Thursday, March 29, 2007

Demystifying Oprah and The Final Four

So, my mom attended an Oprah taping today. She had wanted to watch the show in person for ten years and today her wish was granted. My brother, who has recently bagged a big job with the King of Beers, made it happen. My mom brought her paralegal Julie and my sister-in-law Elaine. I was happy for my mother who was so excited about the chance to see one of her idols. They arrived at the studio by 7am, only to be herded, prodded and screamed at by Oprah's handlers. When they did finally glimpse the talk show queen, she was doing her "mi-mi-mi," vocal warm-ups and shouting at an employee trying to give her advice, "Remember Bennie, you work for me." It was a pajama party of sorts, as the crowd was asked to bring pj's for a woman who was making a difference at homeless shelters after noticing that the kids often slept in their clothes. The Power of One, of one person to make a difference, was the show's theme and Oprah produced 35,000 sets of jammies. My mom left a little deflated after Oprah signed off to the audience with, "I've got to go on the roof and take pictures with Miss USA." I remember watching Oprah as a youth in Baltimore and today she is an inspiring entertainer. Oprah provides a kind of trusted cultural barometer for her large and growing following. She introduces societal issues in a non-threatening and positive way. She has the ability to apply a large bandaid to problems and this is a good thing. However, it sounds as though more than 20 years in the limelight has left its diva scar. They even confiscated my mother's business cards. I ran some postgame this afternoon with mom about the whole thing and equated it to my experience at the NCAA tournament last year at the Georgia Dome. This stage of the tournament is about making money, not about basketball. I watched Duke, WVU, LSU, and Texas slug it out in the freezer-like Georgia Dome--more suited to monster trucks than roundballers. It wasn't about basketball as the teams with great outside shooters floundered without any perspective but an endless domed sky. J.J. Redick's three that would have vaulted Duke to a seven point lead went half-way down and caromed out with the basket shaking. It is an awful place to see a game. Attending the NCAA tournament was a once in a lifetime thing, like going to see Oprah. However, The Final Four and Oprah, like a lot of things, look better on television.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hoos Got the Next Dance

The Virginia Cavalier basketball team had an exceptional season this year and will certainly be invited to the big dance when the results of the selection committee are released tonight. They finished first in the ACC with North Carolina. That's right, the Tarheels, whose talent is enough for three teams to compete let alone one. The Hoos did it with hustle, resilience and class. They had two talented guards in Reynolds and Singletary and a heap of scrap metal, both young and old, filling out the roster. They were picked to finish 8th in the ACC based on their talent. They overachieved from the beginning, defeating Arizona in the home opener, and stealing victories against Clemson, Duke, Maryland, Va Tech and Georgia Tech. They had folded in difficult situations over the past five years, but not this time. I managed to resist the temptation to have expectations for this team well into the season. When they had a chance to win the ACC league title outright against Wake, I got greedy and was disappointed. When they built a large lead against State in the ACC Tournament, I started singing the Good Ole Song. Again, more disappointment. It was a one game at a time year and I had abandoned my approach. I had forgotten that the only postseason action I'd witnessed over the past five years was in the NIT. Other teams had adjusted to the Reynolds and Singletary barrage and placed emphasis on stopping them. These teams sent a clear message stating that they wanted the other players to beat them. The program is still rebuilding, but a strong foundation is being built. We need horses, especially inside, and with the most exciting new arena in the nation we hope to attract some blue chippers such as Patrick Patterson from West Virginia. Players who can walk in and reestablish the University on the basketball map in their first year. In his second year at Virginia, Coach Leitao will lead this team into the NCAA tournament. Taking the floor in the first round will be a major triumph, even if they lose.
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