Butler Misses a Shot but Cements a Legacy

I am not a Butler fan, per se. (At least, I wasn’t before tonight.)

However, I can honestly say that before tonight I had never cheered harder for a basketball team to win a game that did not have “INDIANA” written across its chest.

And in what truly is the measure of one’s level of investment in a sporting event, I felt absolutely crushed when Gordon Hayward’s last second heave bounded off the backboard, clanged the front of the rim, and the bounced to defeat. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

Now, after about a half hour of reflection plus the joy of “One Shining Moment” to ameliorate my disappointment, I’m sitting here smiling because I finally realized why it became so easy to fall madly in love with the Butler Bulldogs tonight.

Butler reminded me of everything that I grew up loving about the game of basketball, and it was all signified in the most shining moment of all: Hayward’s shot that could have won it all.

gordon-hayward-last-second-shot-against-duke-ncaa-championship-game

photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images via ESPN.com

Growing up an Indiana fan in Bloomington during the 80s and early 90s, you naturally develop the belief that team is infinitely more important than I.  You also come to understand the effect that coaching can have not just on the outcome of a single game, but also its influence on the fingerprint of an entire basketball program, year in and year out.

Perhaps most importantly, kids who grew up in Indiana in the 80s and early 90s – the era of Bob Knight and a thriving single-class high school basketball tournament – grew up believing that a team able to truly embody the essence of that word – team – always has a chance to win, no matter the opponent or the odds.

Bob Knight no longer coaches at Indiana; in fact, my beloved IU basketball program is now a shell of its former self as it continues to pick up the pieces from a flagrant era we all wish had never happened. Similarly, the single class high school basketball tournament is no more, having changed to a four-class tournament while I was still in high school.

I read an article recently discussing the dire straits that the world’s most famous high school basketball tournament currently finds itself in. This would have been unthinkable when I was a kid. (Almost as unthinkable as IU winning 16 games in two seasons.)

Why do I bring this up? Because I’ve gotten older and things have changed, and it’s been awhile since I felt the love for my childhood passion that I felt tonight.

You see, I was the insane kid who used to spend a half hour shoveling snow off the driveway just so I could go outside and shoot, pretending I was Calbert Cheaney or Damon Bailey or Jay Edwards…or myself wearing Cream & Crimson.

I am that brainwashed Hoosier who counts Steve Alford’s book “Playing for Knight” as the single most influential book of my childhood. It was easily the most inspirational factor in me going from being a chubby, post-playing, bench-warming B-team turd to becoming a starter on an undefeated JV squad and then a two-year starter on varsity who broke the school record for 3 point percentage in a season.

I don’t tell you this to make myself seem special. Believe me, I wasn’t. The only thing that was special about me was that I loved basketball. More than anything. I could play it all day, then play it again at night, then dream about it while I was sleeping. Hell, I used to announce the games while I played, then run to my computer to use a spreadsheet I’d set up to record the stats.

Yeah, I was that kid.

And watching Butler reminded of all that tonight. It all came flooding back. Like a tidal wave of happiness. There is a perhaps nothing more purely joyful and full of life than a boy, a ball, and his dreams.

Every shot Butler made tonight, every defensive stop they got, seemed like an affirmation of everything I believed when I was a kid out there banging the pavement over and over and over and over.

Anyone can succeed if they work hard enough.

Team is more important than I.

You don’t have to be better than your opponent forever, just for 40 minutes.

Over time, I’m sad to say, some of those acute affinities for the most pure aspects of basketball dulled in my mind. I guess when you’re a kid like me and three of your basketball anchors – Bob Knight, the single class tournament, and all the time in the world to play basketball – are no longer around, it’s easy to lose sight of many of the reasons why you loved the game in the first place.

Well I remembered tonight. Butler is why I loved basketball in the first place.

You see friend, it’s not that Butler was an underdog tonight. They weren’t. And it’s not that Butler had to play out of its collective minds to keep it close with mighty Duke tonight. They didn’t.

It’s that Butler, the school, is an underdog in general. And it’s that Butler, the school, at one time would have had to play completely beyond itself to compete with Duke.

Yet somehow, this small little school in Indianapolis is now on equal footing with the giants.

How?

Because of a belief in team. Because of a belief in defense. Because of a belief in the abilities of kids who might not have elite athletic ability, but who have an elite love for the game. And because of a belief – starting with Barry Collier, then Thad Matta, then Todd Lickliter, and now Brad Stevens – in building a program around kids who embody these characteristics.

I was never good enough to play basketball above the Division III level in college – I chose to go to Indiana rather than play small school ball because I was born to be a Hoosier – but I was able to become a good high school player because I believed in team, I believed (enough) in defense, and I made up for the rest of my many shortcomings by genuinely loving the game of basketball and playing it every chance I could.

