Storming the court
The best of it
by Craig Ross
When the U-M men's basketball team beat Duke on December 6, fans rushed the court to celebrate. And it wasn't just students on the floor of Crisler Arena: the giddy crowd included a couple of middle-aged friends of mine--one a PhD in clinical psychology, the other a well-known economist.
PhD.s storming the court? Absolutely. They earned it. We all earned it-the handful of hardcore fans who kept showing up through the Wolverines' dark last decade.
I know I sat through more awful games than anyone should have to endure in a lifetime. Christ, I never missed a home game when "exactly-why-is-this-dude-our-coach?" Brian Ellerbe was in charge. I sat through the dubiously talented cum train wrecks Kevin Gaines and Dom Ingerson, half peering through my fingers----hoping to see and not see. When Michigan started a televised game against Duke at Durham down 2-36, I kept watching to the end. I dealt with a couple of moronic Sparty fans pointing stuff in my face (for no particular reason except to taunt) when MSU killed us at Crisler, trying to take it in good humor with the more reasonable Spartan Nation. They won by 50, I think. Or maybe 80. My wife and I once walked a mile through three feet of snow to see the U-M lose to Northwestern. My guess is 500 others were there, soaking up the pain.
I witnessed some of the worst, most inane, and least inspired basketball ever played. I watched teams that didn't seem to care. I watched teams that couldn't play. (Often, these teams intersected.) But I kept going to games. I kept cheering. I kept trying to see the nearly empty glass as half full. And, I kept trying to imagine an arena (even) half full, as opposed to the few stragglers and diehards blinded by their own visions.
"Why are we doing this?" my wife asked. "Because some day it will change," I told her. She rolled her eyes.
this year, it did change. I had the chance to joke around with Petey Sims--a really, really sweet kid--at practice. Head coach John Beilein turned out to be incredibly down to earth and accessible, while assistant Jerry Dunn was so thoughtful and open that it made my eyes burn. I had dinner with Kelvin Grady, Ben Cronin, and Zak Novak and saw that they (and an entire team) were mutually supportive, rooting for each other as much as themselves.
I thought, Well, this team will be well coached and fun and will have decent kids playing, the kind of people I want to cheer for.
And then we received this present.
Sure, we earned this. But I also feel blessed. And most of all, I am in love with the idea of two highly educated older guys storming the court, giving into the naivete of youth and the pure pointless passion of a lofted ball hanging in the air and then snapping the strands hung from a metal rim.
This is what the games are all about.
This is what life is all about.
Or, at least, the best of it.
[Originally published in December, 2008.]