Tag Archives: NCAA Basketball

Simply Degenerate

Date line: April, 2015.

My wife and I made a little getaway to Missouri this past February. If you’ve been there in winter, there’s a good chance you’ll understand why I often call it “the state of Misery.” Anyhow, en route from Saint Louis to Hannibal we spent time in the formerly not so well-known — but now very well-known — community of Ferguson, Missouri.

Two rounds of riots there in 2014 resulted in multiple cars and buildings being burned. Businesses were ruined. These riots were the aftershocks from (1) the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, and (2) the Saint Louis County Grand Jury’s decision to NOT indict said police officer Darren Wilson.

Ferguson Brewery, Ferguson, MO

Ferguson Brewery, Ferguson, MO

We found the community of just over 20,000 to be really quite delightful. Churches and grocery stores and homes of all sorts: like you’d expect anywhere else. We stopped in at the Ferguson Brewing Company, a cheery micro-brewery with a full kitchen and pub menu. There we enjoyed lunch and a beverage. The place was hopping, and the beers we selected were hoppy too. The patrons were mostly pale faced, but scattered about were ebony and ivory-skinned customers, even sitting at the same tables.

We made it a point to drive through the sections of town where buildings and been torched – destroyed by fires from the riots. Laundromats, liquor stores, auto parts stores, restaurants. Pretty much without rhyme or pattern, concentrated mostly in two different parts of the city. Actually, some destruction spilled over into nearby Dellwood, MO.

We stopped at the spot where young Mr. Brown was killed. Even in February, six months after the shooting, there was still a memorial to him there, on Canfield Drive, near Copper Creek Court.

We felt it important to spend some time there: to contemplate the location and its significance. It’s only a few blocks from the Ferguson Market, on Florrisant Avenue.

[What city has TWO major streets near each other with the same name? In this case “Florrisant.” Oh yeah, Atlanta. Almost every other street is named

Michael BrownMemorial, Canfield Dr, Ferguson, MO

Michael BrownMemorial, Canfield Dr, Ferguson, MO

Peach Tree.]

The Ferguson Market is where the petty theft – and physical abuse of a 120-lb weakling store clerk by 290-pound Mr. Brown – occurred that resulted in Officer Wilson locking onto a young man of Mr. Brown’s description. That theft occurred about 10 minutes before their most unfortunate fateful rendezvous.

This was all brought freshly to mind for me a few weeks ago during the NCAA basketball tournament. March Madness.


Right. The College basketball national championship tournament. Why? Because white people riot too, and for really, really stupid reasons. Over and over again.

Kentucky was the odds-on favorite to win the championship. Basketball is religion in Kentucky. The Lexington-based school has won 8 National championship titles, including as recently as 2012. They’ve been runner up twice, including 2013, and National semi-finalists, an additional four times, to my counting at least, including 2011.

That’s a pretty impressive record, given that there are, oh, I don’t know, something like 400 colleges and university basketball teams competing at the Division-I level.

But this year they lost to Wisconsin in the National semi-final match. Which means if there are 400 schools, their basketball team is better than 398 of them. So what did their fans in Lexington, Kentucky do after the semi-final match? They rioted. Burned cars. Trashed buildings. Barricaded the streets. Fought Police.

Really? — Really.

And this is nothing new. Last year, 2014, Kentucky made it all the way to the National Championship game and lost to Connecticut. Guess what?

The fans in Lexington rioted.

Ah, precedence.

In 2012 Kentucky made it to the National semi-final. That time they defeated in-state super-hated arch-rival Louisville. Kentucky won the game. Win? They won? Yes, they won.

The fans in Lexington rioted.

Two nights later Kentucky was in the National championship match and won, defeating Kansas. This time another win!! A National Championship. Oh the glory.

The fans in Lexington rioted.

More precedence.

Back in 2011 Kentucky was defeated in the National semi-final by Connecticut (a bit of a nemesis) …

Yes, you guessed it …

The fans in Lexington rioted.

You know. Just the basic stuff. Burn cars. Tear down light posts. Throw rocks at police. Vandalize buildings. Mug passers-by.

You’d think the police and city fathers in Lexington would be a bit wise to the whole thing by now.

What is weird is that the fans are mostly well-lubricated white people rioting because the mostly black student athletes performed so well that their expectations were that they would win a Nation championship … or else. Or else what? We’ll riot either way.

