The last two games—both of which were consecutive heartbreakers—have left me strangely un-discouraged. I’m not sure why; perhaps it’s because the level of pain technically decreased from the first one (a 2-OT defeat in Cleveland that featured one of our best players being carried off the court in agony) to the second (a mere single-overtime loss with no devastating injuries). But I think the more prevalent reason is this: unlike (apparently) every other sports commentator, I DO believe in moral victories. Have you heard these jokers on ESPN and other media outlets lately? It’s become trendy to say, “I don’t believe in moral victories”—like moral victories are Santa Claus or UFOs or something. Sean Salisbury’s a big proponent of this phrase, almost as much as he likes saying that equally unintelligent line about certain quarterbacks, “He’s got that ‘It’ factor.” Meanwhile, I think Jeremy Green has reiterated his moral victory atheism on every single podcast for the past 3 months.
You know what’s even more stupid than piously parroting this trite phrase? Just about every time they say it, these guys then immediately contradict themselves. For example, they’ll say something like, “I don’t believe in moral victories, but the Giants put forth a great effort against the Patriots, and it’s something they can build on in the playoffs.” Well, then you DO believe in moral victories, right? Isn’t that what a moral victory is? I don’t get it at all.
And apparently, this problem is more pervasive than I thought. I googled the phrase and found it being tossed around in all sports in all societies. It’s not just commentators either; coaches and players love it. Check out the Auburn swimming-and-diving coach’s comments after his team lost to Texas A&M: "I don't believe in moral victories, but I am proud of our growth here today." In India, the coach of the national men’s cricket team even declared moral victories to be “crazy:” “It’s really crazy,” he said, “I don’t know why people talk about moral victories. When you struggle to pick up five wickets in both innings, that’s no moral victory to me.”
Um, actually I can’t really comment on this one, because I have no idea what a wicket even is, let alone its relative worth in cricket—is picking up five wickets a lot? a little? average? How many points-per-game would 5 wickets equate to? So okay, perhaps in this case there is no moral victory in picking up just 5 wickets. And yet, if I had to guess, I would bet that lots of southeast Asian journalists predicted beforehand that this particular Indian team wouldn’t pick up ANY wickets (or maybe just one or two). And maybe they needed to pick up, like, 10 wickets to win. So yes, they lost, but they hustled hard and still picked up more wickets than people expected (maybe they even covered the “wicket-spread,” if there is such a thing). So when India plays its next game against New Zealand (or wherever), they’ll be able to have a little bit more confidence in their wicket-pick-up skills. So I change my mind, it was a moral victory, darn it, whether their coach believes in it or not!
Sorry for the digression, but I’m trying to fire us up, because I imagine there are a lot of sad faces in Bobcats land right now. And I agree, it was calamitous. We played brilliantly in the Cleveland game, and we should have had the W. In the post-mortem, the Charlotte Observer actually left out the worst part. See if you notice what’s missing from this summary:
“They could have put this away in the first overtime by scoring off either of their last two possessions, but Matt Carroll missed a 3-pointer and Felton air-balled a long jumper off a screen-and-roll with Okafor.”
Here’s the part they left out: before all of this happened, Carroll hit a trey to put us up 100-97, Damon Jones missed a 3-pointer of his own, and Gerald Wallace got the defensive board but STEPPED OUT OF BOUNDS. And given the extra possession, this time the loathsome Jones made his stupid 3-pointer and sent it to double-OT. Because we’re talking about a horrible turnover leading to a crippling shot by Damon Jones, a sequence of events that would make even a neutral observer cringe, I imagine Rick Bonnell simply blocked these events from his memory. But the point is, instead of having a 3-point lead and the ball with a minute to play, we were tied and headed toward another OT.
That’s when LeBron, or, the “L-Train,” as that avuncular FSN-Ohio color commentator calls him (which I find weird. After all, it’s not like LeBron is hurting for nicknames—why can’t he just go with “King James” or “Bron-Bron” or “LBJ” or one of the many others? Is this how it usually works? Back in the day, were there guys covering Wilt Chamberlain who passed on “The Big Dipper” and “Wilt the Stilt” and just made up their own, like “Sweet Chamber-music” or something?), decided he’d had enough. First he launched a 3-pointer from approximately Dayton, then he blatantly (and smartly) began ignoring teammates like Drew Gooden (the only man with the ability to shave his ducktail and actually manage to look weirder—what’s with that beard, is he supporting the Hollywood writers’ strike?), Larry Hughes, et al, and took matters into his own hands. The L-Train made a stop along the Foul Line and parked at 22-Foot Jumper station, after which you could stick a fork in us…except that on top of everything else, Felton sprained his ankle after the game had gone meaningless. And to think, if only he hadn’t hit that 3-pointer at the end of regulation, none of this would have happened—thanks a lot, Raymond…
At least Felton was in a suit the next night against the Pistons. Judging by the way he was carted off in Cleveland, I was halfway expecting to see footage of him wrapped up and being lowered into a pool via cables, Barbaro-style. I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that we didn’t have Jeff McInnis either against Detroit, not that he was particularly missed. Let’s face it, he’s essentially been playing only because we're required to put five guys out there, not because he’s vital (if McInnis were a body part, he’d be an appendix). Because Derek Anderson was also injured, however, we didn’t even have a nominal point guard.
So things could have hardly looked worse, but if there was an upside, it’s that Nazr Mohammed would finally crack the starting lineup, right? Right? Wrong! Coach Sam Vincent shifted Okafor to center, threw Jared Dudley out there, and started Carroll at the one. Huh? Not only was Mohammed coming off a 21-point, 15-rebound performance, he was also presumably extra-motivated to play against the team that openly and inexplicably despised him when he was with them. Combine this move with early appearances by Ryan Hollins and Jermareo Davidson, and Coach Vincent seemed to be saying, “What the heck, let’s just have some fun with this one.” And in fact, it actually DID become fun, and kinda zany. It was like if Hollywood announced they were doing a new version of Othello starring Ice Cube: you know, almost certain not to work, but definitely interesting and probably some laughs along the way.
Actually, I would have been satisfied with just seeing Primoz Brezec come in and bobble the ball out of bounds for old time’s sake (ahhhh, Primoz, you finally made me happy, when you walked out that door). Instead, we got a great game, a spirited effort, and a screw-job call at the end with the phantom interference (good for deferring responsibility). And once again, the Observer omitted a crucial, painful detail in their wrap-up: Carroll got fouled on a drive that put us up 91-88 with 1:45 left in regulation, and then he MISSED the free-throw that would have made it a 4-point game. If Carroll, a career 85% shooter from the foul line, sinks that free-throw, Chauncey Billups’ ensuing 3-pointer would have still left Detroit trailing by 1. And because that was the last time anyone scored in regulation, we could have arguably won (I’m sorry, I’m like Bubbles’ counselor in The Wire; I want to bring all this pain to light, it’s the only way we’ll heal).
Oh well, good thing I believe in moral victories…