Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Tradition Born out of Necessity

      This year's NCAA men's basketball national championship game between Kansas and Kentucky was the 30th year of a neighborhood annual tradition that was born out of necessity.
     On the first year back in 1982, ESPN began covering many of the early round tournament games while that the national networks only televised the final four games and championship. The early round games were a big hit with tv fans and the tournament gained in popularity. This was in the beginning days for cable television. If you weren't connected by coaxial cable, you were stuck watching M.A.S.H or Dallas which arrived by the airwaves and the antenna bolted to your house.
     But back then, I had the cable hookup on my street and would watch many of these games. Unfortunately, my neighbor Joe Greene a die hard basketball fan, was unable to get cable because the utility wiring where he lived nearby was buried underground. At that time the company wasn't digging and laying cable on his street. When a huge first round game was shown on ESPN, Joe would call to see if I was watching and he'd stop over and we would view the games on my rec room tv. Up stairs my wife Deb would be watching The Love Boat or some other show.
     As a way of returning the favor, he had me over to his home the first year in 1982 to watch the final. That was the start of the tradition that continues to this day. The 1982 final matched up Georgetown and North Carolina. In the final moments, a young Michael Jordan sank a shot at the buzzer. It looked like he jumper five feet in the air after making that basket to win the game.
     For a couple more years we'd continue to alternate homes to watch the games until the cable company finally connected the lines to his home. By then, Joe was inviting friends and neighbors over and there would be eight or nine guys watching from his den. Early on Mike Gaffney, Rock D'Emilio, Scott Brant, Dave Uhas and other guys he played basketball with would stop by. Over the years different guys would come and go. This year it was neighbors Joe, Pat Dailey and myself watching the entire game.
     These guys still play weekly pickup games at area school gyms even though they are closing in on sixty years old. They can still run the floor just not getting end to end as fast. I gave that up years ago preferring to play volleyball. I'm impressed they are still going strong.
     My first recollections of college ball were from UCLA's John Wooden era. In the late 60's center Abdul Jabbar then named Lew Alcindor used his famous sky hook over defenders. I tried to copy that move as a kid. In 1973 another Bruin was Bill Walton with the big mane of red hair. He dominated the basket.
     Watching over the last three decades has given us many highlights. Joe and Pat can remember the players, the years and teams talking about events that I have long forgotten. They are walking hoops encyclopedias.
      The one outstanding game and my favorite has to be Villanova's two point win over Georgetown in 1986. That game had us on the edge of our seats and we cheered at the buzzer. It's considered one of the all time upsets in NCAA final history. There was even talk of driving down to the campus to partake in the celebration with the Wildcat fans. The idea was vetoed deciding it was probably better to go to work in the morning.
     We didn't think this years championship game would be as good as the semi-final between rivals Louisville and Kentucky. We were wrong. Even though Kentucky took a sizable lead, Kansas as able to chip away and made the game interesting in the end. MVP Anthony Davis had a bad shooting night but picked it up with big rebounds and a crucial blocked shots. The first half looked like a horse race with four minute stretches where the teams never stopped running the court.
     Kentucky slowed it down in the second half working the clock and closed out the Jay Hawks. I looked over at Joe and Pat during one of the timeouts in the second half while the endless commercials were on. Both had nodded off for a couple minutes. They laughed at each other when they awoke with the action back on. We hung around as the national network stretched the festivities on and on until midnight. The last thing we watch was the tournament highlights segment 'One shining moment'. That's a good way to end the annual get together.
    On the way out the door Joe said "I'll look for you and Pat next year and we'll start our fourth decade of watching The Game".


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