In retrospect, it was an unusual way to choose a college. I was watching the Notre Dame basketball game on TV. 1970 it was february 7th and i was a junior in high school. Those were the days when every broadcast sounded like it was being sent directly from the caves of Lascaux. There should not have been billboards. There must have been cave paintings. Anyway, I was mostly tuned in to watch Austin Carr, Notre Dame’s magnificent guard. But my attention was soon drawn to the opposition, a strange bunch in black and yellow, wasp-striped uniforms, a coach who seemed perpetually on the verge of apoplexy, and a spiky guard with a pencil-thin moustache. a small smile.
Before the match, the guests shook hands with Irish coach Johnny Dee. Dee handed one of them a mustard packet, indicating her distaste for this hot dog move. The player paused for a moment and then threw the package at Dee’s face. That got my attention. And that was my introduction to Marquette basketball and Al McGuire and Dean “The Dream” Meminger and Gary (Sag) Brell, a bully long-haired forward who (it was said) once had a big win by dribbling the ball. nets – with a switch blade. He also threw away the mustard packet.
It was a great game that saw Notre Dame win in double overtime, 96-95. Carr and Memminger had one of the best fights I’ve ever seen in a college game. But it was the sheer strangeness of McGuire’s design that got me thinking. hmmmm, this might be a good place to hang around for four years. So I followed them all season, right when McGuire refuse NCAA bid because he thought the NCAA selection committee did it for him. (Narrator: They did.) He said, essentially, to these buffet grazers, I’m going to the NIT and I’m going to win.
(For younger readers who might be joining us late, the NIT was once the biggest deal in college basketball. Even in 1970, it was as prestigious as the NCAA Tournament. And it was in New York that McGuire favored. Lubbock, Texas , where the NCAA wanted to send him. “What can I get there?” he said. “Two cheerleaders and three cows.”)
Which they did with ease, beating UMass and Julius Erving in the first round and choking out Pistol Pete Maravich in the semifinals, after which Marquette’s Jack Burke remarked, could watch over him every night.’ Needless to say, I was blown away by all the madness, and Market… journalism school! True, it had lost its accreditation a few years ago, but what did that matter? My decision was finalized the following season by a piece Kari Kirkpatrick wrote for Sports Illustrated that contained the following excerpt:
Similar thoughts are regularly echoed downtown at The Gym, a beer haven owned by ex-Marquette employee Brian Brankhorst and tended by Fat Jack Rusnow, The Evil Doctor Blackheart’s roommate.
How could you not go to a school that had its priorities so firmly in order? A little over a year later, I was sitting in The Gym waiting for a bus to go down to the Milwaukee Arena for a game. The only real historical oddity about the Marquette teams of that era is that, for all their success, and they won more games in the 1970s than any team except UCLA, they didn’t have very exceptional specialists. Jim Chaunce jumped to the ABA and had a decent NBA career. Earl Tatum’s NBA days are largely marked by his usefulness as trade bait. Maurice Lucas had a solid performance in Portland as Bill Walton’s wingman. Butch Lee couldn’t stay healthy at all, but both he and Chaunce took rings as teammates on Magic Johnson’s first championship team in Los Angeles. The true NBA stars came later, Doc Rivers and of course Dwyane Wade, with players like Jae Crowder and Wes Matthews following solid careers. Remember when Juan Toscano-Anderson played four years by the sparkling banks of the Menomonee River? Do not worry: Neither does anyone else.
All of this is an extended prelude to a question that has been troubling me for the past four or five years. What happened to Jimmy Butler, unholy, shirtless?
How in god’s name did Marquette not win multiple NCAA championships with this cat? I knew his basic biography. his mother, who kicked him out of the house when he was 13, leaving him to surf all over Tomball, Texas, until a local family took him in. how he went first to Tyler Junior College and from there to Milwaukee when a Texan named Buzz Williams took over from Tom Crean.
Marquette has made the tournament all three years Butler has been there, and has never done better than getting stomped in the Sweet 16 by North Carolina in 2011. I mean, since I’m an obnoxious grad now, I watched him for three years at Marquette, and he seemed like a pretty talented college player on pretty good teams. He averaged 15.7 points per game his senior year, which is certainly decent enough. When the Bulls drafted him 30th overall in that year’s draft, after Butler had some nice turns in pre-draft camps, I admit I was stunned.
But now, here he is. The man who ate up the Eastern Conference, making Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks look like babies in the first round, then quietly lighting up the Knicks in the next, all before walking into the garden with the rest in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Feeding the Miami Heat and the Celtics into his personal blender. He got his 35, but he did it in the most complete and rounded way possible. He was nine of 10 from the line. He had seven assists, six steals and five rebounds, the vaunted triple-single, but each one seemed to come at a critical moment, or when the Heat needed a stop. When they needed to play. stopped the Boston rally.
The Heat took a strong lead in that game with a ridiculous 46-point third quarter; the next Boston film session appears to have been directed by Ed Wood. However, Boston continued to cut the lead to four or five points throughout the fourth quarter. only for the Heat to make a play to push the margin back to seven or nine. With two minutes and 10 seconds left, Butler found Caleb Martin open for a three-point jumper and then, a minute later, hit one of his own from about 30 feet. Butler made all the plays the Celtics couldn’t make.
It used to be that the worst thing you could say about a prospective rookie was that he was a “good college player.” The label can be applied to the pan-American consensus as well as the unknown of the directed land-grant university. It was a way to question a player’s ability to succeed in the Association. Classic good college players in this paradigm include Adam Morrison of Gonzaga, Ben Simmons of LSU, and Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin.
Butler is a good college player otherwise. (The same can be said, to a lesser extent, of Toscano-Anderson.) He exploded when he hit the league. And once again on Friday, he was the centerpiece of Miami’s effort to take full advantage of another late-game steamroll by Boston. This time, the turning point came in the fourth quarter, when Celtic’s Grant Williams tripled on Butler and then fumbled him on his way back down the court. Butler turned Williams on a one-and-one, and the two literally collided moments later. Once that happened, Butler used Williams to tear the Celtics open. Experts are divided as for the meaning of one extravagant gesture used by Butler to indicate his superiority. He didn’t learn it at my old school, but it was Old School Marquette buckets. Goose Brell definitely approved.
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