Spectacles on the basketball court

The championship game of the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be held April 4. And no matter how my beloved Indiana Hoosiers fared Friday against North Carolina, this has been one of the most exciting tournaments since 1987, the last time the Hoosiers won the championship.

A few Davids upsetting Goliaths, plenty of nail-biters won by last-second heroics, some great comebacks and game after game of outstanding play and sportsmanship. Even for a casual basketball fan like me, it’s been hard to tear myself away from the TV, abusing the remote as I flip among three games going on at the same time.

I would call it perfect, if not for Charles Barkley, but that’s just me.

About midway through the tournament, my wife, Brenda, noticed something nearly as interesting as the basketball.

“These guys worry about their hair as much as women do,” she said.

I hadn’t noticed, but once she pointed it out, I can’t not notice, no matter how much I try. There are nearly as many hairstyles as there are players.

When I was in college, when IU went undefeated to win the 1976 national championship, just saying, most players sported one of three hairstyles: close-cropped, long enough to cover the ears or the Afro.

Off the basketball court, it wasn’t much different except that most of the guys with really short hair were in ROTC and plenty of men had hair WAY below their ears.

Depending on your circumstances, your outlook on life and your hair itself, you simply chose one of the three basic styles and didn’t give it another thought.

Those days appear to be long gone. From what I can tell, today’s young men — at least the basketball players — think about their hair a LOT.

I’ve seen everything from ROTC burrs to Afros that would make Artis Gilmore proud — and everything imaginable in between. And the facial hairstyles are almost as varied.

I’ve seen hair that appears to sprout from the player’s head like a broccoli floret. One guy even has the ends of each sprout dyed blond. I’ve seen a variety of pony tails, hair standing straight up and maybe even a man bun or two.

As far as facial hair, I’ve seen everything from clean shaven to 5 o’clock shadow to Stephen F. Austin State University’s Thomas Walkup’s new wave Mohawk and long beard that appears to be glued to his face.

Checking out the wide variety of wild cranial and facial do’s, I can feel Bobby Knight spinning in his grave — and he’s not even dead.

Almost as entertaining as the hairstyles are the tattoos. I’ve seen everything from a single tattoo on the upper arm to several players with one or two “sleeves,” meaning their entire arm is covered in tattoos from wrist to shoulder.

These guys aren’t even 25 years old yet. How do they get so many tattoos at such a young age? With all the time they spend at basketball practice and the tattoo parlor, one wonders how they have time to go to class.

Though it takes a little getting used to for a guy from my era, when IU went undefeated to win the 1976 national championship, just saying, I have to admit that I find it refreshing that today’s student athletes are able to express their individuality, to wear their hair how they want to and grow a beard if they want to and cover their body with tattoos if they want to.

Watching all these players, coaches and fans experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat (as 65 out of 66 teams eventually do), I learned something.

On the basketball court — and everywhere else — it’s not important how your wear your hair or whether you have a strange-looking beard or if your arms are covered with tattoos. What matters is your talent, determination, courage and grace.

What matters is what’s in your heart.

In today’s America, that’s a lesson we could all stand to learn.