It makes me a bit woozy to say it, but next year is an asterisk year for the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
For the uninitiated, the “Asterisk” is something sports-people (regardless of ball, club, gear, goal or field) put on records or years to indicate that something happened that year that has to be explained. The “Asterisk,” I guess was meant to prompt the record-gazers to put the numbers in a special context (or for the older/geekier one to start telling the story).
The most famous (or infamous) was the 61* homerun record of Yankee Roger Maris. He beat Babe Ruth’s homerun record. However, some “experts” claimed that this was only because the season was extended. What the Babe would have done with more games! After some decades, they finally yielded that a season was a season, and that a great feat is a great feat, but that was one of the most debated Asterisk moments in sports. For a more cinematic experience, watch “61” directed by Billy Crystal.
Bill Simmons elaborated on this concept (and how!) in a Grantland article(www.grantland.com). He applied this to NBA championships. He started with the 2012 edition. He said it could be considered such because Derrick Rose got injured in the first round of the playoffs. (Oh how different the playoffs would have been!) Then he went on through the different years – how championship stories could have been rewritten, how playoff fortunes could have shifted – and why they merited an asterisk. Then he conceded that okay, asterisks are reasons given usually by losing teams (sourgrapes), and that these setbacks and game-changers are the adversities that come with winning a championship.
That said, I say next year is an Asterisk Year for the Blue Eagles. True, their core remains intact. But the performance of their upcoming rookie is what makes me question next year: Bo Perasol (the most crucial rookie for next year, probably). He is very qualified, I’m sure. But he is no Norman Black. And let’s face it: I have never seen anyone excited about getting Bo Perasol. He also faces a lot of expectations (many of them probably unfairly) from a community that has been spoiled rotten by Black’s winning ways.
It will also take time for him to gel with his wards, probably like a foster father trying to talk to his new son. The voice of the coach in College Basketball is a lot more important than in the Pros. That’s why the NCAA coaches in the US are famed and beheld: Bob Knight, Coach K, Dean Smith. They embody their program. And they not only coach basketball, they coach their players’ lives. They are educators, too – an extension of the school’s classrooms.
Next year will have a lot of question marks hanging on the Eagles’ jerseys. Next year’s championship will be more up for grabs than this one.
That is why UST has to win it this year. If I’m a Tiger, I want to win it this year – when everyone else seemed to think Ateneo was headed for a fifth championship. I want to win it this year, against Norman Black. Against the Eagles at the height of their flight. I want to win it this year, when Ateneo can’t make any excuses. I want to win it this year, when our best will shine more brightly because the opponent was more legendary.
Which is also why Ateneo has to win it this year. They have one important member of the team graduating: Norman Black.
Sportscasters and analysts usually talk about Championship Windows. The Sacramento Kings of the Webber-Bibby-Divac-Christie-Stojakovic era tried to go through it, but failed. And it closed. Never to be opened again. The “window question” also always crops up when you talk about the Spurs and the Celtics. Is it still open for the aging Garnett and Duncan? Ateneo’s championship window is now in question.
The Drive for Five is also another reason. No other school in more recent history has achieved the phenomenal fifth. It may be hard to imagine today, but UE actually won seven straight titles from 1965 to 1971. In more recent memory, UST won four straight. Then La Salle. Then Ateneo. (for more info: http://www.pba-online.net/basketball/uaap/Eagles-chasing-UAAP-history-versus-Tigers/15694/)
Will the Tigers be immortalized as the Giant Slayers? Or will the Eagles be immortalized for the Five-Peat?
The window for immortality is closing. Only one team can get through.