The One That Got Away


flatworldsedge | Flickr

flatworldsedge | Flickr


One rebound more, and the San Antonio Spurs are five-time NBA champions. One more routine, point-blank lay-up, and Tim Duncan could have had his fifth ring.

Reflection is easy, and at times, necessary. But there comes a point when reflection holds us back, prevents us from moving on with our lives. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and the rest of the Spurs are professionals. They know losses are just as much a part of the game as wins. Maybe that simple knowledge aided them in getting over the last two games of the 2013 Finals — probably not.

“I think about Game 6 every day,” Gregg Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News. “Without exception. I think about every play. I can see LeBron’s first shot, and the rebound, and the second…I’ve been quite lugubrious.”

April , 2009

We met on your birthday. You always say we met once before, but you’re wrong.

You stood  in the middle of the room. The rest of us sat on the couch or on the bed. We sang happy birthday to you. I didn’t know your name, so when it came time to say “Happy Birthday dear…” I covered my mouth. I was obvious, and I wanted to be, because I wanted you to notice me. And you did. You pointed at me and called me out and laughed. I’ve witnessed the Northern Lights, milky white whisps streaking across the midnight black sky, swirling and sailing and racing and coalescing into a ghostly vortex. I’ve seen the Mona Lisa and Starry Night up close, the genius and emotion of those masters apparent in every stroke. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, the Wailing Wall, the Pyramids of Giza, the Vatican, the Sagrada Familia and a host of other natural and man-made wonders.

They are hideous compared to your laughter. I never told you that. 

There is nothing more beautiful in this universe than you when you’re laughing. 

I would have proposed to you the second the song ended. 

You kept me sane that summer, when I was alone in a sleepy city. We talked almost every day, mostly joking, mostly laughing. 

I came home for a weekend, and we played putt-putt. I made you laugh so hard you cried. You asked me if I wanted to keep the scorecard. I said no. Why didn’t I say yes? Did that show you I didn’t care? That it wasn’t important to me? That you weren’t important to me? I still remember the score. I won, 45-60.

I told you how I felt. You told me you didn’t feel the same. I told you I knew, that I wouldn’t act differently, that your friendship was too important to me to let something as stupid as a crush get in the way.

We’re adults, I said. So let’s act like it.

I’m flattered, you said. But we should keep our distance.

I’d never been more disappointed in you. I never told you that, did I? How upset I was, not that you didn’t share my feelings, but that you reacted so poorly, so…ordinarily.

We didn’t talk for a while. I’d see you with your friends, who were also my friends, and our eyes couldn’t quite meet.

Time smoothed away the tension. Not wholly, not completely, but at least we started speaking again. 

“It’s a tough moment,” Manu Ginobili said. “We were a few seconds away from winning the championship and we let it go. …We were in a great spot. We just gave them another chance it hurts because it’s one of those moments where you’re going to be thinking about what we could have done better in the last few possessions, so many times, all night long, all tomorrow, until the next game. It’s terrible.”

Winter, 2010

We were countries apart. You, me, and a handful of our friends gathered together for my birthday. I met you at the airport. You walked out of the gate, and the second you saw me, you shouted my name, flashed a brilliant smile that spread to your eyes, and bolted into my arms. For that split-second, you finally understood how I feel whenever I see you. 

A few nights later, a friend and I walked around the city, while you and the others went to a bar. By the time we met up, my back, my stupid, aching, eighty-year-old back hurt as much as it ever had. But then I saw you. And we hugged. And we sat down, away from the group, and everything — my pain, my sorrow, my frustration, melted away. 

The world as I knew it ceased to exist. In its place was you. 

You visited me a few months later. You slept in the spare bedroom. What an odd sensation, to have the one thing I want the most so close.

Why didn’t I show you a better time? Why didn’t I show you that I could be fun? I told you about my panic attacks and my depression. Why did I tell you that? You were never good with emotions, so why did you care? Did I just make myself weak in your eyes? 

Did I disappoint you? 

I was a wreck when you left. I broke down in tears, curled on the floor. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak. I was leaving for another country the next day; it would be the first time I’d see the sun in three months, but I didn’t want to go. You wouldn’t be there. 

“Game 7, missing a lay-up to tie the game, making a bad decision down the stretch,” said Tim Duncan. “Just unable to stop Dwyane [Wade] and LeBron [James]. Probably, for me, Game 7 is always going to haunt me. “

Senior year, 2011

You were with someone new. I still felt the same way about you, but I’d grown better at hiding it, at not letting those feelings ruin me or stop me from pursuing other girls (even though those pursuits were wondrously fruitless). 

We were still friends, still made each other laugh with jokes new and old. Any tension left over from the previous year was gone, eroded with time, distance, and newer memories. It was comfortable.

“It’s painful, the whole end of the series is painful,” Tim Duncan said. “I try not to dwell on it daily. I don’t think it’s time to heal all wounds yet, we’re going to let it fester for a little while. We’re going to continue to think about it. It’s going to continue to hurt whether we talk about it or not.”

October, 2013

I texted you, just to see how you were doing.

“Good, I guess. I got engaged yesterday.”

I called you immediately, congratulated you, told you how happy I was for you. That wasn’t a lie. The only thing I care about, the only thing I’ve ever cared about, is your happiness. 

We talked for a few minutes, planned to see each other soon and said our goodbyes.

I’m fine, I told myself.

I went for a run.

I’m fine, I told myself with every step. 

I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine

There’s a lump in my throat and it’s growing and growing and I can feel the tears swelling and my eyes are dams that are about to burst and my body quakes and quivers and my fists clench and my back twists and knots and I can’t breathe and I’m numb and weak and I’m not fine I’m not fine I’m not fine I’m not fine I’m not fine I’m not fine I’m not fine.

Could I have done something differently? Would it have made a difference if I told you things I was always to scared to say? Should I have feigned disinterest? Should I have let you come to me? Would you have done so? 

Was there any way this would have worked out differently? 

These questions used to tear at me and eat me alive. Now they’re just a dull pain, as familiar as breathing. I’ll never have those answers, and it wouldn’t matter if I did. What happened, happened. 

The “What-If?” game is pointless, yet one we nonetheless constantly play. It’s a favorite of our torturous brain, to make us think and consider life’s endless scenarios had we zigged instead of zagged, said yes when we said no, stayed silent when we spoke up. Time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t fix mistakes.

“As time goes on, as we all know in our lives, you get back to the day-to-day,” Popovich said. “It’s time to get over it.”

Jordan White

Jordan White loves basketball, loves writing and loves writing about basketball. He marvels at every Ricky Rubio pass and cries after every Brandon Roy highlight. He grew up in Kansas, where, contrary to popular belief, there is running water, electricity, and no singing munchkins. Follow him on Twitter: @JordanSWhite