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As the Illinois made its run to the Big Ten Tournament Championship this March, the team was focused on British cartoon characters of the early 20th Century.

Before the tournament, coach Bruce Weber sat the team down for a motivational viewing of Randy Pausch’s last lecture, which among other things, extolled the virtues of Tigger.

During timeouts, coach Weber challenged the team to be like Tigger. “What does he mean,” I wondered. Bouncy?

I watched the whole Pausch lecture, specifically hunting for the Eeyore/Tigger dichotomy — and in a major whack of double secret irony, I learned a lot of other stuff in the process. One thing I learned is that Eeyore and Tigger are mentioned only in passing. (Never lose your childlike enthusiasm and curiosity — that’s the lesson we’re supposed to take from Tigger.)

I regard myself as a Pooh scholar. I know my Pooh, well. And when it comes to the characters of Alan Alexander Milne, Coach Weber is much more an Eeyore than a Tigger. Maybe he doesn’t recognize that. If so, it’s because for him — like most Americans — the Milne stories have been supplanted by the stupid Disney versions.

I’ll support my analysis with selections from the text

Excerpt from: In Which a House is Built at Pooh Corner, for Eeyore

“Hallo, Eeyore,” said Christopher Robin, as he opened the door and came out. “How are you?”

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.

“So it is.”

“And freezing.”

“Is it?”

“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

“What’s the matter, Eeyore?”

“Nothing, Christopher Robin. Nothing important. I suppose you haven’t seen a house or what-not anywhere about?”

“What sort of a house?”

“Just a house.”

“Who lives there?”

“I do. At least I thought I did. But I suppose I don’t. After all, we can’t all have houses.”

“But, Eeyore, I didn’t know — I always thought —”

“I don’t know how it is, Christopher Robin, but what with all this snow and one thing and another, not to mention icicles and such-like, it isn’t so hot in my field about three o’clock in the morning as some people think it is. It isn’t close, if you know what I mean — not so as to be uncomfortable. It isn’t stuffy. In fact, Christopher Robin,” he went on in a loud whisper, “quite-between-ourselves-and-don’t-tell-anybody, it’s cold.”

“Oh, Eeyore!”

“And I said to myself: The others will be sorry if I’m getting myself all cold. They haven’t got brains, any of them, only grey fluff that’s blown into their heads by mistake, and they don’t think, but if it goes on snowing for another six weeks or so, one of them will begin to say to himself: ‘Eeyore can’t be so very much too hot about three o’clock in the morning.’ And then it will get about. And they’ll be sorry.”

“Oh, Eeyore!” said Christopher Robin, feeling very sorry already.

“I don’t mean you, Christopher Robin. You’re different. So what it all comes to is that I built myself a house down by my little wood.”

“Did you really? How exciting!”

“The really exciting part,” said Eeyore in his most melancholy voice, “is that when I left it this morning it was there, and when I came back it wasn’t. Not at all, very natural, and it was only Eeyore’s house. But still I just wondered.”

Excerpt from: In Which Pooh Invents a New Game, and Eeyore Joins In

“Oh, Eeyore, you are wet!” said Piglet, feeling him.

Eeyore shook himself, and asked somebody to explain to Piglet what happened when you had been inside a river for quite a long time.

“Well done, Pooh,” said Rabbit kindly. “That was a good idea of ours.”

“What was?” asked Eeyore.

“Hooshing you to the bank like that.”

“Hooshing me?” said Eeyore in surprise. “Hooshing me? You didn’t think I was hooshed, did you? I dived. Pooh dropped a large stone on me, and so as not to be struck heavily on the chest, I dived and swam to the bank.”

“You didn’t really,” whispered Piglet to Pooh, so as to comfort him.

“I didn’t think I did,” said Pooh anxiously.

“It’s just Eeyore,” said Piglet. “I thought your idea was a very good Idea.”

Pooh began to feel a little more comfortable, because when you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you think of things, you find sometimes that a thing which seemed very thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it. And, anyhow, Eeyore was in the river, and now he wasn’t, so he hadn’t done any harm.

“How did you fall in, Eeyore?” asked Rabbit, as he dried him with Piglet’s handkerchief.

“I didn’t,” said Eeyore.

“But how —”

“I was BOUNCED,” said Eeyore.

“Oo,” said Roo excitedly, “did somebody push you?”

“Somebody BOUNCED me. I was just thinking by the side of the river — thinking, if any of you know what that means — when I received a loud BOUNCE.”

“Oh, Eeyore!” said everybody.

“Are you sure you didn’t slip?” asked Rabbit wisely.

“Of course I slipped. If you’re standing on the slippery bank of a river, and somebody BOUNCES you loudly from behind, you slip. What did you think I did?”

“But who did it?” asked Roo. Eeyore didn’t answer.

“I expect it was Tigger,” said Piglet nervously.

“But, Eeyore,” said Pooh, “was it a joke, or an accident? I mean —”

“I didn’t stop to ask, Pooh. Even at the very bottom of the river I didn’t stop to say to myself, ‘Is this a Hearty Joke, or is it the Merest Accident?’ I just floated to the surface, and said to myself, ‘It’s wet.’ If you know what I mean.”

Eeyore is the smart one. And it’s a shame that he’s been characterized as compulsively depressive — because he maintains a sense of humor throughout — even as the energetic, careening youth in his company persist in driving him nuts.That’s Coach Weber to a tee.

Tigger is flippant. Tigger would never make you play defense, and would shoot as soon as he got the ball. But it’s not fair to blame him. He’s just young. He’s undisciplined. He doesn’t know any better.

Tigger

  • along with Piglet (and more obviously, Roo) is the youngest, least mature of the Milne characters. 
  • bonds with Roo in an effort to evade responsibilities imposed by his elders
  • creates a lot of problems/messes which are left for others to solve. 
  • likes bouncing.

Eeyore

  • along with Kanga, is the most mature, and wisest of the animal characters.
  • better perceives reality than any other character (again, excepting Kanga).
  • frequently the victim of Tigger’s carelessness.
  • does not like bouncing.

But whatever. The team caught on. They saw what he wanted. When Coach Weber asked his huddled charges, “Okay, now who is going to step up and be Tigger?”, it evidently created a spark for Calvin Brock — who is, as I never fail to point out, extremely bouncy.

But the ideal character for any basketball player to emulate is, of course, Christopher Robin. He’s young, optimistic, always learning, judicious and can motivate people to work together. That might sound a lot like Jerrance Howard to you. But remember, Jerrance notoriously takes every opportunity to enjoy a little smackerel of something — which makes him an obvious analog for Edward Bear himself.

In truth, there’s a little bit of each character in all of us. The important thing is to recognize when you’re being Owl (pontificating on a subject of which you know nothing — or as the layman calls it, talking out of your ass) or Rabbit (conspiring against your friends) and to stop it.

It’s okay — even important — to have Eeyore moments; it’s when you see life for its stark reality and challenges. But try to eclipse the pessimism. Like Eeyore, try to maintain a droll humor about the shortcomings of others.

Being a scholarship basketball player at the University of Illinois provides an excellent opportunity to let one’s inner Christopher Robin shine through. All my life, I’ve heard the rodomontade: College sports puts academics first. And you know what? I believe it. For one thing, it’s hard to live on a hugely diverse college campus without noticing, perhaps seeping in, some weird, eye-opening stuff. New ideas bombard the unwary undergrad as if she or he were an accelerated particle.

And if you’re playing basketball at the University of Illinois, you’re going to have to learn a lot of theory, and then suffer through a grinding regimen of practice. Like Eeyore said “Do you see Pooh? Do you see Piglet? Brains first, and then hard work.”