"Sit down Zach, and let me give you a lesson on economics."
This quote, which is entirely made up, is the best way I can describe my adventures in the service of the "Other 24" on Tuesday night. Making the trek from Spokane to Missoula and back again to witness the Big Sky clash between my beloved Weber State Wildcats and their rival Montana Grizzlies was a trip I won't soon forget. The expedition taught me some salient lessons on the Economics of Our Game.
Driving a total of six hours, across two state lines, to watch a two-hour basketball game is not the best use of my resources to be sure, but how could I pass up this opportunity? For me, it was a two-fold investment: first, in superstar Damian Lillard. As a potential NBA lottery pick, not to mention the greatest player to ever don the purple and white, this would be the last time I would see him play in person. If the Wildcats to be victorious, thereby clinching the right to host the Big Sky Tournament in Ogden, it would be a bridge too far for me to travel. Second, I was unable to see the Wildcats play in Cheney, a short 20-minute drive from Spokane, against Eastern Washington this season because of a scheduling conflict. It was now or never.
It was destined to be a terrific game. Both Weber and Montana were 14-1 in the Big Sky. The Immovable Force was about to meet the Unstoppable Object. Weber and Montana are the only two teams in the Big Sky to score an NCAA Tournament victory dating back to 1982. Weber and Montana are one-two in attendance in the Big Sky. And Weber and Montana have a past, a past that has rarely gone the Wildcats' way as of late. Who could forget Anthony Johnson's heroic 34 (!) second-half points in the 2010 Big Sky Championship Game to rob Weber of a NCAA Tournament berth? As salt-on-an-already-open-wound, Montana beat Weber in the Big Sky semis last season. Notwithstanding this history, I put my faith that the law of averages would finally play in my alma mater's favor.
Seeing that my exam schedule at Gonzaga Law coincided not-so-nicely with the game, I decided to transcribe my lecture notes onto a podcast, which I could then listen to while I traveled to the game. Nothing like a little Property and Contract Law to get you pumped up for the biggest basketball game of the season. Sports do strange things to us, don't they?
Travelling from Spokane to Missoula is a pretty simple navigation as Interstate 90 is the only road of necessity. Apart from Zach's Legal Podcast, the playlist included a little music from every genre. The scenery was simple majestic. A fresh coat of snow had just blanketed the region and each of the thousands of Pine trees whizzing past my view were bathed in white. The town of Coeur D'Alene, and its accompanying Lake, are always a sight to behold.
Crossing into Montana, the highway became much smoother, and the snow was piled up on each side of the road. The white tint of the winter highway, a remnant of the salt usage during the previous storm, was still noticeable. The winding roads and the snowdrifts on either side transformed the highway into a quasi-bobsled track: A 26-year-old dude, strapped into a iced-over blue Volvo travelling at 80 miles per hour, barreling through Big Sky Country with hopes of watching a group of 10 college students bounce an orange ball around for 40 minutes. Sports do strange things to us, don't they?
I arrived on campus and the buzz was electric. I got the sense that this football town had finally caught hold of the spirit of basketball season. More than hour before tipoff, I walked with a dozen or so Montana fans, all on our way to the Adams Center for the night's festivities. With my purple Weber hat and "Weber State Basketball" t-shirt, I certainly looked out-of-place. There is nothing quite like the glances one receives when wearing enemy gear at the opposing arena.
A Twitter acquaintance (and Montana fan) had secured the tickets for the evening. As I waited in the mezzanine of the arena for my ticketmaster to arrive, I began to look at the fans walking through the door. One thing was for sure: the people were different than the ones I was used to. The hands I shook were calloused. The facial hair flowed. The cowboy boots a necessity. I got the sense that large portions of these good people worked harder than I ever had. Many probably came straight from their local ranch or farm to enjoy the game. For someone who thinks a single night of camping or outdoor activity is one-step toward becoming Jeremiah Johnson, this kind of life is very honorable to me.
After meeting up with my man Brett, we found our way to our seats. Adams Center was expecting a sellout crowd of over 7,000 fans. They got it. And boy was it buzzing once the teams took the floor for warm-ups. Being the only Weber fan in sight, I was easily noticeable to those Montana fans who enjoy ribbing the opposing fans. It was all in good fun, and anyone who enters an opposing school's domain can expect such treatment.
