Spurs Season-End Catharsis

"It's not really over, right? There's one more game tonight, isn't there?"

The Spurs And their fans

My current condition is basically "season-ending-morning-after-the-loss-inconsolable-sad-depressed-pathetic-tearstained-and-wallowing-in-pity" and so this post may be a little all over the place. It's just a bunch of thoughts that have been floating through my head over the past several weeks.

Welcome to San Antonio Spurs fandom, where the highs are incredibly high and the lows are so far down you'll have time to scream twice before you hit the bottom. To me, this is the biggest difference between being a Spurs fan and a fan of, well, any other team. All sports fans like to use the term "good guys" when describing their teams but what if your team is actually populated with good guys? By that I mean good human beings? If there isn't a guy on your team who spits on fans, throws somebody through a window at a bar, fathers children out of wedlock, or heck for the most part, doesn't even stand on the court and flex their muscles after making shots, holds their hand up to their ear to "hear" the crowd, or even pound their chests in exultation after a spectacular play?

I know right now that somebody out there is muttering to themselves, "Stephen Jackson". But everywhere he's been (Golden State, Indiana, here) his teammates and coaches have been effusive in their praise of what a great teammate he is. Hey, if Tim Duncan likes him how bad a guy can he really be? To me, Jack is like that cousin we've all got somewhere in our family who always shows up to the reunions with a black eye or just off a stint in jail because he was with a bunch of guys who stole a stereo. But as soon as he gets around your Uncle Gregg, he straightens up and flies right. Because he's a bit of an emotional knucklehead, when he's with the family he's a lot of fun and you like hanging around with him, but as soon as he gets "out there" he can start running with the wrong crowd and get into trouble. Put simply, no Spurs team would ever be even remotely involved in something like "The Malice at the Palace" and therefore there would be no images of Stephen Jackson up in the stands flailing his arms at fans.

In this series with Oklahoma, Harden walked past Jackson and gave him a little not-so-subtle shove with his shoulder during a dead ball. What did not happen is that Harden didn't end up with a concussion due to a blow to his head from Jack's elbow. Jack is not Ron Artest (or even James Harden for that matter), he's not a punk, he's a guy whose brother was shot and killed when he was 14 and who always wished, after that, that he could have been there to protect him.

So even with Jack, the Spurs are a bunch of good guys and this is why the losses hit us even harder. When the good guys don't win, it seems like the world if off-kilter. This is a whole other level of pride in your team; not just bragging rights to other fans about how your team beat theirs, but about how your team does what it does with class and pride and dignity. It's a rare and wonderful thing. I have always said that I am not just happy to be a Spurs fan...I am honored to be one.

Quick Side Note: To all the Spurs fans attending games: when, exactly, did we turn into Yankees fans? As though we just expect greatness to unfurl in front of us and that winning is a birthright and that we have no part to play in our team's energy and home court advantage? The TNT announcers at OKC had to almost scream to make themselves heard throughout the entire game in every game played in OKC.

I remember when we sounded like that-it was 1999 back when we were hungry for our first championship. I know you can never go back again but we also shouldn't forget where we came from. 2007 is getting dimmer and dimmer in our rear-view mirror and I don't think it's too much to ask, especially in the playoffs, most especially in a game 5 we absolutely had to have, that those in attendance spit out the hot dog, get off their ass...and scream their Spurs-loving heads off.

...nasty

The other day when Pop asked for some nasty and the Spurs started playing better and won the game, the national sports media seemed to take the tack that he got what he wanted. I don't think that's true. I still firmly believe (and I think Popovich believes-listen to him talk about Stephen Jackson some time) that any championship team in the NBA absolutely has to have at least one nasty guy. By "nasty" I mean either an outright thug, a tough guy, or even a guy who is so arrogant and who views everybody else on the court as so beneath him that his on-court image is that of a jerk.

Like a lot of other people I began watching basketball in 1980 just as the Bird/Magic rivalry was taking off. In the 80s, the Sixers and Celtics teams both had their share of tough guys, and the Pistons "Bad Boys" were nasty 12-deep. For toughness, people might discount the 80s Lakers, but Kareem was one of the most arrogant players in NBA history and Michael Cooper one of the best (and toughest) defensive players of the era, to say nothing of Kurt Rambis who looked like one of the Hanson brothers from Slap Shot. In the 90s, Michael Jordan would have cut your heart out and eaten it at center court in front of 20,000 people if he thought it would help him win, and the Rockets had Robert Horry, Mario Elie (who liked to blow kisses to the opposing teams bench after he hit a dagger three), and Hakeem who, like Kareem, on the court was an arrogant and cold-blooded killer.

