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Hansbrough swipes at Mykal, but no foul is called. His own parents, Gene and Tami Hansbrough of Poplar Bluff, Mo., are here tonight, and they will soon conclude it was a mercy that their son could not do what his coach commanded. The shot goes up. It's 9:30.
"Riley for threeeee," says Brando. "Ohhh! Got it! The iron was kind! We're going to overtime!"
About eight minutes later, with 2:11 left in overtime, a roaring sound is heard inside the Georgia Dome. The white Teflon roof ripples. A small hole is torn in the wall near the west end of the building. Insulation floats down toward the floor, reminding some people of snowflakes, and loose metal washers fall from high catwalks to the court. There are 14,825 people in attendance. No injuries are reported inside the stadium.
Outside, the tornado passes just north of the Dome and screams through Centennial Olympic Park with winds of 120 mph. Glass rains down from hundreds of broken windows. Siding is ripped from the Dome's exterior. Potted plants go flying. Metal is driven into the side of a covered walkway. Cars flip over. Two 65-foot light towers topple in the park.
To the east, near a neighborhood called Cabbagetown, a homeless man is killed by a collapsing brick wall. But no serious injuries are reported downtown because the thunderstorm that came before the tornado has driven almost everyone off the streets, and 14,825 are safe inside the Dome, watching the overtime forced by Mykal Riley.
There is no way to prove that his shot saved lives. We can know only what did happen, and what didn't. Nevertheless, all the people interviewed for this story about their experience in the Dome that night believe that Mykal's shot prevented injuries and even deaths.
Georgia Dome spokeswoman Ashley Boatman explains the prevailing theory. This was a walking crowd. Most of the fans had come from out of town to stay at the Omni or the Westin Peachtree Plaza or other hotels nearby. Tickets were sold in multigame packages—that is, those who paid to see Alabama and Mississippi State also paid to see Kentucky play Georgia afterward—but it is common for fans who have come to see the early game to skip the late one. If Mykal had missed the shot and the game had ended then, several thousand fans would have headed for the exits. They would have had eight minutes before the tornado struck. Most of those going back to their hotels would have headed east down Andrew Young International Boulevard, toward Centennial Olympic Park, and between a few hundred and a few thousand would have been walking in the path of the storm.
ALL THESE lives turned on a trillion silent hinges. Freddie gets the nine-volt guitar. Betty rides to Milwaukee with seven Beard Family Singers. Mykal swallows his pride and becomes a water boy, thus earning the trust of Moragne, who goes to a game in Louisiana and runs into Monarch, who drives four hours to see an obscure college dropout based on the word of a man he just met. Monarch signs the player after watching him stroke a few jump shots and puts him in a system that forces him to shoot and takes away his fear and puts him on the radar of Division I coaches, including one in Birmingham whose sudden departure puts Mykal on the path to Tuscaloosa.
And so on. But there is one prerequisite we have not yet discussed, and for the Rileys, who believe God can do anything but fail, it is the hardest one to understand.