"This is our last go-around, Dutch. This time, we do it right!"
The Wild Bunch is a Western classic that tells the story of four aging outlaws whose days of robbing banks and shooting sheriffs are numbered. A new era looms in the distance and in it, there is absolutely no more room for cowboys, one-on-one gun duels, and galloping off into the sunset. New technology and changing morals make sure of that.
In the movie, five of the six gunmen aren't as young as they used to be, and a couple of them are already seeking retirement. The leader, Pike, then organizes a bank heist as their last big score, but it's a bust and the crew ends up working for a Mexican general instead.
They're old, their prime has clearly gone past them, and they've already obviously seen better days. And yet, in a bout of pride, stubbornness, or both at the same time, they choose to give Father Time the finger to chase after one last moment of glory.
After watching the movie, it was hard not to see the similarities between Pike and his Bunch, and Timmy and his Spurs. It's not just the age of the characters that got me - it was that feeling I'd get after watching them do their thing. There's just something beautiful about seeing veterans spend so much energy chasing after their Shot, creaky joints and outdated morals aside.
For me, it's beautiful, but to others, it can be easily construed as desperation. And I wouldn't blame them for thinking that.
Because sometimes, seeing that old geezer just refuse to quit; seeing him refuse to give out and go along with the times - well, who else wouldn't call that desperation? There's a fine line between trying hard and trying too hard, and it's one that's been crossed multiple times now, especially if you're talking about the Spurs.
There's just something in them that refuses to stand down; something in their bones that won't let them roll over and give; something in them that just won't quit pounding the rock.
And you can call that desperate, or pathetic, or suicide - but to me, it will always be beautiful and I will always feel an odd sense of honor watching these old men in the black and white work hard to take what is theirs.
I'm not calling them Cowboys just because they're a Texan team.
... Okay, fine, so I'm calling them Cowboys because they're a Texan team.
But that's only part of the reason. Another part is because with this Wild Bunch reference I'm throwing around, I thought it'd be poetic if I called them that.
The last part of my reason for calling them Cowboys, is because like their namesakes, the Spurs (Cowboys, Spurs, heh I'm clever) are also gunslingers. But they're the type of gunslingers who rarely move alone and when they do, it's always as a tight-knit group.
Like cowboys, they put their faith in what they have and in the years they spent training to be good at what they are. Like cowboys, they will face down any opponent with a sneer and maybe a wisecrack if they're in the mood. Like cowboys, it's either they shoot or they die - although in the Spurs' case, it's more a case of pass the ball or they die.
Just so we're clear.
In The Wild Bunch, not all of the main characters are old. There's a young guy in their ranks - a Mexican chico by name of Angel.
The Spurs also have their own young guy, by name of Kawhi.
At first, the audience isn't really sure if a guy named Angel should really be running around with a group of aged outlaws, killing people and causing havoc. But as the movie goes on, Angel slowly ingratiates himself with his comrades, making them accept him, in spite of his age.
Just like Kawhi.
At first, some people may have been scratching their heads, wondering if this young'un really had any right to be balling alongside future Hall of Famers. But over time - a very short one - Kawhi's slowly proven himself to his team, to his Coach, and also to us fans. Now, we can't imagine a future without this dreadlocked kid and his oversized hands.
The same also goes for resident sniper Danny Green. Right now, it's clear that these two will become important pieces for San Antonio's future and it's reassuring that these are the guys we'll be relying on for the next few years. I honestly can't see them as anything else other than a Spur.
In the movie, Angel dies. But he's at least comforted by the fact that the Bunch came back to save him, even if they've had a history of leaving deadweights behind.
In this version, I'm pretty sure that that's not going to happen to Kawhi and Danny. And if you ask me, I'm also doubly sure that these two are anything but deadweights.
One of the biggest themes in The Wild Bunch is America's changing of the guard, with the era of the cowboy coming to an end. In New America, there's absolutely no room for cowboys and their freewheeling ways.
In some ways, that's almost how the NBA is like today.
The era of the One Man Superstar team is coming to an end, if it hasn't already. Thanks to Miami's recent championships (and Boston's instant championship more than 5 years ago), the trend has been to stockpile on established superstars, sit back, and earn money.
The era of the basic plays is slowly fading into an era of flashier sequences, high-flying dunks, and fancy passes.
San Antonio represents the Old Guard, Miami, the New Guard. And just like last year, this year's Finals promise to be a battle of wills, talents, but most of all, of morals. The Spurs look terribly outdated with aging, practice-built players, superstars who still aren't regarded as such, and basic team-oriented basketball. The Heat, on the other hand, couldn't look more different, boasting talented, athletic studs, Lebron James, and ISO plays for their #1 Best-Selling Jersey owner.
