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The team that made me care about basketball

Butler flag

Monday night I didn’t sleep that well, and Tuesday I felt nauseated and anxious for part of the day. Why? Because of a basketball game.

Yes, a basketball game.

I am not a sports fan. I went to the University of Kentucky for a few years, which has (had?) a well-regarded basketball program. I worked one-on-one with a student during one of the psychology labs, yet I had no idea he played basketball until the teacher asked about his jump shot halfway through the year. During our project, I had been more concerned with his note-taking skills than with his ability to toss wadded up paper into the trash basket. I can’t even remember the guy’s name.

So, me = not a sports fan. Yet, at this moment I can name at least six of the Butler Bulldogs’ basketball players. (Hayward, Howard, Mack, Jukes, Nored, and Veasley.) For those of you who, like my normal self, don’t care about sports, let me explain. Every year there is a national tournament in America between the top 64 college basketball teams. Butler is a small school in Indianapolis with enrollment of about 4000, so it was a big deal when they simply made it to the Elite Eight, the phase of the bracket where only eight teams are left. I was happy for the local team, but not that involved. Butler has a beautiful campus, and it was nice that a local team had done good, but I don’t care about sports. Then Butler won their game and got to go to the Final Four, which was held here in Indy. Now I was excited.

It was fun to root for the little school that no one thought would make it so far. They would get to play right here in town where everyone suddenly loved them. I liked these bracket busters! I watched their Final Four game with a book on my lap, burying my nose in the pages during the tense moments when Butler was down. I’m not used to caring about sports teams, but I really wanted Butler to win. They’d won me over with their team spirit and their adorable bulldog mascot.

Warning: It is much harder to watch sports when you are invested in the outcome of the game. I missed the apathy and disregard I normally have for basketball, because apathy never made my feel nauseated. Apathy just makes you feel numb. The game was tight and by the end I was red in the face from worry, but they won! It was amazing! Butler got to go to the final game and compete for the national championship!

Except, they were playing Duke. DUN-DUN! Duke has a reputation of being a very good team, so good that everyone hates them for being good and hogging all the awards. I wasn’t certain how the Bulldogs would do, but I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t be a blow out. I didn’t want my boys to be embarrassed on national television, because they were “my boys” now. I was not the only one loving these kids. By now, Matt Howard’s mustache had not one, but two fan pages on Facebook. Then the tip off came, and the game was a fierce contest. Butler would pull ahead, and then Duke came back, only to be forced behind again by Butler, who’d succumb to Duke.

It was very stressful.

Finally, at the end of the game, Butler was down but had a chance to win the game with one shot. The basketball soared…and bounced off the rim. But then! There was another chance to win and Hayward threw the ball at the basket from halfway down the court and…it bounced off. Because life is not a movie. Butler lost. And there was much sadness around the world.

I used to hear people talk about the sadness and depression that came from watching their favorite teams lose, but I thought they were exaggerating for comic effect. Now I know that they weren’t. These kids made me feel invested in the game, so I felt invested in the loss too. I tried to cheer myself up by telling myself that a basketball championship is not that big of a deal in the big scheme of life, the universe and everything. I couldn’t even remember who’d won last year. But I realized, this championship meant a lot to the Bulldogs, and because of that it meant a lot to me.

I am a risk-adverse person. I tend to take the safer path. When I watched those kids come out on the basketball court Monday night, I realized that they were setting themselves up for either major joy or major sorrow. Yet, they ran out there anyway and decided to take the risk of heartbreak for the chance at the joy of victory. I really admire that, because I don’t know if I’d have the stomach to do the same. I really hate feeling this nauseated.

But I also thought, the Butler Bulldogs team that would have made one more shot is not any noticeably different than the Butler Bulldogs team that fell short by one shot. They are the same guys they would have been had they won, the difference between them is just one bounce of the ball off the rim. So, I hope they are proud of what they did, and I hope that the nauseated feeling I have, (that is probably quintupled in them) goes away quickly. I hope they don’t feel awful when people talk to them about the game, and instead remember everything good about the experience instead. There won’t be any parades, there probably won’t be a movie made out of this story, and perhaps not quite as many girls will want to sleep with the star player as would have had they won. But this team made me care about basketball. That’s a miracle in itself. Probably not the miracle they were looking for, but I hope that miracle will do.

