The shot taken

William on DavidsonCats.com:

I’ve seen some pictures of Stephen Curry since Sunday, and he has been smiling. I haven’t seen any pictures of Jason Richards, but I hope he’s smiling also. Because the last play of that great game was a very good play. It was probably the perfect play.

Jason had a good, clear shot, and Stephen did exactly the right thing to get the ball to him. I don’t know as much about basketball as many people here, but I know that all this was just fine. It was in perfect harmony with this team’s way of doing business, a way that got them to the regional finals. Some people who are new to all this may not know exactly what it means to play in the regional finals, but that game is, in my observation, the heart of the tournament.

I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’m guessing Jason was somewhere in the 30 to 40 per cent range on three pointers in the tournament. The shot he took was a little beyond the line, so let’s say it was a 30 per cent shot.

Three times out of ten, it goes in. Seven times it doesn’t. Let’s talk first about the seven. That’s where Coach’s emphasis on Trust comes into play. I can’t take that shot, because I don’t have the strength of character to take what happens if I miss. But Jason took the shot, because he had the nerve to do it, and I suspect, because he Trusted the coach and his teammates to continue to love him if he missed the shot. And maybe he had some sense that all the Davidson people, even all the general public, would also continue to love him if he missed. Subsequent events have proven that trust to be well-founded, and that is probably why all this is worth the amount of attention we have given it.

Now let’s consider the three times the shot does go in. It is instantly the greatest moment in college basketball history. Christian Laettner’s shot would be the equal in some ways, but essentially allowed a team to win a game it was reasonably expected to win. To do the same thing as such a clear underdog, to get a team to the FF for the first time, would be exponentially more dramatic.

The very fact that such a turn of events would have been so dramatic, so joyful for so many people, makes the sense of loss all the more painful, and consequently puts even more emphasis on the value of what Jason did in taking the place of Teddy Roosevelt’s man in the arena who ‘fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.’ If I could meet Mr. Richards, I would simply shake his hand and thank him for doing this thing while wearing the name of our school on his jersey

As a Southerner, I cannot help thinking about what Faulkner said in Intruder in the Dust:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old,
not once but whenever he wants it, there is
the instant when its still not yet two o’clock
on that July afternoon in 1863 … and it’s all in
the balance, it hasnt happened yet, it hasn’t
even begun yet … and that moment doesn’t need
even a fourteen year old boy to think This time.
Maybe this time with all this much to lose and
all this much to gain.

I love that passage, and I think of it today because it captures the pregnancy of that moment when Jason’s shot is in the air. Please God let it go in. That is not blasphemy because it is just what jumps into my heart and of course I know God doesn’t care whether it goes in or not.

But in that moment, we had in our hearts and minds, proleptically I think the theologians would say, the joy of having it go in. Before it was not in, it was as good as in. For that fraction of a second, we had that experience, and it is enough. It is well worth the journey. At least for me it is, and I guess the ultimate point of this too-long post is that I hope it is also worth it for Jason. He took the shot. He gave us that moment. He trusted, and all we can do is be sure our reaction is worthy of that trust.

Our responsibility, if that’s not putting it too boldly, is to be alert to the value of that moment, to cherish it and remember it. (Henry V one more time: “This story shall the good man teach his son.”) Stan’s brilliant post elsewhere says well some important things about Davidson. All those things are distilled in the fraction of a second that shot is in the air. They are in the reactions of the players, the coaches, the families, the fans. I have been amazed how many people were watching and truly seemed to care about what happened.

One wonders if we are too partisan, too fond of our own reputation, in our feelings about what happened in those four games. There is a danger of that, but if nothing else, the short attention span of the public (see the current issue of SI, which says almost nothing about the game) will keep us from going too far overboard.

But I choose to see the end of the Kansas game as one of the most wonderful things I have ever seen, one of the best experiences I have ever had, and I thank everybody who helped make it possible. I don’t know why the fates of basketball couldn’t have smiled on us one more time to let that shot go in. But they didn’t. This is the experience we have been given to digest, and I’m increasingly convinced that it is as it should be.

Coach McKillop said it was about Trust. That goal was not missed.

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