Leader Blues

Monday, February 01, 2010

SPORTS >> Miracle shot drawing fire as theorists weighing in

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

Did you see the miracle shot the girls basketball coach made recently at Olathe, Kan.?

As part of a school-wide prank, Olathe Northwest girls’ coach and science teacher Joel Branstrom was brought out to attempt a halfcourt shot blindfolded. Branstrom, the story goes, was told he would be given NCAA Tournament tickets if he made the shot.

When Branstrom, who sensed something was up and expected a pie in the face, shot his expected airball the students planned to cheer wildly to make him think he’d made it. And of course there were no NCAA tickets to give.

Except Branstrom stunned everyone when he swished the shot, first dumfounding the students then provoking an even wilder reaction than the one that had been planned.

The video has made the YouTube rounds, and when I mentioned it to my 14-year-old son, a YouTube aficionado if ever there was one, he surprised me with his reaction.

“Fake,” he said.

Yes my son had been all over the video, and he and his buddies had already broken it down with the same zeal with which the Warren Commission pored over the Zapruder film.

Branstrom could see through that weird, zebra-striped blindfold, my son and his friends are saying. Someone else pointed out Branstrom, a former walk-on at Kansas University, didn’t put enough oomph into his halfcourt shot — there wasn’t enough apparent effort to get the ball to the goal and Branstrom’s form should have made for a flatter trajectory.

Then my son pointed out the ball flies up out of the picture before reappearing as it drops through the net. That’s an old, fake video trick he said, switching one ball with another off camera.

There is also an obvious glitch in the film just as Branstrom shoots.

The whole thing made me recall those realistic looking sports drink videos from a few years ago, the ones in which an average guy appears to throw a football a mile.

My son pointed out the local newscaster who followed up Branstrom’s story made the same shot from the same spot on the floor, only instead of wearing a blindfold he faced away from the basket.

“No way he could do it too,” my son said.

Well I watched the videos again and they did make me wonder.

The actual shot itself, with the students going nuts, looks legitimate to me, though it’s true the ball is temporarily off the screen and there is that obvious glitch. That means there could have somehow been an off-camera switch with a replacement ball being dropped through the net.

Then I saw the local TV guy, Rob Lowe do exactly what my son said, make his over-the-head shot while facing away. Then he made a halfcourt shot facing the basket, or appeared to, and gave Branstrom a chance to repeat his shot without the blindfold, and Branstrom made it, or appeared to.

That’s a lot of miracle shots in a short span.

I believe the newsman’s over-the-head shot was faked, the ball just got to the basket way too quickly, and it was probably staged for laughs. But did he make his halfcourt shot while facing the hoop?

When the ball drops through, a group of players visible to the right of the basket hardly seems impressed. Yet when Branstrom repeats his shot without the blindfold, stragglers in the gym can clearly be heard whooping and cheering.

So was the shot the sports equivalent of those alleged chupacabra carcasses that have popped up in the Southwest? Is it a hoax, a shot as mythical as that fabled, and seriously ugly, beast?

If the shot were a prank, well, it would be a darn good one. It would be a nesting doll of a practical joke, a prank within a prank in which the ultimate target is the general public.

But I’d like to believe the blindfolded shot, at least, was real. And I’m glad someone apparently has scared up and donated NCAA tickets to make it all good for Branstrom, who walked out on the court in good faith, or at least in good humor, and should be rewarded.

I’d like to enjoy something nifty during these trying times in which either nothing is at it seems or people tell you not to believe what you see.

These are the days when humanitarian aid to a poor, disaster-stricken nation is criticized as a cynical, political ploy.

These are the days when a coach promises fans Fort Knox on a stick then bolts for the first open job.

These are the days when almost 20 years of hard work with one sick day are rewarded not with a raise or retirement but with a layoff.

These are the days when we can all use a little magic.

You could see that with a blindfold on.