Be where your feet are
— Jordan Matthews (@jmattjmattjmatt) December 2, 2014
NEW YORK – There was a moment, in the second half of Columbia’s massively disappointing loss to Cornell, where all felt hopeless. The Big Red had stretched their lead to some new high — was it 11 points? 13? — and their bench roared with jubilation after each bucket. The Columbia faithful, a sellout 2,715 people packed so tightly into Levien that the gym was approaching “call the fire marshal” status, began to grow quiet, one or two or 20 beginning to slink meekly down the bleachers and then back up onto campus, covered in a coat of gloppy wet snow.
Harvard had lost earlier in the day, as I found to my shock and glee on a random scroll through Twitter during the women’s game. (That, too, a disappointing loss for the Light Blue.) Yale had been scared senseless by Brown at home. The mantle of the Ivy League was right there for Columbia to grab, just two games into the season, in front of the largest crowd seen in Levien since before the 2010-11 season. And the Lions let it slip away.
Make no mistake, Cornell was a better team last night. They played with aggression mixed with a surprising amount of poise, Shonn Miller proving himself a nightmare at both ends of the floor. Columbia, meanwhile, looked lost save the Herculean efforts of Isaac Cohen. Maodo Lo took shot after shot, and shot after shot clanged off the rim, just inches away from the killer swoosh the home fans wanted. The frontcourt was ineffective, unable to post up or clear any space for Lo’s drives. The sharpshooting Steve Frankoski couldn’t quite find his touch. The lead grew larger and larger; finally, it was clear that all was lost.
I sat through it all, stone-faced and silent, on press row.
I come into this whole “journalism” thing completely backwards. My exposure to Columbia basketball came with the marching band, where being as loud and clever and occasionally annoying as possible was encouraged. After two years, I started to write columns for the Spectator, which had a clear point of view and required no reporting on my part. Even last year, as a member of the press with WKCR’s broadcast team, I didn’t feel like a journalist. I felt like me, doing my best to describe and entertain and inform, but always living or dying with Columbia.
When Mike Tony, our site’s czar and editor-in-chief, asked if I would start writing for Ivy Hoops Online, he offered me press credentials. I’ve been using them for a number of reasons — you can’t beat the price ($0) or the view (courtside).
The tradeoff, which I only felt acutely last night, is that I have to pretend I don’t care.
For the first time for a game at Levien, I didn’t wear any light blue clothing. Not a blue-gold-and-white rugby shirt, or a pair of soccer socks pulled up to my calves, or a pair of yellow wristbands with a blue lion on them, or even the blue-striped ties that I preferred when on the radio. I almost had to physically restrain myself from throwing my hands in the air at a bad call, fist-pumping with every made three, screaming at the referee who stood just a yard away from me. You’re not supposed to do any of that stuff. You’re supposed to sit there, placid and neutral.
But I can’t pretend with this team. I live or die with the Columbia Lions basketball team; by the end of the game yesterday, I was dead.
Before this season, I’d never been to a press conference at Levien. They’re held in a repurposed squash court on the third floor of the gym, off a subterranean corridor with the sounds of small rubber balls pinging in the background. Having been to two straight conferences after Columbia losses, I genuinely don’t know how the players and coaches can face talking to us, barely 15 minutes after the complete expenditure of their energy reserves.
You could hear the notes of frustration and confusion in Kyle Smith’s voice, still straightforwardly answering questions but with the air of a man still coming to terms with what he saw. You couldn’t hear any of Maodo Lo’s voice, so clearly shaken by the loss that his responses barely register above a blip on my recording. They could feel the anticipation in the building, the hordes of people desperate for a winner — and they knew they had come up short.
It hurt me to hear it, every word landing like a blindside hit from a ferocious linebacker. I hate to report it to you now. It was a tough, tough, tough loss. Yale looms just six days from now, a pivotal evening for the Light Blue.
Now, I assume you, anonymous reader, come here not to hear me hash out my deep and conflicted feelings about this basketball team. I apologize for the self-indulgence. And I promise I’ll write a more analytical piece on this game in the next few days.
But I think it’s unfair that you read my writing without knowing what it all means to me, what I suffer through every time I set foot in Levien.
I sit on press row now, but I’m not a journalist. This team means too much to me to pretend to be unbiased, an objective observer of neutral events.
I’m still going to live or die with the Lions. I’m increasingly concerned that this year, like every year, they’re going to kill me.