Basketball

Texas Tech, Resilience and Concord

After Texas Tech’s improbable win, a reporter from the Lubbock Avalanche Journal interviewed Tech student Mike Frazier, a sophomore from Bedford who, along with thousands of others, had flooded Memorial Circle late in the evening to celebrate his favorite team. According to the AJ, “Frazier climbed the Will Rogers statue and waved a Red Raider flag in jubilation.” “It was just the spur of the moment that I decided to jump on the statue,” Frazier told the paper.

The team was built on a foundation of fundamentally sound play, instilled in them by a coach with West Texas roots and humble beginnings. A hometown kid was the group’s undisputed best player but if you’d just crawled out from years spent in a cave you’d be hard-pressed to pick out the star from a lineup of Tech players on the baseline. You’d probably also wonder why identifying the team’s best player would be your first task after escaping the solitude of cave life, but that fact is neither here nor there.

And knowing that most of you are smarter than me, I’m willing to bet that you already realize that the scene I’ve described above isn’t from the 2018-19 Texas Tech Men’s Basketball team, but rather the 1993 National Champion Lady Raiders. The AJ article was written in April of ’93.

But that coincidence; that sinew between champions and potential champions so closely aligned is the fuel that grinds creative minds into motion, it’s the tinder that lights narrative fires. It’s the fiction that the best story tellers among us talk themselves out of pursuing–no one in the world would ever believe that! It’s the perfect “too good to be true,” movie script that would get you kicked off of studio lots. It’s the novel that would immediately be found on the clearance rack. But here we are, living through such an improbable spell of deja vu.

As a Tech fan I’ve found comfort in the concord; calmness in the similarities and coincidences that seem to be falling from the sky. Sheryl Swoopes and Jarrett Culver are both unassuming superstars who’ve brought grace and glory to our school. Both squads were/are led by sharp-tongued coaches with hearts as big as the West Texas horizon–coaches that were able to impose on their programs a unique combination of levity with a backbreaking workload that makes them better as players and students and citizens every single day. And hell, now we even have Billy Ray freakin’ Cyrus to add to the parallel universe unfolding before our eyes. He was the hottest star in country music in 1993, and now he’s back on the scene helping to make the current Red Raiders’ unofficial theme song, Old Town Road by Lil’ Nas X, a national phenomenon. (It would be at this point in the script reading when the studio exec would ask security to have me removed.)

The Secret is in the Dirt

It’s a useful description of where this team’s success lies. Succinct and visual, the six words pay proper homage to the work ethic and resilience that makes Lubbock, Lubbock. “How did we succeed?” “The secret’s in the dirt.” It evokes memories of all the old cotton farmers I grew up around that occasionally brought in a profitable crop. The Tuesday night ESPN wins and cotton shirts we buy at Walmart are the end-product; they are the results we can see and feel. But the work to produce that success goes on behind the scenes. Late nights spent in the gym running ladders or getting up more shots; hour after hour spent riding in the lonely cab of a tractor; Thanksgivings and weekends missed with families, putting in work in the dirt is where the end products are borne.

The mindset also aligns nicely with the resilient spirit of West Texans. I’ve written before about giants running through the cotton fields around town and wrote a fictional long form piece/novella about redemption and repetition and trying to maintain order in a disorderly world. But I was ultimately disappointed in everything I did because I didn’t feel like I adequately captured the resiliency of the people in my hometown. There is always another crop, another season, always another shot at pinnacle. But for so many of us the pinnacle rarely comes.

If you ever find yourself in downtown Lubbock, walk over to the city’s tallest building, the Metro Tower. You’ll notice about halfway up a slight change in the color of bricks. That’s because in May of 1970 an F5 tornado devastated Lubbock and in its path was the Metro Tower (then the Great Plains Life Building). As a kid I often envisioned a Godzilla type wrestling match between that otherwise nondescript building and that deadly tornado. The building was left twisted and badly damaged and city officials feared it would collapse. But it never did. After several years of being unoccupied the building was repaired and, not counting the grain elevators that dot the landscape, is still the city’s most visible structure.

That orange building wrestling a tornado is the symbol of Lubbock’s resilience for me. And I think that’s a spirit that Marsha Sharp in ’93, and Chris Beard now, have captured. It’s an inspiring time for us all: for the young Tech students that Beard addresses every week in his fireside chats to the old farmers hoping for one more successful crop, it’s a magical time. The concord of Billy Ray and hometown heroes and giants facing off against tornadoes even inspired an old blogger like me to dust off my laptop and spew out a string of a few hundred completely unbelievable words, comforted only by the fact that I know everything I’ve written tonight is completely true.

Yes, there is one final chapter left to play out. Tech still has to win on Monday night for this concord to be fully realized. It will not be easy. Virginia is participating in a full-blown fairy tale of their own. Led by a coach straight from central casting with a blue-blooded pedigree, a crooner’s name and a government regulator’s jaw, Virginia has survived being the first #1 seed to lose in the first round in 2018 and has escaped in overtime in their last two games to get to where they are now. Cavalier fans rightfully have a belief that their unbelievable story will end well, too. Something will have to give. Either way, I can’t wait to see how this movie ends.

And if my Red Raider friends need one last shot of coincidence confidence going into the National Championship game I’ll leave you with this. Coach Beard is known for his affinity for Travis Tritt, often blasting “Where Corn Don’t Grow,” from the loudspeakers at practice. Just for kicks I googled Tritt while contemplating writing this.

In 1993 he released a single called “Looking Out For Number One.”

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