The Pac-12 tournament isn’t so much an exercise in basketball competition (that was great) as it is an event. A destination for hoopniks to congregate in a city that allows them to stay up past their bedtimes and participate in all manner of fandom. I watched eleven basketball games. Some of them were close and others were sharpied at the second media timeout. I met Ken Pomeroy and completely froze in the moment. I wish I’d asked if he could tell when exactly his numbers were predictably significant. After all, the college basketball season is only about 30 games long. That’s brief. Is that sample size significant to predicting a team’s performance? Similarly it’s been just three tournaments in Las Vegas. What do we really know about it? Is the fun we’ve had the shiny newness? The experiential equivalent of Washington being ranked 13th in the nation. It’s a small sample size and very few would be quick to celebrate the tournament’s Los Angeles iteration.
At risk of aggrandizing the Vegas experience – go watch The Hangover – the unpredictability of this mess is what makes it perfect. Just going to that city is a gamble and the tournament is no different. From ticketing and its unassigned seating to Chasson Randle burying the Washington Huskies, we have no idea what’s going to happen. You wake up in a hotel room – if you’re lucky – unsure whether or not your team will advance and where your phone will get service. It’s unclear when the Pit Boss will bark at you to get off your phone. But you don your colors and high five like-dressed persons at the craps table and the buffet. Because of this, the Pac-12 tournament is an event. Like Coachella to festival goers, this is the place to be for West coast basketball.
Las Vegas was initially inhabited as the most convenient stop along the trade routes to Los Angeles. Which is probably what makes it an ideal location for a conference tournament: it’s a stop in the journey. It was later populated by laborers building the Hoover Dam and saw massive growth as depression era males sought employment. This influx created a market for entertainment. This week, I consumed eleven basketball games this week. I watched five different players set career scoring highs. I saw Brandon Ashley miss only seven shots. I witnessed Joe Young. I caught Chasson Randle coming back to life. I took a leak next to Bill Walton. I reveled in nine minutes of Trojan basketball. I hurt with Bo Barnes. I exorcised with Sean Miller. I shimmied with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. I dissected games with new friends. I celebrated with my people. I was entertained. Some of it looked like this:
That was my experience. For Sean Miller it was a monkey off his back. For Brandon Ashley it was a comeback. For Joseph Young it was validation. For Herb Sendek it was disappointment. For Larry Krystkowiak it was a learning experience. After Arizona won the tournament – their first since 2002 – the overwhelming fan base flooded out of the arena into the bars and tables of the MGM. As I walked amongst them – a tangible joy uncommon to the casino floor engineered to be lifeless and lost – there was Coach Krystkowiak. He was in khaki pants and had on a Utah Basketball polo tucked in. He was walking against the crowd, towards the site of the final game and the most rambunctious of bars. He was alone and I don’t know why. But there he was. Just another part of the Pac-12 basketball experience.
Larry Scott announced this week that the conference had re-upped for one more year in Las Vegas. His next move will be to move the event into the Strip’s forthcoming super arena meant to draw an NBA team.
But for the time being the tournament is enough to draw fans and pandemonium. Predictably unpredictable madness.
The Pac-12 Event.