is a retired Inquirer sports columnist
To: Dr. James A. Naismith
YMCA, Springfield, Mass.
Re: Your invention
Hey, Doc. . . . Yeah, it's us again. It's that time again. Time to bring you up to date on what they're doing these days with your baby.
The Enchanted Madness of March, we are calling it. And, Doc, it's as good as ever, the best three weeks on the whole calendar, the NCAA collegiate basketball tournament, and it never would have been possible if you hadn't been hit by that bolt of inspiration, to wit: "Hmmm, let's see this . . . one round ball, move it by bouncing it . . . now take two baskets, cut out the bottoms, now pass the ball into the basket and you earn points."
"Nahhhh, too simple. Never will fly."
Thankfully, as we now know, you had second thoughts, Doc. Sometimes genius is simple. So you had yourself an Isaac Newton moment in that Y gym, and for those of us whose hearts beat in rhythm with a basketball, for that we are eternally grateful.
(The founder of basketball was a doctor of medicine and a doctor of divinity, and had a master's degree in physical education and was remembered as a firm Presbyterian minister. He had a beer-barrel build, with imposing forearms firmed by growing up as a lumberjack in Canada. He stood 5-feet-8. Point guard, right?)
So here we are one more time, Doc, Selection Sunday in the Great American Office Pool. Got your brackets ready for seeding? It's a word you'll hear a lot, usually by some hoophead wandering around in a bloodshot daze and muttering, "Gonzaga . . . they've killed me again. . . ."
What makes the Enchanted Madness the best three weeks, Doc, is that it always delivers. We know for sure that there will be excruciating drama, buzzer-beaters and overtimes . . . free throws made and free throws missed in a one-point game . . . and in the last 1.3 seconds, the ball will do a ballerina-toe dance on the rim, tantalizing and teasing, and an entire season will hang in the balance . . . if the ball kisses nylon, ah, you're walking on clouds, and if it rims out . . . ah, then the ride home is silent, inconsolable agony.
And if it's your team, your brackets that are shredded, you suffer, too. You choose sides, Doc. You root. You care.
So Selection Sunday is here, and comes now the Dance of the Sneakered Scholars. And, Doc, you ought to see them now. You were 5-8. . . . Doc, these kids got a foot on you, and more. And Lord, they can jump, how they can jump . . . they're spring-loaded . . . and did I mention their arms? Telescopes. The wing span of a 747. They can turn out the lights in the next room without moving.
They're high-flying dunkateers, sky-walkers, and cloud hoppers, Doc, but the thing is, if you want to see them, don't dawdle, because the good ones put in one season, just enough to showcase their talent, and then, poof, they're off to the riches of the NBA. It's a cruel and deceptive proposition, though, Doc. Like Julius Erving used to tell them: "To play in the NBA, you have to be one in a million. Are you one in a million?"
Sobering words, but they tend to fall on youthful impetuosity.
Which brings us to Kentucky, whose larder overflows with enough talent, we are told, for two teams, which, as a matter of fact, is how they play - in platoons.
It takes some doing to persuade young egos to sacrifice playing time, be willing to convert fresh legs into pestering, strangling all-court defense.
Which, in turn, brings us to Villanova, which also plays in fresh-legs relays, using an eight-player rotation.
And Doc, all winter the Wildcats have been showing the signs you look for in something special, especially experience and versatility. But then, they've been down that road before, and it's turned out to be the Boulevard of Busted Dreams.
And what of the other City 6 team, Temple? They have been dancing on the bubble, which is a precarious way to live.
But all of them, all they ask is for a chance, and that, Doc, is the magic of the Enchanted Madness.