The first thing you notice is the natural beauty. You've been to the beach a million times. You've seen the ocean on both sides of the continental United States. But you've never looked at anything quite like this -- the blue skies separated from the blue water only by mountains covered in green.
I'd observed Maui on television pretty much my entire life because it's long been the home of college basketball's greatest in-season tournament -- an eight-team event that annually provides compelling games on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It had forever been a bucket-list item for me to attend. But, despite covering the sport for more than 20 years, I'd never actually made the trek to the Maui Invitational until I did so in November 2018, when Zion Williamson and Duke were the biggest draw in the nation and on a collision course with Mark Few's Gonzaga program that was just two seasons removed from a trip to the title game of the NCAA Tournament and only two seasons away from another.
, you might remember.
Rui Hachimura was the MVP.
But nearly five years later, when I look back on that experience, I don't think about the games as much as I reminisce about the super-early morning walks and the realization that EVERYBODY takes super-early morning walks in Maui because nobody's body-clock gets adjusted until it's time to leave. Typically, once I see a place, and enjoy a place, I mark it off a list. If I make it back someday, great. But once I've seen it, and once I've enjoyed it, I'm not usually eager to get back and do it again.
Maui was different, though.
It was just so beautiful and so peaceful and so laid back that I remember thinking about how I'd definitely like to return someday with my family and take super-early morning walks with them. Which is among the reasons why what I've been watching on television the past few days has been so heartbreaking and sad to see.
Ninety-three people are confirmed dead because of catastrophic wildfires fueled by a dry summer and strong winds from Hurricane Dora, making this the deadliest US fire in more than a century. Countless other folks have lost everything. According to authorities, more than 1,000 structures have been damaged or destroyed. The result is that, in a matter of days, one of the most beautiful places in our country has been reduced to what looks like a post-apocalyptic scene from a movie.
From the sky, it looks unbelievable. From the ground, it looks terrifying. Who knows if it'll ever look the same again? The before-and-after pictures are saddening. Fortunately, the Lahaina Civic Center, that 2,400-seat, five-decade-old building with an iconic mural behind one basket, remains intact even if it did reportedly have to be evacuated after earlier serving as an evacuation center. The fires got very close to the home of the Maui Invitational but do not appear to have done any notable damage. At least not yet.
Let's keep our fingers crossed.
Maui Invitational officials have stated that they are "actively monitoring the wildfire situation on Maui" and that they "will share more information as it becomes available." It's obviously too early to know whether the event will be held as scheduled in November for Chaminade, Gonzaga, Kansas, Marquette, Purdue, Syracuse, Tennessee and UCLA or if it'll have to be relocated to Honolulu or the continental United States like it was in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As always, we'll see. But what's already clear is that even if seven teams from the mainland do travel to Maui in three months to participate as planned, their super-early morning walks won't be highlighted by the same serene views I and so many others have enjoyed since this event started giving basketball enthusiasts a great reason to travel there nearly 40 years ago.