Ask a boomer who the best band ever is and the answer is often The Rolling Stones. Arguing with them about it is a sure fire way to ruin your work Christmas party. For many boomers, the brilliance of The Rolling Stones is a concrete fact: they are the best. Period. Anybody who thinks otherwise has obviously lost their marbles. Well, as someone who is a lot younger than boomers, I’m here to tell you, The Rolling Stones were OK, but they aren’t even close to being the best band ever. Come back to me when you start to appreciate Tupac, Biggie or the Wu Tang Clan and we can talk.
Of course, the reason my interpretation of the “best” is so different from boomers is that boomers are terrible people I grew up in a different generation, found different music as a youngster and built an identity distinct from that of my parent’s friends (my folks aren’t big Stones fans). I sought out my own heroes. Every generation wants something “great”; every generation needs its own heroes. So every generation creates them from what is available.
Which brings me to sport and the ever present arguments about who was the “best” player ever. Views on this are often set, each generation has its own heroes, its own “best” players in the world and no amount of arguing will change the “facts”. This is an important part of the emotional pull of sport, we all want to believe we are watching something special, that we are watching the “greats”. So we create them, usually at the time we learn to love the game. Regardless of whether players really are the best or not, each generation will always find players that are some of the best that ever played the game. This adds to our love of the game; it makes sport special because we believe we are watching history. By simply believing that, we are helping to create history. In sport, history isn’t written by the winners, it’s written by the believers.
In music and sport, history is important. The Stones, Wu Tang, Tupac and Biggie rise to being the best ever and grow in importance in our minds partly because of music’s rich history. All this history and mythology adds to the importance of our own heroes, it’s the mythology which we use to justify our beliefs and which we build upon when we create our own heroes, helping to add to that richness, giving the next generation a base to push against and build their own heroes upon. If something is static it doesn’t progress.
In sport, this mythology is equally as important. Lara, Kallis, Gilchrist, Sangakkara, Tendulkar, AB grow in our minds as players and gain importance through comparisons to other generation’s heroes. Comparing players across generations is something we all love to do. We set up spreadsheets, pore over statistics and then proceed to cherry pick the data and confabulate indestructible arguments about why each of these players are “the best ever”. These arguments, no matter how statistically sound some of the analysis might be, are dripping with bias. Often they boil down to Sportress’ correspondent Ben’s Dad’s argument “if you saw him play, you’d understand”. This may sound like a weak argument, but I would argue otherwise. In sport, history is written by the believers.
Tales of watching Bradman, Sobers, Miller, Viv, Ambrose, Marshall, of Lilee and Thompson bowling in tandem, of watching Lara, Tendulkar, Warne, Murali, McGrath – these are the palate against which we build our own heroes. These are the greats we compare our own heroes to. The stories of these players are part what makes sport great. Every time Benaud talks about the greats of his generation I listen intently, hanging off every word. Every time I hear the 70s greats wax lyrical about their own generation’s heroes, I listen intently, hanging off every word. Of course, I then often disagree. I have spreadsheets and confabulated arguments dripping in bias to prove it.
History is written by the believers. Every generation needs its own heroes.