Oral Tracey | The aesthetic component of sporting greatness
Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the notion of beauty, the sense of appreciation of the artistic component that appeals to the mind and the emotions. Sport, perhaps more than any other activity, invokes passion, generally reflected in emotional expressiveness. It is therefore impossible to separate the aesthetic component of sports performances from the evaluation of individual displays and, ultimately, of careers and legacies.
There is the converse notion which abounds that what ultimately counts in sport are the numbers. This regards how these numbers are compiled in terms style, flair, flamboyance; and the resultant disparity in appeal and popularity of one performer compared to another, should have absolutely no impact on the greatness to one sports performer relative to another.
Implicit in that theory is that a chanceless stroke-filled Test century by Brian Lara cannot be better or greater than a tentative streaky and chance-filled hundred by Shivnarine Chanderpaul, because a century is just a century. Likewise, a spectacular and majestic dribble that dismisses eight or nine defenders and is finished exquisitely by Lionel Mess, can be no better or greater than a tap-in from a goalmouth melee by Cristiano Ronaldo, because it is the same result, a goal, and goals are just goals.
By extension, an athlete's career that is dominated by flamboyant and stylish, magical and memorable individual performances on the way to the requisite achievements, cannot be deemed greater than a career characterised by unspectacular, inconspicuous and boring performances, as long as the end game is the same, and the achievements are equal. The conclusion being that how, or the way in which a result is achieved in sports, should have no bearing on the rating of that achievement.
The fact that I hop, skipped and jumped the full distance of one mile over a mountain top, and you strolled the equal distance of one mile along the flat highway, neither of us performed better than the other because we both covered the same distance.
FAR FROM THE TRUTH
It is with a similar level of lunacy that the attempt would be made to argue that Shivnarine Chanderpaul with his 11,867 Test runs, at an average of 51.37 inclusive of 30 Test centuries, is even remotely comparable to Brian Lara with a marginally better aggregate of 11,953 career Test runs, inclusive of 34 Test centuries and a slightly better 52.88 average. These numbers would suggest two batsman that are in the same class in terms of overall greatness. Nothing is further from the truth. Brian Lara is numbered amongst the top two batsmen of his era, and arguably top five of all time, while Chanderpaul would struggle to make a credible list of the top thirty or forty. The defining factor must be the difference in the way they scored their runs.
This principle stretches beyond cricket. The degree of greatness ascribed to football legends such as Pele, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane and even to the contemporary superstar Lionel Messi is not just down to the titles they won. There are several players on the respective teams of these stars who will never be adorned with the same level of greatness as the superstars who provided the consistent magic, and the special breathtaking moments, within the context of those overall team performances.
Usain Bolt obviously never needed the help of his flamboyant personality to be crowned the greatest sprinter of all time. His consistent super performances over time basically speak for themselves. There is no doubt, though, that the giant Jamaican's eccentric antics and infectious personality helped to endear him even more to the wider worldwide audience, an endearment that cannot be ignored in pondering his overall greatness.
As sports fans, we are all fascinated and intrigued by great performances. Elegance, flair, and flamboyance add value to these performances. In the evaluating the overall greatness of the careers and legacies of the stars who execute these performances, we cannot ignore the very things that got us excited by those performances in the first place.
The ability of one person to perform, and perform with the style and flair that appeal to audiences, is a proven asset over the other person who performs equally, but with limited style and audience appeal. The connection between the performer and the fans cannot be devalued in the evaluation of sports performances and the analysis of career and legacies. Sports is, after all, entertainment, and what would the stars be without the fans?