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May 22, 2024 44 mins

Mykal Riley’s name isn’t mentioned alongside the likes of Steph Curry or Larry Bird. But neither of those guys can say they hit a three-pointer that literally saved thousands of lives.


Hosted by Dana Schwartz, Zaron Burnett, Jason English
Written by Dave Roos
Produced by Josh Fisher
Editing and Sound Design by Chris Childs
Mixing and Mastering by Baheed Frazier
Original Music by Elise McCoy
Show Logo by Lucy Quintanilla
Executive Producer is Jason English

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:09):

Speaker 2 (00:10):
This is an iHeart original. Spring is tornado season in Georgia.
But the forecast for March fourteenth, two thousand and eight
didn't seem so bad. It looked like a cloudy day
with a chance of thunderstorms. Around nine o'clock that night,

the situation changed. Radar picked up a pair of large
storm systems making their way east toward Atlanta. Supercells.

Speaker 3 (00:48):
A supercell does not necessarily mean that a tornado is
going to form, but typically if we do see a
supercell thunderstorm, which means more of a heightened storm with
more instability, really it could wrap up and produce damaging
winds or hail.

Speaker 2 (01:02):
That's Jen Narimore, a meteorologist who runs the website Ornado Talk.

Speaker 3 (01:08):
Tornadoes are actually hard to form. You have to have
all the ingredients coming together. You have to have the
spin in the atmosphere, you need to have a moisture source,
you need to have some kind of lyft in the
atmosphere to create these storms.

Speaker 2 (01:18):
Anyway, Atlanta traces its history back to the eighteen thirties,
and for its first one hundred and seventy years, Atlanta
experienced its fair share of severe and scary weather, but
not once had a major tornado touched down in downtown
Atlanta until March fourteenth, two thousand and eight. Jen was

living in Atlanta at the time and working for the
Weather Channel.

Speaker 3 (01:51):
And my shift was over. I was working in the
radio department. Then It's a Friday evening, and I was
hanging out with one of my best friends, my co worker,
and waiting on her shift to end. But we did
start getting phone calls after about nine thirty nine thirty
nine forty five time, Hey, the Georgia Dome is something's
going on here. Everything's moving, the roof is ripping off.

What's happening. There's stuff falling onto the spectators. We've had
to stop the game. What's happening?

Speaker 2 (02:19):
The calls were coming from the Georgia Dome, an eighty
thousand seat indoor sports stadium in the heart of downtown Atlanta,
inside thousands of college basketball fans were watching the two
thousand and eight Southeastern Conference men's basketball tournament.

Speaker 3 (02:38):
We started getting a lot of phone calls into the
radio department, and a lot of these were radio broadcasters
that were actually broadcasting the game, and they were calling
and saying, Hey, what in the world's going on?

Speaker 4 (02:48):

Speaker 2 (02:49):
Unbeknown to the spectators inside, a major tornado had cut
a path through the heart of downtown Atlanta and passed
within one hundred yards of the Georgia Dome.

Speaker 3 (03:03):
So they were kind of side swiped by the tornado,
but the core winds were just one hundred yards to
the north of it.

Speaker 2 (03:10):
The tornado was classified as an EF two with maximum
winds exceeding one hundred and thirty miles per hour for
twelve harrowing minutes. The twister cut a six mile path
of destruction through downtown Atlanta.

Speaker 3 (03:30):
There was glass everywhere, glass blown out of so many
high rise buildings, The OMNI Center, the CNN Center was
a mess, and the debris everywhere.

Speaker 2 (03:40):
Tragically, there was one fatality, but it's shocking that the
number wasn't higher. Atlanta is home to nearly half a
million people within the city limits alone. A massive tornado
two hundred yards across with one hundred and thirty miles
per hour winds slashed through downtown Atlanta on a Friday

night and only one person died. What else can you
call that but miracle?

Speaker 3 (04:08):
Yeah, six miles, twelve minutes and twenty five million dollars
worth of damage it's a.

Speaker 2 (04:14):
Lot, But what if there's a reason that more people
didn't get hurt or killed in Atlanta in two thousand
and eight. What if hundreds or even thousands of lives
were saved by something that happened inside the Georgia Dome
that night. What if the course of history was changed

by a jump shot. Welcome to very special episodes and
iHeart original podcast. I'm your host, Dana Schwartz, and this
is the shot.

Speaker 4 (04:53):
Hey, everybody, I'm excited to be back with you today.
I'm excited to get into this story. It's a sports story.
You do not have to care about sports to enjoy
or extreme weather. You don't have to be a stormchaser.
You can just enjoy this one.

Speaker 2 (05:09):
I have to be honest, I know almost nothing about basketball,
but my husband has had the playoffs on for it
feels like weeks. I don't know how long it's been,
but I do feel like I'm absorbing some basketball knowledge
by Osmosis, and this was a story he did.

Speaker 5 (05:23):
Not know same.

