Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bob Huggins, soul man

West Virginia's valiant, quixotic run for the NCAA men's basketball title ended on Saturday night in heartbreaking fashion. The team, at the hands of a relentless attack by the Duke Blue Devils, lost their semifinal bid by 20 points. But the pluck and heart of the Mountaineers was pretty well distilled at one point during the game — not by one of the players, but by coach Bob Huggins.

In the fourth quarter, West Virginia's DaSean Butler took a bad cut driving to the basket; after colliding with Duke center Brian Zoubek, his left knee buckles and Butler falls to the floor, writhing in agony. Trainers and players did their best to console Butler, even as the team's medical people prepared to carry him off the court (later to find out Butler had a torn anterior cruciate ligament, one of the more serious injuries).

But before that happened, Huggins went on to the court at Lucas Oil Stadium to minister personally to his fallen player. In so doing, the irascible, colorful Mountaineers head coach created one of the most quietly electrifying, human moments in sports history.



Crouching over Butler, Huggins held him, caressed him, his face inches from Butler's own, cradled the stricken man in his arms and talked him through the world of his pain. We may never know exactly what soothing, anodyne words passed from coach to player. Huggins will paraphrase it for us forever — and maybe it's best that we don't know. Somehow, the transcript is beside the point

What the world will long remember ten years or a hundred years from now is the image, and the moment that made the image possible, of two human beings in communion. A player fallen in battle; a coach with a deep and inestimable reservoir of soul.

This was beyond authority or age or race. This was even beyond sports. This was a celebration, purchased with pain, of our base metal, the best of what human beings can be.

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