If you haven't yet read this beautifully written Harvey Araton piece in the New York Times, please spend a little time on your Sunday to read what was said about one of the most humble superstars this sport has ever seen. For a team and a player whose national notoriety lies more so in an overwhelming sentiment of monotony than it does in the wild success they've shared, this article painted Tim Duncan in a light much more deserving for the graceful champion. Upon reading Mr. Araton's article I was reminded how lucky we've been to call this team and organization our own, and while my use of prose doesn't boast the same artistry as the New York Times writer's, I feel the need to expound upon behind-the-scenes visuals that make me more than fortunate to cover this team.
My experience as a sports writer hasn't taken me to the spotlight of South Beach or the insanity of Madison Square Garden, the sparkle of Staples Center or the historical Boston (TD) Garden, but I like to think I have enough perspective to realize how, in good fortune, my opportunity to be in attendance at the AT&T Center when the Spurs take the court should be cherished. From the top to the bottom, from Gregg Popovich to the quiet Duncan, to Manu Ginobili and the delightful Matt Bonner, a tradition of humility and humanity has been instilled in every aspect of an organization with hardly a crack to speak of. We've heard analysts and former players who were close to the situation talk about how wonderful the locker room is, and I don't think that aspect of this team is given enough credit. There is a genuine respect and enjoyment each one of these players has with their respective teammates, and the impact that has on the court, especially on a team where minutes are spread around from night to night like an office birthday cake (except, everyone gets a piece), cannot be understated. There are no complaints over playing time or personal grievances over who should be receiving most. With this team, there's simply an understanding of what it takes to win, and that is literally all that matters.
We as writers and fans tend to get locked up and fixated over trying to fix rotations and trying to find the lineups that best fit each player (which we probably shouldn't, because I trust that the guy already doing it knows a little more about basketball than you and I could ever hope), but this locker room trusts completely in Pop and Duncan, and to a further extent Ginobili and Tony Parker. Even when this team loses the locker room still feels relaxed and is always looking ahead rather than dwelling on the negatives that may sit behind them.
For those of you unfamiliar with the post-game routine, it's the exact same every night. The media rolls into the interview room around ten minutes after the final buzzer sounds where Andrew Monaco is interviewing his player of the game for Fox Sports Southwest. Following the two-minute interview, the rest of us wait patiently for Spurs head of media relations Tom James to open the door to the Spurs' locker room, which also acts as the portal to Popovich. Pop is never more than a few steps behind him with a huge smile on his face (sarcasm font). It is here where the ever-popular possibility of getting "Popped" lies in waiting, with every reporter doing his or her best to not become the latest victim. Following the interview and a few minutes of waiting, it's time to enter the locker room, one that I can't imagine is like all others.
Danny Green's locker is the first you walk by upon entering the room. Green, who last night was yelling quotes from the movie "Friday" halfway across the room at James Anderson, is as likable a player as you'll come across. He'll make fun of his fellow teammates while talking to any member of the media for as long as Tom James will allow. As he's shouting lines like, "Y'all ain't never got two things that match. Either y'all got Kool-aid, no sugar. Peanut butter, no jelly. Ham, no burger. Daaamn," the media awaits the man whose night it was, yet again. But Duncan's somewhere else, taking his well-deserved time to speak with us. Still, there's plenty more going on. On the other side of the room, sitting next to Boris Diaw (who's completely content with his living situation at the Tony Parker estate), is Matt Bonner, whose dunk last night resonated in the rafters of the AT&T Center as loudly as a Dr. J dunk did in Philly years ago. (And actually, one reporter brought a photo to the locker room that looked similar to this one to show Mike Monroe and Matt Bonner the likeness between it and the Red Rocket slam. Again, sarcasm font.)
Once again, photographic evidence of Bonner on the way up for a Julius-Erving-like dunk.
In his always comedic style, Bonner told us it's difficult to decide what kind of dunk to pull off when you get that kind of elevation. But just like his dunk from last night, Bonner is simple. And as he stood in front of a Telemundo camera for an advertising spot on the new studio they've got in town, Stephen Jackson sat off to the side, shocked the Spanish-speaking TV giant didn't already have one in San Antonio.
"See, I learn something new every day," he said to the Telemundo reporters in the locker room.
Some reporters move over to talk to Jack, but in that moment the majority of cameras, microphones and recorders move to the corner of the locker room where a 7-footer had snuck in to lean on the wall where his interviews are always conducted. Duncan, clad in a white polo, baggy jeans and Doc Martens, waited as the media gathered around him. Question after question, his face never changes. That look you see on camera during games, it's omnipresent. But then there's a sudden change when one reporter asks him about Matt Bonner's dunk. The superstar looks up and a huge smile spreads across his face.
"Matty's dunk was impressive," Duncan quipped. "It was one of the best dunks of the year, and I think it should be, like, Blake Griffin and then him.
And just like that he was on his way. Yet another fleeting moment with a giant of the game who we all feel we've spent a lifetime with.
After the media moved back over to Jackson, where he was still conducting an interview with guys like Monroe and Jeff McDonald of the Express News, another gem surfaced. As I mentioned in my recap last night, Jack referred to Popovich as "Obi-Wan," and just like that a new nickname was born. The entertainment value of a wholesome group of guys can be more rewarding than the typical big-market star watchers would think.
With the media trickling out, leaving players to the rest of their Saturday night, I stopped by to talk to Green. It was just 48 Minutes of Hell's Jesse Blanchard and me, two guys I doubt Green knows from Adam. Sure, he sees us every game night, but does he know our names or who we write for? Probably not. Maybe I'm not giving him enough credit, but I doubt he's concerned by the ramblings of bloggers in an Internet forum. Still, he answers questions as long as we're still asking them (and as long as Tom James will let us). Giving more than just quick, get-me-outta-here sort of answers, he takes the time to expound upon his thoughts to each inquiry. Danny's just 24 years old, but he already knows what it means to be a part of this team, to be a good guy. These are things that a young writer like myself will never take for granted.
As the night closes, there's a commotion in the hallway outside the locker room. The pitter-patter of tiny feet, followed by the sound of much larger ones, echoes along with the yells of small children as Ginobili races his twin sons past the open door, tapping them on the behind as their patient mother waits. Sometimes I wonder, is this what an NBA locker room is supposed to be like? But it doesn't matter, because I just end up arriving at this simple conclusion: If it isn't, it should be.
These guys just enjoy one another. It's better than the alternative, right? (See below)
This season is winding down, and with the intensity of the playoffs looming I know we'll all just go back to over-analyzing whether Diaw or DeJuan Blair should be getting the minutes or whether or not Bonner's great plus-minus numbers are seriously a true reflection of his game. But, if only for a moment, take a second to reflect on what we have here in San Antonio. And as we write about the X's and O's and twist our brains over solutions to the few problems the Spurs possess, let's remember what this Spurs foundation was built on.
Duncan, Popovich and the Spurs have done this before, and it turns out they're still pretty darn good at it.
Follow Matthew Tynan on Twitter: mtynan_PtR