Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Congratulations to Duke!

I'm just so very happy for the Duke basketball team! I've been a fan for the past 10 years since my older daughter started there in the year of the 2000-2001 championship season, but started following them more intensely in the past few years as my younger daughter spent four disappointing years camping out for more than a month for the UNC game only to see the team lose four years in a row. And I never, ever thought that this year's group had a chance at the championship. But I came to really like this group of guys. They are just a great set of kids. They're not superstars, but they played together with such heart and friendship that, even when they had some humiliating losses, they were just a lot of fun to cheer for.

People might complain about Duke's luck and easy bracket, but that is how it worked out. And being lucky is sometimes just as important as being good.

Being a fan is a funny phenomenon. There is no reason why a middle-aged teacher should be so happy for a group of young men I don't know to have won a championship, but there it is. The Butler team seems like an equally great group of young men. And the story of Brad Stevens, their coach, who quit a job at Eli Lilly to work as an unpaid assistant at Butler simply because he had a dream to work as a basketball coach is simply a fantastic story. If I hadn't been a Duke fan, I certainly would have pulled for them. They played a great game and I look forward to seeing them play again. Even though they lost, they were truly a gutsy group who could have won the game.

And on a day when the other big sports story was a guy talking about his sex addiction, this excellent NCAA championship game was a marvelous alternative story.

Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated captures
the poetry of the game.
The ball is in the air. And because the ball is in the air, anything is possible. Miracle? Heartbreak? Pandemonium? Silence? Yes. Anything. That's the beauty of a magical game like this, and also the pain. The basketball is in the air. If it misses, Duke wins one of the greatest championship games ever. And if it goes in (and it looks like it is going in), Butler wins the greatest game that has ever been played.

The basketball is in the air, a 45-foot shot that looks like it is going in, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski knows that if it goes in, the right team won. And he also knows that if it misses, the right team won, too. This is that kind of game. Both teams have played impossibly hard. Every player defended with every ounce of strength they had. Every player made a winning play -- something, a rebound, a block, a devastating pick, a tough foul, a big shot, a good pass, a hard drive to the basket -- that added a line or shade to this masterpiece. Duke wore white, and Butler wore black (the opposite of the image they came into this game with), but they played so much the same -- the same energy, the same violence, the same togetherness, the same purpose -- that at some point they just seemed to mix together into this wonderful blend of gray.