It is June 7th, 2009, and Hedo Turkoglu is going to inbound the ball. Courtney Lee is at the top of the key. Dwight Howard is setting a screen for J.J. Redick as Rashard Lewis is running up the middle of the paint. Lee fakes right, as Kobe Bryant bites; a quick counter-dart to the left, and Lewis is suddenly there, setting a hard screen of his own. The opening is there. Hedo somewhat nonchalantly sends the ball flying, using both hands, something between an overhead soccer inbound and a Joakim Noah jump shot. The ball flies, flies, flies… Lee does the same… and…
The Magic were about to steal Game 2 on the road, one round after shocking another overwhelming favorite with another marquee superstar. Dwight Howard could have won his first title in 2009, preemptively killing both his desire to leave Orlando and any future discussions of how his mettle pertains to his ability to win. Hedo Turkoglu might have stayed. Stan Van Gundy could have joined the dwindled ranks of active NBA coaches with titles. Lee himself might have gone from surprising rookie to nationally recognized sports entity.
And on the other side… Kobe Bryant could have lost two consecutive Finals. His first two Shaqless Finals. Could he actually win it alone? This used to be a thing. Would Pau Gasol have been the scapegoat? Lamar Odom, too much candy? Andrew Bynum, not healthy enough to play major playoff minutes? Derek Fisher, Too Old Since 1996? Phil Jackson, no longer the right coach?
Reality has a certain definitiveness to it. Courtney Lee was traded 43 days after he jumped in the air; to deny this would be factually mistaken. Likewise very real were the two Laker titles that followed said jump, Hedo’s Raptor stint, the Vince Carter trade, whatever the hell is going on with the Lakers now, and Orlando’s current burning issue of who to pick 2nd in the upcoming draft.
But Courtney Lee soaring towards the rim unimpaired, springing straight from Stan Van Gundy’s out of bounds arsenal, was as close as possible to a quantum glitch in the generally stable progression of time. For a split second, multiple futures were within grasp; only by observing which way the ball bounces can we land back into singularity. Fake right, lose one of the greatest players ever on a screen, try and meet an orange orb in the air – all this while wearing a facemask! – and watch history fall into place.