If it had been a movie, Butler’s Gordon Hayward’s last shot would have gone in. But it wasn’t a movie, it was real life. It was the NCAA championship game and real life spoiled things for an amazing Butler team, for about 60,000 (out of the 70,000) people in the arena, and for millions of people across the country who were rooting for the little school that almost could. The score was close the whole game, and Duke’s winning 61-59 probably made the defeat all the more painful for Butler.
It was an excitingly emotional game. Up and down, tied, up and down some more. It was the kind of game you didn’t want to end. Butler University, a school located only a few miles from the arena, a school with about 4,000 students, was considered the underdog this season no matter whom they played and no matter how high their ranking soared in the national polls. People love an underdog — in sports and in life. We get much more excited to hear a success story about someone who started with nothing rather than one about a kid who was born rich and succeeded.
The non-sports fans always seem to ask why people who are seemingly mature in other ways will get so involved in a game. They don’t understand that getting so involved in sports, getting so wrapped up in watching a game, is a great break from the realities of life. In those last few minutes of the championship game, I guarantee you nobody there was thinking about the economy, foreign policy, or whether their kid had married the right person. They were either rooting for a team they had cheered on for years or for a team they felt symbolized the optimistic mantra of “anything’s possible.” And maybe they then felt that anything’s possible for them. Maybe they can solve those problems in the “real world,” maybe they can get a job or a promotion, maybe they can get that person at work to smile at them.
It was fitting that Butler’s Hayward took that final half-court shot. Butler has often been compared to the school in the movie “Hoosiers.” If so, then Gordon Hayward was “Jimmy,” the kid who could do almost anything with the basketball, a kid who looked so very Middle American in this sport that had its origin in Middle America.
After the game, I felt a little depressed as reality was slowly creeping into my mind. I had to pack, would I make my plane connections tomorrow? (I didn’t.) I have a lot of work to do when I get home, etc.
Reality can be an annoying thing. It disturbs our dreams. It often spoils our good times. But for reality to join fantasy — like during an “unreal” basketball game — is a wonderful gift for those who are lucky enough to be present for it.
I was at that championship game in Indianapolis, and sitting behind me was a very tall man who looked like he had definitely played basketball. He turned out to be the Olathe, Kan. girls high school basketball coach (and science teacher) Joel Branstrom. A couple of months before this game, he had been in the news because of something that happened at a pep rally at his school. Some girls on the team blindfolded him, then told him that if he could make a half-court shot, he’d win tickets to the Final Four. Branstrom, a former basketball walk-on for the University of Kansas, made the half-court blindfolded shot. The kids were shocked, and then admitted that they didn’t have any tickets for him. It was just a prank. There was that annoying reality again.
But somehow, the NCAA got wind of this whole thing and sent Branstrom tickets for the championship weekend. So there he was sitting behind me with his family, a big smile on his face, watching some of the most exciting games in his chosen field. For him, reality had joined fantasy.
If it worked for him, if one of his dreams could come true, maybe it can work for the rest of us once in a while. Let’s face it: making a half-court shot blindfolded sounds impossible. It is impossible in the world of reality, but not in the world of sports.
By the way, when Gordon Hayward missed that long shot at the buzzer, I wonder if Branstrom was thinking, “How could he have missed that? He wasn’t even blindfolded.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Web site at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.