Mike Wilbon
Washington Post

Maryland playing Georgetown will be the most important story we can get our hands on next week. But the best story of this week, here or in any other region, was Idaho's love affair with Hampton. It might be the warmest, fuzziest, feel-good relationship I've seen develop in 20 years of covering the NCAA tournament.

Thursday night, a house full of people at The Pavilion (11,250) fell in love with Hampton's underdog of a basketball team, its foot-stompin', head-boppin' band, and its cheerleaders who say to hell with stunts, let's dance. Hampton is a historically black university; Boise is 98 percent white. Their two worlds -- trust me on this -- have never ever intersected. Until here and now. The basketball team brought Boise and Hampton together, and because the house was full to the rim, the band played on. The people of Boise, who bought all the tickets for this event months ago, stayed and partied.

They were so taken with the Hampton people, they invited the band to play between periods of Friday night's Idaho Steelheads West Coast Hockey League game at Bank of America Center. Carpet was rolled out so the cheerleaders could dance . . . on the ice. Another full house, 5,800, greeted Hampton's band -- called The Force -- and made them stay and play on, and on. Folks quite literally danced in the aisles. When the arena cleared, band director Al Davis took his band members across to The Grove Hotel, where they started another set.

It seemed as if all of Boise was there, boppin', swinging. Hampton turned Boise into Bourbon Street on Friday night. People came in off the street to hear the band play.

So Saturday afternoon, in the middle of the Maryland-Georgia State game, the damndest thing happened. This mighty roar went up as the Hampton band members, sans instruments, walked to their seats in the stands. When the Hampton team was introduced to the crowd at Boise State Pavilion, it was as if the old Celtics had walked into Boston Garden. The Hampton cheerleaders held up signs that spelled out, "We Love Boise!"

Asked to talk about this instantly formed relationship between this Northwest city and Hampton University, guard Marseilles Brown said emotionally: "No words, man. . . . Sorry."

Merfeld, clearly stunned by everything that had happened here this weekend, from the upset of second-seeded Iowa State on Friday night to the reception his team got before, during, and after the game against Georgetown, had some words.

"The recognition people gave us has been very, very special," he said. "It's very obvious to us why the tournament is in Boise, Idaho. We didn't know that when we were assigned this region, but we do now. Thank you."

People in Washington and New York and Philly hear Boise, and they laugh. They wonder why the NCAA would put first- and second-round games here. They don't know how The Pavilion was filled to watch Shaq and Alonzo Mourning play their final college games here in 1992, or how the house nearly fell the afternoon UCLA's Tyus Edney drove the length of the floor with 3.5 seconds left in 1995 to beat Missouri at the buzzer, or how nuts it was in 1998, when West Virginia's Jarrod West beat No. 2 seed Cincinnati with a heave at the buzzer.

There might not be another place where these games are likely to be so appreciated, and there probably isn't a school more appreciative in return than Hampton, which will take back home to Virginia memories so fond they could make a national champion jealous.



By Bob Foltman, Tribune Staff Writer.
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2001
Section: Sports
Page: 6

A historically African-American university from southeastern Virginia came to this predominantly white community in the middle of Idaho, and the two fell in love.

Georgetown advanced to the Sweet 16 in Anaheim with a 76-57 victory over Hampton on Saturday, but there was no question who the real winner was.

It's not uncommon for a neutral crowd to adopt the underdog, but what happened this weekend between the city of Boise and Hampton University went far beyond basketball.

The romance was kindled when Hampton--a No. 15 seed making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament--stunned second-seeded Iowa State on Thursday in the first round. By Saturday, it was as if Hampton's campus had relocated to this city surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

"I'm not surprised, but I'm very pleased," said William Harvey, Hampton University's president.

The basketball fans of Boise loved the grit and determination of point guard Marseilles Brown and stunning athleticism of Tarvis Williams. But the real stars of the weekend were the Hampton band and dancers.

"I'm so happy; it's been wonderful," said Tracie Jackson, a sophomore dancer from Houston.

There were six minutes left in the first half of the Maryland-Georgia State game and a Maryland player was about to shoot a free throw when a roar went through the Pavilion. The Hampton band had entered the arena.

"Our band has been all over the city," Harvey said. And he wasn't exaggerating. The band played in the lobby of its hotel with the hotel piano player and even made an appearance Friday evening as the entertainment for the Idaho Steelheads minor-league hockey game.

