luck is the residue of design


I imagine most of you – even you writer types – found yourself watching sports this weekend, and we were no exception… however, because I’m a Saints fan, I had no interest in the NFL playoffs, and instead directed as much positive energy towards my beloved Tar Heels playing a tough road game in Tallahassee, Florida.

Lucy wore her UNC onesie-with-culottes, but due to our recent brain farts, we can’t remember which of you gave it to her! Either way, she looked smashing, and screamed on cue every time Tyler got hacked down low. Those of you who followed this particularly harrowing game, you know we one by one point.

Tessa, much later tonight, sat next to me in one of her “I have an important question” poses, and said, basically, that all modern Western sports fall under the same category: the end makes the story. Or, more interestingly, the End makes the Middle and the Beginning, no matter what they had been at the time.

In other words, because we won the game by one point, everything that we did inside the 40 minutes of that game was positively skewed to represent a story in which our winning was inevitable. I thought that was pretty fascinating.

Only one point meant this:

– we’re getting more mature, handling pressure better

– we stopped FSU’s inevitable 2nd half comeback

– we made just the right amount of free throws

– we’re “back on track”

– our hopes for an invitation to March Madness are looking good

– the UNC tradition continues, even having lost our top seven players

Whereas, if FSU’s desperation last-second heave had gone in, the story would look like this:

– we’ve lost maturity, can’t handle being on the road

– we played “their game” instead of “our game”

– David Noel’s two missed free throws tanked us

– our season is slightly coming apart at the seams

– our hopes for postseason play are much murkier

– even UNC can’t handle losing so many players to the NBA

It is, in one of Sean’s favorite expressions, a sport with a “bivalent” storyline, you know, where all the AM sports buffoons say stuff like “It’s W’s and L’s, baby” and “horseshoes and hand grenades,” etc.

But back to Tessa’s point, it is interesting that everything that happened up to the last shot – about 39 minutes and 55 seconds of basketball – did not have any intrinsic definition without the last five seconds factored in. It is decidedly un-Buddhist.

I could make some sort of tangent to the NFL playoff games today, but none of those contests were close enough to warrant emotional ambivalence: the storyline was pretty much set before halftime.

It is curious, as I look at the things in my own life: my own failures that led to success, my sometimes asinine reductivism concerning eras that were quite complicated, yet I still shrug and say “it all sucked.” Especially as we are trying to be “artists,” for lack of a less unbearably twee term, and in many cases, close is not only good enough, but a huge victory.

And yet, when it comes to my Heels, I lose all this perspective. Roy Williams, as Dean Smith before him, has about eight different plays for each possible permutation of end-game situations, making that the final score less arbitrary than it seems. But my mood, still spirited and delightful and sing-songy all evening, is held in place ten feet high by that one gorgeous, tremulous basket.

0 thoughts on “luck is the residue of design

  1. Tanya

    You know – I thought about the game in this manner last night, too. Mostly, I can’t help but to feel like we TOTALLY got away with one. Don’t get me wrong, though – I’m THRILLED with our win, but damn, it was ugly, and aside from about 5 minutes of exceptional play and Wes Miller, we stunk up the place. One really great outcome from last night: Caleb learned to pump his fist like his Daddy, Roy, Tyler, et al in joy and triumph. My baby’s growing up!!

  2. furious

    I absolutely agree with Tessa’s observation, and it is a big part of the reason that I rarely watch an entire UNC game–especially one I think will be close. I can’t stand the pressure for that much time, so I might as well tune in late.
    But I was also intrigued by your lists. I know it is the way of things to speak of one’s team as “we,” and plenty of jokes have been made about that. But I had momentarily forgotten that sports reporting trope, so when I read “we’re getting more mature, handling pressure better,” I thought you were referring to your and Tessa’s viewing manner, and I was temporarily wildly envious of your ability to watch an entire game, calmly.
    Now I know better.

  3. Andy

    I promised myself that I was not going to be as emotionally invested in the team this year because I had no expectations pre-season.
    Oh well. I guess some promises are made to be broken.
    The other crazy thing about 1 point victories is that you could look at any single basket made as the pivotal one. If Byron “The Colonel” Sanders doesn’t slam home that dunk on the break…; if Frasor hadn’t found Noel breaking to the basket with 1 second left on the shot clock…; if Marcus hadn’t hit that 3…; etc.
    Also, Ian, you failed to mention that this weekend was made even sweeter by the fact that the dookies went down to an unranked team. Go Hoyas! Go Heels!

