Okay violating my self imposed Facebook abstinence here just one time before June 1, but I hope you will understand…
Today was that exceptional…
I have broadcast games for 17 years, 12 on radio with Paul Rogers for the University of Louisville games. Only one other time, of a much more personal nature, was I moved to tears on the air. In Albeuquerque, the same site as my brother Jim’s national championship, Louisville came from 20 points down in an Elite Eight game to go to Rick Pitino’s first Final Four with the Cards. For various reasons, including a tremendously generous gesture by then assistant coach Kevin Willard, I was so moved…but that was more personal…
Today, Kevin Ware suffered one of the most gruesome injuries you’ll see on basketball court, or anywhere. In the first half, he jumped to challenge a shot, simply landed wrong and his leg was grotesquely broken and twisted.
What followed was unlike anything I have seen at a game, coaching or broadcasting. Louisville players began crying on the court; a few vomited at the sight, as the injury was right in front of the bench. Duke players and Coach K were obviously moved as well…
Making it more surreal was how it happened. No one could see from the outer reaches of this vast arena what exactly occurred. Even our viewpoint, courtside right opposite Louisville’s bench was difficult to see, but players on the court, who could see it in detail, started dropping to the court. Paul and I thought there might have been a collision we missed. A few broadcasters in the further points actually thought someone took a shot at the players; in this day of terrorism that may be sad, but not illogical.
Three players dropped to the court. Peyton Siva dropped to a knee to pray…clearly not business as usual…
As the time stretched on, it became apparent the injury was awful. In today’s instant media,pictures were quickly transmitted. The players looked stunned, sad, bewildered…
Kevin Ware asked his teammates to gather around before going off on a stretcher and told them, “I will be fine. Now go out and win this game…” which only added to the emotional impact…
What transpired after halftime was almost overwhelming to witness. The emotion etched on the players’ faces was unlike any I had ever seen at a game. I can’t even describe it, truly…pain over their friend, effort to refocus on the game, determination to win, in many ways for Kevin Ware.
It seemed like little happened to make people forget the injury. As Louisville improbably pulled away to a 22 point win, the crowd started chanting “Ke-Vin, Ke-Vin…” The game ended without the Cards cutting the nets down, and Rick Pitino urging the crowd to honor Kevin by chanting again as he stood on the podium.
There was a play very late with the game essentially over, where Luke Hancock–who started the year so bumpily and was the subject of fans’ wrath– taking a leadership role, waving everyone away so he could create a shot for walk on Tim Henderson, who proceeded to nail a three point shot, and receive an exuberant hug from the normally stoic Hancock.
All game we saw that emotion from players who rarely show it. It is one of the times sitting courtside gives a vantage point I am not sure TV could capture…although I know many simply watching at home were moved to tears…
And so my broadcast partner was moved to tears as well…and I was unable to do much to help him…overwhelming…
It was incredible…and I thought about why? Players get hurt all the time…why was this so emotional?
Of course it was gruesome. That is undeniably a big part. But to watch the unique bond that is a team, and how much pain these kids had to play through, and how they rallied together…AND rallied to play for their fallen teammate…again, overwhelming…
I was moved at the emotion by the Duke players and coaches as well.That was a reminder again how blessed you are when the outcome of a game can be so important to you. It IS important; that’s fine, but in moments like that you realize how fleeting it all can be and how it can all go away. Even young bullet proof players at that moment can’t help but be reminded, “There but for the grace of God go I”…
It makes anyone watching feel the same about their own lives. How fragile it all can be; you must embrace the moments, pull those dear to you near, and don’t waste the time you have with them…it all can go away so fast…
Yes, all that from basketball game. So I was very moved, and know I wasn’t alone…
After the game I got a hug from Russ Smith who was devestated at the injury. I got to share a moment with Gorgei Dieng and Peyton Siva, emotional and spiritual leaders in many ways on this team. It is different, a bit subdued, but they are happy and proud, and maybe in many ways, more meaningful than just a usual post game congratulations…
I wander around for a bit, pass a closed training room and hear what sounds like a player laughing hysterically. I ask, “Is that someone laughing?”. Somber subdued voices tell me, no those sounds are from one of the players crying, wailing, the sounds now gut wrenching as I realize what the reality actually is…
I won’t mention the player’s name, as i am not interested in violating his privacy, but i am reminded again…they’re people, not X’s and O’s,and in so many meaningful ways, just kids at that.
Every once in a while the game transcends the sport, and the sport transcends itself, sending life lessons and creating human drama of the highest order.
Today was one of those days, and I was humbled to try and help Paul find the words to describe it on radio.
