The best sports scenes from The Wire

The best sports scenes from The Wire

20 years after the show's debut, we look at how it fit the games in seamlessly alongside the real game

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Screenshot: HBO

On yesterday’s date in 2002, the Michael Jordan of television series made its debut on premium cable. It didn’t have near the hype of Bobby Knight calling it the best basketball player of all time. In fact most people didn’t even watch it until years after the final episode aired. But The Wire would be a television series like no one had ever seen.

Sure the protagonist was the common white male anti-hero of the 2000s. Detective James McNulty wasn’t an organized crime boss like Tony Soprano dealing with depression, but “natural police,” who was tired of a dysfunctional department in Baltimore and wanted to really make a dent in the city’s crime problem. He also had no idea the definition of the words fidelity, sobriety, procedure, or even loyalty. However, the show would end up not being about him. McNulty lured you into an American city and system in which the power class was so dedicated to career ascension, the citizens were merely steps to the top.

It’s widely regarded as one of the greatest television shows of all time, though while on the air it peaked at only 4 million viewers before cord cutting, and during the HBO glory days of The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and Entourage. With the series being set in Baltimore, sports had to be part of the show. The series used them not to just give the show more of a local feel, but to also help with the story telling.

So to pay tribute to the best television series of all time — argue with your pomeranian — on the 20-year anniversary of its premiere, here are the five greatest sports scenes in the history of the show

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Season 3 - Episode 1: The McNultys at the ball game

Season 3 - Episode 1: The McNultys at the ball game

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Screenshot: HBO

You had to feel for Jimmy in this one, but even more so for the kids. For the first three and a half innings they’re in the first row behind home plate at Camden Yards with their feet up on the wall watching Sidney Ponson force Carlos Lee into a pop up. Then they spend the rest of the game in the bleachers with their father on the way to his apartment, decorated in divorced dad chic. Sure Jimmy can’t even focus on Miguel Tejada’s at bat, staring at his ex wife and her new beau, but look at the disappointment in those boys’ eyes. Mom said they need to leave before the ninth because it’s a school night, and they were probably ready to go at the top of the fifth

Jimmy is with his best friend Bunk and his son at the game, but Bunk is called away. He works homicide, and that evening he is called in on an off night because there were five murders in the city that night. A scene that helps set up how bad crime has gotten in the city as the politicians gear up for election season. Also, per Reddit user Texas/DD, the game was May 5, 2004 and the Chicago White Sox defeated the Orioles 6-5.

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Season 2 - Episode 7: Frank Sobotka still has time for Robert Irsay

Season 2 - Episode 7: Frank Sobotka still has time for Robert Irsay

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Screenshot: HBO

Frank is old school Baltimore. His whole family has worked on the docks. It’s the family trade, but it’s not 1969 anymore as he so eloquently explained to his lobbyist Bruce DiBiago. He’s not a little boy drinking Tang like the astronauts, he’s a man with a grown son and trying to keep the port Union afloat while Baltimore tries to litter the entire area with glistening high-rise developments, and take away work from the stevedores. He’s not here for DiBiago’s speech about how his great grandfather worked so hard so he and father wouldn’t have to. Frank’s family, Frank’s union brothers, they need work now, and he needs Brucey to deliver.

It’s a powerful scene about the declining job market, all the way in 2004. But being as old school as Frank is, we see he still hasn’t forgotten about Robert Irsay, seven years after his death. Irsay famously snuck the Colts out of Baltimore in the middle of the night in 1984. Even with a Ravens Super Bowl championship, we see Frank still holding onto that anger when he throws a dart at his dartboard that lands on a photo of Irsay’s face.

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Season 1 - Episode 9: Gameday

Season 1 - Episode 9: Gameday

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The title refers to more than simply basketball, but this is one of the biggest days in the city. The east side of town takes on the west side of town in a game for bragging rights, and a party thrown by the losing side of town’s drug kingpin, and whatever side bet the entrepreneurs have agreed to.

Avon Barksdale is tired of losing to Proposition Joe, and hires a ringer. He takes on a junior college player on his way to a Division I school. Not only does Barksdale violate NCAA rules by paying the player and his representative, the player is actually from the east side of town. Prop Joe reminds him of this, after Barksdale chastises him for bringing in a local talent who was playing in Europe. Joe one ups him in the end though, by raising the side bet and bringing in a point guard off of the bench. The west side couldn’t catch this guard reminiscent of a shorter 2002 Jamal Crawford. He narrows the score, and eventually a missed foul call gives the game to the east side. We also see more of Barksdale’s code here. He screams at the referee, but as the young man cowers, he admonishes him further for not standing up for himself.

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Season 3 - Episode 11: Cutty’s kids show some heart

Season 3 - Episode 11: Cutty’s kids show some heart

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This is the best episode of the entire series. It is for many reasons, but mostly the acting of Wood Harris as Avon. In one of his last episodes he shines above the entire cast. However, the audience gets a rare, pure feel good moment in this one. Dennis (Cutty) Wise, who did 15 years in prison, is free but has no direction. Avon tries to bring him back, but after a short stint as an enforcer, Cutty officially retires from the drug game.

He finally finds purpose in his one talent besides being a gangster, boxing. Cutty wants to teach some youngsters the sweet science, but is met with bureaucracy, financial issues, and smart-assed teenagers at every turn. But he sticks it out and the kids begin to trust him. In this episode he lets them spar with some younger, but far more experienced, boxers and they get pounded. It ends when Justin takes a bloody beating but refuses to go down or stop. After the final bell, Cutty removes his head gear, daps him up and says, “Go on soldier, you done for the day.” At this moment the viewer can tell that Cutty is going to be alright.

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Season 5 - Episode 5: Cutty further realizing he can’t save everybody

Season 5 - Episode 5: Cutty further realizing he can’t save everybody

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Cutty’s gym is thriving. He’s got dozens of kids working out, and is feeling on top of the world. Truthfully, too much so because he begins to take advantage of his new standing in the community. It backfires on him, and he loses one of his original talents to the streets. He then loses another, Michael, who he never connected with until it was too late and he got deep in the game, as well.

Michael’s friend, Duquan a.k.a. Dookie, however, isn’t made for the streets. A thin boy, with a big heart and born into a family of junkies can’t find his purpose, or any respect. One day, that first boxer who left the gym gives Dookie a royal beating on the corner. Michael then takes his friend to the only person he knows that can help him, Cutty.

Dookie shows no boxing ability whatsoever and Cutty quickly realizes it’s not going to work. They talk for a while though. Cutty tells him that learning to fight won’t stop the bullying, and there’s a way to live that doesn’t involve being tough all of the time. But in the end he has to concede that in this particular section of America it’s the only way. He walks Dookie out at night and says all he has besides boxing knowledge, “is thoughts and wishes. I wish it was more, son. I do.”

And that’s the heartbreak that colors the show. Here’s a kid who really needs help, something different, and there is a person who would love nothing more than to help him, but he cannot because he doesn’t have the resources. Shiny new gym equipment, but no avenue out of their reality. A reality that too many people are stuck with. Chuck D of Public Enemy called hip-hop reality radio. That must make The Wire True T.V.

 

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