Every year, March Madness delivers so much more than 67 basketball games and a gambling debt. It gives us moments. Some of those moments — Butler coming within one half-court prayer of an unlikely title in 2010, Shabazz Napier doing it by himself in 2014 — are just basketball moments. But many of those moments are more emotional. They are about family and promise and potential and all the things parents see when their kid steps on a court. And, yeah, there are a lot of dads. So many dads. So many happy dads. So many crying dads. So many tall dads.
To that end, we combed through the history of March Madness in search of the best NCAA Tournament dad story ever told. Stories were judged not just ona a nebulous “heartwarming-ness” criteria, but on three different qualities. First, the “long story short” test: If you were to tell someone this story, how loud would their “awwww” be? Second, the “inspiration” test: How inspiring is the story to future generations? And, finally, the “dad” test: How dad-core is this story?
Here’s a spoiler: despite him being his kids’ biggest fans, LaVar Ball did not make it into the top 5.
5. Bill Murray Supports His Son’s Xavier Team
What is it: Bill Murray, yes, that Bill Murray, took off his megastar actor hat and put on a Xavier Musketeers hat for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Why? His son, Luke Murray, was an assistant coach on the Musketeers side that upset 6-seed Maryland, 3-seed Florida State, and 2-seed Arizona on the way to the Elite Eight as an 11-seed. While Xavier would eventually lose to eventual national runner-up Gonzaga in that round, Murray’s support made headlines early on, giving the Big East team an extra bump of national attention. Cameras captured the actor cheering the big X on from the stands, inspiring many a bad joke related to his plethora of big movies.
Long Story Short Score: Bill Murray is the most famous person on this list, so showing him as a normal dad should inspire a “celebrities: they’re just like us!” kind of appreciation. 6/10
Inspiration Score: Is anyone really inspired by this? Aside from the fact that you would expect a parent to cheer for their son in the biggest moments of their career, Murray also has some iffy history with family-related stories; his ex-wife Jennifer Butler filed for divorce in 2007 while accusing Murray of physical violence and threats. 1/10
Dad Score: It is still great to see a venerable actor put on his best dad jeans and celebrate his kid, though. 8/10
4. Dad Recreates Villanova’s Game-Winning Shot For Daughter
My oldest daughter was born right at the beginning of March Madness. I remember watching non-stop basketball in the hospital and the first few days of bringing her home. Maybe that's part of the reason her and I have shared a special bond when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Last year she picked @novambb to win the whole thing and I picked @unc_basketball I'll never forget watching her reaction to the final 10 seconds of that game. This year for her birthday I wanted to do something special for it. So I told her I was going to make a Lego re-enactment video dedicated to her. Happy Birthday Jovie! I hope this year is as magical as last year.
What is it: While this is cheating, as it doesn’t pertain to the dad of a March Madness participant, the sheer effort put in by Jared Jacobs to be the ultimate dad for his 11-year-old daughter, Jovie, gets him on the list. Back in 2016, Jovie correctly predicted that Villanova would become national champions, which they did thanks to an insane buzzer-beating 3-pointer over North Carolina in the title game. The elder Jacobs recreated the shot that with Jovie. It took 40 hours and a lot of Legos. The result speaks for itself.
Long Story Short Score: Who doesn’t love it when a dad goes the extra mile for their kids? Especially when it’s something that seems inconsequential but actually makes the child’s day? 8/10
Inspiration Score: Somewhere, there is a dad waiting for a huge shot like Jenkins’ to push him into action this year. Keep an eye peeled. 7/10
Dad Score: Dads going above and beyond to entertain their kid, and then turning that entertainment into a viral post where they can show off their love to the whole world? Yep, that’s a good score. 7/10
3. Ron Hunter Coach His Son R.J. to a Huge Upset
What is it: Ron Hunter has coached the Georgia State Panthers since 2011, but it’s likely that most people remember him for the team’s massive upset of 3-seed Baylor in 2015 NCAA tournament. Aside from being at the helm of a rare 14 seed-vs.-3 seed upset, Hunter became famous for coaching his son, R.J., the star of that Panthers team. As GSU was trailing by 12 points with just under 3 minutes to play, R.J. took over, scoring 12 of the Panthers’ last 13 points on the way to the huge victory. Was Ron proud? Well, as R.J. hit a deep 3 to give GSU the lead it would not relinquish, Ron’s celebration was so excited that he actually fell off his stool in joy.
