Around 1987, I was in a creative writing class taught by the renowned Max Steele at Carolina – it was about twelve of us, most of us pals, a cadre of deeply funny folks with a fair amount of talent. Max Steele himself was in his “last roar of the lion” phase, capping off his career as one of the last great Southern voices still teaching. When we saw the roster the semester before, we were jubilant, all thinking at least four great novels would come of it. The class was a disastrous bore.
My high school graduating class at Norfolk Academy was notoriously enigmatic. There were only about a hundred kids per grade, so it was possible to develop and foster a sense of kindred spirit. The class two years below us and the class right above us seemed like synergy-filled love-ins, even the nerds having Bulldog Fever™, raucous and full of inside jokes that all 100 seemed to get. Our particular grade, the Class of 1985, was balkanized and silent. When they used to list alumni donors by year, there’d be a bizarre drop-off in fundraising when it came to us.
Which leads, always, somehow, to my guys in baby blue.
I just can’t pile this all on Roy Williams, I just can’t. I know he’s getting crucified – even after getting us our 2nd National Championship in five years mere months ago – but like all art forms, basketball is beholden to the curious whims of chemistry. It’s the chaos theory of outcome, small trade winds in the mizzen topgallant sail that subtly push the warship into oncoming cannonshot. It’s fourteen small, seemingly-unrelated events that combine into insurmountable defeat.
Yes, there is always “play harder!” and “box out!” and “take care of the ball!” and “make the easy shot!” but if you accept that these are kids that don’t want to lose on purpose (and that we have a coach that dies a tiny bit inside with each loss) you have to dig deeper and find out why the little things aren’t happening.
Which, of course, is a fool’s errand. You’ll never find the source, just as you can’t unstir the milk out of the coffee. All of you have been involved in projects that just didn’t work, no matter how solid it looked on paper, no matter how many awesome people were involved. There are words for it in English: snakebit, cross-starred, unfortunate, ill-fated.
We anthropomorphize defeat to make it easier to take, but defeat doesn’t care. It is made of a list of benign ingredients that react when mixed. You can fight it, and sometimes you will win, but it’ll take mind-bending focus. Often, it’s in your best interests to take your lumps, and wait for the tincture of time, the infinite possibilities of the next day, to set you to rights once more.