The Women's World Cup Final, And A Midsummer's Dream From The Sports Gods

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - JULY 17: Yuki Nagasato of Japan celebrates after winning the FIFA Women's World Cup Final match between Japan and USA at the FIFA World Cup stadium Frankfurt on July 17, 2011 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)

Team US and the Japanese women staged a women's World Cup Final for the ages on Sunday, and it helps explain why we watch sports, in general, and why the people that don't are missing out. Plus: the tragicomedy of AAU hoops, the joy of Darren Clarke, and video of your new favorite sport. Talking Points is a series that highlights some of the best stories in sports (and elsewhere). Read the archives here.

You'd be hard pressed to find a less appealing sport to American traditionalists than women's soccer.

In general, the only thing that piques mainstream apathy more than soccer would be women's sports. On paper, the prospect of merging these two seems dangerous.  

"Think WNBA, but with more flopping!"

So it'd be pretty easy to dismiss. Except... The Women's World Cup had almost 14 million Americans transfixed on Sunday, and even 24 hours later, it's impossible to relive Team USA's ghastly penalty kicks without cringing. The same way the game, in general, left a lot of people reflexively shaking their heads. There's no better testament to the Women's World Cup than the impact it had on a bunch of people who hadn't planned to care.

All of this came during a forgettable stretch in the middle of a remarkably forgettable sports summer. The two biggest sports leagues in America are in the middle of collective bargaining disputes, major league baseball's limping along through the dog days, and the biggest news in sports last week was ESPN suspending a college football writer. Not exactly a whirlwind of activity.

But tedium's curse became a blessing on Sunday. What most sports fans would have missed otherwise turned into a spectacle that was equal parts exhausting and exhilarating. Between the United States' epic collapse and Japan's insane upset, we got two of the most captivating stories sports have given us all year, all in one game. Agony and ecstasy, all right there in Germany. There's no need to overstate this phenomenon and make it about life--it's just sports being awesome.

Sure, because it's women's sports, people feel compelled to wonder whether it's okay to say that the American women totally choked on Sunday (they totally did). Because it's soccer, others wonder whether the surprising level of interest will carry over past the summer (it totally won't).

But aside from the deeper Meaning and Implications, Sunday's match was mostly just a friendly reminder of why we take a chance investing time in sports. Sometimes it can be a waste, but when it all clicks the way it did during Sunday's final, the storylines are better than anything we could dream up ourselves, the plots play out in realtime, and even something like women's soccer can leave us shaking our heads, catching our breath.

Here's where a women's soccer game becomes a perfect metaphor for sports' relationship to society, in general. Just as easily as some sports fans might have dismissed women's soccer as a waste of time, plenty of people would ridicule obsessed sports fans for the same reasons. Sunday was a microcosm of why those people end up missing out in the long run.

It's perfectly rational for people to call sports a waste of time, just like it's fine for some sports fans to ignore women's soccer. But that just means they won't find themselves getting chills on a random Sunday in July. So in the end, no matter who wins, it's their loss, isn't it?

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With that, let's get into a quick edition of Talking Points. Apologies for the absence last week, but I was busy humiliating myself for the sake of an experimental video project. Also, in the interest of fair time, Nick Young offers a pretty compelling rebuttal to the argument above.

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Ah, An Ode To Summer's Greatest Sporting Pastime... No, not baseball. We're talking about the hopelessly corrupt world of AAU basketball! This two-part diary ran last week, but from Matt Norlander at CBS Sports, here's some insight into the seedy world of AAU hoops. Part One focuses on the college coaches, lurking inconspiculously on baseline:

...Just keep smiling, stay happy, let Player know you’re there and thrilled. It’s embarrassingly obvious how much over-smiling happens.

That doesn’t mean these coaches aren’t grinding. They are, but it’s a soft, unforgiving grind. A grind that doesn’t pay immediate dividends and often seems pointless in the moment. A lot of it is babysitting. Coaches have commitments from 2012 players — but they don’t want to ignore the kids. That’s how verbal commitments vanish into born-again prospects. So it’s reinforcement. Yes, we’re here to see you. We care about you. We want you to know you’re just as important to us now as you were when we chased and courted you for the past two years.

It’s not true — a few assistants told me as much Tuesday — but the façade must go on...

And Part Two focuses on the runners/agents:

Agents, street agents, runners, pushers, whatever you want to call them, they can't be here. But they are. In abundance. The Riverview Park Activities center is teeming with them, and the NCAA can't do anything about it. Amongst grizzled, grayer writers than myself (and this goes beyond the two boys on the masthead there), it's fodder for conversation. It's an acceptance. No one can just walk up to a person that seems -- or is even well-known to be -- a street agent and try to undress them. That simply doesn't happen, for a number of obvious reasons.

