In his book “The Lucky Country” (1964), the Australian social critic Donald Horne decried the mediocrity of Australian political and business culture. The book’s most famous line was “Australia is a lucky country, run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck.” The phrase lost its meaning over time, however, as it was widely adopted as a kind of sunny national motto.

In the last few minutes, it had become hard to suppress thoughts about the unreliability of luck. I will not be the one it happens to – this is what we must believe to make our way in the world each day. Someone else. Not me. But every once in a while it is you, or someone close enough that it might as well be you. People to whom a terrible thing has never happened trust fate, the notion that what’s meant to be will be; the rest of us know better.

He was especially struck by a GI lying on his bunk, silent, who looked “like somebody rescued from the ledge of a skyscraper.” He read the chart and was astonished to learn that the soldier had been shot in the neck. The bullet had entered on the left, missed the nerves, cartoid artery, and jugular vein, drilled a neat hole in the spinal column without touching the spinal cord, and exited. The man needed no surgery; his chief symptom was a sore neck.

It was a shot Battier could live with, even if it turned out to be good.

Battier looked back to see the ball drop through the basket and hit the floor. In that brief moment he was the picture of detachment, less a party to a traffic accident than a curious passer-by. And then he laughed. The process had gone just as he hoped. The outcome he never could control.