After watching Butler beat Michigan State to earn their spot in the championship game, I started doing other things and checking on the Duke-West Virginia game only occasionally. I finally sat down to watch it with full attention about mid-way through the second half. West Virginia was struggling to stay with the Blue Devils, and WVU Coach Bob Huggins appeared frustrated, bordering on angry towards his own team. It was right about this time that one of WVU's best players, Da'Sean Butler, fell to the floor and began writhing in pain. His cries and moans were painful themselves. The trainer, or team physician, came onto the court and tried to assess his player and had little success even getting an idea of the exact nature and location of the injury. It seemed that the pain of the injury and the pain of the realization of its finality with regards to his efforts for WVU, himself, and his coach were almost more than he could bear. He was in agony.
It was at this moment that Coach Huggins strolled over to his player and knelt at his side. His initial attempts to console his player had minimal success. He then knelt over him, nearly laying on him and wrapped his arms around Da'Sean's head and shoulders. Huggins moved his face inches away from his player's and cupped it in his hands. It appeared he began repeating himself over and over to Butler. As I watched sitting in silence on the couch next to Holly, my heart began pounding, a lump formed in my throat and tears began to roll. I was amazed, but not surprised by what I was seeing. It dawned on me that the only thing that could intervene and bring some relief to the suffering we had witnessed was love. I knew that Coach Huggins was somehow loving this young man in, and through, his suffering, and Holly and I were watching it along with millions of folks across the country. Huggins looked as if his compassion and care for this young man were more than enough to soak up his pain.
After a few moments, Butler was calm enough to be helped up and off of the floor. Huggins appeared transformed. He continued to coach WVU with intensity, but it seemed much more positively focused. Late in the game he called time-out and substituted to get his remaining players an experience they can tell their grandchildren. When his starters came off and hugged each other in an emotional embrace Huggins wrapped them up in an embrace of his own. He was again loving his players through the pain of their defeat, and the realization that their dream, and their time together, was over.
It was clear to me what I had just witnessed, as I think it was to most of the people who saw it. Two days later, it was confirmed by DaSean Butler as he was interviewed by CBS. When asked to describe the on-court exchange, Butler responded,
“Coach demanded my attention, he talked to me, and I was apologizing to him ‘Coach, I’m sorry I couldn’t get you your first national championship.’ I was really genuine about it and I apologized because I wasn’t playing that well and I wanted to let him know I really wanted to get him his first championship. All he said was ‘Don’t worry about it’ and ‘I love you’ and ‘You’re a special kid’ and 'I love you to death' and ‘Don’t let this stop you from doing what you’re doing’ and 'I love you.' He continued to say those things to me and it calmed me down … I’ll remember that moment the rest of my life.”
"He continued to say those things to me and it calmed me down..."
It was One, Shining, Moment.