For your Friday, a longform piece on Earl Badu, former Maryland guard who hit one of the bigger shots in Terrapin history in March, 2002. Blau’s tragic death sheds light on the darkness that descends on some former hoops stars after the crowd stops cheering.
SB Nation’s Michael Graff has written a moving and thought-provoking tribute to Blau.
Here is the opening:
You know the wish can’t come true, but people say it all the time to hide their own fears, so you’ll open with it, too: You wish he could just be happy. It would be easier that way. You could just hang curtains around everything else—the past, the future, the end—and you could look down through a tunnel at him and say, Freeze. Stay right there. And he’d remain locked in this memory, the little guy with the big heart playing in the final minute of the final game of a storied arena.
Of course, it can’t stay this way. But let’s entertain the idea for a moment.
It’s March 3, 2002. The final night at Cole Field House. The building is loud tonight. The University of Maryland’s basketball team has played here for 47 years, but Cole means more than that. In the 1960s, this was where five black men from Texas Western beat five white men from Kentucky. In the 1970s, this was where a coach named Lefty came out of the tunnel before each game to “Hail to the Chief.” But this is also a place for the ordinary man. Your uncles have long told you stories of sneaking in late at night to play one-on-one in the dark.
After tonight, though, a new building will open, one with better locks. After tonight, every piece of the floor will be divided up and sold to fans for between $50 and $200. That doesn’t interest you. You don’t want a piece of wood; you just want this to end the right way.
So you start recording mental notes. Who wins the last tipoff? Who scores the first basket? Who hacks the last foul? And, of course, who scores the last point? Little things like this seem important now. You tell yourself you’ll remember the names forever.
Maryland is beating Virginia pretty soundly, so this is all fun for you. Tonight is also Senior Night, and the seniors on this 2002 team have won more games than any other class before it in school history. You don’t know it yet, but they’ll win a national championship in a few weeks.
This will be the team nobody forgets.
The score is 103-87. Two minutes left. The coach prepares to pull his stars. Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, names like that. People who’ve scored thousands of points.You think you know them. You’re watching from home. You were raised on Terrapins basketball, and you’ve followed this group for four years. They’re your age, about 22 at the time, and they’re winning. On the television broadcast, the announcers have already started wondering whose name will be tied to the final basket. They talk like they have a secret wish. But you share it with them, and so does everybody else in the state. The perfect person, the storybook ending, would be him.
He’s listed at 6 feet tall. But he’s actually only 5’9, something you’ll learn later while reading his autopsy report.
Here is the link to the full piece: