Reason and the Statue of Liberty

Submitted by BiSB on April 2nd, 2013 at 4:29 PM


We live in a world that has been largely demystified. We've done a pretty good job of mapping all of the uncharted lands. We have located the Higgs Boson. We have mastered fire and sequenced the human genome. And while there are many things in our world that we do not know, we chalk less and less up to the "unknowable." We give our superheroes gritty reboots to show how they could realistically exist in the world we inhabit. Reality TV has all but replaced the scripted show. Even magic has fallen victim; instead of David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear, David Blaine sits in a glass box for a week and holds his breath for 15 minutes, as if to say, "we all know the physical parameters of this world, so watch me strain against them." The illusion of the supernatural is gone. We are left with merely the unexpected.


It is no surprise, I suppose, that sports have followed suit. We scoff at announcers and commentators who pretend that a thing called "momentum" exists as a causal force separate from the game itself. These mystics see "Team A is currently playing better than Team B" as a sign that Team A is being pushed forward by an invisible yet irresistible hand. The Skip Baylesses of the world insist there is a "clutch gene" which, based on my limited understanding of genetics, is the only gene that can spontaneously appear and disappear based on one’s athletic performance on a given night. Lebron wasn't clutch until he was. Tom Brady was clutch until he wasn't, then he was again, but now he isn't. NBA players develop reputations based on incredibly small sample sizes of high-variation events, all in the name of the almighty narrative.


We modernists see these explanations for what they are: crutches. It's much easier to attribute success to intangible forces than to either find and analyze the underlying reasons or to acknowledge the role of luck and chance.  You’ll never hear a commentator say, “sometimes good players miss makeable shots” or “sometimes an average player can do something great.” That isn’t satisfying, but that’s life. We want more, but sometimes there isn’t more.


So when a game like Friday's Michigan-Kansas comes along, every fiber of my rational brain tries to tell me, "these things happen." There was no voodoo. The space-time continuum did not yield just this once to the will of Trey Burke. He took a series of low-percentage shots, and he made them. I mean, look at those four shots. Trey Burke is a 38% 3-point shooter. The odds of him making three NORMAL triples in a row are about 5%. The odds of making those four shots? A 20-foot hesitation pull-up, two 27-footers, and a 30-footer? No "will to win" or "grit" or any of the hundred other clichés you can come up with can make a player capable of reliably making those shots. He got lucky, I tell myself. It was awesome and amazing and a feat of incredible skill and talent that likely won't be repeated in the near future, but it was a fluke nonetheless. “Sometimes when you’re on” and whatnot.

But I've watched the last few minutes of regulation and the first few minutes of overtime a half-dozen times. Each time I've tried to make myself believe that this is just something that happens sometimes. And each time I have failed. At this point I’m willing to swallow the clichés. Trey Burke wanted it more. He had the will to win. He put the team on his shoulders. He made the damn Statue of Liberty disappear. Don't try to tell me how he did it, or if HE did it or whether it was just one of those things that happen. Just this once I am willing to believe my eyes. Lady Liberty is gone. All that remains is Trey Burke pointing at the empty night sky.

The rote play-by-play of those four minutes hardly does his work justice, but it is illustrative.

  • Burke forces a ten-second violation.
  • Burke penetrates, draws in Withey and dishes to McGary for an easy lay-in.
  • Burke hits a long 3.
  • Burke drives for a layup.
  • Burke hits The Trey.
  • Burke hits a long three.
  • Burke hits a long two.

That's 13 points, an assist, and a forced turnover in four minutes. He was good before and after that (he scored 23 in the second half and overtime), but those were really the magical minutes. And from a purely statistical standpoint, they were outstanding. But for those who watched the game, it was simultaneously more impressive and completely unsurprising. There's a reason Josh Bartelstein was celebrating when the ball was still in the air, and it is the same reason you felt so good when it left his hand. You've seen him do ridiculous things all year. You have experienced those moments where you both scoffed at his shot selection and laughed because you knew it would fall. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t shot the ball very well for the first 38 minutes, or that he was taking a contested shot from an improbable distance under impossible circumstances. When he released that ball, I’m willing to bet most of you reacted not with a prayer but with an unspoken “watch this.” Bartelstein knew. Bill Self knew. We knew.

