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Old 02-11-2019, 07:24 AM   #1
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Default A random little moment that says Luka is a legend

So I was watching the Mavs-Blazers game last night, which was of course exhilarating, and of course Luka puts up an absolutely Lebron-esque stat line- 28 pts, 9 reb, 6 ast, 9-20 FG, 4-10 3pt. Mavs win by 1 after trailing by 15 in the 4th quarter in a come-from-behind thriller. Amazing.

But there was one specific little throwaway moment that, more than anything else in the game, makes me compare Luka to the all-time greats. So throwaway, in fact, that it didn't even count. It was this shot right here. https://youtu.be/yJY_S9RI_OU?t=107

It was waived off. It didn't even count. But it's one of those shots that's so sick, so awesome, so improbable, that my instinctual reaction isn't to say "holy sh*t," it's to laugh. A one-handed tear drop floater- the kind you normally see in the paint or at the FT line- from behind the 3pt line, in mid air drifting to his right, with contact. It was a random little moment that most people probably forgot instantly, but it stood out above all others to me, because the all-time great players are the ones that routinely give us little moments like that.

It immediately reminded me of this wonderful Bill Simmons article I read five years ago after Lebron announced his return to Cleveland. The premise of the article is roughly that the truly great players' abilities transcend talent and become artistry. Here's the part of the article that the waived off Luka shot reminded me of. An obscure, but amazing, little story about Larry Bird.

(Doug) Collins told me a fantastic Bird story once. In Chicago, Bird was feeling ornery because the Bulls had screwed up his complimentary tickets. He noticed Collins on the sideline, complained about the tickets and asked him what the “house record” was. Then he vowed to break it. Uh-oh. Collins started the game by defending Bird with Ben Poquette, an awkward backup forward who happened to be white. Strike two — Bird always took it personally when someone defended him with a white guy. And as Collins tells the story, Bird derisively said to him something like “Ben Poquette? Are you f’ing kidding me?” and proceeded to score the game’s first five baskets. So much for Ben Poquette.

At halftime, Bird had 33 points before promising Collins to take it easy in the second half. He finished with 41, something Collins remembered 27 years later (along with every other detail of that story). For fun, we looked the game up on YouTube, because everything’s on YouTube at this point. And there it was. Bird torching Poquette, Bird chirping at Chicago’s bench, the whole thing.

You don’t get the nickname “Larry Legend” because of Game 7s, you get it because you brought it on those random November nights in Chicago because someone messed up your tickets. That’s a very specific kind of art, a genius crafting his performance with anger and competitive drive. That’s the final level of basketball. And when you get there, it’s not just about titles anymore.

This resonates with me so much, because when I think of how jaw-droppingly great some players are, it's not the titles or epic playoff wins that stand out the most in my memory. It's random little inconsequential moments that only the truly special players give us night in, night out. It's beyond mere talent. It's a kind of genius. I watched the Mavs-Blazers game, re-read that old Simmons article, and started thinking about other moments from all-time great players that stand out to me.

The most famous shot in NBA is history is so famous, it's simply called "the Shot." Of course I'm referring to MJ's game-winner over Craig Ehlo. Jordan's second-most famous moment is probably the "flu game" against Utah in the 97 finals. But the moment that to me best illustrated MJ's absolutely transcendent greatness is so obscure that even I can't remember what exact game it was, and therefore sadly I can't put a youtube link. I'm pretty sure it was the same series against the Celtics when he had his record 63 points, but not that same game. But I can't be certain. Either way, it was similar to the Luka shot. The Bulls were down and Jordan hits an absolutely INSANE three with a defender in his face- and the shot was waived off. It stood out to me because I had never seen that shot on any highlight reel or any of the many, many, many retrospectives I've seen on Jordan's career. But this completely inconsequential moment was absolutely jaw-dropping. It was jaw-dropping not just because of the shot itself, but also the fact that MJ was never at any point a great 3pt shooter, and yet it was as if he willed himself into a phenomenal shot that Steph Curry or Steve Nash would be proud of.

