You may need a way to explain to your children, or better yet, a means to share with them just what is about to happen in this third week of March. Daddy’s got some basketball games to watch but that doesn’t mean we want to be left alone during March Madness. We need a way to help everybody understand why we’re watching so many concurrent and consecutive games of basketball featuring relatively unknown players from communities we’ll probably never visit or understand like it’s the most important sporting event of the year…..for real this time. Instead, let’s get the family involved by explaining the significance of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and the powerful emotions that come with it using the common language of movies.
The David vs Goliath Principle – The majority of action and adventure movies are a variation on or include elements of the large, powerful and slow being defeated by the small, nimble and quick. 2009’s “Avatar,” “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” films are some of the strongest examples that stand out. In the NCAA Tournament, teams like Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State and Kentucky represent the Galactic Empire, Sauron and the RDA corporation whenever they’re not playing each other. A great thing to point out to the family is the fact that Luke Skywalker, Frodo and Jake Sully only show up in the NCAA Tournament when an unheralded school seizes the heroic moments. The little guys are usually losing early and often and so we all celebrate when teams like VCU, George Mason or Butler make it to the Final Four. Grabbing the kids and pointing out the Davids in the tournament using the school colors, mascot or even a memorable player is a great way to start.
Who is Cinderella – The term “Cinderella” is still thrown around quite a bit in the context of the NCAA Tournament for some reason. The analogy goes something like this: Team A is playing far better than anybody expected and so, like a sad cleaning girl disguised as a beautiful princess at the big party, time is running out on both of them pretending to be something they’re not. At midnight/some near point in the future both Team A and Cinderella will revert to form, be exposed for what they truly are and lose the game/the prince. How sad. I’ve always thought that analogy was incomplete since Cinderella eventually gets hers when the prince recognizes her feet and they live happily ever after. Yet, Team A doesn’t get anything for their run in the tournament except a couple of highlights during the “One Moment in Time” montage on TV at the end of the tournament. Villanova was a #8 seed (out of 16) when they won the tournament in 1985 and as the lowest such seed, those Wildcats stand as the most Cinderella-ist of teams in history.
Rather than foist an incomplete metaphor on a family that’s already trying to figure out why there’s so much basketball on so many TV channels, deflect all Cinderella commentary with a distraction of some kind. 1) Point to the bands and student section and let your little ones know how much fun college can be and that studying hard is the only way to get there. 2) Re-assure their mother that, in fact, no, college wasn’t THAT fun for you. 3) Continue enjoying tournament.
The Boss Battle – “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s” boss battle with Jason Schwartzman’s character is a strong example of the kind of self-confidence moment that will surely come up in the NCAA Tournament. Whether it’s Scott Pilgrim powering up or Tony Stark teaming up with James Rhodes in “Iron Man 2,” movies that have clear moments where a hero’s self-confidence is clearly tested are a great way to drive home the impact of what’s happening at the end of a close basketball game. Rumeal Robinson’s free throws in the 1989 title game were, to him, just as crucial and stressful as Luke turning off his targeting computer on his Death Star trench run. That lump-in-the-throat moment when it’s time for so much hard work to pay off is powerful stuff when it’s on live television and the stakes aren’t quite so high as saving the universe or the world. Only a handful of these guys are going to play pro basketball in the future so seeing them play with pride and confidence representing their schools and communities is always going to be as compelling as any big budget blockbuster.
Referencing Toy Story, Star Wars or any other movie is just one way to get the family involved in the tournament. Sporting events are already persistent dramas unfolding in digestible three hour pieces with heroes, villains and subplots that keep dads everywhere engaged even when the TV and laptop are off. I’ve had success just playing it straight up where explaining the significance of Butler in the Final Four made sense to our 11-year old even if she wandered off two minutes later. The rest of the family may never be into the NCAA Tournament or any other sporting event the way dad is, but any effort to get them into your world doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s the act of trying that helps the most.
–image courtesy of AP