Watching the Hawks and Heat do over the last 51.9 seconds of a game they started in December.

Watching the Hawks and Heat do over the last 51.9 seconds of a game they started in December.

Watching the Hawks and Heat do over the last 51.9 seconds of a game they started in December.

The stadium scene.
March 10 2008 11:08 AM

Minute Details

Watching the Hawks and Heat do over the last 51.9 seconds of a game they started in December.

Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks. Click image to expand.
Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks

It seems I underestimated the wrath of the basketball gods. Saturday morning, this reporter rose earlier than is his weekend habit to make good on his promise to travel to Atlanta to watch the Hawks and the Heat replay the final 51.9 seconds of their Dec. 19 contest, the NBA's first do-over in 25 years. I wanted to see what, if any, justice would be served by this exercise. It was also an unprecedented chance to test the theory, popular among professional basketball's detractors, that the only part of an NBA game worth watching is the last minute.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.


Arriving at LaGuardia, however, I learned that my flight had been delayed three hours. It was snowing in Atlanta. Divine punishment, surely, for the NBA's hubristic attempt to turn back time. That, or it was just a really bad weather day. As the afternoon wore on, a heavy fog fell over the tarmac in New York, closing the airport. My flight was eventually canceled, and the one I was bumped to was delayed enough to render it impossible for me to make the replay. Even the most enthusiastic of the NBA's apologists will tell you that the opening moments of a professional basketball game are no big deal. When the game you're trying to catch is less than a minute long, tardiness is rather more of an issue.

Plan B: After a few phone calls, I found a sports bar on the Upper East Side that had the NBA package. I arrived at Bounce at around 6 p.m., still toting my luggage and looking a bit worse for the wear, having spent six hours shoulder-to-shoulder with some very irritated AirTran customers. I can only imagine what the cocktail waitress thought was going through my head when I tried to impress upon her the importance of having one of the bar's flat screens tuned to the Hawks-Heat game promptly at 7. But she took pity on me and made it so.

So, the replay. The Heat in-bounded the ball with 51.9 seconds to go. Though Miami was down 114-111, there seems to have been some concern among the Hawks players about the Heat's opening gambit. For one thing, Pat Riley was one of the head coaches the last time the NBA forced a do-over. What's more, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution noted, he'd had 80 days to design this play. Asked before the game what he was expecting, Atlanta's Josh Childress said: "They seem to think that, because it's Riley, he'll go for the 3 immediately. But you don't know. They might have a trick play like Boise State, some 4-point play we've never seen."

Now that would have been something. Instead Dwayne Wade brought the ball up, fiddled and diddled a bit before passing to the immortal Mark Blount, who promptly lofted a brick. The Hawks rebounded and got the ball to Joe Johnson, who took a shot and missed. The Heat got it back with 8.5 seconds to go. This time Wade opted for the 3 to tie, but he didn't get a good look, and the ball clanged off the rim. Game over, again. Al Horford, who did not play in the do-over, pumped his fist after time expired, celebrating "a bit disproportionately," as even the hometown Journal-Constituion put it. There is perhaps something déclassé about rejoicing too strenuously after a win in which neither team scores a point.