The Robert Horry Factor
Years ago, during Conan O'Brien's first season or two as host of "Late Night" (a period during which, legend has it, the show was truly awful. Those of us who watched back then know better though, as does -- I suspect -- Conan; but he plays into the myth that the show was horrible at first, because a) what does he care now? He's inheriting "The Tonight Show," and b) he'd kind of look like a jerk if he insisted that the show was funny back when most people say it was bad), they did a bit.
Sidekick Andy Richter went to Houston for some reason or another and, if memory serves, was sent to the NBA Finals between the Knicks and the Rockets almost as an afterthought.
Andy didn't follow sports at all, so he had no idea what was going on or who anybody was. Someone -- I imagine a sports-savvy "Late Night" producer -- told him to ask everybody he interviewed about "the Robert Horry factor," Horry being a second-year forward and a key supporting player for Houston.
The segment -- like most segments Conan does, then and now -- was hilarious, with Andy (even more anonymous than Conan in those days, who was plenty anonymous in his own right) essentially disguised as a normal, run-of-the-mill credentialed sports reporter. Most of the people he ran into took him seriously (after someone informed him that the "H" in "Horry" is silent, anyway) and answered the question as thoughtfully as possible. An amusing moment came when, at a semi-large press conference, Andy asked the question of Knicks center Patrick Ewing, who appeared to have no idea what "the Robert Horry factor" was. Andy, clearly having no other knowledge of the NBA and nothing else to say, simply repeated something along the lines of, "you know... the Robert Horry factor," and Ewing went on to give a stock answer about Horry being a good young player, etc, etc.
Well, 11 years have passed, Andy Richter has moved on (appearing in, among other things, his own hilarious and shamefully short-lived Fox sitcom), Conan O'Brien is a late night comedy giant, Ewing retired without ever winning a championship, and Robert Horry remains a factor.
The thing you have to wonder after Sunday's Game 5 of the NBA Finals: if you're the Pistons, and you're up by two with 9.6 seconds left in overtime, and the other team -- which would go up three games to two in the best-of-seven finals and host a Game 6 and a possible Game 7 -- is about to inbound the ball with time for one last big shot, wouldn't you want to stick pretty close to the guy on the other team whose nickname is "Big Shot Bob?"
Somehow the Pistons left Horry open and, as he has done enough times to earn a special nickname, he knocked down a clutch three-pointer. A three-pointer that, assuming the Spurs don't lose both Game 6 and Game 7 at home, all but assured the team its third title in seven years and Horry's sixth in twelve.
With Horry coming up big in the fourth quarter and overtime while Tim Duncan -- arguably the best basketball player in the world -- crapped the bed more spectacularly than anybody might have guessed he would, you've got to wonder about Horry's place in sports history now, don't you? You can't possibly call him a Hall of Famer (he's got a career average of 7.5 points a game and has never been an All-Star), but, is there anybody anywhere who's quite like him? Maybe Adam Vinatieri; although even Vinatieri is an elite kicker, one of the best ever at his position, and besides, you can't really compare football kickers to any other athletes besides football kickers. I guess Jim Leyritz, the former Yankees and Padres utility man who hit eight playoff home runs -- most of them huge -- in only 61 postseason at bats, would be the closest guy to Horry I can think of. But even then, I don't think Leyritz gave opposing fans that same "Oh, crap!" feeling that Horry engenders.
Really, has a lesser player ever been a bigger legend? And by "lesser," I don't mean to suggest that Horry isn't good; it just seems to me that if he'd happened to spend his career with the Warriors, Cavaliers and Hawks instead of the Rockets, Lakers and Spurs (with a brief stop in Phoenix, just to prove I actually looked something up) he wouldn't be ROBERT HORRY!, he'd just be that guy you see on "SportsCenter" twice a year who looks like Will Smith.
But Horry played with Hakeem and the Rockets, with Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers, and now he's with Tim Duncan and the Spurs. So he's not that "SportsCenter" dude, he's Big Shot Bob.
And he's still a factor.