On Tuesday night, Damian Lillard dropped one of the most stunning buzzer-beater daggers on the Thunder to send them home.
This is one of those shots that will live far beyond this season — examined and studied by generations for its beauty and ruthlessness. In hindsight, Lillard putting up the shot was clearly the right decision from a sports perspective, but Paul George wasn’t convinced. After the game, he questioned the nature of the shot, going so far as to say it was wrong.
“That’s a bad shot. I don’t care what anybody says. That’s a bad shot. But, hey, he made it. That story won’t be told, that it is a bad shot. You live with that.”
The question of “good” vs. “bad” cannot be answered through basketball alone. It caused the Blazers to advance in the playoffs, and in sports that’s enough. But to evaluate George’s comments about it being a “bad” shot, we can only examine the deep three through the lenses of philosophy.
How would each philosophical school of thought evaluate Lillard’s shot?
Moral absolutism: Lillard’s buzzer beater was inherently designed to defeat the Thunder. As a result he derived joy from their pain. It was wrong to shoot the shot, and he should have never played basketball in the first place, because to win is to cause pain to another.
Absurdism: It’s hilarious that we think a shot in a basketball game means anything, and it’s proof we all try to find ways to occupy our time through a largely meaningless existence.
Deontology, as told by William Jackson Harper — who plays Chidi on The Good Place.
Deontology: It was Lillard’s duty to shoot. Duty to his team and Portland fans, as well as a duty to humble PG13. A duty to facilitate his journey of personal growth. https://t.co/cRCrXB0rps— William Jackson Harper (@dubjackharper) April 24, 2019
Determinism: The outcome of the shot was decided before Lillard ever put his hands on the ball. It was not right or wrong for him to shoot — the result was going to happen regardless of his decision on the court.
Ethical egoism: It was in Lillard’s best interest to shoot the shot and destroy the Thunder. James Rachels would argue that Lillard knows his own wants and needs perfectly (beating the Thunder), while he can only guess what Thunder players want. As such, it’s more prudent to act on self-interest, rather than try to intuit what is best overall. Lillard was right to shoot.
Fatalism: None of the possible outcomes of shooting were wrong, but each one was predetermined. Whatever Lillard decided to do would be decided by fate. It was fine for Lillard to shoot.
Functionalism: By hitting the buzzer beater and causing the Blazers to advance, Lillard proved that the grand construct of the NBA was working as intended. It led to a No. 3 seed beating a No. 6 seed, which supports the core theory of the playoffs as a whole. Not only was it right to shoot, he proved the playoffs worked as a result.
Kantianism: Shooting the shot was fine, as it adhered to Lillard’s belief of what was “right”. Furthermore it fulfilled his duty to the Blazers, which made it a good shot. Waving bye-bye to the Thunder after dropping them was a negative act, however.
Nihilism: The shot didn’t deserve to exist. Basketball is meaningless. We’re all going to die so what’s the point of the shot? What’s the point or this article? What’s the point of the writer? What’s the point of you, the reader? Nothing we do will change anything.
Objectivism: It was in Lillard’s self-interest to shoot the shot. Screw everyone else.
Phenomenology: The world is a series of objects causing actions on other objects. In the instance of the shot it was simply the object (Lillard) causing an object (the basketball) to go into an object (the hoop) in a way that affected a lot of objects (fans). We could evaluate the outcome of this phenomena by looking at those fans through empathy to determine who was happy or sad at the outcome, but this would require gathering data about the number of fans effected. Phenomenology rejects traditional research, so we’ll never know.
Platonism: If we assume there is a form for the perfect buzzer-beater, then we are required to compare Lillard’s shot to this platonic ideal. We can come to know the perfect buzzer beater through Lillard’s shot, and therefore the individual is enriched by this process.
Relativism: The shot is was both a good and bad decision, depending on whether you’re a Blazers fan or a Thunder fan. There is no objective truth. Lillard should have taken the shot, he also should have never shot it.
Skepticism: We’ll never know if the shot was a good idea or not — and it’s foolish to presume we’ll know the answer so soon after the act.
Transactionalism: The shot was merely part of a larger social transaction. Turnabout is fair play — the shot was a good decision.
Utilitarianism: Did Lillard’s shot cause more happiness or pain? This is a very difficult question to quantify without knowing the levels of joy and sadness experienced by each person watching. However, considering this was just Game 5 the joy of winning a series by Portland wasn’t as high as the disappointment of OKC. Furthermore, Oregon has a population of 4.91 million to Oklahoma’s 3.94 million. Considering the relative closeness in population, paired with the general impact “needing more games” vs. “we’re out of the playoffs”, I have to conclude that shooting the dagger was not the correct utilitarian decision.
Ultimately we’re left with 15 perspectives on the shot. Five say it was a good shot. Three say it was a bad shot. Seven either make no determination, or believe the entire process was a fool’s errand. This leads us to believe that ...