In 1964, Everett Case was the coach of N.C. State but had to retire early in the season after a melanoma diagnosis. At the end of the season, he watched from a wheelchair in press row as his former team went on to beat top-seeded Duke in the final of the ACC tournament. After the win, his former players hoisted him up on their shoulders and he cut the net for the final time. Thus, a tradition was born, and since then, each player cuts a strand from the net after a Championship win.
This year, cutting down the nets was an exceptionally moving moment that capped a roller coaster tournament ride for the Louisville Cardinals. After each of the players went up the ladder to cut down the net, the basket was lowered. Leaning on crutches, Kevin Ware cut the final string for his team, 2013 NCAA Tournament Champions.
The Louisville 2013 tournament run was all about leadership from unexpected sources, coming from behind and playing under pressure, which is not usually the case with a number one seed. The examples for sports, work and life were so plentiful with this team, and because of that, they became America’s team. Kevin Ware showed extraordinary leadership the day of his injury, as we talked about in “Leadership in Louisville“ There was incredible hype for the championship game- the Kevin Ware injury, coupled with a young, hungry and on-fire Michigan team, made for a compelling storyline. Amar’e Stoudemire from the New York Knicks funded pictures of Ware’s face for the fans in the stands. #Winforware was everywhere. On the day of the championship game, it was announced that Coach Pitino had been elected into the Hall of Fame. And finally, Louisville bench player Luke Hancock’s mind was on his father, who was battling a serious illness. It would seem the focus was everywhere but on the Championship.
It’s amazing to find a team with so many leaders and sincere team spirit as the Louisville Cardinals. Every interview was about the team. There were no press hogs, they deferred to each other and complimented their coach at every turn. Because of that, they were able to support each other and focus after the injury to Kevin Ware. They were able to rally around and help Luke, who was awarded Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four and scored 22 of the 82 points in the Championship game, focus on winning for his dad. Coach Pitino won his second NCAA title, and will soon be sporting a tattoo because he promised his team he would do so if they won. They were able to block out all the noise and the pressure to become the NCAA Champions.
Most years, all that the NCAA tournament means to us is basketball, brackets and wasted productivity. This year, however, meant so much more. If 8.4 million work hours were spent watching the tournament this year, it will have been worth it for its multitude of uplifting messages. You can come from behind, overcome all your problems, deal with the hype and become a champion. Don’t count yourself out in sports, life or work. Decide what your definition of “cutting down the nets” is and do what it takes to get there. There’s a champion in all of us!