For those of you who have not read it, I’m devoting most of this post to sharing the initial chapter of my book, Blood Orange. I’m proud of the performance of this book so far. It’s been live on Amazon for about six months now and has an average review of 4.9 stars after 31 reviews in the U.S. and the U.K.
This chapter describes the action at one of America’s premier sporting events and the confusion over what happens as it comes to its conclusion. Please enjoy this excerpt from Blood Orange, which is now available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book formats. You can get your own copy by clicking here.
It was the perfect storm. College basketball heaven. The men’s championship game had finally come to Syracuse, NY. For decades, the college basketball Mecca had tried every strategy to lure the big game to arguably the most famous arena in the sport, the Carrier Dome. The governing body of college sports, despite its often tenuous relationship with Syracuse University, could not refute the long and storied love affair that the school and the surrounding community had consistently demonstrated for college basketball. Finally, with a concerted effort from the Mayor, the university, and local businesses, the three games of the national Division I men’s basketball championship were being played in Syracuse to a sellout crowd from all over the nation. The basketball court had been reconfigured in the center of the Dome so that nearly 65,000 screaming fans could have seats to watch the game with countless others watching via live television.
Just hosting the game would have been enough, but to make this event even more meaningful, the two teams that met on this unseasonably cold and misty April night in Syracuse were the hometown Orange and the Blue Devils of Duke University. In the years since Syracuse joined Duke’s athletic conference, an instant rivalry had emerged between the two schools. They were headed by the number one and number two active coaches with the most wins under their collective belts. The two coaches were also close friends and had together coached the USA Basketball Team to multiple Olympic gold medals.
It had been a whirlwind season. Duke had beaten Syracuse at home in the teams’ first meeting by one point in overtime. Syracuse then took Duke to three overtime periods in the Dome for a two point victory. In the conference tournament, the two teams met again in the championship which also went to Duke by three points. Amazingly, the only losses the teams had suffered during the season were to each other.
Both teams had then sliced their way through the tournament field like a hot knife through butter. There were no upsets by Cinderella teams. Both coaches and their squads seemed intent on meeting in the big dance which would be played on Syracuse’s home turf. The other teams in the tournament semi-finals were immaterial as both were beaten by over twenty points. It seemed to be destiny. This was not lost on the coaches. They held an unprecedented joint press conference the day before the game to announce that both of them would be retiring following the game. An uncharacteristically emotional Syracuse coach said that he could not imagine a better way to end his career than by playing the ultimate game against his best friend in his home town. While he did not say it the media would add to his comment, “on the court bearing my name.”
The city of Syracuse was electric in anticipation of hosting the big game, but now there was an unprecedented frenzy. Offices were empty on this Monday preceding the game. Businesses were bracing for the onslaught of overflow fans that could not afford tickets to see the game in person. The area around the Carrier Dome was crowded with people looking to be close to the action.
Now that the game had started, it was shaping up to be another classic Duke/Syracuse back and forth battle. The Duke team fought through the famous Syracuse zone defense with lightning quick passes and a hot three point shooter. The score was tied at halftime. The crowd was going crazy.
As the second half progressed, it was proving to be another close game that would go down to the wire. Thousands of fans in Syracuse and millions around the country were glued to their television sets waiting to see how this game would end. With two minutes to go, the score was going back and forth with a one point advantage to each team with a two point basket. Then, with ten seconds to go, the Syracuse point guard was fouled on a missed layup. He missed the first free throw and then sank the second tying the game. Duke had the ball. The Blue Devils took their time working the ball up the court. The clock counted down as the team worked for the final shot. Five, four, three, two, one…
Armory Square, the destination of many basketball fans that couldn’t be at the big game in person, was overflowing. In an unprecedented move, sections of Franklin, Fayette and Walton Streets had been shut down to vehicle traffic so that revelers could enjoy the game. Many of the local establishments had put large screen televisions outside so that overflow crowds could watch the game as they drank specialty orange drinks from large souvenir cups. It was like Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl all rolled into one. The sense of pride in the city as it hosted the big game was higher than it had been in recent memory, maybe ever.
The collective noise of the crowd was audible for blocks and increased in intensity with each basket, turnover, and foul. The game was more than living up to the hype. The frequent lead changes and outstanding performances by players on both teams made it both a thrilling and maddening situation for Syracuse fans. As the game progressed, the fever pitch of the crowd rose. Finally, as it looked like the game was coming down to the last shot with the score tied, the fans huddled together and became quiet. They clung to each other as Duke brought the ball up the court and prepared to take the last shot against the formidable Syracuse zone defense. Just as the Duke point-guard launched a three point shot toward the basket, a bright flash of light was visible two miles away in the direction of the University. It was visible for many miles around and the low rumble that occurred afterward was felt and heard throughout the city. The quiet of the crowd was replaced by collective screams and wails of disbelief.
What had happened on the hill?
The crowd that had been mesmerized by the game was now completely silent staring at the flash of light followed by a small mushroom cloud visible in the distance. Lights went out on the hill, including the famed Crouse Irving clock tower. Lights began to come back on as emergency generators kicked in revealing a cloud of smoke and debris hanging over the area. Fans in Armory Square clung to each other in horror as the audible sound of sirens began to head in the direction of the Dome. Many covered their faces in horror as the sound of cheering turned to silence and then to muted sobs.
What had happened on the hill?