Opinion

As Kansas basketball wins national title, downtown crowd revels in breathtaking comeback

April 5, 2022 3:33 am
A KU fan celebrates on Massachusetts Street after the Jayhawks defeated the Tar Heels 72-69 on Monday in the NCAA National Championship. The Jayhawks claimed their fourth national championship title. (Lily O'Shea Becker for Kansas Reflector)

A KU fan celebrates on Massachusetts Street after the Jayhawks defeated the Tar Heels 72-69 on Monday in the NCAA National Championship. The Jayhawks claimed their fourth national championship title. (Lily O’Shea Becker for Kansas Reflector)

The joy that erupted from Massachusetts Street in Lawrence late Monday, the raucous cheering and boisterous good spirits, was the sound of something finally going right.

Yes, the University of Kansas men’s basketball team won the NCAA tournament, defeating North Carolina in a breathtaking 72-69 game. The mood downtown was electric, as a teeming mass of students, townies and anyone else with the patience to park nearby followed every basket, every run down the court, every flip back and forth on the scoreboard.

In those moments, you might have forgotten that we’re coming out of a two-year COVID-19 pandemic. You might have forgotten that the Kansas Legislature decided not only to ignore voters’ wishes, but pass legislation discriminating against transgender athletes. You might have forgotten the ongoing dysfunction in Washington, D.C. You might have forgotten the whole last dozen years or so, including the agonizingly slow recovery from the Great Recession, the Trump presidency and the rise of My Pillow guy Mike Lindell as a political pundit.

Enjoy the celebration instead.

 

 

When I arrived downtown shortly before the end of the first half, however, few folks appeared to be enjoying the game. The mood, in a word, was dour.

The Jayhawks were down by 15 points. While I might not know much about basketball, I’ve watched enough games (a couple of them at Allen Fieldhouse, for that matter) to know that’s not good. Not impossible to overcome, perhaps, but unlikely.

All the frippery of the championship game seemed a little silly. Sure, there were lasers blasting through the air next to the Granada. An inflatable can of Bud Light towered atop the Replay Lounge. Trees were bedecked in crimson and blue lights. But KU wasn’t winning.

“There’s no excuse for us losing like that,” a passer-by groused to his friend.

This was the kind of thing you read about it books or see at the movies. It doesn't actually happen, does it? Not in this gray, grainy, unpleasant world.

– Clay Wirestone

Then the second half started, and things changed. KU narrowed North Carolina’s lead. Then they narrowed it some more. With each basket, downtown onlookers cheered. The dour mood lifted, replaced by growing excitement. KU managed to tie the game with 10:53 left in the second half, and I watched with wide-eyed shock. The action played on several TV screens throughout downtown, some in the open air, some inside bars, all showing the same comeback.

This was the kind of thing you read about in books or see at the movies. It doesn’t actually happen, does it? Not in this gray, grainy, unpleasant world.

But it did. KU players and Coach Bill Self wouldn’t stop. They didn’t give up. They clawed their way into a three-point lead and refused to yield in the game’s final seconds. They gave the crowd on Massachusetts Street a thrilling, come-from-behind victory that will be talked about for decades to come.

Yes, I whooped and hollered with everyone else. I may have given a high five or two, although I apologize to the nice woman whose hand I entirely missed in the moment. I jumped up and down watching a massive crowd surge down the street, a few folks held aloft and waving flags. I also possibly honked my horn driving away from downtown and toward home, where I wrote this very piece.

For this once, for this Monday night, things were good.

Something went right. For everybody.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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