By MATTHEW NASH
— I got home from work Wednesday night just in time to see the second longest winning streak in NBA history come to an end. The Chicago Bulls beat the Miami Heat who had won 27 straight times dating back to Feb. 3. They were just a few games short of the all-time record held by the Los Angeles Lakers. Their last loss happened at the hands of the Pacers in Indianapolis.
Miami lured LeBron James, arguably one of the best players ever, from his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in order to buy a world championship. Rounding out the powerhouse trio with DeWayne Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami was suppose to be invincible. The Heat didn’t win their championship immediately like everyone thought they should. Winning with a team with three superstars turned out to be harder than some expected.
Basketball is a team sport and although you might have the best players that doesn’t mean you have the best team. This is a lesson that some college teams have yet to learn.
Just a couple of years ago the Heat were the most despised franchises in sports. Miami did win its championship in 2012 and is the favorite to repeat it again this year. Now after winning it all and winning 27 straight games this year the Heat are media darlings. As Tiger Woods recently said, “winning takes care of everything.”
Around here the NBA doesn’t get a whole lot of air time because of this region’s love for college basketball. The NCAA tournament is in full swing and two teams from around these parts were still alive as of my deadline for this column. You may be reading this a little later on Friday morning if you stayed up to watch the Indiana play Syracuse last night.
The Hoosiers vs. the Orange is a rematch of the 1987 NCAA championship game when IU’s Keith Smart sank a basket in the final seconds to give Indiana its fifth NCAA banner. I remember watching that game as the team I had rooted for all year won. Indiana was behind that entire game and only led as the final seconds wound down.
Indiana is back in the spotlight after a few dark years. Coach Tom Crean has brought the team back after a couple of coaching changes and self imposed sanctions and NCAA probation stemming from violations by the previous coach. This year’s team was ranked preseason No. 1 and spent 10 weeks ranked No. 1 and nearly the whole season in the top five.
If you spent any time watching the NCAA tournament last weekend you would have seen highlights from the previous years as the tournament celebrates 75 years. Along with the 1987 Keith Smart shot was also another Indiana kid, Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew who made a buzzer beater of his own in a 1998 game against Ole Miss. Drew, who was an Indiana Mr. Basketball before playing for Valparaiso, is now head coach for his alma mater. If you missed the highlight you may have noticed it in the commercial that was replayed over and over again for Axe body spray, that I insist makes absolutely no sense.
Some people are a little down on the college basketball because of teams who sign players that they know won’t be around for more than one year. Personally I like watching players grow and mature within a system. It is what makes the NCAA tournament great.
Watching teams like Harvard, one of the oldest universities in the country win its first tournament game is what I enjoy. Florida Gulf Coast University won its first two games in only its second year of eligibility and hopes to make history again this weekend. Watching Western Kentucky, a No. 16 seed, nearly knock off a No. 1 seed Kansas in the opening round is among the games that I will always remember, those are the games I think make this tournament special.
Even closer to home the Borden Braves made Southern Indiana proud last weekend when they won the Class A championship. Coach Doc Nash led his team to their first state title defeating the Triton Trojans 55-50 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse last Saturday morning. I have in-laws that are huge Borden Braves fans and I get to experience the excitement through them. It is exciting to see a team so close do so well and I wish them luck in the future.
The movie “Hoosiers” depicted a small town Indiana school that eventually went on to win the Indiana state championship. It shows off the spirit of basketball in the state we live. Basketball is alive and well again in the state that made it what it is today. Whether they win or lose Hoosier Hysteria is back, in the state where it belongs.
— Matthew Nash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org