Respect for the Grizzlies, from a Spurs fan

Ronald Martinez

This piece, from some-time PtR contributor, and Gothic Ginobili regular, DewNo, tells of what happens when your regard for the opponent grows to the point where even victory becomes a bittersweet, melancholy thing.

There are so many words that we write but don't mean.

I remember a bit that Louis C.K. does about the word hilarious. He says that anything that deserves to be called "hilarious" should probably actually be something so funny to someone that it ruins their life, and if something mundane is called "hilarious" or "amazing" then you've sort of limited what you can say when something truly moves you.

The boy who cried superlatives, you could say.

I say this as a preface, because I really mean it when I say that I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed after watching Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals between the Spurs and the Grizzlies. To tell you the truth, I'm having trouble processing it. In the course of this series I've come to realize that I respect the Grizzlies a great deal; on a visceral, emotional level.

Now, I am a Spurs fan to the core, but I have to say that I love Memphis' approach. The Thunder, even though I like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, kind of make me sick. They feel like a team that's supposed to win. Compared to Memphis, the Thunder seem put-together. They stapled the hole where they'd removed Fisher last year before re-attaching him again late this season. They added Kevin Martin like a band-aid. They just go through the motions except for Durant and Westbrook. There's no art or science to it; it's just the lazy riding of their transcendental pieces.

But the Grizzlies don't have any "pieces" and like the Spurs, and the Pistons of the recent past, they seem to be one of the few teams that really values cohesion and competitiveness and holding one another accountable. Their grindhouse thing may seem lame to some (like Jason Terry writ large and made into an entire team himself) but something about their cohesion makes them all better and actualizes them. In precisely the way a team is supposed to do.

I love how the Spurs were able to take players like Danny Green and Tiago Splitter and really get the most out of them. And I think the Grizzlies have done much the same thing in that they don't have pieces: they have players and people. And for some odd reason, I feel for them as players and people.

That 2011 series was sick, but in retrospect, I'm far more annoyed with the refs for the way they let Z-Bo shove Antonio McDyess around as I could ever be with Z-Bo himself. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have elevated themselves, and really are the closest analogue to Duncan-Parker in the league, Tony Allen is hilarious, but I can't think of a team that wouldn't want him, Randolph is physical but not dirty, Tayshaun Prince is a player's player, and they got rid of OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay, their overrated, overvalued, overinflated wings. They have thrived, and their team concept is all the better for it.

Lionel Hollins is not exactly Coach Pop (and who is?) but he is a mindful, respectful coach that gets his players to buy in. He has some of the best relationships with players in the league, it seems to me. If they're not a mirror image of San Antonio's team, then they're a team that's sort of a sibling, or at least a first cousin, to the Spurs.


And after all of this, or maybe because of it, last night Manu Ginobili said that Game 3 was one of the best wins he'd ever witnessed as a Spur. I can completely follow him there. It was powerful stuff: Duncan finishing the game again; Tony playing the game of his life after the Grizzlies defense had adjusted against him; and Manu, whom we'd thought dead (or even worse, mortal) reappeared yet again.

After the game, I don't think I've moved in an entire hour, and I can't say it's was because of some pure state of bliss. It was just a contemplative feeling, trying to process an overwhelming amount of information, and I guess the odd thing is despite some of the odd sentiments, the fact that is that I'm sad about the Grizzlies losing, even as I'm incredibly happy about the Spurs winning. It doesn't feel like it's coming from two places at once. It's not like it's some identity crisis or anything; absolutely not. It's just a legitimate respect for both parties in the competition --despite fandom -- and I think that's kind of rare.

In all of our discussion concerning competition, some things get lost. Frankly it seems like most of the sports media doesn't really empathize with competition in the direct sense, in spite of all the former athletes that have become broadcasters. Those covering the games have a story no matter who wins. The victors are praised for consistency, for being on.

And, as in they did in covering Game 3, when it comes to the losing team, they ask questions like "What's it like being down 0-3, when no team has ever come back from it?" as if any competitor actually thinks like that. Reporters and interviewers don't have, or have lost, the sense that as an athlete, you have to compete. You have to try everything; that to compete means to make yourself into the ideal competitor for the contest in question; that it's transformational and singular. That as Pop said Saturday night, there is no game 3 or game 5, there is only game 4. After a point, there is only the psychophysical calculations and decisions about pain tolerance and mental toughness, of preparation and execution, of split-second reactions and adjustments, of strategy and exertion.

But I think also what get's lost is that the transformation can elevate both parties, which mean we don't have to have an instant reaction about how the Grizzlies were bad and the Spurs were good. Competition forces choices, choices force cooperation, and cooperation forces greatness.

Yes, the Grizzlies lost, but they passed every other test you could possibly imagine. They game-planned against the Spurs and didn't give the game away for an instant. The Spurs ground them to dust for 53 minutes, but it took the full 53. The Grizzlies executed well the whole game. They just didn't have enough shooters, and in this, the era of the 3-pointer, their offense stagnated.

The Grizzlies did everything right except win, and they did it because they had to. They transformed themselves as a group of people, to try something together, and they did everything they could as a group of people. Not just as individuals, not just as "pieces we assembled", but as people who became a team.

It wasn't enough, but what it was, was wonderful.

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