...Unless inclusion into these events becomes much more strict, this "problem" will simply continue to be an organism in the recruiting infrastructure. The kids are here, after all. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds who will one day make a lot of money. So their pushers will follow. It's an infested nest that's pretty impossible to clean up in college basketball's current situation. And most coaches don't seem to want to clean it up. At these events, there can be no contact between school and player, or anyone associated with that player.

People generally think of AAU hoops as either shameful or hilarious, but it's definitely both.

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The Planking Disaster We've Been Hoping For All Along. Here it is, via @jeskeets.

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Another Great .Gif. This one comes toward the end of Jeff Sullivan's excellent feature on Jim Thome, and trust me, Delmon Young's "OH S--T" face is worth a click.

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An Old, But Immensely Enjoyable Read. Yao Ming retired two weeks ago now, but I didn't have a chance to go back and re-read this article until this past weekend. Still, Dinner At Yao's needs to be seen by as many people as possible. Possibly even made into a web series.

[Patrick] Ewing, [Dikembe] Mutombo and Yao order coconut curry prawn, General Tso's chicken, fried rice with shrimp, Mongolian beef, garlic basil prawn, Szechuan prawn and white rice.

MUTOMBO: [Sipping a virgin strawberry daiquiri] I like your restaurant, Yao. It's made for 7-footers and guys like Patrick Ewing, who is really 6'9". [ Ewing has always been listed as 7 feet.]

EWING: Hey, I may be 6'9", but I'm a bad 6'9". And what about you? When I first met you, you told me you were from Zaire.

MUTOMBO: No, Congo. [ Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997.]

EWING: How many languages do you speak, seven?

MUTOMBO: I speak Ebonics now, so eight. Yao, do you speak Ebonics? [Yao shrugs.]

Mutombo's cellphone rings. The ring tone is 50 Cent's In Da Club. He answers and starts speaking one of his eight languages--not English.

EWING: Man, every time I go over to Dikembe's, he's on the phone. [ Ewing picks up his cellphone and starts mocking Mutombo.] 'Doobleedoo doobloodoo doobleedoo....' I'm like, 'What the hell is he saying?'

The food comes, and the three dig in.

MUTOMBO: That's what I'm talking about. Yao, next week I'm bringing my wife and kids, and we're going to eat like this.

I could listen to these three guys talk all day long. Doobleedoo doobloodoo...

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In Case You Were Considering Becoming A Fugitive... Here's a handy how-to guide for anyone looking to lead a successful life on the run. Starting with adopting a dead guy's identity:

“You look in the obituaries,” Mr. Burton said, “in Topeka, Kan., say. You want a gas station attendant more or less your age. Once you get the date of birth, you call the county. ‘Hi, I used to live in Kansas, but I’ve been living in American Samoa for the last 20 years as a Christian missionary. Any chance I could get a copy of my birth certificate?’ ”

Should your ruse succeed and the certificate arrive, simply call a motor vehicle office and apply for a driver’s license. “All you need,” Mr. Burton said, “is one good piece of ID. The rest follows after that.” Is a signature required? “Show up with your writing hand in a sling,” he said. “That way, when you sign with your left hand, your signature’s messed up.”

Are officials troubling you for fingerprints? “There’s a nongreasy glue, like a mucilage,” he said, that is more or less invisible once applied. “You put it on your thumb. You roll your thumb over your heel. Now, you’ve got a heel print on your thumb for no one who exists.”

Take notes, Cincinnati Bengals.

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Darren Clarke's The Best. His British Open victory on Sunday may have been upstaged by that epic World Cup match later in the day, but let's not forget to give Darren some love, too.

Over at ESPN, Clarke talks about his victory:

"I've not been to bed yet," said Clarke, 42, who was joined by friends and family at a nearby rental home. "There's no surprise really, is there? It's now 10 past 9 [a.m.] and probably won't get any sleep until tomorrow at some stage. ... I had quite a few pints and quite a few beers and quite a few glasses of red wine, and it all continued until about 30 minutes ago. I did look at my watch before I said that, so it did take a while. But it's been a very good night."

"It all continued until about 30 minutes ago." Gotta love any athlete who basically announces to a throng of media that yes, he's still pretty drunk.

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From Here On Out, His New Name Is "Jeezy" Bilas. Remember this tweet when college basketball starts up in four months. Together, I think we can make the nickname stick.

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Finally, This Sport Is Completely Insane. You know that whole thing about women's soccer being a perfect example of why we pay attention to sports? Well now that the World Cup's overwith, we should all move on and start paying attention to whatever's going on here.

Via the Daily What... KUNG FU VOLLEYBALL.

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