The sound of a basketball hitting the court echoes throughout the small gymnasium, nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Brian Henry wraps up his final preparations at the Big Eight Conference’s private getaway in Guffey, Colo., a town you’d only know about if you’d been there.
Henry is again in the Best Friend game, just a day shy of a year since his disheartening 71-65 loss in the 2017 championship. He says the final moments of that game play over and over in his head.
“It’s like ‘The Godfather, Part III’ of my life,” Henry says, “except without the baffling Best Picture nomination. Who approved that? That’s just unreal. I wish I could just forget it.”
He has been chasing a friendship title since the 2014 tournament, and he’s had a top seed each year with which to work. Still, championships have eluded him, and he’s had to watch as others collected hardware and accolades.
Adorned in his lucky poncho, Henry hoists up another shot.
“I deserve this, you know,” he says. “It’s crazy that I don’t already have a title. Do you know how much of James’ crap I have to put up with every day?” He draws circles around his temples with his fingers. “That dude is unhinged.”
Across the country, Jake Lovett sits at a desk in his cozy home office, his dog cradled in his lap. He looks every bit like a Bond villain plotting revenge. Like Henry, he is no stranger to the title game — and its cruelty.
A framed photo from the moments just after the buzzer sounded in 2013 hangs above his desk, the 82-76 score visible behind dejected Michigan players leaving the court with heads bowed. He leaves it there because, unlike Henry, he craves the reminder of how close he came and how badly he wanted back.
“I’d probably say a Best Friend title would be the single most important thing in my life,” he says.
From another room, his wife Annelise calls out, “What was that, honey?”
“Oh, I’m just messing around, sweetie,” he says. “You know, dumb guy stuff.” He silently mouths “oops,” then “I’m not messing around.”
“I know you’re mouthing something, Jake,” she says.
“Sorry,” he says.
Since 2013, Lovett has had mixed success in the tournament, losing again with Michigan in the 2014 Elite Eight, falling victim to a first-round upset in 2015, another Elite Eight ousting as a top seed in 2016 and a second-round exit last year. Despite the disappointments, though, he’s kept his head held high and maintained faith he’d be back some day.
“Honestly, I think Annelise is a little jealous of my success,” he says, glancing lovingly at his MVP trophy in the case near his desk.
“Jealous?” she shouts, chuckling quietly to herself. “James doesn’t matter. Everybody knows that.”