When Andre Iguodala stepped to the foul line with 2.2 seconds left last night — the Sixers trailing 78-77 and their grip on a series that seemed won just days ago slackened, if not broke entirely — he was thinking about his son.
With the Wells Fargo Center roaring — reaching, and exceeding, the sort of decibel level that makes reporters with sensitive ears wonder if cochlear implants hurt — he imagined himself, he later told the press, explaining to his boy how to shoot free throws: It’s alright son, it’s easy work. Bend your knees, he said he hummed at the eye of the storm.
I have no way of knowing if this is true — I don’t have access to Iguodala’s head or heart — but my instinct is that it can’t be. Not because I wasn’t affected by the sentiment, or because I doubt he finds it relaxing to think about his children, but because I find it hard, maybe impossible, to believe he could silence so many of the other things that were, literally, screaming at the tops of their lungs for his attention just then. The moment was so loaded, so fraught, so densely, sardine-can packed with the memories of old failures and slights — things that were done and said, apologies that never came — all the weight that underpinned and loomed over that precise instant in time — that it’s hard to believe its co-author didn’t feel all of it so acutely it overwhelmed him.
So when he said he was just thinking about his son, what really he said was what he wasn’t thinking about. He wasn’t thinking about the fact that that he was a 62 percent free throw shooter the previous regular season, or that his reliability plummeted to 45 percent in the fourth quarter, and just 22 percent in the last three minutes of games that were within five points.
Nor was he thinking that the Sixers had started the season 20-9, darlings of the Association, before plummeting to the conferences’ 8-seed by the time the schedule played itself out. He wasn’t thinking that they did this on the strength of a dreadful record in the very sort of game whose outcome he now had sole responsibility for.
He wasn’t thinking about the six-year, $80-million dollar contract he was signed to. He wasn’t thinking about what the money means; to the franchise and its fans. The burden of responsibility it saddled and saddles him with. His failure to, in some ways, live up to it, and the ire this failure has drawn.
He wasn’t thinking that a 3-1 series lead, with a pair of misses, would have been effectively erased, and the Sixers would be heading back to Chicago — heavy underdogs to a Bulls team that, as presently constituted, really does only one thing better than his: win.
He wasn’t thinking that his legacy, by and large a good one, maybe great by some measuring sticks, had been defined by his failures in the biggest moments. Or that, with a pair of misses — an outcome that would have been, statistically speaking, not unlikely — he would have etched another, deeper, outline into words that may still someday make up career’s epitaph: Good, Not Good Enough.
He said he didn’t think of any of this.
“It’s like, alright son,” he said he imagined himself cooing while the rafters shook around him. “It’s easy work. Once I bend my knees, its pretty easy work the rest of the way.”
What Andre Iguodala thought was unclear. What he did is a matter of record.
He bent his knees, spun the ball in his palm, and swished his first free throw to tie the game at 78. He waited a beat, then did the same thing on his second attempt.
And for the third time in the series, confetti fell in Philadelphia. For the first time in a while, it meant something.