Tag Archives: final four

The Choice Is Yours (Or, If the Horse Is Dead, Dismount; But If It’s Still Alive, You Might as Well Learn How to Ride It)

e20816c1dce70514b76bc07c6327d641--jimmy-v-quotes-inspirational-cancer-quotesPeyton Manning hosted the 25th annual ESPY Awards about twenty-five miles from my television set a couple of nights ago in downtown Los Angeles. The ESPY phenomenon was conceived as the MTV Awards for sports, but the original show in 1993 instantly became so much more when Jim Valvano — Jimmy V — delivered his heroic speech less than two months before he died from bone cancer.  He was 47 years old.  Guess which birthday I’m looking at?

I remember that inspirational speech quite well because I had just completed my first season as a high school basketball coach and was scheduled to attend a Nike coaching clinic in Chicago later that summer where Jimmy V was a featured speaker — legendary Villanova coach, Rollie Massimino, had to fill in following his good friend’s untimely death.

The entire clinic was a heady experience for a baby basketball coach from small-town Arkansas like me what with Rollie eulogizing Jimmy V, foul-mouthed John Chaney stringing together profanities like an auctioneer, classy Lute Olson sharing Arizona’s secrets, a potentially inebriated P.J. Carlesimo basically phoning it in, and upstart Cincinnati head coach Bob Huggins sharing a story that has helped shape the trajectory of my adult life.

Huggins was just a year removed from a shocking run to the Final Four in Minneapolis where his Bearcats lost by four points to the uber-talented Fab Five from Michigan. Following the loss, a dejected Coach Huggins walked the cavernous halls of the Metrodome and bumped into his father, who himself had been a successful high school basketball coach.  Huggins told us that he expected his dad to give him a hug or something but instead heard him say, “If you would have rebounded better you would have won.”

Thanks, dad.  Huggins reported that he was furious.  Until he thought about it and determined that if they would have rebounded better they would have won.  So that’s what he set out to work on instead.

I needed to hear that at the time and have needed to hear it again on many occasions ever since.  Feeling sorry for yourself is easy work that feels surprisingly good and well-deserved, but that and a dollar can rent you a movie on iTunes.  It is far more productive to figure out what you can control and get to work on that instead.

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Shooting for Significance

After undoubtedly the most thrilling finish in the history of the NCAA basketball tournament, I remembered my personal stories of hoops heroics (i.e., coming off the bench to sink crucial free throws against Tyronza in 1986; converting a five-point play in OT to defeat Marmaduke in 1988) before ultimately concluding that nobody cares except me.  This is true because I have tried on multiple occasions to express the greatness of my shining moments to my sweet wife who loves me very much.  And she surely doesn’t care.

I, along with an inestimable number of fellow human beings, dreamed of doing what Kris Jenkins did in Houston on Monday night: deliver the game-winning shot in the biggest game in front of the entire world.  How many kids on sun-filled playgrounds, in sweltering gyms, in lonely backyards, in their wildest dreams, lusted for such a moment?  How many of us still do?

What makes a college student tossing an orange ball through a metal cylinder twice its size from ten yards away such an object of deep admiration?  What is it about the tournament itself that would cause a television network to invest $10.8 billion dollars for the rights to show it to the world for fourteen years?

It is madness.  To be specific, March Madness.

I am convinced that it runs far deeper than the human desire for entertainment; instead, it is an inherent longing for significance.  We all want (at the very least) one shining moment.  In Kris Jenkins, we find a representative of our desire to come through at just the right time for the force of good (sorry Tar Heel Nation, just a metaphor) and be a hero.  That way, the world will not soon forget us, we think.  Springsteen singing about glory days and all that.

Is it terrible of us to think this way?  Well, it obviously can be (we can start with, um, Hitler), but I do not think that the quest for significance is necessarily terrible at all.  At least I hope not, since we are all infected.  For just a personal sampler, it is surely that part of my brain that causes me to post on social media how far I run, or check the number of “likes” on a Facebook post, or look at how many people read my blog.  Surely I’m not alone in this.  We all want to do something worthwhile.

The real question is: What is the measure we use to gauge significance?  Since the answer to that question determines everything else, it deserves some pretty serious reflection.