Yet as I sit here today, I remember only 2.9 seconds of the entire series. Nothing more, nothing less.
(That’s not entirely true. I have a very vague recollection of Michael Jordan shooting 400 free throws in Game 7, the result of him just plowing into crowds of bodies in the lane, looking to draw fouls—like how a wise old yak would play basketball if given the chance. “Air Jordan,” my ass. He was James Harden that day, all unwieldy and earthbound. That may have been a fever dream, though.)
Whether this complete memory malfunction is the product of old age or the passage of time, I have no idea. Probably both. Or it could also be that the games were forgettable trash heaps, the typical slog-fests of the 1990s—the most hand-checking-est decade of all! There is no nostalgic hue to that era, by the way, none of that YOU KIDS DON’T KNOW HOW GREAT IT WAS BACK THEN! No, son. It was dreadful. It was a dark chapter in the history of the sport, maybe the darkest. The whole decade was a Russian nesting egg of game-clogging physicality: a jersey-grab inside of Alonzo Mourning’s Heat inside an Anthony Mason arm-bar to a cutter’s throat, all of it LEGAL. It made for a wildly displeasing aesthetic and way too many boring 88-79 final scores.
Guessing there was lots of that in those other 20,157.1 seconds of the series.
But the 2.9 seconds we all remember in Indy? Holy hell. They are the last 2.9 seconds of Game 4, of course, and they are forever seared into this city’s psyche. It was a lot to take in all at once. Still is.
Let’s break it all down.
It won’t happen, but this needs to be Reggie’s statue when that time comes. A tastefully done piece showing him heaving Jordan into the abyss, perhaps illegally. The Powers That Be will no doubt make a far more traditional scene—a bronze sculpture of him shooting his lanky jumpshot or what have you—and it will be boring and bad. It will not tell a story…not like a wild-eyed, two-fisted shove to a deranged god-king’s chest just to get the CHANCE of taking a game-winning shot in a Conference Finals game would tell a story. Make the statue out of permanently frozen blood.
After all, there have been very good players throughout NBA history who have shied away from taking those terrifying shots, great players, even. Reggie, meanwhile, would run through Hell or Michael Jordan to hunt that opportunity. That, my friends, tells a goddamn story.
A 25-foot catch-and-shoot floater off a dead sprint moving AWAY FROM THE BASKET is not a terribly efficient shot for most players on most days, but this was not “most days.” It was certainly not “most players,” and whatever awkward physics were in play, Reggie had an impossibly clear look at the rim.
With God as my Witness—and may He strike me dead if I’m exaggerating—I have never been more sure of anything in my life that THAT shot was going in when it left his hands. That is what I remember most vividly, in fact. The certainty of it all. (And also the sound it made going in, how I’d never heard such a violently perfect SWISH. It sounded like he ripped open the space-time continuum with a broadsword.)
Seriously, go back and watch the tape, watch the guy on the Bulls bench start heading to the locker room as soon as Reggie caught the ball and squared up—way before it went in. It is so remarkably rad, and also telling. I think it was Dickey Simpkins, bless his heart. He knew. We ALL knew.
It broke Market Square Arena, that shot … the physical reverberations. The old gal never recovered—catastrophic structural damage and so forth. We had to put her down after that, in 1999, and move to a new place. Apparently there was a Game 6 there, which I obviously don’t recall, but never mind that. Game 4 was her last hurrah, and what a last hurrah it was. Decibel-wise, it was the Marlin Jackson interception in the Dome times a thousand. It felt unsafe. She killed Elvis. Reggie killed her. Now she’s a Whole Foods. “Circle of Life” and all that.
BIRD’S STOIC LARRY BIRD FACE
He did not smile as the world erupted into euphoric chaos all around him and BTO blared from above. He did not subtly fist-pump. He did not nod proudly like Miyagi. He did not move. He blinked, kind of, although not really. (BLINKING IS FOR CLOSERS AND THIS IS NOT YET A DONE DEAL.)
To this day I am quite confident it is the most impressive physical feat I’ve ever seen in sports, including any 60-yard Patrick Mahomes on-the-run throw or Red Panda or all the crazy shit Bo Jackson did.
If I were coaching the Pacers right then I would have seizure-fainted on the spot, from joy. Bird is a T-800 cyborg.
JORDAN NEARLY DOING THE MOST JORDAN THING IMAGINABLE
His shot was IN, seemingly. With 0.7 seconds to go. It was the mirror image of Reggie’s, just 2.2 seconds later, and off the glass, because Jordan was not the shooter Reggie was. There was a Derrick McKey–induced double-pump thrown in for good measure. Had he hit that it would have been the greatest shot of his life, and possibly the greatest shot in NBA history. It was 0.0002 micrometers off. I remember feeling very lucky right then. I remember feeling very lucky that I got to experience those 2.9 seconds.
It was the greatest sports experience of my life, and it always will be—and I’ve done some sports things myself. Nothing will surpass that day. The Last Dance will blow right past that game, and that’s OK. History is written by the winners, and Jordan won everything. He is in charge of all this. Screw him.
We tend to forget the grind of everyday life, of every 7-game series and 7-day work week. What we remember are the MOMENTS. And I’ll be goddamned if those 2.9 seconds from Game 4 didn’t give us more moments than we ever thought possible.