Saturday, November 10, 2012

basketball matters

Last night I could not decide whether to go to the gym for a needed workout, or watch the opening night basketball game between my school, Northeastern University, and our in-town rivals, Boston University.  BU is sort of out of town up Commonwealth Avenue and not a spot from which you can get to downtown without taking a subway.  Northeastern is right in the city, a short walk to Fenway Park, the Prudential Center where the marathon finishes, and the tony back bay and south end sections of the city.  A little bit longer shake of the leg and you are at Quincy and the Hay Market.   So to write that we are in-town rivals gives BU a little more credit than it deserves.  (I wonder at times if I have read too much of our publicity literature--but this is the truth about the names of the schools.   Boston College, another rival, is incontrovertibly misnamed as it does not even sit in Boston, but in Newton a nearby suburb).

Nevertheless the BU/NU game has about as much tension and interest as any of our basketball games.  Hockey is a big draw at the school, but basketball not so much.  The BU game does draw some fans and has been exciting the last few years. In the 80s and 90s it was even more tense with one game including a near fist fight between the two coaches.  So, I decided to attend the game and resolved to exercise on the morrow.

It was crowded getting into the arena last night, but not packed.  It was loud though as supporters from both schools were couched together and the cheering sections already shouting before the opening tip.  I rarely sit in the upper deck but that was where I was perched, parked there just when the NU team was being introduced.

One of the fun things about watching a first game of the season is that the teams are so juiced--no squad is deflated because of a depleting losing streak and the players have not had an opportunity to develop resentments because of lack of playing time.  The players last night played the entire contest as if they had been in a starbucks knocking back espressos for six hours before the tilt.  NU came out in a tenacious man to man and we were fighting through picks and jumping through the roof to grab rebounds. Unfortunately, during the first half we were throwing up bricks reflecting, I am thinking, the anxiety of an opening game.

As I have mentioned in these blogs, I played some college basketball on a freshman team.  The last player on the bench on both BU and NU teams on their worst day would beat me when I was at my prime on my best day by 15 points in a one on one game to 15.  And I can, (or at least could) shoot.  Still these guys are so much better than I was that I find it startling sometimes to see them throw up shots as if they are pushing cinderblocks into the air.

BU went ahead by ten points and held a lead until the midpoint in the second half.  Then the stud for NU took over and was able to get BU to foul often.  We caught up with foul shots and some good inside baskets so that down within a couple of minutes the lead was changing regularly.  Then, someone from BU hit a three putting them up 63-62 with less than a minute to go.

We called a time out and set up the stud who not only lost the ball but fouled a player in the process--fouling himself out of the game and giving BU two foul shots with ten seconds left.  BU hit the first and missed the second.  NU is down 64-62 with ten seconds left and the stud on the bench.

NU takes the ball up the court and with two seconds left it is somehow in the hands of a fellow who has amassed a grand total of one point in the preceding 39 minutes and 57 seconds of the game.  He takes a long three at the buzzer.

It goes in, NU wins, and the place erupts in a way I have never seen it.

In one second the NU coach goes from someone who does not know what he is doing to genius. The BU coach goes from a genius to a fool.   The erstwhile one point player goes from a member of the bricklayers union to the school hero.

The NU coach is wildly and widely congratulated by those who might have been wondering whether it was time for a change.  Players run down a gauntlet of admiring fans as they go to the locker room. The BU coach is shaking his head and, one hopes, is being consoled.

One of the number of images that will stay with me from last night is related to the look on the NU assistant coach's face at the end of the night.  NU has an assistant coach who must be close to 70.  He was the coach's coach when the coach played college basketball.  He does not need this job.  He could retire one assumes without worrying about a paycheck.  This guy was positively beaming last night after the game. Just a broad genuine smile ear to ear.

What does it matter.  A kid hit a three at the buzzer.  Does it affect the economy? Address our problems with Iran?  Deal with the political dichotomy in this country?  Well, no.  But to the wild fans who are still feeling the effects of the cheering, the coaches, and certainly the kid who buried the three, it matters. In today's Globe the headline of the article about the game reads, "Pollard's 3-pointer propels NU over BU."  I think the kid will probably clip and save the headline.

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