In one of my first columns, I wrote about the ending of basketball games. Specifically:
Dr. F made a good point about basketball’s main weakness. The last two minutes
take too long. I agree (and I’m sure my wife does as well). I can’t stand what a
basketball game turns into for the last few minutes. To use a simile, a
basketball game is like you being the only person driving on the highway until
you get within a few blocks of your destination. At that point you hit the worst
bumper-to-bumper traffic you’ve ever seen. A basketball game goes smoothly for
about 45 minutes, and then grinds to a halt with fouls and time outs.
I should have stated more clearly that a basketball game would be more exciting without being able to call a timeout in the last two minutes. Limiting each team to one time out at the end of the game would let the tension build without an emotional detachment from constant interruptions.
To illustrate my point, I point you to the St. Joe’s vs. Oklahoma State game that was on tonight. It was easily the most exciting final 3 minutes of basketball I’ve seen this year. With the game tied the Cowboys blew their last timeout with 2:38 left in the game, and their opponents used their final timeout with 1:31 on the clock.
The pressure increased every second, with both teams’ entire season on the line. The Oklahoma time out came with one of their players fighting for a loose ball & hitting the ground. Instead of letting his opponent grab the ball for a possible possession change, he called for time. The Cowboys would miss their next shot, but so would the Hawks’ Jameer Nelson 30 seconds later. Oklahoma State then missed a three which led to St. Joe’s to call their final timeout. With one foul to give, the Cowboys committed a non-shooting foul shortly after the inbound.
The game continued for the final minute and 24 seconds without a single timeout or foul. It was a hold on to your chair type of ending. In the last minute the lead changed hands 3 times. The only shot that was missed was the final two pointer with time expiring. By the time Oklahoma almost turned the ball over with under 10 seconds left, the tension was nearly unbearable. For a second, I was thrilled with the possibility that St. Joe’s would steal the ball to seal the game (because I need them in my NCAA pool). Instead the ball bounced over to John Lucas who drained a three pointer to put the Cowboys up by 2.
However, with 8 seconds left, the season wasn’t over yet, and in an instance the Hawks were running up the court trying to play for a tie or win. Unfortunately for them, Jameer Nelson couldn’t hit his jumper at the top of the key to tie the game.
In every aspect of entertainment, whether it be music, magic, or acting, it’s what the spectator experiences that is most important. In music, the road manager doesn’t come up on stage to huddle with the musicians near the end to suggest which song to close on. In magic, Rick Franceschini after showing the empty hat never walks off stage before pulling out the rabbit. Even when watching a movie on tv, usually the last 10-15 minutes are shown commercial free. It’s because by stopping at the critical points, you would ruin the momentum leading up to that point.
Players and coaches both benefit from these stoppages. Being able to call time outs gives coaches control over their team, and takes away a lot of the pressure off the players who would have to think quickly in high tension situations. It still doesn’t make it right, especially when it’s at the expense of the most important aspect of sports: the fans.