Since we here in Toronto will never get tired of it, we welcome any new news about The Shot — also known as the sequence containing the final seconds of Game 7 in which Kawhi Leonard hit a long high-arcing jumper over Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers to win the game and propel the Raptors into the Eastern Conference Finals on their way to claiming the 2019 NBA championship. As you can imagine, we remain quite a bit chuffed — even now.
Yesterday on the ol’ Twitter timeline, we became aware of an accouncement. The 2020 World Press Photo Contest had been settled and the awards for the best photos of last year were ready. The contest’s categories lean towards various serious news items and the like — but, of course, they include sports too. Which brings us to their winner for 2020 Sports Photo of the Year: Mark Blinch’s shot of the most famous shot in Raptors history, known now only as The Shot. (Special thanks to intrepid reporter Jonathan Goldsbie who indirectly tipped us off here.)
As a reminder — as if you needed one — here’s the photo we’re talking about:
Thanks for the love @Sportsnet #photogcredit https://t.co/Jwh5PtjOG9— Mark Blinch (@mblinch) April 1, 2020
Yep, that’s Kawhi Leonard squatting in Game 7 in Toronto after the buzzer had sounded and his shot was still bouncing on the rim on the way to its final resting place. There are obviously a million reasons to appreciate this photo, and guess what: we’re going to run through a few of the best ones now.
First, aesthetically-speaking, Blinch’s photo calls to mind famous paintings of old. I’m talking about those classic Renaissance works featuring the agony and ecstasy of crowds in the throes of some kind of passion. As just one example — and I admit this is probably not the first time such comparisons have been made — just look at the wild scene below
People are fighting! People are dying! People are staring to the heavens — where angels have appeared on the freakin’ scene — for some kind of salvation. It’s an intense image, one filled with all sorts of extreme emotion. Again, this is but one example of what I’m talking about here; you can definitely Google “classic crowded Renaissance paintings” and find many more. This was the thing to convey back in the day, and that spirit has moved on through the centuries to our present moment. Now, is the life-and-death struggle of the above painting comparable to the feeling of watching the painfully long arc of a ball in the air with the Raptors’ season on the line? I contend: yes, it is.
We arrive now at the second reason for this photo’s much-deserved award-winning status: its timing and the positions of all the players involved. As we all know, Kawhi’s shot didn’t just go in — it went comically high through the air, hit the rim, and then bounced four times before going through the net. In that time, the game clock expired, the buzzer sounded, and the players on the court managed to change their positions to gain a better vantage point on what was about to occur. For Kawhi, that meant going into a squat. For Embiid, that meant peering towards the net and into his own terrible future. For Ben Simmons, already undone by defeat, it meant staring regally off into the middle distance.
But we’re not done yet. There are also the players who weren’t in the game at that moment to consider here. Look at Fred VanVleet, coiled like a spring; or how about Norman Powell ready to explode; then there are the deeper bench players — Eric Moreland beside himself, Jodie Meeks and Patrick McCaw ready to believe, Jeremy Lin in something of a Doubting Thomas condition, joining Danny Green and Malcolm Miller in complete mystification. The dichotomy of the experience of the Shot is perhaps best summarized by two specific players though: OG Anunoby and Jordan Loyd. For the former, we see a facial expression approaching something close to disgust — like, how could this shot go in, it feels impossible, we’d best prepare for overtime and maybe even defeat. For the latter, however, we get a look and pose of totally unrestrained euphoria. Loyd is the man in the painting who is about to ascend into heaven.
Before we move on, there are a few other Raptors-related details worth mentioning here. We’d be remiss in not noting Sergio Scariolo’s actual Renaissance-ready pose, a man looking and playing the part all at once; drape him in a cloak and he’s ready for 16th century. There are also the gap-mounted stares of staffers Jon Goodwillie and Jeremy Castleberry. And last but not least, shout out to the locker room man known to me only as Gus, who appears to almost be addressing a concern or question to assistant coach Jim Sann. What timing!
Finally, we turn our eyes to the crowd, the lucky denizens of Toronto fortunate enough to sit that close to the action during an historic Raptors game. The looks on these faces run the gamut of human experience. There are people gazing off in terror at the big screen over the court; there are some trying to capture the moment via their phone camera (please leave that to the pros, ma’am); there are the two security guards who have absolutely forgetten themselves and their position; there is joy, misery, uncertainty, confusion, and everything in between captured in exactly this split second of time.
In that, Blinch’s photograph truly is a work of art and deserving of each and every award it happens to win. Thanks to the photo’s existence, we can forevermore look back and think of how amazing it was for Kawhi’s shot — The Shot — to go in. We can remember how amazing it felt for the Raptors, for Toronto, for the very concept of basketball history itself. And we’ll always remember those people involved, the great players and teammates, the personalities, and the emotions at play in the moment.
(And yes, that includes the face of Jim Treliving, of CBC’s Dragon’s Den and the owner of Boston Pizza, who looks like he’d rather be somewhere else. Please remove this man from the public square for all time.)