Why It Matters

Yes, I have a new baby. I’ve got nothing to say about that in any kind of constructive way. He is the thing that comes out of the butts of angels when they fart, that’s pretty much all I can say.

Now, on to something far more important than my progeny. The recent Duke/Clemson basketball game.

Complete disclosure, I am a Tar Heel fan, always will be, loved them even when they were a little off track, so I have a dog in this fight. But I am going to try to explain why this is important, and I’m gonna try to allow for whatever the detractors might say.

Here’s what happened. Clemson was losing to Duke by 5 points with 8 second to go when Clemson scored to cut the lead to three. Duke was inbounding under Clemson’s basket and their team threw the ball directly to a Clemson player. That player got the ball under control, stepped back behind the three point line and let go a twenty foot shot. The score was then tied, and Duke had the ball.

Many people, including the ACC officials, have pointed out that after this, when the time-keepers put 4.4 seconds on the clock, a mistake was made that favored Duke. And many people have rightly pointed out that Duke still ran the length of the court, and their freshman still made a wonderful pass to his teammate under the basket who laid the ball in with .1 seconds on the clock. It’s good of the officials to admit a mistake, and it sucks of Clemson not to realize that there are 4 and a half seconds on the clock so pressure defense and no gambles are in order.

Here’s why this matters so much.

1) Clemson is having an up year and Duke is having an average year. Clemson, which is historically a completely shitty basketball school, was, for a time, the only undefeated team Division One Basketball. That’s pretty exciting for them. In ’98 (I think) Clemson played Carolina and their clown-ass coach was offering to go in at the end of the game because all but three of his players had fouled out. He joked that he would go in the game and play. They’ve replaced this chunk of ass-face with a classy guy who has improved the school’s team every single year.

Duke, coming into this game, had beat Clemson 19 straight times. On paper, Duke isn’t very good, and considering they beat Clemson at home by a single basket on a bad call, one could argue that this is a bad year for Duke.

Since they have some national championships to their credit, Duke finds it much easier to recruit. They have a history of being a good clean program, parents love for their affluent white children to attend Duke University, so they have a huge advantage over Clemson.

This was their year. Clemson should have at least have had a fair chance to beat this team. It’s been years, decades, since they’ve beaten Duke, for them to be cheated out of the opportunity is tragic.

2) Well, wait, you say, it was one mistake. One timing mistake, refs make them all the time and, to be fair, all that divided up seconds crap only occurs at the very end of games, in the middle of the game the clock runs, stops, runs, stops and it’s so random when it goes off and when it comes on… etc. It was only one mistake.

Except… look at the box score. Nelson, McRoberts and Scheyer, Duke players that logged in 38, 36 and 33 minutes respectively, and were the three top scorers, were called for ZERO fouls. None. If they had lost this game by a huge margin, I would look at the box score and say “Man, were these guys even *trying*?”

This means that the frontcourt that Duke had on the floor for 3/4 of the game never once initiated contact under the basket, never once aggressively denied a lay-up, never once battled for position with too much verve. They played *perfect* basketball against an extremely physical team.

The timing mistake at the end was only the last in a long series of blown calls and bad refereeing.

3) Well, so what? you ask. It’s one game. You’re gonna have to bear with me.

Boston College released two of their players from their team, a role player and also the focal point of their offense and defense named Sean Williams (no relation to me). There has been a lot of speculation about why he was released, but he had been in trouble several times for smoking pot, and the assumption is that marijuana had something to do with it.

Without their best player, they came to Duke right after the stolen Clemson game. BC was at the top of the standings in the ACC, a legit power until they lost their best player. It was nip and tuck at Duke until the end of the second half when Duke outlasted them and pushed the margin of the win.

Clemson went on the road to UVA and lost a heartbreaker on a last second heave.

Now, BC released their best player because of his drug habit. For years, Duke’s best player, JJ Redick, had problems because of his own taste for the ganja, both before he was at Duke and then after he left. In fact, almost as soon as he was no longer under the umbrella of Duke University, he was arrested for DUI.

Would Duke release J.J.? Never. Never in a million years.

When Clemson lost to UVA, two things came to mind for me. One, every single road game in the ACC is tough. Two, these guys got their hearts broken.

What this means is that Duke, on paper, has now beat a ranked team in Clemson, and the top of the ACC in BC. Despite the fact that both wins have asterisks by them. Clemson lost two on the road, one was stolen, one was a half court heave and they are suddenly at 4-4 in the ACC and looking at a long road to the NCAAs. Which brings me to…

4) The inflated record of Duke and the consistent inflated record of Duke leads the AP and the coaches to rank them always higher than they deserve. They beat Clemson at home on a lay-up, they jumped in the polls. Instead of the stolen game being seen as a sign of weakness, the AP and coaches polls both just count it as a W and throw Duke higher.

Why does it matter? Because 8-9 spots in the rankings is 2 to 3 seeds in the NCAAs, theoretically. Which means if they should be a 6 seed, they get to be a 3 seed. If they should be a 4, they end up a 1.

And it matters because Duke keeps flying through the first two rounds before finally getting booted. It matters because Duke players get drafted when they shouldn’t, or go higher than they should, and they get furious for sucking when their games are adjudicated by the rules of basketball.

Duke is gonna break records held by legitimate programs because games are often decided by single tiny moves. You know this when your team gets booted from the tournament when they lose by a single point, and you think back to the 3/4 heave at the end of the first half that went in for the other guys.

Basketball is a game that reveals character, it’s balletic and poetic and the rules have been created in order to maintain its wonderful balance between the beauty of a single body in motion and the beauty of five people improvising within a structure. Nobody would argue that a haiku should have an extra 2 syllables at the end just so the writer can say what he wants, and nobody should allow for 2 extra seconds at the end of a game just so a team that regularly butchers the game should be allowed to win.

5) Dude, I hear you say, we’re at war in Iraq, there are starving people in the world, you have a newborn screaming in the background… why should I care about basketball?

Yeah, well, I suppose you shouldn’t. Except that the things any culture embraces are so celebrated because of their use as metaphor. You could also say there’s no point in studying music because we are at war, or there’s no point in trying to cook a meal as well as you possibly can because we’re at war.

I understand that the actual game isn’t important, but the metaphor of bullies not only rising to the top, but being celebrated as non-bullies is an extremely important thing for us to address
in the world. Duke University Men’s Basketball Team, as an organization and in response to the head coach, routinely quash any criticism of their team (see Maggette, Corey for an example), routinely batter the ACC officials into granting them wiggle room from the rules and routinely do everything they can (moving screens, jersey grabs, hand grabs, scratches, yanks, nuttings) in order to gain an advantage outside the bounds of the rules.

This is important, and it does apply, as metaphor, to all the larger problems in the world.

Here’s a picture of my baby.