IU! (clap, clap) IU! (clap, clap)
It took me a while to get used to Bloomington.
I’m not a big drinker—I didn’t have my first beer until I turned 22—and so much of the popular and obvious social scene did not appeal to me. I’m also not into the frat thing, so my social life was nearly non-existent during my first two years at school. I didn’t even begin to find my niche in Bloomington until midway through my junior year when I took some creative writing classes and started hanging out with some guys from class. By the end of my junior year, I was really beginning to love Bloomington, and all in all I’m glad that I went there…
Early in the going, though, my affection for IU and Bloomington was minimal. I just couldn’t get into the sports scene, one that directly conflicted with my love for Northwestern. NU was my life, my heart, my childhood. Some Hoosiers were going to change that? No dice. Indeed, it was exciting to be in the thick of the “riots” the day that Bob Knight got fired, (9-11-00…IU students up in arms over the firing of their talented and abusive coach…funny to think that exactly a year later, we were all back out on campus, albeit for decidedly different reasons…), but that alone was not going to sway me.
My love for IU began to grow during my sophomore year, the year that I began delivering pizzas for Dominoes. For the first time, I was seeing a lot of Bloomington, as well as getting a glimpse into the social life and the diverse student body. It was a treat to get little snapshots of other IU students. Driving all night, music blasting, lots of Hellos and How’s It Goings, good tips, absurd stories, and the occasional fringe benefits…
So sophomore year was where my appreciation of Bloomington and IU began to grow, and though a lot of it had to do with my job, a good deal of it also hinged upon one of the most exciting seasons of basketball in IU’s glorious history.
When Bob Knight was fired, IU hoops was in disarray. Campus was a mess. Luke and I saw a large group of people forming around the stadium, and so we went out there. The student body was in such a rage that day that they decided to hang and burn Kent Harvey and Myles Brand in effigy. Students were swearing up and down that they would never again set foot in Assembly Hall, and there was early word out that freshman A.J. Moye would be transferring. I remember seeing redshirt freshman George Leach out in the crowd, with somebody screaming through a bullhorn, “This is not why George Leach came to Indiana!” while Leach stood towering over everyone with a look of bemusement on his face. Eventually the loud, disgruntled, and disorganized mob of students decided to storm Brand’s front lawn, at which point the police—who were already in their full riot gear—began thumping their batons in their hands. I had managed to move up towards the front of the crowd, right at the lip of Brand’s lawn and about fifteen feet away from the police force, and as I was more interested in observation than participation, and as I had heard my parents’ stories about the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, I decided that I did not want to be standing directly between the police and the student mob when whatever was about to go down went down. So I booked out, squirreling my way out of the large mass to a spot behind them with clear running lanes and escape routs…and just in time, as the police sprung into action shortly there after. By no means did Bloomington ’00 rival Chicago ’68 in violence or importance, but lack of historical significance probably wouldn’t soften the blow of getting hit with a shot of tear gas. The crowd scattered, and in the days following the “riot” it was announced that assistant coach Mike Davis would replace Knight. This was big news; not only was Knight’s 29-year Indiana basketball career over, but the first black coach in school history was named as his successor.
The 2000-01 season was definitely a transitional period. Davis maintained a title of interim coach, and the team went 10-6 in the Big Ten, eventually securing a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, as they had done four times in the previous six years, the Hoosiers were bounced in the first round, this time by Kent State.
Junior forward Kirk Haston bounced as well, skipping his senior year for the NBA. Too bad for him, but the Hoosiers got on well enough in the ’01-’02 season. They finished the year 18-9 overall, good for a number five seed. Nobody was too excited, least of all me. I had yet to attend an IU basketball game in two years, and I wasn’t yet referring to any IU teams as “we” or “us.” When the Hoosiers advanced to the Sweet Sixteen with wins over Utah and UNC Wilmington, I was happy for the team and their fans, but not particularly excited myself…
…except for the fact that IU’s Sweet Sixteen opponent was none other than the defending champion and top-ranked Duke Blue Devils. Shane Battier had graduated and moved on to the NBA, but Duke still possessed Player of the Year—and future, yet brief, Chicago Bull—Jason “Soon to be Jay” Williams, as well as future NBAers Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, Chris Duhon, and Dahntay Jones. So I watched the IU-Duke game with the interest of a basketball fan, though not as an IU fan per se.
