Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The joy of being an international -- and local -- sports fan

Chelsea Blues / Champions of the English Premier League.

What a week it's been to be an international -- and a local -- sports fan.

Let's see: Between the end to the marathon English Premier League football season in the U.K. and the start of the fortnight-plus French Open tennis championships in Paris on Sunday; the thrills and chills of the Stanley Cup in North American professional ice hockey; the slam dunk excitement of the NBA Conference Finals in American professional basketball; and the roar of the engines and the checkered flag of the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco, there's been a little something for every sports fan to enjoy this week. Add to the mix, Major League Baseball with its pennant races taking shape here on my home soil, and there's just not enough hours in the day to watch everything being shown on TV or now made available for viewing via our smartphones.

But it's been fun trying.

Thanks to the difference in time zones between California where I reside and the rest of the world, it seems there's sporting events going on at all hours of the day and night. And, thanks to social media platforms like Facebook, I've been able to intelligently discuss international sports like English football with enthusiasts throughout the U.K. and beyond, and French Open tennis with like-minded friends throughout Europe and North Africa, from countries such as Belgium, Serbia, Algeria and Tunisia.

Recently, on my Facebook timeline, I posted:

"Congratulations to the Chelsea Blues on winning the 2014-15 English Premier League title. On Sunday, Chelsea closed out its championship season with a 3-1 victory over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge thanks to a pair of goals by Loic Remy. In the first half, Didier Drogba as carried off the field to a hero's welcome by his teammates after playing the first 30 minutes in his final Chelsea match. After the final whistle, Chelsea was presented with the Premier League trophy. The Blues won the EPL by eight points over Manchester City. Cheers."

A day later, a friend from Ivybridge, U.K., replied: "I'm amazed at your knowledge of Premier League football, Michael, especially Chelsea. I'm a lifelong supporter!"

As it turns out, I've been a Chelsea fan for about the past five years or so, thanks to some longtime sports fan friends of mine in Seattle, which is as much an international football hotbed as any city in the U.S. Additionally, I like the team's colors (royal blue); the charismatic personality of the club's manager, José Mourinho; and, I think their home pitch that's located in a borough west of London has a pretty cool name, Stamford Bridge. Plus, the Blues' roster has a nice mixture of international (Didier Drogba, Eden Hazard, Willian) and English-grown talent (John Terry).

As EPL matches have become more available on American TV -- here, they're broadcast on NBC Sports Network, making international football a weekend staple -- it's easier to follow the Blues and to watch other English teams, too. I think there are a lot of international football fans in the U.S. that follow the Premier League and I know others elsewhere in the world that are supporters -- a friend of mine in Morocco is a fan of Chelsea-rival Arsenal -- and, of course, interest also peaks during World Cup years, too.

Thanks to the EPL's increased exposure in America, watching Chelsea and other teams like Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur has become a nice way to enjoy weekend breakfast for me. Being on the West Coast, matches start as early as 4:45 a.m. (where it's eight hours later in the U.K.) with most of the best matches shown at 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. my time.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic /
He's favored to win his first French Open championship.
Meanwhile, the nine-hour time difference between San Francisco and Paris means the French Open tennis begins airing on ESPN2 at 2 a.m. while much of the West Coast is still asleep when it's 11 a.m. at Roland Garros. Heck, on the East Coast it's only 5 a.m., which is still awfully early to be watching sport on TV. The second Grand Slam event of the calendar year is being broadcast over-the-air in the U.S. by ESPN2, TennisChannel and NBC and on mobile platforms via WatchESPN, so there's plenty of tennis available to watch around the clock, live and on replay. And, thanks to the Internet, I've been able to keep up with the French Open via ESPN. com, Sports Illustrated (, (an impressive world sports daily based in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. that I recently became acquainted with thanks to their tennis coverage), and in print via The New York Times. 

By all accounts, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is the favorite to win his first French Open title that is played on red clay, which would complete a career Grand Slam for him. Speaking of tennis, I contribute to and participate in some tennis chat groups on Facebook. One is comprised mostly of European and North African fans, many who are supporters of Djokovic and Roger Federer; another that's worldwide and vocal and made up of passionate fans of Rafael Nadal, the nine-time French Open champion; and a third consisting of loyal fans of Tunisia's Malek Jaziri, the top Arab player in the world.

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors / NBA MVP.
Closer to home, the NBA and NHL playoffs have been playing out day-by-day like a blockbuster motion picture drama the past month. On Tuesday night, LeBron James, nicknamed "the King," punched his ticket to the NBA Finals for a fifth straight year as he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a four-game sweep of the Atlanta Hawks in a rout. Locally, I have a vested interest in our hometown pro basketball team, the Golden State Warriors, who simply have been the best in the NBA this season. They boast both the most valuable player of the league in Stephen Curry as well as one of the brightest coaching minds in the game in Steve Kerr.

The Warriors, who closed out their Western Conference Finals series against the Houston Rockets with a satisfying 104-90 victory at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Wednesday night, are just four victories away from winning their first NBA championship in 40 years.

When I wrote about Kerr and the Warriors in December, I noted that their early-season success was a work in progress that had the potential to become a best-seller.  I still believe it, and the team has become the darlings of both the Bay Area and the basketball world. Beating "King" James in the NBA Finals would be a fitting ending to what has been a truly remarkable season.

No matter what the sport, enthusiastic sports fans are the common ingredient. Thanks to modern technology and social media that allows us to watch and follow sports 24/7, there is no better time than now to enjoy being an international -- and local -- sports fan.

Photos: Courtesy of Chelsea Football Club Facebook page; Roland Garros Facebook page, Golden State Warriors Facebook page.

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