That’s probably impossible, when you are asked to describe some things you’ve never seen before.
But I will never forget having the opportunity today, to try…
Archives For Sports
Rick Reilly has a feel good article about Penn State’s new coach Bill O’Brien who led them to an 8-4 record. In the midst of every tragedy, there is a glimmer of redemption.
When 10-year-old Jack O’Brien sat in the stands at Penn State this season and heard 90,000 people chanting his dad’s name, he thought it was music and danced in his wheelchair.
When Bill O’Brien himself heard it, he wanted to go hide under the bench.
“It’s soooo embarrassing,” O’Brien grumbles. “I hate it. I wish they’d chant a player’s name.”
O’Brien will just have to suck it up. Because what he did this season at Penn State will be talked about until the Allegheny Mountains crumble.
Into the teeth of the worst college football scandal in American history, into a sex-scandal mess the National Guard couldn’t have cleaned up, Bill O’Brien pulled off a football miracle: He made you forget Penn State was radioactive.
O’Brien went 8-4 in the middle of nuclear winter. He kept popping open umbrellas while it rained bowling balls. He made a numb town feel again. That’s why he’s either the coach of the year in college football this season or you melt down the trophy.
Every time I read about Kevin Durant I like him more. Sam Anderson from the NYTimes Magazine writes a long article about the Oklahoma City Thunder and their rise to power.
N.B.A. scoring champions are, as a rule, weirdos and reprobates and in some cases diagnosable sociopaths. Something about dominating your opponent, publicly, more or less every day of your life, in the most visible aspect of your sport, tends to either warp your spirit or to be possible only to those whose spirits are already warped. Michael Jordan, when he wasn’t busy scoring, was busy punching a teammate in the face and gambling away small fortunes. Allen Iverson, in his spare time, recorded an aesthetically and morally terrible rap album and gave an iconic speech denigrating the very notion of practice. Kobe Bryant is and shall forever be Kobe Bryant. Wilt, Shaq, Pistol Pete, Dominique, McGrady, McAdoo, Rick Barry — it’s a near-solid roster of dysfunction: sadists, narcissists, malcontents, knuckleheads, misanthropes, womanizers, addicts and villains. While it’s true that plain old N.B.A. superstars do occasionally manage to be model citizens (cf. Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Steve Nash), there is something irredeemable about a scoring champion.
Kevin Durant, the star of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is the youngest scoring champion in N.B.A. history. At 24, he has led the league in scoring for three consecutive seasons, and all signs point to him keeping that up for the foreseeable future. It follows, then, that Durant should also be a prodigy of a head case. He should have been arrested for reckless driving at around age 9, broken his hand in a strip-club brawl at age 12 and accidentally shot his chauffeur no later than age 15.
Instead, Durant has a reputation roughly on par with Gandhi. He seems to be — not just for a scoring champion, but for anyone — almost inhumanly humble. His motto, which he intones constantly, is “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” His pregame ritual involves kissing his mother, as does his postgame ritual. Once, in college, during probably the greatest freshman season of all time, a reporter asked Durant if he realized that he had just single-handedly outscored the entire opposing team in the second half of a game. Durant answered, with absolute sincerity, “Who, me?” When I asked the Thunder coach, Scott Brooks, to tell me about his superstar, he laughed. “Whatever you say nice, you can print it out and I’ll just say I said it,” he said. “Because it’s true.”
Photo Credit: Howard Schatz for The New York Times
ESPN’s Jason King has an article titled The Gospel of John Calipari where he describes the coaches marketing technique and success of Coach Cal. Although I am a Louisville fan, Cal is doing something special and he has a way of getting young talent and making them play as a team.
It also shows that universities rather than being educational facilities, are centered around sports, because that is where the money is.
It is all about the money, a critique that every school could hear.
Skip Bayless has an article on Tim Tebow chronicling how he was won over to become a huge Tebow fan. Bayless says:
So how did I suddenly go from rolling my eyes at Tebow to defending him?
Through his first three seasons at Florida, I was skeptical of the winning-for-God-and-Gators hype generated by the collegiate myth-making machine. Then on Monday night, Jan. 8, 2009, it happened: I got Tebowed.
My life changed.
That night I experienced what I eventually would call “a competitive force of nature.” It was 7-7 at halftime when (I later discovered via YouTube) Tebow gave his team a speech that was scary great: A shy-smiling boy next door suddenly transformed into the Hulk. A psycho-eyed Tebow screamed at his teammates that they WERE GOING TO GO BACK OUT THERE AND DO THIS AND DO THAT. And that’s exactly what they did. I sat numbly watching Tim Tebow take over the fourth quarter — take over the game, the crowd, the very psyches of my Sooners. Florida 24, me 14. Tebow: 231 yards passing, 109 rushing, 12-of-17 on third downs.
