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What the reaction of Jim Boeheim's 900th win, Syracuse fans are forced to examine what makes a legacy and how one moment can change everything.
Keith F***ing Smart.
As I read the many columns and listen to the many radio discussions today about Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse Orange head coach with 900 victories to his name, all I kept thinking about was Keith F***ing Smart.
Whenever someone mentioned that Jim Boeheim has "only" one National Championship, all I could think about was Keith F***ing Smart.
Whenever someone mentioned that Boeheim is a good-but-not-great coach, all I could think about was Keith F***ing Smart.
Whenever someone decides to mark the occassion by letting us know that Syracuse is the only basketball program to have off-court issues during the last 35 years, all I could think about was Keith F***ing Smart.
Whenever someone put the focus not on the grueling Big East schedule he had to slog through to get here but the weak non-conference opponents he mopped up on, all I could think about was Keith F***ing Smart.
And when Boeheim passes Bobby Knight on the all-time wins list next week and dozens of columns explaining why Knight was a better coach than Boeheim are penned, all I'll think about is Keith F***ing Smart.
I'm not going to rip your heart about and post the clip here but go to YouTube and look at the final seconds of the 1987 national title game if you want the visual. All you need to know is Jim Boeheim's Syracuse squad is on the verge of their first national title and Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers look like they're about to fall short in winning his third.
Down 73-72 with 25 seconds left, the Indiana Hoosiers bring the ball down the court for one final shot. With eight seconds on the clock, Keith Smart gets a pass and moves towards the basket. He pulls up and, with six seconds left, fires a shot that hits nothing but net. The clocks cruelly winds down and Syracuse can't even get another shot off.
And so, in those final 25 seconds, despite the fact that Jim Boeheim or Bob Knight had zero control or input into what was happening, their legacies became entrenched.
Indiana wins the national title, Syracuse does not.
Bobby Knight adds another title to his Hall of Fame trophy case, Jim Boeheim begins his tenure as the great coach who can't win the big one.
Boeheim would return to the title game in 1996 but again be bested. He finally reached the promised land in 2003 with his first and only national title.
Now just imagine if Keith F***ing Smart's shot bangs off the side of the rim and falls out into the waiting hands of Rony Seikely, who was well-positioned to grab any rebound.
Jim Boeheim wins the first of two National Titles. Bobby Knight is remembered for being the guy who won "only" two titles and none after 1981.
Boeheim stands toe-to-toe with Knight and most of his other contemporaries in terms of championships.
No one writes about Boeheim "only" winning one title. No writes about Boeheim being "good not great." Syracuse's off-court issues aren't so glaring. People don't worry so much about who he beat to get here. He's got multiple titles. Everything else is noise.
When Boeheim won his title in 2003, I remember watching his legacy shift almost instantaneously. Multiple people, be they TV talking heads or just Syracuse fans, suddenly seeing Boeheim as "The guy who went to three Final Fours and won a title" instead of "The guy who can't win the big one." All of a sudden, his previous two Final Four trips were positives, not negatives. Nothing about them changed, only the story did. And with it, so did the legacy.
Jim Boeheim says he doesn't pay attention to what people say about him and I believe him only to a point. I think he's well aware of his legacy compared to his peers. He doesn't have as many titles as Coach K, Jim Calhoun or even Roy Williams. He is considered 2nd tier because of it. And the more games he wins, the more that legacy is burned into his forehead.
Unless he wins another title. A second national title changes everything. A second national title changes the entire story and the shading around everything that came before it.
And that's a large part of the reason he's sticking around. One more championship, or at the very least, one more Final Four, is necessary in terms of his legacy. If not for himself and if not for Syracuse fans, clearly in terms of the national perspective.
If Keith F***ing Smart misses that shot, Jim Boeheim is not a different person today. He's not even a different coach today. Nothing about him, his history or his coaching style would be different. And yet, EVERYTHING about his legacy would be.
So it goes, I suppose. We remember the early 90's Buffalo Bills as chokers. We remember the Fab Five as a failure. And for people outside Syracuse, Jim Boeheim will be the "good" coach who "only" won one championship. That is, until he wins another, God willing.
F***ing Keith F***ing Smart.