This past weekend we all got to witness something special, something that I've never seen before in my 30 years of sports fandom and something we may never see again. It was something that has caused major companies/networks like ABC, CBS, and Sports Illustrated and major sports figures like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, to take note and offer their insights and condolences. It was such a huge occurrence, if you happen to find yourself at the Google search engine and just type the letter "K", you'll notice a familiar name pop up as the first option.
As major sports fans we’ve become accustomed to a roller coaster of emotions throughout a season. The excitement of coming back from a huge deficit to win a game or the agony of witnessing a 5 overtime loss in a game you know you had won. My friends and I often discuss how sometimes we wish we weren't such huge Cardinal fans, that we wouldn't put so much passion and emotion into our fandom. Because for the few moments that we get to witness a victory like a National Championship or a Sugar Bowl, you have to bear twice as many first round losses and blown chances at greatness.
I used to think that the only thing that would satisfy my passion for this team was to be able to witness a National Championship. Win or fail was my outlook on the University of Louisville Basketball program. But what happened this past weekend not only concluded a chapter in my life as a fan, it opened a door to a whole new novel I never thought I'd see. This team, this special team that an entire country has come to love, is now 2 wins away from a National Championship. As excited as I am to be able to witness that and as much as I want that to come to fruition, if we were to lose this next game or lose in the Championship, I really don't think I would feel the anguish that I'm accustomed to after a painful loss like that. This team has already won. We may not have won THE trophy or the rights to hang THE banner at the Yum! Center, but we’ve won the respect of a nation and even the respect of some of our most bitter rivals.
When Kevin Ware conducted the simplest of basketball movements, a movement that is completed successfully by thousands of athletes every day, nobody watching on TV, listening on the radio, or watching in that arena knew what had transpired. For a few seconds we thought all we had seen was a made Duke three pointer. Then we saw the disgust on the face of Tyler Thornton and knew that something had gone terribly wrong. Next we see Blackshear, Behanen, and Siva fall to the floor. I’ve heard several accounts of what people thought had happened. A collision between several players, or even what we read in Valvano’s account that some people thought shots had been fired at the players. But it’s not until we see the replay that we understand just how truly gruesome an injury had occurred from something so simple, a jump and a landing. And that’s when something special happened. That’s when we witnessed "kids", as much as we forget about it when we’re so quick to criticize an error these are "kids", teach every person watching that game a lesson. As disgusted as everyone near the injury was, we witnessed Luke Hancock, a kid, put his disgust aside and realize that his brother was in pain and alone. He knelt by his side, held his hand, and prayed over top of him. We witnessed Kevin Ware, a kid whose bone was protruding 6 inches from his skin, rally his teammates together and tell them to forget about him, "Just win the game." That’s when you realize just how special of a bond these kids have. Russ Smith, Chane Behanen, Montrezzl Harrell, guys that we sometimes call "beasts" because of their size and intensity on the court were reduced to tears.
I myself am not too proud to admit that I teared up as well. I was in a room full of intense fans that aren’t afraid to offer the occasional jab at an opposing fan base or get a little crazy at a tailgate. The room and that arena was so silent you could hear the occasional comment from someone in the crowd through the headset of the CBS crew. Although I don’t spend time with this team personally, I spend at least 2 hours twice a week with them for the entire season, which is sometimes more than I’m able to spend with some members of my family. Anyone who knows how deep my group of friends fandom goes knows that watching a game once isn’t nearly enough. We DVR every game and re-watch them as much as we can. At halftime there was discussion that we would delete this game no matter the result because we couldn’t bear to watch that again. But what happened in the second half was amazing. We made the team that I believed to be our only road block to a National Title look silly. There was no passing, they were missing free throws, and they surely couldn’t stop any member of our team from scoring. It was our destiny after that scene to win that game and get Ware back to his hometown.
I believe it is now the destiny of this team to win a title. We have the ingredients to beat any team that is put in our path, even if we are one man short. But I know one thing is for certain, win or lose I will always remember March 31, 2013 as the day that defined UL Basketball. We win for love of the game, we win for respect, we win to become legends, WE WIN FOR WARE!!
JUST WIN THE GAME!!