Saturday, December 5, 2009

Comparing improbable game-winning bank shots by Laker legends

Kobe Bryant livened up this dark and quiet Broadway apartment late last night with a miraculous, ridiculous game-winning shot that could have only been made by a player with enough skill to be that lucky.

With three seconds left and the Lakers trailing the Heat by two, Bryant took the pass, fumbled it, dribbled to his left and hit a running bank shot off of one leg to give the Lakers the fortunate victory.

ESPN's J.A. Adande wrote that Bryant is the best the game's ever had at making bad shots. Bad shot in this case meaning extremely difficult, not necessarily the type of bad shots Bryant's long been-accused of hoisting.

It was a remarkable shot. And, at least to this Lakers fan, brought back pleasant memories of a night 22 years ago, when another Laker legend livened up a dark and quiet room, although that one was in my parents' basement in Minnesota. In a December 1987 showdown, this one against the hated Celtics in Boston, Magic Johnson banked in an improbable, miraculous bank shot off of one leg that, like Kobe's, could have only been made by someone with enough skill and creativity to be that lucky.

When comparing them, Magic's probably had the greatest impact, as it came against another top team, while the Lakers last night simply defeated an average squad at home. For degree of difficulty, I'll give the slight edge to Kobe's, as it was from a longer distance and came off of the dribble, while Magic's was a catch-and-shoot, albeit a far-from-normal catch-and-shoot.

Magic did have a tougher angle, as making a shot from the top of the three-point circle is the easiest place to make a triple, much easier than hitting a long-distance shot from angle like Magic did. Kobe had the more difficult bank shot. In a game of H-O-R-S-E, it'd be harder for someone to call glass from straightaway than it would be from the left side.

Kobe's game-winner came with Dwyane Wade defending, a great defensive player but still a 6-6 guard. Magic hit his with the lumbering, stoic figure of Robert Parish nearby, holding his arms up in a helpless maneuver. Edge to Magic.

In the end, it's impossible to say which one was more difficult, as both players got decent looks at the rim for shots they might only make two out of 10 times in those situations. Kobe did get to celebrate in front of the home crowd, including a stunned Jack Nicholson. But Magic's came in Boston, in front of the (probably drunk) Garden fans who back then almost never saw their team lose at home. In 1986 the Celtics were 40-1 in the Garden, in 1987 they went 39-2 (one of those was also against the Lakers) and in 1988 they'd finish 36-5, with one of those being this heartbreaking defeat.

Nothing in sports, even today, warms my heart like seeing Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale all standing on the court in stunned silence, milling around with no idea what happened or where to go next. Magic and the Lakers ran off the court, probably out of fear a disgruntled Celtic fan would fire an object onto the court, but it had to be more gratifying for them to defeat their No. 1 rival on their court than it was for the Lakers to knock off the Heat.

Both Kobe and Magic's shots came six months after their greatest professional triumphs. Kobe, of course, won his first post-Shaq title while winning Finals MVP. Magic, meanwhile, led the Lakers to a six-game victory in the Finals over these same Celtics and also hit the most famous shot of his career, the Game 4 hook in the Garden that gave the Lakers a 3-1 lead. With this shot six months later, Magic all but destroyed any Garden myth that had survived the junior hook back in June.

I don't know which one was a tougher shot. Both brought me out of my chair. I replayed both a dozen times. I saved the tape of the 1987 shot and I'll save the tape of this one.

But in the end, it's always better when it comes against the Celtics.


Shawn Fury said...

For anyone seeing this using Mozilla Firefox, does the top video look normal or is it like 25 feet wide and goes across the far-right side of the page? That's how it looks on my browser and I don't know why, as it looks normal when I use Internet Explorer and Safari. This is the second time it's done it so not sure why. Sorry if it's like that for anyone else using Firefox.

Jerry said...

I think that Magic's shot was much tougher. It was more of a catch and shoot whereas Kobe actually got forced on the dribble to his release point. Either ay they were both remarkable shots that I could not even think of taking - in my wildest dreams.