Winning the game of basketball is a lot like life ~ a contest needing equal parts timing, skill, and endurance, with a post-script of mystery some nights. When the final buzzer sounds, we remember the remarkable ones who make it happen.
First, they run, then shoot with accuracy, all while pressuring and pestering the opponent until the last seconds of the game. Saturday, neither UCLA nor Gonzaga failed to live up to the challenge, and both teams emerged like Final Four champions.
Without a doubt, they both deserved to win, every player leaving his heart on the court. Their personal stories tugged at our heartstrings as we adopted these affable, athletic millennials. Both coaches were composed, too, executing with whiteboard accuracy and exuding a welcomed class. Both teams arrived waving the proud heritage of their school colors. But all good basketball must come to an end.
Just when we thought it was over, the undefeated Zags' bench paced with a varsity swagger. And UCLA never gave up, as they fought to tie it with just :03-seconds to play. Headed now for double overtime, Gonzaga did not call a timeout, as Duke or Carolina would have stalled. Instead, the exhausted spectators pan the field for a character chosen to take the parting shot. As mere seconds evaporated like mist, exhilarated mortals like me calculated the odds in my head: it was almost impossible now, one for the record books, and I told myself I had just watched Gonzaga meeting its match.
From the vantage point of a TV camera's lens, the unthinkable attempt was more than a 30' long shot. It was THE time for a gamechanger, and Gonzaga charged back with all the vengeance of March Madness. As I prepared to take my seat for another five minutes of overtime thrill, I realized this was the next to last game of the 2021 season. The fact is, the odyssey of college hoops was facing its demise. And not everybody gets a trophy.
For the hero called to do the final bidding, the fight had been unstoppable all evening. He was a transfer student named Jalen Suggs--self-assured, handsome, a fit, not excessively-tatted warrior. His team's perfect if surreal season had prepared him for this dubious battle. With no intentions of going home without a just reward, #1 knew what he must do.
The Bruins shared Suggs' intentions, dividing and conquering their play, up and down the court for an exhausting 44:56 minutes. This is why, when I considered reality, a winner would ultimately be determined. Time was not on Gonzaga's side. And I didn't even have a dog in this fight, no bracket for thee, Becky.
But our hero, like Odysseus, knew the way down court, waiting for the inbound pass, counting down the seconds in his head, it seemed. Sure-footed, dancing practically, he took the stage for the final scene in the big dance. Aiming with his quiver, as perfectly as a ballerina closes Act 2, and then with sheer thrust, Suggs released the shot like a rocket.
It happened so fast. Once airborne, the basketball became captive to a slower motion until hitting the backboard with blunt force. The ball slammed hard with a fat chance from this fair-weather fan that it would find the net. But on closer inspection, Suggs' basket had dunked itself. He set it in motion, but at the other end of the court, an invisible, almost supernatural energy played to the beat of the midnight buzzer. Gonzaga wins by 3!
In a split second, one orange ball possessed by hope, gravitated to the common goal, while two teams stared in stunned disbelief. Well-trained young men came of age in the instantaneous spoils of sportsmanship. The Zags' victory was swallowed by the superiority of a Suggs swoosh. Plain and simple, it was a fitting way to celebrate Easter. And none would deny that it had happened to the two best teams, one night in Indy during a pandemic.
Oh, how God delights in keeping our company.