This month, we asked our writers to revisit their most indelible moments of 2012.
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On a forgettable night in a forgettable game during a forgettable season, the Washington Wizards did something I'll always remember: they botched a three-on-one fast break in the most mundane way possible.
It was November. The San Antonio Spurs were in town. The Wizards were winless. The Spurs were not. Probably, it was cold outside. Late in the first quarter -- and this much I recall clearly, because the game was still competitive -- Wizards forward Chris Singleton dribbled along the right sideline, with teammates Bradley Beal filling the middle and Trevor Ariza sprinting in from the left. Spurs guard Manu Ginobli was the only defender between the ball and the basket, between a trio of opponents and an easy score. Backpedaling furiously, Ginobli planted himself in the lane, right above the block/charge arc, awaiting the inevitable, like an orange traffic cone in a practice drill. What else could he do?
Approaching the three-point line, Singleton had options. He could have taken another dribble and pulled up for a short, uncontested jumper. He could have attacked the basket and forced Ginobli to commit. Instead, he hastily passed the ball to Ariza -- who inexplicably was cutting into the lane, right behind Beal, who in turn was inexplicably drifting out of the lane. Ariza caught the pass, bumped into Beal's back and then ran into Ginobli before flipping a short, contested, off-balance floater toward the rim.
Unsurprisingly, the ball did not go in.
In the manner of lab scientists and Las Vegas magicians, we create and stage sports to produce the spectacular. The sublime. The extraordinary. The highlights that seem to slice themselves. Typically, those are what we remember. The preceding twelve months gave us the triumphs of Johnny Football, LeBron James, Adrian Peterson and Usain Bolt; 2012 also gave us the epic fails of Mark Sanchez, JaVale McGee and the poor kid from Appalachian State who missed a free throw in a way that Air Bud probably never missed a free throw. The Wizards' flubbed fast break was different. It was unremarkable. It was ordinary. So very ordinary -- the kind of thing you see all the time in pickup basketball, a simple and pedestrian blunder. And in that sense, it was a much-needed corrective, a reminder that much of what happens in any given sports year -- most of what happens, actually -- is ordinary, small-scale and everyday, and tends to end badly.
Sports is striking out. Dribbling the ball off your foot. Missing a block and watching the quarterback get drilled. Sports is having your throbbing ankles taped, sweating through practice while somebody screams at you, hitting the same looping forehand 1,000 times a day for 10 years while other kids eat ice cream. Sports is sitting indefinitely in post-game stadium traffic, getting your call dropped by the talk radio host, wondering why your favorite team's general manager wasn't smart enough to trade for James Harden. Sports is warming the bench, getting cut, putting your uniform in a closet and getting a job selling insurance. Sports is about winning, sure, and one shining moment that culminates in lending your name to one of those ghostwritten Successories self-help manuals that come with lifting a trophy. Far more often, though, sports is about losing, falling short of your hopes and dreams and goals, ending a losing season with a loss. Sports is about clear hearts and full eyes and doing your best, and then muddling on in spite of it. Or, more accurately, because of it.
Sports, in other words, is life. And life -- the lives all of us live, one way or another, while making big plans to do otherwise -- is running into Beal's back, clanking the shot and hustling back down the floor en route to a loss, with nothing save a grainy, moderately embarrassing GIF to show for it.