The son of York
Experiencing Manhattan for the first time at the East Regional
After watching Virginia basketball blowout Memphis on TV, I decided to enter the East Regional student ticket lottery for the slim chance I might be able to follow the team to New York and the fabled Madison Square Garden for the Sweet Sixteen.
Despite the initial panic the day of, accidentally sleeping through my first two classes because I didn’t wake up to my alarm — marking the retirement of my iPhone’s “radar” sound — I checked my email to find my multitude of attendance points had paid off in the form of a ticket.
I then won another lottery — I’m an exceptional gambler — for a coveted spot on the Hoo Crew’s free round-trip bus ride and found myself heading to New York City.
Getting off the bus following the eight-hour trip, I was greeted by a strong showing of Wahoos. Walking down 7th to check into my hotel, I exchanged an obligatory “Go Hoos!” with passing fans on practically every block. I was used to JPJ’s electric student section, but the big stage gave fans who had never met each other an unprecedented sense of camaraderie.
The game itself, while great from an aesthetic perspective, ended in tragedy. I arrived halfway through the prior game to see a few drunk UConn fans camping out in the Virginia section trying to start fights with students — it’s a shame we didn’t get the chance to blow them out on Sunday — and watched as Virginia fans slowly became the majority in the build up to our game. When UConn closed out its game, the fully-assembled Virginia crowd started a loud “U! V! A!” chant.
Despite being in a neutral court, the many fans in attendance gave off an energy that rivaled the home game against Syracuse — exploding after Anderson’s game-tying three, booing after the late, uncalled push-off. It was disappointing to see one of Virginia’s most beloved basketball teams end its incredible season, but the team fought to the bitter end, and I am glad to have been there for Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell’s final college game.
The following day, while recuperating from the loss, I got my first chance to formally see the city. True to pathetic fallacy, the weather was dismal and rainy all weekend, but not bad enough to prevent me from exploring my surroundings. I grabbed lunch at a burger place near Times Square, then spent the next 45 minutes trying to find somewhere with seating, eventually finding a Starbucks with an open table.
While passing time leading up to a matinee of “The Book of Mormon,” I contemplated the majestic visage of the Museum of Modern Art for a moment before seeing the line through the window and remembering I don’t really care about modern art. I went to see Central Park instead. Finally, the time came to get some culture at Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s excellent show — the first Broadway show I’ve ever seen. Afterward, I supplemented this experience by catching up on “South Park” in my hotel room and watching the refs actually call a late push-off against Arizona.
Unlike most fans, I decided not to sell my ticket to Sunday’s Elite Eight game — and showed up in full Virginia attire. While spite initially pushed me to root against Michigan State, the Terrapin-esque UConn fans proved impossible to support, and I adopted the philosophy anyone who beat us deserved to win it all. However, the game proved that, while they had not beaten Michigan State, Virginia basketball had clearly broken their spirit — and the Spartans fell in a much less heroic rendition of Thermopylae.
Pulling back into Charlottesville, a passenger who’d managed to get inebriated during a seven-hour bus ride started belligerently cursing the name of “Sparty.” The mood of the bus was understandably disappointed but, for me, the loss was not the end of an era, but the beginning of one.
The legacy of Harris and Mitchell is not defined by one coin-flip game, but the sum of their accomplishments. In 2014, Virginia’s seniors led the team from the last team left out in 2013’s tournament to the indisputable best team in the elite ACC — one with a 30-win season, regular season and tournament ACC championships, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, a Sweet Sixteen contention and, most importantly, a reputation for character and selflessness. The end of this season is a time to look back on the year’s achievements and look forward to the bright future.
Christian’s column runs biweekly Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.