In Sunday night’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, with 8:20 remaining in the fourth quarter, Spurs center Tiago Splitter took off from the middle of the key with designs on a one-handed slam. Unfortunately, LeBron James stepped into the restricted area, leapt straight up, and blocked Splitter with such ease it almost seemed staged. The play resembled a crash-test dummy colliding with a stone wall.
The world went berserk about the play itself on Twitter and in posts that night/the next day. (Us included.) But in the game it took place in, the block — The Block? the LeBlock? — meant little to nothing. At the time, the Heat held a 19-point lead at home, and the Spurs’ chances of mounting a comeback were, at best, wafer-thin.
This contradiction points to something odd about the way highlights are treated. They are, by definition, plays taken out of context. But their context is actually crucial to the way they’re remembered. Let’s call this idea the Highlight Legacy Index. Calculating a play’s Highlight Legacy Index number involves two things: how spectacular it is and how important it was to the outcome of a game.
For example: at the end of Game 1, Tony Parker clinched a victory for the Spurs with this shot.
This shot won a playoff game. This shot came against the best player in the world. This shot slept with that girl/boy you really like. Tony Parker’s dervish buzzer-beater affected a Finals game in a major way; LeBron’s block did not. If we were to apply the Highlight Index (patent pending) to both plays, Parker’s would score much higher. It was a little less spectacular but a lot more important. The LeBlock reached an equal level of saturation and ubiquity in the days afterward. But thanks to its lower Highlight Index score, down the road, the LeBlock will likely fade.
However, there is one exception: the Symbolism Quotient. If the Heat pull out a close series, or the Spurs win, LeBron’s block will have been irrelevant both to the outcome of the game in which it occurred and to the series as a whole. But if the Heat win the series authoritatively, the block could get second life as a metaphor for their dominance, the epitome of Miami’s power and authority. (Parker’s shot is not subject to any symbolic retroactive reduction in importance, since it changed the result of a game, like Carlton Fisk’s famous Fenway Park home run, which remains a classic highlight despite the fact that the Red Sox lost the 1975 World Series.)
So if you’re a fan of LeBron’s, this ups the stakes for the rest of the series. You want to remember this block as the epitome of a great recovery, not just as a footnote to a disappointing setback in his career. Tiago Splitter’s dunk attempt was doomed from the start, but the fate of the LeBlock is still up in the air.