In 2009, the Academy Awards expanded the number of nominations in the Best Picture category from five films to ten. This addressed something that the Academy perceived as a problem, which was Academy voters supposed preference for esoteric/artistic films over more popular/populist ones, but broadly speaking it only served to highlight a bigger problem. There are just not that many good movies being made in the average year, and expanding the list of those films with a claim on being The Best only shows this sad fact in sharper relief. If you want to laugh, or feel something deeply, or be shown something surprising or beautiful or true about what it means to be alive, the movie theater is increasingly the wrong place to look. To get the things that great film once gave us, we must instead turn to GIFs. Or you could watch Moonlight, I guess. Moonlight was really good.
Anyway, my point is that there are many films made each year that lack the depth of feeling, dramatic sweep, and unfussy honesty of Alonzo Mourning Bemused Acceptance Dot GIF, which captures the Miami Heat legend progressing from seething anger to a weary but wise comprehension. This, friends, is not merely an eloquent GIF but an important one.
Much of this GIF's singular power owes to the intensity of Mourning's career-defining performance. His journey from frustration through confusion to understanding is urgently felt and real, and human enough to transcend mere basketball-related use. Although it does admittedly work pretty well in that regard:
It's also versatile enough to work in the context of exotic and refreshing Cuban-style milkshakes…
…And more familiar workaday travails.
All of which is to say that Alonzo Mourning Bemused Acceptance Dot GIF is a very good GIF indeed. It is so good and so profound and so enduring that it is natural to wonder where it came from. Not in some sort of abstract sense—the answer there is clearly From Deep Within Alonzo Mourning, we already know this—but in a more material one. Also is that Udonis Haslem over there on the right?
The answer to the last question is easiest: this is a moment from a Miami Heat game that was played during this millennium, so of course Udonis Haslem is involved. We get another clue from the player seated between Mourning and Haslem. That's Gary Payton, who was teammates with Mourning in Miami for just two seasons—the '05-06 NBA Championship campaign and the droopy hangover that followed in '06-07. This narrows things down somewhat.
There are clues to find elsewhere in the frame. The presence of the late, great Craig Sager's name in a chyron suggests that this was a nationally televised game that aired on TNT. Most salient of all, though, is the score. It's lopsided enough to look like a typo, and certainly lopsided enough to justify Mourning's fuming fugue state at the start of the GIF. The Chicago Bulls are politely but firmly handing the Heat their asses, and at the moment of Mourning's realization his team has just 66 points with a little over five minutes remaining. There is only one game that fits this description—Miami's season opener, on Halloween night in 2006, which the Heat went on to lose by the rather astonishing score of 108-66. This enables us to place Mourning's moment of radical acceptance in context with a high degree of specificity. It occurred near the start of an excruciating-seeming scoreless streak for the Heat that covered the last five minutes and 18 seconds of the game; more specifically, it came 17 seconds after Jason Kapono scored what wound up being Miami's last points of the game, and immediately preceded a stretch in which Miami would commit five turnovers and miss all six of the shots they managed to get up.
You have probably gathered by now that this was an ugly basketball game, even by the grunty standards of the mid-aughts NBA. It was a game in which James Posey played 22 minutes and 35 seconds, scored two points, finishing with a plus/minus of -32. It was a game, and there is no way to sugarcoat this, in which Adrian Griffin was on the floor for more than 11 minutes of play. It was a game that could, by dint of his scoring 20 points on eight shots in 16 minutes, justifiably be referred to as The Chris Duhon Game. It was, in every way, the sort of game that tries a competitor's spirit.
Mourning himself was on the floor for 15 minutes and change in this game, during which time he missed two shots, grabbed two rebounds, and committed two fouls; he made one free throw and missed another. And yet Mourning also made a contribution that transcended anything that could be captured in a box score, and which is as meaningful as any other achievement in his Hall of Fame career. There is a lucid and legible story being told in this GIF, and there is also something to aspire to—an example and an illustration of the work that we all do, all the time, in wrestling the stresses and sufferings of this uneasy moment into perspective. He lost and he learned. Any of us, all of us, can only hope to do the same.