“No, I was the last one to touch the ball!” I yelled to the referee; nonetheless, he handed the ball to the other team. As best I remember, I was in sixth grade at Little Red, playing basketball in the old Breathitt High School gymnasium. I realized it wasn’t what I knew to be true that mattered; that would be for the referees to determine.
“Shouldn’t I be honest with the officials?” I remember thinking. “Am I to leave all honesty in the dressing room and not bring it to the hardwood?” As years went by, one season after another, I realized not only was I to forego truth while in the satins, but I was to do all I could to appear innocent of all wrong doing. By the time I graduated high school, players were no longer required to raise a hand when whistled for a foul. While doing so would help official scorers record fouls to appropriate players, no longer would players be required to raise their hand, as doing so might appear as an admission of guilt. We’ve progressively gone downhill from there.
The game has evolved immensely over the past half century, and while sportsmanship is still highly valued, there seems to be little integrity when it comes to what’s right and what’s wrong. Players are getting better at acting as if they’ve been fouled; excessively throwing their head back, as if the slightest contact has resulted in whiplash. They extend their leg initiating contact with a defender while shooting a three-pointer, and then fall to floor as if mortally wounded awaiting the referee’s whistle. Defenders fall to the floor, bowled over by a feather, in attempts to draw a charge, flopping as a fish. The ability to act has become as important as hitting a free throw in today’s basketball game.
There seemed to be more integrity in schoolyard pickup games where we’d call our own fouls, than that found in the college game today. “I think I fouled you!” we’d exclaim on the dirt court. “No harm, no foul…still should’ve made the shot,” would often be the reply. Few wanted to win if winning required the forfeiture of fairness.
I say all that to say this. Virginia missed a grand opportunity Saturday night in its Final Four matchup with Auburn. It missed an opportunity to make a powerful statement that would speak much more definitively and last lifetimes longer than the NCAA Championship banner it will hang in its arena’s rafters after defeating Texas Tech Monday night in the championship game.
Imagine Coach Bennett addressing his players in the locker room after having been declared the winner over Auburn, despite the missed double-dribble call that would’ve most assuredly given Auburn the win. “Can we really accept this perceived victory? We’ve all seen the replay. We know the officials made a crucial mistake by not whistling that double-dribble; but, are we willing to accept the misconception that it didn’t happen just because it wasn’t called? Furthermore, if it were your call to make; if we’re on the dirt court with no referees; would you admit to the double-dribble? Would you make the call? Isn’t a Final Four game much more important than a pickup game on the dirt court? Well, it’s not too late; we have the last word. We can make the call. Do we not owe it to Auburn, ourselves, and the game itself, to not accept what is not rightfully ours? Shouldn’t we do the right thing by recognizing Auburn as the true and rightful winner of this game?”
As Virginia took the court Monday night against Texas Tech in the final game, little was said of the double-dribble which had occurred two days earlier. It was as if it’d never happened, and as the record reflects…it didn’t.
I DON’T KNOW JACK SQUAT, but I know Virginia, a team known for its lockdown defense, missed a rare opportunity to immortalize itself by defending its honor and integrity, as well as the integrity of college basketball Saturday night on the biggest stage.