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19 Comments

John • April 7, 2010 at 9:12 am

If I recall they only had one senior on their team, so they could be back for another run next year.

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The Merry • April 7, 2010 at 10:22 am

I think the underdog-makes-good story is always fascinating, even if it involves guys tossing an orange ball around.

Sorry. I still don’t get the attraction of the sport.

In college, a prof told me a lab partner could dribble between her legs. Took me awhile to realize this was a reference to basketball — I thought the girl was merely incontinent.

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Benita • April 7, 2010 at 11:23 am

I’m with you 100% here. It’s the first time I have ever paid any attention to NCAA basketball. A friend of mine had Duke going all the way in her Basketball pool, but in the end she hoped Butler would win, even if it cost her the $80 from the pool. Duke won, she got her $80, and she is sorry because Butler just won her heart.

Yes-siree-bob, I, too, am a proud Indianapolis person – and I went to what is now UofI, who is Butler’s small school rival.

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Helen • April 7, 2010 at 11:32 am

If I took this post and substituted the word “Duke” everywhere you have “Butler” then you would know how I came to love NCAA basketball. My daughter went to Duke and I started watching because I figured anything that would make her sleep in a tent to get into the game had my interest. Her freshman year Duke was “supposed” to win and got beat by UCONN, which only tore us up because, well, we’re from Connecticut and aren’t UCONN fans (shock!). Well my dh is a UCONN fan but always says his $$ went to Duke so he roots for them second. The next two years they didn’t do so well. But I had fallen in love, stomach aches and all. The last time Duke won a championship was my daughters senior year, 8 long years ago. Watching that game Monday night, I can tell you Butler’s day is coming. Have fun enjoying your new sport!

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Jes • April 7, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I’m a Duke grad, so I was *dying* during the game, as you can imagine. Husband said he has never seen me more anxious. Both teams fought like lions – it was a great game.

And Helen: DukeDukeDuke!!!! :)

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Debbi S. • April 7, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I GET that the appeal is that they were underdogs but as a rule, I don’t get why people all of a sudden become sports fans just because the team that happens to play for the state in which they live in, actually does well. To me it’s just geographics. Although, college is a bit different as they are not actually paid to represent the college as with professional sports. My husband goes through this every year. He is not a fan of sports at all until/unless they are about to hit the playoffs, finals, whatever. Then he rushes out to buy sports shirts and stuff and yells at the TV. Hmm.. Maybe the issue is with the husband and not sports. :-)

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The Homebody • April 7, 2010 at 3:54 pm

That was such an awesome game! Butler doesn’t have ANYTHING to hold their heads down about.

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Debbi • April 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm

We here in WV were heartbroken when we lost to Duke, and I think the whole state was rooting for Butler … until Monday afternoon. The mining tragedy puts sports into perspective. I’ll always be a sports nut, I have favorite teams for baseball, basketball (pro and college) and football (also pro and college). But it seems like a blessing in disguise that we didn’t have to choose between being thrilled with a national championship and devastated at the loss of so many miners. Butler did Indiana proud!

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Kyle • April 7, 2010 at 7:46 pm

I still feel nauseated when I look back to my senior year of high school at the competitive cheerleading state championships where we came in runner up by a margin of something like 2 points, if I remember correctly.

In a competition like that, you just feel that everything is on the line. Even if it’s not really. I instantly started crying when my team was announced as runner up. And my coach (who’d been coaching for over 20 years, had won countless championships, and lost even more) looked at me and said, “Kyle get up. It’s not the end of the world. Go congratulate the winners.”

I feel like that advice will stick in my head for the rest of my life. Just the fact that I’m almost ten years out of high school and I can still hear her saying that means something, I think. So I still hate to lose. It still makes me feel nauseous. And I feel like that every time a client doesn’t book me. I lose. Someone else wins. But I only cry sometimes, and I do get up, always. Because it’s not the end of the world.