In 2013 Kentucky’s record was not good enough to even get into the championship tournament (a fate that befalls the vast majority of teams). So, Kentucky pretty much sucked that year … at least by Kentucky standards. Guess what? NO RIOTS! Go figure.

White people rioting for stupid reasons (or no reason) is nothing new. Even in my current “home” metro area – Denver, CO – fans rioted when the Colorado Avalanche won the NHL’s (National Hockey League) Stanley Cup in 1996. Sure this was the first major championship in Colorado. That warrants a riot. (#sarcasm).

The next year the football Broncos won the Super Bowl. No riot. But then they won their second straight Super Bowl, 1998, … more riots. Really? Yeah. Let’s get really pissed and burn some sh*t. No riots when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup again in 2001. A whiff of sanity.

They don’t riot for no reason in Milwaukee. Or in the whole state of Wisconsin.

I do remember the summer riots of 1967: Barricades in the street. Our humble suburb blocked off at the municipal city limits. Restrictions on gasoline sales: it had to go right into auto tanks; not into portable tanks. People who wanted to mow their lawn (pre-electric mowers) had to bring the grass-cutter right to the gas station.

A permanent scar on our country and on our memory. Newark, NJ, 1967

A permanent scar on our country and on our memory. Newark, NJ, 1967

It was a time of tremendous social unrest – upheaval – and Milwaukee was not spared. Those ’67 riots were not senseless or without reason. They were tied in with the civil rights movement, disappointment with lack of progress from the ’64 Civil Rights Acts, and the move toward freedom of expression, and of course the anti-war movements of the ‘60s. There were a shocking 159 riots in the United States in 1967. One Hundred and Fifty-nine. Mostly race related, they broke out in LA, Cleveland, Minneapolis, everywhere it seemed. The most violent were Detroit and Newark. Too vivid. Too vivid. I remember this gruesome Life Magazine photo from the Newark riots. Burned into my RAM.

The causes, racial participants, locations and provocateurs of these riots were far ranging. From Encyclopedia.com:

“… the year 1967 ended with a final act of violence in late October, when antiwar protesters from around the country moved on Washington, D.C. Those who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on 21 October were largely white, largely middle class, largely educated, and formerly mainstream in their politics. But, when U.S. Army units met them with fixed bayonets, they took to the streets of the capital in an out-break of destructive rioting and constructive confrontation, and 650 were arrested.”

Fixed bayonets for those expressing freedom to assemble? Freedom of expression? Hell yeah, riot. We don’t turn the military on the public in the US. Riots!

Still, I don’t think that places like Wisconsin or Minneapolis have experienced totally pointless riots, like Lexington. And Denver. Maybe I’m wrong. But I doubt it.

I’ll get in trouble for this, but I can’t help but wonder if this behavior doesn’t carry some sort of genetic pass-me-down from each area’s ancestral settlers.

Wisconsin was mostly settled by the “quiet disciplined” sort. Mostly Germans. Many Poles and Norwegians. Some English, with their stiff upper lips. Work hard. Don’t make a fuss. Stick to your own business and do it well. Get it done and move quietly along to the next thing. “Don’t rock the boat” type of settlers.

Early Irish and Scottish immigrants to the New World were largely unwelcomed by the English and moved west, settling in the rugged Shenandoah and Appalachian Mountains. When the Cumberland Gap popped open they began moving into the territory that would become the states of Kentucky and Tennessee.

I’m not calling the Scots and Irish “rioters” (in fact, I love them, their culture and sense of humor), but they probably don’t have a reputation for spontaneously breaking into (a) drink, (b) song, (c) dance, and (d) fight for no reason. Germans, Poles, Norwegians … they just don’t do that. Ok, maybe they do the drinking part. ☺

Before I get in any more trouble, I’ll close with saying that Wisconsin lost in this year’s (2015) NCAA championship match to Duke University – after defeating Kentucky in the semi-finals. I’ll admit to being partial, but there were many questionable calls during the second half. It seemed that every 50/50 out-of-bounds ball was awarded to Duke, and Wisconsin frequently fouled Duke players with their chins, foreheads and eye-brows.

Nevertheless: There were no riots.

Wisconsin fans did not riot when they beat Kentucky in the semi-final, nor when they lost to Duke in the final.

For emphasis: Last year, 2014, Wisconsin made it all the way to the semi-finals, losing to Kentucky (by one point!, 74-73).

