HARTFORD — As the UConn men's basketball coach, one who would later say he isn't going anywhere, stepped up to speak outside the State Capitol on Sunday, thousands of UConn fans began chanting, "Ol-lie! Ol-lie!" No lie, the earth rumbled and it sounded like "A-li! A-li!" in Kinshasa before the Rumble in the Jungle fight against George Foreman.
All that was missing was the "Ali Bomaye!" in Lingala. That's OK. The Brothers Husky had already killed it in Dallas. The Sisters Husky already had killed it in Nashville.
If this sounds more like a boxing parade than a basketball parade, well, there was Ryan Boatright with the day's greatest accessory to those twin UConn national trophies. The Boat Show was rocking a big, shiny pro wrestling championship belt. The kind Big Papi wears after Red Sox win world championships.
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"My barber had it," Boatright said. "Once we won, I had to get it."
Before he drew boos for mispronouncing Geno Auriemma's last name — making him a candidate to run for mayor of Boston — Gov. Malloy had drawn big cheers for welcoming the crowd to the "Basketball Capital of America."
And on this day, who was in position to argue?
This date, April 13, is a date that forever will hold a grip on the hearts of sports fans in our state.
April 13, 1997, was a dark, dark day.
Hartford's last NHL game was played that day, and it was mourned by thousands and thousands. Seventeen years later, about 25 members of the Hartford Whalers Booster Club gathered Sunday for its annual "Fanniversary" at the Black Bear Saloon.
April 13, 2014, was a great, great day.
Across the street and up the hill from the Black Bear, 200,000 gathered for a parade to celebrate UConn's dual national basketball championships.
"Double Trouble." Those were the words on the shirts worn by the players and Kevin Ollie. The Huskies were pretty frisky Sunday, and who could blame them? Athletic director Warde Manuel got up and led the UConn cheer. I don't remember Jeff Hathaway doing that in 2004 when UConn won dual championships for the first and only other time in NCAA history.
When Manuel was finished barking, he called up Shabazz Napier to repeat the now famous words he screamed on national television after UConn had toppled Kentucky for the men's fourth national title since 1999.
"This is what happens when you ban the Hungry Huskies," Napier told the crowd.
"Lot of people had to rip up their tournament brackets," Ollie said to enormous applause. He turned to Auriemma, who broke Pat Summitt's record with his ninth title, and said, "I see why you keep coming back."
Yes, April 13, 2014, was a very good day.
What about 17 years from now? What will April 13, 2031, be like? Who knows? Yet on a day when it was worth considering our sporting past, present and future, if nothing else, Ollie has shown us that one step at a time is the best way to step into tomorrow.
I chatted with Michael Glasson, Peter Hindle, Jerry Erwin and Joanne Cortessa, all dressed in their Whalers gear, outside the Black Bear. They're hopeful, always hopeful for the return of the NHL one day. When it comes to the NHL, I am beyond optimism or cynicism. The four did agree on one vital point. They hope UConn does great so it will spur a new arena. A new building? A new conference? It's all out there for a future April 13.
In the meantime, let's not fool ourselves. The NBA is going to come knocking for Ollie at some point in the near future. Lakers? Oklahoma City if the Thunder stumble in the playoffs? The question was direct to Ollie. Is there anything that will shake him from UConn this year?
"Nothing will shake me," Ollie said. "I love this place. Like anything else, I evaluate it each and every year. I want the conditions right around my student-athletes, and you just never know where the NCAA is going in years to come. I want to make sure the university is doing everything possible for our student-athletes to succeed. If I don't see that, maybe there's an opportunity for me to leave. It's perfect right now … I don't plan to leave."
Said Napier: "He's not going nowhere. When you love this university with the passion he has, he's going to stay here until they tell him he has to leave."
Ollie has been humble and inclusive in victory, speaking nobly about becoming the fourth African-American head coach to win a NCAA title and hoping to inspire a path for more to follow. Asked how the craziness of the past week may have changed him, however, Ollie insisted nothing has.
"I've still got to walk my dog and pick up the poop," Ollie said.
Manuel said Ollie, who had a base pay of $1.2 million this year, is getting a raise. You'd have to think it would have to start at least $2 million next season. At any rate, both showed a sense of humor about upcoming negotiations.
"I want to thank our wonderful AD who said I need a raise," Ollie told the crowd. "The church said, 'Amen!' I'm just playing. But you're right."
"I have good news to report to our president and our governor," Manuel told the crowd. "Along the parade route, everybody who shouted at me to pay Kevin and Geno more money and made donations, it's all good."
When a crowd estimated between 250,000 and 300,000 showed up for the 2004 parade, there were signs with marriage proposals to a number of players. On Sunday, one girl held up a sign during the ceremonies asking Shabazz to go the prom.
"Shabazz is going to the NBA, but I'm still in Connecticut," Auriemma joked. "Call me."
So is Bazz going to the prom?
"No, no, no," Napier said. "I've got a girlfriend. She'll kill me."
Napier will have to settle for getting on the cover of Sports Illustrated. ["Surreal."] And after playing so well in the tournament, settle for LeBron James and John Wall saying he should be the first point guard in the NBA draft.
"Definitely cool," said Napier, who hasn't hired an agent yet. "They're not picking. I wish they were."
In the meantime, some of us should chill a little about Shabazz and the NCAA. First off, he wasn't really "starving" because of NCAA rules. Look, I'm all for getting these guys more spending money, more access to loans and percentages on merchandise. But let's not go crazy. Shabazz might have been short on cash some nights. He wasn't actually starving. Bazz is a little dramatic at times, and on Sunday, in the face of praise and some backlash, he insisted he wasn't attacking the NCAA after the championship game.
"People took that out of context," Napier said. "I wasn't going at the NCAA. I was just saying when you ban us and you give us an extra year to prepare, that's what happens. They've been great. I don't have any problems with them."
And the two who could potentially declare for the draft early? DeAndre Daniels declined comment. Boatright said he has a meeting with Ollie scheduled for Monday and expects to talk with his family this week.
"[As far as coming back with Napier gone], it's not even about being The Man," Boatright said. "It's getting to put a UConn uniform again. These types of experience drive you to want to do it again. This is unbelievable. It's is a blessing. All this is love, right here."
Ollie said he will give the players information he receives from NBA general managers.
"They're going to have to make their decision," Ollie said. "I don't want to make any decision for them. I want them to be committed. If they come back they have to have the right attitude. If they go pro, they have to have the right attitude. What's best for them and their families. Either you're in or out."
On this April 13, everyone was in.
"It took us 10 years to win a national championship, and I convinced everybody it was really, really hard — and damn Kevin comes along," said Auriemma, who challenged the fans to sell out every game men's and women's next season. "He called me Monday night after the game and said, 'Yo, dude, what's the big deal?'"
Oh, it's a big deal.
April 13, 2014, was a very big deal.