Spurs Squared: Fraternizing with Tottenham Hotspur

Michael Steele

The English Premier League recently began a new season, and the start of the NBA season is just around the corner. This seemed like a great chance to have a conversation with Bryan A. from the Tottenham Hotspur site Cartilage Free Captain.

The San Antonio Spurs have a very similar nickname to the Tottenham Hotspur. And though it's not exactly the same (more on that later) the resemblance is enough to warrant a look at what else the two teams might have in common. The Premier League's 2013-2014 season is underway, while the new NBA season is just around the corner, so it seemed like a good time for a back and forth with Bryan A. from the excellent SB Nation site Cartilage Free Captain. Be ready for some basketball mixed with soccer. Mad thanks to Brian A. and Cartilage Free Captain for their participation.

Wes Thorne from Pounding the Rock

First off, thanks. While this point of the basketball season is generally filled with articles on obscure players being traded and reminisces about Michael Jordan's flu game, the premier league season is back in full force. So it's obviously easier for a basketball writer to take time to participate in this kind of back-and-forth than a soccer writer. There might be some San Antonio Spurs fans out there who do not follow any teams in the English Premier League. So here is the opportunity to "sell" the Tottenham Spurs. Why should an unaffiliated San Antonio Spurs fan follow the Tottenham Spurs?

Bryan A from Cartilage Free Captain

We'll take any opportunity we can get to convert more fans. First things first, we have to get this whole "Tottenham Spurs" thing squared away. The club is Tottenham Hotspur, after the area of London (Tottenham) and Harry Hotspur from Shakespeare's Henry IV, part 1. It's a nonsensical nickname that has no relevance now, but back in in 1882 when the club was founded it was pretty cool. Now, when one refers to Tottenham Hotspur, they have several options: Tottenham Hotspur, Tottenham, or Spurs. Never "the Spurs" or "Tottenham Spurs". It's a weird idiosyncratic thing about the club, but one everyone should be aware of. So, we're just Spurs and you guys are the Spurs, got it?

As for why someone should support Spurs there are a number of reasons. Here's a funny video as a primer.

Spurs are one of the biggest clubs in England and a have a rich and vibrant history. They don't have a huge history of success in the league though. Spurs have only won the top division title twice in their history and that was back 1951 and 1961. Where Spurs excel, however, is the cup competitions. Tottenham have won the FA Cup, England's most prestigious knock-out competition, 8 times. In 1963, Spurs were the first British team to win a European competition and they've gone on to win a few more. Some legends of the game have been Spurs players at one time or another, including current USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

One other cool thing about Tottenham Hotspur, is the club's identity. For whatever reason, the club identifies as a Jewish club. This is probably because back in the day there were a large number of Hasidic Jews in the Tottenham area. As such, Spurs fans were often targets of anti-semitic abuse from opposing fans. Eventually, Spurs fans -- even those that weren't Jewish -- began to identify themselves as Jewish to combat the racism. The club's fans took on the nickname "Yid Army" to combat the abuse. It sort of works, but even today there are fans of clubs like Chelsea and West Ham that still make hissing noises (to emulate the sound of the gas chambers in concentration camps) towards Spurs fans at matches.

If you're the kind of person that doesn't care about history, then the present is pretty cool too. Spurs have finished 4th, 5th, 4th, and 5th in the last four seasons and are currently tied for the lead in the league. Now, maybe 4th and 5th don't sound impressive, but 4th place gets you into the Champions League, and that's where the big money is. Spurs sold their best player, Gareth Bale, this summer to Real Madrid for $138 million and then used that money to buy 7 new and awesome players.

Finally, if you care about this sort of thing, we have a very handsome team. Lots of players with great heads of hair and seemingly fun personalities. We also have some cool fans. I know you guys don't like Steve Nash, so ignoring him there is: Adele, John Cena, Adam Richman (from Man vs. Food), Jason Biggs, Salman Rushdie, Jude Law, Bob Marley, Pierce Brosnan, Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley from Harry Potter), and many others.