Speaker 6 (05:24):
I love how this is a story that's said in
my hometown. I don't follow basketball per se, but it's
said in my hometown and I've never ever heard this story,
like how.

Speaker 2 (05:32):
It's kind of amazing. It just like makes you think
that any one of us could be doing anything at
any time with profound effects, whether or not we're good
at basketball in any way.

Speaker 5 (05:42):
Totally. Also, don't you love second chance stories? Oh it's
so sweet, right, And if.

Speaker 6 (05:47):
It's an athlete, I'm always going to root for him.
But then like, if it's a second chance CEO story,
probably not going to win the heart strings, you know.
But at the same time, second chance stories in America
always kill it. And I think that's true around the world.

Speaker 2 (05:58):
Yeah, there's something It's like pets and people playing sports
that they really really have tried hard their whole lives
to play will always get at the heart strings.

Speaker 5 (06:07):
Totally, So should we dive in?

Speaker 4 (06:09):
Dive in?

Speaker 2 (06:12):
Michail Riley grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a city
of forty thousand about fifty miles outside of Little Rock.
For as long as he can remember, Michael has played basketball.
It started when he and his younger brother Dante were
little kids shooting hoops in their grandma's backyard.

Speaker 7 (06:32):
First we started out with dirt, you know, it was
dirty and just one basket, And then we got older
and She didn't want us to go, you know, like
to the other parks to play. She wanted us to
you know, stay in her backyard.

Speaker 2 (06:46):
Mikeel's grandma didn't have much money, but she used proceeds
from a life insurance policy to build a full length
basketball court right behind her house. Two baskets, asphalt, surface,
painted lines, everything.

Speaker 1 (07:01):
Yeah, she built that in the backyard. Yeah. I grew up.
My older cousins also play basketball. Ah. Sit.

Speaker 7 (07:08):
We used to always be out there, and she had
a big spotlight up there too, big like this, they
shine bright so we can.

Speaker 1 (07:15):
We played like all night, so you know.

Speaker 7 (07:17):
He used to be out there at one o'clock, two
o'clock in the morning, especially during the summertime.

Speaker 2 (07:22):
Mchaal's dad, Freddie Riley, became the unofficial neighborhood coach. Random
kids would show up at grandma's backyard court on summer
evenings and Freddie would have them running drills.

Speaker 7 (07:34):
That's who started us playing basketball. When she built that court.
That's when we started. Like he started like teaching us
real basketball, like we used to play all the time,
you know. Well, he started teaching us the rules and everything,
you know, like different moves, the fundamentals, you know, left
handed stuff, right hand dribble, all of that.

Speaker 2 (07:54):
Freddie remembers those days like they were yesterday. Only after
the kids learned how to dribble and handle the ball
did Freddie start teaching them how to shoot.

Speaker 8 (08:05):
Here's Freddy always taught him that as you're going up,
you don't release the ball till you get to your peak.
Then you release the ball after then not releasing the
ball as you're going up. A lot of times, you know,
young guys that don't really know about basketball, they shooting
when they're going up, and then they shooting with their

whole arm instead of shooting from the wrist, you know,
and put the ball would come off the fingertips.

Speaker 2 (08:31):
Michael picked it up fast. He was a natural shooter.

Speaker 8 (08:35):
Mchl was always the best shooter out of all of them.
And he would shooting. I mean he could shoot. That
boy could really shoot and from anywhere. It didn't make
no difference. He shoot from half court, top of the key,
deep in the corner.

Speaker 9 (08:51):
That was just him. He had a real nice stroke.

Speaker 2 (08:56):
As Michael grew up, though his confidence lagged behind his
shooting skills. He was a skinny, quiet kid and when
he got out on the basketball court, he wasn't the
one wrestling for loose balls or calling for his shot.
He mostly got pushed around or ignored.

Speaker 8 (09:15):
Michale was always a timid type kid. He was always
kind of timid and shy. When he got to the
ninth grade year, he didn't play. I kept trying to
encourage him to go out, and he wouldn't go back out.
So when he came over to the high school his
tenth grade year, he did try out fuck basketball, but

he didn't make it.

Speaker 9 (09:37):
He became when you call the water boy.

Speaker 2 (09:41):
Michl remembers those days too. Instead of running drills with
the other kids, he was collecting at sweaty practice uniforms
and sweeping the gym floor.

Speaker 1 (09:51):
That's exactly who I was. Shy, didn't say too much.
That was just shy, you know, the shy kid.

Speaker 2 (09:58):
McHale didn't quit though. He kept working on his jump
shot in Grandma's backyard. He kept growing and getting stronger.
McHale tried out for basketball his junior year and made
the JV team at Pine Bluff High School, but still
he mostly rode the bench. Then came the growth spurt.

Speaker 9 (10:19):
His junior year.

Speaker 8 (10:21):
He was like, I think about six one, and then
over that summer when he became a senior, he grew that.
Over that summer he grew to about six about six
four six five. He just grew up, I mean just
shot up over the summer.

