On one hand, winning is the most important thing about sports, and in the playoffs that feeling is amplified. We have 82 game seasons followed by four playoff rounds to see who wins, to see who is the best team that year. But sometimes the focus on winning can draw attention away from other awesome aspects about the game and why we love it.
I mean, sure, at the end of the day we watch the games because we want to see who will win. We want to find out if LeBron James and the Heat can get their third title in a row, or if Tim Duncan and the ageless Spurs can stop them and win their first championship since 2007. That’s important. But it’s also not the only reason we watch the games.
We watch for all of the magical moments that happen while everyone is trying to win the game. The brilliant no-look passing of Manu Ginobili, the sweet fadeaway jumper of Dirk Nowitzki, the buzzer beating, series-ending three-pointer by Damian Lillard. Sometimes those moments determine who wins or loses, but sometimes they don’t. But it doesn’t matter, because either way they’re still amazing.
Last night in Game 1 we had one of those moments when in the third quarter Ray Allen was out on the fastbreak and decided to just go up and cram one. It was inexplicable, it was jaw dropping, and it was the type of moment that we remember for years to come when reminiscing on these games.
Allen took it coast-to-coast, fending off Marco Belinelli the whole way and then just exploded to the rim, smashing it home with one hand over a half-hearted defensive effort from Danny Green. Sure, it wasn’t the best dunk I’ve ever seen, but it was the best dunk I’ve ever seen from Ray Allen. Look, even Allen didn’t think he still had this in him.
It was one of those moments that become memorable because they’re so unexpected. And sometimes those stunning moments are what we remember more than prolonged stretches of brilliance. Yes, LeBron, a massive human being with moves as quick as anyone in the league taking it coast-to-coast and barreling past Boris Diaw for a tough layup is nice, but LeBron has been doing that for years so we end up just shrugging and moving on.
But that Ray Allen dunk? No one saw that coming, and it’s part of what makes it so special. I was sitting in my living room after work watching the game on DVR with my family and was in the middle of a conversation with my dad when I just let out an “OHHHHHHHH” and put my hands on my head. I’m not a Heat fan, I wasn’t at the arena, I wasn’t even watching it live, but it still managed to draw such emotion from me that I’ll remember that dunk for years to come, and I’m sure countless other fans had very similar reactions.
In the end it didn’t have an impact on the outcome of the game, but that doesn’t diminish the impact of the play. That type of play is what fans think back on when discussing old games with their friends years later, that type of play is what takes an 8 year old kid who doesn’t really even know about basketball and turns them into a huge fan, that type of play is what makes the NBA Finals—and basketball in general—so special.
Of course winning is important, and we’ll always recall who wins—but it’s not the only thing we remember.