In late December of 1972, Seth Maiman, his brothers and some friends went from their home in Brooklyn to a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, and stuck around for a college basketball triple-header that night. Niagara beat Tennessee, St. John’s squeaked past Michigan, and South Carolina topped Manhattan.
Maiman’s oldest brother liked to get game programs, keep score of every game and write down his own commentary, so Seth started doing the same. If possible, he’d later clip a newspaper article about every game he watched, and slip the story into the game program. And he kind of got hooked on college basketball, its memorable gyms and obscure rosters and programs and box scores.
Which is why, earlier this month, Maiman caught a GW game at Smith Center – the 499th Division I game of his spectating career – then hopped into a cab and sped off toward Verizon Center for Georgetown-St. John’s. That was no. 500.
“And if I’ve done this right, I should have a program from every game I’ve ever been to,” the 51-year old educational lobbyist and father of two told me with a laugh. “I’m not sure exactly where that fits into the realm of life achievements.”
Now, 500 games in 51 years is hardly unique; any season ticket holder for a Division I program could reach that figure in three or four decades. Maiman’s accomplishment is marked by its quirkiness, the urge to compile documentary proof of his basketball journeys — stuffing programs and news clips and scoresheets inside magazine holders in the office of his Bethesda home — and the quest to see teams with which he has no natural bond.
He’s a George Washington season-ticket holder, despite having no particular allegiance to the school. He has a partial plan at American, where he went to law school. He grew up rooting for St. John’s, and went to school at Albany, so he follows both programs, although they aren’t often in the D.C. market. But Maiman is always trying to add schools to the list of nearly 200 that he’s seen in person.
“If you’re on the Eastern seaboard, I’ve pretty much seen you,” he said. “I’m more apt to go to one of these early December games if GW is paying some team I’ve never seen before, just to add them to my list. Which of course makes no sense to most human beings, including my wife. But hey, it’s my list. That’s what’s great about collections; the only person who cares about it is you. You’re not doing it for anybody else.”
And while being excited about seeing San Francisco play American at Bender Arena is kind of odd, some of Maiman’s experiences have a broader appeal. Twice he drove back and forth between two first-round NCAA tournament sites (Dayton and Cincinnati, and Charlotte and Winston-Salem), allowing him to see 12 tournament games in person over four days. He went to the Final Four in Houston. He saw George Mason upset U-Conn.
He saw the first-ever college game played at the Patriot Center. He saw David Robinson and Navy play at Fort Myer. He saw Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin battle in the Big East. He created his own triple-header in Philadelphia last season, going from the Palestra to Drexel’s campus and back to the Palestra. And he has the evidence to prove it.
“I try to keep [the programs] in order,” he said. “My goal is if you were my old friend, and you walked in and said, ‘Hey, didn’t we go to a game back in ‘77 when we were in high school,’ I could literally find it.”
Maiman still likes to keep score at games, although it’s getting harder to find printed programs at some gyms. He now copies blank scoresheets from old programs and brings a clipboard from home, even though he could just call up running box scores on his phone. And while he’s a junkie for every sport, there’s still something special about walking into Smith Center or Burr Gymnasium.
“You just have possibilities,” he explained. “It’s got a sense of excitement. There’s still a spirit in the crowd. Between the students, the possibility of absurd upsets, there’s a spirit in college sports that you can’t possibly replicate.”