Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/25/2007 01:41:00 AM
On Luck, Superstition, Snickers and Air Jordans
Before and after: Georgetown switched from gray kicks to white.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Talent alone will not get you to the Final Four. Everyone knows that the recipe also requires a little bit of luck, whether it be in the form of a fortunate bounce or a favorable whistle at just the right time. And this is why so many otherwise level-headed hoopsters turn superstitious in the crucible of the NCAA tournament.
If you look out on the floor at Continental Airlines Arena on Sunday and see most of Georgetown's players wearing white-and-blue Jordan B'Loyal shoes against North Carolina, note that this color-coordination is not random. The Hoyas are sponsored by Jumpman, the label owned by the jump shooter who killed them in the 1982 national championship game. They wore those white Jordans for the first 35 games of this season. Early last week, however, in honor of their trip to the Sweet 16, a fresh shipment of custom, gray-and-blue Jordan XX2s arrived, complete with Georgetown's "G" logo on the back.
The footwear upgrade was positively received in practice, but when they went into halftime down 32-24 to Vanderbilt on Friday, the Hoyas began wondering if His Airness was indirectly playing the villain again. Naturally, their struggles were not the result of cold shooting (33.3 percent) or lack of emotion (they looked rather lifeless), but rather their brand-new kicks. "To us it was symbolic," said sophomore guard Jessie Sapp. "They were new shoes, so we felt like we were acting like new players. In order for us to go back to our old-school Georgetown basketball that we'd been playing the whole year, we had to go back to our old shoes."
To be loyal to the Hoyas' throwback ethic, the XX2s had to go, and the B'Loyals had to come back. Sapp explained the shoe-switch in depth afterward, but when it actually occurred, it spread through the locker room as a silent wave of superstition.
Junior point guard Jonathan Wallace sparked it, saying later that he wanted to go "back to the bread-and-butter" that got the Hoyas to the Sweet 16. Center Roy Hibbert followed. Jeff Green -- who would go on to hit the game-winning shot -- copied his fellow juniors' wardrobe change, saying, "I didn't want to be the odd character out there." Youngsters Sapp and Pat Ewing Jr. were next. "Pat kind of looked at me," Sapp said, "and we both thought, 'We don't want to be brand new. We want to be ourselves.'"
Of the Georgetown starters, only HugMasterDaJuan Summers -- a freshman, and thus the most new-school of the bunch -- kept his XX2s on in the second half. The rest of the Hoyas' cast found their footing (as well as, coincidentally, their accuracy and intensity) and overtook the Commodores to seal a trip to the Elite Eight. "I don't want to say the shoes caused anything," said Wallace, "but hey, whatever works -- and it worked."
On Sunday, the good-luck war will not automatically won by Georgetown. Its opponent, North Carolina, is just as obsessed with such business. Point guard Tywon Lawsonexplained the "whiteboard box" on Friday night, and said some Heels blamed their slow start against USC on the fact that they neglected to draw the box (with the number 16 in it) before the game. And head coach Roy Williams, when asked on Saturday for his most vivid memories of that '82 final -- for which he was a young assistant on Dean Smith's staff -- told a story about a Snickers bar before even mentioning Jordan's shot:
"I was a little superstitious. I kept a candy bar in my pocket before every game down the stretch and I would always buy it at the arena. Believe it or not, the Superdome in New Orleans in 1982 didn't sell candy, and so I went to one of the gates, walked out and went across the street in New Orleans to buy a candy bar. I came back to the door and the guard that was there had changed and they weren't going to let me come back in. My biggest memory is how doggone scared I am -- I'm helping coach a team in the national championship game and I'm not even going to get into the freaking arena."
Between shoes, boxes, candy, and umpteen other rituals individual Hoyas and Heels are no doubt keeping secret, lest they lose their potency, the basketball portion of the East Region final is only a secondary matter.