FAMILY SUNDAY – Today is the big NBA All-Star game where people of all ages can see genetic freaks do what they do best – play the game of hoops as if they have springs and turbo chargers on their feet. For those who can’t live or relate to that strata, or foot the bill for the cost of admission, a local college hoops game with talented mortals is a meaningful and invigorating alternative.
The Northwestern men’s team beat Illinois by two points and the Northwestern women take on Maryland on Sunday. I looked around in the arena tonight and saw from a different perspective all that I had missed – the families, the senior citizens, the band members, and the students. The students in the pep band were pumped to be cheering on their university and rooting for a classmate from Calculus or American History class or the guy who lives down the hall.
One of my fondest memories about playing college basketball in the Big Ten was going from one midwestern city to another and seeing how much sports meant to smaller towns and cities. This wasn’t something we were used to in Evanston because we competed with so many other big-city options each weekend. We’d only average about 1,000 people at home – and often much less – but on the road, we’d play in front of as many as 15,000 in places like Columbus, OH. And they’d always bring the band.
Families brought their kids to the game because they could afford the tickets and because they felt much closer to us physically. At home, the season ticket holders would bring their kids and friends up to us after the game and say such nice things. On the road, there were the hecklers who got a few words in when the place wasn’t going bananas. “You suck, 33” I heard clearly at OSU. And at Michigan, during the game, the band called you by first name and even your nickname.
“Bad shot, Mo.”
“You’re such a hack, Mo.”
“Hey Mo. Go home.”
Yet they were more fun and silly than they were harmful. And it was so fulfilling to do something on the court that shut them all up.
When I exit a pro sports game, I don’t feel a sense of attachment. I also don’t get too high or too low, the way many pro sports fans do as they live and die by the outcome of the game. I watch the halftime events and the cheerleaders at pro games and don’t feel the way I did tonight while watching the dynamite Jesse White Tumblers showing us superhuman leaps under direction of their founder, Jesse White, 82. Pro teams have loud speakers, but no bands keeping it pure. I watched the NU band members playing shirtless and flexing for the camera during time outs. I thought that maybe his ability to play that instrument was a factor during the admissions process. And maybe it helped knock a few dollars off the cost of tuition. I also knew that way back when I was in the game on the floor, and the band was jamming – home or away – it really takes the blood pumping to a new level for the athletes, coaches, the students fans all acting as one big orchestra that makes everyone feel like they are part of the game.