When it comes to sports, I am loyal to a fault.
In a previous post, I talked about the delusional level of optimism that my brothers and I must channel at times to continue to cheer for UVA football. My brother emailed me recently to ask if I wanted to renew our season tickets--which I did. Even though we only won 2 whole games last season.
I captain several tennis leagues every year. And every year, I invite all of the players from the previous season back to the team unless they've done something I consider egregious--like not show up for a match. Or not respond to my emails. Or cause drama on or off the court. I can tolerate a player with a losing record, but I won't tolerate a person who disrespects me or other people.
There are many captains who have the opposite recruiting strategy: they will tolerate a strong but less likeable player but get rid of a nice person who is a weak player. Because the point of forming a team is to win, after all. I get that. And I've had winning teams. But I'll admit, I sometimes choose loyalty over winning.
I've had friends leave my team and play for other captains because of this. I can't really fault them for wanting to be on a winning team. But I am grateful for the friends who continue to play for me, because it makes our team feel more like a family. In fact, the tennis family that I featured in a previous post are all long-standing members of my mixed doubles team.
This team happens to be my winnningest team, too. So loyalty does pay off sometimes.
This year, for the first time in 38 years, UVA won the ACC tournament in basketball. And for the first time ever, we were both the regular season and tournament champions. And we did it without any superstar athletes. Without anyone noticing, really. Because when you win with defense, it's not flashy. So we didn't get as much press as some of the high profile teams in our conference.
I was there when they won the tournament, and what impressed me the most about them--other than how awesome they are--is how humble they are. No one sticking their faces in the camera talking smack about how they proved their haters wrong. Not even any "we're number one" stuff. No ego at all. Just a joyful celebration of their accomplishment as a team. As a basketball family.
It takes faith at every level to be loyal to a losing team. In the post-game interview, Tony Bennett thanked God for getting his team through the low times. Bennett had faith that a team without a single McDonald's All-American player could accomplish great things. The players had faith that defense and unselfish play could win championships. And UVA fans had faith that someday, our basketball team could return to the glory days of the Ralph Sampson era.
So this post is dedicated to the 2014 ACC regular season and tournament champs. See you in Texas at the Final Four!