Come clean, America. You did not have the Memphis Tigers winning your office pool and you most certainly did not have them winning your heart. You are wary of their coach, wary of their program and wary of their players.
Cinderella don't do tats.
The Memphis Tigers are about to win their first national championship and there's nothing you yourself can do about it. Only Bill Self can, and even he may feel somewhat overwhelmed this evening, in an arena that commemorates a site that is the living symbol of that sensation.
Should Memphis prevail, they will become the first non-BCS level school to cut down the nets since UNLV did so in 1990. Chances are that you've already drawn other comparisons between the two schools, and their tight-roping-the-rulebook coaches, in your mind.
Unless you attended Memphis or live in Memphis, you're likely not rooting for Memphis. And if that is so, that's not entirely your fault. It's mostly ours.
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous," said a man who 40 years ago last Friday was slain in Memphis, "than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
If you are not a fan of Memphis because Chris Douglas-Roberts' right arm looks like the Dead Sea scrolls or because Derrick Rose has likely attended his last college class or even because Joey Dorsey once made it rain at a Memphis nightclub, then we, the media, have failed you somewhat. Just as people in their past have failed them.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 70 percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock. That does not necessarily mean that the fathers play no role in the children's lives, but often they wind up not doing so. According to the Memphis men's basketball media guide, four of the Tigers' six most prominent players (Antonio Anderson, Joey Dorsey, Derrick Rose and Shawn Taggart) have one parent, and it is a female.
Certainly this is not any of these players' faults. Nor is it the media's. However, how much more comfortable is it for a writer to sit down next to a complete stranger and ask him, for example, if he ever sat onstage while his uncle sang "Good Vibrations" than it is to approach another and ask, "I see you have three brothers. Are all of them from the same father?"
And when the player is black and the writer is white, as is so often the case, how tense might that moment be? Is the writer being callous if he asks the question? How lightly should a scribe tread when interviewing a player whose father is not listed in the program? And what if that absence or presence has much to do with how that athlete became the player or person he is.
(An aside: There was a Notre Dame football player of recent vintage who has the same surname and plays the same position as a former NFL player. And the two bear a resemblance to one another. The surname was not his mother's. No one, though, ever asked him if this was his father.)
And so, Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina's mow-my-lawn-and-date-my-daughter three-time All-American, has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice this season. Hansbrough's dad is an orthopedic surgeon (a respectable career, quite) and when SI ran a feature on Psycho T last winter, Dr. Hansbrough was quoted at length.
Kevin Love, UCLA's freshman All-American who appeared on a regional cover of SI this week, has precocious old-school talent. He also has irresistible feature angles. His dad, Stan, played with the Washington Bullets and Los Angeles Lakers. His Uncle Mike played with Brian Wilson, among others. Rare is the feature writer who has been not succumbed to dropping a "Be true to your school" or "God only knows what they'd do without him" line when penning a feature on the All-American.The media loves asking players such as Hansbrough and Love about their families. Maybe even more, we thrive on contacting those proud dads and asking for their most cherished memories of their golden children. It's the DeNiro principle of sportswriting: Meet the parents.
How to meet the parents, though, if you do not know who they are? And so, too often we media types, from beat writers to the talking heads at ESPN, gravitate toward those we find more accessible. More like us. In the process we foster the danger to which Martin Luther King, Jr., alluded.
For, if Tyler Hansbrough and Kevin Love (who, make no mistake, never courted this attention themselves) are All-Americans, then Derrick Rose and Joey Dorsey are the American dream. And before you decide to cheer for Kansas, even if it is subconsciously, because the Jayhawks have at least one all-American looking player who sees serious playing time (nevermind that he is in fact, Russian), it may be time to learn a little more about Rose and Dorsey.
Derrick Rose has three older brothers and no father. By the time he was in 7th grade, growing up in the drug- and gang-infested Englewood neighborhood on Chicago's south side, he could dunk. And the word about his prodigious talent was getting out.
Rose's brothers -- Dwayne, Reggie and Allan -- banded together to become that father figure. One of them almost always took him to school or picked him up. Attended his practices.
"When we were looking at high schools for Derrick," Dwayne told Sports Illustrated last fall, "we looked at how many gang areas he'd have to go through to get to school."
The Rose brothers decided on Simeon Career Academy, which is poignant. The school's gym is named after Ben Wilson, a former student who was rated the No. 1 prep basketball player in the nation entering his senior season. However, on Nov. 20, 1984, Wilson, who was by every account a straight arrow and well-liked student, was shot and killed on the eve of his first basketball game. The motive was purely jealousy.
At Simeon the tradition is that the team's best player wears Wilson's No. 25, which fit snugly on Rose. He led Simeon to back-to-back state titles, the first time a Chicago Public League school had ever done so. And when it came time for Rose, whose brothers prohibited him from speaking to the media (or most any other adult not in their family), to announce his college, he held a joint-press conference that included two teammates who were signing with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"They deserve a press conference, too," said Rose.
Derrick Rose has five tattoos. He also had a 3.2 GPA in high school and a trio of older siblings (his mom, Brenda, oversaw his non-basketball development) who relished being their brother's keeper.
Joey Dorsey's father, Richard Griffin, parted ways with his mother, Charlene Dorsey, when he was still in the womb. Griffin and Dorsey occasionally saw one another for the first two years of Dorsey's life. Then, for 11 years, Griffin disappeared.
When Dorsey was 13, Charlene contacted one of his uncles and inquired as to whether Richard Griffin would like to meet his son. She was told that he would rather not.
"You can imagine what that did to my son," Charlene told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "It crushed him. It crushed him."
In November of 2005, early in Dorsey's sophomore season at Memphis, Griffin contacted Charlene. He now lived on Long Island and was keeping track of his son's basketball exploits. Griffin asked Charlene if he might attend the preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden and see Dorsey for the first time since he was an infant. Memphis officials made the ticket arrangements ... and then Griffin failed to show.
No one in Joey Dorsey's family ever graduated from high school. By summer's end, if he keeps it real, Dorsey will graduate from college.
But what about Derrick Rose, you say? You've read that the freshman has likely attended his last class at Memphis. He never belonged in college if he was going to drop out after not even completing one year.
Academically, he did. The more relevant point is that Rose, considering his intended profession, absolutely belonged in college for one season.
The NBA mandates that a player must spend one year in college and be at least 19 years old before being eligible for the NBA draft. Rose had no choice.
Is Derrick Rose a thug, or a mercenary, because he is enrolled at Memphis yet really isn't all that concerned about pledging Omega Psi Phi next fall? Hardly.
Should that rule be changed? Yes, but to cast aspersions on Rose for conforming to a rule that requires him to attend college is misplacing the blame. The MCAT used to (and may still) have a writing composition component, which seems ludicrous, especially if you've ever attempted to decipher a prescription.
Memphis, the basketball program, has a shadowy past. The last coach to take the Tigers to the Final Four, Dana Kirk, did 40 months of prison time for various white-collar felonies. The program itself was penalized for using ineligible players and that 1985 Final Four appearance was "vacated" from the NCAA Record Book.
Baskerville Holmes, a starter on that team, killed his girlfriend and then himself in March 1997. William Bedford, the No. 6 overall pick in the 1986 draft, is serving time in prison in Fort Worth, Texas, for possession of cocaine and intent to distribute.
That Memphis team, though, went to the Final Four before all but three of these Tigers were born. This Memphis team, which has already set an NCAA single-season record for victories, is on the cusp of winning the school's first national title.
Root against them if you wish. But don't do so out of ignorance.