Yesterday afternoon, it was harder to imagine a more ideal place than on a comfortable couch with a TV remote in hand. The sports slate was excellent from start to finish, but the best moment probably came late in the day’s first set of cross-sport airings. LeBron James was leading a LeBron James comeback in New York while the Detroit Red Wings were attempting to end the Blackhawks’ 21-game point streak to start this year’s NHL season.
James’s second half in Madison Square Garden was full of familiar if still awe-inspiring images. Sequences of blocks and offensive rebounds were reminders of how complete his dominance can be, but the clip everyone was watching last night and this morning is that final dunk — a game-sealing explosion with that right-hand-cocked-behind-the-head that probably deserves a trademark. It was the end of a show from the game’s biggest star on sports’ most famous stage.
The NBA is traded in easily communicable moments. The dunks from James, and later in the night from Kobe Bryant, were fodder for SportsCenter, trending topics on Twitter, and material for "did you see that!?" conversations between friends and coworkers. It's a game of moments, even if those moments don't happen during the actual games. I don’t know how much time I spent last week talking about what James was doing before tipoff, but I can tell you that it was a lot.
Here’s a general rule about hockey fans: They hate just about everyone.
If you’re an NHL player, it doesn’t take much for hockey fans to turn against you. Sidney Crosby? Too whiny. The Sedins? The whole twin thing is creepy. Alexander Ovechkin? Once he scored a goal and then looked happy about it, so screw that guy. Basically, if a player has ever signed a big contract or won a fight or expressed an opinion, some large bloc of fans have already added him to their enemies list.
But every once in a while, a player manages to stick-handle through the neutral zone trap of hockey hatred and break in alone on the goaltender of positivity and — holy crap, that was a terrible metaphor, but I’m leaving it in because you get the point.
Anyway, here are a dozen of the NHL’s most universally admired active players, the reasons we love them, and a suggestion for why we should all just turn against them now and get it over with.
With the NHL season finally getting under way Saturday, one of the most critical early factors will be conditioning. Who’ll be ready to hit the ground running on Day 1, and who’ll need some time to get back to his usual output level?
That doesn’t just apply to players — fans will also have to ease themselves back into regular-season shape. For example, the NHL is serving up 13 games Saturday. That’s just way too many for a typical fan who's still shaking off the lockout rust. Try paying attention to every one of them, and you’re going to tear a groin.
Pace yourselves, hockey fans. Here are five games to focus on during the NHL’s long-awaited opening day: