Contrary to popular belief (and by popular, I mean the very few people in my social circles), I was a Spurs fan way before this year’s Finals series.
Never mind that I was in a hospital room at the time, visiting my grandfather with the rest of the family. Never mind that nobody else knew who played on any of the teams. Never mind that nobody else in the room knew what the NBA even was. From that moment on, I knew I was hooked.
There are so many things I remember about that first game: the loud cheers for every Minnesota shot, the louder boos for every Cleveland shot, that fierce Timberwolves logo on their homecourt, and some white kid named Wally Szczerbiak scorching the Cavaliers with his outside shooting.
But more than anything else, it was Kevin Garnett who ended up solidifying himself in my young basketball mind as my new favorite player. With the way he kept getting the ball all the time, I knew he was the team’s superstar; their go-to guy for crucial plays. Which was why I decided right then and there that I was going to follow this team and this man for the rest of my NBA viewing days.
So, I followed them, and every time I did, my immediate wonder with Minnesota and their cool logo grew into a sort-of reverence for KG and his Wolves. I thought the Wolves would be the only team I'd be cheering for, with KG as the only player I'd stick with forever.
And then, along came the Spurs.
The earliest thing I remember about them was the color of their jerseys – because admit it, a solid black and white motif on basketball jerseys is just too slick for words. The next thing I remember about them was Tim Duncan, much like how I loved Minnesota’s logo first and KG after. And once I discovered that they, too, were a pretty solid team, I knew I’d found another team to root for in this league. Add in my enthusiasm over all those KG and Timmy comparisons and the rest was history.
My time became consumed by NBA facts and tidbits, NBA history, basketball history, NBA teams and superstars, the coaches, the culture – everything. I just soaked everything up the way Squidward soaks up Spongebob’s silliness on a daily basis (because soak = sponge = Spongebob = wholesome family fun, get it?) and I was loving every minute of it. It was official: I was now an NBA fan and there would be no going back.
I was a fan possessed. I’d cut out all the newspaper clippings I could find on Spurs and Wolves games and stash them away in a folder. I bought two commemorative VCDs of San Antonio’s championship years. I bought myself a Spurs pillow and slept with it every night. The first sports magazine I bought had Kevin Garnett on the cover. My next issue had Tim Duncan as the month’s main story. And most importantly, I watched their games on TV whenever I could.
But a kid has to grow up sometime, and my day of reckoning came after the highest point in Minnesota’s NBA existence. Shortly after their Western Finals appearance the year before, the Timberwolves found themselves on the fast road to self-destruction. Latrell Sprewell was having ego problems. Wally Szczerbiak was having basketball problems. Kevin Garnett, being the leader of the team, had to shoulder everyone’s problems and carry them himself. But despite his best efforts, it was clear that Minnesota hadn’t been the same since their magical 2004 run and probably never would.
Meanwhile, the Spurs couldn’t seem to do anything wrong. Even when they lost a game, they still managed to look like winners whenever they walked off the court. I followed them just as religiously as I followed the Timberwolves and I never found myself disappointed. Despite the questionable moves they made sometimes (I was there when they gave Malik away for Nazr), San Antonio proved to everyone that they were not a team to be trifled with.
And then, 2007 happened.
Oh, yes, that infamous year with that infamous blockbuster trade. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were shipped from their hometowns to Boston to aid Paul Pierce’s mission to become an NBA champion. Before the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics were the superteam, relocating Da Kid, Jesus Shuttleworth, and The Truth to the same hometown and making them wear the same jerseys. It was the stuff of NBA fantasy and because KG was the only thing tying me down with the Wolves, I moved to Boston along with him.
Perhaps this was also the exact moment my love for the Spurs fizzled out. Was it because they got too boring (an adjective I’d learned to never ever use to describe this team)? Was it because of the Celtics’ immediate championship? Or maybe the problem was with me? I don’t know. I don’t remember.
Here’s one thing I do know, however: the Spurs were never losers in my eyes – and that’s not because they made the playoffs every damn year. Every year, the media insisted on writing them off as the old guys, players who didn’t have anything left in the tank to make a run. Every year, those same critics ended the season eating their words.
Even if I stopped being their fan, I’d still find myself silently cheering for them every postseason, celebrating when they won and mourning when they didn’t. I knew their roster as well as I knew Boston’s and I followed their games just as obsessively as I followed the Celtics’. But even then, I wasn’t the same Spurs fan I was before, since I was now tied down to Garnett and the Celtics.
That all changed a few days ago, when the Spurs lost their chance at the 2013 NBA Championship. Earlier, the Celtics lost theirs when Ray Allen jumped ship to Miami and Rajon Rondo tore his ACL. And yes, I admit it, the only reason why I came back to support the Spurs this year was because I hated Lebron James and his Miami sHeats.
But as the series went on, I slowly reacquainted myself with the Spurs – the old guys and the new, the starters and the benchwarmers. I discovered Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Gary Neal – a reliable Big Three in the making. I began correcting my father whenever he would say Cha-go instead of Tee-ago when addressing Mr. Splitter. I found myself silently willing Pop to let T-Mac in already and let him play.
It was love in a new life.
They may have lost their chance this time, but if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in all these years, it’s that the San Antonio Spurs are never losers in my eyes. Despite Tony Parker’s torn hamstring, Tim Duncan’s gut-wrenching pound on the floor after that crucial Game 7 miss, and Manu Ginobili’s devolvement into a shell of his former self – despite all these, the Spurs were still winners to me. And nothing can and will ever change that.
I’m older now and more mature, more mindful of the way the NBA works. I also know now that it’s important to never ever give up on a team, most especially when they’ve given up on themselves. This is why I know I’ll still be a Spurs and Celtics fan for a long, long time to come – long even after Timmy and KG hang up their jerseys and retire.
A few years after giving up on the Spurs, I find myself coming back to them after they won me over in that hard-fought 2013 Finals series. I find myself having to start over from scratch to relearn and rediscover what made me love these guys in the first place.
And the best part?
I find that I don't mind going back to those basics one little bit.