ANY GIVEN MONDAY
Life is slowly returning to life and here is the place to be fashionably lazy and say that sport is merely a reflection of that.
It would also be fashionably wrong.
Life is slowly returning to something approaching normality. Sport is slowly returning, yes, but normality is still some way off.
Still, these end-of-hibernation days have at least moved "live" sport back to the frontal lobe after a month or two of having been stored safely away in the temporal region of the brain.
Here's just two of the things it started me thinking about.
1. The Bundesliga has been instructive
Until this weekend I would have struggled to find Gelsenkirchen on a map, would not have been able to tell you that the city had the 14th most valuable football club in the world and that the club, Schalke 04, was one half of one of the world's most popular derbies.
I know all this now because Schalke, or Die Knappen as I now prefer to call them, travelled to Ruhr Valley neighbours Borussia Dortmund in the weekend to play in the Revierderby, the first match in any of Europe's big leagues to be staged since Covid-19 effectively shut down professional sport.
It was seriously weird.
Celebrating goals while respecting social distancing – only Dortmund got to experience this, four times – was comical, as was the sight of substitutes sitting spread out on the sidelines.
The silence from the empty stands wasn't comical though, it was eerie.
Yes, for football fanatics it was great to have a product out on the pitch. For broadcasters it was no doubt a tonic. But it wasn't quite right. It didn't feel like the real thing and at some point those flaws that feel comical now will become a turn-off.
Sky Sport and New Zealand Rugby nabobs need to plan assiduously around three things: breaks in play, commentary and piped noise. Get any of these things wrong and the product they have so desperately needed could go off like a wet skyrocket.
Football is lauded around the world for the simplicity of its rules and the free-flowing play that results from that. Take away the crowd and the atmosphere and noise that generates, and suddenly you notice that the ball isn't in play quite as much as you remembered.
Most sports fans of a certain vintage are dismissive of the pap crowd shots that seemed to have wormed their way more and more into live sport, but take away the crowd and you appreciate why they're such a big part of the modern broadcast: there are a lot of breaks that need to be filled.
Rugby is not famous for the simplicity of its rules and for the amount of time the ball is in play. Watching how Sky fills in these blanks during Super Rugby Aotearoa is going to be interesting. If they don't get it right, interesting will quickly become irritating.
Another aspect of the Bundesliga broadcast thrown into sharp relief was commentary. The masters of the calling craft ride the waves of crowd noise, letting the action tell its own story and filling in the lulls. It is not talking for the sake of talking; it is talking to entertain and instruct.
Great commentary is in fact often accompanied by long periods of silence, with roar or the resentment of the crowd momentarily left to narrate.
You can't do that without a crowd and the commentary of the Revierderby rapidly became overbearing and mutable.
Commentators aren't the only soundtrack to sport.
There are artificial ways of generating atmosphere which have been in practice ever since the ancient Greeks invited poets and lyre players to the Pan-Hellenic Games. From marching bands to Carl Orff's O Fortuna belted over tinny tannoys to Dobbyn's Slice of Saccharine, the hype track is a ubiquitous slice of sport.
Getting the right backing track over soulless stadia is going to be quite a feat.
Can't wait to see it, for one week at least.
2. About Michael Jordan… and what he says about winning
So the greatest basketballer who ever lived was bit of an ****hole.
Just about everybody who played in that era, apparently.
The Last Dance has been a boon to sports fans in a time of famine and while it's not the greatest documentary, it has provided some genuine insight into the professional sports environment. Turns out it's not that different to a playground, except the stakes are worth millions.
In every industry there are those who use belittling humour at someone else's expense to assert their dominion (and in many cases mask their own shortcomings).
Sport seems to be one of the few industries where it flourishes to the point of being accepted as best practice.
You would have heard the mantras wheeled out 1000 times: "He/she demands high standards from their teammates". Often the sentiment is genuine; often it's another way of saying they're a bit of a jerk to be around, but they're good at what they do so we allow it.
It begs the question whether teams need friction to be at their best. I've never been convinced about this but the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s seem to be making a strong case for the affirmative.
Friction is different from bullying, however. Jordan was clearly a bully and his stature meant he could get away with it.
In what was The Last Dance's most unlikely moment, Jordan cries when he is confronted by the fact that he was feared and respected by teammates, but a long way from universally loved.
"Winning has a price. Leadership has a price," he says.
We'll never know if the Bulls would have won more or less if Jordan was a more approachable, forgiving teammate.
We do know this: unkindness costs something.
THE MONDAY SHORT READ ...
Mack Lamoureux gives hope to bar owners, sports broadcasters and sports fans everywhere. From Vice.