Panic and choking are not the same thing. In fact, they are diametric opposites. A person who is panicking simply goes blank. His brain stops processing, he can’t think of even the most basic instructions or commands. A person who is choking suffers from a runaway brain, flooded with so many contradictory messages it starts to seize up like a thirsty man trying to drink from a fire hose.
Being a former professional athlete and a sports fan, there’s nothing I respect more than somebody who neither chokes nor panics under pressure. There is nothing more difficult, nothing more difficult to train for, than the buzzer-beater.
In my lifetime, the king of this has, until this week, been Michael Jordan. The guy was just impervious to pressure. There is a huge difference between somebody like Carmelo Anthony, who has every shot in the book and (a few that aren’t) and Michael Jordan, who has the same talent but can execute all of them, any of them, when an entire season, or an entire career, is on the line.
Probably THE classic choke was Jana Novotna vs Steffi Graf in the Wimbledon Final in 1993. Jana Novotna was KILLING Graf in the final set, and she simply fell to pieces. It was like watching a huge train wreck in slow motion. It was agonizing to watch.
Other than Jordan, the ten sportsmen who pop into my head (in no particular order) who have exhibited the greatest cool under fire in my lifetime are:
Alain Prost (aka The Professor). 4-time Formula One World Driving Champion.
Valentino Rossi (aka The Doctor). 7-time MotoGP (Formula One motorbike) Champion.
Rod Laver (aka The Rockhamption Rocket) 2 tennis “Grand Slams” despite being banned from Grand Slam tennis for 6 of his peak years.
Lindsey Vonn 3-time Alpine World Cup Overall Champion. Her Gold Medal DH run at the Vancouver Olympics on a rapidly slushifying course, which was running 2 seconds slower than when leader Julia Mancuso skied, might be the ballsiest thing I’ve ever seen on snow.
Roger Federer 16 Slam titles.
Pete Sampras 14 Slam titles.
Franz Klammer 4-time Hahnenkamm Downhill Champion. His Gold Medal DH run at Patscherkofel in the 1976 Olympics was the ballsiest thing I’d ever seen on snow until Vonn at Vancouver. Check it out on YouTube sometime. Astonishing.
Chauncey Billups (aka Mr Big Shot). Point guard, currently with The NY Knicks.
Tiger Woods Say what you want about his recent problems, the guy was, for almost 15 seasons, simply impervious to pressure.
Jimmie Johnson 5-time NASCAR season champion in a sport where any technical advantage is, by definition, eliminated by NASCAR.
There are a lot more who certainly are in this same league, such as Willis Reed and Juan Manuel Fangio, but they were before my time.
This morning, I read this article by Bob Woodward in The Washington Post.
If the last few paragraphs of this article is true, then as of this week, in my opinion, there’s a New Sheriff In Town. The coolest cat of all time. This guy is more impervious to pressure than Michael Jordan. This guy is Mr. Spock, with a suntan. His name? His name is Barack Obama, and he’s President of the United States.
And I quote…..
“In the White House Situation Room on Sunday night, the president and his national security team watched a soundless video feed of the raid.
When bin Laden’s corpse was laid out, one of the Navy SEALs was asked to stretch out next to it to compare heights. The SEAL was 6 feet tall. The body was several inches taller.
After the information was relayed to Obama, he turned to his advisers and said: ‘We donated a $60 million helicopter to this operation. Could we not afford to buy a tape measure?‘ “
Obama staked his entire presidency on this raid. The odds of success were, by all credible accounts, about 50/50. He knew, as a President who had never served in the military, that a failure would define his presidency and possibly lose him the next election. And at the height of all this, instead of losing his temper at a snag, he cracks wise?
This Obama fella may have a future if he keeps this up. The guy is cool.