|From that magical fifteen minutes when we shared Spike with an incredulous nation.|
Andy Lyons / Getty Images
Basketball will always rank fourth with me of the four major North American sports, and really, its probably fifth behind soccer. That's not saying I don't enjoy the tournament, because I do, it's just the nature of my particular model of sports fandom. One of my friends has suggested that my issue with basketball is that I place a personal premium on scoring, wherein the more difficult to score, the more I enjoy the game. I can see this. Basketball, even when played well defensively, has something in the nature of 20 to 30 made field goals for each team.
But I do know what I like in basketball. I like outside shooters. I like smart. I like hustle. I like adaptable. But mostly I like humility and teamwork. The small size of basketball teams makes it more likely that the players on the team will feel more like a family, a brotherhood, than other sports. So when players talk about how much they care about each other, you can believe it, because it's a small band of brothers and you get to know them. Michigan's game has so many of the things I like that it leads to Nick Hornby's Arsenal conundrum*, only a positive one.
(*--As stated in Fever Pitch: "See after awhile it all gets mixed up together in your head, and you can't remember whether life's sh*t because Arsenal are sh*t or the other way around.")
And so I came to know this team on a first name basis, because it was always about Trey, or Tim, or Mitch, or Glenn, or Nik, or Spike, or Jordan, or Jon, or Caris, or Matt, or Josh. It because about Nik and "CTRL-V" when he hit a three. It became about the Trey Burke layup where he goes up, puts everything on the line, hits the deck, and goes to the line for the and one. It became about GRIII hovering in the air like a glitch in The Matrix. It became about The Big Puppy playing with an Novakian enthusiasm for life and the game. It became about missed free throws and what felt like missed opportunities. But it also became about hope. It was a basketball version of Team 133, restoring something that had been gone, but we knew could be again. It became about a coach who would never make it about himself, who carried himself with dignity, grace, and class, who noted just how amazing the first half had been as he's being interviewed on his way to the locker room.
In the end, we can probably go back and pinpoint the small moments that made the difference. We were trying to do it on Twitter last night and we were more wrong than we were right, because there's no penalty for being wrong about something like that on Twitter. We can argue about strategies, coaching decisions, rotations, and the like, preferably with our facts straight, but it won't matter. It doesn't change the outcome, it doesn't really numb the pain. The heart aches a little, because the moment was there and it slipped away and if the last quarter century has taught us anything, it's that you never know when those moments will come again. But for now, know that Michigan has been in six national championship games, a loss to a Wooden UCLA team in 1965, a loss to Bobby Knight's undefeated Indiana team in 1976, a classic victory over Seton Hall in 1989, a loss to Coach K's back to back Blue Devils in 1992, a loss to Dean Smith Tar Heels in 1993, and now a loss to Rick Pitino's Louisville team in 2013. A combined 21 titles for opposing coaches, 4,066 victories among them, all in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Hopefully the next one will be better. Hopefully it will be sooner than later.
My thanks to you 2012-13 Michigan basketball team. You were fun, talented, and classy. That may not be all that you can ask for, but that's a pretty darn good start.