In sports, the cliche goes, everybody loves a winner. Borderline and mediocre players don't get any respect. Don't get product endorsements, don't get championship rings, don't get the undying adulation of crowds. Well, don't believe everything you hear. Until you hear The Call.
Night after night, with a manic devotion, Miami Heat fans air out their larynxes and rattle the Miami Arena for Alan Ogg. For tall, gangly Alan Ogg. For seven-foot-two-inch reserve center Alan Ogg. For twelfth man Alan Ogg.
To the uninitiated, it sounds implausible, even comical, that sports fans might squander their decibels on a player who occupies the lowest rung on the roster ladder, to ignore ten tall men locked in mortal struggle in favor of one really tall man locked in a mortal embrace with the sidelines. "STARS PLAY ON AS CROWD SHOUTS FOR BENCH WARMER!!" is the kind of headline you expect to see alongside "SMALL-TOWN MAYOR COMES CLEAN: `I AM HITLER'" and "BABY BORN WITH JIMMY HOFFA'S DRIVER'S LICENSE IN MOUTH!" But the uninitiated need only bring their ears down to the Arena to witness a cult hero in the making.
From the distance, it sounds like any other dull roar, from a recital crowd applauding a violinist to a joint session of Congress celebrating a cease-fire. But up close, with the consonants distinctly enunciated, it can be only one thing.
...Ogggg! Oggggggggggg! Oggggggggggggggggggg!...
Die-hard skeptics are urged to consider the following:
TEN MINUTES ARE LEFT in the February 14 tussle between the Heat and the Denver Nuggets, two of the NBA's losingest teams. The Nuggets, under the supersonic offense of former Lakers and Loyola Marymount University coach Paul Westhead, have become the Wile E. Coyotes of basketball, proving that you can go as fast as you want as far as you want for as long as you want, and smarter teams will shred you like an inconvenient memo. And after two and a half years, the expansion Heat still manage to fight off consistency: despite improvement, they rarely offer much resistance to winning teams, most of whom destroy them with the decisiveness of an anvil dropping on a house of cards. Two nights before the Valentine's Day Denver contest, Miami was thrashed to within an inch of its young life by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a brutal assault disguised as an away game. Miami, not Cleveland, was the Mistake on the Lake, offering 48 minutes of futility on its way to a 78-point total, the team's lowest scoring effort of the season.
But tonight, at home, the Heat is spectacular, and Denver is atrocious. The Miami squad is showing flashes of a promising future. They are world-beaters, sinking every shot, dominating the middle. The stars - smooth guard Sherman Douglas, jet-setting center Rony Seikaly, bonus babies Glen Rice, Willie Burton, and Alec Kessler - are superb, and the hundred-point mark fades into the rearview mirror by the third quarter. Eight players are knocking on the double-figure door, and the Arena is rocking.
With ten minutes left, 10:10 to be precise, The Call commences, coming on at first like a soft breeze, then a sirocco, then a full-force gale. Most of the crowd opts for the stripped-down version ("Ogggggggggg!"), although vigilant ears can detect slight variations ("We Want Ogg," "Ogg Now," and even one upper-deck group of children chanting "Yeah, Tall Guy!").
Alan Ogg rises from the bench, and the crowd volume swells. Then, moments later, he sits back down, and there's a sudden void, like the hollow silence that follows a punch in the stomach. The hero isn't striding into battle. The dream is over. The source of the momentary confusion is the General, gifted Heat guard and amateur prankster Sherman Douglas. Visiting the bench between stretches of stellar play, Douglas, heady with the rare thrill of an easy win, has barked "Alan!" in the sharp voice of a coach, and Ogg, as prepared as an Eagle Scout, never one to scoff at an opportunity to take the court for even a single playing minute, stood obediently and jogged toward the scorer's table to check in.
The real coach, Ron Rothstein, finally orders Ogg onto the court with 6:26 remaining and the Heat up 108-83. The Call returns in a crescendo until it's even louder than before, seismic and sustained, flowing through the Arena's giant mouth. The entire stadium opens wide and says "Ogg."
Ogg remains in the game until its conclusion, picking up four fouls, getting hit in the head twice by loose balls, managing to put the ball through the hoop once. But that basket, which comes with 1:34 remaining, is the field goal that hikes the Heat's score from 134 to 136, allowing the team to surpass its previous single-game high tally.