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Hoops in the Time of Corona: A Hoopaholic’s Lament

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On Tuesday night, when life was significantly different than it is this Friday morning, I reached out to Doc, Smart Guy and Mr. Bunny, fellow founding members of the Peck Hickman Chapter of Hoopaholic’s Anonymous.

North Carolina was continuing its resurgence toward a return to Tar Heel lofty standards, by whipping up on Virginia Tech. Which victory would mean a date the next evening with Syracuse, whom I was sure they’d beat and then meet the Cardinals.

I shared my thoughts with Doc first, as I had in the immediate aftermath of the Cardinals loss to Virginia, which game we’d watched together. I feared the Cards would not win another game this campaign, fall to Carolina in the ACC quarters. My negativitude spiking, I expressed another fear that the Cards would be a 4 or 5 seed, and would lose to somebody like Vermont in their opening game of the Dance.

After NC’s W, I then communicated with the other duo of hoopaholics, and expressed my feelings about Louisville’s ACC opener.

I used the same verbiage with all, “Never have I been as sure of the outcome of an upcoming Cardinal game, that I am that they will fall to Carolina on Thursday.”

(Save your brickbats about my negativitude. I was just trying to ensure a Cards’ W. Besides we’ve got more serious things to deal with.)

If only the game had come to pass.

Life, as we know it, is much much different than just 72 hours ago.

The gyms are dark.

Roundballs are in storage.

And there’s a hole in my soul big enough for David Johnson to drive unimpeded to the cup for a windmill slam.

* * * * *

Yesterday morning — Thursday — I planned out my day, as I normally do this hallowed time of year.

On a note pad, I listed the many games of interest during the day chronologically, 17 of them.

Starting with Michigan/Rutgers in the B10 at noon and a checkmark next to the spicy matchup of Texas Tech/ Texas a half hour later, and ending, of course, with the Cardinals vs. the Orange to finish the day.

(I could offer a mea culpa here about Roy Williams’ Baby Blues, but, really, what’s the point at this juncture? Besides I was similarly afraid of ‘Cuse, even though U of L had battered the Boeheims by 24 a few weeks back.)

I returned from morning exercise in time to learn of the cancellations, while watching a most bizarre scene of St. John’s and Creighton still playing a first half in an empty Madison Square Garden.

From umpteen luscious matchups yesterday, and a month of the most scintillating hoops to follow, to walking in circles, literally, somewhat disoriented by how our social system shut down with terrible swift sword in a seeming instant.

This is a moment unlike any other of my lifetime.

* * * * *

In late 1990, I was hit head on by a car along the edge of Cherokee Park during my predawn jog.

As I slipped in and out of consciousness, I distinctly remember thinking, “My life is going to be really different.”

So it was, during my year and a half recovery.

That’s kind of how I feel this morning as I write this. Life is totally different and will be for sometime.

Except that it’s all of us now, who will need to adjust to the new, bracing reality.

* * * * *

A quick peripheral but related anecdote about why I can’t ever give Bill Walton too much grief, even when he’s his most psychedelically insufferable.

When I finally got to Freedom Hall for a Cardinal tilt sometime in ‘91, I was still on crutches, and my leg was being held together by a bulky Iliazarov Fixator. As I was fitfully making my way precariously down to my seat, I ran into Walton, who was doing the game and walking up the steps.

He suffered serious, significant, and extremely painful foot and leg issues for years until some miracle surgery later, but was still in the throes of it at the time of our interaction. He stopped, put his hand on my shoulder and offered considerable words of encouragement.

It helped. It helped a lot.

* * * * *

Late yesterday afternoon, after everything was shut down, I got a call from Doc, who was offering some gallows humor.

He congratulated me, for once getting a prediction correct.

”I just want to acknowledge that you were right about our Cards. That they weren’t going to win another game this year.”

* * * * *

It has generally been recognized that this has been the wackiest college basketball season in memory.

I believe I read somewhere that the last time so many different schools were ranked #1 at some point, the season ended with Lorenzo Charles putting in an errant Wolfpack jumper to upset Phi Slamma Jamma, and Jim Valvano running around in circles on the court like the proverbial chicken with no head, looking for someone to hug.

That this season ended so abruptly, without closure of any type, with such instant deflation is as appropriate as it is sad.

The most onerous of Bracket Thieves has come and done his dirty work.

I am 75 years old. I am a male.

I am the target demographic of this virulent plague.

I am without the joys of my favorite time of year. Championship Week. March Madness. JazzFest in New Orleans. (The latter has not technically been cancelled yet, though it certainly will be. If by some chance it isn’t, I still can’t see taking the risk of traveling down for it.)

I am at this moment, a hollow man.

I am not alone.

Be prudent, my friends.

— c d kaplan