I have mentioned before that I play in a men’s recreational basketball league with a bunch of (much younger) friends. A few Sundays ago, we were down by 2 with 15 seconds left and I made the tying shot in the lane with four guys hacking the crap out of me. Did I get the foul? No, the ref called travelling. There were so many people around me that he didn’t see that I dribbled. Even then, I only took one step! Disappointing, sure, but what happened next is what is stuck in my brain. They missed a free throw and we got the ball back. It was in-bounded to me. I shot-faked, dribbled left and popped a three. Missed at the buzzer. Just short. A shot I make probably 50% of the time. It felt great, right in line, just off the front of the rim. I make it, we win and I’m a hero, I miss it and everyone else wishes they had taken the last shot.
So why is it, after a whole game of flat play and missed shots, that it feels like the last shot made all the difference? The guys were all cool and didn’t hold it against me, but since then, I’ve had dreams where I made that shot. I wake up in the morning still aggravated that I missed it. In an effort to put some relevance on this thing so I don’t feel so absurd that I’m spending so much time replaying that shot in my head, I tried to find analogies in life for the last second shot. The buzzer beater.
Here’s what I came up with: the buzzer beater is the basketball equivalent of the overnight success. People love those stories. They love to hear that M. Night Shyamalan or Robert Rodriguez (old references, I know) showed up out of nowhere with a movie and hit it big. Same thing with the last second chance to win. It’s always a highlight on ESPN or on Youtube. There’s even blog space dedicated to the best buzzer beaters organized by NBA season. People like to think all success can be summed up in the last moment of the desired goal. Want to win the game? Hit the basket that puts you ahead. Think nothing of the exertion of the preceding 47 minutes and 59 seconds. Want to be the next JK Rowling? Or Darren Aronofsky? Just pull a kick ass book/movie/album out of your pocket.
I’m not treading any new territory in pointing out that success takes hard work and years of preparation, and that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is my personal problem: I look back and only identify the complete ideas that have gone nowhere. I just want to change the finish on them and receive the cheers. I dream about that final moment and what follows. Just like the game where I wish I had made the last shot. What I should be doing is evaluating the whole game and thinking about the accumulation of mistakes or lapsed effort and applying that to the next project.
A week ago, we were in another final second situation in the men’s league, but this time the opposing team hit the final shot and won at the buzzer. I could have put my arm up and contested it, but I had already realized the truth. The whole game had led to this moment. Make or miss, we didn’t deserve the win. Is that any way to think? My answer is no. That doesn’t work either. You can’t blame a loss on a missed last gasp, but you can’t pass up the chance to win, either. You must try. At every possible opportunity.