Once, it was written here that basketball wasn't my game; that the tinkerers had lost me by degrees. Disenchantment may have begun when they outlawed the center jump, a heresy that scuttled the game's most sacred ritual. Okay, they'd have some kind of a game, but it wouldn't be basketball.
Year by year, the wrongheads introduced their misbegotten refinements that turned off the purists. For touching the hem of a garment, "Personal Foul!" For taking one extra innocent step, "Traveling, You Sinner!"
Worst was the modern coach's ruling passion for recruiting 7-footers with an eye-level approach to the basket. "In a single generation," it was written, "basketball has degenerated from a game into a mess, with giraffe-like earthlings stretching their gristle in aerial dogfights amid the screeching whistles of apoplectic referees trying to enforce ridiculous new rules."
Dr. James Naismith, I avowed, would be spinning in his crypt in a schizophrenia of rage and despair at how the latter-day buffoons had bollixed the game he brought forth in a Springfield, Mass., gym in 1891. At either end of the gym he hung two peach baskets and told his players, including the small folks, to go at it with a round ball.
And it was also suggested here that if the native pride of peach trees were remembered, the tint of their fruit was less the readiness of ripeness than the blush of shame at being linked to modern basketball's family tree.
That said, let us now muse upon the joyous, the wonderful world of basketball in Washington.
Call it repentance if you will. But who would not have the grace to recognize the new glow that pervades Washington, the suffusing pride that has overtaken and unified the city, the lift to the spirit and the new common wealth of joy that has seized the populace.
Source of all the radiance is Georgetown University's heroic basketball team and John Thompson, its illustrious coach with his matchless command of the game, come what may before the final whistle. With a 16-game winning streak, the magnificent Hoyas took all Washington with them on their resolute march into the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. And it was, of course, only a forerunner of their advance into the Final Two and the grand finale on Monday when the Hoyas will take it all and come back from Lexington, Ky., with NCAA titles back-to-back.
Any unbelievers will be banished.
For weeks, all the business about the MX missiles, tax reform, balance of payments and the budget deficit have been pale topics in Washington compared with the important developments the Hoyas have been offering. The goings-on in the Reagan White House, and the latest figures on money supply, which incidentally never has been adequate, have likewise been overmatched by the passionate involvement with Patrick Ewing's wingspread, his latest rebound and slam-dunk numbers; Michael Jackson's steals; Dave Wingate's fast-break heroics; and Coach Thompson's full-court press tactics. A reliable survey shows that Hoya euphoria has been winning on all counts.
No mean focus of interest either has been John Thompson himself, fussing on the sidelines with his inevitable white towel always draped over his right shoulder, never the left. A superstition? No, they say, he gets sweaty palms in the close games. A likely story. Worry beads would serve him better, but who is to quarrel with genius?
Like no other effort since the Redskins won a Super Bowl or the 1924 Senators won the World Series has a team captured the admiration of a community with the completeness of the Hoyas. New-found fans who didn't know a low post from a slam dunk or a trap from a pick have acquired a patina of expertise and talk of the half-court defense and other arcane strategies. Basketball was never so fascinating.
Visualize now the carnival and highjinks of the celebrants on M Street in Georgetown Monday night when the Hoyas win the final title game at Lexington -- as they assuredly will, barring measles. Then it will be left to the gendarmes to cope, or simply to call it all good fun and observe.
Probably the only comparative city-wide frenzy aside from the Redskins Super Bowl conquest was that 1924 parade up Pennsylvania Avenue after the Senators took the World Series from the New York Giants. Remembered here was the banner flaunted from the decorated float of the Cherrydale, Va., Fire Department. "Let Cherrydale Burn," it read. And now a city gripped once more by such visible exuberance. Hi, there, Hoyas.