I was slated to work that night at ten, and though the Blue Devils jumped out to a big lead early, the Hoosiers kept chipping back and back and back, until finally they had the lead with under a minute to go. A.J. Moye hit a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left to give IU a 74-70 lead, and then it was Williams, coming down the floor, hitting a three, and, remarkably, getting fouled by IU senior guard Dane Fife with four seconds remaining. But Williams could not convert the free throw, IU controlled the board, and the Hoosiers darted off the court like bank robbers, fleeing with a 74-73 upset win.
Again, I was excited to have watched such an intense, well-played, and competitive game, but as I walked out of my dorm and out to my car, I did not have a sense of what this all meant on a local level. I still didn’t equate my choice of school with the athletics program, so when I began driving to Dominoes I was a bit taken aback by the number of people hanging from light poles in celebration while their friends watched for cops (while they, the lookouts, were double fisting). Another IU-hoops related bru-ha-ha in the streets, but this one much more positive and much less violent. What normally was an eight minute drive took about twenty, and when I got into Dominoes the place was buzzing. We usually had four or five drivers working in a night, and when you got back with your run you’d have to wait a bit for the next one. Not that night. They had us coming and going like hockey shifts. Anybody who is out comes in, and anybody who is in goes out. Needless to say, I got some of my best tips that night.
The fun went on.
Two days later, behind an incredible barrage of three pointers (IU made their first eight, and went 15-19 from the arc), the Hoosiers defeated Kent State and advanced to the Final Four. I can’t stress enough what kind of a huge deal this is. Though the Super Bowl is bigger than the National Championship game, the Final Four is bigger than the Conference Championships. Easily. When your school advances to the Final Four, it’s party city for a week straight. Campus is abuzz. The whole sports nation of America pays attention to March Madness, and particularly to the Final Four, and then after a long season and four rounds of basketball, there are four teams remaining and yours is one of them. Incredible.
No other sport has a semi-final event like the Final Four. People get excited when their team is a round away from a championship…when the Cubs were in the NLCS two years ago, the whole (Cubs half of the) city was pumped. Now imagine if you could compress that city onto one single campus, and imagine if you could inflate the country’s interest in the event three-fold. That’s how crazy it is to be at a Final Four school.
And yet, I still wasn’t really that excited.
But it was growing. It was that season—actually, that month—that launched my love for IU. Perhaps after a year and a half of personal and collegiate malaise, I needed something monumental to shake me into Hoosierdom. Or maybe the love I feel for Bloomington today would have grown naturally, and the Final Four trip just gave it a jump start. Either way, though I was not at the fever pitch that Luke or many of my other schoolmates were at, I still felt privileged to be there for the whole deal. I had a lingering sense that I was lucky to be a part of a Final Four season, even if it didn’t mean as much to me at the time as it would have a few years later.
IU defeated Oklahoma in the Final Four, and for that they were given a chance to play the Maryland Terrapins, a team On A Mission since they were eliminated by Duke in the 2001 Final Four. IU played very well, actually taking a 44-42 lead with under ten minutes to go. But Maryland senior Juan Dixon hit a three on the next possession, sparking a 22-5 Maryland run to close out the game. Ric, Luke, and I watched the game at Luke’s fraternity house, sitting silently with Luke’s brothers as Maryland ran the Hoosiers out of the building, and by the time it was over, we knew It Was Over.
Lambda Chi Alpha sits on 3rd street in Bloomington, just west of Jordan Ave. It is an imposing sight, resting about four hundred feet back from the street on top of a hill so that the walk from the sidewalk to the house leads upwards before the stairs even begin. After the game was over, Ric and I joined Luke and some of his brothers out on the front porch. It was dark, but campus was still active, with students and faculty in transit; many were heading home from wherever they watched the game, while many others were heading over to Kirkwood, the main strip of the Bloomington bar scene. There was the requisite disorderly conduct that night, with a few fans getting arrested…standard scene in any town or city that has just won or lost a championship game. Instead of joining the action, we sat up on that big porch, watching as fans drove by honking and screaming from their windows things like “Maryland sucks!” and “We lost to a turtle!” Other fans were on foot; all looked upset, or at least drained and unhappy. In the end, the Terrapins wanted, and needed, a championship more than the Hoosiers did. We were but a footnote, a necessary step in their two-year quest. Still, Indiana had been treated with a gift, a special team that did not give the school its sixth national title yet gave them a team to cheer for. And sometimes, that is enough.