Fellow Pounder Taylor Young (t-young) just posted a very good column about the choices we make as crazy fans, and whether the potential for heartache and pain (which exists on some level for 29 of the 30 teams every year, really) is worth the elation that comes with winning it all.
My quick opinion: It's absolutely worth it, and I'll use my San Francisco Giants fandom here over the Spurs as an example as to why. I've been a Spurs fan since 1989, basically since the day David Robinson arrived, and while the team had its share of sad springs and head-shaking close calls, they never got all that close to winning it all except for 1995, and even then it was just the Western Conference Finals, where a host of terrible things happened. The next time they were true contenders, in 1999, they won. Not too much stress in a 15-2 playoff run.
2004 hurt, but I was never totally convinced that team had the toughness to win it all and I think the Spurs franchise was better off in the long run that they didn't. 2006 was really rough, but again I don't think they were going to beat the Pistons that, in my crazy brain, would've totally beaten Miami if they'd had they chance at getting revenge against a Spurs team that was still out there for them. 2012 sucked, and because I'm a crazy conspiratorial loon, it will always make me angrier than the others. 2013 hasn't quite sunk in yet. It's bittersweet in many ways. In defeat they proved so much more than they did in victory in years past.
The Giants though had a different history. I became a fan of theirs at roughly the same time. They went to the World Series in 1989 and were demolished by the crosstown Oakland A's. They did nothing for three years, signed the best player in the league in free-agency to join their in-house superstar like some other team of note has recently, and rolled to a 103-59 season in 1993. Sadly, their division rival Atlanta Braves finished 104-58 and this was one season before the Wild Card. Imagine being a Spurs fan and 64-18 not being good enough to make the playoffs. Fun, right?
Three more blah seasons and the Giants finally went back to the playoffs in 1997. Swept in three by the wildcard Florida Marlins, a franchise that had existed for maybe five minutes but was nevertheless built for immediate success thanks to lavish free agent spending. Under a wacky 2-3 road-home format in the best-of-five series the Marlins got to play the first two at home, which helped them immensely.
The '98 Giants blew a 7-0 lead in game 162 when they would've wrapped up a wild card spot with a win. They had a one-game playoff with the Chicago Cubs in game 163 and lost. Yes, they lost a playoff game to the Cubs. Think about that.
The 2000 Giants had the best record in the league, won over a 100 games, and lost to the wild card New York Mets in the first round. The '01 version was eliminated on the second-to-last day of the season.
The '02 club, as I mentioned before, had a 3-2 lead in the World Series and was up 5-0 in the bottom of the 7th inning of Game 6. They lost that game 6-5 and Game 7, 4-1. Game sixes man, game sixes.
The '03 club won over 100 games and lost in the first round to the Marlins again. The '04 team was eliminated in Game 162.
Then a bunch of suck.
Finally, they broke through in 2010 and finally won. I couldn't get the stupid smile off my face for a month. For good measure they won again last year. That was pretty sweet too.
So yes, the wait is definitely worth it.
Anyway, there was one section in T-Young's column that I took issue with, to the degree I wanted to spin it off into my own column. He wrote:
And now for the really hard part; why this championship would have been so good for basketball. A friend texted me last night that he felt like "everything evil about the NBA won." and I can see his point. Had the Miami Heat lost this finals to the San Antonio Spurs I think it changes the NBA. I think GM's and organizations see that "hey, maybe we shouldn't just try to form free agent squads around 2 or 3 superstars. Maybe we shouldn't get a new coach every 3 years." I think the Heat would have had no choice but to blow their team up, aka trading Chris Bosh had they failed two out of three years in the Finals. I think front offices would have tried to make their teams resemble the Spurs model of longevity, development and consistency rather than the Heat's model of clear cap space, sign a few superstars and surround them with veterans who want to latch on.
Sorry, but this is complete bunk. It’s the kind of fairy tale, unicorn-chasing fiction that Deadspin.com delights in taking ESPN to task for and makes light of how incredible the Spurs top three (or really top four) players really are.