  4. Tim

    AND they finally got around to attacking the rampant homophobia on the IC Premium boards. What a great weekend! A shame about the Panthers.

  5. Kevin from Philadelphia

    I have hated Georgetown ever since that piece-o-crap Allen Iverson came to Philly – don’t get me wrong, he is a great player, just a terrible human being; put on a god damn neck tie and pull up your pants, your a grown man for christ’s sake!!! – and this loss by Duke just gives me one more good reason to hate them.

  6. Just Andrew

    Great weekend for me. Steelers to the Super Bowl, Heels win, dook loses. Great stuff.
    The funny thing to me is that during the FSU game, I was getting so ticked at them hitting their 3s – I was bitchin’ and moanin’ about how other teams always hit 3s at a ridiculous rate against us. I noticed at the halftime stats that both teams had 6 three pointers.
    Really made me wonder just how dark these rose colored glasses I’m wearing really are.

  7. Aaron

    As a reformed physics major, your description of the duality of the possible outcomes of this weekend’s game reminded me of basic quantum mechanics.
    Basically, the game could be thought of as a superposition of those two possible end states you described. The game has all of those positive and negative aspects at the same time.
    The final buzzer is merely the time of the arbitrary “measurement” which forces the quantum system into one of the two measurable states.
    Light polarization, atomic energy levels, and all other quantum mechanics can work that way, and as we all know, many things in life can seem great and terrible all at once.

  8. scotty

    Tessa and you, Ian, are partially right, mostly wrong. In a playoff situation (any situation you “have” to win to proceed, whether actual playoffs or just end-of-season to make the actual playoffs) the win or loss at the end colors the whole game or season. It’s less important in a regular season game to win than it is to excel or at least be getting better at the things it’ll take to win in the postseason. In January/February I’m much happier with a solid, hard-played loss than I am with a sloppily-played last-minute win. Mind you, probably not in the 2 minutes after such a win, but definitely by the 5th minute.

  9. TDSUNC92

    speaking of b-ball, with all apologies to mariah carey, THIS is a true “vision of love”: entering a train station in bethesda, md and seeing a gang of tres forlorn/damn-near-crying dookies all decked out in their ugly dook gear mourning after having witnessed their previously unbeaten, #1-seeded boys get spanked lovely by the hoyas … priceless, i tell you!
    tarheel bred hoya lawya

  10. Dave in AZ (was RI)

    You can observe this effect in the commentary during the course of a game. According to the announcers, the team down five points for a few minutes has been doing everything wrong; the team up, everything right. Two buckets and a foul shot later, all those faults and virtues are meaningless.
    Also, consider lopsided scores. The team down by twenty at the half cuts the margin to four, then loses by fifteen. It didn’t outplay the winner for the second twenty minutes. The loser played one whole terrible game.

  11. chip

    Wife went to Georgetown. John Thompson III has been rebuiling the program at a steady pace, and this win was sweet.
    Allen Iverson is a great American.

  12. badbob

    Heels will be back big time next year and the one after that. Still too wet behind the ears this year..still fun to watch though. If they get an invite to the dance they could easily win a couple.
    My ‘mater and old team is #1 today. Thanks “unranked” Hoyan’s!

  13. DB

    Agreed, Ian. The wife asked why I watched the last minute of the TiVo’d game before watching the rest. I said I didn’t want to bother watching a loss, but I’d totally sit and watch the win–once I confirmed that we pulled it out, I watched the second half. (Second kid means no luxury in terms of free time.) Somehow it makes it all worthwhile to watch a game you know turns out right.

  14. Chuck B.

    In 1990, as a Georgetown student, I was in the stands the last time the Hoyas beat Duke, and I thought it couldn’t get any sweeter. I was wrong. Saturday was an absolute thrill to all of us who have suffered through several ignoble years not making the NCAA tournament. We’re still not a great team, but this past weekend, we were just good enough, and I’ll take that.


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