Michael Phelps warms up before the upcoming Charlotte Grand Prix swimming event in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Michael Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, retired from swimming after the 2012 Summer Games. He played golf. He played poker. He ate and drank a lot.
For two years, he was your brother-in-law.
Alas, Phelps, 28, got tired of being your brother-in-law. He has unretired, a decision that sparked two disparate schools of thought:
◆ Michael Phelps is back!
◆ Why couldn’t he just walk away at the top of his game?
I am squarely in the ‘‘Michael Phelps is back!’’ camp. As for the naysayers, I would tell them if they want to naysay, then say nay to a congressman who’s been in office too long or to Starbucks for charging $4.65 for a stinkin’ iced mocha.
Phelps thought he had a good plan for early retirement: Hit the links and card rooms by day and the dating scene by night.
But here’s the thing about playing golf and poker for the rest of your life: You’re around golfers and rounders all day, which means a lot of bellyaching about sand traps and bad beats. It’s all they talk about. Once in a while, I’ve been within earshot of a bunch of golfers in a poker room. This is worse than stumbling into a proctologists’ convention.
Frankly, I might’ve figured Phelps to slide over to shuffleboard in retirement. There’s always a court or two at public pools.
Anyhow, in interrupting his retreat, Phelps simply said, ‘‘I missed being in the water.’’
(This is the same justification Couch Slouch uses for taking two baths a day.)
Phelps puts the splash back into the sport. He’s more important to swimming than Tiger Woods is to golf or Ronald McDonald is to clowns.
Phelps understandably had quit doing what he did without peer at age 26. He had accomplished more than anyone else in the sport, had spent most of his life in a pool and was, well, water-logged. Sometimes you want to be able to leave the office at the end of the day not dripping wet.
But Phelps deciding not to swim again would be like a bird deciding not to fly anymore.
Sports fans, though, like to pick when their heroes hang ’em up. Sure, nobody wanted to see Willie Mays in a Mets cap, Johnny Unitas in a Chargers helmet or Michael Jordan in a Wizards jersey. But when they’re done playing, they’re done playing for the rest of their lives, so why shouldn’t they pursue their profession as long as they want?
Would you tell Picasso to stop painting? Would you tell John Updike to stop writing? Would you tell Michael Milken to stop embezzling?
And I don’t want to hear this business that Phelps risks ‘‘ruining his legacy’’ if he stumbles in his second act. What, you think Robert De Niro appearing in ‘‘Meet the Fockers’’ and ‘‘Little Fockers’’ irrevocably stains his body of work? No, he’ll always have ‘‘The Godfather: Part II,’’ ‘‘Taxi Driver’’ and ‘‘Raging Bull.’’
No matter what Phelps does from here on in, he always will have six gold medals and two bronzes in 2004, eight golds in 2008 and four golds and two silvers in 2012. All told, that’s 18 Olympic golds and 22 medals total.
Besides, who doesn’t like a good comeback story?
(Greatest comeback of all time? After Lady Nancy Astor told Winston Churchill, ‘‘If I was your wife, sir, I’d poison your tea,’’ he responded, ‘‘If I were your husband, I’d drink it.’’)
At a recent Grand Prix event in Charlotte, N.C., the second meet since his return, Phelps finished first in the 100-meter butterfly. But even if he finishes last in every race from here on in, that’s not only fine by me, it’s fine and dandy.
At the very least, putting Phelps back in the swimming pool might save him from doing more Subway commercials.
Ask The Slouch
Q. I recently was watching a late-night ‘‘SportsCenter’’ on ESPN when the Top 10 plays came on, and I don’t recall a single slam dunk. This happened when the NBA playoffs were in full swing. Was I dreaming? (J. Dunson, Troy, N.Y.)
A. I have to assume you were dreaming.
Q. Dylan Fosnacht, a senior at Rochester (Washington) High School, threw 194 pitches in 15 innings the other day. Isn’t that about seven starts for Stephen Strasburg? (Eddie Vidmar, Cleveland)A.
Actually, I believe that’s Strasburg’s entire pitch count from 2011 to 2013.
Q. Why didn’t Steve Kerr join Phil Jackson in New York? Too much traffic? (Adam Yates, Spokane, Wash.)A.
You know when you’re seeing a fabulous woman, then you meet her family for the first time and go, ‘‘Uh-oh’’? At some point, Kerr likely ran into James Dolan.
Q. Given his most recent interview, do you think it’s possible that Donald Sterling hasn’t heard Albert Einstein’s definition-of-insanity axiom? (Will Hemphill, South Riding, Va.)A.
Pay the man, Shirley.
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