This excellent article by Zach Lowe has further more made me aware of
how loosely we use the word choke in sports. It’s kinda funny in a
way. Here’s an excerpt from the article that I recommend you give a
“If you’ll allow a mini-rant: The widespread use of the word “choke”
on Wednesday irritated me. The Spurs “choked,” according to some
talking heads and lots of fans on Twitter; even a San Antonio radio
host suggested they did, and asked me whether I agreed. Kawhi Leonard
“choked” because he missed one of two foul shots with a chance to put
the Spurs up by four with 19 seconds left. Manu Ginobili “choked”
because he missed a free throw nine seconds before that — and because
he couldn’t stop throwing the ball to the guys wearing the WHITE HOT
uniforms. Gregg Popovich, the greatest coach in the league by a
considerable margin, “choked” because he sat Tim Duncan on two
late-game Miami possessions that resulted in Heat offensive rebounds
and nut-punch 3-pointers.”
Lowe then goes on to explain how other factors the game also mattered.
Perhaps a wide open three-point attempt from Danny Green that missed
should be accessed on the same scale as Leonard’s missed free throw.
After all, a three pointer is worth more than a free throw. Duh. Maybe
we should just equalize all situations, because they all are equal. A
basket in the first quarter is worth the same as a basket in the
fourth. The tension however, isn’t.
I guess we all just focus in on the last few minutes and possessions
of every game. Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals is an instant classic
that will be called one of, if not the greatest basketball game of
all-time. The way the story of the game is told is up to the fans and
analysts. We live in a world where we want the highlights to shorten
up the story. ESPN isn’t going to show a missed free throw in the
second quarter that played a role in deciding the game. However, they
sure will show Leonard’s missed FT to make a four point game. That’s
just how our society is. Lowe is trying to get us to quit this silly
narrative of “the choke.” Every game ever played doesn’t need a goat.
Leonard choked according to a lot of people across America. But Lowe
points out that Leonard was the only Spur to score during Overtime.
There may not be a more riveting moment in sports than OT in a
potential championship clinching game.
Truer words could not be written.
“But when we overvalue those big moments at the expense of everything
else, we do both those players and the game itself something of a
disservice. We ignore the role of randomness and luck, as Henry Abbott
beautifully reminded us this week. We ignore defense on a
possession-by-possession basis, mostly because defense is hard to see
And we pick and choose which big moments are really big in strange
ways that don’t make a lot of sense. Why is Leonard’s missed free
throw more important, and more memorable, than the fact that no other
Spur made a field goal in overtime? Why is Parker’s missed free throw
in overtime less important than Leonard’s miss and Ginobili’s miss in
If we only assess players on the final moments of every game, then
we’re only assessing the tiniest fractions of their careers. LeBron
was almost the biggest choker in NBA history on Tuesday night. Yet, he
logged a triple-double. You can’t make this stuff up.
Lowe is 100% correct throughout this article. The game is random, and
it’s unfair to the players to pick and choose what events are more
important than others. Analyzing the game is part of the process, but
not every game has a choker. We should just enjoy the series and the
basketball that is being played.