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What makes sports so compelling for so many people is that it mirrors the drama of life. Last night’s Mens’ NCAA National Baskeball Championship Game was just such a drama. With all the symmetry and irony of a greek tragedy, the Kansas Jayhawks captured their third national title.
The game – 20 years to the day of Kansas’ last national championship - featured two well-respected coaches vying for their first national championship. Two men whose coaching careers started as assistants at Kansas under Larry Brown – the last coach to lead Kansas to the promise land.
The game featured an array of future NBA stars who no doubt will battle many more times over the coming years at the pro level. In the end, it would be decided by the team willing and able to face its own worst demons. For KU, who would take the big shot when it counted? For Memphis, would free throws finally be their undoing?
The game featured two teams trying to prove they belonged among the elite. The Jayhawks trying exorcise the ghosts of tournaments past and Memphis trying to earn the respect granted to BCS conference winners.
The game went back and forth for most of the evening. Memphis took an early 9-3 lead, but Kansas stormed back and held a five point lead at halftime 33-28.
The first 10 minutes of the second half see-sawed back and forth, but then Memphis freshman phenom Derek Rose took over. Rose poured in 11 points over a 2 minute span to help Memphis extend its lead to nine points.
The clock read 2:12 to play and the score read Memphis 61 Kansas 52. A lifetime memory was about to be created for one team and for all the world it looked like it would be Memphis. History was preparing to crown the Tigers national champions.
But over in the KU huddle, 15 people dressed in the road blue uniforms had not given up. Great moments are only possible when people refuse to give up. The Jayhawks were not giving up. They were not planning concession speeches. They were plotting a comeback.
Over the next 2:02 Kansas whittled away making several key shots and forcing Memphis to face its arch nemisis – the free throw line. Despite all its success this year, Memphis entered the NCAA tournament third to last in the country in free throw shooting. It had been talked about throughout the tournament as a possible Achilles heel, but the Tigers had overcome their weakness and made it a strength.
However, with the eyes of the nation now watching, the Tigers missed four of five free throws down the stretch and that opened the door for Jayhawk history.
Meanwhile, Kansas had an answer for its demon -who would take the big shot - and his name was Mario Chalmers.
KU inbounded the ball with 10.8 seconds remaining and trailing 63-60. Guard Sherron Collins worked up the right side of the court and found teammate Mario Chalmers. Moving to his left beyond the three-point line, Chalmers turned, planted, and launched a 20-foot jump shot for the ages. The shot sailed through the basket with a sweet swish.
The game was tied and headed to overtime, but the game was over. The momentum of destiny was now comfortably perched on the Jayhawks’ shoulders as they completed the 75-68 victory with a dominating overtime period.
All very nice, you say, but it’s just a game. It’s a game, but it’s life too. We often find ourselves down nine with time running out. When we do we are faced with a choice. A choice to put ourselves on the line and try or simply concede that circumstances have beaten us.
Not every effort is rewarded with victory. Not every comeback is glorious or successful. Yet this is sure. Every great moment is created by someone’s refusal to give up.
Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
You never know which failure to give up contains the nugget of gold. You just have to keep trying to find out. For Mario Chalmers and the Kansas Jayhawks, the nugget of gold was a national championship.
Be peaceful Be positive Be prosperous!