Sport loves heroes. Followers of sport relish being mesmerised by a wiggle of the feet, a flick of the wrist, and a glint in the eyes. We enjoy according greatness and bestowing legendary status. With hyperbole as the fuel that powers sport, we sometimes use these words too lightly. And then, in the middle of this process of being mesmerised by flashes of genius and anointing lofty honorifics, comes a person like Diego Armando Maradona.
There are only a few sporting icons who become not the product of a generation but the very definition of it. If Mohammad Ali was a force of nature who coalesced with the Civil Rights movement and the opposition to the Vietnam War to offer a protagonist to 1960s America, Diego Maradona was a phenomenon who became the leading man of the 1980s on the global stage. From his continent to ours, the world could apply him to any context while he stamped individualism over a team sport in a manner than no one else has done, or perhaps will ever do.
The key difference between him and other great sporting icons was his ability to elevate, along with his personal legend, the platform itself. If the bedrock of Roger Federer’s greatness comes from his eight Wimbledon titles, the football World Cup became greater when Maradona won it for Argentina in 1986. And through it, Maradona almost single-handedly introduced the joy of sport to a larger world audience at the dawn of the era of live television. Maradona had many flaws, and made several comebacks from the pit of his own personal drugs-and-loneliness-infused hell. He admitted he was always black or white, never grey. Maradona died on Wednesday at 60. But he will forever remain heroic, human, infectious, and eternal.