Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Where is my sports movie screenwriter when I need him most?

Or her. Sorry, that just made the subject of this post too long.

I've made mention recently of the fact that I don't like sports movies all that much because I don't believe the amazing comeback a screenwriter would write for a team at its lowest moment. I like to leave that up to what really happens in the real world, and just be amazed by real comebacks.

On Memorial Day, I could have used something written by a screenwriter.

My beloved Boston Celtics -- the first sports team I ever loved back in the early 1980s -- were on the verge of making history. 

In woeful and sometimes pitiful fashion, they had fallen behind 0-3 to the Miami Heat, who came into the playoffs as the 8th seed while the Celtics were a mighty #2 seed. They were well aware that no team has ever come back from that sort of deficit in the NBA playoffs, and only three had even made it to a Game 7. Those three were 0-3 and the other teams that tried to make it all the way back were 0-147, losing in a sweep more than 60% of the time.

Well, the Celtics defied the odds. They won Game 4 and they won Game 5, both in rather convincing fashion. They won Game 6 by the skin of their teeth, on an improbable put-back as time was expiring by Derrick White. Literally the shot left his hand with 0.1 of a second remaining on the clock.

If a screenwriter had written this, I wouldn't have believed it.

Game 7 was on their home floor, where they not only always win Game 7s, but where they usually win them in a blowout. All signs pointed to this being another case of that. After all, Miami felt the pressure after missing three opportunities to close out the series, or so you would think.

Then on the first play of the game, the image you see above: Celtics star Jayson Tatum grasping his ankle after he rolled it while coming down from a shot on another player's foot. 

He played the rest of the game, wincing, but his impact was minimal, and the rest of the team could not rise to the occasion. They lost by 19 points.

If a screenwriter had had anything to say about it, it wouldn't have gone this way.

Oh, screenwriters like underdogs, sure, I get that. But Miami is not your typical underdog. They were a #8 seed and they had a fair number of injuries, but last year they were a #1 seed, and they went to the finals in 2020. 

Even if a screenwriter did fancy the Heat the heroes of this story, you don't make a good underdog story by having the underdog win the first three games and then barely avoid calamity/make history for all the wrong reasons.

So the Celtics were the hero of this story, right? They were the underdogs within this series, fighting back from accusations that they quit in Game 3, storming all the way back and taking Game 6 on enemy court via one of the most miraculous season-saving shots in NBA history.

Well that shot is now just a historical footnote, and my Celtics are not going to be NBA champions this year.

What I realize now is that it's not that I want a sports movie to resemble real sports, it's that I want real sports to resemble a sports movie. I want that historic comeback. I want that impossible dream. I want a team erasing a deficit they never should erase and coming together as a group to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Kind of like the Boston Red Sox did in 2004, when they came back from 0-3 down against the Yankees to win the American League Championship series, the first baseball team ever to accomplish a feat that no basketball team has ever accomplished.

But maybe a sports fan base only gets one of these, ever, and we had ours 19 years ago.

And now, like 27 other teams before them in 2023, the Celtics will have to think ahead to what might be possible next year. They'll have to make whatever roster decisions are necessary not to blow games they are leading comfortably, to play basketball consistently for 48 minutes, not to turn over the ball ... all the things that we hoped they had finally learned, long enough to outlast the Miami Heat and then maybe even the Denver Nuggets after them. 

You don't get many chances at championships, and even fewer at history. And it's hard to know when the Celtics will get their next of either.

Oh I can cry myself to sleep on the banners of 17 previous championships, knowing the Celtics are tied with the Lakers for the most of all time. And at least the Lakers won't be adding one this year either.

But that's why it's so hard to be a sports fan. You can only think in the now, and it takes so long before another opportunity will arise ... even next June feels like ages away, and in the worst case scenario, it might be decades.

At least with a movie that's disappointing, you just move on to the next one. 

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