The year is 2042, and I am reveling in the annual Where Are They Now? issue of SI, which is projected in hologram form in front of me. It's a look at sports in 2012—those were the days! My teenage grandson enters the room and wants to talk about what sports were like back then. I tell him to wait a moment, while I finish reading the story about portly retirees Andrew Luck and Bryce Harper getting into shape as WeightWatchers spokesmen, and then I begin to fondly reminisce.
ME: So much has changed in 30 years, and not for the better. I remember that players were a lot tougher back then. They didn't expect everything to come easily, like these guys today who expect to win a championship right out of school. Do you realize it took LeBron James until his ninth NBA season to win a title back in 2012? Sure, you know him as a winner now, especially after he bought ESPN in 2027, fired his main media antagonist, Skip Bayless, and renamed it LeSPN. But LeBron was steadfastly loyal to his team and suffered in silence for a long time before he reached the mountaintop. These guys you root for now don't have that kind of character.
GRANDSON: I've heard of Bayless. Before he retired he was press secretary during President Tebow's first term. But back to LeBron. I read that before he won his first championship, he was vilified for choking and being spoiled and dumping his home-state team to take a shortcut to a title.
ME: Nonsense! There wasn't any criticism. Fans were more patient back in those days. They didn't rush to criticize everyone and everything the way you young folks do now. Why, we even appreciated umpires and referees—back when they were human. We realized that they couldn't get every call right. Now you have your laser technology calling balls and strikes in baseball, but you've taken the human element out of the sport. As for the NBA, I wish Commissioner Barkley would put the game back in the hands of real-life referees. In the early 2000s, if an official botched a call here or there, nobody made a big deal of it.
July 9, 2012
GRANDSON: Um, they made a huge deal of it, Grandpa. I saw in a documentary that people screamed for increased use of instant replay when umpires' mistakes robbed Armando Galarraga of a perfect game in 2010 and allowed Johan Santana to throw a no-hitter in '12. In basketball, fans talked more about the refs' calls than they did about the players. If Apple and Nike hadn't joined in 2022 to develop uniforms with sensors that flashed every time a player was fouled, there might have been a fan uprising.
ME: O.K., maybe there was a little complaining. But I do long for the simpler days of 2012, when we didn't lean so much on technology. Call me old-fashioned, but I think it was better when players texted and tweeted only in their spare time, the way God intended. The neural implants that now post their thoughts on Mindbook during the game are over the top. Last week a Saints linebacker was fined for just thinking about helmet-to-helmet contact with a quarterback. In the off-season.
GRANDSON: Oh, c'mon, Grandpa. Technology was already pretty advanced back then, and players and coaches sometimes abused it. Plenty of them texted or tweeted themselves into trouble. Amar'e Stoudemire was fined for using a gay slur on Twitter. Monta Ellis and Brett Favre were accused of texting X-rated photos of themselves.
ME: Were they? Funny, I don't recall. The only real scandal that I remember involved performance-enhancing drugs. I admit the steroid era was an embarrassment, but we got it under control and cracked down on the cheaters.
GRANDSON: Cracked down? Grandpa, the country spent millions of tax dollars prosecuting guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and got no place. Ryan Braun tested positive, then had his suspension overturned because of the way the sample was stored, and it was never really determined whether he was guilty. Lance Armstrong was investigated for steroid use by everyone but CSI: Miami. Everything about PEDs was messy and uncertain in 2012.
ME: One good thing did come of it. Clemens opened those health-food stores after he was acquitted of perjury. They make this delicious smoothie—the Rocket Booster—that makes me feel like a young man again. Heck, it's better than a B-12 shot. But maybe you're right. Maybe my era wasn't nearly as idyllic as I remember it. Funny how your mind plays tricks when you think about the past.
GRANDSON: I know what you mean. It's like these basketball shoes I just bought: The Air Supersonic Zoom Intergalactic Warrior XIIIs look great, but to me they'll never be as cool as the Air Supersonic Zoom Intergalactic Warrior IIs that I used to have.
ME: Yes, exactly. But have you read this Where Are They Now? story about Allen Iverson and Dennis Rodman? They've opened a chain of tattoo removal parlors for older athletes who are finding that their ink doesn't look so good on 70-year-old skin. Some things really were better in the old days.
IN 2012, FANS DIDN'T CRITICIZE EVERYONE THE WAY YOUNG FOLKS DO NOW. WE EVEN APPRECIATED UMPIRES AND REFEREES—BACK WHEN THEY WERE HUMAN.