The average lifespan is nearly two and a half billion seconds.
A football game takes 3,600. An NBA game is supposed to last 2,880 but sometimes they go a little longer. Some games end up lasting forever, like Game One of the 2018 NBA Finals.
George Hill was at the free throw line in Oakland with the final 4.7 seconds frozen on the clock. Game tied. His go-ahead point bricked off the rim, but teammate J.R. Smith snatched the ball away from Kevin Durant, Golden State's best player. Time immediately unfroze, and the remaining 4.7 seconds dripped away as Cleveland's first and last-best chance in the Finals was forfeited in historic fashion.
Smith declined the game-winning layup believing the Cavs had already won. It was a timeless gaffe which overwhelmed every other detail, now buried in the rubble of that loss; the officiating fuckery that derailed Cleveland's command of the game just seconds earlier being a prime example. It's easy to also find a missed open shot here, a collection of defensive lapses there - there's no shortage of squandered opportunities in any game. Missed chances almost always outweigh the realized ones.
We ONLY remember the moment Hamby was hit squarely in the numbers, took seven steps, and then dropped a touchdown TWICE ON A SINGLE PLAY.
Buried in the rubble of a loss are all of the garden variety gaffes that look similar - bad officiating, limp passes, terrible ideas and Hill's missed free throw are all similar-sized rocks you can barely differentiate from each in a loss. But 14-year NBA veteran not knowing the score with 4.7 seconds left in an NBA Finals game three feet from the basket does not look like those other rocks. It's a neon boulder in the debris field.
The series was effectively over at that moment. James' visceral anguish toward Smith, his minutes-long dour reaction on the bench ahead of overtime and the Warriors' effortless traipse to a double-digit victory in that extra frame all but ended the series. It's hard to get off the mat after you hit yourself with a rock like Smith's.
I sat on my couch that evening, catatonic, trying to place what Smith did on the proper shelf inside my large mental cabinet of personal sports tragedies. The first shelf I went to was the 2003 NLCS when Steve Bartman reached out and interfered with a foul ball late during the 8th inning of Game Six with the Cubs up 3-2 in the series and 3-0 in the game. Like James in the aftermath of Smith's error, if Moises Alou doesn't demonstrably get upset at that section of the stadium, it's possible this becomes a forgotten moment.
But it wasn't, and the Marlins proceeded to score eight runs. A moment later, Alex Gonzalez booted what would have been an inning-ending double play ball for the Cubs, but when he did - everyone's anger was not focused on him, but at that fan who interfered with the foul ball. Floodgates were opened, juju flipped from good to bad, and he was at fault. James had channeled Alou as time expired in the heat of the moment. Had he simply jogged off the court or given Smith an attaboy (hindsight is a hell of a drug) it's possible overtime would not have been so lopsided.
That 2003 NLCS seemed like the perfect analog but for one crucial variable - the Cubs were in the throes of a championship drought that ended up running 107 years, defying all coin flips and P values for probability. Their collapse brought out the one word in all of sports that exaggerates little rocks like Bartman and transforms them into boulders.
It's the C word. Cursed. He became legend with one swing of a bat. Coincidentally, the entire sequence took 4.7 seconds. That's how long it takes to reach eternity.
The Cavaliers didn't have a drought like that to contend with - they own the past four Eastern Conference titles as well as the 2016 NBA championship, and Smith is a beloved, wily veteran. Their breakthrough two seasons ago not only brought Cleveland a parade, it extended athletes who had been hit with the C Word a bit of a reprieve. José Mesa. Earnest Byner.
Bartman was an asteroid the size of Texas in 2003. Smith is a space rock no bigger than a Volkswagen. Championship fervor is still fresh in Cleveland. Then it hit me, and I dozed off on my couch.
When your Ohio sports PTSD gets triggered all to hell pic.twitter.com/XadISlzCZo— Ramzy Nasrallah (@ramzy) June 1, 2018
J.R. was much closer to being Ryan Hamby than he was to Bartman. Hamby could have put the Buckeyes up 26-16 against the eventual national champions in a game they would go onto lose 25-22. Never mind that Ohio State settled for five field goals that night. Ignore the safety they handed the Longhorns later on, the bad officiating, limp passes and terrible ideas that blighted that game and every other one that's ever been played.
All the other rocks look the same. We remember that evening precisely for the moment Hamby was hit squarely in the numbers on a perfect throw, took seven steps without anyone near him, and then dropped a touchdown for the second time in a single play. Brent Musberger even shouted TOUCH! but never finished the thought. It was canceled, twice.
He ended up getting hate mail following the game. Imagine getting letters from strangers mad at you for hurting their feelings as a result of something that will haunt you forever.
The average lifespan is two and a half billion seconds, but it only took 4.7 on a night in 2005 to derail what was arguably the most underrated team of the Tressel era from another title shot. Juju from being held to three for the fifth time was all Vince Young and Texas needed to swing the game back in their direction, giving them inertia that propelled them all the way to Pasadena. Their victory march began in September, in Columbus.
As for the Buckeyes, they had just won a BCS title fairly recently and no one was under the impression their rise was coming to an end anytime soon. There was no C Word to contend with; it had been vanquished by way of a trip to Tempe and several beatings of the team up north in a relatively short period of time. The fan base notorious for howling throw it to the tight end had finally gotten its wish (twice, actually - the pass soared over Hamby's head in the endzone on the previous play) and it ended badly.
Title satiety does not exist. But Columbus wasn't a hopeless place in 2005, and neither is Cleveland in 2018. The general anxiety and inevitable dread that came with losing to Michigan every year during the 1990s was a distant memory by the time Troy Smith and Justin Zwick were battling each other for the starting job. Waiting for that one play to fall out of space and ruin everything was a forgotten past time. When you win, nothing hurts.
By the time Hamby allowed those insurance points to hit the grass, that creeping dread was long gone. We'll always have Tempe. Golden State will always have that blown 3-1 lead. Both he and Smith were spared a far worse fate. They both own championship rings. Smith scored dozens of points en route to Cleveland's 2016 title. Hamby caught two passes during the Buckeyes 2002 title march. One of them was worth six points.
It only takes a few seconds to write an epitaph that is both portable and permanently adhered to legacy. Hamby caught five touchdowns at Ohio State but he's remembered for the one he didn't. Smith has collected 12,057 points over his NBA career, along with two that he did not - which lies in repose as the neon boulder he left on the court in Oakland.