People love looking back at the history of their favorite sports. As a kid, many of us remember poring over record books, reading up on the names that were repeated. Baseball fans saw Ty Cobb’s name many times, football fans saw names like Curly Lambeau and Cal Hubbard. That’s just a tiny slice of history, though. No matter what professional sport you enjoy watching, there’s a story behind the game. Even if it’s a fairly new sport, there’s already a long and rich history of the amateurs that built up the sport’s popularity until a professional league could be formed.
Think of Major League Baseball, for example. The league came into existence in 1903, but baseball as a widely played sport began well before this. The National League was founded in 1876, but even before this, there were baseball players. Abner Doubleday invented the sport, according to legend, in 1839, but even before this, variations of the game were played through rounders and cricket. The heroes of today’s game would not be around if it wasn’t for all of this growth centuries before they were born. It’s what made the game what it is today, even if we aren’t directly aware of that fact.
It’s like this in every sport. Maybe it started out as a semi-serious schoolyard game, like football or basketball, and grew into a sport where athletes make millions of dollars a year over just a few decades. Or, maybe it has a more illicit past, like MMA or boxing. Even NASCAR has a dirty history behind it. The league was officially founded in 1948, but stock car racing dates back to prohibition era as the small and fast cars were better for bootleggers to speed through mountain country to evade police officers while they transported liquor. Having these sports professionally organized and sanctioned by governing bodies has definitely cleaned up their reputations and made them accessible to the mainstream, but part of the allure of the sports is still the feel of something exciting behind them. Histories help to accomplish this.
The final piece of the puzzle is what’s happening now. So many kids remember growing up playing basketball wanting to Be Like Mike. And a lot of those kids are currently in the NBA realizing their dreams. LeBron James is in his early 30s now, and has had many critics compare his talent to that of Michael Jordan. He is certainly one of the best in the game right now, and has been for several years, but he’s probably not the same caliber as Jordan. Still, that drive and the process of looking up to a hero (whoever his personal heroes might be) has done nothing but help him to elevate his game to the level it’s at now. If there wasn’t a past to the NBA, the current season wouldn’t have quite the same appeal that it has now.
The average person doesn’t have the same access to the sport as a professional does, even though modern inventions like the internet help us to get closer to the game. Fantasy leagues, season tickets, and Pay per View television packages are all examples of things that we use to help us be a part of our favorite sport’s ongoing history. Maybe our names will never be in the record books, but we can say that we remember when such and such an event happened, or that we saw the greatest player of all time play his rookie season, and so on. It’s an awesome to feeling to watch history unfold and to be a tiny part of it at the same time.