In terms of the product that's on the field, Tottenham are known for being a fun team that plays beautiful, attacking football. That used to mean we won a lot of games 3-2 or 4-2 and made for some nervy moments at the end of matches, but boy was it fun. Our new manager has instilled a much more stout defense and this season Spurs have the best defense in all of European football, having allowed only 1 goal in 9 games. Unfortunately, given the influx of players our offense is sputtering a bit, but it seems like we're on the way to getting that sorted out. I do want to caution fans though: if you don't like drama or just complete and utter gut-wrenching disappointment, then don't be a Spurs fan. We're a fan base that is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Two years ago we finished fourth, earning Champions League football. The only way we could not play in the Champions League was if Chelsea (who finished 6th) beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. Of course that's exactly what happened and we were denied playing on Europe's biggest stage.

I think this will be much easier for you than it was for me. Our readership is pretty much 50/50 between Americans and "non-Americans" (Australians, Brits, etc.) and most of them are probably aware of the San Antonio Spurs. Fortunately for you, I grew up in a town, Kansas City, with no real NBA influence. So explain to me why I, or Tottenham Hotspur fans in general, should follow a team supported by Thierry Henry.

Wes Thorne

There are basically two kinds of successful teams in the NBA. Let's call them "Team X" and "Team Y". Team X wins by drafting smart and playing team-oriented basketball. Team Y drafts superbly one time, throws money at one or two big name free agents, then trades draft picks, assets, and large bags of money, to acquire players who round out a contender. Team Y is not necessarily villainous; however, I do sometimes find myself washing my hands after typing something about them. On the other hand when one cheers for Team X, one can't help but feel they are rooting for the good guys. But this is all a matter of opinion really. Many teams fail spectacularly at being a Team X or a Team Y, so it's hard not to respect teams that win in the NBA. And if one likes "flash and pizzazz" Team X is generally not the place to find it.

Also there are many Team Xs to choose from; recently the Pacers, the Trail Blazers or even the Bulls rely almost exclusively on the draft to get good players. However (and bias alert) the Spurs are the only card-carrying Team X capable of beating the current alpha Team Y this season. That team is the Miami Heat (and this is an opinion) they represent everything wrong with sports and are run by someone who would look more comfortable selling faulty used cars to unsuspecting buyers. Furthermore I cannot stress enough the ease of cheering for a team with such a similar name as Tottenham Hotspur. As you explained brilliantly there is a difference in origin and usage of the two names. However saying "Go Spurs" feels natural no matter what sport you are watching. Saying "Go Mavericks"or "Go Gunners" just feels wrong on so many levels. Oh and Tottenham sure does have San Antonio beat in the "cool fans" department. But we do have Eva Longoria and "Spurs Jesus", so that must count for something, eh?

Tottenham had a busy summer. Of course, the most publicized transaction involved a certain player whose name rhymes with "a Sith snail". However to many San Antonio fans the most recognizable player involved in the summer's transactions was the Texan Clint Dempsey. Though his tenure at Tottenham was only one year, what was your favorite Dempsey moment?

Brian A

While I wasn't too excited about Dempsey playing for Spurs when it first happened, he did play a big role for Spurs and scored some vital goals. Probably chief among those is scoring the winner at Old Trafford against Manchester United to give Spurs their first win at that ground since 1989. Dempsey's goal in the Manchester United match at White Hart Lane (Tottenham's stadium) came in the snow. So, that was pretty cool too.

The Spurs are known for their ability to find good players from abroad, making San Antonio one of the more global teams in the NBA. How are Spurs able to consistently find good foreign players, but other clubs can't?