A fight between opposites. And with the NBA entering changes under Commish Silver's new leadership, it's only fitting that these two face off on the biggest stage of the league.
In some scenarios, this could play out as a passing of the torch ritual, with the past multiple champions handing the reigns over to the upstart team looking to exercise their newfound authority on the league. But it's not playing out like that. The Spurs won't let it happen.
Instead, they're stubbornly holding onto themselves, digging their heels in the dirt, and daring Miami to come and get it, forcing them to work their butts off for the wins.
The old school's still here and despite last year's collapse, it looks like they're not going anywhere. Not if Pop and the Spurs can help it.
Like the gunfights and duels in all those old Hollywood reels, this series is heating up to look almost the same way. Both sides are trading shots and dodging bullets. It's a heated exchange that's well worth the suspense. All in front of an audience both stunned by the display and demanding more to feed their bloodlust.
And like those gunfights, only one will come out of this mess alive. Make no mistake, though: no matter who wins, we can't deny that the winner will have come out by the skin of his teeth.
(I hope the Spurs take it, though.)
There's a poem this guy named Dylan Thomas wrote once and this is how it starts:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
This was the first thing I thought of after watching The Wild Bunch. It's the first thing I thought of before the series started. It fits both the Bunch and the Spurs to a capitalized Tee, that it's becoming harder and harder to separate this movie from one of the greatest basketball organizations to ever play the game.
The Spurs are raging and raving with all of their heart and grit, and honestly, the sight couldn't be more beautiful.
There's that word again. But can you blame me? I dare you to watch them play their unified team ball and call it any different.
The movie ends in a violent bloodbath, where it's the four cowboys versus more than a hundred Mexican soldiers. Despite the odds stacked against them however, the Bunch manages to trim that number down to more than half its original figure.
But in the end, they die anyway.
It may have been done in a furious burst to reclaim their lost glory, in a failed attempt to save their youngest member, and in a glorious "fuck you" to the changing times and the arrogant youngsters primed to take their place.
But in the end, they died anyway.
For them, it was either adjust to the times or die, and they chose the latter. There was probably no real way for them to succeed and thrive in a new, No Cowboys Allowed era, and so they chose to die instead. They died for sticking to their guns.
I hope that that's not how our season ends. Timmy, Tony, Manu, and the rest of the Spurs deserve much, much more than going out like a light now. Not when they had to work so hard to make it to this point. Not when they're so much better now than they were last year.
Like the Bunch, the Spurs are stubborn, full of pride, and won't roll over to let this new generation of ballers trample all over them. They won't allow it. And they're going to do it the only way they know how - by trusting the fundamentals, by trusting their years of training, and most of all, by trusting each other. By sticking to their guns.
And even if they do go down - and that's a huge if, this is how confident I am in their chances - they'll at least go down fighting.
Just like the Cowboys.
In this era dominated by the superstars, it's frustrating that San Antonio's Big Three still doesn't get the recognition they deserve. This, in spite of their championship rings. This, in spite of their years of consistent excellence. This, in spite of their smart, professional attitude every baller will do well to imitate.
Even when they win, the media still finds a way to spin the story, so that it focuses less and less on the Spurs, and more and more on the team they beat.
But maybe that's exactly how the Spurs want it; to be constantly underestimated, so that when they come out with the win, the opponents' faults get magnified. Maybe our stars have transcended beyond the label of superstar into something much grander than that.
Notice how it's become expected of the Spurs to be legitimate title contenders every year. Notice how nobody calls Timmy, Tony, and Manu superstars, but future Hall of Famers.
They're not getting the respect they deserve, alright, but there's still something ultimately different about commanding respect automatically. Something about having your franchise name immediately become synonymous with Class.
That's the Spurs for you and if the world won't give them their due, then that's their loss. They don't know what they're missing.
By now, it's probably dawned on some of you that:
The Wild Bunch = bad guys
Cowboys = sorta bad guys
The Spurs = not the bad guys
Fine, so the comparison's a little off. But I guess I can get a little leeway in the accuracy department if this means I can wax dramatic all day.
Well, that's The Wild Bunch. That's the Spurs. And that's game for me.
To the NBA's Last Cowboys, thanks for your wonderful game all season, and all the seasons before this one. Thanks for being a part of my childhood and for making me come back last year. Thanks for giving me the honor to witness what I hope isn't your last stand yet. Be the last safeguard of the old generation and prolong the values of the old school a little while longer.
This may be your last go-around, boys. This time, go do it right.
Go, Spurs, go - now and until the day I stop loving basketball.