The Final Four has returned for another Battle in Seattle, just in time to close out the '80s in a triumph of excess. There isn't much going on in town that doesn't have something to do with basketball. They've hung a "Final Four" sign on the Space Needle, and in the Kingdome they've dusted off seats as far as 450 feet away from center court - or roughly the same height as the Space to be sat in Saturday and Monday by people who either paid $25 face value, or significantly more on the scalp market, and who aren't afraid of heights.
You want verification that the NCAA's national championship basketball tournament has become something even P.T. Barnum couldn't have imagined all by himself? Come to Seattle. Check all this out.Turn to the personal ads in the Seattle Times, or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. People are offering all kinds of goods, services, and cash, for tickets to the 39,082-seat Kingdome, where Duke and Seton Hall, and Michigan and Illinois, will play semifinal games Saturday, and where the two survivors will play for the title Monday night.
One hopeful buyer is offering his Washington Husky Rose Bowl ring. Another offers a sportfishing trip. There are two ads offering Sonics-Lakers tickets. There are dozens of ads offering "top dollar."
A lot of ticket brokers in Bellevue, the city located across Lake Washington, are advertising Final Four tickets for sale. At new rates. Reselling tickets at outrageous prices is illegal in Seattle. In Bellevue it's legal.
Ticket demand isn't the only barometer here indicating that the Final Four has become as crazy as any old Super Bowl or Masters or Indianapolis 500 or Bruce Springsteen concert.
Cruising around town is a crack team of NCAA policemen, ready to swoop down on any business ventures that don't carry the official NCAA stamp of approval. There will be no counterfeit T-shirts for sale if these guys can help it. Neither will there be a "Bud Lite" sign hanging from the roof of the Kingdome. Well, actually, there will still be the "Bud Lite" sign, it will just be covered over by either a white sheet or a huge poster of Dick Schulz.
"Bud Lite" isn't an official sponsor of the 1989 Final Four.
Not that the Bud Lite people see things the NCAA way. Their contention is that they put their sign up in the Kingdome for 365 days of advertising a year, and they'll take it down this weekend over Spuds McKenzie's dead body. Stay tuned.
All around the town, Final Fourness is flourishing.
In Pioneer Square, near the Kingdome, any number of basketball-oriented activities are planned throughout the weekend. On Saturday, for instance, there will be a Dick Vitale Sound-Alike contest. The winner will win $500 and a lifetime supply of Windex . . . and profound sympathy from the judges.
The National Association of Basketball Coaches is here, holding its annual convention, which consists mainly of bad-mouthing sports writers and athletic directors in the hotel lobby; that and telling Bobby Knight stories in reverential tones.
Ted St. Martin, the world's most prolific free-throw shooter, is in town, giving exhibitions in mall parking lots and department stores with high enough roofs.
Banquets, of course, are everywhere, like the sold-out $75-a-plate affair held Thursday night at the Westin, where Northwest basketball greats Elgin Baylor, Ralph Miller and Marv Harshman were honored, along with capitalism.
There's no doubt about it. Seattle is awash with the sound of the Final Four. The only thing missing is the teams. All four are either staying out by the airport, which is halfway to Tacoma, or in Bellevue, where they can get a better line on extra tickets.
At a payday of $1.25 million per team, they can afford them.