At especially tumultuous points during a season, most sports fans, myself included, are prone to uttering those four all-too-easy to catch and release words: “it’s just a game.”
On the surface, of course, it’s an accurate statement, but I think the implication inherent in the phrase is about as drastic an oversimplification as there is. Especially when the saying is directed at fans like the ones who have been following Louisville basketball their entire lives.
If you’re reading this, you probably spend as much time reading about U of L basketball, thinking about U of L basketball, going to U of L basketball games or watching them from your home as I do. When you’re willing to devote that much of yourself to something, to anything, phrases like “it’s just a game” fall pretty flat.
This evening, the 2021-22 Louisville men’s basketball season will begin when the Cardinals host the Southern Jaguars. Between now and whenever the beautiful journey comes to a close in the early spring of 2022, we’re all going to lose ourselves a little bit. The thoughts of the bad things that have happened and the bad things that are still yet to come will exist, but for these five months they will exist only behind a box somewhere in the seasonal decorations closet of our collective sports brain. We will immerse ourselves in bracket projections and debates over lineup combinations. We will religiously check the rankings of predictive metrics whose formulas we couldn’t begin to comprehend. We will pretend as though this season, this period of time from early to November through late March or early April, is the only thing that matters.
I think that’s wonderful.
Human beings are, by their nature, considerably more dangerous and unhappy when they’re bored. Otherwise normal people become individuals capable of awful things the moment life becomes dis-interesting. This being our nature, it stands to reason that things like Louisville basketball are inherently pro-peace and pro-happiness.
At a time when seemingly no statement can be made without instantly being met by a host of detractors, maybe this one can gain universal approval: Peace and happiness are good, and life has to remain interesting for peace to thrive.
Enter something like Cardinal basketball.
For multiple hours some odd days a week you’re allowed to get completely lost in something irrefutably engrossing: Amazingly gifted individuals working amazingly hard to do amazing things. All of a sudden you’re transported to this wonderful, temporary place where the politics of the person sitting next to you no longer matter, only that their clothing and shouts of approval or disapproval mimic yours.
Without choice, I associate years of my life with various Louisville teams, and have vivid, intertwining memories that define both.
My sophomore year of high school is Denny Crum’s final season and the hiring of Rick Pitino. It’s fifth period chemistry class where my best friend and I drew crude illustrations on our dry erase board that encapsulated the previous night’s game (usually a loss). It’s ultimately being forced to clean the entire lab after my “Louisville + Pitino = 1980s revived” written equation was discovered by the teacher.
I could go on for a dozen more paragraphs with far more than a dozen examples, none of them consciously contrived. At some point, my brain obviously determined that Louisville basketball warranted this type of attention. I think that makes it more than just a game.
People who don’t understand will try to make us feel bad about behaving like this, because that’s what people who don’t understand things do in order to make themselves feel better about not understanding things. Smile at these people. It’s all you can do.
Life, I think, is mostly about what you love. Something like Louisville basketball isn’t on par with something like a life-and-death struggle, or welcoming new life into the world (hey, I’ve got two now!), that isn’t lost on me. Still, I don’t think any of you all will argue with the stance that there is a degree of love present in all of this. That, at the very least, makes the madness significant.
We are all prone to convincing ourselves that we’re working towards this imaginary period where everything’s going to calm down, everything’s going to be settled, and everything’s going to (finally) stay the same. For 99.9 percent of the world, this time is never going to come. Some changes we can’t foresee, others we can, but we don’t respect their gravity. We are all constantly losing people we love, pets we love, things we love, and periods of time we love.
In this regard, Louisville basketball never lets us down.
Good season or bad, the Cards are going to take the court for the first time in November, and they’re going to keep playing until sometime close to the beginning of spring. That alone might not be enough to get us through whatever may be ailing us at a particular point in time, but it’s always going to help.
Kurt Vonnegut once said: “No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious & charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.”
Replace “music” with “Louisville basketball” and you have about as close to a personal life mantra as I’m willing to claim at this point.
Mind you, the mantra isn’t meant to be observed in any literal sense. The problems plaguing Louisville basketball are numerous and dense and, unfortunately, not going away any time (relatively) soon. And even with our blinders on for the next five months, there will be times when it seems like the word “wonderful” shouldn’t apply to any of this. That’s all part of the journey.
The product on the court isn’t always going to be pristine, the guy sitting behind you at the game may be obnoxious, you might not agree with a coaching decision, etc., but the season itself will undoubtedly be unique and, in its own way, wonderful.
Here’s to the 2021-22 Louisville men’s basketball season, and the wealth of memories that will be made over the next five months.