When I was growing up with my brother here in Austin, there were two things we did more than anything else: play whiffle ball and play driveway hoops. I'll never forget the Christmas when I was twelve years old and my Mom and Dad made my brother and I unwrap one present after all the others. Usually, when there was a final present that was withheld for unwrapping last, it was something reasonably large in size. A big box with a Nintendo or some other bulky item.
On this particular year, though, it was a small white envelope, and we honestly had no idea what to expect. When we opened it, it simply had a magazine clipping of a basketball goal in it, with the words, "On the way." We already had one of those rickety old things mounted up on a wall above the carport, but this was a picture of a really nice goal.
I was already a big hoops fan, and a recreational player, but my love for the game rocketed into the stratosphere after we got that ten-foot goal that we planted in the ground. Every March, as the perfect spring Austin weather would begin, my brother and I would simulate the NCAA tournament. We'd literally play all 63 games of the tournament, pretending to be the various players on all the different teams in the Madness.
We'd watch all the games leading up to the tournament, learn all the teams and players, and generally live and breathe the tournament for a month straight, year after year after year, right out on our driveway. When you're a kid, you've got time for that, and my brother and I were consistently winning or near the top of our father's office bracket pool. How could we not be? We learned everything about every team, to make sure we could properly simulate all the games. (These days? It's hard to find enough time for that kind of obsession, and my brackets the last few years definitely prove it. Notre Dame in the Elite Eight? Really, Peter?)
I'm always a little bit sad when the NCAA Tournament ends each season, and I always know why. It started with those month-long simulations of the tournament playing driveway basketball with my brother. (Mike, if you're reading: I'm still disappointed that Sienna was never as good in real life as they were on our driveway...)