I'm reading Howard Bryant's new biography of Henry Aaron, The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron. He opens in an ice cream shop in contemporary New York City where the true home run king is promotionally present to sign autographs and Bryant plays up the contrast between the *persona* Hank Aaron with the man, Henry Aaron. It's a great pretense to start an exploration of an heroic sports figure who represents an era of athleticism that we will likely never again return to and is particularly disturbing yet illustrative to read in the wake of Lebron James perverse mirror dance leading up to his decidedly selfish and unheroic announcement of who exactly will set him on the path of billionaire-dom tomorrow night and onward. By the way, when the book opens, the author notes that Aaron's appearance fee at the autograph show will be paid to the Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta, a house of worship Aaron has attended for more than 40 years.
I admit, as a loyal transplant to Brooklyn, I secretly harbored the hope that this young man would follow friendship and partner with Jay Z to bring the NBA to the borough that last had a champion in 1955, when the Dodgers won the World Series. Henry Aaron was a young man in 1948 when Jackie Robinson, then signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers and playing exhibition games throughout the south. Aaron encountered Jackie in Mobile, Alabama and there, despite Robinson's message that athletes stay in school and get an education, Aaron concluded, at the age of 14, "School wasn't going to teach me to play second base like Jackie Robinson." As Bryant points out, when Robinson and Aaron met in Mobile, Robinson was a college graduate, a veteran, *and* and professional ballplayer. But by the time Robinson retired from baseball in 1957, Henry Aaron was 22, owner of a batting title, and as Robinson made very clear to those who would listen, "the game" had already changed.
I get that "the game" (and in fact all games) will never be the same from whenever it is that *we* stop playing them. But I'll also admit that the Lebron spectacle of these last few weeks have been a bit much. I mean, the man has yet to win anything. Except adoration, fleeting as that may be.
I have Warren Spahn's autograph from the 1957 Milwaukee Braves that won the World Series; a ticket stub from that year courtesy of my mom; and somewhere, an autographed Aaron ball from his twilight performance with the Brewers in the mid-1970s.
The Braves that arrived in New York in 1957 to play the Yankees for the title had a young Henry Aaron who had hit .322 (second to Stan Musial) with a league leading 132 RBIs and 44 home runs. He was a major player. A batting title runner up to Musial; home-run and RBI champ; a World Series ring; and *not* the highest paid player on the team (an issue of race to be sure) who moments after winning the title would lose a child at birth and stoically brave the turbulent waters of personal and professional life moving forward for the rest of his career.
If the present or the future is a young man who opted out of his education in order to be a billionaire--who has yet to win a championship as a teammate--and the past is a man with a story to tell, I'll read the story every time.
It's a story more than a generation old and its profits are plowed into a southern church by a man who made great sacrifice for the sake of winning along with others.