The NCAA tournament delivered on its promise when the University of Maryland Baltimore County kicked the University of Virgina out the tourney with a fierce second half whipping the overall number one seed didn’t see coming until it was over and tears were in their eyes. It is the lure of the tournament. You have one chance to play hard, execute, want it more and compete. On the plus side, with a lot of pro scouts watching you can make a name for yourself. The tournament has dropped players in the lottery that would never have been there if not for great games: Wally Sczerbiak, Justise Winslow, Derrick Williams, Jonny Flynn, Anthony Bennett, Mateen Cleaves. But the NBA game is a lot tougher, physical, stressful and respects nothing about the NCAA. The NBA doesn’t wax poetic about a Cinderella and what they do there. That is for those who get paid under the table, have a March moment and soak it all in.
The greatest upset of all time was when Villanova beat Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. Ewing went on to NBA glory and fame even as he lost the title game in 1985. That Villanova team? They had NBA players but none ever was in the Finals like Ewing. Dwayne McClain shot 71% in the title game and had 17 points. Ed Pinckney shot 71% and had 16 points. Harold Jensen didn’t miss a shot and had 14 points. McClain was drafted in the second round by the Pacers and had a one year NBA career. He was a CBA and USBL mainstay. Pinckney was a first round draft pick, number 10, and had a 12 year career. Now he is a Twolves assistant. Jensen was drafted in the sixth round but never played in the NBA. He was in the USBL for one year.
Cinderellas have their moment, but blink and it’s over.
LeBron James never went to the tournament. Kevin Durant’s last tournament memory was a loss and it wasn’t the Sweet Sixteen. Davidson didn’t make the tournament Steph Curry’s last year there. Anthony Davis won the title as a freshman, his only college year. DeMarcus cousin didn’t. Neither did James Harden or Chris Paul. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love were teammates in the NCAA title game but lost.
The NBA is the hardest league to crack. They have a one round draft for guaranteed contracts and a second round scrum. In the 2017 NBA draft, only three second round picks have played 50games (Wesley Iwundu Orlando, Semi Ojeleye Boston, Dillon Brooks, Memphis). 10 second round picks have played 0 NBA games. 7 second round picks have played in 15 games or less.
The NBA is about being great as a professional, not by being great when you are 18 and 19. The last All-Star to have won a title and a NCAA championship is Antoine Walker. The last Hall of Famer to do it is Michael Jordan.
College titles are won by great players like Jordan and Carmelo Anthony. NBA titles are won by teams. The teams are not NCAA good but NBA good. Quck. Explosive. Skill set. Length. Size. Court awareness. Achievement under stress. Can take contact. Defensive footwork. Offensive footwork. Clutch.
NBA team building is excrutiatingly difficult. The Rockets have been slightly above average for the last few season despite James Harden and Dwight Howard. It took Chris Paul, the development of Clint Capela, the addition of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, some defenders to give the Rockets toughness and Mike D’Antoni’s offense to make them the best in the league. And still, no one in their right mind will definitively say they are better than the Warriors until they beat the Warriors.
The NBA and all professional sports leagues are asking their fans to make a bargain. You give us your time. And we’ll give you excellence. We’ll give you the best players competing at the highest level to decide who is going to prevail, who has the guts, the confidence, the game, the endurance, the want to.
Fans of professional sports don’t want a tourney like atmosphere where luck is often involved and where a bad game means everything you have worked for is down the drain. We want attrition. We want schemes and strategy. We want to see how you are going to take the best player out of the series. We want Klay on Kyrie and Delly cheap shot-ing Steph and Tim Duncan missing a layup in game 7 and a Ray Allen three.
Pro sports is about excellence. College sports is about innocence. I love the tourney because it is dramatic and unpredictable. I love it’s promise, that there is one shining moment. But try to win 16 games for a title. Then try to do it three years in a row, after you have played 300 games in three years.
Cinderellas fail here.