As the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball season is rapidly approaching, I wanted to build off of my open thank you note that went up a few weeks back. As promised, I wanted to share a few personal stories this basketball season so consider this the first of those. It’s my hope that you thoroughly enjoy what I pen and that the parallels are there for you as well. Without further ado.
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“I don’t know if I could ever leave Syracuse. I love Syracuse basketball too much,” I told my mother as a naive and myopic 16-year-old.
The year was 2008 and my mom and I were driving past my high school as she was detailing all of her hopes and dreams for my future. She had told me how she wished that I would move to build a life and career elsewhere, that Syracuse was a deteriorating city and how there would be nothing left for me when all said and done. The most intelligent thing I could muster up at the time was how I thought I couldn’t leave because I loved Syracuse basketball and frankly the city too much to do so. I suppose I didn’t give it much though. But I share this not to disclose how callow of a teenager I once was, but to frame the meaning behind that quick rebuttal. The purpose behind that statement truly begins just a half decade earlier.
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April 7, 2003
Hinrich starts inside, goes outside. Hinrich gets it. Hinrich puts up the shot, it’s too long AND SYRACUSE IS YOUR NATIONAL CHAMPION!
Those were the 22 words underwritten by Jim Nantz as Syracuse won its first national championship on the hardwood. That game against Kansas and that season are forever etched in Syracuse lore. It’s a defining moment frozen in time, marking one of the most important dates in the city of Syracuse’s and Syracuse University history and on a lesser scale, branded as one of the most important days of my then 11-year-old life and continues to be. It’s embedded in me.
As an impressionable young kid, that moment meant everything to me at the time but I lacked the depth to tell anyone why. With age comes wisdom of course and as I look back now I’m able to dissect the layers of meaning. That game, that season and that damn ‘caustic crab’ of a coach made me value winning. I didn’t just value it, I identified with it. I sought a win in almost everything I did. It made me want more for myself and it made me dream in excessively imaginative ways. I was so inspired by that national championship team. Syracuse had just won on college basketball’s grandest stage. It made me feel as though I could achieve at that same level. I was proud to wear Syracuse gear — it made me feel like I was a part of the whole thing and in a way I was, we all were. It meant something to don apparel with that block S on it. The sense of pride was buzzing in Central New York then. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that.
There’s just something special about growing up in Syracuse. I’ve opined on this ad nauseam. It’s as if the city puts the entire world on hold when a Syracuse basketball game tips off. For those two hours nothing else matters in Central New York. You couldn’t find a local establishment without a Syracuse game being broadcasted and if you did they’d shortly be out of business. You’d be hard-pressed to find a denizen who isn’t at least passively aware of the basketball team. You’d certainly not find a five-mile radius without some sort of Syracuse paraphernalia. If you’re not in the Carrier Dome during game time, it’s appointment television. If you are, you’re experiencing a sense of community apropos of nothing. Nothing else in CNY can quite bring the city together or make people feel the way Syracuse basketball does. It’s ubiquitous. It’s everything.
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I eventually did decide to follow my mother’s advice and left Syracuse in 2011. I had seen enough then to know that I could never become who I wanted to be and accomplish the things I had set out to do in my life by staying put. That had always been so crushing to me. When I did leave the goodbyes were difficult — everything I had ever known was in Syracuse. That was my world back then, I knew virtually nothing else.
When I say how much I love Syracuse, it isn’t so much the city as it is the relationships and friendships that have been built over the years. I mean sure, there are some quaint parts of the city that are nice, but it’s always been about the people. Syracusians are some of the most amicable, selfless, down to earth and salt-of-the-earth (salt pun intended) type of people I’ve met. You just don’t have that in other parts of the world.
So you’ll have to forgive me if I found the separation challenging. People back home meant the world to me and still do. There’s nobody like you guys.
Naturally I started to think of all the ways to bridge that gap without moving home. Staying the course was important and I’ve always sought to have my cake and eat it too. What I came realize was that there’s just nothing that can quite substitute the physical, person-to-person presence required to nurture relationships. I know that now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not determined to seek additional avenues.
Now and since I started writing for TNIAAM back in 2015, these articles have been my love letters to the city of Syracuse and to my friends and family back home. TNIAAM serves as a vital bridge between myself and Syracuse and it’s one I plan on maintaining for as long as I can. I’m hopeful to build a few more — as many as I can before the curtain closes. Whether we speak every day or not at all, let this be our form of communication. For the time we can’t spend in person, I hope everyone at home reads what I have to write in the interim, knowing I keep you in mind.
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So here I am, 14 years removed from that Syracuse national title, writing for TNIAAM and desperately craving the day another championship trophy makes its way back home. Since then I’ve gotten to live in California, Australia and now New York (City) and accomplished every single thing I had hoped to achieve at this stage of my life.
Every dream we’ve had since ‘08 has come to fruition, mom. And all of those dreams started with that Syracuse national championship in ‘03. Thank you for reading everything I write.