Zen moments. That’s what I like the best about sports events. How they marvelously capture some of the deepest truths of life in living, breathing motion right there on my television screen.
Consider the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. Images from a couple of last week’s games are as fresh in my mind as if they had just happened. Take Gonzaga vs. UCLA in the “Sweet Sixteen” round. Final score: Gonzaga 71, UCLA 73.
A heartbreaker. I wanted Gonzaga to win. Badly. Mostly because UCLA already has won too damn many national championships.
Also, I couldn’t help but root for Gonzaga when their star player, Adam Morrison, has such a perfect back-to-the-70’s look (plus, appealing intensity; when I saw him bang the basketball three times against his head, hard, before he went to the free throw line I knew he was my kind of player.)
But at the end of the UCLA game Morrison was flat on his stomach on the floor, crying. And all because of a Zen moment in the final seconds.
Gonzaga had gotten possession back, trying, as I remember it, to protect a slim lead. One of their players had been passed the ball. A tall guy, he was holding it over his head. A teammate was right in front of him. He looked at him. He continued to hold the ball. He seemed frozen.
Then a UCLA player sneaked behind him and knocked the ball loose. UCLA scored. And that turned out to be the game. It hinged on one moment. A moment when I and just about every other Gonzaga fan in the country were screaming, “Get rid of the ball. Pass it!”
Easy enough to say when you’re not on the court. As I wasn’t either in the Washington vs. Connecticut Sweet 16 game. Final score: Washington 92, UConn 98. The game was closer than that. It was a squeaker until the very end.
Here the Zen moment came when a Washington guard stole the ball in the final minute. He had a clear path to the basket. He looked at the basket. And then he passed the ball. Right into the hands of a UConn player. Who dashed down the court and scored. Game over, for all practical purposes. The TV announcers said, “He should have gone to the rim.”
Yes, that moment of indecision was costly. Watching a basketball game from the serenity of my couch, it’s easy to recognize those Zen moments when excess cogitation leads to a bad outcome. I can see that if a player had just acted naturally, doing what he knows so well to do—get rid of the ball when you’re being double-teamed, head for the rim when the lane is open—his team likely would have won, rather than lost.
But who am I to judge? I, like most people, am equally prone to over-analysis. How often in my life have I intuitively known what must be done, and failed to do it? Lots. Basketball games are merely a highly public stage on which familiar everyday dramas are played out.
A moment comes. And then it goes. In the instant of that coming and going, opportunity. Seize it, and it’s yours. Hesitate, and it’s gone forever. In a basketball game there may just be a few of those memorable moments. Zen says that in life at large, every moment is memorable.
Yesterday in the sports section I read about Glen “Big Baby” Davis’ decisive 3-point shot in overtime that sent LSU to the Final Four. He said:
It’s called thinking without thinking. The opportunity was there to make the shot. Most of the time when I’m shooting 3s, I’m thinking about it too much. I was just in rhythm. I felt it was a great shot and I made it.