So I cheered for Butler tonight, despite never really having cheered for them before, because it felt like cheering for myself, and for Reed Hoyer, and for John Weida, and for Kevin Bertolini, and for Brent Gregory, and for Jay Bernhard, and for Prentice Stovall, and for all the other guys that I spent my childhood playing basketball with in middle school, in high school, in AAU, and in the driveway.

Tonight, and throughout this tournament, Butler represented the best of all of us. Butler was the manifestation of the best we ever could have hoped to play. I don’t know if Reed or John or Kevin or Brent or Jay or Prentice or any of the other guys I played ball with saw the same thing as I did…but I suspect somewhere in their memories and their heart of hearts that they did.

For a kid who grew up in Indiana, how could you see anything else?

Butler showed us, and more importantly all the kids still young enough to be chasing their basketball dreams, that you really can live your dreams by practicing hard, playing hard, and having a passion for the game.

Whether Gordon Hayward’s last second heave went in tonight was irrelevant; that he was in a position to shoot it – with everything on the line – is what meant everything.

Who would have thought that Butler – Butler! – would ever be in a position to win a National Championship.

A kid who grows up in Indiana, that’s who.

And this is why it is not a coincidence that a team from Indiana, led by a lot of kids from Indiana, and coached by a guy from Indiana, became one of the greatest underdog-becomes-an-equal stories in the history of college basketball.

Remember, Hoosiers is not fiction. It’s a true story.  And we all grew up dreaming about being Jimmy Chitwood one day. What I learned tonight is that Jimmy Chitwood (or Bobby Plump, as it were) was not Jimmy Chitwood because he made the shot. He was Jimmy Chitwood and they were the Hickory Huskers because they were in a position to take the shot.

In the game of basketball, that’s all you can ask for.

Jimmy Chitwood happened to make his. Gordon Hayward happened to miss his.

In many people’s eyes, the comparisons between Butler and Hickory High ended when the final buzzer sounded and Duke came out on top. The “Cinderella story” was over; Butler’s glass slipper had to be returned.

I disagree.

For me, someone who hadn’t bought into the Butler/Hickory comparison up until now, the final 3.6 seconds are exactly where the comparison began.

gordon-hayward-shot-2Some 56 years ago, Bobby Plump made a shot that gave hope and belief to many generations of Indiana kids who grew up loving the game of basketball and believing anything was possible. Some 56 minutes ago, as I write this, Gordon Hayward did the exact same thing, even though his shot happened to rim out.

As an old poster in my room used to say, You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Butler took their shot tonight, ultimately falling just short on the scoreboard. In my book, however, to channel the essence of Norman Dale, they were winners.

And 5, 10, 20, 40 years from now, another kid and another team from Indiana will do what no one thought was possible, and they’ll be compared to Butler. What they won’t realize is just how many hopes and dreams and memories were hanging on their every play or still waiting to be inspired, just as was the case with Butler.

That, my friends, is how the legacy of Indiana basketball will live on. It’s how our proud legacy has always lived on. From one underdog to another.

And for those of us who cherish it, we could not have asked for better ambassadors for the Indiana basketball legacy than Brad Stevens, Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored, and the entire Butler program.

Thank you for giving me not only two hours of incredible basketball, but also a brief reminder of why I loved this game in the first place and why, even today, I’ve still spent more time playing basketball during my lifetime than doing any other single activity besides sleep and eat.

If that doesn’t sum up what it means to be a Hoosier, I don’t know what does.

Butler, you epitomized that word for me tonight.

You may have lost the game, but you won a legacy. It’s been 56 years and people still talk about Milan. In 2066, people in Indiana will still be talking about you.

Thank you.

**********

* – Gordon Hayward shot photo credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terril via ESPN.com



About Jerod Morris

I love words. I write for Copyblogger and founded MSF, The Assembly Call, & Primility. I practice yoga, eat well, & strive for balance. I love life. Namaste. Say hi on Twitter, Facebook, & G+.

Comments

  1. AJ Kaufman says:

    Quite the recap. I was there, and you nailed it. The atmosphere was amazing and the teams are 100% even. Butler will be back.

  2. Thank you for writing this.

  3. You are your father's son. I wore out the grass in my back yard playing basketball. My father had to put in a concrete slab and a light so Grant and I could come home from basketball practice and play two more hours of one on one. Yup, I kept the same stat booklet, played games against myself and dreamed of taking that last second shot in the city rivalry, Boulder vs fairview which was played up at CU, or playing for Sox Walseth and the Colorado Buffalo's. Every boy growing up dreams of taking "the shot" that Gordon Hayward took last night.

    • Yes they do. What a great performance all season by Butler. Even better: they were no one-year wonder. This run to the title game has been building for a decade. They’ll be back.

  4. also duke won’t be back because their team will all get drafted and they will become terrible NBA players. butler definitely deserves another chance at the dance.

