The other night Louisville won their second Big East Championship in four years and I was lucky enough to be in attendance. A life long Louisville fan and new resident of New York couldn't have asked for a better first experience at the Big East Tournament. I had been wanting to go to this event since the Cardinals joined the Big East and I relocated back to the East Coast to finish law school. However, it never seemed like I had the finances to make the trip to New York from Washington, DC and buy the tickets to attend. However, last year on the day Louisville would meet UCONN in the finals of the Big East I found myself wandering the streets of New York in not such high spirits. I came up here for the day to look at one apartment in Chelsea. I was hoping to see more, but they fell through. I felt like I was essentially wasting my time and energy with this trip, I believe it was my third time up to search the city for a place to call home. My lease in Maryland ended on April 2nd. It was almost half way through March, and I was scared that I wouldn't have a place to live on April 3rd. Not only was I concerned about my living situation, I was deeply concerned about my finances. I was unemployed for the first time in three and half years. I do contract legal work and my last assignment that seemed like it may last forever finally came to a close and now I was awaiting a new one. Although I was hopeful to begin working again in the next week, the new job meant less money and less hours. Here I was trying to move to one of the most expensive cities around - a pay cut just didn't work for my plan.
Trying to not get discouraged I made my way over to Chelsea, just a little south of wear my Cardinals would take the floor later that day against the Huskies. The apartment was small and cute, but not for me. What a waste of a trip I thought to myself as I tried to figure out what to do with he rest of the time I was in New York. That's when it occurred to me that I could go to the game and then this trip to New York would be so worth it. I walked into the Madison Square Garden box office and never made it to the ticket window. I overheard $90 tickets for upper level seats and paced for a few minutes before I walked out. My friend offered to lend me the money and apart of me just wanted to go to escape the present stress in my life. But I wasn't the same person I was a few years ago. I resisted impulse purchases more and knew that spending $90 on a ticket that wasn't a necessity right now was irresponsible. I walked away from Madison Square Garden disappointed that I was going to miss Louisville playing in the finals of an event I'd had been wanting to go to. I kept telling myself that I'll move to New York and will be able to go to the tournament next year. I got on the bus, headed south, and got home in time to watch Louisville lose to UCONN. UCONN went on to win 6 more games in a row to become the National Champions.
A week later I found an apartment and on April 2nd I left what had been my home for quite some time behind and started a new life in New York. And this year when the Big East tournament came around I kept the promise I made to myself the prior year when I felt like I may have missed out on a great experience, and bought a ticket to the first game Louisville played in the tournament. I told myself I would go to the first game, maybe the semi-finals, and definitely the finals if they made it. At the first game I was grateful to be there and even more grateful they pulled out a victory over Seton Hall, but it wasn't an exciting game. I couldn't watch the quarterfinals and couldn't afford to go to the semi-finals. Thanks to Syracuse's presence in the semi-finals the ticket prices were just too much for me, so I found myself doing something I don't believe I've ever done - cheer for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cincinnati has been a rival of ours as long as I can remember. We played against them in the Metro Conference and Conference USA. Then we both made the upgrade to the Big East at the same time. As I walked home from the subway I checked the score on my phone - the game couldn't end quick enough and of course conveniently my phone's Internet couldn't move quick enough as well. Finally I see the word "Final" and look at the score. The first part of what I needed to happen did - Syracuse lost. I knew if Louisville could pull out win a Cincinnati v. Louisville final game would be affordable for my budget. So I went home and watched the game, nervous as ever for my team. Then as they started to pull away in the second half I went online to purchase my ticket. My first ticket purchase didn't go so well so around 11 AM on the day of the championship game I had to cancel my ticket. Then I went searching through Stubhub for a new ticket. I knew I wanted to sit as close as possible and was lucky enough to find a seat available in section 2 on the floor behind the basket. I could hardly focus all day. It almost felt like I was child again - getting excited before I ventured off to Freedom Hall to see the Cardinals play. I have been to a lot of great games - beating Kentucky, beating UNC, winning the Conference USA tournament at Freedom Hall, and even our last appearance in the Final Four. But there is something special about Big East basketball (until next year thanks to college football when the league loses some great teams)and playing in Madison Square Garden. I went to a Louisville basketball game earlier this year in MSG, but the atmosphere wasn't like the college basketball atmosphere I was used to back in Louisville. I knew this finals match up though would be different. Louisville and Cincinnati are both college basketball towns and I knew the arena would be filled with people ready to support their teams. I got to MSG a little early and watched the Cincinnati band perform for a bit outside. Then as I waited for them to allow people into the stands I watched and tried to pick out fellow Louisville fans. I quickly recognized our point guard's father and saw people approach him with what I would guess would be congratulations and kind words about his son Peyton Siva. I even saw one couple go up and have their picture taken with Siva's dad. Now I have seen many players in Louisville become famous in the city, but Siva seems to have reached a whole new level of fame when his fans want pictures with his father.
After about twenty minutes or so of waiting finally we were allowed into the arena. I had some time to kill before the game tipped off so I went and found my seat and walked around. I game back in to watch some of the pregame warm ups and of course the announcing of the lineups. I cheered with my fellow Louisville fans as loud as a could, clapping as hard as a could. The game was nerve racking to say the least. There were moments when I buried my face into my hands thinking please don't blow this, its almost over. There were moments when all I could think was why is Russ Smith in the game right now, followed shortly by cheering "Come on Russ make the free throws!" There were moments when I couldn't help but jump up out of my chair and applaud the effort from my team like the old fashioned three point play by Chane Behanan, after which he turned to the crowd behind the basket - the basket I was sitting behind - and screamed. You have to appreciate the effort and enthusiasm as a fan. There was the moments I held my breath as Chris Smith came crashing down on the hardwood court or as Peyton got mulled falling out of bounds by a guy who seemed like giant compared to his frame. But as the final buzzer sounded and the bright lights around the backboards lite up what appeared to be the same color as our infrared uniforms and the clock read 0.0 the excitement couldn't be contained. Everyone decked out in Cardinal insignia were on their feet and the players smiled and cheered. It was a moment I'll never forget in all of my sporting event moments. In a night when the Midwest/Ohio Valley area invaded MSG my Cardinals hoisted up a navy blue banner with bold white letters reading Big East Champions. My Cardinals walked across the stage to receive the watches they were given my the Big East - well everyone except Dieng whom they seem to have forgotten. It was a night where our two seniors, Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric, stepped up and led the team in points. It was a tournament where Siva silenced the critics - even amongst his own fans - and showed that yes he can lead this team as he was carried up to accept his tournament MVP award on a teammate's shoulders. It was another amazing night in New York for me thanks to a little piece of my hometown. I couldn't resist buying the official championship t-shirt on the way out and wore it the next day even though team t-shirts aren't really the style I'm trying to showcase walking around the city. For one day I didn't care - I was so proud and still so excited.
A year ago I was disappointed and felt a little defeated that I had to miss Louisville's appearance in the Big East final and was starting to wonder if I could really find a place in New York to make it my home. A year later I got to go watch them play in the finals with a much better outcome then the prior year in the city that is now my home. On a night where so many things I love came into one how could I not be so grateful and so blessed for all that I have been given and all the opportunities I have been afforded. It's just a game I realize, but for me it seemed to symbolize so much. Because I no longer live in Louisville it doesn't mean I have to stop loving the things I love about the city I was born and raised in. I will always be a Cardinals fan. It also taught me that the simple joy you felt as child can still be ever present as an adult. And some things just tend to find a way to work out in the end.
Congratulations to my Cardinals team and good luck in the NCAA tournament.