As someone who often writes about sports, I feel caught, a lot of the time, between imaginative optimism and materialist nihilism, and I am not saying this to sound fancy but because it reflects an actual crisis in the way I think about my job. That is, I try to find what’s beautiful and interesting and strange in what I myself am all too ready to view as dumb interactions of matter. In doing so, am I helping to lift meaning out of a universe that’s hostile to it, or am I serving as a propagandist for the thing that’s killing thinking? I don’t always know, and it scares me. Most of the time, I can convince myself that there’s value in this. Other times, I meet someone who actually cares whether the Cowboys win on Sunday, not “cares” in the way you care about something you’ve semi-arbitrarily decided to invest emotional energy in to make your life more exciting, butactually cares in the way you care whether your family is fed and the war is postponed till next week. At those times, I feel despair, and I think about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.