Wes Thorne

The Spurs are really good at the draft. I would not be surprised if Gregg Popovich or one of his long-term staff members is actually a wizard. They (almost) consistently find the best player available at the draft position they are given. In the entire history of the franchise they have been given only two number one draft picks. Those picks turned into David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Since drafting Tim Duncan the Spurs have made the playoffs every season. As a result the Spurs have drafted rather low for the better part of two decades. This more or less forces creativity. I think drafting Manu and Parker were either incredibly lucky gambits or once again someone working for the Spurs dabbles in magic. However now it seems that the Spurs spend more time looking at really good foreign players as opposed to great domestic players who get all the media coverage and will almost undoubtedly fall in the top ten range of the draft.

A curious side effect is that foreign players like Boris Diaw succeed on the Spurs when they didn't on other teams. Other teams have followed suit and even spend high draft picks on foreign players who could be good. I refer to this as "Chasing the Manu". Some of these players have been successful (Pau Gasol) and some have been spectacular failures (cough, Andrea Bargnani, cough). Many teams occasionally look abroad. Though someone from the Spurs is always overseas looking for the next player who makes scouts from other teams scratch their head on draft day exclaiming "who is that?"

In the NBA there is only one trophy that matters. So for basketball fans, professional soccer can be a little confusing due to the seemingly millions of trophies up for grabs. An important trophy is given when a team wins the Premier League title which goes to the regular season champion. Tottenham is currently second place in the Premier League standings. If the season ended tomorrow Arsenal would win the Premier League but Tottenham would qualify for the Champions League. Therefore they would have a chance at becoming European champions. So is qualifying for the Champions League ultimately more important than winning the Premier League title? Or all the trophies more or less equal?

Bryan A

Well, winning any trophy is very important. Just ask our big rivals, Arsenal, who haven't won a trophy in more than 8 years. The thing about the Premier League is that, in any given year, there's only about 2 or 3 teams that can win it, but 4 teams can qualify for the Champions League. Spurs are not quite good enough to have ambitions of winning a title, so a top four finish and Champions League football is a great year for us. The big thing about the Champions League is the money that it generates. A team playing in the CL can earn up to $70 or $80 million more than a club that isn't just based on TV revenue and prize money. The other cup competitions are important. The FA Cup is the most important domestic competition. The League Cup (or Capital One Cup, whatever) is of lesser importance, but it's also the last Trophy Spurs won (back in 2008). There's another lesser version of the Champions League, called the Europa League. It mostly sucks, but Spurs could probably win that this season.

This whole team is old. Like seriously, old. There's got to be only one or two more seasons left for this core. Are San Antonio working on a contingency plan or are they pretty much screwed once Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili retire?

Wes Thorne

The short answer is yes. The looming retirement of the big three (the consensus name for Manu, Parker, and Ginobili) and Gregg Popovich is the huge elephant in the room that ruins the party whenever it breaks an expensive chandelier, accidentally kicks a partygoer, or simply sneezes thereby alerting us all to its presence. I can't speak for all San Antonio Spurs fans but perhaps it is best to just enjoy the last years(year?)of the big three,and not even think about the future. Last season was awesome before it got super sad, and the Spurs have a real chance of winning the title this year. It has been an amazing seventeen years, and the "Duncan era" is not over yet. So why think about life after the "Duncan era", when the last seasons (season?) promise to be riveting? However there is hope. Kawhi Leonard is hope's name.

This has been a bizarre year for "giant" franchises. Last season the L.A. Lakers suffered a widely covered disappointing season. This year the New York Yankees will not be in the playoffs for the first time in like a billion years. With one look at the Premier league tables one might assume that Manchester United are the next giant to fall. Is that a correct assumption, or are they about to get their act together and are merely undergoing a transition due to Alex Ferguson's departure?

Bryan A

This is a really weird season in England. There are six "big clubs" in England: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Spurs. This year most of those clubs are in a state of flux. Three have new managers (United, City, and Chelsea), two had lots of player turnover (Spurs and Liverpool), and one didn't do much of anything (Arsenal). This is going to be a crazy season that could see the title decided by only a few points. United have the quality to get their act together and they've started the season with an insanely difficult schedule. It's hard to discount a side that is essentially unchanged from last year's team that won the title by 11 points. I'm hesitant to read anything into the season after only 5 games, but I would say, on balance, United will have difficulty retaining their title, but they're not just going to roll-over for everyone.

