This is crazy, when you think about it. All of this was one Ray Allen shot in Game 6 from not happening. This season could have ended that night with an epic Miami collapse that included two awful James turnovers late — and would have restarted the laughter. But now he’s so likeable! Because Allen made a desperate shot with five second left. That helped produce this insane night, when all of South Florida felt like it was teetering on a tipping point, see-sawing between the best and worst sports feelings, three years condensed into a single fourth quarter.
Think about the best moments in South Florida history. Marlins win the World Series in extra innings of Game 7. Dolphins cap the only perfect season in team sports history with a Super Bowl triumph. Bernie Kosar leads a huge underdog University of Miami to a surprise championship over powerhouse Nebraska to begin UM’s dynastic run.
Now think of the worst moments. UM losing to Penn State and Ohio State for the championship in the Fiesta Bowl. Allan Houston’s bounce-bounce-bouncing shot on the rim. Or even LeBron losing in the first year here against Dallas. This night, this championship, careened between those extremes for the entirety of this evening and came down to a one point difference entering the fourth quarter — capable of producing maybe the best feeling South Florida sports has ever known, or the worst. No in between. No nuance or context or perspective. That scoreboard can be cold and cruel in the way it separates winners from losers, and forever.
But there was confetti all over the court, and car horns honking outside, as Riley made his way through the bowels of the arena, looking to congratulate the beaten Spurs on their fight. People kept slapping him on the back with “You are a genius!” or “You are a legend!”, but Riley, the champion architect, was lost in his own building at the moment, soaked in champagne and championship.
“Where is the visiting locker room?” he asked. “I’ve never been there.”
He pulled on one door and stuck his head inside. Nope. That wasn’t it. Another. Nope. He pulled on the right door this time. Locked. He was not let in. So he kept walking, right past all the losing, leaving it in his rear-view mirror, and found his way into the cigar smoke and champagne and music and noise where Heat players and their families were taking pictures with the golden trophy.
“I’ve never done it, but I’ve heard the stories of the best surfers,” Riley said. “The waves are giant. You stand up, and you get your footing, and you look down and see that the drop is a scary, scary one. Should I ride or should I bail? We rode. We didn’t bail. We rode that wave, and it was an amazing ride.”
But here’s the best part:
We’re in the middle of it.
It might be closer to the beginning of the amazing ride than to the end.