It’s sloppy. It’s personal. It’s march madness college basketball, and I love it. Let me tell you about it.
Basketball isn’t my favorite sport to watch, it’s not even top three. But I’ll put aside anything I’m doing to put on my back-of-the-closet, haven’t worn in months, college t-shirt to yell at the tv so loud I’ll scare my dogs. It’s tradition.
I remember on vacation in Boston, my dad asked me and my sister if it was ok if he left the tv on while we went to sleep. He would try to be quiet; he promised. But his alma mater had made it to the finals and who cared that he was on vacation, those guys, his guys, could win. This place he told us stories about growing up, where he went wild and crazy for a couple years, holds strings on his heart. So in the middle of our vacation, I was awakened by my dad’s calls and muddled screams of – yes, and what are you doing, and no no no, and sighs, and nervous pacing in a hotel room. It meant that much to him. So it means that much to me.
There are some things you pick up from your parents. How loud am I when I watch the NCAA tournament comes straight from my dad. I’ll scream for a team I’ve never heard of before today. I’m rooting for them because they’re the underdogs. You always root for underdogs – the dream. I got that from him too. I root, now, for my alma mater, then my dad’s alma mater, then the teams in my state, then whoever is picked not to win. And I cheer with all my heart. Suddenly, these five boys on the court become my hope at salvation. I take their dreams as my own. I yell things toward opposing players I don’t even yell at cars in two hour stopped traffic. I suddenly become a coach, a lifelong fan with that team’s colors in my blood, and I hope and pray to the basketball gods they pull off a win. I’ve scared next door neighbors with my bellowing and throwing of inanimate objects. Because I care. They make me care. The stories make me care, and I get to do something with that emotion, I get to cheer, and root for the win. I get to root for something with a substantial and definable goal. I get to put my pride into action. I have an opportunity, once a year, to be a fan, undiluted, just like everybody else.
It’s not just tradition though, it’s plain fun. These guys are young, my age, and here they are on my television with people around the country screaming their names, names we learned yesterday. They have this chance at greatness you don’t find anywhere else. It’s a momentary greatness, I have to see what happens.
These players make mistakes, the look unkempt, green, eager, skilled, parts lucky, and parts so damn unlucky. They pass the ball in a way you’ve never seen, they shoot like they’ve got nothing left, and they play with their whole hearts. It’s beautiful too, watching players play their best, hitting shots no one else could make, eying wary seniors try their hardest to make it to the end before their dreams die with graduation. You don’t see that in the clinical, statistical, polished NBA. You don’t get to see players fall on their asses, or shoot hail marys from half court, unless you’re watching the college ball tourney. I get to see seven guys awkwardly going for rebound to try and make another play with the twenty-two seconds they have left in the game. I get to see competition. I get to see good games, because they care, and I care, and this is it for them and for us – one game. One shot. It makes my heart beat faster.
I get to watch greatness being made, I get to watch stories that will get recited next year with a revert hush of – can you believe it. It’s beautiful. It’s fast, uncoordinated, risky, uncouth, and exciting. It’s a story, it’s heartbreak, it’s emotion, beautiful, uninhibited, emotion from grown men playing ball. I get to hear the unabashed favoritism from announcers rooting for that last minute upset. I’ll have something to talk about after this. I watch every year. And for about a month I have something to talk to my Dad about. I know exactly what I can say to start a conversation with him without any reservations or restrictions that we usually struggle with.
We talk about the teams we like. Which teams have a chance, the same chance as everyone else. And it feels like I have a chance again. They’re stuck in the tournament and the best they can hope for is to get through. We get a chance to pick our favorites. We get to stare at names and numbers of printed off ESPN brackets with the bottom half of the last team name cut off from our stupid printers. We get a chance to pick who we think will win, just like those guys in suits on tv who played on these teams before their knees went out. We all have the same chances. That little school, that’s only a thirty minute drive from the house has just as much chance at winning as the big school with the twenty-year, stuff-of-legend, dynasty. We get to live the stories.
I remember my senior year of high school I had my friends over because I said we’d have the game on after school. We waited up till almost midnight screaming at the tv over the little school just down the road that became the nation’s cinderella team. My friend’s boyfriend was on the team. We saw him on national television adjust his shorts after a big play. His team made a deep run, they played in the national championship and suddenly everyone knew their glory. They couldn’t find the net, but they held on close. Here we were seven teenage girls in my parent’s living room, not yet adults, not yet graduated, our hometown ties still strung strong. Here we were, cheering for just one more shot, two more points. We had the same hopes, the same dreams, and for just a minute, we were united with the same feelings as half of the country. Living out our pride through them. We watched as the last second shot from half court bounced off the rim twice, only to fall by the side at the buzzer. We agonized, we cried out abut justice and fate, together.
You don’t have to know all the exact and picky rules. All the analysis in the world can’t predict this. Dreams spread and engulf. Emotions, buzzer-beaters, iffy calls, break out stars, long-shot hopes, grown men crying, history, rivalries, pride, year-long anger, upsets, runs, frustrations, disappointments, legend. This is where legend lives and grows, breathes and adapts. And I get to watch it all. We get to watch it all. Together. A bit like a community, for just a little while.