Speaker 2 (10:37):
His new height caught the coach's attention, but McHale still
wasn't a starter. He would only get playing time if
someone else was sick or injured. But when he got
in McHale tried to show what his new body could do.

Speaker 9 (10:52):
And the coach did let him play some games.

Speaker 8 (10:55):
And the best game he had during his senior year,
he scored fifteen points and he even got a dunk
in that game.

Speaker 9 (11:03):
That was his best game.

Speaker 8 (11:05):
I think that kind of gave him a boostle of
a lift, you know, getting rid of that that shiness,
you know, making you know, a little bit tougher.

Speaker 1 (11:14):
He definitely did. I had that game, and I had
that company as was there.

Speaker 7 (11:20):
It was definitely in my mind that yes, I can't
do this, and I am, you know, on the level
with other players.

Speaker 1 (11:26):
I think I can play with him too.

Speaker 2 (11:28):
After high school, Michael tried to build on the momentum
of his senior year. He did well on his acts
and caught the attention of a small college called Washa
Tap Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Washa Tap Baptist recruited
Mical for the basketball team and even offered him an

academic scholarship.

Speaker 8 (11:50):
We told him before he left freshman year is your
crucial year in college. You have to really get down
to business and stay down in the business during that time,
otherwise you about won't make it.

Speaker 9 (12:03):
He didn't get down to business.

Speaker 2 (12:06):
Mchael was excited to play ball for the Washataw Baptist Tigers,
a Division two program, but it wasn't meant to be.
His grades flatlined and McHale dropped out after just one semester.
Just like that, he was back home in Pine Bluff,
without a team and without a plan. That could have

easily been the end of McHale's story, a late bloomer
who didn't shine in high school but had a chance
for a college career, but it didn't work out. In
that version of the story, McHale settles down in Pine Bluff,
gets a regular job, plays some hoops on the weekends,
and spends the rest of his life wondering what could

have been. But that's not what happened. That's not Michal's story.
McHale caught a break, the first of many lucky breaks
and many miracles that kept his basketball dreams alive. One day,
McHale was back at hind Bluff High School playing with
some old teammates when a coach stopped in from Panola

College in Carthage, Texas. The coach liked McHale's shot. He
liked it so much that he signed McHale on the spot.
Suddenly McHale had a second chance at a college basketball career,
and he wasn't going to drop the ball this time.
He'd get down to business, as Freddie likes to say,

he'd keep his grades up, and most importantly, he'd show
the world what he could do on the basketball court.
It didn't matter if Panola was just a tiny junior
college in Texas. This was McHale's big chance, maybe his
last chance, and the way he saw it, there was
no plan B.

Speaker 1 (13:55):
That was my mind said.

Speaker 7 (13:55):
When I went to Pranola, I was like, this is
my chance, and I don't know who's going to be watching.
You never know who's gonna be watching, So all I
say is every game.

Speaker 1 (14:07):
Are you to kill everybody.

Speaker 7 (14:08):
And the system was so perfect, Like we didn't really
have plays. We had a system. He's just a running system.
You run to a corner, the ball is past, you
shoot it.

Speaker 2 (14:19):
Freddy McHale's dad made the four hour drive to Carthage
to watch his son play, and he hardly recognized the
confident player that Michal had become. Gone was the shy
high school kid who always passed on the big shot McHale.

Speaker 8 (14:36):
Oh, we just bloomed, and he just was a late
bloom when that's all. We went to one of his
games down there, but at the end of the third
quarter he had thirty two points.

Speaker 9 (14:46):
And he didn't even play it for a quarter.

Speaker 8 (14:48):
Everything he shot, I mean knocking down everything, nothing but
three pointers.

Speaker 2 (14:54):
Painola College was mchel's coming out party. His coaches said,
if the point guard passes you the ball, that means
you're open. And if you're open, shoot it every time.

Speaker 7 (15:06):
Man, I had two crazy year in junior college. I
had like ninety something three in one year. Yeah, I
was lighted up. Junior college was so much fun. It
was so much fun.

Speaker 2 (15:18):
McHale's confidence swored and he remembered everything his dad had
taught him on his grandma's backyard basketball court, how to
handle the ball with both hands, how to move without
the ball to get open, how to wait for the
top of your jump to release the ball, snap your
wrist and watch it splash into the net.

Speaker 1 (15:38):
That's like one of the best feelings in basketball.

Speaker 2 (15:42):
Mchaale caught a lot of people's attention with his three
point game at Panola. One of them was Phil Pearson,
an assistant coach at the University of Alabama that's Division One.
When coach Pearson found out that a recruiting deal between
McHale and another school fell through, he drove straight to Panola.

Speaker 10 (16:04):
I scooped it right up quick as I could and
get him test flows. So just because I thought he's
you know, he's confident player. Those guys are valuable. So
we were lucky to have a Mulagati And.

