What we’ve more or less known for several years spanning multiple presidential administrations is that a person, currently in his thirties and born in Ohio, is the most important and influential men’s basketball player of the past twenty years, at least. While it’s contentious to suggest that the state is the birthplace of aviation, as the state itself does, instead of aviators, which is what it is, its place as a basketball haven is beyond question.
The antecedent, however, lies in the heart of the beholder: LeBron James is, by most credible accounts, at least the second- or third-greatest basketball player ever to walk the earth. His performance in the 2015 NBA Finals, nevermind the following year, won many people over following his period of Heat villainy.
Then again, well, the guy who spearheaded the Finals win over him, as well as two more later on, put on a 37-point performance Tuesday night against a former teammate’s would-be superteam when the Golden State Warriors beat the Brooklyn Nets 117-99. That guy, Steph Curry, was (and, the hope goes, always will be) cooking.
It’s been the longest, coldest, loneliest winter, and every time I look up – usually to take my eyes off the screen for the requisite twenty seconds-per-twenty minutes of screen time, or about as much as my stop light eyes can stand in the middle of the afternoon – it gets longer. Once again, winter is and has been upon us, beautiful falling snow giving way to the malignant ice, which has never done anyone any favors and, really, just ought to melt immediately, in between Jack Frost’s cosplay as Punxsutawney Phil.
Even in New York City – we’re the lucky ones as far as the past two weeks have gone, and among places you’d expect to not be doing so well in a February winter – seasonal depression is self-evident in almost anyone you encounter, as far as “encountering” a person can go these days: there is the lady on the muffled phone call, pulling from a cigarette in between listening; there is the shop owner, only going inside when a potential customer directs her in; there is the man on the street, literally pleading with his corgi to please join him on the street corner.
At a time reported to be 7:30 pm Eastern but which will probably be sometime shortly thereafter, the 2019 NBA Draft will begin tonight. That means that, for the devoted, a tweet, or text of a tweet, from Adrian Wojnarowski will pop across their phone screens, sometime between 7:28 and 7:30, informing the masses what we’ve all known since before the Anthony Davis trade, before the All-Star Game, before Christmas: that Zion Williamson of Duke will be the #1 overall pick.
That he is presumably going to New Orleans is the karmic injustice befitting a team that wasted Davis’ first seven years in the league but which new general manager David Griffin is already turning toward the future. If Zion happens to be the key to open that particular sarcophagus, alongside the newly-acquired Lakers tweens, then the Pelicans will be raising hurricanes, toasting the next decade of success.
If he’s caught in the right place at the wrong time, however, then the draft gods will have proven infallible once again. That’s the beauty and sorrow of any professional sports draft, but this year, and this one, feels especially momentous.
Have you ever won 100 of anything, consecutively? Have you ever won 100 of anything at all? How many things have you ever even done 100 times that don’t involve opening your eyelids for the first time during this rotation of the earth?
If you’ll allow a phone-a-friend: my guess to all of the above is somewhere in the neighborhood between “nothing” and “cooked Ramen.” Nowhere in your lexicon of activities performed to the century can you list “won a basketball game,” because the only people alive who have done that are involved with the women’s basketball team at the University of Connecticut.
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.” You hear it from every corner of competition in the United States, where an incumbent stands alone at the top of the mountain until some David comes along with a slingshot and a dream. Staging such a coup carries utilitarian value, allowing the spoils to seep from the victors to those fast approaching. Sometimes David’s reign is short, a new David knocking his predecessor from the apex before he even has a chance to set his feet.
The Kentucky Wildcats were innocent until proven guilty. Then, just as quickly as Wisconsin seized the throne, they relinquished it to the unlikeliest of under-the-radar foes, Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils. With an historically uncharacteristic combination of star freshman talent and senior leadership, Duke charged through the 2015 NCAA Tournament with unprecedented fury, ripping the target off its back and tossing it into a garbage can in Indianapolis.
I was up until 7 am this morning. I slept for two hours, then I got back up and continued working. I was building a machine, ideally capable of unlocking the greatest of life’s mysteries: The NCAA Bracket.
I love college basketball. I love March Madness. But more than either of those I love brackets, and the futile chase for perfection that they represent. For the past two years, this March Madness of mine has driven me to create my own sort of Frankenstein’s monster: a bracket of brackets to determine which bracket I enter into my friendly neighborhood bracket pool. Does this sound convoluted to you? Does it seem like a waste of time? Well then turn around now, because we’re about to turn the convolution up to 11.
It’s that time of year again: the snow is (finally) melting (maybe, I’m actually not really sure what grass looks like anymore), birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and no one will shut up about college basketball. That’s right, March Madness is upon us. I have a lot of problems with March Madness (huge lie, I have one problem with March Madness, and that’s the fact that it ends in April. Seriously, why is the championship game in April?). But, because I am a follower, and I have to be involved in everything that everyone else in the world is involved in, I filled out a bracket.
Update 1 – 12:28pm
I just arrived at the Downingtown chapter of Buffalo Wild Wings, one of my favorite establishments in these United States. It was here that I enjoyed almost every NFL Sunday this season. It was here that I bought a round of Jameson shots for strangers when the Seahawks miraculously tied the Packers in the NFC Championship to force overtime, and then picked up those strangers in pure elation after RUSSELL HUSTLE BUSTLE WILSON won the game, prompting another round of Jameson shots.
I have often said that this is my happiest place on Earth. Give me $50 and a full slate of sports at BWW, and I might as well be on vacation in Hawaii for a week. This is the shit that I live for.
My bracket sucks. But if you’re being honest, so does yours. We all take part in this ritual every year, filling out a bracket and placing our hopes and dreams for riches in the hands of a collection of college kids who can bounce a ball up and down on a hardwood floor better than you and I. Every year it ends the same way, crumpling your bracket into a ball and trying to throw it through the miniature basketball hoop above your garbage bin. You always miss the shot too. Insult to injury.
The problem is this, we only think about filling out this bracket during the few days between Selection Sunday and the first tip in the Round of 64. We don’t analyze our mistakes when the NCAA Tournament is freshest in our heads; instead, we wait and repeat the same mistakes that sunk our bracket the previous year.
Well, not me. Not this time.
We have arrived at the point of intense sorrow and unyielding insanity, courtesy of schools such as Mercer and Tennessee. Here now is the Sweet Sixteen update on the Tuesdays With Horry bracket pool, complete with all the requisite rage and aloofness of conflicting personalities and varying degrees of emotional currency.