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Blog Entry

What Might Have Been

Posted on: April 6, 2010 12:28 am
Edited on: April 6, 2010 1:29 am


Gordon Hayward (Getty Images)Of All the Words of Mice and Men, the Cruelest Are 'It Might Have Been'

As Gordon Hayward's desperation halfcourt shot banked just a little too hard off the backboard, Kurt Vonnegut's famous phrase from "Cats Cradle" came into my mind.  Right now all over the country, people are praising Coach K and his Duke Blue Devils for their fourth title, putting the coach in rarified air amongst his peers and moving Duke past Kansas into sole possesion of fourth all-time in NCAA titles.  But I don't care about that.  Let the other writers celebrate the winner and crown Coach K the mightiest to ever walk the floor.

I will instead focus on the losers and how close they were to unmatched glory.  Think for just a second what would have happened if Hayward hit his shot.  It would have set in motion a celebration that would have likely never been topped in NCAA Tournament history.  72,000 in attendance would have joined every American who didnt have a personal connection to Duke University in an unadulterated glee ride celebrating the utlimate victory for the little guy.  A small private school in Indiana, filled with players who were not recruited by the big boys and were never considered able to make it this far, had found a perfect ride to the Championship game and in the process, taken down the evil empire of college basketball.  It is such a perfect story that it simply does not seem real.  But the joy that would have emoted from Lucas Oil stadium would have been real and might have been unsurpassed in sports since the 1980 Miracle on Ice. 

Disagree?  Think of a better example of an entire country rallying around a story and celebrating together.  I can't think of one.  In our territorial notion of sports, we celebrate victories over other areas of the country and loyalties are often split based on where you are.  We dont do much in the way of nationalism either and because the main sport in which the world competes against each other (soccer) isn't our bag, we dont get off on beating other countries very often. But this would have been the force of a collective nation, minus a few random Dukies, celebrating at the same time.  How great would that have been?

And that shot!  Had Hayward bankd that shot in, it would have immediately taken its place as the greatest shot in the history of college basketball.  Lorenzon Charles, Christian Laettner, Keith Smart and Michael Jordan would have had to scoot over and make room.  A new king of the mountain would have taken its place.  The circumstances (as the buzzer sounded, from half court, the underdog making it to beat mighty Duke) would have immediately catapulted it into discussion as the GREATEST play in history for any sport.  It would have been on commercials from now into eternity and there would never be a moment when its iconic image would have left the collective sports mind.

And the individuals involved.  It goes without saying that Gordon Hayward's life would have never been the same.  He would become a name that was remembered for generations and it is not an exaggeration to say that his life would have changed forever.  In addition to becoming a hero on Butler's campus for eternity, he would also have become a superstar in the nation as a whole.  He would have owned the Today Show, David Letterman and the White House and from now until the day he died, he would have been remembered as the guy who hit the greatest shot ever. 

And he isnt the only one.  Matt Howard would have been a hero as well, with his points down the stretch and a hard pick on the last play that would have lived forever.  His wispy moustache would have reached cult status and we would have seen middle school kids growing similar facial hair to be like Matt.  Coach Brad Stevens would have been more than just the Coach who looked young and took his team on a magical ride.  He would have been a national champion and on the path to be the greatest young coach in the nation.  His future is bright regardless, but a 33 year old coach who wins a national championship at Butler on the greatest shot in history would have had the world as his oyster.

Alas, none of this happened.  The shot was off just slightly.  Duke won and while college basketball fans will remember Butler, it will be as a part of something great, not something iconic and legendary.  Butler and its players have nothing to hang their heads about. They put together a magical run and were part of a great championship game.  They will forever be able to look back and remember being part of something special and unique.  But that doesnt mean that there won't be moments where Vonnegut's words ring true.  When it comes to a championship, it might have been.

Category: NCAAB

Since: Aug 10, 2007
Posted on: April 6, 2010 5:22 pm

From a Duke Fan

Okay, I am not a Duke diehard or anything. I only follow along to March Madness and I cheer for Duke. I cheer for them because when I first started watching March Madness 4 years ago I made a bracket and picked Duke to win it all, thus giving them my cheering support and it turned into them being my favourite team (even though they lost..) I had no clue they were the most hated team until later but anyways this would be the one scenario where I would be okay with my team losing.
 Maybe it is just because I am Canadian or maybe it is because everybody has a little heart for the underdog. For some reason it didn't feel like a championship, it feels like their is still a few more games to play.
For Butler fans and players I can see how coming so close to such an accomplishment can feel much more terrible, and maybe it would have felt different if Duke had ran away with the game.. but they didn't, the game was so tight from start to end and I give props for what the Butler team had pulled off.

Since: Jan 23, 2009
Posted on: April 6, 2010 5:03 pm

The real "Key" to this game

Did anybody wonder why Butler grabbed that rebound with a few seconds left, and had to run the court and launch a desperation heave? The real reason was the simple fact that they had no timeouts left. This was a direct result of the preceding exchange when Butler had the ball out of bounds under their own basket and could not get the ball inbounds, so they were forced to call their last timeout. Was this bad management? No. Was it a bad decision by Hayward to call timeout? No, he had no choice. The REAL reason was because of Duke's stellar D(I am by no means a Duke fan, but it was great D on that particular play).

