RENO, Nev. — College basketball is more than a hobby for New York attorney Ned Hirsch. It’s a passion.
Some people collect coins. Hirsch collects memories from arenas all over the country. This week, his coast-to-coast journey made a stop at the Reno Events Center, and Hirsch checked nine Big Sky Conference squads from the extensive list of college teams he’s seen since 1971.
To date, Hirsch has watched 315 Division I men’s college teams. His first was an NIT game at Madison Square Garden between Army, coached by Bob Knight, and Cincinnati 45 years ago. His latest was the Big Sky championship game Saturday between Montana and Weber State.
In between, Hirsch has watched 19 league tournaments from the Big East to the West Coast conferences. His goal is to see all 351 Division I teams in person.
“I started doing baseball stadiums originally, and that was too easy,” said Hirsch, who practices law in Garden City, N.Y. “A lot of people can actually do all the baseball stadiums in one year. So I thought this would be more interesting.
“And I do have a passion for college basketball anyway. So I’m combining college basketball and my love for it with something that I thought would be a real challenge.”
Hirsch had already crossed paths with a few Big Sky teams in the past, but had been waiting for the league to adopt a unified, neutral-court tournament format to knock a big chuck of the league off his list.
Hirsch is now 36 teams away from completing his list — provided Division I doesn’t grow further.
“I think Big Sky basketball is very competitive,” he said. “I like to see close games, I like to see good basketball. I’ve enjoyed my time here. I’ve found everyone very friendly and very welcoming.
“I’ve gone to 18 conference tournaments and this is really one of the most enjoyable in terms of the people I’ve met and how welcoming everybody is.”
A look at Hirsch’s list — or resume, as he calls it — reveals that he has now seen every team in 19 different conferences, including big-time leagues like the ACC, the SEC, the Big Ten and Pac-12.
He attended the first Big East tournament in Providence, R.I., in 1980. Hirsch’s favorite team is the 1976 Indiana squad, coached by Knight, which went 32-0 and won the national championship. He saw Michael Jordan play as a sophomore at North Carolina, and Stephen Curry when he was building his star at Davidson.
Hirsch attended college at the University of Virginia and went to law school at Syracuse, two institutions with great basketball traditions.
“A lot of heritage at both schools, basketball in particular,” Hirsch said. “When I was at those schools I seldom missed a game and saw some terrific basketball. Being at those schools was a good place for anyone who is a die-hard basketball fan.”
Since Hirsch began his quest, it’s been his goal to attend one conference tournament every March. In the next two years he plans to travel to the Summit League tourney in Sioux Falls, S.D., and the Big South gathering in Raleigh, N.C.
As it stands, Hirsch has seen only four of the eight Summit teams and just four of the 11 teams in the Big South.
“I have two (tournaments) left where I can still see a number of consecutive teams,” he said. “I’d like to attend those two over the next two years, and then after that I’ll have to scatter.”
Whether or not Hirsch ever completes his goal, his love for college basketball will not end.
“You can identify, at the college level, players that you know are destined to go on to the next level, but you’ve seen them in their developmental stage,” Hirsch said. “You can say, ‘I saw them early in their career.’ I think that’s a lot of fun. I’ve seen a lot of the great players when they were college players.
“I also think the college game is fun. I think the NBA game, with the 24-second clock, is built on scoring. Scoring is important, people love scoring. But I also like to see great defense played. And I think as you mix up zone and man-to-man defense, the game is more interesting. It makes the college game more fun.”