What’s next? Roy: "Maybe we should all go to group therapy or something. Sit down with (team psychologist) Dr. Carr to air our grievances."— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) April 1, 2014
His comment immediately brought four questions to mind:
1. Is it already Festivus?
2. Do the Spurs have a team psychologist?
3. If so, would anyone ever dare to mention details from a session with said psychologist?
4. If so, what details would be shared and what would one of those sessions look like?
While I know the answer to question 1 and I can't truthfully answer questions 2 and 3, I can have fun speculating how the scene would play out in question 4.
Please join me as we examine the current psyche of the Spurs.
It was late January and things seemed bleak. In the locker room after losing to the Chicago Bulls on January 29th, Coach Boylen extended his arm toward Tony Parker. As he shook Parker's hand he said "hang in there, Tony," and then he pulled Tony's ear close to him and whispered, "Don't ever let Coach Pop know you guys are going to do this."
Parker glanced down to see a business card that the assistant coach had slipped into his hand. Embossed in gold in, it said, "Gilbert Sweat: I fix heads" and included an address. Confused, Parker looked up to ask Coach Boylen what this was all about, but the coach was already gone.
A few days later, the players met in a Chili's parking lot where they were picked up by a nondescript white rental van. The driver didn't say a word, but as soon as the door was closed, the van pulled smoothly out into the afternoon traffic. Coach Boylen's words echoed in Tony's ears, so he whispered a few words to the driver, who navigated a winding route while watching the rear view mirror for any signs that they were being followed. They finally reached their destination and the van pulled up to a rear service door in an alley, nestled between two dumpsters behind the offices of Dr. Gilbert Sweat.
Dr. Sweat's office was tucked away in a decrepit strip mall, sandwiched between an Enterprise Rent-A-Car and a Verizon store. The front windows were painted over from the inside which made it look like an abandoned shop from the front, like so many other shops in the declining mall. The sign on the door read "A Sweatshop For Your Mind." The sign's only purpose is to keep curious street traffic from entering Dr. Sweat's offices.
The doctor, a slight man with narrow shoulders and a beak-like nose had a wise, birdlike appearance. Tufts of salt and pepper hair formed a bowl around the top of his ears and circled around the back of his head. His round wire-rimmed glasses seemed to defy gravity as they perched on the bridge of his nose. His office was sparsely decorated. except for a large print of Emanuel Leutze's famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware which hung on the wall behind Sweat's desk.
Everything about the man and his office was unassuming, which is as his only client wanted it. After shaking hands with the doctor, the players sat down in a semicircle of cheap plastic folding chairs around the single desk.
Dr. Sweat began the session by clearing his throat before he said, "Does anyone have issues they'd like to discuss?" Aron Baynes immediately raised his hand while Tim Duncan sunk lower into his chair. Dr. Sweat passed the worn and tattered teddy bear, affectionately known as "T.T. McNutts," to Baynes. No one really knew what the "T.T." stood for. Some of the guys speculated that it was short for "trust tree" while others have more exotic theories (Truck stop Tuesdays, Matt Bonner? What does that even mean?)
Baynes cradled T.T. McNutts as tears welled up in his eyes. "I just want to say that I didn't like it when you broke my ribs, Timmy" he said softly as Duncan nervously fidgeted with the sleeves of his flannel shirt. Baynes squeezed the bear harder and looked for assurance from Dr. Sweat. The Doctor nodded his approval. Baynes tossed T.T. McNutts into the air while rising from his seat. In a surprisingly graceful move he caught the teddy bear on his foot and punted T.T. McNutts across the room. Patty Mills let out a blood curdling squeal and rushed to the corner where the bear lay helplessly on the ground, sad and broken. He immediately pounced and punched the stuffed animal several times on the noggin, before Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli grabbed his shoulders and separated him from the bear. Patty clenched the stuffed animal in his teeth and shook his head violently, swinging the bear in a vicious arc like a big cat trying to snap the neck of its prey. Seams split and stuffing flew before Manu and Marco could calm Patty and convince him to release McNutts from his fearsome clench.
