April 3, 2003

Ruminations on the Big Dance

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With hockey tournament fever fully inflicting my sports nervous system, I’ve found it hard to subsequently endure the current madness of NCAA men’s basketball. Normally, I’d be fully ingrained in the last second miracles, gut-wrenching human interest stories, bracketological experimentation, and Cinderella routines that can only be choreographed for the Big Dance itself.

Instead, this year I’ve been forced to choose between the two methods of insanity and come on: this year’s Cornell hockey euphoria is just too good to be true. When was the last time a Red squad made so many SportsCenter moments in just a two-week span?

Regardless, I haven’t solely been locked into the moment-by-moment developments on the Road to the Frozen Four. I’ve pulled into some of the truck stops along the Road to New Orleans, as well. You can never give up your first love completely. Thus, I’d like to share two of the things that have stood out in my mind about this year’s March Madness.

Standout Performers

It’s the PTPers, baby! First and foremost, my man, Dwayne Wade. While his name isn’t exactly that of the flip-spectacle totin’ funny man from Another World (that was Dwayne Wayne), his game is from exactly the same source: another world. This guy is unreal. I will never forget sitting in the press room in Albany screaming, “He’s just too much!” as Wade hit jumper after jumper to single-handedly beat Missouri. He’s a family man and a gritty competitor. He also looks just like Warrick Dunn. We were all just hangin’ out last Saturday and this eerie likeness was pointed out to me. Check it out, you can’t help but agree.

Next is the illusive T.J. Ford. I love when you can visibly see a guy say to himself “Screw it, this is my team and I’m going to have to win this game.” There has been a moment in almost every Texas game during the tournament in which Ford obviously made this decision. Afterwards, you can almost see the other team wondering, “What just happened” as Ford skips off the court with his patented sneer.

My favorite example of this phenomenon came in Texas’s Sweet 16 game against UConn. Ford sits out for four minutes, due to foul trouble, and the Huskies go on a 16-point run. With five minutes left he re-enters, makes two brilliant passes, four three throws, and the Longhorns never look back. UConn point guard Taliek Brown later says of Ford, “He’s not a serial killer or nothing, and I was supposed to be scared of him?”

What does that even mean? I think someone’s driven a Ford lately.

Finally, a guy who you might not have heard of: St. Joseph’s Jameer Nelson. Though the Hawks lost to Auburn in the first round, Nelson’s performance was easily the most impressive of the entire tournament. Nelson made 9 of 18 shots and was 7-for-8 from the foul line, finishing with 32 points and nine rebounds. He scored 13 of his team’s last 15 points in regulation, including two free throws with a half-second left to send the game into an extra frame. He capped off his career day by scoring all of St. Joe’s points in a frantic overtime effort. Oh, and one more thing: he’s 5-10.

Built like a rock, quick as lightning and tough as a fullback, Nelson became my favorite basketball player with a single performance one Friday afternoon. If it wasn’t for the eternally vile Pat Carroll’s air ball as time expired, Nelson might still be playing today. But don’t get me started on Pat Carroll.

Laughable Announcing

The next thing I’ve noticed is probably a by-product of my journalistic sensibilities. What’s with the commentators this year? Has a more important sporting event even been so poorly covered? I’m not talking about the constant Breaking News interruptions, either. You have to expect a Dan Rather special update every now and then when we’re at war.

What I’m talking about is the utter incompetence of the entire CBS broadcasting team. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Digger Phelps, Bill Raftery, and Ian Eagle? It’s like CBS visited the nearest broadcasting yard sale and asked if they had anything left for a quarter. While most of the analysts are simply unqualified or overdramatic, there is one man who stands out as the ultimate fiasco.

Did they audition Kareem or was it just assumed that a former basketball legend would be talented behind a headset? I mean, they did have the successful precedent of such masters of basketball announcing as Bill Walton, Moses Malone, and Isaiah Thomas. I think this trend is some sort of joke the networks are playing on basketball fans everywhere. They take one of the most adored sports figures of an era, hand him a mic, and slowly watch as the entire sports world comes to resent a once-adored human being.

For example, can you even take Bill Walton in a uniform seriously? I try to watch him work the post alongside Kevin McHale on ESPN Classic, but all I can imagine is Bill whispering “Throw it down, big man, throw it down” to a perplexed Robert Parrish. But clearly, I digress.

At halftime of a first round game between Duke and Colorado State, Matt Guokas turned to Kareem and asked “So what do you think we’ll see in the second half big man?” Stunned and obviously surprised by the question, Abdul-Jabbar delayed a second. Just as Guokas was about to nervously throw the broadcast to commercial, a suddenly roused Kareem mumbled, “Well Duke went ahead in the first half and we should expect more of the same in this one. They likely won’t be too different”

Guokas, once again challenged to hold in a laugh, could only retort, “We’ll see.”

Someone should write a letter to the network executives asking them to stop this abject cruelty. If not for America’s sake, then at least for Matt Guokas’.

So there, you have it. In my limited ability to endure much more sports bedlam, I have at least gleaned a little inspiration and frustration from the madness of March. Hopefully this weekend will provide some more unforgettable performances and humorously forgettable quotes from the master of the skyhook. At least we can always remember to expect more of the same because it likely won’t be too different.

Archived article by Scott Jones