Sam PerkinsMarch 20, 2009
While I’m waiting to continue enjoying my two favorite sports days of the year, allow me to present a card from the recently annexed Aunt Celia wing of my collection (named for the Christmas-gift donor of the entirety of the wing). My favorite part of the card is Mark Jackson’s face in the background, just off Perkins’ right shoulder. That is the face of a guy who has had success everywhere he’s gone, but now he’s finding out what it’s like to be on the Clippers. He’s like, “Oh, man, you sad motherfuckers can’t even box out Sam Perkins?”
I feel for Mark Jackson. By that time, 1994, Perkins had been around for quite awhile. And even in his prime he was more of a solid all-around big man with a nice outside touch than some kind of young Moses Malone animal on the offensive glass.
But that’s another subject. What I wanted to get into was that my connection with college basketball began in earnest in 1982, the year Sam Perkins was a member of probably the most talented college basketball team since I’ve been watching. Before that, I’d had some awareness of college hoops, but my interest lagged far behind my interest in the pro game, which itself got started quite a while after I’d began my religious affiliation with baseball. But in 1982 I followed the tournament and watched with amazement the incredible final game—incredible all the way to the sour-note conclusion authored by poor “Wrong Town” Freddy Brown—between North Carolina and Georgetown. Georgetown had “Pat” Ewing and Sleepy Floyd and UNC had Perkins, James Worthy, and freshman “Mike” Jordan.
I started wondering this morning if I ever saw in subsequent years an NCAA champ that could equal the talent level of the Carolina trio, which featured in Perkins a future longtime pro, a future Hall of Famer and clutch-play legend in Worthy, and the future greatest player of all time in Jordan.
So I tried to list all the NCAA champs since I’d been paying attention, and here’s when I realized that the more I get into the tournament as the years have gone on, embracing my enjoyment of it, the less able I am to recall what the hell happened. From 1982 to 1995 I could not only rattle off the champions in my mind but also envision where I was when I watched certain key games. From that point on it gets a little hazy. Wildcats of some manner start winning, but their exact nature is indistinct to me. A lot of teams in blue. A lot of personal brackets ripped to shreds.
So I wonder: Is there a connection between enjoyment and amnesia?
Along those lines, today and yesterday, as I mentioned above, are my two favorite sports days of the year, which is odd, because basketball ranks a distant second behind baseball on my list of favorite sports, and I’m generally a much bigger fan of pro hoops than the economically and perhaps even morally dubious version on display today: for most of the year, something seems a little off to me about the fact that college basketball, like college football, means big bucks for everyone involved except for the people most responsible for imbuing the product with value. A friend of mine calls big-time college sports the “plantation system.” On most days I’m able to go along with that thinking.
But not during the opening round of the Big Dance, baby! Not with games spread out toward every horizon as far as the eye can see.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing that happens yesterday and today, or on any of the previous versions of these days, can hope to approach my most intense and rewarding memories as a sports fan, which, besides the Larry Bird years of my adolescence, are all from the realm of baseball. Those latter moments are like the handful of novels that changed my life, whereas the happenings on my favorite sports day of the year are like an endless supply of chocolate cupcakes.
But maybe cupcakes is not the right metaphor. Along with exultation and glee, there’s usually some pain and disappointment and recrimination and anger. But none of it, good or bad, will cut very deep, and maybe that’s the key to why I love these days so much. They don’t much matter.
And I won’t remember any of it. The games, the infinity of games, will rush over me like a wave and then will disappear, leaving behind, maybe, a vague sense that some guy hit an incredible winning shot at the buzzer, but if I am briefly able to retain the guy’s name I won’t be for long. For example, there was that white guy from a mid-major who hit an incredible shot on a tricky inbounds play a few years ago. They show the highlight a lot in “best of” shows. He was the coach’s son. I think either he or the coach was named Homer. More than that, I cannot tell you.
But bring on that big amnesiac wave of Sport. I am sitting here, gripping my still-intact bracket, ready to watch it all and forget.