I might as well have been wearing the referee’s zebra shirt during the 1993 men’s NCAA championship game when Michigan’s Chris Webber called the timeout that still exists in infamy. The image is clear of the bright yellow No. 4 jersey and the baggy shorts awkwardly and unmistakably traveling. I swallow my whistle hoping not to ruin the potential fantastic finish. He sprints up court and dribbles toward the Michigan bench when he gracelessly jump stops and fires a “what-do-I-do-next” glance back in my direction before clearly indicating his desire for a timeout. One of my partners blows the whistle and we conference before calling the mandatory technical foul that seals the victory for North Carolina.
These are my manufactured memories. On the bench during our first round game of the 1998 tournament against Mississippi, I watch my teammate, Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew, collect the ball and prepare for a wide-open 3-pointer as the clock quickly heads toward 0. Arms locked with my teammates as we apprehensively stand in unison; my eyes follow the precise arc of the shot as it carries toward the basket. Next thing I know the ball is through the hoop and I am the first one to reach the hero with the congratulatory hug as I tackle him to the floor to start the necessary dog pile.
These are my manufactured memories. In the bleachers behind Kentucky’s basket during the 1992 East Regional final, the glass backboard frames Grant Hill’s pass as it flies 75 feet in slow motion toward astoundingly open Duke teammate Christian Laettner. Briefly pausing before executing the turnaround jumper, Laettner looks calm as if he knew it was in the whole time. Duke wins. The dejected Kentucky fans around me are distraught as they attempt to come to terms with what just happened. A few painted Cameron Crazies burst ahead with energy to attempt to rush the court, hoping to brush the arm of one of their secular idols.
These are my manufactured memories. I am Missouri forward Derrick Grimm. Up one with 4 seconds left to play, watching UCLA’s Tyus Edney sprint from the other end of the court in the second round of the 1995 tournament. He beats his man with a behind-the-back dribble near half court and scurries toward the lane. Stepping off my man to challenge his shot, he avoids me to the right and releases the runner … off the glass and in. Suddenly surrounded by a maze of white jerseys with gold and blue trim, I am caught in the middle of the celebration I don’t want to be a part of. I hide my emotion and head quickly toward the locker room to escape the ongoing madness.
These are my manufactured memories. Atop the ladder with scissors in hand, ready to take home my piece of history, I snip the small piece of net and proudly hoist it in the air to the roar of the diehard fans.
These are my manufactured memories. Nervously sitting with the Penn basketball team during Sunday afternoon’s selection show, they hope and pray for a great draw. I release my Cornell bias for a moment and become an Ivy Leaguer, supportive of our traditional rival. The team looks anxious, unsure of where they will land, wanting to represent the Ivy League — which hasn’t won a tournament game since 1998 — and trying to become the sophisticated man’s George Mason. It flashes across the screen: No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 14 Pennsylvania. Uh-oh. Texas A&M is a powerhouse … superstar Acie Law will neutralize Ivy League Player of the Year Ibrahim Jabber … Penn has no answer for the inside presence of Joseph Jones and Antanas Kavaliauskas … inevitably the Ivy League will continue its tournament losing streak.
I look around again and the Penn players don’t seem so upset. They are smiling, exchanging encouraging hand slaps. Suddenly I am back on the bench with Valparaiso, and then I’m behind Kentucky’s basket and then watching Edney fly by me before I am taking the ball away from Webber to give Carolina its free throws. At last I am up on that ladder, cameras flashing all around, knowing that CBS is soon to play this year’s version of “One Shining Moment” and I understand those smiles. They are the smiles from across the country of teams without a chance — teams that have to play No. 1 seeds, teams down 20 with five minutes left to play, teams down two with 5 seconds left to play. Teams that, despite the expected outcome that looms in the near future, bear the smiles that know something else. They know that it is March and it is here where anything can happen when memories are made — or manufactured. Thursday can’t get here fast enough.
Patrick Blakemore is a Sun Staff Writer. Got Game? will appear every other Tuesday this semester.