Twenty-five years later, Keith Smart still makes it sound so simple, this moment that defines his career, shadowing him from dawn to dusk, from continent to continent, from league to league.
He rises, he shoots, he scores.
Twenty-five years ago this past Friday, at the Superdome in New Orleans, Indiana defeated Syracuse 74-73 in an epic NCAA Tournament finale that ended with Bobby Knight capturing his third and final title, Steve Alford starring in his last great game, and Smart earning Hoosier-for-life status with a jumper from the left baseline, with four seconds remaining.
"Everybody remembers that shot," the Kings' coach said. "Everybody wants to talk about it, especially with the anniversary and the game being in New Orleans. This week has been crazy. But it was (the fans') moment, their joy. I understand that because it was great for Indiana and great for college basketball."
And Keith Smart? How great was that fateful flick of the wrist for Keith Smart? It's not what you might think. It wasn't all that great, and it certainly wasn't that simple.
Having done it once, especially for basketball-crazed Indiana, Smart was expected to duplicate his heroics the following season, and that wasn't going to happen. Alford and Dean Garrett had graduated. The underclassmen struggled. Knight leaned harder and harder on his 6-foot-1 senior, to no avail; the defending champions were stunned in their first game of the 1988 tournament.
Smart, a strong, athletic guard, immediately began preparing for an NBA career. But as it turns out, that wasn't going to happen, either. He was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the second round but was cut by the coach who would later become his mentor, Don Nelson. The San Antonio Spurs picked him up but waived him after two games, urging him to gain some experience in the minor leagues.
Already reeling from the death of his 6-year-old sister to sickle cell anemia, Smart said the failure to crack an NBA roster sent him into what he terms "a depressive state."
"I was devastated," he said. "I never made it back (to the NBA). I starting eating too much. I became the Pillsbury Doughboy. 'The Ricki Lake Show' would come on at 2 a.m., and I'm sitting there in my apartment every night watching, eating all kinds of junk. I gained more than 40 pounds. Finally I said to myself, 'You've got to start playing and get this under control.' "
Smart now trim, athletic and almost obsessive about improving the Kings' conditioning began lengthy, grueling workouts. Willing to travel anywhere for a professional contract, he played in Venezuela; France; the Philippines; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Fort Wayne, Ind.
But changing his career path also meant distancing himself from the celebrity and pressure that accompanied The Shot. He wasn't rude about it; that's not his style. Respectful and engaging by nature, he would redirect the conversation with a smile, a shrug, a "this-is-now, that-was-then" philosophy.
At some point, Smart said, as he became older and wiser and more than a tad sentimental, he began reminiscing about the Hoosiers, coach Knight, Indiana, his teammates, his friends. No pressure. No NBA draft to fret about. Just good times and one great shot.
"What's funny is that coach (Knight) had taken me out of the game," Smart recalled. "He said, 'You're going back in. You've got two minutes to make something happen, or you're coming out.' On that play, we looked for Steve (Alford) first, but it wasn't there, so I threw the ball inside (to Daryl Thomas). He didn't have anything. The clock is coming down to a few seconds. He kicks it back to me and I move and I make the shot."
Smart laughs. That's it.
"The thing that never gets talked about is the way Keith moves after he makes that great post feed (pass)," Alford said last week in a phone interview. "A lot of guards will make that pass and just stand. Keith makes that pass and moves to the baseline. He made really good decisions as a player, including on that last shot."
Former Indianapolis Star sports columnist Bill Benner, who was seated directly across the court, remembers staring at Smart as events unfolded and immediately sensing the jumper was good.
"It was money when it left his hand," Benner said. "But I will tell you that there wasn't anybody in that building who thought Steve Alford was not going to take that shot. He was Steve Alford, it was destiny, it was his last game. And then the play broke down, and it was destiny all right for Keith Smart."