15 March 2012

The Long Halloween Vol. III: March Madness

Welcome again folks to Third Rendition of The Long Halloween, Norwegian Morning Wood's yearlong examination of Holiday viewing for each month of the year. After the first two years of doing this we did to death the common holidays of Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patty's and so on, so this year we are really striking out on a limb. The results have been terrible, but today we celebrate the only real reason to get out bed throughout the month of March - NCAA Division I Basketball.

Today is the start of the 64-team portion of the tournament, although in actuality the 8-team play-in round started this past Tuesday. It is in fact, a ridiculous expansion and dilution of Athletic Success. Nevertheless, March Madness is surely an unofficial Holiday couple of weeks, and to be honest, cities and employers should be put on hold for a few weekends. It's cruel and unjust that we shouldn't be able to cheer on teams as great as the Long Beach State 49ers and the Long Island University Brooklyn Blackbirds.

So, on this great weekend of revelry, which coincides with St. Patty's this year, what should you watch to put yourself in the mood? Well, I think there's not going to be a ton of time to watch anything besides basketball, but you will have some mornings free. The obvious answer would be to latch on to classic, emotional coach-oriented basketball movies like Hoosiers (1986), Coach Carter (2005), or Space Jam (1996). But no, we want to get into the tournament itself and all the glory and fame that comes with it. Therefore we're striking out on a limb, you may have to do some digging but you need to go out and watch The Fab Five (2011).

The Fab Five is an ESPN documentary that focuses on the Michigan Basketball Class of '95 (admittedly many left way before then), which featured one of the greatest recruitment classes in the history of College Basketball. Although it took some time, eventually all Five Freshman started games together and brought a whole new level of swagger to the NCAA. From their baggy shorts, rowdy backgrounds, and unrelenting winning attitudes they captured the attention of a nation.

The documentary, directed by Jason Hehir, does a fantastic job of giving background to each of the players, the coaching staff, and both their external and internal situations. It also features extremely candid interviews with every player, with the exception of Chris Webber, who after declining in scandal and painful memories both on and off the court, declined. The documentary is worth watching alone to hear Jalen Rose talk about Duke and Grant Hill, effectively summarizing his frustration with the roles and judgment of society along with admitting his very personal flaws and bitterness. They also come together nicely to sum up why I've always hated Christian Laettner. It's frank, rich, and honest moments like these, highlighting both the good and the bad that these players faced, along with a keen insight into their minds twenty years earlier that make this a great documentary.

Hehir gets close with the players but also remains unbiased. The documentary ultimately doesn't take a stand on the scandal that followed - the pay for play by booster Ed Martin, Chris Webber's perjury on said subject, as well as his accidental time-out calling in the 1993 National Championship Game (they were out). The documentary doesn't sugarcoat these moments but ultimately finds redemption in the fact that the Fab Five were still able to leave a legacy beyond that of many of the other teams that did win championships that year or the years after.

The documentary leaves you with a tremendous amount of insight and information about everything college basketball. The 1991 Michigan Class of Recruits changed the game, not from how much talent they exhibited, but the way they treated themselves and the media. The way they displayed themselves and played the game serves as a template for the way it is played today. ESPN has developed a knack for finding the story in a sports world that may otherwise not have a lot of merit. Of course, the narrativization and sensationalization is how they manage to keep SportsCenter up and running 18 hours a day. They find a story in the chaos of "things happening," and there isn't one to get a fan more pumped up for some March Madness than The Fab Five.

And I'm an OSU fan.

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