It's become a cliche to say that a particular sports team or season is worthy of becoming a movie, but in the case of the 2011-2012 Syracuse Orange basketball team, it's hard to deny that a more interesting and meaty script could be written.
Usually, when we say that there should be a movie about a team, it's in the vein of the generic sports flick. You know, the plucky underdog goes through a period where nothing seems to go right until their larger-than-life coach guides them into the playoffs where they find a way to persevere and beat the big, bad jerks for the championship?
Yeah, this isn't that kind of movie. This isn't a Steven Spielberg story.
This script is the kind that Michael Mann might direct. It's gritty. It's full of sordid details. It's hard to separate the good guys from the bad guys. And it's not really about whether or not the team wins it all in the end. Rather, it's about a central character going through experience after experience and, possibly, making it out alive in the end.
You might call it, "Good Luck With Your Story," and it's all about Jim Boeheim.
Jim Boeheim is Syracuse basketball. And it's been said that this is simultaneously the best and worst season in the history of Syracuse basketball. The team has performed better on the court than any single one that has ever come before it, and that includes four Final Four squads and a national champion. Yet, this team has been in the eye of a storm unlike anything the program, and school, has ever seen as well.
The Bernie Fine scandal and all of the fallout therein. A defamation lawsuit that he's fighting during the season. The Yahoo! Sports report on drug test violations and a lack of adherence to internal policy (to which Boeheim responded with a very Boeheim-esque "good luck with your story.") Fab Melo's repeated instances of ineligibility related to alleged academic issues. And being so close to becoming the first one-seed to ever lose to a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
At no point during any of this has Boeheim retreated. Despite all of it, he is still taking on critics with the same sardonic vigor whether they're basketball analyst Reggie Miller or U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. That's right, even now Boeheim is more than willing to step into the ring with a member of President Obama's Cabinet if the situation seems to call for it.
Oh and he's now led his basketball team back to the Sweet Sixteen in spite of it all.
As such, Syracuse fans are rooting for Boeheim and his team more than they ever have before. Everyone else, it seems, is rooting against them just as hard.
It's easy to understand why. Boeheim is not a likable character to outsiders. He's a brash curmudgeon who assails critics in public forums and offers snide remarks to anyone who questions his ways. If you wanted to boil him down to a caricature of "the bad guy," it wouldn't be hard. All you have to do is take him at face value, as so many do. He can be mean. He thinks he's better than everyone. He doesn't seem to think he did anything wrong. In the script of this season, he could represent everything that's wrong with Syracuse and college athletics as a whole. Give him a an eye-patch or a menacing scar and you've got yourself a great Hollywood bad guy.
But if you really take a look at Boeheim with an eye towards how we as human beings react to the world around us, you realize it's not so simple. He's a complex man full of doubt, wearing armor far too thin for the battles he has chosen. He exudes disinterest in the game he coaches and yet he is driven to succeed in it so badly that you invoke his wrath simply by comparing his lifetime stats to a contemporary, like say, Rick Pitino. He seems to not care about anything outside his little kingdom and yet he works tirelessly on charities and community-improvement projects.
He is not "the bad guy." He is a flawed human being worthy of character study. That he is currently caught between coaching one of the best teams in the nation to a possibly career-cementing championship while also battling off-court issues that could prematurely end that same career makes the entire situation Academy Award material.
So somebody hurry up and lock down James Cromwell, who not only bears a resemblance to Boeheim but is also 6-foot-5 and happens to be an actor capable of giving this character depth. Because there's more to Jim Boeheim than what's on the surface and what the record books say.
As the Syracuse Orange advance (or do not advance) in the NCAA Tournament, this story will only get richer and more complex. What is already a compelling film will get the conclusion it deserves, with Boeheim and his Orange either falling short of their goal or attaining it. Either way, it will be the coda on quite a story.
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