The Joy in Absurdity
By Nick Prevenas
I love basketball. If you're visiting this website and reading this article, I'm sure you do, too.
When I type these articles I contribute to this site, the keystrokes tend to fall into a rhythm with the pounding of the ball to the hardwood floor. Late at night, there's always a game on.
At this moment, the Arizona Wildcats are putting away the Washington Huskies with a phenomenal offensive display. The action actually happened quite a bit earlier, but thanks to the miracle that is digital video recording, I'm experiencing it like it's live. The bucket must look 10 feet wide to Jawaan McClellan tonight. I can't imagine two teams at this level playing a more entertaining brand of basketball.
The Huskies got a kid named Spencer Hawes that evokes faint whispers of Kevin McHale. Don't believe me? Watch this boy haul in an errant entry pass, drop-step with the right foot and toss up a feathery lefty hook. Still not convinced? Watch him spot Jon Brockman out of the corner of his eye and deliver a pinpoint interior assist. Granted, the kid has a LONG way to go before hitting those McHale highs, but who doesn't want to watch the journey?
The 'Cats feature a kid with a shaggy blond mop and 42-inch leap. This gangly kid also has range to the NBA three and the court sense of a coach's son. If you ever wondered what it'd look like to see Napoleon Dynamite win a slam dunk contest, put Chase Budinger on your radar.
The thing about a game like this is everyone can appreciate basketball when it looks this good. Who doesn't love watching a 96-87 shootout between two of the better college programs in the country? This level of hoop is for everyone.
See, the die-hards like us watch basketball between the lines. I've seen every type of game imaginable. I attended a Denver Nuggets game back in the Dan Issel days when Rodney White (of all people) messed around and got a triple double against the Dirk/Nash/Finley Mavericks. I went to a handful of high school games in Wyoming where the crowd lost its mind when a player could dunk. I saw a kid named Billy Walker in a poorly ventilated Las Vegas high school gym throw down not one, but two dunks from one step inside the foul stripe during the course of an AAU game, and hardly anyone batted an eyelash.
Clearly, basketball is a weird game.
Toward the end of this Arizona/Washington game, I started thinking of some of the games I've attended that were just as entertaining, but definitely not as aesthetically pleasing.
About this time last year, I was scheduled to cover a girls' high school varsity contest in small-town Arizona. This was one of those games where the girl who could dribble with both hands could score at will. I timed my arrival to coincide with what I hoped would be the tip-off, but the freshman game was running long. The scoreboard read 14-14 with 2:34 remaining. I assumed this was 2:34 remaining in regulation, but after asking around, this game had stretched into TWO overtime periods.
Seriously, neither team had tallied a point since the third quarter. These poor girls were mentally and physically exhausted. As the girls chased after countless loose balls, the crowd became exhausted for them. Occasionally, a girl would step to the foul line with a chance to ice the game, but the ball would find nothing but backboard.
You might not believe me, but once the game entered OT No. 3, the tension became palpable. We were venturing into the unknown. What happens if nobody scores? If the girls start passing out, do they just pull a Bud Selig and call the game a tie? Do we go to penalty shots? Every ball that grazed the rim elicited a loud groan from the dozens of people in attendance. Sensing that I was witnessing history, I started feverishly jotting down notes. I mean, what else was I going to do?
With 0:11 left on the clock, a 5-foot 1-inch ninth-grader stepped to the charity stripe. Even though she was on the away team, everyone in the gym was pulling for her, even the coaches on the opposing squad. She airballed the first free throw, signaling that we should settle in for overtime No. 4. Once the girl started her lengthy free-throw ritual, everyone moved to the edge of their seats. The shot traveled at least five feet above the rim before dropping through the bucket. Nothing but net.
Immediately after, the crowd made a sound I have never heard before or since. It was a bizarre sigh/cheer/chuckle combination that could never be replicated. The clock ran out and the away team celebrated like they just won the Final Four. The team carried the free-throw girl off the floor and into the locker-room. Keep in mind, her teammates had barely enough energy to walk, but they dug deep and carried her off in style.
I'd venture to guess that few people have ever experienced that much happiness as a result of a basketball game.
I know you guys have some strange, unique basketball stories you're itching to share. Go back to the top of the article, click on my name and send them my way. I'll share the best ones with everyone next week.
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