The State of Play: Like the athletes we admire, we must not panic when it matters most

Everyone, please re-watch some basketball.

Yes, I know the NBA season has been suspended. I know that March Madness is canceled. I know that restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters have been shut down all over the country and that your daily life has most likely been upended by the spread of coronavirus and the various efforts by both the local and national government to suppress the virus’ progress.

But still, I’m begging you, please go re-watch some basketball. 

No, I’m not talking about watching just any basketball game. I’m not talking about last week’s fever-dream loss that was the Lakers’ 104-102 loss to the floundering Brooklyn Nets, and I’m sure as hell not asking you to put yourself through the emotional roller coaster that was the USC men’s team’s painfully inconsistent early February stretch.

Instead, I’m talking about performances such as the one LeBron James offered up on Feb. 23 against the Boston Celtics, when the 16-time NBA All-Star posted up against Celtics stud Jaylen Brown in an isolation set and sank a spinning jump shot with only 30 seconds left to give the Lakers the lead and the victory. 

I’m thinking of plays like the one that USC senior guard Jonah Mathews made during the Trojans’ last game of the regular season. Down by 1 against UCLA with less than nine seconds left, Mathews caught an inbound pass, jogged past midcourt to the 3-point arc and nailed a step-back 3-pointer with one second left in the game, sending the crowd into a frenzy on USC’s senior night. 

You’ve seen these types of performances before: buzzer-beating heaves that actually find the net, fadeaway jump-shots that send chills up your spine with only seconds left on the game clock.

Yep, we’re talking clutch plays, when athletes seemingly disregard the weight of the world and find ways to succeed when the stakes are highest. Call them what you want — daggers, proof that ice actually does run in some humans’ veins. Whatever you decide to call it, there’s been more than enough examples of it recently, and it’s painfully obvious that we as a society are not taking note. 

On Feb. 23, did anyone see LeBron panic? Nope. He literally smirked before sending the Lakers’ perennial rival packing in front of a crowd of almost 20,000.

On March 7, did I watch Mathews tremble under the pressure, panic or force a bad shot? No! The 22-year-old calmly strode down the court, cool and collected and sank the shot of a lifetime seemingly with ease.

In stark contrast, when I went to Target on March 14, did I see orderly groups of shoppers calmly picking up groceries and other daily essentials? No! I saw a veritable mob; grown men with their arms outstretched like kangaroo pouches to collect and protect as much toilet paper as humanly possible.

I saw packs of humanity, grabbing at any meat, vegetable, grain or microwavable dish they could get their hands on; empty shelves and lines so long that you would have thought that our Lord and savior himself had returned in the form of a cashier. It is with this image in mind that I remind everyone that I recognize that the present and future are very uncertain and frightening. I understand your fears and believe me, I am just as afraid.

But in this incredibly precarious moment, please look back at some of the clutch examples set forth by some of basketball’s best and remember — do not panic. Do not go out and rob your local grocer dry. Grocery stores are not closing down anytime soon, and retailers are already reassuring the public that supply chains are still strong and food shortages are not on the horizon. Also, if everyone keeps wiping their shelves clean of toilet paper, what do you expect your fellow Americans to wipe their ass with — taco shells? Palm fronds?

Also, because so many people decided to buy every edible product that Trader Joe’s has to offer, I’m now counting down the days until my modest supply of flavor-blasted goldfish runs out and I’m forced to begin my new life as a hunter-gatherer. 

In all sincerity, however, the situation is serious and lives really are on the line. Please, try to learn something from James and Mathews: Don’t panic, be a team player and try to remain calm and collected. Your team, the American public, is counting on you.

Stuart Carson is a junior writing about the intersection of sports, politics and American society. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan. His column, “The State of Play” typically runs every other Wednesday.