Events over the past week have caused me to reflect on the past and how nostalgia for it affects how we live. We’re engaged each day in a battle of competing pasts, where one group tries to impose its version of history on the present. Even current events are colored by this battle of competing pasts. Take, for example, the NBA Finals, which concluded Sunday night with the San Antonio Spurs winning what was possibly the ugliest championship round in sports history. The NBA title means much, much less than it did even a year ago. TV ratings for this year’s Finals were the lowest in 22 years, confirming what many of us have thought for a while: Basketball is on the decline. After a decade or more as the most exciting sport in America, men’s pro basketball is just another game now with the retirement of Michael Jordan and the lack of young superstars to take his place. The NBA was the sport of kings during the Go-Go ’90s. Its freewheeling play and fast action was perfect for the Clinton years of peace, prosperity and multiculturalism. It doesn’t seem right for these times of permanent economic hardship, societal division and terror alerts. The Bush years cry out for a game more suitable for the period. It’s hard to imagine, though, what will take its place. Pro football is brutish enough, but it requires a strong sense of teamplay and the achievement of shared goals. In times where America rejects multilateralism and consensus building as a sign of weakness, football is just too team-oriented. Baseball seems to fit the bill pretty well. Although ostensibly a team sport, there’s plenty of rugged individualism in the game. Like the times in which we live, baseball recalls an idealized past that never really existed. Baseball summons up the good old days of Cracker Jack, hotdogs and minorities that knew their place. It’s no coincidence that the president used to own a baseball team. The sport symbolizes his blueprint for society. It has long periods of time during which nothing seems to be happening, followed by a few seconds of action in which the outcome is decided. Just like the Florida recount. So it’s no surprise that pro hoops is on the decline. Its time has passed. David Brinkley The passing last week of newsman David Brinkley filled me with sadness, not just for the death of a great man, but for the current state of television news. Brinkley was a giant of network news when the big three networks commanded the attention of the nation, before the rise of cable and the fragmenting of the audience into a billion different pieces. By the time he retired for good in 1998, Brinkley was an anachronism, a voice of civility in a din of screaming, strident voices. His old-fashioned ideas of fairness and respect were out of place among the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O’Reillys of the world. There was no spot for Brinkley in the hate-talk media, so he was shoved aside and forced into retirement. Watching old tapes of Brinkley last week reminded me just how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve lost. The current climate in the media cries out for deception in the name of ideology, of spinning the news under the guise of a “no-spin zone.” David Brinkley was the opposite of all that. He believed in a nonpartisan, straightforward reporting of facts instead of the forcefeeding of opinion. He stood for integrity, for fairness and for balance. His only flaw was that he foisted the obnoxious George F. Will on the nation, but given the scope of his other achievements, that seems like a minor flaw. He will be missed. Perhaps someday, broadcasting can once again achieve the high standard that he set. ‘We are all mortal’ What vision of the past would I most want to see return? Forty years ago last week, a U.S. president set forth a vision for society that remains relevant today. In fact, the words seem more prescient now than in the Cold War context in which they were spoken. “Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable — that mankind is doomed — that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. “We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade — therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable — and we believe they can do it again. “... So, let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” Five months after John F. Kennedy spoke these words, he was killed. But the ideas contained in his American University speech of June 10, 1963, did not die with him. The battle to reshape the present in the image of the past will continue for many years. It’s up to us to decide which vision will prevail.