28 February 2012

On the Brink of Purity

28 February, 2011 3.00 p.m. by Darcy Ireland.

The published recap can be found here.

The official box score can be found here.

“When arrogance appears, disgrace follows,

But wisdom is with those who are unassuming.” - Proverbs 11.2; from Kethuvim

One rainy Friday evening, in a cozy gymnasium in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a significant and noble affair was playing its course. The Tigers of Princeton University had travelled northward to pay a league rival an expected visit, that rival being the Crimson of Harvard University, that acclaimed and highly esteemed Bostonian conservatory of knowledge. The favorite hosting team was being defeated by the visiting squad, 38-41, approximately four minutes’ time of play into the second half. It was at this moment when a time-out was granted at the request of Princeton. During this break in the game, the Harvard student section, as it is wont to do in such an occasion, began to cry a chant of encouragement in unison. “Crimson and WHITE! Crimson and WHITE! Crimson and WHITE!” they declared according to the cue cards of the Harvard cheerleaders. Given the situation the hosting Ivy League institution’s team was currently handling, along with the physical appearance of both it and its eager student section, the Spectator couldn’t help but reconcile what could positively occur for the Crimson with what had unfolded merely thirteen nights prior, when the overconfident and perhaps prideful Crimson were humbled by the tough Tigers 70-62 in New Jersey. The smile on Princeton junior forward Ian Hummer’s face during the concluding seconds of that initial meeting simply meant, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” The ├╝bertalented Harvard Crimson team, universally anointed as the next ruler of the Ivy League, had found its comeuppance in Jadwin Gymnasium. The Crimson suffered a great blemish, which could merely be remedied not through vengeance, but through purification, something Harvard longed to discover that night...

* * *

Indeed, it was quite a rainy evening as an innocuous young Fellow in a tweed jacket emerged from the entrance to the Harvard Square stop of the Red Line of the ‘T’ subway system. The Fellow found a bustling intersection of a number of streets. With about an hour and a half’s time before Princeton would play Harvard, the Fellow searched all about the Square for the site of a specific pizzeria to which he was recommended by an electronic source. Having spent a half-hour’s time in pursuit, the eatery, called Otto Pizza, was located. Here, the boy, valuing what precious time he had to spare, rapidly purchased and subsequently consumed two succulent slices of a concoction called ‘three-cheese tortellini pizza.’ After having eaten his de facto supper, he began the long stroll down John F. Kennedy Street. Southward, the chap walked over the River Charles. Soon, he eyed the athletic buildings of Harvard, including his desired destination, Lavietes Pavilion, an ancient and glorified hall of basketball lore spanning three generations of mankind. Once indoors, the Fellow, not being receptive to the rain, thankfully settled into his seat, which was right behind the media table and quite close to mid-court. With about thirty minutes before the designated tip-off time, his mind soaked in the sights (which included this man, who paced past the observer). He noticed the student section and the Crimson players all were donning white articles of clothing. It must be a white-out event, he pondered. Next, he spotted one certain Princeton Tiger during his team’s shoot-around time. There he is, the Spectator thought as he eyed Mr. Hummer, the primary catalyst of the humiliation of the Crimson merely a fortnight’s time ago. To win this game, the Onlooker further thought, to purify itself of the sin of pride in Jadwin, the Crimson must humble itself and allow itself to be brought lower, which had somewhat happened. Finally, he saw the leftmost section of the bleachers along the opposite wall of the pavilion, which was filled with Princeton supporters. One fan held a wooden sign; on that sign was painted in orange: ‘JADWIN JUNGLE’. For Harvard to win this evening, it must strive for perfection and escape the jungle unharmed. That two-fold task certainly would not be easy...

As surmised beforehand, the anticipated Ivy League game would be grueling but entertaining indeed. The Crimson began with an expected 7-0 lead. Mr. Hummer kept his Tigers competitive and alert, despite Harvard preserving its lead for several minutes. Harvard senior forward Keith Wright received a ‘back-door’ cut to tie the match at 18-18 with under 11 minutes in the first half (ironically enough, given Princetonian basketball is heralded for its infamous usage of the strategic technique). Not long after Princeton subsequently earned a single-digit lead over its ivy-shrouded rival, a significant event occurred. The student section manager raised a white-board, which read: ‘A tight start doesn’t make you strong!’ Haven’t you learned anything relevantly virtuous since that humbling defeat in the forests of north central New Jersey? the Spectator thought. He was right to consider such an inquiry, for the visiting Tigers then roared ahead. Mr. Hummer made a jump shot, granting Princeton an astounding 33-23 lead over the Crimson, which was undefeated at home this season, with five minutes’ time before the half-time. Perhaps the Crimson read the mind of the Spectator or more likely looked to its athleticism to temporarily resuscitate itself. Fueled by the ability to block attempted shots by Harvard junior forward Kyle Casey, who blocked two attempted shots by Mr. Hummer, the Crimson went on a 9-0 run to end the first half of play down a mere point, 32-33. Harvard still had a chance to redeem itself with an entire half of a game to be played. Yet, the Crimson had not found the way to purification in a thrilling first half of a game of basketball. Perhaps the hosting Ivy League team would discover its need sooner than later...

