Growing up there was one sports figure that reigned supreme in my household, that of Pelé. More so than Ali, Mike Tyson, or the New York Yankees, the Brazilian football star embodied mastery of his craft and unwavering character off the pitch. He was greatness personified.
In the summer of 2012, I was invited to do an art project for the Toyota Cup featuring a young NeymarJr. whom at the time was playing for none other than FC Santos. Presented the opportunity, I did not hesitate to put together close to a dozen canvases featuring Brazilian national team stars such as Zizinha, Ronaldo (O Fenomeno), Garrincha, and Neymar Jr. The centerpiece of the show, and subsequent interviews with Brazilian media, was of course, none other than Pelé.
Long Live the King (Vida longa ao Rei)
Brazilian football will never be the same. The King from Três Corações has left this earthly realm. I remember watching the recent World Cup in Qatar and cheering for the O Seleção as usual as the team cruised into the knockout rounds and hearing the news of Pelé's illness. Hoping and wishing victory, not just for the Brazilian nation, but triumph on the sports biggest stage for the greatest player football has ever known. When Brazil became defensively sloppy in extra time against Croatia, my eyes nervously darted to the game clock as precious minutes seemed to drag to a stubborn crawl. And suddenly, Croatia scores, tying the game up and then..penalty kicks.
Croatia, masters of the penalty kick, calmly sent kick after kick past Alisson Becker. The Brazilians shrinkingly approach the line, take mighty swings and are off-target. Then Marquinhos steps up, kicks to his left, the goalie springs the wrong direction, the ball rolls towards the goal and ::clang:: bangs off of the bar. Game over 4-2. The dream of a 6th Brazilian World Cup victory would not bear fruit in Qatar and subsequently the King would never again see his beloved team hoist the trophy.
The stark truth is that life does not owe us any Hollywood endings.