Shelby Lyman on Chess: ‘I Don’t Believe in Heroes’
The notion of world champion has a magical quality.
But it means different things to different people in different contexts.
After Brazil’s elimination in the recent World Cup, Luiz Felipe Scolari,the coach of the defeated team, called the loss “a catastrophe” and “the worst day of my life.”
When Joe Louis defeated Max Schmeling in a 1938 rematch for the world heavyweight title in the South Bronx, it was a moment of empowerment for black Americans as the population of Harlem poured out into the streets to celebrate joyously.
I recall another world title moment, in 1969, also on the streets of Manhattan.
The “lowly” New York Mets had won the World Series. It was a moment of celebration — especially for working-class fans — who were the team’s strongest supporters.
In the early morning hours after the victory, when streets were otherwise deserted, I encountered a Mets fan — denim-clad with T-shirt — running about in the comparative darkness while screaming with fists raised, “We won. We won.”
Hours had passed, but he was still celebrating.
For Bobby Fischer, the world title was a holy grail he pursued with relentless intent.
Yet, after he defeated Boris Spassky in 1972 to become world champion, he turned down a ticker-tape parade on Fifth Avenue. “I do not believe in heroes,” he said.
After forfeiting the title in 1975 without playing a single game, Fischer insisted until the end of his life that he be addressed as “world champion.”