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Geno and Chris: One thousand wins and a million memories

Mohegan — This was a night when caving to sentiment, especially for many of us who have been there for all or most of it, was inescapable. One thousand wins. A million memories. And all for the man and woman who pretty much changed everything in Connecticut sports.

For many of us, Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey revolutionized how we watch sports. How we view women. How we spend our money. What we look forward to. How we went from comparative sporting hermits in Connecticut to traveling the country.

UConn women's basketball has engendered relationships of both genders. It has created lifelong friendships. It has changed our culture. It has changed lives.

Win No. 1,000 for Auriemma and Dailey played out Tuesday night before a packed house in Neon Uncasville, complete with many friends, familiar faces, former players and blasts from the past. It was the basketball version of sorts of "This Is Your Life" for Auriemma, for whom one narrative couldn't possibly define his impact.

Auriemma has been more than a basketball coach. What he's taught about life in general has exceeded all the wins. His lessons come through pithy postgame quotes, storytelling in the hotel bar before the game or simple reminders about how to live a good life. Sometimes all in the same day.

Like, for example, the story he likes to tell about how they spelled his last name wrong on his first Final Four ring.

"It just goes to show you that no matter how great you think you are," Geno said one day in his office, "there are plenty of people who just don't give a (hoot)."

And then inside Mohegan Sun Arena, the very building that celebrated No. 1,000 Tuesday night, The Day's Vickie Fulkerson discovered that Auriemma's name is actually spelled wrong on a wall in the hallway outside the court, commemorating all the personalities that have played inside.

"Only one 'M' in his last name," Vickie said.

And Geno was right again.

His next lesson: Oh, the days when he went to battle with the media over the infamous Nykesha Sales basket, a few days after she ruptured her Achilles' tendon. Some of us chided him, essentially saying that his heart was in the right place but his head wasn't.

"Is there something wrong with following your heart?" he asked a few days later, once the ice thawed.

Advice I've followed to this day. Makes me a sap sometimes, sure. But a happy one.

As the night progressed, it was hard, at least for some of us, to reflect upon Auriemma's 1,000 wins without thinking about the late Pat Summitt. No two greater competitors in or out of the women's game.

There was a time when their relationship was contentious. And we all fed into it. The worst of sports. Funny, though, how life intervened, as it always does. And then they showed us how a touch of humanity trumps all.

It was at the 2012 Final Four in Denver, the day before UConn would play Notre Dame. It was practice day. Suddenly, a moment nobody saw coming suggested that someone should hit the cosmic pause button. So we could stop and appreciate, stop and think.

It was on a nondescript piece of real estate just off the court that Summitt and Auriemma shared a long, meaningful embrace. Fans watching practice day in the arena applauded. Cameras clicked. Folks scrambled for their phones to capture it.

It was a moment that provided us all ... a moment. Two of the game's Rockefellers, perpetual adversaries, making the past a duller ache with a touch of humanity.

We don't often have the time, patience, or opportunity to ponder the "what does it all mean?" question. But one heartfelt embrace provided a rare, inspiring, legitimate occasion. Summitt would eventually succumb to early onset dementia that was affecting her at the time. But it reminded us all over again that sports are for win or lose, not life or death.

Again: There is no one narrative that defines Geno or his legacy. It's about moments and memories, earnestness and humor, and a competitive spirit wrapped in humanity.

It was about 1,000 wins Tuesday night, sure.

But so much more.

"If you try really, really hard every day to be your best and do the best you can for the people around you, good things happen," Auriemma said after the game. "We gave everything we had into this. We poured our heart and soul into this. We've gotten more back then we ever deserve."

Auriemma's voice teetered a bit when he said that.

Some of us had a moment as well.

Thank you, Geno and Chris. For only changing everything around here.

Here's to 1,000 more.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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