PUMPING IRONY: March Madness?

When it’s 70 degrees in March, watching basketball on TV really loses its appeal.

We’re having an unseasonably warm spell here in the Northland, and it’s really cutting into my TV viewing. Those of you who are basketball fans are no doubt aware that it’s tournament time. The top college teams are vying for a slot among the so-called Final Four, so there has basically been non-stop basketball on the tube for the past couple of weeks. This is like hoops nirvana for a guy like me, but I haven’t seen a single game.

Instead, I’ve been taking the dog for long walks, going on bike rides with My Lovely Wife and puttering around the yard like it’s the middle of June or something. I just can’t persuade myself to burrow into the TV room downstairs and ignore the most beautiful March of all time.

I feel like this is some weird anomaly (I love watching basketball) — and it probably is — but it’s also made me a little nostalgic for the March Madness of my youth. Back in the early ’60s, the NCAA tournament was small potatoes. It competed with the National Invitational Tournament for the top teams and got about as much coverage as the college World Series does today. Much more exciting for Minnesota basketball fans was the mid-March state high school basketball tournament. Back then, there were only eight teams — from large schools and small — and they played to full houses at Williams Arena for three days straight. The games were even televised!

My brother Gary used to take me to watch his high school team play (not out of any fondness for my company; a little grade-school kid attracted a lot of attention from the girls), and these players became my idols. Because I had actually seen them in action, I could mimic their play all winter in our basement, where I had nailed cardboard boxes on opposing walls for a full-court game. I eventually outgrew the low ceiling in the basement, though, and had to take my game outside — which was not always easy in March. One year, we shoveled a path out to the clothesline pole in the back yard, on which we had attached a makeshift backboard and hoop. We cleared the snow away and laid down a few large pieces of plywood and played until the air in the ball condensed from the cold and wouldn’t bounce any more. Another March, we put a hoop up on the inside of the garage. We had to shoot around the metal track that held the garage door mechanism, but at least there wasn’t any snow. We had to play.

I don’t feel the same urgency these days — whether it comes to watching the games or getting out on the court. I enjoy my Monday night games at Anderson gym (when my Achilles tendons aren’t killing me), but I’m just not as susceptible to March Madness as I was as a youth. Back then, I could dream of heroics on the court, play out those last-second buzzer-beaters all day long. Now I know my limitations. And I understand how fleeting a 70-degree day in March can be.

Still, as I was putting away some gardening tools yesterday, I happened to notice how my driveway and the alley combined to form a pretty nice space for a half-court game. All I would need is to attach a backboard and a hoop onto the garage and I could be out there working on my jump shot any time I felt the urge. Maybe coerce my son into a little one-on-one during one of his weekend visits, or reunite some of my old hoops buddies for a two-on-two tournament this summer.

Madness?

I know. But it is March.

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