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The Pathology of the San Antonio Spurs: Part 1

It all started with David Robinson. Blame him.


Quick question... how did you become a Spurs fan? My guess is it's actually a fairly mundane, boring story. I mean we're talking about the Spurs here, so by rule it almost has to be dull, right?

As far as I can figure, there are two basic roads that led you to our shared path. The most common one is of simple geography and familial tradition. You root for the Spurs because you were born in or around San Antonio and/or it's the team that your family/significant other got you into. To you, your fandom is no different than how we gain religion as children. We're told a story by the elders around us, in a form where it's presented as irrefutable fact, no different than our ABCs or multiplication tables, and other options aren't really revealed to until we're well into our teens, if ever. Sure, you're told, you don't have to root for the local team, it's a free country. You can root for whomever. People will just think you're weird and not invite you to parties, but go ahead, it's fine. Your old man only pauses for a moment before he says he loves you just as much as your brother and it was probably just a figment of your imagination anyway.

The other path to being a Spurs fan is that your favorite player plays for them. If you're like me, that was David Robinson, back in the late 80's, early 90's. If you're older, perhaps it was George Gervin. You're probably younger though, and it's likely Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker (hardly ever Tim Duncan, and we'll get to that). Those two have brought legions of fans, many of them their countrymen, over to the Spurs by proxy.

Robinson was something else when he was young. He was just a freak of an athlete, before his body gave out on him. There was just nobody before or since who had his combination of height, speed, leaping ability, and fluid grace. Hakeem Olajuwon was a spectacular athlete and had incredible post moves, but he couldn't run or dribble like Robinson. LeBron James is explosive and as powerful as a locomotive, but he's basically a guy with Karl Malone's body and Michael Jordan's skillset. He doesn't have that lithe, classic frame that we associate with basketball players.

This is a brief glimpse of Robinson from 1992.

That's the kind of thing that makes an impression on a young basketball fan. Name me another 7'1" guy who could move or dribble like that, and could block a Jordan dunk at its apex. Robinson was one of a kind.

I bring up Robinson because he's the first guy I thought of after J.R. Wilco sent me an article by's Kevin Arnovitz, about the Spurs, their perception inside and outside of the league, the culture they've meticulously crafted for their organization and ultimately the way their legacy will be viewed by basketball fans at large. It was a fairly thorough piece, and on the surface I don't have much issue with any of it.

Arnovitz' thesis (spoiler alert) is that the Spurs' relative anonymity, despite the success they've had as a franchise, is a product of careful, deliberate planning by Gregg Popovich, and, to a lesser his extent, his top two lieutenants, general manager R.C. Buford on the executive side and Duncan on the players' side. Arnovitz makes it sound like some grand plan, no less precise than that dribble hand-off Ginobili gets at the top of the key as he barrels toward the hoop, draws the big man toward the baseline and delivers the hook pass to Danny Green at the opposite corner whose man has been screened off by Duncan for a wide open three.

Me? I think that's a bit of a cop-out and a reach. The real answer for why the Spurs are the Spurs isn't nearly so simple, nearly so black-and-white. It's such a complex, intricate web of luck, geography, unforeseeable circumstances, ping pong balls bouncing the right way, fortuitously timed injuries to Hall-of-Fame big-men, unexpected early success, fruitless free agent chases, xenophobia, LeBron, the Lakers, the Celtics, and even one rebounding savant power forward who happened to be a barely-controllable lunatic.

And yes, somewhere in that puzzle is Pop. But he really doesn't play as big of a role in all of this as you'd think. He has his ideas and philosophies, yes, but he found himself in the right place and with the right people where those ideas and philosophies would be allowed to grow and bloom into this self-contained basketball version of Guantanamo Bay. Lots of different, inventive, crazy things are happening inside here, but the media gets almost no access to find out what, exactly, and the world outside isn't curious enough to pressure them to do so.

Anyway, we'll get to all that stuff in the coming days, the part Robinson and Duncan played, the part Pop played, and some plain old random dumb luck.

So much dumb luck.

Well, except the part about .4, the Ginobili foul on Dirk Nowitzki and that couple of rebounds they couldn't secure a couple months back, but outside of that, so much dumb luck.

I'm gonna try to keep all of the pieces in this series right around 1,000-1,500 words. But, honestly, the one on luck might stretch beyond 3,000. We'll see.

Just do me a favor and be honest with yourself before saying you decided to become a Spurs fan because "their sense of teamwork appealed to you" or how you "really appreciate how they don't trash talk" or that you're "a sucker for corner threes" or "what can I say, I find Pop sexy."

Please. Only assistant basketball coaches like corner threes and/or find Pop sexy.

You're probably a Spurs fan because you're either from there, or Argentine, or French, or related to Duncan, or because, like me, you grew up in awe of The Admiral, at a time where everybody else going nuts for Michael Jordan and Chris Mullin back home just wasn't doing it for you. If Robinson had been drafted by the Bucks, I'd be a Milwaukee Bucks fan way more into soccer right now.


For the time being, let's just enjoy some more Robinson highlights, because David Robinson was an athletic freak of nature.

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