No video can capture the essence of March Madness. It’s the one empty entry in our Essential YouTube Sports Library.
An “essential” Youtube Video doesn’t exist for March Madness, because the NCAA Tournament is all about potential, and that’s near impossible to capture in a video without context.
The NCAA Tournament thrives on potential—it’s what turns it into madness. The Tournament exists, in and of itself, each year. It sweeps over us for a month, and then recedes into the background for another 11. And each time it comes around, it’s the same, but new. Only the highest peaks and the lowest valleys survive.
Early round buzzer beaters lose their meaning as they age, especially when they’re strung back-to-back-to-back in a mix tape. A look at a single player, from a single year, is too narrow to tell us anything outside of what that player did, that year, and it tends to be colored by what they went on to do or not to do in the NBA (See: Adam Morrison and how our memory of him has changed since 2006).
Trying to explain the experience of March Madness with one YouTube clip would be like showing someone a jar of seawater as a way to explain the ocean. The yearly “One Shining Moment” compilation acts as a built in ESYL for that year. But watch a random “One Shining Moment” from the last 10 years, and while it’s soundtracked by a song that gets cheesier every year, it’s hardly essential.
Moments like Michael Jordan’s shot for UNC in 1982, NC State’s last gasp victory the following year, Hill-to-Laettner, and Ali Faroukhmanesh’s “big-time onions” shot to bury Kansas last year exist as an ideal to aspire to. But if you watched this video of Hakim Warrick’s championship-sealing block out of context, it’s beastly, but inconsequential.
There are also moments that signify failure in the tournament. A montage of the missed free throws by Memphis against Kansas, two of the dumbest fouls of all time, and a completely mystifying time out that cost Michigan their title chances all show the depths of failure.
Moments like these are essential, because to know the stakes you have to be familiar with the best and the worst. But because there have been so many, and because every fan has his own lexicon of memorable tournament moments that stand out, they are interchangeable.
The actual quality of the moments isn’t essential. We’re watching players who aren’t fully formed. We’re watching “amateurs” and, at the same time, picturing in our mind who they could be and all the things they could do—starting with cutting down the nets at the Final Four.
Heading into the Sweet 16, Jimmer Fredette had limitless potential. He could’ve cut down nets. Now, he could become Steve Nash in the NBA, or he could turn into Adam Morrison. But for this tournament, he was Jimmer, doing something extraordinary, allowing us all to dream of what could be.
Next year, we’ll have moved on, there will be a new “Jimmer,” and we’ll be dreaming all the same.
—Photo AP/Fred Beckham