  5. GREAT ARTICLE JEROD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU ARE A MASTER AT EXPLAINING EXACTLY WHAT PEOPLE ARE SEEING AND FEELING IN THEIR HEARTS. I felt like I was punched in the stomach after Butler lost, and I was NEVER a fan before. These kids, really all of them on Dukes side too, played their hearts out. BUT BUTLER you just wanted to see win. You just wanted to see a ‘little guy’ beat the GIANTS!!!!!!!! WHAT A GREAT GAME though.
    Have to say I was terribly disappointed with the ‘one shining moment’ segment. This has ALWAYS been one of my favorite things to watch after the game. I always loved to hear Teddy or Luther sing. The ‘moment’ just belongs with their voice. Jennifer Hudson is great, but not for this, AND I really DID NOT like watching clips of her singing. This is SUPPOSED to be clips of the teams playing in the tournament. They dropped the ball on this one for sure!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Jerod, Very well written article. As a Duke fan, I can’t say I was unhappy when the ball (both times) somehow did not find the net, but Butler has been a great story in college basketball for quite some time & their run I think was great for the game because it showed that you don’t have to be a high major to compete at the highest levels. I know that you (and many) are not huge Duke fans but one of the reasons I like the Butler program so much is that it reminds me of Duke. They play great fundamental basketball, they run a clean program, they are well coached, and their kids are intelligent and articulate. In a nutshell, they do it the right way, and they are helping breathe some excitement and new life into the game we all love, whether we root for mid majors or the so called evil empire. I am hopeful that Brad Stevens stays at the school because clearly it has been proven by many coaches before him at Butler and other places that the grass is not always as green as it appears. Anyway, great article by you. And what a great game. GO DUKE!!!

    • AJ Kaufman says:

      Well said, Dils. You are correct.

      I think we should also commend Coach K, not only for his coaching job, but his spirit and class. He was elegant last night. (You did not hear this from Jim Boeheim, who was NOT classy nor mature after his team’s loss).

      The Duke head man lauded the Bulldogs and talked about not just their heart, but how this team will change the perception of the University. As an Indy resident, I can tell you he’s already correct.

      He also praised Hayward and Mack for their play in the U-19 games in New Zealand. This was last September, and very important and impressive. THAT, along with their trip to Italy, was the beginning of BU’s run.

    • Thanks a lot for the comment Dils. If there were more Duke fans who were as gracious in victory as you are, there would probably be a little less hate around these parts for Duke. The truth is that any IU fan like myself cannot help but respect and admire the Duke program and what Coach K has done. He is obviously the most famous of Coach Knight’s proteges and there are a lot of similarities in how the two men conduct their program. But the constant winning, the media infatuation and the holier-than-thou attitude of many fans (not you) has made them the target for vitriol that they are.

      However, to your point about Butler, I agree. The Bulldogs embody everything that a college basketball program should be. Their program is the antithesis of what Kentucky was a this year…a bunch of pseudo-professional mercenaries masquerading as college students for a year thanks to the quick fix from a dirty coach. Butler’s road to the Final Four start a long time ago when Barry Collier laid the foundation for the three coaches who have followed him. It’s a lesson to all of us IU fans who want to see Indiana back in the FInal Four tomorrow. Patience is important to build something that lasts and has integrity. Butler has that. Duke certainly has that. Hopefully one day again we’ll see it in Bloomington too.

  7. NicholasGerlach says:

    The worst thing about Gordon Hayward’s last two shots is that they both looked really good. That last one looked eerily similar to the one that Evan Turner hit against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament.

  8. GoogyMoogy says:

    Watching the game last night solidifies my distaste for the NBA. The energy, effort, excitement, and fundamental skills, i.e., defense, exhibited in the championship game, as well as during all of March Madness, further hammers home the point that the NBA is the WWF of hoops.

  9. Thank you so much for writing this. I needed someone to give voice to the pain I was feeling inside. I haven’t felt this torn up over a sporting event since the Knicks lost to the Rockets in 1994 (i’m a knicks fan, I was about 14 then, and call me a fanatic or sissy, but I cried myself to sleep I think for 3 straight nights). Ever since then, I’ve always tried to hold a comfortable distance from rooting for any team, lest my heart get broken again, but I couldn’t help but really root for Butler. They represent all the things you wrote about and it almost seemed like the way their run was going, they were destined to hit that half court prayer. I think that would have been, with all due respect to Laettner’s buzzer beater, USA Hockey in 1980, Tyree Helmet Catch, etc. the greatest moment in sports history simply because of the sheer rarity of it (you try to name another championship in any sport which gets won on an effort that is successful probably about 2%of the time it is attempted) and the entire back-story involved.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Here’s an argument that Butler fans and players should not be sad.  Just having to witness Duke fans being that happy first-person is reason enough to go on anti-depressents.  Being responsible for it should put you on a suicide-watch list.  <midwestsportsfans> [...]

  2. [...] Butler May Have Missed A Shot But They Cement A Legacy  (Midwest Sports Fans) [...]

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