Thursday, March 19, 2009

23: And Heaven Waits Here at My Door

It’s Michael Jordan day in the crockpot, and appropriately so, given today’s start of basketball greatness. Aside from the play-in round, today marks the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year, the NCAA basketball tournament. ESPN uses the song “most wonderful time of the year” to promote college football bowl season, since it falls around Christmas and is more aptly borrowed from the song’s original intent, but I truly believe that for sports fans everywhere, the glory of the NCAA tournament is unparalleled. Intensity, passion, skill, luck, determination, the possession arrow on the jump ball – all of these factors combine to collectively enrapture the nation.

The impossible can happen. The sure thing can face devastation at the hands of an unknown. Fast breaks catch lightning. Three pointers sent aloft on prayers alone go in. Fouls get called. Fouls go ignored. Freethrows are anything but. Intensity and drama for days on end, and the tenacity of college players playing for the dream of going all the way. Because it has been done before. This is known. Every game is one more chance to get to THE game. And for college players, their hearts are all over that floor.

This emotionalism may seem absurd (to the non-believer), but I don’t think it’s even scratching the surface of accurately describing the all-around thrill and excitement that the tournament creates. For my money, this has only been done in CBS’s annual recap of the tournament, shown after the final game each year, One Shining Moment. Here is last year’s

Though it was an NBA slogan, it’s much more appropriate for me personally in describing the college championship – I love this game.

The other wonderful thing about the tournament is the common ground it provides for the country. Everywhere in this land, people sharpen their skill sets accordingly: agility, quickness, vision, the finger-tip roll on both mouse and remote control. Schlubs across our great land (myself included) work to really make their “I’m working not watching the tournament” approaches precise. Fundamentals are important – speed of a mouse click to navigate away from a game-tracker or actual video feed of a game while at work, perhaps intentionally contracting a cold so that muffling an exclamation of joy or anger while watching a game at work can be believably turned into that hacking cough that’s been bothering you, suddenly using Microsoft Excel hourly to track the gambling your are doing on a national level. There is unity in such guile, and I for one think this devoted tourney following is a pastime that should probably get a song on par with “Take me out to the ballgame” but for use in the office.

Studies showing the lowered rates of productivity due to the tournament really don’t acknowledge the innovation necessary to successfully sneakily follow the game in varying office layouts and computer screen visibility rates, nor do they take into account the multi-tasking skills employed to be able to get anything done at all while basketball is done all day. I think the studies should be redesigned to examine the creative ways in which people squeak by, not the ways in which they don’t’ work. Maybe if we isolated the things that motivate us enough as a workforce to churn things out doubletime so that we could get to the activities we find so pleasing we could finally get our work schedules a little closer to being on par with those of Scandinavian countries. I am all for it. I would love a month off in the summertime. I would not get bored. I would not forget coworkers’ names. I would love it. Such is the potential of the NCAA tournament for improving the morale and lifestyle of our country on the whole.

And an even more telling indicator of the common ground that the tourney provides for us as a nation was President Obama’s choice to complete his tournament brackets publicly. We were all given access to his agonizing about the match-ups that were predicted to be tough, but, should the fates change, may not even happen if a team gets upset by an underdog. A surer approach to establishing himself as a man of the people I do not think has been attempted by the President since he danced on Ellen. And this feat of bracketing was, in my opinion, far more successful. Even he wants to watch the games and sneak peaks while at work. And really, there may be a few lessons about grit and determination in those stolen moments of basketball watching that could help us all, were they to be applied to our nation. And, even if nothing that inspiring happens, at least he’ll probably be stimulating the economy by ordering pizza thanks to the suggestion of any number of ads for pizza places shown during the game. Even in the purity of the tournament, capitalism is still the top seed.

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