March 17, 2009.
I was twelve years old. The 33-31 Sixers were making their annual stop in Los Angeles to face the 53-13 Lakers.
From the time of my earliest memories to my seventeenth year on this planet, that matchup–and virtually every other matchup involving the Sixers and any team that had a double-digit lead on the .500 mark in their record–ended the same way. The headline always read something along the lines of, ‘So-and-so too much for Sixers, who fall to the whoevers by 6‘. That is what purgatory is. That’s why The Process took place.
It was a 10:30 EST tip, as most far-West roadies are. On a Tuesday night, at age twelve, that meant I wasn’t going to be able to stay up to watch more than the first few minutes. On this Tuesday night, I laid on my left side with the pillow tilted towards the television in my room, as I usually do. My eyes were stacked on top of each other, as they usually are when I dose off to sleep with my face pointed towards the television. I lay there, viewing the game sideways (my head is lying flat on the pillow, and so my sight of the television up on the wall is sideways–weird, I know).
Trevor Ariza knocks down the triple, and the Lakers go up 11-2. ‘No chance’, I think to myself and lower the volume. I won’t make the volume anything that isn’t a multiple of five, so sleeping volume has always been five for me. I begin to nod off, the tune of Marc Zumoff playing indefinitely as I begin to dream.
As is the case most nights, I wake up with my face pointed at the ceiling. The glare of a fancy lawnmower paid programming show is blinding. I sit up and roll over to my night stand. I tap the screen of my phone and begin cycling through the pages of apps eating space on the iPhone 3G. My eyes find the NBA app, and I activate it with my thumb. My semi-conscious thought is something like, “Did they lose by less than twenty?” Yes, they did. In fact, they won.
Kobe had knocked down a mid-range jumper to break the tie with five-point-four seconds remaining in regulation. The game was going to end the way all close games ended when the Sixers were facing a star–with the elite players making elite plays. On this night, the Sixers were given a chance to close out the game with an elite play.
Andre Miller inbounded the ball to Andre Iguodala. Tony DiLeo elected to close the game out with Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Donyell Marshall on the court, as well. Williams was stretching the floor from the close corner, Young stationed in the short corner in case Iguodala attacked and the dump-off was there, and Marshall providing spacing in the far corner.
Iguodala, fighting on an island with Trevor Ariza, initiated his move with three seconds remaining. One dribble, one step left. Andre lets the dribble come up high as he shows his hesitation move and takes two big steps. Two-point-two seconds left. Iguodala rises into a three-point attempt from the top of the key. Two seconds. The ball disconnects from his hands. One-point-six left.
Time stops as the ball travels on a rainbow. Every eye in Staples is on the ball as it accumulates frequent flyer miles. The Sixers on the court lean back, trying to physically will the ball into the basket. The ball reaches the basket. Point-two left. It’s judgement time. There will be no rebound, there will be no second chance. If it goes in, the Sixers walk off as winners. If it’s even the slightest bit short, they leave heartbroken.
The Buzzer Sounds
The ball snaps the nylon. Iguodala wins the game.
Every game has a viewer whose life is forever divided into two parts, with said game in the middle. There’s the part that came before that fan fell in love with the game, and the part that begins when the viewer falls in love with the game. For me, that love was born on March 18, 2009 at 3 AM. The moment that sliced my life into two parts came when the basketball fell through the orange circle and foiled the Lakers’ plans that night. In that moment, Andre Iguodala seared his memory into my mind forever.