Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Father Was A Gambler Down In Georgia

Tonight Brad Miller hit a spectacular Derek Fisher-style catch-and-release shot with three-tenths of a second remaining, which shot apparently would have elevated his Chicago Bulls to a one-point victory over Denver. The referees called the shot good on the floor, but reversed their decision after extensive video review. Thus, the Nuggets escaped with a 90-89 win. [Update: on Wednesday the NBA league office confirmed that the referees made the correct call.]

I had the good fortune to be in attendance at this game. I have seen many live basketball games in my life, but I have never before witnessed such a sudden tumult of emotions in such a short span. After a thrilling fourth quarter, the Bulls managed to tie the game with 10 seconds left on two Derrick Rose free throws, and the whole gym was thinking of overtime. The place was rocking; the plump gent to my left and the kind father behind my back both wanted to exchage high-fives with me. But then when Chauncey Billups drew a foul (on a clearly-done and thick-headed whack from Kirk Hinrich with 0.6 seconds remaining) and fans slowly grasped that their men would lose, the effect was like that of 20,000 children on Christmas morning realizing that Santa overslept and failed to fill the stocking.

As the Bulls prepared to inbound the ball at 0.3 seconds, half the crowd was tottering on concrete stairways, making for the exits. My friends asked if we could leave too, but I said: "No, if the Bulls make this shot, we can tell our grandchildren in fifty years that we were there when the Bulls beat the Nuggets!" My vantage point was behind the Bulls’ basket, so I couldn't quite see what happened as Miller received the pass and flung up a set shot. But when a thunderous cry radiated upward through the arena bowl, I knew that yes, I would have that tale for the little Bhels. My friends and I felt exhilarated.

For several minutes thereafter each squad huddled near its respective bench; we soon inferred that the referees needed to review this play on video. Joakim Noah, caught on camera during this nervous time, patted Brad Miller's head and grinned, seemingly confident that the play would stand. Meanwhile, Chauncey Billups looked cool as ice. (How could both squads both be so confident? In an imminent post, possibly tomorrow, I will explore the issue of over-optimism among ballers.) Naturally, the Chicago scoreboard operator showed the tally as Chicago 91, Denver 90, hoping that such facts on the ground (or facts in the sky) could help to establish some finality for the home side.

After a while, the arena announcer told us the answer: "The referees have ruled the shot no good. Thank you for coming, everyone!" That Chicago lost the game was left for us to figure out. Stunned, we walked out into a chilly autumnal evening. Folks around us uttered vile insults revolving around the word "nuggets".

Here is the video of tonight's game, including Miller's crazy shot:

In a way this night was like Election Day of 2000, nine years ago: Gore took Florida! No, Bush took Florida! No, we're heading for a recount! There are few athletic settings where apparent outcomes can switch so fast. The best recent example I can think is last February's Super Bowl, in which the Cardinals completed a thrilling comeback with a go-ahead touchdown at 2:58 of the fourth quarter ... and then Pittsburgh came right back with a winning touchdown at 0:35. With the potential for rapid scoring, football can hold your heart in a martini glass and shake it real good ... but basketball does this even better.

No comments: