"...basketball happens in the air; flying, floating, elevated above the floor, levitating the way oppressed peoples of this earth imagine themselves in their dreams." ~ John Edgar Wideman
It's a dilemma. Every March I ask myself why again I moved abroad. I remember my first March, in 2002, in Prague, going to school before 7am to check ESPN on a dial-up modem to check the scores. KU was a #1 seed that year, and lost to Kentucky in the Final Four - I spent thousands of Czech crowns on the phone to my parents in despair. Technology had improved in 2003, when I stole the keys to my Lisbon school to listen to the championship game in the wee hours of the morning (which was sadly lost to Syracuse) while spending nearly a hundred Euros on the phone to my parents in despair. In 2004 we made it as far as the Elite Eight, losing to Georgia Tech; I listened to it at a friend's flat, deep into the night. There's little lonelier than a 3-am loss. I'd moved to Slovenia by 2005, and had internet at my flat, but didn't bother with the first round match (we NEVER lose in the first round) which we lost to Bucknell. (Where? Who? Exactly.) Side note: I did win 3000 tolars in the Slovenian-based US Marine-sponsored bracket challenge, which was presented to "Mr Pedroja" because they "figured a girl'd never get that many right". A first-round loss again in 2006. (I think my living in Slovenia was a bad thing for the Jayhawks.) Things started looking better again in 2007, when I was living in Switzerland, had internet at home and got to WATCH (!!!) the games live thanks to CBS...and the Hawks rid themselves of the first-round curse and made it to the Elite Eight before losing to UCLA. And then, last year, which my loyal readers (Mom) will remember resulted in a national championship. What was that again? Oh, yes, a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP.
Few people understand the passion for this game. Some football fans kinda get it - Barcelona, Benfica, the occasional AC Milan/Inter fan might get it - but most think 'basket' is just a primitive version of the game they see in their local leagues where washed-up NBA players go to die. College basketball is so much more than this. It's the yearning these kids exude, the evocative sense of potential that envelops each of these talented young people. It's the Big Decision, to go to college or go pro, to stay beyond their sophomore year. It's the pomp and circumstance, the bands, the cheerleaders, the zealous fans with their heads bursting with irrelevant statistics, the mascots, the storied fieldhouses where the magic happens. It's the speed, the creativity, the knowledge that if you blink you might miss one of the best shots in the history of the game. It's the grin on the face of a young man who just slammed in a beautiful dunk. It's the breathless pause when a hand curls mid-air, pushing the ball from beyond the 3-point line, and the soft whirr of the net when it goes in. It's the good-natured rivalries, the ability to admit you were outplayed on the day but you are thrilled that you got to see a good game of basketball. And in this tournament, it's knowing that anything can happen, that anyone can be the hero.
The Sweet Sixteen is on Friday night. Tipoff is 1:30am Scotland time. I don't think I could have done this living abroad thing without the internet.
To get a taste of it...here's a rockin' ad from this year's Madness.