March 24, 2006

An athlete, who takes pride in what he or she can accomplish on the battlefield of competition, brings the whole gaumet of being to the battlefield … physical and emotional. The physical prowess is apparent for the duration of the contest. One never knows how, when or if the emotional will spill over and reveal itself to an adulating and critical audience.

As the Gonzaga Bulldog and UCLA Bruin basketball game of March 23, 2006, entered the final 20 seconds of play, only those who have risen to any level of competitive athleticism can appreciate what the Zag’s Adam Morrison was experiencing or what it means to be oblivious to fandom in attendance or to a watching world.

First, Adam Morrison felt the game that Gonzaga had dominated and could not possibly lose suddenly and inexplicably had gotten away from the control of Gonzaga; , secondly, the nightmarish ending had been converted into a heart sickening reality, a reality that Morrison could not accept for defeat to him was not an option.

He was embarrassed that Gonzaga was being beaten by a non-entity, an enemy that had been crushed and bent. But mysteriously the enemy was resilient and would not break nor leave the arena. The Zags had landed punch after punch and floored the UCLA Bruins enough times during this contest that had it been a boxing match the contest would have been halted and Gonzaga awarded a technical knockout. It was unbelievable to this Zeus in Bulldog garb that, as a team, the Bruins were not only still standing but ball-hawking, pressuring and scoring.

And, too, Morrison was in disbelief as were millions of fans who watched this game. He had all to lose on the battlefield of competition and being there, physically and emotionally, he was wrapped up in what millions were experiencing on a vicariously plane. How many wept and felt the zing of shock overtake them as fans when UCLA took the lead and how many tears poured down cheeks in the sanctity of homes or bars when the realization sunk in that Gonzaga’s valiant and superb efforts were for naught this weary evening? We will never know the answer to that question but I daresay that none will level comparative criticism toward the fan who had the audacity to be emotionally wrapped up in a mere game to the extend that, God forbid, he or she should cry as has been leveled at Adam Morrison.

And I ask you, how many hearts were so heavily leaden with pain as the final seconds ebbed away and the realization and shock set in that brought about exclamations such as “Oh no … I don’t believe it! Its over! Oh my God, no!”

The processing of those thoughts in an athlete take less than a millisecond, indeed, are not measurable by standards. Adam Morrison’s entire career up to that moment took on a new meaning. Amongst the conglomeration of thoughts experience were that his beloved Gonzaga, not only the Gonzaga Bulldogs, but the institution and the comraderie for which he and his teammates had given all, their representation of the spirit enveloping the Jesuit University on the banks of the Spokane River, was being shown up and embarrassed by an enemy force from California who only minutes before had become completely blown away and revealed for the pretenders and imposters they were, as Morrison and his Gonzaga teammates were confident would happen once they met in open warfare. Perhaps, this was Gonzaga’s best showing of the year. But the moment of their collapse and the fatal arc of the clock were now equally enemy forces.

Adam Morrison thought about those moments he and his teammates spent sacrificing to be where they now stood, on the pinnacle of national recognition as the best of the best, representing Gonzaga and facing a showdown with the best offered whether from the east, south, north or west. Confidently, he and his mates knew that they had only time to expend and they would be taken to a new level to face Texas, Connecticut, Villanova, or another, as soon as UCLA were sent packing. The world belonged to this Gonzaga Bulldog basketball team, to Mark Few, and to its avowed team leader, Adam Morrison.

As a unit, Gonzaga believed that none could unseat a Gonzaga team that had staved off challenges and last minute rallies all season long only to emerge victorious time and time again. To a man, this Gonzaga team believed it was destined to become the NCAA Basketball Champions for the 2005-2006 seasons. Morrison not only knew it … he felt it throughout every fibre in his being.

Throughout his career at Gonzaga, Morrison always gave blood, sweat and tears in practice and always left it all on the court throughout the entirety of the season … and here he was, leaving it all out on the court … not wanting the game to be over, refusing to believe that it could be over, hopelessly believing that somehow, seconds would have to be put back on the clock and Gonzaga would redeem itself by retaking the lead and never relinquishing it. He and his mates were so conditioned to believing that they were winners and that is the way games were won … in the last seconds. For the duration of the season, Gonzaga rarely blew a team away.

Always, heretofore, a Zag had become the hero of the moment … and as Batista’s shot caroomed off the iron to the left a second before the horn blared signifying an end to the battle, Morrison could not believe that fate could be so cruel and painful.

At the end of any athletic contest, we look at athletes and see the jubliation expressed, including tears of joy, by the victorious, thinking nothing of it and, indeed, it has become commonplace and a right of passage to see emotional displays and tears emerge from the eyes of the victor for, after all, aren’t those tears emblematic of communicating that for all the sacrifice rendered, it has paid off in a victory or a championship of sorts?

Yet, there are those who condemn an athlete who expresses an emotional tear letting upon being vanquished. What a double standard! What a travesty of condemnation! For the vanquished has every right to express the grieving of a loss, perhaps erroneously believing that the sacrifice was in vain and all for naught!

For those who do not take their athleticism serious enough to shed a tear, there is no amount of explaining that will induce you to understand why Adam Morrison cried before the game was over. And only those who have put heart and soul, along with blood and sweat into the spirit of competition, will fathom Morrison’s collapse in tears on the maple court, laying there oblivious and unconcerned what others might think or how they might judge him.

For Morrison, defeat was not an option and deep within the recesses of his subconsciousness he heard the Spartan Mother’s advice to her son as he embarked for warfare, “Return with your shield or on it son.” Retreat and flight to the dressing room to shed the tears of death was the act of a coward, the act of those who were conscious that others were looking on and judging. Perhaps they are justified in so doing, none of us should really judge or critique their motivation and perception of the lose. In dropping as he did, on the field of battle, in a pool of tearful emotion, Morrison revealed his courage and grit. Well done, son.

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