Oh, blessed good fortune. It wins an 84-year-old woman the $590 million Powerball lottery on a Quick Pick ticket … and it helps the teenager texting while driving avoid the accident that causes paralysis … and it is one of the many reasons that confetti is falling all over South Florida this weekend to celebrate a Miami Heat champion that makes this region feel as good about sports as it ever has.
Oh, cruel bad fortune. It doesn’t give that old, widowed Powerball winner much time left in life to enjoy her literal good fortune … and it fills this newspaper with sad stories of circumstance, changing lives in a blink, causing pain and grieving in random ways that shake faith … and it is one of the many reasons that the haunted and valiant San Antonio Spurs now begin a crushing offseason carrying a heavy sickness that won’t lift for days or weeks or, according to Tim Duncan, maybe ever at all.
Such a tiny difference between the Heat and Spurs, between winning and losing, between joy and pain, between history and hysteria. Duncan wore all that on his weary body at the end of his great series and great season, shoulders sagging, heavy head in a hand that wasn’t keeping it up, a portrait of defeat. It was amazing and hard to watch, this literal giant weakened, and in such pain. He is such a great champion, and the best power forward ever, and at 37 years old he reduced the younger, eight-time All-Star Chris Bosh to a bag of bones in the two most important games of the season, only to fail toward the exhausting end of this splendid game, this splendid season and this splendid career for no good reason at all.
Duncan, maybe the quietest star in sports, has spent two decades before us with nearly total stoicism around everyone but the refs, as private as someone this public can be, emotional as a flatline. But this was as vulnerable as we’ve ever seen him, slapping the court after missing an easy shot he nearly always makes and then saying afterward that shot will haunt him for the rest of his days. It is only the most interesting, honest and raw thing this private man has said in two decades in front of the lights and cameras. And if you care about sports, or if you care about people, and even if you care about the Miami Heat, it was heartbreaking, and made no less so just because it was being endured by a multimillionaire who makes his living playing games. We all understand caring deeply, and we all understand feeling crushed, and we all understand the frustration in having control leave your hands in a way that is random and hurts.
What happened to the Spurs was cruel. Duncan, under optimum circumstances, simply missed an easy shot he makes almost every time. He could have made the score 90-90 in Game 7 with less than a minute remaining in both seasons, putting Miami in that no-safety-net position that had the Heat fumbling and bumbling so much at the end of Game 6. Shane Battier, too small, is a good defender, but admitted afterward that he had nothing at all to do with Duncan missing that close, that he and the Heat were lucky in a way that will harden into enduring and willed greatness over time with every step we take away from it.
That’s how it works. The winners get to write the history. And luck fades with memory in a way that championships don’t. As writer Adam Smoot points out, nobody cares that the Patriots are one David Tyree and one Wes Welker catch from five Super Bowls or one tuck rule and bad field-goal snap from feeling more like those loser Bills of Jim Kelly. The scoreboard freezes scores forever, and it doesn’t come with a “Yeah, but … .”