clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Spurs Are As Fun (And As Boring) As You Decide They Are

"I don't know, Chauncey. I can't say whether they're boring or not. But I know that <strong>I'm</strong> not having any fun right now."
"I don't know, Chauncey. I can't say whether they're boring or not. But I know that I'm not having any fun right now."

Fun is overrated; at least it is insofar as the idea of it being something that can provide lasting joy. In Spanish the word for fun is "diversion." We need fun stuff to allow us to not think; if we think about the things that really matter all the time, we'd go insane. Don't get me wrong, fun is fine. But at its very core it's nothing more than a fleeting distraction.

A more lasting way of enjoyment, and one that in my eyes gives meaning to a person's life, is to look for more nuanced ways of distraction; ones that don't necessarily have immediate payoff and that make us work for them. I watched The Avengers a couple of days ago and had a whole lot of fun for the two hours it lasted. it didn't change me and I didn't take anything away from it, but I was completely fine with that. All I wanted was to have fun. and I did.

We were bored out of our minds a few days ago while waiting for the Grizzlies/Clippers series to complete so that the second round could begin, and a few of us started making lists of our favorite movies and along with a few classics. I threw in Noah Baumbach's opera prima Kicking and Screaming: a movie about 4 recent college graduates, their struggles facing the real world and their search for an identity. It's a slow movie, heavy on seemingly meaningless dialogue that doesn't seem to advance the plot. Needless to say, it's not a thrill ride but something about it spoke to me in a way a summer blockbuster could never do. Does that mean that there is no place in my life for The Avengers and I have to settle for proto-mumblecore from now on? Of course not. It just means that there are different ways to enjoy things, because those things were conceived to be enjoyed differently.

So what was that extended and convoluted intro for? To address the numerous articles that keep cropping up about the Spurs being boring.

The first article that caught mine and other Pounders' attention was penned by Ethan Strauss and was titled The Spurs are boring, which is a shame. It's not exactly the classic article damming the Spurs for not dunking and Tim Duncan for not showing expression, but it was still an indictment of the Spurs style as boring. One excerpt of the piece caught my eye over the rest:

The fallacy is believing San Antonio's beautiful basketball to be inherently interesting. It's only interesting to people who like beautiful basketball. Unfortunately, most people don't like beautiful basketball. They like hero ball. Hence the demand for Miami to give LeBron the rock despite Wade's mismatch versus Amar'e.

The problem with that otherwise great quote is that it uses the word interesting. That's a mistake. The Spurs basketball is inherently interesting, if perhaps not fun. Like Strauss himself admits and Kevin Arnovitz expands on this article, the Spurs offense is a thing of beauty. The ball moves as the players shift positions, setting timely screens and moving without the ball anticipating every pass. There's no selfishness present, with every guy taking the shot only if they think is the best one the offense can get in that entire possession. To quote Clips Nation Steve Perrin, it's a highly choreographed ballet. And like ballet, it's not going to be fun if what you want is to watch a superhero movie. It doesn't mean one is better than the other, it just means that you have to approach them differently if you want to enjoy them.

To really be entertained by the Spurs, the watcher needs to be: a) a Spurs fan, b) totally engaged, or c) at least ready to pay attention to more than just the moment someone scores. Your greatest enjoyment will come when you take an active approach and try to really see what is happening in the game, and not just follow the ball. There's also a bit of previous knowledge required - you can't really enjoy watching Parker operate with a double screen if you are not aware of how a pick and roll usually works and how that compares with how the Spurs occasionally run it. That is not a problem when watching the Heat getting out in transition with Wade leading the break and LeBron trailing. The beauty there is immediately apparent, even if you've never watched basketball in your life. Not so the Spurs offense which might yield multiple open (even point-blank) looks in a row, leading a less involved fan to wonder why the other team doesn't know how to play defense.

It is at this point that someone, like SBNation's own Andrew Sharp, will point out that even to keen observers aware of all the wrinkles of an NBA offense, the Spurs are boring because of their almost robotic efficiency. To quote Sharp:

All of those stats debates come back to the same truth: Basketball's a balance of art and science. And the Spurs live at one extreme on that spectrum.

The fallacy in that quote is to assume that there's not a little science to art. A ballet is a ballet only if it's highly choreographed. A movie is not a movie unless some aspects of it conform to certain parameters. The same happens with music. Even the people that break from every one of those parameters are still using them as a guideline. And to master any kind of art form requires practice and repetition. The Spurs are at a point where they realize that it's better to play variations on a few beautiful songs perfectly, instead of trying to play a bunch of different songs and failing most of the time. Does that make them boring musicians? Perhaps only to people that don't actually like the songs, but prefer the feeling of controlled chaos they experience when watching a performance go badly.

By now, this post is dangerously close to becoming an elitist manifesto about the Spurs being a thinking man's team and painting people that don't enjoy them as ignoramuses that don't know the first thing about basketball. That's not my intention at all. What I'm instead proposing, is that while the Spurs are not inherently fun like teams where unpredictability is a major factor, they can be as enjoyable as any other team in the league if the watcher is willing to adjust his expectations. If you are craving hero ball moments of the kind where a player rises up amidst a host of defenders to deliver an improbable jumper while the rest of the team cheers, then the Spurs are definitely going to disappoint. What the Spurs offer is a more nuanced joy, one that may not give the watcher the immediate thrill of a Blake Griffin dunk but can perhaps expand his knowledge of the game.

I appreciate the efforts of writers trying to form some sort of consensus as to the overall boring quality of the Spurs, but it can never be done. The level of enjoyment you get out of these Spurs is not dependant of how well they move the ball, but on how much every individual enjoys crisp ball movement and their willingness to follow what is going on away from the ball. That's why Pop answers with a "We don't care" to questions about how he feels that the Spurs are not getting that much attention. It's not that he enjoys being considered boring; it's that he knows that there's nothing he can do to change that perception. People make up their minds about how much fun they are going to have watching a Spurs game way before the tip off.