I am sure many of you are watching the incredible spectacle unfolding right now on ESPN as Michigan State and UNC are getting ready to play a hoops game on USS Carl Vinson. The imagery coming from ESPN has been nothing short of breathtaking. The national hype has been relentless. Magic Johnson and James Worthy are the honorary captains of their respective squads.
So how did this game come about? It was the brain child of MSU AD Mark Hollis:
Since taking over as athletic director at Michigan State, Hollis has developed a reputation as a mad scientist for coming up with ideas like the 2003 "Basket Bowl," the game between the Spartans and Kentucky in Detroit's Ford Field that produced the biggest crowd (more than 78,000) ever to watch a basketball game. The beginning of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq prompted Hollis to explore the possibility of combining that kind of spectacle with his desire to honor America's servicemen and women. After Spartans coach Tom Izzo returned from a Nike-sponsored trip to visit American troops in Kuwait, Hollis mentioned his wacky aircraft carrier idea to his coach. Izzo immediately agreed. He then called Williams, who likewise said he would play. "We didn't even know the details," Izzo said. "Where were we playing? Iraq? Lake Michigan? Nobody knew and nobody cared."
Three years ago, while accompanying the Spartans on a trip to Washington, D.C., Hollis took his idea to the Pentagon. The Navy liked it and planned to set up a doubleheader in which North Carolina and Michigan State would each face off against a service academy. The games were going to take place at the Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Fla., but that plan had to be scratched because that station no longer supports aircraft carriers.
Last year, Hollis hooked up with Mike Whalen, the founder of Morale Entertainment, a foundation that has brought dozens of athletes and coaches into war zones to visit American troops. Whalen agreed to come up with the funding, and shortly thereafter they locked in San Diego as a site. Two months ago, Whalen learned the game would be played aboard the same ship that dumped Bin Laden's body into the ocean. After informing Hollis, Whalen added, "By the way, the President's coming."
That's right President Barack Obama started the festivities in this event by saluting the veterans and also promoting UNC and Michigan State as "two of the greatest basketball programs."
So let me get this right. MSU and UNC are basking in the national spotlight as two of the "greatest" college basketball programs just three hour south of UCLA. All of this is happening in the home town of Bruin legend Bill Walton (and current freshman Norman Powell.Oh and BTW this game is going to be played again next year on Veteran's Day. Want to know who the teams are? Read for it? Arizona Wildcats and UConn Huskies - that's UCLA's Pac-12 rival right in Bruins' backyard.
If you are someone who cares about UCLA athletics, you should be wondering why this happened.
This is the kind of creative scheduling and event organizing that takes a high powered athletic program to whole another level. Michigan State's AD clearly "gets it." Meanwhile, at UCLA we are seeing people backslapping each other for getting to wear cowboy boots, setting up a tough football game in Dallas against Texas.
But hey no worries folks. We are going to have an "exciting" opening night in a dilapidated, out of date, NBA gym which was not good enough for a fourth tier college basketball program from other side of the town. I guess you can consider this as some kind of "pre-game" thread.