RICHMOND — Grandson Sam organizes this family, as much as it can be, every March into a bunch of brackets. I’m usually a figure of fun for everyone, choosing colleges I never heard of or ones I liked for some reason, eschewing schools that I, for any stupid reason, didn’t want my grandchildren to go to.
This year, of all years, I did a touch of research before joining Sam’s bracket. And this year, brackets went into the trash as soon as the first ball was spiraled into the air by a referee. I thought, for instance, of picking Furnam because I’d never heard of it. Should have gone with that instinct.
I picked UConn because grandson Jake goes there, and I’ve watched their games (as a grandma) enough to know giant Sanogo, deadeye Hawkins and skyscraper Clingan by name. So it’s a relief to me to have at least UConn in my bracket for the Final Four.
Had high hopes for Creighton, and they’re sadder than I am. But coming in first in this bunch? I picked Purdue. Long gone. Along with Houston, Alabama, Xavier, etc.
But I’m not in the cellar. And that’s a first. Aside from the family fantasy bracket, college basketball is so much fun to watch. And perhaps Charlie Baker, who knows how to survive and achieve in a hostile environment, will get the NCAA’s problems squared away.
Never been a real fan of the NBA, although we watched Jerry West of the Lakers with fear and admiration in his heyday, and when I first moved to the Berkshires in the 1950s, I saw Cousy and the Celtics play the Lenox Merchants in Pittsfield because my new friend, Nancy Quirk, wanted to go. I don’t know who won.
Another magic (literally) basketball moment came at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, and the Dream Team from the United States was going to make its first appearance. I saw them play a weak team from Angola, so it wasn’t much of a contest, but watching Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, dribbling toward me and passing back and forth was amazing. It was like a ballet, neither performer looking at the other, just doing their thing, teammates for a change. (When Larry was on the bench, he was actually lying on the floor, taking care of his back.)
I loved basketball in high school and college, always intramural because girls weren’t supposed to compete at a varsity level. Too fragile. We didn’t feel delicate, but it was men making the decisions and apparently they preferred to think of us as perishable flowers. Despite the half-court rules we played by — which bring chortles from some male acquaintances — we played hard, sweaty and to win. I was so taken with the game in college that I became a referee, nationally certified, never making eye contact with anyone I charged with a foul.
The recent death of Knicks legend Willis Reed brought back a happy memory of the time we took two of our kids to New York for a weekend. We were in the same hotel as the Baltimore Bullets, so riding the elevator was an experience in itself, the kids dwarfed by giants like Wes Unseld. Then, at Madison Square Garden, they met Reed himself, who presented them with a signed basketball.
“Tall,” was our daughter’s reaction. Our son wondered about using the high-quality ball or keeping it on display, the signature intact. The indecision went on for months, but the ball eventually was pounded into anonymity at the patio hoop.