* * *

A conversation in which the Observer participated during the half-time break confirmed some mental assessments of the match-up. Harvard student, and fellow 800-Games Project participant, John Ezekowitz concluded that “Princeton is a terrible match-up for Harvard.” The Spectator had previously seen the problem the Crimson had with the Tigers when on the offensive attack, and thus could concur with Mr. Ezekowitz. As the Observer also pondered, Princeton is the Ivy League team which could most easily lull the Crimson to succumb to an impurity, that is to lose a game. Additionally, Mr. Ezekowitz projected that Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker could leave the university, thus preventing the Crimson from realizing the historically unthinkable concept of constructing Harvard into a legitimately powerful basketball program, despite the stringent and rigorous academic expectations of the university. Although the once far-fetched notion of Cambridge being the home of a nationally-feared college basketball team is now much more realistic, it can only find fruition when both the right people unite and they then pursue their goals through humility and selflessness. Perhaps the shortcoming in New Jersey was necessary for the Crimson to identify how truly arduous the virtuous path to righteous glory is, even if at least one writer calls into question exactly how the program in Cambridge is being operated. So long as the party under the moral microscope is presently innocent in that respect, that being, in this case, the Harvard Crimson, has the privilege to pursue righteousness despite blemish in the fashion of an inevitable loss in an arbitrary season. As the onset of the second half of game-play quickly approached, the Observer believed that the purity the Crimson coveted would be unearthed, much to the chagrin of the Tigers, especially Mr. Hummer, whose smile prompted the idea of Harvard finding its apparent weakness merely thirteen nights prior...

* * *

Before the Spectator fully realized it, that rallying cry during the time-out with only sixteen minutes of game-time remaining began its resound. “Crimson and WHITE!” the Harvard student section screamed in unison. For the Observer, the chant was not only significant but also powerful. Most importantly, that perhaps crucial mantra was even uplifting in an encouraging way, almost as if the students knew of the situation the Spectator envisioned in his mind. The ‘white-out’ was all too appropriate to accompany not only the white outfits the host team donned, but also the sign of that which the Crimson strove for that night, which is purity, typically portrayed by the color white. Despite being down by three points - recall that Princeton was winning the match by the tally of 41-38 - the Crimson realized that they were on the brink of purity, which they desired to achieve through this game. Harvard could find aid through humility, but only if by surrendering to it and allowing it to impact its decision-making and attitude. The Crimson must remember that they play to honor the virtues embraced by the Ivy League, that hallowed hall of simultaneous academic prestige and athletic prowess, but built upon the foundation of wisdom, which embodies lowliness and humility. Perhaps the Crimson would emerge from the stoppage of game-play with a humbled mentality.

Again, when fortune smiles and the stream of life flows according to our wishes, let us diligently avoid all arrogance, haughtiness, and pride. For it is as much a sign of weakness to give way to one's feelings in success as it is in adversity.” - Cicero, De officiis I. XXVI.

For the moment, Harvard was still unsettled, but not ready to fall again.

With under 11 minutes of time remaining in the latter half of play, Princeton still managed to lead the affair, 50-45. Within a minute afterward, Harvard junior guard Brandyn Curry made a shot, but was fouled in the process, thus establishing a three-point play. After Mr. Curry made the ensuing free-throw shot attempt, Princeton turned the basketball over to Harvard and then fouled Mr. Wright, who calmly made both of his free-throw shot attempts. During the next possession, Harvard clamped down on defense, which pressured Princeton to give up the basketball to the Crimson. Next, Harvard freshman guard/forward Wesley Saunders ran the ball up the court and to the hoop, but missed a rather athletic lay-up attempt. Mr. Saunders was immediately saved by Mr. Wright, who tipped the missed lay-in attempt into the basket, which sent the Harvard faithful into a frenzy of sheer elation. That tip-in shot by Mr. Wright capped a 7-0 Harvard run to convert a 5-point Princeton lead into a 2-point Harvard lead within a single minute of game-play. The Crimson led the Tigers then, 52-50. It was tempting to presume that Harvard had found the redemption it greatly yearned to grasp. But, like a multitude of tribulations in this life, this trial was far from meeting its conclusion. Coach Amaker must have known that the last ten minutes of game-time really meant ten years between then and the end of the match.

