If there were ever a day for a sports junkie to fall out of bed, rustle up a raspy cough and call the boss to explain you simply can't make it into work, Thursday is the day. No, there won't be any championships won or shiny hardware handed out. But it's a huge sports day. Beginning shortly after sunrise on the Carolina sandhills and ending around midnight on Miami's Biscayne Boulevard, those 18 hours will lay the foundation for the theater we can expect in the days and nights ahead.
It officially will begin at 6:45 a.m. ET on a great-great-grandfather of a golf course in south central North Carolina. Surrounded by towering pines and brown needles that blanket the forest floor, 43-year-old Phil Mickelson will step to the 10th tee at 107-year-old Pinehurst No. 2 about an hour later and begin his pursuit of the one title missing from a celebrated golf résumé: U.S. Open champion. No one has won a U.S. Open past the age of 45. Mickelson has finished second a record six times. And it was at Pinehurst, in 1999, where he first felt the pain of a second-place finish
By the time Mickelson's opening round is complete and the dissection of its merits well underway, some 4,500 miles to the south, on the east end of the parking lot that is Sao Paulo, the largest sports spectacle in the world will officially kick off when a 22-year-old Brazilian savior steps onto a World Cup pitch for the first time. For Neymar and the other 22 members of the Selecao, the World Cup opener against Croatia is the first step toward erasing the national nightmare that was the 1950 World Cup, when host Brazil lost to Uruguay 2-1 in the final in Rio. Pele has compared the heartache of that day to the Kennedy assassination. Others have said it's Brazil's version of Hiroshima. Hyperbole or not, Thursday is a chance to begin erasing such memories. The entire world will be watching.
And then, come nightfall, there will be those selfless San Antonio Spurs, in the shadows of the neon lights flickering on South Beach, attempting to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. Standing in the way, of course, will be the Miami Heat, embarrassed at home on Tuesday night, fighting to turn the Finals into a best-of-three brawl. It is the Heat who have won 13 in a row after a playoff loss.
The action will flow from two continents, in two time zones. There will be roped-off grass where marshals will hold signs begging for silence, and samba-laced frivolity from the Brazilian faithful, who are unlikely to sit down for two hours, much less keep quiet. Some athletes will use their hands, others their feet and others scientifically engineered metal sticks to chase a ball with one thought: redemption. You won't need to move. You'll barely need to change the channel. But you will need that fake cough to be in perfect form.