Speaker 2 (16:13):
Just like that, McHale Riley went from waterboy to college
dropout to a starting guard for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
McHale remembers showing up for the first day of practice

at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. This is a
big time college basketball program. They just made it to
the final four in the twenty twenty four NCAA tournament.
Old McHale, the shy, skinny high schooler, might have held
back or been intimidated, but not the new McHale.

Speaker 1 (16:57):
Hey, there's no intimidation at all.

Speaker 7 (17:00):
And it was a lot of freshmen coming in that
were supposed to be, you know, really good or whatever.

Speaker 1 (17:06):
But I came in.

Speaker 7 (17:09):
I remember Richard Hendricks he told me, he said, man,
you came in here.

Speaker 1 (17:13):
You made a statement. I was. I was hungry. I
wanted my family to see me playing on TV.

Speaker 2 (17:21):
McHale earned a starting spot on a competitive Alabama squad.
Just like at Pinola, Michale made his name behind the
three point line. Here's coach Pearson again.

Speaker 10 (17:34):
So at six foot four five, he was a little
bigger than a lot of guys that were guarding him.
He was able to shoot over the top of some guys.
You know, just kind of had a knack for making shots,
you know, maybe a little bit streaky, but when he
got going, he could make them.

Speaker 2 (17:47):
Every time the ball was in Michael's hands, Coach Pearson
and head coach Mark Gottfried said the same thing.

Speaker 1 (17:54):
Shoot it and even yelled at me.

Speaker 7 (17:56):
But the only thing he yelled at before was the
play defense or shoot the ball, and gives you all
the companies in the world.

Speaker 1 (18:05):
You can easily forget the missus with the hype of Cophanis.

Speaker 2 (18:09):
In his first season at Alabama, McHale averaged more than
twelve points a game. He was one of the team's
leading scorers the following year. His senior year, McHale started
out strong, but then fell into a shooting slump near
the end of the regular season. The team struggled too.

Michale had been averaging at least three three pointers a game,
but there was a string of games where he just
couldn't find his shot. Then came Senior Night, the last
home game of McHale's final season at Alabama. It was
against Vanderbilt, and coach Pearson remembers that McHale's parents drove

in for their son's special night.

Speaker 10 (18:53):
Freddy and Betty Riley from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and they
were good folks and his mother on senior Day. Can
remember his mother coming and man, she had on a
great outsit. The cameras on television they kept showing her
on that senior.

Speaker 5 (19:07):
Day and he had a big day, a big game
was good win for US over Vanderbilt.

Speaker 2 (19:11):
McHale finally broke out of his slump, hitting six three
pointers and scoring twenty six points in front of his parents.
All these years later, McHale's mom, Betty, still remembers what
it was like to be in that crowd in Tuscaloosa
on senior night and to watch McHale have one of

those dream games where everything went in.

Speaker 9 (19:35):
Oh man, I mean I was so thrilled. You know,
just see my son.

Speaker 8 (19:41):
If I'm not to stay I think you one the
time when he hit a shock, they said, oh NBA shot.

Speaker 10 (19:46):
Not no one.

Speaker 8 (19:50):
Oh my god.

Speaker 5 (19:51):
But I was.

Speaker 8 (19:52):
I am really, really so proud of real.

Speaker 1 (19:56):
I am.

Speaker 2 (19:57):
Even with that big win over Vanderbilt, Alabama's record wasn't
great going into the Southeastern Conference Tournament. During the regular season,
Alabama was just five and eleven in the SEC five
wins and eleven losses. Their record wasn't good enough to
earn them a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the big

end of season college basketball attorney known as March Madness.

Speaker 10 (20:24):
We'd had a run there, man. We went five straight
nc DOUBLEA tournaments there. From I guess it was two
to seven, won the league in O two, Elite eight,
O four, But then we kind of really, to be
perfectly frank, probably underachieved for what we had on our team.

Speaker 2 (20:41):
If they wanted to make it into March Madness, Alabama
had to win the SEC Tournament, and to do that,
they'd have to win four straight games in four days.

Speaker 10 (20:53):
Well yeah, I mean, I guess that's that's always the hope.
And you know, I'm sure at that point we're just
hoping we could, you know, hey, get on.

Speaker 1 (21:00):
A roll somehow.

Speaker 10 (21:01):
If you can win four straight, you get a chance
playing the Cuba Tournament.

Speaker 2 (21:04):
The SEC Tournament was played at the Georgia Dome, one
of the largest indoor stadiums in America. The Atlanta Falcons
played NFL games there. At full capacity, the Georgia Dome
could hold eighty thousand spectators, but for basketball, much of
the arena was curtained off. Still, there were fourteen thousand

people on hand. In the first round, Alabama faced the
two time defending national champions, the Florida Gators. While the
two thousand and eight Florida team had lost a lot
of players to the NBA, they were still expected to
stomp Alabama, but McHale and Alabama came out swinging. McHale

continued his hot shooting streak, tying the Alabama record with
eight three pointers and twenty six points. Alabama won eighty
to sixty nine, a huge upset Improbably Alabama had survived
the first stay of the SEC Tournament and came back

the next night to play Mississippi State, a big time rival.