Long Story Short Score: A dad coaching his son to a momentous victory, only to slightly injure himself in the process of celebration? That gets a perfect score. 10/10
Inspiration Score: While it’s inspiring to see R.J. thrive in such a big game, and to see Ron coach him, this might also inspire less-qualified sports dads to take over their sons’ games in order to replicate the success. 7/10
Dad Score: Not only did Ron coach R.J. to tournament immortality, but he also gave us a great viral clip that shows how klutzy and hilarious dads can be. 9/10
2. Jimmy V’s Celebration and Speech
What is it: If you follow college basketball, you know the story, which spans a decade. Jim Valvano was the coach of the 1983 NC State Wolfpack, who upset the massively favored Houston Cougars in the title game that year. Jimmy V’s ecstatic celebration is one of the most memorable images in college basketball history. Ten years later, Valvano gave one of the greatest speeches in sports history, at the ESPY awards, where he talked about persevering through the bone cancer that would claim his life just 8 weeks later. In the presence of his wife and three daughters, the great coach announced the V Foundation for Cancer Research, which would continue his legacy posthumously in an attempt to cure cancer.
Long Story Short Score: It doesn’t get more heartwarming than this. A great basketball coach uses his personal hardship to set up a foundation that aims to cure one of history’s deadliest diseases. 10/10
Inspiration Score: If Jimmy V’s celebration doesn’t inspire you to pick up a basketball, his ESPYs speech should inspire you to donate money towards cancer research. Otherwise, you might be made of stone. 10/10
Dad Score: Here’s where Jimmy V’s story falters a bit in our rankings; while he was surely a great father whose family carried on his legacy after his death, there’s just a bit missing when it comes to the actual March Madness story. 8/10
1. Roosevelt “Rose” Barnes Adopts At-Risk Basketball Star
What is it: A first-round matchup between Iowa State and Purdue might not inspire the most national attention, but the 2017 showdown between the Cyclones and the Boilermakers had a lot of heart in it, in the form of Purdue big man Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan. Swanigan was nicknamed “Biggie” as a kid because he was, well, big: As an eighth grader, Biggie was 6’2” and weighed over 350 pounds. He seemingly got his propensity for height and weight from Carl, his father, a former addict who weighed 500 pounds at the time of his death. However, Biggie’s life took a very different turn when his older brother, Carl Jr., asked his former AAU coach to help his younger brother get fit. Roosevelt “Rose” Barnes agreed to this task, with the caveat that he wanted to adopt Biggie and raise him as a son.
Fast forward to the Iowa State-Purdue game, and Swanigan is out on the court, balling like the best of them; his late 3-pointer and clutch offensive rebound took Purdue into the second round, and likely earned Biggie what ended up being a first-round selection in the NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. Along the way, his adopted father helped him slim down to a svelte 250 pounds, and taught him how to leverage his height and his mind, helping Biggie finish as the first college player in over 25 years to finish a season with 600 points, 400 rebounds, and 100 assists.
Long Story Short Score: At-risk youth gets help from a family friend to help reach his full, NBA potential? 10/10
Inspiration Score: Not only is Biggie’s transformation from overweight kid to jacked NBA draftee an inspiration on its own, but Barnes stepping up and raising him as his own brings a tear to your eye. 9/10
Dad Score: Not only did Barnes help fill the paternal hole that was left by Carl’s addiction, but he also went above and beyond and trained Biggie into the star that he became for Purdue and, now, for the Trail Blazers. 10/10