On a gray afternoon last April, 6-ft. 10-in. Crimson basketball center Bob McCabe leaned on his bike in the empty doorway of unfinished Briggs Cage.
Four construction workers scurried about inside, doing their small part to complete the remodeling of the facility in time to make it the new home of Harvard hoop for the start of the 1981-82 season.
"Don't look too good," I mumbled to the bemused McCabe, who was staring intently at the activity inside. "Not good at all."
McCabe kept looking at the construction, didn't turn my way at all. "It'll get done. At least they better finish it," he said, practically spitting out the words.
In order to understand the tenor of McCabe's response, you've got to understand what most people consider the importance of Briggs Cage to the future of basketball at Harvard.
For Briggs Cage is God.
It is--or was--or still is--the facility that is supposed to fuel the regeneration of Crimson roundball. The new-old arena with the magical, suspended on air, removeable astroturf carpet suitable for winner baseball practice is supposed to lure big-time high school players and biggertime college teams to Harvard basketball.
"After all," it has been asked. "Why would a team like Texas come to the IAB?"
But now, as the word has gotten around that those four workmen--because of a strike--won't get around to finishing Briggs until January or (gulp) even late March, pre-season attention has shifted from the arena to the team that will eventually play there.
And what people are starting to realize is that that hoped for rebirth has already been accomplished. Coach Frank McLaughlin has built a damn good squad in the musty confines of the half-century old IAB.
Consequently, few Crimson players are all that upset. They're disappointed, to be sure, but prefer to look ahead to the season to come.
Senior guard Robert Taylor harbors a greater affinity for the IAB than most players on the squad, but his reaction to the postponed opening date (how does November 1982 grab you?) was fairly typical. "There's nothing wrong with the IAB at all. It's just that people don't like climbing four flights of stairs. As a player, the IAB is just fine for me."
Point guard Calvin Dixon--who can dribble in the IAB as well as he would be able to in the new arena--has adjusted easily to the delay, if a little less enthusiastically than Taylor. "I was really excited about playing Stanford in the opening game in Harvard's new arena," he said, "but then I asked when it would be ready, and when I heard late March or something like that, I just chalked it up to 'wait till next year."
But the situation will likely affect Donald Fleming--the senior swingman who has done so much for Harvard basketball, the captain who holds the school's all-time scoring record--more than anyone else. More than McLaughlin, more than any of the sophomores or juniors on the squad, even more than Bob Ferry, the highly touted freshman guard who came to Harvard from Washington's De Matha High partly because of Briggs Cage. Because this is Flemings last year, and he's been waiting a long time.
"I feel bad about it. It's my last year, the team has a real chance to win the Ivy League championship, and we would have had a new gym. Even if we just get a chance to play a couple games down there it'd be nice..." His voice trails off.
Even Fleming really doesn't seem to mind, though, and he manages to find a little humor in the situation. "It'll just be embarrassing playing a big team like Texas in the (IAB)," he said. "Man, they're going to laugh, they're just going to laugh."
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