Originally published in SLAM 7
The 6th Man: I WAS IN THE MIAMI AIRPORT, COMING home from a few days in the Florida Keys, when all hell broke loose. In an airport lounge, not much larger than Bryant Reeves, fifteen-or-so fans crowded around a TV watching the last painful seconds of Indiana’s win over my Knicks in the Eastern Conference semis.
“Ewing choked!” I moaned, after his layup attempt finger-rolled in…and out. And pounding the bar, I looked around to see who was in agreement. Most of the guys nodded vigorously. Drunk guys are like that.
“How did he choke?” my girl Gina asked. Although she doesn’t know a lot about hoops, Gina plays the devil’s-advocate like she invented the role. Plus, she loves to bust my chops.
“He missed the damn shot.” I said, filled with a mixture of sorrow and anger, my head resting on God-knows-what.
“Didn’t that other guy miss a minute ago?” she countered.
(She was talking about Mase clanking two frees a little bit earlier.)
“Well, yeah,” I answered hesitantly.
“Did he choke?”
“No, he just…uh…” I stammered.
Just what? I asked myself, feeling stupider than even a guy with a coaster stuck to his elbow should. Calling someone a choker—and we all do it, don’t we?—is ridiculous. Hasn’t Patrick Ewing done enough for the Knicks franchise without being labeled a gagger by some guy with a sunburned neck and serious ups deficiency? Of course he has, and, yeah Mom, I know: I should be ashamed of myself.
When Reggie Miller labeled the Knicks “choke artists” after killing them singlehandedly in Game One, I thought it was rubbing salt in their wounds, and a totally classless thing for him to do. (Watching him sleepwalk through Game 7 against the Magic in the Eastern Conference finals, however, made me feels tons better. Thanks, Reg.) But then, some would argue, Reggie Miller plays the game, and he can call anyone anything he wants.
I honestly don’t think so. And that day in that cheesy bar, surrounded by my new friends, none of whose names I would or even could remember, I vowed never to accuse someone of choking again, no matter what the circumstances may be. Remember: Even the best players don’t make every single shot. Most of the time, a miss is just that—a miss. No pulse-pounding sweaty drama. No twenty thousand screaming nutjobs having their say. Just the numbers catching up to a guy who may have made six straight jays earlier in the game.
I was forced to amend my vow, I confess, just after Game One of the NBA Finals when…. awww forget it. But that’s the end of it, I swear.