As I feel about as coherent as Mike Tyson and have no argument to forward this week, this column might or might not be a glorified reproduction of the notes I just scribbled down in section while trying to decide whether to hate it or love it that the underdog is apparently on top.
I love Rick Pitino. The way he can rationalize the cutting of David Wesley and Rick Fox as being necessary to sign the immortal Travis Knight to a seven-year contract and the trading of Chauncey Billups (one half of the “dream backcourt” he had touted on draft day after selecting Billups and Ron Mercer among the first six picks) after 50 games as being necessary to dramatically improve a Celtics team coming off a 15-win season is just so damn seductive. Pitino played at UMass (and was just instrumental in orchestrating the program’s hiring of his former Kentucky player Travis Ford as head coach) and coached at Boston University and Providence College before running the Celtics into the ground, so I’ve gotta give him some hometown love.
As Celtics coach, he offered up one of the great tirades in recent memory against Boston’s “Fellowship of the Miserable” fan base in which he opined to those expecting a little progress by Year Three of Coach P that “Larry Bird is not walking through that door.” At the time, “Out of Service” Pervis Ellison was taking up space on the Celtics bench. In 1986, “Never Nervous” Pervis led Louisville to a national title as a freshman. I don’t know what that all means really, but it leads me to this conclusion: While it’s unclear whether Pervis will be walking through that door for Pitino’s Cardinals on Saturday, Pennzoil’s “At the Half” will unquestionably be brought to you by Pennzoil.
That parochial sentiment might take Pitino only so far against an Illinois team that has a lot going for it. Forget being 36-1, what’s really impressive is that the Illini has got a guy who just won Dream Job moonlighting as a sharpshooter that can bang threes like he’s dunking with his eyes closed and the lethal combination of a licensed minister in the frontcourt (for the virtuous) and a guy named Head in the backcourt (for the sinners). And is it a coincidence that Deron Williams is being pronounced “Darren” just three months before the release of the “Bewitched” movie starring Will Ferrell in the Darren Stevens role? Way to get that name back into our collective conscience. Wait, so now there are three Darren Stevens? Dick York, Dick Sergeant … and Will Ferrell? Oh, hold on — Dick York, Dick Sergeant, Sergeant York. Wow, that’s weird.
Then there’s Roy Williams, he of “I could give a s**t about Carolina” fame, back in the Final Four trying to get over that hump and collect his first title. This time he’s there with his alma mater, which means he has the opportunity to fulfill his twin life goals of winning a national championship and becoming one-third as revered and cool as Dean Smith in Chapel Hill. I’m not much of a Roy believer, but I guess he’s done a commendable job in taking the prolific talent that he didn’t recruit and molding it into a cohesive unit strong enough to reach this stage. So has Bruce Weber for that matter.
But I’m dubious about how far Carolina has actually climbed. The program reached rock bottom in 2001-02 when it finished 8-20. I hit rock bottom Monday afternoon when I decided my life would really be a lot better if I didn’t have to make the 27-second walk from Commons to CCL, abandoned my space on College in front of Silliman, found no spots on Wall Street, made three loops around the Grove Street Cemetery only to suffer the same fate, decided to try to get my old spot back but found it taken and then parked in the non-existent space on the corner of High and Wall, just past that sweet blue fence that marks the construction zone on Beinecke Plaza. Is this column my Carolina-to-the-Final-Four redemption from such disgrace? Does anyone save you more than Dean’s Home Furniture? I doubt it.
In between Saturday’s semifinal skirmishes and Monday’s “One Shining Moment” montage — the most gripping two minutes and 48 seconds in sport — we get treated to the much-ballyhooed baseball season opener. That game is a column in itself, but I will say that I hate the fact that six of the games in the mini-season that is the Red Sox-Yankees season series are being burned in April when the pitchers can’t get loose in the 42-degree weather, the hitters are rusty from having faced AA fare on the mound all spring and the Orioles are pretending they’re going to be a factor. It’s a waste.
Major League Baseball and ESPN are trying to line their pockets with a big ratings attraction on Sunday night, but this is only going to be counterproductive as the season wears on. In the era of competitive imbalance, fans of small-market teams have had little incentive to stay tuned in once their heroes have been eliminated from contention in mid-May. What has sustained baseball as the payroll discrepancies have exploded has been the pursuit of individual greatness. As the steroid era comes to an end, the sexy home run counts come back to earth and the public loses faith in the validity of individual performances, the best thing baseball has going for it is a Boston-New York matchup that transcends the Northeast and has now moved beyond a classification of “epic.” Play these games in July and September, not early April.
This is where my section disperses, my notes end, and I decide that I’m in fact not sure that the underdog actually is on top and if he were, I would probably just like it.