Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/10/19: Hibernation, Rotini Dinner, Remembering Phi Slama Jama

1. Winter is setting in and I feel like a bear. My entire physical being seems to have a will of its own and its desire is to hibernate. I've got to gather up my inward powers and resist my body's urges to just sit around, lie around, and take naps. Today, however, I did not succeed in resisting these hibernating instincts. It was frosty outside. The house was warm. I had puzzles to solve and basketball to watch. For much of the day, I was a lump.

2. I did pull myself out of my hibernating stupor long enough in the afternoon to go to Yoke's and purchase some groceries. I fixed myself a pot of rotini, put a generous slab of butter on the pasta, added black beans, and topped it with Parmesan cheese. I once listened to an episode of a podcast -- I think the podcast was Burnt Toast -- and people were asked what they fix when it's after midnight, they've been out on the town, and they want to quick meal. No one said rotini topped with butter mixed with black beans and covered with Parmesan cheese, but that would have been my answer and, as a meal toward the end of a hibernating day, it was perfect.

3. I tuned into the Baylor-Butler basketball game and enjoyed Butler's valiant comeback in the late stages of the game. Butler came into the game undefeated, but couldn't score on its last possession and Baylor escaped with a 53-52 win. Earlier, I had watched the late stages of Penn State defeating previously undefeated Maryland, 76-69. I've seen several teams from the Big 10 conference play in the last few weeks, including Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Maryland, and Penn State. I am anticipating a string of donnybrooks as these teams enter into the meat of their conference schedule. I am eager for these tilts to get going.

I decided to end the night by watching another documentary from ESPN's 30 for 30 library.

I chose the story of the University of Houston's electrifying basketball team in the early 80s. The film's title was the same as the team's nickname: Phi Slama Jama.

Houston played in three straight Final Fours (1982-84), including the championship games in '83 and '84. They never won the title. Most memorably, Houston lost the 1983 title game to the underdog North Carolina State Wolfpack in one of the most stunning upsets in the history of the tournament.

I loved this movie. I loved reliving how the Houston Cougar program and its players, mostly guys who had been overlooked by more elite teams, not only formed a dominating team, but revolutionized college basketball with their high flying enthusiasm and wide open dunking style of play.

I remembered watching their loss to NC State. I was in my generic apartment on Colfax Road in North Spokane, rooting for the Wolfpack. Tonight, I relived the disbelief I felt about thirty-six years ago as the film reminded me that with about six minutes left in the game, the fast, powerful, high scoring Houston Cougars went into a slowdown offense. This was before the NCAA instituted the shot clock. Houston's stalling offense killed their momentum, opened the door for the Wolfpack to foul Houston's poor free throw shooters (Michael Young and Alvin Franklin), regain possession, score, and keep the contest close. It was a befuddling strategy employed by Cougar coach Guy Lewis and, in the end, the Wolfpack won the game, 54-52, on a miracle: with the game tied, NC State's Dereck Whittenburg heaved a desperation last second shot from at least thirty feet that fell short, but Lorenzo Charles converted the miss into a startling game-winning dunk at the buzzer.

I'd forgotten, until tonight, that NC State's Bennie Anders slightly deflected and nearly stole the pass out front to Whittenburg and that Whittenburg retrieved the deflection, putting him in a lousy position to hoist his last second howitzer. Just by inches, Anders missed actually stealing that pass. Had he succeeded, he would have punctuated Phi Slama Jama's high altitude season with a game winning slam.

The soul of this documentary was the story of how Bennie Anders' basketball career and his life unraveled in the years following Houston's loss to NC State.

After several years, he vanished.

So, while this movie examines the on court rise and fall of Phi Slama Jama, simultaneously it tells the story of former Wolfpack players Lyden Rose and Eric Davis going on the road in search of Bennie Anders.

I'll leave it at that.

If you want to know if they were successful, you can buy the film for $1.99 through Amazon Prime or do what I've done and subscribe to ESPN+. It makes the entire 30 for 30 catalog available.

You might find other ways to find the film that I don't know about.

Or, an online search of Bennie Anders will take you to his Wikipedia profile.

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