Bartelstein Burke_Self


Michigan fans also recognize this feeling because they have experienced its opposite many, many times. In the cold recesses of every Michigan fan's consciousness is that collective moment where Evan Turner and Josh Gasser and Kalin Lucas and Ben Brust hold an arm extended as they send a dagger straight into the souls of those helpless onlookers. There was the moment where you, like the audience in a Greek tragedy, knew the hero's fate before he did. You knew those shots were gonna drop. But for one day, Michigan finally had the deus ex machina on our side. By the time Trey hit that long pull-up two, all of your normal thoughts about ‘good shots’ were replaced by your inner Lou Brown telling Ricky to forget about the curveball and throw him the heater. We hastily scribbled a caveat to the “death to long twos” mandate (and all of the other strictures of proper basketball etiquette) that says, “...unless Trey is doing his thing, in which case, just… just watch this.”

Make no mistake; the game was not a one-man show. Michigan doesn't win that game if Mitch McGary doesn't play the game of his young life despite being punched in the groin for no particular reason. GRIII made an impossible layup from eleven feet under the basket and hit two huge free throws late. Stauskas and Hardaway had solid games. Even Jordan Morgan was there to challenge what would have been a game tying layup at the end of overtime. But that night will rightfully be remembered for Trey Burke. For a few brief minutes he made everyone believe he could do anything. If Michigan needed a four-pointer to tie, he would have made it happen. If the lights went out, he could bring them back up. If that impossibly large scoreboard came crashing down, you get the feeling he would simply shrug and say, "nah, that's cool, I'll carry this too."


Can everyone see this? Good. You’ll like this part (AP)

Brian is right that The Trey is going to be replayed during every NCAA tournament from now to the end of time, and rightfully so. It was one of the most remarkable single moments in recent tournament memory. But my lament is that it will be remembered simply as that moment. Everyone remembers the shots of Christian Laettner and Bryce Drew and Lorenzo Charles, but their shots are remembered in isolation. Trey Burke’s night was more than one glorious bomb. It was an individual effort that both encapsulates his season and made us feel for a brief moment that the gods were on our side.

Michigan fans have been incredibly fortunate to be able to watch Trey Burke do his thing this year, and among the many reasons I am so glad he did what he did against Kansas is that the basketball world got a taste of what we’ve been watching. On the biggest stage, Trey did what we have come to expect. He was unflappable. He was remarkably talented. He was clutch. We may have grown spoiled by this consistent excellence, and it will probably only be after Trey leaves that we will fully appreciate what we all just saw. In the meantime, though, Trey doesn’t seem to be done. He’s got a few more tricks up his sleeve, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss them.

Someone just make sure that he returns the statue before he leaves.



April 2nd, 2013 at 7:16 PM ^


We are lucky Johnson wasn't thrown out for the nut punch. Here is a breakdown of the last 7 1/2 minutes of the game from Johnson's perspective.
I've omitted Johnson's three with 45 seconds left, and the 2 free throws he did hit. Just focusing on the negatives which greatly outweigh the positives. 
2:25 Johnson attempts a pass to Withey that is deflected by GRIII who takes it in for a dunk
2:13 Johnson get the ball in the back court, and decides to keep it there for the next 12 seconds
14.0 Johnson lets burke blow right past him for the easy layup - down 3.
12.6 Johnson misses the front end of a 1 and 1
4.1 Johnson collapses on top of McGary on the screen, and Burke drains "the Trey" as Jonson get up to his feet.
4:02 Johnson can't get around another McGary screen and Burkes drains another three
2:59 Johnson pulls up for a tough 3 with Burke guarding him tightly with 16 on the shot clock and misses it
2:20 McGary sets ANOTHER screen on Johnson to free up Burke - Johnson no likey the screen, and tries to tackle McGary. This displeases McGary and turns him into Tim Duncan - he drains a turnaround jumper to give us the lead again
1:44 Johnson pulls up for a jumper and bricks (michigan rebounds)
1:02 Johnson switches to McGary, burkes throws up a wild shot, and McGary boards and puts back for two. Johnson looks confused while watching this happen.
55.0 Immediately after Kerr says "You've got to get a good posession here" Johnson turns it over to Robinson, who drains both of his free throws (we're up 5)
0.0 Johnson takes a terrible angle, drives way too wide to get to the basket, and his pass out to Tharpe is WAY wide, which gives Levert time to close and forces him to rush his shot.
End of Game - Great closeup of Johnson shattered, bending over with his "HATE" tattoo clearly visible. 


