"Basketball? Um... really?!" Yes, really. Let me explain...
In 1994 I hopped in the car with my mother for what would be the first of many road trips to watch the first round of the NCAA College Basketball tournament. Before the end of the first game, I was hooked on the energy of the arena, the enthusiastic support of the crowds, and the exciting uncertainty of each outcome.
Throughout high school, college, and my early years in D.C., the tournament remained an anchor in the rhythm of my year. It was an opportunity to connect with family, celebrate with friends, and see new places. It fell just after my birthday and on the doorstep of Spring and seemed a harbinger of good things to come.
March Madness took on a new meaning nearly 20 years later with the birth of my daughter. Within hours of her arrival, my family was gathered in the hospital room marveling at the perfection of this tiny creature - and simultaneously providing updates on the progress of college basketball conference tournament games... For the first few weeks of the babe's life, we scrambled to establish some semblance of a rhythm around feedings, sleep, and getting our bearings as new parents. And the soundtrack for this first piece of our parenting journey was the squeak of sneakers on the court, the shrill whistle of referees, the swish of net, and the silence of a crowd holding its collective breath in anticipation of a last second shot.
As our daughter has grown, we have traveled back to the Midwest to watch our hometown team in action, and she may be the only three year old in the world who can claim three visits to the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. In that time she has grown from being dazzled by the distraction of the crowd and shiny instruments of the bands to identifying players and mimicking their signature moves.
I can argue the merits of sports in general: lessons of competition, teamwork, discipline, hard work. I can point to the social value of being aware of an event that looms large in our culture each year at this time. But beyond any rational benefit of watching what is, at the end of the day, no more than a game, is the sense of tradition with which it is forever intertwined in my mind. This is what I want to share with my daughter as we watch and cheer together. To create a context for connection with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. To establish a sense of anticipation for an event that comes every year. To provide a platform for making memories.
And so, yes. Basketball. To watch. And cheer. And laugh. And love.