Sunday, March 25, 2007

Final Four

I’m not the biggest basketball fan in the world, partly because I had no skill at it despite being taller than most of my friends. It’s also because I never learned, or figured out, the fine points of strategy and tactics. And by the time I got a grasp of the game by attending and then covering college games from the mid-60s to mid-70s, the game started changing.

For different periods when I was engaged with the game, players wore short pants, dribbled and passed. They were not allowed to play as freshmen, they were not allowed to dunk and they could get only two points a basket, no matter where the shot came from.

It was a five-man game with no shot clock, leading to some ridiculous – but winning –strategies by which a weak team went to the locker room at halftime once with a 3-2 lead. Things picked up in the second half and overtime for a 31-30 upset.

I saw some great players – Bill Bradley, Bill Walton, Tom McMillen, John Lucas, David Thompson, Len Elmore – but back then it seemed coaching and teamwork made for strong teams.

Now, college basketball is played by professionals-in-training and played for their personal glory and highlight reels. The athleticism is at the outer edge of human physical achievement. But it is a circus, and if that’s what I want to see, well Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey comes to town around the same time as March madness. And for sheer entertainment for free, I can always watch Congress.

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