I went to two basketball games that meant a lot to me this week.
The first came this past Saturday, when Michigan State and Penn State squared off at The Palestra. I attended with my parents and a close friend, the four of us squeezed into the bleachers with 9,204 other fans. Despite the Hall of Fame coach on the sideline, the multiple first round picks on the floor, and Penn State’s impressive performance, the building was the star of the show.
The Palestra means a lot to college basketball fans, particularly those in Philadelphia. It fits the perfect amount of people, with a seemingly magical ability to amplify their voices. Parts of the facade and facilities feel like relics from the past and others make the gym feel like home, even on your first visit. Though I’m from the Philadelphia area and a college hoops junkie, I was born after The Palestra’s heyday. In my chances to attend games there (and even play a CYO game on the historic court), my parents and coaches did their best to inject the uniqueness and the history of The Palestra into my young brain.
In the past two plus years, The Palestra has meant more to me. When I started this blog, I chose to include it in the site’s name. Naming something like a website is a bit like naming a boat or a pet. It’s so hard to know how something will be heard, perceived, and sound on a regular basis until you’re settled into that routine. It’s something the founders of sites far more popular than this have touched on, including The Ringer and Deadspin (which were nearly named terrible things like Binge Mode and Tronball, respectively). But before the blog was alive and well, I knew it would be about loving basketball and my location in Philadelphia would certainly play a role. The Palestra, and the phrase “Palestra Back”, which I’d heard my Dad use thousands of times, felt like the most natural choice.
In the time since the site’s inception, I’ve felt linked to The Palestra. The building served as my blog’s namesake and spiritual center. Every chance I get to return, including this past weekend, feels like a pilgrimage, in the same way Elvis fans go to Graceland or Mickey Mouse lovers flock to Disneyworld. For the past 26 months, here at this blog named after that beautiful building, I’ve written and published 185 blog posts, which have been viewed by more than 30,000 unique visitors. It has become a part of my personal and professional life. It has led to other writing opportunities and a host of compliments from many of you, for which I will be eternally grateful.
Though basketball, the subject matter of the site, is part of who I am and where I come from, blogging isn’t where I expected to use that background. Both of my parents have been coaching basketball for my entire life. My dad was my high school coach, while my mom coached both of my older sisters. The winters of our childhood were filled with bus rides, hardwood, and the bounce of a basketball. All three of us sat through thousands of practices and hundreds of games, soaking up everything we heard and saw. Becoming a coach felt inevitable for my entire life.
When I finished college, I entered a field that required me to travel and work uncertain hours, making it impossible for me to commit to coaching on any level. My sisters chose other paths, which allowed them to explore the coaching world. Now, both are teachers and head coaches of local high schools in the same league. Kylynn returns a playoff team at Springfield High, in her third season at the helm. Kacy is in her first season at Harriton High. I could not be happier for them or prouder of them.
Which brings me to the other game I attended this week. Tuesday night, Springfield and Harriton met for the first time with my sisters as the teams’ head coaches. This was particularly noteworthy because it was their birthday. The Central League schedule was made months and months in advance, but somehow or some way, the perfect coincidence came to pass. People kept asking how nervous we must be, but my parents and I all seemed to feel the same way: it’s a lot more nerve-wracking when you can’t guarantee one of them is going to win. We knew that no matter which team finished on top, life goes on. We’ve gone through great seasons and rough ones, big wins and ugly losses as a family, always knowing basketball can bring us together, but isn’t life and death.
Kylynn and Springfield won the game after jumping out to a big first half lead, though Harriton battled back and showed plenty of fight. Rasheed Wallace would be proud. The combined effects of their birthday, the power of identical twins, and the amount of friends and family members in attendance made the build up and the game itself feel like so much more than a midseason high school girls’ basketball game. There was juice in that gym. There was tension, excitement, and genuine interest in every possession. Any member of the local media not excited to jump on that story would be crazy (myself included!).
As I watched them stalk the sidelines and make timeout adjustments, I welled with pride, so much so that I had to fight off a sense of jealousy as well. Of course I would love an opportunity like the one presented to my sisters this week. They are living out the dreams we had as youngsters running around our parents’ practices. That being said, I’m more than happy to watch them live that dream while I craft a new one.
The two games I watched this week both meant so much to me, but in different ways. Sitting with family members and watching my sisters battle on the court is the perfect reminder of how I learned to love basketball. You could hear, see, and feel their love for each other and the game throughout the night. Seeing a great game at the Palestra, with this post already writing itself in my head, reminds me of what basketball means to me now. It has always been a source of family bonding, but that seed has bloomed into something more for me. I hope my sisters’ “rivalry” grows and continues for years and years, because I’ll be at every game watching and smiling. And sometimes, if the game is as exciting as it was this week, I’ll happily write about how much I loved it.
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.