Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On The Last Shot Of The Season

So let's say that shot goes in. Let's say Gordon Hayward's 40-foot heave at the buzzer, instead of bouncing hard and then caroming off the rim, takes a sympathetic bounce and drops through the twine. Here is what we can say for certain:

A.) This would be, without question, the greatest shot ever made by a basketball player named Gordon.
B.) This would be, without question, the greatest and most beloved shot in college basketball history, if not in the history of American sports.

As it is, we are left to ache. Not in a long time can I remember feeling so terrible after watching a game in which I really had little or no stake (Meaning: Penn State was not directly or indirectly involved). Butler was clearly Duke's equal; in terms of gameplay, they did not deserve the mantle of underdog, but in terms of symbolism, they did, and that's what made Hayward's heave so deflating--we were thisclose to changing the perceptions that have guided college basketball for the past thirty years. We were one bounce away from "mid-majors" shedding that ridiculous label, one unkind rim away from invalidating every public utterance in the history of Billy Packer's career. It would have been a beautiful symbolic egalitarian moment, and of course, I hope it is anyway...I hope Butler's run* proves that coaching and fundamentals can trump raw talent, that maybe college basketball has reached that point that the NBA hit a few years ago, when carefully crafted European talent began to eclipse the raw egotism of the American game.

But it's also clear, as Charles Pierce writes, that the NCAA and The Powers That Be have no real stake in permitting such a transition to occur. Egalitarianism is fine in the early rounds, but there is a sense, at least among those who make decisions, that it is safer to craft a tournament that facilitates a Final Four that is nothing like this one, a Final Four in which storied programs meet storied programs and Gordon Hayward never even gets an opportunity to hurl that shot toward the heavens. Of course, I hope I'm wrong about this. I hope that somehow, paradoxically, a 96-team field proves an even more brutal slog for the top seeds, but the odds of that happening are not good. Miracles are called miracles for a reason.

*And to a lesser degree, we should credit Duke and its libertarian coach for developing talent, as well, since Jon Scheyer was an absolute joke two years earlier. But really, F 'em.

(Photo: Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

1 comment:

Panicstreak said...

Im sure it would have easily eclipsed the "Laettner Shot" as the biggest in College Basketball History, but would it be bigger in sports lore than the "Flutie Hail Mary?" . What about Bobby Thompsons "Shot heard round the world"?

What role would youtube and the internet play in generating lore? Flutie's Hail Mary was seen in prime time, on a Saturday. Thousands of kids (myself included) watched that live as an 8 year old. Gerald Phelan has been burned into my memory ever since) Hayward's shot was broadcast at some time after 11pm EST on a school night, but new media surely would have impacted how big an event that shot going in would have been.