Tag Archives: march madness

Madness

17126701_1108437092601567_4197244785582407680_nBasketball used to be my thing.  I thought about it all day, every day, and dreamed about it at night–and sometimes still do.  Hour after hour alone in the driveway getting sunburned, soaked in rainstorms, and frozen in the snow and ice.  Dreaming I was Dr. J.  Dreaming I was an Arkansas Razorback.  Dreaming I was the hero of a state championship game for the C.R.A. Falcons.  Alone in my dreams.

Basketball became my community.  Countless practices.  Pickup games anywhere there were players and some version of a ball and goal.  My very best friends and mortal enemies.  Jammed fingers.  Shirts and skins.  Dunk goals.  Make-it, take-it.  We got next.  Cut-off t-shirts and short shorts.  High tops and two pairs of socks, pushed down to be cool.  Arguments and hurt feelings.  High fives and heroics.

Popular culture fueled my obsession.  “Hoosiers” hit the big screen when I was in high school, the peak of my love affair with the sport.  Rap music became a thing, and I wore out a cassette learning every word of Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball.”  Thanks to an NBA commercial, the Pointer Sisters’ “Let’s Get Excited” became my warm-up song–even though I don’t think that’s what they were talking about.

I was valedictorian of my high school class and had options, I suppose, but all I cared about was basketball.  Since I wasn’t talented enough to play at the college level, my attention shifted to coaching.  I made every home game at Barnhill Arena during my college years.  Rollin’ with Nolan.  Dreaming that I would some day coach in the madness of March.

I remember the exact day my basketball dreams began a rapid disintegration.  It is hard to forget since it was one week before my wedding.  Appropriately, I was playing basketball in a outdoor three-on-three tournament at a local festival when a nasty fall shattered my right leg in three places.  Emergency surgery led to a four night hospital stay, released in enough time to make it to my wedding in a wheelchair.  In sickness and in health, right?  

In 1994, I began a love that has grown stronger year after year, and maybe not ironically, began to lose my feelings for basketball.  With my broken leg, after the lengthy recovery, I learned that I just couldn’t play all out anymore, and that stole all the fun.  I really don’t follow basketball much anymore.  Sure, I root for my Pepperdine Waves, and sure, I fill out an annual bracket and will be rooting for the old alma mater today as they take on Seton Hall (Go Hogs!), but it is no longer the center of my life.

I’m not sad about this.  I follow other sports as a spectator and am now somewhat obsessed with running.  But what I learned is that it is possible to walk away from something that was once important to you without regrets.  What is not okay, at least in my book, is pretending something is important and then doing it halfway.

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.