December 22, 2010
Tina Charles flew in from Russia. Kemba Walker, Randy Edsall, Richard Blumenthal — the who's who of Connecticut — descended from all parts Nutmeg. In the middle of Geno Auriemma's postgame press conference on this historic night, even the President called.
Auriemma would joke it was the new president at the University of Connecticut, but, no, it was the nation's No. 1 basketball player. Auriemma did the listening and when he finally spotted an opening he teased Barack Obama, thanking him for the tips when his team visited the White House basketball court.
Yet on this night it would be a grandson of greatness, one who arrived on a red-eye from California, who helped all us keep an eye on what mattered most. Better, we'd argue, than even the man most responsible for this historic night.
Greg Wooden arrived with no agenda.
He only wanted to share the Wooden name. He only wanted to tell everyone how much John Wooden would have loved this beautiful basketball history.
A couple minutes before 9 o'clock on Tuesday night, the UConn women's basketball team finished off Florida State 93-62 to complete its rendezvous with sports greatness. Mathematically speaking, the Huskies eclipsed the record of Wooden's UCLA men.
In spirit, as in practicality, it is impossible to say what greatest streak is greater. It is a fool's errand to even try. And as the days drifted on, as some truly silly garbage emerged in the media, it was clear some fools did try. In some cases people misconstrued what he said, but we would submit Auriemma, wittingly or wittingly, lit some matches Sunday in the closing moments of his press conference at Madison Square Garden.
It was never about what team was better. It was never about who's a better player, Bill Walton or Maya Moore? It was never about who is a better coach, John Wooden or Geno Auriemma?
For those of you who would make this only about gender, shame on you.
For those of you who would pull out numbers to prove your agenda, silly you.
This was and forever will be a study of parallel greatness. This was and forever will be a study in the pursuit of competitive perfection. Something Wooden, who passed away in June at age 99 understood. Something Greg Wooden, attending his first women's game, understood.
"My grandfather would have loved to have been here," Wooden, 47, said. "He felt the women's game was the closest to his style of play, especially Connecticut. He liked the way they passed the ball, the way they had quite a few superstars on the team who could have scored a lot more points on other teams, but were willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. They play unbelievable basketball. They don't care who gets the credit."
Greg would go into the locker room afterward, after Moore had scored a career-high 41 points and told them exactly that.
"My grandfather would be thrilled that his record was bring broken by a women's basketball team," he said. "Over the last 10-12 years of his life, he felt the women's game was the best basketball being played at the collegiate level and it was not by the men. He wasn't into the slam dunk. He wasn't into the showmanship."
Auriemma introduced a fairly humbling moment afterward, pointing out how he missed his radio spot with WTIC on Monday night because his grandson, four months old, slobbered all over him and was crying. Geno said no matter what happened on this night, his grandson would poop all over him anyway.
Except for one minute Sunday following the rout of Ohio State, Auriemma has taken extraordinary steps along the high road on this journey of the streak. He has honored Wooden. He has honored UCLA. He has tried hard not to minimize his own team's accomplishments while at once also not overstating them in comparison to UCLA.
That's what made his rant Sunday confusing. He talked about everybody having a heart attack because a bunch of women were breaking a men's record, about how all the miserable bastards who follow men's basketball are pissed and capped it with a remark about sending them back to the kitchen.
It set off a national brushfire. Skip Bayless was arguing it on ESPN. The lead story on USA Today ran under the headline " UConn's slighted mark" and "Auriemma says run isn't getting its due."
Was he trying to run cover for his team, taking the heat off his players? Was he just being the terminal wiseass? Or did he have a deeper, more profound meaning?
"It was self-explanatory," Auriemma said. "The question was in the world of sports was what does it signify. It's signifies whatever you want it to signify. People who love women's basketball are thrilled to death. Sports fans who appreciate who appreciate something unique are thrilled.
"Those people who love men's basketball and don't give two rips about men's basketball, we're not going to change their minds. And then there are a bunch of people who are being forced to cover it."
That, Auriemma said, is because the Huskies are breaking a men's record. When they won 70 and 71 to break the women's record, there was none of this interest.
"It was just a bunch of girls beating a bunch of girls," Auriemma said. "That's the way it was treated. I wasn't criticizing anybody. I wasn't demanding more recognition or coverage. I never said that. I'm amused it takes a men's record to get this kind of attention. I'm not bitter about it. After tomorrow they can all go back and do what they were doing. That's all it was."
He couldn't have been surprised everybody had an opinion. And guess what? He wasn't.
"I can't tell what I've been called in stuff that has been sent to me," Auriemma said. "I get a kick of it. Look it or not we made you pay attention. If you want to go back, go back, but for this little period of time, you paid attention."
He said it's not his fault ESPN treated it like the Kennedy Assassination with its wall-to-wall coverage.
"People in my family were like turn the TV off, would you?" Auriemma said. "[ESPN] decided to do that. They know how to make a buck. Don't blame me. I'm just the messenger."
So, despite all the garbage nationally, it does get back to parallel greatness.
"If John Wooden's 88-game streak brings more attention to women's basketball," Greg Wooden said, "that's a good thing."
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