Kawhi Leonard may not be a household name globally and definitely not so in India. However, for most of the NBA following basketball community in USA and across the world, he is a playing member of San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs went on to reach the NBA finals, the most awaited basketball showdown, and eventually lost to Miami Heat 4-3 in a 7 game series. The series saw the balance tilt to and fro and in the end the Heat managed to keep their nerves to clinch the series. So where does Kawhi Leonard figure and so importantly so as to find mention in the heading of this blog. Let us find out.
Understanding the context – let us first familiarize ourselves with a couple of rules of basketball. A team can hold the possession of basketball for 24 seconds only and it must attempt scoring a basket in this time. Only if the ball touches the rim of basket, the attempt is counted as a legitimate one. So, every 24 seconds or less, the ball changes hands unless the team attempting can manage to rebound after missing the scoring opportunity. Now, the Spurs led the series 3-2 and the 6th game was being played in Miami Heat’s home ground. The Spurs led 94-92 and with 19 second to finish, the Spurs had the possession of the ball. Had they kept the possession of the ball , they would have won the game. The Heat obviously had to commit a fowl and let the Spurs take 2 free throws hoping they would miss 1 or 2. The ball after the free throws would most likely come back to The Heat who could then attempt a 2 or 3 point shot to tie or win the game. This was the scenario and this is where Kawhi Leonard comes in. With 19 seconds to finish, the Heat immediately fouled Leonard and he went to take 2 free throws, hoping to score 2 points and give the Spurs a 4 point lead. Had that happened, the Heat would have to hurriedly take a 3 point attempt, score, foul the Spurs again, and then after the Spurs missed or scored, again take a hurried 2 or 3 point attempt – a very long shot by any standards. Instead Kawhi Leonard missed the first throw and scored on the second thus getting one point only. The lead thus was of 3 points. The Heat scored a miraculous 3 point shot with 5 seconds remaining. The game went into overtime and the Spurs lost, completely dejected.
Why is this so important? – For years Leonard practiced hard and dreamt of an NBA career which he achieved. He had a chance to win the Championship by scoring 2 free throws but he missed one. Leonard would have practiced millions of free throws in his life scoring almost all. However, when it mattered the most, he missed. He did not lose the point, game and championship only but also lost the dream of winning an NBA championship. No one knows whether he would ever get a chance in life again to win the title, only time can tell. I hope he does. He will now miss being a hero and a star celebrity not to mention the material benefits, endorsements that come with it. But more importantly, he will miss being part of winning history and this would hurt the most. So many greats of spots have lived with this feeling – Ivan Lendal never won Wimbledon, Arjen Robben missed the solo goal scoring opportunity in 2010 World cup final, Milkha Singh and PT Usha missed an Olympic medal by fraction of a second. Each one of them regrets that day and cannot erase the memories. They are just too painful.
What can we learn? – Life presents us with opportunities mostly depending on our abilities, positioning and caliber Some go ahead and create their own opportunities. However, when one gets a very valuable opportunity, it must be grabbed. Winners and losers, heroes and zeroes are made while facing their true test, the moment of truth, living in the zone where delivering is absolutely essential. Chance must not snatch joy of lifetime from the hands of an able person. It is easier said than done. Mental strength, perseverance and finishing touch has to be fine tuned to perfection. A competitive exam, winning a sports game, cracking a dream job interview, acquisition of a global company, all are scenarios. We must remember to train ourselves to conquer a scenario when it matters the most. If not, the only thought comforting one would be that unlike Kawhi Leonard, one might not have to endure the pain of watching the video replay for a lifetime.