Columns

Alex Wainger: The shot before “The Shot”

By
Guest Columnist
Thursday, May 26, 2016
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2016

Anyone who followed March Madness this year will remember “The Shot.” With fewer than five seconds to play in the NCAA National Championship game and overtime looming, Villanova University’s Kris Jenkins caught a pass, set his feet and delivered one of the greatest game-winning shots in the history of the tournament — a 30-foot bomb that uncorked an eruption of cheers and tears. But lost amidst the confetti and fireworks was the University of North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and the shot before “The Shot.”

With the Tar Heels down three and the clock reading about 10 seconds, Paige caught a pass from Berry and rose up from beyond the arc for a three. A Wildcat defender leapt forward to contest the shot, and Paige had to double clutch to avoid getting blocked. On his way down, with his legs splayed out in opposite directions to avoid touching the ground, Paige chucked up a prayer that somehow rattled through the hoop.

Lasting 4.7 seconds, Paige’s double-clutching miracle was the greatest shot I had ever seen in a college basketball game. But in an instant, Jenkins’ shot seemed to erase Paige’s shot from the memories of everyone watching that game. The biggest shot of Paige’s life became nothing more than a footnote on the 2016 National Championship Wikipedia page.

That game was played on April 5; I’m writing this column in early May, and I had to rewatch Paige’s shot just to reconstruct that description of it. I obviously remember the gist, but the details have already started to fade. I wrote the description of Jenkins’ shot from memory.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to college basketball, or even sports for that matter. Little moments fade and blend into the big ones in every aspect of our lives. Game-tying shots get lost behind game-winners, just as everyday occurrences get washed out by life-defining experiences.

My time at Brown has been filled with both types of moments — the memory of meeting my now-girlfriend Marcy for the first time is balanced by the time I agreed to let Aaron and James, my two best friends, Saran Wrap me to my bed. (We were practicing to prank my roommate, but they used all the Saran Wrap on me. Sorry you had to find out like this, Brian.) Memories of taking my first computer science class, declaring as a concentrator and completing my first software engineering internship are balanced by all the times I have  rolled my ankle playing pickup basketball (and my God, there have been a lot of those).

For every decision to go to graduate school, there’s a decision to have a Gatorade chugging contest at the Sharpe Refectory. For every big, seemingly important memory at Brown, there’s a small, seemingly insignificant one. But that will change as the years go by.

When I was a kid, I used to have a secret passcode that I would type on my nose to take a snapshot of whatever I was doing. Don’t ask me why; your guess is as good as mine. I used the passcode to remember a lot of things, but nothing particularly notable: a Little League baseball game, a visit to my grandpa’s drug store out in New Jersey, a plate of General Tso’s chicken from my favorite restaurant in Chinatown. Thankfully, I eventually reached an age when it was no longer socially acceptable to type elaborate patterns on the tip of your nose (I’m pretty sure everyone goes through this at one point or another). Now, almost 15 years later, I have just one distinct nose-passcode memory: I was on a New York City bus, staring out the window as it drove past Union Square. I don’t remember why I saved that moment, but I did, and the visual sticks with me to this day.

Of all the tiny, little details I tried to save as a kid, only that one actually stuck. Sure, I know I played baseball, visited my grandfather’s store and ate a lot of Chinese food. But how many precise moments in time do I specifically remember doing any of those things? Fewer than I’d like to.

While you might be wondering why any of that matters, I think it’s those little memories that make us who we are — cheesy, right? But everyone has a graduation memory. Everyone has a first job, and a first significant other, and a favorite Spring Weekend performance, and a hardest class and a best professor memory. It’s the weird ones — the memories of Gatorade chugging, ankle rolling and Saran wrapping — that uniquely stand out.

But what I’m afraid of is when those memories start losing their clarity. When Gatorade chugging and Saran Wrapping get summarized into “I liked spending time with friends,” and rolled ankles and intramural games in the freezing winter weather become “I enjoyed athletics.” If my nose passcode only saved a single memory, how am I going to keep track of all the wonderfully stupid things that happened in my four years at this school?

So here’s what I’m trying to say: Cherish your little memories because your brain will take care of the big ones. When you’re up on stage getting your diploma, take stock of who you’re sitting next to, which family members came to support you and which shoes you’re wearing. Your brain will remember the moment you are handed a diploma and you shake hands with whoever it is you shake hands with.

When you start your first job, don’t focus on your first meeting with your new boss, your first promotion or the first time you screw something up. Remember the things you have on your desk, the people you greet in the morning and the laughs you have in the conference room before the meeting starts.

We are all at a huge junction in our lives that will undoubtedly lead to an influx of new memories, both big and small. Whether you need to write your little memories down in a journal or reset your long-forgotten nose passcode, just remember to stop and remember. It’s the only way to keep track of yourself.