Basketball: A story still untold

Would you watch the following movie?

  1. A local basketball star returns from playing college ball elsewhere to join his hometown school, and leads them in scoring. He's also selected as a nationwide first-team all-star. But it's not quite enough to push his team over the edge just yet; they will lose the conference championship by one point on their home floor.

  2. The next year, they get closer. This player (already a member of the national team) gets even better, averages 28 points and 14 rebounds, is once again named an all-star, and he carries his team to the national semifinals, where they lose by eight and will ultimately settle for bronze.

  3. To begin his third year with the team, he tops 30 points four times, and they post only one (exhibition) loss, in their first 15 games. After a pair of close misses, could this be the year?

  4. Then, halfway through the season (and this is where the story will get familiar to some of you), while travelling with the team in Florida, that star player dies.

  5. His teammates somehow play another 18 games after his death. They don't lose a single one of them.

  6. And, oh yeah, they win a national championship. At home, in their jammed-to-capacity gym. By one point. The winning shot comes with two seconds left.

These are cynical times and if you made up that screenplay today, people would scoff at the lack of realism. "As if that would really happen." The word "Disney" might be thrown around as a derisive adjective.

Of course, it did really happen, exactly like that.

Many readers already know that the above is the story of Mike Moser and the 1975 Waterloo Warriors men's basketball team. But I'd bet many more out there do not.

I went to many Waterloo basketball games and had friends on the team, but it took me a couple of years to figure out there was more to the story than "Mike Moser died young." The Waterloo athletics department posted a brief video on the subject, "Triumph over Tragedy", nearly two and a half years ago ... over which time it has apparently not even gathered 5,000 views. If a prerequisite for knowing the full Mike Moser story is "watching the current Warriors play basketball several times" or "subscribing to uwwarrior on YouTube" (or, for that matter, reading The CIS Blog) ... well, it's clear not many people in this country will ever make it that far. How many Moser winners in the last ten years know the history of its namesake and what happened to his team?

There's no reason why that story can't be retold — or told for the first time, really. It should have been made into a movie years ago. Done well, it would be better than almost any sports film that's been made since. What doesn't it have? Not much is missing. For all its charms, Hoosiers wasn't about moving on after the sudden death of Jimmy Chitwood. Miracle made millions, and that team certainly succeeded on a larger scale than Waterloo, but there were many more than two seconds left in that game, not to mention another one still to play. Moneyball has the winning streak but not the championship nor any actual drama. Rudy, like many other "based-on" movies, has notable inaccuracies — but you wouldn't need to add or change a thing to the Waterloo story. The actual events are dramatic enough.

The quality of the entertainment provided is secondary, however, to the simple main goal here: telling the story. Maybe then it wouldn't be news, and maybe I wouldn't have to write this again when they give out the Moser next March.
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