April 2nd, 2013 at 7:34 PM ^

“On a given day, a given circumstance, you think you have a limit. And you then go for this limit and you touch this limit, and you think, 'Okay, this is the limit'. And so you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high.”

-Ayrton Senna


April 2nd, 2013 at 9:00 PM ^

But I have to say, having grown up in a different era of Michigan sports, that this left me a little bewildered and saddened. Bewildered because I have always expected Michigan to win - football, basketball or hockey. Saddened because I now realize that there is a group of younger folks who never really tasted true Michigan dominance. I wish for you guys/gals now only the serenity of expecting victory even when down by 14 points in the 4th quarter or 13 points with 2 1/2 minutes to go.

Go Blue!


April 2nd, 2013 at 9:25 PM ^

I was a student from '01-'05, and we had some pretty damn good years in football and hockey. I felt confident through Braylonfest and One Second Left and the like. Basketball, though... man, this is a new experience.


April 2nd, 2013 at 10:31 PM ^

With Bo leading Michigan when the only questions were whether you'd beat OSU and who you'd lose to in the Rose Bowl (yeah, I loved Bo but he was terrible in the Rose Bowl). BBall in the late 80s and early 90s was awesome. And hockey? You'd get free pizza if they scored 5 or 6 goals in a game and they actually stopped doing the giveaway because that was such a frequent occurrence. Carter catching that pass from Wangler? Didn't know when or how we'd win but just knew it would come. Same for Desmond's catch against Notre Dame. And of course we'd beat OSU every year Cooper was their coach, no matter which Heisman candidate OSU had that year. And you never lose home games to anyone, period.

Not to say that there weren't disappointments. But I'm glad that many are starting to get that same level of expectation. When Brady Hoke says it's "Michigan fergodsakes", this is what he is talking about. I've kinda taken it for granted that everyone knew what that meant, but now realize that the next generation hasn't had it as good as I did. Here's to pendulum swinging back in our favor again!


April 2nd, 2013 at 9:51 PM ^

This actually crossed my mind Sunday. I was so glad for all the Michigan fans who have never experienced this. It's really a remarkable accomplishment, event, and huge fun. It's special, but it should be the norm. Not annually, but regularly. We might never do 3 Final Fours in 5 years again, but we should regularly be fielding teams that should have a chance. We haven't been that program in awhile, but it's who we are. Now a new generation not only gets to enjoy it, but embrace it and expect it (not in a demanding UNACCEPTABLE way, but embracing being a top program).

An Angelo's Addict

April 2nd, 2013 at 9:15 PM ^

Great write up BiSB. It is so true that we have all been very spoiled and taken for granted what Trey has done game in and game out for us. He will definitely be very missed next year


April 2nd, 2013 at 9:44 PM ^

Your voice has been a welcome addition to the front page (not that Brian, Seth, and Ace aren't great).

I fight with my brain about statistics too. Burke put that shot up and I knew it was going in. But then, I knew his shot against OSU was going in too. And the tip against Indiana.


April 2nd, 2013 at 10:53 PM ^

There is a great quote from Ali along the lines of:  "In order to win you need both Will & Skill.  But Will is more important than Skill - Will beats Skill every time."  

Beat Syracuse - GO BLUE!


April 2nd, 2013 at 11:23 PM ^

Well written, thank you. You really captured the essence of that moment which most certainly will be remembered in Michigan lore for a very long time to come.


April 3rd, 2013 at 12:13 AM ^

I will add to those heaping praise on BiSB for this article. About half way through the article I found myself asking, "how many sports blogs have this level of writing."  I can't imagine that Alabama football fans read posts this thoughtful, or that anyone is writing so eloquently about Gonzaga basketball. Sure maybe schools like Stanford or Vanderbilt may have a fan base that can produce this level of prose, but who would read it?



April 3rd, 2013 at 1:09 AM ^

similar this article's language in reference to Trey is to that used for Denard in recent articles.  How awesome to be a Michigan Wolverine and to get to enjoy these guys!