Sitting about 15 rows from the court, I looked over the spectacle that is Our Game. The trip was already worth it. The music was rocking; the crowd was raucous; the game was about to begin. As the public address announcer began the introductions, I quickly realized that we all watch these sporting events using our own definitions. I knew every player on the floor. I knew each of their strengths and weaknesses. I knew the history between the clubs and what was on the line. I pondered what the coaching strategy would be. The analysis, both inside my own head and in conversation with my new friend Brett, was never ending. I then opened my ears to the chatter from the folks sitting around me. The specifics were of no use. They were simply there to root on their home school. Nothing more. Nothing less. That is the beautiful lesson of sport: its affect is as individualistic as we allow it to be.
The game itself was one I'd like to forget. Weber State was thoroughly outclassed and beaten in every facet of the game. Lillard had his worst performance of the season, shooting just 7-of-19 from the field, including a paltry 2-of-11 from the arc. The Wildcats shot 3-of-26 from three. At one point, Weber led 16-10. Montana responded with a 14-0 run to take the lead for good. One need not be an economist to translate those statistics into a final outcome prediction.
It was exactly the kind of nightmare performance that I envisioned on the way to Missoula. Losing was one thing; shooting poorly, with Lillard having an off night was a too much to bear. As the first half progressed, it just felt like it would end in a loss. It always ends in a loss. Especially when Weber plays Montana. It's economics. Weber made a few runs but the result was never in doubt. Then, it was over.
The drive home was much more composed. Not only was I tired from the day, drive, and Montana beatdown, I realized the real world would call my name in just a few short hours. The Montana/Idaho night is especially dark. With my high-beams on, the highway looked like an airport runway with the number of reflectors littered on the guardrail, pavement, and signage. As I looked back on the trip that was, I began thinking of how I could make time and set aside the proper funds to be able to do this same trip again in just over a week. You see, the Big Sky Tourney would be at the very same gym I just left, and if Weber State could get to the final, I may have one more chance to get this Montana monkey off my back. One more chance to see Mr. Lillard in the flesh. One more opportunity to see the Wildcats punch a ticket to the Big Dance. That's the economy of our fanhood; we ever invest our time, energy, money, and hope that one day, one night, or in one moment, we will see something unforgettable.
Sports do strange things to us, don't they? It's economics.
WEBER STATE 23-5 (14-2) -- D. Lillard 7-19 3-5 19; S. Bamforth 4-13 0-0 9; D. Mahoney 1-4 2-2 4; K. Bullinger 3-7 0-1 6; B. Fulton 1-8 0-0 2; K. Tresnak 3-7 3-4 9; G. Wheelwright 0-5 0-0 0; F. Otis 0-0 2-2 2; J. Richardson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-63 10-14 51. MONTANA 23-6 (15-1) -- M. Ward 6-11 3-3 15; A. Steward 1-6 1-2 4; W. Cherry 7-14 8-10 23; K. Jamar 5-8 4-6 17; D. Selvig 0-2 1-2 1; M. Weisner 2-5 0-0 4; S. Stockton 1-2 0-0 2; E. Hutchison 0-0 0-0 0; K. DeShields 0-0 0-0 0; J. Gregory 0-0 0-0 0; K. Henderson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-48 17-23 66.
Three-point goals: WEB 3-26 (K. Bullinger 0-3; D. Lillard 2-11; B. Fulton 0-2; S. Bamforth 1-8; G. Wheelwright 0-2), UMT 5-14 (D. Selvig 0-1; S. Stockton 0-1; M. Ward 0-1; W. Cherry 1-4; K. Jamar 3-3; A. Steward 1-2; M. Weisner 0-2); Rebounds: WEB 30 (D. Mahoney 9), UMT 32 (A. Steward 12); Assists: WEB 4 (D. Mahoney 2), UMT 11 (W. Cherry 4); Total Fouls -- WEB 21, UMT 15; Fouled Out: WEB-K. Bullinger; UMT-None.