In '99 the Spurs had Elie who took an arm to the head in the Timberwolves series and left the court just long enough to get it patched up and then he returned. He also got in David's face and told him that if he wanted the ball he better start dunking-in other words, no more sissy layups. Robinson promptly obliged. In '03 we had Jack and Bruce Bowen who was only just starting to build his rep. In '05 and '07 we had Horry as well as Bruce Bowen coming into his own as a stopper. Off the court, Bruce was certainly a good guy but on the court he had a reputation as a dirty player. I still don't agree with this assessment but I was always happy to know he was in the opposing team's head.

This year I've seen several posts or comments about "putting so-and-so on his ass" and I have to admit that I was craving a little of that in the Thunder series. When Bird said, in '84, that his team had no heart, and Kevin McHale went out and clotheslined Rambis in the next game, I don't remember thinking it was a classless move; just that it's a men's game being played by men and sometimes you have to get tough. You don't have to play that way all the time (and the Celtics certainly didn't) you just had to ensure that your opponent knew you were capable of it.

I don't want anybody to get hurt and I appreciate the "art" of basketball as much as anybody but there's a time for artistry and elegance and a time for attitude and ugly. The Spurs, of late, seem to be lacking the latter.

...boring

No topic about the Spurs gets under my skin quite like this one. The thing I find most frustrating is when people try and use the "eye of the beholder" argument as an out for people who disdain us. I am not a fan of this argument-seriously how far do you go with it? I understand about perception being somebody's reality and all that but, on the other hand, you might think it's "right" to drive 90 miles an hour everywhere you go, even in school zones, but we all know that's not right. It might get your blood pumping, it might be more exciting, but it's still not right. You could ask me if the color blue to you is the same as the color blue to me...or we could just check the crayon box.

Which brings me to a second point, there is a very real "right way" to play basketball and everybody knows it. Anybody who has ever had a basketball coach at any level knows it. No coach anywhere would ever teach young players just learning the game to not worry about defense and to shoot the ball the second it crosses the half-court line. Good coaches may vary the way they go about this by taking advantage of what their players do well or through mismatches but trust me, it doesn't matter how fast or slow you play, every coach is trying to get stops and get good shots. No fast-break ever began without a defensive stop first. Now, do the Spurs play basketball the right way? Of course they do.

Something needs to be assumed before we go any further-I'm only annoyed by the people who say the Spurs are boring while claiming to be basketball fans. This is a little like saying you're a fan of cars but you only like convertibles. The second fact basically negates the first. You can't say you're a basketball fan if you only like it played one way. I might as well sit your dumb ass down in front of a batch of fireworks for an hour and a half and you'd get as much visual stimuli from that as you would watching a LeBron James highlight reel. I'm not saying you have to like the way the Spurs play more than you like the way your team plays-I'm not even saying you have to like them equally well. But I am saying that you shouldn't expect to be taken seriously if you claim to love the game of basketball but also claim that the way the Spurs play it is boring.

And yet for years it's been repeated over and over and over: Spurs are boring, Spurs are boring, Spurs are boring. This is a country that elects its political leaders, even the leader of the free world, based largely on sound-bites. If you're an average fan and every article you read about the Spurs either alludes to or states directly the fact that the Spurs are boring...might the average fan start to think the Spurs are, oh I don't know...boring?

It's been repeated so much by the national sports media that it's now become an accepted truth, no longer even debated. I love the way Jason Whitlock said it in an article he wrote a few weeks ago: "The Spurs aren't remotely boring. They're poorly marketed by a commissioner and a league that overdosed on Michael Jordan and the celebration of individual over team. They're poorly defined by media that are gutless, politically correct and lazy."

