Paul Tafelski - March 2020

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March2020

Magic, Madness, and MSU My Love of College Basketball

I've been a Michigan State basketball fan since Magic Johnson led the Spartans to the National Championship. I remember watching in awe as Magic Johnson weaved his way up the court while inventing the no-look pass. I won’t say this early fandom was the main reason I decided to study at MSU myself, but being able to walk over to the arena for games was definitely a perk. Boy, how things have changed since then. Back in my day, MSU’s basketball stadium was more like a glorified barn. The Jenison Field House had been built in the 1940s, and it showed. It could be difficult to keep warm on the bare-bones bleachers, and during big games, the building would be bursting at the seams. Still, the smaller size meant you were incredibly close to the court in the student section. Being able to sit right next to where Magic Johnson used to play was an incredible experience. These days, just getting to the modern Breslin Center is a production. The commute takes me about an hour and a half each way, and compared to the games of my youth, the seating feels far removed from the action. Still, those trips are more than worth it. It’s nice to sit in a stadium with modern amenities, and the camaraderie among fans is just as lively as I remember. At the time of this writing, I'd recently attended our game against Penn State. While the Spartans didn’t end up winning, it was still a great match and a lot of fun to watch. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the coming March Madness. The NCAA tournament is unlike almost every other sporting event because every year it feels like there are four winners. Having been to a few Final Four matchups, I can say that the atmosphere isn’t what you’d expect for the final rounds in a championship series. When you’re packed in with fans from four different schools, it honestly feels like everyone is just happy to be there. Making it to that stage is a huge accomplishment, but winning the whole thing is icing on the cake. “When you’re packed in with fans from four different schools, it honestly feels like everyone is just happy to be there.”

Sure, you get your fair share of trash talk, but it's not nearly as confrontational as you hear in most regular-season games in other sports. I don’t know if that says something about basketball fans, the culture of March Madness, or the particular areas where I’ve sat at these tournaments, but honestly, the sense of rivalry is far more intense outside the stadium than it is inside. I’m of course talking about the bracket competitions that kick off this time of year. The game within the game — it seems like this is where the real trash talk surrounding March Madness happens. There’s certainly plenty of good-natured ribbing at our office as we see whose picks win out. Sadly, I often make the mistake of putting just a little too much faith in the Spartans and other teams I typically pull for. But what can I say? I’d rather be with them in defeat than have abandoned them in victory.

Go Green!

-Paul J. Tafel ski

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