Back on the Bandwagon

For this Davidson grad and former Hornets fanatic, the Wildcats' Elite Eight run rekindled a long-dormant passion for hoops

We'd walk outside, my parents debating the section and row of our car's location until one of us spotted it. We'd pile in and listen to the post-game radio show, highlights and interviews interspersed with commercials for Home Federal Savings and Loan and Bubblicious gum. (You may recall that Larry Johnson's personal favorite was Gonzo Grape.) My Dad would navigate the complicated lane patterns that would have given the nearby Charlotte-Douglas air traffic controllers a headache, while my mom, my sister Lindsay, and I would discuss the game's highlights in astonishingly inaccurate terms that we substituted for actual basketball vocabulary. Then Lindsay and I, exhausted from an evening of cheering, stomping (We WILL rock you, Charles Barkley, and don't forget it), and singing, would be fast asleep before we made it out of the parking lot.

At one point last weekend as I proselytized for Davidson basketball, my husband turned to me and asked, "And how many games did you attend when we were students?"

Hmmm. Definitely more than one. At least, I don't know, several. But okay, my current fanaticism is absolutely linked to the team's success this season. Many of my fellow alumni are basking in the Wildcats' shining moments after supporting the team for years. Me, I deserve none of this glory by association, because in my adult life I'm a "non-sports-person" who just jumped on the bandwagon.

I trace my recent fervor to three sources. First, I delight in any athlete-as-epic-hero story, which is what we have in Stephen Curry. He comes with his own Homeric epithet ("baby-faced") and his own Trojan horse-style harmless exterior (again, that cherubic visage).  Second, I am just tickled to see the national spotlight shining on my tiny alma mater. Compared to most schools in the NCAA tournament, we are indeed tiny. Hypothetically, you could reserve a seat at Ford Field for every single graduate of Davidson—ever—and we still wouldn't fill the place up.

And the third reason why I haven't been this basketball-obsessed since another Curry was a Charlotte superstar? It's nostalgia for those days of Dell. Dell and his teammates Rex, Kelly, Larry, Alonzo, and Muggsy. As an elementary school kid in the early days of the Charlotte Hornets, there was nothing like a trip out to the "new" coliseum to make me feel like I was a part of something big.

My parents were season ticket holders, and I made many a journey down Tyvola in the backseat of our family car, always feeling a tiny thrill when we reached the stretch of road with the futuristic red "X" and green arrow lane designations in lieu of passé stoplights. Our seats in the coliseum were about eight rows from the tippy top of that cavernous space, but our distance from the floor didn't temper our excitement. The Jumbotron helped me to keep track of the action, and I got to use the binoculars my mom received for Christmas with a gift tag that said, "To Linda, from Kurt Rambis."

In those days, I took my role as a spectator very seriously. If an opponent made a free throw, it meant that I hadn't yelled "BRICK!" loudly enough.  I felt personally responsible if the cheer-o-meter didn't light up all the way to the biggest hornet. And God forbid I was in the bathroom using the faucets that turned on by themselves when it was time for the wave. It was me, eight rows and five high stories from the parking lot, who played a hand in whether my Hornets won or lost.

Whether I left the coliseum exuberant or with a heavy heart, what happened after the final buzzer was always the same.
So many memories—my favorite Hugo hijinks and halftime shows, my Muggsy obsession—came rushing back as I watched Dell Curry on TV, sitting pensively and then, uncharacteristically, getting to his feet in Detroit. I had to push aside those recollections of Dell's glory days, because to distract myself from the action for one second could mean letting down the Davidson Wildcats. Technically, since I was in a hotel room in Montreal, I was even farther away from the action than I had been in our sky-high seats at the Hornets games. That didn't matter. Something big was happening, and I was a part of it. I stood on the hotel bed with my head inches from the ceiling, because if Dell was standing up, I thought I should, too. I screamed players' names and misused basketball terminology with a ferocity I haven't known since I was ten years old.  When my Wildcats, led by our school's epic hero and our town's native son, felled those relentless Badgers , I was exuberant. When two days later they fell two points shy of the Final Four, I crumpled onto the synthetic hotel bedspread under a crush of disappointment. Within moments, that disappointment was replaced with a swell of pride for the team's valiant efforts, as well as, inexplicably, a sense of renewal. After nearly a two-decade hiatus from basketball fandom, I'd not only shared in my Wildcats' victories and heartbreak, but  I also felt like I'd reclaimed something I'd lost. I tried to figure out what it was, but by the time I had exchanged dozens of postgame text messages with my mom and sister, I was too exhausted for self-reflection.  Before I could pinpoint just how the Wildcats' 2008 postseason run had rejuvenated me, I was fast asleep.

Charlotte native Melissa Thomson is Davidson class of 2001. She is an English teacher in New York City and author of the forthcoming book Keena Ford and the Second Grade Mixup.

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