When I first read the story about a high school kid who scored at the wrong basket at the buzzer to give the other team a playoff victory, I was grateful there were only words to describe the play, and not video. It was bad enough reading about, especially since it’s the type of story you have to read twice before it makes any sense. Actually watching it happen seemed too cruel.
Of course the video popped up the next day and if you haven’t seen it and enjoy watching torturous acts, here you go.
It happened in Oklahoma and the kid’s name is Trey Johnson. With his team up by 1, Johnson took an in-bound pass in the final seconds and as the buzzer went off dropped in a shot on the wrong hoop, giving the opposition what must be — with apologies and royalties to Bill Walton — the most improbable victory in the history of Oklahoma high school basketball. In some ways it’s the worst thing for him that it happened with the Internet around. Millions heard about the mistake and millions more eventually watched it. But the benefit of having the worst moment of your sports career being watched around the world is that after the masses have had their fun and all the “oh my gods” have been uttered, they can rally in support, which could have only happened with some type of well-organized letter-writing campaign if Johnson had thrown up this shot in the 1980s.
The Oklahoma City Thunder invited Johnson to their game Sunday against the Celtics and watching Boston lose would cheer the heart of any young man. He met the players and received some shoes. He also received encouraging words from former NBA player Derek Harper, who had his own gaffe in the 1984 Western Conference semifinals against the Lakers when he dribbled out the clock, believing the Mavs were ahead instead of just tied. Dallas lost in OT.
On Monday, CBS columnist Gregg Doyel wrote a nice column on Johnson and the aftermath of the famous layup, which will overshadow any shot the kid makes in the right basket the rest of his playing days.
It’s good Johnson’s getting some nice support in the immediate aftermath of the moment, but I wonder if all of those well-wishes will stay with him in 10 years when he’s still thinking about that final possession and that final layup. And he’ll be thinking about it because, really, have you ever heard of a worse way to lose a game?
I can’t even think of an equivalent, because most examples of heartbreaking losses — including Doyel’s baseball story in his column, about how he let a ball go to the fence in a state tourney game that cost his team the victory — are fairly normal sports plays. Scoring on the wrong basket seems unprecedented, worse than own goals in soccer because those too happen every once in awhile. The only comparison that would make sense is a player returning a touchdown to the wrong end zone — but not for an NFL Films bloopers clip but on the final play of a playoff game.
Whenever a team suffers a devastating defeat in bizarre fashion, I always think about the aftermath. How long will the player dwell on the missed shot or botched field goal, the bases-loaded walk or the dropped pass in the end zone on the final snap? The loneliest basketball defeat — well, other than scoring on the wrong basket at the buzzer — has to be the missed free throws with no time left on the clock. It’s a rare play, a foul called on a shot that’s released with time on the clock but the buzzer sounds while it’s in the air. The player stands alone at the line, none of the other players are allowed on the boxes. One of the most famous examples came in the 1987 All-Star game when Rolando Blackman — another Dallas guard — knocked down two shots to tie it for the West, which won in overtime. But that was an All-Star game, with little at stake. But it’s happened in tourney games and the players have missed, the ball falling off the rim while they stand at the line, nine other players behind them waiting to learn their fates.
The empathy for Johnson doesn’t necessarily stem from the idea it could happen to anyone — because it couldn’t. In fact we know it will almost certainly never happen again. And any kid who has to deal with that for the next 50 years deserves all the sympathy in the world.