Someone once said: "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." I hate how well that quote fits tonight. I bend over the keyboard with the rictus of someone recently stabbed in the chest. There's real pain gathering on the side of my body, which might at last provide anatomists and theologians with a hint as to the location of the soul. My mind is in shambles, yet tonight I want to reach out to my friends - and many of my friends are faceless nicknames in this wonderful site, so this is the only way to reach them.
J.R. Wilco asked me to write a postmortem for our Spurs. This is not my first rodeo, in fact - for the last few seasons, I have taken to the blog to say goodbye to the team after the final loss of the playoffs. I probably take that role because I am by nature an optimist, and I feel it's my duty to put a positive spin on what usually amounts to a wonderful year followed by a disappointing best-of-seven series against the latest arrow pointed at our vulnerable tendon. A sweep by the Suns, four straight losses against a Thunder team that catches on fire - I bounced back from those in days, always looking ahead.
This season was unusually cruel, though, and forces on me the usual mantra of the overly-involved: "It's just a game. It's just a game." The Spurs were one free throw away from their fifth championship, just one stupid free throw, but the sports gods were particularly brutal. We were on the wrong side of a historical series, like so many Malones and Stocktons, Birds and Magics were before us. How do you recover, you irrational fan, from the avalanche of what-ifs that assaults you at every turn? How?
To be honest, I'm not sure I have the answer quite yet. But maybe we can start tonight by looking at what we have left:
We have Kawhi Leonard, maybe the second best player of a Final series that featured six Hall of Famers. He has graduated from future to present, and I don't doubt that he will enjoy a long, proud career in San Antonio. He continues to burst through the artificial ceilings fans and media put on his talent - I am not sure such a ceiling even exists anymore. We have Danny Green, whose Genie's Lamp turned up empty in the last two games, but who has already established himself as a world-class role player that any team would love to have. We have Tiago Splitter, the forever-unappreciated Tiago Splitter, a workhorse that will surely add a wrinkle to his game that will only be discovered on a national level midway through the Western Conference Finals. You'll see.
We have Manu Ginobili. It hurts to know that he will shoulder a big part of the blame for this missed championship - mostly because I know that he will be the first one to blame himself. His qualities as a player are well known: unique, mercurial, prone to chaos. His qualities as a person, though, are even rarer. I hope he doesn't retire, because I'm a selfish man. I want to cherish every moment of the magic I know he still has in him, every sleight of hand, every clever trick.
We have Tony Parker. He played this series hurt, and his body betrayed him with the awful timing of a taxman. He is still the best, most hard-working point guard in the league. He will spend the Summer beyond the arc, mastering a new shot as he has every year he has been in the league. And come October, he will lead the Spurs to yet another 50-win season. He's predictable like that.
We have Gregg Popovich. You can only overcoach when you actually coach, you know. I cannot imagine the Spurs without him at the helm, and I'm sorry that someday I will see him leave. We have a Front Office that will find the next how-didn't-we-get-that-guy-before-the-Spurs sensation. We have a damn good shooting coach, too, and Patty cheering from the bench.
We have the memories of a wonderful season, where the Spurs dominated a loaded Western conference, and rose to the top with utterly brilliant basketball. Don't let the last game invalidate a full season of joy, please.
And yes, we have Tim Duncan. He really wanted this one, Tim did, I could tell. He should have had it, but it was LeBron's league this year after all, as Tim predicted. I wanted it for him too, so much. Tim is a gentle man, and a gentleman. He represents everything that is right about basketball and sports. I believe he has another run in his body, one more, and I think there is still fire behind his eyes - but at this point every single bank shot is yet another gift to us his fans. Thank you, Tim. We will never be able to repay you.
We have a damn good team, guys. We took the champions to the very brink, game 7 of the NBA Finals. Ignore the little voice in your heads that says "This was it, we are too old." We have been too old for six years, but basketball is not that easy to predict. Let other teams rebuild - we will retool, fine-tune, nudge and polish. Maybe the free-throws will fall next year, and maybe Tony's hamstring will behave. And in the meantime, we will enjoy the process: another year of quiet dominance and bullet passes and ball movement. And when the playoffs roll around, we will be back in the thick of it.
Count on it.