As Spurs fans, most of us pride ourselves in supporting one of the classiest organizations in basketball. The Spurs represent all that is good to us and we laugh at the other franchises with their superstars that demand trades. We chuckle at the off-court shenanigans of the players who end up on TMZ, secure in the knowledge that most of San Antonio's guys go straight home after the game. We love fundamental basketball and high character players that put the team before themselves. We hate the divas that devote so much time to promoting their abysmal rapping or acting careers, instead of putting in the work to improve their craft. We firmly believe in all these things...until we don't anymore.
Our reaction to the Spurs acquisition of Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson is the latest example of the tendency of every fan: forgiving or excusing just about anything as long as we like the guy or he plays for our team.
Let's start with Boris Diaw. Many have ripped on DeJuan Blair for gaining weight as an indictment of his lack of character and commitment, but have welcomed Boris with open arms even though he has been out of shape for most of his career. You could say that he got his big payday in Phoenix and then proceeded to mail it in for 5 straight years. In the last year of his contract, and when he was supposed to be a steadying veteran presence on a rebuilding team, he showed up as out of shape as ever, clashed with his coach, and simply waited to be bought out so he could join a contender. Is that really the kind of player that fits in with our perception of the Spurs' philosophy?
A lot of people have expressed their understandable displeasure with Dwight Howard, as well as other stars who demand trades and hold their franchise hostage. It's not that simple (Dwight Howard doesn't owe the Magic anything, really), but it's unpleasant to see a star player that a fan base has embraced slap the team and community in the face by demanding a trade."Timmy would never do that" we proudly and accurately say, puffing our collective chest. But what about Stephen Jackson? Jax signed an extension with the Warriors on November 2008. By November 2009 he was gone after publicly demanding a trade, acting out and sulking on the court in preseason games, piling up the technicals and being fined. When asked about why he signed the extension if he knew he wanted out, he said "Who's going to turn down that money? I'm not stupid. I didn't go to college but I've got a lot of common sense." Carmelo and Dwight represent everything that's wrong with basketball while Jack, well, he makes love to pressure! Meanwhile, James Anderson gets criticized for asking for a trade after the FO and the coaching staff made it clear that they didn't consider him a part of the future.
We've said we love how our team doesn't have swagger; that they go about their business making the more mentally fragile players angry, without ever losing their cool. We celebrate the way that Manu reacts after hard fouls, and talk up that fact that he just gets up, walk away, asks for the ball, and calmly destroys the other team. Tim's stoicism is well-known (except when he disagrees with a call), and Parker is a silent assassin. Yet lately we are clamoring for Jackson to do his tough guy act on opposing players, because of a perception that the team is soft (precisely what that means, though, nobody seems to know).
Don't get me wrong, I love Captain Jack's aggressiveness on defense (especially compared to Jefferson's lack of intensity) but I really doubt the missing ingredient for overall success was someone who would go at opposing players when there's a hard foul. When an opposing player does that, many will relentlessly criticize him, yet the fact that Jackson was not afraid of giving a hard foul was one of the reasons people loved the trade that brought him in.
Before I proceed any further, let me say that off-court stuff doesn't matter that much to me. If the player is a professional on the court, I don't mind if he likes to party hard all off-season long, or wants to shoot a movie. That's their time; they've earned it. Having said that, consider this: Metta World Peace and Stephen Jackson both played a part in the Malice at the Palace brawl. The artist formerly known as Ron Artest was certainly the biggest culprit, but Jack was right there with him. Both have exhibited erratic (or nearly criminal) behavior off the court, clashed with coaches and franchises, and had distracting off-court rapping careers. They sound like pretty similar guys, but if you ask most Spurs fans they'll probably tell you that they are nothing alike.
Why do I bring up MWP? Because there's been a lot of clamoring for the NBA to ban him for life or to make an example out of him. While that's too much in my opinion, it could be argued that taking a hard stance would be necessary. What we need to remind ourselves is that fans of other teams also forgive stuff from their guys that they criticize on others. That's why some Lakers fans might stick up for Metta after his indefensible cheap shot on Harden. On a smaller scale, wasn't that what we did with the player so many considered the biggest cheap shot artist of all, Bruce Bowen?
It's often hard for us fans to be rational. While it's obvious that any argument that James Harden had it coming crosses the line into absurdity (being a fan should never excuse people for being classless idiots) but I can see why a Lakers or Artest fan might look at the elbow incident and seek to rationalize on their player's behalf. What makes me empathize with that mindset? We do it all the time ourselves.
We've justified behavior to reconcile the narrative of "the Spurs are class-acts" with the players we like, even if we find that same behaviour reprehensible in others. The convenient "What do you expect? They were on bad teams!" argument somehow applies for Jack and Diaw loafing it until they made it out of teams they didn't want to play for, but not for LeBron James or Howard.
We should keep this in mind when we venture into conversations with fans of other teams, or log onto another blog and read that they are complaining about Manu flopping or Tim asking for calls -- even if players on their team do it too.
They are fans just like we are, and impartial rationality often doesn't apply to us.
[Editor's Note: After this story was posted, LatinD posted the following comment below. Since I thought it brought a great counterpoint to this piece, I've included it here. -JRW]
I understand your points, Edg5, but I think you are not even trying to see the shades of gray and you are forcing the comparisons.
- Jackson also participated into the Malice at the Palace incident, but his reaction was a consequence of Artest's. Furthermore, he has expressed deep regrets, something that Ron never has, and the insight he showed in Grantland's oral history shows that it still haunts him a little. I would like to point out that most NBA fans had already forgiven Ron for his transgressions, and considered him a zany , mostly harmless part of the NBA.
- Comparing Bruce Bowen to Ron Artest and justifying the Lakers fans' reaction through that comparison is at least disingenuous. As someone commented above, Bruce stretched the rules, and had some funny flying kicks in his resume, but he never did anything even remotely on the level of Ron's elbow. You are doing Bruce's legacy a disservice.
- We have not forgiven Jackson or Diaw. We can't. Their transgressions were directed to other teams, other fanbases, other coaches. To us fans, they are simply players that have come to our team, and will represent our colors and maybe even help our three heroes win their 5th championship. That's it. We root for them because they are Spurs, not because they are wonderful guys. They are not beyond reproach, either, as we prove every day by mocking Diaw because of his waistline.
- I would not defend any Spurs player that did what Artest did. Not for a second. I think that if someone tried in PTR, he would heckled into shutting up.
- "They were on bad teams" is the typical explanation as to why we expect them to play better when properly motivated by a winning environment. It's not a justification for them to give up on those teams, and we (I) don't use it as such. Dwight and LeBron are criticized for being duplicitous fools that turned their teams into circuses.
I don't think we should shoulder part of Artest's blame. Let the Lakers do that, and let's focus on our playoffs run.