March is upon us, the time of year when the basketball world flips on its axis and realigns to make the college ranks more noteworthy than the professionals. While the majority of fans greet this shift with eager anticipation, there is still a large portion of believers that are not energized at all. This group instead bemoans having to watch and discuss competitions that feature an inferior quality of play to the pro game.
What is lost on these people is the beauty in college basketball is its imperfection. Indeed, this is a case where imperfection is itself perfect.
It seems too obvious to mention, but plainly the NBA features the greatest basketball players in the world, playing against the highest level of competition, at the game’s zenith. The Association is the summit, where the best athletes display their ethereal skills.
Even a game between the dregs of the league (for example, a not-so-epic battle in mid-January between the Clippers and Grizzles) holds the potential to feature phenomenal displays of athleticism and skillful execution that can be seen from players nowhere else in the world.
On the contrary, college basketball is flawed in terms of quality control: the athleticism is not as awe-inducing, the efficiency is not as imposing, the performances not as polished or developed.
As a paying customer, it makes sense to favor the product that is more advanced. Where entertainment dollars are concerned, a hard-line analysis that values NBA players’ ability above any sort of inherent or unquantifiable benefits the college experience produces makes sense.
However, that sort of emotionless analysis ignores the truth that it is college’s faults and imperfection that make it so engrossing and so much more inspired (generally) than regular season profession matches.
Players have real limitations. Their games are riddled with weaknesses and shortcomings. Where NBA players are androids operating at impressive and remarkable levels of efficiency, college players tend to be more exciting, with a greater potential to excite and move fans, because those liabilities and mistakes mean no team is ever truly out of a game.
As players make mistakes and major lapses in judgment, the game around them can shift radically. That is the beauty of the NCAA tournament, that anything can happen and nothing is assured due to the heightened inconsistency lesser talent creates.
Professional players are burdened by their excellence: it makes them less human, more robotic and automated. Their dominance and skills seem preset and mechanized. There is a soullessness associated with watching Tim Duncan masterfully dissect defenses. While one cannot help but marvel at Kobe Bryant remarkable skill, his competence and effectiveness is at such a high level that it leaves no room for relating to it because it is so refined.
I consider myself one of the most fanatical NBA fans alive and though I nightly stand in awe, wowed by the sensation of viewing LeBron James’ excellence or Dwyane Wade’s basketball genius, I also find great worth in watching Tyler Hansborough’s tragically flawed game. I feel connected to the unpolished play of Hasheem Tabeet’s post play, or Steph Curry’s point guard abilities, or Gerald Henderson’s shooting touch.
The imperfections in their games combine with the pride they play with for their programs, and the passion on display from the fans, to create the atmosphere around the tournament. There is no detachment from the players, and fans are drawn in to the degree they are because unfinished players rouse our emotions better.
Sometimes we as fans look so hard for perfection that we forget that happiness exists in the imperfect.
It is more interesting and more relateable, as life around us is charged with failure and imbalance, and games that stir our consciousness of failure’s place in our own lives resonate better.
So in this tournament season, enjoy the missed free throws, the terrible outlet passes, the three-second violations. That are what makes us human, which is a beautiful realization to make.