No Lacrosse to Bear
O joy! Big congrats to Northwestern women for winning the lacrosse national championship over Boston College, 18-6. It's their 8th title in 18 years under coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.
The team was led by the nation's leading scorer Izzy Scane (one of my favorite sports names) with 4 goals -- and 99 for the season! That's her below on the right side, #27.
Northwestern doesn't get to celebrate too many national championships -- except for women's lacrosse. So, it's a cause of major Wildcat celebration.
And just because she deserves it, here's a nice 2-minute video on the "Scane Train" from when Northwestern beat Denver the day before to make it into the finals. (They'd been down 4-2 and then went on an amazing 13-1 run.)
And yes, that's her pounding the ground after scoring yet another goal and then being knocked down.
Happy Maurice Cheeks Day 2023
Happy Maurice Cheeks Day! Here's my annual column explaining why his gracious actions back in 2003 right before an NBA playoff game were so special, along with video of the heartwarming event.
This is the annual reprint of a column originally written on The Huffington Post in 2009. And this year is the 21st anniversary of the actual event itself, Some stories simply demand repeating. Or better put, demand not being forgotten. This is one of them. And so, once again, here 'tis.
One additional word. Happily Maurice Cheeks is still in the NBA!. And even more happily, he's back in his hometown. He's currently the assistant coach for the Chicago Bulls. He also had a strong career as a solid player, and is 13th on the all-time list of assists with 7.392. But though this doesn't count on that list, it may be his best assist of all...
April 25, 2009
Oh, Say Can You Sing? A National Anthem to Remember
As I prepared to write about an act of uncommon decency by a professional athlete, I realized that calling it that was unfair, that it diminishes what happened, because this was simply an act of uncommon decency, period. That it happened on such a high level and under such a bright microscope might likely stir the heart more, but it's the act itself that is ultimately what stirs us to begin with. Who it was and when it took place simply moves it up the pedestal.
Today is the sixth anniversary of Maurice Cheeks' moment on the pedestal.
There is in the American consciousness for notable performances of the National Anthem at sporting events. Jose Feliciano's evocative singing at the 1968 World Series in Detroit was the first to interpret the "Star Spangled Banner" before a national audience. Because 1968 was one of the most tumultuous years in U.S. history, many at the time were so outraged that it took his career years to recover. Today, the rendition not only seems tame, but one of the most tender and beautiful. (And among the least known. If you've never heard it, do yourself a favor and click here to listen.)
Whitney Houston gets mentioned often for her rousing rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl, during the Gulf War. For many, Marvin Gaye's deeply soulful performance at the 1983 NBA All Star is the most memorable.
But for sheer emotional joy, it's hard to top what happened on April 27, 2003, before Game 4 of the NBA playoffs between the Portland Trailblazers and Dallas Mavericks.
Context only adds to the story. So, once again:
This was the playoffs. This is what all professional athletes live for, what their year is about. The regular season is a prelude, an effort to get into the post-season and be in place to win the league championship, to become a part of your sport's history. Everything centers on this. As the start of each playoff game nears, as the roaring crowd is at its highest pitch, as players put on their proverbial "game faces" and the battle is moments from beginning, all external thoughts get filtered out, and focus is completely, solely on their task ahead.
The National Anthem, for most athletes, must be one of those external influences. More than most of us, who hear the "Star Spangled Banner" largely on special occasions, professional athletes have heard the National Anthem played before every single competitive game they've played. Game after game repeatedly each season, and season after season, for decades. Relentlessly. As meaningful as the song is, it is also just part of the ritual for a professional athlete, focused on the game, geared up for the game, anxious to start the game. Silent, not singing, maybe not even hearing the music. Waiting for the National Anthem to be played, and finished, so that they can finally start what they're there for. It's likely as much background noise as it is patriotic uplift.
And so it must have been as the Trailblazers and Mavericks prepared for their playoff game to start.
Stepping out onto the court was Natalie Gilbert, a 13-year-old girl. Just another National Anthem, just another youngster who won a contest, just another two minutes the crowd wanted to get past for the game they were there to see, to start. And she started fine. A little hesitant, since it's a frightening occasion for a child, with a national audience, flashing lights and a military guard. But in her wavering voice, she was prepared.
Except that a few lines in, the high pageantry of the moment got her, and something went very wrong. She totally, thoroughly forgot the words. A young 13-year-old child, standing in front of over 10,000 people, lost. Alone.
And that's when Maurice Cheeks showed the kind of person he was.
Maurice Cheeks had had a very good NBA career as a player. He played for 15 years and was selected to four All Star games. When he retired, he was the all-time leader in steals and fifth in assists. He averaged over 11 points a game. And then he later became a coach, the position he was currently in for the Portland Trailblazers. It was Cheeks who was responsible for his team, responsible for keeping them focused on the game, responsible for guiding them. But he saw a 13-year-old girl in trouble.
And that's when Maurice Cheeks showed the kind of person he was. Immediately.
Cheeks always had a reputation in the NBA as a good guy. But he was about to prove it on a national stage. And what happened next - not just with Maurice Cheeks, but eventually with all the jaded players whose minds had been previously-focused on their game, an entire stadium of basketball fans there to see basketball, even the opposing white-haired coach Don Nelson - is just enthralling.
The moment is wonderful, but how it builds and surprises is even better.
And at the end, this tiny girl looking up at the giant of a man - who stayed around, refusing to leave her side and return to his team - with her face awash with relief, a huge hug, and the clear words mouthed, "Thank you," is all you need to see to why it's hard to top what happened on April 25, 2003, before Game 4 of the NBA playoffs for sheer emotional joy. Six years ago today.
The Ninth Inning
It's hard not to close out Opening Day with what I think is the best (and perhaps most famous) song from the baseball musical Damn Yankees. What you gotta have? You gotta have "Heart."
(Contrary to what they wrote below, the title of the song is "Heart.")
The Right, Right Field
Continuing to honor Opening Day, here are Peter, Paul and Mary singing Noel Paul Stookey's great tribute to those who couldn't really play the game all that well, "Right Field."
I love the song, but I particularly like this version which comes from their 25th Anniversary Reunion Concert on PBS. (Which is just now being released on DVD for the first time.) The reason is not only that the three of them really throw themselves into the song, but two specific moments. One comes when they make the first joke about how such incompetence manifested itself on the schoolyard -- and the camera cuts to two women who have such a lovely reaction that you know they're taking tht moment very personally. And the other comes near the end of the "story" when it hits its resolution and they whole audience reacts -- and you know that they all are taking it personally, since it's such a silly, little fun song.
But quite wonderful.
Continuing our celebration of Opening Day, this is a fun song from the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which was adapted into an animated TV special.
The First Pitch
And as a baseball bonus, we return you to Riccardo Muti, from 2012 when he threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game.
I find it adorable that Muti seems to love the Cubs, particularly since he's from Italy and didn't grow up on baseball or perhaps ever played it at all. But we know now that he's a lefty. Not the same form on the mound (or front thereof) as on the podium, but he did get it to the plate.
By the way, listen closely in the background as he walks to the mount. The P.A. is playing Beethoven's 5th Symphony.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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