I hate when people try to paint the Spurs as some nameless, faceless all-effort, no-talent sports movie cliche, like they're some NCAA 16th seed. Regardless of how they got their role players, whether it was from the draft, trades or free agency (and all three methods have been used over the past 15 years just like every other team), there's no ignoring the fact that they won a lottery and drafted Tim Duncan, a fellow who's the best or second-best player in the NBA since Michael Jordan and somewhere among the best 6-9 players to ever play. Even at the age of 37, Duncan is STILL the best big-man in the league. You can't just dismiss that.
Then there's Tony Parker, a top-5 player this season who just may be the best point guard in the league since Isiah Thomas, all things considered; and Manu Ginobili, who despite being well past his prime now, will go down historically as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and was, without question, a better all-around player than more celebrated two-guards of his era such as Reggie Miller, Ray Allen and Vince Carter.
All three of these players have wildly exceeded the expectations the team had for them when they were drafted. Duncan was supposed to be a franchise player sure, but who could've guessed he'd be one of the best of all-time? People would've been happy with Parker if he was as good as Rod Strickland. Ginobili was supposed to be a sparkplug off the bench, a la Sarunas Marcuilionis. (We see a similar pattern forming with Kawhi Leonard, who was supposed to be a terrific wing defender and not much more and is developing into quite a ferocious all-around player.)
The point is you don't just draft a Duncan, Parker or a Ginobili. You don’t just draft an all-time legend and two other Hall-of-Famers. It takes a tremendous amount of luck. Most players just don't have the drive and professionalism to improve or the talent to be any good in the first place. The reason the Spurs haven't had any memorable "draft busts" in the past 15 years is because they've always had such a great record with Duncan that they've never been in the lottery. If they were always drafting in the top 10 or 15 though, then they'd have had a few stinkers and you'd be lamenting that they should be out there in free agency chasing stars.
We need to understand how much of a factor dumb luck plays in the fate of sports teams. If the Spurs had the number one pick a couple years sooner it'd have been Joe Smith instead of Duncan and a couple years later and it's Glenn Robinson. The entire history of the franchise is different. Similarly, if LeBron's first three point miss with like 29 seconds to go in Game 6 isn't so off the mark that it caroms off the backboard like a missile and is instead just a routine brick, it's probably an easy rebound for the Spurs and they win the title. Bad luck.
It's easy to criticize other teams, but the NBA has always been a superstar driven league, and teams that have had two or three of the best 15 players, regardless of how they've acquired them, have generally been the ones to win titles. Role players are just that. Good one game, terrible the next, prone to crazy variances in performance (largely due to whether they’re at home or on the road) and completely unreliable. The Spurs get credit for finding the kind of unselfish role players they can fit and adapt to their culture, but there have been plenty of guys over the years who’ve griped and groused and complained about their role (Roger Mason Jr., Stephen Jackson) or who didn’t fit in (Beno Udrih, Ron Mercer), and there have been free agent/trade busts both expensive (Richard Jefferson, Rasho Nesterovic) and inexpensive (Nick Van Exel, Francisco Elson). Even this season there have been unhappy campers (Jackson again and DeJuan Blair). Nobody bats 1.000, not even the Spurs. Or should I remind you of the Luis Scola fiasco?
Pop himself called Pat Riley after Miami's big three were put together to congratulate him because it was a remarkable coup. And LeBron James, in particular, is a transcendent player. All 30 teams in the league, including the Spurs certainly, would've fallen over themselves backward to acquire him if they could. The problem was that almost all didn't have the cap space and James himself had the freedom to choose who he did and didn't want to play for. Shaquille O’Neal essentially did the same thing James did back in 1997 and nobody made as much of a fuss over it, because the history of the Lakers (and the Celtics, to a lesser extent) has always been about acquiring the best players in the league. It only became a story when some team that wasn’t the Lakers did it, and because James was a total ass about it (which he admitted in retrospect, somewhat).
It's great to praise continuity and esprit-de-corps and all that. In the end the Finals was about one team that had a bunch of great players vs. another team that had a bunch of great players. Both teams made their bones by playing terrific half-court defense and by trying to be as efficient as possible on offense, with a philosophy centered around scoring at the paint with their star players and surrounding those star players with deadly three-point shooting role players. They were the two best teams in the league, far more similar than different, they played seven hard, entertaining games, and in the end one of them was an eyelash better than the other.
Trying to paint it as anything else is just wrong.