Preface: With a nod to Keith Kimberlin, our sportswriter, who knows a lot more about sports than I do, I had to write this tribute to two favorite teams, compared to those who play and coach, and with an aching heart but a brain rooted in reality when things don’t go as they “should”.
I was watching one of those heartbreaking college basketball games. You know those. The ones where your heart alternately races and then stops several times, your stomach turns over and your emotions are grabbed and thrown around like a rag doll. Yeah, those are the ones.
Consider this: if it was like that for me, what about the players, aged 18-21 in most cases? They’re still little boys in many ways, but little boys who are 6-7 feet tall with body hair and tattoos and attitudes and big dreams of doing that stunt, hearing that rustle, and can to be one day to arrive at the NBA.
The first game this Saturday had my favorite team on top throughout; as the second half approached a happy ending, they were 18 points up, they were shooting three points like it was easy, then the basketball gods – those petty entities – reversed their luck, undermined their athleticism, and 18 points were quickly reduced to single digits until they lost at the buzzer. Heads bowed, they walked slowly toward the locker room, tears mingling with drops of perspiration. For some it was their last game as it was Senior Day. They had been happily celebrated at first, the facility was packed, the mood was light and loud and wonderful, and now it was over.
I moved on to Game 2 because even though it’s not my team, their coach has always been number 1A in my book. He is the nation’s most successful college basketball coach, having won national titles multiple times, bringing fame and fortune to his program. Tonight would be his as throngs of former players and thousands of students and other spectators filled the indoor facility in tribute and adulation. Some tickets were said to have cost as much as $99,000 just to watch the coach’s lavish and heartfelt farewell, followed by a game that would be a sure win against a former state rival. Except…it wasn’t. They lost and people watched in disbelief, glued to their seats, emotions pouring out onto the hardwood.
It’s not a guarantee, is it? The best teams don’t always win when you hope they will, when you just know they will. It is the uncertainty and cruelty of sport. Athletes or coaches who should cut the net don’t always have that opportunity.
Cutting the net is a celebratory tradition in basketball in which a coach or player removes the net from one of the backboards after winning a game. This is usually done after winning a conference tournament, regional title, or national championship. A coach in any sport has a job on many levels. He or she must be both cheerleader, inspiration, psychiatrist, parent, censor and forgiver; and in thus fulfilling all these roles, must never lose their focus or the respect of their players.
Although cutting the net and winning at all costs despite bandaged ankles, sore muscles and questionable attitudes seems to be the main objective, it quickly fades because a basketball game is really only two 20-minute periods, then it’s over. Ended! Whether it’s just one game on a season’s roster or the game of all marbles, it ends up being forgotten. Then “real life” creeps in and stays with those players and the rest of us non-athletes for the rest of our lives when work, relationships, raising families, illness and good and bad life experiences are thrown at us. But they are what keep us running on our own personal turf for years, even after the wear and tear on the legs. It’s what makes us aim for the impossible, not always achieve it, but nevertheless try and be motivated by our own intentions and the applause of those dear to us, not by the cheers of a faceless crowd that fades quickly.
All you really need is a pair of scissors and a “coach” or two to teach you how to cut threads throughout your life. Without a doubt, this is the sweetest victory.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 20 years, including her “In Their Shoes” articles. She can be reached at [email protected] or 401-539-7762.