Within the narrow and relatively trivial confines of the college basketball universe, March 12, 2020, was the worst day ever. It was the day the sport stopped its best month, cold, with no restart. Conference tournaments were halted in a flurry of cancellations that morning, and the NCAA tournament was called off that afternoon.
The cancellations triggered by the coronavirus outbreak were all necessary, of course. They also were colossally sad. Careers were ended, a season was lost, a cherished piece of sporting Americana just disappeared. In the days since, we have all been steeped in those heartbreaking stories.
But on the worst college basketball day ever, something good did happen. Something wonderful, in fact. Something spontaneously joyful.
A wedding. At center court of a shut-down arena. Involving two staffers from a team that never got to play a postseason game.
“We are just so happy we could turn a rough day into a positive day,” said the sudden groom, Portland State assistant men’s basketball coach Jase Coburn.
Here’s how it happened:
The location was Boise, Idaho. The occasion was the Big Sky tournament. By noon mountain time, in keeping with every other league tourney in America, the event was shut down.
That included what was scheduled to be the second game of the day, matching No. 4 seed Portland State and No. 5 Montana State. The Vikings, on a six-game winning streak and one of the hottest teams coming into the tourney, never left their hotel to come to the arena. Head coach Barret Peery quickly called a team meeting.
“It became a pretty somber mood quickly,” Peery said. “We had some guys in tears. Everyone was pretty down.”
The extra kick in the teeth was this: Portland State was stuck in Boise for another 24 hours before it could fly home. With nothing else to do, Coburn and his fiancée, team academic adviser Lindsay Meiggs, went to lunch. Several members of Coburn’s family live in Boise, so they tagged along as well.
Over the meal at Lock Stock and Barrel in downtown Boise, someone—Coburn isn’t even sure who—jokingly suggested, “Why don’t we have a wedding?”
“It started as a joke,” he said. “Then it evolved into, ‘All right, can we actually do this?’ It started snowballing, and it never really stopped.“
Their wedding was scheduled for May in Portland. But with fears escalating about the interruptions to everyday American life, a large ceremony with a lot of attendees suddenly seemed like one more thing that could be called off.
With nothing else to do and nowhere to go, why not get married right here, in Boise? On the court at CenturyLink Arena? Today?
It seemed preposterous. But it also seemed possible.
Meiggs called her parents back in Portland and ran it past them. They reluctantly agreed. Coburn’s family was almost all present—including his 102-year-old grandmother, Florence Ogata. They all enthusiastically agreed.
Coburn went back to the hotel after lunch and ran the idea past his boss. Peery didn’t blink. He picked up the phone and called Big Sky Conference deputy commissioner Dan Satter.
“Since you’re having one of the weirdest days of your life, how about if I add to it?” Peery asked Satter. “Since nobody is using the arena, how about using it for something good?”
The phone call came at 4:08 p.m. They were hoping to do the ceremony at 7.
Satter didn’t blink, either. He got on the phone to the arena manager and asked if the court was still in place. It was. (That was fortunate; the arena also is used by the Idaho Steelheads hockey team, and the hardwood could have been removed from on top of the ice.) Satter asked if a group could come in, stand on the court for 20 minutes … and have a marriage ceremony.
Everyone signed off. Meanwhile, the bride’s side of the arrangement sprang into action.
A White House/Black Market store was across the street. They had a nice white outfit that would work. Someone was dispatched to get a cake. Several people scrounged up flowers. A cousin who had been driving to the arena for the game rerouted to buy a couple of wedding bands—a cousin who would serve as the ordained minister, as it so happened.
Perhaps best of all, the depressed Portland State Vikings players suddenly had something fun to do. They put on their Thursday afternoon best—their green team sweats—and reported to the arena where they never got to play their tournament.
“It was awesome,” Coburn said. “That was definitely one of the best parts of it. The players mean the world to us.”
That night, the Portland State Vikings watched Jase Coburn marry Lindsey Meiggs at center court in an empty arena. Something wonderful came out of March 12, 2020, the worst college basketball day ever, after all. Something tied to the sport, but transcending it.
“At least,” Satter said, “we got One Shining Moment that day.”