Despite the best efforts of some, there is no true cohesive "all of us." Human history and politics and sciences and arts, as we know and perceive them, would not be possible without the difficult relationship between Self and Other. Each division and spectrum point smashes the whole into smaller and tinier contextual fragments: blacks and whites, communists and libertarians, men and women, the X percent and the Y percent, creators and consumers, adherents of all the One True Gods, and so on. Individualism results from a careful process of elimination.
CHICAGO, October 30 -- About a year ago, George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga called. "Thanks for writing that nice article about our 2006 team," went the voicemail. Five months later, on the morning of the National Championship game, over breakfast in the lobby of the downtown Hilton in Houston, I took the opportunity to thank him for thanking me. "I really appreciated that you even took the time to read that," I said. "For a Division I head coach to pick up the phone about someone's blog post, that isn't something that happens very often, much less every day."
I explained to him that I'd tried to write five essays, about each of the five pillars of former Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Dick Bennett's coaching and life philosophy. In 1995, this wasn't called "The Way," back when Bennett shared a quiet summer weekend with Larranaga and Barry Collier in Wisconsin, but Collier ended up naming it the "Butler Way" back at his own school. Humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness: this handful of fundamentals turned out to be quite the recipe, one that somehow turned mid-majors into giant-killers. At Butler, The Way was potent enough to make the Bulldogs National Championship runners-up... twice. For Larranaga's part, he started winning at Bowling Green, moved back East to George Mason, and he got a Final Four appearance out of it too.
I'd used George Mason 2006 to illustrate Bennett's third precept: unity
. "That's really neat, Kyle," Larranaga said between sips of herbal tea. "I didn't get a chance to read the others. Send me those links when you get a chance."
By the time I got around to it, his George Mason e-mail address didn't work anymore.
On April 22, Jim Larranaga left for the University of Miami of the Atlantic Coast Conference. When I heard about this, I was at O'Hare Airport waiting for a flight back to Rhode Island after visiting Sarah, my girlfriend at the time. It was a long flight.
The news stung deeply. I thought about calling once I landed, about doing the whole "say it ain't so, Jim" thing. But that would have only made me another speed-dialing media vulture, as if the world needed more of those. Besides, I knew I didn't have any right to feel betrayed. If Larranaga had played Judas, it had only been against a narrow construct that I'd been responsible for purveying -- the brilliant fantasy that those with fewer resources share a common struggle, that being happy with less is some kind of selfless virtue, and that "jumping the Red Line" is a euphemism for greed.
But what hurt the most was that here on the site, we'd used six of Jim Larranaga's very own words as a rallying cry. So much so that the six-letter acronym AOUEOU had become recognizable hashtag shorthand within our little community of scrappy basketball underdogs.
The words came from a George Mason practice back in March of 2006
, as the Patriots stood two games from the Final Four and four away from a National Championship. "We've made it this far... There's no reason we can't go even farther. But it's up to all of us, and it's up to each of us." He gestured with both hands as if measuring with a scale. "All of us, each of us. When there is no difference between those two, anything is possible for this team. When we get selfish, when we don't play together, when we don't pick each other up -- and we know this very well -- we all fail together."
As the plane touched down in Providence, I thought about the words Larranaga used, but I couldn't get past that gesture, the way that he weighed both sides of the equation with his hands. There's a comma, a separating wedge between "all of us" and "each of us," and true balance between the two is fragile and fleeting. No matter what, one of those two sides is always going to tip the scale in the end.✶ ✶ ✶ ✶
Everyone is disappointing, the more you know someone.