Downtown Vancouver, February 2010
MINNEAPOLIS -- I've been thinking a lot about the Kent State team from 2002, the one that went to the Elite Eight, during these last couple of days. No specific reason, really, because I've been too busy straining to remember the particulars. This all happened eight years ago, but I feel like I should remember more. Those were the days before The Mid-Majority (which began in 2005), but not before my time at a mid-major school. I was at home watching TV in Philadelphia, just north of the Drexel University campus, rooting the Golden Flashes on against Indiana -- Kent State was one of us, trying to overcome that last hurdle to the Final Four on the behalf of all of us.
There are TV pictures that survive, of course; a pre-digital, fuzzy standard-definition loop of the 2002 NCAA Tournament's key highlights. A quick-cut "One Shining Moment"
is a reminder of what a blur those three weeks were. There are also AP stories with the rundown of the game action and a few quotes from the players, and boxscores also, and even a few surviving feature stories in deep archives. But something's really missing.
Thanks for remembering and mentioning Kent State's fun run in 2002. I live in Kent, and remember dropping everything and heading to Lexington to witness those games: how Rupp Arena was 90% red-clad Indiana fans and how those damn Hoosiers hit 3 after 3 and the Flashes still made a game of it in the second half. Yeah, we thought we could take Duke if we played 'em. Dane Fife brought his IPFW team to Kent a few years ago and we gave him a healthy 'boo'. Never forget that game and the experience. Lotsa fun. I've been watching the Flashes play for at least 25 years and tell people that it's a b-ball fan's dream come true: ten bucks GA, good D-I ball (albeit MAC... if they could only jettison the West Division), and it takes me all of five minutes to get home.
Now, for whom is a highlight reel created? What's the reason for trying to catch these moments with words and pictures? It's not for the players and coaches on the floor, because they have a perspective and point-of-view memory of these events that no camera could ever capture. These accounts are for us, out here outside the lines, to give us greater insight on what happened within those boundaries. But secondarily, they should be functioning time capsules that help us remember when our own memory fails us. They allow future generations piece together the meaning for themselves.
Halfway between that Kent State squad and now was the big breakthrough: George Mason's run to the 2006 Final Four. I go through the stories I wrote for a big media entity back then, as I followed that team through the Tournament from Dayton to Washington to Indianapolis. I feel like I failed somehow. I didn't properly capture the clenched heart muscles and exhilaration of that daisy-chain of strange minutes, all the tension and the resolution, the hope and the heartbreak. I don't think anybody did, really.
There is a feeling that binds George Mason 2006, Davidson 2008 and Butler 2010 together. During each run, there has been a firm, invisible hand at the back, pushing us through the experience at a speed that's far too fast to be comfortable. There's no time to absorb and reflect, we can only open our eyes wide and experience as much of it as we can. It just keeps coming at us, until that moment wen it stops. And at some point, it stops.
The document that came out of that 2006 season, Michael Litos' Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball
, is an accounting of the Colonial Athletic Association's breakthrough year. George Mason's run is a quick couple of chapters at the end, a jarring 78 RPM spin after a long, rich 33-speed groove. And that's unfortunate. What we're all left with now is a series of loose symbols: a crotch punch, Hofstra's RPI number, "Kryptonite (I'm On It),"
Jai Lewis dunking, extreme jersey popping after the Connecticut game, glow sticks, green beer. We also have a long and winding stream of numbers, which out of context are as meaningless as a sudoku puzzle.
What's lost is how it felt
to exist within that string of moments. That's not only important for scrapbooking purposes, but also to sell those ahead of us on the idea that this was a really powerful experience for a lot of people. To properly capture the feeling can also serve as motivation and focus for those who didn't get there to experience it. It can make the Georgia States and the Towsons and the Northeasterns sit up, take notice, and say, "I want
that. I want to feel that."
Davidson 2008 was a far more clear-cut and consumable storyline, as it focused on a singular hero. Anyone's first memory is in a red uniform with number 30 on the back, and the shots keep falling over and over. I was still in the mass media back then, and I had to be a part of the hero worship too. And there was so much I missed. I didn't really like Michael Kruse's Taking The Shot:
when I first read it, I felt it was too esoteric and short, padded with extraneous material and featuring more footnotes than a David Foster Wallace book. But when I was back home for a few days nursing my broken immune system after Vancouver, I went back and re-read it. I "got it" a little more, and I could better see what the author was attempting. There are stories of the other players, and of fans and students, of free buses to Detroit, about the construction of the team, and the old and wise coach's philosophy. And there is the feeling, in black and white, when the shot didn't go down, when Davidson couldn't do what Mason did two years earlier, what Butler has done now. It's far from perfect, but it's a blueprint and a way forward.
Who will properly document this Butler 2010 run? Who will write this book? I don't trust these people pointing cameras, professionally or semi-professionally, or tossing off quick columns to satisfy deadlines and casual fans. I certainly don't trust these old newspaper writers in from out of town, for whom the Final Four is a back-slapping vacation. Plumbing through the atmosphere pieces of the last few days, too many of them have too much in common -- the easy popular culture reference. Butler is like that movie, you know, the overly earnest one with the fake Aaron Copland soundtrack, about basketball, in Indiana, and underdogs?*
Really? Are you fucking kidding?
That's the best you've got?
It's not a job I'm applying for, even though I've spent plenty of time at Hinkle Fieldhouse this season. (I'd actually like to nominate Luke Winn for this job.) This document, my document, is of another year on the road, and there's an inconvenient 16-day hole in it this time. Besides, I've already failed twice in four years.
But if you are a Butler fan, friend or booster, start writing now. If you are capable of putting a series of interesting paragraphs together, capture this experience for posterity. I know that there's plenty of urgency to spend words on trivial and disposable matters -- singling out who among the national media were the true believers, talking smack and complaining about this or that -- but this is a time to write a letter to the future. Let your words be the emotional record for not only those of us who can't fully relate to the experience of being a Butler Bulldog, and for all the Butler Bulldogs to come, but also for you, later. Trust me -- you'll remember the details, but you'll forget the important parts. It happens every time.* I love Hoosiers.