Back Home Again, in Indiana

December 11, 2011

As a freshman at Indiana, my first real college basketball game was the IU vs. Kentucky game on December 6, 1980.  Kentucky, then ranked #2 came into town to play the #5 Hoosiers and I had a seat in the 10th row on the floor behind the basket.  For those that have never been in Assembly Hall in Bloomington, it is one of the worst places to watch a college basketball game (or attend a concert).  It is built with two monster sections on either side of the court, with a very steep balcony on top.  There are only about 20 rows of bleachers behind each basket.

Back then, there was no such thing as a student section–we were randomly placed around the arena.  In those days, you could sign up for only half of the home games.  You had to negotiate with someone (usually a female student) to get the other half of the games.  With the random placement and the chance that you were going to end up either high in the main level or in the balcony that the same view as a satellite in geo-synchronous orbit, those floor level seats were sacred and coveted.

It was loud and it was thrilling.  Indiana ended up losing 68-66. Ray Tolbert missed a dunk in the last minute that would have given Indiana the lead that was right in front of us.  Needless to say, I was hooked.  In my four years at Indiana, the only home games I missed were those that occurred when we were on break.  I skipped spring break my freshman year to attend the NCAA regionals being held in Bloomington.  We ended up winning the national championship that year, and the stories about that season and that night are still being told thirty years later.

This is all a long lead-up to the flashbacks I’ve had since late Saturday afternoon, when Indiana’s basketball program returned from the dead to beat the (then) #1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats.

Watching the game was a treat and featured me pacing and jumping and agonizing over what seemed like an opportunity lost.  And then Christian Watford took a pass and drained a twenty-six foot jump shot that people will be talking about in Bloomington for years to come.

Moments before chaos reigned

Indiana’s basketball program was good in my day.  We expected to win our home games, even against people ranked higher than we were.  As a result, we never stormed the court.  It was fun to watch the kids take the court yesterday. The end of the game and the aftermath were jubilant.  Here are several views.  The first with longtime Hoosier Radio Network announcer Don Fisher’s call dubbed over the ESPN video.

This one is my favorite.  It’s amateur video taken from about 20 rows up in the main level, so it lacks the announcers, but gives you a great idea of the explosion of sound as the game ended.

Finally, my favorite watering hole while on campus (and now) was Nick’s English Hut.  When Indiana beat Michael Jordan’s North Carolina team in 1984 to advance to the regional finals when I was a senior, I was standing on the table and hanging from the beer barrels that hung from the rafters.  So it’s a place with wonderful memories for me.  Here’s a video taken from within the “addition” in Nick’s–not the old staid part but the part that looks like a sports bar without seating.  The video shakes and moves so quickly that the neon signs look like fabulous modern art works.

On Lacking Grace

September 15, 2009
The Mt. Rushmore of Gracelessness

The Mt. Rushmore of Gracelessness

Many people have linked the recent behaviors of Rep. Joe Wilson, Kanye West and Serena Williams to a coarsening of our society and an underlying rudeness.  The correlation is obvious; people who didn’t get their way pitched a fit that would make a three-year old proud. If you haven’t seen these by now, the chances of you being a reader of this post are virtually zero.

But there was also a fourth event that I think is in some small way related and shows similar characteristics.  Michael Jordan’s induction speech into the Basketball Hall of Fame was a great demonstration of the self-centeredness of athletes and celebrities and the gracelessness that often follows.  It was all about him, his way, and all the scores he had to settle.  Dating way back to his high school days, Jordan took every slight real and perceived as motivation for revenge and proving people wrong.  He took a whack at everybody from the poor kid (that was 6’9” while Jordan wasn’t) in high school and got picked ahead of him for the varsity, to Jeff Van Gundy (a notable non-handwasher*), to Jerry Krause.  He was ungracious.  His attempts at humor ended up sounding like more cuts and jabs and were inappropriate for the setting.  He needed not only an editor but a PR lackey.

He even told his kids, “I’d hate to be you guys.” He left the rest of that sentence unspoken:  “because there’s no possible way for you to measure up to my greatness”.  While it may be true at least as far as basketball stardom is concerned, did he think his kids don’t realize it already?  Ask his college-basketball playing son whose limited playing time seemed to coincide only with dad’s trips to Urbana-Champaign.  Do you think they need to be told that their lives will pale in comparison to their dad’s in front of a national television audience?  If one of his kids becomes a noted scientist or author, don’t you get the feeling that Thanksgiving dinner would still be all about Mike?  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this since Jordan is the one person honest enough to say that he unretired to spend less time with his family and more time on his legacy.  It was not a speech that will get him into the Parenting Hall of Fame for sure.

And for those of you counting the number of references Jordan made to his involvement with the Washington Wizards:  zero.  No comments on the larger lessons he learned through failure about his limitations or how it made him better or stronger in other ways.  Nary was heard an enlightening or self-reflective word.

Rep. Wilson wanted an open microphone to settle his score with the President.

Serena Williams didn’t care that there were open microphones around when she confronted, attempted to intimidate and outright threatened a lines woman.

Kanye West stole an open microphone to express his displeasure with an award outcome (later to have his outrage shown to have been comically premature as his favorite won an even bigger award for the same video).

Jordan used is his time at the microphone not to be humble and gracious and accept the honor of joining other greats in the Hall of Fame.  He used it to get even and to show us his shallowness.

All four of them showed an awesome lack of class and lack of grace.

I understand that single-mindedness and self-centeredness are often critical elements of success in competitive events whether they are in sports or business, from basketball to bond trading.  I think that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time and I understand that the attitude he articulated certainly helped drive him to be as successful as he was on the court.  I’ve used what he said about this topic in the past as an example to my talented but undermotivated son about what it takes to be a champion.

But timing is everything.  There are times and places for those things to be discussed.  Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, Joint Sessions of Congress, award ceremonies—even for stupid, made-up awards, and Grand Slam semi-finals aren’t any of them.  All four of them lacked class and lacked grace.

If you disagree, ask yourself this question:  What would Tiger have done in the same situation?

*  I was on a flight from O’Hare to White Plains in 2002.  Jeff Van Gundy sat in the last row of first class, while I was in the first row of coach.  He deplaned immediately ahead of me and went directly into the men’s room adjacent to the gate, as did I.  Coach Van Gundy exited the men’s room without visiting the sink.  I was not the only person to notice it; New Yorkers aren’t shy.  Perhaps my describing this event also lacks class and grace, but I view it as a public service for those who meet JVG and are tempted to shake his hand.

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