Brace yourself. The cranky old man is about to go down memory lane. The many calendar pages rapidly flapping backwards could cause injury to those who have no knowledge of calendars outside of their iPhone.
Yes - just stand back, relax and allow them to fan you on a hot summer day. I’m going back to when I was just a small boy. I’m going back to when the game of basketball first grabbed my attention. FlapFlapFlap - the summer of ’72. FlapFlap - the olympics in Munich. And one big flap over the gold medal game between the USA and the USSR.
The Americans had never lost the gold in basketball. It was their game. They destroyed the field once again. And then they came across a group of Russians and what would now be guys from other eastern european countries. There were no awkward pretenders among them. They played with each other and against each other in what was becoming a well-organized, competitive league. Yes the people back home had to stand in line just to watch this game in black and white, while on this continent we landed on the moon and had evolved to the point of being able to see Sonny and Cher, Laugh-in, and the olympic games in full technicolor. And yet this gold medal game was not beyond the grasp of such a backwards bunch. They held a ten point lead in the second half! Unbelievable. Surely they must be employing some kind of dirty tricks. Well those accusations would come at the end. And a dramatic finish it was.
The US had come from behind, with Doug Collins getting fouled after an exciting steal. With just three seconds left in the game, Collins hit the first freethrow to tie the score. Then just as he was about to toss-up the second shot from the stripe, the horn that signals the end of the game went off inexplicably. Collins hit the shot without missing a beat. The Soviets threw the ball into play and made their way up the court, and then play was stopped with a second left. The Americans had started celebrating already. This was an emotional victory. One for the ages. Winning one in spite of taking the game for granted. But the game wasn’t over. There was one second left. And that would become three seconds as the Russian team argued that they had called for a timeout between freethrows. Everything settled down again and the ball was inbounded and the seconds ticked off the clock. Or did they? No the timekeeper had not properly set the clock back to the full three seconds. Someone go tell the american team jumping up and down and hugging each other, that they need to hold off one more time.
And then it happened. With everything finally in working order, the ball was inbounded across the entire court, and caught by the big russian bear under the net, right in front of two american players. He comes down with the ball, pump fakes and lays the ball in. And now it was the other teams chance to celebrate, and this time the game was over for good.
As a kid this all left me feeling dizzy. To start with, I was thrilled to see what could happen in three seconds. I mean now three seconds feels like a week. Three seconds takes up a bigger and bigger chunk of the few seconds I have left. The future is coming at me like a rocket. Hundredths and thousandths of seconds blur by in the grinding out of each stupid second. But as an eight-year-old it’s just one-steamboat-two-steamboat-three...and it’s over. I couldn’t unwrap a stick of gum in three steamboats. It seemed cruel to give the Russians so many chances when the game was just plainly out of reach. And yet it wasn’t. And that was the other big thing my mind had to grapple with - the sense that the US team had been cheated. I mean they sure looked like they had been cheated. It was a look, and a feeling that I knew well as an eight-year -old. My dad almost always let me win in any kind of game or race. This gave me a poor sense of reality when it came to competitions. It left me not knowing how to lose. Losing automatically meant that I had been cheated. What an unbearable brat! But here I could see that losing was a little more complex. Nothing brings more drama to a conclusion than feeling a victory was stolen. Victory snatched from defeat is tough to beat no matter how it happens, and here there was more than one side to the story. The Americans just never looked like they deserved to win this game outright. I could see the cold slap of reality hitting each one of them, and it taught me a little bit about losing. There were more questions than answers, but the stark realization was that one team waited too long to take their opponents seriously, and then they celebrated too soon.
And that was a flaw replayed by american teams of the more recent past. They celebrated before they even began in Dream Team collapses that might still be viewable on iPhones everywhere. But not this time. This time every single second appeared to hold a purpose. Certainly that looked to be the case with our man Bosh. It was fantastic to see how his understanding of the game has developed; how his ability to lead among greats has been demonstrated; how he was able to be there in the most critical moments of a closer-than-expected gold medal game instead of Dwight-the-beast who had started ahead of him.
There was a sense of reassurance gained whenever CB12 was on the floor. A reassurance gained without losing touch with reality. This from a kid who for so long couldn’t do much of anything once he put on a knee brace, or a new pair of sneaks for that matter. Mentally he was thrown off his game a little too easily in the past. But he has played a full season with a bad heel, and another with a brace, and his mind has grown into something that can can find its focus when it’s needed. Now bring it all home Chris, with a healthy heel, and two happy knees, and gold around your neck. It’s going to take everything you’ve got to grab hold of that really big hunk of gold in Hi-Def. Go get it!