The night began innocuously enough. I met up with my future sister-in-law’s boyfriend and his buddy at Ruth’s Chris in Chicago. After some juicy fillets had been downed, in walked Darius Miles (celebrity sighting #1). He entered with his family, not his entourage. The sighting would not have been worth mentioning if it had not been a part of what followed.
After making a few jokes about Darius’ “plump” appearance, we decided to go to a bar down the street. As we entered Rockit, we were quickly informed that Heath Ledger (celebrity #2), currently filming the new Batman movie, was in the house. Hmm, now that’s weird. First NBA also-ran Darius Miles comes across my path, and now Heath Ledger.
Curiosity got the best of us and we quickly headed over to track down Heath. Sure enough, nestled in the corner, playing pool was Mr. Brokeback himself. The man looked like he just came off Survivor Island–emaciated, dirty, and hair down to his shoulders. What is it about celebrities who feel the need to add a degree of difficulty in regards to attracting the opposite sex? This I will never understand.
Just as I was about to make a sarcastic comment about Ledger’s appearance, I glanced over my right shoulder as Chris Duhon, Shane Battier, and Mike Dunleavy sauntered by. (celebrities #3, #4, and #5) Now, I hope you are beginning to understand why I have chosen to come back from my 3-month hiatus to write this story.
This was truly unprecedented. Within a 15 minute period, I had run across five celebrities/professional athletes. Of the five, only three were together. Almost instinctively, I scanned the rest of the bar to see if any other famous people were lurking about. To my extreme surprise, Greg Maddux (celebrity #6) was playing at the pool table opposite of Heath Ledger! How was this possible. Had I entered into some some sort of celebrity purgatory? Did I uncover some sort of secret celebrity room that only they knew about? What the hell was going on?
As strange as it was that these sightings conflated in one spot; my focus could not get away from the opportunity in front of me. Now someone other than me, may have been focused on Messrs Maddux and Ledger. Not me.
Because you are reading this, you like me, would have immediately focused attention on the Dukies. Here was a golden opportunity for a Duke hater. There in all of his dented-head glory, was the object of so much angst and disgust. To me, Battier always represented the best and worst of Duke basketball. The best in that he upheld the myth that Duke players were student-athletes while everyone else in college basketball had teams filled with illiterates. Sure, Battier was a real student but so are hundreds of other kids at D-I schools. Battier was the worst (as if I need to tell you) in that he defined the preferential treatment that the Blue Devils have received during the last 25 years. Coach Krybaby had no better friend than the three referees when Shane Battier stepped on the hardwood.
I don’t think in four years at Duke did Battier ever get called for a blocking foul. I can still remember vividly hearing Mike Patrick and Dick Vitale gush over Battier’s incredible ability to draw a charge. (For the last time, I will say it for all to hear: a charge/block is a bang-bang play. It is two players hustling to the same spot. If a particular player “excels” at drawing charges, that means he/she should be successful at best 60% of the time not 95%!)
Set this against the backdrop of the 2001 Final Four. We all know what happened. Maryland, led by Lonny Baxter, rushed to a 21 point lead. And then it happened. Lonny picked up his third foul with about five minutes left in the first half. That call was dubious at best. What ensued has been celebrated as one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the NCAA Tournament. For those who know better, it was a study in why anyone with a soul hates Duke. Everyone thought Duke was supposed to win that game and the officials let that belief impact their decision-making. It cost Maryland the National Championship, and perhaps worse, gave it to Duke. I will go to my grave believing this.
Which leads my back to the poster boy. So there I am, confronted with the (Blue) Devil incarnate as it were. I calmly strode up to the man and had the following exchange:
Me: Shane I graduated from Maryland and I want to ask you a question about the 2001 Final Four
Shane (cautiously): OK
Me: It is my opinion that the Duke – Maryland game in Minneapolis was the most poorly officiated game in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Do you think that all those fouls that were called on Lonny Baxter were fair?
Shane: Yeah man, he fouled me the whole game.
Me: C’mon, it’s been six years, now is your chance to come clean. Do you really think that game was fairly called? The third foul in the first half? The fifth foul against Boozer?
Shane: Yeah, I do.
Me: That’s what I thought. Have a good night.
Now you may ask, did I actually expect Battier to come clean? Of course not. I went up to him for and every Duke hater out there. I needed to get it off my chest and damn if it didn’t make me feel better. I hope through reading this little tale, you too feel a small amount of solace.