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Words connect armchairs to racetracks, fields and courts

We don't really know when sports were first played around here, but we have heard, from some long-forgotten source, that in 1893, two years after Dr. James Naismith invented the game, some Charlotte YMCA members tried playing basketball at a social function.

Nobody scored. Alcohol may have been involved.

Scant attention was paid by The Charlotte Observer. It had no sportswriters.

As a new century grew out of its infancy, though, sports popped up - minor league baseball, dirt track racing, college football, basketball in which players actually scored.

And newspapers paid attention. They added sports sections, hired sportswriters who churned out stories about everything from Little League to the Super Bowl.

For many, the sports page became a deep-seated habit.

The sports pages became, and remain, windows through which fans could follow everyone from local high school stars to Babe Ruth and Joe Louis and Bobby Jones, Chris Evert and Magic Johnson and Mia Hamm, Al McGuire, Muhammad Ali and Joe Namath.

Without a ticket, the sports pages let them stand on the sideline, go into the locker room, and hear what the winners or losers had to say.

Those pages have given us treasure troves of statistics and put personalities with the numbers. They have kept an eye on the ethics and excoriated those who cheated, or violated simple rules of decency.

It has all been there in the pages of the Observer: Michael Jordan hitting the winning shot with his tongue hanging out, a little kid catching a big fish, Buck Baker winning in the dust of a short track, a high school football hero walking off the field with his sweaty arm around a cheerleader, Byron Nelson winning the Charlotte Open in a playoff with Sam Snead.

It's there - Choo Choo Justice, Stephen Curry, Danny Ford and his national championship, Frank Howard, NASCAR stars from Richard Petty to Dale Earnhardt to Jimmie Johnson.

It's there - Lefty Driesell and his Davidson miracle, UNC Charlotte's run to the 1977 Final Four, Bones McKinney, all the years of Everett Case and Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski, the high school girl who won the cross country meet, the bowler who rolled back-to-back 300s.

Many of those stories could probably be found in yellowed clippings stored away by the people the paper wrote about, or by their moms, or by the fans of those teams. It has always been grand to do something heroic on a playing field, but it's grander still when the story is told in print and we can clip it and put it away to revisit years later.

The sports pages serve other purposes nowadays. Business matters keep intruding and must be dealt with.

So must unconfirmed rumors and wicked distortions and outright lies. In a world of bloggers and tweeters and assorted other electronic media, the credibility of a report in The Charlotte Observer, or on CharlotteObserver.com, carries a lot of weight, just as it has for 125 years, just as it will as more stories are told, more clippings clipped.

The stories are different now. The NFL, NBA, NHL, PGA, NASCAR and Class AAA baseball have come to the Carolinas. We've hosted Final Fours and the NBA All-Star game, pro football and basketball playoffs, top level tennis, world-class soccer games and other notable events. Unlike in that first YMCA basketball game, points were scored. And the Observer was there.

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