There were no riots.

Meanwhile, in late 2014, while overwhelmingly mostly peaceful riots were going on around the entire country in sympathy with the mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson, something weird was going on in Keene, New Hampshire. Keene State College – mostly white, upper class privileged kids – had their annual Pumpkin Festival.

Yes. You guessed it. … Riots broke out.

Riots broke out.

Drunken brawls. Random fires and mayhem. Burned and overturned cars. Vandalized buildings.

The media are deluding us.

Well, New Hampshire is the “Live Free, or Die” state.  Love the motto.  Hate the riots.

Wishing you peaceful, riot-free and headache-free spring, summer and fall.

Joe Girard © 2015

[1] Encyclopedia.com: 1967 Riots. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401803621.html


Memories, by Joe Girard: June 4, 1976

Besides being hairless, Curly’s head was big and round, just like the rest of him.  Really big. Except for his ears and mandatory facial features, it looked rather like an oversized cue ball.

What the National Basketball Association lacks is March Madness.  Contrast the anti-climactic NBA tournament with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament and it feels like a dud. The NCAA has a championship tournament that has tens of millions of people betting on filled-out brackets – with quintillions (ok, let’s say zillions) – of possible outcomes. And it’s over in a couple of exciting weeks. Most of them are pulling for at least one of small, even tiny, schools like Butler, Gonzaga, Villanova or Marquette.

No, instead the NBA’s championship tournament dawdles into June – trying to milk as much money as it can from TV and markets where teams have not been eliminated.  Instead of March Madness they have June Jive. By then, the thrill is already gone for everyone but the die hard fans.  It’s baseball season.  It’s golf season.  It’s camping and hiking and climbing and rafting and canoeing season.  The kids are out of school.  It’s travel season.

June, 1976.  I had recently finished my sophomore year of college at Arkansas State University.  My buddy Jim Price and I had already sworn off the NBA in general.  However, we were fans of underdogs like the Phoenix Suns – who were an almost brand new franchise – that had made an unlikely and unexpected run to the NBA finals that year.  We shared a dislike of perennial dominant teams – like the Boston Celtics, who were the Suns’ competition in the championship best of seven series. The Celtics had won the NBA championship something like twelve of the previous sixteen years. Oh, puke.

Now it’s the fifth game of the finals, and the under-powered Suns have somehow managed a 2-2 split.  Jim and I are hoping they can make something happen in Boston – in “the G-ah-den” – in front of what seemed like a zillion crazy, frantic, yelling Celtic fans. We watched on TV at my family’s house.

It was a miserable first half for the Suns.  I think they were down 20 points somewhere around halftime.  Discouraged, Jim and I turned off the tube and headed out to get something to eat, then go down across the county line to get some beer.  (Jonesboro, Arkansas, where we lived, was a “dry” county – Craighead county).

The closest liquor depot to us was in Truman, with several establishments just south of County Line Road.  Probably an hour after we turned off the tube, we ambled into Curly’s, a simple, low-cost, Quonset hut looking sort of place.

As expected, there was big round Curly, behind the counter.  Besides being hairless, Curly’s head was big and round, just like the rest of him.  Really big. Except for his ears and mandatory facial features, it looked rather like an oversized cue ball.

Curly’s back was toward a small crowd of customers, maybe four or five. They are all watching the TV.  Jim and I grabbed a case of cheap, cold beer and sidled up to the counter.

Curly still is turned away from the counter, and he’s still looking at the TV.

On the TV the Phoenix Suns and the Boston Celtic are playing basketball – on the G-ah-den’s distinctive parquet floor.

We elbowed in (since no one seems to be buying anything) and I said to Curly rather meekly (I’m only 19 … I’m not supposed to be in there): “Are they showing the game’s highlights?  There couldn’t be many highlights.  Phoenix got smoked.”

Curly turned slightly.  The twist of his head and the tone of his voice implied anger and frustration: “Overtime.  Double Overtime.”

Boston is clinging to a small lead with about one minute left in the second overtime.

Wow.  Jim and I have missed a tremendous Phoenix comeback.  Led by Paul Westphal, whom they had ironically acquired by trade from Boston in mid-season, they are still in the game, although trailing, 109-106.

But Boston cannot get it done.  At every turn that goes for Phoenix and against Boston, big, round ol’ Curly either grunts, yells a profanity, or swings at the air. This is Curly’s joint, and the small crowd seems to be populated by Boston fans.

