My Super-Awkward Encounter With the Miami Heat

I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I’m entrusted by certain publications to cover professional sports. I’m credentialed to go to NFL and NBA games every week.

Most people I’m acquainted with probably know that about me because, well, I’ve probably told them. I’ve interviewed a fair amount of professional athletes that I grew up watching. After talking to Ray Lewis, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki or Michael Vick it’s hard not to mention it on Facebook or tell someone the story about what they were like.

But to be honest, I don’t do that because I think it makes me look cool or anything like that. The truth is that I work really, really hard trying to make this whole writing thing work for me. I write anywhere from 30,000-40,000 words each week and maybe 45% of it gets published somewhere. The rest is either pitched to various publications that never follow up with me or just scrapped because I don’t like it. A fair amount of late nights are spent writing. I  typically have a 50 minute drive each way to work. And when everything’s said and done, I’d be making more money if I were working full-time at McDonalds. In fact, I don’t get paid a cent to cover the Dallas Mavericks. All this combines with the general stress of wondering if this will eventually turn into a sustainable career.

So really the only way to stay enthusiastic is to avoid becoming jaded. The fact that I spend a lot of time in places that I would have killed to be when I was eight years old is what keeps me working hard. If getting to talk to Jason Witten a couple times a week doesn’t seem pretty awesome then why am I doing it?

So last Thursday I covered the Dallas Mavericks matchup against the Miami Heat. By the time the night was over I had talked to Lebron James and Dwyane Wade among others. Pretty cool, right?

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The Man, the Myth, the Mighty Majerus

Some guys smoke. Some guys drink. Some guys chase women. I’m a big barbecue sauce guy.”

-Rick Majerus

If you follow this site at all then you probably know that most of the things I write about are not all that serious. Don’t get me wrong, movies about the show “Doug” and joke emails to Ryan Gosling’s restaurant are issues that need to be covered by someone, but in the grand scheme of things they aren’t all that important.

However, the former head basketball coach of my alma mater Saint Louis University, Rick Majerus, died yesterday, reportedly of heart failure, at the age of 64.

Majerus had just stepped down as coach prior to this season because of health issues. He coached at SLU for five years. I was there for his last four. And like many of my fellow students, I’d like to think he often reflected the general attitude and habits I adhered to during my college experience; he ate what he desired when he desired it, he rarely wore a tie and he really, really liked basketball.

According to people who supposedly know things, the years that many of us spend in college are some of the most formidable years of our lives. They shape who we are. They determine who we will become. They introduce us to people who change our lives. And then they give us a piece of paper that is supposed to make it easier to get a job.

I was lucky enough to spend those formidable years at a place where a large, loud, hilarious man was ever-present. Majerus was probably the most well-known, and definitely the most recognizable, man on the campus of Saint Louis University. If I was getting molded into some semblance of a grown up in my four years of college then Rick Majerus did some of that molding. And I never even met him.

So while I sit here, six and a half months removed from graduation and supposedly a person who knows a little bit more about the world, I decided to share the five things that I was lucky enough to learn from the life and death of Richard Majerus.

*I’m not attempting to recap the life and career of Majerus. There will be plenty of articles that do that in the coming week. If you don’t know much about him I strongly suggest you invest some time to read them because he is one of the most unique personalities in sports and one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of basketball.

If you fail miserably at something you believe in then don’t stop doing it.

If you don’t know anything about Majerus’ coaching style then you should know his game plan was not exactly to replicate the Showtime Lakers. He was a defensive minded coach. He liked to slow down the game, which often compensated for the fact that his opponent might have had more talented players.

Against a weak opponent the strategy often frustrated and broke down the opposing players. Against a more talented team it would allow the game to remain relatively close until the final minutes, which would at least give Majerus’ team a chance to win. If executed correctly it would typically bore the opposing fans just enough for them to stop caring about the game altogether.

And when Majerus was brought on as the head coach of the Saint Louis Billikens he brought that same kind of game plan. Unfortunately, even his coaching experience did not exactly make up for the lack of talent on his roster.

By January of 2008 I had decided that I was going to attend SLU for four years of college. I was the first person to ever go there from my high school. It was disappointing that they didn’t have a football team, but they did have a basketball team and they had just hired the historic coach Rick Majerus.