So would Butler have been able to call a timeout with that last rebound, setup the perfect play and execute on their own end to score the tying or winning basket? We will never know, but if only that timeout was still in their pocket when Hayward pulled that rebound in with 3 seconds left. I will always remember screaming to myself when Hayward heaved his infamous "near" championship winning shot, "IF ONLY YOU STILL HAD YOUR LAST TIMEOUT!!!".

Since: May 27, 2009
Posted on: April 6, 2010 3:22 pm

What Might Have Been - But Isn't

Hold on...isn't he taking this a bit far? "Gordon Hayward's life would have never been the same." Ok, maybe he would have received some fame. Maybe he would have been on a few talk shows. Maybe his name would have been remembered at Butler. But all of this will be forgotten in ten years, tops when the next small school makes it to the championship and turns some heads. It's not like every single person on the planet would be singing his praise from now to eternity. Maybe people would remember it for a while, but would it guarantee him an NBA contract? Hmm? Pave the way for a bunch of cash and security so that he never has to worry again? Realistically, what would hitting a lucky shot have gotten him? Fame, sure. But for how long? A hundred years? Maybe. A thousand years? Doubt it. "The greatest shot in the history of basketball." Sure, until someone hits an even crazier shot with everything on the line. Then what? Just another lucky shot. "His wispy moustache would have reached cult status and we would have seen middle school kids growing similar facial hair to be like Matt." Give me a break. Does he really believe this? I'm a Duke fan, but I'm not trying to put down Butler with all of this. I'm thrilled at all they've accomplished. I applaud them. I can appreciate that America has a team to rally around, even at the expense of the Devils. So if people want to think through the 'what ifs' for a day and dream, be my guest. But please, lets at least be realistic about this. I must admit that I was convinced throughout the game that Butler would win. But they didn't. And the shot didn't go in. Even if it had, does he really believe that this team would be superstars for the rest of eternity? Lets not exaggerate.

Since: Sep 10, 2009
Posted on: April 6, 2010 11:53 am

What Might Have Been

Very close to becoming the greatest college basketball game ever.  Would've triggered duel interviews with Gordon Hayward and Jerry West talking about their half court bombs to win games.  Congrats to Duke!  I, for one, believe the Final Four was wide open, meaning any one of the teams had a very realistic shot at winning it.  If they played that Final Four again and again, you might've had a different winner four times in a row.  Since luck is always a factor in the one and done format, it's no surprise the healthiest team won it all. 

Since: Jan 4, 2010
Posted on: April 6, 2010 9:23 am

What Might Have Been

So it goes.

Since: Jul 21, 2007
Posted on: April 6, 2010 9:06 am

What Might Have Been

Leading up to this game I just kept saying, wouldn't it be awesome if Butler actually had a chance to win this game? Seeing Duke's front wall of big men I didn't think it possible, and yet, the mighty men of Butler showed what heart, hustle and team play are all about. No discredit to Duke on this night, but in some sense I never thought Duke could "win" this game, even if they came out on top. Butler stole the show and with contributions from players practically silent until the final game put the ball in the hands of their leader. Though his shots failed to drop -- the fallaway jumper and the half-court heave -- they had a chance ...

People say they rarely remember the second place finisher. In this instance, 10, 15, 20 years down the line I wonder if anyone will remember the winner of this amazing contest?

Since: Feb 20, 2010
Posted on: April 6, 2010 7:38 am

What Might Have Been

Great thoughts, Matt.  My wife and I started thinking about it last night after the game: "Why do we hate Duke so much?"  Taking out the whole 1992 experience, there are some things to appreciate about how Coach K has done it.  We eventually came up with this answer.  It's not that I hate Duke, it's that I hate the way the media adores them. 

Since: Aug 30, 2006
Posted on: April 6, 2010 1:33 am

What Might Have Been

Well said.  It IS disheartening that literally 1/2 inch is the difference between people's lives changing FOREVER.

Since: Mar 30, 2010
Posted on: April 6, 2010 1:33 am

What Might Have Been

Greatest final I can remember!  Would have LOVED to see little guys pull it off, but their falling short diminishes my admiration not one iota. What's more, the dignity and clean, hard play by BOTH sides was a relief to watch (as opposed to the thuggery shown by a certain Kentuckian earlier this year). I'll never be a "Dukie", but I certainly admire what Coach K has done (again) with what was initially labeled the "weakest #1 seed in the tourney."  This game has filled me with so much good feeling toward my fellow man that I think I may just go out and buy some stranger I've never met a health care plan... oh... wait....   Next up on the NCAA agenda: Bottle tonights final, save it for a rainy day, and share it with the next generation of student/athletes to see the result of work ethic and unselfish teamwork.
-- Either that, or just sell the DVD for 9.99 and exploit the kids for another couple $mil
I vote option A.
Way to go Butler team! You made me happy to be a hoops fan again!

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