"Patty, why do you always attack T.T. McNutts?" Dr. Sweat inquired, incredulously.
Patty said nothing but, "I do nothing of the sort, mate." before calmly returning to his seat while pulling stuffing from his teeth
Dr. Sweat shook his head in at Patty's continued denial of his uncontrollable rage towards stuffed animals. With so many things to cover, he transitioned with his customary, "Who'd like to go next?".
Jeff Ayres raised his hand. "I'd like to," he says. Dr. Sweat smiled and gently tossed T.T. to Ayres.
Jeff dropped the bear.
Five minutes later, Marco and Manu had Patty back in his seat and breathing calmly.
"Ok, who'd like to go next?" asked Dr. Sweat. Kawhi Leonard slowly raised his hand, most of the light was blocked from the room. Ayres fumbled for a moment before picking up the bear and flipping it in a high arc across the room to Leonard, who snatched out of the air with one hand, enveloping it completely with his fingers. Leonard slowly unclenched his fist and the bear emerged, slowly expanding and returning to its full size.
Leonard took a deep breath as he cradled T.T. McNutts, taking a moment before beginning.
"T.T. McNutts, you've done good. We come in here once a week and you always make us want to be better men -- that is, after Patty pummels you. When Matt Bonner got his face broke, you were here for Patty to smash your head. When Manu dunked, you were here for Patty to grind his elbow into your throat. When Marco ate a whole tub of manicotti and threw up on Tiago on the airplane, you were here for Patty to sit on for the entire session.
"So I just want to thank you T.T. McNutts, and you too, Dr. Sweat. You've been here for us since Tony convinced us to come see you. You have given us a real outlet for Patty to express his emotions and it has made us all better watching him."
Kawhi hugged T.T. McNutts tightly and swiveled back and forth like a five year old embracing his favorite toy. He cradled the bear in his arms like a newborn baby as he walked across the room and embraced Dr. Sweat. Patty Mills joined the two in a group hug. Patty's shoulders started to tremble as he began to sob.
"It's not your fault," Kawhi whispered over and over again as Patty's breathing slowed down and eventually evened out.
After a few moments the three men and teddy bear broke their embrace, wiped their tears and returned to their seats. Dr. Sweat thanked them for the session. "You continue to make real breakthroughs. I'm so proud of you," he said. Everyone lightly applauded. Something special had happened, and they all felt good to be a part of it.
As the team rose to leave, Patty lagged behind. The rest of the guys knew what was going to happen, but there was nothing they could do to stop it. Once everyone had exited, Patty turned once again on his nemesis. He put the bear into a headlock and rapidly punched down on his worn plushy pate, whap, whap, whap, whap, WHAP!! After a quick glance towards the door to be sure no one is looking, Patty pulled off one of McNutt's glass eyes and tossed it into his mouth, gently rolling it around on his tongue until he placed it into his cheek, and walked casually out the door.
In an adjacent room, a shadowy figure watched through a peephole in George Washington's eyes in the painting behind Dr. Sweat's desk, as the players (and finally Patty) left. As Dr. Sweat's lone client, his assessment of the of work was the only one that mattered. Fortunately, the results of today's session met the criteria for success. Once again, no one used the word "happy" or "feelings." Today was a good day. Instead of wasting time on useless emotional wheel-spinning, the team had spent most of their time watching Patty Mills punch a stuffed animal.
It was clear that, although no one was quite certain why, everybody was getting something out of the sessions.
Feeling satisfied, Gregg Popovich turned away from the peephole and headed for the exit. On the way out, he nodded almost imperceptibly in the direction of Dr. Sweat. Though the two men exchange no words, both knew that Dr. Sweat had done his job.
Later that night Coach Popovich reflected on the events of the day and enjoyed a glass of one of his favorite vintages, Lapostolle Clos Apalta, 2009. As his body sunk into his leather chair, he allowed himself the reward of a moment of total relaxation. A growing sense of confidence filled him, as he finally felt he had done what needed to be done to ready his team for the playoffs -- finally confident that his team is in good shape: mind, body, and spirit.