The Journey of Unfinished Business

This year it was section 106 of the Staples Center. My brother and I swapped seats in that section’s sixteenth row and Arizona outscored Xavier en route to their second consecutive Elite Eight. It was our second annual (but really billionth) seat swap instigating a Sweet Sixteen comeback. Previously I’d called it sorcery. We even tried it again on Saturday but the only sorcery inside the Staples Center that night was exacted by Sam Dekker. The Sheboygan Sorcerer.

And isn’t it all silly?

A 32% three point shooter making five in a row? Wisconsin’s 105% eFG% sustained across twenty minutes against the fifth best defense of the last ten years? Two brothers switching seats under the auspices that it’d change the trajectory of a ball thrown by another person? It’s all silly.

And you can’t rationalize it.

Neither the super shooting nor the superstition should be examined for proof of reasonable understanding. Sometimes that’s just what happens. It’ll make sense for some and others it will not. I know wanting to rationalize things. It’s a step to grieving. We need a means to understand.

Because business was left unfinished one year ago. And when the opportunity to close that deal was earned, everyone showed up. For twelve months we talked about it. Or at least we thought about it. I saw a Sean Miller quote that said he’d thought about that game every 10 or 20 minutes. That’s roughly 26,280 times contemplations of one game. Studies show that men think about sex at least once per day. By my math, that’s 26,000 Nick Johnson untaken jumpers compared to about 360…you get the point. The disappointment and burden weighed heavy.

And that maniacal focus (26K thoughts) was so fixated on a particular outcome that they nearly forgot to play those Xavier Musketeers. The Wildcats carried the weight of 63-64 like Atlas carried the weight of the heavens overhead. Punishment. And for even longer than that it was the weight of a rimmed out Jamelle Horne three, Kirk Hinrich’s 28 points, a road game in Chicago, and the triangle and two (RIP). Which I suppose brings us back to a ball still in Nick Johnson’s hand.


And then the rematch.

Everyone showed up.

You’ve read the box score so you know that Brandon had 17 in the game he never got to play and Rondae responded to the Badgers’ dare to beat them with 17 of his own. What more can we say about TJ McConnell that hasn’t already been said? Love. That. Kid. I’ll defend Kaleb always and the Stanimal? He got “shorted a game.” Sam Dekker was 2-5 while Stanley Johnson had two eyes.

But here’s where I surprise myself. Gabe York’s points – all eleven of them – dust up my room. A year prior he was asked to break a 52-52 tie with an elbow jumper and 1:42 on the clock. He missed that shot. Arizona lost. On Saturday his number was called – again – with 2:22 remaining. He curled around what looked like a dozen screens and buried a contested three. Purely the ball splashed through the net. Hope sprang forth. It was a five point game as the Wildcats did everything they could to keep pace with – ya know – perfection. But 30-seconds later, the Sheboygan Sorcerer hit his fourth three. Ninety seconds later he’d hit his fifth. Broken. Gabe hadn’t play 33 minutes in any other game this season. He hit two-of-three threes against the sixth stingiest three point defense in America. Last year he missed the shot. This year he made it. Dammit why didn’t I Swiffer?

Everyone showed up.

Our favorites shot 55%. They made 28 of the 30 free throws they earned against a school that hadn’t allowed 30 free throws since January 2011. No one had shot more than 20 against them this season. Badgers do not foul. The Wildcats won the rebounding battle, committed only ten turnovers, and received double digit scoring from four starters and a bench player. Ninety nine of of one hundred attempts – and I don’t care the opponent – that’s an Arizona win. Saturday, March 28, 2015 it was not.


And wouldn’t you guess it? Here I am rationalizing.

Everyone showed up.

Which is to say that I was there with my dad and my brother. We started going to Wildcat games together when I still had to cover my ears as the PA bellowed, “STEVE KERRRRRRRR.” I had to cover my ears pretty frequently. That dude made a lot of threes. Dad once took me to a mid afternoon loss to Michigan State. We rode our bikes to McKale that day. One time we were due to meet in Los Angeles for a UCLA-Arizona game. He checked the tickets Friday night. We had four seats at the Galen Center. Another time, in San Diego, a bitter Aztec told us to ‘go home‘ as the Wildcats pulled away. Dad told him that his “lesson wasn’t over yet.” I’ve met brother in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Phoenix for games. All last week I got off a train stop early to walk 10 blocks so we could talk about the tournament. Unlimited texts is a necessity, not a nicety. The three of us went to Anaheim in 1998.

That’s why any of this mattered. Outcomes are meaningless without significance. And what was the significance? Not the Final Four. It was that you’ve shared in this for as long as you can remember. That we hated watching TJ McConnell walk off that court heartbroken into the arms of his coach. He hurt. We hurt. I’ve seen hundreds of kids cry in this tournament. I haven’t watched many of them be the first off the bench, a redshirt junior in sweatpants, jump into the arms of Grant Jerrett. He loved all this. Thad Matta said he was having the time of his life. We got to watch every step of TJ McConnell’s journey.

McConnell and Sean

And we saw the shimmy become a thing and Brandon break his foot; I remember when Stanley showed his shoes and every time Gabe tried to dunk on someone. The press conference when they all said they were coming back. I streamed that from my desk, firing texts to my best friends.

The outcome of one game doesn’t mean anything. Half the fun of a roller coaster is giggling in line with your brother/mother/father/best friend/a stranger anticipating all of the fun. We were ready for all of the fun. And while we wanted this coaster to take us to Indianapolis, I suppose that’s just not where this ride was headed. Sorcery.

But my broken little spirit walked out of Staples Center with two of the reasons any of it all mattered to me. How cool is that?

A photo posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on

The next day we went to my Aunt’s 95th birthday party. Four generations of her family gathered. Everyone showed up. And she reminisced about how I loved “firenchuns” and the fight my brother and I got in at her eightieth birthday. He wanted to kill me. We heard stories about her kid sister – my grandmother – and the times they played mother, sister, and best friend for one another. Her ‘little Joanie’ she called her. With the brevity and charm that only a 95 year-old can capture, we remembered a lot. Even the loss of her husband, Uncle Stan, and the car accident that nearly took her life twenty years ago. Every memory was fair game.

Because the point wasn’t 95 years, the result of being born and breathing. The point was everything she’s done with those days. All that she is doing. The times that that made day 34,675 worth gathering for. Her journey.

I’m not making the ‘starving kids in Africa perspective plea.’ That’s relative. Like beauty, perspective is in the eye of the beholder. When we lend ourselves to something – our time, energy, feelings – particularly to something we cannot control, we owe ourselves that much. Time, energy, and feelings deserve significance. To see the forest through the trees. A deep breath as the shot doesn’t fall or the results disagree with our desires. You should know why the journey to that day ever meant a thing.

Because you can’t really appreciate anything, unless everyone shows up.

3 thoughts on “The Journey of Unfinished Business

  1. This is an awesome article. Makes me put this in perspective, wish I’d read this a week ago. Thank you for this site, your articles and perspective are greatly appreciated. Looking forward to the journey next year. Bear Down!

    1. Thanks, Kyle. I think it’s why I gravitate – in part – to college basketball. Every year gets to be its own journey. Sure, at seasons end it’s more sad and bitter than after a pro season, but it’s wildly fun gamble.

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