Joining the band at the hockey game were the dancers. Blending ear-to-ear smiles with hip-hop dances, the young women and band received thunderous ovations whenever they hit the court or picked up instruments. Still, a hockey game?

"Half of us have never been to a hockey game," Jackson said.

But in the first intermission, a rug was laid out on center ice and another roar went through the tiny arena when the spotlight shone on the women high-stepping--gingerly--onto the ice.

"We were kind of scared, but when we got there we had the time of our lives," Jackson said. The band was such a hit that it played again in the second intermission, and the dancers participated in a promotion in which the best dancing fan received a dinner. Boise men fell all over themselves trying to do the bump with a dancer.

Saturday it was Hampton's turn to return the love. In the first timeout of the game, the dancers held signs saying "We love Boise." Every performance brought a huge ovation.

For a while Saturday, it appeared as if Hampton would be the first 15th seed to win two rounds. The crowd of 11,669 nearly blew the doors off of the place when Cleveland Davis converted an alley-oop dunk to tie the game at 16-16.

But it wasn't to be. Georgetown went on a 20-2 run to close the first half and take control.

So Georgetown will go on and join the Dukes and Stanfords in the rest of the tournament. For many, Hampton will become just a feel-good story in the big picture of the tournament. But for Boise and Hampton, it will mean much more.

"Half of us didn't know where Idaho was [before the tournament]," Jackson said. Before leaving the Pavilion for the final time, the dancers had one more sign to show the crowd. "Thank you, Boise" it read.

One got the impression Boise would like to thank Hampton as well.


Reader's View - William Harvey: Boiseans welcome visitors from Hampton with love

William Harvey

Thank you Boise, for opening up your city and your hearts to Hampton University.

From the time of my arrival on Thursday until my departure on Sunday morning, I witnessed the greatest outpouring of love and humanity by an entire city that I have ever seen in all of my life. You are very special people!

What makes this display of love and humanity even more remarkable is its blindness to racial differences -- Boise, predominately white, and Hampton University, predominately black.

In a conversation with Bishop Michael Driscoll, bishop of the Idaho Catholic Church, I said that if we could bottle what I had witnessed in Boise over the last four days and fling it to every village and hamlet in the world, it would be the most positive thing imaginable. I told him that if this could be done, there would be no more racism, unkindness, conflicts, wars and rumors of wars.

At every step I made -- from The Grove Hotel, to the Boise Towne Square mall, to restaurants, the Winco supermarket, and the Pavilion at Boise State University -- everyone was courteous, kind and caringg.

If others ever tell you that your city is not sensitive to race relations, tell them to talk to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who came down on the floor the afternoon we played Georgetown to embrace our players, cheerleaders, band and others from Hampton University.

Tell them to talk to the piano player from The Grove Hotel who jammed each night with members from the Hampton University Band.

Tell them to talk to that same piano player who bought members of the Hampton Boosters a cocktail.

Tell them to talk to the waitresses, cab drivers, sales associate in the Ralph Lauren section at Dillard's or the sales associate at Mervyn's who had been born in Croatia and who was now a high school student in Boise.

Tell them to talk to the bus driver and hotel receptionists that proudly wore Hampton University sweatshirts.

Tell them to talk to the large group of fans who made T-shirts that said "Happy St. Pirates Day."

Tell them to talk to the fans at the Steelheads' hockey game who gave our band and cheerleaders a standing ovation when they completed their performance.

Tell them to talk to the usher who seated me at the hockey game and who at 6 a.m. on Sunday at the airport congratulated and thanked our team, our band and cheerleaders for bringing such a positive image to Boise.

Tell them to talk to the many people who referred to Hampton University as "a touch of class."

And, finally, tell them to talk to reporters of The Idaho Statesman, such as Mike Prater, Mike Butts, Derrick Samson, Patrick Orr, or other media reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, who actually made me shiver with their accurate, sensitive and wonderful chronicling of the love affair between Hampton University and the city of Boise, Idaho.

To all the citizens of Boise, please know how much I love you.

I want you to know that I will be coming back to Boise, and if Boise State University, the Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Brent Coles, the chairman and CEO of Albertson's or Micron Technology will invite me, I hope it is sooner rather than later.

William R. Harvey is president of Hampton University.