From the front row at the packed John J. Lee Amphitheater on Saturday night, I might have experienced nirvana. The first-place men’s basketball team was devouring Harvard, the only Ivy League team to whom the Elis had lost. Tickets sold out before 6 p.m., and rally towels were placed on every chair. The trash talk from the student section was as bad as you could find at any big-time sports school. And Miye Oni ’20 could not miss.
Barely six minutes into the game, Oni — the Bulldogs’ best player and an NBA prospect — had already drilled four three-pointers. The ball never seemed to touch the net. At the 10:33 mark in the first half, Oni had 15 points, Yale had a 31–19 lead, and no one in the student section had a voice.
It was the feeling one might have deep into a night at Woad’s, lacking any self-consciousness about one’s dance moves or the sweaty guys jostling you and waving their shirts (or rally towels). But it soon became the feeling one might have on a Thursday morning in section — achy, bewildered and sorrowful — unable to pinpoint the exact moment from which there was no return. (Full disclosure: I have not been to Woad’s in more than a year.)
The Crimson cut its deficit to just one at halftime, and when it came time to sing Bon Jovi, Harvard’s prayer prevailed. Unfazed by a game-tying three-pointer from Alex Copeland ’19 with seven ticks on the clock, Harvard’s Bryce Aiken sped down the court and nailed a tough fadeaway at the buzzer. The student section went silent, and Harvard walked out swaggering with an 88–86 victory.
In a two-point game decided on a buzzer beater, the losing side can blame any number of factors. But let’s focus on the three-ball. If, as Oni went on his spree, my id took over, it was my superego that had the final word. The three-pointer, I contend, is poisonous. And on Saturday night, after reveling in its charms, Yale was forced to drink its own potion.
Oni missed his final three long-range attempts, and Harvard, at night’s end, had connected on more deep balls than the Elis. The most important came with 27 seconds to play, when Kale Catchings, a first-year forward, calmly drilled a trey from the corner to vault the Crimson ahead 84–83 for the game’s seventeenth and final lead change.
Two possessions before that, Yale’s Blake Reynolds ’19 had his own open look from the corner, and it clanked off the far end of the rim. Reynolds was open, and the shot would have been a dagger. But with 1:19 to go, the Elis led by four. They didn’t need a three, and they could have drained much more time off the clock. The lure of long range kept Harvard’s hopes alive.
The three-pointer is the shot of heroes. It’s elegant. It’s efficient, and nothing is sexier than efficiency in a world of econ majors. The theory, popularized by the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, makes sense: You can afford a few more misses if you get an extra point when you make one. But no one who saw Reynolds make light work of his defender in the paint in the first half should be able to justify his distance from the basket when it mattered most.
Oni’s orgy of three-pointers made him forget his ability to drive to the basket. There’s a reason that Aiken made more free throws than Yale’s whole team even attempted. The long-distance shot clouds judgment, kills possessions and bloats egos. (Harvard, I should note, actually attempted more threes; Bulldog defenders struggled to stay on their feet all night.)
But beyond any one game, there’s a larger — a longer, if you will — arc to this tragedy. The poison of the three-pointer is the poison of modernity.
Shake off, I say, the tyranny of efficiency. In our world of crumbling institutions, beware the flashy fix that promises no consequences. As the inexorable march of progress — bigger screens! More points! — carries us forward, perhaps we should ask ourselves what we are leaving behind. We won’t save ourselves with a deep heave but rather with the post move and the pick-and-roll. Scrape off the three-point arc; we have nothing to lose but our treys.
Call me a luddite, a purist, a hopeless nostalgic. I suppose there’s a place for the three-pointer, and everything else in life, in moderation. But sometimes things that are too good to be true are too good to be true.
Despite the loss, there’s no reason to panic. The Elis held onto first place, and we’ve still got home-court advantage for the Ivy League Tournament. If Yale meets Harvard once more, it’ll be for the third time.
And against my better judgment, I’d like to believe that it’ll be charmed.
Steven Rome | firstname.lastname@example.org