It was the 1997 National Championship game and I was 13. No. 4 seed Arizona had just defeated both No. 1 Kansas and No. 1 North Carolina. I was thrilled that No. 1 Kentucky would play such a low seed.
The time difference meant that the game would start an hour after school finished. I bustled out of my last class and ran to the bus stop only to see the bus whizzing past me. The next bus wouldn’t come for another hour.
I was panicked, I was crushed. And then I made a snap decision – I would walk home. I would walk up and down the hills and valleys to not miss a second of my Cats.
Honestly, I don’t know how I made it home. I talked to myself a lot, urged my legs on, and tried to focus on the end prize. Somehow, the combination got me to my destination, albeit with aching legs and a sore back from a heavy backpack.
The game hadn’t started yet so I took an empty two-liter bottle, turned it upside down, grabbed the tip, and used it as a pom-pom drum for the game. A pom-pom for when I shook it around in circles and a drum for when I banged it against things in frustration.
I know, I’m weird.
As it turned out, none of the above helped my team win. The loss to Arizona in overtime made me forever bitter toward Miles Simon and Mike Bibby.
The floodgates opened when the final buzzer sounded, and I ended up crying myself to sleep that night. Dramatic, but also passionate.
Why am I telling you this? Well, because it’s July 2010 and I really, really miss college basketball. Yes, I miss full-court defenses, charges, diving for loose balls, and cheering for my favorite team. But what I really miss is the fact that the players don’t call the shots, that no matter how hard an agent tries to weasel his way in, the NCAA has plenty of roadblocks set up for deflection. And did I mention that the players don’t call the shots?
The NBA free agency has turned ESPN into ET and Linda Cohn into Maria Menounos. Okay, well, maybe not Cohn into Menounos though Cohn probably wouldn’t complain. The current media circus has me disgusted and turned off from professional basketball.
I think back to when I trudged along on a road carved into a mountain just so I wouldn’t miss a chance to watch Kentucky play and Rick Pitino do his magic, and I suddenly feel ashamed for what the NBA has turned into. I didn’t grow up loving this sport so that I could watch LeBron James call himself King with no rings while commanding a one-hour ESPN special to announce who his employer will be.
He will probably stay in Cleveland and it was probably his intention the entire time to stay in Cleveland. He essentially played his suitors and the media for attention, not to mention putting the Cavs front office and the fan base through weeks of sleepless nights.
You see, there were two routes James could have taken. One is the above. The other is the route Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki both took. Like LeBron, Pierce and Nowitzki opted out of the final year of their contracts. The difference is, they did it to sign for less money and they did it quietly. Yes, it probably had something to do with the looming lockout and securing a longer contract, but they also did it for their team. They took less money so there would be more money available to sign other players. Their loyalty is to their team and their fans, not to their public relations manager.
If James has any illusions about overtaking Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player ever, he will have to start acting like Jordan – that is, someone who quietly goes about his business and wins championships. Right now, James is sorely lacking in both.