Mark Washburn

Basketball, like pollen, says spring

Nothing says springtime around here like the NCAA tournament. Anthony Gill of Virginia drives in on Evan Bradds of Belmont in the second half of their second round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday. Virginia won 79-67.
Nothing says springtime around here like the NCAA tournament. Anthony Gill of Virginia drives in on Evan Bradds of Belmont in the second half of their second round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday. Virginia won 79-67. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Nothing says springtime like a burst of shouts in some distant quadrant of the office.

Wicked winds or subtle birdsong may announce the change of season in other regions, but here it is heralded by volcanic eruptions from otherwise mild-mannered colleagues clotted around a TV.

We are, down to our marrow, a basketball species here.

Winter is an annual drama on the Great Plains and the downtrodden Northeast. Autumn is a thing celebrated on the calico slopes of the Appalachians. Summer is a seashore season, but spring, by God, is based right here.

It is not the equinox, the time change or the instant plumage of the Bradford pears that makes our spring, though they all have their charms. It is college basketball that does it, the game having ripened to its plump-fruit stage after a dark winter of development.

For a month, young men dash up and down the hardwoods, and for a month we gab about little else. Psychics and seers hunched beneath their turbans are cartoonish figures of another age until March arrives, when en masse we ritually predict the fate of the chosen 68 and feel patriotic by putting a little money behind it.

Some of the magic occurs in Charlotte’s business district, where the NCAA has plunked a few rounds of the tournament to whittle down the field.

If the great architects of our time were ordered to design a city that would be perfect for collegiate sports tournaments, Charlotte is what they would deliver. Its urban stew of hotels, restaurants and bars all within an easy stroll of the arena or stadium is one of the city’s grand accomplishments.

We welcome visitors graciously into our midst, and once seated courtside invite them to chant along with our tourism anthem, which goes, “We will, we will, gouge you!”

We may be in romantic rapture about basketball, you understand, but this is still a business town. Those skyscrapers didn’t just pop out of the Piedmont’s red clay. They’re monuments to money, and that’s a fixation we maintain year-round.

I wandered over to Time Warner Cable Arena last week to take in some warmups. A hot dog and a soda ran $11. And not a cop in sight.

Truck stop food at airport prices was not the only upsell in uptown. Hotel rooms were scraping the $200 range this weekend, which is enough to keep you awake at night.

But, so what? It’s springtime, the games are on and the fans are getting what they handsomely paid for – thrills and heartbreak.

This is the season of rebirth. Through its reflected glory, the tournament awakens something welcome in all of us this time of year, an adolescent burst of energy you can hear across the workspace.

Washburn: 704-358-5007;

Twitter: @WashburnChObs.

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