Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Truth be told, there are probably about a dozen categories across multiple sections of the "Best of" issue for which Texans defensive end J.J. Watt would qualify. To call him merely "Texans defensive end" feels like you're short-selling Watt. Oh, sure, he is the very best at what he does in all of football, sacking quarterbacks 20.5 times and knocking down 16 passes in 2012 on his way to NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. But in record time, Watt has become so much more than that to Houston. In just two years, he has become a fixture at charity events, a 300-pound angel to kids all over town, from the six-year-old girl whom he "pretend married" for a day when he saw her sobbing on a viral video, to his befriending and helping raise thousands of dollars for the Berry children, who were orphaned in a tragic car accident in 2011 (before Watt had even played a down as a Texan) that left two of them confined to wheelchairs. J.J. Watt, the big kid from Wisconsin, has become a Texan, in both the football and the very literal sense of the word. The best Texan.
Houston is hot, this we all know. There are also a large number of talented basketball players in and around this city, both pros and street-ball kings, who on any given night rattle rims and drain three-pointers deep into the humid night. The big university in the heart of Third Ward offers a set of indoor basketball courts that feature clean nets, wide space and, of course, air-conditioning. The Campus Recreation and Wellness Center at the University of Houston is still a relatively brand-new facility, and the pick-up games held there are top-notch. Take the challenge against students during the week, or battle against visitors on the weekends — for a small fee, of course.
Midday sports radio hosting is a thankless gig. Anyone can take calls and do interviews in drive time when practically the entire city is stuck in traffic and the best athletes and coaches are available. But lunchtimers are usually subjected to annoying blowhards who sound like Rush Limbaugh in a football jersey. That's not Matt Thomas, who manages to combine a lifetime of Houston sports knowledge with the requisite patience and sense of humor needed to handle the tedium of midday sports talk. He strikes the perfect balance between hardcore sports talk and entertainment, all set to a '70s music soundtrack.
Sometimes, all you need is a good mud hole to cool yourself off. In the case of Huntsville State Park, the water may look murky thanks to the clay bottom, but the lake is far from a hole. The atmosphere is more that of a summer camp than a public park, and there's no danger from outboard motors or undertow. It's the perfect place for kids and a relaxing spot for adults as well.
There are many great vantage points from which the beauty of Houston can be seen, such as the Sabine Street bridge or the I-10 HOV lane that leads into downtown near Taylor Street. But after you experience the rooftop view from the Magnolia Hotel just before sunset, you will agree that it clearly deserves the top honor for best view of the city. Looking to the east, you'll see the new Harris County Courthouse, Minute Maid Park and BBVA Compass Stadium, the whole East End, all the way to the Houston Ship Channel. To the west, you'll notice the downtown skyline, Buffalo Bayou, Eleanor Tinsley Park, Fourth Ward, Montrose and River Oaks. The view to the north is equally fantastic. So book yourself a room or just stop in for a visit. The Magnolia staff are friendly enough to allow you a peek even without a reservation.
Most amusement centers are outdoors, and while this is great for the brief time of the year where being outdoors sounds awesome, it's pretty annoying when the heat hits. Track 21 would be great outdoors, but throw on a roof and some air-conditioning and you've got a location suitable for first dates that don't involve alcohol or for letting the kids burn off pent-up energy. Highlights include three go-kart tracks, a challenging but fun cosmic golf course and one of the best laser-tag battlegrounds in the city. All that, and you don't have to worry about anyone getting heatstroke.