locker room for halftime, some lingered on the floor to watch replays of the dunk on the scoreboard's big screen.
It's enough to make you jealous. To make you wish you could jump like that, even just for a day.
Then again, let's see Rodney Williams write a column.