' ' Cinema Romantico: When Movies Come True

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

When Movies Come True

The night before the (real) first day of the NCAA Tournament, as I do around this time every year, I re-watched “Hoosiers”, that sports movie masterpiece from 1986 in which the basketball court becomes a venue to exorcise demons and coronate ephemeral heroes. As grand as it is, it’s also easy to pick apart, for – retch – plot holes, like Buddy mysteriously re-joining the team mid-season. You can also nitpick to high heaven, like Bill Simmons lamenting that Norman Dale isn’t actually a good game coach, never mind some terrifyingly named entity of The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective doing an advanced statistyical analysis of Jimmy Chitwood’s on-court performance. I’m not a sports analytics opponent, but to quote Chelcie Ross’s character at a particularly delicate moment in the movie, give me a break.

Those are the sorts of people at parties that I actively flee from, the grinches that just want to hyper scrutinize rather than discuss. And yet... Maybe because I have seen the film so many times, and maybe because anymore I only see it at the same time I am consuming real basketball in excess, I cannot help but comically note to myself the fantastical way in which Cinderella Hickory High requisitely wins the Big Game against the mighty Bears of South Bend Central.

Hickory is down 40-36 and they make this up over the game’s final minute (which is more impressive than it sounds given the non-shot clock era setting) by employing a full court press that the mighty Bears of South Bend Central are conspicuously unable to break. They ignore every rule you learn from intramurals on up about how to attack a pressing defense, throwing the ball into the corner and, at the end, leisurely dribbling the ball up the left hand side of the court, snugly against the sideline and DIRECTLY INTO A TRAP. Or, as Bill Simmons himself summarized it: “After Hickory scores, the South Bend coach never calls timeout, leading to another turnover. After another Hickory basket, no timeout ... and they turn the ball over again! Tie game! Then they turn the turn the ball over again (no timeout).” It’s preposterous! That’s why it’s a movie! Because these are things, as they say, that could never happen in real life!

No, dude, where are you going?????

Ah yes, right into the trap, while the coach of the mighty Bears of South Bend Central looks on haplessly.
Except the other night I was watching the NCAA Basketball Tournament, see, where a squad of over-achieving hoopsters from my home state, the purple and gold clad Northern Iowa Panthers of Cedar Falls, having already downed Texas were now on the verge of eliminating Texas’s arch-rival Texas A&M. I was giddy. I was ready to tweet “Can #NorthernIowa play Houston next?” No really – I was. In fact, I was about to Tweet that and Tweet a picture of the Iowa State Flag with two basketball emojis (representing Northern Iowa and Iowa State, which had already qualified for the Sweet 16, and which would have meant the only second time, and first in 46 years, that two Iowa teams had been among the tournament’s last 16 standing) which would have been my first ever Tweet emojis. I had both these Tweets locked and loaded and ready to go, and I did because there were 34 seconds left and Northern Iowa was ahead by 12 points and according to the Bill James’ Lead Calculator this lead was 100% safe. I had already moved ahead in my mind to how Wes Washpun and his immaculate flat top were going to corral Oklahoma’s incinverative {sic} Buddy Hield.

Then, a strange thing happened. Texas A&M, a la Hickory, applied full court pressure and Northern Iowa, a la the mighty Bears of South Bend Central, started throwing the ball to the corner and dribbling directly into traps. It was like a screenwriter turned off Northern Iowa’s Basketball IQ to engender the ending he/she wanted. It was as if Northern Iowa was playing straight man to Texas A&M, deliberately throwing the game away to serve a storyline. The poor Panthers somehow surrendered 12 points in 34 seconds. It was, say the people who know these things, a 1-in-3,000 comeback. And they would eventually lose in double overtime. It all happened so fast, and in the moment was so improbable, that it took me at least a day to fully process, and when I finally did, I realized that, slight variations aside, Northern Iowa had made that “There Is No Way This Would Actually Happen In Real Life” ending in “Hoosiers” happen.

It’s weird, when you watch “Hoosiers”, you root for Hickory, and there is comfort in that because sports are otherwise so unpredictable and in this context you always know your team will win. I had never considered what it might feel like when the team I was rooting for turned out to be South Bend Central.

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