"For the Love of Basketball" - Painting by Michael Macaulay

Kim and I were really pulling for Butler University in Monday night’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game against Connecticut.  For a school the size of Butler to make it to the final game of the Big Dance two years in a row was simply remarkable.  Though I expected Butler to have their hands full with UConn, I had hoped that they could keep the game close and perhaps come out on the winning side of a nail-biter like their one-point loss to Duke in last year’s final.  What we watched instead was the ugliest first half of a basketball game that I have ever seen.  Call it a defensive struggle if you want, it was a surreal comedy of errors on the part of both teams.  Butler led 22-19 at halftime (yes, that’s a basketball score!), but UConn took control in the second half and managed a 53-41 victory.

Despite the disappointment that Butler’s players, coaching staff, and fans are feeling right now, I am fairly confident that the pain of the loss will gradually diminish and will be absorbed into the perspective of the larger issues of life.  While there is much to criticize about the money-making machine that is the NCAA, I do appreciate the commercial in which it is pointed out that the vast majority of the organization’s 380,000 student-athletes will go pro in something other than sports.  At its finest, discipline and commitment are learned, loyalty and team spirit are instilled, character and sportsmanship are developed, relationships are forged, memories are made, and life goes on.  Wins and losses on the court fade in importance.

Just ask the young men who have played basketball at the California Institute of Technology over the last three decades.  Do you remember what you were doing on January 23, 1985.  I know; it was a long, long time ago.  That night, Caltech, a Division III school in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, beat La Verne 48-47.  Caltech would not win another basketball game against a conference opponent until six weeks ago.  Their 46-45 victory over Occidental College on February 22 brought an end to a 310-game losing streak that lasted over 26 years.

Hoopsters at Caltech are probably way ahead of fellow student-athletes at other colleges and universities in figuring out that some things (many, actually) are bigger than basketball.  Caltech is renowned for its training of scientists and engineers.  The school is home to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Caltech boasts 31 Nobel Prize recipients among its faculty and alumni.  Those kinds of honors and achievements tend to help you cope with a 26-year losing streak.

I still love my hoops.  But, in the end, it’s just a game.

By the way, congratulations to the Lady Aggies for securing the women’s national championship for Texas A&M last night!  Caltech’s women’s team?  They went 0-25 this season.  Oh well, there’s always next year, or maybe not.  But, that’s okay!  Seriously!