Patrick, I'd be disappointed if you didn't get off a good rant about the Shame of College Sports. Your speechifying serves a dual purpose, too. Rightfully savaging the NCAA's exploitation, you keep me from having to do so. That, in turn, lets me look breezy by telling you to chill, baby. We all loathe the NCAA, but there are still games to play. Some are on dry land. Some are even not Duke and Kentucky. My perspective, as you know, is Jayhawk-centric. My view of basketball is like that famous New Yorker cartoon showing how a Manhattanite sees the world. But with Lawrence, Kansas, is the center of creation. Being a Jayhawk, though, doesn't only mean watching the team play. They did that last night—winning ugly. It also means being part of a tradition.
That's a terribly overused word in sports. Still, what interests me most about the new season is a good illustration of what being part of a tradition can actually feel like for the fan. The season shows how, clichéd as it is, loving a team like KU can seem like being part of an extended family. It shows how being a fan can make something as huge and abstract as the entire sport of basketball feel like it's a living community of souls.
A professor of at KU once told me he thought that human beings can can only truly understand how it feels to experience the passage of time when they have lived long enough to see a new generation arise after them.
This season there is one game in particular, in Conference USA, of all places, that Kansas fans will find a particularly poignant reminder of how sports teams and the institutions that sustain them help people to mark the years, and understand how it feels to experience the passage of time. Come January 2013 in Dallas, there is a game where echos of the past and future will call to each other, voices reaching out through the generations to touch across time.
January 6 is when Southern Methodist University will meet the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
Larry Brown, 72-years-old, is in his first—yes first—season as Mustangs head coach. The last time the oft-traveled Hall-of-Famer prowled a college sideline was 1988, the year he coached KU to a championship. The star he asked that year "to play the right way" was Danny Manning.
Manning came to KU with Brown—when the latter gave the former's father Ed Manning a job on the Jayhawk staff. After 1988, they left KU for the NBA together. Both men spent a decade or so bouncing around the pros, even reuniting for a season in LA when Brown joined Danny with the Clippers.
Brown, of course, would coach half the teams in the NBA, most memorably in Detroit. Manning would retire as a player, and head back to Lawrence and join Bill Self's coaching staff. In Allen Field House, he helped turn guys like Jeff Withey from seven feet of fouls-to-give into a NBA lottery pick.
In 2008 Brown was retired from the pros. He spent a lot of time hanging around Allen, informally working with the KU staff. That spring, he and Danny Manning watched—with the rest of us—when Mario Chalmers hit The Shot against Memphis. A quick 20 years after they had won a title together at KU, they had won another. Tempus fugit.
Brown got clipboard fever again, and went back to the association for two more years. Kind of. He coached in Charlotte.
Danny, meanwhile, got a job offer after KU made another Final Four run this spring. That offer was from Tulsa—where Bill Self used to coach. Gee, that's probably not a coincidence. And maybe it's also not a coincidence that Larry Brown re-un-retired yet again, and took the job as head man at SM. That's in Dallas.
There in January 2013, Brown's Mustangs will meet Manning's Golden Hurricane. These two men and their brilliant careers, forever intertwined, will share an arena once more. From recruit and recruiter in the dim 1980's, to a pair of head coaches—one in his 70s, one 46, they will gaze at each other across the court for the first time as full equals in opposition. KU fans in particular will gaze at the two coaches and hear the echoes of the past reach across the years to touch, shrouded by the mystic fog of time.
So, that'll be cool.
Oh, also Ben McLemore looked awesome for KU in a 69-55 win against Tennessee-