Speaker 10 (22:15):
A lot of people don't realize Alabama Mississippi State. They're
separated by about eighty miles, so there was always been
a rivalry of soorce from Alaba Misissippi State, just really
in every sport.

Speaker 2 (22:25):
The game between Alabama and Mississippi tipped off at seven
thirty eight pm on Friday night. About ten minutes later,
the National Weather Service issued a severe storm warning for
the Atlanta metro area lightning thunder winds up to forty
five miles per hour. But that didn't mean anything to

the rowdy crowd inside the Georgia Dome or to the
players on the court fighting for a spot in the
NCAA Tournament. Mikhale, who had played so brilliantly the day before,
came out cold against Mississippi State. He missed his first
three shots, and he couldn't shake his defender, a hard

nosed Mississippi State player named Ben hansbro Finally, midway through
the first half, McHale hit his first three. It was
like a light had switched on. His whole body language changed.
Over the next eleven minutes, McHale went on a run,
scoring thirteen points, punctuated by a steel and a thundering dump.

Alabama was up thirty six to twenty nine at halftime.
Forty miles away, the severe thunderstorms predicted by the National
Weather Service continued to bear down on Atlanta. Satellite images
showed two supercells engaged in a slow, swirling dance. Soon

they merged into one giant storm and took on the
ominous shape of a comma. That type of storm could,
under the right conditions, produce a tornado. Outside the Georgia Dome,
it started to rain inside. The second half started out
a lot like the first. McHale couldn't hit anything. He

airballed a three pointer, he missed a layup. He looked exhausted.
It was the second game in two days, and Alabama
was gassed. With just over two minutes left in the game.
Mississippi State hits a three pointer and takes the lead.
Alabama stays close but can't claw back in front. With

just twenty seconds on the clock, Mississippi State is winning
fifty eight to fifty six. McHale gets the ball at
the top of the key, but he slips and throws
a wild pass that's knocked out of bounds. In the
next possession, his teammate Richard Hendrix, drives for a layup,

but it's blocked and grabbed by Mississippi State. Alabama has
no choice but to foul to stop the clock. Outside,
the rain turns to hail. With just seven seconds remaining
in the game, Mississippi State has a chance to seal
the win with two free throws. They make the first

one fifty nine fifty six Mississippi State. If they make
the next foul shot, it becomes a four point lead
and Alabama has almost no chance of winning. But the
second foul shot bounces out a mini miracle. Alabama grabs
the rebound and goes streaking up the court. Five seconds

four seconds, Mississippi State tries to foul, but knocks the
ball out of bounds past the half court line. There
are now two seconds on the clock. Two seconds for
Alabama to draw up a desperation play to heave up
a three pointer and tie the game. Alabama calls a
time out. Freddie and Betty Riley were home in Pine

Bluff watching the game on their big TV in the
living room. McHale hadn't played his best game, not by far,
but Freddy had no doubt about who should take the
last shot.

Speaker 8 (26:22):
I knew past Godfrey who was gonna set up a
play to get Michale the ball. I remember that if
anybody could get the shot off and possibly make it,
it would be Michale.

Speaker 2 (26:35):
Coach Pearson was in the Alabama huddle, and Freddie was
right on.

Speaker 10 (26:40):
The guy's gonna make shot. Michael Riley the sort of
be the guy that could do it. I'm sure Ifssissippi
State had it to do over again, they would have
done whatever they could have done to keep the ball
off of Michail Riley. Everybody that, everybody in Adell knew
that he was going to be the guy that we're
gonna try to get the ball to.

Speaker 2 (26:53):
The play was called screen Rilo, McHale's nickname. On the
inbounds pass, one of McHale's teammates would screen, the defender
and Michale would try to break free for a clean.

Speaker 7 (27:05):
Look coming off the screen and I'm open, you know
the guys behind me.

Speaker 1 (27:11):
I turned around, I swing through, hoping that he.

Speaker 7 (27:15):
Puts his hand in there at the same time as
I'm going up to shoot.

Speaker 1 (27:19):
When he lift my hand, it was iffy. I wasn't
really sure.

Speaker 2 (27:23):
Freddy and Betty lost their minds. The crowd in the
Georgia Dome went crazy. McHale's teammates swarmed him. He had
pulled off a miracle three and tied the game for Alabama.

Speaker 8 (27:39):
When he went up and he released that ball, and
that ball like it hit the rim and then it
went that way and hit the backboard and then come
back and like it would rolling around and just she
lived like it was a roccet shot and then dropped in.

Speaker 2 (27:58):
Sixteen years later, McHale still remembers how it felt.

Speaker 7 (28:02):
It's kind of indescribable, Like I don't know how you
sole right into the moment and you don't know what
you're really feeling, you know, because you're like screaming and
like you know, you got your teammates running at you
feel a whole bunch of things at the same time,
so mostly excited, you.

