If you watched last night’s NCAA men’s basketball National Championship, your only regret is that it had to end. In a perfect world, or some awful (but in this case, amazing) Buffalo Wild Wings commercial, Michigan and Louisville would still be tied after 43 overtimes. Trey Burke would have 96 points; Peyton Siva, at least 35 steals. The game would have lasted long enough for Kevin Ware’s leg to heal and Tim Hardaway III to enroll at Ann Arbor.
It was just awesome night of basketball. At a time when the overwhelming media spotlight makes it nearly impossible for a sporting event to live up to the hype, this game did that and then some. It left us with a heavy helping of nostalgia and respect for the past — with the Fab Five, Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson all physically in the stands and spiritually out on the court. It left us with an appreciation for the present — what a game! It left us with optimism for the future — after all, these guys aren’t going anywhere. This is only the beginning for players like Burke, Hardaway Jr., Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Gorgui Dieng and (maybe) Russ Smith.
The game had more narratives than Infinite Jest. There was Ware and his broken leg. There was 5-foot-11 freshman point guard Spike Albrecht, who averaged 1.8 points a game this season and only 9.6 points a game last season (in prep school!), scoring 17 points in the opening 20 minutes to help the Wolverines build a 12-point lead. There was Louisville junior Luke Hancock, who hit four threes late in the first half to bring the Cardinals roaring back, and helped put them over the top down the stretch. Hancock scored 22 points and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Did I mention he’s a walk on?
In the end, there was Rick Pitino. On the same day we learned that Coach P. was headed to the Basketball Hall of Fame, he became the first college coach ever to win a title with two different schools. Not that this is breaking news, but Monday solidified Pitino’s legacy as one of the greatest coaches in basketball history. He is legend. And here in Boston, that will never feel quite right. While the rest of the world will (or already has) forgotten Pitino’s time with the Celtics, we never will. It’s hard to truly appreciate someone at their best when you’re so familiar with seeing them at their worst.
But ultimately, not even the bitterness associated with watching Pitino succeed could take a way from one of the greatest championship games — of any kind — that the sports world has seen in a while. Twelve hours later, and my only complaint is that they’re not still playing.