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Amanda • April 7, 2010 at 11:40 pm

I am happy for all you Butler fans. It’s great to see a small school succeed, especially since the competition is so fierce. As for me, I suffer from yet another year of a sweet 16 loss, the 9th time my Gonzaga Bulldogs have made it “Almost” to the top. Well, maybe 10th year is a charm? Congrats, guys!

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Kaitlin • April 8, 2010 at 12:28 am

I know what you mean about depression when your team loses. I was completely sad when Butler beat MSU. As lame as it is, MSU is my team all the way when it comes to March Madness, and I ALWAYS pick them to win the championship. No matter how bad they are in any given year. Because they are my team. =)

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Rob • April 8, 2010 at 11:21 am

I would rather watch paint dry than watch basketball… but I did sit down and watch a bit of this…. I mean, it was the national championship game!!

It was a pretty good game!! Too bad for Butler!!

Thanks!

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Carey • April 8, 2010 at 11:58 am

Thank you for the post. Although I picked Duke in my bracket game I rooted for Butler most of the game. I love the underdog and always cheer for them (unless they are playing my beloved Utah Utes) As for the agony felt when your team looses I am there with you. I have been on both sides of that ball bounce and both have taught me valuable lessons.

Thanks again.

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Indianapolis Amy • April 8, 2010 at 1:16 pm

The game was a definite nail biter– and it was very sad to see Butler lose- but the good thing is that everyone is talking about Butler… I think the players, Coach Stevens and Butler should be so proud. This is a game that is going to be talked about for years and years.

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Lesley • April 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm

As a woman who Looooves football (soccer to you lot) and supports a pretty terrible team, I know exactly what you went through. If ever I want to remember the feeling of nausea, I just remember how sick I felt watching Steve McLean standing over a penalty kick in the play off finals 2006 (which we subsequently won!!). Why I would want to remember feeling sick I don’t know, but it works every time!!

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Emily • April 8, 2010 at 6:24 pm

I agree completely! I didn’t care, and then my Dad got me sucked in during the final four game during Easter weekend. I didn’t even know anything about Butler, and suddenly I really wanted them to win. That’s how I am with sports, though – they are way more fun when you care. Someone commented on how they don’t get how you can suddenly become a fan of a team that is doing well just because they are in your state/city/etc. On the flipside, I don’t understand how you can’t.

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coraspartan • April 8, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I am a huge Michigan State fan (notice the spartan in my screen name). Basketball is my sport. My dogs are named Sparty, Breslin and Izzo–all connected to Michigan State basketball. So as you can imagine, I was devastated when Butler beat MSU. I always feel depressed after a big loss like that.

My friends and family know it too–the day after the loss to Butler, many people called/texted/emailed/Facebooked to tell me they were sorry for my loss. It was as if I had a death in the family. Thank God I didn’t, but I still felt depressed for several days. I love my Spartans!

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RG • April 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Paradigm shifts are interesting! I *almost* get the point here, but in general sports feels like a question of how much money (and yes, tuition and other perks are money) you can throw at buying the best players, coaches, training facilities, massage therapists. It’s exciting when a team wins because everyone comes together under a great leader or when humble, hardworking kid from the slums becomes a star (Michael Jordan, in my book). But even theoretical math has these exciting stories: Ramanujan, the kid who created brilliant math in poverty in India until approaching (and being recognized by) a professor in England; Emmy Noether and other women who did math in secret with little support and education because women weren’t allowed in universities; John Nash who made groundbreaking advancement in game theory before schizophrenia took over his life. The rest of the time, eh, math plods along unheard by the rest of the world.

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Kendra • April 17, 2010 at 3:09 am

This post got me really thinking about the risks I do and don’t take in my own life. Thanks for the insight and for prompting me on this. I hope it’s okay that I quoted this post in my blog. It’s motivated me to get more serious about an area of my life I’ve been avoiding.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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