The dust had long settled, but sports fans continue to talk about the “monumental mental blunder” of Cleveland Cavaliers guard JR Smith in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
It will be recalled that with 4.7 seconds left in the game and the Golden State Warriors up, 107-106, Cavs guard George Hill was awarded two free throws after being fouled by Warriors guard Klay Thompson. Hill nailed the first free throw but bungled the second. Smith was able to grab the rebound, but instead of putting the ball back to the basket or finding an open teammate, he dribbled out as if he was looking for the closest restroom to answer the sudden call of nature. The game went into overtime and the Warriors escaped with a victory.
There is denying that Smith just “lost it.” More than the physical preparation, an athlete must also include in his regimen the harnessing of his mental fortitude to prepare himself for crucial end game moments.
Smith can at least find solace in the fact that he is not the only athlete who went through the mental grinder and got his brains splattered in the heat of the moment.
Believe it or not, even the world of professional boxing has not been spared from such mental lapses. Here are some of those uncanny moments as dug up by yours truly:
One Tipsy Boxer
American light heavyweight Charles ‘Kid’ McCoy fought from 1891 to 1912. McCoy was a heavy drinker, but nobody expected him to exhibit his love for alcohol in an actual fight.
In January 1912, McCoy fought British heavyweight Matthew ‘Nutty’ Curran in Paris. Back then, boxing fans were allowed to bring beer and other alcoholic drinks in the arena. In the 12th round, Curran floored McCoy with a good combination.
As McCoy crawled to the corner and tried to clear the cobwebs in his head, he saw a fan at ringside drinking brandy. Apparently thinking he was in a bar, McCoy grabbed the glass of liquor the fan was holding and drank. Surprisingly, the alcohol revived McCoy and he ended up winning a 20-round decision.
Honey, I forgot my trunks!
On January 12, 1942, American welterweight fighter Timmy Larkin entered the Laurel Garden, Newark Jersey arena oozing with confidence for his 8-round duel with Tommy Cross.
After the pre-fight introduction, Larkin shadow boxed for the last time and took off his robe. It was at this juncture when he realized that he forgot to wear his boxing trunks. Larkin was caught naked and everybody in the venue ended up laughing so hard.
Referee goes missing in action
On August 29, 1885, in Cincinnati, Ohio, heavyweight John Sullivan faced Dominick McCaffrey in a fight billed as the first gloved heavyweight title fight.
Several blunders marred the historic fight. The fight was originally scheduled for six rounds, but owing to lapses an extra round was fought. The fight went the full seven-round distance, but referee William Tate, the official tasked to determine the winner, was nowhere to be found after the fight. Amid the commotion at ringside, Tate left the arena without announcing the verdict.
The decision on the fight was left hanging until the following day, when somebody saw Tate walking along the streets. When reminded that he forgot to announce the decision, Tate replied: “Sullivan won!”
On 30 August 1885, the Sunday Boston Globe announced the winner and Sullivan was finally proclaimed as the first heavyweight champion of the gloved era.
The Crying Champ
On February 7, 1997, world heavyweight champ Oliver McCall defended his title opposite British challenger Lennox Lewis. McCall had knocked out Lewis some two years before and was looking to prove that the win was no fluke.
Lewis controlled the early rounds as McCall hardly threw a punch. At the end of the third round, boxing fans were treated to one of the most bizarre events in the sport’s history: McCall refused to return to his corner and started walking around the ring. When the 4th round started, Lewis accelerated his attack. McCall dropped his gloves and inexplicably walked away from Lewis. When the round ended, McCall continued to walk aimlessly around the ring and started crying. When McCall again turned his back in the 5th round, referee Mills Lane stopped the fight and awarded Lewis the technical knockout win.
Two months after the fight, McCall was sent to a psychiatric ward in Virginia.
Lend me your ear
The biggest meltdown in boxing, and probably in the entire sporting universe, happened on June 28, 1997, when Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield figured in a rematch for the world heavyweight title.
Holyfield won the first fight seven months before and Tyson predictably came out smoking in the return match. Tyson, who had complained of head-butts in the first meeting, was head-butted anew by Holyfield in round 2, resulting in a large cut over his right eye.
Tyson came out for the third round with a different agenda. He didn’t put on his mouthpiece, but referee Mills Lane noticed it and immediately ordered him to go back to his corner and insert it. With less than a minute remaining in the round, Tyson and Holyfield figured in a clinch and Holyfield emerged from it cringing in pain and holding onto his bleeding right ear. As it turned out, Tyson lost his marbles and bit Holyfield, chewing about an inch of cartilage from the top portion of the ear. The fight continued, but when Tyson bit Holyfield’s left ear (the second bite was not as damaging as the first), referee Lane had seen enough and disqualified Tyson.
Tyson was fined $3 million and his boxing license was suspended indefinitely. Oh, after the fight, the janitor on duty actually stumbled on the missing piece of Holyfield’s ear.