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Jim Larranaga really loves butterflies

1/16/2015

Butterflies pervade the symbolism of many Native American cultures. According to Insects.org, the Blackfeet tribe believed that butterflies delivered dreams during sleep; the Tohono O’odham explained their existence as a gift of color from the Creator; Hopi rituals included a "butterfly dance"; and the Aztecs saw their happy ancestors reincarnated as the insects, and left out flowers in their homes to encourage their visits. Others believed they could grant wishes. Many more examples exist. The essential metaphor of the butterfly's life cycle -- struggle, emergence and majestic transfiguration -- figures prominently in many of the world's dominant cultures and religions, from Christianity on down.

This is probably not a paragraph you expected to read on a college basketball blog. But here we are, all the same, and we have Miami coach Jim Larranaga to thank.

The story, courtesy of the Miami Herald's Michelle Kaufman, goes like this: In 2004, when Larranaga was at George Mason, he learned of a Native American legend that groups of butterflies fly together in migration to a common destination. He enjoyed that metaphor's obvious application to a basketball team, and so he held a release ceremony with his players. A year later, that team made its famous Final Four run.

This season, Larranaga went to the butterfly well again. In late October, Larranaga ordered 30 orange and black butterflies. When they arrived, he handed each of his players an envelope. Shortly before Miami's Nov. 17 road win at then-No. 8 Florida, Larranaga and his players walked out to the Bank United Center steps, released the butterflies into the wind and watched them fly away.

Seriously: How adorable is that?

“You might think it’s silly, foolish, a waste of time, a waste of money,” LarraƱaga said. “But when our players at George Mason were being interviewed for the Final Four run, they talked about that. They talked about, hey, our goal was to get to the Final Four … and we knew it was going to take us a while to get there, but like the butterflies, we were going to stick together and fly together.”

Of course, Miami's win at Duke on Wednesday had a lot more to do with the tangible whupping Angel Rodriguez and his other guards administered to the Blue Devils' hapless perimeter defenders, part of a ruthless gameplan their coach devised to make Duke guard a never-ending succession of ball-screens.

If Larranaga is good at exploiting opponents' weaknesses (and he is) he's an all timer at being completely endearing. The common thread that connects some of Larranaga's best moments as a coach -- like his legendary postgame dance after the Hurricanes beat Illinois in the NCAA tournament two years ago -- is that he almost always reminds you of your goofy, cool-because-he's-so-uncool grandpa.

Rodriguez hints at this in the Herald's story:

“It was definitely a different experience, kind of a random thing to do," Rodriguez said. "But I think it was great. I think everybody enjoyed it, and you know, every person believes in different things, whatever he believes in, I’m going to buy into it. You want to keep your coach happy, and as long as we keep winning, the butterflies are going to make him feel good.”

Sure, sure, the symbolism of the butterfly is potent. Mostly the butterflies just make Larranaga "feel good."

Say it with me: Aww.