Lessons from the National Championship

It’s Championship Monday! Tonight, the University of Louisville will take on the University of Michigan for the NCAA men’s basketball championship. It will be a match-up of two teams that at one time held the #1 ranking during the regular season.

When the Final Four comes around, I always enjoy looking back on previous contests in the history of this game. Now, with the popularity of YouTube, looking back is more fun than ever. This year, I want to share some fathering tips that I’ve learned from past championship games.

1. We all make mistakes (Georgetown, 1982; Michigan, 1993)

North Carolina has clinched two national champions from critical mistakes made by their opponent on the title game’s last possession.


In the 1982 final, the Tarheels took on the Georgetown Hoyas in a game that paired two of college basketball’s most outstanding players as freshmen: UNC’s Michael Jordan and Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing. Jordan hit a jump shot with 15 seconds remaining to give the Heels a 63-62 lead. On the Hoya’s ensuing possession, guard Fred Brown passed to a player cutting into the Georgetown backcourt. That player was UNC’s James Worthy. The Tarheels held on for the school’s 2nd national title.


In 1993, Michigan trailed North Carolina, 73-71 with 19 seconds left. Michigan’s Chris Weber rebounded a missed North Carolina free throw, and got away with what many consider a blatant travel. Weber brought the ball upcourt and dribbled into the right corner of the baseline and was immediately trapped by two Tarheel defenders. Weber panicked and called time out when the Wolverines had no time outs left. The play resulted in a technical foul and a 77-71 UNC victory.

There are no perfect dads. Just like Weber and Brown, we are not immune from doing or saying some pretty bone-headed things. And when we do, the best thing we can do, for ourselves and for our families, is to recognize it, admit it, apologize if necessary, and move on, making a commitment to do better.

(P.S.: I don’t believe that was a walk on the rebound. Weber’s pivot foot, his left, doesn’t move until he drops the ball to dribble.)

2. Expect the unexpected (North Carolina State, 1983)


In 1983, #6 seeded North Carolina State faced Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Cougars as a decided underdog. With 4 seconds left in a 52-52 game, State’s Dereck Whittenburg launched a desperation 30-foot jumper. The shot fell well short of the basket, but was grabbed just in front of the rim and dunked in by Lorenzo Charles, and the Wolfpack completed one of the biggest upsets in the title game’s history.

Parenting is an adventure in the unexpected. It can very often be an excise in using Plan B. Our kids zig when we expect them to zag, both intentionally and unintentionally. I often find myself frozen in disbelief thinking, “Well, this is not what I had in mind today.” Sometimes it can be fun, other times not. The key is to keep our awareness sharp, and be prepared to grab an airball and slam-dunk it.

4. Patience, patience, patience (Indiana, 1987)     


With 26 seconds left in the 1987 game, Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers trailed Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange, 73-72. Indiana setup on the perimeter of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense and worked the ball around for over 20 seconds. with 5 seconds remaining, Indiana’s Keith Smart nailed a jumper from the baseline, and gave the Hoosiers a 74-73 victory.
Hand in hand with the unexpected is having the patience to deal with the unexpected. This is the area where I struggle as a dad more than any other. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m dealing with 3-, 8-, and 9-year-old children, not logically-thinking adults. In fact, one of the best parenting tips I can give you is to keep in constant communication with yourself about your role and how you practice it. This can mean pausing in the middle of a simmering situation and stepping back to see things from everyone’s perspective. It takes practice and it also take a conscious decision to be willing to do it. Patience is not something you have … it’s something you do.

3. Be ready for the big moment (Kansas, 2008)


Trailing 63-60 with 10 second left, Kansas needed a 3-pointer to extend the game against Memphis, having hit only 2 of 11 of their previous attempts. Kansas’ Mario Chalmers pulled up and hit an off-balance shot at the buzzer, and the Jayhawks went on to a 75-68 overtime win.

The NCAA tournament itself is all about big moments. As a dad, I try to always be aware that the next big moment is around the corner, and I live to celebrate those moments with my kids. It can be a big shot, an aced test … or it can simply be just because. Take time to create big moments with your kids. Plan father/son/daughter dates. Go camping. Take a day trip to a near-by city. Celebrate milestones such as turning 10, 16, or 18. If you’re a new dad, make plans now to create big moments in your journey as a dad.

5. Nothing is impossible (Kansas, 1988; Villanova, 1985)


The 1985 and 1988 games share some similarities. They pitted teams from the same conference, one of whom finished its regular season ranked in the national top 10 and had won the conference’s regular season title. The second team had lost twice to the former and came into the NCAA tournament as a #8 seed.

In 1985 Rollie Massimino’s Villanova Wildcats took on the Georgetown Hoyas, who were led by senior center Patrick Ewing, and who were making their 3rd appearance in the title game in the previous 4 years. The Wildcats shot 79% from the field and held off the vaunted Hoyas, 66-64. The Wildcats at #8 become the lowest-seeded team to win the national championship.

In 1988, Coach Larry Brown’s Kansas Jayhawks, led by Wooden Award winner Danny Manning, faced the Oklahoma Sooners, again as a #8 seed. Manning posted 31 points, 18 rebounds, 5 steals and 2 blocked shots, and hit the game’s clinching free throws with 5 seconds left and giving the Jayhawks a 83–79 win.

Many dads find themselves in less than ideal situations: step-dads, divorced dads, incarcerated dads, etc. If  you are a dad faced with difficult circumstances, you owe it to your child to hang in there and work hard – perhaps harder than “traditional” dads – to be the best dad you can. For help and advice in your specific role, please visit the National Center for Fathering’s sections on your situation.

What are your favorite moments of the NCAA’s national championship game? What have you learned from them? Comment below or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter. And be sure and enjoy the game tonight with your kids!


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