We’re talking sports in today’s Weekly Digression, our regular excursion into the world beyond comics. We go over two recent tragedies in the sport of boxing and talk a little about the NBA and running. And don’t forget to listen to the weekly Mixtape.
Two particularly heartrending blows hit the sport of boxing in the past week:
Five-time, three-division world champion Johnny Tapia was found dead in his Albuquerque home on May 27. Tapia was 45 years old. ESPN’s Dan Rafael has written a moving piece on the fighter known as “Mi Vida Loca” here. Tapia lived a turbulent life marred by violence (he witnessed his mother’s brutal murder at the age of eight), drug addiction (he’d been jailed multiple times for drug-related offenses and had been declared clinically dead from drug overdoses five times), and crippling depression (he survived multiple suicide attempts), but he always brought his best to the squared circle. His 48-fight unbeaten streak (46 wins, two draws) from 1988 to 1999, making 13 defenses of the WBO super flyweight title—the last three of them joint defenses of the IBF version of the belt—along the way, is one of the most impressive runs in the recent history of the sport. He’s easily in the conversation with Hall of Famer Khaosai Galaxy as the greatest junior bantamweight of all time and he should be a shoo-in for posthumous induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In death, it is surely the fervent wish of the boxing community that Tapia finds the peace that so eluded him in life.
Also on May 27, former welterweight champion and current junior middleweight contender Paul “The Punisher” Williams was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident in Georgia while on the way to his brother’s wedding. I’ve been critical of Williams before in this space—I thought his decision win over Cuban ring technician Erislandy Lara last year was a straight-up robbery—but by all accounts, he is one of the nicest and most humble people outside of the ring and it is absolutely tragic that this happens to him, especially now that he had signed a contract for his first major pay-per-view event in fight that would feature him against WBC junior middleweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Williams seems to be in upbeat spirits considering everything, and his combination of optimism, pragmatism, and humor in the face of this life-changing injury has been nothing short of inspirational.
I don’t know if you guys have noticed but I haven’t been writing much about the NBA lately. Part of the reason I’ve been quiet on all things NBA is because I’m still a little sore at the league in general for the recent lockout as well as the practice of team owners basically holding whole cities hostage with their unrealistic demands for public funding of NBA arenas. Additionally, there are just so many good NBA writer-observers out there now, and anything I want to write about the game has probably already been written better (with top-notch video breakdowns and in-depth statistical grounding) by sports journalists like Sports Illustrated‘s Zach Lowe and NBA D-League assistant coach and Grantland contributor Sebastian Pruiti. If you want fair observations and intelligent analysis of the NBA game, you can’t really go wrong with those two guys.
I’ve spent a bit of time writing about my transition to minimalist running in the past couple of Digressions. Steve McPherson writing over at the basketball-themed site Hardwood Paroxysm considers how the adoption of a minimalist running style might help reduce the incidence of serious knee injuries among basketball players and how the heavily-cushioned, high-top design of modern basketball shoes might be promoting poor running mechanics (and injuries) in the NBA. Below is a video example (NOTE: if you’re squeamish, I suggest not clicking on it) of the type of injury that McPherson talks about, where a player running at high-speed, with his leg fully extended ahead of his body, puts his full weight on his heel transmitting the impact force up towards the knee (Baron Davis, the player in the video, would be eventually diagnosed with a partial patellar tendon tear and complete tears of the ACL and MCL)
I can see the merits of McPherson’s conjectures, but I don’t know if reducing cushioning and ankle stabilization features in basketball shoes is the straightforward solution that it appears to be. Basketball involves so much more than running, and reducing footwear cushioning in the hope that it will provide better tactile perception during running might also result in an increase in stress fractures to the foot that can come from the repeated jumping that occurs in the game, especially now that so many players have the athleticism to play “above the rim.” A comprehensive solution to the problem of basketball-related knee injuries will require not just footwear design changes and players changing how they run, but also players changing how they play.
But there is anecdotal evidence that a more naturalistic stride can reduce common basketball injuries at the highest levels of the game. L.A. Lakers All-Star center Andrew Bynum had a reputation as an injury-prone big man but was impressively healthy and largely injury-free during the lockout-shortened season and throughout the Lakers’ playoff run. The Classical‘s Ethan Strauss talked to Lakers trainer Garry Vitti and he confirmed that Bynum’s improvement was due in part to a change in his running form, going from a heel-crashing gait to a more natural midfoot-strike.
A digression from the Digression: If you haven’t yet read our recent interview with The Dirty Pair and Empowered artist-writer Adam Warren, get to it. The affable and popular illustrator, who has also done work for Image, DC, and Marvel, shares his thoughts on how women are portrayed in superhero comics, talks about censorship concerns with Empowered, how he was able to write, illustrate, and letter 900(!) comic book pages in a little under two years, and more. Plus, the article features exclusive preview art from the recently-released Empowered, Vol. 7 TPB.
This week’s Mixtape (song titles link to corresponding audio/video, if available):
- The RZA – Ode to O-ren Ishii
- Infesticons – Hero Theme
- The Herbaliser (feat. Jean Grae) – Mission Improbable
- Task Force – Liquidized Language
- AIM – From a Seaside Town
- Central Living – Inside (Naked Area Remix)
- Crazy Ken Band – Amanogawa
- Chillitees – Labi
- Handsome Boy Modeling School (feat. J-Live and Roisin of Moloko) – The Truth
- Kid Loco – Pearly Girly Man