As we went to bed Monday, I told my wife that maybe it was time I retired as a sports fan. It was never going to get any better than this. The Virginia Cavaliers had just won the national championship in a nerve-wracking overtime game against a tenacious Texas Tech team, and I was feeling jittery and euphoric.
Unless it was last fall, when my Boston Red Sox had enjoyed an almost perfect season, defeating the Yankees, the Astros and taking the World Series against the L.A. Dodgers.
But the U.Va. story was about a lot more than basketball.
We talked about Virginia’s storybook year, how they’d earned universal scorn during the 2018 season — the first and only No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in NCAA tournament history. There was laughter, anger, booing and worse.
Never mind that De’Andre Hunter, who scored one clutch field goal after another against Texas Tech, had been out with a broken wrist. They had no excuse.
Even so, it’s hard to imagine that anybody would send a death threat to a college kid over a basketball game. But it happened. Virginia’s brilliant guard Kyle Guy posted essays on Facebook opening up about his treatment for anxiety attacks stemming partly from such messages. It seemed to me a courageous thing to do.
Me, I’d been following the U.Va. team all season, hunting down the games on obscure cable channels and online broadcasts. Diane listened to me talk about it. A basketball and baseball coach’s daughter, she thinks it’s normal for men to blather on about such things — although she definitely has her limits.
She did sit up late to watch the championship game with me, although her compromised eyesight makes it hard for her to follow the action. The Guy story definitely caught her imagination. For a star athlete to publicly admit such vulnerability, and then come through with brilliant performances in the biggest games of his life, touched her heart.
As the mother of basketball-playing sons, she identified.
Washington Post columnist John Feinstein captured the thrilling championship game perfectly: “The way they redeemed themselves was something straight out of a Disney movie — except if you attempted to sell the story line to Disney, you would probably get laughed out of the pitch meeting.”
But Diane also understood why I’d grown so attached to this U.Va. team.
“It’s about you, you know,” I told her.
“I know,” she said.
Long ago, we’d been introduced at a reception in one of Thomas Jefferson’s serpentine-walled formal gardens on the U.Va. campus by the dean of the graduate school.
But something else I’ll never forget is this remarkable Virginia basketball team, and the spirit of brotherhood they embody.
—Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000.) You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.