NBA finals: Merciless Beasts

We sometimes find in life that a single act can change everything. I call them Sarajevo moments. That drunken night when you cheat on your wife with the pretty young thing from the office. The quick glance down at your phone at the instant a child steps out onto the crossing. The young addict, need overcoming sanity, sharing the needle infected with the blood of the diseased. In a heartbeat your world can turn on its axis.

Sport of course is not life, but merely a microcosm of the greater game, a theatre of mirrors that reflects our being back at ourselves. It is a stage where the great stand and the great fall, and we vicariously stand or fall alongside them. It is an arena replete with Sarajevo moments. Think Dean Jones, crippled with illness, batting his double century in India; Steven Bradbury skirting the fallen field in Salt Lake City to grab the most unlikely of golds; Benji Marshall’s flick pass to put Pat Richards over in the 2005 grand final; Elton Flatley kicking us into overtime in the 2003 World Cup, only for Johnny Wilkinson to carve his own name into immortality with that field goal 30 seconds from Wallaby glory.

But, to borrow from the bard, just as these sporting moments can be the best of times, so too can they be the worst. And for Tim Duncan, today was his Sarejevo moment. Like Icarus, the man who soared above the NBA’s best, one of the truly great centres and genuine nice guys of the game for the past 2 decades, has fallen to earth. And with him fell the hopes and dreams of the legions of San Antonio fans as the Spurs crumbled to final series defeat in Miami.

To be fair, they didn’t deserve to win. Manu Ginobli looked too old; Kawhi Leonard too young; Danny Green simply overwhelmed; Tony Parker, fraught by injury, a mere shadow of the man who brought them home in 07. After matching the Heat blow for blow throughout the series, their last quarter choke was sheer ugliness, seemingly Baker-Finch like in its death by a thousand cuts incomprehensibility.

Yet for all that Duncan, four times ring winner, three times finals MVP, had the unlikely chance to bring them home. With just forty seconds on the clock, the Spurs down by two, Ginobli drilled one to him at the low post. Duncan turned and found himself one on one with the smaller Shane Battier, and, using that deceptive speed rare in a big man, drove to the paint for a bread and butter bucket.

And missed. Badly.

To add insult he missed the follow-up tip, and in that simple second it was over. The Spurs were gone. Although the series had been replete with miracle comebacks, Duncan had led the Spurs down a crevasse from which there could be no ascent. And didn’t he know it. As he retreated in defence he crouched and slammed his hand against the floor. It was an act borne of frustration, of anger, and regret; a physical symbol of the metaphysical breakdown of a once great force.

Then came the inevitable, the majestic LeBron James strolling down court like a prowling panther to sink a simple mid-range jumper that put the game out of reach for the Spurs.

It’s hard to reconcile the pure poetry of James’ performance throughout this series with the player once maligned as a selfish, arrogant individualist uninterested in his team. His repudiation of this ill-founded criticism has been powered by deeds, not words; his career of the past few years a groundhog day-like reel of sparkling Sarajevo moments. Long Hail the King indeed.

But for Duncan, at age 37, the road to redemption seems too steep to climb. Like Rangirandoo in the Doomben Ten Thousand, this was a ghoulish end to a glittering career. Whilst life can often be cruel, rarely is one’s pain broadcast so vividly to all. Duncan’s missed shot today won’t change the world, but the harsh lights of the theatre mirror reminded us once more that the gods of sport can be merciless beasts.

About Archie Butterfly

Archie's decided to follow the dream and try become the next great Aussie bush poet. They all think he's mad. He's out to prove them right!


  1. Good stuff Archie. I haven’t watched much basketball in recent years, but after the dramas of Game 6 I managed to find myself watching the last quarter of Game 7.
    I saw a fair bit of Magic Johnson, Bird, Thomas, Jordan etc but I had never seen Lebron James play.
    I didn’t like his personality based on media articles, so I had him typecast as an overbearing physical bully.
    2 things struck me watching that last quarter:
    – How good the outside shooting was. I remembered 3 pointers being the domain of Shane Heal/Phil Smyth type point guards. The NBA skills are so good nowadays that the giants were consistently drilling them.
    – The other was Lebron’s game smarts and execution under pressure. For much of the quarter he seemed to stand deep in the court and direct traffic – drawing out the defence and creating scoring space for his team mates. Then in the last 3 minutes with 2 points in it he said – “OK now its my game to win for us”. He injected himself into the front court with power drives and landed every shot. His steals and intercepts were game changing. The last 3 minutes were all Lebron, and every execution was immaculate.
    I walked in a doubter, and walked out a half hour later a believer that I had seen Warne-like sporting greatness of sublime execution under immense pressure.

  2. Kristian says

    I’ve hugely enjoyed LeBron’s play for the past few years, and loved watching him grab that Championship. He’s truly a great.

    Umm, could be silly q: But could you explain the Sarajevo reference?

Leave a Comment