Clearly I am in the wrong place.

Somehow Phoenix manages two unlikely buckets, and, with about 5 seconds remaining, they take a one point lead. 110 to 109.

Curly is furious.  Boston takes a time out. The “G-ah-den” crowd is quiet. Jim and I are smugly grinning away, wordlessly sighing our approval.  Curly takes notice.

The crucial moments:

The Boston Celtic’s aging superstar, John Havlicek, now 36 years old, takes a pass and finds a seam to his left; he tries a leaning runner from the left side of the lane while awkwardly lunging off the wrong foot – and it goes in!  The buzzer sounds and everyone except the Suns goes CRAZY in the G-ah-den. Boston wins, 111-110.

Except … something is wrong.  The referees are getting all the fans off the floor to re-start the game. They’ve decided that there is one (that’s “1”) second left in the game, and Phoenix had called a time out. “Mr. Clueless” Brent Musberger is mystified (no surprise).

That’s when Curly said it.  This is exactly what he said, in a smug, defiant, slow, jowly, Arkansas drawl: “Well, no matter what, I’d bet 100-to-1 that Boston wins this game.”

Hmmm. I thought. I shuffled a bit. Then I consciously poked Jim in the ribs with my right elbow while conspicuously pulling out my wallet and extracting a single George Washington adorned piece of cabbage. With Jim’s and the crowd’s attention on me, I slowly, yet flamboyantly, laid one dollar on the counter right next to Curly, with a loud “AHEM.”

Curly noticed almost immediately.  He didn’t carry a wallet.  He pulled out a huge neatly rolled-up wad of bills that he kept in the front pocket of his overalls. Then he slowly counted out five Andy Jacksons and laid them on top of my one-spot Washington.

$101 is on the counter for all to see.

At that point it’s announced that Phoenix called a Time Out; that’s how the clock stopped. But they had no Time Outs remaining.  That’s a Technical Foul.  The Celtics’ JoJo White sinks the free throw, and Boston is now ahead 112-110.  If possible, Curly’s cueball face and demeanor look even more smug.

But Phoenix still has one second left.


Near the “top of the key”, the Suns’ Garfield Heard caught the inbounds pass as he turned, and jumped, and tossed an unlikely high arcing shot toward the basket in one continuous motion.  The ball kissed off the back of the rim and slithered  through the net as the buzzer sounded.

Tied at 112!

This would be Triple Overtime.  And through the rest of the game, at least five more minutes of overtime, there was a neat stack of cash on the counter as we all stood there at Curly’s Liquor Barn, eyes fixed on the little 12-inch black-and-white television.

Heard’s buzzer-beater shot has been called “the shot heard ‘round the world.” (“heard”, get it?). That’s saying too much and shows disrespect to the opening of the American Revolution at Concord’s Old North Bridge. However, it’s not exaggerating when that game is called “the greatest game ever played in NBA history.”

Even though two of Boston’s stars had already fouled out – Paul Silas and “cry-baby” Dave Cowens –  Phoenix lacked the firepower to finish the upset.  They made it close, but Boston won in Triple Overtime, 128-126.

We paid for the beer.  It was good.

I lost one dollar, had a lot of fun, and will forever have a fun story to tell.

Joe Girard © 2015



[1] US Highway 63 between Jonesboro and Truman now by-passes the center of Truman.  It looks like most of those little liquor establishments like “The Cotton Club” and Curly’s are out of business. Curly’s building still stands … abandoned.  See photo below (courtesy of Google streetview).

Cur;ly's, 2015.  Thanks to Google StreetView

Cur;ly’s, 2015. Thanks to Google StreetView

[2]  In 1992-93 the Phoenix Suns had their best season ever, led by new coach Paul Westphal – his first season as a head coach. After an impressive 62-20 regular season record, they made it to the finals again, only to lose (4 games to 2), to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls (the Bulls’ first “Three-peat”).  Since entering the league in 1968, the Suns have only made it to the NBA finals these two times, and have never won a championship.

[3] After writing the essay, I found this YouTube video of the last 19 seconds of the second overtime.  My memory is pretty good, although I’d forgotten about a fan attacking head referee Richie Powers. I was also wrong about how the clock stopped; it stops when the ball goes through the hoop.  The timeout (in exchange for a technical foul) was a clever tactic sometimes used to get the ball to mid-court for the in bounds pass.