Basketball and the art of surviving change


It’s a word that jangles my nerves and tightens my stomach. I know it’s necessary in life and for life. I make wise speeches to my stepdaughter and Facebook friends about that necessity and its potential for expansion and improvement.

I still don’t like it.

Today’s big ACC clash is between … Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Right this moment, I don’t like that. Not that the basketball universe particularly cares whether I approve, and I’m sure that, in time, the newest additions to the college hardcourt’s most storied, proudest conference may well end up being valuable contributors. Right now, I’m watching North Carolina and Boston College, and after all, it wasn’t that long ago that BC in the ACC was foreign and strange. And I must admit that the first conference meeting of Duke/Notre Dame a few weeks ago was a pretty damn good basketball game, even if it didn’t end the way I wanted.

It’s true that, to me, the ACC is the hallowed ground of Thompson, Charles and Corchiani; Jordan, Worthy and Perkins; Dawkins, Ferry and Hurley; Bias, Francis and Elmore; Bogues, Childress and Paul; Rollins, Campbell and Grant; Price, Anderson and Scott; Sampson, Stith and Singletary (OK, that last, kind of recent one is both for alliteration and because I actually covered him). It’s also true that new names will join that echelon soon enough, and already have, whether I choose to rose-color them or not. And, as always with resistance to change, there is truth in the fear (as evidenced by UNC’s lackluster effort at Syracuse last week). I have faith that, over time, new rivalries will indeed develop and strengthen and provide moments that live in memories the way Randolph Childress’ game-winning shot in the 1995 ACC championship lives in mine. In the meantime, I have no desire to see these cocky Yankee newcomers trample their more venerated (to me) brethren.

Another thing, though, about change is its inexorability. It’s coming whether you like it or whether you dread it, whether you seek it out or whether it creeps up on you, whether you rejoice in it or merely blink in its aftermath.

As the cameras lingered on a UNC player shooting free throws in the first half, I had a clear view for several minutes of the media seating in the opposite end zone. I picked out familiar faces while I lay propped up on a pile of pillows, wrapped in blankets to ward off a sudden south Florida cold snap and the minor but painful problems a change has made a constant in my life. I used to be there, in that very arena and others like it, watching made and missed baskets and noting significant rebounds and steals and trying to pinpoint the decisive momentum shift I’d ask about in the postgame press conference.

Now I’m here, embarking on a totally new and completely accidental path that in some ways feels like something I may have been meant to do and in others is frighteningly alien. I love talking about alliteration and onomatopoeia enough to consider pursuing the certifications that would allow me to do it full-time, perhaps in more promising situations that my current one. But I’m also wary of packs of traveling hormones, not given to listening or respect, and hours that suck the life out of me and have me in bed at 9 p.m. on Fridays.

I miss the familiar comfort of my notebooks and tape recorders, the adrenaline rush of deadline and the sweet satisfaction of the perfect quote. There were many things about that job, my old one, the one I don’t do and can’t identify myself with anymore, that made me crazy. To paint it in completely nostalgic pastels would be dishonest, and plus I hate pastels. But, for the better part of two decades, it was me. The better part of two years has been spent trying to define myself without it.

Change can be breathtakingly good. At an age where I’d about given up on such things, my everyday prince materialized, not on a white steed but in a red Mini. He is good and smart and makes me dissolve into laughter over the most ridiculous things. As an unimagined bonus, he came with a then 10-year-old who added things to my life I didn’t know were missing, a function she’s still performing, nearly five years later, on a daily basis.

The overall, broad-scope change that brought me here is good, and not one I would undo. It heals a hole in my heart and is the sunshine I spent years searching for in vain. The dozens of little ones that followed in its wake sometimes leave me bereft, dreaming disjointed dreams of the little house I owned for six years and filled as often as possible with friends and laughter, missing Wednesdays in the crisp autumn evening air so fiercely I have to stop remembering.

It was necessary, change, and it was and is a good thing. Growing new parts over amputated old ones is an itchy, painful process, but those old ones would have, left to time and their own devices, eventually withered and died, a process that wouldn’t have hurt any less.

Right now, I watch North Carolina clinging to a three-point lead against Boston College. Later, I suppose I’ll watch the first ACC game between Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

It will be strange. I won’t always like it. But there’s always the chance that, in the excitement of a last-second putback or a game-changing steal, I’ll forget all that, and just enjoy the game.