There have only been three games in my sports watching career that I can remember turning the television off, late in the game, either being completely disheartened or had lost any rational hope that the team I was rooting for would come back and win, only to find out later that I had made an epic comeback.
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks over New York Yankees: Ten years before I was a pretend New Yorker wearing a Yankee hat to a game with Ashley, I was rooting for Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez and Curt Schilling’s Arizona Diamondbacks.
This series had already crushed me two straight nights with Byung Hyun Kim giving up late home runs to the Yankees. It also had that feeling of destiny since 9/11 was earlier in the year and here the Yankees were in the World Series ready to give New York something to cheer about.
In Game 7, with Mariano Rivera coming in to finish the ninth inning, I couldn’t bear to watch. I went to bed, devastated, and was ready to begrudgingly watch Yankees celebration highlights on Sportscenter the following morning.
Instead, I remember walking past my parents' bedroom the next morning with my Mom saying, “I think you are going to be pretty happy when you turn on the T.V.”
This was either an incredibly sick joke by my mom or my own Christmas Story-ish moment with the ‘you’ll-shoot-your-eye-out’ gun waiting for me after all.
Sure enough, there was the Gonzalez game winning hit. I had my Diamondback championship T-shirt two weeks later.
2011 Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
In this case, I wasn’t passionately cheering for the Mavericks the way I was for the Diamondbacks. I simply turned off the game when the Thunder went up by 15, because my friend Nick and I would rather go have pizza and see Times Square then watch the final few minutes of a Thunder blowout.
By the time we reached Times Square, much to my shock, I saw that the Dallas Mavericks had the lead on one of the giant screens.
Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals
This was a much different story than the Thunder game.
I had never seen a team run out and get as many dunks as the Miami Heat were doing in the third quarter and early fourth quarter of Game 2 since Flint Northern humiliated my high school basketball team senior year.
It seemed like every possession was a Jason Kidd or Shawn Marion turnover followed by either Dwyane Wade or LeBron James Sportscenter Top 10 level dunk. When Chris Bosh got involved with a tip-in slam of his own followed by his patented 0 out of 10 on the intimidating scale celebration, I had lost hope. When Dwyane Wade hit that baseline three-pointer to give the Heat an 88-73 lead, I turned off the T.V. and said to Ashley, “I’ve had enough, this is too soul crushing to watch.”
If you’re a Miami Heat fan, then you don’t understand what it feels like to watch this team from the other side. As a Heat fan, you enjoy the dunks, the lockdown defense, the dominance by either LeBron or Wade—or both—and can enjoy these performances.
For the rest of us, when the Heat is rolling (I still think “Heat are” rolling sounds better, but apparently “is” is grammatically accurate) it’s the most disheartening thing in sports since, I don’t know, maybe watching Michael Jordan as a Utah Jazz fan?
With the Heat, it’s not a case of, “Oh, well, maybe they win this year and next year, but they’ll be too old after that,” no, this is a team that has LeBron in his prime, Wade still with a few high level years remaining and Chris Bosh at 26 years-old. Their supporting casts will only get better and their chemistry will only improve.
Make no mistake, this is a terrifying team.
This year was supposed to be one of the few years the Heat would actually not win the NBA title. Up 15 with seven minutes to go, heading toward a 2-0 series lead, I felt the way you did when (take your pick based on voting preference) George W. Bush/Barack Obama took office; this wasn't a one time thing, you had to endure this for four, maybe eight more years.
I came upstairs and posted a video of Mufassa’s death scene from Lion King on Facebook—the image of Scar taking over Pride Rock symbolic of the Heat’s new reign over the NBA—tweeted something about hoping the Mavs would surprise me in the morning a la 2001 Diamondbacks, and had very little hope that Dallas was going to pull off another epic comeback.
I brushed my teeth then checked the score on Yahoo! to see if maybe, just maybe, the Mavericks had made things any closer.
My inbox was blowing up with texts from my friends, most of which simply read, “Dirk!”
I sat on my bed, torn between what I should do for the final minute. On one end, I wanted to see the ending of the game, but I was also too afraid to turn on the television set, superstitiously, and somewhat irrationally thinking that my eyes on the game would somehow result in the Mavericks returning to turnover basketball and prematurely ending their comeback.
Instead, I chose to finish out the game clicking refresh every other second and waiting for the end result on Yahoo!
93-93. Mario Chalmers hits a three.
Mario Chalmers has put me in the toughest position of my sports viewing career. It was only three years ago that his game tying three-pointer against Memphis was the happiest moment of my sports watching life, giving my beloved Kansas Jayhawks their first title in my lifetime and ending a long streak of choking in the tournament. Sure, recent Northern Iowa and VCU losses look bad now, but they don’t sting nearly as much as they would have had Kansas lost that night in ‘08.
But now, when Chalmers hits big shots for the Miami Heat, I can’t celebrate at all. I’m quietly not even happy for the guy. He’s joined forces with the dark side and I can’t overlook the Darth Vader to see the inner Anaken Skywalker.
Before I clicked refresh again, I received another, “Dirk!” text. I knew this was a good sign. When my screen had refreshed, it showed the Mavericks had won the game 95-93.
Feeling like the guys in "Hangover 2," I said to Ashley, “How is this happening again?!”
My brother called and tried to explain the last seven minutes, but said he didn’t even understand what had happened. It was like the Miami Heat just suddenly stopped being dominant and the Mavericks figured everything out.
When you get a chance, review that all of this happened in a Game 2 victory for the Mavericks:
Rick Carlisle subbed in Brian Cardinal.
Rick Carlisle put in a lineup of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, JJ Barea, Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki on the floor. At the same time!
The Mavericks had scored 21 points in 17 second half minutes. Somehow they scored 22 in the final five.
Wade and LeBron were two or three dunks away from tearing the hoop down entirely.
The Heat had a 15-point lead with seven minutes to go.
I may never understand what happened in those final seven minutes of Game 2, but what I do know, is this suddenly became a competitive series.
Maybe next time I’ll keep the television on for the entire game.