Speaker 1 (28:20):
Know, for sure, and just pumped up and like this
and be leieve you know, it went in, you know.

Speaker 2 (28:28):
By tying the score fifty nine to fifty nine, McHale
sent the game into overtime. Shooters like Michale Riley live
for that moment, hitting a last second clutch shot that
saves the game. What McHale didn't know at the time
was that his miraculous three point shot didn't just save

the game, it might have also saved thousands of lives.
McHale hit the last second, buzzer beating, game tying three

pointer for Alabama at around nine thirty PM in Atlanta.
Neither McHale nor anyone else inside the Georgia Dome had
any idea what was happening outside the stadium. In short,
all hell was breaking loose. A massive EF two class
tornado had touched down in Atlanta. It was the first

time in the city's history that a tornado tore a
path directly through downtown Atlanta, and it was headed straight
for the Georgia Dome. Oblivious to the destruction outside, the
Mississippi State and Alabama players took the court for overtime
the clock was reset for five minutes and play resumed,

But about halfway through the overtime period, something very strange
started to happen. Here's Michail.

Speaker 7 (30:06):
I think we had just scored and was coming back down,
and all of a sudden, it sounded like a train
was right outside the arena.

Speaker 1 (30:13):
I looked at him, I said, is that a train?

Speaker 2 (30:15):
Imagine a sound so loud that a college basketball player
in the middle of a super important game inside of
a massive stadium would stop in his tracks and ask,
is that a train?

Speaker 9 (30:30):

Speaker 10 (30:30):
It was loud.

Speaker 2 (30:32):
That's coach Pearson again. Not only did he hear the
unearthly roar, but he looked up and saw something even stranger.
The massive teflon roof of the Georgia Dome was rolling
toward him in nauseating ways.

Speaker 10 (30:47):
I mean, it's almost like you know when you had
your sheets on your bed and you're kind of straightening
them out, you know. It was that kind of ruffling,
and that's doing the root, you know, I mean, for
one hundred of yards kind of coming to you.

Speaker 1 (30:58):
It was.

Speaker 10 (30:59):
It was something I don't think I'll ever forget.

Speaker 2 (31:01):
I'll tell you that as the roof waved violently. Overhead
material began to rain down on the court and the crowd.
Bits of shredded insulation and plasticciting floated down like snow.
Screws and bolts were pried loose and fell to the
court with an unsettling rattle. The referees blew their whistles

stop the game, and the players were herded off the court.

Speaker 7 (31:27):
I didn't know what was going on until it was
like Tornado one. The Tornado one, stuff is starting to fall.
As I'm walking off the floor, I'm looking and walking
at the same time. I see stuff is swinging the
jumbo tron, the.

Speaker 1 (31:41):
Catwalks up there.

Speaker 7 (31:42):
Everything is just swinging, and you know, bows is falling
on the course.

Speaker 2 (31:47):
On TV, the broadcast faded in and out of static.
Freddy and Betty Riley went from elation to worry. Was
Mchail in trouble?

Speaker 9 (31:58):
We started seeing stuff falling from the top of the.

Speaker 8 (32:01):
Dome and coming down on the floor, and we didn't
know what was going on.

Speaker 2 (32:06):
The next hour, the players and coaches from Alabama and
Mississippi State huddled in their locker rooms. They waited forward
from the tournament organizers if the game was going to resume.
News trickled in about a tornado possibly touching down in Atlanta,
but details were scarce. Most of the crowd of fourteen

thousand stuck around two. They made phone calls to anxious
friends and family who were watching the game on TV.
There was some kind of crazy storm outside, but they
were safe inside the Georgia Dome. They were okay. When
it was safe to return to the court, the game resumed.
It was nearing eleven PM at this point, but there

was still over two minutes on the clock. The SEC
tournament must go on. The storm had rattled everyone's nerves,
but both teams really wanted to win. In the final
seconds of overtime, Alabama was down by two. Incredibly, McHale
got another chance to be a hero and make another

last second miracle shot, but this time his shot rattled out.
Alabama lost. Their season was over, and so was mchail's
college basketball career. After the game, mchaale finally got in
touch with his parents, who congratulated him on the big

shot that sent it into overtime. They tried to cheer
him up after the loss. By this point, the tornado
was big news. Local TV channels were showing footage of
the damage. The roof was torn off the Cotton Mill
Lofts in downtown Atlanta. A gaping hole was punched in
the roof of the World Congress Center. Parked cars had

been tossed around downtown streets. Brick facades came crumbling down
near al Olympic Centennial Park. Hearing about the devastation of
the tornado, one of McHale's teammates, Brandon Hollinger, said something
that had never crossed McHale's mind.

Speaker 7 (34:19):
Once I finished talking to my parents, he said aloud.
He was like, dude, you know you could stop a
lot of people from getting hurt. I hadn't even thought
about it in that since until he said something.

