Watching the overtime session of the G’town/UNC matchup, I was giddy, literally on the edge of my seat, cheering and gesturing at every missed UNC shot, every clutch G’town rebound, every cutaway to a bewildered Roy Williams. Up two…four…six…seven… Georgetown was putting the finishing touches on an astounding and improbable comback, and I felt privilaged to have borne witness to this display of top-notch basketball, especially after having witnessed the first 34 minutes of pure agony. My stomach had started at “unsettled,” crescendoed to “churning,” and after the third minute of overtime, was suddenly feeling relieved. Final buzzer.
And then I thought: “What the HELL am I doing!?”
You see, I was brought up as a Syracuse fan. Throughout my childhood, I was taught the same principles every young fan of the Orange(men) was taught:
- Rooting for Georgetown under any circumstances is unacceptable (even against Pitt).
- John Thompson is an evil, horrible person who abuses current players and recruits kids from prison–which, by the way, is where he belongs.
- Georgetown plays dirty while their coach intimidates the refs, who actually don’t need to be intimidated, because JT pays them off.
For goodness’ sakes, I almost used all of my allowance money on a t-shirt I saw at Manny’s that read: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Root for Georgetown,” which had a picture of the Hoya mascot’s mutilated corpse after an apparent car crash (I opted instead for the John Wallace jersey…probably a wise investment in retrospect. The #44 is as versatile as it is storied.).
I even traveled to the Carrier Dome just so I could heckle the Hoyas. Sure enough, the fans helped instigate a Technical Foul on that abusive SOB, JTII. And at the time I believed he deserved two or three of them, followed by a police escort to the locker room.
And now look at me. I’m cheering them on like they were my alma mater.
The thing is, it’s almost impossible not to like this current Hoya team. The old Georgetown teams ruled the Big East by intimidation. Their defense was relentless and physical. Their offense was anything but pretty. Players like Ewing, Iverson, Page, Mourning, Williams, et al. absolutely dominated people, and they did it with a mean streak. They were eminently despicable. Basically, they were easy to hate.
This team? They share the ball. Their passing is precise. They play a brand of basketball that’s eye-pleasing and effective. Hibbert, Green, and Wallace act like hard-working, upstanding players rather than me-first street-ballers. They play smart defense. And probably most importantly, there’s a different overall feeling to this team: instead of intimidating teams with physical brutality, they intimidate intellectually, making other teams look bad with backscreens and cuts to the hoop that produce open lay-ups.
I mean, imagine if the New York Yankees cut their payroll in half, re-tooled their lineup with guys who were more blue collar and less primadona, and were taken out of Steinbrenner’s hands and placed in Rudy Giuliani’s hands. It would be tough not to respect them, right? Even as a Sox fan? Seriously, they’d go from “I hate those damn Yankees” to “Well, they’re finally on an even playing field, and their players are real competitors. I kinda like that team.”
That’s what’s happened to Georgetown. Once upon a time, they were the Yankees, (or perhaps a better analogy, the Pistons of the early 90s). And now? They’re the Oakland A’s. Likeable. Hard-working. Some might say overachieving. Always fun to watch.
So, I suppose this is a sign that I’ve matured as a sports fan. I don’t necessarily need to despise a team based on what color they wear or what a historic rivalry dictates. I can now accept that the makeup of teams can change, and that a program can be dynamic…one season they’re punks…the next, they’ve got chemistry and inspire you to root for them. Does it mean I’m soft? Does it mean I’m a turncoat?
I don’t think so.
I want to see good basketball, and I want to see the Big East succeed. And Georgetown couldn’t have done a better job of representing the conference this year. So consider me a fan of the Hoyas.
Until they show up at the Carrier Dome. Then I will hate them.