Return of a Man Called Ogg

The Heat's stunning failure this year can be summed up by the absence of one very tall human being

Burnie had it right. Five minutes before the Heat embarked upon its embarrassingly ugly loss to Milwaukee this past Thursday, Miami's mascot clamped himself onto the stiltlike leg of Alan Ogg and refused to let go. Refused as the congenitally good-natured Ogg chatted with old Heat teammates. Refused as Ogg heaved passes to new Buck teammates. Refused even as Ogg dragged himself toward the basket for a final warm-up lay-up.

Mere frippery to most. But to more astute fans Burnie's gesture stood as a moment of high symbolic drama amid a season of decidedly undramatic failure. Burnie cannot speak, of course. He prefers to communicate by farting at fans and goosing referees. His message this night, however, was plain as the standings that show Miami bound for the draft lottery: Bring Back Ogg.

It would be superficial merely to examine the statistical tailspin triggered by Ogg's preseason departure. For Ogg's contribution to the Heat was more spiritual than physical A more about the fragile psychodynamics of team sports than the brute athleticism that swipes headlines.

With Ogg, hope left the Heat. With him went the embodiment of a young, underdog team struggling to outgrow its gawkiness and escape obscurity. Injuries have crippled the franchise this season, no doubt. But more than anything, the Heat lack heart this year. And heart is a quality Ogg never lacked, even as he spent game after game after game warming the pine.

Ogg's presence motivated the Heat's first eleven in more practical ways, too. The attentions showered upon him helped diffuse the pressures that tend to crush green squads. While this year's Heat have made a nasty habit of squandering late leads, last year every player went into the fourth quarter crazed with the knowledge that a big enough lead would draw the Ogg man from his seat. Likewise the impact of blowouts was softened by the sight of Ogg gangling toward the scorer's table for mop-up duty, to the attendant din of Ogg-wild fans. The headshrinkers would call it "unconditional love." Whatever it was, it worked wonders for the team.

And on Thursday it worked wonders for the Bucks. With 3:22 left and Milwaukee up by nineteen points, Ogg got the call, spurring the only standing ovation of the night A not to mention the too-long-absent chant of Oggggggggggggg! For five straight series, he took the ball down low and dominated Heat rookie Matt Geiger, producing two assists, two points, and two missed shots. On the game's final series, the Heat pressed and Ogg broke free. Fellow reserve John Barry hit him with a rainbow pass under the basket. He had but to stand on his tippy-toes to complete the dunk.

Armed with an Ogg, for the first time in many moons Mike Dunleavy's team guarded a lead with the stinginess of a Swiss banker. They refused to wilt, or let the game get close, as the Heat has so many times this year. The Bucks knew padding the lead was the only way to deposit Ogg's inexplicable charisma on the court, and from halftime on, that became the game's driving force. Why else would starting guard Todd Day have risen from his seat with ten minutes remaining to wave a towel frantically over Ogg's head?

Never mind that Dunleavy himself cut Ogg this past Sunday. You can be sure some team A whether in the NBA or overseas A will sign Ogg next year, and equally sure that he will become their seven-foot-one-inch psychic linchpin.

Heat head-coach-for-the-moment Kevin Loughery would do well to heed the call that rang from the rafters Thursday night. Sometimes sports are about a greater cause. Sometimes, Kev, it's not about winning and losing. Sometimes it's about how you play the Ogg.

 
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