Despite growing up in a basketball city and being indoctrinated as a Memphis State Tiger’s (now known as the University of Memphis Tigers) fan since birth, I used to loathe the time of year called ‘March Madness’.
For one thing, it pre-empted my soap operas for two whole days. Instead of a two day cliffhanger, I had to suffer through a four torturous days. Another drawback? It pre-empted my Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night television for two weeks straight- and yes, back then we had original programming on CBS on Saturday nights worth getting upset about missing.
And then a funny thing happened. Despite my Tigers having been bounced from the tournament weeks prior, I was home on a Saturday night in 1992 (not unusual for the bookish, nerdy, high school me), flipping through the channels when I landed on a game between the Kentucky Wildcats and Duke Blue Devils. I don’t know why I knew to stop and watch, but I did. You could just tell from the intensity in the eyes of every kid on that court and every coach on both benches that this was a blood match that would be historical. And it was. I am happy to say that I watched the game which would be forever known as THE game, live as it happened, undergoing the transformation of apathetic obligatory hometown college basketball fan to true blue, hard core cry-bloody-tears college basketball fanatic in the span a mere few hours.
I mean, watch this clip and tell me how you couldn’t appreciate the dramatic craziness that is basketball just a little bit more after that?
After that showing, I was hooked. And how could I not be? I love a good story and college basketball- especially March Madness- has the best narratives on television: the Game of Thrones sudden death ‘win or go home’ challenge of play; boys coming of age to men; men finding redemption; dramatic twists and turns; comedic diversions; college fiefdoms doing their schools, towns, cities, STATES proud; ruthless, cut throat competition; Davids beating Goliaths; Cinderellas keeping that clock from striking midnight; dagger to the heart shots; buzzer beater endings; boys, girls, men, and women crying in united joy, sadness, disbelief, euphoria. It’s the best kind of reality TV, bar none.
And then at the end you have the corniest, cheesiest, most moving ‘bow’ on the gift that is the Madness: the One Shining Moment musical montage. Whether it is the David Barrett, Luther Vandross, or Teddy Pendergrass version, you are glued to your television screen as you get a final recap of the tournament set against stirring vocals and music as you get one last buzz of all the amazing athleticism, crazy fan love, and heart warming displays of school spirit and community unity you enjoyed (and sometimes suffered through) for the last four weeks. I dare you to watch that montage and not either be grinning like an idiot or be just a little more sniffly and teary eyed than you were before you began watching it.
The one time I couldn’t watch that One Shining Moment lovefest? 2008. The day I truly became a sports fan. For that was the day I had my sports loving heart truly broken by my hometown team, the Memphis Tigers, in one of the biggest chokes in college basketball. I had to turn the television off before the final play in order to spare my brain and heart from having the memory of finalization of their epic collapse burned onto them for eternity. To this day I look away whenever a clip of that game comes up and say not very nice things about former Memphis head coach John Calipari who dumped the Tigers in a bid for glory at Kentucky (which he unfortunately achieved last year ruining another ‘One Shining Moment’ montage for me.). At least I have some solace in my bitter Tiger heart: In less than a year Kentucky went from champs to chumps: they didn’t even make the tournament this year while Memphis is in and ready to be a spoiler. Ha!
So while on the surface March Madness seems like it’s only about basketball and is taking you away from ‘real’ TV (believe me, I’ll be missing Person of Interest, too), realize that you’re not missing out on good television; basketball can and does go so much beyond a game. It can be comedy or tragedy; a thriller or a mystery; a tale of redemption or revenge; a horror story or an epic heroes journey where your team comes out on top.
Go ahead and dip a toe in the madness and see if it does not become you.
Love and Basketball
He Got Game