The Games Are the Same, I Have Changed

This is the very gym in which I soared to basketball mediocrity in the 1980s

This is the very gym in which I soared to basketball mediocrity in the 1980s

It’s March Madness time again. For those of you not in the United States, or those of you who are my brother, let me explain: March Madness is the nickname given to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual basketball tournament that occurs in March, involves 64 teams and results–at the end of a madcap two week flurry of high-intensity games–in the crowning of the NCAA National Champion.

If you like college basketball, you go mad for the excitement of this time of year. If you don’t like college basketball, you look at those of us who go mad this time of year like we are mad.

When I was in high school–which was certainly the height of my interest in the tournament–I watched the games as a dreamer. I was on the basketball team at my school (just barely) and I was only a few years younger than the young men playing in the college tournament. They inspired me; I thought there was an outside chance I could, if I worked hard, be one of them. Their bravado, their swagger, their alpha-male charisma–it all made them pretty popular and that was appealing to me. It looked like a good thing to aspire to. Even if I couldn’t be one of them, I could be like them.

I didn’t make it past my junior year of high school basketball. I destroyed my knee. But I wasn’t going anywhere anyway–the knee injury was just the universe saying “since it’s a foregone conclusion that basketball is not your future lets end this here. Can I interest you in a clarinet? How about writing?”

Now I am a generation older than the young men playing the tournament games. I still watch. I like the excitement of the underdog team upsetting the favorite; I like the human drama of the close games; I like to see the perseverance and mental strength required to perform at a high level under the highest pressure; I watch to see evidence of commitment and dedication; I feel for the losing teams when they are gracious losers, if they congratulate the winners despite their own sadness. As I watch now, I find the bravado, the swagger, the alpha-male posturing and chest pounding an annoying distraction. Now I watch looking for good sports, for good citizens. My kids are watching: I want them to see good role models.

Maybe I’m on my way to being a cranky old man, though I will point out I have not yet used the phrase “In my day…”. But I will admit to a significant change in the desires these tournament games stir in me. When I was a kid I watched and wished I could be more like the players. Now I watch and hope the players will be more like me.



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