Speaker 2 (34:29):
What did Brandon mean? How did McHale's shot prevent a
lot of people from getting hurt? Think about it. McHale
hit his shot at nine thirty PM. If he had
missed it, the game would have been over. Many of
the fourteen thousand fans in attendance at the Georgia Dome
would have stuck around for the late game between Kentucky

and Georgia, but a few thousand Alabama and Mississippi State
fans would have headed for the exits. If those people
walked outside at that moment, they would have stepped directly
into the path of a torn Instead of one fatality
that night in Atlanta, there could have been hundreds.

Speaker 3 (35:13):
I think it could be in tremendously worse.

Speaker 2 (35:15):
That's Jen Narramore again, our meteorologist friend.

Speaker 3 (35:19):
So you're talking five ten thousand people could have been
exiting the Georgia Dome right when the tornado was coming through,
and they could have walked right into some of the
strongest winds. They could have had windows, parts of roof
blown and landing on them. I think their jury account
would have been tremendously worse, and sadly, I do think
that there could have been more fatalities.

Speaker 2 (35:38):
Most of the out of town fans were staying at
hotels nearby and had walked to the Georgia Dome. They
would have been making their way back to places like
the Omni Hotel, where many windows were blown out by
the tornado, or the Weston which witnesses described as a
war zone. Brandon Hollinger was right. Thousands of people could

have been out on the street of downtown Atlanta in
the path of a deadly tornado. They weren't all because
a basketball game between Alabama and Mississippi State went into
overtime because a shy kid from Pine Bluff, Arkansas made
the shot that saved their lives.

Speaker 3 (36:20):
He is a hero for shure that three pointer and
getting that in and pushing the game into overtime. Absolutely,
And it's just one of those things where you just
look back and think about it, You're like, man, if
he had not done that, what would have happened.

Speaker 2 (36:34):
As Atlanton's woke Saturday morning to scenes of destruction and chaos,
the reality of what happened the night before began to
sink in. A tornado had touched down in Atlanta in
the middle of the SEC tournament, but instead of mourning
a tragedy, people were celebrating a miracle. McHale's miracle. McHale

was interviewed on CNN Sports Illustrated ran a story. For
a brief moment, the entire sp sports media world paused
and took stock of what had happened in Atlanta and
what hadn't happened. For Freddie Riley, there's no question that
what michale did back in two thousand and eight qualifies

as a miracle.

Speaker 9 (37:22):
That was a shadow of a lifetime.

Speaker 8 (37:24):
It really was what wins up as high as one
hundred and twenty mile hour wins.

Speaker 9 (37:30):
That's rush and I thank God.

Speaker 8 (37:32):
I think he was the instrument that God used to
keep him on inside.

Speaker 2 (37:37):
It's been sixteen years since that fateful night in Atlanta,
but Michale says that every March, without fail, he still
gets messages from people who were in the crowd inside
the Georgia Dome.

Speaker 7 (37:50):
I still give mesues to city today, still give messages
today and they say thank you.

Speaker 1 (37:56):
You know, I still remember it.

Speaker 4 (37:58):

Speaker 1 (37:58):
They always say the shot they saved my life and
thank you.

Speaker 9 (38:04):
You know.

Speaker 1 (38:04):
It's crazy, it's crazy to me. I'm still talking about
this to this day. Wow.

Speaker 2 (38:13):
After college, Michael started playing professional basketball, mostly in France.
He's been there ever since. His parents have visited him
in Paris a bunch of times. His mom still shows
everybody the pictures of her in front of the Eiffel.

Speaker 1 (38:27):
Tower plenty friends of these years.

Speaker 7 (38:30):
Has been all I can ask for, because I would
never thought I would ever see parents, friends in my life.
But he's definitely been the experience and an adventure that
I will never forget. Cherish for the rest of my life,
this whole journey that I've.

Speaker 2 (38:43):
Had, Freddie couldn't be more proud, not just of Michail
the professional basketball player, but Michael the man.

Speaker 8 (38:52):
I'm proud that he took the upbringing our teacher is
stayed within him everywhere he had gone, and he went
over to France and he made a name for himself,
and it's just amazing how the people talk about him.
You can't we can't be none but proud parents. They really,
I mean people really talk about him over there. Lord,

they are really crazy about Michale.

Speaker 2 (39:18):
What's become clear to McHale all these years later is
that there would never have been a miracle shot without
everything that came before it, starting on grandma's backyard court
and his dad teaching him the secret of the jump
shot under an Arkansas moon.

Speaker 7 (39:37):
Oh you already know it's always good to make your
parents proud of you know, saying it's always good to
make your parents proud. You know, they even there from
the high school days to get cut. Oh man, I'm
fried who They've been there through it all.

Speaker 1 (39:52):
He definitely is a good feeling. They have him proud
of me.

Speaker 2 (39:55):
Michael is going to retire soon he's pushing forty and
even in France, that's old for a basketball player. When
he does it stop playing professionally, he already knows what
he wants to do. McHale wants to coach kids during
COVID when his professional season was canceled, Michale came back
to Arkansas and worked with ten and twelve year olds

on their game.

