Here’s What Happened When the NCAA Tournament Came to the Wells Fargo Center
The NCAA tournament came to town this weekend, and the NCAA attempted to teach the fans a few things.
Between Sweet 16 games on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the NCAA displayed what were purportedly “famous quotes” about sports. They came from a variety of sources: Jesse Owens, Billie Jean King, Vince Lombardi. The Lombardi quote was odd; the man who famously used the “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” line was quoted as saying, “If you can’t accept losing, you can’t win.” (This line is not in David Maraniss’ Lombardi biography When Pride Still Mattered, but it’s attributed to Lombardi all over. Who knows?)
But it was the quote from Michael Jordan that was the oddest of the evening. “Just play,” Jordan said. “Have fun. Enjoy the game.” It was odd that Jordan, the consensus greatest basketball player of all time, was identified as “former UNC basketball player.” But it was even odder that he was given a quote antithetical to the Michael Jordan mythos. Jordan famously abused No. 1 overall pick Kwame Brown during his time with the Washington Wizards. He is known as perhaps the most competitive man in the history of sports. And here he is telling people to just enjoy the game and have fun?
Fortunately, the NCAA did not destroy the Michael Jordan mythos last weekend. He most likely didn’t say that three-sentence quote. The “Just play” quote shows up on a bunch of Michael Jordan quote collections online, but there’s no actual evidence he actually said he. The closest quote to it I could find was in Pat Williams’ 2001 book How to Be Like Mike: Life Lessons About Basketball’s Best. The senior VP for the Orlando Magic quotes Jordan: “My advice to kids is to let them just enjoy the game. Develop a love for the game.”
So, the NCAA turned Michael Jordan into a guy who just wants everyone to have fun. But that makes sense! Attending an NCAA tournament game live is a weird experience. For such a great event, the NCAA tournament is oddly sterile.
Whatever is normal, the NCAA does the opposite. The number one stereotype of college kids is that they drink a lot. So the NCAA forbids the sale of beer at all NCAA tournament games. The tournament’s mass popularity is due in part to “its easy-to-understand gambling format,” as Stephen Colbert put it. So there are multiple exhortations that the NCAA opposes gambling in all forms. Most sports pay their athletes enormous amounts of money. So the NCAA … well, you get the idea.
But let’s keep going. “After all, Notre Dame and North Carolina have many traditions, but bad sportsmanship isn’t one of them,” is an announcement that was made. All the ads are covered up — even “Welcome to Comcast Country,” which was refreshing — and only the NCAA’s “corporate champions” are allowed to be displayed.
If you have a seat courtside, you must pour all beverages into NCAA-mandated cups. There were bananas in the press room; I was surprised to learn Dole wasn’t an NCAA corporate champion.
But it’s the quotes that were the weirdest. On Sunday night, the NCAA approvingly displayed a quote that says sports do not develop character.
Additionally, there’s no way the great James A. Michener actually wrote a sentence this sloppy; it only shows up on one quote site. But! A slightly different quote is actually in his Sports in America — he attributes it to a comedian.
So it’s a weird atmosphere (with lots of fake quotes). But it’s also a pretty great one. There is something electric about a college basketball tournament. There are always a lot of young people in the building and they’re always really into it. The atmosphere was fun and bouncy walking into the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night; everyone had a week to prepare for it. But Sunday was almost quiet as people filed into the WFC.
Things were tense, too. As I sat on press row awaiting the game on Sunday night, I got a text from my friend who was attending the game. “A lady just told me to suck my own dick at Xfinity,” he wrote. He had made a derisive comment about the North Carolina Tar Heels, and he got it right back.
Sunday’s game turned out to be the best one of the weekend. North Carolina was heavily favored, but Notre Dame was in it for most of the game. It went back and forth in the first half; after Notre Dame pulled ahead in the second half, the Irish went on a 12-0 run to take the lead. In the end, though, North Carolina pulled away for an 88-74 victory. The Tar Heels joined Syracuse, Oklahoma and Villanova in the Final Four.
There were a surprisingly large number of empty seats on Sunday, but the crowd was loud. College basketball crowds are so into it in March that it doesn’t really matter if the games aren’t any good. It’s fun to be at a sporting event where there are a lot of people who are really into it.
Of course, one fan in attendance this weekend cannot be ignored: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. His daughter is a manager for the Fighting Irish, and he took in Friday night’s win over Wisconsin. He also went viral after a photo surfaced of him … well, take a look.
Chris Christie pouring his bag of M&M’s into a bigger bag of MORE M&M’s is a savage and perplexing move pic.twitter.com/xynYXfswGc
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) March 26, 2016
An investigation revealed that stadium M&M’s come in a bag inside a box. Still, the photo makes it seem like a third mystery hand is feeding Christie, so I think we can say it’s still funny no matter what.
Seeing an NCAA tournament game live is kind of a weird thing. But that’s okay — it’s also a blast. And isn’t that the point? Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game. It’s what Michael Jordan and James A. Michener would want you to do.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.