The world, as seen through the eyes of a child, novice, or innocent is an untarnished perspective that can be wondrous and surprisingly insightful. And so it was last night, when I sat down to watch The Road Ends Here with my son, a football fan and self-professed indifferent to the game of basketball.
"Let's watch the first few minutes," I suggested.
He concurred, knowing his commitment to a little bonding time was limited by the quantity of ice cream in his bowl and the homework clamoring for his attention upstairs. Two hours and a couple of dozen Oh-My-Gods later, he was a riveted convert, his bowl licked clean by the cat and his homework still undone. I couldn't have cared less, for the lessons on display in the NCAA men's basketball championship game between Memphis and Kansas were more valuable than anything that awaited him in his texts and worksheets.
He was keenly interested in Kansas coach Bill Self, who, for the second game in a row, permitted CBS to broadcast his pre-game speech to his team. "Did you like what he said, Dad?" he asked with a tone that indicated he'd already made up his mind and his opinion of Self was positive.
I held the same view and we discussed the sports psychology behind the coach's choice of words, which emphasized the team's historic accomplishments that could never be taken away from them, his unwavering belief that they simply had to be themselves and nothing else to win the game, and that the event they were about to engage in would remain with them for the rest of their lives-- all confidence/comfort builders with a dash of understated challenge that he permitted the world to see in a masterful stroke of coaching genius that communicated a subliminal message to his team: we've got nothing to hide or fear because in the end, this is what we do and we're going to do it well.
The game tipped off and vaulted into the up tempo, never-say-die team sprint we knew was coming. My son was astonished, having been turned off to basketball by previous exposures to wide bodies backing it down into the paint in set piece half court offenses, boring parades to the free throw line, and one-on-one egofests. A minute and a half into the contest he declared, "This is the greatest basketball game I've ever seen."
It was the tip of the iceberg.
When Cole Aldrich entered the game for the Jayhawks the kid declared, "That's Jojo Johanssen," the fictional college hoopster from Tom Wolfe's novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. And darned if he wasn't. Needless to say, it couldn't end there. Between compelling exhibitions of pick-pocketing defenses, high-flying acrobatics, tie scores, surges, dry spells, and lead changes, my son worked to peg the players on the screen to their "counterparts" on Wolfe's imaginary DuPont University club. Darrell Arthur was Treyshawn Diggs, Joey Dorsey was Vernon Congers, and so on and so forth.
With no emotional investment in either team, we both declared that we didn't want to see anyone lose. But with two minutes to go and Memphis up by 9 I noted it was time to face reality, that Kansas was toast. "Don't be so negative, Dad, " he chided with the wisdom of Bill Self.
And as the parade of Memphis players to the free throw line reverted to a cortege of pre-tournament brick layers, he gave me that look perfected by adolescents worldwide-- the look that says, "You're an idiot, Dad."
It was all in good fun. The only thing missing was a miracle and when Mario Chalmers swished that unbelievable trey at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, we let out a whoop that traumatized our still-missing cat. Alaskans, we agreed, really do have ice water in their veins after all.
With Vernon Congers, er, Joey Dorsey having fouled out of the game and the opportunity of a lifetime having been blown by an inability to control nerves or sink unmolested free throws, the body language of the Memphis squad suggested that overtime was going to be a formality. And it was, bringing the evening full circle-- back to Coach Self's message about winning being largely a matter of staying true to yourself.
It was a message to keep forever on a night that will be remembered forever by the Jayhawks, a father, and a son.