Here, watch this:
I was at that game.
It was nuts.
I mean, listen to Ford Field after Durrell Summers powers that dunk through. Michigan State (or Michigan, for that matter) playing in the Final Four in their home state behind a home crowd may never happen again, and although the Spartans came up short against one of the most perfect North Carolina teams, the Spartans felt like champions that entire weekend. I’ve seen a lot of cool things in Detroit, but for a freshman Michigan State student like myself, seeing Park, Witherell, Madison and Brush streets and its pedestrians drenched in green and white was a sight I will hold deep in my memory forever.
And to go to the game that they won helped, too.
As with the football, I was never much into college basketball as a youngster, especially with the Goin’ to Work Pistons at my doorstep, there was no reason to get invested in the NCAA Tournament. Going to Michigan State changed all of that, however, and The Big Dance is now much more than a filler to get me from the NFL football season to the start of baseball. Instead, it is one of my most treasured times of the sports calendar. Because while it may not be the most flawless test to find the best, it’s definitely the most entertaining, and, at times, most genuine. When you watch a Big Ten college basketball game, for example, and then switch over to any given NBA game, it’s like they’re two different sports. Aside from the obvious contrast in play, skill-level and emphasis (or lack thereof) on the defensive side of the ball, it always seems like the NCAA players have much more to play for than the NBA players do.
Sure, that might be unfair, and I’m not dogging the NBA players. Trust me. Go sit court-side at a Pistons game (like, why not? They are probably pretty cheap). While they might suck at basketball, sitting close up and watching will make you realize that the Pistons are still putting in the effort. But they still have less to play for. You can’t change that and you can definitely see the difference. Teams and players in the NCAA Tournament have two things that the NBA players don’t have: (1) a bounded career time, but (2) more of a chance to win a championship. While their playing career may be limited to 1, 2, 3 or 4 years, any team or player that makes the NCAA Tournament knows that—however unlikely—they might have a chance to do something spectacular. Many players and teams like the Pistons, for example, know they have no chance to do anything in the post-season (if they make it).
It’s just more real in the NCAA Tournament. The heart is true. The fight is authentic. The joy is pure, and the loss is palpable. It really is like that silly song, “One Shining Moment”; the inescapably 80s anthem for CBS’ broadcast of the NCAA tournament. It’s a cheesy song, no doubt, made best by one of the greatest himself, Luther Vandross—but within its delicious dairy characteristics are simple, college athletic truths: many of these players have one badass chance in the tournament to have their name live on forever, before their college career is over. And that—that just gives me chills.
Here’s another amazing moment:
This sucked, for me. Yes, I do enjoy seeing the University of Michigan lose. Because they are my team’s rival, and that’s how it works. I was sitting in Ann Arbor, in a room full of blood-thirsty Wolverines. If y’all remember this game, U of M wasn’t really handling Kansas. In fact, they looked pretty bad in the first half, and my Ohio State friend and I kept giving each other mischievous grins to the seemingly inevitable early exit.
Then Trey Burke happened.
And it was incredible. I thought Ann Arbor exploded (which would have been great! [just kidding!!!]). What Trey Burke did in those final moments—you just knew that the Wolverines were going to win that game, and, honestly, I think—at that immaculate moment for NBA-bound Burke—we all knew that this team might be bound for something special. They were. And I had to sit there in Ann Arbor after the Wolverines beat Kansas. I had to sit there and watch as my Spartans crumbled for an early exit of their own.
That hurt. But, that’s The Tourny, for ya.
Ah, that’s better.
This was incredible. These moments. These are the moments that you need to make it to the Final Four. These crazy, how-did-that-even-happen moments. Those one or two shining moments that make people like Korie Lucious live on forever.
You don’t even have to have a team to follow, though, for the NCAA Tournament to be inspiring.
What will happen this year? Who will shine and who will fade? Will there be tears? And which school’s students in 2014 will be able to say that their team won the NCAA Basketball Championship while they attended? And will I be able to live vicariously through them?
One thing’s for sure, there will be some heart-stopping drama: