Sportsmanship – fair and generous behavior and treatment of others – has been as important an aspect of my participation in athletic competition as an athlete and as a spectator as any other aspect of the game. In fact, good sportsmanship supersedes every other feature of the game in any sport and at any level. I was blessed as an athlete with great coaches, notably Tom Farley at Pomeroy Elementary School, Rudy Benedetti at Pittsfield High School, and Hank Eichin at the United States Air Force Academy. In truth, however, I am certain it started with my father teaching me good sportsmanship shooting baskets in the backyard when I couldn’t even reach the rim.
I also believe I learned good sportsmanship by playing chip-up games with kids in the neighborhood back in the 50s and 60s before youth sports became the business it is today. We would run, walk, and ride our bicycles anywhere, anytime to meet up with kids at the park or even in an open field to play basketball, baseball, and football. The greatest games we played were games we organized ourselves without adult supervision and oversight. We won no trophies or accolades and were content with the mere joy of playing. There were the inevitable bloody noses, sprained ankles, and black eyes, but we began each game with friendship and respect and ended each game that way, too. We’d often pool our pennies and share a soda from the West End Market on the corner of Hawthorne and West Housatonic Street.
I love college basketball and will admit to watching at least five hours a day this opening weekend of the NCAA 2022 Men’s Tournament. Fortunately, Mrs. tVM enjoys the games as much as I do. There were many special games this weekend that came down to the final minute of play.
As good as the games were, what captured my attention more than the action was SPORTSMANSHIP. I grew up in Massachusetts – the birthplace of this great game – during the heydays of the Boston Celtics coached by the cigar-toting Red Auerbach and captained by the great Bill Russell. I’ve followed this game with intensity since grammar school. In a lifetime of playing and watching the game of basketball, I have never seen the level of sportsmanship that I witnessed during the opening four days of this tournament. Never have I seen more acts of generous behavior toward opponents than in this year’s tournament.
I was pleased to see countless players extend a hand to a fallen opponent and help him to his feet. While the score mattered, it was important to these athletes to respect the efforts of each other, be they teammates or opponents. Goodness continued to shine through. I searched the Internet to find pictures to illustrate my point but came up empty. It is easy to find photos of individuals in their worst moments; it is difficult to find them at their best.
I hope the Sweet 16 moving forward later this week will continue to demonstrate this satisfying aspect of the competition.
The best I could do for a picture is this great shot of Michigan coach Juwan Howard – maligned and justifiably suspended for bad behavior at a Big Ten game several weeks ago – offering solace and comfort to Tennessee guard Kennedy Chandler immediately following Michigan’s upset victory over the Volunteers in second-round action.
We are born with original goodness. It is in our DNA, and it is good to see it showcased in sport amidst the madness that rages in other parts of the world and in other facets of life.