The season’s most popular TV series concludes Wednesday night when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump complete their trilogy of cringe-inducing debates, somehow related to the U.S. presidency. What if the sports world turned to televised debates — above and outside the realm of bloviating analysts — to further connect with fans? Here are six pairs I’d like to see stalking one another on stage.
• Tubby Smith vs. John Calipari — Each man won a national championship at Kentucky. One has extensive knowledge when it comes to rescuing the University of Memphis basketball program, while the other is tasked with precisely that responsibility (starting next month). No coach stirred emotions to extremes in this town like Calipari. And no Memphis coach has arrived with the credentials Smith brings, stirring many of those same emotions before he’s made his first substitution at FedExForum. Both outspoken, humorous, and telegenic, this would be ratings gold.
• Roger Goodell vs. Tom Brady — His business clinging to the notion that it isn’t ruining the lives of its workforce, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell chose to make an example of the league’s biggest star by suspending Patriot quarterback Tom Brady for illegally — by NFL rules — deflating footballs prior to a playoff game following the 2014 season. This is the equivalent of banning a UFC fighter for wearing a mouthpiece of the wrong color. Brady wins Super Bowls without a chip on his shoulder. So for the fan bases of 31 NFL teams . . . thanks, Rog.
• Hubie Brown vs. Lionel Hollins — Brown was the uncle you wanted to sit next to at Thanksgiving dinner. Hollins was the cousin who politely brought a bottle of wine, then excused himself into the next room to watch football while the rest of the family dined. They are the faces of two glorious periods in Memphis Grizzlies history, and about all they share is their success here in the Bluff City. It would be fun to ask Uncle Hubie why, of all places, he chose Memphis to interrupt his retirement as a coach. And to ask cousin Lionel: Why so grouchy?
• Terry Francona vs. Joe Maddon — Francona will never again buy a meal in Boston (maybe all of New England), having managed the Red Sox to the 2004 World Series championship, a title that ended a Ruthian drought of 86 years in the Hub. Francona is now six wins away (through Sunday) from another “eat free” city, his Cleveland Indians aiming to end a 68-year drought and join the NBA’s Cavaliers as kings of Ohio. The Francona angle would be singular, were it not for Maddon leading his Chicago Cubs toward the white light of a championship that would end 108 years(!) of Billy Goat talk in the Windy City. These two are witty, smart and don’t take each other too seriously. Trump devotees would turn away in disgust.
• Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook — We haven’t seen an NBA divorce like this since Shaquille O’Neal ceded authority to Kobe Bryant in L.A. after the 2003-04 season. (When LeBron James took his talents to South Beach in 2010 he left behind Mo Williams.) As teammates for eight seasons, this pair somehow put Oklahoma City on the map of NBA elites. Having only reached the Finals once (a loss to Miami in 2012), Durant chose to follow the gold west and see if Steph Curry can deliver the Larry O’Brien Trophy Westbrook could not. Can’t you hear Westbrook invoking the Donald every time Durant tried to explain his decision? “Wrong!”
• Pete Rose vs. Barry Bonds — Baseball’s all-time hits leader squaring off against the sport’s all-time home-run leader, neither a member of the Hall of Fame. Somehow, if we’re trying to match the Clinton-Trump pair of not-so-lovable losers forced upon an angry electorate, Rose-Bonds seems like the perfect match. Who was the better player? That matters less than another question: Who hurt the game more?