VAN WADE — March Madness grabs true hoops fans

Published 12:12 am Wednesday, March 23, 2022

I simply love the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

It seldom, if ever, lets us down. Have you ever remembered an NCAA Tournament that was not good?

I don’t.

It’s always good and often great. Even the NCAA can’t jack it up.

I love it because it’s fair. The best teams in the country don’t get a “bye” into the Sweet 16. They’ve got to make it on their own, just like everybody else.

They don’t “re-seed” in the Big Dance, like they do in the NFL playoffs. If a two-seed goes down in your bracket it just makes everybody else hungrier.

Best of all, in the Dance, you can’t dodge anyone.

I love the Big Dance because the players play for the name on the front of their jerseys, not the one on the back. And half of the teams don’t even have both.

You want passion?

Try playing in a game that you know will be the last one of your career. That floor burn will have plenty of time to heal while sitting behind a desk for the next 45 years of your life.

Most sports fans have a hard time just remembering who played who in the NBA Finals from year to year. But when it comes to March Madness, the upsets are written into lore.

The tournament is not just about witnessing joy but also about watching fear. Like the fear in a player’s eyes when he’s at the line with just seconds to go.

An NBA player could miss, and he’ll just say, “see you in Game 5.” In college, your missed free throw could possibly dry up the kegs on campus.

In college, your teammates are you friends. If you miss that free throw, you know they’ll forgive you. But you fear having to look them in the eye and say “I’m sorry.”

I wonder if NBA stars ever have that kind of fear. I doubt it.

Their list of worries probably starts with “playing time” and ends somewhere near “signing bonus.”

That missed free throw in the Final Four will follow you to the playgrounds at home in the summer. That missed free throw lives on in school history.

Remember Michigan’s Chris Webber when he called timeout and didn’t have any? In the NBA, missed free throws don’t even make it to the team bus back to their Five-Star accommodations.

The fear of watching a 30-4 season get flushed in an instant. The fear of knowing the team beating you is playing with “house” money. That team that Vegas says you should beat by 20, has a whacky defense you’ve never seen and a player who shoots off his wrong foot.

I love the Big Dance because it’s about crying. The players cry, the fans cry and boy do the cheerleaders cry.

The only people who don’t cry are the coaches. I’m sure they cry behind closed doors.

On TV, walking off the court, the losing coaches simply look like zombies. Their hearts have been ripped out before the entire country.

Their reward? A chance to go through it all again next year.

Every year, several people try to tell me I get carried away talking about how great the NCAA Tournament is to watch. But then every year, the month of March gives me 64 reasons (or more) to love the game of basketball as it was meant to be played.

Van Wade is the sports editor for the Orange Leader. He can be reached at van.wade@orangeleader.com.