New York—The culmination and high point of every basketball season since that of 1938-39 has occurred during the month of March. The first NCAA National Basketball Tournament was held at the conclusion of that season. The victory of the Oregon Ducks in the spring of 1939 did not make national headlines, nor was the outcome of the games in the tourney scrutinized by millions who wagered in betting pools.
Next spring, 68 collegiate teams will be selected to take part in the Division I phase of the tournament, each of the contests will be nationally televised and viewed by millions and millions, many not even followers of collegiate basketball, will take part of office pools.
To celebrate this milestone, the NCAA has planned a year-long series of activities to salute its history. Three of the collegiate basketball players most deserving of acclaim, Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Christian Laettner and David Thompson, were in New York City on Thanksgiving weekend to begin the festivities.
On Thanksgiving Day, the three rode on the March Madness float during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. On the following afternoon, three great hoopsters were at Madison Square Garden to promote the upcoming celebratory events.
The trio accompanied Dan Gavitt, vice-president of the NCAA to a press conference at MSG at the mid-point of the consolation game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. Gavitt explained the purpose of this season’s celebration, “Over the 75 years, March Madness has grown to be the world’s most exciting basketball event. As a thank you to the student-athletes, the coaches and fans, in the classrooms and communities across the country, the NCAA has designed events and activities that celebrate the history and people associated with the tournament.”
Abdul-Jabbar, a native of New York City, was the star of UCLA’s three consecutive national championship teams and was voted Most Outstanding Player in the three tourneys. He reflected on that earlier time, “It was a very special time in my life.”
Thompson was the major contributor to North Carolina State’s first national championship team in 1974. NC State is most remembered for stopping UCLA’s seven-time defending national champions in the semi-final. Thompson said he believed his team was successful because they played UCJA earlier in the season.
Laettner, the only man to start in four Final Four games, was asked to comment on the increasing number of teams invited to the tournament as the years have passed, “I don’t think it dilutes it even if you have 100 teams. A goliath can be beaten on any given night. That’s what people love about it, one and done.”
The three legends were called to center court to be honored at halftime of the NIT Tip-Off championship between Michigan and Kansas State.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which includes more than 1,000 colleges and universities as members, has scheduled a wide variety of projects during the basketball season. Those wishing to be more informed or to participate in any of the activities can find them at NCAA.com/March Madness.