On January 10th, 2008 the Billikens traveled to play a game against George Washington University. Majerus implemented his slow-down-the-game strategy. He slowed it down a little too much. The Billikens made NCAA Division I history by scoring only 20 points in the game as a team. High school version of me was pretty embarrassed, which of course, is all that matters.

Majerus never flinched. Four years later, he coached the same way. Some of the games were still ugly. There were still some tough losses. But last season the Billikens finished 26-8 and made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament.

The years immediately following college usually involve a ton of failure. Even later in life things will blow up in your face. But even historic failures don’t prevent eventual success.

Don’t be afraid to say what you believe.

A few weeks after the historically bad season, Majerus was involved in local controversy when he made comments that implied that he supported women’s rights to abortion. The archbishop of St. Louis publicly stated that he hoped that SLU, a Catholic university, would take “appropriate action” concerning the basketball coach.

The SLU community found out that this wouldn’t be the first time Majerus opted against holding his tongue, whether it was regarding the toughness (or lack thereof) of his own players, his expectations of student fans, his own health and eating habits or pretty much anything that might enter the conversation.

What I’m saying has nothing to do with abortion. The fact of the matter is that Majerus said what he wanted when he wanted to say it. Sometimes it was slightly rude. Sometimes it was undeniably true. Usually it was pretty funny.

He absolutely offended some people over the course of his career. But he proved himself to be a person of high character. And the fact that he was never afraid to speak his mind made him more endearing and brought him far more admirers than detractors.

This is usually the case in life.

Tell people you love them while you have the chance.

Here is a link to the final press conference of Rick Majerus after losing in the third round of the NCAA tournament to Michigan State.

The big fella broke character, teared up, and explained how much this team meant to him. Few students at SLU will forget that press conference. They were extremely proud of their basketball team and it had taken some time to be able to say that.

I’m insecure enough of a person to typically roll my eyes and make fun of over-used and cliche statements like “tell people you love them while you have the chance.” Majerus wasn’t exactly the sappy type of guy either. But in his final press conference he showed that part of him. It was a part of him that always existed. SLU really only got the chance to have him as a coach because it allowed him to be closer to his ailing mother who died just over a year ago.

Near the end of his life he showed us a man willing to express his appreciation for the people around him. And in his sudden death he reminded us that we only have so much time to express those things.

Maybe try to be sort of healthy…or something.

Majerus was a big fat guy. The SLU student that says he or she never made a fat joke about Majerus is a liar. But no one made more jokes about it then the big man himself. He once told reporters that when he goes to the beach people try to push him back in the ocean because they think he’s a whale.

There was definitely something endearing and almost legendary about Majerus’ disintrest in limiting his eating habits. The guy pretty much didn’t give a shit. It definitely made me feel better about the BBQ stains on about half of my shirts.

But at then end of the day, we all know that his lifestyle strongly contributed to his early death. I’m being sincere when I say I respect that the man lived his life on his own terms. But he was taken away from people who care about him and respect him far earlier than he should have been.

I loved stories about Big Rick’s eating ventures. But I would much rather have 20 more years of quotes from him instead.

Imperfect men (and women) can still make perfect leaders

Majerus was fat. He didn’t always say the most politically correct things. His basketball teams played “ugly” games sometimes. You could probably find a couple more “flaws” if you looked hard enough.

But for five years at Saint Louis University he represented thousands of students. He was the face of the university, not just because he was relatively famous, but because the community embraced him.

SLU is an extremely community oriented school that you have to be apart of to really understand.

At a place where the actual school president can seem tyrannical at times (depending on what side of a stereotype you stand on), Majerus was the leader that we chose to stand behind. He felt like the man that could actually rally the troops if need be. Ask any Billiken basketball fan, any girl in a sorority, any freshman dorm RA, any alumni, any student making average grades trying to figure out what they were going to do with their lives; Majerus represented the bond they all shared. And they were all okay with that.

He was our leader because we believed in him. Not because he was perfect. Because he dedicated himself to his job. Because he never compromised. Because he was a good person who believed in the “student” part of “student-athletes.” Whether we were trying to be doctors, teachers, accountants, social workers, writers or whatever, we could be proud of what he represented. We could take that with us after we graduated. And we will take it with us after his death.

Most students went to at least one basketball game in their time at SLU. They probably participated in a chant or two as well. But it was the work of Majerus that caused those chants to be said with pride. And now he’ll be remembered with every cheer. Win or lose, we’ll have reasons to be proud.

We Are Saint Louis.

-Jonny Auping