A True Crimson Madness



A True Crimson Madness: Panem et Circenses for Students




It’s 7:00 pm on a Friday night, and Lavietes pavilion shines like a beacon of hope signaling the end of the week. It is now time to come back to life. After a tidal wave of midterms has swept consciences clear of enjoyment, crossing the Charles breathes levity in our cramped brains. The soothing effect of the river might just pass unnoticed though. There is a cloud of chatter that surrounds every group headed for the games. First symptom of release: gossip relieves stress. 

Walking past Blodgett, into Lavietes, the DHA shirts and Crimson Basketball start popping out. Though the athletes aren’t formally obliged to identify themselves, it’s easy to know who’s in. If it makes it any easier, those who generally lurk around the door in look for seats might indicate who’s not. As for any show, seats are important. Those who proceed to the periphery, rather than bolting for a team, must not sit too far away from the student body. Harvard sticks together after all. Of course, there is the other side of the gym, but only real supporters know the secret to winning the sitting situation: the shirts get thrown in our direction.

Of course there are the myriad of adorable kids, each sporting a basketball jersey. But they’re already well rewarded for their zeal: they always get the best screen time on the Jumbotron and they always get private audiences with our players. So we deserve the shirts. They gift a most precious token of revival after the complete self-estrangement of the week: identification. I was there, I am Crimson. I saw our athletes perform, what were you doing? 

They serve the purpose of integrating the student to the community much better than the actual praise and banter afforded the athletes of old. Why should we talk about Chris Ledlum’s epic dunk? There’s a tacit understanding that we both saw it, so long as we’re wearing… the shirts.

It’s not why we came however. We came for the trek, and chatter with our friends, and a show! Our Harvard Men’s Basketball team, decked like angels and demons, are about to show off in the old tradition of power and skill in accuracy. Everyone knows what to expect. Every player knows what they have to show for. If not for the welcome committee handing us yellow coupons, we might’ve even forgotten about the shirts. 

All now seated, correct places and all, the dunk contest approaches. The static is palpable. We expect extraordinary feats. With every missed attempt, as we’re guessing how the player is scheming to impress us, we cannot help but raise the bar to the level of excellence we wish we had committed to during the week. Second symptom of release: catharsis. At last the sectionalism pays off. Mason and Chris as standing in the middle of the athletes, ears attuned to the closest (or loudest) yells for scores. They are the ultimate vindicators of the democratic pulse of the dunk contest. The night’s MC, Chelsea Vuong ‘21, is wonderfully backed in the endeavour of live reporting these numbers and those of the star-studded judge board, including Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Tacko Fall. She receives the computation of the scores directly from the heavily-manned desk of analysts beyond. This is a heady operation.

Next comes the 3-point contest. Disappointing at times, what matters for our fill of skill still happens: buzzer-shots, 3-point streaks, cool shoulder shrugs. Blame any disappointment on the timer. But here, we must be reminded of how the real frenzy starts. The lights go down, Harvard cheerleaders and dancers line up. When introducing the civilian contestants in the professional basketball interlude, Vuong emphasizes the tennis player, the runner, the football player. A variegated lot. Emerging from a tunnel of pom-poms, each hero graces the audience with a gift. A foretaste of the Crimson madness. 

As the students line up for their trial at the game of 21, the sacrilegious carts are rolled in…

The subversion is potent. Our beloved and respected athletes rob us fans from vicariously experiencing the glamour of being a basket-baller through those selected athletes in the spotlight. They are instructed to start throwing around shirts from their carts and no one looks at the contest any longer. They substitute in our destitute wills the encouragement of peers for the firm clasp around a soft shirt. Thankful we are, reaching over one another to receive the gracious gifts. The screams have never been louder, some players take their time, enjoying a most perfect sense of showmanship. They know what to expect.

Hopefully, they will also have learned not to expect too much from the exhausted audience after the great exhilaration. The longest part of the event, the intra-team scrimmage, collects but a few cheers. After everything has ended, all students promptly get up to leave, as the cute kiddoes line up for an autograph signing. Bleachers mostly empty, there is an immense mass of people by the back end of the gymnasium. It is not traffic to exit the gym. It’s time to redeem the yellow vouchers.

Third symptom of release: renewed fervor for agglomeration. And we are ready to start another week.


Ana Luiza Nicolae ’22 (analuiza_nicolae@college.harvard.edu) writes forum for the Indy.