We all remember Lebron's game-winning three against the Magic in '09 and "the block" on Iguodala in game 7 to seal his third championship, but I swear as long as I live, long after Lebron is retired, THIS is the shot that I will always remember first when I look back on his astonishing career. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfNyjbkaYqI No championship on the line. No game 7. Just a random regular season game in Washington. Oh sure, it was all over SportsCenter the next day, but after that it was instantly forgotten. Lost in the endless sea of incredible moments he has given us. I watched it happen live, and again, it was one of those moments where I literally laughed. I just sat there on my couch and said something like "Are you f*cking KIDDING ME??! Did that actually just happen?" Watch the absolutely hilarious audience reactions. These are Wizards fans, and even they are so astonished that they're laughing and smiling while Lebron rips their hearts out.

Kobe may have won 5 titles, and put up 81 points in a game once, but of all the hundreds if not thousands of shots I watched him hit over his career, this completely random, obscure little moment in a regular season game against the Mavs is the one I will always remember. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MuvPhGs6-4 Again, it's so crazy that your reflex isn't to gasp, it's to laugh. Even Cuban had to stand up and humorously applaud with a big grin on his face. No playoffs, nothing on the line. Just the kind of thing Kobe did night after night after night.

I've watched almost all of Dirk's career. I've watched him make thousands upon thousands of shots. And of course his one-legged fade-away is correctly revered as one of the greatest go-to moves in the history of the game, worthy of comparison with Kareem's sky hook. But of all the thousands upon thousands of shots I've seen Dirk hit, for whatever reason THIS is the one that I will remember the most. When I am on my deathbed, I will still remember this shot. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyiCp4A4f40 Not the championship-sealing layup against Miami later that same playoffs. Not the game seven and-one dunk against the Spurs in 06. Not any of countless game-winners he hit, earning him a reputation for being one of the game's all-time most clutch scorers. This random shot over Pau Gasol is the one I will think of first.

I have no idea whether Luka is that caliber of talent yet. He's having a historically great rookie season, but we've seen other historically great rookies go on to be only solid players, not superstars- Blake Griffin and Tyreke Evans immediately come to mind. I must say though, that little moment gives me the feeling that Luka is not just supremely talented, but that he's special.

It's the same feeling I got every time Nash made some ridiculous circus layup, contorting his body like a pretzel between three defenders. It's the same feeling I got every time Dirk took a mid-range jumper over a smaller defender and I didn't even question whether or not it would go in- or when he would jack up a three with an arc so high I thought it would hit the damn ceiling, then watch it swish right through the bottom of the net.

It's also the same feeling I get whenever Lebron throws up a terrible, awful, pathetically bad shot in heavy traffic, and for a split second my brain says, "That's HORRIBLE! What the hell are you thinking?!" Only to see later that same split second that it wasn't a shot at all, it was actually an alley-oop pass to a teammate nobody else frigging saw- as if he has not only a supernatural clairvoyance to see plays before they happen, but g*ddamn telepathy to communicate it to his teammates too. Incidentally, this is also something Luka does at least 2 or 3 times a game.

We may not know what Luka's ceiling is yet, but I know this. When the Mavs finally started truly rebuilding after the dreadful years of "plan powder" I never DREAMED we would land a player as exciting as Luka. I remember a few years back I said that we needed to treasure Dirk as much as possible, because it could be decades before the Mavs land a player even 80% as good as Dirk. Sports pundits all around the country are proclaiming Luka the greatest rookie since Lebron. Whether or not that means he'll have even a fraction of Lebron's success is a mystery. What isn't a mystery is that I haven't been even CLOSE to this excited as a Mavs fan since the final seconds of game 6 against Maimi all those years ago.


Last edited by Thespiralgoeson; 02-11-2019 at 08:00 AM.
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