Harry Potter


"In Game of Future, Magic Will Be Back"

by Robert Lipsyte ("New York Times," April 1, 2001)

ORLANDO - Tonight, when the Wizard of Westwood cries, "Mount your brooms!" and the Lizard of Lubbock releases the golden snitch to start the first match of the Final Four, Quidditch will have officially replaced basketball as the most popular game in every country except China. As the Universal Olympic president, Vince McMahon, has been promising, "The magic is back."

The only cloud on the starry playing sky is the continuing absence of Harry Potter. The former schoolboy superstar is still missing. He was reportedly on a recruiting trip for Hogwarts, his old school, which is now a veritable Quidditch factory and, sadly, a leader in N.C.A.A. (Necromancers' Collegiate Athletic Association) rules violations.

"It shows they care," said John Wooden, the former U.C.L.A. basketball coach known as the Wizard of Westwood. "I was always afraid my squeaky clean image would be interpreted as a lack of passion. Sometimes I wished I could let fans know what was really going on. These days, I love it when these little guys and gals blatch and blurt. If there's no contact, it's just flying."

Bob Knight, whose career took off in Lubbock after he began coaching Texas Tech's Quidditch team along with basketball, disagreed. "The beauty of Quidditch is in its civility, the sense of respect," he said. "Sure, it's still about balls, hoops and desire, but the ancient mysteries really spoke to me. I finally got what sports is all about. When I see a player haversacking or quaffle- pocking, or even a coach throwing a sharpened broomstick at an old witch, I see red."

As most readers of a certain age now know from the Harry Potter novels and the classic "Quidditch Through the Ages" by Kennilworthy Whisp (Scholastic, 2001, $3.99), Quidditch is simple to understand and difficult to play. You need to fly a broomstick. There are seven to a side. Each team has a keeper defending its three hoops on 50-foot poles. Three chasers on each team pass the red soccer-ball-sized quaffle back and forth until one puts it through an opposing hoop for 10 points. Meanwhile, the two beaters on each team are batting two lively black balls called bludgers away from their teammates and at their opponents.

The team star is the seeker, gliding and diving after the golden snitch, a tiny hummingbird of a winged ball. Once the snitch is in the seeker's grip, the team gets 150 points and the game is over. It is possible to capture the snitch and still lose, which provides the game's bit of strategy.

The big surprise of tonight's semifinal round is the first championship appearance in more than a century of the Chudley Cannons, an ancient British powerhouse that had become the Chicago Cubs of Quidditch, breaking the hearts of even the vilest warlocks. The acquisition last year of the goalkeeper known by the nickname Hippogriff made the Cannons impossible to score upon. The N.C.A.A. is investigating a report that Hippogriff is a fantastic beast and thus ineligible.

The Cannons will meet the Iroquois Wisdomkeepers, the first American team ever to reach the Final Four. Irresponsible commentators for Muggles (nonmagical) rumor outlets have described the match as a test of faith-based athletic systems.

In the other semifinal game, Gaza United, the so-called miracle team coached by the Most Precious Phil Jackson, will meet the Kinshasa Coven, a predominately female team, increasingly common now that the male goon technique of bumphing (hitting the bludger toward the crowd) is being dealt with so severely.

"It was inevitable," said McMahon, at the telepathic and news media conference announcing the broadcast team of Venus Williams, Tom Green and Viktor Krum, "that a game in which men and women could compete fairly with and against each other would bind the world. Except China."

McMahon was considered a modern alchemist for turning garbage into gold with the World Wrestling Federation, and by reinvigorating the Olympics with combat chess and naked bridge. His Quidditch success was assisted by a waning interest in basketball when that game rose too far above the rim.

Early in the century, Tennessee's women's coach, Pat Summitt, allowed one of her stars to dunk. Then a 7-foot-6 man from China rose up in the pro draft. Soft-core fans were further disturbed after Shaq licensed his DNA to the Nike Genome Project. Seizing the moment, Disney went way above the rim, buying Quidditch and installing a number of teams here in the Magic Kingdom.

It was Harry Potter's modern genius (see "The Sorcerer's Stone") at a game invented in the 11th century at Queerditch Marsh that inspired generations of 20th and 21st century skinny little boys and girls. Because all sexes could play together, many Title IX problems were avoided. Soccer disappeared almost immediately in America; there was now an even more socially correct sport.

When Ford marketed the Restrictorshaft No. 3, a flying broomstick slower and less maneuverable than the great Nimbus 1700 but far more forgiving of novice mistakes, American skies turned into freeways of airborne youngsters. Nascar quickly established a broomstick racing circuit and began attaching streamers with corporate logos to broomtails.

Except for Japan, most Asian countries have not encouraged Quidditch; Whisp's book, profits from which went to Comic Relief U.K., alludes to pressure from the established flying carpet lobby. The Muggles media give some credit to Commissioner David Stern, who abandoned the failing National Basketball Association to found the Chinese N.B.A., where he claims the game is bigger than ever. Stern, a magician in his own right, may be up to bigger tricks; there are reports of a bamboo broomstick being built by Beijing businesses and of a skinny, bespectacled 30-something British wizard with a lightning birthmark on his forehead sitting with Stern at C.N.B.A. games beneath a cloak of invisibility.