|Wednesday, September 12
Updated: September 13, 4:43 PM ET
Aldridge: When sports and life collide
By David Aldridge
Special to ESPN.com
I am 36 years old.
I was not born when John Kennedy was assassinated.
I was 11 days old when Malcolm X was assassinated.
An unaware toddler when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.
Four years old when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I remember looking at the moon that July night, thinking that somehow, I could see him.
Seven when the Munich Olympics were shattered.
Eight when Hanafi Muslims took over three buildings in my hometown, Washington, D.C., and threatened to kill dozens of hostages in a standoff that lasted several days.
Nine when Richard Nixon resigned. Cheering when he made the announcement, crying the next day, because he was crying, and you mimic what you see on TV.
Eleven when Jimmy Carter was elected president -- proud to say I was the Carter campaign manager at John Burroughs Elementary School, where he won the mock election with ease -- 14 when the hostages were first taken in Iran, 15 when Carter won six states, the first incumbent to be un-elected in more than 100 years. "Looks like a swimming pool," David Brinkley said, referring to the electoral map of the United States, with Reagan Blue bleeding all over the pockets of Carter red.
Howard Cosell was the man who told me John Lennon died. The next day, I heard the song "Imagine" for the first time.
I was a freshman in college when the Marine Barracks in Lebanon were blown up. A sophomore when the Achille Lauro ship was taken over by terrorists. A junior when the Challenger took off from the Kennedy Space Center. I was home, watching distractedly, when it appeared that something had gone wrong. But I wasn't paying attention. Not until my mother, who was upstairs, came downstairs.
"Did you see that?," she said.
Ten months later, in the morning hours after a ground ball went through Bill Buckner's legs, my mom died of liver cancer. Three months after that, I met the woman who would become my wife.
I had my first beat when the Berlin Wall fell. I was covering a Bullets exhibition game in Louisville when the ground shook and fell in San Francisco. I was in the Los Angeles Sports Arena at a Bullets-Clippers game (insert joke here, please) when the United States went to war with Iraq, in the newsroom at The Washington Post when I first heard the name Bill Clinton (a good friend of mine, a Democratic Party operative at the time, dismissed his chances, saying he "had a problem keeping his zipper closed"). I was sitting in the press room at Redskin Park when I got the phone call telling me that my best friend had died. I was 30 years old, sitting in that same press room with a quarterback named Heath Shuler, when O.J. was acquitted. (Shuler, who was white and from Bryson City, N.C., thought O.J. didn't do it -- which proved to me that there was no monolithic point of view.)
Two weeks later, I flew all night from Los Angeles, where I had covered a Redskins-Rams game (insert joke here, please) so I could attend the Million Man March in Washington the next morning -- and there were a million peaceful, soulful brothers out there, no matter what the U.S. Park Police estimate said.
I was about to cover a Pacers game in Indianapolis when my dad had a stroke. I was about to have lunch with Steve Francis when my gall bladder exploded.
Sports, politics and life. They have been intertwined as far back as I can remember. And so they were again, this week. Monday night, just as I was putting a sandwich to my lips, the phone rang. All hands on deck. Jordan is officially coming back. The next few hours are a blur of phone calls, studio shots, planning. I am up until 5:30 in the morning, trying to figure out what the next few weeks will be like. I am making tentative plans to fly to Chicago, to try and sniff MJ out.
Three and a half hours later, sleep deprived, my phone rings. My sister.
"They just flew a plane into the World Trade Center," she says. "It's on TV."
Amazing, how life works. My only goal in life 12 hours earlier is to find out where Michael Jordan is, and try to convince him to sit down for an interview. (The goal of the Wizards was to sell as many season tickets as humanly possible. They'd sold $750,000 worth between 10 p.m. Monday and 2 a.m. Tuesday morning.) Now, my only goal in life is to get in touch with my wife, and my dad, and my family, and the people I love.
It is pointless, and selfish, to talk about perspective in the wake of such monstrous acts. We all know that sports do not matter in the larger context of terror and death. I would like to think that anyone with an ounce of empathy would not debate whether games should or should not be played, that no matter whether anyone goes out this week and this weekend in the pursuit of athletic competition, our nation needs time to reflect, to grieve, to come together and be with one another.
Do I get on a plane again? Not easily, and not for a while. Those of us who cover anything for a living, who follow the exploits of what other people do, have some hard thinking to do. Reflect, yes. But fundamentally change ourselves? We cannot.
But we can be humble. And grateful for whatever gifts God has given us. And contemplative.
Don't worry about Michael Jordan.
He'll be there when we get back.