DECLO - What happens after you become a small-town legend at the age of 18?
If you're Mike Christensen, you serve an LDS mission, go to school, settle down with a good job and family, and try to be polite every time someone asks about "The Shot."
In other words: Life goes on.
It's been 15 years since Christensen became the hero of Declo, population 338 and just east of Burley in southcentral Idaho. Today, he lives just a basketball-toss away in Malta with a bass boat in his driveway and three adorable daughters ruling the roost.
He doesn't mind talking about that 1997-98 season, his teammates, or the undefeated 26-0 record. But ask him about his miraculous 75-foot buzzer beater to defeat Kimberly 72-71 in overtime of the Idaho Class A-3 championship, and Christensen blushes.
"People ask me about it quite a bit," he said. "It comes up a lot more this time of year. It's sometimes kinda weird and embarrassing."
He shied away from the limelight back then, too, while video of his shot appeared on national news and ESPN. Rick Reilly wrote about it for Sports Illustrated. Christensen turned down an invitation to be on "Late Show with David Letterman."
But Christensen's 15 minutes of fame have been followed by 15 years of normalcy. He's just an ordinary guy who happened to make the most extraordinary shot in the history of Idaho high school basketball.
By itself, The Shot is remarkable. But just like any great tale, the setup is what makes The Shot transcendent.
District IV rivals Declo and Kimberly already played each other four times that season. Declo was ranked No. 1 in the media poll; Kimberly was ranked fourth. Positioned on opposite sides of the state tournament bracket, they were destined for a title game showdown on Saturday, March 7, at the Idaho Center in Nampa.
"You could see the writing on the wall," said KC Ramsey, who was a Declo senior. "When they won their first game Thursday and so did we, it was like, here we go."
Those in attendance say it was the greatest high school basketball game they've ever witnessed, and those who weren't at the game talk about it as if they were.
Perry Kerfoot, a 32-year veteran official, was one of the referees that afternoon.
"To me, I still consider it the biggest game I've ever worked, just because of the atmosphere, the excitement and how well both teams played and how good of a game it was," Kerfoot said.
Lost in the shadow of its miraculous ending, the entire game was an epic display.
"It was very competitive," Kerfoot said. "Both teams played very hard, and both teams were very good fundamentally. The players truly decided that game."
Kimberly had the game won - twice.
At the end of regulation with the score tied 60-60, the Kimberly Bulldogs ran a full minute off the clock and called timeout with 15 seconds remaining to set up their final play.
The strategy seemed to work, as Matt Berry fed the ball in the low post to Scott Plew, who scored and was fouled. The resulting three-point play gave Kimberly a 63-60 lead with 5.2 seconds remaining.
"Perfect execution, just like we'd worked on," said former Kimberly head coach Roger Keller, who is now the principal at Buhl High.
Declo advanced the ball to the halfcourt line and called timeout. Now with only two seconds on the clock, the Hornets needed a 3-pointer.
"Everybody thought Mike Christensen was going to shoot the last shot, so we set up a play for Brad Allen to get the shot off a double screen," said former Declo head coach Loyd Garey. "We set it from the top because we wanted him to dribble off with his right hand and be able to square his shoulders and shoot it."
Just as it was drawn up, Eric Heward inbounded the ball to Allen, who took one dribble and made an off-balanced bank shot at the buzzer to tie the game and send it to overtime.
"When Loyd Garey drew it up, we thought Mike might be double-teamed. I was just going to go down and across," said Allen, who now works as an accountant in Utah. "We had very little time, so if you got the ball you had to shoot it. I didn't get a great look, but got enough to touch the backboard. I wasn't calling bank. There was a hand right in my face and I was literally falling into the bench, just trying to get something on line."
An almost identical scenario unraveled in overtime. Tied 69-69, Kimberly again ran a minute off the clock and called timeout with 16 seconds left.
This time, Rich Arrossa buried a floating jumper from the high post.
"Kimberly's crowd was roaring and going nuts. When he hit that shot, it was like a wave of noise from their side," said Ramsey.
There are still two seconds left.
Ramsey: "Just the instinct of the game, I didn't even think about it. I knew there was still time on the clock and we still had a chance to get a shot off. Without thinking, I just grabbed the ball, took one step out of bounds and hit Mike. It happened that fast."
Christensen: "I was thinking, get the ball and let's go."
