Thursday, March 17, 2011

Once More Into the Cauldron of Sound

     Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923, was called "the House that Ruth Built," because Babe Ruth did more than anyone else to make the New York Yankees popular and prosperous enough to warrant such an edifice. On June 13, 1948, a ceremony was held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the house Ruth had built and to honor the man himself by retiring his uniform number.
     Although he was desperately ill with cancer, the Babe showed up. The 49,641 fans knew that they would be seeing him for the last time. It was a dreary day, which was strangely fitting. Ruth donned the Yankee pinstripes and waited in the visitors’ dugout for his name to be called.
     When Ruth was introduced, he grabbed a bat (which belonged to future Hall of Famer Bob Feller) and, as W.C. Heinz wrote unforgettably, "walked out into the cauldron of sound he must have known better than any other man." As Ruth ambled haltingly to the third-base foul line, using the bat for a cane, he received the longest and loudest ovation of his life. It was also the last. He died two months later.

     The United Center, which opened in 1994, has been called "the House that Jordan built," because Michael Jordan did more than anyone to make such a giant arena possible to sell out on a nightly basis. Last Saturday night, a ceremony was held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Bulls’ first championship. Jordan and most of his teammates from the 1991 Bulls showed up.
     Like Ruth, Jordan is the greatest player in the history of his sport. (Unlike Ruth in 1948, Jordan is still hale and hearty.) When Jordan was introduced, he walked into a cauldron of sound that must have been much like the one which greeted Ruth. The crowd’s response was so effusive that even Jordan, no stranger to ovations, seemed a bit startled.
     He smiled broadly, waving to the crowd and soaking it all in, as he stepped up to say a few words. Having already proclaimed Derrick Rose the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for this season, Jordan gave his assessment of the Bulls as a team. "You guys," he announced to the fans, "are in store for a lot more championships." That remark brought the house down.
     Bulls center Joakim Noah appreciated the significance of what he had seen and heard. "The energy in the building from the beginning was great," Noah said. "Hearing the reception Scottie [Pippen] and M.J. got, that’s deep stuff, man. It was special to see that. Twenty years later, [Jordan] can’t even get two words across without the crowd going crazy. To see those guys together, it shows what winning a championship is all about. That’s a beautiful thing."

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