At some time during my 4-year tenure at the University of Miami, I wised up and came to terms with the weight our reputation carries in the collegiate hierarchy. By virtue of our self-anointed, perennial swag, the Hurricanes will always be pegged as the Bond villain rather than the protagonist of the Cinderella Story, regardless of how abysmal we may actually prove to be. This pugnacious, give-no-f*** attitude we dye our Green and Orange with will consistently bracket us the favorite, no matter the scene or scenario. We actually stand to suffer from this over-assuming stigma, as we’re booed and heckled across the broadband, competing against the impossibly high level of expectation set by the Golden Years of our performance…frankly, that was a decade ago when it comes to the athletic programs. Yup, your friends and coworkers will never aid and abet in rooting for The U, but hey, that’s their lose. This year may be different though. As Coach Richt puts the Turn Over Chain into storage, the Canes take to the hardwood to bolster our newfound title as a basketball school, with a universally celebrated hero who measures up in all ways but one. For the first time in recent memory, Miami has an underdog that is offering us the ironically beneficial come-from-behind sentiment that has always escaped us. Enter 5’6” Freshman, Chris Lykes.
If you haven’t tuned in to Canes Hoops yet, Lykes is the bantam weight teenager from DC who is welcomed with deafening gusto each time his name is called. His stout, pipsqueak stature is likely the cause of the crowds decibel level, as his size still debunks conventional basketball knowledge. Even with bona fide greats like Nate Robinson, Spud Webb, and Muggsy Bogues, Lykes finds himself within the microscopic talent pool that lurks beneath the 6 foot mark. He is now poised to lend his hand at the deregulation of hoops norms when it comes to high level basketball, and this vestigial novelty we still find substantial enjoyment in. His genome will always slate him the underdog, and unless his on-court performance begins to wither, the elation he is met with will likely gain momentum before it comes to a halt. Juxtaposed against men who don’t even need to jump to dunk, Chris Lykes is the universities mascot at the current, offering more pep and camaraderie than Sebastian can muster with a thousand beak-twists and C-A-N-E-S chants.
Upon his recruitment, Coach Jim Larranaga was quick to banish the preconceived notions on the bite-sized ball handler as his pre-collegiate rap sheet is blatant evidence of his inconspicuous worth. Barring the golden arches of a McDonalds All American player, the rest of the Freshman repertoire is there in spades. Hailing from the revered WCAC Conference, Lykes has been thwarting the naysayers of his b-ball prowess from the get-go and the analysts who vehemently wax philosophical when it comes to his height. His potential was noted by recruiters from across the NCAA though, as he hoarded offers from the Championship Winning program likes of Villanova and Gonzaga, while his 3.8GPA awarded him athletic scholarship to Stanford. He built his resume thereafter on Nike’s sponsored AAU teams, before being crowned conference MVP, dethroning not one, but two prevailing Mickey D’s players (an accolade he clearly didn’t need when push came to shove). Now sub-in point guard for the streaky 2017-2018 #25 Hurricanes, Lykes is again proving value with his 8.1 PPG and .422 field goal % on less than 20 minutes of per game playing time. While it’s still considerably early, put your money on the kid to be the real deal as his game matures at the raised ante that is college hoops. We’re doubting the player in the face of such strong credentials due to his height of course, but if Coach L likens him to Michael Jordan “if he were six-six,” we should regard the weathered opinion as truth. Still though, I’d wager that the applause he receives isn’t from stellar gameplay (yet), as Lonnie Walker and Ja’Quan Newton are still the 1,2 punch for the Canes. Instead, it is the context and relativity we scrutinize him against. While the school he plays for will always hail from the alpha-dog corner, Lykes will stand to be the benefactor from the human condition when it comes to uneven competition. We will ALWAYS root for an underdog.
It’s one of the many paradoxes people tend to submit themselves to, which I’ll frame as a question that honestly isn’t too difficult to answer. Why are we drawn to those who themselves are drawn to lose? After all, the binary of sports is win/lose and more often than not, victory is preferable. Well there’s a psychology here, as with all things, and it lies in a realm behind competition and delves into the subconscious provocation of our own selves. There’s a reason why we root for the Jamaican bobsled team. There’s ideology behind our interest in rags to riches stories and the DIY attitude. There’s strategy behind Reagan painting himself the less favorable to Carter when competing for our political pathos and why the story of David championing Goliath will be chopped and sewn in locker room pep talks for millennia. Yes, the pervasiveness of the unexpected is appealing, but the tenacity of heart is where I’d wager the root of causality lies. It’s not about the toppling of the consistently successful, a term I learned to be coined as “Schadenfruede,” or the hate that stems from jealousy. It’s theemotion at play, highlighting the joy we find in watching unlikely hero’s achieve against the odds, a narrative we dream of daily in our own lives. The underdog will always be the favorite because in this mad world, that’s likely the role we play ourselves.
In the case of 5’6” Chris Lykes, he’s likely always been placed on the lesser side of the scales of good fortune. A life spent sidelined from roller coaster rides and looking up teammates nostrils shaped his perspective and adapted him into a voracious Hurricane that sports anchors and fanatics across the subfield are rooting for. The short guy dunking on the bigs is front page news, not for the physiology that gets defied, but for the emotional cord it resonates with. As Lykes finds himself on court at the Watsco Center more and more, the support he generates from the crowd is unmatched and unwavering. It’s a narrative Miami hasn’t been casted as in quite a while but in time, the novelty of his stature will be all but erased so his game will have to speak for itself. In a sport that rests on the laurels of a cast-iron genome, Lykes breaks the mold and uses the gifts he has been granted, and retrofits his skill set around the per usual metrics he was genetically denied. Basketball isn’t the only hyper-stigmatized climate people find themselves in, so this is the type of narrative that gives us hope that we can achieve with our own abilities and inabilities. It’s been a while since Miami had an underdog, but Chris Lykes is poised to prosper from the doubt he inherently encounters. We would be wise to take notes for our own lopsided endeavors.