Speaker 7 (40:19):
And I really really enjoyed it because once you know,
like you trained the kid, you know, help with a
move or something, and then he used that move in
the game and he scored with it. I didn't even
care about the money, like, because now you're the problem,
you know, like like you're on the other end, like
somebody was proud of you.

Speaker 1 (40:34):
Now you're the problem.

Speaker 7 (40:36):
And I'm like, wow, that is exactly how he started,
you know, doing jacking full circle.

Speaker 11 (40:43):
Yeah really man, all right, Darren, before we even get
into the conversation, have you cast this story?

Speaker 5 (40:56):
You know I have.

Speaker 6 (40:57):
So this is kind of a simple one because I
just basically focused on Mikael Riley and his pops Freddy Right.
So it's just like basically I wanted Jay Ellis from Insecure, right,
because he's tall, he's got the hype. I can see
him pulling it off. He's charismatic. You're going to root
for that kid, and then also for his pops Freddie Riley.
I'm thinking, all right, this one is a casting idea
for him to win back the hearts of audiences in Hollywood.

Speaker 5 (41:20):
Will Smith, He's already played a dad. He can do it.

Speaker 2 (41:22):
He is a dad, right, he does a sports dad
redemption story exactly. Who's the voice of the Tornado?

Speaker 5 (41:29):
I did not cast that. That's amazing given me ideas.

Speaker 2 (41:32):
Oh no, well not off the top of my head.
You're the one who's really good at casting.

Speaker 6 (41:37):
Yeah, I mean, who do we want to hear? Is
the voice of a storm?

Speaker 9 (41:41):
Cast yourself?

Speaker 4 (41:42):
You're done vo on these?

Speaker 2 (41:43):
Yeah, you have a great voice, Saron, a podcast voice.

Speaker 1 (41:47):

Speaker 6 (41:47):
Well, I'd actually have to defer to my father on
the voices, so I'll just say him over myself.

Speaker 4 (41:53):
There's a number of good lessons in this episode. It's
so easy to assume that anyone who's really good at
something was always really good at that thing, And in
this one we have pretty deep in his high school career.

Speaker 5 (42:05):
Is the literal water boy?

Speaker 4 (42:07):
Make the team and you know four or five years later,
he's in the SEC tournament Alabama.

Speaker 5 (42:12):
That's starting. I mean, like, are you kidding me?

Speaker 6 (42:14):
He did something no one has ever made me do,
which is root for Alabama.

Speaker 2 (42:19):
For me, it's like, you know how people are always
like Albert Einstein failed his high school math, but the
truth is he did not, Like that's just like a
story that people say to make themselves feel better. This
is like that for real. It's like, you can be
a water boy in high school and still be a
star during college, and you can do a basketball shop
that will save potentially thousands of human lives.

Speaker 5 (42:39):
What a beautiful way to be a hero.

Speaker 6 (42:40):
You know you're always excited about like, oh, they saved
the game, but he saves the people.

Speaker 5 (42:46):
It's the better hero story for sports.

Speaker 2 (42:48):
The real lesson here is that our meteorologists need to
up their game and warn people about when there's going
to be storms, because it feels like the entire city
was taken by surpris comly completely.

Speaker 5 (42:59):
Did you ever want to be a storm chaser either
of you?

Speaker 1 (43:01):

Speaker 9 (43:01):
Absolutely not.

Speaker 4 (43:04):
Run away from all the storms.

Speaker 2 (43:06):
Want to be inside, somewhere safe and cozy with doors
locked and closed.

Speaker 4 (43:11):
My very special character for this one yeah, what is yours?
I'm going with Grandma. None of this happens without Grandma
taking her windfall, bring that into the backyard and doing
right for the neighborhood.

Speaker 9 (43:23):
I loved it.

Speaker 5 (43:24):
Oh my god, I love that. This is a good call.

Speaker 2 (43:26):
Who's your very special character?

Speaker 6 (43:28):
I was gonna go with the storm because I was
root for the villain, you know, So I was just like,
I got in this one. It's the storm, but Grandma's
the better call. I really want to rethink this. What
about you?

Speaker 2 (43:37):
I'm going storm? Voiced by your dad?

Speaker 5 (43:39):
Okay, there we go the tripecta.

Speaker 4 (43:41):
That's a when Very Special Episodes is made by some
very special people. This show was hosted by Danis Schwartz,
Zaron Burnett, and me Jason English. Today's episode was written
by Dave Bruce. Our producer is Josh Fisher. Editing and
sound designed by Chris Childs, Mixing and mastering by Beheid Frasier.

Original music by Elise McCoy. Show logo by Lucy Quintonia
and I'm your executive producer. If you'd like to email
the show for any reason, you can reach us at
Very Special Episodes at gmail dot com. Very Special Episodes
is a production of iHeart podcasts.
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