It’s the moment you decide to remove your feet from the ground. And as your knees buckle and your calves elevate your body, you duck your head to prevent an unnecessary injury from colliding with the only roof in sight. Your two hands lead your arms in uncoordinated but celebratory rhythms around and up and down. Your voice makes sounds you would otherwise be embarrassed from.
The Louisville Cardinals have won the 2013 NCAA Basketball Championship. And you are now with me on the upstairs deck at the Monkey Wrench.
And as I get excited about the win, I am surrounded by Winners who needed this victory just as much as I did. As our fallen comrade cut the last part of the net, I thought about the courage that resides within this city of Louisville
I thought about how this tournament was the narrative example for how anyone in this sport can make a difference. And that idea of potential is so powerful. The notion that anyone on a squad that is privileged to wear the uniform can discover their talent in front of millions of eyes is the beauty of collegiate sports. And that even the tragedy of a player on the cusp of discovering this same talent can stumble into an earthquake of an injury in front of the same volume of eyes, can positively move an entire nation into the most bipartisan form of compassion of our decade. Sometimes in the complexity of the world we live in, the simplicity of sports can help bring a little sense into our lives.
This day is about Winners. I am inspired about watching my team win while in the company of said Winners. I know that Louisville is branded as the “possibility city,” however we ought to be careful not to limit ourselves into being too future oriented. We need to celebrate the victories of the past, and more importantly those of the present. Rather than imagine what we may become, I would rather investigate what we already have.
Today, the world saw this team reach their predicted potential. The label on the jerseys worn deserve many other rankings, such as a leading city for the Maker Movement, or the national example for fostering entrepreneurship within refugee communities, the best farm-to-table food sourcing in America, or, most importantly, a city responsible for heavy dancing through our design of genre lights otherwise known as disco balls. Our championship in basketball is among so many other wins Louisville has made in recent years.
As I watched this Cardinal team work hard to defeat my sworn enemy, the Michigan Wolverines (skunk bears), I reflected on my own Louisville story. I grew up in Michigan, however have always bled green for my Spartans. I don’t deny being chronically arrogant when it comes to in-state rivalries, yet I must admit to being humbled tonight while watching UofM challenge my paycheck writing institution with such valor. I saw a kid continue to shoot perfectly from long range, despite a night of struggles at the free throw line. I witnessed a rising star come off the bench after spending the first half of the game in foul trouble, to inject the game with soul through unreasonable three pointers and other score-making ingenuity. These Skunk Bears certainly earned their spot in this game and were not going down without a fight.
Yet, The Cardinals fought back with grit, ending the half with sharpshooting by a white bearded man who could have passed as a patron of the bar I was at. The momentum was followed by a tough defense and witty passing by the usual stars that redeemed themselves of the struggle they displayed just two days ago. The competition was everything you would want from such a championship game, and allowed the venue I watched from to show its true colors.
I was intoxicated by the excitement of celebrating this game with some of the best rock stars of our era that remain in Louisville. Some were actual rock stars, back in town from tour and taking in the game in pure joy in an environment that did not invade their privacy. Others were those who deserve their own stage for the future. Somehow, it seemed that the energy created on this deck of the Monkey Wrench found its way to Atlanta, Georgia tonight. The Winners on and off the court had much in common.
Some smelled awful, because they wore their superstitious shirts that couldn’t be washed mid-season, and spread that funky scent to any other fabric that came into its contact. Yet, these smelly Winners won thousands of dollars the day before from a novel idea around literacy and promoting creative writing in places otherwise forgotten.
The Winners tonight were those who had dedicated decades of their lives into dreams of bringing the hottest live music to town while maintaining life in the hotspots around the world at risk of environmental disasters.
Winners who fight for their bar to have fair rights to fulfill the needs of their patrons, and Winners who fight for the legal rights of other bars to who were unfairly shut down.
Winners who dream of building a new family despite nature tragically fighting back too damn hard.
Winners who paint beautiful art that they regret selling too soon in order to pay the bills.
Winners who moved to Louisville on a whim, and who are dreadfully preparing for the consequences of having to leave.
Winners filled the bar to celebrate Louisville’s win. I am sure that many bars, homes, and other places were full of the remarkable stories of the people like those that I shared this game with tonight. Tonight…as our team won, many lost memories of their own losses. In the embraces after the clock ran out, feet moved up and down, shoulders collided, lips touched cheeks and sometimes other lips, and smiles inspired larger ones. None thought of this win as anyone else’s loss, but instead this win could only be thought of… as simply….. a part of our history. And I will argue that despite being hundreds of miles away from the action on the court, there is no place I would have rather been tonight than making history with the Winners at the Monkey Wrench in Louisville, Kentucky.