From the Ordinary to Extraordinary
Before we can find a way to categorize Robert Horry we have to settle on what to call him. “Big Shot Bob,” while appropriate, isn’t his preference.
“You can make it Rob,” Horry said. “R-o-b. But B-o-b, that’s not me.”
Tim Duncan has played off Horry’s distaste for the name, constantly calling him “Bob” or “Bobby.”
After Horry’s latest heroic three-pointer saved Duncan from bearing sole responsibility for losing Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Duncan should call Horry “Sir.” He also should donate his playoff share to Horry when the Spurs divvy up their postseason bonuses.
While Duncan was missing six consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter, Horry sank five of six three-point shots, including the game-winner with 5.8 seconds remaining in overtime. Now the Spurs lead the series, 3-2 with Game 6 tonight and a loop of Horry’s greatest hits has been running almost continuously on ESPN.
That’s why he’s “Big Shot Rob.”
So how do we classify him? There’s never been a guy in this sport -- or any other -- who combined such ordinary play throughout the course of his career with such extraordinary performances in the biggest moments. He’s not one of those golfers or tennis players who pops up to win a Grand Slam event, then disappears into obscurity again. But he’s not a superstar carrying his team to victory night after night, either.
“He’s so unique,” TNT analyst Steve Kerr said. “I think he’s one of a kind.
“I don’t know if there’s a category for Hall of Famers for clutch shooters, but he’d be the top guy on the list.”
The only thing comparable I could conjure up was two-time World Series champion Jim Leyritz, who averaged a home run every 28 at bats in his career. In the postseason he had one home run every 7.6 at-bats, including a three-run homer for the New York Yankees that turned Game 4 and the entire 1996 World Series against Atlanta around.
But he can’t come close to Horry for success or duration. Horry’s been doing it for more than 11 years on the game’s biggest stage, with five rings to show for it. No other June superman has such Clark Kent numbers. Horry has started in fewer than half of his NBA games. His highest-scoring game in the playoffs is only 24 points. That happened 11 years ago.
You can’t go by the numbers. On Monday, the Spurs’ website had a poll asking fans whether Horry’s Game 5 winner was the biggest shot of his career. Let’s see: The guy makes a shot in the NBA Finals that twists the whole series around, zaps the Pistons of momentum and forces them to win two road games to get a championship ... and we have to stop to think about where it ranks? That’s the sign of a career well spent.
Has anyone else ever had the same mentality, the audacity to make the big shots with such little credentials to suggest he should?
Kerr stepped out of the background to make a huge shot, but he also held NBA records for highest three-point shooting percentage for a season (52%) and a career (45%). Reggie Miller, another clutch playoff shooter, has the record for most three-pointers in a career. In other words, these guys are supposed to make three-pointers. It’s what they do. It defined their careers.
The difference is attitude. It’s true, by playing with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon, Horry usually isn’t the defense’s focal point and he didn’t have to create his own shot. In all the highlights, Horry never starts off with the ball; he just winds up with it. (And there’s nothing like the sound in an opposing arena when Horry gets it in crunch time, a collective “Oh no!”)
“Almost all the big shots Robert has hit, they’ve been open,” Kerr said. “From that perspective they’re easier. But the most impressive thing to me is just the mental approach that he has.”
I called Kerr on Monday because he also has been a role player who has come up big in June, making the jumper to win Game 6 and the 1997 NBA Finals for the Chicago Bulls. He also shares an odd link with Horry, even though they were never teammates: From 1994 through 2003, one of them was on every NBA championship team.
Kerr has come to realize the Horry Way is the right way, that you must shoot without fear.
“I think he’s dead on with that,” Kerr said. “It took me years to figure that out. I missed a lot of clutch shots early in my career just because I was tight. I wanted to make them so badly it got in my own way. It wasn’t until late in my career I realized it’s the mentality that’s important when you take the big shot. You have to convince yourself, ‘It’s just another shot. It’s just another shot.’ If I miss, nobody’s going to kill me ... unless I played in Philadelphia.
“It’s the mentality more than anything. [Horry] just has a way of just relaxing himself and let if fly. The results have been amazing. I was just in shock watching [Sunday] night. Even though we’ve seen him doing it before, it was amazing.”
You don’t see Horry’s name in the record books until you get to the postseason section. Then you see that he has most three-pointers without a miss in a playoff game (seven, vs. Utah in 1997), the most three-pointers in a four-game Finals (five, vs. Orlando in 1995) and the most career Finals three-pointers. Oh, and don’t forget about his seven steals against Orlando in ’95. He’s proud of his defense.
Horry grows weary of talk that he shows up only in the playoffs. When Duncan repeated that old story at the postgame podium, he feigned anger.
“I thought we were supposed to be teammates,” he told Duncan as they crossed paths. Later he told the media, “Forget about Tim. He needs to make his free throws.”
Then again, some stereotypes have a ring of truth.
“It’s the playoffs, man,” Horry said. “If you don’t get excited about the playoffs, you don’t even deserve to be playing basketball. I get excited for the regular season also, but it’s just added excitement when the playoffs start.”
He has one other request. “Just once, I’d like a commercial,” he told me recently.
I don’t know how the ad would start, but I can tell you how it would end: with Horry appearing out of nowhere in the final seconds to deliver the tag line.