For me, however, the keeper moment of the tournament was that
transcendent image of West Virginia coach Bob Huggins cradling the head
of his wounded superstar Da’Sean Butler. Huggins, never known as a warm
and fuzzy guy, knelt on the floor beside Butler as the young man
writhed in agony after tearing pieces of two ligaments in his left knee
in a collision with the Duke center, Brian Zoubek, a manchild so large
and immovable that his name might just as well have been Gibraltar.
Huggins didn’t just go out and slap his player on the rear and send
him off to the locker room. He didn’t tell him to buck up and stop
crying. From all appearances, he didn’t get involved in the assessment
of his injury. This was not about getting the player back in the game.
Instead, while CBS broadcast the exchange to the world—one of the
few timeouts the network did not employ to shill Bud Light or Capital
One—Huggins turned aside from the game, which his team was clearly
losing, turned away from his fading hopes for a first national
championship, and looked straight into Butler’s eyes. Tenderly he
stroked the boy’s cheek. Reassuringly, he stared straight into the
young man’s eyes—whispering to him from a distance close enough to make
you cross-eyed. He didn’t just hold him. He caressed him. It was sweet,
and it was almost shocking just because such images are so rare.
I think that image makes for a moment that will redefine acceptable
male-to-male public displays of affection. This goes beyond the Bill
Clinton/Al Gore man hugs of yesteryear. It goes way beyond the cool
fist bumps or the pumped up chest bumps, which each in their own way
convey connection and at the same time separation.
It conveyed attachment, sustained commitment and a bond that was so
needed by a boy in pain, and it came from a man who could have been
excused for finding something else to do—like thinking about how to
replace the irreplaceable Da’Sean Butler. Huggins showed us what his
priorities are. He said by his actions, “I don’t care what you think of
me, this is my kid.”
He cared. He told the boy (Butler later confirmed) that he loved
him. He told him he was going to be all right. All the money, all the
glitter, all the hopes for victory became secondary for that brief
shining moment. Like it should be.
Huggins, in spite of his surname, was always seen as kind of a tough
guy, even among coaches. If he can do it, anyone can. It was a great
moment in sports history.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in The New Times.