So...why has the media decided to define them this way? A while back on PTR somebody posted a radio interview with BSPN's Ric Bucher where he said something that just blew me away. He said he thought part of the reason the Spurs get less love than they deserve from the national media stems from Popovich's (and, to a lesser extent, Duncan's) relationship with the media. This made a lot of sense to me. I've been a business executive for many years and I know if I have a vendor who is top notch and totally delivers a quality product, but is a bit of an asshat to deal with, that I might continue to do business with that vendor and might even recommend them to others, but only if asked. I certainly won't go out of my way to praise them or recommend them. We've all seen the way Popovich treats the national media-he looks like he's getting a root canal done. And Duncan, while not rude, usually only gives the media just enough so that he can get the heck out of there.

Now, Bucher also points out that he believes that Duncan and Popovich firmly believe that they wouldn't be nearly as good at their jobs if they had to waste more time playing ball with the media. I guess my question(s) to the Pounders is: is this true? If it is true, would we be willing to sacrifice a little of Popovich's and Duncan's best in order to improve our standing at a national level? For my part, I'll say "no". I mean, in a perfect world I want it all-I want us to win and I want everybody to at least respect us but, failing that, I'll settle for the winning.

...foul calls

I've always felt that griping about foul calls was unbecoming but I can't remember the last time I felt a series was so clearly decided, in the way that it panned out, by bad officiating. This is not to take anything away from the Thunder-they're a great team and they were WAY more aggressive, energized, and focused than we were. But I can't get around the fact that we foul less than any other team and yet kept getting into the penalty early in each of the last four games. And the Thunder shoot free throws better than any team in the league.

However, I am less inclined to believe in a conspiracy, or at least the one you're thinking of. I'm sure Stern does prefer to see the Thunder in the finals rather than the Spurs, but I don't think he issued a mandate about it. I think Stern is to blame because I believe that the NBA is the most poorly officiated sport on the planet Earth. I don't know anything about cricket or curling but I'd be willing to bet that those "sports" are officiated miles better than what we get in the NBA. And yet Stern will brook no sassy talk when it comes to his precious officials-who are absolutely horrible at what they do.

I remember an interview with David Robinson years ago where somebody asked him if he felt calls from the game he just played in should have been called one way or another and he responded, "I just want fouls to be called when there's a foul." That's exactly right. Back when he was still calling games for them (this was several years ago), Danny Ainge said on TNT that it's totally understandable for a foul to occur and the refs miss it. These are very large men moving way faster than you would ever expect men of that size to move. What is completely beyond comprehension is calling fouls that don't exist.

Again, spot on. You cannot see something that doesn't exist. People love to make fun of Tim Duncan going all bug-eyed and holding his hands up in the air in disbelief over foul calls but you want to know why he does that? Because he's a smart, logical person and he knows you can't see something that doesn't exist and I, personally, have seen about 1000 calls against Tim that weren't fouls at all.

I suppose you might say that something like this ultimately works itself out in the end, that bad foul calls will happen to both teams and you just have to learn to live with it. I can't abide that. A plate umpire in baseball who decides, on his own, to change the strike zone for a particular game, has now wielded far more influence on that game than he should be allowed to have. And if you allow NBA referees to start making up calls as they go along you're on a very slippery slope. Tim Duncan laughing on the sideline does not deserve a technical. Stephen Jackson didn't deserve one in game 6 either. The policy needs to be that, by and large, if the ref isn't sure then the foul isn't called.

Sure, I'd have to live with the fact that Serge Ibaka gets a few more goaltends not called, but I'd also have to live with the Thunder not going to the free throw line every other trip down the floor.

...fan websites/blogs

I love Louis CK's bit about how "everything is amazing and nobody's happy". That's sort of how I feel about the internet-it's this amazing thing where people get to share, for free, their knowledge and ideas and put them right at people's fingertips and it's extraordinary to me that I can sit at my computer and do all the research I need for any paper I ever care to write. On the other hand everything written on the internet is also free to be critiqued by anybody who cares to critique it and you get a lot of unhappy people saying unhappy and in some cases downright hateful things.

And there's just so much of it! It can really wear you down. That's why I love Pounding the Rock. It feels like a safe place where I can share my ideas with like-minded people who I know will understand my perspective and my passion if not always my position. This expectation-exceeding, in-many-ways-magical season has been enhanced for me by being able to come here after every Spurs game and read thoughtful, well-written and well-informed posts about my favorite team. While we may count ourselves lucky to be fans of the Spurs, the Spurs are also lucky that they have fans like the ones who spend their time here. Thanks for letting me be a member of the club.

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