Note: I have readers from all over the world and many of you may not be fans of US college sports, much less basketball, but please be assured that, as always, there is a positive mental health theme here. The key word is loss, and the message is about how to handle loss, no matter the venue: basketball or your life!
I live in Lexington, Kentucky where college basketball mania is nearly impossible to avoid. From the big-blue attire, to car flags, to the rabid fan base. They even call themselves a nation, of all things. It’s Big Blue Nation. Or BBN. I’ve learned it’s better to just join in the fun in the BBN.
When you have a winning team like the University of Kentucky, it is fun! The mania reached a crescendo throughout the season as we went 38 and 0, giving 11 coaches the most lopsided losses of their current tenures, with a depth so significant it caused Rolling Stone magazine to suggest that we were ruining college basketball.
And then the bubble burst. Wisconsin and their hot shot Frank Kamisky, out-shot, out-D’d, and out-did Kentucky. Suddenly, sadly, inexplicably, it was over. No 40-0. No championship. No historic run to the end.
My husband and I were in Minneapolis that night, for a spiritual seminar. A friend from Mississippi (with no dog in the fight) was with us at the bitter end as we watched the final whistle blow on Kentucky’s dreams. He reminded us that the spiritual leader of our group had recently written an article where he quoted a football player saying, “It’s fun when we’re the hammer. Sometimes we’re the nail!”
And so it was for Kentucky that night: we were the nails. At our friend’s behest, we made a point of congratulating friends from Wisconsin who, as fate would have it, were directly across the hall from us in a hotel with roughly 1,000 rooms. Yes, only fate would place Kentucky and Wisconsin directly across the hall from each other on this historic night! Yes, it was an act of sportsmanship to give congrats to our friends. Hint to Andrew Harrison and others who didn’t do same.
Speaking of Andrew Harrison: my friend of many years Elliott, who is African-American and keeps me abreast of all things blackish in the culture: from CP time, to how to give the nod; told me that Andrew’s comment into a hot mic, though depicted as a racial slur was, in fact, a compliment to Big Frank Kamisky. But he said, that would be too difficult to explain to white culture, so Andrew did the right thing by apologizing. Good save.
Now to the highlight, both in terms of the championship and in how I learned the life lessons.
On Monday I watched the final game between Duke and Wisconsin. When the game was over, with Duke getting the W and Wisconsin getting the nail, I felt Wisconsin’s pain. I mean I really felt their pain. And I realized that I hadn’t felt the pain of the nail, for all 38 games when we were the hammer. And that’s when I knew the reason why we all need the experience of being the nail from time to time. It’s the only way to develop true compassion for our fellow beings. And walk a mile in their size 16 athletic shoes.
To summarize all that I learned about life from Kentucky’s loss in the Final Four:
1) If you’re not ever the nail, you won’t ever learn compassion.
2) Who can say how many times we might need to be nails, in order to get this lesson.
3) College basketball, like life, can be a great training ground for bigger and better things. (Hello, NBA.)
4) It’s important to let go of our losses and look to bigger and better things. Today one of my clients said, “Let go of what is gone or what never was.” She is not a sport fan, but it’s good advice in basketball and in life. (That’s for you, Willie Cauley-Stein, number 15, pictured above.)
5) There is always next year. The morning after the Kentucky loss, our Mississippi friend texted us: “Hammer v. Nails. Go Nails!” In the grand scheme of life and the much smaller scheme of college basketball, there is always next year. So yes, go nails! I might even root for Mississippi. Do they even have a basketball team?