The two ivy-shrouded squads essentially traded baskets for the next five minutes of the second half. With about three minutes left, the tenacious defense of the Crimson was cooking so pronouncedly that Mr. Hummer, who had the basketball beneath the basket, was unable to pinpoint a wise shot attempt. In a nice twist of irony, Mr. Hummer was clogged in the lane by the refreshed Harvard defense! With just over a minute remaining, the familiar mantra, which has its basketball origins in a gymnasium in Logan, Utah, was proclaimed in unison by the student section, whose Harvard Crimson team was winning the game by the tally of 59-56, during a substitution time-out. “I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!” the students repeated - a far cry from the written taunts the Spectator had eyed on the white-board a few sections to his optical right earlier in the match. The last one minute and eighteen seconds of the game would be the conclusion of a thrilling epic, in which Harvard was truly on the brink of purity, while Princeton, led by Mr. Hummer, was oozing with confidence, particularly since it had emerged victorious the last time these two teams had competed against one another. After Princeton senior guard Douglas Davis missed a shot attempt, a Princeton offensive rebound preceded another shot attempt by Mr. Davis, which he made. The tally had altered to a tight 59-58 lead for the hosting Crimson. Soon, Princeton sophomore guard T.J. Brey fouled Mr. Casey with 34 seconds left in the match. Mr. Casey made both free-throw shot attempts, increasing the lead of the Crimson to 61-58. Six Harvard senior guard Oliver McNally free-throw shots and a Princeton 3-point shot later, the tally had ballooned to 67-61 Harvard with merely three seconds before the end of regulation time. Given the amount of time left, Harvard had virtually assured that it had unearthed its desired purity. But the game was not yet over. Mr. Davis used the final possession of the game to sprint the basketball up the court, quickly square up for a 3-point shot attempt from approximately 40 feet from the basket, and nail that shot as the game buzzer echoed its nauseating, but necessary siren throughout the hallowed pavilion.

The game, the tribulation, had finally concluded: Harvard 67, Princeton 64.

A multitude of emotions and states clouded the pavilion as the siren ceased its cry. Relief. Elation. Thankfulness. Satisfaction. Amazement. One could conjure a sizable list to accompany those five named states of being. Not surprisingly, the one which was the most profound and resonated the deepest within the Spectator was purity. As far as the Observer could decipher, the Harvard Crimson finally discovered the necessary state of humility to rightfully conclude the entertaining but arduous affair in victory when its student section reminded them of the symbolic significance of the very hue they donned for the special occasion. Harvard could be thankful for the newness of being found through merciful redemption found after successfully escaping the great tribulation that was matching wits with Princeton. As for the Tigers, they could be grateful they had encouraged the Crimson be teaching them the grueling, but needed, lesson of how truly painful the fall after a bout of haughtiness is, no matter what talents one possesses. They had found the Crimson to be vulnerable, to be mortal, to be the bearer of an Achilles’ heel, as the saying goes. Harvard had cleared the great hurdle the discover the purity needed to cure its blemish, just in time for its next great obstacle. Princeton had gladly obliged as the catalyst for both Harvard’s fall from pride and its revival through beautiful humility.

The Spectator had witnessed quite an enthralling saga that spanned nearly a fortnight’s time. The ├╝bertalented Harvard Crimson galloped into the murky and enigmatic Jadwin Jungle, found its comeuppance by the hunter and renowned marksman Mr. Ian Hummer, with great help from his teammates, and discovered its revival and cure by meeting Mr. Hummer and his teammates once again in the hallowed hall that is Lavietes Pavilion. Quite the chronicle amidst the glorious ivies, the Spectator thought as he allowed the rain and darkness of that Friday evening to enrapture and purify him, as he paced northward into the night...

And this is where the story ends.

“'Wash yourselves clean;

"'Put your evil doings

“'Away from My sight....

“‘Be your sins like crimson,

“‘They can turn snow-white;

“‘Be they red as dyed wool,

“‘They can become like fleece’” - Isaiah 1.16, 18b; from Nevi’im.