Plew: "Mike was my guy. All I kept thinking was, don't foul. I'm standing there right in front of him, he shoots the shot and I turn around and I'm like, that's going in. You just knew it. Time stopped and it kinda went slow motion."
Kerfoot: "I do remember Kimberly thinking they had it won, and the high they had for two seconds. The Kimberly crowd, the players, the coaches just going crazy because they knew they won the state championship.
"Then all of the sudden you have that bank, and that instant where everything goes quiet. And then all of the sudden you have the reversal of Declo fans and players just going crazy because they realize they've just won the state championship on this miracle 3/4-court shot."
Keller: "To this day, I can still see that shot. It was heartbreak when it banked in."
Garey: "It was the thrill of victory and then agony of defeat, then finally the thrill of victory."
Kimberly's then-athletic director George Arrossa - who is also Rich's father - was quoted in the Times-News the next day, "I'd like to take Mike out there and see him make that shot again. I'd give him 500 bucks and 10 tries."
Arrossa now regrets that the reporter cut off the rest of his comment.
"That quote was one sentence out of a long quotation. It didn't come across right," Arrossa said. "I went on to congratulate them, because they deserved to win. But none of that made it into the paper."
Arrossa's words, however, provided an epilogue that Declo fans love to talk about as much as The Shot itself.
The following week, at an assembly to honor the state champs, Christensen was urged to accept Arrossa's challenge and re-enact The Shot. He did, and made it again on his second try.
It often goes overlooked, although Christensen is quick to mention, if Ramsey had given up after Arrossa's shot, and hadn't done his job of inbounding the ball, The Shot would have never materialized.
It's one of the points Christensen makes when he's occasionally asked to be a guest speaker.
"Honestly, I look back at all those guys and we got along so well together and worked so hard for the same thing," Christensen said. "You learn to be unified and work toward the same goal. If you do that with your family, or your job, it's so much easier when everybody is working for the same thing and you don't get a bunch of egos in there."
In fact, that game spawned several life lessons.
Be good to people, because sometimes your enemies become your allies. Christensen and Plew wound up working side-by-side for a few years at Idaho Power. Several of the Kimberly and Declo players played intramural and city league ball on the same teams.
Another lesson: Pick yourself up from defeat. George Arrossa said he's most proud of the way those Kimberly players went on to become lawyers, pharmacists, an accountant, architect, dentist and fireman.
"What we've learned is life goes on. No matter what, even though you have some speed bumps, we're all competitive people and we want to win, so we're going to do that in life now," said Plew, who was named 1997-98 A-3 Player of the Year and now works as an accountant in Twin Falls. "It was a good lesson. Looking back on it, I wouldn't trade it for the world. We don't like that we lost, but it was a great experience."
Fifteen years later, players from both sides are still asked about The Shot.
"I remember getting back to the locker room and being in shock, thinking I can't believe that just happened," Plew said. "It didn't wear off; it was there for quite a while. It still is. I still don't like talking about it . it's like picking scabs."
One time Christensen took a flight from Salt Lake City to San Antonio. Making small talk with the passenger sitting next to him, he mentioned he's from Declo, Idaho.
"Declo? Isn't that the school with that miracle shot to take state?"
"Yeah," Christensen cautiously replied.
"Were you at that game?"
"Did you know the kid who made that shot?"
Eventually, Christensen confessed.
Ramsey says the hair on the back of his neck still stands up when he talks about The Shot.
"Fifteen years down the road and I bet you at least once a week I still think about it," said Ramsey, who sees Christensen every day as coworkers at Raft River Electric.
"It was one of those deals where you just didn't go hang out in Kimberly for a while," Ramsey said. "I don't think we were welcome there for a little bit."
For some Kimberly folks, maybe they still aren't.
"Declo is still a cuss word in my house," said Plew. "Still to this day, every time I hear Declo or Christensen, it makes my skin crawl a little bit."
The Times-News obtained video of The Shot. It is now posted on magicvalley.com. Not everyone is excited to watch it.
"I had a front row seat," said Plew. "I don't even care to watch. It's still pretty vivid in my mind, so I don't need to see it."
Berry, who is now a partner at a law firm in Seattle, owns a copy of the game tape, but has never brought himself to watch it.
"Maybe someday," Berry said. "It's only been 15 years. Maybe in another 15."