What it means to be a Spur in a foreign country

Mike Ehrmann


edited from PhotoCase via

Let’s admit it, the Spurs are not as popular as most of the teams in the NBA. That’s even an understatement, and that’s okay. The mere fact that their dedication to the purity of the sport rather than for entertainment value is a testament to the longstanding success of the franchise -- not in terms of ticket sales, maybe, but to the caliber of the personnel it produces, the quality of players they churn out and more importantly the legacy they leave behind. I dare say, the Tim Duncan-era Spurs is the most underrated, under-appreciated dynasty in the past decade and, if I may be so bold, the entire history of the NBA. Even with all things considered, they still are pigeonholed to the small-market paradigm that restrict most good teams from achieving greatness and that’s perfectly alright.

I chose to write this piece on the eve of one of the biggest, if not the biggest, games in franchise history because I didn’t want to share the limelight with the fallout of Game 7. As keen observers might probably notice, I kept on writing "they" or "their" to refer to the San Antonio Spurs when all my entire being just ever wanted to write "we" or "our." I’m a Filipino, living in the Philippines, and I have been a Spurs fan--no--I’ve been a Spur for more than a decade now. I’m warning you, this is going to be a long read so don’t blame me if after reading the entire post you feel that you’ve wasted a couple of minutes of your life.

You have been warned.

Basketball is big here in my country, and when I say "big" I mean that in every sense of the word. Everywhere you look there’s a makeshift court or someone wearing a basketball jersey, parents even name their kids after their favorite basketball players! The problem with living in another country is that you don’t have a "home team." I’m not exactly sure how it works in the United States but I guess people tend to have an affinity for teams emblazoned with their hometown’s name or at least a neighboring city’s name in their jerseys. There’s a sense of pride there that basketball fans from other countries just couldn’t quite relate to. Here in the Philippines, everyone was a Chicago Bulls fan in the 90s. Everyone. Michael Jordan this, Michael Jordan that. Everyone knew everything there is to know about the Chicago Bulls or at least about Michael Jordan. Sure, there were leftover fans from the Jerry West’s or Magic Johnson’s Lakers, or the Boston Celtics but everyone was a Chicago Bulls fan. Everyone. People get beaten up for speaking ill about His Airness and that’s a scary realization of fanaticism. I was just a child then and all I knew about basketball was to get the ball through the hoop. Well, dribble--then get the ball through the hoop. Life was simple; life was fun. NBA Jam came out and people would play different teams, executing ridiculous moves that seemingly only MJ could perform at the time. I didn’t know better, I just enjoyed the feeling I got when people were cheering...and people cheered a lot, because the Bulls kept winning and anyone who’s anyone was a Bulls fan. The red color at the bottom of the Philippine flag might as well have been a tribute to Jordan’s Bulls. The fanfare faded and people went their separate ways, cheering on different teams. I didn’t know any better, I mean, who was I? I was just a kid who now knew how to do a simple crossover, drive to the hoop or take a step back jumper to get the ball through the hoop. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know why people cheered for the Bulls the way they did. Maybe because the Bulls were winners, and everybody loves winners. Maybe because the Bulls were exciting, and everybody loves it when they’re sitting at the edge of their seats. Maybe because the Bulls seemed invincible--I guess the same reasoning as to why many people like Superman applied.

I was growing up, about 8 years old I think...and I didn’t like Superman. I liked the ones who had it rough but still managed to power through in the end. I wanted to learn how to play basketball--not know, but learn. I’m a swimmer; my body was not built to run up and down the court (I digress). I decided to start from the ground up and learn the fundamentals of the sport. I was young but eager to learn, and I got bored. I needed to get behind someone. I needed my own Jordan. It was chance that the NBA Draft was on. If I remember correctly it wasn’t even aired live here, I was watching a rerun while the season was already playing out. I was so fixated on having my own Jordan that I chose to get behind the top man of the draft, a lean, big-man that went by the name Tim Duncan. I didn’t know who he was, or what he could do. All I knew was that he was chosen ahead of everybody else for a reason. All those numbers flashed, commentary that I didn’t understand blared, and I didn’t understand a single one of them. All I knew at the time was I found my guy.

We didn’t have internet then, no live games to watch. As I learned from what the tricycle drivers and gasboys I played with taught me, all I could ever watch was the local basketball league aired nightly on the TV. It was alright for me, I can’t complain. I was learning and that was it. I learned the basic rules, I committed a thousand double dribbles before I learned it was illegal, got elbowed in the face a hundred times before I learned it was a foul, ran home crying because of a tiny scratch a hundred times more before I learned it was silly. I watched games sparingly but I can’t seem to find the right schedule when Tim Duncan was on. I did however get the chance to watch Kevin Garnett enough to enjoy his play and switch sides. I was young, I didn’t know any better. I was a "Wolves Fan," and almost completely forgot about what’s-his-face first pick guy.

Hi, congratulations for making it this far, I urge you to take a breather. It has been a long article and I’ve only just reached the middle so you could choose to stop now and continue on with what you’ve been doing before reading this or you can continue. It’s your choice, no hard feelings compadre.

