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Harvard players celebrate their upset win over New Mexico Thursday night.
Associated Press/Photo by George Frey
Harvard players celebrate their upset win over New Mexico Thursday night.

What captivates us about March Madness

Sports

March Madness, the NCAA’s 68-team college basketball tournament, is the single greatest annual sporting event in America. The first two full days of the tournament on Thursday and Friday present an endless stream of basketball-watching pleasure. Why? It’s not because the best players are playing the best basketball. No, often the games are ugly and sloppy, played by unheralded kids from Nowhere University. If you want great basketball tune into NBA games to watch LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and other pro stars show off their supreme skills. But those games aren’t nearly as gripping. What is it that so captivates us about March Madness?

It is the pursuit of glory, that one chance for these kids to shine. They aren’t paid. Most of them aren’t well-known. They play for the love the game, to win, and for that single chance at glory. Every game, no matter how ugly, is a clinic on effort and passion. At the final buzzer the players are spent, finished—they give every ounce of everything they have in pursuit of victory. Such passion and effort emanates through our TV screens and takes us captive.

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Raw, visceral emotion defines March Madness. The fans scream themselves hoarse and the players sweat and bleed for the sake of the name on the front of their jerseys—and for the glory of victory. And they do it as single units, as families. The fans uplift the players and the players energize the fans, feeding off one another. The players work together toward the pursuit of a singular goal, while their coaches cajole, encourage, chastise, and berate, using every weapon in their arsenal to push their teams one step further.

And the victorious team, the one left holding the trophy at the end, is often not the “best” team in the tournament, or the most talented or lauded one. It sometimes is the team that came together in pursuit of basketball glory and for whom the right doors opened. These players took advantage of the opportunities presented to them and never stopped striving, together, toward the championship.

To see undaunted, untainted effort and emotion poured into a single cause is to see success redefined. No longer do we have to be the most talented, the most polished, the most skilled, which is good, since most of us aren’t. March Madness belies culture’s demand that we be perfect and gives a stage to the magnetism of passionate pursuit. Above all this is the reality that the glory we pursue is not “One Shining Moment” but eternal. Instead of being available to only a few it is available to all who pursue it. So the tournament is a microcosm of what we ought to aspire to: unbridled, passionate pursuit of glory, not alone but in companionship, pushing and pulling one another to new heights, never giving up, always keeping our eyes on the final goal.

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