That night I said to myself I would never again bet against this guy.
The articles on LeBron James must be approaching the heavens by now. I will go ahead and state the obvious for those of you who don’t read articles on EPSN every day.
LeBron pinned the target to his own back.
I was talking to a friend in the weight room the other day and we were discussing how LeBron is actually not that bad of a dude. As Rick Reilly astutely observed:
Has he refused to speak to reporters after a single game this season? Has he called out his teammates for their poor play, as Kobe Bryant did twice this postseason? Has he gotten his coach fired? Been fined for criticizing refs? Asked to be traded, released or named general manager?
Has he punched anybody? Choked anybody? Screamed at any parking valets? (Mom doesn’t count.)
Smashed a chair? Drop-kicked any equipment? Tiger Woods does that on the front nine.
He also is a phenomenal basketball player. Every game he brings it, and usually dominates. He can play any position and succeed at it. In some ways he is absolutely unstoppable and as others have noted, instead of just cheering against him we need to enjoy his domination while it lasts because he will only get older and slower. As Joe Pos says:
It’s too easy for people like me to forget just how amazing LeBron was when he lugged a bagful of Larry Hughes, Eric Snow and Donyell Marshall to the NBA Finals by averaging 25 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and nearly two steals along the way. It’s too easy for people like me to forget that in the Cavaliers’ heart-wrenching seven-game loss to Orlando in the 2009 conference finals, LeBron scored 49, then 35, then 41, then 44, then 37 (that was his crazy 37-point, 14-rebound, 12-assist game) before struggling for a mere 25 in the final loss. The guy does extraordinary things, and he does them with regularity.
In fact at times I feel bad for him, wishing that he would have success. But I keep going back to this statement he made. A statement that never should have been made. A statement that (along with “The Decision”) made it okay to cheer against him.
Not 1 [championship], “Not 2. Not 3. Not 4. Not 5. Not 6. Not 7. And when I say that I really believe it. … The way we’re going to challenge each other in practice, once the game starts it’s going to be easy. I mean with me and D-Wade running the wing, I mean Pat [Riley] could come back and play like he was in his Kentucky days. Just throw it up there and we’re gonna get it.
Saying something like this would be like going into a new job and saying, “Because I am here, you will make not 1 million dollars, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7. The sky is the limit. It is going to be easy.”
Some might be inspired, or already annoyed by a statement like this. But after a couple of years go by and the newest brand of “Heat Ovens” are only making $500K, there would start to be some giggles when he walks into the lunch room. And these would turn to outright hilarity if the entrance into the company included smoke and screams. See below.
So hate him, or love him, he has a target on his back, and don’t forget, he put himself in this position.
I don’t like the Spurs.
I don’t know if I have a rational for this, I simply have never liked them.
Part of the reason must be because I think Duncan is highly skilled, and highly spiritless.
I am hoping it will be OKC vs. the Celtics, but it seems that I am cursed in my sports leanings. After all, I am a Minnesota fan. Their history is a sad story (with a few highlights from the Twins).
Well over at Slate Matthew Yglesias explains why people don’t like the Spurs. I am not sure this my reason, but he says some interesting and perceptive things.
America—at least in its own imagination—stands for certain things. For the idea that hard work and sound judgment bring success, and that success deserves celebration. That winners should be celebrated as long as they play by the rules. That teamwork, leadership, loyalty, and excellence all count for something. And that’s why the San Antonio Spurs, currently riding a stupendous run of 19 straight victories, are America’s favorite professional basketball team.
Except, of course, they aren’t.
That’s because we are, ultimately, a nation of hypocrites that prefers drama queens, bad boys, and flukes to simple competence and success.
This year’s Spurs team somehow managed to earn less recognition than its predecessors even as it has finally demolished the longstanding excuses for America’s refusal to embrace our most successful sports franchise.
There’s a reason that Bridezillas is a show and there’s nothing called Reasonably Well-Planned Wedding Enjoyed by All. Americans don’t want excellence, and we certainly don’t want long-term sustained excellence. We want our dynasties to come with a side order of drama, controversy, and bad behavior. We want anti-heroes and the occasional impulsive retirement to pursue a baseball career. We want to watch a train wreck and then tut-tut in a smug self-satisfied way about the irresponsibility of the people who caused it. We want to maintain our high ideals, without needing to walk the walk. Nobody can hate the Spurs, so nobody wants to love them. It’s more comfortable for everyone if we can just pretend they don’t exist.