You’re still here? Wow, either you really have nothing else better to do or you just love reading. Anyway, where was I? Ah! Time went by and I’d been floating around Garnett for quite a bit. I occasionally got glimpses of Duncan and my respect for his games gradually increased. The coverage of the NBA in my country got better, finally, and oh I’ve found out Duncan already has a championship under his belt so that’s great for him. I didn’t feel fulfilled by the Wolves and, more importantly, I didn’t feel fulfilled within myself. I’d learned a lot by that time, but not nearly as much as I had hoped. It was time for me to choose a player that I could identify myself with, a player that I could look through the world from. It was fate or just that time of the year that the NBA Draft was almost on. We already had internet at the time because fortunately the computers of the whole world didn’t crash the year prior. I had a luxury that I did not have all those years ago. I told myself that this time I was choosing someone I could relate to, not necessarily a winner. I was a small guy, the only position I could handle at the time was the point guard position. I did my research, I went from player to player. I had a hard time because it was a tall draft class. I knew my basketball positions then, even the basics of the statistics. I didn’t know how they were calculated then but I was learning. I chose about two players before the draft started, I promised myself I would follow only one of them. Then came draft day and I went deep into the first round. I didn’t know at the time why it took so long for the player I chose to be drafted but I waited and waited. Finally, it came!

"For the 28th pick in the 2001 NBA Draft... the San Antonio Spurs select... Tony Parker"

Just like that, I decided to shift my full allegiance back to the River City.

It wasn’t that easy, though. The feeling was bittersweet, I’ve reunited with Tim Duncan with a championship under his belt. I would’ve wanted to have been there the first time but the poor reception my country received permitted me. This time was different; I rededicated my focus to the black-and-silver-clad Spurs. In a time when the Lakers once again ruled the land, I was a Spur. I folded up my Garnett jersey and bought a Duncan jersey, it was the only San Antonio jersey available at the time. Whenever I played NBA Live, I would only score with Parker, win or lose as long as Tony Parker got a hundred points, my cousins could attest to that. People sometimes got livid whenever I did that, I wasn’t playing the game, I was living my fantasy of playing through Parker. Then we won the Championship! It was an awesome feeling being on the winning end. God knows I’ve waited quite a long time for the Timberwolves to rise to prominence that never came. It was just lighthearted fanfare for the first years and in fact I hated Manu for stealing the spotlight from Tony. I hated him. I wanted him dead, or at least traded, if not cut from the rotation. Time went by and I learned to appreciate Manu more, but I was still a Tony shipper. I grew to love the game of basketball through the lenses that these Spurs provided me.

Then we won again! Oh, how sweet it was! This time it came at the expense of my college blockmates’ hairstyles. A day or so after Timmy raised his 3rd Larry O‘Brien trophy, all I could see when I entered the classroom was bald heads. I was ecstatic; it was a new kind of emotion though cheering for a team that many people seemingly hated. I didn’t understand it at the time because whenever I watched a Spurs game, I was always at the edge of my seat. People called them boring, lackluster, old. I thought to myself that those people were just jealous. They didn’t know a great team if they saw one. I was alone. Every one else had their own team, I was the only one who cheered on San Antonio. Then came another Finals appearance and the advent of LeBron James and suddenly San Antonio was the most vilified team in the league! I couldn’t believe the turn of the events and at the time I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why. I was angry that the people around me couldn’t comprehend the greatness that is the Spurs. I wasn’t the only Spur in the Philippines--there were quite a few, of course. If I have to ballpark, I guess 1 out of 20 would be a kind estimate. The percentage was miniscule compared to the fans of other teams.

Time went by and we never tasted the championship again, and the entire league was happy about that. I admire the way the Spurs waited their turn, executing smart acquisitions, developing talent not just trading up for value. I’m convinced now that all the conspiracies that barred the Spurs from making it deep into the playoffs are true. People always cheered against the Spurs, and that’s okay. I know better now.

People laugh when I refer to the Spurs as "we" because they don’t understand what that entails. They shift their allegiances like they change clothes. I mean no offense to anyone who gets affected by these allegations but what I’m saying is a perceived fact. Up until this day, I don’t know why people choose to cheer on for the teams that they cheer on and I guess I never will. All I know is that I grew up with these Spurs, with Parker in particular. As he matured as a player, so did I as a fan. I went through all the disappointment and the elation that these Spurs went through. I’ve built my entire being just like the way the Spurs organization was set up. I was here when we lost George Hill and Luis Scola, I was here when we got Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard (who I believe should be in consideration for Finals MVP). I was here when Bowen and the Admiral retired. I was here all those years we got sent packing early. I was here.

People who know me would attest to the fact that I stopped watching the playoffs because I was done, that was it. Season over. They would say that I was being a brat but they don’t understand how I feel. That huge cloud of disappointment that hung over me every single time we exited the playoffs early. People would say we were done, that we had nothing left in the tank. It hit me hard every time. It weighed on me like nothing I could compare. This was the first NBA Finals I’ve watched since the 2007 Finals! I’ve watched all of the games alone. Aside from my girlfriend and a handful of friends, nobody else was ever happy with me when the Spurs won a game. My Facebook feed was filled with Heat fans’ comments whenever they would win. They patted each others’ backs whenever they lost. I get teased a lot whenever we lost. Heck, even my extended family all support Miami Heat! Sure there was a spike in the number of Spurs supporters this time around but it was those who stood against LeBron. Thank God I found Pounding The Rock; the Spur Wars bit really made my day whenever I would read it. It’s nice to know that even though I’m here in my little corner of the world, that I am not alone whenever I shout to myself "Go Spurs Go."

One last time this season, for old time’s sake, let’s show the world who’s old.

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