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Paul Turner: Gonzaga basketball was a gift to our community

Caleb Dawson, President of Gonzaga’s Student Body Association, rallies fans during a watch party at McCarthey Athletic Center on Monday. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Maybe I’m wrong.

But I think Spokane will never be the same.

Yes, the way Monday night’s game ended was heartbreaking. But aren’t you proud of the way those boys fought, even on a night when things just weren’t going their way?

I know I am.

No, the Zags didn’t win the national championship. But the season they had was nothing short of inspiring.

It was a gift to our community. We won’t soon forget. Or at least we shouldn’t.

Can you remember anything bringing Spokane together like that splendid basketball team? Can you remember an experience shared by so many, both down here in the University of Phoenix Stadium and back home in front of the TV?

OK, it’s sports. Only sports. If you are sick or in debt, GU making it to the final game won’t magically change your circumstances.

And today Spokane faces the same sobering social problems it faced before the Final Four.

But I suspect something has changed. Maybe forever.

That community defensiveness and inferiority complex we hear so much about? I think it got a swift kick in the teeth down here in the desert.

We were so close.

It would have been such a grand party, here amid the sea of swirling sound and bright, bright colors. That wasn’t to be.

Still, it seems like it would be a mistake to assume all we take away from this is disappointment. Some of us are still inspired.

That team could do almost anything. Can’t that be Spokane’s attitude, too?

Not everyone loves basketball. But who doesn’t admire tenacious effort and heart?

The shots were not falling. It happens.

We’ll all wonder about the what-ifs. And the sting won’t go away soon.

But those who were here in Glendale will remember the cascading roar of the GU fans in the huge stadium. They will recall that it wasn’t like any sound they had ever heard. Well, heard and felt.

It wasn’t just loud. It was passionate. It was from the heart. It was Spokane giving voice to a dream, a dream that slipped through our hands.

Maybe you came to this captivating basketball season late. Perhaps you didn’t get into it until GU made it to the Final Four.

That’s OK. There’s never a wrong time to root for Spokane.

Maybe you’ve seen those “Gonzaga Mentality” shirts. I’m not certain what they mean, but I have an idea.

I think they suggest a way to be in life. I think they are about toughness, togetherness and love.

Someday we’ll be able to shake our heads and more easily talk about Karnowski’s missed shots. We’ll talk about the foul trouble. And Nigel’s ankle and how tough he must be to have finished the game hobbled.

And how maddening and frustrating it is that the Zags didn’t have a good game.

Aren’t you still proud of those players? Maybe now, more than ever.

Don’t you want to embrace them and say thank you? Don’t you want to say you’re sorry the story did not have a happier ending? But also tell them we appreciate the thrill ride they took us on?

No, they didn’t win. But they are such outstanding winners. That was right there for all to see.

Where are you from? Say it loud, and say it proud.

Go, Zags!

Go, Spokane!

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