A few days ago, I sat down to write a Fanpost called “Me, Myself, and Tim Duncan,” which was going to be a comprehensive attempt at persuading my wife that I have a legitimate reason for turning into a raging lunatic whenever the Spurs are on TV. In the few paragraphs I wrote, I confessed that I haven’t been able to watch a Spurs game in the presence of another living soul in about six years. And, even before that time, I could only watch with people who were sleepy-drunk, stoned, or otherworldly in their ability to ignore me channeling my inner Mr. Hyde in the corner of the room.
What was amazing, though, is that last night, for the first time, I was able to achieve a little peace while the game was in progress. I sat back, looked at Pop and Tim on the sidelines during a timeout, and just relaxed. I don’t want to say that I’d given up hope, because that wasn’t precisely it. It was more as if I had just realized that I didn’t need anything else from this team. My ultimate victory, though I didn’t know it at the time, happened on June 25, 1997, when the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan. Everything since that point has been gravy.
I saw my first Spurs game live on December 18, 1991, when I was four years old. According to the box score, we lost by three points to the Washington Bullets, despite holding them to 14 points in the 4th quarter. Michael Adams torched us for 35 points. I don’t remember any of this. What I do remember is jumping out of my courtside seat (thanks, Grandpa’s boss!) and grabbing the Coyote’s leg – I can still recall the smell of stale sweat and the feel of matted faux fur. And at that moment, I became bonded to the Spurs, or at least to the furry dude with “2!” on the back of his jersey.
Five and a half years later, on June 25, 1997, the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan. Sean Elliott was my favorite Spur at the time, thanks to his frequent appearances at the Spurs basketball camp at Incarnate Word, but there’s something about seven-foot guys that always seems to make them more awesome to diminutive ten year olds. As I grew up, of course, my attitude towards Tim changed. I viewed him less as entertainment and more as a role model. In middle school I wanted to play in the post, and I wanted to shoot bank shots, just like Tim. I vowed to step on the court and just play the game, just like Tim. No trash talk, no showboating, no whining. Just like Tim. In high school, when I actually started to pay attention to our opponents, and not just our team, I reveled in contrasting Tim’s demeanor with the other stars. Those 2003 and 2005 teams were my favorite, because I loved the idea of letting the other guy get his while we still won anyway. I was at my happiest when guys like Kobe scored 45 and the Spurs got the victory. It seemed like the appropriate comeuppance for players who apparently didn’t get the idea that there were four other players on the court wearing their color jerseys. Make them expend so much effort trying to do it all themselves, then make them realize it was all for naught.
I don’t think it was until college, when I left San Antonio and had one of those post-adolescent identity crises that my appreciation for Tim Duncan reached “existential” level. We drafted Tim 5,840 days ago (to put it in perspective, I met the longest-running friend I still talk to 4,300 days ago), and ever since then, he and San Antonio have been synonymous. You can’t talk about San Antonio without talking about Tim Duncan, and I love it. I will always be proud to be a San Antonian for many reasons, but one of them is because of Tim. I’m honored that he accepted our city, and his place as our adopted son. I’m proud that he has become as iconic a part of San Antonio as the Alamo has, and I’m glad that he shares the Alamo’s propensity for being low key. I’m happy that when I tell people that I’m a San Antonian, because in a small way, I’m telling them that I am connected to Timmy and his legacy.
It’s this connection, this identity, this portion of Timmy D and the Spurs that is just part of who I am, that allowed me to feel at peace last night.
This same connection is why, today, I don’t feel angry, or hurt, or bitter. Instead, I just feel kind of sad. Sure, part of it is because I really, really wanted Tim to get number five, and because I really, really wanted Manu to become a hero again, but it’s also because I believe that the world is an objectively better place when the Spurs win. And no, I’m not talking about my whimsical suggestion from the game thread that more LeBron wins translates into more Malaysian sweatshops producing Nike shoes (although I’m still not sure I’m entirely wrong about that connection).
I’m sad that the embarrassingly nauseating sports coverage of the Heat has been vindicated. I’m said that a team whose payroll is nearly $25 million over the salary cap won the title. I’m sad that the team that takes pride in having twelve guys who can compete against any team in the league lost to the team that really only ever relied on one. I’m sad that boys and girls everywhere, who aren’t going to grow up to be 6’8” and 250 pounds, had to see the man with the freakish physical gifts beat the team that relies more on loyalty, trust, and fundamental skill. I’m sad that the three players who always seemed put together for convenience, and who just happened to pick Miami for their temporary stomping ground, beat the three players who have become entrenched in the collective identity of a grateful South Texas city. I’m sad because the Heat winning means the conversation will once again be about “The Decision,” and “LeBron v. Jordan,” and shoes, clothes and whatever else, and not about basketball – the game with five players on each side, that can be so beautiful when a pass swings all the way around the horn, from one player to the next, ending with a perfect corner three, while the mastermind behind it all stands with his arms folded near the bench and takes no credit. I’m sad that the player who has the hubris to adopt the nicknames “King” and “The Chosen One” walked away with another trophy, while the Big Fundamental, who never had any “Cleveland Days” of his own, walked away empty handed.
But, ultimately, I am happy to be able to say that in my formative years Tim Duncan taught me a thing or two about loyalty, morality, and caring about more than just the game. In a small way, he is still teaching me what it means to get up and go to work every day out of a sense of dedication not only to myself, by to my community, and to do it for my entire career. That’s something nobody in Miami will ever be able to say about LeBron James, and so I can live with what happened last night. I, as one of the relatively few people who has almost no memory of a Tim Duncan-less San Antonio other than fleeting images of human-sized coyote, have already celebrated the only victory that counts.<!--EndFragment-->