Ok, so here's where my knowledge of the NBA breaks down. The West has a ton of good teams, can the Spurs hope to be title contenders with the Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, and the Lakers (I guess)?

Wes Thorne

The Lakers are more than likely going to be a non-factor (a very loud non-factor) this season, but if Kobe returns then who knows. I don't want to doubt Monsieur Bryant because I am pretty sure his pre-workout breakfast consists of negative sports articles with a glass of tears from the players he has hit a game winning jump shot over. The other teams you listed present more of a clear and present problem. A rational San Antonio Spurs fan is worried that the Thunder are going to rebound from last season's meltdown. A rational San Antonio Spurs fan is also worried that the Clippers now have someone who can coach. (Their new coach is an NBA champion while their previous coach liked to doodle in his playbook.) This rational (usually) San Antonio Spurs fan looks at the Houston Rockets as problem numero uno. They were a playoff team last season and just added an excellent center to play alongside a young center who has the potential to be excellent and a superb shooting guard. That being said with Duncan on the floor and Pop on the sidelines,the Spurs are always title contenders.

Soccer in the United States is becoming increasingly more popular. It's gradually becoming one of the more popular team sports in the country. However it doesn't yet enjoy the same kind of raging madness that most countries devote to the sport. Will that ever happen? And if so how? Will there be some kind of transformative moment like a top four finish in the World Cup, or will soccer's popularity just continue to gradually increase due to a vast myriad of reasons?

Bryan A

I think that several things need to happen for football to grow in popularity. The first is increased visibility for the game. NBC is doing it's best to make all Premier League games available for fans and so far the viewing experience is much better than the old Fox Soccer one. Increased exposure to good football will only help the game. With that in mind, the MLS needs to continue to improve. Back in the late 90's the MLS was pretty much crap. The quality of play, however, is steadily improving. The MLS game would be improved by a better league system, doing away with the draft, and a number of other things, but having a strong domestic league is huge. I definitely think a strong showing from the USMNT in a World Cup would help, but it's not the be-all-end-all. Lots of people will casually watch the World Cup, but lose interest once the players go back to their respective clubs. I don't foresee the US doing much better than a quarterfinal appearance in a World Cup, but anything is possible. What would probably help the popularity of the game more is having a bonafide superstar. Having a player like Michael Bradley or Jozy Altidore who are both quality professionals on top level teams is good, but having a true star would be even more valuable. England have Wayne Rooney, Argentina have Messi, the US has Landon Donovan. If any American player can ever get close to that level that would really help the game. In general though, soccer will kind of always be the fourth or fifth most popular sport in the country and I'm fine with that.

David Stern is always making noise about expanding the NBA brand and I seem to recall there being some interest in putting a team in London a while back. Is that still a thing? Will it be something that you think would be worth pursuing, or should the NBA just stick to North America?

Wes Thorne

That would be awesome and as far as I know it is still a thing. Basketball is not exactly the global sport that soccer is; however, it is a serious contender for second most popular. If the sport is to cement that status then the best teams need to play competitively in other countries. In a dream world there would be a champion's league like there is in soccer. However for now, an intercontinental NBA would be something most fans could support. London is an amazing city, and that team would almost certainly be more successful than the Toronto Raptors. The main obstacle is that pesky Atlantic Ocean. Yet the flight is really not that long for east coast teams, and west coast teams could manage the trip with more logical scheduling.

Yet that is the wrench in this whole plan. Scheduling is insane in the NBA; there are times when a team has to play in three different cities in four days. It is hard to see how a 10-plus-hour flight from L.A. to London could fit in the money-making and injury-inducing madhouse that Stern and his minions have created. Luckily there is a regime change coming in February and maybe the scheduling will become more rational. For now, whenever David Stern talks about London he sounds a bit like another David talking about Mars.

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