Looking Back At ‘The Toss’: The Most Memorable Moment Of Michael Ruffin’s NBA Career

Last second heartbreak is part of being a sports fan, and the NBA is no exception.

Whether your favorite team misses the game-winning buzzer-beater, or their opponent sinks a last-second shot for the win, when those clutch moments don’t go your way you can’t help but be overcome by sadness.

However, very rarely in sports can you watch a team you don’t care about throw away a game (against another team you couldn’t care less about) and still find yourself on the verge of tears. That is exactly how Michael Ruffin made me feel during one fateful game five years ago.

Setting- March 30th, 2007: Toronto Raptors @ Washington Wizards- 3.8 seconds remaining, Raptors inbounding, down by 3.

The series of events-

3.8 Seconds- Anthony Parker tosses it the length of the court to nobody in particular. The ball is deflected by Ruffin, who hurries to the ball with the excitement of a young child who has just seen a pinata full of jawbreakers explode before his eyes. Ruffin grabs the ball as his face lights up with the realization that he just got the first game-winning steal of his career. However, that joy is not very long-lived.

2.8 Seconds- Ruffin, who was a career 46% shooter from the free throw line for his career realizes that he didn’t want the pressure of knocking down at least one free throw to put the game out of reach. So he does what any poor free throw shooter would do in that situation. He throws the ball into the air as high as he possibly can.

There was only one problem though. Ruffin throws about as well as he shot free throws apparently.

Instead of launching the ball 100 feet into the air, Ruffin soft-tosses it around one-fifth of that height. You would think that a ball, tossed up into the air would be able to have at least 2.8 seconds of hangtime, right? That is what Ruffin thought as well, but sadly that was not the case. The ball stayed up for about a second before it began to fall, and it didn’t just fall anywhere. No, that would have been far too kind to Michael Ruffin and his one chance at a game-winning steal.

The ball flies right in the direction of Morris Peterson, with just enough time left on the clock to get off a game-tying attempt.

0.9 Seconds- Peterson grabs the ball and takes two steps towards the basket as Caron Butler runs to pressure the shot. The shot is a difficult one, as Peterson has to contort his body as he shoots to avoid being blocked by Butler.

Right about now, Ruffin is watching this scene progress in a state of disbelief. Just three seconds ago he looked to be a hero (a big deal for somebody who ended up averaging 0.6 points per game that season), but now it was all so close to slipping away. In an attempt to save face, Ruffin sidesteps and acts as though he were playing defense on the air surrounding him in case Peterson wants to pass the ball at the buzzer instead of shooting it.

Peterson lets the shot go just before the buzzer sounds, and every eye in the arena is on that ball as it floats towards the basket.

0.0 Seconds- Peterson’s prayer is answered, and Ruffin’s heart (as well as mine) is broken. The desperation three is good, and the game is 109-109 headed to overtime.

While every Raptors player on the court is rushing over to celebrate with Peterson, every Wizards player has shifted their gaze to Ruffin with an “Are you kidding me….” expression on their face. The most heartbreaking part of it all, is that Ruffin can’t do anything about it besides look meekly at his teammates, silently pleading with them not to kill him.

The Raptors went on to win the game 123-118 in overtime, which is pretty much to be expected after such a huge letdown by the Wizards at the end of regulation.

The most surprising thing about that night to me however, is that Gilbert Arenas didn’t pull a gun on Ruffin in the lockerroom after the game. I’m guessing he realized that Ruffin was more shaken up about it than anyone else. Who says that Arenas isn’t a nice guy?

The Rest Of Ruffin’s Career- That is about it. Ruffin went on to play 57 more games in his career; and i’m guessing he learned something from this experience, as he wasn’t in the news for any ball-tossing incidents after this game. Though to be honest, the teams he played for probably realized that he shouldn’t be on the court with time running down anyway.

To this very day, this incident may be the only video-worthy moment of Ruffin’s career, though I’m sure he wishes all footage of the game were destroyed. Look no further for proof of this than YouTube itself. Type in ‘Michael Ruffin’ and prepare to have your heart broken.

For those of you who truly have the urge to see the play for yourself, here you go. I warn you now, that the following 32 second clip is very graphic and painful to watch. If you don’t like watching backup centers fail in an epic manner, I advise you not to watch this video.